Last week-end I finished reading Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures, a book about the African American women who helped launch America’s first astronauts into space. If you’ve seen my previous posts, you’ll know that I’ve been quite engrossed in this book, which is about something that I thought I had next to zero interest in.
Don’t get me wrong — I have a reasonable interest in maths, science and historical events; and the age-old question of what is really out there? has some portion of my curiosity, but space exploration has never rated very highly on the list of things I’m interested in enough to actively and independently research. (What would be on this list? Sounds like it could be a whole other post on its own, but probably stuff that affects my day-to-day, or stuff about why things are how they are. But in truth, I don’t think I’ve done much non-fiction reading, web browsing or other “research” since finishing formal education.)
I guess space exploration, to me, was always something a bit pie in the sky compared to immediate problems like climate change and poverty in developing countries. Shetterly even mentions in the later chapters of her book that the space race left some African Americans of the time quite disgruntled, wondering why their country was so concerned about getting into space (and spending millions of dollars on it) when there were Earthly troubles to be addressed, like why they were still being treated as second-class citizens.
So why did I read this book?
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Some time ago (has it been weeks or months? I’m not entirely sure. Timelines have become something of a blur, and perhaps not always relevant), my department was granted access to a new lunch room at work. We have been segregated from the main pharmacy since April (?) so we cannot use the kitchen space there. This new lunch room has the added perk of having a TV, so in my lunch breaks I sometimes watch TV.
Sometimes I watch the news, or a random cooking show, or some snippet of a random movie (SBS shows “world movies” during the day). If I can’t be bothered watching anything, I just put on the radio (ABC Classic, of course). Initially I browsed a lot, and I discovered that ABC have a channel dedicated to educational shows for primary and secondary school students, covering a broad variety of topics from physics and chemistry to history and social sciences. Often I watch this channel because I find it is more informative, interesting and useful than the news.
The other day, the program that happened to be on while I was having lunch was Lest we forget what? — a short show about the WWI Gallipoli campaign. I almost didn’t watch it because it is something that I was taught a lot about throughout school …or so I thought.
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I have been in middle management for about a year and a half now, and there are still times when I wonder if I’m doing this “managing” thing right, or if I’m really cut out to be a manager. But I guess the day I stop wondering how to do things better is the day I stop improving (and there’s always something that can be improved on).
When new people start work in my department, there are a few things I tell them, regardless of their role or their previous work experience:
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On my drive to work in the morning, when traffic is starting to get bad, I’ve noticed that I’ve developed a habit of tracking my progress relative to the cars in the next lane. I think I’ve always had a tendency to read other people’s number plates (being the compulsive reader that I am), but it was just out of interest to see what words or phrases I could come up with, or to see what personalised plates people had.
But in the mornings, after I enter the freeway, I commit a few number plates to my short-term memory, and try to figure out if my usual lane is faster, or if I should switch (and then switch back when needed). Often it’s a bit of leap-frog, and I think the overall difference is not significant enough to warrant manoeuvring through traffic when so many other cars are already jumping between lanes. Sometimes I think that I should have changed lanes, but sometimes I’m quite glad I didn’t.
In recent weeks, when I notice that I’m doing this progress tracking, I stop myself and wonder why I do it. Is it just my competitive side coming out? Is it my need to analyse everything, perhaps with the intent of making my commute more efficient? Or am I just trying to make this repetitive trip more interesting?
Sometimes when I get to these questions, I stop looking at the number plates of other cars, and I just tell myself that I’ll get to work around the same time either way — just relax and enjoy the ride.