I’m not dead, I swear

March 30, 2009

Around school, whenever I see admitted/prospective students being led around and given tours and whatnot, I can’t help thinking: Overachievers. This time last year, I didn’t even have my applications in.

Bleah

January 15, 2009

Six seconds with a pair of scissors this morning and I look infinitely less disheveled.

RIP

August 29, 2008

So, as it turns out, a single Pilot V Razor Point lasts through less than two weeks of a full courseload. After around 80 pages of notes (some pages letter-sized, some legal) and a bunch of newspaper crossword puzzles, the pen ran out of ink and sputtered out completely.

Next up: a Pilot Razor Point. These are basically my favorite pens ever. Not only do they have a wonderfully thin line, but their look is a classic of industrial design. Everything, from the cheap feel, to the shiny-speckle color, to the yellow plastic ring on the cap, is absolutely perfect. I’ll see how long this one lasts.

In other news, while researching this post I discovered Pen Addiction and Pen Quest, two blogs that frankly scare me.

(Pictures from Pilot Pen)

Back in the groove

August 18, 2008

You can tell I’m back in school because the trash can in my kitchen is overflowing and includes a precarious stack of take-out containers. (I swear, I’ll get to it soon.) Also by my backpack crammed full of weighty tomes. This time, they’re on topics like civil procedure and torts rather than aerodynamics and solid mechanics, but they’re still just as dense, jargon-filled, and pricey. Good times.

Not even kidding, by the way. Thus far it has absolutely been good times. A bunch of reading already, but it’s actually been quite interesting. I am enjoying this.

In other news: I’m extremely unhappy with some aspects of my Very Expensive University’s IT setup. They maintain a “portal” providing access to a bunch of different things, like schoolwide announcements, class listings, assigned reading, syllabi, email, and so on. Even before I was enrolled, I was granted limited portal access as an admitted student. At that time, I created a username and password for the portal, which later served as my username and password for school email. As was my wont, I selected a password that was mixed-case, included numerals, and didn’t have any dictionary words in it—you know, a “good” password. So far, so good.

The problem arose when I attempted to log in to the school’s wireless internet connection. My http traffic was redirected, as expected, to a login page. I’d been assured that my portal credentials would serve as my WiFi credentials as well—but every time I tried to log in to WiFi, I was informed that my credentials were invalid. I checked and doublechecked them, and made sure they still allowed me to check my email at the dedicated email stations around the corner.

So I made my way over to the help desk and explained my problem. The helpful and friendly (and patient—I was far from the only person asking for help at the same time) operator asked for my VEU student ID, which I provided her. She typed some stuff into her computer and started copying information from her screen to a sticky note, which she proceeded to show me.

On the sticky note were written my username and my password. Even worse, it wasn’t actually the password I’d set for myself, since it had been converted to lowercase. It turns out the reason I couldn’t log in was that the WiFi authentication was expecting my password all in lowercase.

Can you get any further from best practices? Not just storing the passwords as cleartext, which is bad enough, but forcing them to lowercase. I can’t decide which upsets me more.

On Man

June 18, 2008

To this point, I have read one of Dostoevsky’s novels and started reading another. Both have been thoroughly enjoyable and enlightening, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

No, the theme of today’s discussion, as you may have noted from the title of this post, is man. In each of his books I’ve read, Dostoevsky has had the narrator define man. The definitions are different from one another, but both are quite interesting.

The narrator of Notes from Underground provides these thoughts:

Gentlemen, let us assume that man is not stupid. (Really, you know, it is quite impossible to say that he is, if only because after all, if he is stupid who can be clever?) But if he isn’t stupid, he is monstrously ungrateful, all the same. He is phenomenally ungrateful. I even think that the best definition of man is: a creature that has two legs and no sense of gratitude.

And here is what Aleksandr Petrovich Goryanchikov, narrator of The House of the Dead, has to say:

When it got dark we used all to be taken to the barracks, and to be locked up for the night. I always felt depressed at coming into our barrack-room from outside. It was a long, low-pitched, stuffy room, dimly lighted by tallow candles, full of a heavy stifling smell. I don’t understand now how I lived through ten years in it. I had three planks on the wooden platform; that was all I had to myself. On this wooden platform thirty men slept side by side in our room alone. In the winter we were locked up early; it was fully four hours before everyone was asleep. And before that—noise, uproar, laughter, swearing, the clank of chains, smoke and grime, shaven heads, branded faces, ragged clothes, everything defiled and degraded. What cannot man live through! Man is a creature that can get accustomed to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.

