I noticed the Fab Lab has been in need of some more inventor spirit lately. So for Spring semester 2017 I’ve committed to doing at least one hack project a week. It’s also a way to reboot JAG85.com. Go take a peek to see what I’m up to lately!
As part of their first assignment my students answer some questions about the interfaces they prefer to use and also reply to a divergent thinking prompt that changes by year. Here are two insights from the last round.
Emphasis on Mobile OS
Despite Apple’s decision to give up entirely on advancing their hardware in any reasonable fashion (Touch screen function bar… why not just a full touch screen with real pixel space? Abandoning the Air, iMac and trashcan) and their absolutely atrocious continued decent into dongle hell (courage?) a lot of people, myself included, really still appreciate many features in their computer operating system. I’m excited to see the vibrant OSx86 community that’s going to grow out of a need to preserve it for use with modern hardware. Anyway, surprising to me, for the first time ever during my OS preference poling my students actually liked an entirely different category more overall: mobile operating systems. It’s been dominated by Windows vs Mac for so long that I didn’t really think that the category, broadly combined, could rival it! I worry this has implications for a diminishing desire for generativity and control integrated into good interface design… but that’s not what this post is about, just wanted to explain the pie chart. More interesting:
A Reminder of Institutional Power of Education
The 2016 divergent thinking prompt was this:
You’ve been asked to re-imagine the 4 traditional disciplines (math, science, history, English) present in much of the American school system. What would you replace them with? For instance, instead of having math class every year you could have art class or speech class or a class on civic engagement, etc…
Many of the answers were those that I’d expect, the ones that help make a case for informatics, interdisciplinary learning, application and project-based classroom spaces and so forth: gym class, practical economics, art (digital or not), engineering/problem solving open studio settings and contemporary history. All quite worthy considerations and great ways to disrupt the norms and potentially better prepare students for participation in society and the workforce.
But I like the radical ideas more.
What if every child growing up in America learned to garden? Or skateboard? Or participate in theater?
These are activities that we typically think of as extracurricular or secondary. But if every single person knew at least the basics of how to garden – we’d have this massive industry built around it, many houses would be structured around gardens (the opposite of now), we might have gardening reality TV shows and I’d argue we’d have radically realigned relationships with food production, sustainability, the environment and more. This is the true power of education. It’s not just that it teaches sets of skills or is a place to put students while the parents are at work, the socialization that occurs there is a reflection of values. We so often talk about it in terms of how problematic the system is in its present state, or changing it in minor ways to accommodate agendas such as STEAM or computational thinking but I absolutely love this whacky brainspace we get into when we think of everyone in America being a skater or gardener or actress. Or what if we all, from day one, emphasized learning to how listen to one another in dialogic form regularly? This is the kind of utopia (or maybe distopia?) I could get on board with. Or at least craft an interesting movie or book universe about 🙂
If you’ve found your way to this post first you might read the others in order:
Life is too short
My uncle died just after my second post in this series. It was an unexpected and somber reminder that we should all go see doctors regularly because health problems can be well-hidden. He died doing what he loved with minimal pain and, despite depression and misfortune at every turn, never gave up on spending every moment he could enjoying the outdoors and crusading causes as a naturalist. His passing became a stark indicator of how small-minded and narcissistic all of this has been, and really just how much it matters to me to be my ordinary positive and intense self. Not the hopelessly overly-analytic, insecure choke-collar’d appeasement hound the system (or the character I’ve rendered here) had made me.
People seem to like this parody masquerading as a journal because of the sheer emotional display punctuated with some attention to pseudo socio-cultural analysis so I figured I owed it one last entry before laying the whole business to rest. Don’t get me wrong, the emotions displayed have been real but I’m also not exactly in a hurry, nor am I truly worried about finding love again ‘before it is too late’ or something of that matter. In some sense I think this last episode is merely a lesson in self-respect.
Spending cash to be a creepy old man?
One of the breaking points I hit just before my Uncle’s passing was joining Coffee Meets Bagel. In most of these systems in towns as small as CU attractive women are inundated with hundreds of messages from users. I reversed a search on OKcupid to see how many guys there are around my age and it’s something around 3-4 times as many as there are female users. CmB seeks to mitigate this overage by just showing you a couple of matches a day, along with some optional ‘just outside your ideal range’ matches. You run out of bean credit for the optional folks very quickly, however, and I got my hopes up a little too high and did the thing I swore I’d never do: spend money on a dating website. After buying credit and saturating all of the options (just like I had on the other sites) it quickly became apparent that it works just about the same way as all of the others do: dozens of likes and short notes sent with no responses, juxtaposed to exhausting efforts attempting to be creative or interesting in profile and message design. This was disappointing, but what’s way, way more freaky is the optional pairings it now gives me. Nearly all of them are ages 19-23, which is
more than a decade younger than me.
My low-end is set to 25 (which is already a bit sketchy), and I even wrote their tech support asking if it could be changed (my students could show up on there!), but I think it’s the reality: in this college town there are barely enough people to fill up a couple of pages of Okcupid or PlentyOfFish, the secondary apps are bone dry when it comes to folks in their late twenties or early thirties. I confirmed my Chicago experience when visiting San Francisco for a week: in the span of just a few days I got as many matches on Tinder as I did in a month in CU. These services need a substantial (and diverse) population base to be useful.
Meanwhile, in Iowa, and other follow-ups
Transcendental Atheist Mormon: Why don’t they have yogurt for dogs called dogurt?
Me: Maybe they have and haven’t yet un-leashed it. There may need to be a brand for cats too before they release the product to the general pawblic. It’s a Greek idea that could contribute to the Chobani-fit of overall pet health.
This quippy reply is 400% copyright Holly Brown the goddess of all that is punnery and cosplay. I am a crowdsourced sham like no other – but she hit me back on this on the fly at 2 fucking AM.
Although a few weeks of Snapchat flirting gave a fun (but false) sense of appreciation and hope it became hollow after I realized the disproportionate effort I was putting into it. Kindred souls or not, distance friendships require people have enough bandwidth to connect. I’m not sour about it, I just realized I’m probably better off focusing on friends here in the now.
The “librarian” and I ended up becoming friends. We met for tea and have been talking on and off ever since. She might honestly be one of the only two good things that’s ever come out of the whole escapade.
The gardener ended up just ghosting completely. I told her standing me up, as well as the lack of later response, was disrespectful and defriended her from Facebook. I kind of wish I could do more to curb her behavior – she’s pretty enough that she’ll just keep getting away being like this to other guys and never having to deal with any real consequences.
