29 Sep 2003

It's here!

My office is now the location of the first G5 at Knox, a sleek dual-2GHz model with 2GB of memory and 160GB of storage. Damn but that sucker's fast (not to mention sexxxy). Of course, I now realise just how much I've customised my laptop, and now I have a crapload of stuff to install on the G5....

I went to the Galesburg Dean House Party tonight. There was a good mix there, about 15 people but only half Knox students. As usual, Dean just gave great answers to the questions asked him. I got another extrabudgetary check today (this one returning my key deposit for the key to my office in the CIT), so I donated that to the campaign, this time counting for the house party (sorry Mike ;).

And when I got home I was inspired to unpack six more boxes of books. Almost done. I can now see nearly half of my living room floor!

"We realize that having the service available to test would be a good first step in the direction of utility. Sometimes we have to shut the service down to implement improvements. Sometimes it decides on its own to break for a nice pot of Earl Grey and some fresh silicon wafers." --Google labs

Posted by blahedo at 10:34pm | Comments (0)

27 Sep 2003

Register-Mail letter

I got another letter published in the Register-Mail today:

This letter is in response to David Johnson's in last Saturday's Register-Mail. One of his main theses appears to be that some churches' acceptance of homosexuals is due to political correctness, or a desire to avoid hurting feelings.

It never seems to cross his mind that it might be because accepting homosexuals is just the right thing to do.

The Bible is the written component of a long and ever-changing tradition. Parts of it were written more than three millennia ago, in the context of a Middle-Eastern community that is rather different from the modern Jewish faith. Other parts of the Bible were written in the first few centuries A.D., again reflecting the lives of a community quite different from any in existence today.

Even considering the Christian faiths of just a few centuries ago, the bar of acceptability has changed somewhat. Interest-bearing loans, one of the cornerstones of the modern middle class, would have been roundly condemned as usury. Now, though, we realize that as long as the interest rate is not exorbitant, the practice benefits everyone involved and is not at all immoral. Is this a "deviation"? Are interest-bearing loans something that "renders that faith ineffectual"? Other topics, such as dancing, drinking, divorce, and birth control, vary among the various Christian faiths and are judged either more or less moral than they were fifty or a hundred years ago---but in all cases had Biblical support on both sides.

Even the most literal sola scriptura interpretations of the Bible are just that: interpretations. We may each find our own interpretations without outside influence, or perhaps under the guidance of our respective ministers and priests, or faith-sharing groups, or any number of other places. But one thing's for sure: when it comes to people who have the dubious distinction of being attracted to members of the same sex, we can treat them nicely without any sort of recourse to political correctness. For our gay friends, and gay coworkers, and gay family members, we can let them unapologetically love whosoever they want, just because we now know it's the right thing to do.

"The etiquette of symphony concerts is that the only muscles that may be moved are the ones needed for turning to glare at those who dare to breathe too loudly. What is done to toe-tappers is too horrible to mention." --Miss Manners

Posted by blahedo at 9:19pm | Comments (0)

24 Sep 2003

Still no landline...

...and the only thing I miss is getting to check my answering machine when I get home every day.

Today I was busy: I finally filed for my moving allowance, I deposited three surprise checks (one was a partial refund for my last month of landline in Providence; one was a rebate check on my cell phone; and one was my security deposit refund from the house in Providence), I called and ordered new contacts---and faxed them the insurance form, and I got approved for an auto loan.

And I hadn't been planning to make a Dean contribution this month (it being kind of tight since I haven't gotten a Knox paycheck yet), but with all that unbudgeted money, I figured, what the heck. And since Mike recently reminded us of his Dean fundraising page, I donated through that instead of the main page. (I wonder if my donation counts towards the main bats too, though?)

So, like I said, full day. Now I have to cook dinner and set up my VCR; I'm going to go crash the Knox Democrats meeting at 7:30, and after much deliberation I decided I would at least give a Sorkin-less West Wing one chance, so I'll stick around after the meeting for watching the season premiere on a big projector.

"[19th-century ministers] were also the self-appointed custodians of education, which must not be allowed to escape from theological leading strings. They were as much concerned with keeping schools and colleges free from religious heresy as modern business men are to purge them of political heresy." --Earnest Elmo Calkins, They Broke the Prairie (1937)

Posted by blahedo at 5:27pm | Comments (2)

23 Sep 2003

Reading assignment

An article entitled ``Why no one wins in the global food fight'' is your mandatory reading for today. This article hits on several important topics, including why Third World countries have a hard time rising out of poverty, who exactly benefits from farm subsidies (hint: not the small farmers), and why a big portion of the world really hates the U.S. (hint: it has nothing to do with religion, culture, or personal morality).

"Television is the alcohol of the body politic. A little helps the entity function more smoothly, but excessive continued use causes terrible harm." --Michael Kimmitt

Posted by blahedo at 11:58am | Comments (0)

19 Sep 2003

Citizen Kane

I just saw Citizen Kane as part of the classic movies series at the Orpheum. WOW. I can instantly see why this movie has become a classic. The camera shots are impressive now, and I can only assume that they were nigh revolutionary in 1941. The things he does with light and dark, I'm not even sure they're possible in colour.