Both definitions are true to a certain extent, and they’re certainly not exclusive of one another. Both apply to me, for example, so I can’t really disagree with either. I’m wondering whether this is a theme repeated in Dostoevsky’s writing. Does every one of his narrators reduce man to a pithy phrase like this? How would Fyodor himself have defined man?

Song of the Moment: «Med en gong eg når bånn» — Kaizers Orchestra

589

April 14, 2008

There’s probably a grain of truth to this:

Lest the value of computer searching be unduly emphasized, I would like to point out that computers have definitely not obsoleted human patent examiners. Computers cannot be made to combine references to anticipate specific inventions, although this would not appear to be insuperable. At the present time, there is no adequate approach towards the searching of mechanical inventions. I think it is self-evident that the searching of the chemical arts is a relatively easy matter compared to the searching of drawings. The underlying skeletal nature of chemical inventions, and their classification into well-recognized groupings render their searching a relatively simple matter. This is not true of mechanical inventions and in particular, complex mechanisms.

Arthur H. Seidel, Antitrust, Patent and Copyright Law Implications of Computer Technology, 44 J. Pat. Off. Soc’y 116, 123 (1962)

Then again, I don’t know much about chemistry [1], so I can’t really be sure.

In other news, sometimes it happens that I get a song stuck in my head without knowing what song it is [2]. Sometimes I’ll remember a snatch of the lyrics [3], or I’ll have some idea who the recording artist might have been [4], but just as often I won’t. The song I most recently got stuck in my head sounded like it might have been a post-Sgt.-Pepper Beatles track [5], or maybe a John Lennon solo track. Turns out it wasn’t. After weeks of increasingly halfhearted searching, I gave up. Some time later I put my mp3 player on shuffle and it spit out “I Could Spend the Day” by The Zombies, which is what I’d been looking for all along. I was happy.

* * *

[1] I may not know much about chemistry, but I do know some biology, I have a few science books, and I even remember some of the French I took.

[2] As I understand it, Paul McCartney wrote “Yesterday” by getting it stuck in his head without knowing what it was. After months and months of trying to figure out where he might have heard it or who might have recorded it, he grudgingly accepted the fact that he might have come up with it himself. So far, I haven’t been as lucky.

[3] Remembering a snatch of lyrics can be helpful, especially when what you remember also happens to be the name of the song. Unfortunately that doesn’t help all that much when what you remember is “I Do”. For the record, it’s by The Marvelows. It took quite a lot of searching for me to find it.

[4] Knowing the band isn’t very helpful when you have a dozen of that band’s albums. I mean, obviously it’s helpful since it narrows it down to a dozen albums, rather than a few hundred, but that’s still an awful lot of songs to dig through searching for a single riff that you almost thought was David Bowie at first before you suddenly realized it was CMX. (For the record, it was “Punainen nro. 6”.)

[5] Look, I do know the White Album, but my knowledge of anything past that is sketchy at best. (For the record, I think their strongest work was Rubber Soul or Revolver.) If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been meaning to familiarize myself with Abbey Road and Let It Be.

Random thoughts

January 8, 2008

  • How can Coca-Cola justify and/or get away with asserting that they use the “original formula” for Coke, when the current formula has only been in use since 1984? That’s when they changed sweeteners from sugar to high-fructose corn syrup, which strikes me as a rather substantive, if straightforward, change. Funny, though, that Mexico still has “the real thing” while those of us in the land where Coke was born have to make do with a compromised version made necessary by the combination of ridiculous import tariffs on sugar and downright grotesque subsidies to corn growers.
  • When I first tried contact lenses, it was such an amazing and wonderful experience that I couldn’t believe it. For one thing, I could see clearly—that was quite nice, but I could achieve the same result with glasses, and had been doing so since I was 8 or 9 years old. The difference with contacts was that I could see without distortion.

