Monday, May 20, 2013

Days 0-2: Celebrating & Recovering

Saturday was my graduation from my program and let me say: I was grinning like an idiot. That day was exciting, difficult, exhausting, and rewarding on so many levels. As many of you know, I also moved out of my house. That was supposed to be Friday, but instead became Saturday at 9:30pm.

Regardless, I was lucky to be celebrating this occasion with my boyfriend, my parents, and my three best friends, as well as other close family members. Graduating was wonderful, as expected. I was completely blown away by the graduate student speaker, as well as Holly Gordon, our commencement speaker. I was less pleased that the Provost mispronounced both my first AND middle name. Believe me, we all joked about it and rolled eyes after the ceremony. It was a beautiful day and I could not have asked for more. Even the prospect of having to return to my home for final packing, moving, and cleaning could not damper the happiness that had me on a high.

We finally packed up the house, cleaned like hell (this refrigerator has never been cleaner, short of being brand new), and made our last run to storage. We hit the road north to Rohnert Park around 9:45pm and found ourselves staying at the sketchiest motel in existence. The room was non-smoking, but had a hint of cigarette smoke, there was a tube of lipstick and a wad of gum shoved down the drain of the sink, the shower light was on disco mode, and I was certain that I would pull back the sheets to find pubes (luckily, I didn't). Partway through the night, Stephen woke up to turn on the air, only to remove the air filter by accident. Needless to say, we did not stay for breakfast the next morning and hightailed it out of there to join some friends in Healdsburg for brunch.

After brunch with our friends and their 2 totally awesome sons, we back-tracked to Santa Rosa to catch the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California. Stephen was such a sport, letting me give him a crash course in professional cycling and putting up with my geeking out over all the gear on display and the racers as they zipped through downtown on their final two laps. He even went so far as to put me on his shoulders so I could see Andy Schleck ride by. I was basically in heaven. We met with Bob, met some of his family, and then grabbed lunch at 3rd Street AleWorks. Kirie, a very close friend from undergrad, joined us for lunch; it was so great to catch up with her. As always, it felt like no time had passed.

We continued north to Willits, at which point I realized I had severely burned my shoulders over the two days of constantly being in the sun with no coverage or protection whatsoever. I'm now convinced that this is one of those burns that serves as the tipping point for cancer. It's bad enough that raising my arms above shoulder levels crinkles the skin and hurts like hell. No amount of aloe vera is going to make this burn go away.

The hotel in Willits was monumentally nicer, as well as the drive up there. Halfway between Santa Rosa and Willits, the burger, fries, and beer kicked in and I was out cold within a minute of switching seats with Stephen. Twenty minutes in the hot tub and two chapters of leisure reading (Sex at Dawn) and I was out cold again.

Despite waking up at 6am for who knows how long, I was able to sleep in until 9am. Absolutely unheard of. We drove through the redwoods to the ocean at Ft. Bragg, had lunch in a cove (including a deep fried Twinkie), and stopped at Cabrillo Lighthouse before heading to Orr Hot Springs. A lot of driving, but easily one of the most relaxing days I've had in AGES.

It still hasn't dawned on me that I'm finished with school and that I won't be returning in the fall. I'm in limbo: taking some time off and recovering before heading back to work and entering the job-search market. Fingers crossed that something comes my way that proves beneficial and exciting!

Tomorrow, I'll be heading back to Oakland to drop Stephen off for a week of work, before heading to South Lake Tahoe to see my cousin for a few days. I'll try to be better about the blogging, but I'd like to spend most of my time reading and finishing Cameron's graduation present. I just need to remember to put on sunscreen.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Dear Old People Who Run The World

My generation would like to break up with you.

Everyday, I see a widening gap in how you and we understand the world — and what we want from it. I think we have irreconcilable differences.

You wanted big, fat, lazy "business." We want small, responsive, micro-scale commerce.

You turned politics into a dirty wordWe want authentic, deep democracy — everywhere.

You wanted financial fundamentalism. We want an economics that makes sense for people —not just banks.

