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Sleeping on the train, working during talks

The recent departure of a coworker brought me an unexpected trip to Denver this week. So I took the California Zephyr again--I haven't gotten sick of the train yet, and on short notice it was quite a bit cheaper than the plane.

Amazingly, I actually slept pretty well. I woke up a lot more often than I normally would, but I also got some good swaths of real sleep (with the bizarre dreams to prove it), and felt pretty normal the next day. I don't know whether it's because I've finally learned how to sleep on a train, or whether I just lucked out and got no obnoxious fellow passengers, or something else.

I remembered to bring a pillowcase (stuffed with my clothes) this time, which helped. Earplugs and a hat to pull down over my eyes were also good. And I kept a book close at hand--so instead of thinking on each reawakening "oh no, I'll never get to sleep again", I could think "maybe I should just flick on my overhead light and read a page or two"... and that would be enough to send me straight back to sleep.

My reading for the trip was Robert Sawyer's "Rollback", which disappointed me. A lot of the plot and dialog was transparently contrived to raise various issues.

I also had a copy of Brent Welch's thesis dissertation for some reason, but only made it through a dozen pages or so. I'm sure I'll make it through after I've put a few thousand more miles on it.

I got to Denver Sunday, which by coincidence was my dad's last day in Boulder. So he met me at the station, and we spent the day together. We did a little shopping in the morning, and then saw the Kirkland museum in the afternoon, well worth the visit. Every corner overflows with stuff. As I was looking through some ceramics in the basement, the director passed by with a dolly, explaining that he'd fell in love with a radio the other day, and, well, they obviously just didn't have enough, did they? Sure enough, a few minutes later he was back with a huge old-fashioned radio, which he wheeled off to storage, stopping to point out a bowl he was particularly pleased with on the way.

The two-and-half-day meeting itself was really dull. I mostly sat in the back and tried to do some work. But it's hard to do work that requires real concentration in that situation.

All my life I've been terrible at paying attention to lectures, so it's hard to be sure whether it's me or the speakers. If they start out wrong then I tend to tune out very quickly and never return. So the fact that the very first talk started with a good 10 minutes of organizational charts probably didn't help.


My trick for maintaining concentration during lectures is to take copious notes. The more bored I am, the more I write. If I disagree or am frustrated at the talk, I add editorial comments in my notes. Sometimes I'm surprised later by how interesting my notes are.