december, 2002

Sun Dec 1 19:13:03 EST 2002

I think I've finally lost my tolerance for cold. Perhaps it's just dormant, and I certainly hope so, because I'm going back for a full month (or so) in a few weeks! But the subzero (Celsius, the scale that makes sense, in which water freezes at zero, not thirty-two degrees) weather was just brutal this past weekend. I dealt with it. I put on lots of clothing (new orange sweater! new jeans! let's hear it for early Christmas, the day after Thanksgiving, shopping with your family) and sucked it up, and never did much walking outside. But I complained the entire way, took hot showers twice daily (my new water-wasting but thoroughly lovely ritual), and, since I didn't have my Daunendecke, slept under about six blankets. It was damn cold!

... And quite good to be home, however briefly. I still kind of felt the Spectre of Swat hanging over my head, and was slightly worried about the work I wasn't getting done, but on the other hand, if I'd really needed to have gotten all that done, I wouldn't have gone home. It was good to be home, even in the cold, drinking lots of wine and cooking (sweet potato cheesecake! really good cranberry relish! and other exciting squash things that involved fresh roasted chestnuts), seeing friends and family, learning to knit (on 4 needles at once! but it hurts my wrists) ... good, in short, not only to have all the amenities of home like lingonberry jam and my favorite orange juice, and relatives paying for new clothes and dinners, but to be away from Swarthmore.

I've been upset these past two weeks, just on edge and misanthropic. I certainly felt it coming on again this afternoon on the airplane, with Villanova girls on their cell phones and terrible tourists talking loudly about inane things, but in a way less laser-beam directed at the newly ivory-towered freshmen and their games of misery poker. I have three more days of classes and three weeks before the break, and this I can deal with. Hopefully this much needed finishing of the best chardonnay Flo knows with my mother, drinking white wine, sake, and sapporo with my dad's end of the family, and gin and tonics and beer at cozy Madison bars with Stoll and Ari will have cured some of this angst. Mint brownies and catching up with the girls tonight. I can do this last bit of the semester.

Mon Dec 2 25:50:36 EST 2002

I am such a child of my times it hurts. My monitor blew last Wednesday as I was leaving for vacation -- just dead, no LED light, no nothing. Definitely a hardware failure. Running Linux, I had no trouble ssh'ing into the box from the outside, but the novelty of running up and down three flights of stairs to the public mac and back in order to download two cards' worth of photos from my digital camera, and borrowing a terminal on a friend's computer in order to play music from my own damn speakers, wore off fast. I've felt incapacitated this whole weekend and all of yesterday and this morning. Blind. I can't even think of what I need to do, when almost all of it in on a computer:

  • Write a CV
  • Redo my Econ paper
  • Write up a Syntax assignment
  • Thesis proposal
  • Read articles online about thesis
  • ...

--All of it requiring vision. And no, not locally, it's true, but getting up half an hour early after having gotten to bed at 3 AM post-brownies just in order to check my email in the robot lab before modelling was adding insult to proverbial injury. The robot lab -- and its denizens -- are your friend, however ... I borrowed a monitor from sysadmin Jeff, and old crappy NEC 14" that isn't what you'd call state-of-the-art but brings vision back into my world. Having gotten chivalric assistance in wrestling the three-ton behemoth of a cathode ray tube back to Palmer, and discovering that the expensive video card I bought two years ago in fact supports both DVI (my defunct flat panel) and VGA (standard), I plugged the thing in -- lo and behold, I can see again.

It's almost pathetic, how much of a difference this makes. All is right in the world. I want to go study computational linguistics at the Uni Zürich (as of today, and I have help!); I have manageable work; I'm going to reshape my résumé into CV form (writing my own customized TeX CV package in the process?) and send it Swisswards ... all with the help of my little ATI Rage Fury Pro and NEC MultiSyncM500. Vive la technologie!

