Where I don't care what others think

Social Dining

February 5th, 2015 Posted in College, Life, Personal, Problems, Work | No Comments »

One of the things I’ve always struggled with is eating meals in a social setting.  For many people grabbing lunch or going out to a dinner with coworkers is a pleasant break from the work environment and conversations, a more neutral setting where everyone can relax and intermingle a bit.  For me, eating meals in these settings exercises a set of my underdeveloped skills and generally makes me super stressed out.  I’d rather be under a timer trying to solve a very challenging technical problem.

When it comes to the selection of a location to eat I always feel pretty handicapped only knowing a handful of locations to eat.  I’m also a fairly picky eater but a very non-confrontational person which leads to this very strange evaluation I perform between suggesting I’m not comfortable with the food at a place and trying to identify the item I’m most likely able to appear to have eaten on a menu. In my work environment, when people go out for food it tends to upper scale restaurants which are less likely to serve some of the simpler staple dishes I can often bank on.  Instead, the menu is filled with things I’ve never heard of and it’s awkward to start googling for items and ingredients to see what they might look like.

Unlike most people, I don’t enjoy particularly complicated dishes with intriguing tastes or complex flavors.  There’s a relatively short list of things I’ll eat with no questions asked.  Beyond that I evaluate how far a dish appears to deviate from something I’m familiar with.  As an example, veal parmigiana is a short hop away from chicken parmigiana so it’s probably safe but veal marsala is a bit too many hops to be acceptable.  Most people seem to read menus looking for the dish they think will be the most enjoyable or satisfy some taste / craving, for me I’m reading the menu trying to figure out what’s going to cause me the least trouble to eat.

Aside from the food itself, conversation is a key component of dining in social settings which is an area I’m very inexperienced with.  Ramping up in college, young adults tend to eat meals with social acquaintances on a regular basis which provides a valuable opportunity to develop conversational skills.  For various reasons I didn’t really do that in college, I can probably count on my fingers the number of meals I ate with friends during my last 3 years @ RPI (insufficient data on first 2 years).  It usually didn’t bother me to be eating alone, but looking back I recognize I was missing out on an opportunity to develop some useful life skills.

At the table, this translates to awkward responses to questions that often don’t do a good job carrying conversation.  “What do you do most weekends?” will get a one word answer “work”, when I should really expand on that to describe the different projects I’m working on… or pretend to have done something more exciting.  I have to expend a lot of effort when I try to be social when it seems to come much more naturally for others, or at least it appears that way.  Any social skills I do have tend to be thrown off balance by the food / menu evaluation stage; by the time I’ve concluded that process I’ve often built up enough anxiety or self-doubt that sitting silently is the best way to recharge my risk taking batteries.

I recognize it would be good to improve but the diversity of foods I eat and my social capabilities while doing so, but I’ve created an environment for myself which perpetuates the status quo. At some point I should probably work on improving this, but doing so in a low-risk fashion feels like a significant amount of effort, perhaps something to solve tomorrow.

Goodnight moon


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Chasing Productivity

January 31st, 2015 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It feels like I’m always trying to be as productive as I was in a previous period of my life.  In college I remember wishing I was as productive as I was back in high school, and now that I’m a few years outside of college I often find myself wishing I could be as productive as I was back in college.

Measure the raw output or work units produced, my time in high school certainly wasn’t the point in my life where I was turning around the most stuff… but it still feels like it was one of the most productive periods.  Looking back, I think one of the key contributing factors was how few responsibilities and requirements I had.  Sure, I had to attend school for X hours a day, but outside of those hours (and a dab of homework) I was free to use my time as I wanted.  There was a very low probability that I’d be interrupted or otherwise thrown off whatever course I was on (thanks, in part, to the reliability of CATV equipment) which meant that I could spend hours or entire weekends working on whatever I pleased.

Additionally, I didn’t have to worry much about fulfilling any social obligations in high school.  Academics provided ample opportunity to interact with my peers, and extra curricular activities provided a great framework for social interactions outside of the classroom but still in a well structured form.  I like to think I excelled at this sort of thing.

