Tag Archives: Advice

26 is the new 80

Yesterday I dramatically underestimated how old some folks I knew as children had grown. I figured middle school, but they’re both in 11th grade. Outrageously underestimating the ages of children is what elderly people do. Now in my second quarter-century of existence, I am having a quarter-life crisis.

Now, I’ve heard that as you begin to get older time starts to move more quickly. Given that it seems like a week ago I was just starting at NC State and just yesterday I first met my now girlfriend of almost a year, I imagine that if this process continues consistently, by the time I’m fifty I’ll be seconds away from ninety-nine and then dead. On my deathbed I’ll be telling the nurse “I feel like I was being born just five minutes ago.”

I also am beginning to get ailments that doctors just say I’ll have to put up with for the rest of my life. Well, one. I got my first “floater”  a little while back. It’s just a little dot that hangs around on my eye and gets in the way, especially when I’m working on my computer. Apparently they’re normal at only 26, but it took me a while not to feel existential dread about my inevitable demise every time it appeared in my vision. I suppose a crucial part of aging gracefully is coming to accept each new manifestation of my physical form’s slow, inexorable decay as it comes.

So, now it’s time for me to get serious about my life goals. Clearly I don’t have much time left, so I’ve got to start achieving them, pronto! That means I have to define these goals. Here they are roughly in no particular order:

  • Satisfaction and security in my career
  • Love and mutual support in my relationship
  • Being the change I want to see in the world
  • Some form of self-expression through my writing
  • A community that will not be mostly dead when I’m even older than I am now

The key of the last one is to avoid being alone in old age without having to have children, which are a drag on at least four of my five life goals as presented here. I suspect this can be accomplished with the proper intergenerational community involvement. In any case, I’ve got to get to work on it! Who knows how fast the years will start flying by?


Sam and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Paper

This poor cat expected more from me than this awful paper. It also represents my reaction to the price of a stock photo of an “F” written on a piece of paper in red ink.

Apologies to Judith Viorst.

This is the story of a paper with no good results. I took a system I hadn’t made, tested it on a dataset that was only half-finished, and ended up with data that said things, but not very impressive things, and not very convincingly. These results had no business being in a paper, but I really wanted to submit something to an upcoming workshop – Building Educational Applications using Natural Language Processing (BEA). Workshops are generally known for being easy to get into, but BEA is different. Some of the most able professors I know have had papers rejected from this workshop.

My results were so bad that I was convinced it would be an insult even to ask people to review any paper I wrote on it. I hesitated to send my paper to someone who had volunteered to read it for fear I was wasting her valuable time. I confided in my roommate, who prefers to be referred to as J, and he said that even if I don’t expect the paper to be accepted, it’s important to make submissions and that early in my career people won’t be offended to look at ones that might be less than amazing. So, still feeling selfish and awful every step of the way for making people deal with such mediocre work, I wrote the paper as well as I possibly could and submitted it.

Last Thursday I got a response from BEA. The reviews focused mostly on the same issues that I had been concerned about myself. They were generally positive, though, and I was invited to give a poster presentation. I hope that this story helps anyone else who may feel that he or she doesn’t have a really great result be more confident in making a paper submission. It’s often worth it.

The Secret to Business Casual (Featuring: Batman!)

Batman understands business casual

It’s 9:00 AM. I’m in the Chicago O’hare airport heading to a conference, and I keep getting looks. No matter where I am, people walking by glance my way. I’m thinking it might be my solid purple, slightly shiny button-down shirt that fewer than twelve hours ago was not part of my wardrobe at all. This describes as much as half the clothing in my pack.

Ok, let’s rewind to twelve hours ago: It was 9:00 PM Saturday night, and I was putting together my clothes for the trip. I briefly wondered whether my clothes were sufficiently professional, so I knocked on my roommate Nate’s door. Nate looked briefly at my clothes, pointed at a red plaid button-down and said “this one is appropriate.” I looked at it and asked if anyone would notice that the shirt pocket was starting to detach at the top. Nate looked again, thought, and declared that none of my shirts are appropriate for a business casual gathering. “Uh,” I say, but Nate is already onto the next thought. “We need to go shopping. When do you leave? Next week?”
Minutes later we were at Kohl’s, the only place open that late. Nate told me to expect to pay upwards of $500.  “Heck, no.” was the first though that came to my mind. “Yeah, sure,” was what I said. Pleased with my resounding agreement, Nate left me at a belt rack and  came back with a Kohl’s associate. One tape measurer, five shirts, three pairs of pants and two blazers later, I was in a dressing room.

The Kohl’s associate told me all I needed to do was mix dark and light – if I had a dark blazer and dark undershirt, I wore light pants; light pants, light blazer, dark undershirt. Boom, business casual and style. Magic. Apparently this applies not only to normal, blue, grey and brown shirts, but to a veritable rainbow of shirts, ranging from purple to orange. In fact, after I got three blue shirts, Nate and the associate started warning me against more blue. Apparently if you wear the same color multiple days in a row, people notice and get weirded out. This, as it was explained to me, would be a big deal regarding my success in this conference and my career in general.For this reason it was also important that I buy not only the blazer that was eighty percent off, but another light blazer at the full price, $200.

I didn’t buy the second blazer. After over half-off overall in discounts I spent $400 on my new wardrobe. Nate for his part was astounded that I managed not to break $500. Now I have a dark grey blazer, a purple shirt, an orange shirt, two green shirts, and three blue shirts, all of which, if I wear them right, will be business casual. Nate says I will be “lookin’ sharp” as well, although I’m no judge of that. Unfortunately, I’m morally opposed to selfies, so you’ll have to take this picture as a rough approximation of what I look like:

Just add a dark blazer and Pow! Biff! Business casual!