Monday, December 22, 2003

home for the holidays

it is interesting to watch a lot of cable tv and then rewind the experience to think about how various parts made me feel. space ghost got angry and punched the head of a praying mantis type thing, decapitating it, making me very happy, while the head of dennis miller looked out from a tv monitor. a real head looking out from a cartoon tv. yes i get it.

the jeffersons rerun did not make me especially happy. lamont was off in japan, learning the latest about "advanced computer circuitry." in the early 80s this was how a screenwriter could easily script the idea of "success" without making the audience think too much. lamont, at least, was never stereotyped as a computer geek, but there's something cheap and unsettling whenever computers are used this way.

well. family members are milling around this laptop, which belongs to my mother anyway. so i'd better relinquish control

Friday, December 05, 2003

Some girls are singing christmas carols at the top of their lungs out of a 12th story window (the castillian) overlooking the drag. I guess to celebrate friday. I am waiting below for the 982 bus. It's 4:30 pm. The slanted sun is still bright and the girls are at such an altitude that their voices are distorted. I wave to them. I think they wave back. What the fuck. It's the end of the semester. My bus is white and streamlined, like something out of a science fiction movie. It is almost 2004, and we are alive to see it.

I've been following this story:

Krugman's on target, but he doesn't mention the extremely good report that's on the web about Diebold's system. It's written by geeks at Rice and Johns Hopkins. Too technical for the newspaper, which in itself says something about the nature of the problem...

...which would be that the people who are knowledgeable enough to settle this issue have no political clout. They don't hold office, have a lot of money, or write for the newspaper so they aren't heard.

I passed unit 20 (the final unit) in EE 316 today, and this is one of those days where I surprised myself. Given a set of rectangular waveforms, I was able to determine their source to be a D flip flop connected to a XOR gate. My TA/grader passed me in about 45 seconds, with none of the usual agony. Earlier this morning I demonstrated my design of a binary divider to none other than C.H. Roth, the author of the textbook.

I had a few small errors in how I diagrammed the circuit which he spotted instantly, but he cut me some slack.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

This is a midterm summary of my academic activity. I should be doing more homework right now, but I love the sense of control that I get from expository writing.

In Logic Design, we're seeing how systems of gates become functional units. For example, why something like a programmable logic array (PLA) is important. It packages a framework within which gates are combined, and standardizes a method of associating them. In order to think about what drives something electronic, such as a clock radio display, one can think “PLA” and see a big piece of the picture. Obviously, no engineer goes to a store and buys a little AND gate. The logical units must come bundled together. I guess I’m saying that it’s satisfying to see and understand how.

In 411 we are covering transients. Inductors and capacitors are like wheels, in that they give a circuit a sort of rolling “momentum.” The Inductor is easier to visualize this way. It’s like a paddle wheel in the current. Even if the current suddenly stops, the paddle wheel keeps spinning, and for a while it will keep the current moving downstream. (The strange difference is that it spins perpendicularly to the direction of the current, not in line with it). A capacitor binds parallel branches of the stream. If several parallel streams have a capacitor among them, they are backed up in the event that their upstream source suddenly stops. The capacitor will attempt to maintain the driving force across all of the branches until it expends itself.

In M340L we’ve learned the basics of matrices. There is a conceptual leap between thinking of math as a way of manipulating individual numbers, and thinking of math as a way of grouping numbers. The class has felt a little bit dull, perhaps because we’re looking at things that simply exist rather than do. For example, a 3X3 matrix spans 3 dimensional space if it can be reduced to a diagonal row of ones, etc. etc.

In data structures, we’ve spent 6 weeks learning what all of the confusing C++ syntax is about. I think it’s ironic that the C++ language immediately exposes newcomers to its most difficult concepts, and that these concepts are intended to make the language easier to use. For example, function overloading is supposed to make it convenient for the audience (other programmers) to use symbols like “+” and “==” in ways like, “does this data == my mailing address.” This relatively modest gain (that benefits these “other programmers” not the human race at large) comes at the expense of a cumbersome syntax and many scary new punctuation marks. I've yet to find comprehensive examples that show how big O, big omega, and big theta can be applied to programs. The examples that I've seen give short incomplete explanations. There is an O'Reilly book written on this subject, Algorithms in C, which waters it down. More professional books give more thorough explanations. I recommend anything by a fellow named Skiena.

