October Update

Happy October, everyone!

When a blogger goes missing, it's usually because they're either too busy that they can't find time to write, or they're doing absolutely nothing and therefore have nothing to write about. For me, it's actually been a combination of both - the first half of the month was pretty leisurely, but I've been keeping busy since!

I've been playing Guild Wars 2. I actually hit level cap, almost entirely by soloing. That just... doesn't happen with me. But I love it, it's a great game.

Of course, I've been doing lots of crafting (and cleaning) for Halloween... though I still haven't started our costumes. T's going to be the character from Journey, and I'm gonna make one of Cardcaptor Sakura's outfits.


None of our friends watch anime or have played Journey, so in the end I'll have put a ton of work into a costume that no one recognizes. Hooray! (Luckily I don't have to be done 'til Friday - I can wear an old costume or approximate Fancy Catwoman on actual Halloween night, if I need to. I will need to.)

For decoration crafts, I'm doing some reliable favorites (paper bats, pumpkins, orange lights, etc) and I DIY'd a few new ones: cheesecloth ghosts and paper pumpkins. The ghosts are being hung off of twigs that I painted black and sealed with Mod Podge.




Have a Happy Halloween! Hopefully this year I'll get some good photos of our costumes, heh.

Four simple things to help your home

I know, I know. The title sounds ridiculous and boring. But I'm serious! I've been playing house for the past few months in our new apartment, and have had to learn a couple simple tricks to being an adult living in a clean home. I've spent many years living as a lazy student who has better things to do than vacuum or make the bed. But I'm old enough now that I actually care about making my living space feel welcoming and comfortable, rather than cluttered and potentially hazardous. Here's the four things that have made the biggest difference in my quest to not live in a pig sty:

Velvet Hangers


These hangers are a god-send for any girl's closet. They can handle every piece of clothing I stick on them: cozy oversize sweaters, slippery satin dresses, wide-neck blouses, spaghetti strap tops. I don't think I can describe in words how amazing it is to be able to drag a suitcase out of the closet and not send half my wardrobe cascading onto the floor.


My closet has never been so clean.

With slippery plastic or metal hangers, most of my clothes lived on the floor. My closet was in a constant state of FUCK IT. Now? I organize by type and then suborganize my clothes by color, yo. ME. ORGANIZE. CLOTHES. BY TWO CRITERIA. I couldn't have done it with plastic hangers. It wouldn't have been possible.

Some people like those fancy wooden hangers with like, traction grips on the arms. They're nice, I'll admit. But velvet hangers have one thing those wooden hangers don't: they're slim line and interlocking.

BAM. Suddenly a hundred articles of clothing only takes up three feet of space. It's glorious.(Those numbers are in no way experimental. I just wildly guessed.) Also, the velvet hangers are way cheaper than a closet's worth of wooden ones. TAKE THAT, WOODEN HANGERS.

Uniform Tupperware


I have literally never witnessed a Tupperware cupboard that was organized. I don't know how it happens, but everyone seems to end up with everyone else's containers. You lost the lid to that one, but if you really force it, the lid from that other container will fit - not that one, the other slightly-rounded-square lid. Dammit, where's the circle lid? Where's the rectangle lid? Where's ARUGHGUGH -

- and now you're buried under a pile of plastic containers.

It's no good.

When we moved, I hunted down the owners of all our stray tupperwares and aggressively gave them back. And I mean aggressively - people really don't want that shit back in their house. I had to bribe and/or threaten people just to get them to take their containers back. I dangled containers over garbage cans and made vicious eye contact: "It's going in the garbage if you don't take it back! Then you'll feel bad!"

I kept one stack of Glad containers and lids that were all the same shape. Everything else was either returned to its proper home or trashed (some people were resistant to my attempts at guilting).

You probably have no idea how pleasant it is to empty the dishwasher and be able to pop all the containers into one stack without triggering an avalanche. It's like, the highlight of my day some times.

Smaller Clothes Hamper


We used to have two hampers. I'm not even sure why; we just had them. They were just there. So we used them... and let them get full. Eventually they'd get so overflowing that I'd scrape off the top layer of clothes and do two loads of laundry and call it a day. But the hampers were both still packed full of clothes.

I threw one hamper away when we moved because it was broken. And ugly. But mostly because it was broken.

The new place has a washer and dryer in the apartment! That really helped because we don't have to time doing laundry around a bunch of strangers' schedules. But, this washer is also much smaller than the one we used before; it holds about half the load size. If we let our one hamper get full, it can take five loads instead of two to empty it.

A smaller hamper would be a gentle reminder of this fact. We're not good at following schedules; we tend to lose days. We need visual reminders to do non-daily tasks. A full hamper indicates "laundry time," but that signal doesn't work if a full hamper means five loads of laundry!

Keep the Kitchen Sink Clean


This one is from a miracle cure I read on the Internet somewhere: "If you keep your sink clean at all times, your kitchen will never be messy." It sounded easy. It sounded like it would take care of my least favourite and most problem area: the kitchen. I decided to try it.

It really does work!

But it also takes work.

The reason it works it because you're more likely to do dishes and tidy up if the kitchen sink is already clean and waiting to be used. Sinks have a real special way of getting nasty. When you put dirty dishes in a sink, they stay wet. Whatever bits of food left on the dish gets soggy and it turns the water into what my friend so aptly named "stinkwater."

The stinkwater then starts to absorb genetic materiel and nutrients from the various unsavoury items lurking in the sink and it creates an astounding new form of life. Then you come along later and you're all: "YEA TIME TO CLEAN!" and the toxic ooze monster that's living in your sink is like, "hey," and then you have to drink a bunch of alcohol to forget about it. All because you put a dish in the sink.

If you force yourself to at least clean out the sink every day, you end up doing a lot of necessary little side tasks too. For me, that simple task unrolls into twenty minutes of work. Unload the dishwasher, load it up with dirty dishes, clean the pots and pans, rinse out the french press... on and on. Then I can finally wipe down the sink!

But it's worth it, if only that I haven't seen an ooze monster for months.

Don't Let Your Bookshelf Define You

Gaze upon these technical books and tremble at the depth of my knowledge! Look upon this classic literature and know that I am cultured! Peer at these non-fiction books and submit to my worldliness!

When you're a book-lover, it can be difficult to avoid being consumed by your collection. The books we've read become a part of us - they have filled us with knowledge and experiences, and enriched our lives. Every book we read leaves something of itself behind. A bookshelf is a trophy case, a shrine dedicated to the knowledge we have consumed. We proudly display our trophies of past conquests, praying that our guests will comment on our display, glowing with pride every time our gaze falls upon the stacks.

Fear me! Slayer of Words! Eater of Fantasy! Conqueror of Truth! The Devouring One!

It kind of gets to your head.


Sometimes, we proudly display trophies that haven't even been earned. How many of us have supposedly wonderful classic books that we've never cracked open? Pop-sci books that we've never read beyond the first chapter? Textbooks we never used in school? When we let books become a trophy, we open ourselves up to (perceived) judgement. Our bookshelves are never clever enough, or worldly enough, or philosophical enough. We stuff our shelves with things we will never read because we can't bear face the fact that we really do just have trashy taste.

Books are a problem. It's very easy to get emotionally attached to books - either individual books (I'll never let go of my copy of Watership Down) or just the concept of having books. People get very angry and defensive when someone dares suggest that people pare down their book collection. I read Apartment Therapy, which has a community that seems to be particularly susceptible to this attachment. Publishing the words "own too many" combined with the word "books" is like touching a flame to a bomb fuse. They rally around a cry of, "You'll pry my books from my cold, dead hands, you bookless heathens!"

