Week 5

This is the last week of period 1. On the one hand, yay! Odds of surviving seem high. On the other, I haven’t survived it yet. And of course I have to give a PGR open day talk tomorrow. And write exams. And grade coursework. Etc.

I don’t know if it’d be easier if I weren’t sick but it would be less uncomfortable.

Losing my Saturday wasn’t helpful!

I make, for most people, a ton of money. My work is prestigious and largely fulfilling and interesting. So many people work at brutalising jobs with little security and no future. I had moments where I feared that fate though my high socialist-economic status protected me more than I feared it would.

In countries like the US and UK this is largely a voluntary societal choice. We could easily do better. Indeed, much much better.

Perhaps we will! We’re having a bad time with right wing wreckers holding far too much power, but they can be beaten.

Update: On the right principle of “don’t be like Elon Musk,” I wonder about this post. My fundamental point is the anxiety which makes a moderately stressful, low physical-effort workload into something that makes me feel terrible. Writing about it helps a bit and I hope sharing can help some people with similar anxiety.

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The Week’s Getting Worse

Tipping points and thresholds can really suck. I got a random duty for this year to cover for a person’s sabbatical. They were “Programming Competition Czar” which really means the ACM algorithmic programming compeition which means UKIEPC 2018…this weekend.

I’m sure the duties committee said, “Hey, this isn’t a fuck ton of work and it’s the kind of thing that Bijan likes, so it’s a lightweight thing to throw his way.’ It isn’t a fuck ton of work and it is the kind of thing I like…but the first competition happens in period 1 which is my Hell Period of Doom. On top of the normal hellishness of two full day classes a week, plus 3rd year projects starting, plus MSc project marking, plus exam writing (3 exams because I have a period 2 class too!) I have first time first year tutorial, plus people are scheduling all day project meetings, and project management meetings, and initiative launches, etc.

Even the easy things get hard. Novelty, esp dealing with new tasks and new people, easily throws me into a tailspin, which is why I’ve got an unnecessary late night of class prep: What parts of today that weren’t dealing with UKIEPC were spent crying or dry heaving or both.

So that sucks.

Random think from the news…one of the Marvel Netfflix shows, Iron Fist, was cancelled. Since it was the utterly unwatchable one…yay? One thing thing this random pointless news story which was somehow plastered all over my feeds really highlighted is how impoverished the Marvel and DC catalogs are. There’s a notable paucity of good plots or stories, hence the tendency to rehash origin stories. Origin stories are easier because they rely on the process of worldbuilding to provide momentum and interest. But they tend to introduce character designs rather than characters, which is why subsequent episodes tend to be meh. There very little character development because there’s very little character to develop. The plots are weak so they can’t carry much. Conflict seems very forced (hence the villain problem…the villains are bland because all the characters are bland. Adding more and more characters replaces developing the characters that were already there.

Of course, there are some gestures toward characterisation. If you follow Tony Stark over the Iron Man movies and the first two Avengers movies (oy), they are clearly aiming for him to have some complexity. But we’re mostly told the complexity rather than shown it. Even in Iron Man 3 which spends a lot of time trying to set up character complexity (he was a jerk, being a jerk has long range consequences (really? people become murderous supervillians because someone was a jerk to them?! what?!), he got super religion, he sacrificed himself and has PSTD, and…he goes from “I am Iron Man” to “I’m not just suits”) it is pretty weak. In particular, a huge swath of the plot exists to mimic or fake character development.

In the end, growth is minimal and symbolic gestures (blowing up the suits) are without consequence (cf Age of Ultron) at any level.

The fundamental problem is there’s little there there. The source material is voluminous but not rich except in loads of character designs. Now, evidently, you can go a long way with a big catalog of character designs esp if you get awesome and charismatic actors to wear them.

I do wonder what’s going to happen when the first generation actors move on. I mean, they have some awesome new ones for sure so maybe there’s enough overlap to keep the showcases of character designs going. But maybe there’s a fast collapse coming.

Not An Easier Week

I thought it was going to be an easier week. Buuut…MSc project grading (done!), three exams to write (whoa, those are hugely not done), class prep (Not Done sob), and a programming contest (somewhat advanced)….it’s a bit much.

