Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Library Formerly Known As Penrose

I went to college locally. And since I was in the area today, I decided to stop by the campus to see how much had changed since I’d been there regularly. More specifically, I wanted to see what had been done with the newly-renovated library.

Holy cow.

They’ve transformed the ugly old 1970s building into an “academic commons,” complete with coffee shop, study rooms, computer labs, and oh yeah, books. The area is bright, open, and new in a way I could only imagine from my time there.

In fact, I actually had a hard time remembering where things used to be, they changed everything so much. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be a new reading area, or small study room, or mixed media audio/visual display. You could reserve rooms via a computerized door panel. There was even a touch screen map by the front door! Which had been moved, by the way (the front door).

It was an odd experience. In fact, it took me a long time to find the books. Whereas they used to be spread out between the upper and lower floors (with a fairly groovy red/orange/yellow/white color scheme in the main stairwell), all the books were now in a series of high-density moveable stacks, which I could only imagine would make for some interesting hazing opportunities.

And the names! Names were everywhere. It seemed like everywhere I turned I ran into the So-and-So Help Desk, or the Whatserface Memorial Quiet Study area (disclaimer: not actual names). I understand the fundraising opportunities that naming places after donors gives universities, but this was either more blatant than before, or I just noticed it more after being out of the

In grad school, I kept on hearing about how libraries are having to change for the modern era. I guess it never really sank in for me, though, as this shift has been fairly gradual at the public libraries I frequent. But my old college library, which recently finished what I’m sure was a multi-million-dollar renovation project, was wildly different. Books were no longer the focus. No, perhaps that’s a bit disingenuous. Books were no longer the only focus. The focus was still on learning, of course, but the vision of what learning should be for the 21st century is much more collaborative and multidisciplinary. And that was definitely reflected in the new library academic commons.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that they made a pretty good attempt to bring the external facade of the old library building more in line with the brick-and-copper (did I mention it’s a private university?) of the rest of the campus.

Last Day For Net Neutrality (comments)

Today, July 15th, is the last day that the FCC is accepting comments on the new “Net Neutrality” rules.  For those of you who haven’t heard of this yet, have you not been listening to me?  Net neutrality is one of my big, passionate causes.  In short, it states that all types of data on the Internet should travel at the same speed.  Click here for a quick, easy-to-read explanation of the issue via webcomic.  Or watch John Oliver, if you’d prefer.

The FCC, currently headed by a former cable company lobbyist, is looking to change that.  They want to create a “fast lane” structure, that would allow ISPs to create tiered service levels, where certain companies and services could pay to ensure a faster connection, leaving small players in the proverbial dust.  Here’s the FCC’s official fact sheet on the ruling.  The Consumerist has a handy guide, as does the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

There’s an easy solution to this: classify broadband ISPs as “Title II common carriers,” like telephone companies already are.  Of course, the ISPs don’t want this to happen (except when they do).  They want to be able to charge twice for the same content: once to the provider, and once to their subscriber.

This is not cool.  With only a little bit of hyperbole, this may be the biggest threat to the Internet as we know it yet.  So please, take a moment out of your day to tell the FCC what you think about their plan.  The EFF has made a handy tool to help you make your comments.  Keep in mind that your comments will become part of the public record, so try to to be civil.  Here’s my letter:

Dear FCC,

I’m Joshua Natzke and I live in Lakewood, CO.
Net neutrality, the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all data that travels over their networks equally, is important to me because without it ISPs could have too much power to determine my Internet experience by providing better access to some services but not others.
A pay-­to-play Internet worries me because new, innovative services that can’t afford expensive fees for better service will be less likely to succeed.
The Internet is unlike anything we as a society have had access to before. It allows people of every sort to create their own space and find things that matter to them. It significantly lowers the barrier of entry for creative endeavors in ways that are only now becoming apparent. To risk losing this unique environment to a tiered service organization would be a travesty.

I believe that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to give preferential “fast lane” treatment to certain kinds of data. Doing so would inevitably degrade the quality of services that cannot pay additional fees. After all, the only way to make a “fast lane” is to slow the other lanes down by comparison.

