On sleeping through seminars

It seems as soon as I enter a lecture theatre I fall asleep..

At the very latest when they turn on the beamer and start talking.

It’s not quite full on sleeping, just dozing off and waking up a few seconds later when my head jolts back up, but it’s frustrating to be completely incapable of listening to someone talk about their research for 40 minutes without falling asleep.

The room wasn’t too warm or too cold, and neither too light nor too dark. The topics were interesting and complicated and the speakers were anything but monotone.

I think I might have a bigger sleep-deficit than I’d imagined..

***

Anyone got any good ideas for staying awake?

On the day the world didn’t stop turning

Sometimes, when you’re small and still busy growing up, people tell you not to do certain things because otherwise Bad Things will happen.

Sometimes, many years later, you do those things anyway, and realise that the world doesn’t actually spontaneously combust, or stop turning or fall on your head.

It’s quite a let down in a way. But it’s a welcome let down. I didn’t want to be responsible for the end of the world 😉

On making things harder for myself

Way back when I lived by myself, I used to cycle quite a lot (to work, into town, through the vineyards, etc). I lived in a very hilly place and I could cycle to work and back without getting off and pushing.

I now live (almost) in Berlin. Berlin is flat. The same way Holland is flat. The only hills that exist are man-made, full of rubble from the war. Because that’s obviously the best thing to do with rubble. Pile it up and cover it with grass. Maybe Silbury Hill is an ancient version of the same idea.

Whatever.

I have started cycling to work here. On the way there’s a bridge with a very long, very gentle incline. Just a couple of metres over quite a long stretch of road. 1-in-100 or even 1-in-50 is not steep by anyone’s reckoning. There have been days when I fought so much I actually contemplated getting off and pushing. There’s nothing like failing to cycle up an almost nonexistent hill to make you feel the need to get fitter..

***

I picked my bike up from the workshop on Wednesday.

They’d had to replace the front wheel and realign the back wheel and adjust the brakes and do something technical with the gears.

I asked them to explain what had broken in the dynamo and how I could avoid breaking it again.

My understanding of the ensuing explanation is as follows. It may or may not be an accurate representation of what they actually said.

The axel was slightly off centre which lead to unequal distribution of pressure/weight/something which lead to the metal walls of the dynamo straining and eventually breaking, which lead to everything coming loose.

It appears that these things just kind of happen…

…but that most people notice earlier.

I thought that was odd, and said so, because I’d brought it in the day after it died…

… except apparently it’s been dying for several hundred km.

He was amazed that I’d cycled it so far without realising that there was a problem. He showed me the pieces of the broken dynamo, and the pieces of a new one. The difference was incredible.

Not as incredible as the difference having a new wheel made to my perceived fitness the next morning tho!

I’d struggled to get to work in under 40 minutes and reach an average speed of anything above 11kph.

On Thursday I was there in 30, with an average of more than 14. And it was windy and snowing.

I was amazed.

***

I was also amazed (and a bit confused) to realise that my rowing machine was no longer set to the easiest setting. I have zero recollection of changing it so I have no idea how long I’ve been using it like that.

It reminds me of mistakenly skiing down a black slope and wondering why I was suddenly so prone to falling over..

On making the wheels go round

(or: on letting go of what is not yet broken)

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone!

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone!

If it’s working and you know it, and you really want to keep it that way,

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone!

***

I cycled to work again today.

It’s been really cold lately and it was still around freezing when I left the house, late.

The wheel was stiff when I tried wheeling it away from the bike stand and towards the road. It felt like the brakes were jammed on tight, but they weren’t. After a bit of gentle persuasion and a few angry words it unstuck itself and off I went.

I assumed (see, there’s that bad word again, almost as bad as “planning”) there must have been ice in the works somewhere – it did get thoroughly soaked last week and it was icy this morning (never thought I’d have to scratch ice off the saddle, but I did).

***

I left work while it was still light to cycle to my maths/English/German student. As it turned dusky and got darker and darker I realised I was riding without lights. Argh. As a car driver, I can’t stand cyclists without lights.. as a cyclist, I try to be car friendly, in the hopes that they won’t run me over. Also, as I found out on Wednesday, lights are useful.

