Monthly Archives: April 2003

Lightning Rod

In the last several months, I seem to have become a lightning rod for verbal abuse from people in Ithaca with mental illness (a larger than average population, I contend, at least in terms of people wandering the streets talking to themselves). I write this now because it happened twice today – once as I was leaving my apartment building and walking to the bus stop this morning and then again as I returned to my office after lunch – but the incident I will relate actually happened in January.

On a cold January day during Cornell’s winter break I was headed home in the afternoon. I got to the bus stop and was waiting for the number 10 bus which runs every 10 minutes, Monday through Friday, year round (except for major holidays). Collegetown was quiet as most students were still away, and I was alone at the bus stop. After I’d been waiting for a couple of minutes, a woman who I had seen around town a few times and thought might be a few cards short of a full deck walked up to me and asked, “What bus are you waiting for?” This is not an unusual question among bus stop patrons; the usual reason is to see whether a particular bus has already gone by.

I answered, politely I thought, “the number 10.”

“I don’t think it’s running today. You’ll have to take the number 50 or something.” (The number 50 visits neither the stop where I was waiting nor my destination, a fact which I knew.)

“Okay, thanks,” I said with a smile. She walked on. I continued waiting. After a couple more minutes had passed, curiousity got the best of me. Maybe they had decided to stop running the number 10 during Cornell breaks, in which case I might be better off walking home. The woman was out of earshot, so I grabbed my cell phone and called the bus information number. “Is the number 10 running today?,” I asked.

“Yes it is.”

“Thanks very much. I heard it might not be.” Just as I finished this exchange with the bus dispatcher, the woman, who was about 25 yards down the street started shouting at me.

“Just who do you think you are, anyway? Talking on your cell phone. You think you’re so special, don’t you. I’ll bet you think your [poo] smells nicer than everyone else’s. Yeah, and I see you there in your fine clothes and with your fine haircut. You really think you’re something else, don’t you?”

Now, I know enough to know when my participation in a conversation is unnecessary, so I ignored her and got on the next bus that came by (it wasn’t the 10, but it was going where I wanted to go). The whole experience was a bit surreal.


Since I’m having trouble focusing on real work today, I just started filling out the Survey of Earned Doctorates which is a national survey given to everyone who earns a Ph.D. in the United States.

One of the first questions asks for the name and code number of your primary and secondary field of dissertation research. I listed my secondary field as “Economics” since my work contained lots of game theory. The code number for Economics is 666.

Coincidence? I think not.

Managing Email

I know that there are some people out there who make an effort to respond to Email as soon as it comes in. There are others who answer it by the end of the day. I am not one of those people.

I’ve always been pretty good at dealing with time-sensitive Email relatively quickly. But when it comes to handling Email from friends and family, I used to let it pile up for months. Even worse were those Emails that just sat there reminding me of something that I needed to do.

I’m getting better, though. For the last couple of months, my goal has been to have no Email in my inbox more than ten days old. After 10 days, I force myself to deal with the Email in some manner. I either reply, put an appropriate item on my to do list, or just delete it. I’m sure other people have different thresholds, but ten days seems about right for me. It’s long enough that it allows me to ruminate on what’s been said and contemplate an appropriate response, but it’s short enough that my inbox always feels “managable.”

How do you handle the deluge of Email? The best advice I’ve gotten (and the one which ultimately led to my ten day rule) is this: “Your inbox is not your to do list.”

San Francisco


I finally got around to downloading all of my pictures from the San Francisco trip this evening. I have a number of beautiful pictures, if I may say so myself, but this was my favorites. This is a picture of the atrium of the Hyatt Regency San Francisco looking up through the giant sculpture in the lobby called “Eclipse.” The Hyatt was the conference hotel for my conference at the beginning of the month; it’s a beautiful hotel, though rather out of my price range.

Woo hoo!

This afternoon I passed my final examination for the Ph.D. It went extremely well, I thought; even better than I expected. There were no questions that left me stammering at the whiteboard. All of my committee members were well-behaved. (Ha! Let’s hope they don’t read that and decide to retract their approval.)

I’m not really “Dr. MacKenzie” until I submit my dissertation, which still requires a number of additional changes, but I think that today’s defense was the last major hurdle. If I could only say the same for my job search, though progress continues to be made on that front, too. Unless I get a secret job with the NSA or something, there will probably be some announcement here when I decide what I’m doing.

Woo hoo!

Reinventing Undergraduate Education

“Phillip Greenspun”: has started “a weblog”: . This is exciting to me, as I’ve been reading Greenspun’s writing for some time now. He’s a great writer on photography, and I’ve also found some of his ideas on teaching computer science inspirational. It seems that the courses he teaches are centered around doing and building; I hope that someone will say the same thing about my courses in a few years. (If I ever find a job. Ha!) Anyway, it’s interesting to see that he now has a weblog, though I should warn you that some of the ideas he’s posted on his weblog are provocative and, I think, not entirely serious.

Anyway, tonight Phil “posted”: on the subject of higher education. He asks, “Why do colleges build dormatories? And teach half time?” In this posting, Phil raises a few good points. I think he’s absolutely correct that higher education must embrace and support group and project work, and I think doing so effectively will require fundamental changes in higher education. I’m not quite ready to help Phil demolish the dorms, though.