Summer of 43

Forest tent caterpillar
Condo Caterpillar

Milestones. Bucket lists. Meaning. Evolution, growth.

This morning I was reading a blog post in which a talented, stylish woman shared her excellent list of “40 by 40” – these are the things she’s like to accomplish by the time she’s 40 years old. The idea of a setting a deadline based on an age is a little novel to me, but I’ve been using goals, and even time frames lately, and to rewarding effect.

And yet there are some things that have recently, simply, happened, that seem like they would be the product of something intentional, but are not. Maybe they are. Or, maybe I’m now 43 and this stuff happens at this age:

A suit jacket

I suddenly want to wear blazers. This taste may be unfortunate in coming steamy months, but today it’s in the 50s and I’m wearing a jacket to work, for the 2nd day in a row.

This inclination seems to have started 2 winters ago, when I suddenly wanted to wear a tweed jacket, and found a chic, well-fitting one on sale at Talbots. I think what cemented it for me was seeing a coworker who I admire wear one with aplomb, just last week. The next day, I was at a mall and two fitted jackets called to me. There is a reason they are called blazers! They speak of composure, style, urbanity, confidence, and a cool feminity, if styled right.

My husband may say that this spawns from my taste in strong female characters in TV crime dramas like The Closer, Saving Grace, In Plain Sight, and most seasons of Numb3rs. If that’s also a reason, well, that’s all right (no, I don’t plan to hide a sidearm with the jacket).

No more newspaper

We finally cancelled the last of our local newspaper home delivery subscriptions. We held on, for a good long time, feeling allegiance to the weekend paper habit and to a classic business model that is struggling. What drove our decision? The volume of unread sections and unused inserts, the volume of poorly copy-edited writing, and, on the other hand, the volume of other things that we could be doing with our eyes and minds on weekend mornings, to name a few.

And so, I am finally reading my Smithsonian magazines, from cover to cover. This shouldn’t be surprising, but it is. Mom has bought this magazine sub for me as a Christmas gift for many years, but my reading of it has been spotty: there are too many other things vying for my attention. And while one of those things could easily have taken its place, reading that magazine is the activity that has taken the weekend-morning slot of the local paper. I can enjoy it with coffee or while soaking in the tub; the writing is better and the topics are far more interesting than what the paper was offering. I find myself wanting to visit … Tanzania? And Naples, Florida?

Radio

I’ve been listening to internet radio and podcasts on my mobile phone. Part of this new pastime was brought on by the brilliant postseason performance of the Phoenix Coyotes. We are fans, but we don’t subscribe to cable television, and heading to a sports bar every 2-3 nights to watch the games just wasn’t sustainable. However, listening to the internet broadcast of the games was very sustainable- so on several playoffs evenings we’d hook the phone up to the living room speakers, curl up on the couch, and listen, cheer and gasp for three hours. How fitting, in a living room that was built in 1923!

I’ve also taken to queuing up several podcasts to enjoy on longer walks or the rare long drive, from Radiolab and Science Friday. Who knew that Lily the fistulated cow would captivate me so? Radio is still a great medium: some things are better left imagined.

On my Android (Motorola Bionic) phone, the Google Listen app has been key for this new pastime. It’s well-designed, and integrates with Google Reader very nicely.

My music

This one has been happening since I started teaching yoga, now two years ago: I’ve rediscovered my love of music. Now that I need to select and play music to accompany the classes I teach, I listen for different things. Some music is surprisingly good for yoga practice, or for a run. And I find that as the seasons, my moods, and other things change, so does the the playlist that I create that day or week. My latest purchases included music by Hammock, Po’ Girl, Elbow, Debashish Bhattacharya, Glen Hansard, and (again) Jack Johnson.

And with music, comes dance: I’ve finally given in to my cravings to shake it, and now regularly seek & attend Zumba classes, mainly because it makes me smile for a few hours. I love that this type of fitness class has made dance much more accessible and fun – both at gyms and even in my living room.

This caterpillar

The thread that connects the photo above to this topic? I spied this beastie a few weeks ago. He’s also a new discovery: I’d never before seen a caterpillar with such a lovely denim-blue stripe. I’m pleased that the camera captured him so well.

SEISMIC

Yes, I can make myself smarter

gaming
Stu, about to play a Seismic tile

Or, at least, I can build technical skills, go to bed with less anxiety and a bigger smile, and help my husband reduce his stress level. Maybe some of the things I’m doing will actually make me smarter, as some of the exercises do, in a recent article in the New York Times, “Can You Make Yourself Smarter?”, especially if the game we choose is a memory game.

apple + zombie
Banishing zombie habits!

Just over three weeks ago, I declared one evening  per week – a mere 2-4 hours – as my “Geek Night.” On that evening, instead of procrastinating on my goal of learning to code, instead of watching an over-stimulating TV show or movie on Netflix, instead of dining out, and instead of squeezing just one more workout into the week, my plan is to sit down and work just beyond my comfort zone. The evening is reserved for a few hours of CodeAcademy, or if Steve is willing and I’d really rather not turn on the computer, some board or card gaming. Last night was the first night that we broke out a board game (featured above is Seismic, which I bought for us as a Christmas gift).

