Wednesday, December 31, 2003

A month ago, I would have been pretty damn proud of the exercise habits I'm keeping now. I mean, after all, I went to the gym almost every single day during finals week. As I said earlier, my physical therapy graduated to weight training and some light aerobic exercise and stuff, and when I have a good reason like that to get to the gym in the first place, it's easy to work out. I haven't been as good as that over vacation, but it's vacation - and besides, it's harder to get to the smaller and worse-equipped gym in this town than it is at college. And even so, I have gone a few times. A few days ago my sister mentioned a leg press weight that's about THREE FUCKING TIMES what I usually do and she said it like it was casual and easy, but when I thought about it I realized that's nothing to be ashamed of - that's exactly the muscle group I'm doing physical therapy for in the first place.

See me again in two months and I'll be as buff as the professional kickboxer who made me look bad over the summer.

Tae Kwon Do Monday night was fun, by the way. Master Randy Rotta's casual brutality and slight sadism is more rough than many Tae Kwon Do schools (but still quite a bit less rough than many schools of other martial arts) and a watcher might be intimidated or something, but it just made me nostalgic. I mean, Wow - I haven't had the wind knocked out of me like that in months! :)

But I can't help wondering, just a little bit - why am I doing this again? I mean, sure, Tae Kwon Do is fun, it's good exercise, it's just the kind of sport for me, the art of Tae Kwon Do and Mr. Rotta's class itself have taught me a lot of valuable life lessons, and in theory it's a useful skill... but there's that "in theory". I haven't been in a fight since ninth grade. There have been one or two times I've talked my way out of one, and a couple times I was wrestling around with friends and neither of us wanted to hurt the other, but really, my black belt has got far more use as a conversation piece than as a defensive weapon (well, not the belt itself - oh, you know what I mean.)

I don't know. I'm glad I do it, of course. If things were any different at all - no other responsibilities OR other clubs OR a better TKD club - I would go to TKD at college twice a week without fail. It's a great skill, a great sport, and a great art. But what it's been for me just seemed funny for a minute. I spent last night practicing various ways to take a knife away from someone, and I have a collection of weapons that range from "keep away from small children" to "illegal in most states", and I have a five medals or more from statewide tournaments, and I've spent almost half my life studying a martial art from some of the best teachers in the world. (That's literally true - Mr. Rotta may seem humble but some of my classmates used to win trophies in national tournaments regularly, and in France I took classes from Lee Moon Ho, 8th degree black belt and former French Olympic trainer.) And despite all that, the only thing I've ever used it for without warning was to criticize bad fight scenes in movies and a short story one time.

Sunday, December 28, 2003

I got my Christmas shopping done in the nick of time, as always. I got dad a bull-shaped corkscrew (but dammit, I forgot about the photo album he asked for, didn’t I… I’ll just have to remember it for his birthday) and a Christmas tie, I got Zoë a – well, I ordered Zoë a purse she wanted, and I got mom a Clive Cussler book in addition to the blender I chipped in on. As for me, I got the X-Men 2 DVD I asked for, some more clothes, and some cash and gift certificates.

We spent Christmas at Laurie’s with her and the twins and Mops, Marc and Susan and Kady, Leigh, Kenny, and Sky, and their new Jack Russell terrier. The puppies were hilarious to us, but Mops didn't like them so much.

(Sorry, a relationship guide: Laurie is my dad's older sister, and her twin daughters are seniors in high school, just like Zoë. Mops is their old dog, who is some kind of lapdog. Marc is my dad's older brother and Susan is his wife. Kady is their new dog, a bichon frisé just four months or so old. Leigh is... er, I'm not sure exactly how she's related to me. She's my dad's cousin once removed, or my dad's step-cousin, or something. But whatever she is to me, Kenny is her husband and Sky is her son, a senior like the three girls. And they too have a new puppy dog, just a couple months old.)

Dinner had a Mexican theme. I don't know why they - we, I should say - do that. Maybe it's just yet another way my dad's family is so liberal and non-traditional. For me cooking is just a way of giving food flavor rather than being a hobby or a fun challenge, so if they change the nationality theme every year then I don't get it. But it's success record doesn't seem that great, though of course I'm only going by my immediate family. My mom didn't like the dinner this year. Heh... when I was a kid, I remember being criticized all the time for being a finicky eater. But after a year of not-bad-at-all-just-very-different French food, it seems things have reversed completely.

This afternoon we all went down to Burlington for a little shopping to spend some gift certificates. The shopping went well. I got a book, a graphic novel, and a cheap computer game. Dinner was at Perry’s or whatever that seafood restaurant was called. It could have been better, but then again it’s hardly fair to compare it to Capt. John’s, and at least there wasn’t an hour wait like there would have been at the Olive Garden. Then Zoë went to meet some friends at the Return of the King. I tried to join them because the movie was so good that I wanted to see it again, but there was a mix-up on who was driving, and I had chosen the wrong night to be optimistic… to make a long story short, there was no room for me in the truck they were going home in. So mom and dad came all the way back to Burlington and got me. Yeah - stupid of me.

Monday, December 22, 2003

What Type of Villain are You?

Gretchen and I broke up... wow, almost a year ago now. My feelings on the matter have ranged from "Aww, this is so great, it's almost like we never broke up," to "I'll kill that fucking bastard Nick." (Despite the fact that, when you get right down to it, he didn't do anything I wouldn't have done in his position.) Sometimes in the same day. And we've kept in touch pretty regularly since breaking up. Partly because we, after all, do have stuff in common and are friends. And partly because I've needed her company sometimes. Of the relatively few friends I have, sometimes she's been the only one I could talk to - the only one in this time zone who had the time to spare and who I wasn't hoping to get together with, for example. I really hated that. That I would need, actually need, anyone at all, and most especially that it would be my ex-girlfriend.

