Science and Industry, part deux
Should have blogged this on Friday but I'm still behind Went to a business meeting at the Mysterious Software Startup Company I work for now. The meeting was held at our 'downtown branch office', which means the Starbucks at Lake and LaSalle. Cuz we don't have an office yet. Starbucks is great because you can sit in their chairs and mooch off their wireless internet all day without actually buying anything.
I'm excited about this job. The 'development team' is four programmers from U of C, so I knew all of them before this. I'm not allowed to tell you about our product, since I signed a non-disclosure contract, but it's something exciting and fun and new. And I get to use Python. Got lots of details hammered out at this meeting and am feeling pretty good.
On the way back, one of my neighbors bummed five dollars off of me for gas to go pick up her kids. I only mention this because it may not be the end of the story.
This week was Orientation or "O-week", when the new freshmen get sorted into Houses (no, seriously!), go on tours of campus, sign up for classes and clubs, etc. etc. The freshmen get younger every year. They look so tiny and confused. I wonder at first whether this is some kind of field trip where junior-high kids come to look at a university, but no, they belong to us. So anyway, a highlight of O-week is MSI night. That's Museum of Science and Industry, again. They kick everybody else out but let all U of C students go there for free from 7 to 11. OK, I'm not really a student now, but I can pass for one. So I'm hanging out with Sushu at the museum, and we eat lots of cookies and sugar and I get hyper, and we meet up with Austin who is just back from California.
He was working there as an intern at a video game company. He regaled us with stories about how the PS2 is horrible -- horrible! to program for, and about the technological innovations in the XBox 360 or whatever it's called. Just the other week, he was driving between LA and SF and had a car accident -- from what I understand, his brakes locked up and his car went off the edge of the road and tumbled down into a ditch and he climbed out of the wreckage straight into a huge field of poison oak, so his whole body was one big rash. OMG. I would link directly to his version of the story but I can't remember his livejournal name.
Chatted for a while with the crazy old dude who does the signal electronics for the huge railroad set in the musem. It's a representation of Chicago and Seattle with a mountain range in between. It's pretty cool really. I probably would have been heavily into model trains if I had been born before computers were invented. That or HAM radio. This guy told us about how many relays were in there, and how they had to fudge the scale in certain places, and how the train has gone around enough times to add up to the actual distance from Chicago to Seattle. He probably would have kept talking all night if I had continued being interested. It was cool that this guy had found a way to take this hobby he was obviously so passionate about and turn it into a career. I love crazy old guys like that. I want to be one someday.
Also went down into the coal mine, with a flamboyant and corny and probably gay coal-miner guide. He seemed to be stuck in entertaining-six-year-olds-mode and couldn't turn it off for college students. It was fun though. Lessee, what else did we do -- ah, we went into the german u-boat U505, which was captured by the americans, raided for information on secret codes, and eventually dragged to Chicago through the great lakes, hoisted up from the harbor, across the street, and lowered into a huge hole to have a museum exhibit built around it. I have always wanted to go inside the submarine but there's always a huge line for this exhibit -- tonight was finally my chance. And we say an Omnimax film about cave exploration, and looking for unknown extremophile bacteria in ice caves in greenland and underwater caves in Mexico. Very cool.
Yeah, I love that museum. Friday was one of the best days I've ever had. My friends who I missed all summer were back, and the coming year promises to be full of good things. There's another reason I'm happy too, but it's private |=`)
Science and Industry and Love and Tears and Panda and Kempo
Wow, this has been a busy week! I don't have time to go into detail, so here's the high points:
Tuesday: Sushu came back from California and we picked her up at the airport. Yayyy Sushuuuu! We made a cool "Welcome Back Sushu" banner. On the way there we stopped at Crooked Hat Games in Shaumburg, which is the store where I originally bought my Warhammer 40k army at, almost exactly one year ago. They are going out of business, which is very sad, but it means everything in the store was el cheapo. They were even selling off terrain pieces from their in-store wargaming boards, so I snatched a couple cool ones of those. Which reminds me, this summer I made a lot of cool Warhammer terrain out of household objects, glue, paint, styrofoam, sand, etc. etc. IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FAR FUTURE THERE IS ONLY ARTS AND CRAFTS. I'll put up some pictures once it's all done.
So, happily reunited with The Sush, we went to Japanese grocery store Mitsuwa to stock up on ingredients, buy Pocky for anime club, and to get a few things to send to my ex-JET friends Will and Tonya in Wyoming, the Land of Not-so-good Access to Japanese Food. Shh, it's a surprise. Also a surprise: ran into my sister Kristin and her 'posse' at Mitsuwa! Her hair was maroon this time. A recent addition to her posse is Daiki, a Japanese immigrant named who Kristin met as he was waiting tables at a sushi resturaunt. He's from Osaka, and he's kinda FOB but lots of fun.
