Quarter-life crisis

Everyone has heard of a mid-life crisis — that time in life when you are in your 40's or 50's and you start to re-evaluate your life. But a lesser known crisis is the quarter-life crisis. My friend Pablo mentioned it on his weblog (it's in Spanish) after a conversation we had over the dinner table not too long ago, and I thought I would chime in with my 2¢.

Wikipedia even has a page on quarter-life crisis, which credits the term to a song from 2001. That may be the first mention of it in popular culture, but I think everyone will agree that this isn't a new phenomenon. Essentially, this crisis is an evaluation of life that takes place when someone is in their twenties. In our case, it came up because Pablo, whose birthday is coming up, realized that he will be turning 24, which in his mind holds a real coming-of-age significance. However, unlike some people of our age, we are still in school. Not an ordinary academic experience to be certain, but in school nonetheless. I've heard on more than one occasion the idea that doing further studies — a Masters in Europe for example — is really just a means to pause “real life.” How true.

But the show, as they say, must go on and eventually even I will be forced to reckon with the reality of being mid-twenties. As it turns out my program ends only a month or so before I turn 25 — the quarter century mark. But despite reaching this point with as many doors as possible open before me, I am charged with the task of choosing only one of them (or two if I'm sneaky about it). Of course this jumps back to the topic of my post about what I want to be when I grow up. However, I feel that I haven't yet hit my quarter-life crisis. Ask me in a year and I might be singing a different tune, but for now I'm still able to close my eyes and make it all go away.

As a concept, the quarter-life crisis is interesting and quite different than its mid-life counterpart. Instead of being mostly reflective, this younger version seems to be more perspective, looking towards an unknown future. Of course, we all look towards an unknown future, but it tends to be at the crossroads when we wish we had some hint as to what each path provided. I think I will leave it at that for the moment, and if I have some more philosophical musings about the matter I will make sure that everything is all linked together in a nice little package.

4Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 8:13

Una naranja

Una naranja / An orange

An orange by any other name...

I just wanted to show off the photographic results that are possible using a homemade light box. The box costs at most £10, and that is if you have to buy everything. Most people will be able to find a large cardboard box, some tissue paper and tape lying around. That drops the cost to around £1. I didn't even use a flash for this shot as I'm still on a quest for a nice, affordable off camera flash.

For instructions on constructing such a light box and plenty of advice on off camera strobes (flashes), visit the Strobist.

5Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 16:30

A little bit about now

Given the content of my last few posts, I thought that it was about time for a new post that discusses a bit about what I am up to these days. I must say, that if the past two weeks are any indication of what a Masters degree is all about, then I'm not so sure why I was so apprehensive. But I feel that reality is about to catch up with me and that is always a bit of a downer.

Personal

Personally I'm feeling pretty darn good. Mostly because for the first time in my life I have finally gotten serious about my health. I have been to the gym six times in the past week or so, and starting today, Nenad was showing me some of the correct exercises for building certain muscle groups. For me this isn't about building muscle per se, it is about losing a bit of weight and gaining more energy, but if I emerge a bit stronger as a result, who am I to argue with that.

Most of what I have been doing up to this point is a bit of the stationary bike for my legs and a bit of cardio, along with sit-ups, stair climbing, and a bit of weight work here and there with no real aim in mind. But today I was pressing some weights, and really working my chest and shoulders, and let me tell you, I can feel it. Might be feeling it for a while. Nenad and I even bought a small set of speakers that are perfect for bringing down to the gym to plug into my iPod for a bit of music.

But wait, that isn't all, I am also going to the pool. We went on Wednesday because it was a holiday and we will be going again tomorrow. The nice thing is that for students in the residence, the pool is free on weekends (and holidays) which makes it all that more convenient to go. I even bought a pair of goggles to make the experience all the more pleasant, and an extra towel so I can have a separate pool towel. The plan at this point is to go once a week either Saturday or Sunday, and hopefully over the term increase my swimming endurance.

There is also talk among the three of us here (Nenad, Pablo and I) to start running or jogging as well. This would a nice addition to this already ambitious (by my standards) routine. Jogging however is not that kind to your joints, and I'm slightly concerned about it since I have had some trouble with my knees before. But it would likely only be once a week as well. This in addition to the daily walks to a from school should really start to make a difference in my energy levels and general fitness.

