Cat update

We still have 5 indoor cats.  No takers for the (3) kittens.  We’ve become attached to Garage Cat.  On top of that, outdoor Patio Cat has truly become our Patio Cat.  He mostly hangs out on our back porch and shelters in our patio when the weather is bad.  He loves pettings more than food.  He wishes he could come inside.  He’s good friends with outdoor Mamacat (who makes the occasional appearance to eat, and is usually on the porch in the wee hours quietly hanging with Patio Cat), but she still shies away from us.  He and Garage Cat are still mortal enemies and my hand got majorly scratched up (from Garage Cat) the one time Garage Cat and Patio Cat ended up on the patio at the same time.

The two little black kittens are both super loving and adorable, even the one who used to be mean kitty.  It seems like whenever I sit down I get covered in kitten(s), or occasionally by Garage Cat.  Boy kitten doesn’t like to be picked up, but is otherwise a sweetheart.  He’s almost as big as a full-sized cat, but the girl kittens are still smaller.

Garage cat and the kittens get along really well now.  They play together and Garage cat sometimes grooms the younger kitties.

My sister was going to take a kitten or two, but then her roommate got engaged and she’s waiting until she finds a new roommate to commit in case the new roommate is allergic or otherwise doesn’t like cats.  Really she should take Garage Cat because he’s so well-behaved and she’s not very experienced with pets, but Garage Cat is long-haired and she’s worried he will get hair on her furniture.  We believe this illustrates how she has No Idea about cats or kittens if a little fur is her biggest worry.

My MIL says she’ll take one, but just one, if we get it to her this summer.

One (or more) of the kittens, we’re not sure which one, occasionally pees on our bed.  I do not like this.  And I worry about said kitten ending up someplace that might not be as forgiving as we are.  At some point we’ll figure out which one it is and take it to the vet for a work-up to rule out physical causes.  It can’t be lack of litter boxes because we have 7 boxes for 5 cats, all of different shapes, sizes, and privacy, and they get cleaned out every day once or twice a day.  And they have no problem using them.  Just occasionally one will pee on the bed in addition to regular litter box use.

So that’s the cat update.  This time last year we had two middle-aged indoor cats.  Now we have 5 indoor cats and 2 outdoor cats.  That’s too many.  But that’s what we have for now.

Sometimes you have to get the wrong answer first to get the right one

A good way to start a hard math problem is by playing around with it.  Poking at it.  Trying things to see what does and doesn’t work and to figure out why that is.

For a certain type of math problems, it’s helpful to just guess and then analyze why that guess isn’t right.

I don’t know if you’ve ever played the game Mastermind, but Mastermind is exactly this idea.  One player hides 4 pin colors, and the second player has to guess what the colors are and where they’re placed.  Each turn player two is given information on how much ze got wrong and how wrong it was.  The only way to start is with a completely blind guess.  If you guess right on the first try, the game isn’t very much fun.  That means you won by luck and not by being able to actually play the game.

DC1 had never heard of such a thing before we got the Hard Math book.  Ze was completely and totally frustrated by the first challenge problem (What is the largest possible answer to 782 + ABC =? [with carrying 1s above and above/left of the 7]?) because ze thought ze should just be able to do a math problem.  Even hard math problems were hard because ze was prone to make mistakes, and all one had to do was not make mistakes.  This idea that you have to learn about the problem first and maybe try a few things out was completely foreign to hir.

Life is like that too.  You can plan and plot and analyze situations, but sometimes that takes more time (and provides less information) than just doing and seeing what happens.  Sometimes you get what you want on the first try, but more often, you get clear information on what you need to do better and how and why.

Sometimes you have to fail before succeeding, and it’s the failure(s) itself that is instrumental to your eventual success.

Academia is just a job

Really.  It is a job.  It’s not a calling.*  It’s not the route to superiority.  The PhD is a job qualification just the same as a plumber’s license or RN or bookkeeping license or what have you.  It qualifies you to teach certain kinds of students  and to do certain kinds of research.

Some folks get caught up in the maximization aspect of tenure– all their lives they’ve been getting good enough grades to go to a great college, then great grades in order to go to graduate school, then struggling in graduate school to try to win.  There’s a defined path up and pressure to reach for the golden ring of being a tenured full professor at a top R1.  Just knowing what to strive for when you’ve been striving all your life can be easier, even if leaving that path might make you happier.  The world out there is a great unknown.

Leaving academia does not make you a failure.  Once you’ve left there’s a big world outside where nobody cares if you’re a professor.  They’re just impressed you got the PhD.  And maybe they care more about your car or your house, but you should still make those choices based on your priorities and what you can afford.

Do a cost-benefit analysis about what is important.  Weigh the pros, and the cons.  Academia has nice things, like flexibility, academic freedom, tenure, working with other PhDs, and so on.  But it also has downsides– you don’t get to choose where you live, lower salaries, the tenure clock can be harsh, you may not like those other PhDs you’re tenured with and see all the time, and so on.  Think really hard about whether or not what other people think should enter into your cost-benefit analysis.

Do people on the TT feel superior to those not on it?  Probably only the insecure ones.  The rest of us, the majority of us, don’t really think about anyone but our own little circles of families and friends, just like most people.  Most of us on the TT realize that we are partly here because of luck and persistence; we all have friends who are just as smart as we are (or smarter!) who haven’t been able to land a TT job in their field because of the market (or, even more impressively, have done that cost-benefit analysis and have willingly chosen not to!).

For all our non-pf readers, we strongly recommend you read Your Money or Your Life: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century.

See, there’s another way you can win at life by maximizing something, if you still want your ambition to head up a straight path.  You can become financially independent.  Then if you’re financially independent, who cares if you enjoy teaching students in your spare time or writing papers or doing volunteering or what have you.  The rat race is just an aside.  And you can feel superior to everyone else stuck striving for something they may never reach.

Or you can just live your life moving forward in whatever direction the future takes you.  We all end up at the same destination, so enjoy your individual journey.  It takes energy we don’t have in order to care what other people think of us.

*Hint:  A calling is what they call it when they want you to do it for no money. If fewer people were fooled by this “calling” garbage, then people wouldn’t be willing to do academia for no money.  We want more money, not more dancing dogs.  I didn’t get into academia for the money, but I didn’t get in it to be screwed over, either.

How did you choose your job/profession?