Fair warning

For various and sundry reasons, I’m participating in a few MOOCs this month on data analysis and interpretation. Yes, I already know these things and so the MOOCs are at best refresher content. However, we are likely becoming a SAS shop at work, which I’ve never had to learn, and the MOOCs – offered through Coursera by Wesleyan* – include specific guidance on learning SAS for data analysis.

One of the requirements of the courses is to maintain a public blog for various assignments related to the courses. I though briefly about starting a new tumblr for this purpose, but decided that adding another social media outlet to my existing bouquet might just put me over the edge. Therefore, I’ll be posting assignments here. You’re all welcome to comment (either directly on the blog or on the posts that push to Facebook or Twitter) if you wish, or to ignore them if you wish (I should hope that’s fairly obvious generally).

I’m not sure how frequently I’ll need to post for the courses, or whether I’ll work in posts between the required ones on other topics throughout the next month. The next post, though, will include information on the research question and data set I’ll be using for the courses, so you’ll know more then about whether you’ll want to tune in or tune out in the interim.

* Wesleyan offers the courses free if you take them as individual courses**, or you can choose to pay a certification fee to earn a specialization in Data Analysis and Interpretation. At the moment, I’m opting not to pay the fee for the specialization – it’s hopefully duplicative given my Masters degree! – but you, of course, have the option to “upgrade” later.

** The courses I’m taking (all at once because why not?) are:

‘Tis the Season..

I don’t really do resolutions. Some of it is that I tend to eschew trends on stubborn principle, but most of it is knowing that my motivation comes from something other than the turning of the clock from one day to the next. That said, as many others who also don’t do resolutions note, the start of a new calendar year is a convenient time for reflection and re-evaluation. And with that in mind, there are things I’m working to make a more regular part of my life, as well as a few I’d like to make less so.

Previously I talked about having started running for cardio. I think it’s fair to say that it’s become enough a part of my regular routine, given that I have maintained it (well enough) through both work travel and the holidays. In the end, even on the days I don’t want to, I can often cajole myself into it by noting that “it’s only half an hour” and noting what time it will be when I’m finished. I’m not sure why that works as a mental kick start, but it does. In any case, my regular weekly routine these days includes 3-4 Pilates reformer classes and at least three days of 30-minutes of cardio (either elliptical or running/walking on the treadmill). I also regularly get 10k steps at least 6 of 7 days in a week. All that is good, and good for me, so I will be conscious of not letting myself slip out of those habits.

I rather enjoy live theatre, but tend not to go regularly because coordinating schedules with people to accompany me ends up being more work than enjoyment. However, I’m learning to enjoy going alone, which also has the benefit of meaning I can sometimes get very good seats – an empty seat between two parties in an otherwise full section of the theatre, for instance. My family was visiting this past week for the holidays and we saw a choral performance at the Kennedy Center and Motown at the National Theater, both of which were grand. On a whim this afternoon, I took advantage of a last minute ticket deal on Goldstar for their last available ticket for tomorrow night’s performance of Kiss Me Kate by the Shakespeare Theater Company. Next weekend, I’m meeting a friend – again, pretty much on a whim prompted by a good hotel deal in Manhattan – in NYC for a weekend of theatre. We’ll likely only be able to make two shows – a matinee and an evening performance Saturday – due to travel schedules and the like, but all the same, I’m rather terribly looking forward to it. So, something I’d like to make a more regular part of my life is going to the theatre, and I’ll endeavor to do more of it in the coming year.