I also believe that high-speed ISPs should be classified as Title II common carriers, much like the telecom companies that provide land-line phone service. The fact that these ISPs are not already classified as common carriers is a fluke, an abuse of a loophole that should be closed as soon as possible.

I also feel that mobile broadband services should be classified the same as cable, DSL, and satellite ISPs, that is to say, as Title II common carriers. Internet access is Internet access, and these numerous loopholes should be closed.

Yes, ISPs will complain. But they are not the FCC’s customers: the public is. And the public does not want to see a tiered Internet that makes this wonderful sphere of innovation just the same as every other entertainment and communication venue. We have the opportunity, through TRUE net neutrality, to create a wonderful new world of opportunity for everyone. Please, don’t throw away this opportunity, letting innovation and change languish.

So yeah, it’s a big issue, one that I’m passionate about.  If you’d take even a few minutes out of your lunch break or evening to throw in your two cents, I’d really appreciate it.  Please comment.  I promise you can get back to cute cat videos and Netflix shortly after.  Thanks!

No Pressure (no, really!)

When I start a project, I have a tendency to look at it all in one chunk, from start to finish. It’s something I have to actively work against, to keep from getting overwhelmed. Also, once I start something, I want to finish it. Not “later,” not “some day,” but as soon as possible. This tendency was apparent in my writing habits while in school, and has been making for a stressful job search experience. After all, some people say that job searching should be a full-time job in and of itself. And since I’m actively searching again; shouldn’t I be seeing progress? However, I had a small epiphany this weekend:

There’s no time limit!

What do I mean by that? Well, there’s no hard due date for finishing this job search like there would have been for a school project. There’s no one saying “You must have a better job by X or you are a failure as a human being!” Well, no one outside my own inner monologues, which are best ignored, anyway.

And while I admit I really want a better job, I’m at least employed right now. I have a paycheck coming in, and while it’s admittedly not as much as I’d like, it covers most of my bases. I’m not desperate for employment, I’m just desperate for an upgrade. As such, I can kinda afford to take my time with my search, going more for quality than quantity.

It’s true that I haven’t seen many “results” (read: job offers, or even interviews) yet. But I am making progress. I’ve reformatted my resume, and am working on redesigning my portfolio with a new layout. Not all progress looks the same, I guess. Even that “40 hours a week” thing for job searching seems to be exaggerated.

So in other words, I’m feeling much better about my job search going forward. For right now, at least, I’m less hung up on “ZOMG MUST HAZ RESULTS NAO!” and focusing more on getting quality applications out while not going too insane with stress or guilt (read: I don’t feel as bad for playing video games).

Free Slurpee Day

That’s right, it’s Free Slurpee Day at 7-11! Do you know why? Because it’s July 11th! Or 7/11! Get it?

Alright, it’s a bad joke, I know. But it is true: today is Free Slurpee Day, an annual occurrence I usually don’t remember until the day or so after. But hey, maybe I’ll do something about it this year.

Growing up, we didn’t really do much in the way of eating out, especially for sweets. But when I was in high school and teaching martial arts, a trend started of going down to the nearest 7-11 and getting the biggest Slurpees we could. Now when you’re that young and that active, this isn’t as bad of an idea as it initially sounds. Then again, this is the same group of people that used to go to the Pizza Hut lunch buffet and try to see how high they could get the plates stacked, so maybe we weren’t exactly the best judges of our behavior. After all, there was one instructor in our group that could eat two Chipotle burritos in one sitting. Don’t ask me how; I can barely finish one.

But I digress. I was talking about Slurpees. There’s a technique involved, we discovered, to getting the most mileage out of your slushy sugar water. You can’t just fill up a cup and go. No, if you want to do it properly, it has to be tamped down. After all, it comes out of the machine fairly light and foamy. But if you take the time (read: several minutes during which the cashiers likely became more and more annoyed with us) to let it settle, tapping the cup against something solid like the counter or your hand, you could get a whole lot more for you money.