How many books can we really love? You know that saying where you can only ever manage one hundred social connections? Or that thing where you can only hold seven simultaneous thoughts at once? There has to be an upper limit the the number of books that a person can devote their love to. There's a finite number of books in a collection that we will re-read. There's a finite number of books that have a special meaning. Everything else just takes up space that could be filled with things we love and use.

It's okay to let go of the references you never reference. It's alright to donate the classics you'll never read. We book-lovers can learn to look at our collections as made up of individual items, rather than as a single object that defines us and owns us. I've done it. It was hard. I was ruthless. But my book shelf now represents my tastes far more than it ever did before the culling.

Gaze upon my sci-fi collection and know that it is loved! Look upon my board games and know that they are played! Peer into my mouse cage and know that I love these living things!

Fear me! Slayer of terrible bestselling fiction! Destroyer of crusty classic lit! Eliminator of outdated textbooks! The Organized One!

The magic of Instagram


Lunch. Coffee. Skylines. Fresh ingredients. Shelves of merchandise. Feet.

Facebook is so boring. Twitter is so trivial. Instagram is so fake. Why do people continue to use them? What do these services offer us that we continue to use them so heavily? Facebook is a heavyweight champion of Internet traffic. Few people question the usefulness of Twitter. Bloggers post weekly Instagram updates. There has to be something more here than social interaction - if all we wanted was interaction, we'd have stuck with IM programs, guest books, and message boards. Successful social media services must offer something for both the user and their followers.

I don't think it's fame or popularity. I don't think it's entertainment.

I think it might be a magnifying glass.

People who keep journals of gratitude and happiness are measurably happier. Focusing on the positive things in life and downplaying the negatives is just good for our overall well-being. It's one of the secrets of meditation, and perhaps it's the secret of Instagram, too.

Before I started forcing myself to write down three "good things" before bed, I half-heartedly did it in my head. I stopped when it seemed like nothing good ever happened. "Today I cleaned the bathroom" just didn't seem like the kind of positive and inspiring reflection that was necessary for increased happiness. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the majority of a typical person's day is pretty damn average. We fill our days with mundane tasks like walking the dog and getting dressed; a series of minuscule mediocrities. There's nothing inherently depressing about these tasks, but there's not necessarily anything that's joyful, either.

Until you start blogging.

When you have a blog - or an Instagram account, or a Twitter profile, or a Facebook account - you start to look for things in your life that might possibly be worth sharing. You take pictures of the garnish in your drink; you eavesdrop on strangers' conversations; you are more willing to eat at a new restaurant, all for the sake of having something that might be share-worthy. I could blog this, might seem like a narcissistic and shallow reason to actively enjoy your life more, but hey - when we're talking about you enjoying your life more, aren't all reasons inherently shallow?

Peering through the false patina of Instagram reveals the art hidden within our mundane lives. There are other ways to achieve this effect, but social media is fast, widely accessible, and the results are exactly the same - you stop to smell the roses. And yes, it's likely that no one actually cares to know what you had for lunch or what your feet look like in the swimming pool. Maybe it is true that no one would miss you if you left the Internet. But that's not the point, is it? Because you're not doing social media for other people... you're doing it for yourself.

Curiosity

It was 1:30AM, and we were sitting in our living room with a friend, staring at each other blankly. "So, uh, what do we do now?" we asked each other.

"Weeellll, the Mars rover lands in an hour. I guess we could stream that and play Minecraft?"

Up to this point I had been aware of the Curiosity landing in much the same way that I was aware of the Olympics. It was neat because it's a big event that happens only every few years, and it showcased a large amount of talent. I was interested in a sort of vague, "Yay engineering!" kind of way, but didn't care too much.

I figured the stream would make neat background noise while I did some mining.

But I quickly became glued to the video - the fantastic details of Curiosity's flight and descent were far more interesting than I had previously thought. "ROCKET PARACHUTE!!" is what I screamed when the video showed a simulation of Curiosity's landing, "MOTHERFUCKING ROCKET PARACHUTE!" My Minecraft Steve stood inside his blocky villa, holding his pickaxe, abandoned. You can't compete with rocket parachutes.

During the 7 Minutes of Terror we sat in silence and I chewed my nails. "There's no way this is going to work," I said. "They're right on time, though," said T, glancing at the clock. "They're fucking NASA, of course they're on time," was my half-serious response.

There was silence. Tension. More silence and tension. Then the control room exploded into cheering.


The landing had been a success. A few moments later - "We have thumbnails!" and even more cheering, as we all saw a low-res, blurry, black-and-white picture of some dirt.


It felt amazing. The excitement of those folks at NASA was completely contagious. I kept the stream on until I went to bed, listening to all the details. The landing was more than successful - it was practically flawless.

I think, though, what I liked most about the stream were these two fellows:

Photo of a NASA engineer who has his hair styled in a mohawk with blue and red highlights. On the side of his skull are two yellow stars.

Photo of an older, male NASA engineer with shoulder-length grey hair

I think it's a credit to technical and scientific fields that folks with unconventional appearances or hair styles can still be taken seriously. These job positions are quite prestigious and well-respected, and yet having a mohawk or being a male with long hair doesn't affect people's faith in your ability to do a job. Which, of course, is common sense - why should your hair affect your work? Why is it that people considering tattoos, piercings or hairstyles are told to consider their ability to get hired?

I really do love the engineering community for the fact that no shits are given. My fiancee T, as you may recall, is a scrawny long-haired boy, and yet he commands a tremendous amount of respect from his peers and supervisors because of his engineering ability. The guys above put a rover on Mars. They are just as capable with their fancy hair as they would be with more traditional cuts. Engineering and scientific fields are definitely ahead of the curve on this one, and it makes me proud.

Who's afraid of the big bad beetle?

I'm not afraid of bugs.

Okay, that's a lie. I'm afraid of bugs that can hurt me providing they're in a bad mood (wasps) and I have an irrational fear of venomous spider bites. And then the usual list of bugs that give me the heebie-jeebies - earwigs, silverfish, and centipedes.

But there is a kind of bug that I absolutely loathe. Let me tell you about them.

Illustration of a June beetle, which has parts labelled "BROWN", "Dumby dumb dumb", "Hooking hooks", "distended undercarriage"

June bugs are a particularly offensive largeish beetle that emerge for a few weeks to mate and lay eggs when the weather is right. That's the only good thing about them (and even that isn't so great, because once they're done propagating they all die and litter the ground with horrible dried-out husks.). As you can tell from the above picture (in which I have rendered an inaccurately cute June bug), every single bit of them is made with some sort of horrible.

Usually beetles can repent for their scurrying nature, horrific size, or dung-eating habits by at least having interestingly-coloured shells. Not so with the June beetle, which stubbornly maintains a dull and unappealing brown shell. In addition to its failure to appeal to any aesthetic sense, the beetle's brown shell covers only its head and folded wings, leaving its distressingly off-yellow body plain to be seen.

These unfortunate beetles look like they are ready to burst open on a moment's notice; their yellowed undersides seeming to bulge with the barely-contained pressure of their gooey insides. If you've ever hand the misfortune to step on a June bug, you'll know it doesn't take much pressure before the whole thing ruptures and spews an alarming amount sticky yellow goo all over your shoe. (And between the idiocy and the dying, it's often difficult to avoid stepping on them.)

