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.