Archive for the ‘life’ Category

Lazy Sunday

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

This past Sunday I did something that I haven’t had time for since I moved in in August. I sat down and watched DVD commentries and featurettes. Being a huge media junky, my DVD collection, even in its currently-abbreviated state, is significant. Generally I will have seen a film at least twice within a week of obtaining it, but then I tend to take a break. If they are short or limited, I will often also watch the special features during one of the viewings. However, and to my delight, many DVDs come with commentary audio tracks these days. Often more than one. Since my time is limited, I generally put off viewing these until a later date.

I tend to try to block out a day or weekend and watch a large number of films with commentary on at one time. It often turns out that the commentary is worth the price of the DVD all by itself. You learn so much about the film-making process generally, and the construction of the film viewed in particular, that the entire package becomes that much more enjoyable. Among the stack I worked my way through this weekend was the brilliantOnce UponA Time in Mexico. Rodriguez’s commentary hed some fascinating light on the process of filming this story, but what I found most fascinating was hearing an explanation of the impact of HD filming, something I m too young to really remember the transition to, on the film-making process.

Being the age I am, and having gotten interestedin film when I did, I never really had a strong understanding of the conservatism that physical film tended to impose. My mindset is that of someone used to informational abundance. I think in terms of storage so cheap it might as well be free. Computer hard drives are almost down to $0.10/GB as I write this, for instance.

While there are a number of places where I am fully aware of the implications of the shift from scarcity to abundance, I found it to be an extremely useful thing to be reminded that the fields that use information are more varied than I tend to realize. This got me thinking about just how many fields have been using information which I should try to get a better understanding of in order to fully appreciate the shift to virtually-free information storage. So I compiled this little non-exhaustive list.

  • Media distribution (music, telelvision, film) – in the face of virtually-free storage, especially as capacities continue rising, the artificial limits on offering size disappear. For years the amount of stuff a “movie” or a “CD” contained was capped at the size limit, and generally approached that limit. I suspect there are some interesting changes in the way this is approached as data storage becomes so large that virtually no one has the content to fill it.
  • Personal libraries – In a number of ways, personal libraries are a sort of two-level luxury. You must be able to afford the media that populates them, but you must also have access to available physical space to store them in. This second requirement is beginning to disappear (allowing, for instance, me to keep an extensive library in a 10′x10′ bedroom).
  • Versioning – The current trend is that you purchase the final version of anything. Storage capacities are growing large enough that it’s possible to purchase all versions of a thing. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone does anything with that.

Of course the problem with generating these sorts of lists is that it requires me to know enough about a thing to recognize some of the impact that virtually free storage will have. You’ll notice that my list is populated by media concerns, and that makes sense because I’m a huge media junkie. Media is always on my mind. It is for the very same reasons that the revelation about film never occurred to me. Further, without someone pointing it out, the film revelation never would have occurred to me. I didn’t start working with film until after things went digital. By the time I got involved, the tyranny of the cost of film had fallen by the wayside. Filming had become free in terms of supplies, assuming you had the capital and the manpower. So now I need to start poking around and see who I should meet and get to know. I’m sure there are tons of people out there who have extensive experience in fields which are and will be revolutionized. I just need to meet them.

A project, perhaps, for another day.

Thomas

Further adventures in phone land

Saturday, October 4th, 2008

I talked about my ever so exciting problems with my cell phone provider a while back. Well, today I shall conclude the tale.

Taking careful notes, I called T-mobile up and went through the process of getting in touch with costumer service. The nice person I talked to explained that since a supervisor had already made a decision that only another supervisor could reverse it. So I was put on hold to wait for a supervisor.

After being on hold for about twenty minutes I was abruptly disconnected.

Having spent nearly half an hour dealing with this already, I took a deep breath and tried again, hoping to pick up where I left off. Unfortunately T-mobile’s ever-so-helpful routing service sent me to some other call center where no one had ever heard of the people I had just talked to. Further, they were either unable or simply unwilling to transfer me to a whichever center I had been connected to before.

Thus I explain the entire situation again because the call-taker would not transfer me to a supervisor without an explanation (and she was not nice about it). In fact, she came across, perhaps unintentionally, as accusatory. There was a very strong “It’s all your fault and I feel absolutely no desire in helping you resolve this situation so please stop wasting my time” vibe.

