There is no “best”!

This morning (early February), checking my internets…

On the mother’s forum, a woman asks, “When is the best time to move my child from our room to her nursery?  She’s 7 months now, are we too late?”

Money Reasons asks, as he often does, how to optimize some part of his life that isn’t a linear optimization problem.  This time he’s asking how to find the best job fit.  In the past he’s talked about optimizing his children (ironically… he mentioned wanting to optimize his kids in a post we wrote about how there’s no best way to raise children).

We’ve talked about satisficing before… but maybe it’s time to mention it again.

There’s no best job.  There’s no best way to raise kids.  There’s no best way to live your life.  There’s only your way.  There’s only your path.  Some are better than others along different dimensions… happiness, wealth, health, time, location… but choices are so multidimensional and there are so many tradeoffs that it is impossible to optimize along them all.  And trying to just causes stress and unhappiness.

How to be happy?  Well, people who have some measure of good enough and stop searching after they find it are happier than those who keep rejecting in search of something better.  People who take what they have and justify it as having been the best choice for them at the time are happier than people who constantly regret their choices.  Even in controlled randomized experiments where the choice is induced.  That’s what the happiness literature says.

Yes, keep trying to better yourself.  But have objective standards, tangible goals.  There is no best.  There will ALWAYS be something better.  There will always be someone smarter, prettier, more talented.  (And that can be a Good thing!  Wouldn’t you rather be surrounded by people who can teach you things and help you grow?)  There will always be a bigger pond.

And, in point of fact, most of the world isn’t a single line in which it’s obvious that A is better than B is better than C.  That’s why we have the phrase the Grass is Greener on the other Side.  It’s very easy for A to think B’s situation is better and B to wish he were in A’s spot.

Do you still try to optimize everything?  Some things?  Where do you fall on the optimization/satisficing spectrum?

Vicissitudes of my job

I’ve been having trouble getting myself to work at appropriate times.  It’s not so much that I am bad at time management but that I am bad at energy management. When I have some nice hours to devote to research and writing work, I get all sleepy and cranky. Then of course, if I don’t get things done when I do have time, it crunches everything else later. Augh!

I have talked before about using a standing desk, and how it can be a useful trick for making yourself do some work and not fall asleep face-down on your desk with the door open.  Recently I have found that pulling open the second drawer of my office file cabinet (full of files) makes a pretty decent surface for putting the laptop on so that I can work standing up.  It has an advantage over my desk-with-pile-of-textbooks plan in that it requires less heavy lifting.  It’s also great because standing at this open drawer gives me a view of absolutely nothing except a bland, beige patch of wall a few feet in front of my eyes.  This position gives me nothing to look at except that I am doing, and sometimes I need that.

But also, sometimes when you’ve been struggling really hard to do work, getting even a few things done feels really productive.  I find that sometimes that productive feeling can help.  Dame Eleanor Hull points out that sometimes all you can do is not make it worse.

Meanwhile, there are three reasons why students sometimes call me ma’am in a conversation:

  1. One or both of us is from (or in) the South.
  2. They have spent several years in the military.
  3. They think I am old enough to be their mother.

Which one do you think happens most often here in Blighted Town?

(#2:  Two of those three bullets apply regularly for me, but definitely not the third one.)

Another weekend of links: And challenge updates

We grew up middle class.  We may not have had a lot of *stuff* but we never ever worried about where the next meal was coming from.  Here are some inspiring stories from folks who grew up in much worse straits.  Yes I am cheap on her childhood.  Revanche on generational poverty and how she always wants to stay out of that trap.  I definitely identify with that idea, but one generation removed.  My father is 5’2″.  I think of bananas as luxurious not because they were to me, but because they are to him and to my tiny late bonmama who offered them as the greatest treat available whenever we would visit.

Every day I am grateful for living in this country of plenty and I worry about what permanent damage we will do if, as a nation, we stop feeding and educating our poor children (NYTimes and MicroDrO).  And yes, I would not die if my taxes were raised, as Dr. Crazy suggests, I can afford it, especially if it means we pay less for jails down the line.

Speaking of getting all political… even if you don’t understand adverse selection and market failure, this example pretty much encapsulates why there is a need for government intervention in health insurance markets.  Read it.  (Yes, there are plenty of problems with the new health care law, but completely scrapping it without fixing the problems in the private market is not the way to go.  Let’s get some bipartisanship on this problem!)

An incredibly interesting post by historiann about whether or not female academic bloggers should mention their parental status, and what people assume if they do or don’t disclose their status… also should non-parents be allowed to talk about parenting.