And not only did Orson Welles star in it, he also wrote and directed it---having only been in three movies previously, one as an uncredited voice actor! Even more impressive is that for much of the movie the main character is middle-aged or older, and Welles pulled off the whole thing at the tender age of 25. Amazing makeup work there; it's only when C.F. Kane is at his very oldest that the age makeup is obvious, and even then it's not distracting. More importantly, though, he pulls off believably acting middle-aged. While watching the movie, I was trying to figure out how they made him up young for the bits where he was in his twenties.

For that matter, most of the actors in this movie were newcomers to the silver screen---including a few that went on to lengthy distinguished acting careers. And you can see why.

So yeah, if you haven't seen it, go do so, right now. It's even fairly topical!

"Genes don't say "eek!" They mostly just sit there and be transcribed." --David Singleton

Posted by blahedo at 9:48pm | Comments (0)


This is Homecoming weekend for the high school in town, and I inadvertently just caught the parade. I had decided I wasn't getting much done and to come home, and I got to Main St just as it was starting. They closed down the main road through town at 4 in the afternoon and marched down it; first the marching band, then a ton of sports teams and clubs (including the Deutscher Klub in a VW convertible). Lots of antique cars. Someone must have known someone, because the football team went by in three humongous military vehicles driven by reservists.

At the end were the floats. Rather than decorate one area of the school building, each class designed a float for this parade. (I can only assume that someone judged them and each class got Homecoming Week Points for them, like we did.) Preceding each class's float was a car with the attendant couple from that class; and at the end were several senior attendant couples, and the very last car was, of course, the Homecoming King and Queen. Their names were on a poster on the side:


I love my small town.

"No, no, Bush isn't a Nazi, but he's related to Nazi sympathisers. His family laundered money for them. His fortune comes from, among other places, my great-uncle's gold tooth." --Dan Lieberman

Posted by blahedo at 4:35pm | Comments (0)

18 Sep 2003

Knox for Dean

Tonight was the first meeting of Knox for Dean. I was the only non-student there; a little over 30 students showed up. Some were gung-ho, some just wanting to hear more about Dean. Cool meeting nonetheless. They're working on getting him to speak here, which is not totally crazy to hope for, given that he's been mentioning Galesburg and the Maytag plant closings left and right. That would be So. Damn. Cool.

"I've had enough of being a gay icon! I've had enough of all this hard work, because, since I came out, I keep getting all these parts, and my career's taken off. I want a quiet life. I'm going back into the closet. But I can't get back into the closet, because it's absolutely jam-packed full of other actors." --Sir Ian McKellen

Posted by blahedo at 11:48pm | Comments (0)

17 Sep 2003

Digital Cable

The cable guy finally came back yesterday to actually install the cable for my living room, and the digital cable box. (Getting through the brick façade required two calls back to the main office and a hammer drill; once that arrived on the scene, the job was easy and it went through like a hot knife through butter. Cool piece of machinery.) Anyway, so now I have cable.

I've been watching a lot of country music videos. The way I always used to leave the radio on, now I've been leaving the TV on music video stations and glancing up occasionally. Already I've seen a bunch of repeats (sigh).

Country music videos, by and large, haven't given in to the lure of more skin that is seen these days on pop and hip-hop videos. Unfortunately, a lot of them end up being sort of boring. Some are great, though.

...Holy cow, the one on right now is disturbingly bitter: Chris Isaak / Don't Go Walking Down There looks like the singer is praying the rosary over his (dead? dying?) wife and bitterly complaining about all the happy people out there and how he can't join them (they being represented by a bunch of 70s-style go-go dancers, incongruously enough). Disturbing.

Anyway, I was going to say: I like the one for "What was I thinking"---very well constructed video, and the singer's facial expressions are awesome. "I love this bar" never really did it for me as a song, but the video is really well-shot and compelling. Shania's "Forever and for always" is incredibly cute, and I'm still baffled as to how exactly her... garment... is constructed, not to mention how it actually stays up. It looks really cool, though.

On the other side of the coin, I've seen a bunch of videos that are essentially recordings of live performances or, even worse, of recording sessions. Gee, let's take the worst of both worlds and put them together!

Interesting how the song distribution differs, though, from what's on the radio. I assume that has to do with the relative release time of videos, not to mention the fact that an enh song can make a great video and vice versa.

Huh, they just showed one of a band I've never heard of before, that has the look of an alternative band but the sound of... a pop-ified country band, I guess. One of the guys is playing a miniature guitar, and the girl's on electric fiddle. Great sound, though (nifty video, too): Nickel Creek, they're called. Have to check them out.