Sunday, September 14, 2003

proposition 12 passes, narrowly. in fact, all of the propositions pass. the creepy recorded phone call i received from rick perry, urging me to support prop. 12, evidently did its job. the legions of the walking dead were activated. they got into their ford expeditions, programmed to vote yes, yes, yes.

the republicans' secret agenda in limiting non-economic damages in civil suits (i'm told) is to undercut the power base of trial lawyers, and hence the funding base of the democratic party. by imposing this cap, however, large corporations are more liable to act irresponsibly.

it's almost as if texans would vote more reasonably there wasn't a liberal minority urging them to think. it's not just the liberal minority in texas, the world is beginning to think that texas is backwards, hence texas resents the world and passes laws that further isolate it from modernity.

Saturday, September 13, 2003


an asian guy in a tight grey ribbed top swaggered down the narrow hall at about half the normal walking speed. i was behind him, in no hurry. perhaps he sensed me behind him, as if he were some kung fu master with eyes in the back of his head. the pretty girl from my EE 411 class tried to walk past him on the left, but as she did, she stumbled because she was trying to navigate the narrow space carrying books. he did not alter his gait, say excuse me, or anything. if it was a guy stumbling, fine, be bruce lee about it, but if it's a girl what's the harm of saying sorry. i wanted to snap on him, "this is texas, son, you say 'excuuuse me' to a lady." in a sense, i was paralyzed by his race. i disliked him even before the girl walked up. his walk suggested all that was alien and unattractive about asian youth, a kind of midget bravado. i wasn't afraid of confronting him so much as tapping into some sort of uglyness inside me. i wouldn't have been confronting him because i believed in chivalry so much as i would have been trying to put his personality (and his 'culture') back into its box.

my reader(s) may find this kind of thing tiresome, but i obsess on stuff like this. it concerns me too. i'm supposed to be thinking about


a guy in 411 did the unthinkable: the trick where you flick your cheek with your finger in order to make a watery plopping sound. i haven't seen this trick since the 1980's. the professor was up there talking about induction, the foundation of RF circuit theory (and anything having to do with wireless communication) and amazingly, this guy has reverted to his sophomore year of high school. i really feel like i got back into college just in time. if i had a little more grey in my sideburns, i would look totally ridiculous sitting there. for some reason 411 is a zoo. i had ploppy in front of me, an extremely nonplussed girl who could only pay attention to the professor long enough to mock him, sitting behind me. the whole back of the room was talking. i realized, with horror, that my classmates would probably become ruder and harder to like the higher up i go, not more likeable. they're turning 20, and many of them have never enjoyed the experience of being "cool" in a class. the jocks and thugs that used to hem them in are now elsewhere.

in other words, i'm feeling rather isolated this semester. my lifelines are the JP Java coffee house, carrying a copy of the new york times, and (i will need to take advantage of this) setting lunch dates with adults that i know on campus.

i got into the major sequence this week. meaning i take my first junior-level course this Spring.

Friday, September 05, 2003

fall at UT, pedestrian traffic is high. more soothing to consider as a brueghel painting than as a series of portraits, looking back at you. i feel slightly self-conscious as an older person, and i could not blame these young folk in the least at any resentment over inheriting such a badly used world. the art of walking around involves what tom ridge might call relaxed vigilance (or some crap like that). nobody remembers what they see when they walk, usually. the trick is getting to point b feeling as good or better than at A, and this is an art.

