Monday, June 30, 2003

My office mate is getting married. I'm surprised. I figured it would happen eventually, but not so soon. I suppose this is further evidence that I don't always understand people.

I made my first use of the microwave this afternoon. This weekend I christened the rice cooker. I didn't use enough rice, so the rice I made had a thin crust on the bottom. I've been told repeatedly how superior a rice cooker is to an ordinary pot, but the rice I make in a pot is no worse than what I made in the cooker this weekend. Now I've been told that if I make at least three cups at a time, I'll be impressed by the difference. We'll see.

The SIGCOMM paper deadline is tomorrow. The paper I'm co-authoring is in good shape, but still... I don't really know if I'll get anything else done until it's out of the way. Maybe I won't get anything done.

  • Currently drinking: Jasmine tea

Sunday, June 29, 2003

I took the day off. This morning, I finished Gibson's Virtual Light, which I highly recommend. This afternoon, I walked to the top of Solano, ate an early dinner at the Cactus Taqueria, and visited the bookstores. I stopped by the grocery store on the way home. I walked in the door just as Patxi and Esther were about to start playing A Beautiful Mind, and I watched it with them. I thought the movie was very well done, both in the story and in how it was presented. I would compare the movie to the book, but while I have the book on my shelf it is still unread.

I bought used copies of old favorites at the book store: Asimov's Foundation and Modesitt's Magic of Recluce. I was surprised to find so many of my reading friends have never read Foundation, and I bought that book as much for lending as for re-reading. Loaning books is half the fun of owning books.

  • Currently drinking: Earl Grey

The clouds came yesterday. I spent much of yesterday on campus, where it was sunny, though cooler than it had been at the end of the week. As I rode home, though, I saw the cloud, hanging low and shrouding the top of Albany Hill. This morning it is cloudy again, and I don't see blue near the horizon. That's fine with me, though. I like cool and cloudy weather sometimes.

I had a mug of orange-ginger-mint herbal tea last night. It's from the Republic of Tea, and the name describes the taste pretty well: a little sweetness, a little spice, and a little mint. It was a good compliment to the chili. I also let a cup of red tea brew for nearly half an hour while I was distracted by something else. When overbrewed, red tea still tastes like red tea, but stronger than usual. This is unlike actual tea, which usually becomes bitter when it's left to steep too long.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

Care and Maintenance of Graduate Students: to Do and Not to Do
  • Do provide food. We're not so evolved past grade school, after all. Feed me and I'll love you forever.
  • Do show interest in their research. This works for almost all academics. Just ask a few technical questions and don't obviously fall asleep during the answer. It's a nice bonus if you understand the answer, but it's not a prerequisite.
  • Do say thank you in response to help, and otherwise show common courtesies.
  • Do allow ample time when requesting some piece of work.
  • Do make general overtures of friendliness.
  • Do not observe how pointless and stupid our research is, even if we've been grousing about the same.
  • Do not make disparaging comments about how much less work we do than we might in the real world. In particular, do not make such remarks near paper deadlines, near the end of the term, or at other times when the typical graduate student work day lasts 12-18 hours (possibly just 10 on weekends).
  • Do not ask patronizingly why we have not done easy task X. If it's that easy, you can do it yourself.
  • Do not take cheerleading credit. It's important to give and take credit for monetary and intellectual contributions made. On the other hand, saying go do X, go team! then doing nothing and taking credit for whatever good may result -- that's just bad form.
  • Do not try to coax the graduate student with e-mails in bright colors, large capitals, or other textual gimmicks. After a day spent ruining my vision reading technical papers, the last thing I want to read is a brightly colored e-mail telling me that I'm not doing enough.
  • Do not tell us we're all social misfits in an ivory tower (even if you think it's true).
  • Do not ask us to do something and then ask is it done yet too frequently.
  • Do not ask us to do something in a way that implies that we're incompetent for not having done it yet. At least, do not make such a request when it's something we would need to do as a favor.
  • Do not assume we know everything about fields that are sort of like our own. Not every computer scientist knows all the latest video games, nor do we all carry around soldering irons in our hip pockets. This is not to say that none of us do so...
  • Do not ask when we are graduating.