'Well, god forbid we require people to actually have a decent vocabulary in order to play well, let alone make the game challenging, so it has been twisted into, "Who can memorize more stupid two-letter combinations that, though not actually words, we slipped into the 'standard' dictionary for this one game."' --Kevin Colby

Posted by blahedo at 10:05pm | Comments (1)

16 Sep 2003

City council and reviving Galesburg

Last night I went to the Galesburg City Council meeting. No particular agenda, just wanted to check it out, meet my alderman, etc. And knit, of course. :)

The actual meeting itself was about what you'd expect; a few miscellaneous proclamations and pro forma business votes. There was a bit of discussion over the city's hotel/motel tax---whether to keep it at 7% or let it slide back to 5%, and whether to keep pumping part of it to the Orpheum, a historic theatre that everyone wants to keep around. Also a bit about whether to replace a yield sign at a dangerous intersection with a stop sign (the question was whether this would cause traffic to back up onto another street); and about why we were spending $8K for IDs for the police and fire department. I really like one of the aldermen, an unapologetically cranky old man with a gravelly voice who manages to ask just the right questions.

After the meeting, I introduced myself to my alderman, a nice middle-aged woman who is right on the same page as me wrt getting people down here, putting in loft apartments downtown, getting more good restaurants, maybe a deli or a corner grocery so we don't have to go out to Henderson or East Main to get food. Specifically on the idea of convincing people to move here and telecommute, occasionally going up to Chicago by train, she referred me to the mayor, a Chicago transplant himself, who in turn introduced me to the director of the local economic development association, Eric Voyles.

His background is in helping factories and such get set up: arranging for utilities, warehouses, that sort of thing. But now they're trying to figure out how to lure more white-collar offices down here. Of course, the two internet utilities in town refuse to tell the town anything about their infrastructure (national security, doncha know), so they can neither advertise what they have nor know how to improve it. Nonetheless, they're trying to form a high-tech incubator here. Should be attractive, right? Cheap rent, cheap utilities, cheap office help. And a techie startup with just two or three core people and VC could come down here and hire a bunch of office staff, buy office supplies, pay rent, not to mention living here and buying all the things associated with that. Talk about your economic multipliers. Meanwhile, they're also doing studies on people who have moved to, or back to, Galesburg from bigger cities: why? What attracted them? How can we attract more?

This is so exciting! Anyone has any ideas, email me. Especially if you know about the sorts of thing that you needed or would have liked in a startup; these guys have never done this before, and it'd suck to sink a bunch of money into something that was almost right.

"It would be awfully embarassing to come back from the dead only to spend your time in jail for insurance fraud." --Mike McLawhorn

Posted by blahedo at 6:59pm | Comments (0)

Saturday at the Steak Fry

Last Saturday, I was in Indianola, IA for the annual Tom Harkin Steak Fry. Never heard of it? I hadn't either. But apparently, there were going to be a lot of Dean folks there, and it was only four hours away, and Lee, Vern, Kelly, and Loren were going to be there, and I could visit Kathy too.

I drove over there through some miserable weather, at one point getting so dark that I switched to the radio in case of weather warnings. By the time I got there it was just a light drizzle, enough to be annoying.

As I drove east on highway 92, I pass two guys holding up a sheet announcing a Dean rally at a nearby site. Well, hey, why not. So I went in there, got a T-shirt, hung out for a while. Lee et al showed up a few minutes later and I chatted with them, suitably impressed by the Dean T-shirt they had made in a size-6mo for Loren. And eventually, The Doctor himself showed up and gave a short speech. Woo! I was about ten feet away, and I got some great pictures.

Then everyone trekked over to the main steak fry itself. The mud was unbelievable; this thing is held in, essentially, a field, where it had been raining for the last day or two. And now there were several thousand people walking around on it. Think Woodstock.

Six of the Dem candidates were there. Gephardt had shown up briefly at the beginning and then left (without speaking, I guess) because he had something more important to do (hard to believe). Sharpton just blew the thing off. And Lieberman doesn't campaign on Saturdays, so he wasn't there, although I privately suspect he would've avoided it anyway.

That left the actual liberal candidates. They each gave a five-minute speech. I now think I would be comfortable voting for any of those six, although I feel pretty "enh" for a few of them. Kucinich has great ideas, but he is a terrible public speaker. Kerry's only exciting ideas are the ones he "borrowed" from Dean. It's too bad Braun is such an unviable candidate, because I think she'd make an interesting President---my opinion of her went up considerably after hearing her speak. I actually rather like Edwards. Graham is pure "enh".

Dean was, without a doubt, the most engaging speaker there. He was passionate and captivating, and didn't sound like he was reading something someone else wrote (because, of course, he wasn't). I supported him before even I thought he could win, and long before anyone mainstream thought that, and now I find myself actually supporting someone that looks to be the clear frontrunner. What a strange feeling. It sure looked like more than half the people there were sporting Dean paraphernalia; certainly there were more Dean supporters than for anyone else.

After that, Clinton spoke for about twenty minutes. Good heavens, that guy is a great speaker. He's funny and interesting, and very easy to listen to. He emphasised the importance of supporting your guy now, but whoever won the primary; I take his point, but I reserve the right to re-abandon the Dems if Lieberman wins, maybe also Gephardt. A second focus of Clinton's speech was on getting the word out about just who's getting these tax cuts and who's losing out to pay for them. People just don't know! He also put a lot of stress on building up our clean-energy domestic resources... if that's his current thing, I'm pleased as punch. If he can bring the Clinton Democrats onboard for a few environmental measures, we'll have a much better chance of passing them.

Oh, and the food was great. Back in New England, I would've fully expected to pay $15 or $20 for just the food. $25 for the whole event... what a bargain.

