I like my new pencil.

Lately, my kids have been pretty into the cheapo mechanical pencils they got at the dollar store a while back. Feeling a little jealous, I went on JetPens last week to find one I might like.

After reading a bunch of reviews and watching some videos, I settled on this Kuru Toga 0.5mm pencil from Uni:

It arrived late last week, and I have been writing with it for the past few days. I have to say, it’s pretty great.

I will admit that, prior to using the pencil, I was a bit skeptical of the feature that slowly rotates the lead as you use it so as continuously provide a sharp point to write with. Having used it a bunch now, though, I really appreciate this mechanism.

I wish my watch would stop telling me that I have crushed my goals. I don’t really want to be crushing anything, and I feel like that sort of aggressive approach to life is a problem.

The easy response is to say these are just words, but the words we use to describe our world our what structure our experience of that world. The words we use are important.

If you walk around casually talking about crushing things that don’t actually need to be crushed, I’d say that’s going to affect your view of the world and how you live in it, and not for the better.

Beware the “Let’s rethink education!” vultures and grifters.

How the pandemic is reshaping education – The Washington Post:

School systems in America are not done with remote learning.

They want more of it.

After a year when some systems did nothing but school by computer screen, it has become clear that learning virtually has a place in the nation’s schools, if simply as an option.

“It’s like a genie that is out of the bottle, and I don’t think you can get it back in,” said Paul Reville, former Massachusetts secretary of education and founding director of Harvard University’s Education Redesign Lab at the Graduate School of Education. “In many respects, this is overdue.”

Few suggest that remote learning is for everyone. The pandemic showed, unmistakably, that most students learn best in person – in a three-dimensional world, led by a teacher, surrounded by classmates and activities.

The article goes on to suggest that remote learning will be a boon for less popular courses that can’t garner enough interest in a single location, but which could be offered online and attract students from all over.

That sounds great in theory, but it sounds suspiciously similar to all the long-tail flim-flammery of MOOCs and “the flipped classroom” from 5-10 years ago.

Here’s my prediction for what will happen instead: The MBA efficiency-and-standardization crowd will swoop in and tell us all that this is how we get more bang for our education buck, how a single teacher can now use Zoom to prep a hundred students for their standardized test, instead of the wasting time and money having a teacher interact with kids in a school that is based around and supported by a real community.

Because anything that doesn’t lead to productivity growth and feature delivery is waste, and all waste must be eliminated.

 Facebook’s Vaccine Disinformation Study Shows the Problem with Facebook – Washington Monthly:

Facebook can’t do anything about the fact that there are large pockets of angry, low-trust conspiracy theorists online. But Facebook could do something about the fact that those pockets have disproportionate impact on a larger universe, because Facebook tailors its engagement algorithms to promote the most controversial voices. It is no surprise at all that a small number of obnoxious people on Facebook are impacting the opinions of much larger groups on Facebook. That’s what Facebook is designed to do! The platform is deliberately designed to get people to see exciting opinions and either argue with the opinion-maker–or to make them delve deeper into the rabbit hole and form likeminded closed communities around their (often newfound) belief systems.

So it’s back to this then, is it?

The second half of last week brought warm temperatures and sunny days. We were able to get the bikes out of the shed, go see friends (masked and socially distanced, of course) at the playground, and even hang out a bit in back yards.

“Right,” I found myself thinking, “this is the sort of thing I realized back in October that I was really going to miss,” on top of all the other stuff I was already missing because it had all been cancelled or made impossible by the pandemic. I knew the winter would be difficult, and it was.

Now spring is around the corner, and we are starting to get tantalizing hints of what life might be like again at some point.

Sadly, yesterday brought gusting winds and a sharp drop in temperatures. I woke up early this morning (thanks for nothing, Daylight Saving Time!) to 30mph winds, fourteen degrees, and a windchill somewhere below zero. The sun is out, at least, but the temperature outside has so far only gotten up to 18F.

We are supposed to see highs in the fifties by the end of this week. What’s funny is that, were it not for last Thursday and Friday’s t-shirt weather, 55F would seem great.

I know the warmer days will come—just like I know that at some point, we will all be vaccinated and can start doing things again—but it is hard to wait.

Running and writing

My usual routine most days of the week is to get up at 5 in the morning and spend about 45 minutes writing in my journal. It is partly a morning pages sort of exercise—I force myself to write no less than three pages, even if every word is garbage—and partly a way of recording what is going on in my daily life and my thoughts. Later in the morning, I block off ninety minutes for actual creative writing. That seems to be the maximum amount of time I can squeeze out of my day and still get all my other stuff done.

At night, once the kids are done with their evening routines and on their way to bed, I head out for a run. I used to run early in the morning, but I found that the first mile was absolutely miserable and my pace was at least a minute per mile off my usual. Shifting my run to the evening has been working out much better—I’m not stiff and achey from having just spent seven hours asleep, and it lets me work off whatever stress and anxiety might have built up over the course of the day.

Due to some family scheduling issues, I have had to temporarily move my run back to the early morning hours this week. As expected, it has been slow and terrible.

A cascading effect is that, with that early morning block of time now taken over by running, I am not able to spend the forty-five minutes I usually devote to my journal first thing in my day. And as a result of that, I find that when I sit down later in the morning for my ninety-minute block of creative writing time, the pipes are almost completely dry. Today, I got one sentence out, and just ground to a halt, unable to go farther.

It is funny how similar these two practices of mine are, writing and running. I have to make time to do each of them every day, and when I fall or am forced out of the habit of either for some reason, I have to work back up to get to where I was before. It’s not a huge discovery, something no one has ever thought of before, but it is interesting (and frustrating!) to see it laid out in such concrete form in my day.

I had a strange feeling of nostalgia a day or two ago for the early days of the pandemic, when everything was quiet and no one was sure what to do. I knew it was crazy to feel that way, so I went back and began reading through my journal entries from a year ago, confirming what I knew intellectually but was having a a hard time feeling in my gut—those days and weeks were awful, and I have no business feeling anything for them but disgust.

I guess I imagined that, after a year of the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of people dead, and millions more sick, we would maybe be seeing less of the “Infections rates are down, so it’s time to end the measures that are causing infection rates to go down” sort of thinking.

Silly me.