Eventually she put me on hold to talk to her supervisor. I was on hold for a while, and then abruptly disconnected.

I began to sense a pattern.

Discouraged and mentally exhausted, I stopped for the day.

A while later I call back. I am forced, once again, to explain my situation before anyone will transfer me to a supervisor. Once again I am placed on hold until I am forcibly disconnected. It is at this point that I decide there must be some standard policy used to make people go away, and it involves not talking to them over and over and over until they get fed up and go home. I recognize that this is probably highly effective (especially since they can blame it on system errors rather than intent), but it really pisses me off.

I called again. This time I actually reached someone I believed cared about me. After all the previous calls it was quite refreshing and made me grin. Instead of just asking my situation he read my file and talked through the salient points with me. Then he asked me to hold while he put his supervisor on.

She was also extremely nice and helpful. We talked about options for a bit. She was pretty firm that she wasn’t going to reverse the decision made earlier, and that she doubted anyone would, but she actually sounded like she cared about the situation while staying professional. Then she asked me if I would like her to see what sort of credit she could get me. She was the absolute first person to offer this.

I suspect that I A) didn’t hold out for a larger credit, and B) didn’t keep harassing her precisely because she was calming to talk to. I did get a credit, knocking down the bill to something a bit more manageable. That was nice.

But other than that last call the entire experience soured me. See, I’ve very much loved my time wth T-mobile. The coverage is good and I like their service plans. They’ve also been invariably helpful in the past. I’m upset enough at this point that I’m seriously contemplating switching carriers and sending corporate a letter (assuming I can figure out how to make sure they get one).

So with that in mind: is anyone going to treat me better than this? I’d like to think the answer is yes, but part of me fears that this is all industry best-practice stuff. If you’ve got suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Thomas

Where’s my life

Wednesday, September 10th, 2008

This is just a general update intended to keep you all abreast of a couple of things.

First, in an effort to cut down on spamming the people who read my LiveJournal, I’ve reset which categories crosspost over there. My ITP category doesn’t anymore because I expect to be making five or six or ten rather long posts a week to that one, and if you just want to keep up with my life, well… you don’t care (at least not enough to read 2000 words) that I built a digital switch that makes an LED blink on and off. If you find yourself wanting to follow my ITP work it’s all at my big WordPress blog (http://blog.thomas-robertson.com/).

Second, school is going pretty incredibly awesome. I managed to get into Clay Shirky’s “Election 2008″ class. We’re analyzing the impact of social media on the election, and with only one class meeting behind us, things are shaping up to be incredibly insightful as well as challenging and fun.

Third, I probably mentioned this already, but there’s a standing invitation to crash at my place in Brooklyn if you want to visit. I’m within easy travel of both JFK and LGA airports, and EWK (Newark) isn’t all that hard to get to or from either. I’ve even got something more comfortable than the floor for you to sleep on as I just purchased and assembled a surprisingly comfortable piece of IKEA furniture that is a chair that folds out into a bed. It’s like a futon only it takes even less space.

Fourth, and most introspectively, I find myself running into a problem I haven’t really struggled with for nearly two years. Or, at least, not struggled with in quite this way: Arrogance. I suspect (and hope) that this is a temporary thing having to do with how extensive my technical background is, but one of the things I was looking forward to when planning to come to ITP was being challenged by other students. I was really excited to be around people smarter than me who could push my limits. Unfortunately, so far, I’ve been sort of the go-to guy for technical support. I’ve done web admin, I’ve built circuits, I program. All of this means that I’m good at the technical things that everyone else seems to be struggling with at the moment.

Of course I totally acknowledge that most of these people blow me out of the water when it comes to sheer creativity. When asked to design a “creative” electronics switch, people came up with everything from keyboard combination locks to salsa-dance-instructing systems. I had nothing really exciting. There are all these creative people here, but so far I’ve only seen them being creative in this sort of artistic realm. (I’m pretty sure that this is, again, a time issue, and that I’m going to find out there’s a lot more creativity there under the surface as the semester progresses.)