By following these simple rules, you can extract inordinate amounts of labor and perhaps a few interesting ideas from a typical graduate student. To cause a graduate student to sink further into bitterness and to suffer bouts of pure rage, perform actions in the do not list, preferably with sufficient frequency that your victim has few time resources and emotional resources left to do anything useful.

I played in the pool and ate dinner with friends when I got home from work. I feel so much better now than I did earlier in the day.

Friday, June 27, 2003

The machines at school run the Unix fortune program whenever I log out. They've produced some pretty choice quotes recently. This morning's quote is:

One thing they don't tell you about doing experimental physics is that sometimes you must work under adverse conditions... like a state of sheer terror.
-- W. K. Hartmann

It's not supposed to get as hot today as it did Wednesday and Thursday. That's a relief. I did take a brief swimming break yesterday, but for the most part I continued to work after I came home around 5:30, and the apartment was hot until late in the evening. I find it more difficult to concentrate when the weather is sweltering.

  • Currently drinking: Black coffee

Thursday, June 26, 2003

My blog has been moved to the new Blogger system. It's much more aesthetically pleasing. According to the main page, it should be more stable as well. We'll see whether that's actually the case.

I'm working on slides for a talk tomorrow. After a few experiences fiddling with slides until the wee hours of the morning prior to a talk, I'd think that I'd learn to start earlier and to spend less time fiddling with the details of the presentation. Many of my teachers still have similar last-minute presentation preparation habits, though, and some of them have been doing this for substantially longer than I've been alive. I'm not sure whether this means that we're all slow learners when it comes to certain topics, or if we're all just a little obsessive-compulsive. But I'm inclined to believe the latter.

It was a hot day. I came home from the office a little early in order to try to work uninterrupted on my slides and perhaps finish them early. I quickly decided that the apartment was too hot for anything but napping, and so I walked to Ranch 99, bought a bubble tea, and sat on a bench in the shade at the local park. A little league team was playing in the park, and I alternated between scribbling an outline of my slide and watching the kids running around. They seemed awfully enthusiastic, though I'm not sure if any of the kids under twelve were as enthusiastic as the kids over thirty who coached them. Any of the kids on the field, old or young, could undoubtedly outplay me handily even if my ball-playing skills were merely rusty and not nonexistent.

Patxi and I have been given a microwave and a rice cooker. I've used both microwaves and rice cookers in the past, but now it feels strange to have them in our kitchen. Unless my shopping habits change, I expect to get more mileage from the rice cooker than the microwave.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003

[A computer is] like an Old Testament god, with a lot of rules and no mercy.
-- Joseph Campbell

The quote came from the Unix fortune program. I'm not sure if the Joseph Campbell to whom the quote is attributed is the famous student of mythology or not. It's a common enough name that it might be coincidence.

Did you hear that when the statistics department capped enrollment, there were protests in the street? Fight the statistician quota!

I love puns. Word play is a joy of life, along with tea, bike rides, interesting work, and interesting friends. Life has a lot of joy.

I'm drinking a jasmine tea in which the leaves are rolled pearl style. Each pearl is perhaps half or three-quarters of a centimeter in diameter, and consists of a single tea leaf. It's similar to gunpowder, but it isn't so tightly packed, the leaf size is larger, and the quality is high. During brewing, the pearls unfurl to their full size. It's fun to watch, and since the leaves are not in small fragments there is no danger of eating the leaves if they're not kept in a tea ball or filter. Like many high quality teas, this tea takes repeated brewing well. I'm just finishing my third mug brewed with the same leaves. I've been savoring this tea all evening, brewed in a glass mug so that I can see the unfurled leaves.

Tea is lovely stuff, no doubt.

