Monday September 27
I was happy all day because Alexis made me a bento this morning. It had inari-zushi and broccoli and those rolled omlettes. I feel loved.
Today was the first day of fall classes. My first class is called Computer Systems, and it's all about low-level stuff -- for example, how the CPU retrieves data from memory, how the data get cached, and what that means for us if we're trying to optimize a program for speed. There's going to be a lot of assembly-language programming. I'm excited. Assembly language is such a lost art that I feel like I'm about to be taught black magic or something. Our professor, Ann Rogers, has a different metaphor: "Java is like driving an automatic. C is like driving a stick-shift. Assembly language is auto mechanics." One of our assignments is going to be reverse-engineering a binary executable (program) file by reading the machine opcodes. Another one is going to involve writing buffer-overflow attacks. Wicked cool.
Sunday September 26
There are tiny freshmen wandering around all over the place. They look so YOUNG. They're not actually that much younger than some of my undergrad-friends, but their body language is a dead giveaway. You can just tell they are thinking "Freedom! ...What am I supposed to do now?" I am reminded of when I started at Connecticut college in...
Holy guacamole, that was ELEVEN YEARS AGO. I feel so old.
Anyway, today was the "RSO Fair", where all the clubs on campus recruit the newbies. Both the Aikido club and the Anime club wanted me to help out... but the Anime club asked first. I got my Ryoga costume and my box of Gachapon toys out of my parents' attic. I was very glad to have the Ryoga parasol because the fair was outside in blazing sunlight. In previous years clubs got to pick their own table, but this year we were assigned to them. We ended up in between the Orthodox Christian Students' Union and the Society for Creative Anachronism. The free pocky and hundreds of toy anime characters on our table did their job and attracted enough sign-ups to fill four pages. Some people were just getting their feet wet, others tried to outdo us with their otaku-ness. (They have no idea who they're dealing with!) Meh, anime fans these days are a different breed, with their BitTorrent digital fansubs, and their crappy Chobits and Naruto. I have been appointed club secretary and webmaster, and I have appointed myself Guardian of the Old School. My goal this year is to teach all these n00bZ the wonders of Osamu Tezuka.
Thursday September 23
Alexis, Aza, Isaac, and Sushu all came back and were waiting to surprise me when I got home! Aza flew back from Tokyo to California, met up with the others, and they all took a zany cross-country road-trip and returned to Chicago like a blazing chariot of triumph.
Aza is going spelunking in Mammoth Cave in Kentucky this weekend. I'm jealous!
Someday September 18
I decided to start an arbitrary new diet. I'm not eating anything containing "high fructose corn syrup" or "hydrogenated soybean oil", or for that matter any corn syrup or hydrogenated anything oil. Corn syrup and hydrogenated oil are kinda creepy once you realize what they ARE. I imagine it was something like this:
"Gee, in America we produce lots of healthy crops like corn and soybeans. How are we ever going to become the fattest nation on Earth just by eating wholesome vegetables? We'd better come up with a chemical process for turning corn and soybeans into artificial sugar and saturated fat!"
This diet is both easier and harder than it sounds. Homemade cookies are fine because they're made with butter and sugar. But many of my favorite kinds of breakfast cereal (including King Vitaman!) are now off-limits. Cheerios, Grape-nuts, and Life are still OK, but a lot of supposedly healthy cereals like Total are not.
Although it's fairly arbitrary to eliminate two chemicals but not their natural analogues (sugar and butter), my idea is that it will cut down on my consumption of junk in general by forcing me to read ingredients and reconsider everything before I put it in my mouth.
Saturday September 12
Jeremy is going away to India the day after tomorrow to study for the next quarter. He'll be having a great time; spicy food and difficult languages are his favorite things. Jeremy doesn't like getting fancy presents because he hates feeling obligated, but lately he's been collecting these dumb Yu-Gi-Oh toys from Burger King which have wind-up monsters inside pyramids. Since I went to Burger King for lunch with Argonne co-workers the other day, I got a Yu-Gi-Oh toy ("It's not for me, it's for my roommate... honest..." A likely story!) When I gave it to Jeremy he was bouncing up and down with glee like a five-year-old. I'm gonna miss him.
