19 June 2015

Podcasts and 16 hours of daylight

This summer I’m interning at Microsoft Research (in the FUSE Labs, which as an aside is an awesome place that you should definitely try to get into if you have the opportunity). I can’t discuss the nature of the work in very much detail, but hopefully it suffices to say that it’s in the same space as some of my past work. I’ll get to talk more about what I’m working on later, and I’ll (almost certainly) be writing a paper or two based on this work, so hang tight for about a year or so.

This post is more about the meta anyway. I’ve experienced Seattle’s summers in the past, so I know from some experience that the sun goes down much later and comes up much earlier, but actually working on this day/night cycle has been a little disorienting. Waking up to the sun at around 5 or 5:30am - and not having darkness until as late as 9:30pm - means I’m out way later than usual because my body’s not realizing that it’s unreasonably late for a run or dinner or whatever else. My body barely registers that I’m fatigued until like 11pm or midnight, at which point it all really hits me.

The upside is that I’m able to put in a full day at MSR, take the MS Connector back into Seattle, and still have a solid 2 (or more) hours of daylight to fit a run in. Not that my neighborhood is particularly dangerous (Capitol Hill has been hit pretty hard by the gentrification rays of young, unreasonably well-off tech workers), but running at night isn’t very nice. Even in Stanford I tried to avoid it because… well, it just kind of sucks.

Besides that, if you A) work in tech and B) are concerned about your health and well-being, you should take every opportunity to get 1) sunlight, and 2) exercise. But mostly 1) sunlight.

Meanwhile at “work”, my internship has me mostly stationed at a workspace that, while very neat, is nevertheless completely walled in with no view to the outside world and in a different building than virtually all of the other MSR interns. The first issue isn’t that big a deal because I figure I can work in the common spaces, which offer sweeping views of the landscape and surrounding buildings. The second issue, however, is a lot harder to work through. Even as I try to re-frame the setback in a more positive light, it nags at me.

Trying to frame this in a way that at least offers an insight for me (if not finding a way to make this experience productive and rewarding), it’s underscoring how strongly I unknowingly prefer to work in a social environment. I’m feeling (and finding, by all quantifiable metrics that I can think of) that I’m getting more done in a coffee shop a mile away from my place after hours than I’m getting done in this secluded room in this secluded building in Redmond.

Fortunately, some of my work has me off-campus (or at least away from my desk). Unfortunately (and obviously), at some point the fieldwork will need to (mostly) wrap up, so my time out and about is limited, its end rapidly approaching.

My immediate response was to create a group chat by using the Active Directory system to find and add people I met on the first day, but (unsurprisingly) all of those interns have all the social interaction they could want (and then some) in their offline environment, so that’s a bust. Since then, I’ve gotten into podcasts, hence the first (and supposedly primary) topic of this post.

I used to be really reluctant to give podcasts a try - it just seemed like a rather contrived and awkward form of entertainment - but as usual I completely misjudged it and gave it too little credit. I’ve been watching/listening to Hello Internet, 99% Invisible, AnthroPod, and This American Life (although in this case I’m so tepid about my following that it’s hard to claim I’m really following it like I am Hello Internet or 99% Invisible).

I strongly recommend watching CGP Grey’s stuff on YouTube (and Numberphile’s) and then giving Hello Internet a shot if you liked either of their stuff, because the best of both come out in Hello Internet for a very interesting 1-2+ hour podcast of two smart people chatting. 99% Invisible is just great if you can tolerate an interest in a seemingly obscure, niche thing and appreciate the level of nuance and complexity in even these constructs of human life (one recent episode was about calendars (e.g. the Gregorian calendar, which you probably use) and the alternatives that people have proposed and advocated in even recent-ish years, which is totally bizarre but absolutely fascinating if you’re open to being fascinated by stuff). Maybe 99% scratches an Anthropological itch to learn about a deep, narrow niche of human culture ranging from locks and locking things (yes, like a lock and key) to the origin of the Octothorpe (you may know it as “the pound sign” or, please no, “hashtag”; it’s “#”).

That was a big dump of links, so I’ll wrap it up. In summation:

  • I’m getting a little frustrated with being secluded and alone at work (literally, people; don’t read too much into this). Also, surprisingly, I’m socially needy.
  • Lots of podcasts are amazing. Also, unsurprisingly, I’m really into stuff that has at least a taste of ethnography.
  • I’m probably going to be writing a lot more now that I’ve found a way to bottle up a lot of creativity by being secluded all day and then unloading it sitting in coffee shops late at night like right now.
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