A Work-Life Balance or, Falling Off Your Chair.

Few of us can say we have ever actually fallen off of our chairs, despite the common use of the phrase as an indication of our intense laughter.  I have.  In a public place.  On purpose.  I sat on the edge on command and proceeded to slip off the edge and down to teh floor on my tush pillows, exploding the chair from beneath me.  Though our waitress thought I had, in fact, broken the chair and not just fallen off it,  I am not a fat person.  But that’s neither here not there.

The point is, I am one of the few that has some real-life experience with the falling-off-the-chair bit.  And really, the whole idea is a lot like the idea of a work-life balance, the idea that your kids, or your spouse, or your activities, or whatever it is that’s important can somehow be balanced out with your career responsibilities.

As  Leslie Morgan Steiner writes in her blog on this topic, it’s not possible.  Not only is that kind of balance impossible to maintain, it’s also very hard to reach for a few brief moments of your life.  Either your life or your job or both are going to edge in demand more than their share of attention.  Usually both.

So what do you do?  Leslie calls it ‘hugging the gorilla’.  I prefer something a little closer to home – I try to remember to be unafraid to fall off my chair.  If I can’t maintain the perfect balance, who cares?  No one can maintain yogic position, perfectly chair-balanced forever.  And the floor isn’t really so bad.  If you’re a little prepared to fall, it doesn’t even hurt coming down.  So I just try to be ready, on the edge of my chair.  Maybe when I fall the next time I’ll even get a laugh from the waitress.

What People Should Pay Me For

Through another blog I came across this published study about college-bound senors and how the internet (in particular social networking sites) affects the application and recruiting process.  This particular study focused on Myspace, which really should be replaced by the up-and-coming Facebook now, but its salient points remain valid.  Students and young people generally are going to a variety of informational and informal sites across the web to get a better feel for schools and possible job opportunities as well.

I think this should be my new position.  Someone pays me to sit online all day and write reviews and other sorts of information for the school in order to help with recruitment.  Or I could do the same thing for my job here, just recruiting college seniors for employment instead.  It really is a good idea, and most companies and organizations are trying to be more flexible about including this kind of nontraditional information and approach.  MIT actually does a really good job with thier website being an accurate reflection of what’s going on with and at the school.

The problem that comes with most admissions attempts to include these new features is the isolation of these offices from the rest of the campus.  Current students often provide a good bridge between the actual campus and prospective students, but there needs to be a lot more done by individual departments and professors, especially at large schools.  Academia itself should be excited about the prospect of opening their fields to a larger audience.  I would like to see blogs or other informal updates going up on school websites across the country about what is going on every day research- and publication- and education-wise at schools.  Let’s really get the content out there, rather than waiting for a potential feature article in my alumni magazine.  It’s something that I really think MIT is trying to expand through Open Course Ware.  While this is not possible for all schools, at least short updates about what’s going on direct from the professor or researcher could be implemented anywhere.  I love learning.  Why not have more?

Authorities reveal rice shortages in China.

All right, for the moment these shortages have not been realized, but if you weren’t aware China is currently experiencing some of the worst snowstorms and winter weather it has had in decades.  I don’t care if you believe in global warming or not, there is something seriously wrong with our weather patterns and this is yet another extreme example of it.  For those of you who don’t like geography, let me explain.  Yes, China is big, and yes, most of the northern cities are always subject to snow in the winter.  But a much greater portion of China is in the tropical and subtropical region.  Large cities in the south like Hong Kong and Guangzhou actually like below the Tropic of Cancer.  The only area in the US below that line are parts of Hawaii.  So the fact that winter storms and related power losses are crippling the entire country is astounding.

The government is working to secure money for farmers who are losing their rice crop to the unseasonable weather.  Rice grows mostly in the south, where it’s warmer and wetter, and typically at this time of year it rains lightly almost every day.  Evidently that precipitation has become much heavier than usual, and is freezing rather than raining down warmly.  It’s gotten so bad that the Prime Minister (and we’re talking high Communist official here, not Bill Clinton) issued a public apology.   If the weather continues, there’s fear that they will lose major portions of this year’s rice crop.