Friday, August 29, 2003

i had a dream that my father was attempting to lecture a class about onscreen text formatting. he was stumped on some questions, and he sat on a sofa to think. he had leather pants and sat in a strange position. actually, he didn't look like my father at all. he was a fat, younger guy with bleached hair, yet he was my father. this stuff always happens in my dreams. i never question it. after my "dad" left i attempted to clarify something that he said, and i drew from experiences that i've had in life (working as a technical writer). in dreams i ignore the obvious incongruities yet i speak to people i see as if i was in the real world. and despite the failure to recognize where i am, i wake up feeling like i learned something.

just five minutes ago i was standing at a papercutter (currently in a library computer lab) and i needed to cut some paper (a xerox of a photograph of myself for a contact info sheet). i went to the desk and asked for scissors. i left the paper i needed to cut on the papercutter. i used the papercutter as a platform while i used the scissors to cut the paper.

i could just summarize this entry by saying "sometimes i can be incredibly oblivious to things." but i'll give myself more credit and say that i'm aware of things, and i'll allow myself to do stupid things so that i can act out things that need to be acted out, not suppressed. i said, loudly, "papercutter" when i saw it. and perhaps people think i'm insane, but i feel sort of awake right now.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

i suppose that there were several highlights of this evening:

seeing the gourds. they've taken notes at every good polka, tejano, and country-western show from here to there. interestingly, people didn't crowd up on the stage and it was humane, being able to do little two steppy jigs to the gourds.

last night saw jimmy cliff, the singer of "i can see clearly now the rain has gone" and "the harder they come the harder they fall" etc.

so i've spent a shitload of money.

matt suggested that we check out the club de ville. the highlight there was the men's room. i was peeing in a urinal, and i told a guy that if he couldn't hold it then he had better take a shit on the floor. he thought that was pretty funny, but he reminded me that another guy was trying to take a shit in the stall, so i had better be sensitive. i said, oh oh, of course. and we all had a big laugh. i'm so pessimistic about the opposite sex right now that practically anything resembling fun (such as this) is a success. i think that my problem with women is that they stare at you expecting you to do something, and then they act snooty when you try to talk to them. my attitude has become, well, i guess the wall is pretty interesting, and i'm beginning to believe that the wall actually is interesting. at one point, when i was younger, girls used to at least humor me. i remember meeting girls and feeling as though i was shaking up their scene simply by talking to them. now, i feel like i'm too old and girls are no longer girls, as i knew them. they're glandular, the barrier would be that although they would find me uninteresting, i similarly would find their little "who are we going to vote off the island next" vibe equally boring. the antidote to all of this is sincerity, i think. at clubs at night, all actions are directed towards the goal of intimacy, of finding some little seam to slip into and lose one's self in. the barrier of opinion at a nightclub, in a sense, is worse than what you'd experience at a convent. at least in my case. the charming little ways i used to enter conversations with girls now seem horribly quaint. i just have no idea.

Friday, August 01, 2003

geordie i'm not, but scotty's in full effect. final grade in Engineering Physics II: A.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

my neigbor's kitchen faucet exploded this afternoon, submerging most of our duplex. i just got done ripping up half of the carpet and padding. as i do not have enough spare funds to even afford a call to blackmon mooring, i think i'm just going to rip the rest out over the weekend and enjoy the concrete for what it is. i'm going to buy a few chairs at urban outfitters, throw out my broken salvation army chair, and pretend that this counts as interior design. i had better not bring first dates home, but since when have i brought a date home.... oh wait, i have an oriental rug in the closet! yay!

i'm going to call this a wake up call from god, this accident. god is telling me that i need to get in shape, drink more ice water, stop living as if life had wall to wall beige carpeting.

i had a dream last night that i got a 20/hr. week job that paid 30K a year. it was maintaining subway cars for the CTA. anyway, my new boss said that my name would be "watchdog." i wrote this down on the cardboard backing of a used-up sketch pad this morning. now i'm looking at it. as it turned out, i was the watchdog who came home and discovered the torrents, and went out and turned off the main shut off valve. not a very good watchdog, but i guess the waters could still be flowing.