***

After we’d talked about adjectival attributes (?!) for as long as we could concentrate, I borrowed a front bike light from my maths kid’s mum and headed home.

Except I couldn’t. The front wheel was stuck again. It took me several metres of pushing and kicking and cajoling before anything happened. When it finally did start rolling, the nut holding the front wheel onto the forks starting turning too..

I stopped and did it up as best I could with gloves on. Another couple of paces and it was loose again.

At some point I noticed that the cables from the dynamo were hanging in the breeze and the box they’re supposed to join into was riding round in circles, presumably enjoying unknown freedom.

I prodded it a bit, retightened the nut and rode home, very very carefully.

***

It would appear that my dynamo has died.

When I said I was thinking about getting new lights, I didn’t mean I no longer wanted the old ones.

Tomorrow, I will have to find a bike doctor before work. Even if I was willing to buy new lights and ignore the dynamo, I am not willing to hurl myself at the pavement when the wheel falls off.

I expect I will have to leave my bike there and then walk to work or at least walk to the train station.

Sometimes I really love my life.

***

I think it’s time for a new motto/mantra:

If it’s working and you know it, leave it alone! Do not touch it, use it or think about it. Do not criticise it. Do not think about changing it or replacing it.

Instead, be thankful for it..you never know when it’s going to stop working..

On the difference between days

Yesterday I mended the tip-ex mouse, helped the secretary with some tricky stuff on her computer and maybe taught a year 8 kid some maths (“maybe” because I’m not sure how much stuck.). I feel those are 3 good uses of a day.

Today I have nothing of note to mention. I assume I must have done something because I’ve been awake for many hours. When I try to remember my achievements, all I can think of are the things I still haven’t done yet. Things that need doing, things I could have done earlier, things I should probably be doing right now instead of writing this.

Funny how different days can be. Or at least one’s attitude towards them.

On learning how to program a snake

I’m not particularly keen on snakes.

I don’t have anything in particular against them, but I have less for them. I have no desire to be bitten and/or poisoned and possibly even less desire to be squeezed to death.

This isn’t about that kind of snake.

***

Recently I started learning Python. That’s a programming language. One of many.

Luckily for me, my brother is a multilingual programmer.

He’s teaching me how to write python.

Or trying to.

He’s very knowledgeable and mostly incredibly patient.

I am not knowledgeable. At all. And I’m not patient enough when it comes to listening, testing and understanding. I feel like I’m not progressing fast enough but simultaneously not going slowly enough for it to really sink in.

He keeps trying to tell me I’m not totally rubbish, but my head keeps telling me otherwise.

There are so many opportunities to get completely and utterly lost. There are so many commands and functions and strings and lists and dictionaries and tuples and maps and syntax and arguments and types and loops and iterators and keys and indexes and classes and sets and definitions and numbers and ranges and braces and brackets and immutable things and sums and and….

… I don’t even know some of the words in ordinary daily use (and have forgotten them already) and have to have them explained before I stand a chance of understanding their role in the program.

The guy sitting across from us on a train home heard us talking, and watched us tapping away on my laptop. When he got to his station he stood up, gathered his things together, took a step towards the doors, paused, turned back and told me it’s fun when you get the hang of it. That makes sense. Most things get better as you get better.

I don’t give up easily, and I know it’s ridiculous to want to learn a language in a few days, but it’s frustrating floundering about in the simplest instructions.

We’ll see how I get on between now and next year/decade/century/millennium…

Wish me luck!

On complicated coffee

I went out for coffee with a guy from school and his wife today. I’d borrowed some books for him and he was returning them now that school’s over. It was too cold to stand outside the library for long so we decided to find a café. Most cafés don’t appreciate cards, so I went to find an atm while they went to find a suitable café. By the time I joined them, they’d already chosen a table and ordered.

Turns out you can’t go up to the till and add to an existing order, no, that would be too simple. Instead you have to go through a rigmarole involving going to the cake counter to choose a cake, getting a piece of paper with a number instead of a piece of actual cake, going back to the table, giving the paper to the waitress when she comes to take your drink-order, then waiting for her to bring whatever you ordered. You can’t go to the waitress, you can’t get your own drink, you can’t carry your own cake.