Anyway, fully realizing that I sound like something of a jerk, I’m starting to feel like I’m the top of the class. Like I’m the one everyone else has to catch up to. It’s not something I’m happy about feeling. I like to think I got past aspiring to be better than everyone else a few years ago. Clearly I haven’t completely, but the real kicker here is that while I don’t really care about being “better” than other students, it’s actually somewhat discouraging to feel like there’s no one on my level. This is an aggravating feeling since I know it’s not true. There are a lot of smart people here who are way above my level, they just don’t have the technical training that I sort of take for granted.

As I said, given time I fully expect this to work itself out, but I wanted to get it down now so I’d have it for later to come back and consider.

Fifth, I’ve just about finished prototyping my big summer project. I’m working on a streaming-media site that allows for social viewing of videos. The problem with trying to watch things online at the moment is that it’s hard to do so in groups. Coordinating viewing, especially at the micro level, is incredibly hard. Even if you manage to get five or six people to start a video at the same time, if anyone has to get up for anything coordinated pausing is virtually impossible. So I figured I’d design a system that allows one person to pause for everyone. It’s just about ready to go, and I’m pretty excited. I’m sure you’ll be hearing more about it.

With that, I’m off. I miss you all, but know that classes are awesome and despite my whole “arrogance” worry, school is rocking my world.

Thomas

Surprise! We want all your money!

Thursday, September 4th, 2008

Let me get the really fury-making part out of the way.

I checked my T-Mobile cell phone bill online today while I was going through a number of rather routine record-keeping things. Apparently I owe them $600+. All of which were accrued in August. See, back in May I purchased a new phone, a T-Mobile Dash. I’ve been very pleased with the hardware and software package for the most part. I’ve had a few problems, but nothing too cripplingly bad.

Along with the phone I purchased an unlimited data plan. This allows me to send and receive email and do some web surfing, and is totally worth it for my purposes. My only complaint was that the built in IM client on the Dash didn’t include support for the Jabber protocol, and thus had no way for me to carry gTalk with me. A problem such as this is easily remedied with the downloading of third-party software, so I grabbed a trial version of something-or-other which I used for a few weeks before deciding that IMing by phone just wasn’t that useful. Thus I uninstalled the software.

Skip ahead to my road trip. Specifically to Philadelphia where my laptop suddenly died (still working on fixing that). I was brutally disconnected from my social network and had to fall back almost completely to the phone. Good thing, thought I, that the Dash has an IM client built in. So I started using it to keep in touch with people.

Now my bill comes due and I discover something rather insane: T-Mobile’s built in client treats IMs as text messages.

Let me repeat that: T-Mobile’s built in IM client on a smart phone with a data plan treats IMs as text messages.

Since I don’t have a text message plan on my phone, much preferring to simply pay for the dozen or two I use a month as I use them, the 2,000 or so IM send/receives for the month have racked up quite the impressive bill.

I spent about an hour on the phone today bouncing from department to department at T-Mobile. First I spoke to billing and was told by both the employee and her supervisor that “no one could credit my account for those charges”. This, I knew, was a blatant lie (due to my long association with the most excellent N), and was just what they were saying to make me stop arguing. Now, I should say I was as polite as possible, understanding that these people don’t make policy, they just carry it out.

After the nice, but lying and unhelpful, people in billing, I got in touch with technical support. This was because I was curious about the whole not-being-charged with the third party software. Tech support insisted that all IM software for phones, no matter who created it, should use the SMS servers. Thus I had been using Mystical Software That Shouldn’t Exist. When I asked if it was possible that the software just used my data plan instead, tech support seemed to think not.

So back to billing, where apparently I was connected to a different call center (as the supervisor I had spoken with before wasn’t at this one), so the story was repeated. The nice lady kept insisting that these charges were my fault for “uninstalling the software that let you have free IMs”. She was nice about it, but insistent. Finally she admitted that she couldn’t override a decision made by a supervisor (during my first call to billing), but that she could transfer me to her own supervisor and I could talk.

I was then placed on hold while she did so, and after about three or four minutes I was disconnected. Having managed to spend an hour on the phone accomplishing not much, I decided to skip it and take another shot later.

But that’s not actually what I wanted to talk about here. What I wanted to talk about was how utterly insane a move this is for T-Mobile. Or, rather, how underhanded it is. See, IM is an inherently data-based system. The only reason that you might have for billing them on an SMS basis is that for a long time you didn’t have pure-data plans for phones. What T-Mobile has done, in effect, is to cripple (making specifically less-efficient) their IM clients in order to make more money. That’s all this is. And that, more than the money, infuriates me (and giving how much money we’re talking about, that’s a lot of fury).

