Wednesday, June 23, 2010


When Sally was last in town, she talked about a psychological trait called "hardiness" that I hadn't heard of before. What she said about it was something like that people with high hardiness get bored easily and have trouble motivating themselves to do things they don't want to do. (That's my paraphrase, anyway; feel free to correct me in the comments.) I think she indicated that I might have high hardiness.

I became quite curious about this, because "hardiness" sounds like something good, and if there is something good associated with my slacker qualities, I want to know what it is! (Although in fact I misunderstood her completely and when I did my Google search today, I typed in "heartiness." But anyway.)

Apparently we hardy types (assuming I am one) are unusually stress-resistant. I would say that is true of me. It's not so much that I handle stress well by rising to the occasion as that I feel somewhat immune to stress (not entirely, of course). Apparently hardiness has three components:
  1. Commitment - feeling involved in life (as opposed to alienated)
  2. Control - believing that you can control/influence your circumstances (as opposed to feeling powerless)
  3. Challenge - being excited (as opposed to threatened) by changes; finding satisfaction in difficulty
It's hard to say how much these three ideas apply to me. The third one, "challenge," is a no-brainer. I've written before about how excited I always am about changes (even ones you might think of as probably bad; if I found out I was going to prison instead of grad school, I'd be on one level devastated, but I'd still be pretty excited to see what prison was like), and how I think difficulty correlates positively with satisfaction. (I view myself as kind of an excitement junkie - not in the sense of being a thrill-seeker, but in the sense of always finding things in the future to feel excited about.)

I don't have reason to think I have higher than usual levels of commitment and control. I can sometimes feel alienated, though not severely. I rarely feel powerless; I almost can't remember ever having felt that way.

In my cursory searching, I wasn't able to find anything about hardiness and lack of ability/motivation to do boring work. One article I saw said that hardiness was negatively correlated with neuroticism but positively correlated with the other big five personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, and agreeableness). I would guess I am more open, less conscientious, slightly less extraverted, and slightly more agreeable than the average bear. I don't think I am very neurotic.

Going with the general meaning of the word, I do think of myself as "hardy" in ways that relate to what I've read. I usually look back at a stressful and difficult experience with joy (assuming nothing actually bad happened; I mean something like getting lost in the woods, not something like seeing your buddy gunned down in front of a liquor store) and I am fairly resilient. Hardiness is also associated with expressing satisfaction about one's life, and I'm definitely high in that area.

To cite any sources for this would suggest that it's not completely half-assed and basically along the lines of comparing oneself to characteristics expected for one's astrological sign. Still, I had a good time looking into it a little bit, and am happy (as one tends to be) to find a positive word that might describe me.

Google Voice

I've been wanting to check out Google Voice for a long time, and I finally got an invitation from Google to sign up. It is fantastic and I'm very excited about it.

You can use Google Voice either with your existing phone number, or you can get a phone number from Google. I chose one that is local to where I'm moving to. You can search for phone numbers that spell things, and I tried my first and last name with no success, but eventually got a phone number that ends in MATH, which is pretty cool.

What GV does at this point is that, when someone calls my new number, GV will ring whatever phones I've told it to. I can tell it to ring my office phone, home phone, and cell phone all at the same time from that one number that belongs to none of the phones. I can also, if I choose, set up classes of my contacts and have GV treat them differently. (For instance, perhaps business associates get to ring only my office and cell phones, but family get to ring all three phones.)

GV also catches all of my voice mails and will email me when I get a voice mail or a text message. Voice mails are automatically transcribed (not very well, but better than nothing) and there will also be a link to play the voice mail recording on the computer. Text messages come as they are, of course, but best of all, I can text the person back just by replying to the email. (I don't do a lot of texting, but now it is at least easy to do with those few people I know who do text me.)

I can place phone calls from my Google number from any of my phones (though I forget how) and I can also place them using the website as a helper. I tell Google who I want to call and from what phone, and they ring first my phone, and then the other phone, and make the connection. It's sort of like having a secretary. One of the advantages is that I can manage all of my contacts in Google (same contacts as in Gmail) and not in my cell phone. (Of course, I might also want them in cell phone if I want to place calls when I don't have access to a computer, but there are not that many people I call regularly from outside of my home or office.)