Maker her feel something: by the numbers
You know I really liked this challenge at first – be interesting and compelling in about the space of a tweet. Here, let’s look at some data for all 5 services combined over 2 months:
- Matches made (in CU area, not counting SF/Chi or bots) – 22
- Tinder – 9 ( 5 replied)
- Bumble – 4 (1 message)
- Coffee Meets Bagel – 4 (3 replied)
- OKCupid – 3
- PlentOfFish – 2
- Total initiating messages sent ~ 58
- Total conversation strands ~ 30
- Initiating messages received (that weren’t just “Hey”) – 9
- Messages that weren’t just “Hey” that I have not replied to – 0
- Ongoing conversations that I’ve left hanging without answer – 2
- People I’ve politely turned down ~ 8
- Times I’ve been “Ghosted” in chat ~ 25+
- Redirected me to email/text/FB, then “Ghosted” – 5
- Dates canceled last-minute with no intention of rescheduling – 2
- Actual honest-to-god real life dates – 2
So as you can see I’m not doing very well overall. In the same time I had 4 invitations in face-to-face offline life that could have turned into dates. No luck there either: 2 evasions, 1 polite refusal and 1 TBD I suppose. Also – why the hell do people match with you and then not at least respond? This happens so often and feels like a tease :/ Maybe upon closer inspection I’m actually ugly… or just too transparent, which kills all the sexy mystery. Here, let’s check out some sample messages:
I thought these were good (but no response)
Hi Stephanie. So which national parks have you visited? I put up a bunch of vintage posters by Kai Carpenter recently (https://www.andersondesigngroupstore.com/shop-prints-kai-carpenter-collection.html) and had the realization that there a bunch in Utah that I never knew about (Arches, Bryce, etc). I also really want to camp out at the Dry Tortugas now – Google’s fault (https://artsandculture.withgoogle.com/en-us/).
So (Dee?) I don’t even know where to start – you have a really thoughtfully assembled and well-adjusted sounding profile… and life. So do you feel resigned working as a receptionist in CU and not in the midst of the wilderness? It sounds like you want to work your way into something like the Peacecorps in the middle of the Pacific (had a friend who did that – she came back married and with a child, so maybe not a bad path?). Anyway your comment about being less career-oriented and more inclined to have a balanced, happy life really resonates with me. My degree and role at UIUC have catapulted me into this spot where I have nearly unlimited control and outstanding opportunities… and yet lately I’m really just trying to connect substantively with folks who have a hefty share of empathy and curiosity more than ambition for their job. Anyway I’ll stop there – you seem really neat, I’d be happy to talk 🙂
Shmurr your profile is straight up charisma incarnate. Luckily I can play the Ukulele with sound synths on a computer, which probably makes me the nightmare version of your dream man. Glad you’re keeping up the sass, it’s a refreshing break from all of the people who chronicle every little bit of their Netflix obsession. Keep it up.
[Name] I… think we matched on Bumble but you didn’t message. Feel free to hit me back if you want to talk, according to OKC’s mildly arbitrary rating system we’d be best pals. If it was just intended as an acknowledgment of cuteness – thanks, the feeling is mutual 🙂 Cheers-
More were like these, rated “meh” (also no response)
Hi Bremaree. I know I already messaged you, but I’m trying again because you seem worth the attention (and you looked at my profile, thnx). I also work in education – and I’m not sure if you mean board games or sports games or videogames, but my gang of friends does all of those things too 🙂 I’d be happy to talk, drop me a line sometime. Cheers-
Hi (Peper? Makes me think I could be Iron Man?), how goes the job search? Or should I not ask? 🙂 I like that you try not to take yourself too seriously – I think that’s been my saving grace in jumping into this whole online meeting game. I hope your animal prompt (what you spend a lot of time thinking about) wasn’t inspired by The Lobster – that movie… was not what I expected it to be. Anyway seems we have a lot in-common, I’d be happy to talk, here or any other medium. Cheers-
Hi Sweetpea (yikes, I feel… almost condescending opening with that?), what makes you want to work on minimizing your weaknesses, instead of, say, maximizing your strengths? Do you get into a lot of trouble for some of the ways you are?
Hi Acat. One of my best friends in town here is also all about pickles. He’ll walk around during parties with a jar trying to get us to eat them. It’s kind of gross but adorable. I’m totally with you on the defining favorites bit – changes every time I fill something like that out. Anything you’ve been digging lately?
Some messages that actually led to something substantial
So if I’ve understood your name right, you’re a Cheshire cat? (actually, just looked at two clips on YouTube, I don’t know that he ever laughs or meows, just grins in a frightening fashion). Hi Cheshire, I’m Jeff and I’d like to listen to your future podcast. What will be the topic?
Hi Swede, been up to Starved Rock yet this fall?
Hi. So how’d your garden plot go this summer? I moved into a house recently and it’s got gobs of garden space and I have no idea how to handle it.
Hi Anna. So how much of a deal breaker is it if I’m unreasonably afraid of Tango?
In conclusion, message content barely matters
Asking questions, effort or creativity appear to have little to do with success. Generally I think it’s as Anna eventually described to me – a combination of being good looking and catching a person in just the right lucky moment. Turned out the data verifies my experience:
OK Trends, a blog with some of the most interesting studies of inequality and social interactions that I’ve ever encountered found that women are just brutal to men in their attractiveness ratings and that a very small minority of women receive the vast majority of the attention. Interestingly for all the failure of men crafting messages it seems women are hugely successful when they bother to reach out (save for some strikingly sad racist undertones). This is perhaps why systems like Bumble should be outstanding, but might be troubled, because often women don’t have to bother to initiate, they can just fish guys out of the veritable river flowing by them at any given time.
She sings to me
And then, surprisingly, in the midst of all of this the system actually worked. It was a fluke, but I couldn’t dream of a more beautiful burst of inspiration to keep me going. I ran into Anna Leon, a world-famous traveling tango instructor with more Facebook friends than god and talents to rival one (dancer, painter, singer-song-writer, photographer, interior designer). Within the span of a few messages she invited me out to join her for hookah in the middle of the night and we begin what became the most intense three week relationship I’ve ever had in my life. We knew it was only for the time she was visiting in CU so we spent every day together, as much time as we could. Beyond dozens of social-emotional connections in that period she taught me to dance, inspired comprehension of my 35mm lens, redid my entire wardrobe, painted me a piece of artwork that redefined my living room and totally blew away any and all understanding I had of… things I ought not to share too much about here 🙂
The biggest gift she left me with, however, was a brutal and necessary reminder. I have this tendency to get self-depricative or leave insert cautionary words/tone into my interactions when I perceive adversity during could-be romantic exchanges. Stuff like “Hey I know you’re not [whatever], but I was hoping we could [whatever]” or “Sorry to be [blah], what if we [blah]” and so on. She just stopped me one day and said:
Whatever the limitations of the CU landscape might be it doesn’t mean I don’t get to have self-respect. It’s hard when you’re the initiator and creator of all things in the rest of your life to let go and trust that others will care about you and find you worthwhile or chase you back romantically. It’s even harder to do this when the social norms (and data) suggest that stepping back will leave you lonely and without attention or any kind of validation in your romantic life. And it’s even harder for me, a person whose friends groups are disintegrating who may have even lost the very person who gave him this advice.