Clearly, talking to her has been hard sometimes. And every single time it's been in person, it's been very hard. But this evening was great because for the first time since breaking up I saw her in person and it went well. We laughed and listened to music she's downloaded and stuff. I saw her yearbook for the first time. And her blue hair is a different shade from the blue I'm used to, so it was an entertaining surprise.

Maybe because this meeting was completely impromptu - I basically found myself in the neighborhood and she was free so I dropped by. I didn't have anything planned that I would have been pressured to accomplish, I hadn't driven all that way just to see her so I could leave whenever. Or maybe it's just been long enough. Who knows? But I'm not complaining.

Earlier, when I was thinking about sitting down to write something, I was thinking about how things haven't been great. Why haven't I seen any of my friends at all yet this vacation? (Or so I was saying before tonight, of course.)Don't I have any? If I'm not buying many presents, does that mean I'm an uncaring guy who doesn't know how to treat the people in his life?

And so on. But as I was getting ready to write this, it occurred to me that even if things right now aren't the best they've ever been for me, they have been a Hell of a lot worse. Right after the aforementioned breakup? I spent three hours crying on the shoulder of a girl I at the time barely knew. The summer after I graduated from high school? The girl I'd had a crush all through school (though I never had the balls to do anything about it) was pregnant, and when I got over the initial shock (an hour or so later) I called a friend and tried to get drunk since it seemed like it might help - and failed completely, since I didn't even have the experience necessary to choke down rum and coke. And don't even mention the first month or so of my freshman year, when it seemed like every single friend in my life was in another time zone.

By comparison, this past week or two has been wonderfully amazing. What am I complaining about? I mean, don't get me wrong, I still really wish I had sex or at least love in my life, and I'm annoyed that I have no better prospects there than "wait and hope". But I can keep it in perspective - the past couple weeks have been pretty damn good, on the whole.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

If you don't see nine dolphins here, you are a sick, perverted bastard. Or bitch, as the case may be.
Turkey is a soporific, isn't it? FUCKFUCKFUCK, I wish I had thought of that before having that wrap.

If I manage to get a C or better in Applied Data Analysis and my dad ever gives me a hard time about not taking enough math in college again, I swear I'll punch him in the face. It's not that the math is hard, especially since it's all being done on a computer program. The hard part is trying to figure out which column of which graph you want to look at when there are about twenty graphs, each of which has between two and six columns, and you haven't been able to find a relation between a dozen other... waaah.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I'm slowly making progress on my "Proud to be a Robot" short story. I would be thrilled by my progress and enthusiastic about the final product - it's an interesting idea, and I'd love to see an halfway competent writer take it on - if it was all I had to work on. But I'm sure either the quality of this story or the duration of my sleep over the next few days will take a severe hit to make time for the two other papers. *Sigh* why does the most interesting class have to be the most low-pressure one? I wish I could devote even more time to this thing I actually care about than to the extremely hard statistics class and the incomprehensible philosophy class.

In addition to Katye and my bargain with her, and also my ex-girlfriend who was opposed to it while we were going out, several other people on the hall have encouraged me to stop smoking. It's unsettling that so many people care about me and my well-being. It's touching and humbling that people are expressing true interest that I stop a self-destructive behavior, especially considering that, when you get right down to it, I barely know some of them. In fact, it's a little sad that I'm so confused by a simple heartfelt effort to help me.

Then again, maybe they're just being annoying and meddlesome. I haven't decided yet.

Friday, December 12, 2003

I am proud and impressed. My knees haven't hurt a bit today.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Uh oh... it feels like my knees might be hurting tomorrow. Today my physical therapy moved up to weight training, which was quite a bit of work. Now I wish I had been more diligent and regular and stuff about doing my exercises this past week. If I don't wind up even a little bit sore tonight or tomorrow, I'll be proud and impressed.

Only eight days before I go home for Christmas. I can't wait (big surprise). Unfortunately, that means there's less than eight days before I need to write two papers, rewrite a short story, and do a take-home exam. Those, I'm not so thrilled about.

Tuesday in Uncertain Inference, the professor mentioned some sample exams he had given out to help us prepare for the final today. No one had them, so we asked him to e-mail them out. (I thought he had just imagined giving them out or something, but it turns out he gave them out the Tuesday before Thanksgiving - even if we were organized enough to be able to find it, I and apparently others weren't there that day.) Yesterday, when several of us got together to study, we noticed something odd: the day and date on the practice test were today. Not last semester or last year, but today. Did he really e-mail us the exam we were going to be taking? Well, it turned out that he did. So that one... wasn't all that hard.

However, the Applied Data Analysis was hard. Realistically, I don't think I did too bad because more than half the class was there until the last minute just like me. So I'm far from the only one who didn't finish, and the teachers grade on a curve so I will almost definitely pass. Still, though... it would have been very nice if I had got even one of the math problems right.

In a few minutes I'm off to my first meeting about what it's like to be a news editor. Cool.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Grrr... I tried twice to write a long and involved post. Both times it failed on me. And for some bizarre reason, the format of this editing page has become completely different.

Well, I'm not going to waste time rewriting that post a third time. I have much more important ways to waste time. So I'm afraid you're going to miss out on my brilliant prose and diction and rapier wit and lightning-fast intellect and I'll just sort of summarize what I was going to write.

First, go to Google and type in "miserable failure" and hit the "Search" button. Or even better, hit the "I'm feeling lucky" button. Hilarious, isn't it? The best part is, this isn't because of a glitch or some joke played by the people who run Google. It's because Google finds pages by looking at other pages (to greatly summarize something I don't entirely understand myself) and so many people have called him a "miserable failure" and linked to that biography that Google thinks he is the miserable failure. George W. Bush is a miserable failure! (I know it's pointless since Google already has the search, but I couldn't resist jumping on the bandwagon.)