Anyway, I just needed to vent, and now that that’s done I shall return you to your regularly scheduled whatever-you-were-doing.

Thomas

A quick update for those watching from home

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

It’s been a while, huh?  Well, I figured I’d run an update so that people could catch up with what’s going on with me these days.

Back at the beginning of the month I successfully got moved into my apartment in Brooklyn with some cool roommates.  So far it’s been quite a good experience.

Yesterday classes at ITP started, and they started well.  My Communications Lab course is using Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics as one of its texts, and that’s a good thing.

Basically everyone I know has a standing invitation to crash on my couch if you want to visit NYC.  You handle travel and I’d love to put you up.  Just give me a day or two notice so I can warn the roomies.

Real quick note: I’m going to start using this blog quite a bit more than I have been.  Specifically I’ll be using it for projects and stuff for classes here at ITP.  You may or may not notice the nice new categories I’ve established (if you’re reading on a LiveJournal cross-post you won’t, since my blog only cross-posts stuff from the “life” category) then you’ll see what I mean.  It’s possible to follow only a single category, so if you don’t care what I’m doing over at ITP either just keep using the LiveJournal or read stuff at http://blog.thomas-robertson.com/life/ which will avoid all categories not directly tied to stuff happening in the everyday world.

Anyway, I’m hoping to get back to a post-a-weekday format here (as always), so I suppose we’ll see what happens.

Hope you’re all doing well.

Thomas

Let’s do this thing

Sunday, May 18th, 2008

Current plans are for me to be on the road at 06:00 en route to Houston, TX. That should have me pulling in right around 17:00 or so. Man… I’m pumped.

I’ve got my phone, I’ll be checking my email along the way. You know how to get in touch with me.

Don’t forget to check the crazy roadtrip website (which I hope to have actually bug-free soon) for what I hope turns out to be relatively updated updates…

Later skaters.

Thomas

Blog migration complete

Monday, May 12th, 2008

I have managed to import my entire LiveJournal archive into this blog. While I couldn’t get the tag structure copied (because LiveJournal’s export feature sucks and doesn’t support tag exports apparently) I did get comments and everything else. With that done I’ll be moving my base of operations to here. I’ll still be cross-posting to my LiveJournal, of course, for those who want to simply follow along there, but I’ll be primarily operating out of http://blog.thomas-robertson.com.

I’ll actually be producing more posts than I’ll be putting up at my LiveJournal. I’m going to operate under the assumption that people who are following along there are mostly interested in keeping up with day-to-day stuff. So I’ll be maintaining a category here called life that will cover that, and only posts in that category will be put up on LiveJournal. I’ve also managed to get my archives from my old blog Musings and Mental Meanderings brought over, and if you’re looking for those they can be found in the musings category.

At the moment those are my only two categories, but I’ll probably be adding more as time goes on. If you want to follow everything I’m up to from life to research to projects to essays then this blog is the place. And if you just want to follow some things? Well, you can do that too.

Thomas

A door closes, looking ahead

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

Today has been a day of change in many ways. Let’s go through those, shall we?

First of all, today was my last day at work. While my resignation doesn’t officially kick in until Saturday, and while I do have to go pick up a paycheck tomorrow, I’m no longer on the schedule and I’m not on call. While it’s conceivable that someone might want me to cover a shift int he next two days, it’s exceedingly unlikely. It feels odd, but after three and a half years of dispatch I’m ready to move on. I’m ready for a change.

Second, I’ve mentioned that I’ve been working on this big web application which I’ve been planning to use to track my roadtrip. Well, it’s done and it’s now online. You can go check things out at www.roadtrip2k8.com. All the features work, and as far as I know there are no bugs in the current version. I know there are some interface issues which I need to resolve. Primarily: because it’s basically a series of blogs linked by a map, I need to figure out a good way of showing users recent updates so they can keep up with traffic. If you’ve got suggestions I’d love to hear them.

Third, I’ve actually worked up a tentative itinerary for the roadtrip. It’s… extensive. And having it down on paper really makes it seem more immediate (and gives me a sense of just how big an undertaking this is). If you’re curious, you can check it out online too since I have a Google.docs spreadsheet. (Wow, my entire life is on the internet.)