Wednesday: My British friend Mark left to continue has travels around the world. (He's going to Washington DC, then Britain, then California). I've got lots of stories to tell about Mark. He's the hard-drinking, womanizing, fun-loving type. I don't actually know many of those, since most of my friends are nerds, so it was really interesting. We were walking along one day and he said "Jono, I just realized something. You're really weird." Most people notice this immediately, but since we met on the mat my own personal weirdness was temporarily masked by the general Aikido weirdness. So anyway, a few days before he left we went to the Museum of Science and Industry.
There was a traveling exhibit called "Body Worlds". This is extremely cool and you should see it if it comes to a museum near you. Basically, a creepy German guy named Gunther von Hagens figured out a new way to preserve corpses, by replacing all the water in their cells with plastic. This exhibit is... wow. Words fail me. Imagine works of art, made out of real corpses. It's educational, it's artistic, and it's quite disturbing. That link has some pictures. And also information on how to donate your body after you die!
While we were waiting in line for this (it's very popular), I was looking at some airplanes hanging from the ceiling. One of them had what looks like a bulls-eye painted on it. "Ha-ha", I said, "It's like saying hey you enemy planes, aim right here!". "That's the RAF logo!" said Mark, incensed. "That's a Spitfire, and the other one is a Stuker, and the only reason you're not speaking German right now is because the plane with the bulls-eye is a tiny bit better than the one with the iron cross!"
Thursday: had a meeting with Don, head sensei of the aikido club, sociology professor, expert on Ethiopia, secret puppet-master of international politics, etc. I'm going to be the teaching assistant for his class "Conflict Theory and Aikido". We're going to read books about conflict theory, discuss, and then go onto the mat and test theories out. I'm looking forward to this. Besides getting a stipend, and maintaining a connection with the university (P.S. I graduated), and besides the another chance to do Aikido, this will also be cool because it's a chance to meet people outside of computer science. Sociology, like wow man, that's a whole nother world.
And, uh, this is getting really long, I must continue later
I love eBay. It's capitalism at its best -- prices set fairly by supply and demand, with everyone able to participate equally, no monopolies or cartels, no global barriers, perfect selection, and a feedback system to keep out the crooks. If only it could all be that way.
So, I sold fourteen of my old Magic: the Gathering cards: 13 dual lands and a Sol Ring from Revised edition. When the auction finished, they were broken up among six different people, for a total price of $303.01. Huzzah! That's more than my share of the rent for a month!
I just looked at the addresses of the buyers (those crazy, crazy people who pay twenty-five dollars for one card -- I used to be one of them, sigh). One person in Spain, one in Italy, one in Canada, and one in Singapore. Time to figure out international shipping!
This summer I've been doing a LOT of aikido. Like, six times a week, sometimes more, with a small group of other hard-core people who stayed on at campus all summer, and with a British dude named Mark who is in town a few months working for Don. Mark and I bonded quickly and went on lots of crazy aikido adventures together.
Places where we did aikido practice this summer:
- Wrestling room at Henry Crown;
- Auxilliary Gym at Ratner;
- The Other Gym at Ratner;
- Squash Court at Henry Crown (rolls on bare wood floor, huzzah!)
- Pool Classroom at Ratner;
- Don's Basement Dojo;
- Don's Backyard Garden;
- Chicago Aikikai;
- Inaka Dojo (in Beecher, Illinois)
There's even a Hiroshi Ikeda seminar coming up in Bloomington, Indiana this weekend, but I'm skipping it because I actually need to take some time away from aikido and get more programming done. So I'm cutting down to four times a week instead of a rather insane six, and now I feel lazy.
These pictures were all taken in Don-sensei's garden by Melina Kolb on September 10, 2005.
Whole class training
Dwight and Maria with Bokken
Dan gets flipped
Mark gets chopped
Don being all cool
Old archives moved in
I just pulled all the old blog html files into my database with a one-shot perl script. That was fun. They're all in there; now I must add links for browsing the old stuff, and I probably have to fix some broken internal links (images etc) in the old entries.
Blog Source Code
Stephen requested that I GPL my blog source code so he can add features. Thanks for offering, Stephen! Well, these are scripts that I threw together in one day, and it's not like they were under any other liscence before. And it's not like they're in a proper CVS repository. But I put up the source code for everyone to see, copy, steal, criticize, learn from, or modify.