  • Currently drinking: Jasmine tea

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

I was in the jury box for all of about fifteen minutes (not including time spent in a recess). It took a while for me to be called. Once I was called, though, the judge and lawyers asked fewer questions than I expected. They skipped a lot of the questions that they'd asked prior prospective jurors. I'm not going to complain, though. At least, I'm not going to complain about being done with my jury duty. The next task on my list involves some debugging work, though, and I expect I'll probably complain about that.

Monday, June 23, 2003

I went for jury duty today. Alameda County has a one day or one trial policy. Last time I was called in (almost exactly a year ago), all the trials for the day had been settled out of court. Not so this time. Jury selection began around 11:00 am, and I was one of the people called to go up to the court room. I have not been called to the jury box yet, but the jury selection isn't complete yet, either. So I get to do the same thing again tomorrow.

I would rate it highly likely that I will not be called to serve on this case. Even if I do get called, the case is supposed to be short. Still -- one day sitting in that room, listening to the same questions being asked over and over again, was almost as tedious as I imagined it might be. Not quite as tedious, though. I have a very active imagination.

This weekend I once again illustrated to myself the creative power of naps and goof-off time. I was unproductive for most of Sunday, but when I finally did sit down to write, all the pieces to the problem I'd been studying fell into place. I spent time trying to derive and describe the details of the same results on Saturday (I figured out the basic idea Saturday morning), but to no avail. The mind is an odd beastie.

I went to a solstice party / bon voyage for Raffi on Saturday. It was up in the Berkeley hills, and I got plenty of exercise in the process of getting lost on the way. It was a scenic route. Actually, it would have been a scenic route even without getting lost. You can see the entire Bay from up there. I brought along a dish of egg noodles with broccoli, tomato, avocado, cilantro, olive oil, black pepper, and garlic salt. It was delicious, which is a good thing since I had plenty left over afterward.

  • Currently drinking: Earl Grey

Friday, June 20, 2003

I set out to find the words to Ain't Nobody Here but Us Chickens. I also found out what it would look like if Elmo and a chorus line of cartoon chickens danced along to the song.

If the network is the computer, we might be in a lot of trouble. Then again, I know the type of stuff that's tangled up in the back of my neurons, so I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised or worried.

  • Currently drinking: Loose black tea with almond bits

I had dinner at Fenton's with some fellow CS grads and two undergrads working here for the summer. Mmm... guacamole burger. I also had an ice cream sundae. I left for dinner around 6:00, and I did no work after dinner.

I used to like ice cream a lot more than I do now, I think. I still like ice cream sometimes, but now for dessert I'd usually prefer fruit and cheese, or fruit and yogurt, or... well, just fruit. Baked items are good, though I'd often prefer a not-too-sweet bread with raisins and nuts to a doughnut or a danish. Tea with honey is good too, as is the occasional cup of cocoa. And tart things are good.

I do like dessert.

  • Currently drinking: Water

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Every so often I go through my archives to check that they are all there. Sometimes they aren't. They weren't today, for instance. Blogger has a republish feature that allows you to regenerate archived pages after you've changed something, but I don't understand why the feature should require manual invocation.

From a conversation yesterday:
D: I think getting and updating an accurate network scan sounds far trickier than the linear algebra.
Y: That's because you're a mathematician, not an engineer.

Ah, the difference a title makes. Which is no difference at all. I suppose it's more descriptive for me to say that one friend is a mechanical engineer, another a chemical engineer, and another a computer scientist than to say they do stuff. On the other hand, the mechanical engineer is half chemist, the chemical engineer is mostly a physicist, and the computer scientist is half a statistician.

And one day when none of us are graduate students any more, we'll probably all have even less descriptive titles. But those titles will begin with capital letters, which signifies the progress we make over the years.

I currently have a mayfly's concentration span. This is not conducive to my productivity.

  • Currently drinking: Black coffee

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Slashdot linked an article from the Guardian on Robots Without Cause today. From the article teaser: In the face of this wizardry, Stuart Jeffries has only one question: why?