So far I’ve managed to do Geek Night, three weeks in a row, incentivized largely by frustration with my akrasia, but also by my desires to build my technical skills and to break out of my exercise-addicted rut. I hope to keep it up, else I may have to bet to make it happen. Money doesn’t motivate me as much as pride/fear of embarrassment, but I suppose it’s all in how you choose to look at it.

Why did I start Geek Night this month, rather than any other month? Perhaps via serendipity, as detailed below. Or sudden impatience with turning 43 and finally, formally admitting to myself, Steve, and friends that kids (i.e., having my own) have never been part of my plan so I damn well better get going on making my mark on the world in some other way. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that in this jam-packed of an April, some enlightenment might as well happen as well.

Seismic
After a quake.
  1. At work, I’m helping develop mobile apps, and it’s looking like gamifying them is one great way to make them sticky. I play Words with Friends daily, and enjoy competing with friends to see who can visit the most new places in Foursquare (I have my own odd twist on the rules). However, we have a ton of neglected games in the house and I figure it will serve me well to refamiliarize myself with how games work.
  2. Game designer Jane McGonigal was recently featured in the celebrity runner column in Runner’s World. I’d never heard of her, but my husband had. I found her story and her work to be very inspiring. Later, I watched her TED talk, and it made me want to go home and spend the weekend gaming, or to see if I can come up with an idea for a game, possibly with the mobile work I’m doing.
  3. I continue to work in digital (web and mobile) design, but am feeling like my skill set would benefit from more expansion into technical skills beyond my design, Adobe, and UX experience. A few months ago I learned about CodeAcademy, and I’ve been noticing a growing desire in the technology world to get more women into development jobs. I’ve resolved to participate. The sad irony is that I did get exposed to computing and science in school and via fun weekend classes at the Pacific Science Center (thanks Mom & Dad!) but at some point in high school (right about when AP Physics kicked my butt) I got turned off by it, and veered over into the humanities for my academic focus.
  4. Last week, I went to a great UPAMN talk given by Julie Dirksen. It was titled “Design for Behavior Change,” and in that hour or so I got some review, surprisingly from my group fitness instructor training. I also learned a few things about habits, the power of emotions with decision making, and how willpower if finite but rechargeable. An interesting and related post from Julie, as well as the slides from her presentation, are here. I left the talk with some new items on my reading list, with renewed fervor and guidance for my UX work, and a general affirmation of my interest in fiddling with tiny, tiny details to improve experiences for people.

So, thus far in CodeAcademy I’ve earned 414 points, made 14 achievements, coded, sworn, and, yay, whooped the victory whoop over making FizzBuzz work. Last night’s choice to play a board game was a nice reprieve from the hard work, though it was almost more gratifying to enjoy a few hours of game engagement with my work-weary husband. He loves gaming so, and I love to see that sneaky sparkle in his eye, as he considers a clever move.

Marriage therapy? Expanding the brain? Keeping my weeknights interesting? Sure. Yay for Geek Night.

What’s in a name

Ale 8 1
It'll be Ale 8 one.

I just learned that The Six Million Dollar Man was almost titled “Cyborg,” referencing the book on which the show was based. Would I have watched it, with the original name? Probably; Steve Austin was super cute (I was about 7 years old), and I was enough of a general sci-fi/fantasy fan that using “cyborg” may not have deterred me. I likely would have learned the term earlier, had that happened. But, they chose The Six Million Dollar Man, and The Bionic Woman.

Over the past few months, I’ve been shopping around for the next mobile phone I’ll buy. For a while I flirted with the idea of owning a very basic, non-smart phone, mainly to save money, but I now rely on being able to look up things like rice wine vinegar while pushing a cart around Dragon Star Foods or being able to upload a food-and-legos snapshot to Flickr. I also enjoy some of the other benefits of the smart phone, like mapping, gaming, reading headlines while killing time in a doctor’s office wating room.

My iPhone 3G has become so sluggish that to a degree it has deterred me from getting another iPhone, even though just updating the model would likely solve the speed problems and also offer some other excellent enhancements.

However, I’m finding that the adventurer, designer, and rebel in me really wants to get a phone with a different name, a phone that might be fun to learn to use, and a possibly less expensive phone, as well.

Which is why I opened this post with bionics. The phones currently in the running have names like Razr, Galaxy, Droid, Vortex and/or Charge. The one that’s winning is called the Bionic. It looks to be a pretty solid, though not perfect, appliance. And it might bring my coolness (and strength?) just a bit closer to that of the most excellent Jaime Sommers.

I’m a designer, a word fanatic and also someone who works in technology, so it’s no surprise to me how important the name of a product is to marketing that product. In fact, I’m currently facing that exact problem in another area: what the heck should I call my yoga business? Related: I posted the above photo because Steve and I discovered Kentucky’s “Ale 8 One ” soda on a recent trip. We loved the gingery soda and its name. It sounds especially good, when requested in a Kentucky accent.

Anyway, I found an interesting study done on mobile phone names, done 2 years ago. You can check it out here (you’ll need to download the PDF). Enjoy.