Saturday, August 19, 2006


I'm here now. I have exchanged one city for another. The truck is unloaded, although the boxes are not yet unpacked. I am beginning the process of settling in. Beginning. It will be a while before I feel like this is my space, but I am, at least, occupying it.

The purpose of my being here aside, this is in general a positive step - at least as far as the trappings go. Every change is a tradeoff and there are things I will miss about DC (people yes, absolutely, but that goes without saying, I'm talking about the cities themselves in this post) and there are things I will not miss. Atlanta is an improvement in a few areas that most Atlanteans, I find, would not consider an improvement.

Take, for instance, the traffic. Atlanta has horrible traffic, the fourth worst in the nation according to a recent study. But it is not as bad as DC. DC is third. So I made a step in the right direction there. No one here believes me when I try to tell them that I actually find this traffic to be an improvement, but it's nice. I like it. I'm reminded of a story about a farmer who thought his family was too loud and asked a wiseman to help him. The wiseman tells the farmer to bring his cats into the house. When that makes things worse, the farmer complains and the wiseman tells the farmer to bring the dogs into the house, then the chickens, then the horse, then the cow. Finally the farmer gets fed up with this "advice" and begins to put the animals back where they belong. By the time he's done, his house, filled only with his family, seems silent. Well, applying that to my traffic situation, moving from DC to Atlanta is the equivalent of getting rid of that first cow. It's not a big step, but it is a step in the right direction.

The prices here are another nice jump, although this one is a bit more significant. Atlanta does not cost nearly as much as DC. If I were not attempting to live on a grad-student budget, I could even consider buying a house. Not so in DC, it would be hard to find a studio apartment near DC for less than the houses around here.

It's not all positive (tradeoffs, remember), but in general my everyday life has gotten just a little bit easier. Well, the trappings at least. We'll see what gradschool itself does to my stress levels...

Monday, August 14, 2006


I should be talking about my move. This is the weekend it went down, after all, and while this post is being written well after the date it's filling, the events of this weekend are still fresh enough and significant enough that I should have a lot to say. And I do, I just don't want to.

This move covered greater distance and more unknowns (physically, mentally, emotionally, academically, ecumenically...) than any previous move and with that came greater stress. So I don't really want to talk about the move.

I want to talk about the movers.

I owe (and am using this forum to provide) a big thanks to the people who helped me move.

I did wine and dine them for their efforts (well "beer and pizza them" would be more accurate, if less poetic) but regardless, thanks are in order.

So thanks.
Thanks a lot.
You guys made a difficult event much easier and your presence (whether you realized it or not) helped me stay in touch with reality long enough to see the job through.

Mike and Sarah (who had already provided most of the boxes), Melissa, Bruce, and Alex helped with the loading (and I have my share of heavy furniture plus more than my share books so it was certainly not an easy process) and, in more cases than should have been necessary, they helped finish up the packing as well. I "supervised" and they handled most of the actual arrangement within the truck. In the roughly thirteen hours that truck spent on the road, only one item was damaged and I did that closing the rear gate before we had even left DC.

Bruce and Bonnie both helped out on days they had to work. In Bruce's case, he lifted heavy objects then went to work (and was the last person to use my shower in that apartment - for whatever that's worth). In Bonnie's case, she had to work a full day first, then showed up later. She arrived after the bulk of boxes had been loaded, but made up for missing the grunt work by providing several goodies for the tired crew.

At the other end of the trip, the Pennocks helped unload everything. This was after they helped me find the apartment in the first place, and after they put us up for the night at their place before I could actually move into the new apartment.

And of course, I have to thank my Sarah. Before the move she helped pack the boxes, including but not limited to almost my entire kitchen. That the plates survived the trip is her doing, and also her influence that the rest of my small stuff did, too (she's the one who convinced me to use the packing paper supplied by Mike and the other Sarah). She helped throughout the day of the move, and then drove my car while I drove the truck. It took us thirteen hours through varying levels of traffic, and the next day she helped unload the truck. Then she stayed four more days to help me unpack, find my way around the new campus, and just begin the process of settling in. Several times she found me just staring at things, unable to decide what to do next, a little shell shocked and she prodded me out of it.

Without the assistance of so many (and I'm including here the support and well wishes of the people who could not be present for whatever reason to provide physical assistance), this would have been a much more difficult transition. I appreciate everything you all did to make this easier for me.

Thank you.

Saturday, August 05, 2006


When you need to stay awake, how do you do it? For me it depends on what I am trying to do. If I am just preparing myself for future nights (getting ready for my midnight shift), the single best way to keep myself up is to play a videogame. It keeps me engaged more than a book or movie would because I have to constantly make decisions and react. I don't claim I play very well when I'm forcing myself to stay up, but at least I'm awake.

But what about those times when you need to stay awake for a specific task, not just for the sake of staying awake? Sitting at work at the end of a long week, trying to survive a meeting after a heavy lunch, or driving somewhere late at night...

I do not drink coffee, so that's out. Fortunately at work I can get up and walk around, shake myself a little. On the midnight shift, some of us do pushups every hour to keep ourselves alert (and fit). You can't do that in meetings, though, and I have real trouble with those, especially in the early afternoon. This has been true for a long time. I fell asleep in every early afternoon class I had in college, no matter how fascinating. I never did find an adequate solution. Part of the problem is that there is a point in the struggle against sleep where you lose your ability to discern whether you are losing that battle and why winning it is even important.

I once got into an argument about this with a gryphon and a dragon. The gryphon thought I was asleep, the dragon was not so sure. In hindsight, considering that gryphons and dragons did not usually attend my CS class, I think maybe the gryphon was right. That was, if I remember correctly, the day I decided I would be better off napping during that hour and just reading the book. I could do this since the professor wrote the book and tended to take his slides directly from its pages. I didn't miss much.

That was a harmless occasion. The time I slowed down to let a dinosaur cross route 29 ended up being harmless because I was the only person on the road at that time, but the potential consequences were much more dire. When I woke up enough to realize just how dangerous that drive had been, I was appalled (and still am, I was *really* lucky). I also changed my driving habits and identified a series of cues that can help me tell if I'm falling asleep. Threshold events are key if you're going to be doing most of your judging in a sleep impaired state. Mythical and extinct creatures are a big one, although they're pretty far down the list. If I've made it to that point, I've already missed too many signs. My friend Bruce uses the "one eye test:" If he ever finds himself closing one eye so half of his body can get some sleep while the other half drives, he pulls over immediately.

A list of sleep criteria is good, but it still fails the meeting test. Namely because the solution when driving, to pull over and rest or walk around a bit and refresh yourself, does not work so well in meetings or classes. The boss looks at you funny if you start doing jumping jacks during her presentation.

So, dear readers, how do you do it? What methods do you use to discretely wake up and stay awake during meetings and presentations? Tired minds want to know.