Thu Dec 5 16:06:47 EST 2002

Getting out of my Syntax exam early this morning (I'm not sure which of the first section were Theta-Criterion violations and which just ignored the subcat frame, but I diagrammed all five parse trees fine), and walking behind Cornell, Martin, and towards Lang, the word that came to my head in relation to the falling snow was leise. The loudest thing in the vicinity was the crunch of tire-packed flakes under my clogs, and in Underhill, checking out Bach and calling Germany, it was almost peaceful.

Until the goddamned people came out. It's not just the freshmen this time, it's everyone -- never seen snow before, or just excited because they get it once per year and then it immediately melts, or because they can pack it and throw it at their friends, or whatever -- they came pouring out of the buildings as the 12:35 classes got out, and made utter fucking nuisances of themselves. Like a bunch of third-graders in Wisconsin when a snow day's been called -- except (a) snow days are never called in Madison, because we have these fucking plows and shovels to deal with these crazy white things falling from the sky (unlike here, apparently); and (b) no one here is in third grade anymore. But shh, don't tell them that!

So my misanthropic day continues. Abby, upon seeing actual freshmen (and seniors alike, I must admit, and I'd've been there too, if it hadn't been full) huddled on the hearth in Sharples with a freshman-high fire blazing, eating lunch, commented, What is this, a ski lodge?. Apparently so. (I just stand with my hands over the toasters or Chanukah candles to warm up.)

But the workload is negligible, or almost -- manageable, at least, unlike most people's this week. I want to get to Zürich over winter break, but we'll see if I can dig up the cash for that. I have a German and English CV. And as soon as I can find someone to feed them to, I'm going to make Chris's buttermilk pancakes. 'Course, the snow will probably be melted by then.

Mon Dec 9 10:40:52 EST 2002

I'd forgotten, physically and intellectually, what a visceral pleasure it is to play music. Despite not having gone to any of the rehearsals (well, just one) earlier in the semester, and despite thinking I had been taking a semester off because of my wrists, I joined the orchestra Sunday night for Oliver's Dvorák cello concerto and Sibelius 2. Not having been to any of the rehearsals, and therefore not realizing that Saturday afternoon's (2.5 hour-, precluding dinner!) rehearsal was likely the first time either of these pieces had been played with all instruments, I enjoyed it much more than I would have after a semester of politics, and the tedious slogging-through and note-learning of a college orchestra.

The ostensible reason for all of this was that the principal violist had not only been selected to be interviewed for the Rhodes Scholarship (in Oregon, where he's from), but then had been moved on to the regional finals, and all of a sudden wouldn't be back in time for the concert. I ran into a slightly stressed Daniel in Sharples on Thursday night, and hearing his predicament, offered to run back to my room, retrieve my viola, and help him out. I hadn't played in about six months, but desperate times ... right?

It was a little more rehearsal than I'd counted on -- 3.5 hours on Thursday; 2.5 before the concert Saturday night -- but that and an couple hours of practice on Friday was all I'd seen the music. And this, in some ways, is how I like it. I was functioning purely on adrenaline from the Saturday 5:00 call onwards, straight through the concert. Sheer concentration, relying on old neural pathways to interpret marks on the page and motions in the air into notes on the fingerboard. Which they did. It helped that the orchestra hadn't gotten the third movement of the Sibelius up to tempo (Daniel was beating the 6/8 in two), so I could sight-read it fairly fluently.

And what fun it was to play! I love the process of stretching notes over a skeleton of meter, and then mapping rhythm to that. It's a highly artificial, intellectual, and Western construct, but what a wonderful formal system ... It takes so much finite and remote control, and so many minutiae play such important roles ... And this all I have almost forgotten by having only listened to it of late. You can't get the same experience on the audience side.

Sigh. Hopefully I will be able to pull off one last season of the Midnight Quintett in the spring and not go crazy. Because I now remember why I'm crazy if I play (workload-wise), and crazy if I don't ...