"If you think about it, the Confederacy has finally won the Civil War---a long-awaited victory won by luring stupid Yankees down there with a promise of 5,000 BTUs and a built-in icemaker." --Michael Moore, Stupid White Men

Posted by blahedo at 3:10pm | Comments (0)

14 Sep 2003

Butterflies everywhere!

In the last two days, I think I must've seen at least two hundred monarch butterflies slowly fluttering their way southwest across Iowa and Illinois. (A solid dozen of them remain on my windshield, sadly....)

"Well, if by 'weird' you mean 'Russian', then yes." --Chris Tessone

Posted by blahedo at 3:59pm | Comments (0)

11 Sep 2003

65 year linguistic drift

I'm reading a book called They Broke the Prairie by Earnest Elmo Calkins, a history of Knox and Galesburg first published in 1937 (the town and college's centenary) and republished in '87. It's interesting to see what's changed and amazing to see what's stayed the same. I'm only a little ways in and already I recommend it (if you can find it---it seems to be out of print again).

But the linguistic usages are fascinating! On page 13, Calkins refers to the "clayey shale" of the area; showing that the -y construction is not new, nor is the difficulty people have in spelling it in some situations. He uses the word "darkey"---though more usually "colored" or "Negro"---in a totally unselfconscious fashion. He puts the cedille on the c in "façade" and the accent on the e in "Santa Fé", because that's how they're spelled.

Amazing how much things stay the same, though. Just in the first twenty pages he's already lamented how the farmers' land is further out of town than it used to be, increasing the difficulty with which they can participate in town life, and how the chains have been moving in to crowd out the local independents (of which there nevertheless remain many).


Posted by blahedo at 5:06pm | Comments (3)

The regalia saga

As I've mentioned before, I decided to rent my robes for Convocation from Brown to get the true Brown robes. In retrospect, this was more trouble than it was worth.

They were going to arrive after I left Providence (and I couldn't get them shipped to Galesburg), so I asked Sam if he'd pick them up. Sure, just send a reminder, says he. But I miscommunicated the date it would be, so when I emailed him Thursday, I got no response. I called him Friday, no response. Called Rob, and it turns out Sam had gone out of town for the weekend.

Ok, don't panic; Rob can pick it up and mail it tomorrow (Saturday). But remember to go to the Post Office early, because it closes! And sure enough, it closed before he got there. So he sends it Monday morning, express mail, guaranteed to arrive by 3pm Wednesday. Whew.

At 3:30pm on Wednesday, I go to the Knox PO, and they have not received my package, and the last dropoff of the day had already happened. I get the tracking number from Rob, and it turns out the package arrived in Peoria at 1:57pm. I call the USPS to see what the deal was, and they suggested calling the local post office, which I did---they said that since it hadn't arrived in Galesburg yet, it'd come in overnight. I asked if I could pick it up first thing in the morning; sure, the window's open at 7:30am.

They left a message on my phone a little after 6 that it had arrived. About 7:45 I show up at the window to inquire after it. The guy disappeared for an alarmingly long time, and then came back with the package in hand, commenting that I just caught the truck before it left; it had been all loaded up and everything. No word on exactly when it would've gotten to the Knox PO, although the PO doesn't even open until 10, so getting it in time for the 11:00 Convocation would've been a dicey affair.

On the up side, because they screwed up and delivered it late, it should end up being free.

Convocation went well, though! They introduced me, the choir sang, they gave out lots of prizes to deserving fac, staff, and students, the Hon. Ruben Castillo gave a good speech on not taking anything for granted that managed to reference 9/11 without being dreadful. The whole place sang the alma mater, which I sang along to by lip-reading the choir conductor, who was on stage (the prof next to me was impressed; I had the refrain down pat in full voice by the end). Afterwards, I pressed one of the other profs into service taking a picture of me in regalia, as requested by Mom, which I'll post one of these days.

My syllabus and missive are printed, my course website is more or less done, and my first lecture is written out. I'm on at 2:15, we'll see how this goes.

"Well, I don't think normal goo cubes are intelligent, although maybe they're just misunderstood." --Ben Gold

Posted by blahedo at 1:01pm | Comments (0)

9 Sep 2003


The path was rocky, but Insight came through for me. Web and ssh work, and I have an internet connection from my apartment.

I may, and don't hold me to this, shout "woo".

On where to turn for usage information: "Style manuals. Good ones. Specifically, ones that agree with me." --Annemarie Peil

Posted by blahedo at 10:58pm | Comments (2)

More moving

My office plants are now hanging in my office. Looking very sad (I think they miss Providence), but they'll be fine. I've broken down all the boxes from the books I put here and brought them to my car. At this point, I'm pretty well Moved In.

My term looks like it'll be a bit lighter than expected---among the freshmen alone we were expecting 30 people to sign up for Intro CS I, plus a few upperclassmen, hence the two sections. In fact? One senior, one junior, five sophomores, and---wait for it---five freshmen. That's it. We're closing the second section and putting all of them into the first, which will still be on the small side. Nobody has any idea why we got 60% less than expected, aside from a general nationwide dropoff in CS majors. For myself, it's too late for them to invent a new class for me to teach, so I'm only teaching one this term. Problem is, that's not significantly less work for me BUT it seems like it is. Bum deal all around.

