Astronaug.ht

Placeholder site for my tinkering efforts this year. Won’t be anything there for quite awhile, but wanted to plant a flag. Be sure to hover on the logo.

(Re)learning new things

Been learning a bevy of new things the past few weeks.

  • Cooking
  • Philadelphia
  • Running
  • Brewing coffee
  • iOS development
  • Git
  • Chess
  • Being a husband (last but best)

Many I’ve tried before, to some degree or another, but I’m inclined to believe this time is different.

In learning and striving towards a practice in these things, I realize I’m a slow study these days. I’ve grown rusty at learning. As if at some point I’d just let it go and sorta forgot how to learn. Or forgot how to want to.

I’ve always been an unusual student. I’ve been everything from a grade school nerd on the G&T track, to a high school delinquent faced with expulsion, to an “alternative school” valedictorian, to an aloof {Astrophysics, Math, Computer Science, Philosophy, Psychology} and – finally – English major, to an atoning 25yo repeat undergraduate, to a Berkeley PhD student with a DoD fellowship, to a grad school defector with a consolation Master’s degree.

While I’m at it, I’ve had quite a few jobs. As a kid, I was a donut finisher, a tuxedo shop assistant, a hardware store stock boy, a deli clerk. In college I canvassed Boston neighborhoods with fliers for buffalo wings. I’ve been an outdoor educator, a gym teacher, a tech support guy, a mailroom clerk, an IT coordinator, a research assistant, a teaching assistant. I’ve been a freelance designer. I’ve helped found a startup, I’ve worked for Google, for Intel, for bitly. And now I work for myself.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a few things in that litany of the past. But my point is you don’t mosey your way through all that without learning a helluva a lot. Including learning how to learn. And yet somewhere along the way I tired of learning new skills, new domains.

I think what it come down to is I just needed a break. A long break. After my first year of graduate school and, about 4 years later, leaping into a startup and, about 2 years later, beaming into the mothership at Google, I’ve been wary of diving fast and deep into huge new things. They were such intense, all-encompassing, dissolve-you-into-a-jelly-and-reconstitute-you-into-a-new-being, shunt-a-jack-into-your-brain-and-now-you-know-kung-fu sorts of experiences. Electrifying. Eye opening. But draining. I’ve been taking it relatively easy since then.

But I seem to be stirring again. New interests. New efforts. New things to explore. Feels a bit like stretching and flexing – readying myself to dive in deep again. Curious to see where things go.

Bounce

This is the story of the Kobayashi Maru I pulled in 9th grade Earth Science class, circa 1988. It is among my finest accomplishments.

There we sat. Jean jackets and mullets. Acne and ennui. Begrudgingly studying the many spheres: biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, whateversphere.

This day concerned a simpler sphere – a ball – and the effect of the earth upon it. We were learning about gravity.

The teacher – nice guy but stern – explained that, thanks to the nature of gravity, and potential and kinetic energy, a ball cannot bounce as high as the height from which it’s dropped. You’ve seen this countless times. Each bounce has a successively lower apex until the thing peters out and comes to rest.

As he explained this, a magnificent thought took shape in my mind. I was 14 with a chip on my shoulder. I didn’t like rules. And here before me, all around me, was one big fat whopper of a rule. An irrefutable, fundamental fact of the universe: GRAVITY.

I raised my hand and, with a casualness inversely proportional to the magnitude of my claim, said, “I disagree. I think it can bounce higher.”

There were laughs, and the teacher wasn’t having it. “No really,” I said, “I can do it. I’ll bring a ball tomorrow and show you.”

Now, this is no story of magic or delusion. Physics is Physics. I couldn’t possibly alter the nature of gravity. But I could, and did, alter the operational definition of a ball. And so that night I applied myself to the construction of the greatest ball ever made.

The heart of it was a standard helium balloon, around which I paper-mached a sphere of newspaper. The balloon’s tapered shape left a cavity inside the bottom of the sphere, within which I placed a raw egg as ballast, nestling it in a hole cut into the nadir of the sphere.

When finished it was a big, unwieldy, misshapen thing. A busted Death Star. Yet also: an audacious invention. An engineering marvel. And a brazen exercise in cheating. I was proud.

Next day I stood before the class and held it aloft. No one knew anything of its innards. I must’ve looked clownish. The teacher was pure skepticism and annoyance. But there I stood, reveling in the virtue of defiance.

I released it.

I hadn’t tested it, so I was going on faith. The weight of the egg took it down slowly and I wondered if it would hit hard enough to crack that sucker open and release its yolky ballast. Slowly it sank. Long seconds went by. And finally, as gravity brought the thing to the ground, truth and the moment collided.

CRRRITCH…

It rested several moments as the egg leaked out, then tentatively began pulling away from its snotty deposit. Slowly it rose, trailing yolk and albumen. Quicker then. Up. Up past my knees. Passing my chest, my head. Up past as high as my hands could reach. Up past the origin of its fall. Up to the ceiling, where it bounced, petered out, and finally came to rest.

I don’t remember the class’s reaction. Only the teacher’s. He dismissed it outright. It didn’t count. It was cheating.

He was right.

But he’d failed to learn the lessons taught in class that day. That ingenuity arises in the face of impossibility. That a thing is not always what it seems. That some things you can’t change, but what you do with them is another story.

And that when things fall down, bounce back – higher – however the hell you want to.

This post was originally published to The Listserve on 3 Jan 2013. This version has a few trivial edits.

New

Sequential highlights of my last 10 weeks of 2012:

  • Sold my beloved apartment in Brooklyn, where I’d lived longer than anywhere since youth.
  • Left my job.
  • Married an extraordinary woman at the greatest wedding of all time – smack in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, no less.
  • Did two amazing weeks in Hawaii (Big Island and Kauai).
  • Spent an excellent Thanksgiving in DC.
  • Purged half my worldly possessions and packed up the rest.
  • Moved to the always sunny Philadelphia.
  • Weathered another beat of the heart of the American family – The Holidays.

… all while haunted by the recent losses of two people I love immensely.

It has been a season of change.

So. New life. New year. And hell, why not… New blog.

Assuming I actually keep this thing going – no promises – I reckon it’ll be some mix of arbitrary reflections, found things, and public journaling of my new experiment in work, which involves a limit of 2 days/week consulting so I can spend the rest of my time tinkering, prototyping, and learning. Here’s to that.

And here’s to the years. Happy Old. Happy New.

Reminds me of my clever, creative, diabetic nephew.

"If at first you don’t succeed, that’s one data point."

We always say data point instead of datum. Weird.

"If at first you don’t succeed, that’s one data point."

We always say data point instead of datum. Weird.

First

New life (again). New blog. Let’s see how this goes.