It goes back to the original catharsis I blundered into when Uncle Mark died. Life is too short. I am who I am and people should meet me where I am, just as I want to meet them where they are too. I’m going to be intense as fuck and care about others like crazy, even if it doesn’t ever “work out.” I am unabashedly, unapologetically some broken mixture of socially-motivated, savior-mentality-stricken, undiagnosed ADD scrambled bewilderment and
Now, time to get off this silly internet soap box and go run an ops meeting. Next blog post will be academic, I swear.
Since a lot of people seemed to appreciate my first post on putting my failures at online dating on display, I thought I’d keep it fresh for those who were curious what’s happened since. Quick summary of everything I’m about to say:
I’m wrong. A lot.
A cardinal sin
One of the things I’ve realized about myself in recent years is that while I’ve had perhaps a little too much experience talking to people in-person and online my instincts are right only maybe 75% of the time. That former GSLIS person I was talking about? Yeah she actually did eventually answer me, and it wasn’t even awkward until I fucked it up. We kinda-sorta even hit it off for a minute as we discovered common-ground and made it to chat-on-another-medium status (there could be badges for this, I swear) and set a tea date. But then she had to throw me off by getting all responsible and clarifying shit:
Her: Also, definitely still on for Thursday, but also feel like I should be forthcoming about the fact that I’m mostly just into meeting new people in a friendly capacity at the moment! As long as you’re good with that, let’s drink all the tea!
So I was understandably bummed and toggled the sad-idiot switch:
Me: That’s okay. I mean I’ll be forward in saying yes I think you’re quite attractive and probably someone I’d get along with, but I also know romantic interest emerges over time. I get the impression you went through a divorce at some point (sorry photos = viewport into life; some stick out more than others; I’m too curious) and get why you might not feel ready for it yet. Or I guess I could equally see you having too many suitors to deal with and that being stressful. Either way I’m fine to get tea – you honestly seem like someone I’d like to meet regardless.
Which was complicated by her definitely not being on for Thursday:
Her: Ahh! Jeff! Is it possible to rain check this evening? I’m so sorry, I promise it’s not a blow-off! I worked 7-5:30 yesterday, and I’m doing 7-6 today, and I’m just beat!
Sounds fine, right? It is, but note the lack of suggested alternative plan. I didn’t think it was ever going to come but that was my fault this particular time, because:
…I am also pursuing something with another person, and have been for a couple of months. In the past week or so, it’s taken a turn from casual to not so casual, which maybe explains my hesitation–I don’t want you to feel led on! Also though, it’s been a bit disconcerting to have you speculate/analyze why i might not be interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with you instead of just accepting that I’m not, or asking me for my reasons. I’m not mad or particularly put off or anything, but it WAS a little mansplain-y. We don’t know each other well enough for you to know much about me…“
This is the part where I, a person who hopes to identify as a feminist, just get depressed. She went on to make suggestions about how I could interact with her better and mostly I just wished there were cliffs in Champaign-Urbana. I had meant for the speculations to work as hooks for conversation and stories, as she hadn’t been replying to me all that much but god did that backfire. It seemed like I was telling her how she felt. I was assuming she wouldn’t be able to independently express herself on her own. I apologized and tried to explain and eventually got over my shame and rallied, but sheesh, the feels, they were not so good on this one.
Too good to be true is probably too good to be true
As for the unbelievably attractive one that I was so excited about we did talk back and forth a little bit. I had the wherewithal to drop her a link to the previous blog post and she said it was funny and explained email was a better medium for deeper conversation for her. Fair enough, I fired off a starter and the response… well here, look:
Her: I am not a very formal person when communicating with someone one on one in this fashion; that being said please excuse my casual tendency if you find it bothersome in any fashion. Also, I apologize for my tardy responses. I am busy and do not always reply same-day. Others find it frustrating however I am upfront with my communication style. If you do not wish to deal with this then you do not have to. It is that simple.
<interesting part about what she struggles with as a burgeoning adult, having too many choices and the need for financial independence>
I do not do google hangouts. I am not a particularly social person. When I am home I like to be left alone. I work with the public and find it taxing. I do not like to be around others once I am home. This is also a relevant topic in regards to meeting sometime. I am open to that however you should know that right now is not the best time for me. I am quite busy with work and school currently. I have been working 55+ hours a week and balancing class and studying and I pretty much only have one day free a week and I use that to study and read and run errands. Free time is a luxury I currently do not have. However if I ever wake up one morning and feel the desire to get a late night cup of cocoa I will reach out to you.
So what does this say to you? Shutting me down and shoving me off, sure, but dig into this for a second. Why would she even be active on Tinder and invite me to talk? Suddenly I’m wondering if the part where she indicated she’s 26 with multiple degrees and working in law is true. I did manage to rally a positive response back but I’m pretty sure this one is dead in the water.
The idealized outcome
What is the idealized outcome for an online dating experience anyway? You get to know someone a bit chatting, resolve to meet up and from there on out it’s just like life in-person, right? Except for that part where you’ve implied the other person is attractive to you, if it’s never overtly communicated. And maybe it’s hard to know at first – attraction grows over time, but really while these systems seem to me like they’re very good at matching up folks as potential friends, they don’t create sparks.
The “gardener” turned out to be someone I really like. We met for tea, walked around talking for nearly three hours and she came to visit my Labor Day party the following day at got along swimmingly with my friends, even staying after I left for a meeting. We texted here and there throughout the week. This is the ideal, right?
Well, this past weekend she bailed last-minute on our plan to go dancing and stopped responding to texts or even a phone call the following day. I know, it could be a million things and I should be patient, because if she’s anything like I think she is she’ll make the effort to get back to me and make up for it. That said I think it’s probable she’s trying to reconcile her lack of a reciprocative spark.