Mon Dec 16 00:51:57 EST 2002

Not to jinx it or anything, but this finals week has been the easiest within memory. I've studied, and I've taken three exams so far, but they've all been manageable, and I'm getting the grades I need to (I think). I suppose it has something to do with the fact that I haven't been playing a thousand concerts like I usually do during finals -- though I certainly have played a few! So far, two -- the Swat orchestra, and one 2001 Concert (Bartók double piano concerto and the Brahms double) Friday night. I would have played Saturday night, too, if it wasn't for a whole string of bullshit with Econ ... had a final (for this, my last PDC!) scheduled 7-10 PM Saturday night (spake the immortal Signore Barone: No one should be sober 7-10 on a Saturday night!), directly at the same time as the second 2001 concert. Flexible like a piece of steel, Phil called her. Oh well; it was fun to play the Kimmel center one.

Emily (and I, debugging, and trying to be useful) and I finished our last Java assignment this evening, and now all I have left is the final for that class, and to make the robots run around. Makes me wonder what I'm missing ... which is not to say I haven't got enough to keep me occupied from now until I graduate, but what with POP3 back on (I will understand IMAP and ssl soon, I promise) and me able to grab my mail; this relatively easy week; being up on Christmas shopping and making; and flying to Switzerland for eight days in about three weeks, I'm feeling quite sanguine about it. Sane, even. Good luck to all on all remaining.

Thu Dec 19 00:46:42 EST 2002

wumpus world Java GUI I love leaving the Robot Lab at midnight or thereabouts. The moon then is just a few degrees skew of the z axis, shining through the bare branches of the labelled trees, making the ground veined with moonlight. The earth has finally frozen (no more mud!), and the moon glints off the frost on the grass. It's also the perfect time to leave -- significant work can have been accomplished by midnight, but it's not unreasonably late, nor unreasonably early, to leave. My wumpuses are coming along, and I leave for cold Wisconsin Friday morning. I prefer walking home these nights.

*   *   *

Emailing Michael (Music Dep't chair) this afternoon informing him I was going to drop the music major (my CS major having been officially approved), I realize that my education boils down to (and always has) formal systems, and their inherent failures. (GEB nothing -- mine has been more like Turing-Chomsky-Bach!) Music is the obvious example -- art that can be represented, Palestrina-style, in series of sharped leading tones and I-IV-V-Is, but must incorporate the ineffable, break out of the system, to be music.

I have only recently begun to see the rebellion in my other two majors. Chomskian linguistics has been my world until encountering natural language processing and George Lakoff's talk on "Cognitive Linguistics" -- if you could formally represent every aspect of language, why is machine translation so far from perfect?

And CS, though one of the the largest realizations of formal systems, hundreds of languages and millions of lines of code written to try to model the world ... well, despite all that, it looks like Brooks was right: the world is indeed its own best model, and you need a body to teach yourself how to recognize and ultimately kick an orange soccer ball, differentiating it from the orange Nori.

I've been envisioning my majors as one big divergent special major in Formal Systems. Really, it's in Formal Systems and their Incompletenesses. Gödel knew where it was at, apparently (I have to finish GEB sometime!). And this itself is not only my major, but the recursive metaphor for my undergraduate education, to which it gives a title: The formal system of Swarthmore by definition contains undecidable propositions, and must, to be what it is, be incomplete. This theorem not only titles my education, but justifies it as it is ... incomplete, and rightly so.

Thu Dec 26 14:08:45 CST 2002

What an ordeal. It began while driving down I-80 West at around 5:30 PM Friday night with Allison, going highway speeds, a deer jumping out into our path, five feet in front of my headlights, taking up the entire field of view. As soon as we'd seen it, we'd hit it, crumpled the car hood, and trailed to the side of the highway, leaking radiator fluid. AAA and the state police came, were nice, took us to Hertz to try and rent a car, who weren't nice (no one-way-westward cars from there), and then to a Best Western (who were). Spent two nights in DuBois, PA, watching TV, knitting, eating at the Pizza Hut, until Andrew could come rescue us and bring us back to Normal, IL, through which Allison's sister Anna drove on the way back to Madison on Monday. We're home now, but the car stayed in DuBois -- no collision or comprehensive insurance, only liability and medical ... wonder if "liability" covers my computer.

