Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Recent Happenings

I've done better at writing letters this semester than I sometimes do, but recently I've neither written many letters nor much e-mail about day-to-day life here. If you would normally be a recipient of such an e-mail or letter, read on. If not -- well, the beauty of the written word is that you can ignore it without being impolite, so you can read or not as is your preference, right?

A bit over two weeks ago, I went to Davis with some posters from the SUGAR group, including one new one on my recent research, for a CITRIS event (the Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society is a multi-university research initiative in which my advisor is heavily involved). There were relatively few students there compared to the last time I went, which is odd since I remember reading at some point that they intended to have increased student interaction. I did cartwheels to get a poster ready in time, mostly because I decided to use PowerPoint (since I had an existing template and since I roughly knew how to print PowerPoint to a plotter). I'm not very good with PowerPoint -- I usually do all my presentations using a LaTeX package called Prosper -- but I was managing okay until the program crashed. Then it asked me if I wanted to save my presentation before exiting, and I foolishly said I did. I think the reason for the crash in the first place might have been that the file system flaked out, since it was spotty for most of the day; but in any event, the saved file was corrupted, and I had to restart. Fortunately, one of the other people in the SUGAR group had access to a plotter (a blessing on her head), and the Inkstone, a little store south of campus, had poster boards.

I got another pen while I was at the Inkstone, too. I've filled it with blue ink (in the other fountain pen I use black ink). I've been using it in my letter writing since then. It doesn't seem like I've written that much with it, but it's enough that I ran out of ink while I was on my trip to New York, and so switched back to the black pen for at least one letter. I still haven't finished cackling over the pen -- I can be worse than a hen with an egg, at least when it comes to socks, books, tea, and office supplies. By the way, you should look up the story of George Parker and the history of the Parker pens some time -- it's fascinating. One of my buddies from Soda got an impromptu lecture on George Parker's story after I'd finished reading about it (fortunately, I have some friends who find these things as fascinating as I do -- beats seeing eyes glaze over or hearing What I just heard was 'blah, blah, blah' any day), and he subsequently forwarded a pointer to a page on the best disposable pen there is, which also pleased me.

My flatmate asked at the very end of October whether it would be okay with me if his girlfriend moved into the apartment. I said that was fine with me if it was fine with them, and so it looks like there will be a third person living here starting in December. There will also be a Siamese cat, which means I won't have to be jealous of Vince's guinea pig any more. I'm looking forward to that immensely; I miss our cats when I'm away from home, but finding places that will accept pets here is tough. Given how hard I am on the plants, maybe that's just as well, particularly since I don't have any friends who would be willing to cat-sit when I travel.

I can already see the changes taking place in the apartment with Elena moving in. Jim (current flatmate) is not as tidy as Patxi was, and while we keep things organized enough, and I vacuum and pick up at least weekly, there are certainly aspects of this place that practically cry out bachelor pad. Or perhaps they cry out place where two somewhat absent-minded guys with no particular taste live, if they're inclined to be verbose. Maybe the stuff that I have more to do with uses longer phrases? Anyhow, there is a nightlight in the bathroom now, and a new shower curtain; there is a woven basket for magazines; and there probably are or will be a lot of things that I won't notice for some time to come, but are naetheless there. Or maybe they'll be pointed out to me with sparkling eyes; some people get as excited about getting decorative materials from Target as I get about getting new pens, and the world's the richer for it.

The start of November was hectic. One of my colleagues got measurements from a bunch of devices that I had simulated, and they matched the predictions that my code gave -- including one phenomenon that we hadn't expected before doing the simulation (which has a huge impact, but which is sort of hard to explain in one or two nontechnical sentences; if you're curious, I've linked the paper from my web page). I was ecstatic. This is, of course, the idea of what computational science is supposed to do, but it hardly ever works out so nicely with so little effort. Yes, I realize that so little effort is the culmination of several years of pondering on my thought and an even longer period of pondering on the part of other people, but still -- I'm very happy about it.

So there was data to match to my simulations, and then a paper to write on the topic, and all that was due on November 1. There was also an abstract deadline on Nov 1 for a linear algebra meeting to take place next summer; I wish I had more time to spend on the abstract, but we'll see what happens -- it's good work, so if I'm invited, I expect the talk to be stronger than the abstract was. On Nov 2, I gave a practice version of the talk that I gave on Nov 5 at NYU. I was on a plane Nov 3 and Nov 6.

The trip to NYU went well. I think my talk went well, and I certainly had a lot of interesting conversations. Also, this was my first trip into NY city, and it was fun to go exploring, even if the group was just me, myself, and I. I went to hear jazz at the Village Vanguard, I enjoyed a beautiful day in Central Park, and I got to take a couple long walks. I went into the original Barnes and Noble, and passed by the Strand bookstore (I would have gone into the latter, but it was late enough that it was closed). And it was nice to be out and about in the fall on the East Coast. I'm not sure whether it's the weather or the trees that make the difference, but fall in Berkeley doesn't feel the same as fall in the Midwest or the East. Fall is still one of my favorite seasons even here, but I think I prefer the East Coast variety.

It seems like I spent most of last week catching up, at least for the start of the week. It's amazing how much stuff can pile up. I took Friday off and went to the South Bay and helped to troubleshoot Linux problems. Also, someone apparently got hold of my credit card number who shouldn't have, and billed a bit over five hundred dollars for management consulting services to my account. Fortunately, Citibank figured out that this was fishy within 24 hours of the transaction -- long before I would have discovered it on my monthly statement -- and so they called me to tell me that I might have been defrauded. We cancelled one card, and I just got a new card in the mail yesterday; and, according to the representative I spoke with, an affadavit and some instructions should follow shortly. It's worked out with remarkably little hassle, though. I'm always shocked when I deal with a beauracracy and it doesn't turn into a dreadful mess; in a way, I'm more shocked that Citibank dealt with the situation so gracefully than I am that someone decided I was a good target for fraud.

I also seem to have lost my student ID, and with it my phone list. I'm not sure if it fell out of my pocket somewhere when I took out my wallet, or if I just misplaced it, but the fact remains that I'm now missing most of my phone numbers. This would probably cause me more concern if I spoke to more than two people on the phone with any regularity. As it is, I figure it will probably show up eventually, and it's not worth worrying about in the mean time.

And that's the news from Lake Woebegone. I should get going now -- I've finished my morning coffee, there's a meeting in half an hour, and I wanted to get one more task done before then.

  • Currently drinking: One last sip of coffee