You wanted shareholder value — built by tough-guy CEOsWe want real value, built by people with character, dignity, and courage.

You wanted an invisible hand — it became a digital hand. Today's markets are those where the majority of trades are done literally roboticallyWe want a visible handshake: to trust and to be trusted.

You wanted growth — faster. We want to slow down — so we can become better.

You didn't care which communities were capsized, or which lives were sunkWe want a rising tide that lifts all boats.

You wanted to biggie size life: McMansions, Hummers, and McFood. We want to humanize life.

You wanted exurbs, sprawl, and gated anti-communities. We want a society built on authentic community.

You wanted more money, credit and leverage — to consume ravenously. We want to be great at doing stuff that matters.

You sacrificed the meaningful for the material: you sold out the very things that made us great for trivial gewgaws, trinkets, and gadgets. We're not for sale: we're learning to once again do what is meaningful.

There's a tectonic shift rocking the social, political, and economic landscape. The last two points above are what express it most concisely. I hate labels, but I'm going to employ a flawed, imperfect one: Generation "M."

What do the "M"s in Generation M stand for? The first is for a movement. It's a little bit about age — but mostly about a growing number of people who are acting very differently. They are doing meaningful stuff that matters the most. Those are the second, third, and fourth "M"s.

Gen M is about passion, responsibility, authenticity, and challenging yesterday's way of everything. Everywhere I look, I see an explosion of Gen M businesses, NGOs, open-source communities, local initiatives, government. Who's Gen M? Obama, kind of. Larry and Sergey. The Threadless,Etsy, and Flickr guysEv, Biz and the Twitter crew. Tehran 2.0. The folks at KivaTalking Points Memo, and FindtheFarmerShigeru MiyamotoSteve JobsMuhammad Yunus, and Jeff Sachs are like the grandpas of Gen M. There are tons where these innovators came from.

Gen M isn't just kind of awesome — it's vitally necessary. If you think the "M"s sound idealistic, think again.

The great crisis isn't going away, changing, or "morphing." It's the same old crisis — and it's growing.
You've failed to recognize it for what it really is. It is, as I've repeatedly pointed out, in our institutions: the rules by which our economy is organized.

But they're your institutions, not ours. You made them — and they're broken. Here's what I mean:
"... For example, the auto industry has cut back production so far that inventories have begun to shrink — even in the face of historically weak demand for motor vehicles. As the economy stabilizes, just slowing the pace of this inventory shrinkage will boost gross domestic product, or GDP, which is the nation's total output of goods and services."

Clearing the backlog of SUVs built on 30-year-old technology is going to pump up GDP? So what? There couldn't be a clearer example of why GDP is a totally flawed concept, an obsolete institution. We don't need more land yachts clogging our roads: we need a 21st Century auto industry.

I was (kind of) kidding about seceding before. Here's what it looks like to me: every generation has a challenge, and this, I think, is ours: to foot the bill for yesterday's profligacy — and to create, instead, an authentically, sustainably shared prosperity.

Anyone — young or old — can answer it. Generation M is more about what you do and who you are than when you were born. So the question is this: do you still belong to the 20th century - or the 21st?

Umair and the Edge Economy Community

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Some Nuts & Bolts

As I sit here, writing this post instead of writing a final paper, I've just gotten back on Facebook and there's a lot to be filled in to the masses. Rather than tell all of you individually, I figured I'd lay it all out here and you can ask me your related questions on your own time.

1. I'm moving.
That's right. We're moving out of our beloved place. Between the growing crime and issues with the neighbor and the landlady, we've decided it's time to close this chapter and begin a new chapter in a new home. We're moving our personals into a storage unit (as well as to the homes of several friends) and then...

2. I'm graduating!
Yes, for a second time. The whole point of this blog was to track and inform people on my adventures in graduate school and what it means to be a policy wonk. Now, I've reached the end and will celebrate with my schoolmates, our families, and our friends. If you're in the Bay on the 18th, you should come celebrate with us! I have a little surprise for folks, so if you want it, join us! After graduation, Stephen and I will hop in the car and hit the road because...