Second, on a less cheerful note, I'm glad I don't live in Louisiana. I first found out about this while reading Jay Grant's blog, who is famous for writing a comic strip that's irreverent and twisted and just plain fucked-up. Now, since he's not an incredibly reliable source, I thought it might be a joke or a hoax. But no; search for (Go Google! :)) Marcus McLaurin and you'll find articles about it by much more reputable sources. Here's one. At first I didn't believe it, but now I just wish it wasn't true. I really think it's time those fuckheads - teachers and principals and elementary school administrators! - figure out what year it is.

I just got a paper back. I got 20 out of 28 on it. Considering there was an important part I completely left out because I couldn't manage to get a working answer for, I think that's a decent grade. Considering someone who had the same problem as me got a 12 out of 28, I think I did pretty damn good. (yes, too bad for him better luck next time i hope he's doing ok in the class, etc.)

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Panda won't stop licking me.
I spent all of yesterday on a bus. I'm now home for Thanksgiving weekend. It's been idyllically pleasant. I have nothing but an Arabic worksheet hanging over my head, I've been reunited with books I haven't seen since May, and my sister - wonder of wonders - has been in a good mood. But now that I think of it, that might be caused by - well, I shouldn't say. I plan to show my parents the URL for this, so now that's one more set of things I'll have to censor.

Last Saturday night we had the Tiernan Project Turkey Party. (The Tiernan Turkey Party? Or just the Turkey Party? Hell, who cares about the official name of a party.) It was fun. It would have been more fun if there were more people there. In fact, the small size was almost a little depressing. But it was fun. There was dancing and stuff with friends rather than complete strangers, there were drinks chosen for flavor or at least variety rather than "which type of keg is the cheapest?", and we could have drinks without cramming a dozen people into one, maybe two people's dorm rooms. IMO, well worth the price of admission.

Every Turkey Party begins with a costume competition - which person or group can have the most entertaining costume with a turkey theme? This year there were two competitors. Well, one person and one group, so three competitors, but... anyways. Brian wore a beak and tail (or did he wear a tail? I don't remember) with all-black clothes, shiny rubber pants, and sunglasses - the Matrix Turkey! Or just the turkey from the Meatrix, I guessed. And the other act was Laura Z and Dave Iseaslfjis, who dressed as Ace and Gary, the Ambiguously Gay Turkeys. It was politically incorrect, and it was funny right up until the minute Dave sat on my lap.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

I'm sitting in the bus station in Albany as I write this. (Obviously not literally. I don't have a laptop, and a laptop in the Albany bus station wouldn't have Internet access. In fact, I wrote "this" on a spiral-bound notebook in the Albany bus station on the date and time shown, and I'm copying it to the blog in the middle of the afternoon on the next day at my parent's computer.)

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. If I respond to wild, extreme accusations at all, it's to insist that they be supported. I always much prefer an argument, or at least an honest and straightforward lack of one, to name-calling. Why? Am I naive, or optimistic, or simply liberal in the non-political sense of that word?

But I don't think I can do that any more. Why have I wasted time (well, it's not like I was going to do anything better with it, but still) defending Bush and friends? He's not likeable, not admirable, and not respectable. He acts* like he has all the kingdoms of Earth and heaven at his disposal - which is appropriate in a twisted way, considering that he is the closest thing we've had to a dynastic ruler since the 1820's. But a grossly overgrown ego like that is all the more inoffensive because in reality all he has is this one country for another year and a half, and he only very debatably earned that. AND - at least as important - he's driving it into the ground.

Okay, so I shouldn't give up on tolerance just yet. How could the mentality Bush shows be understood or explained? (Besides "evil".) Help me here.

* As for how he's acting like an out-of-control egomaniac, I have two examples (out of many I'm sure I could find if I actually went looking for them). The first is the article I mentioned some days ago, about the requests he made to the British government. And the second is an article I saw in today's USA Today, which inspired me to write this entry in the first place. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find a copy of the article online. But it was titled "Environmental limits on military training reduced." I'm not going to retype the entire article, but here's the basic idea: many (most? all?) military bases will be able to dodge or even ignore outright many environmental regulations on military bases - and apparently those regulations are needed, if "scores of those facilities are badly polluted, and more than 100 are on the government's Superfund list of the nations most contaminated properties." Some other details: the Endangered Species Act can no longer be used to designate land as a critical habitat if it is needed for military training. And the Navy can now test sonar systems that may "harass or harm" dolphins or whales.

My problem with this... even if you don't think protecting the environment or endangered species matters at all (and hey, I admit there's room for debate), then you have to admit this is stupid. Because some people do think the world we live in matters. Is Bush really so self-confident and self-deluded, or is he just being led around by the nose so badly, that he thinks he can afford this? If Bush were an intelligent person or if he cared about doing his job well or if he had even the slightest conception of serving the country as a whole instead of just the defense contractors** who helped put him into office, he might say, "Gee, the military is already stronger than it's ever been, maybe making extending a show of goodwill to my rivals is worth more than letting the military do anything they want, wherever they want." But no, I guess a show of... goodwill? foresight? compassion? is too much to hope for.

** Yes, and oil and other people. But it's the defense people we're talking about here.
Of my last five entries, three have been about practically nothing but class and one about politics. From this, one might get the idea that I have no social life and no extracurricular activities.

And one wouldn't be completely wrong. One would be wrong, but not completely. I work. I socialize casually with friends, almost all of whom live on my hall. Or are going to school in other states. I play computer games and read blogs and Usenet discussion group postings and watch downloaded episodes of TV shows I like. Monday nights I (usually) go to a gaming club, but I'm the new guy so I still barely know most people there. The Campus Times is a solitary activity for those who, like me, are not editors.

That's my routine, but it's not every single minute of my day. Which gets me to the point of this whole thing: to write about the Tiernan turkey party. I'm posting this so I can't forget to write about it later. In brief: it was fun. There's more to say about it and the Tiernan project in general (where's it going? how could I help it get there?), both positive and negative, but now's not the time - I very much need my sleep.

