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23rd-Jun-2016 05:10 pm(no subject)
weights, deadlift
I went to the gym and did pushups, power cleans, bent-over rows, and weighted carries. I now want to eat everything in sight and I think I can actually feel my upper back muscles growing in real time. (I know this isn't really possible - if I'm feeling anything, it's just post-workout inflammation.)
talent, pencil
Of all the things I've ever published, my poem, "Icarus", originally published in Strange Horizons in 2000, is the one that seems to generate the most continued interest. I still get the odd email about it from time to time. It's also been reprinted at least 3 times: in the first Best of Strange Horizons anthology, on a website devoted to different artistic interpretations of the Daedalus and Icarus myth, and in an English textbook for high school students in Australia.

Now I've gotten a request to reproduce the poem as part of an assessment test for students in Michigan. I feel kind of weird having written something that's apparently so tailor-made for school assignments, but since part of what I was trying to capture in the poem was the recklessness of adolescence/early adulthood, I guess it fits?
16th-Jun-2016 11:47 am(no subject)
calm, metal
Some days you* just need a fresh dose of Swedish symphonic metal. Spotify found this one for me. I'm rather taken with it - it pretty much adheres to the standard formula (mournful soprano + growly baritone + chuggy guitars + synthesized strings + noodly keyboard solo), but there's a reason it's a standard formula. It works.

* For values of "you" equalling "me". Your mileage may vary.
In a recent performance review discussion with my manager, she suggested that I do some work on my presentation and public speaking skills. Mine are adequate, but I think I'm more distinguished by my lack of fear of public speaking than by great skill. As a child, I was actually terrified by public speaking, and would do almost anything to avoid it. This fear was slowly ground out of me by stints on the high school debate team (I was terrible at debate), Constitution team, and various other academic competitions that required impromptu speaking; class presentations in college; and teaching during grad school. In the middle of my first year of grad school, I stepped onto a stage in a 150-person lecture hall on the U.C. Berkeley campus to deliver a pre-exam review. I looked into the lemur-like eyes of a full house of undergraduates desperately hoping that I would impart to them in the next three hours the knowledge that they had failed to acquire all semester. The atrophied remnants of my fear sighed heavily and slunk off somewhere down Telegraph Ave., never to trouble me again.

Anyhow, there was one obvious place to go to get some training for my fearless semi-competence: Toastmasters. People have been recommending to me that I do Toastmasters for years now, but I've always found some excuse not to do it. But my employer has their very own Toastmasters chapter, that meets right here on campus, so I decided that I would bite the bullet and go visit a meeting today.

The meeting started with someone giving a pre-prepared speech, which we all got to evaluate. Then there's this thing called "Table Topics", where someone comes up with a topic, and everyone who wants to can give a 1-2 minute speech on this topic. Our topic today was "reincarnation," and what immediately sprang to my mind was my character in the Legend of the Five Rings game I'm currently playing in, who has been repeatedly reincarnated. So, I began my speech with, "I don't believe in reincarnation, but I do play role playing games." I then managed to give a reasonably concise explanation of what a table top roleplaying game is, what Legend of the Five Rings is about, and how my character discovered that she was reincarnated. And then wrapped it up by observing that playing RPGs is sort of like being reincarnated, because you get to experience being many people. All in 1 minute 58 seconds.

At the end of the meeting, everyone voted on their favorite table topic speech. I was the winner. I got a ribbon and everything! Not too bad for my first try!
10th-Jun-2016 05:58 pm - Python!
Just wrote my first script in Python. I was trying to extract the table of contents from a PDF file. I tried two different Ruby gems, each of which failed to work in a different annoying way. I eventually decided that continuing to troubleshoot would probably take me longer and be more irritating than installing Python, installing the PDFMiner library, and following the handy-dandy code example that showed exactly what I wanted to do.

Writing Python after achieving a certain fluency in Ruby reminded me almost exactly of trying to speak Italian in Florence after a lifetime of being steeped in Spanish. I could understand a lot, and generally make myself understood, but I could never pronounce the word "pollo" correctly on the first try.

