TITLE: Clearing the Mind for a Trip AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 29, 2008 9:16 AM DESC: ----- BODY: I leave today to attend the second SECANT workshop 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 like it. As a friend and former student recently wrote, "If only there were more time..." Off to Purdue. -----