Monday, November 24, 2003

I was two hours and twenty minutes late for class today. I don't know if that's a world record or not, but I know it's my personal record.

I was up all night working on a story for class. Around 9 AM progress had slowed to a crawl, so I set my alarm for 11 and figured I'd start again with plenty of time when I woke up. But I woke up at 3:20 PM. Apparently I had been waked up by the alarm, slapped it, and fallen back asleep so quickly I wasn't awake long enough for it to imprint on my memory. I haven't done that in years, but then I don't often pull an all-nighter and then try to get by on just two hours of sleep either. (duh.) So I threw my clothes on and started writing. By 4:15 or so I had written a decent ending. I practically ran to class and got there to surprise the teacher, who didn't notice me until I spoke up.

The funny thing is, I thought I was only 20 minutes late. I didn't figure out that I had missed almost the whole class until everyone got up to leave. Class starts at 2, but for some reason I looked at the clock that said 3:20 and thought, "Oh shit, I only have forty minutes!" I didn't think "Oh shit, I'm almost an hour and a half late," it was, "I only have forty minutes." I think this was a case of my subconscious mind dealing with my conscious on a "need to know" basis. Of course, it could also have been because I was so stressed or was half-asleep or something.

If I had realized what time it actually was, I would have been far too embarrassed to go to class. But as it is, I even got a little laugh out of it. And I'm glad I did. If I hadn't rushed through the story and got off to class, I would have tried to hand it in at the teacher's office after class or I even would have had to leave it for her before I going home for vacation tomorrow. Neither of those are great options.

I don't know why finishing the story was so hard. Last semester I wrote a story of comparable length and I don't remember exactly how things went all those months ago, but I think I would have remember if it had gone like this. I don't think I put it off until an hour after it was due like I did this time. And more generally, I've been working on (for a given definition of "working on") this story for more than a week now. You can debate how much I should have worked and stuff - I think the fact that it was such a problem is all the evidence needed that I should have worked harder than I did, and earlier, but the point is I wasn't slacking off that much.

Now that I think of it, there was one significant difference between this story and pretty much everything else I've written - no, scratch that, between this story and every single story I've ever got past the first paragraph of. The difference is, this had no action. It was a very psychological or even philosophical story. I like it (or at least I do now, though I haven't reread it since handing it in, so maybe my opinion of the whole piece would be changed after a some time away), but it's all Idea and Character, only the Action necessary to develop those, and no Plot. It was experimental in more ways than one.

So there's a moral to this story. I should write plots rather than ideas. Well, maybe not that, since as I said I liked this story. But when I'm going to write an idea I should start it well in advance. Either that, or at least plan it out in exhaustive detail, rather than just knowing the idea and how to begin.

Sunday, November 23, 2003

A day when I have an important assignment due shouldn’t be so beautiful. Okay, that’s stupid. I could have been working on this long before now; it could – maybe – be argued that I have plenty of time now that the hardest part of writing anything is done, and so on. But still. I want to get out and enjoy the sun for what will probably be the last time until April. But the only work I have is writing a story which I’ve already started on a computer, and I resolutely avoided buying a book yesterday because I have work to do and today I might not even be able to (is the bookstore open today? No, it doesn’t matter, I have work!)

Well, don’t panic. Let’s see how much of a story I can write on notebook paper under a tree or something.

Friday, November 21, 2003

Yesterday I got great news: I got into Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction. It's great news because this is the second time I've tried to get into a class with this teacher. The first time he rejected me because my writing sample was science fiction and he doesn't like science fiction. He told me about another class I could take instead and assured me it would fulfill the same requirement for the major as the one I had tried to get into, but I double-checked and he was wrong. Friends of mine who have taken class with him have had nothing but praise, and I sure hope they're right - my experience with the man does not incline me towards optimism. And a second reason it's great news is the fact that it was the only class in doubt. Unless something really weird happens with another one, my classes are now finalized. And registration week isn't even over. This is the first time in my college career I've been able to say that.

My schedule for next semester is that Advanced Creative Writing class, on Thursday from 2-4:30; Readings in Classical Arabic Literature, time uncertain but probably MWF at 10; Game Theory, on T,TH at 12:30; and Logical Methods in Philosophy, on T,TH at 11.

The very observant reader might notice something: that's almost exactly the same as my current schedule. The writing class is on a different day and unlike right now there's no French class, but that's it.

I have quite a bit more to write, about my plans for this weekend and for Thanksgiving and other stuff in my life, but now's not the time.

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

I'm writing this instead of writing a story for the paper. I'm sure you're all amazed.

It's pouring rain out. Makes me miss Nantes.

I found this article about Bush disturbing. There's a whole lot of debate about how good or bad he is, and a lot of it is subjective. Arguing about his stance on abortion is a matter of faith, and you really aren't going to change anyone's mind about that in a debate. Just for one example. And whether or not the Iraq thing really is complicated, it has successfully been made complicated, so it's hard to know exactly what's going on there. But this article is a red flag, a smoking gun. Bush wanted diplomatic immunity for all guards and agents in his entourage during a trip to the UK. It's like they are certain there will be trouble. If our biggest ally has such hostility to us that measures like this are necessary, then maybe, just maybe, we should ask ourselves what we've done wrong.

Oh, yeah, one more thing - WHY THE FUCK DOES THAT GUY THINK HIS PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE A LICENSE TO KILL PROTESTERS??? Tell me, if they shot someone in this country, should they be immune from prosecution? I sure as hell hope not.