Other than the exercise routine, little else has been happening personally — there was a rather large fair that was taking place outside the residence that I guess I should mention. Last Wednesday was a holiday to honour San Nicasio, who is the patron saint of Leganés. And so in celebration, a fair arrived. They spent the better part of a week setting up: rides, concession stands and a large tent which turned out to be for a stage. For the most part there wasn't a whole lot there I was interested in, but I went over a couple of times to soak in the atmosphere. And to buy a hot dog. The only down side to having this large fair across the street was that on certain nights, they liked to keep partying until the not-so-small hours of the morning. And since they had enough equipment to require two large generators to power, they cranked out a bit of sound. Sound which had the effect of pissing off some of the people trying to sleep at this time, like Nenad. Myself, I didn't find it too much of a problem, because I sleep with music playing anyway... it is something I'm used to. In any case, they have started packing up now, and I suspect that by the middle of next week everything will be gone.

Academic

The funny thing is, that despite the fact that I am here for school, this section doesn't have a lot going for it at the moment. I think I might have found a topic for my Masters project which is a bit more focused, but I will wait until after I get a chance to talk with my supervisor before I go too deeply into that. Basically I want to look at Atom (an XML format) as a possibility for interacting with e-commerce sites. Not going to say more than that until I have more to say really. :)

Although not specifically academic, I am going to Brussels on Wednesday (the 18th) to attend a conference for the Erasmus Mundus Alumni Association Launch Committee. Should prove to be interesting, and while I'm not normally big on meetings like this (especially after witnessing the debacle of last time), I think this will get me more into the whole thing. It should be a fun trip, I certainly do enjoy a chance to do a bit of networking (the human kind).

Geeky

Perhaps the most consuming part of this past week or so has been the work I have been putting into this website. The sad thing is that if everything works as expected, then no one should be able to see the results of my work. In an attempt to join the rest of the blogging software providers, with their "features", I have added XML-RPC support using the metaWeblog API.

What this allows is for me to edit my weblog (or add new posts) from a remote application running on my computer instead of using the web browser. For this site, I had been adding and editing posts for a while from my text editor TextMate. I was using my own customized scripts and for a while it was good. And I guess it is still good, only a recent Bundle was added to TextMate which supported blogging on a wider scale. It has some nice features that are different than what I had and I was wondering what it would take to implement the interface it required.

I have known about the existence of a more-or-less standard interface for manipulating weblogs remotely for a while, but chose not to implement it because frankly I didn't need it. But since I am striving to make this system as complete as possible and there are other people using this software now, I figured it was time. Plus I was looking for something like this and it has peaked my interest in web services, which is good, because that is what my Masters project relates to. Enough rambling (I am getting tired now) — the thing to take away from this is, if you are using my weblog software for your site then this feature can be added once I'm finished making sure everything will work all right. There are only about three or four people this applies to, but if you don't have a weblog and you would like one, then let me know because I might be able to set you up with one fairly easily and now it is metaWeblog-compatible.

So now you are caught up on what I am up to these days. Sorry I don't have much in the way of photos to show you, I haven't really gotten out much. I didn't even take any photos of the fair. Pretty inconsiderate of me I know. I will let you know that there might be some more of my photos available online at some point soon, but not necessarily on this site. More info to follow on that.

14Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 20:54

Not a frisbee

Action Ring

Frisbee, it's a classic, at least in my mind. I guess the appropriate name for them is sport disc — since Frisbee is a brand name. And over the years, I have seen them come is many different sizes, weights, colours and even shapes. Some have even had my own designed logos on them. But the principle is the same.

I would however, like to point out the fact that the item pictured above (there is only one, just a front and back shot of it), is expressly NOT a "sport disc". Rather it is an "Action Ring", as you can see printed on the front of it. Thankfully I've spared you from the fact that this plastic abomination also had a tail. Yes, a tail. Over a meter long and made of purple and black nylon would be my guess, but I'm not certain. I believe that the package referred to it as a "stabilizing tail," but I don't know if that is what I would call it.

Spain, or at least the southern suburbs of Madrid, has a real shortage of what I would consider to be a normal and ultimately usable sport discs, which I'm going to call frisbees from now on. So on Friday when we went to a very large and otherwise well stocked sporting goods store, we found that they had no normal frisbees. And instead of spending 15€ on something that we were a bit skeptical about from the beginning, we took the student approach to buy the absolute cheapest one possible. So three euros later and the fun had only just begun.