Life is complicated. I knew that. I also know that I don’t go out very much ans haven’t had much practice at placing orders in posh cafés. I didn’t know how complicated simple things like ordering cake could be. I also didn’t realise that it’s normal for a slice of cake and a cup of hot chocolate to set you back more than 10€.

In the end my friend from school paid for all of us to say thanks for the books. With the money I didn’t spend in the café, I bought approximately 3 months worth of fish food and 18 plants for my house and balcony, and still got change back. That seems to be a much better way to spend money, even though I really enjoyed meeting up with them and appreciated having a place to sit out of the cold.

On winning

I passed – wheeeee!!!

🙂 🙂 🙂

I don’t know how well I won, but I think it’s the winning part that counts.
Now to catch up on lost sleep 🙂
(And later, on lost (/missing) posts)

On the moment of truth

I wrote here almost exactly a year and a half ago to say that I was starting school again.

I’m writing now to say that I’m [hopefully] about to finish school.

My last exam starts in less than half an hour (ARGH!).

It’s an oral defence of my thesis, followed by a whole lot of questions.

By midday, I’ll know if I passed….
See you on the other side! 🙂

On green cards, chocolate and a small flashing light

That very short list just about covers the things I’m living for at the moment.

The stacks of carefully written green and blue cards prove I’m revising, the chocolate provides motivation to carry on writing, and the small flashing light makes me smile as it blinks to tell me someone’s written to me.

On why I think life is more like a pinball machine than a roller coaster

Choice.
Decisions. 
Ability to choose. 
At least some things. 
Sometimes.

***

As much as I hate to admit it, I quite like Ronan Keating’s “Life is a roller coaster” song. I don’t agree with him though. I think it’s more like a pinball machine.

***

Until a couple of weeks ago, I’d only ever played pinball on the computer, or on a board so old it actually had pins (=nails) in.

Then I went to a national pinball convention. I lost track of how many different machines I played on/with, but it was “many”.

I even had a go at the “classic” tournament. Classic because it features older machines. I wasn’t very good, but I also wasn’t the very worst (by quite a long way), so I was chuffed, considering that it was my very tournament on my very first day of practise.

Anyway.

On a roller coaster, you get into your seat at the beginning and “just have to ride it” until you get off at the other end. You have absolutely no control over what happens in between. Okay, you can control some of your reaction. You can probably choose to scream or throw your hands in the air or close your eyes….or not. You probably can’t choose whether or not to throw up afterwards. You certainly can’t choose the direction or when to stop or change speed.

Pinball is different.

Granted, there is a lot of chance involved, (pinball machines were even banned in the past because they were considered purely based on luck), and there are things you can’t control, like what the bumpers do when you hit them, what lights up when you go past, what the noises sound like, how many points you get for various sequences.

On the other hand, because you control the flippers, there’s also a lot of input potential. You have to choose to do something with that potential, and it helps to have the skill to achieve the desired effect (like getting the ball to go up the ramp or into one of the holes), but it’s there. If you don’t do anything, the ball does its thing briefly, then falls through the gap between the flippers and you die.
If you do manage to catch/hit the ball, you prolong that life. That gives you the next chance and the next and the next.

Sometimes, reaching a certain number of points, or activating certain areas creates something like a safety net. Even if you would normally die, you don’t, you get a new ball instead and can carry on playing. Even if you don’t achieve those bonus lives, you still have 2 further chances, or 4 depending on the machine. You can aim for things, learn what happens if you hit and if you miss. Sometimes you aim for the ramp and land in a hole. Sometimes landing in the hole is bad, sometimes it takes you to a different level where you unlock new possibilities. Sometimes you can die on that level, sometimes it catapults you back onto the first level with new energy and extra points, lives or abilities. Sometimes, regardless of skill and determination, the ball will suddenly take up nosediving and head down between the flippers without any warning, and with no chance to stop it.

Occasionally you get into a ‘Dauerschleife’, a routine of going round and round and round the same route: Flipper, bumper, bumper, light, flipper, bumper, bumper, light. To get out, you have to change something. Anything. Different angle, different strength, different timing. Sometimes that’s risky, sometimes it just feels risky. Sometimes the new ‘route’ is chaotic, sometimes it leads to a new Dauerschleife, sometimes it’s not exactly chaotic, but is continuously changing. That’s the most common. Change.