Imagine the scenario with me. You’re relatively new in a town, having trouble meeting people and a well-meaning lad with a gaggle of boisterous friends reaches out to you and invites you in. You yearn for the social inclusion and by all measures on paper you’re a good match. To add to it in-person he even seems like a decent dude and is honest about romantic intentions. But he’s not attractive, physically. What do you do? You’re not this shallow, right? Should you just be honest and hope he’s not resentful and still welcomes you in? What if you later like one of his friends instead? Why do they even include the “looking for friends” box on that website to begin with when you can’t even be sure until you really meet? You tried to do it the responsible way but there’s no easy way to reject someone compassionately, is there.
I know, I know, you’re wondering if I learned anything from my man-splaining speculation stunt earlier. I got bailed on twice in one week, do you really expect me to have a lot of confidence about my self-value right now? It’s not coincidence if it happens time and time again guys. Luckily I have a rowing machine and pull-up bar. They’re health-inducing hope of the Colbert-style “enhanced truth” variety.
But what of the transcendental Iowan?
Well I shared with her the first post and she didn’t reply for a long time so I thought I was doomed but turns out I just write too much for rapid replies (surprise?). This evening she introduced me to snapchat and the concept of atheist Mormonism and I couldn’t be more elated. The best part: we’re going to start a club for people who suck at meditation. Sometimes I really like being wrong 🙂
This. This is why I… snap this? (yes literally)
Chin up yo!
I have a fear of dancing. Nevermind what dating a Latin@ does to make you feel like you need to be better than Spanish-mode Buzz Light Year, I’ve been this way for ages. It’s really hard for me to be around the right people to just let go and move without being judged. My roommate, Chin, however, is
THE MOST TALENTED DANCER I KNOW.
No, not because he’s got moves – of course he does – but because never have I ever seen another person on this planet who can make others feel as welcome and comfortable and worthy and full of joy on a dance floor as him. He’s been with me every step of my whining-ass way about how girls don’t love me and when the gardener didn’t show last night and he could see I was about to melt into a puddle of sad on the floor, he instantly befriended a spectacular crew of theater folks and just brought it all out. He spent three hours fueling circles, literally pushing me into a cute girl (don’t worry, she turned out to be 9 years younger) and getting everyone, from literally grandmothers to children to whirl. I couldn’t be more honored to have him as a friend.
Chin. Chin is also why I
do dance this.
Well here I am nearly 3 years later in a strikingly familiar place. A significant other leaves for their home country, on relatively good terms, and I’m single again. The “girlfriend shield” that enables me to be my normal “unlimited-friendly” high-energy self is gone and I’m readily annoyed at the prospect of bottling up my emotions to not scare people off. My friends group is of course dissipating and I’m not at the top of anyone’s list to hang out with anymore… and I can’t complain about that because historically I’m the one making the list. A popular Oatmeal post on the falsity of happiness as a dichotomous state compelled me to write again.
Anyway this post isn’t so much about my happiness, that’s been going up and down (which is good?) more than usual but I’ll be fine. Nope this one is about psuedo-social-science observations of ICT-mediated-
Last time I tried online dating I quickly became frustrated with sending out dozens of messages and never receiving any responses or having anyone seek me out to initiate conversation. The one date that came out of it revealed a lot of what online chat can’t reveal so I quit it and found someone in real-life and it was great. This time around, after considerable insistence by friends and my sister that online dating has changed and can really work, I’m giving it a go.
AND OH MAN IS IT SUPER NEATO BUT STILL HOPELESSLY DYSFUNCTIONAL!
I’ve complained about this stuff in the past, but the difference is this time I’m going to use real live examples from my actual life. Yep, I’m still fearlessly (able-white-male-privilegely?) my open self. I figured if I’m going to do this I’m going to do this, so I jumped into several systems (in order, overlapping: OkCupid, Plenty of Fish, Bumble, Tinder), made consistent profiles and started interacting. I used my actual name as my username (JeffGinger) and wrote robust (but not too long?) descriptions that made it easy to identify me and get an idea of who I think I am. I already knew this was a mistake – honesty and lack of mysteriousness + emotive qualities (stoic dudes are the stock-light attraction go-to) – but this is who I am.
By the Numbers
To get a sense of my activity: I’ve been one these things for two weeks, sent probably 20 messages, gotten 5 responses and had 5 people initiate conversation with me. I’ve been looking for people ages 24 (had to bump it down to get results, originally 25) to 35 (also bumped it down, originally 38). I have yet to go out on a date, but that’s not my current metric of success.
BloNo is way hotter than CU
The first thing I noticed is just how small the dating pool is if you limit it to a town like CU (25 mile radius in my case). On OKCupid I’d get just a handful of options, mostly–yes I’m a horrible, shallow person for saying this–overweight and/or unattractive women. This is half of what had killed me the first time through. SO this time I set my radius to the maximum distance I’d be willing to drive regularly (an hour, includes several cities nearby) and BAM everything changed.
CU has a very transient population. My impression (speculation) is that most of the single people my age (32) here are grad students or international and it is very easy to meet people in face-to-face life (I’ve been doing this successfully for over a decade here). Online dating therefore becomes the resort for the desperate. It’s also freakily familiar. About one out of every 15 people local was someone I recognized (many current or former GSLIS) and might see occasionally. What do you do with that? You both know the other is there, right? Click on their profile and say hi? Avoid them religiously? I’ve found no good solution, but this time, like last time I ran into the issue, talking to one of them resulted in no response and even more awkwardness.
Anyway when I broadened the scope, and jumped into sites like Plenty of Fish everything grew exponentially. Bloomington-Normal has ISU, which specializes in education, and many moderate-size companies so there are lots of late-twenties + early-thirties women there. Other places, like Danville, Mattoon, Decatur or Indiana have many more women with some college or associates degrees and single moms or divorcees. Working at the Fab Lab has helped me to understand education level isn’t a great predictor of passion and emotional intelligence (very important to me) so the sheer diversity of this has been an outstanding discovery. I really don’t want to date other people with PhD’s – they’re usually not in my culture.
Bumble, by the way, which I think works great in Chicago with 100 times more people, has been a total failure. I haven’t been even matched to someone on it, much less had a conversation. I run out of profiles to review in just a few swipes. I really love the idealized feminist form of ladies lead, but I think the social norms are still too broken for it to work outside of big cities. Tinder, on the other hand – which I am not using to ‘hook up’ and has many more users in this area – has resulted in women initiating messages with me.
What is it to be polite?