My favorite aspect is the voice mail capture and emailing. I am pretty bad at ever getting phone calls and I especially don't notice voice mails (much less texts), but I check email all the time. This will make my chances of receiving and returning phone calls much higher.

I also really like the idea of having one phone number that will stay the same no matter what kind of phone I have. I'm considering, once I move, having a prepaid phone plan so that I don't have to pay $40/month for the five or six phone calls I make every month. I know that you can keep your numbers when you change plans these days, but this seems so much easier - just give everyone the Google number and only you and Google have to know where it's ringing. (For that matter, if I wanted to make even fewer phone calls than now, I could just have the Google number and no actual phone plan, then find a phone booth or something to place calls when necessary.)

Anyway, I'm a big fan of Google Voice so far. I have one invitation left that I can send someone, so if you're interested in trying this, just let me know.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Money Fairness Without Marginal Costs

As I mentioned earlier, Ed got his driver's license last week, and I included him in my new insurance policy with Progressive. It's great (even for me) to know that he can now borrow my car and go wherever he wants. I expect this will come in very handy in grad school, where neither of us will commute to school by car, but where we may not live in (easy) walking distance of a grocery store. So far, Ed hasn't taken much advantage of this new ability, which is partly due to a lack of opportunity, and partly because I think the idea of being able to just drive somewhere hasn't penetrated his consciousness yet.

The question that arises for me is, how much (if any) of the car insurance and other car-related costs should Ed bear? I asked him this question, and he suggested that as a starting point, I find out how much extra it costs for him to be on my insurance.

At Amica, this was going to be $400/year, but according to Progressive, it is $0. Having him on my policy does not add anything to the cost. And yet, it doesn't seem that it should be free to him. If I were to move in with Sally, even if she found this desirable and enjoyable, I should pay some rent even though my being there would not affect the rent. People who benefit from a thing that costs something should bear some of the costs.

So he shouldn't pay nothing. If we drive the car about equal amounts in grad school (as opposed to now, when I drive it to work every day), should he pay half? On the one hand, borrowing your girlfriend's car is not as nice as having your own car; I'd have first dibs on the car and thus more convenient car access. On the other hand, I paid for the car and its depreciation falls on me, not him. And, of course, it might be that what I think is fair is more than it's worth to him for me to have a car that he can borrow.

It's hard for me to figure out what seems reasonable in this type of situation.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Resume Pet Peeve

I realize that even having pet peeves is obnoxious. Nevertheless, I really hate it when resumes (we are looking at some this week for the person who is to replace me) have a bullet point list of the duties associated with the job and the entries in the list are not in the same grammatical category, e.g.,

Massive Oil Company, Melbourne, Australia, 2008-2010
  • Worked extensively with Aries.
  • Finding and maintaining city and county records.
  • Assist engineers with daily tasks.
Bah! Fie on thee!

Sunday, June 20, 2010


Today, I went swimming at the Wheat Ridge Rec Center. I haven't been swimming laps much lately at all - in fact it's been months, I think, since I've swum laps at all - but I decided on an ambitious goal for the day: swimming a mile. I wasn't sure that was realistic at all, so I wasn't really determined to make it, but I thought having a stretch goal would be fun.

A mile is just slightly over 35 laps in our 25-yard-long pool. I actually count lengths and not laps, as I'll explain later. I used the crawl (or freestyle, as I think it's sometimes called) for almost all of the laps.

I got slower as the laps went on, but ultimately I did make my goal! I think it took me about an hour and a half, which is pretty damn slow, but I don't care - I am excited about swimming such a long distance at all.

I really enjoy swimming. The environment underwater is beautiful and feels wonderful to me. Swimming is also no-impact; I suppose it's possible to get injured swimming, but I've never hurt myself. For me, it is kind of a low-stress, high-rep, light muscle exercise situation that is not extremely aerobic.