Anyway, today we went to Japanese grocery store Mitsuwa, hoping to get dinner. But the resturaunt portion was closed by the time we got there, so I did some blitzkreig-shopping and then we went resturaunt hunting. We spied some neon Hangul (the Korean writing system) in a suburban strip mall and decided to chance it. Will it be sketchy? Will it be bogus? The waitress automatically greeted us in Korean before realizing we were a group of honkys. Then she got flustered and tried to remember how to speak English. Besides us there were only Koreans in there, and the English on the menu was a poorly-spelled afterthought. That's when you know you've found a really good resturaunt! The best thing about Korean cuisine is that they always put a dozen little dishes of different appetizers on the table, so you get to try out many mystery substances (like a bowl of crunchy, salthy, tiny whole fish with eyes) while you wait to find out what it was that you just ordered. Mine was a distant cousin of okonomiyaki. Everything was great and spicy! I want to recommend this place, but I don't know its proper name, cuz I can't read Korean and the only English on the window was "Korean Resturaunt".
Oden ingredients were on sale at Mitsuwa. I will make oden tomorrow so Jeremy can try it before he goes.
Tuesday September 8
Last night the Aikido club had a going-away party for S0ren-sensei (that's supposed to be an o-with-a-slash-through-it in his name) who has graduated and is moving on. It's a shame, cause he's a really cool guy in addition to being a great Aikido practitioner and teacher. We'll miss you!
At the party, Yasu told me he and some friends were planning to watch the sun rise over the lake the next morning. I got up at 5:30 and joined them. There's a small peninsula with a nice park on it. It's called "Promontory Point" which makes me giggle. Who came up with that name and what else did they name? "Water Lake?" "Hill Mountain"? Anyway, it was very nice, just sitting quietly watching the birds fly south and watching the pink ripples in Lake Michigan. When the sun's on the horizon and the air is thick enough, you can look straight at it without ruining your eyes, and it's just a little red dot, climbing with surprising speed. I find that if I focus right, I can achieve one of those two-faces/candlestick mental swaps and suddenly see the sun standing still and the earth spinning us towards it.
Saturday September 1
Austin is a big fan of a game called Warhammer 40,000. This is a tabletop wargame where you push around dozens of tiny futuristic war machines -- which you have to assemble and paint yourself of course. One of the neat things is that instead of a set "board", you can use just about any surface as a battlefield. The game rules express all distances in inches, so you can, say, move this unit of troops six inches, and then they can fire at anything within twelve inches; you measure it with a ruler. Some people make tables with elaborate cities and jungles to battle in; if you don't have the patience for that you can just throw some common household objects on the table and then plan your strategy to use books and mugs as cover from fire while advancing on the enemy position. Resolving combat means rolling huge heaps of dice and looking up the results on elaborate tables.
There are about ten different human and alien factions you can play as, and each has dozens of specialized kinds of soldiers and weapons and vehicles, and of course they're all sold seperately so Games Workshop (creator of HeroQuest as well as Warhammer, incidentally) can fleece more money from gamers desperate to get an advantage over the competition. Much like Magic: the Gathering, except with more glue and paint fumes. The hard-core come up with custom color schemes and paint incredibly detailed insignia, battle scars, etc. on their army men with a magnifying glass and single-hair paintbrush.
The SF backstory is pretty cool too; in the year 40,000 the galaxy-spanning Empire of Man is a corrupt, totalitarian, decadent, decaying, medieval theocracy dedicated to the worship of their immortal God-Emporer, protected by genetically engineered, power-suited, psycho-conditioned Space Marines, and beset by countless multitudes of alien foes including Space Orks and Warp-dwelling demons. It feels a lot like Starcraft without the computer. There are even races very similar to the Zerg and the Protoss; since Warhammer 40K is the older game, I'm guessing Blizzard must have gotten their inspiration here.
Anyway, the reason I describe all this today is because Austin discovered that there is a game store in the boring whitebread suburb of Schaumburg that specializes in Games Workshop products, and today we drove out there. It was indeed a mecca of nerdliness. They have all these wargame tables set up in the store, and there was a precocious 10 or 12 year old boy hanging out there who knew everything there is to know about Warhammer 40K and gave me extensive advice about which army to choose. (That kid has a bright future ahead of him.) I was reluctant to get into a new game, since with my classes starting soon I know I won't have much time to play anything, much less paint an army. But in the end my inner nerd could not resist the combined temptation of sci-fi, strategy, statistics, collectibles, imaginary violence, and really cool miniature robots.
The last thing I've got to say about this today is that as we were leaving the store, I saw another car pull into the lot with the coolest vanity license plate ever. It said:
Of course I instantly recognized "Foe Hammer" as the common-tongue translation of the name of Gandalf's elven sword Glamdring. You knew that, right?
That reminds me -- the U. of C. offers a linguistics course in Elvish (about a third of the way down the page.) I love this place.