I blame myself in part for the purchase mostly, not wanting to walk away with nothing to toss around on a nice day, I settled. After all, it was only 3€. Had I stopped for only a minute to consider the physics of this action ring, I might not have bothered. But I didn't — I was so young and naïve back then. Because if you look at it, and I'm not sure this really comes across that well in the picture, it becomes fairly obvious that this thing has some fundamental flight issues. Basically what it boils down to is that if you throw this thing in any manner which resembles a normal frisbee throw, it has no choice but to spiral into the Earth.

Needless to say, Nenad and I felt a bit disheartened about our enjoyable outdoor recreation time being cut short by this poor excuse for a toy. When taken into the consideration, the tail on the ring might have seemed like a quick fix for a poor design, but it didn't help. Granted we didn't give the tail much of a chance, but we thought we might be better without it and so we sliced it off without second thoughts.

What transpired over the next hour or so wasn't so much a game of frisbee, but a game of: pick up the plastic ring, attempt to throw it towards your friend, then wait while your friend jogs over to wherever the damn thing landed and watch as it falls hopelessly short or off to the side of where you are and then you get to jog. Repeat. Not to be beaten however, we experimented. We are grad students after all. Over that hour, we managed to find the precise method by which to throw this thing such that it would only spiral a little bit and then settle into an awkward upside down glide which didn't take long to deteriorate. There was a relatively unforgiving distance that we needed to stand apart and if a wind came up, it was back to square one.

And despite my generally negative tone towards it, we did get some sun and exercise and in the end managed to enjoy the process. And I just got seven paragraphs out of the experience which is good for me. Really, if you only take one thing away from this, it is that an action ring is not a frisbee.

15Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 13:50

Cartoon Colin

South Park Colin If anyone was wondering, if I were a South Park character, I might look a little something like this. Really, there is nothing more to say than that. You can make your own South Park mien in the South Park studio. I learned about this little gem from Pablo's similar South Park post.

More importantly however, I met with my supervisor today who managed to give me some direction for my project. And that direction is: WSDL. Pronounced whiz-dil, it is something that we had talked about before (not to mention had several classes on), but I seemed to have a real penchant for avoiding it. But given some context and some ideas that aren't too far removed from my own, I was swayed to giving it some consideration. And at the end of the day, I just want to yank this Band-aid® off as fast as possible. So now a have a page of rough notes that I want to get sorted out into an outline, but instead I'm going to Belgium tomorrow.

Considering I took reservations for a summer job before, I really should have known better, but I learned the hard way that one shouldn't attempt to book a hotel room the day before your stay. Why didn't I book it when I bought my flight? Why didn't I book it in the two weeks before that in which I knew about it? Those are questions which I cannot answer. After dealing with every manner of online booking tools (which in general kind of suck) I was faced with the realization that there aren't any hotel rooms in Brussels for the next couple of nights. Oh damn. So, I start with the hostels in my list. Even the first two of them were full. Finally on my last option I found a bed. Total cost for the two nights combined? 37€

Moral of the story: maybe I can incorporate hotel booking web services into my project. And maybe I shouldn't be so lazy. I guess I'm not used to booking hotels — I usually have accommodation taken care of, be it a residence or mooching off of friends and relatives. In any case, I leave tomorrow, I'm not bringing my laptop, so don't expect any replies to emails or instant messages.

And although it is over here in continental Europe, I still have a couple minutes to wish Pablo (and Liz) a happy birthday in the UK. ¡Feliz cumpleaños!

17Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 18:58

The capital of Europe

liason group most
A majority of the Erasmus Mundus Liaison Committee

Despite the generally grey Brussels weather, I had a pretty interesting and rewarding couple of days there. Things went a lot better than I had expected. Right out of the gate my travel was a lot easier and more timely than I'm used to. With a history of a couple of twelve hour travel days, I never look forward to the tedium, but this time things went more smoothly.

The hostel I stayed in was quite clean and well run. Never did I feel unsafe or disgusted. As a pleasant bonus to the trip I got a chance to see Delphine, a friend who is in Brussels studying. I also met a number of her friends, widening still my international network of acquaintances. We hung out Wednesday night and then I returned to the hostel for a relatively fitful night of sleep.

