Saturday, May 24, 2003

TODAY: Been out for 20 hours, and I just got home. Work was crazy again so I didn't really have much time to post anything today, and then I went to a baseball game this evening, a bbq, and then just hung out for a while. I'm totally wiped out, and I've got two parties to go to tomorrow. It's funny, because there are some weekends that I've got nothing to do and I feel bored, and then there are weekends like this one where I wish I had nothing to do. At least it's a three day weekend.

I've come to realize that it's a lot easier for me to meet new people when there aren't people around that I know. I'd rather go to a party where I don't know anyone than go to a party where I only know one or two people. I have no problem striking up conversations with strangers when I'm flying solo, but when there are other people around that I know I'm always much more self-conscious. It seems kinda paradoxical to me, since I would expect someone to feel less inhibited around their friends than around strangers, but that's not the way it works for me.

I find it pretty easy to strike up conversations with girls, but I never know what to do once I've got it going. I can make people laugh, and I'm a good listener so I can generally get girls to share their life story while I act interested, but then what? I'm not good at closing the deal. Whenever I do ask for a number it sounds awkward and then afterwards it seems too early. But if I don't say anything then the moment will seem to pass and it'll be even worse. Timing is everything, and I just don't have it down yet.

I met a few beautiful babies tonight, but I couldn't even get a decent conversation going because there were too many people around who I sorta knew but not really, if you know what I mean. I knew them well enough that we couldn't make small talk, but not well enough that I didn't care about looking stupid in front of them. Acquaintances are the worst for me to be around, at least when I'm trying to meet girls.

Anyway, I'm just rambling. It's almost 3am and I need to hit the sack.

Friday, May 23, 2003

ORIGINAL SIN: Donald Sensing mentions the Christian doctrine of original sin and I wanted to toss in my 3 cents.

It's common to hear it said that "most people are basically good", but whenever someone tells me that I wonder if they're living in the same world I am.

Me: Are you good?
Them: Well, mostly I guess. I try to be.
Me: Have you ever murdered anyone?
Them: No, of course not!
Me: Oh, well that's good. Have you ever lied?
Them: Sure, sure, sometimes I do.
Me: Ever steal anything?
Them: Haha, when I was a kid maybe.
Me: Never fudge your time cards then at work, I suppose?
Them: Maybe a little....
Me: Ever rape anyone?
Them: What?! No!
Me: Not even in your mind?
Them: Well you certainly can't judge me for the things I think about....
Me: So you're a liar, a thief, and you've at least contemplated rape --
Them: Bye.

The point is that no one is "basically good". Everyone is depraved, self-centered, and evil -- the fact that we don't act on these desires isn't due to some inner virtue, it's because of fear. That's the purpose of society, to pit my selfishness against yours and thereby restain both of us from our true nature. I'm planning another article on this topic as it relates to my previous post on game theory.

Anyone who has ever seen or been a part of a mob knows what can happen when societal restraint breaks down. Otherwise orderly, good, decent, normal human beings can go completely nuts when their fear of retribution and punishment disappears, and this is our natural condition. Anyone who is honest with theirself knows this to be true -- I alone know the beast that lives within me.

It was horrifying to me to read about the terror that Saddam's regime perpetrated on the Iraqi people. How could anyone commit such atrocities? The countless murders and rapes, children tortured, mass graves, medical experimentation... we've only begun to discover the carnage. One of the scariest things to me was that I could see kernels of that same evil in my own heart. Sure, I'm a long way from there in action, but somewhere deep inside of me is a sliver of darkness just looking for tiny ways to break free each and every day. What about you?

Thursday, May 22, 2003

CONSCIOUSNESS: How much time each day do you actually spend conscious? I don't mean merely awake, I mean self-aware. How much time do you spend just following patterns of action and mindlessly executing one program after another? Wake up, get dressed, drive to work/school, sit/stand around for a few hours, drive home, watch TV, go to sleep. If you're like most people, you turn the radio on in the car while you're driving to keep your mind occupied, so that you don't have to actually think about anything during this otherwise dead time. Most of our daily activities do not require conscious thought to perform. We do it once, learn the ropes, and then just follow the same pattern over and over again.