I used to have trouble counting laps, but the technique I use now is that I say the number I'm on in my head with every breath, which is a bit hypnotic too. I count lengths rather than laps so that I always know that on the way out I should be saying an odd number, and on the way back it's an even number. That helps prevent the thing where my mind drifts and suddenly '51, 51, 51, 51' turns into '51, 51, 51, 52, ...'

I also wear a mask and snorkel to swim. I first tried this when I had my neck injury, because I couldn't handle the neck strain of swimming back then. The mask and snorkel made it possible for me, since I didn't have to move my neck around to breathe, and could just keep it in a nice neutral position. And what I discovered is that swimming is much more relaxing and nice if you don't have to worry about breathing at all.

Every 5 laps or so, I come up, take off my mask, and have a short break. I try to keep some water with me and drink it during my breaks, because it is kind of easy to get a little dehydrated while swimming. I don't tend to ever feel thirsty while submerged in water.

Anyway, I had a wonderful time. I hope that the pool at my grad school will be as nice as the one at the rec center and that I can swim there on a more regular basis. I can't swim in the winter here, because the chlorine does unbearable things to my already-dry skin, and I'm hoping that won't be a problem in the new locale.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Auto Insurance

Many years ago, when I first moved to Denver, I had Progressive auto insurance. I don't remember what they were charging me, but when I called up Amica, I got a quote that was something like half as much as Progressive's, and I switched over. I've had excellent service from Amica for about 8 or 9 years now.

Ed got his driver's license a couple of weeks ago, and when I went to add him to my Amica policy, it would have added $400 to the year, and my total insurance costs (for full coverage with fairly high deductibles) were going to be about $1200. In the meantime, I had pulled up a quote from Progressive that was much less - about $700 for the year for the same coverage.

So I switched to Progressive again.

All this is to say that it might be worth checking your insurance coverage every few years to see if you get a much lower rate with another company (and to ensure that you're getting only/exactly the coverage you want).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Try. First.

I have a coworker who was hired as an engineer right out of college (by us, I mean, a year or so ago). I imagine he's relatively intelligent, yet the way that he works drives me up the wall. Today, for instance, he called me to find out the easiest way to get a map of an area.

"Probably just make the map in Petra," I said. Petra is software we use very commonly and I have walked him through many processes in Petra before.

"OK," he said, "well, I've never made a new project in Petra. I was wondering if you could walk me through it."

Now when you start up Petra, the very first screen asks if you want to open an existing project or make a new one, so it's not mysterious how to at least start making a new project. And I really resent this guy asking me to "walk him through" something in a program he already uses without even trying it himself first.

Nevertheless, I walked him through a few initial stages, at which point he had some steps to do on his own, and then I just happened not to take his follow-up phone call. (Yes, I realize it's unprofessional, but I wanted him to have the opportunity to try the next steps on his own, and I don't have the balls, I guess, to just tell him so.) He sent me an email a while later so I sent back some hints.

The next time he called, I did take the call. He was stuck at a certain point, which is a reasonable time to call someone. But when I walked him through what he was doing, he (a) repeatedly did not listen to what I was saying, (b) indicated an inability to figure out the simplest things, and (c) simply failed to try obvious things in the software.

Of course, since he never takes notes or anything like that, I expect someone will have to walk him through his next new Petra project as well.

Monday, June 07, 2010

War and Peace: My Review

I have now finished War and Peace.