Anyway, now I've gotta go read up on basic Python syntax so that I can actually do something useful with this information I've managed to extract.
9th-Jun-2016 05:13 pm - Deadlift PR!
weights, deadlift
I hit a new deadlift PR today: 205lbs.

I'm working on a project where we're trying to get a bunch of data that has been kept on internal wiki pages into a database, so that it can be searchable, we can have automatic detection of duplicates, various other stuff.

Part of my contribution to this effort is to get the data off these wiki pages and into CSV files that can be imported into the database. It's a pretty trivial effort if you've got the Ruby gem Nokogiri (which parses HTML and XML files).

Well, it's sort of trivial. So far, about 20% of my time has been spent writing the part of the script that does the real work, and 80% has been spent dealing with oddities caused by unexpected white space, white space that Ruby does not recognize as white space by default ( ), and quirks of people's wiki markup.

My guess is that this is probably par for the course when web scraping.

Also, I wrote documentation for my homebrew hacky script that probably 2 other people besides me are ever gonna use, because that's how I roll.

When I'm done with this project, I'm considering switching from Ruby to Python. I like working in Ruby, but Python is quite literally what all the cool kids are using, since it seems to be the current language of choice for teaching children to program.
2nd-Jun-2016 01:05 pm - Goal Setting
talent, pencil
So, for the past few months, I've been experimenting with taking a little time on Sunday to set myself some goals for the week. Nothing terribly fancy: I just take a few minutes to jot down 3-4 things that I want to focus on during the week in a note on my phone, and then I glance at the note every morning to remind myself about my goals. I have two reasons for doing this. One is to try to increase the proportion of my work time spent on tasks that are truly important, rather than just urgent-seeming. The other is to reduce my anxiety about the fact that I can't get everything done all at once.

So far, it seems to be working. I won't say that it's life-changing, but I do feel like I'm spending my time a bit better.

The most challenging part, though, is picking the goals. Sometimes it's pretty obvious (like I've got a big deadline coming up), other times it's more nebulous. Sometimes I've found myself just jotting down something for the sake of having a goal.

At the beginning of this week, I hit on something that I think improved the quality of my goals substantially. Instead of asking, "What are my goals this week?" I asked myself, "If I imagine at the end of this week that I'm sitting down to a nice dinner with my friends and loved-ones, and one of them asks me, 'How was your week?', what would I like to be able to say?"

Thinking of things in terms of "Where do I want Future-Me to be?" really seems to help. I've got to set half-year goals at work soon, a task that I always find a bit tricky, and I might just approach it by writing the performance evaluation that I want to be able to write for myself at the end of the year. (That would have the additional bonus that if I followed through, I'd have a first draft of my performance self-evaluation, which I also hate writing.)
23rd-May-2016 03:39 pm - New Trainer
weights, deadlift
So, I had my first session with a new personal trainer today. I was pretty sure that this guy would be good for me to work with, since my previous trainer had referred me to him. I think we're going to get along great. I mean, he's clearly not used to middle-aged obese women whose goal is to lift things that weigh more than they do, but he's more than happy to train for that. And he did a nice thorough assessment during our first session, asked smart questions about my injury history, clearly keeps up with new developments in the strength and conditioning field by reading and going to conferences, and has a nice laid-back style.

One of the nice thing about going through an assessment with a new trainer is that you get a nice set of benchmarks of how far you've come. I can now hold a plank for 30 seconds easily. I may need to stop making jokes about how I have a set of old rubber bands where my abs should be.
23rd-May-2016 09:41 am - Music Monday - The Master's Bouquet
calm, metal
Every time I hear this song, I can't help but be weirded out by the presence of an (inadvertent?) Audre Lorde reference in old school epic doom metal.

They've always said,
You can't destroy the Master's house with the Master's hammer
I laugh and say,
"I will use any tool I find to tear down his manor"

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