If I walk up to someone in-person and say “Hi, how are you doing? My name is Jeff, pleased to meet you” they will almost certainly answer. Online-dating makes even these sorts of interactions optional but this is nothing new and I’m not bothered by it anymore. I’ve personally decided that anyone, regardless of how attractive they are to me, who messages me with a reasonable message deserves a response. But I have been failing a lot. Here’s one specific exchange:
Them: Your profile sounds really really interesting. I am a grad of [school] with my bachelors. I’m going to [school] this semester so I’m really busy, but I’d like to know are you interested in me maybe hanging out with your friends with volleyball?
Me: Well, I don’t know that I’d be interested romantically, but you’re certainly welcome to come join us on Wednesday evenings for volleyball. 6:30p at the sand courts, Stadium and Oak in Champaign.
Them: What turns you away? You are not the first to say that to me. I don’t think I want to play volleyball now.
Me: Sorry, I know my message probably seemed a little curt – I just don’t want to give off any false impressions or lead anyone on. I haven’t used an online dating system in years and have no sense for the etiquette. I guess the norm is people just ignore one another a lot, but you sent a reasonable message and I felt it would be rude to not answer. Truthfully I don’t think my evaluations should matter very much to you, I don’t think you should feel self-conscious because one random guy says he isn’t interested. It’s okay to forget me and move on. I do hope you can find someone!
As you can see, not great. Being up-front might be more honest but I really get why people just don’t answer. But I’ve also noticed that ghosting is an egregious norm, even when things are going well. One promising woman disappeared on me, we had been talking for a bit (on Facebook, she initiated) and then:
Her: Hi Jeff! I didn’t want to be a jerk, read you msg and not respond, but I just got home from work and not feeling very good. Apparently what I had for dinner tonight is not agreeing with me, so I’m going to try to head to bed. I do look forward to chatting with you tomorrow and glad I’m not creepy for finding you on fb. I hope you have a wonderful night.
Me (next day): Hey, feeling any better?
Me (days later): Well… I’m guessing you lost interest (or maybe expected me to message more earlier?), but if not feel free to drop me a line here, I’d still be happy to talk. Either way, thanks for reaching out.
I mean we all know that food poisoning is the go-to lie for short-term evasion, but what the shit? The answer, later discovered by comparing her OkCupid description to the one on Tinder, is that she’s one inch taller than me and she won’t date shorter men. That’s okay – I’d rather be unattractive physically than have it be about my personality I suppose.
I was reminded a day later when talking to a friend/coworker that it’s not just online dating, it’s just online talking that has this problem. She and I had been vaguely talking about hanging out for a week or so, here’s the last text conversation:
Me: [name] if you’d like to go get a drink or get something to eat together tomorrow evening I’d be happy to join you. No worries if the offer is too weird or inappropriate, I totally understand.
Her: I’ve got ladies night tomorrow night 🙁 I’m sorry
Me: S’okay. I think I’m free Saturday too, if it strikes you.
For the record – and I’m pretty sure she knows this – I was not asking her out with romantic intention, but we had never purposefully hung out one-on-one as friends before. Note how much I unnecessarily had to pad this damned thing. Giving the “I understand if it’s weird” or “if it strikes you” – she never answered and never will. I’ll see her in-person and never bring it up. Because here’s the thing: she doesn’t want to actually hang out, despite saying she does in the past week. Actions speak so much louder than words. If this person wanted to see me they would say something like “Hey, I’m busy tomorrow but what about __ day” or at least “Hey, I’m busy, but I appreciate the offer and let’s make sure to figure out another time.” When I was in GSLIS I referred to this as “speaking librarian” – my shitty job is to read between the lines to understand what she means through a polite refusal followed by lack of follow-up/response is that she is not interested and I need to bugger the fuck off. This is exactly what I get annoyed with – I shouldn’t have to be so worried about scaring other people or being friendly. It makes me sad that I’m so rarely worth their time.
You are easy to identify
People may think it’s strange that I use my real name on these services. I get that women have this totally alternative world of worry about rape and safety so I’m not going to talk about being flattered by being stalked – but I am assuming people will find me on Facebook as a 3rd-party evaluation. We present our best “romantic” selves in online dating, Facebook is likely a more “real” representation, and that’s’ fine. I’ve been consistently finding that with just one or two pieces of information – a school, a job, an organization combined with a first name – I can find their Facebook profile. So far this has been good. It gives me “secret” information about who they are and what they’re into and, in one case verified they’re not a pornbot and in another helped me to understand they’re actually much more attractive than I realized. The anonymity is a lie, but it’s probably still good to have it there – if nothing else it’s a forced mysteriousness.
On my profile I write “I’ve never dated someone with children, but I work with them all of the time and feel like I’d be open to it.”
My sister: NO NO NO. They’ll hate you like I hated our step mom! Think of how horrible I was to her! You don’t want to go through that!
Me: But most of them have kids that are like 3 to 5! They don’t even know how to hate yet!
Sister: Oh but they will! You will inspire it!
Gardening is sexy, transcendental Iowans and HOLY FUCK GIPHY
I have no idea how to garden, but thanks to my recent move to a house I have one. I started a conversation about gardening (felt like I was being about the maximum boring I could possibly be) that I didn’t expect to pan out but it was notable in her profile and I had no idea what else to go on and I feel like I can improv well. Oddly – it didn’t matter, she stayed with me and kept conversation going. I’m so awestruck when people on these sites actually give a fuck and work with you, when so few people do. I know, I know, all you hot women have a thousand suitors and it’s just too hard to care all of the time, but really I think the fastest way to make me fall for you is show a disdain for apathy. She, fetty lass, also cleverly used a pretty-but-not-too-flabbergasting-so photo of herself on her profile, I found out later that she was not only quite intelligent and well-adjusted but also quite breathtaking.
One of the best moments I’ve had yet was with a sort of hippie-idealist woman from Iowa. She’s too far away for us to reasonably date, but shot me a message asking if I was a former Mormon. Besides making me worry in an interesting way about how I make impressions on others it got us into some conversation. She was so focused on the right parts of living an emotionally and physically healthy life – it was resoundingly refreshing to read about and hear from her. We could both honestly declare attraction for one another, in-part I think because we’re both too far away to really make a real relationship out of it. I sincerely love earnest expression of emotions and self, it’s really rare. Besides this it roused an interesting possibility – she plays piano and if I could get a hold of a MIDI file from her it would be super cool to try to play with my BS soundsynth gear again to make something together. Accidental triggers of forgotten passions are also my favorite.