The Syrians are Gone
So, Jeremy and I are sharing this apartment, and two other students are going to move in with us in the fall. But for the summer, we had some empty rooms. We (well Jeremy really) decided to sublet them to reduce our rent. He put out an advertisement and got a response from a Syrian medical student named Ahmed. Ahmed was coming to the U of C hospital to do some kind of residency requirement.
Ahmed's English wasn't too good, but he practiced very hard and we helped him out and he improved rapidly. He was very polite, and shared his crazy Syrian food with us (it mostly consists of yummy oily things that you dip pita bread into). The first night he was here we had to look up the direction to Mecca so he could pray. And set an alarm clock for dawn so he could pray again at sunrise.
After he had been here about a week, he asked whether his friend Basil, also a Syrian medical student, could come and stay with him. Jeremy and I thought this was a little sketchy, but couldn't see any reason why not. So Ahmed and Basil were sharing a room. Basil had been in America before and had a bit of good-humored cynicism in him; Ahmed was more like a big kid: earnest, curious, constantly needing things explained.
And then after about another week, Ahmed and Basil asked whether a third Syrian medical student friend, could also come and stay with them. "How many of you guys are there?" I asked. They looked at each other, paused, and said "...twenty..." >8-O "You can't all live here!!" I said.
Another one of Ahmed's friends back in Syria -- an engineering student, not a med -- wanted to buy some electronic parts from an American company. Specifically, some USB decoders and similarly innocuous integrated-circuits. But the company website wouldn't ship them to Syria. I wanted to help, so I volunteered that we could have the circuits shipped to our house, and then Ahmed could send them back to Syria. No problem, right?
Once the parts arrived, I suddenly remembered that the US has put a trade embargo on Syria. So my innocent attempt to help a friend might very well be classified by the feds as "smuggling U.S. technology into a terrorist-supporting nation". Hmmm. At press time, Ahmed was planning on taking the chips back with him on the plane instead of shipping them. I warned him that he had better make very sure of what the law is, and should turn the chips over if they're contraband, and not try to smuggle them in his sock. I hope he'll be allright.
It was a fun experience having them around. Especially learning Arabic words from them. Al-salaamu ali-kom! But I am kind of relieved that they're gone now. It's not that their Islamitude made me uncomfortable, but...
no, wait a minute. That's exactly what it was. Their religion makes me uncomfortable. My liberal upbringing has trained me to be overly accepting of other cultures while being critical of my own, so admitting that Muslims creep me out feels like I'm admitting to some kind of moral failing. But now that I think about it more, I have exactly the same amount of respect for Islam as I have for Christianity
-- that is to say, absolutely none --
So I'm just going to go ahead and criticize. Ahmed and Basil were nice people. They were friendly, polite, helpful: close to ideal roommates. But they sincerely believe that a big invisible man in the sky with magic powers is going to punish me (me personally) with unimaginable torments after I die, forever. Because I'm not kneeling on a rug and chanting along with them five times a day. That puts a bit of a strain on any friendship.
Favorite website: Internet Infidels, which has a very active Atheist discussion forum.
I just found out, after he left, that Ahmed is a Creationist. He's studying to be a doctor, and yet he's willing to throw out all of modern biology (along with geology, history, physics, the scientific method, and logic) in favor of barbarian fairy tales. I wonder if he thinks diseases are caused by demonic posession? That's not someone I want treating me.
I was just going to avoid topics of religion, but Ahmed kept dragging me into those conversations. He wanted to tell me how he knows that the Koran is true:
1. Mohammed was illiterate, so he couldn't have written it! It must have come from God!
2. There are similarities between the Koran stories and the Jewish and Christian scriptures, so they must have all come from the same source, i.e. God, because Mohammed never had contact with any Jews or Christians that he could have heard their legends from. Nope, never.
3. (This one is best of all) The Arabic poetry in the Koran is so beautiful that it is beyond the ability of any human being ot compose, ergo must have come from God.
Well, I can't argue with that logic. I don't really know enough about Islam to combat it intelligently. I've read enough of the Bible in English to know what a monstrous piece of trash it is, but unless I learn to read Arabic the Muslims can just use the excuse of "oh you've only read the translation, you can't understand the true power, etc etc". Cuz of course the all-powerful creator of the universe only speaks Arabic.
Fish! And plankton! And protein from the sea!
Hi everybody! My blog makes its triumphant return from the dead today. It is now running on my own personal webserver, in my room, using dynamic DNS and my DSL connection. Readers can now create an account, login, and leave comments (I've tried to make this as painless as possible.) So leave me some comments and help me test this thing. Then I will retroactively blog all the crazy adventures I went on this summer.