It's hard to know what to say about a book that is a famous classic, so I will give you some random assorted thoughts, in no particular order.
  • Parts of the book were amazing, life-altering, crazy good, in characteristic Tolstoy ways. If you were very moved by Anna Karenina you should be moved by War and Peace too, and W&P is much longer, so there is more.
  • More of the moving parts of W&P are about characters facing death (or the possibility of death) or suffering.
  • The book inspired in me an interest in the Napoleonic Wars (especially the Russia parts) that felt very similar to how I think a lot of people feel about the Civil War. I now want to independently read about this. I am not usually interested in battles or wars, so that's strange for me. If you tend to enjoy books about soldiers or wars (say, similarly to how Sally enjoys books about life on ships), W&P might hit your buttons.
  • That said, Tolstoy is not big on describing the exact tactical moves or positions of armies taken in various battles, largely because he does not believe such things exist in a meaningful way or that they determine outcomes. He's rather adamant about this. There is one map showing the positions of the armies, but for the most part you get a broad overview and then specific details concerning the characters we care about.
  • Most of the book isn't about war, but about the lives of various people, similar to how Anna Karenina was, and a fair bit concerns who will ultimately marry whom and how various fortunes will be disposed. There were many times that the book made me gasp in surprised delight or feel real despair over what happened to the characters.
  • It is fantastically written.
  • I got extremely annoyed reading Part II of the Epilogue, which is basically a very long essay about history and free will. I was heard to say out loud, more than once, "Tolstoy, shut up." Maybe I simply missed the brilliance of it all, but I think it could have used some serious editing and been a much stronger essay with 1/5 as many words. Since it was the last thing I read, it made me not like the book as well overall. If I reread W&P, which I hope I will someday, I will probably skip that part.
  • It is long, but, by the time you get near the end, you'll wish it were longer, at least until you get to Part II of the Epilogue.
I certainly recommend it unconditionally. I also have a rather pretty softcover edition that someone is welcome to have.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

A Little Tolstoy

This is the beginning of Volume III (Pevear/Volokhonsky translation):

Since the end of 1811 an intense arming and concentration of western European forces had begun, and in the year 1812 those forces -- millions of men (including those who transported and fed the army) -- moved from west to east, to the borders of Russia, towards which, since the year 1811, the forces of Russia had been drawn in exactly the same way. On the twelfth of June, the forces of western Europe crossed the borders of Russia, and war began -- that is, an event took place contrary to human reason and to the whole of human nature. Millions of people committed against each other such a countless number of villainies, deceptions, betrayals, thefts, forgeries and distributions of false banknotes, robberies, arsons, and murders as the annals of all the law courts in the world could not assemble in whole centuries, and which, at that period of time, the people who committed them did not look upon as crimes.

What produced this extraordinary event? What were its causes? Historians say with naive assurance that the causes of this event were the offense inflicted upon the duke of Oldenburg, the non-observance of the Continental System, Napoleon's love of power, Alexander's firmness, diplomatic mistakes, and so on.

Consequently, it needed only that Metternich, Rumyantsev, or Talleyrand, between levee and rout, make a little better effort and write a more skillful dispatch, or that Napoleon wrote to Alexander: Dear sir, my brother, I agree to give the duchy back to the duke of Oldenburg* -- and there would have been no war.

Understandably, that was how the matter presented itself to contemporaries. Understandably, it seemed to Napoleon that the war was caused by the intrigues of England (as he said, in fact, on the island of St. Helena); understandably, to the members of the English Parliament it seemed that the war was caused by Napoleon's love of power; to Prince Oldenburg it seemed that the war was caused by the violence done to him; to the merchants it seemed that the war was caused by the Continental System, which was ruining Europe; to the old soldiers and generals it seemed that the chief cause was the need to make use of them; to the legitimists of that time, that it was necessary to restore les bons principes [Good principles]; and to the diplomats of that time, that it had all happened because the alliance between Russia and Austria in 1809 had not been concealed skillfully enough from Napoleon and because memorandum no. 178 had been clumsily worded. Understandably, these and a countless, endless number of other causes, the number of which depends on countless different points of view, presented themselves to contemporaries; but for us, the descendants, who contemplate the enormity of the event in all its scope and delve into its simple and terrible meaning, these causes seem insufficient. For us it is not understandable that millions of Christians killed and tortured each other because Napoleon was a lover of power, Alexander was firm, English policy cunning, and the duke of Oldenburg offended. It is impossible to understand what connection there is between these circumstances and the fact of killing and violence; why, because the duke of Oldenburg was offended, thousands of men from the other end of Europe should kill and ravage the people of Smolensk and Moscow provinces and be killed by them.
I could read this over and over. (And now I have.)

[* Original in French, but I didn't feel like typing it.]