Making gadgets is fun. Tinkering with them and taking them apart is also fun. The gadgets don't have to be useful to be interesting: they just need to be cleverly wrought. I understand the why in the building. Sometimes the exercise of skills involved in the doing is reason enough to do a thing.

But while I comprehend the fascination of building a four-slice toaster, I have less understanding of why a person would want to buy such a thing. Unless, perhaps, the person belongs to a large family, all the members of which really like two slices of toast with their breakfast.

  • Currently drinking: Assam

Monday, June 16, 2003

I did no work this weekend. I played on the computer, played Frisbee, and walked in the sun. I talked to family, ate dinner in the company of friends, and added even more books to my pile. In particular, I now have Gibson's Virtual Light, To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis, and The Wild Shore by Kim Stanley Robinson (on loan from Esther). I'm halfway through Beauty by Sheri Tepper.

Okay, I did also read some technical articles. But I wrote nothing, and I coded nothing, and the time I spent reading from SIAM Review was as much leisure time as work time.

Since I did no work over the weekend, I felt a little guilty this morning. That guilt was quickly assuaged. When I received the mail requesting that I finish a piece of code ASAP, my guilt disappeared entirely. I have enough work to keep me comfortably busy for a long time. Now I need to practice saying no sufficiently often that I can keep the adjective comfortably. Uncomfortable levels of business tend to produce a cascade effect: without some time to ponder, it's hard to devise ideas that will save time in the long run. It's also more difficult to write code and text that will be a solid base for future work. At least, it's more difficult for me.

Alas, a weekend off didn't make the bug in my code disappear, nor did it give me any great ideas for how to pin down the problem. But as long as I have that bug, I still have an excuse to use the word alas, which I suppose is worth something.

  • Currently drinking: Earl Grey

Friday, June 13, 2003

We had a barbeque last night. It was an interesting crew; mostly engineers, though not exclusively. The food was good, too. And now I'm happy to spend a very quiet evening on my own. I walked home from campus this evening. I stopped at the top of Solano to look at books and have a bite to eat. It was a pleasant walk. Now perhaps I'll read for a while, or maybe take a nap. I haven't decided.

Bai visited campus today, and we spent a while getting his account reactivated. It was deactivated once before, and it shouldn't have been deactivated then. It's straightened out now, I hope. But it's disconcerting to have someone write This account should be reactivated, please, and receive the response This account will be deleted completely in two weeks.

There is still a bug in my code, but it's a different problem this time. The last two bugs, which took about nine hours to diagnose, were fixed with the addition of three characters to my code. I'm not sure whether to be pleased or disgruntled by this.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

  • There's a bug in my code. I know where it is. I don't know why it is.
  • The web, while it indexes many remarkable things, does not have any information on bands that combine bagpipes, accordion, and banjo. At least, there was none that I found.
  • There's nothing quite like listening to a prank computer support call in German. I didn't understand any of it, except the parts where they were spelling command names.
  • It's a lot more amusing to listen to someone you know recite the Star Wars rap from memory than it is to listen to the original.
  • These are not people with CPAs -- these are people who think 'general ledger' refers to a World War II hero.
  • This is the panel discussion on computer software history; for social skills, go down the hall and take a right.
  • Fruit tea with tapioca balls is surprisingly good. Mine tasted vaguely like grapefruit. Except for the tapioca, of course.
  • If you had to choose a sci-fi universe to explore, which one would it be?
  • I can tell left from right, but the whole east-west thing still confuses me sometimes.
  • Patxi is running RedHat 9.0 now.
  • Iterative refinement is my friend.
  • Sound effects may not make an explanation of a mathematical concept any clearer, but sometimes they're the best part.
  • Did I mention there's a bug in my code?
  • Currently drinking: Black coffee

Monday, June 09, 2003

Ha! Someone obsessed with work is correctly called an ergomaniac, not a workaholic. At the moment, I feel not at all like an ergomaniac. And while it's useful to know what I should say instead of workaholic, I still don't know what fear of frogs is properly called.