In terms of things I’d like to be less a part of my life, top of that list is my nearly constant internal monologue worrying about what other people think of me. I have a deep-seated fear of disappointing people – which leads to other manifestations like Impostor Syndrome and near constant second-guessing of myself. While it is undoubtedly a very good motivator to do things well, the drawback is a perpetual nagging doubt about whether I’ve done it “well enough” or been “good enough”, which quickly leads to questioning whether I am “enough”. This is different than egotism – I don’t want to be the best, or be the center of attention, or even receive public accolades for anything I’ve done. Rather, I want *not* to be noticed *because* I’ve done what’s expected (and not less). This, as is likely fairly obvious, is insidious and has so many pitfalls and traps as to be quickly self-sabotaging, all the while looking externally as if everything is going exactly as it should. For me, making this less a part of my life will involve taking to heart the advice I’ve given others: we are all human, we will all make mistakes and let people down, sometimes without ever knowing it, and that’s just part of *living*.

Things I Believe, an Unnumbered and Unordered Series

People, including and perhaps especially politicians, need to be allowed to change their mind on something when presented with evidence without being accused of being soft or indecisive or waffling. I believe in hypothesis testing and the Scientific Method and that those principles apply not only to theorems and experiments, but to every day life as we work, individually and collectively to find the best way through.

Corollary: I believe we have to learn to be okay with being wrong, and allow both ourselves and others to be able to admit being wrong without it being perceived as a fault of their character.

Now playing: Dear Mr. President, P!nk

I know what day it is. I think.

Today is Friday. I had to check to be sure, which might tell you a bit about this week.

I also know that I’m currently in Austin, despite spending a good chunk of the morning with the vague feeling I was in Dallas. (Not for any specific reason – the only part of Dallas I’ve ever been in is the airport, but I’ve been in it twice already this week and am about to be there a third time.) It’s fairly common for me to travel for work – about once a month-ish – but less common that two conferences stack up in the same week, much less that they do so in the same state. Even with the oddities of airline flight schedules – which made them think it made sense for them to get me from Houston to Austin via Dallas – I’ve had a good balance of time on my own this week to recoup energy, so I’m not feeling quite as crispy as I can after a week of travel. I do, definitely, miss my bed, though.

Both conferences were good – both had good encounters and opportunities to promote both of the major projects I manage at work, which is mostly why I was at them and both had sessions that were interesting and provided food for thought as we continue to plan the future of our work.

Sunday night’s keynote (at the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) Annual Meeting in Houston) by Dr. Stephen Klineberg, Sociology Professor and Co-Director of Kinder Institute of Urban Research, was phenomenal and gave a brief introduction to the history of US immigration policy that was new to me and filled in some pieces in our national identity that help me make sense of some of the xenophobia we’re experiencing today. Using data from a variety of projects the Kinder Institute runs, Dr. Klineberg made a very convincing case for the need to close the racial achievement gap, using Houston as a case study for where the nation as a whole is heading. (When the recording and/or slides are made available next week, I’ll post a link to them for those interested.) Edited 1/4/16: You can view the slides from Dr. Klineberg’s presentation here.

Dr. Jeremi Suri provided a different flavor of historical perspective (at the Higher Education Government Relations Conference (HEGRC) in Austin) yesterday, emphasizing the difference in founding principles between US institutions of higher education (established by pioneers and frontiersmen) and those established in European countries (traditional established by religions or monarchs). Even with my understanding of the origins of the US land-grant institutions, the framing provided by Dr. Suri added depth and insight to the identities of our colleges and universities as bastions of knowledge and seedbeds for new ideas and life-long learning. (Dr. Suri has written on this previously and you can read an article that includes much of his talk here.) Dr. Suri challenged us to remember our frontier origins and resist the urge to close off conversations on campus.

Suffice it to say, there are a lot of ideas percolating and bouncing into each other in new ways in my head, and I’m sure over the course of the next several weeks (or longer) they’ll continue to do so, spawning their own tangents and tangles. For now, though, my head feels a bit overfull, so I’m looking forward to a weekend at home to putter and tidy things before the holidays (and my family) arrive.