"The Judge was still dead when Ray returned to his study, and that was not a complete surprise." --John Grisham, The Summons

Posted by blahedo at 6:30pm | Comments (1)

7 Sep 2003

Sunday in Galesburg (and environs)

I went to St Pat's this morning, and I'm undecided as to whether I like it better than Corpus Christi. It's an older crowd there, just as pleasant of course, and the church itself is smaller, which is nice. The choir leader has a fairly tentative relationship with the tempo of the music, but I can carry my own on that. The priest there seems to write out his homilies in advance and then read them, which makes for a less gripping oratory, but it was at least fairly well composed. They use normal vestments for the priest there, but they do up the lector in a maroon choir robe and the EMs in white; which would be fine except they used cheap fabric that just doesn't hang right at the gathers. The altar servers still held the patens under the host during communion; maybe that's a diocesan thing. And they ring those damn bells during the Eucharistic Prayer, though at least they only do it twice. Hmm, I seem to be sounding very negative here, but I shouldn't---I can't really explain why, but I rather like the place. I'll try it again next week and see how it goes.

After lunch I drove around for a while. I went down to Knoxville (about ten minutes away on US-150) pursuing an unsuccessful lead on a yarn shop, and found to my amusement that a whole bunch of the roads in that town have the same names of roads in Galesburg (with which they are not contiguous). Heading back, I drove around Galesburg for a good forty minutes, getting the hang of the various areas of town and figuring out where all the railroad overpasses and underpasses are. Useful information, to be sure. I think I have a sunburn now, but only on my left arm. How embarrassing.

Anyway, later I moved twelve boxes of books to my office, where they will sit until Facilities bolts my shelves to the wall. At least they're out of the apartment, which is starting to look more like an apartment and less like a storage shed. Also, I sawed and sanded the board I picked up yesterday for hanging pots and pans from---now I just need to get the paint for it from Judy, and I'll be all set.

"Of course they're razzing you--that's what straight men do. It's how you people display affection and/or hostility." --Dan Savage

Posted by blahedo at 8:22pm | Comments (3)

5 Sep 2003

Cable, or DSL?

I've been researching it on and off for a week now, and finally got around to calling today. In both cases, the price of broadband was on the web, but the ancillary stuff (landline, cable) wasn't priced. So I called the cable folks, and immediately got a nice lady named Shirley who told me about deals that were cheaper than what was listed on the web and was generally very helpful. Then I called the phone guys, and was on hold for about ten minutes before giving up. So I've called Shirley back and am hooking up cable and internet now. At this rate, I may never get a land line....

"Bitching about it on notesfiles, on the other hand, is probably not very productive. It's definitely something you should save until you're a graduate student and have nothing better to do." --Keith Winstein

Posted by blahedo at 4:15pm | Comments (0)

2 Sep 2003

Home (and office) improvement

I didn't get much work work done today (too much time spent on getting keys and IDs and health insurance (oh my!)), but I was very productive on the unpacking front. I unloaded several suitcases of clothes (and sheets and blankets (oh my!)), and perhaps more importantly, installed my plant hangers, hung my plants, and assembled my loft and dresser, and the Kimmitts' bed-and-dresser set. Which is a lovely antique, by the way, and they should come visit me and sleep on it. :) Anyway, getting all that stuff put together created a ton of space, since now I don't have pieces of everything lying everywhere. Also, I don't have to sleep on the couch anymore; my bed's on the loft and has at least fourteen inches of clearance.

Now I'm engaged in a commando mission to drill some holes in my office furniture. Why? Well, I want to run ethernet cables behind the shelving units, but they'll be flush against the wall. And tomorrow morning, some guys from Facilities will be coming to bolt them to the wall; they'll need to be pulled out a bit in order for me to get my drill in there. But the real reason I'm doing it tonight instead of, say, earlier today, is that I suspect this sort of thing is supposed to only be done by Facilities. I'd worry about confessing it here, but I suspect that nobody from Facilities will be reading my blog. ;)

"Are we talking morose, effeminate, homoerotic vampire, disfigured, bloodsucking freak vampire, brooding, distinguished European royalty vampire, Blackula vampire, or something else altogether?" --Maciej Babinski

Posted by blahedo at 10:48pm | Comments (0)

Small town life

So now I'm once again a permanent resident of Illinois. I love my small town! I bought a paper on Sunday after church, and I can read the entire thing through. That's just not possible with the Daily Herald or the Trib or any of those big-city papers. I can get my national and international news off the web, but I enjoy sitting down and reading a paper straight through, and that's how I can get my local news.

They published my letter this week, too. My first full day, and already I'm duking it out on the op-ed page. Heh.

This morning they had a Labor Day parade. The local high schools had their marching bands in there, and the local gymnastics and dance studios, and 4-H and such. A lot of the groups were, predictably, unions. And there were no less than four groups marching with progressive messages on boards: "NAFTA took my daddy's job", "peace is patriotic", "fair trade", etc. There were, I think, two or three Democratic Party groups. No Republicans in evidence, no pro-war anything on any of the floats. The Midwest---even or especially Small Town, USA---is a much more complicated place than a lot of folks on the coasts give it credit for. I really feel like I've come home here.

