7 Things I’ve Been Doing Over the Past 7 Weeks

It’s been almost two months since I’ve updated the blog, and now that it’s the last day in October, my bare-minimum-standard of posting at least one update each calendar month is in serious jeopardy.

Part of the reason for no updates is that life has been fairly routine lately, and well, routine doesn’t make for interesting blog entries. But there have been a few things going on. None of them quite merit their own post, so I merged them all into one.

Without further ado, I present seven things I’ve been doing over the past seven weeks.

1) Enjoying the day job

My job is best summed up as “enterprise-level tech support.” At its best, it’s a string of interesting, challenging problems to solve. At its worst, it’s interdepartmental bickering and a long game of “pass the blame.”

But the good days far outweigh the bad. I’m in a position where my work is seen and appreciated, there’s plenty of chances for advancement, and on top of that, I like almost every single person I work with. Even better, when I put in long hours (which is often), I get paid overtime, which is unusual in the world of I.T. So, unusually, I find myself enjoying my day job.

On the down side, because work is challenging and mentally taxing, I often find that I have just enough mental energy when I get home to watch Youtube. Speaking of which, item number 2…

2) Watching Youtube Science Videos

A couple months ago, I stumbled on the world of Youtube math and science videos– amidst the morass of cat videos and pirated “Simpsons” clips, there’s a world full of really interesting documentaries, all of them free. In particular, I’m a big fan of Brady Haran, a video journalist who works with professors at the University of Nottingham in England. He has a bunch of channels, but my favorites are:

Periodic Table of Videos– a channel with a video for every element on the Periodic Table, as well as lots of chemistry trivia in general, and of course tons of chemical reactions. My favorite video on the channel is probably the one on Fluorine, Element Number 9, which is so reactive it can start fires on contact:

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtWp45Eewtw%5D


Numberphile– a channel for Math geeks. Lots of videos about famous numbers and theorems, and occasionally branching into physics, cosmology, and the nature of reality. Did you know if you lived in a giant universe a googolplex meters across, and travelled far enough in it, you would start to see exact copies of yourself?


Brady has several other channels, including Deep Sky Videos (a video for each item in the Messier catalog of astronomical objects) and Sixty Symbols (a Physics channel). From there I’ve branched out to other channels, including SpaceRip (some great Astronomy documentaries there) and vSauce (a very awesome science video blogger).

Yes, I’ve spent a lot of time surfing the intelligent side of Youtube– it turns out there is one, after all! And while, admittedly, some of this time could be spent more productively, it’s given me something to watch while I work on #3, namely…

3) Cooking

Yes, to my surprise, I’ve actually started cooking. Those who know me know that cooking is not my strong suit. In the past, it’s ranked somewhere below quilting as far as things I’m actually good at.

Then I started going to a Farmers Market three blocks from my apartment, and things changed. There’s something about being outdoors and browsing through the fresh, local produce that’s totally different than going through the aisles of a supermarket. I started small— buying fresh spinach instead of packaged for tortilla wraps, buying fresh carrots, that sort of thing— then slowly stepped it up. I bought steaks and potatoes and learned to cook them. Lately I’ve been sautéing vegetables, mixing them with pasta, or eggs, and generally exploring and experimenting my way through the basics of cooking.

I’ve tried to cook in the past, usually by following a recipe, and my results have generally been mediocre. What I’ve learned is that for me, the trick to cooking is (1)to have my starting point be the ingredients, not the recipe and then (2)experiment on my own. I seem to learn best through self-guided experimentation: that’s how I learned writing, and it’s how I’m learning photography; for some reason, I find learning and doing things much more fun and rewarding when I’m experimenting and picking things up on my own.

Maybe part of it is because this way, I don’t feel like I have standards to live up to or any expectations to meet except my own. Or maybe it’s just that I’m doing it because I genuinely want to, not because I feel like I have to.

Regardless, cooking’s been a blast.

Speaking of general health and self-improvement, I’ve also taken up…

4) Swimming

A few blocks from my office, on the fourteenth floor of a downtown skyscraper, is a gym with a five-lane pool. And about three times a week I’ve been going there to swim, which, in addition to being much-needed exercise, has been a fun blast from the past. I used to swim for my high school swim team, almost every day for four years; then when I went to college, I dabbled in water polo, but pretty much abandoned water sports. (And sporting in general, actually, except for occasional games of ultimate frisbee.)