How many of us truely are intelligent beings? Every single human? Most? A few? None? Cogito ergo sum -- I think, therefore I am. I have no doubt that every human has some periods of self-awareness, but I think they're rare and spread far between, and most people don't even realize it. Thinking is a lot of work, and it's more efficient to develop patterns and heuristics to help us make decisions and carry out our every-day activities. I'm certainly not saying that these routines are bad; can you imagine how frustrating it would be if you had to devote considerable mental energy every time you drove to work?

It seems as if the goal of many people is to think as little as possible.
GUNS AND TYRANNY: As wrote about women and crime, no one thinks bad things will happen to them. In America, most people will scoff if you cite "defense against tyranny" as a justification for the Second Amendment, but at the lowest level that really is the whole point. Dave Kopel compares guns to fire extinguishers:
One never knows if one will need a fire extinguisher. Many people go their whole lives without needing to use a fire extinguisher, and most people never need firearms to resist genocide. But if you don't prepare to have a life-saving tool on hand during an unexpected emergency, then you and your family may not survive.
It's a good analogy, but it misses one critical difference: owning a fire extinguisher won't make it less likely that a fire will start, it will only make it easier to deal with; if people own a guns it will make it less likely that tyranny will ever gain a foothold.

People who say they would feel unsafe owning or carrying a gun remind me of people who say that they don't wear seatbelts because they don't want to get trapped in a burning car. Sure, that's happened before, no doubt; and yes, people are killed by their own guns from time to time (discounting suicides, even). But the vast majority of the time you're going to be safer if you wear your seatbelt than if you don't, and you're going to be safer if you carry a gun than if you don't.

No one thinks that a ruthless dictator is going to rise to power in their country, but if you look back at history it happens all the time. Pol Pot and Hitler are obvious examples, but even the Roman Republic was undermined by Julius Ceasar. If you think it can't possibly happen in America, ask yourself why not? There's really only one reason: there are more than 200,000,000 guns in America in the hands of private citizens.

(Kopel article via Instapundit.)
"IT WAS A MASSACRE...": I talked to the computer science graduate student administrator about the WQE this afternoon and asked if any other students or professors had said anything about it to her. She rolled her eyes and said that dozens of students had gone to her to complain, that there was lots of yelling and screaming, and that the test was, in her words, "a massacre". So I feel a little better. I don't know if it means I'll pass, but at least I wasn't the only one frustrated by the whole experience.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

WOMEN AND GUNS: Courtney has a couple of posts up on the subject I raised previously, and enlightens us as to why many women seem to have an irrational aversion to guns. As if women need a reason to be irrational, pffft.

Anyway, one thing she wrote that I'd like to take minor issue with:
... However, more often it seems men are finding very successful women sexy. Women who pull in a huge salary or have a lot of power become sexually charged.
She treats money and power in roughly the same fashion, but I'm not sure men are equally attracted to both. I wrote earlier about the androgynation of the sexes and I do think that in many ways there is some confluence, but there are still quite a lot of differences. A woman who earns a lot of money is one thing, but I think most men would still hesitate before marrying a senator, for example.

Guys like a girl who is assertive and confident, as long as the girl still defers to him. This is somewhat paradoxical, but no more so than the fact that women want tough men who like to cuddle and play with kittens.

To be honest, I don't really find pictures of women with guns to be any more sexy than pictures of the same women without guns. I think it's great for women to own them and carry them, etc, it just doesn't do anything for me. I'm more into the pretty-pretty-princess type of girl though, at least from the outside. Girly-girls are the best, as long as they know when it's time to turn it off and take care of business. Let me open the door for you and let me buy you dinner, but then when the date's over let's act like normal people again.

Everyone wants the best of everything all combined into one person -- that goes for women and men. In the end, we settle for reality. Stupid reality... be more sexy!
STILL BRAIN DEAD: And work was crazy today, too. Maybe I'll have something to write later. My aunt and uncle are in town and I'm going to eat dinner with them tonight; my uncle is a gun-nut, so I'm hoping he'll go with me to buy a gun later this week.

It's nice that I don't have to study tonight, anyway.

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

DONE... FOR NOW: I say "for now" because I have a sinking feeling that tells me that I'm going to have to take my exams again in six months. The questions today were unbelievably hard. Altogether, this test was harder than the one six months ago -- a lot harder.