Monday, July 21, 2003

physics exam III kicks my ass. one question asks how long a ray of light would take to travel through an atmosphere whose index of refraction n increases linearly towards the surface. i'm thinking, what kind of fucking question is this. i'm sorry, i forgot my geordie laforge visor. i seem to remember there being many prism-related problems in the homework with CONSTANT FUCKING Ns. not "you're beaming a photon ray into the atmosphere of a hypothetical planet" problems.

yes a lack imagination, i suppose. i'd complain more, but the grades have already been posted and there evidently are plenty of people who successfuly calculated the speed of the ray. austin is in good shape if aliens invade.

in other news, i set up an interview with this guy for august 2. i'm driving to fort worth. he's going to try and arrange "a normal saturday around the house" where i guess we'll drink busch and work on his fence. he says that he and his buddies are digging fence post holes, waiting until the sun is at its hottest. his books are trashy collages. found objects from the trailer park mixed with obscene poetry and unwholesome descriptions of mom. my bill hicks show turned out extremely well, but practially nobody heard it. i'm realizing that i might have to make friends with obscurity. radio is basically a background medium. nobody thinks of it as art. i've done so many shows now (about ten) that the lack of recognition is no longer quite so discouraging.

Thursday, July 17, 2003

a guest on bill moyer's show, who wrote a play about the life and work of leonardo davinci, dodged a question along the lines of "what caused davinci to see the world the way he did?" she seemed accustomed to the question, as if hundreds of naive people asked the same thing. she said something like "it's not for us to know. leonardo had a gift and the best we can do is appreciate the things he left us, not attempt to explain the man." i found this interesting, and also discouraging. i like reading biographies because there's a little hope that some of the person's essence may rub off on me. even though it's audacious, presumptuous to even think a thought like "how would DAVINCI approach this problem" it's nonetheless something that's possible to do, and if you think it, nobody will know.

so, I'm reading James Gleick's "Newton" right now, which attempts to explain the psyche of the greatest physicist and mathematican who ever walked the earth. Glieck pays close attention to Newton's journals, the size of his handwriting, the type of paper, where he obtained his blank books, etc. One book Newton called his "Waste Book." While doing physics today, I realized why he may have called it this. When thinking about physics problems there is a tentativeness with the pencil. at least when you're doing homework, there is a hesitation to write things down. the analytic state of mind is not the natural state. it's fragile. hence, anything can disrupt it, including fear of the paper, or of wasting it, or of leaving a record that suggests that you were dumb. in light of this, readers, obtain a waste book, put nothing between you and the idea.

i think that gleick is right and the playwright was wrong. it is our right to look at brilliant people and ask dumb questions like "how did you DO that?" 99 percent of the time we might get a stupid answer, but there's always the chance that we can pick up good habits. there's an art, or at least a method, by which we can make ourselves think.


A friend is leaving town after breaking up with his girlfriend of 10 years. She keeps the house, the dog, most of the exotic things accumulated on their travels. (It was discussed over beers last tuesday, what happens to such stuff post break up. Clearly, you can't start a relationship with somebody new surrounded by exotic oaxacan pottery, photographs, etc. obtained with a previous person.)

So, another friend, Jennifer, called me today asking if I knew exactly when Eric was leaving. I didn't know. It was very important to her that she see him one last time before he left. I said to her "people are precious aren't they." and she said, earnestly, "yes, they arrrre."

Thursday, July 03, 2003

i bought something called "maple pecan crisp, peace cereal" at whole foods market (they have no major brand cereals). on the side of the box is a picture and quote from Yogi Bhajan. sales of peace cereal support "peace jam" seminars. i felt slightly unlike myself pouring a bowl this morning. but my angry thoughts throughout the day were curbed by memories of what i ate for breakfast. for example, a dude sat behind me in physics with a cocksure way of speaking out answers to the professor's questions. he was correct only about half the time. when he was right, i could hear him chew his gum in a way that seemed to suggest that he thought he had kicked everyone's ass. i thought, "fuck it, i could get mad at this guy, but i ate a bowl of peace cereal this morning."