Fourth, you’ll probably notice that this is coming from yet another new blog. I’ve managed to import all my old blog posts from “Musings and Mental Meanderings” as well as the one post I made from the blog I thought I would use for my personal life. I’ve decided to simply put all my posts in one place and use WordPress’ category system to allow people to read selectively. For the moment I’m only going to be posting to the one category: “life”. I’ll use tags to differentiate within that. I presume that I’ll eventually add one for research or essays as well.

As more categories come online I figure I’ll put together a tutorial or something on how to use them. I think that’s it for now.

Huh… all these changes and I don’t feel any different.

Thomas

Life, it does go on

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

In addition to being a post about my day this is also the first test of me using a cross-posting utility to post to a WordPress blog and my LiveJournal at the same time.  We’ll see how that goes.

Took two of my four exams today, and now those are out of the way.  They were for two of my less stimulating classes, both in the sociology department.  I don’t understand (except that really I do) how we can make learning so grueling.  I mean, sure learning is often difficult and requires effort, but it should be fun!  I tend to feel that if a class makes you dread going, and dread executing assignments, then it must be doing something wrong.

I mean, come on people…  You really have to work to take a field I find fascinating and then make me tune you out when you talk about it.

Anyway, just the two exams left.  It’s not long now.

Thomas

Huh… I don’t feel any different

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

Today marked the last meeting of a class of my undergraduate career. I presented my final project in Web Applications with XML and JSP today. The project is actually something I’m pretty excited about, and I’ll probably talk about it more soon since it’s part of my plans for the road trip this summer. That’s for later though, for now I thought I should have a post commemorating my last day of classes.

In other news I’m seriously contemplating setting up a WordPress install to take up most of the content that goes here. If I do I’ll mirror it to this journal, of course, but I’m finding that more and more of the people that I’d like to link to a blog about my life so that they can keep up with me don’t really need the LiveJournal thing. A simple (and easy to remember) blog URL is probably a lot less trouble for them.

I’ll probably work on that sometime this week or something.

Anyway, I’m keeping this short.

Thomas

I now enslave myself financially for love of knowledge

Monday, April 21st, 2008

In the continuing saga of my plans to attend grad school I received my financial aid packet from NYU today. There are still details to work out, of course, but the bottom line is that I can do this, and it will be awesome.

Beyond that I’m just tired. Mondays are my long day (class starts at 08:00, work ends at 21:00, sometimes I have a one hour break for lunch). Coming out of a Saturday+Sunday 12 hour shift cycle means that I’ve had not nearly enough sleep. Fortunately I don’t have to work tomorrow so I’ll sleep in to the decadent hour of 08:00.

It’s really dawning on me just how close all of this is. My last final is May 7, my last day of work is May 8, and on May 10 I officially graduate. Hopefully I’m on the road for the beginning of my trip by May 24 at the very latest. Then it’s ten weeks of driving and visiting and hanging out.

Someone at some point said, perhaps in jest, that I could write a book about this road trip thing. At first I thought that was ridiculous. I mean… people who do cross-country journeys and go on to write books about them have interesting things to say, what would I talk about? Then I realized that I have an angle on this that I find fascinating. I could, very legitimately I feel, write a book entitled Road Tripping Across the Internet. Looking over my list of people to visit, almost every single one of them is someone I met online in one place or another.

Think about that: I’m taking a trip that involves hanging out with more than 50 different people, and with only two or three exceptions every single one of those relationships was first formed somewhere online. Wouldn’t that be a neat book? I like to think so. I’ll be making notes all along the trip anyway, just in case.

Speaking of the trip, I’m working on a project for my web apps class that I plan to use for the summer. More details to come, but it’s sort of an experimental blog/forum system organized primarily around physical locations. We’ll see what happens.

Thomas

At least I post this week

Friday, April 18th, 2008

I’ve been crazy busy, but things have been progressing well, I think.

I made a final decision regarding graduate school. My acceptance of NYU’s offer went into the mail today. I’m more than a little pumped.

I’ve got most everything I need to do in all my classes completed. The only thing left now is my final project for my web applications class, and that’s mostly a fun one anyway.