On the downside, when I go to the gym I often don’t get home until 8:30 or 9, which, on top of the newly-discovered hobby of cooking, means it’s often as late as 10 before I’m finally winding down. At that point, I often end up…

5) Obsessing Over Election News

On the less healthy (or at least more stressful) side of things, I’ve been following the election pretty close. Even in quiet years I’m a news junkie, and the past few months has been like hooking a drug addict up to an IV drip of sweet, sweet heroin. In other words, it hasn’t been healthy.

I have a love-hate relationship with politics. I care deeply about various issues, but political debates give me serious heartburn. That’s one reason I hate phone banking and canvassing; the thought of actual personal confrontation is terrifying. And yet, I do care about the issues, and when I have time to be deliberate about it (like when I’m writing), I’m perfectly capable of putting together an argument for my point of view.

Here’s why I care about politics: even though government can be inefficient, callous, and dysfunctional, it’s still one of the best tools that we as a society have to address problems. And government, like any tool, can be used well, or used poorly.

At its best, you get the interstate highway system, the national parks, the worldwide eradication of polio, a man on the moon, the Civil Rights Act, and universal education. At its worst you get society-wide oppression, the strong dominating the weak, trillion-dollar boondoggles like the Iraq War (and inadequate care for the returning veterans of those boondoggles), bloated bureaucracies, and outdated and decaying infrastructure. Add in political paralysis like we’ve seen in Washington the past few years and it’s a wonder we get anything done.

A lot of my friends say that it doesn’t matter who you vote for, we’re screwed either way. And maybe that’s true. Corruption and influence-peddling infect everything; those in power often look after the big organizations that support them at the expense of the individuals they govern. But for all that, it’s still the system we have. And when you don’t vote, when you refuse to participate, you say “it’s okay to ignore me.”

Here’s my plea: find some issue you care about. There are a lot out there to choose from: the economy, education, gay rights, the environment, health care, stem cell research, Iran. Regardless of your political stripes, and even if you think our political system is a dysfunctional mess, find at least one thing you care about, one thing you’re passionate about, one thing that needs to change. Vote on that issue, and vote your conscience– whether that vote is for Barack Obama, Mitt Romney, Jill Stein, or Gary Johnson, whether you live in a red state, a blue state, or a swing state (my sympathies), if you vote your conscience on that one thing you care about, it’s not a wasted vote. If everyone did that, I daresay our nation would be in much better shape.

Ultimately, regardless of money or lobbyists, we live in a democracy. You get to vote; Exxon Mobil doesn’t. So when we elect corrupt or greedy slimeballs to office, ultimately, there’s no one to blame but ourselves. And when you don’t vote, you’re refusing to help fix it.

So vote. You’ll be glad you did. And in a week, regardless of who wins, my blood pressure will finally start to get back to normal, and maybe I’ll be able to focus more on…

6) Writing

You didn’t think I was gonna leave this out, do you? Even though this list sounds like a long list of excuses as to why I haven’t been writing, I have, actually, gotten some done. I’ve mostly been working on editing my first novel, In a Land of Wind and Sky. I’m hoping I might get a chance to pitch it at the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto. Oh yeah, I’m going to the World Fantasy Convention in Toronto this weekend! It should be a blast.

I’ve also sold a story to an anthology that’s coming out in 2013; when the editor makes the official announcement, I’ll finally be able to say more about it. But I’m even more excited on this one than usual, because…. well, you’ll see. Hopefully soon. (I’m such a tease.)

I’m also planning to take part in NaNoWriMo this year, and I have a novel idea lined up, although not necessarily well fleshed out. Plus, being at the World Fantasy Convention from the 1st to the 4th means I may get a late start. But I’ll take a notebook with me and hope for the best. If nothing else, I should come home energized and ready to churn out the words.

I’ll also bring my camera, because I’m becoming increasingly serious about…

7) Photography

Like cooking, this is another hobby I’ve been teaching myself. Unlike cooking, I’ve already been at it for years. I particular enjoy convention photography, and taking pictures of cosplayers. There probably won’t be many, if any, costumes at WFC this weekend– it’s a very professional convention, for people who are actually (at least a little bit) in the business of writing. But still– there’ll be plenty of panels with authors, plenty of hanging out with friends, and plenty of chances, I hope, to break out the ol’ camera.

I’ve even done a couple professional gigs lately– mostly friends who wanted me to do event photography, but still, everyone’s gotta start somewhere. I’m working on putting together a portfolio, in the “Photography” tab up top. It’s very much a work in progress, but I’m definitely hoping to do more.

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So that’s what I’ve been up to the past several weeks. Hope everyone else has had a good two months. And my next blog entry will definitely be a lot quicker, because I’ll have a con report on World Fantasy, probably next week sometime. And then NaNoWriMo status updates. Time to stop slacking!

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