anyway, in four weeks we've gone from coulomb's law to inductance. too much too fast, actually. in general, i now realize that three dimensional geometry, for all its perils, is the easiest way to understand the forces that affect charged particles. electric forces point straight. magnetic forces encircle. an electric field flows through the length of a conductor creating concentric magnetic fields. wrapping a wire in a loop can cause it to trap energy in the fields. a novel idea. i had previously thought that only batteries could store energy. with a steady current, energy can be stored simply by putting conductors into geometric arrangements. coiling them (inductor) or creating sandwiches for the electric field to go in (capacitor). buttons have capacitors under them. by writing this, i'm attempting to demonstrate that i'm comfortable with the subject matter. in actuality, i struggle with it, and when i take my eyes away from the book or the professor, i stop thinking about it immediately. when walking down the street, i have to force an equation into my mind, such as the biot savart law, and see how long i can keep it there until i start thinking about something unrelated. part of me hopes that i can actually become a good electrical engineer. i've realized that i need to LIKE it, and so far, there is little correlation to what i evidently like to think about. i've tried not to be hard on myself, it doesn't do any good. however, i like to think about the meaning of life, and myself, like my life is still a fantasy, even though i'm almost 32.

tomorrow is independence day.

Monday, June 16, 2003

i'm studying physics in the periodicals room at the engineering library and who should walk in but bruce sterling. picking up journals such as "machine design" etc. i walk over, confirm that it's him, and then shake his hand, introduce myself, tell him that i liked the "difference engine." "hi" he says, no comment on his book. "doing research?" i ask. "yes, you wonder, 'where does he get all of his ideas.'" he says, looking at the shelves. he seems to want to get away from me and i oblige.

i was in a state of glee for about an hour. i tell the librarian, figuring she'd get a kick out of knowing that a columnist for Wired does research in her library. she says "the twilight zone guy." "no, bruce sT-erling, not rod serling." i say. "i'll have to tell my boss" she says.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

oprah gave out free ipods, roombahs, and handbags to her guests today. the women in the audience were shrieking, like they were at a rock concert. i've never seen anything quite like it.

Friday, May 16, 2003

straight A's, including diff eq, thankyouverymuch.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

war poem no. 1

perhaps this man is dead
beneath a rubble wrapping paper pile
on christmas day

could he have only gasped
on the televised front,
to sate those who
sat in chairs to watch.

hate, from somplace, for you,
my american friend.
my senses apologize,
and i can spontaneously tolerate.

the sudden, and then again,
the everyday tones remain dictated.

let me blame this dead man
and love you, my unforgiving man,
and accept these crosshairs
through which you've learned to see

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

i decided to listen to the classical station tonight, KMFA. diane dunnavan does a show on tuesday nights called "classical austin." she had steven mills of the austin lyric opera, promoting his original production "Touch" and playing long excerpts from the score. Glover Gill of Tosca did some or all of the score, beautiful strings and a touch of accordion. this radio show was so good that it actually made me begin to feel human again. the idea that this music was made in austin, and that the ballet will premiere in austin, was unexpectedly encouraging. i have been preoccupied with the images and the repurcussions of the war. in a sense, i have gone to public radio (not KMFA) regularly, needing an unhealthy fix of war news. i am personally neutral on the subject of the war. our president is having an elaborate, bloody, and costly argument with the world. while this isn't inspiring, it is interesting. our siege of baghdad will change the paradigm in the middle east. if our occupying troops win and we establish what we perceive to be "rule of law" in iraq, it could be a stunning counterexample to our relentless failure in the region. it is also possible that our military victory will make us globally hated for decades. either scenario could become apparent within the next few months. but back to my original idea, our eyes and ears turn towards the war and I do not think that we always appreciate the subliminal effect of what we see. in a sense this war is completely dulling to the imagination, the opposite of a good new musical composition. i won't say that it is just or unjust, but it does not inspire me to act, or create, only to ponder the practical consequences. yawn.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Reader(s), try and watch this someday: A Class Divided.