It occurred to me that maybe the reason I suck at this stuff is that my messages are too tame. I’ve been working on being “librarian-compatible” for so long that much of what I send is harmless-sounding and banal. It’s boring. I’ve already been doing most of the ‘right’ stuff without even thinking about it – messages related to their profile, compliments not about appearance, using their actual name, not making it too long, ending with a question, etc… but this article got me really thinking.
Make them feel something.
What a fucking cool challenge. Yes, yes I will use this as my new mantra. It’s probably going to get me into gobs of trouble and I couldn’t feel more excited about it 🙂 The latest escapade: a girl who is so outstandingly stunningly beautiful that I couldn’t believe she’s not a pornbot (verified on Facebook she’s real) matched me on Tinder. This had to be a mistake – she has two degrees in different fields, works in yet another and looks like this and actually thinks I’m attractive?? She’s into sci-fi and geeky stuff?? WHAT IS GOING ON??? So I freak out sprinting in circles knowing this will probably never turn into anything and read her little description about being unsure what to do with her life but not wanting others to tell her what to do about 15 times and respond and… here you can just read it:
Me: Your profile reminds me of an Oatmeal comic I read today – about the failures of happiness as a descriptor… how we’re never really in the permanent state.
Me: I just joined Tinder a couple of days ago so I’m figuring it out too.
Me: Anyway having just gotten out of my twenties I feel like I’ve just become more Zen with the tumult, but maybe some of us just invite it more than others.
Me: What are some of the things you’ve been having trouble figuring out about life lately?
Then an hour later still thinking about it I realized I’m an idiot and it sounds like I’m setting up to mansplain. FUCK. Desperate attempt to recover:
Me: (don’t worry I’m not asking intending to tell you what to do)
Me: (also I like the fun patterns on your clothes on Instagram. Did you make any of them?)
No response. I figure I’m fucked so what the hell, here we go. 6:30a I’m up on 1.5 hours of sleep, have to help run sessions at a conference in Peoria on the way out the door. I snap photos of some of the cool art on my walls with my “brilliant” idea:
Me: Okay. I think I’ve been doing this wrong. Please select your destination:
And here’s the part where I thought I’d be able to make a GIF out of the photos, but find out you can only use certain pre-selected compositions from Giphy:
Me: Well that’s embarrassing. It only lets you use premade GIFs. Not a virus or spam I swear – short URL http://gph.is/2bYfsuj
And I assumed my Tinder profile would be reported and deleted by the next day… but I at least found the whole episode to be really funny.
But then the unthinkable happened. SHE RESPONDED!!!!
This person who seems like she is far good to even exist acknowledges my existence?? I still have no idea if we’re actually successfully talking, but holy crap nothing has gotten me this excited or engaged in years.
THIS. THIS IS WHY I AM DOING THIS.
I will probably never get online dating to actually work for me but holy balls is it interesting as all hell. It’s also kickboxing my emotional state but I really do feel like I’m living, and that’s fucking cool.
I feel really compelled to mention that throughout all of this I’ve had a real friend – whom I’ve only been able to communicate with online or on the phone – who has
given force-fed me hope. She wouldn’t want me to say her name but all of this complaining I’ve been doing about people sucking at caring and between-the-lines bullshit she’s listened and kept me grounded. I couldn’t be more flattered and honored to see that she cares about me so much that she’s willing to stand on soap boxes and write almost as much as I have here in this entry. Her honesty, resolve and loyalty is unrivaled and she inspires me to keep being so.
This. This is also why I
do live this.
Thank you T.
In 5th grade my primary teacher had each student in his class independently come up with an invention. Parents were allowed to help but it had to be mostly driven by the kids themselves. Mine was a golf putter with an aluminum tube attached to the side that could hold and deploy balls that would enable you to rapidly practice putting and assess the nearby ground. This was probably the kind of project that ultimately helped to propel me into the worlds I’m in now.
I only remember a few of the other kids’ inventions – mostly the ones that were really bad. Some kind of pizza turn table and a basketball hoop with a laundry basket mounted on the bottom. Makes me wonder what enabled and inhibited creativity in us back then.
Anyway I was reminded of all of this during our past winter holiday family outing when my 10 year old cousin and I deployed what we affectionately dubbed “the bowling stick” – a 2 meter long flimsy PVC pipe with a confusing, twisted assemblage of pipe parts and pads for chair legs attached to the bottom. It was the invention of my Aunt, who really intended it to be a low-impact Adaptive Bowling instrument that required a little more skill than a ramp that she and my grandmother could use. For my little cousin and I, however, it breathed new life into bowling like nothing else could have. Normally the game seems pretty predictable: you fling a ball down the lane, aiming for the center pin hoping to knock them all down… and after regular practice can get spares and strikes quite easily. There’s little in the way of thrilling competition or real athleticism involved, I get the sense that it’s more about having an easily interruptible game medium that can serve as a pseudo-escapist way to punctuate conversation.
Enter the stick. Neither one of us knew how to use this thing, and while it felt a little like hockey it was much harder to control the heavy ball. It was adjustable and you could use all kinds of techniques to send it down, amounting to a substantial amount of silliness and chaos. Anyway I thought it would make an excellent updated version of the 5th grade invention project:
- First and foremost it could be used as an excellent excuse to teach physics and engineering – angles and spinning with the ball, bending and tensile strength of the stick, force created from different swing techniques , friction of various surfaces and so on.
- As a kid I would have been pretty bored by talking about this kind of physics until we actually had to apply it! And that’s the beauty of this thing – you could take what you learned and attempt to make improvements to your technique and the actual construction of the device, and then observe and test them in an iterative and scientific method type fashion. What happens when you add more or different prongs on the end? Alter the wheels or put pads everywhere instead of just on the bottom?
- A variety of models could be developed around each kind of ball propulsion technique, with advantages and disadvantages and instructors could help students to learn that it doesn’t have to just be about speed or efficiency. Perhaps the controlled-instability and unpredictability makes the game more fun. Might there be other improvements, like making it height-adjustable for multiple players or able to hook on to a table without falling over? How might the aesthetics alter the experience we have using the stick?
- And this of course could build into other related projects: can we make a new off-shoot of bowling based on this stick? What makes a good game? What would it take to make a Kickstarter out of it? Do we need to create a video and how do we categorize and present the features or benefits? How can research data be collected about health impacts, possible damage to the floor or other issues that might come up?