Orange, of course, is as unhappy as I was about hitting the deer, being jolted from 75ish mph to zero in a matter of as many feet. Debian-user hypothesizes the number of G's impacted upon it, and it's enough to shake it up good. Once rsync is done, I'm taking it cleanly down, and jiggling all the connections ...

That all aside, Christmas has been even not stressful, with many cookies baked; coffee drunk; presents wrapped, opened, and enjoyed. Grandma's here for the duration, and even at 91 years, is doing well. Alexis has free rentals from Video Station, where she works, and what with her new DVD player (I got her Izzard's new-to-DVD Dress to Kill, classic that it is in my Swat circle), she's taking out even more and loving it. Mom speaks Arabic on the phone to the prof she's working for; I try to read the Schnitzler Thomas sent me for Weihnachten.

All, in short, is pretty well ... I'm unhappy about the computer situation, but it could be minimal. We shall see. Frantic backups have been made, and in the worst case (i.e., hosing and re-installing Debian), well, I bring up my own system, and learn a lot about it.

Sat Dec 28 17:08:28 CST 2002

This is the fifth full day home, and it's not as if I'm itching to go back to Swarthmore right away, but I'm feeling the drawn-out sense of closure that has been setting in since the beginning of this school year. I'll likely be home again after I graduate for a spell, but depending, that spell will probably be very short -- just a visit, a recollection, a turning-around point -- and then I'll be off again. I want an apartment. I got lost in the new, two-story Borders yesterday in a book about tea: tea itself, the history of, tea cakes, tea cookies, and cream ... I told Mom that I'm going to set myself up with a tea bar when I have my new apartment, wherever that is. I even gave her a small French press for Christmas and a tin of Twinings Lady Grey -- she liked it, as our conversation of the previous night had led me to believe she would, but it was (as she I'm sure knows) half for the pleasure of playing with it myself while I'm home these twoish weeks. Alexis just left for Video Station, and I told her, well, I'll be home .. reading ... drinking tea ... eating cookies ... knitting ... which is basically all life here at 2801 consists of these days. (That and this enduring computer angst ... looks like a new hard drive, but I'm not feeling certain enough to just plunge ahead and buy one, but also am not sure what more I can do to become more certain.) I want tea next year, tea and an apartment, tea and an apartment and Martin, tea, and aparment, Martin, and a job in computational linguistics. I wrote the prof in Zürich about a position (haven't heard back yet); need to apply for more. Intellectual and domestic comfort. Right now, I knit, I migrate from book to book (the Schnitzler Traumnovelle that Thomas sent me; Memoirs of a Geisha from the Munyons; Possession from Olivia; I look now and then at the book I want to be reading for my thesis) ... I don't care if I don't even leave the house. It's comfortable, but at the same time, I'm feeling time pressure -- thesis; computer; the great beyond [Swat] ...

Sun Dec 29 11:44:38 CST 2002

I feel like a mad scientist, or at least a geek, biting the heads off of chickens and swapping brains of monsters into one another, electrifying them with 110 volts, and watching them come alive with each other's souls (or, as the case may be, beep at me because I jolted the memory out of place). I've been breaking into two computers (dinosaur literally -- I had to pick the lock on the case in order to get at it!), swappnig hard drives, trying to isolate my problem. At this point I'm 99% sure it's the hard drive. Sigh. We'll see if insurance covers it ... and either way, if I get a new one, you can bet it will be at least two if not three times the size of the old one!

In other news, I differentiated between vintages of the Rosemont traminer-riesling that's become one of my favorites by taste the other night, to the great surprise of my mother, who insisted the bottle of 2002 she'd picked up was the 2001 we've been drinking for a year now. That, knitting, and this playing at hardware technician (sometimes I think half of this geekage is just proving my masculinity, as I commented to Mom last night while up to my elbows in dust and microchips) is all I'm doing ... but hey, wine and computers ain't a bad life.

Speaking of which: nine days until I hit Switzerland. I intend to have my computer fixed by then.

all this ©nori heikkinen, December 2002

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