  • Currently drinking: Earl grey

Mark Twain wrote once that The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco. A few days after I first arrived in Berkeley, someone told me that before I left here, I would hear those words many times, and she was right. It's an exaggeration, of course, but like all good Twain exaggerations it has enough truth in it to have some punch. It's a cool, breezy, overcast day, and I expect the rest of the week to be more of the same.

I saw Matrix Reloaded again yesterday. I originally wanted to see Finding Nemo, but could find nobody else who wanted to go. But Mike had not seen Matrix Reloaded, and I felt like getting out of the apartment for a while. I think I enjoyed it more the second time through, though I don't know that I would care to see it a third time. I caught some references I missed before, not to mention some background footage.

In particular, at the end of the movie when Captain Morpheus's ship Nebuchadnezzar was destroyed, he quotes I have dreamed a dream, and my spirit was troubled to know the dream. The line completely passed me by the first time; I didn't even register it, probably because it was spoken relatively quietly. But I registered it this time, and sure enough, it's straight out of Daniel -- spoken by Nebuchadnezzar just before Daniel interprets his dream.

I may be comfortably agnostic by now, but early education and later study of the Bible proves to be very useful cultural background at unlikely times. There were other allusions, too, to classical mythology, Buddhism, and various other traditions. A lot of it is obscured by the action sequences and the more obvious fuzzy philosophizing of the main characters, though.

On the way home, I talked with Mike about some of those allusions. Mike commented that he vaguely remembered a book called Daniel existed, but didn't really remember it. He commented that he also thought the Bible was interesting from a literary and cultural perspective, but found the language differences between King James and modern English to be frustrating. I asked if he knew what the difference between thou and you actually was. It's the difference between second person singular and plural: thou refers to an individual, you refers to a group. Given the pre-eminent place of the King James translation of the Bible and of the works of William Shakespeare, I think it's remarkable that so few people remember the difference. I also think the invention of the Southern y'all is an ironic twist of linguistic history.

And now I think I should go think about some eigenvalue computations.

Friday, June 06, 2003

I finished reading Idoru by William Gibson this evening. It's an interesting book, definitely worth reading. After I finished it, I looked up at the ceiling and thought It's 2:30 in the morning, isn't it? But when I looked at my watch, I saw it was only 11:00.

I made couscous with raisins and tomatos for dinner, along with a pot of black bean chili. I would have skipped the chili, but my neighbors returned not long after I started cooking. They looked hungry, and I felt like I could use the company, not to mention the variety in my own diet.

I've noticed that I eat less when I eat alone. What I eat alone is also often not as well-balanced as what I eat in company -- bread, fruit, and water go a long way, but vegetables and protein are useful, too. Friends who are willing to share a meal are a valuable commodity.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

I just received the eGrad newsletter, which began with this message from the dean of the graduate division:

Summer is the blessing of academic life. Those of you who soldiered in the regular workforce before returning to scholarly endeavor understand that well. Most of you will not spend the summer in travel or play. You will be working--in the library, lab, or perhaps at a café or in an office. But the rhythm will be different from the rest of the year. And there will be weekends, at least, in the sun. Enjoy the blessings of summer, and of course, wear sunscreen.

How very true.

I returned yesterday from a four-day weekend spent in Las Vegas for a wedding. I probably would never have gone to Vegas had it not been for the wedding, and I do not think I will return. But I enjoyed the time there, mostly because the other people attending the wedding were interesting folks, and it was a nice respite.

We arrived Thursday. We were lugging along two large blue bins for someone who stayed for a while in El Cerrito at the beginning of the semester, but who now is in Indiana. Those bins were sufficiently awkward to be more comical than annoying, particularly since Patxi had a folding cart on which to carry them. Such tasks make me thankful yet again for the invention of the wheel.