In the early summer, perhaps while trying to enjoy a refreshing night breeze, you can hear the dull THWACK of June bugs bashing their idiot heads against buildings up and down the street. (Even when they're not flying into walls, they fly about with a distressingly noisy buzz.) These beetles are offensively stupid. Most beetles that are flipped on their back will readily accept a helping hand (er, twig)... except June bugs, which don't seem to have developed a knack for grasping. When finally righted, they will, as likely as not, forget to spread their legs properly and tumble sideways again.

The last bit of their hideous anatomy is their leg hooks. I don't know what purpose these hooks were intended to serve, but I know that in our modern world they do these creatures a disservice. Those hooks are amazingly efficient at getting tangled in long hair (I've experienced that one first-hand) and stuck in the mesh of screen doors. My least-favourite habit of these beetles is when they get their hooks stuck in a screen and then try to fly away, loudly buzzing and thwacking the screen with their wings. (When they're stuck, the best way to dislodge them is to flick them from the other side of the screen and send them flying away.)

They haven't been around this year.

We had an early warm spell followed by unusually cold temperatures, and I suspect this killed many of them off and prevented them from emerging. I've only see a handful of the creatures this year (and I've never been more thankful for climate change.).

Three miscellaneous services that are worth paying for

I can't be the only one here with a warped sense of fiances. I see nothing wrong with forking over five or ten bucks for vanity items in video games, magazines that are 50% advertising, specialty cheese that I'll eat while watching TV in my jammies, or shoes that I'll never have an occasion to wear... but at the same time I balk at the thought of paying that same amount of money for actually useful services. (It must offend my sensibilities that something useful could cost money.) But, even with a screwey sense of value, I've found a few services that are definitely worth their cost... because I tried to live for the past few years without them.

Caller ID

I doubt this is true of all cell providers, but my provider charges an extra $10 a month for their caller ID service. "Fuck that," I said when I first got my cellphone, "I can live without knowing who is calling."

If I could go back in time, I'd smack past-me upside the head for being a fucking idiot. Yea, it's true that when my phone rings I'll be able to figure out who's at the other end of the line pretty quickly... but you know what happens when I miss a phone call?

"1 missed call from unknown."

Unknown.

It doesn't even give me a phone number. For more than a year, if I missed a call, I had no idea if it was from my mom, a receptionist, a pimp, or a telemarketer. That shit gets stressful! Especially since I chronically forget to turn my phone off of silent mode, so I miss an abnormally high percentage of phone calls. (There's an app for automatically adjusting phone volume levels, too, but I haven't tried it yet.)

T came home the other day and told me that he added caller ID to my phone plan. I don't know if I ever would have done it myself - not knowing who had called had simply become a fact of life - but holy balls am I glad he did.

Lastpass premium

Lastpass is a password management extension for browsers. It's multiplatform, easy-to-use, and infinitely more secure than your browser's password manager. With Lastpass, the only password you ever have to remember is your Lastpass master password. The rest of your passwords can be as long and random as you want them to be.

The browser extensions are free - obviously - but their mobile apps are not. The Lastpass mobile app requires a subscription of $12 a year. That's one dollar a month... that I was too cheap to pay. Because of... reasons, I guess. So I went a year without logging into websites on my phone (excluding a few highly-used services).

Dear self: $12 a year is worth it, just to be able to check your bank account balance on your phone, let alone the hundreds of other sites whose login information you forget.

Netflix

We had cable, once. It was something like $70 a month, and we only ever watched three channels for a couple of hours a week. The things I liked to watch were never on when I was ready to watch them. It was painful to sit down and watch something, because commercials would interrupt every seven minutes or so. The channels I was really interested in required specialty packs for additional fees. Cable was not worth it.

But? Netflix is. While their selection still has room for expansion, there is always something good "on" when I feel like sitting down and watching TV. There are no commercials. It's only $10 a month. For me, $10 is worth is to not have to mess around with torrents, video files, and networking so I can get a movie on our TV.

Also cool? Netflix is multi-platform and syncs across devices. We started watching an episode on the Wii at home, and later finished the episode from T's tablet while visiting my family in another city. No longer do we arrange our lives around the TV schedule; instead we arrange TV around our lives.

How it should be.

We went a very long time without cable or Netflix. Can I live without TV service? Yeah, I can - and did. But having TV and movies available with little fuss makes me days better. I do more crafting, cleaning, spend more time on supper, and get to relax and wind down more thoroughly than when I don't have a TV service.

And I don't think that's a bad thing.

So. Time to share! What services did you decide were really worth paying for? Have you had experience living with - or without - the three I mentioned?

In sickness and in health

'til death do us part...

Oops, I guess I kind of screwed up on that part of blogging, didn't I?

After moving, I was concentrated on getting unpacked and settled in. All my routines got totally screwed, especially since we subscribed to Netflix and my best friend now lives a couple blocks away. I'd been spending very little time on the computer, and was finding it difficult to sit down and write.

Oh, and then I went to the hospital.

Three days of fever and mild abdominal pain turned out to be a kidney infection! Hurray. I was admitted to the hospital Sunday afternoon and was released Tuesday night at around 10:30. The doctor originally wanted me to stay another night for more IV antibiotics, but I "persuaded" him to let me out early. (I may have burst into tears.)

The hospital stay was bad. Pretty sure I have a fear of them now. My roommate was an elderly lady who (they think) had Alzheimer's... she was quiet most of the time, but when she got agitated she could be loud. But that wasn't what really bothered me - it was the care she (didn't) receive. I know hospitals are understaffed and blah blah blah, but that's no excuse for how they (didn't) treat some of the patients.

Her basic needs were met - medication and cleaning - but nothing else. She didn't eat unless her husband was there to feed her; I'm quite certain she couldn't feed herself, but the staff would just leave a tray of food in front of her and then leave. The last night I was there, she was left strapped into her chair, slouched over with her forehead on her tray, covered in water she had spilled, for over an hour and a half before someone checked on her. At half past midnight. They didn't get her into bed until one o'clock. I guess the nurses were doing more important things, like standing at the nurses' station and loudly giggling and talking. And then they kept talking about how she "hadn't slept for days," and I'm thinking, it's not like it's her fault.

It wasn't very good for me, either. I kept getting fevers (and accompanying chills, headache and muscle aches) because some of the nurses wouldn't give me Tylenol unless I already had a high temperature. And it's not like they checked my temperature on a regular basis - only when I called for it because I was getting uncomfortable.

Both nights I had nightmares, was overly emotional, and had really paranoid thoughts. The second night they wouldn't let T stay because "I was feeling better." (Turns out the antibiotic I am on can cause nightmares and psychosis!) On the third day, my nurse wouldn't let T sit with me in the bed and hold me because "it made people uncomfortable" - that was basically the last straw for me. I begged to be let out early.

And dear lord, I feel so much better at home.

Graduation

Photo of graduate Sam Routledge, in cap and gown.
Photo by Abhishek Kar

It's been an incredible journey of learning, especially considering that when I applied to UNB Computer Science I had literally zero experience programming and knew very little about computers. I used a very silly method when applying for a degree program: I didn't like science labs, I hated calculus, I disliked writing, I saw no future in any of the fine arts, and so... that left CS! I got lucky that I found my passion on the first try. I discovered that I adored the computer science parts - the mathematical and logical foundations of the field. Pursuing that interest allowed me to complete the requirements for the Theory and Computation CS specialty.