Run Your Own Race

Three-ish or so month ago, I decided to start running. Before you roll your eyes and prepare yourself for a screed from the newly converted, let me assure you: I’m not a runner. But I’m also not getting younger, and though I’ve practiced Pilates regularly (3-4 classes/week) for the last two and a half years, I needed to get in the habit of doing more regular cardio. In the past, I’ve been a more or less regular cyclist and even farther back I was sporadically a swimmer, so why I decided it was time to start running is as much anyone’s guess as mine. (I tell myself, though, it’s because it’s something I know I’ll always be able to do even when I’m traveling, so I won’t be able to use lack of equipment/facilities as an excuse to skip workouts.)

So.. 21 days make a habit, or so they say. I’ve run more days than that, but I still don’t think it’s a habit and there are still days when I have to guilt-trip myself into doing it. It helps that a friend has an awesomely supportive, no-pressure, non-competitive Facebook group where people set their own monthly goals and then report out weekly (if not more often – I track in a single thread daily so I don’t forget). Even that little bit of accountability helps keep me on track and the genuine support and non-competitiveness of the group keeps me engaged even when I miss goals.

I started with the Couch-to-5k running plan app* – which I highly recommend until about week 5 or 6, but by the time it’s just “run 20-25-30” minutes, I found it a lot less useful. For me, for now, I’m still building endurance and while the difference between two 10-minute runs with a 1 or 2 minute walk in between and one 20 minute run doesn’t seem like that much, it is for me. And for awhile, I let that bug me – I felt like I wasn’t doing it right if I wasn’t running longer intervals every time.

And then, recently, I realized that was silly.** I’m running to improve my cardiovascular health so really, as long as I continue to do it – at whatever speed and for however long – I’m meeting that need. The important thing is that I’m doing it. So, days like today, when I wasn’t feeling up for longer intervals, I still clocked nearly 2.5 miles doing 3 minute run intervals at a comfortable pace. At some point, likely fairly soon, I run (well, run some and walk some) my first 5k (in a workout, not as a race), and I’m sure that will feel like a big accomplishment. But for now, days like today, it’s okay just to have done it.

* I’m now using Zombies, Run! with my own music, which is working better for me. The random story interjections and stuff you pick up is enough to keep my mind from dwelling on the time still to go. If you’re a walker and looking for something similar, the same company has an app called The Walk that I’ve also really enjoyed.

** The context in which I realized this had almost nothing to do with health and certainly wasn’t related to running, however. It was a more general conversation with a friend in which they pointed out (as they have in the past) that I’m *very* tough on myself. I am the poster child for high standards and the person I’m hardest on when they aren’t met is myself.

Now playing: Ani DiFranco – Amazing Grace

Words of the Day

I subscribe to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day emails. Not really because the words are generally new to me – I read a lot* – but more because I like words and remembering and using synonyms in place of more common words is something I appreciate. I’m always a little excited when the Word of the Day is one I don’t already know, though, so last Tuesday started with an extra little bit of fun.

November 24
henotheism  \HEN-uh-thee-iz-um\

Definition
noun
: the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods

I like this word both because it’s a new word for me, but also because it describes a state of being I think a lot of people may generally relate to without having a way to express.** And there’s a part of me (an eternally optimistic, pr’bly frequently naive, hopeful part***) that wonders if we just had better words (or knew the right words) to describe the idea that it’s absolutely, perfectly, completely okay to believe something as fundamental as how our world came into being and who or what, if anything, governs the broader rightness and wrongness or moral order differently from someone else and both be right. Or at least not wrong. Just.. different. In the same way that some people like bananas and some people are ambivalent and some people really wouldn’t eat one if it was the last sustenance on earth. And all of those people are still people and they still live and interact and struggle to make it through their days and are courageous in the face of their own demons. Maybe if we just knew the right words, it would .. our world would be better.

* I’m one of those people that sometimes mispronounces words because I’ve only ever read them. I’ve done it so often I’m no longer embarrassed by it when corrected.