In college, there was still an expectation that you would attend class but schedules were rarely back-to-back, I couldn’t get my 6 hrs of learning in for the day and have the rest of the day to myself.  There were lots of gaps and pauses, periods of time not long enough to get serious about anything but just long enough to need to do something.

Around this time my responsibilities started to rise with a growing fleet of servers in what I might describe as a hostile environment.  Things weren’t crashing left and right, but it was uncommon for a week to go by without at least one episode of multi-hour firefighting.  A weekend plan to build X may very well end up with being a Saturday resolving the system dependencies someone borked and a Sunday trying to quickly pull something together.

On the social front, college didn’t provide particularly well structured social opportunities for me.  It was now up to me to get involved and take a more active role developing a social life which I was dreadful at.  I compensated by getting better at working which helped regain some of the productivity lost to social failures but not all of it.

Now that I’m done with college and gainfully employed I expected that my productivity would recover and surpass high-school levels.  In my default work state it certainly hasn’t.  Currently I work in a extremely interrupt driven environment where the rate at which interrupts occur surpasses the available resources to address them.  I believe pretty firmly that failing over is an absolute last resort so I often jump in and help out when others aren’t available.

I certainly can’t categorize the operational environment as hostile (servers/uptime is blissful) but I didn’t anticipate the productivity that could be lost to email and meetings.  In general, people get dumbfounded if I don’t show up to a meeting because I think it’s a waste of my time.  I’ve also found that not replying to email in a timely fashion leads to confusion that takes longer time to clear up than a quick response would take.

Socially, work provides very little in the way of stimulation which means that I have to try and compensate on my own to fill my social quota.  When I was living alone in CA I just gave up on this entirely and I think my efficiency suffered slightly but I do a little better these days.  I’ve always struggled, which is a polite word for dreaded, planning social engagements / activities but I’ve realized it as a necessary component, at least in some form, to help balance things out.  That doesn’t make it any less of a drag on my productivity though, I’ve gone from showing up to a room where all my friends were everyday after school in high school, to working on projects with friends in college, to today where sometimes I’m able to think of and execute an idea.

I suppose I should really stop trying to rewind time and get back to the productivity I use to have but instead figure out actionable changes I can make to the current state to have a positive influence on productivity.

Good night moon.

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November 28th, 2014 Posted in College, Life | No Comments »

When I return home to my parents house, often for holiday festivities and gatherings, I’m always a bit unbalanced by the amount of sentimental items I encounter.  Specifically, I tend to encounter a collection of college related items which seem to trigger a deeper connection in me than I’m expected or quite frankly comfortable with.  I’ve tried very hard to avoid the attachment to physical things that seems to weigh so many people down in life, but I haven’t done a good job casting off some of these dusty collegiate anchors.

Pulling out my college laptop, because my current laptop is too cool for a DVD drive, brings me back to my dorm typing out posts on this very blog or chatting online with AIM or gChat and having some of the more memorable conversations of my time at college.  I suspect most people remember specific parties, places, and events they attended with friends, lacking those experiences I’ve held on to the memory and feeling of online chats and conversations embodied in this laptop which struggles to stay functioning after booting up.

My parents moved the bed I had in my college apartment back to their house to serve as my sleeping arrangements when I’m home.  Statically speaking, it’s the location I spent most of my time while I was in my apartment (aka sleeping) and it adequately reminds me of that year.  I should have been smarter and associated memories of my apartment with a slightly more portable and less obnoxiously sized object.

I very well may have such an object packed somewhere away in the boxes labeled as my college and non-college archival material.  When I concluded my time as a graduate student I was on a plane literally the next day flying across the country to find a place to live and join the workforce.  It was a very busy time, and as a result I didn’t have time to go through and digest the result of my time at school at all.  I quickly archived it all in boxes under the false premise that I would sort through them “soon”.  Now that I’m back on the East Coast it’s slightly more plausible that I’ll have time to process all the raw material into what’s worth keeping, but I’m terrible at not doing work. Knowing what I know now I should have pushed back a bit more on my relocation timeline.

I’m a big fan of the idea that making progress in any direction is better than sitting around making progress in no directions, but I need to remember that work or projects aren’t the only direction I should make some progress in.

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