We also layered flavors, tamping between each one. Maybe you started off with Coke, then on to whatever blue monstrosity they were calling “fruit” that day. Then something else. And so on. Sure, it became a disgusting melange by the end, but it was worth it, especially if you were indecisive like me.

But it wasn’t all fun and games. Slurpee consumption was a dangerous pastime, real risk of serious harm. I’m of course talking about the brain freeze.

Maybe other people didn’t have this problem. For me, it was never a matter of “if” I would get a brain freeze; it was a matter of “when” and “how many.” Think about it: you’re a kid with a massive cup of frozen sugar water in your hands. Are you going to savor that experience, or are you going to be sucking on that straw like a hummingbird on crack? I think my top count for brain freezes ended up being somewhere in the double digits. I even had a technique to make them go away quicker. It involved clenching the back of my throat in an attempt to increase blood flow. But I’d inevitably be right back to drinking the Slurpee, no matter how hard I tried to pause and give my poor head time to warm back up.

Today, courting brain freezes is pretty much a thing of the past. I do still occasionally get overenthusiastic with ice cream or whatnot, but the prospect of getting a bucket-sized serving of Slurpee doesn’t hold the same appeal it used to. Now, it just makes my pancreas cringe.

Say, did you know that the Slurpee is a licensed version of the Icee? I always thought the latter was a cheap knockoff of the former, but I guess I was wrong.

Graphic Design Is Hard

So in my quest to get my search for an architecture job restarted, one of the things I’m wanting to do is redesign my portfolio. However, this is proving to be harder than I expected.

My first portfolio was an interesting idea, but in practice left something to be desired. I thought that I would make it interesting, by using a non-typical form factor. I chose to go with a landscape, 5”x8” layout. This had the advantage of allowing me to do a full bleed (with colors all the way to the edge of the page), plus it was about the size of the Moleskine sketchbooks I was using at the time. It even mirrored the layout of my business cards; design synergy for the win! I then made my own covers with what I think was picture matboard, and bound it all together with rivets. Sounds pretty cool, right?

Portfolio sample page

A sample page. Sorry about the JPEG compression.

Not bad for a first try, if I do say so myself. But I’ve discovered a few issues with this approach. Deciding to do full bleed pages had the disadvantage of me having to cut down every page by hand from the Letter size it was printed on. The rivets turned out fairly irregular (they were only roofing nails and washers, after all). The resume in the back is now out of date. The layout I used took up a lot of page real estate, which when combined with the form factor, made space even tighter. And of course, it’s really hard to see any sort of detail with drawings that small.

But now, I’m not sure what to do. I definitely want to do something on Letter size, but where do I start in terms of design? Heck, even my business card is something I came across in an office store sample book, thought was interesting, and said “Hey, I can recolor that and print it on my own!” And merely scaling up the layout from the 5×8 version isn’t going to work. I’m at the point where I’m going to have to design it completely from scratch, and the sheer vastness of the possibilities before me is paralyzing.

Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe, since graphic design isn’t really my strong suit, I should just go with something simple. Keep it clean, don’t over-complicate things. Like my resume. A hint of color there, some light embellishment there. It also doesn’t help that it’s been a while since I’ve designed something, so my skills are a little rusty. Plus, with Facebook and Tumblr right there… well, you know how that goes.

I really would like to come up with something that I can use on all my collateral; business cards, portfolio, even website. I just need to come up with a core idea, a theme that I can implement again and again. One that’s not too pretentious, either.

“We Need To Talk”

There are four words that, for whatever reason, immediately case me to start worrying and preparing for the worst. You’ve probably heard them yourself, from time to time. It can be the most benign situation, but the panic is undeniable.

“We need to talk.”

Four simple words. Also found in variations such as “Give me a call” and “Come see me, please.” Regardless of the phrasing, the message is clear: you’re in trouble now, boy. When I hear these phrases, my heart starts racing and panic starts to build. I play the coming scene over and over in my head. Am I about to be fired? Did I fail an assignment? Is someone I love angry (or worse, disappointed) with me? Did my dog (which I don’t even have) die? I start with the worst case scenario, and go downhill from there.