Anyway just a thought. I’m not really qualified to be a full-time teacher for 10 year olds but if any of them want to come to the Fab Lab to pioneer a bowling stick, just tell them to drop me a line. I sent the same cousin home with an Arduino this year. $10 says she loses or breaks it, but maybe, just maybe, she’ll get to thinking about what to invent with it 🙂
I love CGP Grey. And Hank and John Green on YouTube. But I don’t think a customized version of this sort of thing is the ideal future (or solution) to education. Here’s my take – start by watching this video:
Two experiences come to mind:
- I teach (and previously attended class) in the Graduate School of Library and Information Science at UIUC (GSLIS). It’s regarded as one of the most highly-ranked schools in the country and has many cutting edge programs, including a distance learning system known as LEEP. While LEEP isn’t exactly what he’s talking about here it has many characteristics in common – the school acts as an intermediary for providing learning materials, assignments, guidance on subjects and evaluations, at a comparatively lower cost for all involved. Students generally pursue these materials on their own timeline (save for a 2 hr online class held at a regular time) and largely in front of a computer screen. One of the biggest problems with LEEP (in my opinion, though we have some research on this topic) is that students find it harder to be engaged when they’re stuck in front of a screen instead of amongst peers in a classroom. We try to counteract this by having on-campus days for in-person activities, which usually go well, but fact of the matter is their motivation is often less because they’re often less committed to participating in a class. Students listen to lectures while doing their dishes, slack on doing online readings and so on. And these are top-tier masters students. It’s easier for them to not care because we trust them to do more self-guided learning and we don’t check on them as much. I don’t think this problem is endemic to online learning, I think there’s a lot of variance in how much people actually enjoy learning at all. Many of the undergrads at U of I aren’t here because they like or want to learn, they’re here because it’s the path that’s been laid out for them.
- I’ve had a few years of experience teaching classes in informatics in GSLIS for both graduate and undergraduate students. A lot of the time we’re working on technical application skills, like building websites or learning to code, and since this stuff moves at a pace that’s too fast for even me to keep up I do a lot of referral to online learning resources like videos and sites like Lynda.com or the Khan Academy. I do what I can to inspire ideas, answer questions, provide interesting, challenging and realistic assignments and create an environment where students work together and feel supported. I encourage only self-driven potentially-independent individuals to enroll. Even in this environment I’ve noticed that as many as half in a given class has difficulty driving themselves to evaluate and make the most out of learning materials out there. They often have trouble caring about it given all of the other classes and deadlines on their plates, especially when it’s a “learn at your own pace and work at will” kind of setting.
So, as you’ve probably guessed, my issue with CGP Grey’s idea here is that he’s missing three big issues that relate to education:
- Motivation – This varies a lot by individual but often times people can’t be entirely (or optimally or joyfully) self-driven. They need to be paid for work, get recognition for it by others, or find it constantly relevant to their in-the-moment tasks and challenges. Online learning faces a myriad of issues with motivation. Look into Nicole A. Cooke’s research for more on this issue. I think many of the people who learn online effectively in technical fields have inherited motivation and self-teaching strategies from prior in-person schooling in their early years. If my college (and above) level students struggle with this I can’t imagine what high schoolers and below in socially excluded settings go through.
- Socialization – Another reason we have people in school is to teach them how to participate in society – as part of the workforce, as citizens in countries or communities, and as individuals. Online learning doesn’t provide as much of an opportunity for this, and I think it can even be dangerous. I make all of my kids learn about how racism, sexism or homophobia relate to technologies, regardless of if they want to because it’s part of our duty as educators to work to do so. If a learner gets to just pick and choose material Ala-cart online they’ll avoid this total package that I think is so essential to holistic and contextual learning. If we make them take ‘perspective-taking 101’ how can we assure that they’ll ever advance past the first class? How do we even know this kind of thing can be taught without real human-to-human interaction? How do we prevent ‘personalized’ from becoming ‘isolated’ in negative ways?
- Edutainment – I’m not really convinced the internet is going to have any less interference and distraction than TV, radio or the other technologies that have failed to be our saviors in years past (see the 2:30 mark in the video). How many hours have been lost to people watching cats on the internet? There’s a reason that educational material is not the most popular – there’s not as much money there. Many instructors already feel pressured to be especially entertaining to compete with this stuff, I think this will happen on the web too. TL; DR is one of the most infuriating expressions of this I think I’ve ever run into.
So, ultimately, what am I saying? That we shouldn’t have personalized online learning? No, not at all! Does a Digital Aristotle program have a place within schools? Absolutely. Is it a good idea to split kids up by ability within given subject areas, instead of age? Sure. Can self-guided learning be powerful? Probably more so than any other type!
I’m saying I’m excited to see models where we can solve issues with motivation, continue human-to-human socialization and avoid being pwn’d by digital capitalism. I don’t know what these are yet but they’re certainly not a bunch of kids just being plugged into computer sockets in a classroom (or at home) with no real teacher. As much as the fallout from standards might cause problems (like exams being a horrible method for assessment) I think having some sense of what we want all students to know and do is useful. If we are going to implement systems like Digital Aristotle let’s be careful about ensuring they can work with an entourage of strategies to ensure well-adjusted, adaptive learners.
I do a lot of things that I don’t realize are odd, I think. A couple of stories:
1) Back in college we had a great community with a lot of trust and freedom. It was the fourth floor of the non-substance dorm, Snyder, where we all lived along a hallway and left our doors unlocked. Since we’d go hang out in each other’s dorm rooms frequently it was nice to see what people were up to first online – the usual stuff like video games, movies, playing guitar, homework, etc… We took this to a level beyond simple texts or instant messages though – four of our dorm rooms were equipped with webcams that could be easily viewable online. At some point I even put together a webpage where people could see all four rooms at the same time. They didn’t reveal the entire room, so people could still have privacy, or cover the camera, but I think it speaks loads about our perceptions of privacy and comfort. This was in the same time as the debut of Facebook when everyone was very open on this system, categorically listing details on themselves for the sake of a search system built around them. I know we were privileged as boys who were unlikely to be raped or robbed, but sheesh, it’s a stark contrast to the atmosphere nowadays with the NSA and identity theft and so on. In some ways it makes me nostalgic – I like friends wanting to come visit me and generally want to have nothing to hide.
2) Many people are annoyed with the lack of eye contact with webcams. You look at their picture on the screen and see one another looking slightly above, below or to the side. Luckily I’m absurd and have dual display computers, and have solved this problem. I pin the camera between the monitors, right in the center, and move the Skype window so it spans between the two. It doesn’t always fit the other person’s face position perfectly, but it helps me look right at them and the camera at the same time. As an added bonus it hides the picture of myself, so I won’t pay much attention to what I look like when speaking, which feels more natural. I wonder how long it will be before we have cameras behind the screen!
