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;
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
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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:
- my birthday;
- claire's new job;
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).
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