The first thing we saw as we exited the secure area was slot machines. I don't gamble, but I can understand playing card and dice games, purely for the human element. But I don't understand the appeal of slot machines. It's hard to deny their popularity, though, particularly when faced with acre after acre of them, all dinging and flashing like the apparatus in some Pavlovian experiment. One of the other Davids there for the wedding commented that the slot machines on the casino floor were like a factory that funded the place, except that the players probably wanted to be there more than most factory workers want to go to work.

Certainly those factory floors make money. The Strip, the section of Las Vegas Boulevard where lots of the big hotel / casinos live, is a place of extremes. It's as if someone dropped the seeds of a highly hallucinogenic plant on the desert floor, then added water. Almost all the structures are big and glittery, as are many of the people. And more structures are going up, too. Patxi and I spent some time walking around, and Patxi never took off his structural engineering hat. It was interesting hearing him point out various features: floors with extremely high ceilings and low column densities, issues of thermal expansion during construction, bracing strategies, and sloppy detailing on some of the few visible joints.

Some of the places had arched ceilings painted and lit to look like skies early in the evening. The motion of the clouds in my peripheral vision was obviously not the usual, which I found disconcerting. But when I sat still and only saw the sky peripherally, the illusion was surprisingly convincing. A group of us ate in a French restaurant in the Paris Hotel on Friday evening, and it really did feel like we were looking out the windows at an early evening sky, not at another larger room.

Water was common as a decorative theme. Most of the hotels had pools, and a lot of them had outdoor water shows of some variety. The Bellagio had a reflecting pool that must have covered an acre or two; at night they had a musical light show, with lights reflecting off the water. The Mirage had a mock volcano in front, which poured out fountains of water and, once every half hour, fountains of fire as well. The Venetian had canals, and Treasure Island had a moat in which two fake ships fought a mock sea battle every couple hours in the evening.

I found the ostentatious displays of water disquieting. Las Vegas is in the middle of the desert, a fact which is impossible to forget if you're outside for more than a minute, or if you bother to glance at the sere mountains on the horizon. Wars are fought over water in the desert, and the water spent in Vegas is water that's needed by the people further south, in Mexico. It's a precious commodity, and it bothered me to see it squandered so frivolously. I'm reminded of a scene at the beginning of the book Dune, in which attendees of a banquet on a desert planet deliberately waste water as a symbol of their status.

The food was good. I ate at a few buffets, and in each case I left feeling contentedly full. And Vegas is an amusing place for people watching. The coffee was generally overpriced and mediocre at best, but that's probably just as well in a place where it's so easy to dehydrate. And I enjoyed meeting and spending time with people involved in the wedding, which is really what made the weekend fun.

The wedding ceremony itself was short and surprisingly comfortable. It was an outdoors wedding, so I let discretion be the better part of valor and abandoned my coat before I left the hotel room. But the shade and the misting system kept the temperature bearable, and even the men who chose to retain their coats seemed to be fine, if less comfortable. Both Mike and Tracy said I do a little early, partly because the minister had substantial pauses in his reading, and both had the grace to chuckle at themselves. In general, it looked like there was a lot more laughter than tears at the wedding. I'm not completely certain about that, since I was sitting toward the front and could only see part of the audience, and since I spent a couple minutes in the middle frantically trying to change over the batteries in Anant's digital camera. But I didn't notice anyone crying.

Patxi and I stayed an additional day in Vegas after the wedding, simply because air fare was cheaper that way. We saw some of downtown Vegas afterward, and it was a bit less over-the-top than the Strip. Still, I was happy to head for home on Monday morning, even if it meant getting up at 5:00, and even if the trip home was a lot more eventful than usual. I went into the office yesterday afternoon, and went to my meetings, and then collapsed when I returned home. I fell over around midnight and got up before six during my stay in Vegas; yesterday, I took a nap in the evening, got up for a couple hours, and then slept from 10:30 pm to about twelve hours later. I think I needed the rest.

And now I'm ready to work again.

  • Currently drinking: Water