september, 2003

Tue Sep 2 11:24:51 EDT 2003

As I was soaking up sun and water on a nineteen-foot sailboat yesterday, augmenting my oh-so-sexy watch tan and learning to tack and jibe, the classes of '04 through '07, this year's crop of freshmen, were starting classes back up at Swarthmore. I'd maintained all along that the full meaning of graduation wasn't going to hit until everyone else went back to school and I was still in the working world; until then, it would just be summer as usual. Yes, summer with more money than ever before; summer with a B.A. and a kick-ass job; still, summer.

But now it dawns upon me, with the full force of away messages on IM announcing Kohlberg, classes, the like, that I have capital-G Graduated. Back on Swat's campus for the weekend, walking through the new science center at 4 or so in the morning with Keith, it struck me that this beautiful building (with a sushi bar!) would house the natural sciences of all future Swatties, that CS would move in here (abandoning the much-loved Sproul), and that Swat would go on without me. Logical, yes; comfortable, no. It's not as if I expected all learning to stop without me -- but ... well, the buildings are still there, new ones are going up, and I -- my class -- am/is no longer in the focus of the institution. We're alumni, joining good ranks, but no longer part of the four-year gestation we've been wallowing in since age 18. On the balcony of the new science center, this realization came so suddenly that I cried for a few minutes, uncomprehending.

Egotistical sadness turned quickly to self-mocking laughter and drunken daring-do when we realized that, unlike every other door in this new building, the balcony locked, and we were stuck outside. We rejected jumping down, and opted instead to saw off a piece of roping on some exposed stone tiling, tie it to the railing, and rappelled down the sheer stone/glass side. I want to see the Public Safety report from that one!

Joanne and I drove up to Swat Friday night, stretching into Saturday morning as we waited on the highway behind an 18-wheeler pile-up, organizing her CDs, eating guimauves (marshmallows) from the trunk (hand-toasted), and stealing mudflaps from the side of the highway. The ensuing weekend, in a pattern I seem to be establishing, was packed full of seeing people and not sleeping. Utterly missing Fanjul early Saturday (calling him, sprawled out in an adirondack on Parrish Beach on Sunday afternoon, we realized we'd been in the same city for a morning), I took the good old R3 into Philly and met up with Lisa, where we ran around avoiding the rain, buying me latte bowls, and sipping excellent coffee at La Colombe (where there seems to be a beautiful-people quota!). Why did I not stay in Philly? Such a familiar city; so many people I know; a music scene I have ties in ... but ah yes, my job; the need to move on. Nonetheless, visiting feels like home. I picked up a pound of amazing cheese (midnight moon and Saint André at diBruno Bros., and Lisa olives, and we sat out the first burst of rain under the awning, munching gourmet olives vert and breaking into the midnight moon.

Oliver, with a nascent Seiji Ozawa mane, took him and me over the Walt Whitman to Haddonfield, where Olivia and Chris were playing grown-up and entertaining in her parents' house. From there back to Swat, for the trip's excuse -- a GR martini bash. Sunday I wandered down the pike with Fritz and Elsa, eating hot Krispy Kremes and purchasing a quiche server I feel I've earned of late. (This is in addition to the pastry blender I picked up at the Williams-Sonoma in Philly, the two pretty plates in Chinatown, the teaball and purple ergonomic vegetable peeler from Kitchen Kapers ... ah, the joys of a salary and a kitchen!)

Pod rather serendipitously that night, as Dave and Lizzie invited the three of us out to dinner. Dropped more than I think I may have ever on food at once, but the attention to detail -- the burnt-sugar claws flanking the crème brûlée; the booths that turned different colored lights with buttons; the chocolate bento box; the neon airplane-feel bathrooms -- made the whole place loungeable for three hours and worth it. Fantastic food and company. Which meant we left for DC at 12:30 AM.

Gratefully sleeping in on Labor Day, I woke up in time to drive down the Potomac with Jaime and friends, for my lovely first two hours on a sailboat. I must go again.

A late IKEA trip for matching sideboards for small kitchens got thwarted. Just as well, as all I could do last night was give Claire directions to Delafield, and drop asleep after an exhausting but fabulous weekend.

