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respite

Posted Jan 27 2009 7:13pm

I have about two weeks of vacation left. All attempts to find a PCA/PCT job with area hospitals have met with complete failure. It's around that time where I should be looking for GN (graduate nurse) positions instead, so I suppose I'll just focus on that and hope one of those potential employers has some PCA or PCT positions open.

In a couple of days I have a speaking engagement. I love this sort of thing. I'm supposed to visit one of the other community colleges in this state to talk to their nursing students about setting up a Student Nurses Association chapter there. I'll try to remember to bring a camera and a tripod. I'm not going to come with a powerpoint slideshow, as I mentioned previously I'm not a big fan of them. I might put together a short handout with some relevant information (web links, etc), along with the chapter toolkit booklets I scored at our last convention in Kansas City, MO.

Some time this coming semester we're planning on visiting area middle schools to get younger students interested in nursing by educating them about who we are and what we do. I'm still trying to think of techniques we could demo for them. Bandage wrapping would fly, straight-caths not so much. Heh. Anyone have some good ideas of nursing skills to demo that are non-invasive?

When I do this sort of thing, I tend to speak extemporaneously. Having note cards or an outline to work off of cuts me off from the audience in a way I find disruptive. As a result, I tend to ramble, forget something, move on to another topic and then reintroduce what I forgot when something else reminds me of it, but as long as the audience is listening to me and not taking notes, that tends to work out just fine.

This seemed to be a powerful tactic during our last annual NSNA convention. During the debates on resolutions, people stepped up to the microphones to deliver their Pro or Con statements armed with notecards. The first time I stepped up to that microphone and saw thousands of student nurses staring at me, the rationale for this was clear: it's intimidating! Waiting in line to deliver your canned statement, however, didn't take into account the dynamic nature of a debate, and people routinely found themselves wasting their time on the microphone delivering statements that have either already been argued or made irrelevant by the flow of the discussion. I had a lot of people I'd never met before come up to me and thank me for saying the things I said. It was a great experience, and I look forward to repeating it in Texas this year (in march).

This difference in debate style has a couple of instructive correlations. Puzzling over the difficulties that some of my obviously brilliant classmates have with our programs academics, it seems to be the same sort of issue. We're not being challenged to merely learn, we have to put what we've learned into context and adapt our understanding to changing circumstances. Another correlation that offers itself from my nearly two decades as a musician is the skill of sight-reading. Being able to play a piece of music the first time you see it is a radically different skill from taking it home, noodling with it for a few days and coming back ready to perform it. Being comfortable enough with your instrument to simply play without any music in front of you at all is another thing entirely. Both modes of operation have obvious uses, but being limited to one is a liability. I say this fully realizing my bias towards the extemporaneous, the impromptu and the empty-hand is it's own liability. "The fool who persists in his folly shall become wise", I suppose.

So, during this period of respite, I thought I would go over a few of the things I do for fun. Leisure activities, I suppose you might say. In truth, many of these things are activities I take more seriously and invest more of myself in than the "work" of life.

The main thing is Go. It's a board game. It's also called Igo in Japan, Baduk in Korea or Wei Qi in China. Wei Qi means "encircling game", the etymology of the other two names are not clear to me.

The rules are deceptively simple. On a 19x19 grid (you can also play on 9x9 or 13x13), black and white take turns placing stones on the intersections of the grid. The empty spaces next to the stones in the four cardinal directions are called "liberties". If a stone or group of stones has no liberties, they are removed from the board. When both players decline to take a turn, the score is calculated by adding together the number of liberties that are surrounded with the number of prisoners captured by each side.

That's it.

It sounds simple, and it is, but the strongest computer program ever written to play it can only play at the level of skill it takes the average person a year to reach with regular study. This is because the iterative way that a computer approaches tasks is well suited for a game like chess or checkers, which only has 10-30 possible moves for each play, but not well suited for Go, which has 360-n (where n is the number of stones on the board) possible moves. Since a board position can have three states (empty, black stone, white stone), the number of possible board positions (not counting the board positions that wouldn't occur in the course of normal play, like a board full of white or black stones) is 3^360. For context, most estimations I've read for the number of atoms in the observable universe place the figure somewhere around 17^77, a number that's orders of magnitude smaller. It's almost mathematically impossible for two games to play out exactly the same, each ending board position is unique, like a snowflake or a fingerprint.




Go goes by another name in China and Japan, a metaphorical one. "Shou Tan" in Chinese and "Shudan" in Japanese. It means "Hand-Talk", and it's an apt description. Go is a game over which strangers can instantly become friends, it's said. It's true, I've experienced this several times.



It's also a game over which the unsaid becomes apparent, a kind of metalinguistic reflecting pool. A collaborative rorschach test. Reaching a certain level of familiarity with the stones might have some implications in your relationships, if you're lucky (or unlucky) enough to have a partner who plays.

It's been theorized that one of the other uses for the game was as a divination tool. The board is sectioned into four quadrants of 90, the four seasons of the Chinese Calendar. The number of board positions is equal to the number of days. Further information on this isn't available, I wonder if it's been lost to the ages..