No less than three people today have referred to me either as "faculty" or "professor", and I have to fight the urge to look behind me to see who they're talking about.

And now I'm sitting in my office in SMC at Knox, typing up the last few busy days for the blog. Four entries in total, and now I'm caught up. I've updated the timestamps so that new times will be in CDT, and I've updated the tagline and descriptions to fit my new position.

"I know that physics conventions are sort of blacklisted from Vegas these days. Of course, I think that had more to do with the fact that physicists know too much math to do a lot of gambling, but I think the prostitutes may also have been underutilized." --Chris Sedlack

Posted by blahedo at 12:12am | Comments (1)

1 Sep 2003

Murder at the Kennedy Center

That's the book I listened to for most of the trip. It's by Margaret Truman, daughter of Harry S Truman; she's written a bunch of whodunits set in DC, all of which are quite good, and this one's no exception. What's really wild about this one, though, is that the political sideplot is hauntingly prescient: Ken Ewald is a very liberal Democrat who leapt forward from the back of the pack to lead the crowd in the mid-primary season, but he's receiving dogged opposition from the party leadership and from an opponent who is unrepentantly conservative and openly admits being not much different from the incumbent Republicans.

The book was written in 1989.

Other than that, my trip was pretty uneventful. I stopped for a four-hour nap somewhere in central PA; took a shower in the first Ohio rest area (thank goodness for truckers' lounges in the OH rest areas---driving without A/C in 90 degree weather makes you feel gross); and waited out a blinding sunset in another Ohio rest area. Somewhere in Indiana I finished the book, and started another one---The Last Catholic in America by John Powers, on which is based the musical Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, which I've seen and been in. So I sort of knew the story, but there's more to the book. At least to the beginning of it; the second tape completely chewed itself up, so I had to abandon it there. I plugged in my iPod for the rest of the trip, which wasn't too bad.

My favourite part of the trip was the end. As I stopped in a deserted Illinois rest area around 1am, I looked at a map and noticed that US-34 seemed to make an awfully straight line from Princeton to Galesburg; I couldn't go as fast as on interstates, but the distance savings might be worth it. Especially late at night, and it'd help me stay awake, too. So I took exit 45 off I-80, which junctions US-34 a few miles south. From the point I exited I-80 to the intersection of I-74 and US-34 just northeast of Galesburg, I had 54 miles (and 57 minutes) of windy little roads and small towns. The interstates would have been upwards of 80 miles, so I'm pretty sure this route is not just shorter, but faster as well. And vastly cooler and more interesting. I can't wait to take it in my Mini. :)

"Have you ever noticed how it's explicitly legal in Illinois to have gay sex, but explicitly illegal to marry someone of the same sex? People don't mind queers as much when they're acting like they're "supposed to"---promiscuous, flaming, singing musical theatre. It's when queers ask to be respectable citizens that people get really up-in-arms." --Jonathan Prykop

Posted by blahedo at 11:49pm | Comments (0)


After finishing my thesis on Thursday, I was sort of at loose ends. I caught up on email and notesfiles, cleaned out my office, and headed back to 166, where I puttered some more.

That night, I met a few people at the GCB to claim my bottle of champagne. Though not technically affiliated with the University, the GCB gives one free bottle of champagne to every finishing PhD student. It's Korbel, too, which is a damn sight better than what the CS dept serves at defences. :) I met Greg and Carrie there at 9, and Sam arrived about 9:20, which is when we actually started the bottle. Around 10:45 Sam left just as Matt and the new residents of 154 came in---they've been hanging out together a lot, and I think Matt is really happy about that; I think what he really always wanted was to be best friends with his housemates, and now maybe he's getting that. I'm happy for him. But I digress. About 11 Rob and Angela show up, and Greg and Carrie leave shortly thereafter. In the end, Matt and Evan (a PLME med student who did CS undergrad---good fit for 154 ;) and I ended up closing the bar at 1, though they went off to some other party.

Friday morning I met Theresa for breakfast about 9. This was really convenient, because I'd been meaning to drop my car off at Firestone to fix the exhaust leak, and since she was driving in anyway I just had her pick me up there. It turned out even better than that, because she'd been meaning to try a place way up on Hope Street, which turned out to be about as far north as the Firestone. It bills itself as a country breakfast place, and it's great! I'm a little sad that I only discovered it my last day in Providence.

Theresa dropped me off at home about 10:30, which let me run up and drop off my thesis (10:47, as I mentioned in the last entry) and make it to Manos' thesis proposal at 11, where I was finally able to get started on a new pair of socks. :) The proposal was really well done, perfectly pitched to the audience, and it sounds like Manos is right on track to finish up in a few months, leaving only Don Carney from my class (but he might be able to finish up by next spring if he proposes soon).

I had promised Sam that I'd make an appearance at the grad orientation, but after Manos' proposal I kept running into people and talking to them, so I didn't manage to get out of there until 2 or so, by which time the orientation was over. I stopped by anyway, and Sam was just closing down---he gave me a copy of the Brown Book, which I had helped him with, and sold me a Brown Grad School T-shirt. Then I talked him into giving me a ride back to the Firestone to pick up my car.