    Glasses, especially ones as strong as mine, introduce a good deal of distortion. Objects appear smaller, for one thing, and straight lines become curved, especially if they’re far from the optical center of the lens. And, of course, your peripheral vision is shot to hell, since you have what amounts to a patch of clarity floating in a sea of blur. No matter how big your glasses, they simply can’t correct your vision in every possible direction you can look. Even lens materials introduce their own issues. Go with a fancy lightweight plastic, and you have to put up with frankly sickening amounts of chromatic aberration. (The first time I tried plastic lenses, I had to return them to the store an hour later because the fringing literally made me sick to my stomach.) Glass is much better in that regard, and is a good deal more scratch-proof to boot, but weighs a ton, especially when your prescription is as strong as mine.

    I’d internalized all of those flaws during my ten years of wearing ever-thicker glasses, to the point that I didn’t even notice them anymore. It was, I understood, the price to be paid for being able to see things more than a few inches from my face. So it was that, upon being fitted with contacts, I felt like I’d had my eyes opened for the first time. All that shit was gone, and I didn’t have to subconsciously compensate for any of it, or worry about them falling off or slipping down my nose, or anything. I vowed never to go back to glasses, because contacts, after all, gave me a more correct view of things.

    It was years before I even got a pair of glasses at an updated prescription, because I was so averse to the glasses paradigm. Now, though, I split my time pretty evenly between contacts and glasses. I still am grateful for contact lenses for the same reasons as before, but I now appreciate glasses for their own reasons. They’re more convenient, in that you don’t need to wash your hands before manipulating them, but that’s merely an ancillary benefit. No, I now appreciate glasses exactly because of their flaws and distortions. They serve as a reminder that everything I ‘see’, my vision of the world around me, is inherently a construct of my own mind, an inference pieced together from some sensory perceptions and tinted by my own biases, assumptions and preconceptions. Glasses reinforce the fact that experience is subjective.

  • Does nobody at the New York Times read Bob the Angry Flower? I mean, jeez:

    So it came as little surprise that Diebold, a company once known primarily for making safes and A.T.M.’s, [sic] …

  • Soon I will find out whether 94.85% is sufficiently close to 95%. Fingers crossed. I could have just taken an extra hour of leave to bump myself up slightly, and in fact my supervisor just told me, “That’s how the game is played,” but evidently I like cutting things close.
  • Speaking of cutting things close, there’s a lot of other shit I need to get done yesterday, that I’ve been putting off for months. We’ll see how that all goes.
  • In other news, pictures from Yosemite are coming, just as soon as I stop being extremely lazy.

Song of the Moment: «Soul Finger» — The Bar-Kays

A dream

November 14, 2007

I noticed a hair on the floor, a hair so long it couldn’t have possibly been mine and must have been a remnant from a visitor. I bent over to pick it up, intending to bring it outside and release it into the wind, as one might do with a wayward insect, hoping it might find its way back home. When I picked up the hair, I saw that it was completely straight, and so wispy as to be nearly transparent; but by the time I finished standing up, it had become thick, dark, lustrous and curly. As I walked to the door it grew into a dirty-blonde dreadlock, and by the time I got outside I was holding a wig’s worth of golden braids. I flung them into the air, but the wind wanted nothing to do with them and they fell to the driveway unclaimed.Православни икони

Bourgeois buffoon

November 12, 2007

I’m so bourgeois right now, it’s not even funny. Not only am I the kind of person who spends his evenings listening to jazz on his hi-fi while sipping single-malt Scotch, but I’m also now the kind of person who orders prints of artwork featured in Harper’s magazine. What can I say? I like Lichtenstein’s work and references thereto, and I love biting satire (and Scotch).

On comics.

October 27, 2007

It’s been pointed out to me, and rightfully so, that my last post has more than a little in common with the Wondermark strip excerpted below:

In which Bill suffers a Sudden Attack

While I can’t really disagree with that, there’s another comic that does a better job of summing up my life as a whole right now. It’s excerpted below:

Go ahead and read the whole thing. It really hits the nail on the head, except for minor details like the typewriter (people use computers nowadays) and the convertible (I ride a train). I’ve had Work is Hell for 12 years or so now, and of all the cartoons in it, that’s the one that’s stuck in my mind the most—especially the last panel—because it seemed like it portrayed such a singularly unpleasant and stultifying way of life. Now, though, I know better, because I’ve lived it. It’s really not all that bad… until you start thinking about it. Which, in a way, is really the whole point of the last panel.

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