TITLE: Clearing the Mind for a Trip
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: October 29, 2008 9:16 AM
I leave today to attend the second
at Purdue. This is the sort of trip I like: close enough
that I can drive, which bypasses all the headaches and
inconveniences of flight, but far enough away that it
is a break from home. My conference load has been light
since April, and I can use a little break from the office.
Besides, the intersection of computer science and the
other sciences is an area of deep interest, and the
workshop group is a diverse one. It's a bit odd to look
forward to six hours on the road, but driving, listening
to a book or to music, and thinking are welcome pursuits.
As I was checking out of the office, I felt compelled to
make two public confessions. Here they are.
First, I recently ran across another recommendation for
Georges Perec's novel,
Life: A User's Manual.
This was the third reputable recommendation I'd seen, and
as is my general rule, after the third I usually add it
to my shelf of books to read. As I was leaving campus, I
stopped by the library to pick it up for the trip. I
found it in the stacks and stopped. It's a big book --
500 pages. It's also known for its depth and complexity.
I returned the book to its place on the shelf and left
empty-handed. I've written before of my
preference for shorter books
and especially like
wonderful little books
that are full of wisdom. But these days time and energy
are precious enough resources that I have to look at a
complex, 500-page book with a wary eye. It will make
good reading some other day. I'm not proud to admit it,
but my attention span isn't up to the task right now.
Second, on an even more frivolous note, there is at the
time of this writing no Diet Mountain Dew in my office.
I drank the last one yesterday afternoon while giving
a quiz and taking care of pre-trip odds and ends. This
is noteworthy in my mind only because of its rarity. I
do not remember the last time the cupboard was bare.
I'm not a caffeine hound like some programmers, but I
don't drink coffee and admit some weakness for a tasty
diet beverage while working.
I'll close with a less frivolous comment, something of
a pattern I've been noticing in my life. Many months
ago, I wrote a post on moving our household financial
books from paper ledgers and journals into the twentieth
century. I fiddled with Quicken for a while but found
it too limiting; my system is a cross between naive
home user and professional bookkeeping. Then I toyed
with the idea of using a spreadsheet tool like Numbers
to create a cascaded set o journals and ledgers. Yet
at every turn I was thinking that I'd want to implement
this or that behavior, which would strain the limits of
typical spreadsheets. Then I came to my computer
scientist's senses: When in doubt, write a
program. I'd rather spend my time that way
anyway, and the result is just what I want it to be.
No settling. This pattern is, of course, no news at
all to most of you, who roll your own blogging software
and homework submission systems, even content management
systems and book publishing systems, to scratch your
own itches. It's not news to me, either, though
sometimes my mind comes back to the power slowly. The
financial software will grow slowly, but that's how I
As a friend and former student recently wrote, "If only
there were more time..."
Off to Purdue.