Less than two weeks of class left. My last day of work is May 8. My last interaction with the university here will probably be May 10. I’m hoping to get my stuff from the apartment packed and ready to take to move when I’m ready by May 16. Things are coming to a head, and I’m excited.

Also: tired.

Thomas

Ah bureaucracy, I haven’t missed you

Monday, April 7th, 2008

Ever since I received my acceptance letter from NYU I’ve been slinging stuff back and forth with their financial aid department. My preference is still to be up that way, but I’m going to need far more on the way of aid to do that than I will if I attend GaTech. And with the GaTech response deadline originally April 15 (they very graciously gave me an extension), I had very little time to find out if I had it.

First I call financial aid only to be told that I’m not in the system at all. So I call the guy in charge of aid for my school but have to leave a message. I don’t hear back so I give him another call a few days later and he pokes around and tells me my SSN was entered into the system wrong and that’s what had happened. He fixes it. So I call financial aid again and they confirm that the SSN is in the system, but they tell me it will take a couple of days for them to process my FAFSA now that they know which one to process. I decide to stop bothering them for a few days.

Today I call to see if it’s been handled and the guy I talk to is extremely helpful. He tells me that, oh, they have to send in a specific request to get the thing processed and that hasn’t been done yet. He offers to immediately send an email to the appropriate people, but he warns that it won’t get done before they close for the day. I should call back tomorrow he says.

So that’s what I plan to do.

In only slightly related news, the NYC housing market is radically different from the one I’m used to. Around here our entire rental market turns over in August with the beginning of the Fall semester. This means that most rental properties are projected out to open in August sometime and you need to get in as early as you can to insure widest selection options. NYC is apparently significantly different. Turnover is, of course, higher, and this apparently leads to a market in which availability tends to project out about a month or so. That means that I probably won’t know until sometime in June or July where I’m living or how much it will cost. That’s a new sort of uncertainty for me and should be interesting.

It’s also possible that I just fail to understand how this works. That wouldn’t surprise me either.

Thomas

Missed a day, but what the hey

Thursday, April 3rd, 2008

I’m not too worried about failing to post yesterday. Sleep was more important considering the day I had today.

Woke up at 05:00 to get ready for the trip to Atlanta to check out the program at Georgia Tech. Made good time and arrived without incident and without getting lost or missing any turns. Found the building that most of the HCI labs are in and discovered that it’s actually more of an architectural nightmare than Haley. I suppose that it may be less confusing if you spend time in the building, but it’s basically a maze of corridors with no obvious visible landmarks. It also doesn’t seem to be symmetrical.

Anyway, the trip was good and the tour/orientation thing was also good. I met a number of other prospective students, and some of them were dang sharp. Good conversations were had with them. A lot of questions were answered about all sorts of things, which was nice and tremendously helpful. The only truly weak parts of the experience (at least from the standpoint of recruiting) were that A) the actual lab tour was terribly unorganized and sort of aimless, B) the classes we sat in on were so-so, and C) there was little direct contact with professors.

I still found the entire thing to be very helpful in working toward a decision between NYU and GaTech. The short version is this: both schools are serious, but GaTech is serious business and NYU is serious fun. Perhaps a bit more clearly stated GaTech is focused on industrial research and direct application while NYU is more exploratory and interdisciplinary. Needless to say that second approach draws me in.

Ironically I’m coming to believe that the lack of an ITP PhD is a huge point in the program’s favor rather than a disadvantage. I don’t know if this is the case, but there’s a strong sense at GaTech that the master’s students are sort of second class citizens. The real money and time and energy are spent on the PhD students. Which makes sense, I suppose. But it means that ITP, without that higher level to suck up time and energy from the faculty, has more of that time and energy to devote to the class of students I’ll find myself in.

The point of all this is that this visit was extremely valuable because it helped me get a feel for the program at GaTech and that helped me a bit with deciding that it’s probably not as good a fit as the program at NYU.

Now all I have to do is figure out this whole “money” thing.