Heading back from the Firestone, I remembered that I still needed to A) close my bank account, and B) get some books on tape from the library for the road trip. I wasn't sure which closed first, but since I was in the car I went to the library first, dropped off my car at Dave's (calling him to give him a last chance to use the car in case he needed to do any heavy lifting---he drove it to play one last round of golf ;), and went to Sovereign.

In one last, final "fuck you" after several years of increasingly bad service, they were going to charge me $6 to close my account, assuming I wanted the amount in a cashier's check, as is standard. Screw that, I took it in cash and got a postal money order---at the post office a block away---for $1.25. Stupid Sovereign.

It's nearly 5 at this point, and my plans of "take a nap and then leave around 8 or 9" are looking increasingly unrealistic; among other things, I'm getting hungry. So I meet Chris at Kabob & Curry... I owed him a dinner there, and anyway, I found it eminently appropriate that my last Providence meal (well, until I come visit again) would be there. It was a nice day, and we sat outside, where I was able to say hi to an awful lot of people I knew walking by.

And of course, I still hadn't packed. When I got back to 166 at 7:30, I found out that people were coming over at 9 to take Angela out for a birthday dinner. Rather than try to nap for an hour, I just packed, put away the hideabed, and then drove out to pick up the boxes-o-books that Chris wanted me to drive back to Galesburg (much like myself, he has a weakness for buying books---a lethal pursuit when you need to fit everything in two suitcases and a carryon, unless you know somebody who's driving that direction...). I parked the car out back of 166, and after Angela et al went to dinner, went to sleep on the couch. A bit after midnight, I loaded my suitcase and bags into the car, and departed Providence.

"Online piracy---while it is definitely illegal and immoral---is, as a practical problem, nothing more than (at most) a nuisance. We're talking brats stealing chewing gum, here, not the Barbary Pirates." --Eric Flint

Posted by blahedo at 11:31pm | Comments (0)

Adventures in thesis completion

Wednesday night, I was intending to get a printout of the thesis on thesis paper before going to sleep, to make getting the signatures all I had to do on Thursday; I could then go to my 3:30 appointment early to fill out the fiddly little exit questionnaires they make you fill out.

Early Thursday morning, I decide to just finalise the draft and print it in the morning.... I go to sleep and get up a few hours later, getting in to the department around 9:30 or so. I fiddle with the printer for a bit, but while I can print out the "copy" (single-sided on regular printer paper) I can't figure out how to manually feed the thesis paper. So I decide to go ahead with getting the signatures. Might as well try to get Mark's before I head up to Boston; Eugene isn't around.

Mark is in his office. I'm carrying with me the signature pages and the "copy" version of the final printout. He tells me: "I think it's a little unreasonable for you to expect me to sign this without reading it first." He WHAT? What the fuck has he been doing for the last three weeks with the drafts I've been making and sending him and everyone else? "Ok, um, can you read it today then and sign this afternoon?" "Well, that doesn't give me very much time, does it? There's really not much point in getting signatures if your reader doesn't read the thing first." Again, I'm thinking, what about all the drafts I've been sending out, including one from almost a week earlier that I said was final unless I got further comments? Well, it turns out, he hasn't been reading anything I've sent out for a month, because they've all been watermarked with "DRAFT" and the date they were latexed---obviously, it couldn't really be final until everyone signed off on it, and I didn't want multiple nearly-identical postscript files floating around. That's the whole point of putting a draft watermark on the thing. But he hadn't read it until I (interpreting his silence as assent) finalised the thing. He asked about some stuff that they had asked me to add at the defence, which I had in fact added about a week earlier, a two-and-a-half page section. Which he didn't think would be enough; he asked about another aspect of this, which we had decided was more work than it was worth. And he said, "It would be nice to have numbers from that in the thesis." Great, but I don't. Did he want me to implement, debug, test, and write up a whole new set of experiments? I was fuming at this point, so I said, "look, whatever. Here's my current draft, I need to drive up to Boston right now to get Michael's signature." Mark's response? "Are you sure he's going to sign it? Really? When did you last talk to him?" What, did he not believe me? I walked out.

I was literally shaking with anger at this point. What could I do? I certainly couldn't force Mark to sign the thing; and I really have no direct argument against him, because I think the signature should mean something, and he should read the thesis before signing it. Nevertheless, it's not my fault he didn't, and (not being above a little social engineering) I sent an email to Eugene saying I'd be back from Boston around 2, "not that it is all that urgent since Mark just told me he's not going to sign it today". And I left for Boston.

The drive up to Boston was fairly pleasant, and gave me time to come to terms with the situation. One thing I'm very good at is calculating worst-case scenarios, and then figuring out why they aren't so bad. In this case, the WCS was that Mark would never sign, and I'd never get my PhD. However: my job at Knox was not technically predicated on getting my PhD---my title and salary would change, and at my second-year review I'd essentially have to be rehired. But the other two CS faculty aren't PhDs, and if my teaching, research, and service records are all good, I'd have a fairly good shot at it. A slightly more realistic WCS would be that Mark would only sign if I did a bunch more work, that I could do later this year, still get the PhD next May; that's not so terrible at all.