Photo of several professors in their academic robes.Photo by Abhishek Kar

The graduation ceremony itself is always interesting - at least, I always enjoy seeing the professors in their academic splendor. The three professors on the left in the photo above are CS professors - The sleepy one is the professor I took advanced algorithms from (one of my favourite courses), the bored-looking one wearing jeans and sneakers is who taught my C programming class (my favourite programming language), and the guy in the middle taught.... uh, let's just call it computation theory (the most organized, easy-to-understand prof I've ever had!).

We had the misfortune to be in the final ceremony with the engineers. Dear lord, there are a lot of engineers! Haha, it wasn't actually that bad, because the ceremony was in a brand new building with wonderful air conditioning! We were also the only ceremony that didn't get rained out; in fact it turned into a beautiful sunny day. Not a bad finale for five years of work!

PS, if you know what's good for you, don't ask what I plan to do next. >:(

What I learned from packing; a new life philosophy

The experience of packing for our approaching move has led me on a journey of discovery. It began on Pinterest, where I started (obsessively) looking for clever organization tricks. The apartment we are currently living in has a spare room in addition to extremely sizable kitchen, bedroom and living room. There is a lot of space in this place, and we've filled it all with stuff. I was desperate for ideas to fit four rooms worth of stuff into our new tiny one-bedroom apartment.

This led me to cleaning and organizing tips, mainly featuring advice on how to pare down possessions and deal with clutter. And that train of reading finally led me to the minimalist blogging niche. I spent hours perusing The Minimalist Mom, exploring her view on life and possessions. Minimalists have a very Zen philosophy: the more possessions you own, the more you are owned by them. Minimalism is effectively about living with the bare essentials. I read about folks who only own one plate. I read about folks who throw their children's toys in the garbage if they're left on the floor. I read about folks who have scanned and digitized their entire personal library. I read about folks who produced only a handful of trash in a year. Minimalism has a lot of offer a young couple who want to make a move easier - especially when said young couple is considering where they will end up in five years - but to be frank, it's intimidating in its extremes.

"The last thing I want is for someone else to have to throw away my junk! I'd rather leave only skills and memories behind"

The problem is, I like a lot of my stuff. The stuff I like has plenty of benefits, and my life would definitely not be better if I lived without it. Clothing and crafting is a creative outlet. Board games and video games gives us something fun to do with friends (and in this city, there isn't much else!), and having more than two place settings allows us to feed and water guests. Pet supplies keep our animals happy and healthy. I constantly re-read the books on our bookshelves. A desk covered in tools and fiddly electronic bits helps T get school work done, in addition to his personal hobbies. Take any of these things away, and our lives are noticeably more dull.

The typical reasons given for minimalism didn't resonate with me. We don't have children with which we want to spend more time. We don't spend so much time cleaning that it negatively impacts our life. The only debt we have is student loan debt - we don't have a car loan, credit card debt or house. Our standard of living is comfortable - just a little cluttered, is all!

Then, just before I became exasperated with the minimalist philosophy, I found the idea of optimalism. "Don't make due with the minimum amount," the optimalists say, "find the optimal amount. Yes, technically we could all make due with one pot and a wooden spoon, but if it makes your life harder or less enjoyable, don't do it! Aim to find the perfect amount, the perfect balance, of things in your life - not too few or too many. Don't be afraid to be aggressive. Remove the little things that frustrate you and replace them with things that you enjoy."

Ah! Finally, here is something I can get behind. With that in mind, I began sweeping through the apartment. I made a list of things I wanted to replace - a spatula that was hard to clean, a garbage can that took two hands to open (or - more frequently - a hand and foot while I desperately tried to balance on the other foot and hold whatever garbage I had in my other hand). I threw away/donated hundreds of items that we hadn't used or enjoyed in the four years we've lived here - books I knew I would never read again, CDs of outdated OS installs, dried up tubes of paint. It feels... good.

T has been a champ through the whole thing. He's a pack rat by nature, and it's very difficult for him to let things go. Some part of his brain just screams "But it used to be worth money! It still works, we could use it in the future! What if I want to look at it again and it's not there!" We've compromised by putting a bunch of stuff "in storage" (AKA at his parents' house). He still has a lot of clothing, and binders full of old school notes, but hey... one step at a time.

So here's my new philosophy: I'm not going to put up with "good enough" if I don't have to. Getting rid of things I don't use and love makes it easier for me to get at the things I DO love. And, of course, the most beneficial part of this is in acquiring new possessions. Even before now, I've made a conscious effort to stop buying things just because they're cheap. (You'd think it would be easier to resit a pair of shoes on sale for $5, especially if the heel is a little ugly, but you'd be wrong) So I'm going to continue to apply that philosophy even more... especially making sure to get rid of the original when replacing things. (Like the vacuum cleaner. And the laser printer. And the camera. *cough*) Then, we bring fewer things into the apartment in the first place, and so the need to eliminate and declutter eventually subsides.

Decluttering tips


So, with two weeks left, I haven't done any packing. What I have done is begun removing all the things we won't be wanting or needing in the new apartment. By next week, I hope to have nothing but the "good stuff" left behind, which I will then pack up in boxes. One great tip for this kind of paring down is to touch everything. I found that by removing everything from its container, drawer or closet, I was less tempted to leave it for "later." I forced myself to look at everything and evaluate it on the spot.

The second tip that really helped was not just to purge things I didn't want, but rather to set aside the things I really wanted to keep. If you only get rid of the things you definitely don't like, you're left with a sizable pile of things that you only kinda like; taking out the things you definitely want to keep will result in a smaller "keep" pile! (This is especially useful for clothing, jewelry and craft supplies!)

The last tip I read about was, don't purchase organization supplies until after you've done your organizing. You won't know until after your purge and re-organization what kind of storage you will need. If I had done all my supply shopping beforehand, I never would have realized that I really needed a CD box, a seal-able glass jar... and that I'd have ten empty bins, boxes and baskets.

I discovered the benefit of labeling everything. I borrowed a label maker and put something like ten labels on each plastic bin, listing what was inside. That way, if I wanted to know where, for example, I had stashed an extra jar of buttons, I didn't have to dig through three bins of things that came from the craft room.

Have you done a declutter, or just a move before? What things helped you the most?

Believe me, I am still alive!

The past few months have been quite a thing. I got through finals and will be graduating in a couple of weeks (though the official confirmation doesn't come 'til next week, which leaves just enough room for my paranoia to kick in!). I'll be full-time job hunting soon. We're moving to a new apartment on the first of June, so I've been cleaning and organizing in preparation for that. I've already tossed ten bags of garbage and put the same amount of plastic bins into storage... and that was only about 1/3 of all the stuff. Yesterday, I cleaned the kitchen from top to bottom - even under the fridge. (Well, except the the bit of wall near the ceiling that I couldn't reach). Now I only have four rooms to go!

I've been making an ever-growing list of things that I think would make our apartment so much easier to live in... it's smaller than this place by a significant amount, so things will have to be quite viciously organized if we're going to not be drowning in clutter. I'm really excited to move into a place where it feels "worth it" to put effort into decorating because it's not dingy and run-down. I think we'll even paint a few walls!