Thomas

Not really very coherent

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

I was hoping that today would present an opportunity for a bit more reasoned post on the grad school choice thing, but being keyed up (and poking around with NYU’s online system) kept me up waaaay too late. With the early morning (05:00) shift I had today this meant I am woefully short on sleep. Honestly I should probably be in bed now, but…

Today was mostly me leveling out the emotional high of the letter. Part of it is, of course, that I got accepted, but much of it is simply knowing. I don’t have to put off decision-making. I can move forward and get something done, and that’s emotionally stimulating for me. So despite being low on sleep I’ve been pretty active.

Met up with the Nikki for a late lunch thing. Talked about grad school for me and interesting history stuff for her. (I gave her an idea for a master’s thesis free of charge. I’m such a good friend.) Then we headed back to my place to poke around youtube for a bit which eventually led to Soul Caliber 3. Will joined us for some animated violence and we passed the controllers around a bit. Quite a bit of fun, really. I love that game more than, perhaps, I should.

Just as she took off for Japanese stuff Marie called. Marie and Deli and I decided on food (after twenty minutes we settled on Arby’s as our location) and I called Claire (who I’d run into on my way out of work this morning) to see if she wanted to join us. She said she’d meet us there. Then, of course, on the way over there we decide that we don’t want Arby’s after all. No, we want Chick-fil-et. So I called Claire to give her the update.

It turned out to be pretty good though, so I call it a win.

Ran into Tabor, who I’ve seen around but probably haven’t talked to in four or five years. He’s going to be heading off to TX this summer and we talked about the possibility of me visiting him during the roadtrip which would rock. On the way home somehow the topic of Deli’s friend Tate came up in conversation and it turns out she’s likely moving to DC. So there’s another person to visit this summer.

Then we got back to my place and watched an episode of Bones. I’ve seen them all, but I’ve been slowly getting Deli through the series as it’s quite good and since she has good taste she recognizes that.

That’s a decent summary.

Thomas

The best of times, the worst of times

Monday, March 31st, 2008

(Apologies to Nikki for not using the far more amusingly cheesy title I proposed earlier.)

Some of you may know that I’ve been waiting to hear back from grad schools for a while now. More specifically, I heard back from everyone but NYU, the program with the earliest application deadline by far. I was really starting to get worried what with the decision deadline for GaTech being April 15.

So I called the admissions office this morning to ask and they said “Oh, we just mailed stuff out Thursday, so you should get it soon.”

And I did.

And I’m in.

NYU’s Tisch school of the arts has offered me admission for the Fall of 2008.

Which leads to a conundrum: I must now make a choice. I’ve spoken rather a lot with Amy Bruckman at GaTech via email and phone, and she’s sharp. And the work she’s doing? Constructivist educational theory applied to groups via computer-mediated social networking? That’s… sort of exactly what I want to do in the long term. I mean… it’s like someone took my interests and then designed a research program around them. So there’s Georgia Tech looming large in my mind.

But Georgia Tech is in Atlanta, and I am not much of a fan of Atlanta.

NYU, on the other hand, has Clay Shirky. And reading Clay Shirky is what got me into the field the way I am now. I’ve had a chance to visit the ITP labs and talk with some students (something I’m going to due for HCI this Thursday), and it looked pretty dang awesome. Also: NYU is in NYC, which is one of my top five favorite cities in the US. It is full of cool people and places, and that’s a part of education too.

So now there’s a choice. I’m leaning rather heavily toward NYU, but here’s where I throw things open: what do you people think? What’s a good fit? Why should I consider one or the other differently than I am now?

Thomas

Late isn’t missing a day, right?

Saturday, March 29th, 2008

I was fully intending to post yesterday, but by the time I finished my web apps project I was too tired to do more than pass out incoherently. I did get it done, though, and it was a surprisingly useful exercise.

Of course it would have been done far earlier if someone hadn’t called me up after work and said “I know you’re having a bad day, let’s hang out”. And then forced me to eat steak and shrimp and go to the bookstore to mock back-cover copy. So if you want to blame someone for this being late, you know who to aim your ire at. (Thanks, by the way.)