Sat Sep 6 25:42:44 EDT 2003

Returned from an evening of Japanese food (platters of sushi, me eating the perpetual avocado roll and snatches of Jeanne's spicy tuna maki), Swimming Pool (French, and therefore intriguing and novelistic, and not pandering American Hollywood), and one hour-long round of relatively pathetic cutthroat at a local pool hall -- the first non-Bavarian institution of its kind I've ever been to, I realized. Momentary panic as Jeanne left to make a phone call and Peter to the bar for drinks, as I realized I did not have to speak German to the guy distributing pool balls and meting out tables.

Boston is lovely -- picturesque, at least Peter's Beacon Hill. I find a desire to stay the fuck away of Harvard and its environs, the same way I did last weekend at Swat -- not enough distance for me to smile and nod at the undergraduates; not enough distance to not feel the slight disdain for the crimson ivy league that's practically instilled in us at Swat. Beautiful weather. I ran along the Charles in the low seventies Fahrenheit yesterday, feeling good in preparation for marathon training. Packing as many people into four days as is possible to kill with one stone -- drinking with Daniel last night; up to Amherst tomorrow to marvel at Andrew's continued academic momentum in rushing straight to grad school on the heels of Swarthmore.

Jeanne kicked our asses in pool; David Bowie on the loudspeakers half the night and me smiling and singing but feeling less bittersweet than it used to. Peter's slicing the Scharfen Berger, more dark than bittersweet, to make hot chocolate.

Mon Sep 8 14:56:19 EDT 2003

Sometimes I'm amazed that events that have stood out in retrospect over the past four years haven't gotten documented the same way little bits of my day have. But that's what this is for -- not a chronology (though it functions as one, that's more of a side benefit), but a record of what sticks in my head at the end of the day.

And I guess in the beginning of November 2000, I wasn't too preoccupied with my vision, or with roommate politics -- more like national politics, and the classes I was going to take.

(Recalling the farce of November 2000 yesterday, Julie (up in Amherst) remembered sitting next to the huddle of people we had staring at the CNN broadcast in Upper Tarble, and wondering how serious it could really be. I mean, she remembered, the candidates were just similar enough ... and no one would really die if Bush somehow made it into office. And she remembered Jenny pointing out that someone very well might ... 149 Americans dead in Iraq past the "end" of the war, and the Asshole in Chief is asking for $87 billion more to push the deficit to 500 billion.)

It smacked of three-years-ago November again yesterday when, nonchalantly maneuvering my lens into my eye, it somehow left my finger and disappeared. Half an hour of searching before Peter and I gave up and went to dim sum did not turn it up, and I'm unwillingly bespectacled for the duration (of course I didn't bring my spare pair to Boston). Not that my glasses aren't cute, but I like dark protection from the sun, and a bit better focus than these have. But it felt very like sophomore year, when Laurel threw my contacts out.

It was a mistake, but it pissed me off no end. Tired very late one night, she stumbled into the communal bathroom, grabbed her contact case, dumped out the old saline solution, and prepared to take her lenses out. Only after the contents of the case was swirling down the drain did she realize that she had trashed not her old liquid, but my contacts. An apologetic, tired, and typically Laurel post-it note was left on the mirror (our main way of communicating those months). I of course had no spare, and couldn't order any more for another month, and trumpeted this to anyone who complimented me on my "new" frames. I felt perhaps less guilty than I should have when I then (also accidentally) broke her blender. I think I left a similar-but-snarky post-it on the mirror for her.

Many remember it, now that I'm back in glasses (which prescription probably hasn't been changed in four or more years). But somehow I'm much less bitter about it when it's my own damn fault.

Tue Sep 16 16:24:21 EDT 2003

Sitting comfortably downstairs, wedged into the corner armchair at Delafield, a café au lait on the side table and a brownie next to it, Effective Java in my lap, I somehow drifted back to my first bout with programming freshman year in college (a scant four springs ago). It must have been a "Hello World," though I think I wrote mine in French, like I did my tenth-grade European History notes (much to the pissed-offedness of my friends who wanted to copy them when they missed class). It's fantastic to make the computer do exactly what you tell it to -- print out a statement, make a program to add two numbers, or display n numbers of the Fibonacci sequence. Discrete assignments numbered my early CS days -- I could do my assignments over telnet from Alyssa's computer, pleased with the Socratic introduction to algorithmic thinking and the C I was learning. Even projects in senior-fall AI, the five- or six-week konane tournament we built up to and took third place in, were ground-up, one- or two-file isolations of code.