As I get onto I-93, I call Michael to get directions to his place. He wasn't at the office because he was moving that day, so I was just going to meet him at his new condo. Problem was, he could only give me the name of the neighbourhood and the street; he doesn't drive, so he couldn't give directions! Well, I'd manage somehow (I sort of let him think that I knew the neighbourhood pretty well, to cover for my poor planning on not calling before I left). I vaguely knew that Beacon Hill was next to Back Bay and close to downtown, and more importantly, that it was a well-known area that I could surely get directions to.

As it happened, I managed to take the most direct route possible, quite by accident and serendipity, parking as close as possible to the actual place without actually knowing where it was. It is a fourth-floor walkup in Beacon Hill, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Boston; the stairs are narrow and each step unusually high. He has the entire fourth floor of this townhouse; and the fifth; and a cupola on the top. This cupola has---literally---the best view I have ever seen from a private residence. It is 360 degrees, higher than most of the rest of the area, and grants a view of all of Boston and Cambridge. Absolutely amazing. He must have paid a fortune, but then, being a single, heavily-recruited CS professor at MIT would give one some options in this regard, I suppose. (On the other hand, I'm thinking the four flights of stairs would get pretty old after a while...)

Anyway, he signed the thing and we chatted for a while. I was apologetic for having interrupted his moving, but he was apologetic for the actual moving, suggesting that in other circumstances we could've hung out for a while. Let me just say that it was pretty weird hearing that---when I started grad school, his parser was (still is, really) a big deal and one of the best in the field, the major competition for Eugene's. So Michael has always been a bit larger-than-life, and here he was treating me as essentially an equal... heady stuff. Anyway, he couldn't and I had to get back to Providence.

When I got back, I checked my email. About twenty minutes after my email to Eugene, Mark had sent me a message saying he'd sign (and grudging that I hadn't given him more time to read it). Whatever. I went straight over there; he was with someone, so he couldn't lecture me further on not giving him extra time, which was fine by me. He signed, and I cleared out of there. Back at the CIT, Eugene was also with someone, but signed the page, mentioning, "by the way, something you did really pissed Mark off." I explained about how he hadn't been reading my drafts and was upset that I hadn't given him a chance to read it, and thanked him for intervening. Which in fact he hadn't, although he would have if it had taken longer for Mark to cool off on his own.

Those of you following along at home will note that at this point I have all three signatures! All that remained was procedural stuff. Unfortunately, it was at this point 3:00, and everyone knows that printers simply do not work under that kind of time pressure. Especially when you need them to do something complicated, from an unfamiliar OS---I needed to print from Windows, it turns out, if I wanted to use the manual feed tray to print onto thesis paper. About 3:15 I gave up (Zeno strikes again), printed a "copy" (i.e. on printer paper), and headed to the 3:30 appointment I'd planned to be very early to, actually arriving about 3:27.

My first comment: "I meant to get here early to fill out the exit questionnaires." Response: "Ok, just take them home tonight and bring them in in the morning." My second comment: "Which brings me to the larger problem of not actually having my thesis." I continued with a brief synopsis of my reader refusing to sign and the ensuing difficulties. Response: "Not a problem, we'll go through the other stuff and you can just bring the thesis in the morning with the exit interviews." Now, there's a rumour that floats around the grad school that the lady you turn your thesis in to is outrageously picky, whipping out a ruler to measure your margins and rejecting your thesis on the slightest technicality. Don't you believe it. Barbara Bennett is really nice, very accommodating, and is good at calming down the massively stressed-out grad student trying to perform their last act as a student. She went through my materials, accepted the signature pages (two originals, signed in blue or black ink), title pages (three extra copies, dated next May), abstracts (two copies), bursar's clearance (no outstanding debts except for the upcoming semester's tuition, which will be cancelled), and cashier's receipt ($50 fee to turn in your thesis---claimed to be for "binding costs"). All that remained were the four exit questionnaires and the original and copy of the thesis. (The copy I had with me was no good because I'd accidentally double-sided it... stupid printer. She actually agreed with me that the single-side requirement was dumb, but there it is.)

Of course, under no time pressure, the printer worked just fine. Back at the CIT, I filled out the four questionnaires (career services: "did you use our services? Was it good for you?"; graduate school: "how did you find your six years of grad school? Was it good for you?"; U of Chicago: thesis title and area, previous post-secondary education, demographics; and a release to allow UMI to publish the thesis), and the thesis printed just fine. I finished at 4:45, which was just exactly too late to have time to walk to the grad school and turn it in.

But I did that the following morning. Having done most of the fiddly stuff on Thursday, this only took about five or ten minutes, and as of 10:47am EDT on Friday, I am now entitled to call myself "Doctor", and to put the letters Ph.D. after my name. Pretentious, huh?

"I've lodged countless emails with Ms. Shidle over the years. I think I'm at about an 8% response rate. You may wish to try the phone." --Joe Shidle

Posted by blahedo at 11:03pm | Comments (0)