3. I'm traveling for 6 weeks.
I'll be leaving for a tour of the Southwest on May 18th. I won't be back until late June/early July. I'll be spending a week in Colorado for Cameron's graduation before a jaunt down to San Antonio for 2 weeks. I'm looking forward to seeing friends and family and spending time with Cat before her deployment. After San Antonio, it's up in the air as to where we'll go, but we'll slowly make our way back to Oakland to...

4. Look for a new place to live.
Don't worry, Bay Area. I'm still coming back to your warm, open arms. Once I get back, I'll be home-hunting and crashing on couches for a bit (if you have one open for me, I'd really appreciate it). If you have any leads for the Lake Merritt/North Oakland/Berkeley/Albany for $1500 per month...send them my way. :)

If you have any questions for me, feel free to ask! Want to help me pack & move things to storage? Cool! I'll give you beer! And finally...

5. I'm having a yard sale on Saturday!
So cruise on down to my place for furniture, books, clothing, kitchenware, and some other odds and ends. We'll be set up from 10am to 4pm, so stop by anytime! Message me for an address or anything else you want to know.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Day 3, Post-Thesis

DONE! But not quite.

After a multiple day rally and hours spent in the lab, my thesis was submitted and I can go about my life. Only not, because I'm spending today cranking out two papers, one of which is due today by 3pm and the other due tomorrow morning. THEN I can say I'll be done.

But this is also not quite true, since I still have an exam on the 16th. But to be frank, no one gives a crap about that one. Many of us have even been trying to convince the professor to either cancel the exam altogether or at least move it up to a more reasonable date. After all, most of us in the class are graduating and no one wants to sit for an exam TWO DAYS before graduation. Sorry Larry, but I've got more important (re: packing & moving) things to worry about. Sadly, he's not budging.

The end was pretty anti-climatic, I must say. I had to reformat my report and then print it out (which I accidentally did single-sided). My report came out to 60 pages, including my appendices. Most likely, it was one of the longer reports. I also have some regrets about it, which is apparently normal. Now that I've had a few days to rest and focus on other things, I've been distracted by the fact that this report could have been infinitely better. I can't get over the fact that my analysis has many shortcomings and that I didn't go more in-depth. I realize, of course, that I was asked to look at several things and there was no way that I could have covered each of them sufficiently, given my paper constraints. The more I think about it, the more each topic could have been its own report. Looks like I have another memo to write, in light of these revelations.

But for now, I'm going to go back to cranking out these last two papers and continue to inventory my belongings and who gets what when it comes time to pack & move. Which, by the way, is 11 days from now. That doesn't even seem possible and yet it's fast approaching.

To the other side! (I'm serious this time)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

T-15 Hours

Tonight is probably one of the last late nights of my life (because I can't imagine getting away with this in my future career, whatever it may be). It made me a little sad in realizing how close the end is. Then again, I've felt this way at the end of every school year, so it shouldn't come as any surprise.

At this point, the content on my MPR is complete and I'm spending tonight futzing around with my figures, maps, and appendices before I print and submit sometime in the next 15 hours. Michaela and I have been holed up in the lab since about 8pm last night, with various people floating in and out while we work. The staple has been the potluck meals (pizza, pasta, and chocolate) and the various drinks. While there have been the usual soda and coffee drinks, the favorite is easily the mimosa. Because of this, we've dubbed our work nights as "Mimosas and Meltdowns". Though, I should point out that there are rarely any meltdowns when mimosas are present.

My little camp-out in the Reinhardt lab. 
I hope you didn't think I was joking about our arsenal of supplies.

I learned several years ago that my productivity is highest between the hours of 10pm and 5am. This can be pretty difficult to pull off, since the rest of society operates on an 8am to 4pm schedule but somehow I've managed to make it happen each semester. I spent much of last night finishing the body of my report. Of course, I switch back and forth between writing and playing a game or checking email. There was even a short break to watch the new episode of Nashville, sometime around 3am when it was finally posted to Hulu. I sent off my work to my various editors (you know who you are) around 7am and proceeded to nap on the couch for about 90 minutes before I went to class. I contemplated not going, but I was guilt-tripped into attending by a dream I had. I think the universe was trying to tell me something. It proved to be a good idea, since I got some assistance from my professor on how to wrap up my formatting.