Sometimes, I can harness this pressure, but usually closer to the wire. Which I want to avoid!

Oh well. Next week is the last week of period 1. Now, I have a class in period 2 to panic over. Yay.

Living in End Times

Climate change is scary. The sixth extinction is scary. Trump, North Korea, and nukes are scary.

Hans Rosling would do great presentations about how things are getting better. And in many ways they are.

And yet.

People have thought they lived in the end times throughout human history. Sometimes just a few. Sometimes large parts of a society. We can easily fixate on the negative.

And yet…the end times happen once. That they have not happened is not proof of future performance.

In the 20th century, we acquired the capability to destroy the world in less than a day. Real end times became possible.

Catastrophic ecological change is slower moving, but we seem to be hitting a rapid phase with multiple possible tipping points.

Of course, it’s not over until it’s over, but given the demonstrated capacity of our existing institutions to handle complex phenomena, it’s hard to be confident.

People who falsely believed that the world was ending were still living with that believe. Many of them lived out their lives so we know it’s possible to survive the stress of “knowing” you are living in the end times.

It seems to be a skill we need to culture.

Anti-anxiety/procrastination measures for 2016

I’m anxious about a lot of things. This drives writer’s block and procrastination generally. Plus I have at least a normal level of aversion to unpleasant tasks (or to…tasks!). Hard things are hard to get yourself to do! Tedious things as well! Even a little “normal” putting off of the unpleasant can feed into an anxiety spiral about it (I haven’t done it, it’s late!, is it late? I won’t be able to do it! if I do do it, it will take forever and I’ll do it poorly! etc.). So, a couple of things I’m trying this year:

  1. The blog! I’m working on writing every day. I often write e.g., in the comments of Lawyers, Guns, and Money (LGM). I enjoy that a lot and I think I post good stuff pretty often (and do fun research for it). But it’s not always a healthy writing. I get compulsive about it (write, refresh (did someone reply), refresh (how about now), refresh (now)? look! a bunch of things to reply too. at length. after I find and read a couple of papers! time to refresh.) It is ephemeral. Of course, it has a wider audience than this blog, but it also doesn’t relate (typically) to larger projects. It’s reactive to posts that have little to do (most of the time) with e.g., anything I’m working on.
    Also, there are oddities, as one might expect with a fairly large community arguing about politics. Some people really don’t like me. This isn’t, itself, a problem, but there’s very little utility in arguing with someone who’s trolling you. Esp. if there’s little of substance at play.
    Facebook is similar. I post a lot there and it’s fun but it generally doesn’t lead toward productivity.
    My hope is that if I get better at going to write a post here, it will be reusable, or segue more neatly into work, or, at least, be more self-limiting. WordPress sucks, though.
  2. I’ve started using a pretty minimal Kanban board on Trello (basically, the default board, though I’ve added a backlog and stuck lists). It’s working on thus far. If I’m blocked, I can usually create a card or a checklist. I put small things (open the email) on the checklist, which is soothing. I often can do that small things and that leads to other things. It’s not perfect, but it got me out of the coming off holiday+illness overall block earlier than I think it would have ended. It’s not perfectly helping right now, but it helped me catch a few things I was missing. The fewer long standing lurking items, the lower the background stress.

It’s probably time to see the GP again and see if there’s anything to be done medication-wise. It’s not desperate by any means, and perhaps all these little measures will add up. But teaching one new and one 2/5ths new courses in period 1 was…quite bad. I survived, but it was really tough with a characteristic anxiety pattern each week (peaking on Tues; classes all day Thurs and Fri). I’ve not been great since then (and got really sick after, and have had lingering illness on and off from that time until now).

I’m pretty tough. I generate a lot of anxiety but I cope with it too. Now always ideally, but at surprisingly high levels of functionality. But it takes a toll. Also, I am getting older. At some point, I’m going to get inherently less resilient.

I’m sure there’s other stuff too. (My exercise is much better these past two years. My living environment is stupendous — the new neighbourhood is so wonderful.) One nice thing is with the concentrated teaching, I have two periods with no classes (only tutorials and the like). So I have a bit of space to work on improving the baseline.