We also gave the aquarium some much-needed love. We replaced the ballast and lights, so now we actually have enough light for the plants. T bought a proper compressed C02 diffuser, also for the plants. We scrubbed the driftwood, rocks and gravel to get rid of the gross moss. We swapped out the Amazon Sword for several smaller plants. We also got shrimp again! I love shrimp, they're my favourite part about aquariums. Here, have a photo of a discarded shrimp skin (from before we cleaned the moss):


We all started playing League of Legends again, and T picked up Magic the Gathering. I've played a few games of Magic with him by quickly building a deck. It's a pretty fun game, but I'm definitely not as "into" it as he is. I've been re-watching Cardcaptor Sakura, and got a pack of Clow cards to match the Sakura cards I got last time I watched the series. I've begun thinking about how one would go about making a screen-accurate leather-bound Clow book. Similar to my Pocahontas costume, I have yet to find anyone who put the effort into making a Clow book prop that was screen-accurate and "realistic."

I've been doing research on web-accessibility, so I can better understand what kinds of support I should be providing on my blog for alternative browsers and screen readers. I've also been gathering information on light SEO techniques; nothing hard core, just a few best practices such as meta markup that will make things easier on the bots. I really enjoy this kind of project. :)

Oh, and I made an apron following this free apron pattern. It's the first time I've done bias tape binding; it was way easier than I thought it would be! I screwed up in a few spots, but it's nothing a little hand stitching couldn't fix. I'm super happy with it and wear it all the time! It's really feminine, and was a great use for an otherwise awkwardly-colored bit of cotton fabric.


Neuroshima Hex chit bags!


On a whim, we picked up a board game we had never heard of before: Neuroshima Hex!, which turned out to be a really great choice. (I'll probably write up a review later)

It did have one noticable flaw, though: you need to draw units from a deck during gameplay. Turning all the chits facedown and then stacking them into a deck was tedious and time-consuming, considering the only other set up component was unfolding the board. I decided to make some custom drawstring bags to hold the chits, which were big and opaque enough to draw out of.

I followed this tutorial for drawstring bags by Jeni of In Color Order.

Bag

Supplies for the bags:
  • Sewing necessities (sewing machine, pins, scissors)
  • 1/4 meter of satin for the outside of each bag (I got four pieces in four different colors)
  • Same amount of fabric for the lining (I used some black fabric I had on hand)
  • Coordinating thread. The stitching for the drawstring casing will be visible.
  • Cord or string for the drawstring. For four bags, I think I used around 6 meters, but I made a mistake and had to restring a couple.

For each bag, I cut one big piece of the satin, measuring 15 inches by 8 inches, and I cut two pieces of the lining at 7.5 inches x 8 inches each. I ditched the contrasting fabric on the outside (mostly because the black lining I was using actually had a flower pattern on it, which I didn't want to draw attention to), so I only had lining and exterior pieces. After that tweak, I followed the tutorial without modification.


Stenciling

Supplies for the stenciling:
  • Freezer paper (Freezer paper is butcher's paper that is lightly waxed on one side.)
  • Tape
  • Craft knife and cutting surface
  • Iron
  • Black paint (I used acrylic)

I used the awesome and simple trick of using freezer paper for one-time fabric stenciling.

Brief explanation: Draw your stencil on the unwaxed portion of the freezer paper, and cut out the stencil with a craft knife. Then, position your stencil wax-side down over your fabric. Lightly press with a medium-heat iron. (If using satin, put a thin cloth between the stencil/fabric and the iron, otherwise you'll irreparably damage the satin!) The stencil should now be lightly bonded to the fabric. Paint the fabric using the stencil. Wait for the paint to dry, and then carefully peel off the stencil.

If you've never done it before, here are more detailed instructions on how to stencil with freezer paper, including some helpful images!

I actually scanned four unit pieces so I could get a high-res version of the armies' logos (You can get them here and here). I then printed them and taped them to my freezer paper. Then I just followed the lines and cut through both layers of paper with my craft knife. Three of the army logos had "floating" bits in their center. I cut these out and set them aside. When it came time to stencil, I ironed the small center bits onto the fabric first, and then positioned the rest of the stencil around it. For the green army, I had to make a little "bridge" to connect the small plus and minus signs to the rest of the stencil, because they were too small to iron on independently. After I removed the stencil, I filled in the bridge by hand with a paintbrush.

The result was very crisp, clean edges and an extremely accurate logo!

Pinterest.com | A wild copyright infringment appeared!



I've joined the ranks of the Pinners.

After watching the blogosphere obsess over Pinterest for a couple months, and including a Pinterest share button on the bottom of all my posts, I figured I should give it a shot.

To be honest, I was a little disenchanted with the registration process. First of all, you cannot create an account without linking it to either a Twitter or a Facebook account. Secondly, they're still doing this "false scarcity" thing where registering is actually signing up for an "invitation," which you get a few days later. There is no valid technical reason why they would enforce this, beyond poor system design, so I can only assume it's done to breed a sense of exclusivity in their userbase.

I'm not a fan of overt psychological tactics.

But, after the initial ickiness that was the registration process, I've been enjoying my experience. Pinterest is kind of like an image-only Tumblr, except instead of managing multiple tumbleblogs or an awkward tagging system, you get individual "boards" that you can "pin" images to. Pinterest is also more community-oriented than Tumblr is, because all pins are made under a category, in addition to being put on a board, and these categories are publicly browsable.

The whole thing is a masterpiece in user interface design. The UI is beautiful, intuitive and simple. There is a great balance of content and structure. They've clearly worked hard to make it a visually engaging experience.

But, already, there's a dark side.

Since Pinterest hit mainstream, they've begun struggling with copyright issues. In late February of this year, a blog post about Pinterest by lawyer and photographer Kirsten of DDKPortraits went viral (Well, as viral as blog posts can go). In it, she detailed why she removed her inspiration boards from Pinterest over concerns about the legality of pinning images without the express permission of the copyright holder.

This is a tricky situation in law right now, because no one actually knows for sure if this kind of sharing is legal, without battling it in court. By most definitions, it isn't. There are only a handful of resolved cases involving the general legality of reproducing content online, the biggest of which involve thumbnails used by image search engines. But that doesn't apply in this case, as Kirsten writes:

[...]when you upload or “pin” to Pinterest, you are using the entire, full size photograph in the same resolution that was originally posted by the creating photographer. The Supreme Court of the United States has already, in another case, stated that when a commercial use basically duplicates the original so as to essentially operate as a replacement for the original, market harm to the original occurs. [...] With low-resolution thumbnails, the viewer must click through to the original post to view the full work.

This is clearly a problem, and a big one at that. Pinterest has neatly absolved themselves by forcing all users to agree to their terms - that no user will pin anything they aren't licensed to reproduce. They also respect DMCA takedown notices, as most content hosting sites do these days. Lastly, they've a recently introduced meta tag that savvy website owners can apply, which will prevent users from pinning anything on their site. But, none of that will let the users off the hook. While concerned content creators can prevent folks from pinning their images, copyright is not an opt-out system. Even if pinning is not blocked, it could still violate copyright. So, what should the users do? Carefully research all the images they want to pin, and only pin those that are licensed for redistribution by the creator? Only pin images they have created? Only use website-supplied "pin it" buttons? Delete their Pinterest account?

No. No, I think users should keep doing what they're doing, and screw the legality.

Let's face it, our current copyright system is so rotten and broken that it's a wonder anyone still thinks it's applicable. For decades, the copyright struggle has been characterized by rebellious hackers and amoral teens who don't care about the creators they are "stealing" from. Tumblr might have been the poster child for this battle, but maybe it's because Tumblr cleverly disguises itself as a blogging platform that it hasn't gotten the attention that Pinterest has. Maybe it's because Tumblr is too heavily populated with young teens, pornographers and artists. Maybe what we need right now is millions of young, Midwestern housewives to stand up to the copyright czars and tell them to shove it. Maybe, just maybe, Pinterest is the push we need to get the ball rolling on massive copyright reform.