I haven’t worked enough with PHP to know if it handles session attributes the same was JSP does, but I know that the way that JSP handles them is pretty dang infuriating. For those who don’t do this sort of stuff, the “session” object is a piece of information you use in web-programming that tracks data from a user across multiple pages of the same server. It’s sort of like a set of cookies that expire when you close the window and don’t actually get stored on your machine (actually, and importantly, session data is stored on the server, so it can’t be tampered with or hacked). One nice thing about the way JSP handles sessions is that it attributes you set are objects, which allows for nicely complex (or simple) data-forms. The thing that I spent all night really upset about was that I couldn’t store a dang primitive type. Or, rather, I couldn’t retrieve it because the command to get attributes returns object types and primitive types are too simple. This meant that instead of having a simple “is the user logged in?” flag in the session history, I had to revalidate from strings every time. There’s a workaround to this, but I didn’t have time to delve into package generation for a simple state-tracking object.

Anyway, long story short (too late), this was frustrating.

What wasn’t frustrating, beyond dinner and bookstore, was just how awesome the internet is. My mom gave me a call last night and I realized that most people don’t know that they, despite living on the other side of the world, have a United States phone number. Because Vonage only cares about you having an IP address and some bandwidth. They’ll plug you into the phone network wherever you dang want in the US. This means that for my parents, calling numbers in the US is already paid-for with their Vonage subscription. And it means that for the growing number of people with unlimited long distance, calling back is just as paid-for. Ten years ago, when we were there the first time, it was hard and expensive to do international calling. Now you just pick up the phone.

Thomas

Programming is oddly paradoxical

Thursday, March 27th, 2008

The part of it that is compelling and interesting is in design and implementation. It’s the same interesting thing you get in any creative endeavor: coming up with good ideas and novel solutions and efficient approaches to problems. That’s fun and interesting and even exhilarating.

The part of programming that sucks is error-checking and fixing. It’s grunt work and largely a derivative of syntactic elements. I absolutely hate it. There’s nothing really interesting involved in it. It’s not stimulating staring at where the compiler has thrown you a highly uninformative error message.

This, probably more than anything else, is what drove me out of computer science. I love the design work. I’ve recently been discovering the joys of developing XML schema and XSL style sheets. It’s downright fun and fascinating and because it doesn’t involve programming (XPath is not programming) there’s no debugging. I love doing design specs, I love designing interfaces. I just hate the drudge work that accompanies implementation.

Surely there’s a way to get rid of that. Though I’ve got no idea what it is. I bet if I found it, though, I’d be rich quick. It would be the key to both enjoyable programming and quite possible wide-spread computer literacy (in the sense that users can read and write it).

Thomas

Things you appreciate in their absence

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

I’ve got this project for a class. It involves designing and implementing a very bare-bones form of an internet guestbook (in JSP, which is sort of silly since no one likes Tomcat, least of all me). I’ve got all the design and data work done. I’ve got my data structures laid out, and my interface designed, and everything else. All that’s left is the data storage and handling stuff.

Now I’m doing this in JSP and I don’t, for this project, have access to a MySQL server, so I’m forced to fall back on writing flat-text files and writing search and parse code myself. As a method of data storage flat-files are fine, I don’t mind them at all, really. But I positively hate writing my own parsing functions.

This is all a way of me saying that dang do I love the way MySQL automates searching, parsing, and data retrieval. And I very much wish I could use it here.

Thomas

Imagine that

Tuesday, March 25th, 2008

I’m actually managing to stay with the “update once a weekday” thing. I’m sort of impressed with myself.

I’m sure there’s more interesting stuff that’s happened in the last 24 hours, but I’m not really doing this to do work so I’m just going to talk about what’s on my mind.

And what’s on my mind at the moment is Fox’s Bones. Mostly because I just finished watching a couple of episodes with Deli. She got hooked when she showed up on the day I “forced” Nikki to start watching it with me. Both of them, of course, like it.

If you’re not familiar it’s a rather intriguing show structurally. It walks that thin line (which is so rarely walked) between being plot-driven and being relationship-driven. Most shows fall too far into one or the other. Heroes lost me because while it was driven hard by the plot, I lost interest in too many of the characters. Joss Whedon (with the exception of Firefly, which I sometimes suspect got lucky in being canceled so early) tends to lose me by driving everything through relationships at the expense of anything actually happening.

Bones walks the line between. It’s a show that very clearly only works because of the relationships. The tension between Brennan and Booth is clearly the key, but all of the inter-character relationships are dynamic and fun. Yet while it’s a show that works because of the character relationships, it’s not actually about those relationships. It’s a hard balance to strike, and it’s done well here. I love it.

You should watch it too.

Thomas