I only paid partial attention in class and still managed to lead the majority of the discussion at one point. I guess that quarter can of Redbull paid off. That was easily my worst decision in all of this. My stomach was knotted up and I could feel my veins, pulsating, on fire. I now remember why I swore off the stuff last year during my senior thesis.

After class, I worked until about 2.15pm on my maps before heading home for a nap. I had this grand plan of sleeping for 6 hours, coming to school around 9pm and churning out the last of my report. My body had other plans, as it always does. There was no hope for me sleeping more than 3 hours before I was roused awake, made food, and came back to campus where we continue the collective writing festivities. I occasionally look up into the right corner of my screen and am reminded that it is still early in my productivity window but it is still no excuse to waste time (even though I'm blogging away over a glass of mimosa).

So, I guess this means the next time you hear from me, this paper will be done. All I can think about it how anti-climatic the print job will be. I'll be standing there, body weight shifted to one side, talking to Michaela about one thing or another while I wait for it to print. And then it will be this physical thing that I will binder-clip together and drop into Mark's box.

And that will be the end.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

I Never Thought I'd Say This

But my brain is incredibly fried from all the various transportation research I've been doing this year. It's one thing if all the research is about transit or bicycle/pedestrian or ride share. But it's been a convoluted mass of everything transportation, short of addressing congestion and freight. This woman needs a break.

Luckily, that break is SIX DAYS AWAY.

Yep, that's right. The semester and, more importantly, my academic career is coming to a close. I've knocked out two presentations, am wrapping up my thesis, and have two papers and a final presentation to conquer. I'm not even counting the so-called final exam (clearly I'm not concerned) I have two days before graduation.

The adrenaline is kicking in, the nights will be sleepless, and I might be a little cranky this weekend. But the realization that THIS IS IT is starting to sink in. Mostly in a happy-excited sort of way, but also a daunting-scary way in that I haven't found a job, am moving out of my house, and will be traveling immediately after graduation. I have thrown caution to the wind and am submitting myself to whatever adventure awaits me on the other side of that stage on that glorious meadow where I've spent the last five years. It's sad in that I won't see many of these wonderful people as often as I used to, nor can I rely on people telling me what to do. Looks like I have to make my own decisions and call my own shots from now on.

I know I wasn't the best at keeping you updated; you can blame my commitment to my academics for that. I appreciate all the support you've given me and the questions you've asked. Your curiosity and inquisitiveness has given me the opportunity to reflect on my experiences in a different way and have offered new perspective on the challenges that lie ahead. I promise that as soon as I submit my MPR on Friday, I'll give more updates. Besides, I will still have papers to write (late into the night, I'm sure) and a house to pack, so I can guarantee there will still be interesting things for you to read about. Who knows? You might even score some furniture or books from me if you check into the blog in the next week or two.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Rant

My dad was wearing a bright yellow jersey and two blinking lights when he was hit by a driver about two hours ago, as he was leaving home for a ride. The guy turned right into Dad and kept going, not knowing that he hit my dad, a man who is 6'1" and about 170 pounds. He only stopped when a witness raced after him.

Dad went to the hospital in an ambulance, while my mom followed. She brought clothes, food, and water, already knowing that they are going to be in the hospital for awhile. This is not our first rodeo. Dad was hit in February 2007 by a driver on his cell phone. He had several vertebrae cemented together but a mere 2 months later, he was back on the bike.

Right now, they're waiting to hear back about x-rays and CAT scans. The bibs had to be cut off and he's got road rash. Dad's coherent, so there's not too much for us to worry about...until results of scans come back. He could have internal injuries or fractures. And if that's the case, his livelihood and his summer plans for next month are completely ruined.


These accidents shouldn't happen. But they do. ALL THE TIME.