Well, that's the end of my so-called Spring Break. Worked long hours at Argonne every day trying to get the portal complete and the papers written. There was one unexpected hurdle after another, most of which I can blame on the fact that "portal" technology sucks even more than Magic the Gathering: Portal. Everything to do with server-side Java sucks. Just try to make sense of all the meaningless buzzwords on that page.
(...whoa, Magic has totally turned into Legend of the Five Rings!)
Ian wants to see the portal. Gregor wants to see the portal. Bill and Mike and Ravi want to see the portal. Is the portal done yet? Is the portal done yet? Our funding depends on this portal! No pressure or anything.
I do have some preliminary results. We have users in Canada, UK, Australia, Greece, Korea, Austria, Slovakia, Czech republic... that's kinda cool. There are some internal political battles going on over whether or not to reveal the IP addresses from which we receive usage statistics. I am NOT taking sides on that one; I can write the program either way, just as soon as those guys reach a consensus.
Funny story from work the other day: My co-worker Deepti left the office to go home... then returned a few minutes later and sat back down with her coat still on. "I can't go out the door", she said, "there are geese right outside it and they were threatening me." We laughed, but we understood: the Argonne geese are big, aggressive, and have no fear of humans. If you get close they rear up and honk and try to bite you. They're scary, man! Deepti had to wait until the geese decided to leave.
Then it was time for me to go home -- but I was so intent on getting the portal to work that I missed the bus home from Argonne. (The on-screen clock on my computer was 10 minutes slow). The last bus back to U of C is at 5:30; after that, well, you're just out of luck. Co-worker Raj gave me a ride as far as the Westmont Metra station. From there I took the train to Chicago and from there to Hyde Park; I got home at about 9 pm. Bleah! Note to self: Do not miss this bus! Not to be too negative or anything, but riding through the suburbs reminded me just how much I hate Illinois. I like Chicago, but the suburbs are a wasteland, a flat, endless, flavorless sprawl where fat boring white people go to breed more fat boring white people. This is not a place I want to stay. But I would perhaps like to hang around the U. of C. area one more year so I can see my friends graduate.
... but Music makes me feel better 1
Speaking of friends: I went to see Stephen's band, Fetla, perform in a random bar on the North side on Tuesday. I went up there with Sushu. (She and I took turns making dinner for each other this week, because we were the only two who didn't leave school for spring break. It was fun! I like her.)
So, Fetla was double-booked with a band called "The Buzzards". The two bands were about as different as they could possibly be and still both get filed under "rock" music. The contrast was stark and informative. The Buzzards were the 60s, Fetla was the 90s. The Buzzards were polished but uncreative, Fetla was creative but unpolished. The Buzzards were Rock and Roll, Fetla was just Rock. The Buzzards were Memphis or maybe Motown, Fetla was Seattle. The Buzzards had lots of vocal harmony and instrumental embellishment but they played the exact same 4/4 beat throughout their whole set. Fetla was loud fuzzy stripped down instrumentation but at least they varied the rythm. The Buzzards sang about shakin' it and hookin' up, Fetla sang about time machines and evil chemistry professors. The Buzzards attracted a crowd of people of my parents' generation (and older!) to rock out and pretend they were teenagers again. Fetla attracted college kids like, well, me.
Neither of these genres (whatever you want to call them) is something that I normally listen to much, but I thoroughly enjoyed both bands. I just silenced my inner critic and rocked out. In general, there's something great about live music performances, especially in a small intimate place like that where you can hang out and talk to the band afterwards. Who cares if they're not the greatest band in the world? When you know somebody in the band to root for it's even better.
This fits into an embryonic theory I'm developing... something to do with how to unplug yourself from The Media and reconnect to real life... but that's a rant for another time.
... but Music makes me feel better 2
I'm listening to Fetla's self-published demo CD now, and it's really growing on me. They sound a lot better when I can actually hear the lyrics and not just a wall of deafening fuzz from the speakers that were five feet away from me in the bar.
Speaking of music: Today I stopped by the indy-record store on the way home. I noticed that they are running Linux on their inventory-management computer. This simple fact cheered me up a whole bunch.
I got me some Soft Machine, Aphex Twin, "Purple Rain", and XTC's "Oranges and Lemons". The last of these was one of Bobby's favorites. The LP was on display at his funeral. I'll think of him every time I play it. That's a good thing, even if it makes me sad. Who wants to be happy all the time? OK, silly question, but my point is, it's good to have a balance of emotions in your life, and it's good to have music to go with each one.
That's the problem with grad school: it's not that it makes me feel bad; it's that it makes me feel nothing, most of the time, unless "deadline pressure" counts as an emotion. It's very dehumanizing. It's been so long since I've been anywhere or done anything besides work that I'm starting to forget who I am and why I'm alive.