Just some disorganized thoughts on this one. So we have this concept called STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education – where the US falls short according to many measures (though, interestingly, our national report card has yet to include engineering until recently). People invoke it as a kind of mandate frequently, and to what purpose matters quite a bit:
- If the question is should we be doing things like trying to get more socially excluded populations into engineering – I’d say absolutely yes. This has as much to do with how we broadly socialize women and people of color to participate in society as it does how they experience education (yes, this too is part of socialization, I realize).
- If the question is if we should emphasize STEM activities more in schooling – I’d say maybe. I wonder what STEM is in opposition to (or an advancement over).
First off, what are we missing if we break it down by basic subjects?
The humanities, social sciences, languages and the arts.
Scratch that, we’ve got STEAM, advocates who take the position that design is what makes innovation in any STEM field possible – I’d agree on all accounts, except for say, math.
And, actually, there’s an interesting similarity between Art and Math – they both gain considerably more value when embedded in application. Math for Math’s sake is about as relevant or job-related as Art for Art’s sake, I think. Graphic design to communicate ideas or make interfaces more usable – or – statistics and predictive algorithms to make experiments possible or to solve problems – these seem to ring more true to innovation and “usefulness” for me.
Update: Er, scratch that too – according to the NSF “Science” here includes the social sciences. I think many people aren’t including these when they refer to STEM, however. Anyway, continuing…
So, generally, do I think we have too much emphasis on the social sciences, languages and humanities in schooling?
- Well, at the K-12 level I’m not sure we actually have any significant social science. I mean sure there’s geography and social studies (which is history, really) but generally I don’t see a lot of psychology, sociology, anthropology and political science in high school – and I think actually it would be great to have more of those. In high schools like mine the tests we were being taught for (ACT/SAT sure but also more importantly AP tests) didn’t include those, they included emphasis on base subjects like math or English.
- Languages, I think offer another similar dimension. Sure learning French or German is probably less useful and a sign of privilege or specialization. But you had better bet Spanish, Portuguese, Russian or Chinese would help you greatly in the future economy and job landscape.
- And then we land on the humanities. Generally I’d say that we teach the same American-centric history too many times and that English focuses far too much on making sense of written texts instead of the grand entourage of media we engage with today. These issues aren’t an unsolvable problem, though, we could just focus more on contemporary history and on cultural studies that think of “text” in a multimodal kind of way. And both of these areas help to emphasize important subset skills – perspective taking, critical inquiry and rhetoric – or the effective expression of ideas.
So, really, I’m not ready to say we should deemphasize them. I would, however, be ready to suggest that we replace Math class at the high school level with Engineering class – where advanced math would be taught but always in application to something – integrated into practice where possible.
Second, what are these disciplines (or subjects) really about? I feel like we’d be better off to think about it in terms of literacies or skills. What kinds of competencies do we want our students to have coming out of an education system. STEM, to me, suggests the following:
- Science – Experimentation, causality and empiricism, internally consistent truth
- Technology – Well, for me this is digital literacy, and I’ll get to in a second
- Engineering – Problem-solving in an applied context, most often with physical objects or systems
- Math – Problem-solving and algorithms in an abstract context
So, really, I’d agree that we might not be focusing enough on some of these skills, but I’d also say that they’re not any more important than others that might be cultivated by the humanities and social sciences – critical and creative thinking, expression and perspective-taking and so on.
Digital literacy is hard to really reconcile in all of this – I see it as a composite of skills and perspectives – but on another level you could think about just pure competency in being able to manipulate tools as a fundamental. That is, everyone should know how to type, use a mouse and find information on the internet. In my dream world I’d rather say everyone should know how to question the black box, reverse engineer, remix, program, control a 3D interface, draw with a mouse, present stories on the internet and so much more. As you can see my categories already branch into any number of the skills and areas mentioned above.
So, in other words what’s this really about?
I think it’s about an assumption of mapping schooling to jobs. We have great demand for jobs in STEM (and STEAM, really) but not so many in the humanities like history, English and cultural studies or social sciences like sociology, anthropology and political science. And, really, that wouldn’t be a problem if the humanities were like aviation or sculpture, where only a few people go in, make it out and land jobs, but instead we have situations like UIUC, where our highest enrollment major is Psychology (1150 students in 2013), but there is probably not that much demand for people in psychology-related careers. Similarly we have a rather high count of people in communications (742), political science (552), and animal sciences + vet med (applied but probably not that many jobs – 923). Engineering, science and business majors dominate the majority of enrollment, comparatively. The other “useless” majors aren’t actually as populated as you might expect – English (323), history (217), sociology (207), anthropology (126), global studies (195), recreation (163) and so on. Though you do see interesting things like 300 PhD’s in computer science or 90 PhD’s in English but that’s a different issue.
So, at the end of the day – I think I want to go back to just focusing on ways to integrate engineering and other practice/problem-solving based learning into all curriculum for kids and focusing on areas where we have inequalities, such as women enrolled in engineering, or, from a different perspective that’s important to me in particular, men (or extroverts or people of color!) in library science. 🙂
- For coding – you could learn HTML/CSS but I think it might be more helpful to learn an introductory language like PHP (and MySQL for databases to go with it – this is what WordPress is based on). There are many free online resources, start with W3C Schools and go to something more serious from there. More hardcore (application-specific) people may tell you to go for Python or something off of this list -> http://www.hongkiat.com/blog/sites-to-learn-coding-online
- Graphic design – I have a book that’s trapped in storage in Glen Ellyn right now that has a hundred great design challenge prompts. Tasks like make a mail-order army of robots. I’ve done a few and like it, but I think learning how to operate fancy-pants programs is as much of a challenge as figuring out how to make things look good. One route is to learn to make great looking designs using simple tools, like Powerpoint 2010 or 2013 (better the newer you go) or another is to just start following scripted tutorials for Photoshop or Illustrator. Try learning the pen tool to make paper cutting designs, you can make money better than Kay Wahlgren and help dad retire. I can probably get you any Adobe program you like, or try Inkscape or Gimp (the true we-have-no-money route).
- User Experience – See if you can get into this class -> https://www.coursera.org/course/hci. Don’t bother with the assignments, just watch them. It’ll teach you concepts behind usability and user testing methods. Or you could try reading The Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley. My professor uses this to teach composite design in LIS (an interdisciplinary field that likes people!).
If you need projects I have plenty here for you, but I suspect you have a network up there that could use the help 🙂 Hope that helps!