The AI question was absurd, had nothing to do with AI, and was not even vaguely related to the material on the syllabus. Which sucks, because AI is one of the fields that I would expect to be able to do! The networking question wasn't too hard, but I am not an expert on networks. I think I did ok, but I don't know if I passed it. The software systems question was mostly just BS, and I think I did well. Architecture was hard, but I believe I did well on four ot of the five parts... I have no idea how the parts are weighted, though. The theory question was as difficult as Greibach's questions typically are, and I really have no idea how leniently she'll score me on it.

Overall, it's possible that I passed AI (if they end up throwing out the out-of-domain part), architecture, and software systems. It's conceivable that I passed theory and networking too, but that would be lucky. I guess it's possible that I passed the exams, but I'm doubtful at the moment. Sigh.

Talking to other students after the test was over, I got the sense that everyone thought it was hard. I got a couple things right that other people may not have, and I mostly did ok based on the answers other people got. The networking question was my weakest, relative to everyone else. Maybe I need to take a networking course or something. Many people seemed to get the one part of the architecture question I had trouble with, also. But I got part two of the AI question right and some others missed it. I really don't know. I'm tired and mentally exhausted. I can't imagine a worse fate than having to study all this material yet again. Well, failing out of grad school, maybe.

On a brighter note, I had ice cream for dinner and spent two hours wandering around a bookstore. It doesn't get much better than that. Oh, except if you ace a major exam right beforehand, I imagine.
JUST FOR FUN: In case anyone is curious, here's the essence of the five questions I dealt with today.

Artificial Intelligence: Four-peg tower of Hanoi problem. Exhaustive and heuristic optimal algorithms, estimate time and space complexity, develop heuristic. Not too hard.

Theory: Four strings: a1, a2, b1, b2. Does a string w exist such that it can be constructed by interleaving a1 with a2 and b1 with b2. Write a "fast" algorithm to determine whether or not w exists given any input strings. I wrote an exponential recursive algorithm, but it can be done in polynomial time using dynamic programing. Doh!

Databases: Some random database questions about NULL values in aggregate functions. Then some questions about updating through views and the various errors that can occur. Easy, I think.

Architecture: Three four-stage pipelines. Write three programs, each of which will run fastest on one of the three pipelines. Then design a pipeline that executes all three of those programs at the same speed. Then design a pipeline that handles a given program in as few control cycles as possible. Very hard. No one I talked to thinks they got it right.

Networking: Some BS about TCP tear-down protocol. Then some questions about calculating throughput on TCP with some very strange error conditions. I didn't do it since I figured I'd mostly be guessing; some people think they did well on it, however.

Ok, now I'm really going to bed.

Monday, May 19, 2003

ONE DOWN, ONE TO GO: Done with one day of testing. There are two days, and five questions per day. Only the six highest-scored questions count towards my final grade. Today, out of five questions, I think I did very well on two, pretty well on one, poor on one, and the final question I didn't answer. So, if I passed three of the questions for today then that leaves me needing three out of five tomorrow as well in order to pass the exam.

The architecture question was really hard, and no one sounded confident of their answer after the test. That's the one I did poorly on. I didn't answer the networking question because I knew that it would be a waste of time since I'd be mostly guessing; if you get a score of less than 70 on a question then you wasted time even answering it. I think I did well on the artificial intelligence question and on the database question. I had a good algorithm on the theory question, but I discovered afterwards that it wasn't optimal; I didn't consider using dynamic programming, bah. Otherwise my answer was good... I don't know how many points I'll lose, but I don't think it will make me fail the question.

I'm still nervous about tomorrow. There will probably be a question on traps and interrupts; those seem easy, but we'll see. There will probably be an architecture design problem which shouldn't be too bad. AI will deal with natural language I predict, and the theory problem will probably be based on graphs. Networking... I don't know -- possibly compare/contrast different protocols or something of that nature. I think tomorrow will be easier than today, since I think we had the hard architecture and hard networking question today, and those are my weakest areas.

Time for bed. First I'll say my prayers though!
GONE TESTIN': I've got my Written Qualifying Exams today and tomorrow, so I don't expect I'll be writing much.

Go check out SDB's latest post on atheism or whatever Donald Sensing has going today. Since entering the blogosphere I have gained a new respect for my elders. Despite the fact that I'm smarter than all these people, their advanced age and breadth of experience has shown me that my opinions and reasoning aren't the last word on every subject, and it's quite a pleasure.