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Over the years, I have often talked to people or seen TV shows or movies where people “work” at a coffee shop. I have never been one to seek out these opportunities for a number of reasons:

  1. As a synthetic chemist, my “work” has often been tied to a lab. You can’t really pull out a hot plate and start up a 3 hour reflux at a table in the coffee shop.
  2. The labs I have worked in always have very fast and reliable (and “free to me”) internet… purposely going to a place with spotty (or expensive) connectivity seems like a bad idea.
  3. I was trained at a time when ubiquitous WiFi connections and cloud-based storage didn’t really exist for the average person. I had (and still have…) a lovely little case to organize my USB drives and typically carry 40GB or more of USB drive storage with me whenever I have to move files around. The creative work I engage in as a chemist almost always involves copious references that may or may not be available online, so packing up a suitcase full of reference works to bring along to the coffee shop seemed to be more trouble than it is worth.

The list could be significantly longer than that, but I think that’s enough to get a good picture of my situation. I understand that this might make me seem like a crusty old fart who yells at all the hippies to get off the lawn, but I don’t really try to be that way.

There have been a number of significant changes in my life over the past 8-10 months, and I think I have reached a point where I need to use those as a catalyst to make some more fundamental changes in my approach to work, and life, and the world around me. I find myself escaping to coffee shops to do work (both job related and otherwise) on a regular enough basis that I can identify these occasions as times to explore myself and my world in a more substantial way.

One of the things I have missed in the past year is blogging. It always seems to slip down the priority list, there’s always something more important to do (even if that’s just to take a nap…), and I have sometimes felt guilty for indulging in such a non-productive activity. As I think about the positive changes I can make in my life, I think that one thing that should be fairly easy is to give myself permission to blog. Not because I am filled with the most important information that society must have available on the interwebs, but because it represents a way for me to change gears and explore myself beyond the boundaries of my job and my life as a chemist.

One thing I will include as a consistent theme is a summary and review of the coffee shop and my beverage(s) of choice. Today’s venue is Moxie Java in downtown Moorhead. Moxie has a good atmosphere and energy with comfortable seating. The staff is very nice and handled our drink order well. I ordered a Moxie Java Blend brewed coffee and my partner got a blended iced mocha with a shot of English toffee flavor. The Moxie Java Blend is good, not exceptionally special, a darker roast with not a lot of notable character. It’s functional coffee. The blended iced mocha with a shot of English toffee flavor is also good, but was a second choice because they did not have black tea. That’s right, no black tea. If you want fruity or candy flavored tea, they’ve got it, but if you just want a simple cup of plain black tea, you’re out of luck. They also have WiFi that seems to be incompatible with my computer, so I have no WiFi… makes it kind of hard to work on cloud-based resources. So it looks like Moxie will move VERY far down the list of useful places to do coffee shop work.

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I have grown to appreciate the ability of some people to manage their schedule. As should be obvious from my new posts to this blog in recent months, I have been transitioning into a new phase of life that has presented some significant challenges in managing my time. In my previous existence, I had little to no personal life and my work life was stunningly flexible. in the past 6-8 months, every aspect of my life has changed, and I’d like to think it is uniformly for the better. The only real downside is that I have never had to really develop a time management strategy, so I am now learning how to parse real work commitments, a rich and wonderful personal life, and the important little things like time to sleep, even if only for a few hours a night. On that note, perhaps I should take advantage of a rare opportunity tonight and go to bed early…

I went for a bit of a walk this afternoon. There’s a track a few blocks from my house, so I walked over there and started going around. After a couple laps, I slipped off my shoes. The track is a rubbery surface that’s in pretty good shape, and the day is warm enough that it’s softened up a bit. I’ve had some tightness in my lower legs and feet that seems to respond well to being barefoot, so I typically try to do a lap or two barefoot when I walk the track. I’d also like to toughen up my feet a bit, they’re a little soft and smooth from spending a lot of time in shoes. So I’m walking along and the first barefoot lap is really comfortable, so I decide to do another. The second is still good so I kept on going. After 6 laps, I did a final lap on the grass inside the track, put my sandals back on and headed home. My feet felt OK, definitely felt like I had been walking a bit, but I didn’t think too much of it until I got home. When I kicked off my sandals inside the house and put my foot down, it was a little tender. I gave it a look and oh my. The lateral plantar portion of my foot was just shredded, possibly started out as a blister (or series of blisters) that opened up. Why do I think it was a blister? Because there’s another blister on the center of the pad.