Waking early I got ready and had some breakfast which was included in the room price. I found the building I needed to get to OK and was there a bit early. We had to sign in for visitor passes because it was a secure building. Once upstairs, I saw a few of my team members and others I recognized from the last meeting. That day, Thursday was a long day — with about 10 hours of meetings, discussions and preparations of a working document. As a member of the IT team, it was a tough chore to try to determine the IT needs of the other groups, along with general improvements to the website. Even suggesting that the site needs some serious visual work brought on a whole lot of unease among those people involved. It was a tricky chore to handle it diplomatically.

But at the end they had organized a dinner for us at a nearby club. Thai food in an environment that was as far removed from a Thai restaurant as possible. But it was tasty and afterwards we hung out a bit talking over the increasingly loud music. Eventually, someone decided it was time to go dancing and so we headed up. At least a couple of us did. Some were not so ready and willing to get up on the dance floor. Long story short: dancing, sweating, dancing, sweating, leaving. I and a woman who works for ACA were the last of our party to leave around 23:30.

That night I slept a lot better as combination of the long day with the exhaustion of dancing. I went through the same routine in the morning again and ended up at the Madou Tower (which was the location of our meetings) about 30 minutes early again. But this time I knew the procedures and I went in to wait for an escort up to the 9th floor. Meetings on the Friday were mostly reports of Thursday's work and as usual we tended to run a bit late. After one last lunch with my colleagues I bid them farewell and headed to the airport.

The flight home was also quite comfortable — paying for the selection of seats with extra legroom was worth every penny. All said and done, it was a successful trip. Now onto reality and hopefully a thorough start to my project work. :)

22Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 20:30

Dissertation writing machine

Current computer setup Unfortunately that machine isn't me — yet — but a reference to my new setup that I have for my computer in my room. As you can see in the photo, I have added a separate keyboard. This was the most ergonomic keyboard that I could find easily. And it wasn't that easy either. None of the local computer shops sell anything remotely ergonomic. I ordered this Microsoft Natural Keyboard 4000 from Amazon in the UK and had it delivered to a friend who sent it back with another friends who was visiting. In any case, I find that I am able to type much more comfortably than with the limited keyboard on my laptop. The only feature that I sorely miss on this is the backlighting that my Powerbook provides. I was generally a handy feature especially when stabbing at keys while standing where I'm not in a touch typing position. But, since the laptop keyboard is still there and still illuminated, there really isn't a problem.

I lied, there is one other thing about this keyboard which is even more troublesome — at least for now. The left Shift key is too small. I'm not sure how one is supposed to type, but in my eventual self-taught style I only ever use the left Shift key. And since I turn my Caps-Lock into another Control key, if I need a continuous uppercase feed, I hold down the left shift while typing. With my half sized key, I have to stretch my pinkie finger just that much further to accomplish this. Otherwise, a very nice keyboard that surprisingly enough comes with Mac software to provide functionality to all these funky access buttons along the top of the keyboard.

And as also pictured in the photo, I have combined this keyboard with a relatively inexpensive laptop riser which serves to raise the height of the screen of my laptop such that I'm not hunched over looking at it. I must say that it is a big help and I think that my back and neck will thank me at some point. I recommend something like this to anyone who uses their laptop as a desktop for extended periods of time. Dad I'm looking at you. :) Some of these risers come with a built-in USB hub, but the difference in price (at least in the store I saw) was far too great to warrant that. Plus I have a hub already — also a nice convenience in this setup.

So now that I have some of the infrastructure in place, it is time to get to work — put my nose to the grindstone as the expression goes. One of my first orders of business is to do a bit of a literature review to see what the "state of the art" is for my topic. Should be interesting, at least I hope so for my sake.

23Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 12:25

iPod Anniversary

I also wanted to mention that today is the five year anniversary of the release of the iPod. I'm surprised that Apple didn't plan something, but they like to be a bit mysterious. A lot of people didn't think that the iPod would make it when it arrived, but obviously they are eating their words now. The whole concept of MP3 player has been replaced with the term iPod within the mainstream society. With a 70%+ share of the market, the iPod is an icon. One that I suspect will be celebrating a number more anniversaries before the end.
23Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 12:35

Maybe I wanted cheese

Quizá quise queso.