I firmly believe that people have the right to collect and publicly share inspiring images with their peers. I believe that people have the right to share, discuss and save content they enjoy. I also believe that sharing activity like Pinterest does not devalue the original. It's the same old "lost profit" argument that we see in the digital copy arena - that every count of "piracy" is a lost sale. As a Pinterest user, I can say with certainty that every single image I've seen on that site I would not have found on my own. I would never have seen that image in its original context. I would have never been a pageview or an ad impression for the original creator.

With Pinterest, I am. When I see content I like on my Pinterest dashboard, I click through. In the past two weeks alone, I've subscribed to five blogs and read countless others because of an image I found through a site that violates copyright and supposedly threatens the economic viability of the content. Clearly, something, somewhere, is horribly wrong with our conception of how the value of content is increased.

In short, when faced with the legal threat of over-reaching copyright, I think Pinterest users need to give a hearty shout of "BRING IT!" instead of cowering in fear of a delusional copyright system.

You Should Play | Arkham Horror

Do you like cooperative board games? Do you like HP Lovecraft? Do you not mind reading a giant rulebook before you play a game? Do you like a game where everyone can lose? Do you laugh in the face of danger? Do you have a giant table and at least three friends?

If you answered 'yes' to these questions, then Arkham Horror is the game for you! Read on for the Arhkam Horror review!


Set in the city of Arkham in the year 1926, this co-operative game is based on Lovecraftian lore. Players play as investigators trying to get to the bottom of the strange and horrible happenings in Arkham. Monsters roam the streets, gates to other dimensions appear, and a terrible Ancient One stirs in its slumber...

The goal of the game it to prevent the Ancient One from waking, or to defeat it if it does. You prevent the Ancient One from waking by either closing all the gates on the board (you need at least one closed gate per player to win) or by sealing six or more gate locations. If the terrible Ancient One awakens, all investigators must fight it. Should they fail, the game is considered lost... to say nothing of the universe.

Aesthetics

How many of you judge books by the cover?

You have nothing to fear here; Arkham is a beautiful game. The illustrations are top-notch, and all the chits are high quality and printed on both sides. The detailing in the artwork is incredible and it does a great job of bringing the Lovecraftian universe to life. (Not that you'd actually want that.)


Complexity


This is the most complex game I have ever played. We've played this game more times than I could count, and we still have to check the rules. There is a lot of information to keep track of, from simply remembering what certain symbols mean, to counting the number of monsters on the board, to remembering to roll for cards on the upkeep phase, to using your investigator's special abilities, to keeping track of rumors and environments. The gameplay is so dynamic and interactive that it creates quite a few edge cases whose resolution can come down to a single word in a description, or - in the worst case - can be solved only by searching through the FAQs on Fantasy Flight's website. This game is so complex that it really should be a computer game... there's no way that mere humans can keep track of everything that needs to be remembered.

So, this game is not for the casual player! Even after all this time, I'm still not sure we play correctly. Just last week we realized we had been forgetting a rule which would have removed monsters off the board every time we closed a gate. Forgetting that rule has definitely cost us a victory or two. Add on a couple expansions, and there's no way you could play this game as anything but stone sober and with no distractions. This game is not a party game!

"Arkham Horror at FFG booth, Origins 2005" by Tom "Snicker Daddy" Pancoast

Bringing in new players is also a daunting task. The number of cards and chits laid out on a table is enough to scare away any new player, and then when you start to explain the rules they often go cross-eyed. When bringing in new players, you should expect to babysit them for their first few games - not just over gameplay like how to interpret monster chits and make skill checks, but also strategy, such as what items to buy and what locations to travel to. With a few rounds of practice, the basic rules become familiar and then you should only have to check the rulebook for the tricky bits. :D

Where are all the men?

Collage of artwork featuring only female subjects
Screenshot of Art for Adults

Where are all the men?

This does seem like a ridiculous question, seeing as our movies, books, video games and music are stuffed to the brim with men, but this is something I've noticed for a long time. Why are there no men in art? Where are the male models? Where is the male figure? When I browse around art blogs and galleries, the thing I notice first is that the artwork almost always features women. Women's legs, waists, hair, butts, breasts and faces are a near-ubiquitous feature of artwork, both modern and historical.

Why?

The reason is that men aren't beautiful. Our society thinks it's impossible that male bodies can be beautiful in their own right. A male body is only attractive in as much as it demonstrates masculine power and agency, while female bodies are beautiful (well, erotic) on their own. As a woman, it's very difficult for me to imagine getting up in the morning and going about my morning routine and never once fussing about my appearance. I can't imagine not checking myself out in a mirror; I can't imagine not having days where I felt amazing and sexy, and days where I felt frumpy and ugly. I can't imagine never once catching someone's eyes doing a once-over from my feet to my hair. I can't imagine not browsing through magazines that bombard me with ways to be more attractive. Most of all, I can't imagine never (or, rarely) seeing images of someone my sex presented as beautiful.

At this point you're probably thinking, "Oh, those poor menz, they don't have to be measured against society's unreasonable expectations with every single human interaction. How terrible! Cry me a river!"

And yes, you'd be right. In fact, you'd be exactly right. The primary reason I despise critical attitudes of women's appearance isn't that there are beauty standards that cause body image issues... it's that it's not fair. A woman's whole life is centered around her appearance, while men's whole life is centered around his success. And this is bad for everyone.

We use female bodies as decorations because they're so beautiful! Where, then, are the beautiful male bodies? The only time we feature male bodies, they are sexual. And when they're sexual, they're often considered a joke. When the male body in question is attractive (I.E. is a well-muscled, powerful and heavily masculine body), the joke is at the expense of female desire. When the male body doesn't meet those requirements, the joke is at the man's expense.

Girls grow up thinking they aren't beautiful. Boys grow up knowing they can never be beautiful. Girls grow up thinking that they are a particularly unattractive example of an attractive archetype, while boys grow up with the awareness that now matter what they do, no one will ever consider them - or someone like them - beautiful.

I think this is the fundamental reason that very few men "get" what's so bad about being hit on by strangers. Being catcalled or yelled at while walking down the street is seen as a compliment to men. They don't experience an entire culture's worth of sexualization, harassment and abuse. Instead, when it comes to their physical bodies, they have a null area in their self-esteem that is filled by such "compliments."

Let's look at it from the other perspective.

Every once in a while, I'll see an attempt from someone to demonstrate how ridiculous the representation of women is by swapping the genders:

Can you imagine a “good male character who just happens to be wearing sexually exploitative outfits because he’s ok with his masculinity?” Constantly has the camera pan lovingly over his asscrack and firm glutes, and big ole dangly ballsack that is totes sweaty from all this MMA and soldiering. [...]

He’s not even a Bond-esque confident man, he’s basically a weird Bowie caricature that’s constantly having near-dickslips in every single cinematic as the completely nonsexualized female characters do their business of being gruff and shooting dudes and advancing the plot.


One of the primary critical responses to examples like the above is that there really is no equivalent. Having a camera slowly pan over a guy's junk isn't an expression of female desire. Visual molestation is still a male gaze tactic... because there is no female gaze. If you believe what our society tells you, a female gaze would be looking at his bank account, not his package.

