Bad mood

Posted in University life at 9:06 pm by ducky

I’m in a bad mood. I’m really struggling with an assignment to factor large integers.

Problem #1: it’s a boring problem. It’s been done a million times before, so I’m not contributing a bit to the state of knowledge.

Problem #2: It’s really nit-picky stuff, rife with opportunities to make off-by-one errors.  I miss Smalltalk, where it was almost impossible to make off-by-one errors.

Problem #3: The stuff I have to do is boring. In order to deal with large integers you have to use a more complex data structure. That means that there are suddenly a huge number of simple things that you can’t do simply any more. Instead of

int x = 2;
int foo;
foo = x + 3;
cout << foo;

you have to say

mpz_t x;
mpz_t foo;
mpz_set_ui(x, 2);
mpz_add_ui (foo, x, 3);
cout << mpz_get_str (NULL, 10, foo);

Now, I understand perfectly well why it has to look like that, but boy, it sure isn't pleasant. Furthermore, this class is on parallel algorithms, NOT on big numbers. I do need to be able to pack and unpack big numbers to send them around the network to different computers, but knowing how to do mpz_inits doesn't seem to be particularly important in the grand scheme of things.

Problem #4 -- and this might be the biggest problem -- is that I've been too stupid to dump this and do something else. It shouldn't be this hard, and it is. I should stop and move on.


Grooming behavior in higher primates

Posted in Random thoughts at 7:52 pm by ducky

There is a blog I read, dooce, that is about a particular woman’s day-to-day life. It’s very well written and very funny, but I sometimes feel a little bit uncomfortable reading it. I can feel somewhat voyeuristic, reading about her toilet habits and husband and two-year-old daughter Leta.

I realized that dooce gives the same sense of intimacy and familiarity that soap operas, comic strips, and sports do. The same characters appear, over and over again. I get to know their quirks and fears, hopes and dreams, endearing and annoying traits. That familiarity wins my affection.

It is probably evolutionarily favorable to come to like people I see regularly. The people who liked their neighbors probably got more cooperation and less conflict than those who didn’t, and so they survived preferentially to become my ancestors.

Given that there was no Friends , Family Circus, or ESPN when my ancestors were busy doing most of their evolving, it probably is not surprising that I didn’t evolve to have different reactions to fake characters and real ones. (The Media Equation reports some fascinating experiments that show that people relate to even non-living things as if they were humans to a surprising extent.)

Gossip seems to be one important way that people interact and develop intimacy. There’s even a Gary Larson cartoon that shows one gorilla grooming the other while saying something like, “And then Betty said to Nancy…”

I heard a theory once that gossip magazines exist to fill the need for intimacy that living in small communities used to fill. Once, when you and I both lived down the street from crazy old lady Wilson, we would bond while gossiping about her. Now we don’t have crazy old lady Wilson to talk about, but we might both watch Survivor. We can bond over ruminations about who is going to get voted off the island next.

Dooce, for me, is reality TV without the TV.

And what makes me uncomfortable is realizing that Leta is Truman of The Truman Show.



Posted in University life at 5:02 pm by ducky

When you think of movies, you probably think of southern California, but I have seen more moviemaking at UBC than I ever saw when I lived in southern California.

Yesterday as I walked home, I passed snow on the ground and a tree covered with lights. Today, the tree was gone, and although the snow was gone, there were still sheets of white plastic (simulating snow) scattered along the main mall.

We had to move our car for a day once so that a movie crew could park their trailers there while they shot at our dorm.

Early on at UBC, I went to what I thought was Koerner Library and discovered a sign over the door that said Health Sciences Center. (Because I’d heard that they were moving a bunch of resources from Koerner over to the new Irving K. Barber Learning Center, I assumed that the sign meant that they had moved everything over to IKBLC. I went all the way over to IKBLC to return my book, only to discover that the sign was a movie prop.)

Even more exciting was the walk home where I had to weave through Seattle Fire Department ladder trucks, police cars, a bomb squad truck, ambulances, about fifty police officers, a bunch of gurneys, and twenty or thirty medical personnel. All associated with some movie. That movie also brought a big impressive-looking “stone” sign that said, “University of Northwestern Washington”.

While I was sure that I would have new experiences at UBC, I certainly never thought that walking through movie sets would be one of them.


Optimism vs. pessimism

Posted in Married life at 5:39 pm by ducky

Yesterday, I whined about how my space keeps shrinking. In reality, shrinking the amount of space that I live in isn’t inherently bad. In fact, I sort of liked moving in to the 412 square feet at Green College.

The thing that really disturbs me is clutter — having too much stuff for the space. My beloved husband (who I love dearly!) and I have different attitudes towards stuff. He’s an optimist; I’m a pessimist.

When I see a newspaper article that might be interesting but that I don’t have time to deal with right now, I figure that there will never come a day in the future when I will have the liberty to deal with it, and it probably isn’t that interesting.

Not only that, I am sure that the next time I move, I will have to carry every box by hand myself up seventeen flights of stairs on the hottest day of the year in a place with flocks of angry mosquitoes accompanying me. (And the mosquitoes probably have malaria, to boot.)

That article would be just one more thing to move, so I throw it out.

My beloved husband (who I love dearly!) is an optimist. In my mental model of the universe, he’s sure that some day he will be languidly reposing by the pool, with nary a care in the world except how to best entertain himself. He’s certain that that article, that particular article, will be absolutely riveting, funny, and so profound that it will change his life.

Imagining how much pleasure the article will bring him on that far-off day, he cannot bear to throw the article away today.

(I’m not completely sure how his life could be any improved from his vision of lying languidly by the pool, but in my mental model, it’s his fantasy, and so doesn’t need to make sense to me in my mental model.)

And because my beloved husband (who I love dearly!) does so many nice things for me on such a regular basis, I don’t just throw out all the stupid newspaper article when he isn’t looking, even though

  • he won’t ever lounge by the pool for so long that he’ll run out of reading material
  • even if he did, he wouldn’t remember that this newspaper article ever existed
  • and even if he did, the article is boring enough that he would be disappointed by it

Because, you see, I am enough of a pessimist to believe that he would someday find out that I’d been throwing out his newspaper articles, and divorce me in a fit of rage.

Sigh. Jim wins.

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