Sometimes when learning another language, you need to make up little sayings to help you remember words. This is one of those sayings. When Pablo was teaching Nenad and me the way to say 'maybe' we learned that one of the options is 'quizá'. Later, he also mentioned that 'quise', which sounds similar is '(I) wanted'. It was only natural for me to want to add on the word for 'cheese' which is also similar: 'queso'. So now you know how this unusual phrase was created. And now I'm going to write this paragraph in Spanish in the spirit of this phrase.

A veces cuando estás aprendiendo otros idiomas, necesitas crear unos pequeños dichos para que te ayudan recordar parabalas palabras. Éste es uno de esos dichos. Cuando Pablo estaba enseñando a Nenad y a mi yo la manera a decir 'maybe' aprendimos que una opción es 'quizá'. Más tarde, él mencionó que 'quise', lo que sona suena parecido es a '(I) wanted'. Estuvo Fue solo natural por para mi a querer añadir la parabala palabra por 'cheese' lo que es parecido tambien: 'queso'. Así que sabes ahora cómo éste dicho insólito fue creado. Y ahora, yo voy a escribir éste párrafo en español por el espíritu del dicho.

Espero que es más o menos correcto.

28 Oct @ 12:53 Pablo gave my passage the red pen treatment, and there was a bit of markup — but overall I'm pretty pleased. Verb conjugations and prepositions will haunt me for a long time to come I feel. Otherwise, I just need to keep my dictionary handy. :) You can toggle the deleted parts on and off to get an idea.

27Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 22:23

The curse of the mullet

Gather close children and let me regale you with the spooky tale of the curse of the Spanish mullet.

At first I thought that I had stumbled into some sort of disturbing joke, when, having just arrived in Spain, I notices a relatively high percentage of mullets in the population. I was given excuses relating to football (soccer for my NA readers), grew accustomed to the few guys in residence sporting the do, and went on with my life. But it doesn't take a very observant person to notice when going out on the town, that something is horribly, horribly wrong.

Oh, I've seen mullets in Canada, they exist and sometimes they are referred to as “hockey hair”. You've probably seen them too, especially in some of the more rural regions of the country. But generally, people in Canada (and no offense if you are a mullet supporter) wouldn't be caught dead sporting a mullet.

Not here folks. If you have a weak stomach for bad hair, I'd leave the Madrid area off your next itinerary. I suspect that much of Spain could be suspect as well. Sure it is good for a laugh whenever we see some unknowing “kid” with a pimped out mullet, and we would comment about it among ourselves, but for the most part I had no desire to say anything. But now I can stay silent no longer.

Tonight, Nenad, Pablo and I went to a club in Leganés called: La Cripta. Interesting place, nice Halloween decorations, which I'm not sure whether were a permanent motif, or something for tonight only. Definitely felt a bit old — “the music is too loud”; “do these kids’ parents know they are here?” But that has a lot to do with my personality as well. It was fairly crowded, but nothing unusual for a club-like environment. Not a huge place, but from what I could tell, every second guy in there was sporting a mullet in some form. And these folks have taken mullets to an art form. Truly the next level.

A popular theme is when they shave or buzz the hair on the sides of their head very short and have a “normal” length on top and it flows down their neck like some sort of beast. All sorts of hair types too: you have the greasy limp mullet, you have the curly mullet, and the classic teased and frizzy mullet. The winner tonight though took it all a step further and went for the gold, with the combo style of frizzy thick mane of a mullet in back, combined with what could be best described as a ridge on top. Like a faux-mohawk where you spike the center three inches of your hair from front to back and it converges upon some plane that runs atop the head. And of course, you need plenty of product for the hair, as I assume this style doubles as skull protection from competing males and wayward bullets. I wish I had a photo. I will get one at some point, not like I'm stalking a rare bird in the wild, these things will assault you when you are sleeping if you aren't careful.

So that's the sordid story of the Spanish mullet. As a final word to my national cohabitants: cortad vuestro pelo. Gracias.

31Oct
Location: FAM, Leganés @ 21:33

What Now?

Well, it would seem that for the most part, my Europe Adventure is over. It has been an amazing time. Now, I am reviving the ailing colinbate.com and going to make a go of it over there. All the best.

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1:47 (Dec 2, 2020)

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