Shredded skin and a cute little blister in the middle

Then I looked at the other foot. There are blisters, and then there are blisters. Ay caramba, this is the largest blister I’ve ever had. OK, I know, LOTS of people have had LOTS of blisters in their lives, and some have been truly epic, but this is my biggest. When I saw it, I assumed that there was a red leaf stuck to my foot and I tried to flick it off.

Not quite as obviously shredded, but that blister is neither “cute” nor “little”

It wasn’t a leaf. This is going to be uber ugly in a few days when everything dries up. I guess the lesson I learned was that walking barefoot on the track is OK for 1 lap, probably OK for 2 laps, but 6 laps barefoot is a bit too much until I toughen up the soles of my feet a bit more. I imagine that this episode will help to build up a little callous. Maybe if I didn’t have such tender little desk-worker feet, I’d already have tougher soles.

 

In a little under 12 hours, I will have sold my house. I bought a different house last year at the end of July, so in many ways it’s about damn time that I unload the old house, but as the deadline nears, I’m having “feeling”. It was the first house that I bought, and I bought it at the same time I started my first “real” job. It was and still is a nice house, maybe not anything spectacularly special or unique, but it was home for longer than any other place was home since I’ve been an adult. In the 8+ years that I lived there, there were certainly some changes in the neighborhood, and that was part of the reason for my move. I made some improvements to my home, but nothing extreme and usually nothing that wasn’t necessary.

My new house has taught me a lot of things. The first is that having a huge garage is awesome. The second is that little home repairs can be done in bits and pieces, and those bits and pieces can add up to significant progress over the course of a couple weeks. There are SO many little things that need some attention at the new house, but overall it was a good step up.

Before closing the sale of my old home, there were a few little repairs that needed to be done. In a few of these cases, I thought to myself, “Hey idiot, why didn’t you fix this when you actually LIVED here so you could enjoy it? This was a 2-hour, $50 repair that you could have done 6 years ago!!” As I look around my new house, I already see things that I’ve been putting off for months because they weren’t really that urgent and I’d quickly grown accustomed to living with the status quo. I’ll try to stop doing that.

As with all good relationships and experiences, I am leaving my old home a little wiser than when we met. I hope the new owners enjoy the house, it’s got a lot of life left in it and will be the source of many new memories. For now, it’s just time to say good bye to a house, to my home, to the domicile that grew up with me as I went from being a mere adult to a grown up. Hmm, that was a little sappy. It’s just a house…

 

There’s a certain linguistic foible that grates on me every time I hear or read it. It’s a little linguistic, it’s a little mathematical, and it shows up constantly. In generic terms, it’s when something is described as being “20 times smaller than” something else. I understand what’s being said, but it’s just sloppy when you really think about it. For a simple example, let’s think about some lengths. A kilometer is 1000 times longer than a meter. If I travel 1 meter 1000 times, I will have traveled 1 kilometer. OK, that makes sense. What about the other direction? Is a millimeter 1000 times shorter than a meter? Well, again, I’m sure you understand what I mean, so I have communicated information, but it just doesn’t make any sense. A millimeter is one thousandth as long as a meter, but is that the same as 1000 times smaller? Some examples:

Decimals: “As we move right, each position is 10 times smaller.” {http://www.mathsisfun.com/decimals.html}
Seahorses: “Pygmy seahorses, which are typically ten times smaller than non-pygmy relatives, were first discovered in the late 1960s” {http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2003/07/0731_030731_seahorse.html }
Programming languages: “Python programs are typically 3-5 times shorter than equivalent Java programs.” {http://www.python.org/doc/essays/comparisons/ }
Military barriers: “on average 5 times lighter than gabions” {http://www.defencell.com/advantages_home.html }

Mathematically, this becomes a distinction between multiplication and division, or maybe the distinction between multiplication by a number larger than 1 or multiplication by a number smaller than 1.  There seems to be a size threshold for these sloppy descriptions.  I don’t thing most people would describe something as being “2 times thinner than a human hair”, it would be described as “half the thickness of a human hair”.  What about “3 times thinner” vs. “one third the thickness”?