Mutuant Supermodel makes some mature decisions.  First Gen American would approve.

Dancing books!


Steampunk challenge:  still working … a grant ate my soul this week.

Writing challenge:  Did it, but did not enjoy doing it.  Perhaps I will enjoy having done it, but I’m not there yet.  Still concerned about what on earth I’m going to write today given that I haven’t heard from two coauthors and the project with the third coauthor was scooped completely (as in, same dataset, same questions, same methodology, same answer) and has been canceled.  I do need to fix up the midterm…

Will I ever want a second child?

I always thought I would, but right now…

My colleagues are delivering their first babies left and right.  It’s a regular boom.  I look at the newborns and think… man I’m glad that’s not me.

The plan was to have one before tenure, and then one after my tenure packet was in.  DC would be old enough to help and over a lot of those issues that 2-4 year olds tend to have when presented with new competition.

My tenure packet is coming due this summer.  But I’m not feeling it.

Getting pregnant is very difficult for me. It took well over a year and a half (not counting the 9 months of pregnancy that followed) of eating perfectly (no brownies! ), taking insulin-sensitizing medications, not drinking, no sushi, having my legs up in straddle position in one specialist office after another, drugs, desperation, vomit…

The pregnancy itself… tiredness, anemia, a few months of the complete inability to keep literally any food down other than fruit and fizzy water (thank Goodness we figured out that fruit stayed down), a well-trod path between my office and the bathroom (will I make it now that the nearest restroom is farther away and there’s often a line?), trying to find a prenatal vitamin I could keep down, the hypoglycemic mood swings, sudden need for food… and, what’s worse, the constant fear of loss during pregnancy that lasts long after the birth.

Then even our perfect baby destroyed our sleep and made us sick.  Baby boot camp is only two weeks long, but I can’t imagine going through it again.  And it is unlikely that #2 will be as “easy” as #1, just because of regression to the mean.  (Did I mention there’s no maternity leave at my school?)

The plan was to go to the doctor in March and get a prescription for metformin, then ramp up to 1500ml over the course of a couple of months.  First you take 500ml.  Then you wait until you stop throwing up.  Then you take 1000ml.  Another week and a half of throwing up.  Then 1500 ml.  If you eat anything too greasy, you throw up.  If you eat anything you’re not supposed to be eating you go hypoglycemic.  Metformin is the ultimate commitment device.  I’m a size 6 when I’m trying to get pregnant. But if I don’t do metformin, my chance of early miscarriage skyrockets.

We love our kid more than life.  (S)He brings us daily joy.  But (s)he’s also very time-intensive.  Always going, always interacting, never napping.  Do we want to introduce another?  Do we want to keep pouring all our time into this one?  Maybe just a little longer to watch every moment (outside of daycare, of course) of hir growing up.  We kind of like the routines we’ve settled into.  And we’re not sure we could take more time away from work.

Will I want one after tenure?

My mom said she waited until I was old enough to help out and had started asking for a sibling.  DC doesn’t seem interested just yet.  Hir friends are getting siblings but ze seems happy to be an only.

Trying for #1 was obvious… I *HAD* to have a baby.  My need greatly outweighed any rational considerations.  I had baby fever, which I hear is something that folks who don’t generally like kids often get.  Mother nature’s way of getting us to reproduce.

I’m not ready now. Will I ever be? Will baby fever hit me when it is too late to do anything about?  Maybe recently there have been some little twinges.  I’m not sure.  But there’s nothing obvious going on and I’m leery of getting started.  But maybe I’ll go to the doctor and get a prescription and see where that goes.  Or maybe I’ll just keep putting it off.

DC has actually weighed in on this issue… hir friends are gaining little brothers and sisters right and left, and ze is bemused by the entire process.  Hir current stance is that someday ze would like a little sibling, and is confident that ze would make an excellent older sibling, but not right now (or really any time soon).  Luckily 9 months is an eternity in the life of a preschooler, if we do decide to go for it.

How did you know you were ready or not ready for #2?  (Or not ready for a #1!)

Does life change after tenure?

Inquiring minds want to know!

Reading other folks blogs… yes and no.

Dr. Virago and the post-tenure slump.  I’ve experienced these slumps at many stages of my career so this is one I will probably have to look out for.

This one’s depressing and tantalizing at the same time.  I LIKE going to the big conferences precisely because it forces me to stretch my mind and my ambitions and be around people who are more awesome than I am.  At the same time, it does remind me of how much I haven’t done.  I would not be happy knowing I was avoiding conferences because I did not feel good enough.