But grad school only has 11 more weeks to grind me down. After that... well, after that I don't know, but at least it will be something different.
And then this Sunday, I have an appointment with Alexa, to hunt easter eggs. Sorry, Gregor, you'll just have to wait; promises to 4-year olds cannot be broken!
These are the people in your neighborhood
When I go outside (i.e. on my way to class or to work) I notice many interesting things on the sidewalk outside our apartment building. Broken glass, broken plates, traffic signs, shredded stuffed animals, oodles of empty plastic cups, and most recently, a broken cinder-block. These are always underneath a certain window. At first I thought there might be a furious marital spat going on up there which caused somebody to throw things out the window; now I think the more likely theory is that they're just drunken frat boys who like to experiment with gravity.
Also, when I go through the park on Kimbark on saturday morning, I sometimes pass our friendly neighborhood lunatic. He is an old white man with a scraggly white beard and beige trenchcoat, who marches along like he's in a parade. He thrusts a beat-up umbrella into the air with one hand, and with the other he holds a square of cardboard in front of his face. The cardboard is decorated in red marker in a pattern which presumably means something to him. As he marches he chants. I don't really want to stick around to hear the whole thing, but the parts of the chant that I've heard go: "...star of the east, taliban of the west, filthy traitor coward dirty whore..." Maybe, in his own mind, he's on some kind of political protest march. I don't know.
P.S. I have set my desktop background to Linux-Tan, and that makes me happier than I have any right to be.
Oh yeah, Earth's axis is tilted 23.5 degrees to the ecliptic!
Yesterday I went outside to do laundry and had to take off my coat, followed by my sweater -- it was warmer outside than inside. And what's that huge scary ball of fire doing in the sky? This can't be right! Slowly a long-buried memory rose into my mind. Ohhhh yeahhhh... Earth has seasons. It's not always winter!
Days like this happen four times a year. Funny, after 25 years you might think I'd start to expect the change, but it still comes as a revelation every single time.
Today, it's cold again. The trees are still leafless, the ground is still mud, and the howling wind on 55th street still cuts deep (55th street, being wide and straight for miles, is an excellent wind funnel), but the idea is in our heads now that it won't last forever.
And that reminds me that this school year, and this job for Gregor, aren't going to last forever either. In fact, there's just one week left of this quarter before finals week, and after that -- well, I'll still be just as busy, but it'll at least be different stuff.
So, this is the last lap, the home stretch, the last gasp, the hike up Mt. Doom, the battle with the limits of my physical and mental endurance (just how much sleep CAN I miss and still function?)
I'll see you on the other side.
Yay!! My dream came true!!
Dear Jonathan DiCarlo,
I am sorry to inform you that we are unable to offer you admission into
our Ph.D. program in Computer Science.
You should not view this decision as a judgment on your qualifications
to pursue graduate studies. We are limited in the number of students
we can admit into the program, and with the small handful of available
openings we felt that some others would fit better into the program.
We wish you the best in your pursuits, and we thank you for your
interest in the Department of Computer Science at the University of
Doom doom doom doom doom doom doom doom DOOOOM!
My main home computer (called TofuMac because it is white, cubical, and bought in Japan) is on the fritz now. Never had any problems with it before, but now it won't start up -- it just sits on the apple logo screen with the little wheel spinning forever. =( And Kristin has all my OS X restore CDs. I don't know what I'm going to do.
I saw KODO, traditional Japanese drumming group of supreme ultimate greatness, with Ben at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on Monday. It would take a long rant to explain why KODO is the most awesomest thing ever, so I'll have to save that for later. But the word "drumming" is inadequate to convey the overwhelming primordial power of what they do.
In other news, there's only a little more than two weeks left in the quarter, then spring break. This is not nearly enough time to finish the insanely massive quantities of work I have left to do (still three major programming projects to finish for school, and a looming March 31 deadline for work that will require lots of overtime).
This quarter I have worked every night and every weekend. The only day I have taken off was uchi-con. I have dropped out of anime club, missed most of my Aikido classes, I have lost touch with friends and family, I have missed out on sleep, I have given away my computer games, and I have even quit reading Slashdot. Except for the occasional cool thing like the Kodo concert, my life consists of eat, sleep, program, write documentation, and read scientific papers. I haven't actually been counting, but if you added it all up I think I'm working something like 100 hours a week. "That's normal", Gregor says. "You'd better get used to it. If you get into the PhD program don't expect to have a weekend off for the next five years." Gregor has offered to let me take finals week off of work so I can concentrate on exams, but only if I work double-time during spring break to make up for it.
I had a dream recently that I found out my PhD application was rejected, and I was very happy about it. I'm starting to think that getting into the PhD program is the worst thing that could happen to me.
And what do I have to show for all this work?
Well, I do have this, which is pretty cool.