The storms couldn’t have come at a worse time, either.   In just a few days it will be time for Spring Festival, the Chinese holiday that combines Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s all into one week of fun, family, and food.  It is the worst possible time to travel in China, because everyone is going home.  The train system only allows purchase of tickets 3 days in advance (unless you have connections), which means that lines are long and crowded, with police everywhere trying to keep people from cutting.  Tempers are high, patience is low, and even when you have tickets, getting on the train is ridiculous.  Spring Festival is a time to spend that extra money for a soft sleeper if you can get one, because the standing room is going to be packed as tight as humanly possible.  Even if you get a seat, people are going to be standing over you, and maybe sitting underneath or on top of you.

Add all this to power outages and train service being completely down in the weeks leading up to Spring Festival, and you have billions of unhappy people.  Literally.

A little more music.

It seems that once I get going on a topic, I just can’t stop.  So I was pondering music a bit more today, especially about the typing of songs.  All genres of music seem to have a few things in common that are almost archetypal.  There is a certain type of song that I can’t quite define – longer, more melodious perhaps, with longer note lengths and a slower beat – that seems more reflective and/or sad.  This can be true of any music genre – pop, country, folk, indie, R&B.  Even rap is more reflective and sometimes sad when it’s slower and more ponderous.  Even Chinese Opera is.  Why is that?  Why is a song with words I can’t even understand, or a song with no words at all, automatically interpreted as mournful or pensive by my brain?  What are those little wirings and firings in our head or genetics that get us all to think and feel these same things?  And how did they come about?

I get on a similar kick about language.  There are obvious parts, like onomatopoeia where a word sounds like the noise it is representing, that make sense.  But most words we use are strictly arbitrary.  Why is tree called ‘tree’ instead of ‘bush’?  In this case the words are strictly based on how you were brought up, what you heard as a child.  Still, isn’t it interesting that despite these early categories and distinctions we learn to make, there are universal constants in music and perhaps in other arts that transcend them?

Organic Bankok? Not so much.

I have recently gotten a kick out of Harney & Sons products, which are being sold at my local Au Bon Pain.  The products sold are all organic, meaning the tea, the sugar and honey sweeteners, and the flavorings are all organic.  I think that’s cool and diligent, and I appreciate it.  But I appreciate the taste even more, which is sweet but not too sweet, and allows the natural flavors of the tea to come through.

Let’s discuss tea a little bit first, and the way it works.  Tea is a type of plant whose leaves, when dried, can be used to prepare a flavorful beverage by steeping the leaves in hot water.  The key here is hot water – it has to be very hot, just on the verge of boiling, to get the most flavor out of the leaves.  In addition, if you keep the leaves in the water as it cools (especially with green teas), the tea will turn bitter.  To a certain extent, this happens with all teas as they cool, whether the leaves remain or not.  That’s why Southerners know the only kind of iced tea that’s drinkable is sweet tea – the sugar covers that bitter taste.  That’s why fruit teas include at least a hint of lemon – the acid cuts the bitterness of the cold tea.  And that’s why Harney flavors its bottled organic teas – almost every one has some sweetener in it, along with a flavor to cover the bitter aspect of the tea itself but retain its less potent flavors.

Now, Harney does all kinds of teas (loose-leaf, sachets, iced, black, green, flavored, white, organic, iced, and bottled), and guessing from the ones I’ve tasted, they’re all good, high-quality teas.  Unfortunately, the Organic Bankok leaves something to be desired.

The website describes it thus:

Organic Bangkok: An aromatic blend of Organic green teas with Organic honey, Organic lemongrass, Organic ginger and sweet Organic coconut. A fragrant blend reminiscent of Thai cooking.

Unfortunately, there’s not nearly enough lemongrass or ginger in it to counteract the taste of the tea.  So I get bitters and then a faint aftertaste of coconut.  Instead, I would recommend the Organic Peach or the plain Organic Green.