We can hope that tenure provides peace and new meaning, like with reassigned time.  Hard work without worry because of the security.  Direction because we have proof we are valued.

This wiki says that there’s more service.  That’s definitely true.  But it also says that tenured folks are expected to take on more active teaching than untenured folks, which is total BS.

What have your experiences been, oh wise ones?

Steampunk book review: Boneshaker

#2 is totally scheduling this post to see if that helps #1 to commit to writing about it for her challenge.

If not, here is #2’s report:

I read the book Boneshaker by Cherie Priest.  It was about a steampunk woman in steampunk glasses.  They were kind of like goggles.  The book made me feel very grey.  It had a beginning, a middle part, and an end.  It was very good.  There were zombies and Seattle was destroyed.  By, #2.

by Cherie Priest

Actually, #2’s review is so nice that I’m going to leave it there.  But now I will give you mine, because I have finally sorted out how I feel about this book.  (Lately I have been having much ambivalence about things!)

Overall verdict:  It’s good, you should read it.

Longer:  The beginning of this book really sucked me in.  Seattle being destroyed happened about 15 years before this story starts, and there are indeed zombies (and airships and goggles) but they mostly start to show up in the middle of the book.  The world is very richly detailed, but very grim.  There is an innovative method for turning people into zombies, called the Blight, which is the main force shaping the current world.  Cherie Priest wedged a good deal of backstory in there but made it totally interesting, not info-dumpy, for which, props.

Fifteen-year-old Zeke goes inside the walls of Seattle, and his mother Briar goes in after him.  After that, surprisingly, I slowed down a lot.  The middle of the book is extremely action-packed, but it actually got sort of redundant.  It was exactly like one of those silly, ridiculous movie scenes where two people are running around frantically looking for each other and missing each other by only seconds around every corner… but it went on for like 30 pages.  Yes, you’re afraid, tired, dirty, wheezing, running for your life, feeling sick, uncertain, etc.  I get it already.  It was just chapters and chapters of people running back and forth to little purpose except escaping peril and separately meeting ever-more-colorful characters.

The two main characters, Briar and Zeke, were wonderful.  I just hated most of the other people they encountered and didn’t want to spend time with them, which slowed me down.

However, (SPOILER ALERT) once Briar and Zeke find each other and are in the same scenes again, it’s great.  I loved the action from that point on, once they can work as a team together with some of the less-annoying secondary characters.  Near the very end we learn a crucial fact from Briar’s past, which really opens doors to a better or deeper relationship between her and Zeke.  Based on some bits of stage business near the end with a twice-stolen warship (did I mention there are airships?), I can see a direction where I think and hope the next book will go.

I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Food for other folks

We’re from the midwest.  When a person has a tragedy or a celebration, we send food.  Folks have family deaths (including miscarriage) and emergency surgeries and babies and foster kids and adoptions.  We send casseroles and cookies.

Here’s our standard package for a new mom (generally sent 2 weeks after the birth, after the first round of grandparents has headed out, but before the baby is going to show signs of food intolerance to breast milk)

  • Beef Tamale Pie casserole (or the vegetarian version if vegetarian)
  • Some sort of meat (or veggie) stew
  • Milk
  • Bananas
  • Bread
  • Cheese
  • A rotisserie chicken
  • Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (very important for milk supply)

For losses, we send casseroles and chocolate, cold comfort, but the best we can do.  For recovering from surgery, healthy food, usually with low salt content.

#2 says, I bring things that are already in freezer containers so they can spread out their food needs.  Protein & veggies, soup is good, though I am less beef-heavy than #1.  (#1 says:  beef is for new moms– they need the iron!)  If they need consolation, they may need ice cream.  I think people might also need simple comfort food for when their brains are worn down, either by grief or by joy and sleeplessness.  If I know them, I probably know a few things they would like, such as the kind of soda they drink or the special diet they’re on or what foods they gravitate towards.

What do you do when someone has had a tragedy or celebration?  If you send food, what are your standards?

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External effects on spending

I’ve been reading some no-spend challenges and I’ve been noticing that in their no spend months they spend on a lot more stuff than we do in a normal month.  Just sundry things… they have justifications, but still…

We tend not to buy things we don’t need, but sometimes an entire month will go by without us getting anything other than the occasional groceries.  It’s not like we’re doing a no-spend challenge.  It’s not because we’re frugal or because we’re trying to be holier than thou, but simply because we didn’t have time and we put off purchases.  Sometimes if you put off purchases long enough you no longer need what you thought you did.  Some of these “emergency” purchases they just had to make in the month of February, well, we’re putting off until March because it’s just going to take that long for us to get to Target.