It took me years and years to actually begin to develop a concept of what I thought was an attractive man. As in, physically attractive - not, "I need to get to know you first" attractive. This was not helped by the fact that the very few images of "sexy" men that we get to see are not what I'm attracted to. My sexuality and desire is completely marginalized (and often ridiculed) by our society, and the act of doing so also prevents men from feeling beautiful. It's Feminism 101: we all get shafted by patriarchy.

...Engaged!


Well, ladies and gentlemen, it's official! T and I are soulbound engaged! <3

He's so bad at keeping secrets. I can read him like a first grade primer. I've known what he was up to for two months now. What gave it away? Well, it could have been him insisting on me getting my ring size. It could have been his sudden interest in jewelry stores around New Year's Eve and Valentine's Day. Or, it might have been that time that he called me over to look at an online jewelry store to point out my favourite engagement rings. We'll never know for sure.

Poor thing got the ring in the mail on Tuesday and moped around the house for an hour after class before exclaiming, "I can't wait any longer! I'll explode!" He had been planning on waiting until today (because March 1st is a nice, simple date), but barely made it through half a day.

It's a beautiful ring. I love the symbolism of two hearts entwined. I've never been a fan of traditional engagement rings, so he did a great job picking it out. He's such a sweetie, and he knows me so well... We've been together for almost four years now. We've also been planning on getting married for a while, but it was always a distant "in the future" thing. Not so much any more!

What I didn't realize is how scary it is to have something so expensive just sitting on your finger. I'm so afraid I'm going to lose or damage it! I tried to eat a hamburger and didn't want to let the (delicious) juices drip all over the ring, but I didn't want to take it off lest I leave it on the tray and accidentally throw it away. I'm hoping that part goes away soon!


What's up, Google Plus?


There's a new kid on the social networking playground this year. Google's gone social with the introduction of Google Plus. It's been hailed as Google's "Facebook-killer" and Google's "answer to Facebook" by so many people that by now it's a meaningless cliche. The weird thing is, as anyone who has used Plus knows, it's not a damn thing like Facebook.

Facebook was founded on the belief that everyone in your life has the same relationship to you: they're a friend. That made sense when Facebook was in its infancy and was used solely as a way for college students to cyberstalk each other, but as its user base has grown, that model didn't work any more. People didn't want their parents seeing their party photos, their bosses to seeing them complaining about work, or to bombard their friends with photos of the family barbecue. Features to accommodate this division of relationships have been added after the fact, and have resulted in an inelegant system that still has the reciprocal "friend" relationship at its core.

Google Plus, on the other hand, aimed to reflect real-life relationships from the start. Waaaayyyyy back in 2010, a Googler put together a slideshow about what was wrong with social networks at the time: namely, that they didn't reflect the different types of relationships that everyone maintains. Google Plus calls these groups and relationships "circles." When you "add" someone on Google Plus, you actually just put them in a circle. There are the usual default circles - family, friends, etc - but you can make your own, too. Circles themselves are little more than labels you apply to people, but they are a very powerful tool for how simple they are.

Unlike Facebook where you friend someone and then optionally add them to a list, in Plus the act of adding them also puts them into a category. Then, you can make posts that only people in that circle can see, or only people from certain circles, or everyone you have circled. That's all great, but here's the best part: someone doesn't have to add you back in order for you to receive their public posts in your stream.

That means you can "follow" someone on Plus without being their friend or without them having to set up a "Page." That's why I've always said that Plus was never intended to be a Facebook-killer. Facebook is already well-established as the place for people to share baby stories and barbecue pictures. Instead, I insist that Google has set its sights on Twitter.

The attraction of Twitter is that you can just follow anyone without them having to follow you back, meaning you can follow interesting accounts maintained by celebrities, comedians, scientists, writers, and all kinds of others. The attraction of Facebook is that you can share private information with people who you are close to. The beauty of Plus is that it seamlessly brings together both "following" and privacy.

Has Plus replaced Facebook for me? No, not really. Facebook is far too popular for people to migrate away from it. If I want to keep in touch with family, I pretty much have to use Facebook. So what do I use Plus for? Well, the thing is, Facebook isn't really that interesting. Let's admit it, the quality of posts on a typical Facebook feed aren't that high. These days, my Facebook feed is full of meme images, party photos, pictures of people posing for their webcams, and links to music videos. Captivating stuff, right? My Plus stream is full of links to interesting scientific, technological and psychological articles, podcasts, blog posts, art, jokes, intelligent rants, discussions of social causes, and meme images.

Okay, so you can't have it all, but my point still stands: interesting people are interesting, and the chances are pretty low that the kid you had seventh grade math with is extremely interesting. So, I use Google Plus as a way to have more personal contact with folks I've met online, and as a midpoint between Twitter and an RSS feed. It's not that it's replaced any social networking service, but rather it created a new niche in my life that it fills perfectly.

Long live Plus!

What's up, you neurotic introvert, you?

An individual is an extrovert if they are energized by interacting with other people. An introvert is a person who needs quiet time to recharge. Being introverted doesn't mean someone is antisocial; just that they cannot be "on" all the time. While introversion and shyness often go hand-in-hand, they are not the same thing. Shyness describes a reservation or nervousness in social situations, while introversion describes sensitivity to external stimulus. Because introverts maintain a complex "inner world," they have a higher neutral level of stimulation and therefore have a lower threshold for being overwhelmed by external stimulus. The result of that lower threshold is that introverts will become tired and drained by social interaction long before an extrovert will.


There is no question that our society values extroversion. We demand extroversion in our body language, in our conversations, in our socially-acceptable forms of entertainment, in our classrooms and work environments. It's in the principles of small talk, discussion groups, and eye contact. We are taught to become offended if someone prefers silence to conversation, or to think it's weird if someone would rather stay inside on the weekend rather than go out dancing. A significant part of professional interviews has nothing to do with technical skills, but is all about how candidates present themselves. In work places and in schools, we group strangers together and expect them to produce good results. These are all situations that an extrovert can happily navigate, but which could overwhelm an introvert.

Simply being "in public" for a few hours is enough to tire me out. Even if I'm just working quietly in our school's computer lab, not actively interacting with other people, I'm still completely drained and numb by supper time. Being away from quiet private places for so long makes me feel fragile and tired; it's almost as if it's emotionally draining.

What's crazy about this is that introverts aren't rare; we make up nearly 50% of the population. So why the heavy focus on social ceremony and group work? If extroversion is so valued, does it put introverts at a disadvantage?

The short answer is, "You bet your ass it does." Introversion combined with social reservations like shyness or neuroticism is a near-crippling one-two. People who experience both - like myself - can be so overwhelmed by simply being in a social situation that they can't concentrate on the interaction itself. When I'm thrust into a group of people I don't know, I have to concentrate very hard on not freezing or panicking. With so much of my mind devoted to not freaking the fuck out, it's no wonder that I edge off to the sides of the group and phone in the conversation.

How to look like an Arts student

There are two bus stops on my way to class that pass by the Liberal Arts university. At this stop there is always a sizable line of young students waiting to file into the bus, and so I always get a good few minutes to check out what each of them are wearing. In the event that someone out there desperately wants to pass as an Arts student, I have prepared a handy guide to the costume:

Illustration of a "typical" Arts student, with parts of their clothing and appearance labelled: Dark roots, stage makeup, ratty canvas tote, hoodie, non-white iPod, leggings only, Ugg boots.