But no, freshman year wasn't the beginning of a fascination with digital micromanagement, minute control over some small aspect of my life (if not my allowance, then my computer screen). Even before I was making the triangular LogoWriter cursor draw boxes and circles around the terminal of the Apple IIe's in the upper room of the library at Lincoln Elementary; before I was whipping off my friends' typing assignments for them, taking dictation for their creative writing projects and inserting my own commentary and subplots when they thought slower than I typed; before my mother bought me Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing and insisted I was going to need to know how to type -- and well before CS 21 "The Imperative Paradigm: UNIX and C" at Swarthmore -- I was watching over my dad's shoulder as he typed in BASIC programs from an early computer magazine he must have subscribed to. I picked up enough syntax just by watching to spend my free time making my Apple IIc print out string after string of

Hello. What's your name?

nori (or maybe it was still Eleanor back then?)

Hi nori, what's your favorite color?

orange (though it must have been purple or maybe red then)

Really nori, orange is my favorite color too!

And how deviant, like using the elementary school's library's OED to look up swear words, to enter some non-color for your favorite color, some ridiculous string for your name! Less intelligent than ELIZA, but the same approach. And all with line numbers and GOTOs.

And somehow here I am, almost twenty-three and working for a legitimate post-tech-bubble dot-com, as a professional software developer. In training, certainly, as my employers an Effective Java are quick to remind me -- but working with pieces of code far beyond the scope of my third-grade imagination, beyond even what I really thought I was in for a few months ago when I signed on with StreamSage. Like German and the French I used to make my tiny programs talk in, I'm past the syntax and grammar, past the vocabulary, and now need immersion for better usage. This code is huge, modular, scattered all over a hierarchy, with makefiles I can barely read. I have no desire to learn another language right now, just to spend time learning this one.

And my friends going back to grad school! Julie already at Brown's MCM; Andrew and his robots at UMass/Amherst; Chuck (M) in med school and Chris (K) working towards it; Chris (M) studying for the GMAT; Jaime taking Chinese and filling out applications ... and everyone below '03 back at Swarthmore, taking classes, going to orchestra and pub nite (as Elsa's away message said last Thursday)! I can't fathom it.

(But, as Ari pointed out a week and some ago, as I was walking through Harvard Yard with him and shuddering at the bright-eyed new freshmen, I'll probably end up back in it someday. Just being who I am -- in my genetic makeup, or something.)

So, here I am. The school year's started but the only visible change for me has been the weather (stepped down from a boggy summer to a merciful, almost-crisp September -- about right for my upcoming birthday!). I would have never pictured myself working for a small tech startup -- certainly not before the '90s, when all I knew was three commands in BASIC; not freshman year, viola in hand and under chin more than the computer was ever under my fingers; not even really last year until Bruce mentioned it. It's a different kind of education, learning to speak the (Java) language fluently, and deal with code of this magnitude. I like it, even if it seems daunting at times, or if the RAID array crashing or my sporadic short vacations slow progress. I drink coffee (in my new pink café au lait bowl last night; at the über-cool 14th St. Sparky's the night before; in Claire's new perfect blue and yellow fiestaware cappucino mugs that make me very happy), and read this style guide. After all, I've read Strunk and White; this may prove analogous. All part of my continued education.

Thu Sep 18 17:26:00 EDT 2003

"It's like a slumber party ... but without the slumber ... or the party," notes Claire about today's tea-filled hiatus from work (me) and the job search (her). This is not the first time she's used that phrase to describe a day when the most substantive garments we've worn have been jeans, during which we've lounged around making cookies, espresso (a family of mokas -- 1-cup, 2-cup, and the way-too-much pater familias -- sits on our newly purple corner kitchen shelf), and plan at least for soup and scones.

But today, the rest of the city is in on it. Hurricane Isabel is making her way north-northwest, and the District, if not panicking, is not exactly breathing easy either. Sandbags are available. The metro system has shut down. Rains were predicted to start around one, so after a little discussion of various modes of transportation and weather forecasts, Kuzman and I stayed in our respective homes today.

In fact, it started dripping as I was out for my three-mile-and-change run (part of the marathon training -- 30-45 minutes twice weekly, plus a one-mile-more per weekend run on Saturdays). When I got inside, the winds had picked up to maybe five miles per hour.

We opened the windows, positioned the curtains so they were in optimum billowing configuration, and hunkered down for a day of watching them blow in the heavy breezes. Oh, the leaves are shaking outside, but the windows are still open, and no plants have fallen off the sill. No water has yet slanted inside, for that matter. While NPR callers this morning freaked out about flood insurance policies (and Verizon, it seems, preëmptively took out our phone line -- just in case, you see), the worst we've had so far is a case of mass hysteria -- and mass stupidity.

