Monday, March 24, 2014

Taster Flights

This week's Tungsten Hippo post is on how short ebooks can function like a taster flight of beer (or wine, if that's more your thing), allowing you to compare different samples of similar things, and thereby notice aspects that you might have missed without the comparison.

It was also going to be the first blog post on Tungsten Hippo to include an image, but I ran out of time. To make that happen, I need to install several new Drupal modules and a client side WYSIWYG editor. This makes me simultaneously appreciate blogging software and miss the simplicity of the hand-editing HTML days. However, learning the ins and outs of Drupal was part of the point of the Tungsten Hippo project, so I will eventually finish this off and enable pictures in my blog posts over there. The Tungsten Hippo project, though, is reinforcing something that I already knew about myself- I enjoy tech challenges, but I'm really all about the content. So I decided not to let this particular tech thing get in the way of my posting schedule and put the post up without a picture.

Therefore, the 20 or so people who read Tungsten Hippo and not Wandering Scientist will miss out on this picture:

Anyhow, I've used the same image of a beer taster flight before, in a blog post here. That post was about careers and interests, and being a "scanner." One of the insights I'd gained from reading a couple of books about people who have a lot of different, diverse interests is that we can benefit from viewing our interests as a taster flight. I continue to apply this idea in my life, and it has stood the test of time.

As useful as the idea of the taster flight is, I'm still struggling to get the balance right in my life. I can spiral into unhelpful self-doubt about how I feel like my career is floundering- which made it  nice to read this article from Brian Featherstonhaugh about "career rocket fuel" and the stages of a career. Although I feel like I'm too old for all of this soul-searching nonsense, in his formulation I'm hitting that phase right on time: I'm 15 years post-PhD, which is when my career really started. Even the three possible paths he listed as an example for his imaginary second phase person sort of fit.

Of course, I still have to do the work of figuring out where I want my career to go, but maybe I can stop beating myself up for not already knowing!

I was also really struck by this excerpt from the book "Happy City," by Charles Montgomery. There are a lot of really good, thought-provoking ideas in that excerpt, but the section that really made me sit up and take notice was the section on the effects of a long commute, and particularly this quote:

"Stutzer and Frey found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office."

So maybe I should stop beating myself up for hating my new commute, too. People try to convince me it is not that bad, but the new routine effectively doubles my commute time, and I spend an hour every day just commuting. That is not good.

There are two bright spots to my new routine: the fact that it made me start walking Pumpkin to and from school, and the fact that it made me try out podcasts. I'm still collecting a good list of reliable podcasts. I'd like to branch out from the usual NPR ones (although those are good, and I listen to some and love them). One of the less well-known podcasts that I've stumbled across and enjoy is Launch Yourself. I am enjoying hearing all of the interviewee's different stories about what they decided to launch and how they did it. If you are at all tempted to try to launch something- even just as a side project, I recommend checking it out, particularly if your inner PR person is as stunted as mine is!

That's like a taster flight of things to make you think about how you've organized your career and life. There's lots we could discuss in the comments- whether you have a taster flight of interests, where you are at in your career path, what you think about long commutes, whether you've ever launched anything and what you thought about the experience... so have at it!


  1. I always love these thoughtful posts. On commutes, I have really worked hard to reduce my commute my entire working life, and I'm now walking to work (15 - 20 minutes) and loving it. The tradeoff is no backyard at all, which is worth it for me, but many of my friends would hate.

    I've found I would prefer an hour long commute by public transit (with seats) than half an hour driving myself, and I know many people are the same. I know you have a driving commute, and I really think that makes it harder (most people in the US do, though, so maybe that's not a relevant thing to say, for you). I have friends who travel an hour and a half by train to work, and they enjoy the personal time.

    My career is quite linear, so I'm not much use on the other stuff, though.

    1. I definitely would mind my longer commute less if I could do it on public transit. Alas, trying to do a public transit commute to my new location would increase the commute to well over an hour.

  2. Anonymous7:50 AM

    If you're looking for podcasts outside of NPR, might I suggest a short story podcast? I will admit to liking to listen to short stories, more than read them. My favorites are EscapePod for sci-fi and PodCastle for fantasy. (They have a horror podcast as well, but I am scared way too easily to enjoy horror anything.)

    1. I have tried some story podcasts and they don't work so well for me. Something about fiction just doesn't work for me in the car- maybe that I can't tune out and in as needed due to different amounts of concentration needed on driving? I don't know.

  3. That commute thing is so true. I walk to work and I always say it's the best thing about my job!

    1. I'm jealous. I'd love a walking commute!

  4. irisevelyn1:57 PM

    Thank you Cloud, your posts are amazingly timely for me at the moment. The one about turning a CV into a resume came at exactly the right time (and I already got invited for an interview!) and this one also really resonates with me.
    I also feel that I'm too old to not know what I want to be when I grow up. I got my PhD 5 years ago, and I'm now probably going to leave academia because the job prospects here are horrible and I don't really know what to do. So the rocket fuel lik came in really handy. I guess getting a baby and a PhD within a few weeks from each other wasn't a very good idea, because I couldn't really focus on my career. On the upside, I'm now slowly getting time an energy back to build up that career capital you've been talking about.
    Thanks again, I feel that you are very much a mentor for me here.

    1. You're welcome! I'm glad my posts are helping.

      I say don't feel bad about "lost" time- sometimes you can focus more on career than other times. A career is a long period of time. You can absorb a few years of just getting by, and not investing a lot of energy into it.

    2. Oh, and congrats on the interview! That's a big deal.

  5. Anonymous9:53 AM

    Long time reading de-lurking. Just wanted to say you might enjoy some of the UK podcasts like The Guardian Science Weekly and the BBC In Our Time and Desert Island Discs. These have been a real boon to me!


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