The easiest way to spot a young arts student is to look for their characteristic combination of a high-effort beauty regimen and low-effort outfits. My current theory is that they spend so much time applying makeup and fixing their hair in the morning that they are chronically late for their first class and end up running out the door wearing the same things they slept in.

The main point of confusion I have is that they all appear to be wearing stage makeup. I was under the impression that in an Arts program, you spent a lot of time writing essays and over-analysing classic literature, rather than actively performing on a stage every single day of the school year. I suppose I could be wrong; my only experience with Arts courses have been a couple sociology and history courses, which I understand to be child's play considering the largest essay we wrote was three pages long, and they didn't involve any stage acting.

I am convinced that they are actually wearing stage makeup because I refuse to believe that every single one of them is so colour-blind as to not notice that their foundation is two shades too dark, and my faith in humanity relies on the fact that everyone realizes that raccoon eyes aren't a good day-time look. I mean, if I can see the clumps in their mascara from half a bus away, they have to be doing it on purpose, right?

I will give 'em this: their eyebrows are so perfectly arched and penciled that I get a little bit of a envy-boner.

The second key is, of course, the no-pants thing. I spend a lot of time wandering the Internet looking at fashion, and I always notice what other people are wearing. I have yet to see a person wearing leggings as pants who doesn't look like they got dressed so quickly in the morning that they forgot their bottoms. I think it's really cute when people wear leggings under a tunic-length top; it takes something that would be obscenely short on its own and makes it far more versatile. I can totally understand people not wanting to wear jeans every day, and leggings let you wear bits of your wardrobe that you couldn't wear with tights, shorts or a skirt. But, leggings look stupid when worn as pants. It takes only a couple inches of shirt fabric to go from "Umm, you were in a rush this morning, huh?" to "Day-um, those legs are measured in miles."

Ugg boots. How I hate those things. First of all, they look like a kindergartener's vision of how shoes look. Secondly, while they may be warm, as everyone insists, they are by no means waterproof. 90% of the Ugg boots I see are all salt-stained, clearly damp, manky with street grime, and have patches at the heels where the fabric has worn through because they aren't designed to fit actual feet and seem to have an inherent instability in the heel area. I always feel a little bit sick when I imagine how those fuckers must smell.

I am convinced that this will be the characteristic outfit of the 2010s. Just like how neon colors and huge shoulders characterize the 80s, hoodies, Uggs and leggings-as-pants will be our fashion legacy.

The Life and Death of Blogs

Instead of the usual "sorry I haven't been posting" post, I thought I'd make you something special: my first infographic!

Infographic depicting post stats of the blogs I follow in my RSS reader. Important observation is that half of the blogs haven't updated in the last 86 days.

A while ago I noticed a strange phenomenon where the act of subscribing to a blog seemed to kill it; a disproportionate number of seemingly thriving blogs would suddenly cease to be updated right after I subscribed to them. Did I have the Touch of Death, or was this just part of the circle of life? Clearly, this is a burning question, as is impacts both my sanity and the health & safety of hundreds of innocent blogs across the blogosphere.

We've all heard through the grapevine that two thirds of blogs are abandoned, with a significant number of them having only a single post. (One of my papers cited this as from 2003, where "abandoned" is defined as having not updated for two months; somewhat ironically, the URL cited as the source no longer exists. You can find an overview of the findings here)

While some blogs convulse with obvious death throes near the end (a series of posts stating, "Sorry I haven't posted much lately, I promise I'll write more!"), many simply go dark with no warning. Some of my favourite now-dead blogs still happily display their last innocuous post. I admit I find this disturbing; I sort of feel as if blog services should overlay the homepage with a grey filter and epitaph. That people abandon projects is of no surprise to me, but the very nature of the Internet and blogs means that, while a failed knitting project can quietly collect dust in a corner of one's home, a failed blog is left to rot fully within view of everyone on the Internet.

A journal

Whenever I walk into a bookstore (or, more rarely, a store-that-sells-only-pens-and-paper. I don't know what those stores are called), I am always drawn to the shelves full of journals. There is so much variation in journals that I've always wanted an excuse to buy them: leather-bound, handmade, bright, cute, tiny, rough, delicious-smelling... there's something captivating about a beautiful cover bound over creamy lined pages.

Something irresistible.

I had a problem, though. Like many people, I've never been able to keep a diary or journal. It's a pretty common gift for a teenager - especially one that likes to read - and I had enough journal and diary sets to last a few decades... but I could never get beyond the first week or so. I've always found my voice to be weak and childish, doubly so when I can't go back and edit my words. The biggest problem is that very often I have nothing important to say. I spend my days doing quiet activities, alone... nothing that is journal-worthy. I have a scrapbook for the bits of things I want to remember, and I alternate photo pages with more "scrappy" pages that feature life's debris: ticket stubs, pamphlets, doodles, receipts. For a long time that was good enough of a souvenir from my past.

When scrapbooking wasn't enough, I started blogging and tweeting. But, eventually I found that there were things in my life that were too long to tweet and too trivial to blog, and I started to see where a journal might possibly fit in my life.

[Commonplace book], [mid. 17th c.]
[Commonplace book], [mid. 17th c.] by Beinecke Flickr Laboratory

This year has conspired to get me to start journaling. In reading annotated works of Lovecraft, I am again reminded of the "commonplace book," to which I was first introduced via A Series of Unfortunate Events. It's a fantastic idea, really - just a book where you keep writings, sketches, quotes and ideas as they occur throughout the day. A queer sense of longing...

A brief intro to algorithmic time complexity

The other day I was struck by the thought that something that is extremely obvious to computer scientists may, in fact, be completely unintuitive to other folks. It was this:

The running time of an algorithm does not necessarily scale linearly to the size of the input

That is, if a program*see note below takes one minute to perform some function on one thousand items, it is not guaranteed that it will take ten minutes to perform this function on ten thousand items - it could take much, much longer.


*Here, I am actually talking about algorithms, not programs. An algorithm is a step-by-step outline of how to solve a problem - sort of like a recipe. It is not anything like the actual program you'd use to solve the problem. We use algorithms every day without ever applying that term to them! Every time you follow a recipe, a guide or tutorial, a process or routine, you're following an algorithm to accomplish a task.


In everyday life, we are used to dealing with linear relationships: if it takes one hour to drive a hundred kilometers, it will take two hours to drive two hundred kilometers; if it takes a day to read a 200 page novel, it will take a week to read a 1400 page book. As one factor increases, the other factor increases by a constant, linear proportion. (e.g. one hour per 100 kilometers; one day per 200 pages) Linearity is very natural, and we conceptualize it easily.

There are, however, many other kinds of relationships. It is possible - and quite common - to have an algorithm that has a quadratic relationship between the size of input and the time taken to run. That is, for every n-fold increase in the size of input, there is a n2-fold increase in the time it takes! Some other possible relationships between runtime and input-size are cubic (n3), factorial (n!), exponential (2n, 3n...), and logarithmic (logn). (See "Examples," below)

This relationship between runtime and input size is called the time complexity of an algorithm. We use the time complexity as a way to compare the performance of different algorithms. An algorithm could run very quickly when it performs a function on only one hundred items, but its runtime could quickly balloon out to unreasonable amounts of time when given a million items. When evaluating the time complexity of an algorithm, we do not care about the exact amount of time it takes an algorithm to run; at no point do we make any actual time measurements. The only thing that comes close to being "counted" is the number of instructions executed, and even that is a very fuzzy "count." What we're interested in is the growth rate of the runtime when compared to the size of input.
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"Whenever you find that you are on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect."