August 29, 2022 4:44 PM

Radio Silence

a photo of a dolomite outcropping in Backbone State Park, Iowa

I did not intend for August to be radio silence on my blog and Twitter page. The summer just caught up with me, and my brain took care of itself, I guess, by turning off for a bit.

One bit of newness for the month was setting up a new Macbook Air. I finally placed my order on July 24. It was scheduled to arrive the week of August 10-17 but magically appeared on our doorstep on July 29. I've been meaning to write about the experience of setting up a new Mac laptop after working for seven years on a trusty Macbook Pro, but that post has been a victim of the August slowdown. I can say this: I pulled out the old Macbook Pro to watch Netflix on Saturday evening... and it felt *so* heavy. How quickly we adjust to new conditions and forget how lucky we were before.

Another pleasure in August was meeting up with Daniel Steinberg over Zoom. I remember back near the beginning of the pandemic Daniel said something on Twitter about getting together for a virtual coffee with friends and colleagues he could no longer visit. After far too long, I contacted him to set up a chat. We had a lot of catching up to do and ended up discussing teaching, writing, programming, and our families. It was one of my best hours for the month!

My wife and I took advantage of the last week before school started by going on a couple of hikes. We visited Backbone State Park for the first time and spent an entire day walking and enjoying scenery that most people don't associate with Iowa. The image at the top of this post comes from the park's namesake trail, which showcases some of the dolomite limestone cliffs leftover from before the last glaciers. Here's another shot, of an entrance to a cave carved out by icy water that still flows beneath the surface:

a photo of the entrance to a dolomite cave in Backbone State Park, Iowa

Closer to home, we took a long morning to walk through Hartman Reserve, a county preserve. Walking for a couple of hours as the sun rises and watching the trees and wildlife come to light is a great way to shake some rust off the mind before school starts.

I had a tough time getting ready mentally for the idea of a new school year. This summer's work offered more burnout than refreshment. As the final week before classes wound down, I had to get serious about class prep -- and it freed me up a bit. Writing code, thinking about CS, and getting back into the classroom with students still energize me. This fall is my compilers course. I'm giving myself permission to make only a few targeted changes in the course plan this time around. I'm hoping that this lets me build some energy and momentum throughout the semester. I'll need that in order to be there for the students.

Posted by Eugene Wallingford | Permalink | Categories: General, Personal

August 15, 2022 12:49 PM

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a picture of the orchid in my office from April 2021

From the closing pages from The Orchid Thief, which I mentioned in my previous post:

"The thing about computers," Laroche said, "the thing that I like is that I'm immersed in it but it's not a living thing that's going to leave or die or something. I like having the minimum number of living things to worry about in my life."

Actually, I have two comments.

If Laroche had gotten into open source software, he might have found himself with the opposite problem: software that won't die. Programmers sometimes think, "I know, I'll design and implement my own programming language!" Veterans of the programming languages community always seem to advise: think twice. If you put something out there, other people will use it, and now you are stuck maintaining a package forever. The same can be said for open source software more generally. Oh, and did I mention it would be really great if you added this feature?

I like having plants in my home and office. They give me joy every day. They also tend to live a lot longer than some of my code. The hardy orchid featured above bloomed like clockwork twice a year for me for five and a half years. Eventually it needed more space than the pot in my office could give, so it's gone now. But I'm glad to have enjoyed it for all those years.

Posted by Eugene Wallingford | Permalink | Categories: General, Personal, Software Development