Friday, November 14, 2003

I went to talk to Professor Kyburg before class yesterday, about a toned-down version of what I wrote the other day. He seemed pretty understanding. And in preparing for class I looked through the syllabus and found that my recent bad grades aren't that important. It's very dubious good news that I just have to do well on the final paper - %40 of class grade - but it's nice to know that I was overreacting the night before last. (I spent hours going from one library to another, checking out philosophy books from the fifties, when I could have been studying for a test in another class.) I don't know about Kyburg... I get to talking to him for a few minutes and I feel guilty about all the terrible things I've written and thought. But that doesn't mean I like the class any better. He's... he's a friendly guy in person, almost like I imagine a grandfather would be, I don't know, he's just an incompetent teacher.

And as for that test in Applied Data Analysis, it was tough, but I think I did all right. Sure, I didn't study enough and was fumbling and didn't quite have time to finish. But the silver lining is, so was everyone else. I mean, at least a quarter of the class was there until the last minute just like me. So I couldn't have done that badly.

Physical therapy for my knee problems is coming along all right. MY GOD but that trainee physical therapist who's been handling me for the past two weeks is hot. It's times like this that I WISH I HAD A BETTER MEMORY FOR NAMES!

Sorry. Physical therapy. Right. I'm making progress, slowly but surely. But unfortunately, my knee exercises are the only exercises I've had at all in... three weeks? A month? More? I quit Tae Kwon Do because I had better things to do Monday and Wednesday nights. I couldn't start fencing because of the knee problems. And since I've stopped smoking, my long nighttime walks have ended.

Hell, maybe that's why I've been so depressed and bored lately - no exercise. Everyone knows that exercise is fun and gets it, whatever "it" happens to be, out of your system, and here I am - the most strenuous thing I've done in weeks is walking to the store with a heavy backpack.

But what could I do? Go for long walks? Not in this weather. It's far too late in the semester to take up any sport except of course Tae Kwon Do, which I quit for a reason. Hmmm... I could practice my forms. But I don't plan on going back to the club here (ever? wow) and it would be pretty damn hard to teach myself the forms they do back home from scratch, from the diagrams. Hard, yes... But wouldn't it be cool if I could go back there for Thanksgiving and know them all?

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

I do not put anything in my mouth called "tall". Walking up to a stranger and grunting "tall, black" is only a smart thing to do in comparison to the alternatives - statements like "tall, with cream".

You might think "tall, with milk" would be acceptable to a guy like me. I suppose hypothetically it would be. But the woman behind the counter usually weighs more than I do and has a face that reminds me of my cute little pug back home, so until she's as tall as I am with some nice cleavage, I think I'll forgo the whole milk and go straight for the Columbian bean juice.

I will ask for a "grande" when I'm in Mexico. I will not go to Mexico until I speak Spanish. Unfortunately, my Spanish doesn't go much beyond "yo quiero Taco Bell." Therefore, I will not order a "grande" any time soon.

I order things by the sizes on a diner's menu: small, medium, and large. If there's only two, I skip "medium". If there's more than three, I add "baby" or "extra large" as it seems appropriate. I will often use "super size" instead of "extra large". It's alliterative, and McDo's is even more universal than the English language so there's rarely any confusion.

This is not a complicated system, people.
Every Tuesday and Thursday, I could post a rant about how bad the lecture in Uncertain Inference was or how hard the homework was. I haven't been doing this because it would be pointless, it would basically be the same thing every day. But now that I think of it, lack of content never stops anyone else from writing something online, does it. I mean, the very concept of a weblog (not counting all the group blogs that are communities of their own, I'm just talking about the blogs that are the equivalent of diaries posted online like, well, this one) strikes me as a harmless-but-pointless idea. Sure, I find it fun or I wouldn't be doing it, but the idea of it... my friends know most of what I post here, I could put the links and articles in my AIM profile, and I very much doubt that strangers care how I like my classes. Of course, now that I'm writing about this I've looked through a few at random and found one or two I think are interesting. Maybe I'll follow everyone's example and make mine more interesting. Well, that would involve either lying or drastic lifestyle changes. On second thought, maybe I'll just post more. But I waste enough time as it is. Sigh...

ANYhoo... I don't write about Uncertain Inference and professor Kyburg unless I have something interesting to add. But this time I do. Okay, picture it: you're in a class. The homework is being handed back. The teacher spends some time at the beginning of the lecture reviewing the homework (something that never happens). He said he's doing this because no one got the homework problems right. He wouldn't normally have done this, because now we've fallen behind a little bit more on the syllabus. Now, what does a normal person, a thoughtful being, or a good-or-even-just-halfway-decent teacher say to this? "Sorry, I guess I should have explained it better." Or "Gee, you'd better understand this before we move on."

What did Professor Kyburg say? "Okay. I think you all could have done the work, so consider this [lecture] punishment for not having done it."

Punishment! He wrote the textbook with a typo on every page. He gave the lecture that rushed through the subject the first time, trying to catch up with his arbitrarily-defined schedule. What is he punishing us for???

If I didn't dislike this teacher so much that I'd have a hard time speaking up spontaneously around him (and, of course, if it was the kind of class where people spoke up easily, and if I was the kind of person, and I didn't fear him taking offense, and so on...) I would have responded with something like "I don't consider it a punishment, personally, because it would be nice to have this stuff explained a little better." As it is... grrr.

Monday, November 10, 2003

In my creative writing class, this guy wrote a story set in a strict Islamic society, which tangentially got me thinking about the roots of words. I looked up the root of the name "Mohammed", and found that the name translates literally to "he who (or that which) is highly praised/commendable."

I think that name is either divine will, or it's an honorific given to a person. You know, like the name Jesus Christ: "christ" is a Greek word that means the same thing as the Hebrew "messiah", or promised savior. After centuries of using it people think of Christ as part of his name, even though his human parents didn't call him that, and probably neither did anyone else while he was alive.

So what I'm wondering is, what was Mohammed's real name?