**It does not, however, describe me.

*** The part of me that would rather not ask someone out because if I do, I may have to stop hoping the answer will be yes. (No, that’s not a joke. Yes, I did eventually ask the person out. No, they did not say yes. *shrug*)

Now Playing: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy – I Wanna Be Like You

Tonight’s Dinner: Winter Squash Carbonara with Pancetta and Sage

Ahem.

August 2010. *wince* Yeah, that was awhile ago.

I’m .. two jobs and half a country from where I was then, less one house and a lot of flotsam. But the state of the world, and my place in it, mean I’m drawn again to the urge to engage in the process of mental sorting that maintaining a blog allows. I’m reasonably sure blogs are now hopelessly out-of-date as a method of communication and certainly make no pretense of keeping up with even those I know to still exist, but in the interest of .. something, I guess, it appears I’m.. maybe back?

Right, so what’s changed? As mentioned, my job and my location. I’m in the DC metro area now, working for a national association advocating for the interests of public higher education institutions. It’s both a completely logical next step from where I was and a huge departure. There will likely be occasional posts here on issues I encounter during my day job, but only because I have the unwarranted good fortune to work in a field about which I’m passionate. But, because it needs to be said, all opinions expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of my employer. Generally, I agree with their opinions more often than not – I wouldn’t continue to work for and with them if that weren’t true (ask me how long I worked for the law firm that represented Exxon in the Valdez case after I found that out) – but the devil is almost always in the details, so to protect both them and me, everything here is mine.

I no longer own the house some of you may remember watching me renovate by bits and pieces. It now houses a family of, I believe, four after spending the better part of two years vacant. I miss it for a variety of reasons, but wouldn’t change the set of circumstances that led me to sell it and move. Along with the house went a fair amount of “stuff” – you can’t move from a 2-story, 3-bedroom home to a thousand square foot apartment without lightening the load a bit, after all. The most significant of the other things, though, lived in the garage: I’m now car-free. Here that’s not only possible but, at least for me, preferred. It’s less expensive, for one, but also healthier (I walk 4-5 miles a day just as a matter of course now) and makes me feel better about my carbon footprint. Or, it does when I don’t remember that I travel more now – to the tune of once-ish a month, mostly for work. Also, riding the train means I have more time to read.

What hasn’t changed? I still knit, though arguably less than I did. It goes in fits and starts, sometimes having to do with the seasons but more often having to do with my travel and conference attendance schedule. I’m one of those people, it turns out, that doesn’t sit still well through presentations and the advent of smart phones makes it *far* too easy to tune out what’s happening in front of me, even if it’s something I’m interested in. Knitting helps me stay where I am by keeping my hands busy and my mind from wandering.

I still tend to be more oriented toward social justice, though I’m arguably less vocal now. This , I think, has to do with what I see as an unfortunate tendency for knee-jerk responses and categorization of people based off (based on?) a single statement and an apparent lack of space in today’s instant gratification, always available society for meaningful and genuine conversation. When what gets remembered now isn’t even a sound bite but a 140-character tweet (or 118 characters and a photo) sent into the void, community seems fleeting. Which is ironic when that same technology also allows me to keep in more or less daily contact with family and friends from around the country, thereby granting the very same community. All the same, the nuance is frequently lost: we, as a society, seem incapable of reading past the first two paragraphs, and it much of what counts as interaction today is snarky one-liners and a chain of logical fallacies expressed with increasing emphasis while simultaneously sticking our fingers in our ears and singing “la la la la la”. I don’t necessarily exempt myself from that accusation, but I like to think (perhaps incorrectly or arrogantly) that there’s a better way, so long as we allow ourselves the space and freedom to not know all the answers every time.

So, all that said, I make no promises as to the content you might find here, nor about the frequency with which I’ll write. If you want more frequent – though also much more heavily higher education focused – updates, try finding me on Twitter. Eventually I’ll figure out how to add a widget thing, but for now, I’m @TeriLynHinds.