Monthly Archives: April 2012

Heart

It is part of growing up, I keep telling myself — doing what I know — for some definition of know — is right, despite the advice of my family and almost everyone (but my best friend who is my only beacon in this whole mess). I have a good family — supportive, have my best interest in mind, certainly not the image of the disapproving father so pervasive — and partially I haven’t been completely honest with them, because it’s scary. Nonetheless, I feel a lot of pressure from their attempting-to-be-neutral positions, and I know what I want — what I need to do, but when the time comes to say it I can’t, condemning myself to this purgatory.

I’m not going to finish college. I am very close, only a few credits away, but it is not going to happen at the end of this semester, and everyone is like “but it’s just one more and it’s important for the future” — not so different from my reasoning for returning to college in the first place — I have been at this decision point before, and did convince myself with the assistance of my family that it was the right thing to do. Maybe it was once, and although I did not achieve the goals I set for it, it isn’t right anymore.

Here’s the really hard part, and I have to speak this with less certainty than the other, because different parts of my mind and body are fighting over it. I don’t think I’m going to finish this semester. Try as I might (whatever that means) I cannot commit myself to something that I don’t truly believe is serving me, and right now that is school. I don’t have that kind of control over myself. My grades are really slipping; each moment here feels like trying to run in a dream, suspended in the air. I know, what’s another month? It really doesn’t matter either way. It would matter if I wanted to go to grad school, but years of getting to know myself and being friends with grad students, I don’t think it is the place for me. I am too disorganized, my intellectual exploration is founded in too much curiosity and not enough desire to contribute. Suddenly a pursuit will become uninteresting and another will take me by surprise, but you can’t just switch like that in school.

But you can just switch like that in life. Why would I arbitrarily obligate myself to someone else when I am exploring what I love? Out there in the cruel, forgiving, free world, I can pursue whatever I like whenever and however I like to. Yes, I need to make money, but that’s not such a huge deal. I don’t really get why people make their way of earning money the centerpiece of their lives. Insert canonical white-picket-fence rant.

I don’t have a good phrase to describe who I want to be or what I’m going for. I think of such phrases as potentially guiding, locally, but ultimately limiting. To define myself with words is to forget every moment the words do not account for — when would someone include the Pepsi they had for breakfast in their self-definition? — but that bottle of salt and sugar is part of me, negative or however you want to judge it. Of course, not having such a phrase makes it difficult to assess the value of a difficult easy decision like this, and without a mechanism for assessing value I have no choice but to be human and follow my hearts — there’s nothing else that I can say with my vocabulary that doesn’t sound like a waste of my life.

I have long valued every moment of my time. A year of my life spent unhappy in order to support the remainder of my life never seemed worthwhile to me — I know that sounds irrational — but that seems to be the way I relate to time. A month spent in school, a month not making my living by sharing my musical heart, a month depressed and careless, a month of missed opportunity.

And yet, it is only a month. But why would I stay? I can’t articulate any convincing reason. It will make it less work should I ever decide to come back and finish — but that is actually false. One class is just as many as four, if not more.

I have had my struggles, but at important times I have always listened to the guidance of my family, I think I have always made what they saw as the best choice. This time, I think, their poor choice is the right one — if only symbolically, if only to remind myself whose life I am living.

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List of Awesome Things

from the Lang.NEXT conference this week. I heard most of this stuff not from the talks, but from the awesome people who were attending the conference.

  • Alloy – A language for relational models. You enter a specification of your problem in a first-order relational language (quite powerful) and then it tries to find counterexamples within some small space. If no counterexamples are found, you can have a fairly high degree of confidence in your model (as they say, “most assertions are wrong; most flaws have small counterexamples”).
  • Combinatorial Sketching. “Here’s what I want my algorithm to do, and I know that it probably involves a for loop and addition and multiplication. Figure it out for me, kthxbye.” (Thanks to Peter Alvaro for the last two links; check out his research on Bloom, too: a very nice way to simplify and analyze distributed systems)
  • Cyc, a queryable database of “common sense”.
  • Labanotation – a standardized system for recording human motion. Traditionally used to write down choreography.
  • Structure and Interpretation of Classical Mechanics, in which Sussman (creator of Scheme) writes about classical mechanics in a functional style. I have read the first chapter, and I have to say, functional calculus notation makes a lot more sense to me than the traditional notation. Go figure.
  • Algorithmic information theory
  • Smooth interpretation — a way of smoothing out digital programs so that their parameter spaces can be searched by gradient descent.
  • Lytro, the coolest piece of hardware I have seen in years: it’s a camera which records the directions of incoming rays, so that you can focus the picture after the fact. For example.

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