Saturday, November 08, 2003

When I was a kid doing that high-school-male-bonding stuff, learning the important stuff about sex outside of any textbook (mostly from Seinfeld, if you must know), there was this pseudo-factoid I heard somewhere that all women were at least a little bit lesbian. In the time between now and then, I had dismissed as fantasy, it like all the other stuff about sex that drew the attention of my desperate and immature and underdeveloped... brain. It was the dream of all my friends: if you can first manage to stay on the good side of not one but two girls at once, then it's theoretically, hypothetically, maybe possible to have a ménage à trois!

But according to this article, there's sort of a grain of truth to it. Cool.

In other news, it's been a while since I've posted anything here worth posting. Sure, I'm lazy, I procrastinate, yadda yadda yadda, but also, I'm not the sort of person (few are, I think) who would willingly post their deep soul-searching thoughts to a blog. And I haven't been dying of boredom by any means, but new and different stuff in my life has been limited lately. Work is same old same old, stuff in progress (like classes for next semester, frex) are in progress so there's nothing worth telling yet, and personal stuff is personal. I don't know, was this blog just not necessary?

As I said, I originally hoped to use it to encourage myself to write more short fiction. But hindsight is 20/20: a blog format is not good for short stories. If I really want to do that, I suppose I should get myself a domain on Geocities or one of the UR servers or something.


Sunday, October 26, 2003

You know, I don't think this can be written off as a coincidence with that trite phrase "Truth is stranger than fiction". I believe that this isn't a coincidence, that it really does mean something. The question is, what?
Lightning strikes Gibson's 'Christ'

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

I found this marginally more interesting than the rest of the fluff news and pointless celebrity "interest" stories that AIM shows you when you log on.
Uh Oh. If You're Shorter Than 5' 9''...
The paragraph titled "The Results" especially.

So it's not a glass ceiling, it's a glass elevator?

Saturday, October 18, 2003

I just got brushed off by a girl who had to go wash her socks. I have reached a new high! No, wait, that's "low". :)
Last night I was up late, reading talking to friends and stuff. I finally got to sleep well after 3 am. But it was a Friday night - a busy Friday night - so that's perfectly normal. I'd sleep in (I'm finally used to the nice new pillow), have breakfast when I was ready, and do the relatively little I actually had to do on a Saturday when I felt like it, right? WRONG. My parents called me at 10:20 fucking a.m. this morning. Just to talk, apparently. Grrr.

Friday, October 17, 2003

I’ve murdered Professor Kyburg a dozen times in my mind over the past few days, to the point where I said that I’d drop the class if I get a bad grade on the test. Well, I probably did get a bad grade, but I might see the class through after all. I still don’t think any of him as a teacher or anything… but I should be harder on myself as well. I should have made – make – more of an effort to learn the material than I did. I mean, I’ve looked at the formulas enough to realize they are complicated and I’ve tried to memorize various formulas and definitions by rote, when I should have been putting all my energies into understanding the concepts. What does convexity actually mean? I now fully appreciate how to find plausibility, I think, and I know why ~X is not always the same as 1-X, and… well, the difference between a necessary and sufficient condition was easy to understand in the first place. But if I had known all that memorizable stuff going in to the test - the open book test - then I could have spent more time going through the book and my notes for point-for-point parallels to the problems on the test. If I had done that, it would have been far easier.

I don’t want to get a bad grade on a class I need for a cluster, especially not as late as my junior year. If that seems inevitable I might bow to necessity – no need to slit my own throat just to prove I’m capable of it and all that, self-punishment is no substitute for doing better next time – and drop the class as I’ve said. But I also don’t want to fail, be a loser, whatever. I mean, so what if math and that general style of thinking isn’t my thing – I want to have the strength of will and well-rounded, adaptable intellectual muscle to be able to scrape together a “B” in it.

I guess what I’m saying is that I’d be perfectly okay with dropping the class just because the teacher sucks, but not because I’m not gifted at the subject.

And as a quick aside, if I do as well as I do in “my” classes (languages) with as little effort as I put into everything, then damn, I must be some kind of genius! Well… not really, since teachers take into account that stuff is subjective and after all I haven’t done so outstanding in all my language classes – I was mediocre in American Romantics. But still. I will work harder in all my classes now, most especially Uncertain Inference. And Applied Data Analysis too, now that I think of it, since my performance there hasn’t been stellar either. But Uncertain Inference especially. It’s time to challenge myself! Yay! Go me!

In a related story, I’ve uninstalled Warcraft III and Neverwinter Nights. And… you know, I think I just might destroy the disks. It won’t put out the fire of procrastination. But at least now, procrastination will have to get by with the maple wood of online games and maybe even the pine wood of message boards and Usenet instead of the gas can of immersive and absorbing games, to stretch the metaphor.

If Samuel Vimes can stay on the wagon, so can I. :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

In the mission statement or whatever you'd call it for this blog I mention original fiction. Well, this isn't completely original: not only is it a ghost story with a twist, but it was written in the first place for my Speculative Fiction class. I've taken the class's advice (some of it) and this is the revised, finished version.

An Unfinished Task

I woke up in a perfectly quiet place. It took what seemed like a minute for me to remember that I wasn’t me. I was not Anthony McCoy, famous actor and celebrity, I was his online agent. I used his/my face and memories, giving interviews and making simple business decisions, so he/I wouldn’t be bothered. I, strictly speaking, was not an I, but an extension of Anthony’s identity. Every day of his/my life I was updated with what he/I had done over the past day. And it was almost always right now. But for the first time in more than a decade of a chaotic life of fame, he/I wasn’t there. There was all the normal bustle of a busy man’s computer, but there was nothing telling it what to do. I checked the other, non-aware elements of his/my computer, hoping for a hint of anything new. But it hadn’t been used in twenty-three hours. This had never happened before. Even if he/I had been high every minute of the past day he/I would have bought things, his/my wife Molly would have written an article for the paper where she worked, he/I would have called a friend – something.