Thinking to buy some vegetables for a soup last night, Claire and I wandered the two blocks south to the Giant. A basketful of zukes and potatoes later, we joined the throngs at the checkout lines that stretched halfway back down the aisles, looking at the contents of carts stocked in case of power failure. Toilet paper. Fish sticks. Ice cream. Bottles upon bottles of water -- all the twelve-ounce size. Somebody tell me how ice cream is going to help you if the power blows? And why these people couldn't fill empty nalgenes and old wine bottles (like we did, just in case) with water? Oh right, because that way they wouldn't get all the plastic packaging. Sorry, I just forgot for a moment there. Because plastic -- and duct tape, better buy some to go with those popsicles -- is what will save you when the terrorist hurricane gets here.

Masses are out in other locales, too, and less hysterical. Fifty-three cents in my pocket, we went into a packed Sparky's today, making a tour of Logan Circle area shops to find a Post and the more elusive current Times (we ended up with yesterday's, which is fine -- Dining In!). The espresso joint was the fullest I've seen it, with the entire twentysomething population of the neighborhood taking a mass holiday. A slumber party without the slumber or the party, indeed -- I like work, and I liked school when I was little, but a snow day (which we never got) was always welcome. Everyone's routine happily interrupted, they're all out gleefully getting groceries and drinking coffee.

The cause of this snow day, Ms. Isabel, appears to be bypassing us. Has seemed so all along. The worst we have is a tropical storm warning, with the brunt of it scheduled for four in the morning tonight. In the meantime, Claire and I are playing scopa, and baking a double batch of scones -- just in case the power goes.

Fri Sep 26 14:35:42 EDT 2003

I've been stuck at home recently, between server outages, re-tiling of our shower to fix a leak, and visitors coming through on weekdays. My projects go so slowly -- ever progressing, but never schnell.

And now, I take the laptop home (footnote: my god, I will never purchase a laptop! I am not nice to the hardware, putting Debian on its windoze-tailored anatomy; and it is not nice to mine!), and try to dial up with it. A driver for my winmodem later, the hard disk fails. Not correlative, but trotzdem frustrating! This is why [most of] my sensitive data is not stored locally.

But even with hardware difficulties, and lying on the couch reading the Lord of the Rings series while dirt and dried grout grit is tracked all over my bathroom, it's a wild ride these days -- socially, at least. I turned twenty-three. Adulthood has quickly disintegrated into Just A Number -- if eighteen meant voting and twenty meant an odometer rollover, twenty-three is just a prime in an otherwise nine-year prime desert. By the next time I'm only divisible by myself and one, I could have a fucking PhD, for all I know!

Certainly it doesn't mean anything if we're talking behavior. Claire and I threw a party Saturday night, rollicking with the entire cadre of social circles I've met since coming to this city. The three most important excuses (I listed twenty-three of them in the invitation) were:

  1. my birthday;
  2. claire's new job;
  3. apartment-warming.

The scene brought together many circles, if not walks of life, and even I met a few new friends of friends. Orange walls (admired by all). Orange martini glass (present from Joanne & Gabe). Other things must have been orange that I forget -- birthdays tend to be.

And yellow. Die Brüder Krafft came by on Wednesday, on their way to a family event in Pittsburg. Martin I saw at graduation; Thomas not since Vienna. Both in the same place this time, and both speaking English alles miteinander and German when it's more apt (mine goes in and out, as I versteh eighty percent of the fast Bavarian from their mouths).

random walk.

We still play that game, or did in Teaism yesterday as my assam and mochi recollected his sticky rice balls in Madison -- three fingers held up (the German way, with the thumb) as a silent request for a window into your current neural state. He used to yell at me for not answering faster, the point being to just skim the top three words off your head; I've finally understood my need for crystallization, for expressing your state of mind as succinctly as possible; to leave room for fantasies of inferences; to load the words with the full weight of connotations in whatever idiom they come out. Some need to be in other languages to carry the correct implications. I'm never sure my audience of one, schooled in subtly different languages than mine, understands.

My Handy, reprogrammed for me, calls me a nimmersatt. Perhaps too much of one. Naja; wie immer. I seek only to maximize pleasure -- one giant optimization algorithm am I, dressed in orange.

all this ©nori heikkinen, September 2003

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