I know this response is irrational, as evidenced by the multiple times I’ve heard the phrase and the result has been benign. But that doesn’t stop the reflex. It matters even less who says it. I don’t even know why I have such a visceral reaction. I know that as a kid I was always harder on myself than other people were. Maybe there’s some sort of internalized guilt, a fear that my carefully-crafted veneer of competence is going to be revealed as a sham? I don’t know. But it’s kind of annoying.

Or maybe it’s cultural. Throughout various forms of entertainment we’re told over and over that when someone says “We need to talk” things are going to go poorly for the person they’re saying it too. And it’s too bad, since it really can be a useful way to get information. But for whatever reason, those four words always seem to bring with them portents of doom.

Axial Philosophies

I have a theory about worldviews. Most of us, when we hear someone referred to as an optimist, we assume they’re one of those super-positive types, with an idealistic outlook that borders on naivete. If someone calls themselves a cynic, however, we assume they’re a world-weary pessimist, always seeing things in a negative light. In short, most people consider optimism to be synonymous with idealism, and pessimism as synonymous with cynicism. I know I’m painting with broad exaggerations right now, but bear with me.

I would argue that these things are not synonymous. Rather, I think that they’re two separate philosophical axes, and are thus not mutually exclusive. Picture if you will a graph plot, like the ones you may have blocked out from high school math due to some freak number-pun incident. This plot would normally have axes labeled as X and Y, or horizontal and vertical, respectively. Now, picture Optimism/Pessimism being one axis, and Idealism/Cynicism being the other. In this situation, you get four different quadrants: Idealistic Optimism, Cynical Optimism, Idealistic Pessimism, and Cynical Pessimism. Each of these worldviews, while related, it each distinct.

Idealistic Optimism is the classic “everything is awesome and the world is a good and just place” worldview we normally associate with optimism. Things will work out for the best in the end, and people are inherently good to each other. If you feel like you’re getting mind-diabetes thinking this way, then I’m sorry; but you are starting to get the gist of what this feels like.

Cynical Pessimists see the world as a cruel place, where the inherent goodness of other people is not a given. This does not have to be a negative cruelty, however. Maybe people are simply looking out for themselves above all others, or the world is simply uncaring and random. Not much is taken as a given, or at face value. This is the antithesis of Idealistic Optimism.

I’ll admit, I’m not sure how to describe Idealistic Pessimism, as the juxtaposition seems especially foreign to me. Maybe “the world is a good place, but it just sucks to be me?” Something like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh? I don’t know. Let’s leave this category as an exercise to the reader; I’m open to suggestions.

The last category, Cynical Optimist, is what I would consider myself. The world may be an uncaring place, but things will work out for the best in the end. While I often tend towards the idealistic side of things, I’ve experienced enough in my life that my sense of idealism is at least cracked, if not quite shattered. Going to grad school and coming out with crushing debt and no luck finding a job in your field can do that to a person. But for better or worse, I still believe that people are inherently good. This can set me up for some… interesting interactions, as for example, when a hypothetical boss turns out to not care about a hypothetical employee’s needs and availability.

Maybe this model is still incomplete. Maybe there needs to be a third axis: Positive/Negative. I’m not sure. But the whole thing is an interesting idea, and one that I’ve been tossing around my head for a while. It might be interesting to try and go further in-depth into the various categories, but now does not seem to be the time.

Thoughts?

It Is Warm

Holy cow is it warm today. I haven’t done much since I got home from work this morning, and yet I am noticeably sweating while inside. I find this very annoying.

Our apartment doesn’t have air conditioning, so we’re reliant on using other methods to keep the place cool. Normally, we’re able to open the windows at night, using fans to draw in the cool(er) air. And for the most part, this works well enough. As long as we remember to close the windows before it gets too warm, we can keep it a little more pleasant for a little while longer.

Other times, there is nothing to be done. Maybe we forgot to close the windows (or open them). Maybe it just doesn’t get cool enough overnight to make a difference. Maybe I spent the day in my south- and east-exposed office. For whatever reason, sometimes the only chance for relief is to go hide in the basement.