Occasionally, doing the same thing twice results in different outcomes, depending on what you did previously.

Occasionally you get bonus balls to be played at the same time, each whizzing round the board on its own mission, forcing you to split your concentration or risk losing both.

Talking of missions, some boards have a story line, a list of things to do, or collect, or hit. Some are less structured, preferring to offer differing musical notes, like a bell tower, or multiple colours – a kaleidoscope* of rainbow lights.

If you watch other people playing, you see an array of different styles and attitudes. Some tighten their muscles, stand gripping the edges of the machine, hoping somehow they can influence the course of the ball, or the reaction of the bumpers, with their tension. Others are relaxed, hardly concentrating, at least not noticeably. Some players laugh with the players next to them, some ignore everything around them. Some try to rock the machine, nudging it just enough to minimally change the angles of the board, the bumpers, the rebound, and steer the ball where they want it to go. Ohers go crazy, yelling and screaming and whooping and jumping…or kicking the machine.

In the end, no matter how you play, every ball ends up back in the box. Some live short intensive lives, some live long boring lives. The rest lead their lives somewhere in between. 

Every player dies eventually. Some just live longer, or more happily, or more excitingly than others.

***

I figure life is more like a pinball machine than a roller coaster. What do you think? What would you compare life to instead?

*collide-oscope?

On the magic of new books

Nothing like a brand new book or two to cheer one up, even if they are ‘only’ school books.

This pile of brand new school books arrived today. I received them in exchange for a small fortune.. 

They contain – I hope – the knowledge I need to pass the next lot of exams AND – at least theoretically – figure out how to advise companies to keep improving…. That’s pretty magical.

Now I just have to read them! 🙂

On failure and other misfortunes

(Warning: contains a small amount of blood and a great deal of frustration)

***

On Sunday I admitted failure. 

I had failed to finish the book in time to send it to the printers before leaving to catch the plane, despite staying up all night to work on it.

I was quite miffed (ok, a lot miffed)..

There’s not a lot of point being miffed if you aren’t in a position to change anything. I decided to look up instead.

On Monday I was so busy looking up, that I didn’t notice the small piece of volcano sticking up in the middle of the otherwise even path.

..and that dear readers, is why looking down isn’t always a bad thing…

Luckily I was equipped with water and tissues and DB had a plaster with him.

Onwards and upwards!

That evening, on the way to get dinner, I missed the step onto the pavement and stubbed the same toe, removing the plaster and the flap of skin I’d created earlier.

Back to the apartment for a new plaster.

I don’t particularly appreciate losing skin, so I gave up on looking up, and decided to look down, and watch what my feet are doing instead. 

That worked well for a day or so – until I went to the toilet while the window was open. And even that was fine until I stood up…

An almighty yell and a lump on my head later, and I was convinced that looking down doesn’t help much either.

***

I think I’m going to keep my feet up and my head down, and get on with my revision. Maybe I should even look forward to the exams?!

On learning to fly

My colleague made me an aeroplane for my birthday. He’s been away, so I received it yesterday.

He explained the technical aspects and showed me how it works.

Two days later I still haven’t managed to actually fly it..

..which he finds hilarious 🙂 Especially because, way back when, he was in exactly my position. He was given a similar aeroplane of his own for his 30th birthday. This is his kind of ‘revenge’. Apparently it took him ‘a week or two’ to learn. I’m hoping for inspiration and talent to strike earlier than that. Maybe on Thursday or Friday would be nice.

🙂

On not talking about Christmas

It’s the 25th of November.

That makes it exactly a month until Christmas.

I am ignoring that, and all other Christmas related things.

Between now and then, I have:

4 exams to revise for

a book to finish compiling and find pictures for and format and send off in time for printing

3 aquariums to look after, including water changes, getting rid of the duckweed and reinstalling a pump/filter

a 10 day holiday which DB wants to cancel because I’m planning on revising through it and he thinks staying here and working is more efficient…

I think I might not acknowledge that Christmas is even a thing until the 23rd when I will already be on the way home, and passed caring too much.