There is a growing problem domestically and worldwide with students having poor numeracy skills, perhaps we should take it upon ourselves to communicate in a mathematically clear and correct way.  One way to get around this is to rely on the reader to understand the direction of the comparison from the rest of the sentence and simply describe the factor of the comparison.  A kilometer is larger than a meter by a factor of 10.  A millimeter is smaller than a meter by a factor of 10.  To me, those are both very clear descriptions, and perhaps more importantly, they are both correct.  When in doubt, go with correct. {But that’s a topic for another post…}

As with almost all things linguistic, I have to ask myself if this is a fight worth fighting. And as with almost all things linguistic, my answer is “Yes!”. OK, I certainly won’t take to the streets and organize a grassroots protest, but whenever possible I will kindly and gently make corrections in the hope that a few people will see the light.

I was thinking about digging a hole all the way through the Earth. OK, forget the whole “molten core” problem, let’s just assume that the Earth is a big ball. If I could dig straight “down” from my house, I would emerge in the middle of the Indian Ocean. So I thought, “hmm, if the hole filled up with water, would it drain the oceans?” So let’s calculate it. I looked up a few important bits of info, wikipedia is good enough for the estimated volume of the oceans (1.3×109 km3) and the diameter of the Earth (12742km). Let’s assume that the hole has some generous shoulder room, make the diameter of the hole 2 meters. The volume of the hole would be:

(3.14)(0.000001 km)2(12745km) = 4.0×10-8km3

Hmm, that would barely put a dent in the volume of the ocean. Let’s see how wide the hole would have to be to fit the oceans…

(3.14)(x km)2(12745km) = 1.3×109km3

x = 180km

Yikes, that’s a big hole. I guess I didn’t appreciate just how much water was in the oceans.  And that’s the radius, so the diameter is 360km.  102000 square kilometers, all the way through the planet.  That’s just over half the size of North Dakota.  One third of New Mexico. One quarter of California.  Four Vermonts.  Thirty Rhode Islands.

Volume of the world’s oceans: 1.3 billion cubic kilometers (wikipedia.com)

Diameter of Earth: 12742km (wikipedia.com)

Moorhead: 46.9degN, 96.7degW (wunderground.com)

Opposite side of Earth: 46.9degS, 83.3degE

For the past ~6 months, I have been doing a couple electronic technology experiments. The first involves web design. For the past 8+ years, I have been using the same basic web page design. I used whatever the current iteration of FrontPage was to maintain it and built up a bunch of content. It was a useful site. (web.mnstate.edu/bodwin) I originally set up up using frames which I thought was great because it made it easy to use a consistent navigation menu and made it really easy to control the viewer’s experience. {Sometimes I get a little obsessed with control…} After this many years, I have gotten a little bored with my site, and a little bit of bloat and disorder had started to creep in, so I decided to do a major re-design. In browsing around for ideas and current standards/best practices, it quickly became clear that frames had fallen out of favor (I don’t know that they were ever really in favor…) because they were a little bloaty and did not lend themselves well to making easily accessible pages. I decided that I would try to make a very simple page with minimal architecture that would be lightning quick to load and navigate.

Now it’s 6-months later and I’m at a bit of an impasse. I’ve tried to make the page as simple as possible from a design standpoint, but it’s got a fair bit of content that I’m trying to organize in an orderly way. So far, I’ve just used CSS and HTML and the site is clean and simple. (www.drbodwin.com) But there’s a problem. Maintaining good, easy navigation is killing me. With my old frames page, the navigation frame was always reading a single file, so the navigation was consistent and maintaining it was simple. With my new, simple design, the navigation is embedded in each individual page. Once I got up to 10-15 pages, this became a pain in the ass. Every time I wanted to add a new feature, I had to go into each individual page and update the nav menu. I know there are some little scripting tricks to address this specific problem, but I was stubbornly trying to maintain the “purity” of my site. I was an idiot.

Now that I have stumbled through some of the dumb, noob mistakes, I’m ready to take the next step. Once the semester ends, I will devote some time to putting together a re-re-designed site that will be easy for visitors to navigate AND easy for me to maintain. I’m not going back to frames, but there has to be some middle ground. Right now, I feel as if I’m using a rock to hammer in a screw, I at least want to get to the point that I’m using a hammer.

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