Monday, February 17, 2003

i actually saw dr. patt today, walking down speedway around 5pm. i stopped him and said, "are you dr. patt?" and he said "the last time i checked." i told him that i loved his book "introduction to computing, from bits and gates to c and beyond." he asked who my instructor was how he was doing, how the TAs were doing. i said they were great and then he seemed to be on his way so i thanked him and said goodbye.

chapter four of the book finally sank in today. the instruction cycle consists of several steps: fetch, decode, evaluate address, fetch operands, execute, store result. in the upcoming weeks, they'll have us analyzing examples of assembly language. i also was successful at evaluating a non-exact differential equation today. the lego lab went ok, our robot managed to feel its way along a few strips of black tape.

i'm noticing that a lot of people are eating fried chicken these days. i don't know if it's the poor economy or just a cooincidence.

Sunday, February 02, 2003

no more people in space, at least for awhile. based on what we saw today, the the idea that we're fit to commute back and forth to outer space seems absurd. the cost was too high for whatever commercial and scientific tasks they had performed.

in the 1960s, Kennedy could call space a frontier and be intellectually daring. today, the president calls outer space a frontier and he is merely playing it safe, putting positive spin on a disturbing incident. the difference between 2003 and 1969 is that putting people into space no longer proves a moral point. if the justification for manned space missions is "scientific research," then we need to ask why it's acceptable to risk the lives of researchers who work in outer space, and not acceptable to risk the lives of researchers who work on earth.

robots and computers give us many alternatives to astronauts. for example, we're using unmaned drone aircraft to spy and fire upon our enemies. we could push the boundaries of computer science by investing heavily in a drone shuttle.

that's all.

Sunday, January 19, 2003

i've spent the last few weeks trying to rope myself up onto bevo's back. (bevo is a longhorn bull, the mascot of the university of texas at austin.) registering, figuring out finances, buying books, coping with the physical shock of waking up at 6:30am.

my first impressions of the school:

mostly positive. on friday 1/3, i went down to campus to buy books and pick up a parking pass. away from the carnival atmosphere of the drag, the campus had a chilly, quiet austerity. the late afternoon sun gave white granite of the UT tower a rosy tint. there was a feeling of walking in the mountains, or of visting the preserved ruins of a greek city. a week later i was walking out of GE 207K, a course that gives engineering majors extra practice with differential equations, east on 24th street. a lot of natural science buildings are on 24th. a beautiful asian woman walked towards me, and for a second i recognized that we were in the same place: happy with the class we just left, relieved at having a smart instructor, a future. i could have fallen at her feet and asked her to marry me. i don't mean to disgust my readers, here, and i will get to the less flattering aspects of undergraduate life at 31 in a second...

i was a full time administrative employee at UT for four years. i worked east of IH-35 for a year, and then transferred to IC2 which is located along Lamar. i rarely needed to go to the center of campus, and when i did there wasn't much reason to celebrate. as a student, pursuing an engineering degree, the place now seems enormous, exciting. a large Asian population attends UT: india, china, korea. many schools are highly ranked. there is the sense of a thriving community, quite apart from Austin's general community. the smartest young adults from places like madras, beijing, seoul, walk around in groups having dialogues that may never be heard or appreciated by people in Austin. the contrast between this community and middle class white austin is sharp enough; it's mind blowing to consider that communities east of the expressway are even more insulated. thankfully, one of my professors, Mario Gonzalez, discussed "the digital divide." but UT, as an elite place, creates divides upon divides. students only stay at UT for a few years, and they have no time to contribute to Austin.

i must brag about the resources at UT. a UT professor, Yale N. Patt, wrote my intro to computing textbook which is amazing. in february i'll attend a meeting of the amateur radio club (ARC) which, unlike typical ham radio clubs, has real antennas and satellites to play with. the ECE building has wireless labs, digital design labs, biomedical equipment labs, etc.

on the downside, engineering students are plain looking, plain acting people. in my large introductory EE sections I'm detecting a lack of healthy enthusiasm. it's 85+ percent male, everyone's dressed the same, hair is cropped short (with a few notable exceptions), and many guys almost seem angry. making friends will be a challenge. engineers try to show that they're emotionally simple but sophisticated in terms of technial expertise. i at least look the part. my hair is short and my clothes are nondescript. i fight notions that i'm somehow more talented and creative than those around me, because they probably aren't true.