Yes, yes, I know that no time causes people to spend money on things too… but let me say that before we had a kid we didn’t have time to cook.  After we had a kid we didn’t have time to go out to eat.  We’re now very good at pantry cooking and Faster!  I’m Starving!  and Help!  My Apartment Has a Kitchen! definitely changed our lives (thanks, #2!).

If you really don’t have time and can live with a certain level of squalor, you’ll never actually get around to hiring that cleaning person.

Even if you have more time than you need, there’s still hope!  We once lived in a series of 3 digit square foot apartments in the city.  The smallest was 100 sq ft.  The largest somewhere in the 300 range.  We were pretty poor, but one thing that enabled us to save for a house downpayment on our graduate stipends was the inability to actually put anything in our apartment.  Our first thought would be, “Is there space for this?” and then second would be, “Can we afford it?”  You really get into the habit of not buying junk when there’s already no room.  Some of our friends in the SF bay area were able to put a 400K downpayment on a house because they saved money not only on the small house they were renting in place of the larger one they could have been renting, but also because they couldn’t buy things to just store in the house.

So what is the bottom line here?  If you really want to save money, you can do it unconsciously just by living in a small area and having a demanding job.  Then every moment of your time will be too precious to spend shopping and every inch of space too valuable to fill up with junk.

What external effects change your spending for lesser or greater?


  • Starfall has MATH now!  WOOOOOOOOOOOO!
  • Epic Fail on the epilator.  I was prepared for pain, yes.  I was not prepared for skin pinching without actually removing any hair (skin: yes, hair: no).  Goodbye $80.  You were an expensive lesson to learn.  But I always would have wondered.  (If anyone asks… I fell on concrete.)
  • Happiness is gourmet food trucks coming to your academic building.  :)  Our little town is becoming quite the food mecca.
  • I don’t think I like it when people say mean things about other people.  Especially when they’re other people that I like.
  • You know what pisses a formerly nice referee off?  When you completely ignore large portions of her questions and are a jerk about the few that you do address (which you only address because Referees #1 and #2 asked the same thing).  Sincerely regretting the decision to revise and resubmit, Referee #3.  P.S.  When a reviewer says, “Cite paper X,” you should cite paper X.  (X isn’t my paper, but for all you know it could be!)
  • Today during my 15 min class break a student NOT IN MY CLASS asked if he could get help on a problem set for the class (that I do not teach) of the woman whose office is next to mine because she wasn’t in her office.  I said, “No.”  He seemed shocked.
  • Today after class a student asked if she could borrow my textbook for the entire semester.  I said, “No.”
  • An email from a student:  This is my homework for the week due tomorrow.  Can you check it over to see if I got it right?  Answer:  No.  Come to office hours or ask specific questions on the class webpage in the spot designated for specific questions, as you were told in class multiple times and as it states on the syllabus.
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Insert creative link title here: and a challenge update

Clio bluestocking tales learns a painful lesson about budgets and other people trying to get you to do their work for them.

An oldie but worth reading: xoom is against decluttering because it promotes consumerism.  (#2 adds:  hahahaha!  I like it.)

If this video doesn’t bring tears to your eyes, then you are a hard-hearted jerk.

How did we miss Grover Appreciation Day???

Do want.  From the little professor.

Mutant Super Model needs book suggestions for a precocious 7 year old.  Help her out!

An exhaustive list of resources if you think your kid may be gifted from davincilearning.

We were in this week’s carnival of personal finance.

Money Reasons has no clue on how to eat healthily (or cook, apparently).  Help him out by giving him advice and encouragement.

Donna Freedman with some tips for older job seekers.

Graceful retirement comments on another post that comments on another post… but really it’s about whether or not we should be trying to impress  other people into thinking we’re wealthy even if we can do it cheaply.  Is looking good or feeling good more important? Me, I’m middle class all the way, baby.

Meanwhile, Steampunk Challenge is… continuing.  The reading is coming along, the reviewing not as much so.  I think what happened in my contrary brain is that as soon as I committed to reading one type of book, I instantly got distracted by every other type of book there is.  I’m a contrary blogger, yo.  (#1:  probably doesn’t help that the new Flavia De Luce is out…)

Confidential to Invest it Wisely:  got the book, thanks.  It has drastic flaws in logic which make it hard to take seriously, but I’m still hoping to get something useful out of it.  Memo to self: never ever read another book “published” by CreateSpace.

Writing challenge:  Did it.  A couple days were really difficult though.