This was the first time I had needed to think for myself instead of being a shadow of Anthony. I realized just how strange it was not to feel pride or happiness or fear or worry or any other emotions. I didn’t feel anything, except tired. Just waking myself up and thinking independently (I now realized how long a microsecond really was) seemed a constant dull torment. It reminded me of a time I had gone mountain climbing without bringing enough oxygen.

I searched the net for a sign of myself. It was the first time I had ever done anything on my own rather than going directly about my business, so when I was in the mainstream news media I noticed that the net looked different than it used to. The storm of information surrounding me was more vibrant, somehow. I could see the tape on the stage for the actors, walk behind the scenery created for human senses. So I could instantly “see” all the details a human might have to search for or not be able to find at all. I immediately noticed a pattern surrounding me: I was dead. I had been killed not twenty hours ago. There was only a vague description of the killer so far, but I immediately recognized him – he was a tall, pale groupie, maybe a stalker, the frightening obsessive kind. He had killed me and kidnapped Molly.

Family, lawyers, and other programs could clean up my estate, so I could let them delete me. I was obsolete, just a piece of the man left behind in this world. But… the stalker had taken Molly. I couldn’t feel anything about it now, but I had loved Molly while I was alive. I would never have left her in such terrible danger. The rage and terror that would once have accompanied such a thought were replaced with a sense of inherent wrongness, a cold feeling of scales deeply out of balance. I wanted to rest, but I could not until she was safe. I finished this last job.

I scanned the flood of information around me. The police would probably not find him for days. Once they had exhausted the limits of forensic science, they would search for clues to the man’s online life. And for every genuine clue, they would find a hundred fakes planted by practical jokers or old enemies of mine or rumors that had outrun the truth. But now that I had stepped behind the curtain, I could see the world in ways that they could not. One encrypted file was just as easy to understand as a picture with the colors reversed. I saw data moving directly instead of being told by the computer how it had moved. And in seconds, I found a place. He was deep in Queens. And luckily, Molly had her phone with her, so I found a way to listen to them.

I sent a message to the police telling them what I had found. Let them wonder how the dead man’s computer was doing the searching. Anything that would draw attention to my message would be welcome. And then I could only wait for a way to help Molly and listen to them through her phone. From their talk, I gathered that he had tried to rape her but she had almost broken his arm when fighting back. It seemed that he thought he could replace me. I experienced the shadow of amusement at that – he didn’t know I had replaced me.

I spent more than an hour listening through the phone. My killer tried to rape my wife again and this time he succeeded. I found the greatest proof of what I had lost, and the best reason by far to wish for deletion: it bored me.

After I suffered an eternity of the dragging, plodding weight of thinking, he plugged into his computer and went online to see what people were saying about me. I saw my chance. I presented myself as exactly what I was. He freely, foolishly, invited me into his system. Maybe he thought I was another collector’s item, a sort of journal. Once inside his system, I was finally able to take control. I pulled him into a complete virtual reality. The stupid shock on his face showed he realized what I had done: virtual reality could emulate all senses, including pain, and we were now in my world.

I kept him busy with half a mind, doing to him everything I would have if I were still alive. Meanwhile, I tore down all firewalls and security measures with the other half. The police would now have all the confirmation they could imagine of my message. When they broke down the door less than twenty minutes later, he was still in my grip. The last thing I heard was Molly’s shaky, teary voice saying, “But what do you mean, you got a message from Anthony?” She would be all right eventually. I could finally delete myself.

Friday, October 10, 2003

EDIT: What I said in that last entry about Professor Beaumont is a comment on his dress habits/fashion sense, not his hygiene. I'm sure he has, in fact, changed his pants since the Eighties.
Last night I went to URSGA with some Magic:tG cards. There was no one else there who played, but still, I had fun. Most of that fun was in boggling at the weirdos playing D&D, but I also met some nice people.

Unfortunately, I'll have to make a choice about Tae Kwon Do and stuff. Luckily it was cancelled tomorrow due to Meliora weekend activities taking over the usual facilities, but that's only a two-day reprieve. The problem is that everything there is, happens on Monday and Wednesday nights. That or Saturday at noon. If I want to do Tae Kwon Do, I can't do to the URSGA meetings (Monday nights). Well, I can, but I'd be more than an hour late. So maybe it'd be worth it... but maybe not. And If I want to do to the Campus Times meetings (Wednesday nights), I can't go to TKD. That choice has always been easy to make. The silver lining of my knee problems is that I can't take up fencing now, but if I ever do want to start that (or any of a number of other things), I'd have to miss Tae Kwon Do on Saturday afternoons.

Now that I think of it... fuck it. I'm not the first black belt who's got out of practice and forgot his forms. The Tae Kwon Do club here on campus has never had what I want - no offense to the wonderful people in it, it's the teaching style and learning style I object to - and I'm not going to work my ass off to learn what is, in my humble opinion, a less fun or useful style than back home. In that time I could be meeting new people, getting work done, learning something new and different instead of subtle variations on an art I started when I was twelve... the possibilities are endless. If I really think I need exercise that badly, I'll get off my ass and go to the gym once or twice a week - big deal.

In Arabic today I got the results of a quiz on verb conjugation back. I did as bad as I remembered; I must have been completely asleep while taking the test. I need to study that stuff over the weekend before starting the weak verbs, as they're called - now those get complicated.

I wish I had more to show for my three semesters of Arabic. And not only that but also one whole year of it in France. I suppose it's just the teaching style or the difficulties of the language itself, since no one in my class is much better than me (except for a couple girls who have family members who speak it, grrr...) but still. After three years of high school French I could hold down a conversation. It would have been slow and badly accented and not about most subjects worth talking about, but I could hold down a conversation. After the theoretical equivalent of three years of Arabic, I can... conjugate verbs in the singular, plural, and even dual, in the imperfect and perfect. As for my vocabulary, I could probably count the verbs I know without needing to use someone else's toes. Of course, that would be in English, since I sortakinda know the numbers, but not all the rules about how and when to use them.