For the past year or so, Go has been a kind of shelter for me. An activity that has no beginning or end, a way of speaking that succeeds where language fails. Supposedly there is clinical research in China that suggests that playing Go is an effective form of stroke rehabilitation, as well as generally strengthening the brain functions that are referred to as "right-sided" (wherever they're actually localized).

In any event, I try to teach the game to as many people as possible. It's popularity has been in decline in Japan for a while, and according to the newsfeeds that trend has started in Korea as well. Professional Go players are becoming a dying breed, and it's not hard to see why. Potential Pros start their academic training for the game at an early age, it's not guaranteed that they'll become a Pro, and what they learn doesn't really translate very well into other academic skills (although I'd argue that it strengthens a lot of reasoning and judgment skills). The game persists, though. If you're interested, check out

The Interactive Way to Go - a wonderful interactive tutorial to get you started

The Sensei's Library - A voluminous Wiki, useful to beginners and Pros alike

GoProblems - An interactive, commentable database of Tsumego, or Practice problems.

http://www.gokgs.com - The KGS Go server. My favorite place to play, very friendly towards beginners with lots of teaching games offered (more useful than reading about the game)



I mentioned music already, so I suppose that's next. I've been playing one instrument or another since I was very young. Piano came first, and I'd definately start a child on that instrument, since it imparts lots of understanding of music theory, as well as being generally beneficial for cognitive and neuromuscular development. Violin came next, but I abandoned that after middle-school because I didn't really have the posture for it. Trombone started in elementary school (the year after violin), and I played both instruments for school at the same time. Trombone is what I spent the most time on. I got to be pretty damn good at it, if I may say so. I got a Jazz Improv award in High School, enjoyed the heck out of Marching Band, got to travel around to NCAA basketball games with the pep band in College (nothin' like a free hotel room), and even beat-out music education majors for solos in one of the marching band shows in college. I had some great times playing the trombone, but unfortunately once I left university I shelved it for a few years. I'm forever meaning to pick it up again, it's sitting in the corner of my room glaring at me. Long-tones, I just have to remind myself..just play the long-tones and you'll get your chops back. Anyway, I'm currently awash in a love-affair with turntables, drum machines and experimental noise music. I DJed at my local watering hole for 2 years or so until Nursing School forced me to give it up (spinning mostly acid-jazz and trip-hop). I did some great live sets on the radio with a couple of like-minded primates, and ended up recording about 6-10 CDs worth of stuff I'm more or less proud of. My instrument of choice is the Korg Kaoss Pad, a programmable X-Y controller that lends itself to improvisation and noisy creative weirdness. My former band-mates (we called ourselves "flashmod lovebomb" and "the billy corgan trio" at various times) have all gone our separate ways, which is a shame since we were really starting to pull something interesting together, but such is life and at least I have the recordings to refer to if I ever pull the motivation together to get back into it. So much easier with other people around, isn't it? Music has been taking a back-seat in my life lately, mostly due to ennui related to the events of my life for the past 6 months or so. I don't even listen to music in the car anymore, preferring either talk-radio or the spectral tones of a detuned radio set to AM.





Video games are another thing I have a great deal of fondness for. I take a lot of flak from some people for liking them, but I think they have made and will continue to make a contribution to society that is difficult to ignore. A lot of the same resistance to video games echoes the resistance to movies, television and radio in different times and places. Those objections aren't totally without merit, of course, the birth of radio and fascism were only separated by a week or so, I've heard. Still, for better or worse, the speed and resolution with which we can share and detail our narratives continues to rise exponentially from the days when the printed word reigned supreme. Rather than "Video Gaming" I've adopted the current industry moniker of "Interactive Storytelling", since that seems to fit better. I still say video game a lot of the time just so people know what I'm talking about. Note that an actual story doesn't have to be explicitly told by the game, even the most lo-fi or abstract game can tell a story in your mind.

Currently I'm fond of Roguelikes, a style of game that originated in the 80s with ancient *nix terminal systems. The genre continues into this modern age of 3d hardware acceleration and fancy graphics. I keep up with those games too, of course, but all too often good gameplay and good storytelling take a backseat to merely serving as a vehicle for forcing you to upgrade your graphics hardware or buy a better console.



I'm also big into Indygaming (like independent music or film, but for games) for many of the same reasons, you can check out my gaming feed Here, which aggregates a number of indygaming newsfeeds with one commercial gaming newsfeed.

There's a whole constellation of other things I'm interested in, of course, but these make up the bulk of my actual leisure activities. A lot of my reading is targeted towards philosophy, gender studies, maths, shamanism, futurism/eschatology, the occult, neuroscience, biomedical engineering, the psychology of religion, neuro-linguistic programming, conspiracy theory, stuff like that.

My leisure activity lately has mostly consisted of social bookmarking like digg.com, reddit.com, fark.com and the like. Browse, browse, browse, find what's weird, find what's new, hit refresh, wash, rinse, repeat. It's an activity of idle nervous agitation, when I don't know what else to do with myself. I suppose there's worse ways to spend your time than reading and absorbing information, but there are so many other things I could be doing!

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