While living at my parents’ house, I discovered something: the basement was always a few degrees cooler. Always. In the summer, this was great! I could sit in my bedroom, puttering around with some LEGO bricks or playing on my computer, and it would be more pleasant than the upstairs living room, or especially my brother’s bedroom above the garage. But come winter, those few degrees were more hindrance than help. At times, it got cold enough that I had to plug in a space heater just to make getting out of bed a less daunting task.

What I wouldn’t give for that problem today.

For whatever reason, I spent most of my day today in my office. As such, the rise in temperature snuck up on me, inching inexorably higher into uncomfortable territory. But still I sat at my desk, until it was late in the afternoon and I had to write a blog post. Obviously, the temperature was something pressing on my mind more than other issues.

I have since wizened up slightly, and am currently writing this in the basement, where it is (surprise!) a few degrees cooler. Of course, it’s just going to feel that much warmer when I go back upstairs, but at least I am cooling down ever so slightly.

I just have to be careful not to fall asleep in my girlfriend’s Lay-Z-Boy.

A Little Bit Better

I’ll admit it, I freaked out a bit yesterday. Caught between a rock and a hard place, I wasn’t sure whether it was best to stick up for myself and call in “sick (of work)”, or to just suck it up and miss practice. I ended up deciding to go to work. While it may make my availability seem more negotiable, it seemed more like the right (or at least less wrong) thing to do.

I don’t usually freak out like that. I’m guessing it was just the combination of stress: not being able to go to practice, not getting the job, and the unpleasant surprise of my student loan payments. So of course, while I’m in the process of freaking out, I’m also trying to figure out why I was freaking out. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly thinking straight. I haven’t gone back to read it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if yesterday’s post was even less coherent than usual.

Shortly after this freakout, I remembered (although it did take some gentle reminding) that I hadn’t taken any St. John’s Wort yet that day. Normally, I take it on my way out to work in the morning, but like any time-based habit, I often forget to do so if my schedule changes. So I took some, and while I can’t rule out a psychosomatic effect, I started to feel better within a few minutes. I wasn’t necessarily any happier about missing practice, but I managed to stop brooding over what I was going to do.

I know this is a short post, but I wanted to at least touch base and let people know I was doing better. If nothing else, the events of yesterday reminded me that yes, the St. John’s Wort really does help, as well as reminding me why I need to find a better job. The search hasn’t progressed much, I’ll admit, although I have at least been trying to see to my mental health (read: I managed to beat Riven). And that’s important too.

Tomorrow’s a holiday, so I likely won’t post anything. We’ll be headed to an event, and with how late I get off work, there won’t be much time to prepare until the evening or tomorrow morning. So have a good weekend, and be sure to keep all of your fingers intact.

No-Win

Sometimes I wonder if I need to be a worse person.

Why do I say this? Well, it’s Wednesday, and I have to work this evening. It’s also the evening of fighter practice. As such, it’s one of two evenings I’ve listed myself as “unavailable” to work. And yet, I’m working. Do you see the conundrum?

The last time I tried to do something about this, I was told that “the needs of the business” needed to be respected, above my needs, apparently. I was also given the impression that my availability (you know, the thing that says “I CAN’T WORK”) was merely a suggestion, to be followed if and when it was convenient for everyone else but me.

And I don’t know what I can do to make my point. I could call in “sick,” but my somewhat overdeveloped sense of morality makes that problematic. And for whatever reason, I feel compelled by an odd sense of loyalty to a job that doesn’t reciprocate. Sure, I may be somewhat responsible for this situation; I obviously haven’t effectively insisted on my availability from my end. But if anything, that just makes me feel worse. Because now my brain is convinced this is somehow my fault, that if I was just a better employee with less demands, without a life outside the business, everything would be just peachy.

I don’t know what to do. I can’t afford to rock the boat too much, since I need this job (or at least the paycheck). But I hate that it feels like my own good nature is being used against me. I’m being asked to sacrifice, without any payment in return. I’ll hate myself if I cave and work, and I’ll hate myself if I lie and call in. My own morality is being used against me.

I don’t know.