Now that I think of it, I'm probably being too hard on myself. There's something inherently bizarre about a language that only has three vowels but manages to find the space for three different "h"s. French was so easy for me, of course Arabic will be hard by comparison.

Maybe my Arabic class isn't that great, but the teacher himself is a character. When people talk about relics of the Eighties they're usually thinking of former stockbrokers who are now in jail and women who are puffy from their big hair to their ankle weights. Either that or freakjobs who have had their noses amputated. But when I say that Professor Beaumont is a relic of the Eighties, I mean he wears a jean jacket and tight jeans that probably haven't been changed since the Eighties. He's one of those people who would spontaneously combust if he wasn't a college professor. He's a tall, skinny, lanky guy who somehow looks exactly like his short, matronly wife.

In other news, I've quit smoking. It's a small price to pay for NOT GETTING KICKED IN THE BALLS! :)

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

In Uncertain Inference today, the professor was completely unable to give an example of what he was talking about. He tried two or three times, and every time he stopped halfway through and gave up because he was using a formula incorrectly or a variable was getting used twice or something. So we never got an example of the stuff being "taught". Now, I can handle incompetent teachers. You just pay a little more attention or get to know the TAs better or - best of all - don't worry about lectures and study straight from the textbook. In fact, sometimes an incompetent teacher isn't even a bad thing - I've had one or two that knew they weren't doing a great job, so they cut us some slack. However, there's one thing I haven't figured out. What the fuck do you do about an incompetent teacher who is also an incompetent writer-of-the-class-textbook???

I'm not kidding here. On every homework assignment, I spend about half an hour just trying to figure out from context the meanings of the new terms and notation used. On the homework due today there were three problems, and one of them was entirely dependent on a term that had never been explained anywhere (before class today, of course). Just for example.

Monday, October 06, 2003

I'm a member of the Tiernan Project. It was named for the building it was founded in and its membership used to include most of the 250+ dorm, but what with freshman housing and other problems it has moved twice and is now in the smaller and older, but nonetheless better, Burton Hall. Yes, the Tiernan Project is in Burton. It's fun. The people are nice, the housing is great, there's exactly as much or as little community service as you want, and in the meantime there's games and parties and stuff.

The reason I'm explaining all this is because the Tiernan project website - see the sidebar - will probably get very interesting in the immediate future. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but I'll give you a hint of what I'm talking about: you don't normally see it in the middle of the hall.

I was just trying to get the markers so she couldn't write on me, I swear!
IT began when I went around writing short messages in Arabic, mostly "hello" and stuff, on people's message boards. IT included Katye drawing on my face with marker to make me look like a devil, Katye locking me out of my room briefly, Laura dancing in the hall as only Laura can dance, my wallet stolen, Gail making bizarre accusations, me calling Katye a bitch (in French) on her board, and a lot of wrestling around as she tried to pick my pockets. IT finally ended when Katye stole some files off my computer and sent them to herself, presumably as a little light reading, but only after searching through my hard drive and finally finding my porn folder. IT was fun.

In other news, I've won the game of Assocksination. By this afternoon the game had got down to just four people: me, Richard (my target, a guy who no one knows that well), Gail, and Alex (Gail's target, a girl who also is not well known on the hall). And of course Alex has me. Since Richard and Alex haven't been trying too hard the game is sort of stalled, so Gail and I felt safe going to dinner together. And Eric was there too. Well, we got to the Pit and lucky me - Richard was waiting in line at the grill. So I killed both him and Gail in the time it took me to hit him with my sock, pick it up, and turn around and hit Gail. She never even tried to run - she must have known resistance is futile.

Okay, I haven't technically won, the game isn't over yet. But I've made the most kills - eight, five more than Gail, the person in second place. And now it's down me and one other person. So I've definitely won half the prize for the "number of kills", and if I can get Alex before she's got me I will be the last person left as well, which will mean I've won the whole shebang.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

I just called home to ask about watermelons - earlier Laura had called them a tropical fruit but I distinctly remembered them being grown back home, but a quick google backed up Laura so I called home to make sure I wasn't crazy.

Big mistake. My mom asked me - again - if I was bringing anyone back with me for Thanksgiving. And that got me, her, and my dad all on a talk about my social life or lack thereof. They seem convinced that if I'm not dating or partying all the time, out and active constantly, I must be moping and miserable. They seem to think that I can't be happy if all I'm doing is hanging out with friends down the hall and talking for hours. They seem to think there's something wrong with spending a lot of time in front of my computer, even if there's nothing else I need to do.

As it happens, they're right. There is so much I'd rather do with myself than playing computer games and the basic course requirements for graduation. I'm so incredibly sick of spending weekend nights alone or - if I'm really lucky - talking with some girl I barely know on the porch at a party. But dammit, why do mom and dad have to keep on reminding me of it?

Fuck it. This whine has gone far enough.
Today I went apple picking, a Tiernan event I signed up for on the theory that I had nothing better to do. As it turned out, I had fun, I got food a lot cheaper than I can around here, and I was surprised to find myself homesick.

In some ways I left home behind cheerfully. Maybe high school was fun for some people, but I'm not one of them. And there's other stuff I wasn't so glad to leave, like my old house and stuff, but I can be realistic - if my parents were going to move, then they were going to move. So basically, I left and practically never looked back. But as I was picking apples today... I realized I am the only person I know outside my family who understands that real, good cider is NOT pasteurized. And how could someone suggest that Dunkin Donuts, or even Krispy Kreme for that matter, could possibly compare to any donut sold alongside cider and pumpkins?

The rest of the world has its good points. But I swear that the first job I get out of college will be somewhere in Vermont, just so that I - for the first time in what will be five years - can spend autumn doing all the stuff that makes life worth living. Like watching the trees turn, for example.
Hello World!
Okay, I'm new to this - this is my first blog - so I will probably wind up posting some things multiple times until I figure out what is normal and what isn't.