Mar. 23rd, 2004 02:17 pm
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Ooh, nifty: OK Cupid now has a "Worst Matches" feature, for the morbidly curious (like me). Interestingly enough, every single one of my bottom 50 matches is 18 or under. Somehow I'm not terribly surprised.
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I got to handle a brain the other day. This is perhaps commonplace for some people, but it was the first time I'd done so and thus is fairly noteworthy.

It's weird how things happen on college campuses; there's no way for everyone to be informed of everything that goes on, at least not at a large school like mine, so the only way to find out about cool events that are taking place is to either constantly check the websites of the groups that tend to host such events (provided you even know about them in the first place), or to stumble on random fliers outside your math class. Or recruitment tables on Sproul Plaza, which is how I got involved in my choral group, but that's a different story. In this case the Cognitive Science Students Association had put a flier up in Evans Hall advertising a brain-related event of some sort on Thursday--I don't recall the details, as all I jotted down in my Palm was "squishy brains" and the location, but I do recall having the distinct impression that there would be hands-on participation. And I was right.

There was a lecture first, given by a very animated speaker who evidently was trying to tell us all she possibly could about the nervous system in one hour. I was rather glad that I'd already picked up some of this stuff in my MCB class and some more of it during Academic Decathlon back in high school, because she was covering a lot of ground and didn't have much chance to explain things in detail. It was kind of odd that she spent so much time on things like gross anatomy and other seeming basics, given that she was going on the explicitly stated assumption that most everyone there was a cog sci major; on the other hand, I got great amusement and satisfaction out of the fact that most of the things she skimmed over, saying "well, you're cog sci majors, you all know this already," were things I did know despite not being one. (For example, I'm all too familiar with the name Phineas Gage.)

Then came the brain wrangling, about which I can only say that it was about what I'd expected only not quite...but I can't remember just what about it was different than I'd anticipated. I think I hadn't expected it to be quite as soft as it was, probably because I'd heard repeatedly how the formaldehyde made them firmer, but afterward it seemed as though it should have been obvious that it wouldn't be that firm. I'd also worried that I might be a little squicked by it, but I should've trusted my ability to detach: I wasn't bothered in the least.

And yes, this is the first chance I've had to write about it; it's been a whirlwind week. I've been compensating with a vengeance for my previous loneliness, with six dates in the last seven days (albeit with only five different people). This lecture was in fact one of them, though my date ran for the door during the hands-on portion. It was a good date anyway, on the whole, but come to think of it, this seems to be part of a pattern. I all too often can't think of things to do with people, but when I do think of something to drag someone to, it's invariably something in which I end up participating more than they do. I just hope they're all being sincere when they say they're having a good time even without joining in.
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Well, this stirs up some interesting emotions.

Funny old thing, life.
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I've just walked out of my IAS midterm. It was an odd sensation, definitely more unpleasant than just not showing up in the first place, which is something I have done in the past. The upshot is going to be nearly the same; I did answer one of the questions, but that won't be enough to save my grade and I'll end up either dropping the class or just taking an NP. I was prepared for this possibility, and had switched to P/NP for this class so that it wouldn't matter much if I didn't pass it, but I was still hoping I'd be able to scrape a pass. Guess not. The really lousy thing is, if I'd been keeping up with the homework I would probably have been able to manage some kind of answer to the essay question, but I'd just not been at a sufficient level of functioning for enough of the time, and when I had been I'd had other things on my mind. Add to that the fact that I just can't pay attention to the prof's droning 90-minute lectures, and the fact that social science is the subject I have the most trouble getting interested in anyway, and the fact that she wouldn't tell us anything about what the test would be like so I had no idea how to study for it (when the subject matter of the class spans fifty years' worth of the history of half a continent and there's no textbook, it's tough to figure out where to find your information), and it was a lost cause.

I had considered not showing up at all, but it wasn't as hard as it might've been a year ago to bully myself into at least seeing what was on the exam and hoping I could maybe bullshit my way through it. But dammit, sometimes it's easier to just quietly disappear. Then again, I guess it wouldn't have been so easy in this case. Unlike the math classes in which I've done similar things, this class has actually involved a certain amount of communication with the professor, which means that unlike most of my math profs, she's going to notice and care that I didn't complete the exam (as it was, I was lucky she turned her back long enough for me to turn in the bit I had finished and slip out the door), and she'll probably ask me whether I'm going to stick around or what, which I can't answer yet as I won't know if I'll be able to drop until I finish with the administrative junk I began last week. Also, I feel guilty about the possibility of dropping because we've been doing group work and I don't want to abandon my group. But then if I don't drop, I still won't want to continue doing the work for no credit, so I suppose it'll be as if I'd dropped anyway. Ho-hum.

There's a slim chance, I suppose, that she'll let me make this up somehow--maybe take an incomplete or something. But I'm not holding my breath. She doesn't seem to be the accommodating sort, or at least not that accommodating.

On the slightly brighter side, I walked out the door right into someone handing out information about summer jobs with an environmental group. There's an info session tonight that I might as well go to. Yay potential employment.
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Rereading earlier entries, I'm amused at how easily (and sometimes unexpectedly) it appears I go into Pursuit Mode, especially given that my pursuits aren't really all that intensive. I mean, I do get kind of enthusiastic about 'em, but I'm generally not very emotionally invested in the outcome. Normally I figure this is a good thing, but lately it seems symptomatic of the fact that I'm not terribly emotionally invested in anything because there's nothing for me to be invested in. This is somewhat depressing, yet there isn't much to be done about it.

Each of those sentences would probably make an entry on its own if I were to elaborate on them properly, but I'm not sure I could do so with any degree of clarity at the moment. To forestall offers of sympathy, I'm not depressed overall just now (in fact my mood's much better than it was a week ago); this is just something that's churning a bit. Life is mostly good, it's just getting me down a little that it's been so long since I had any strong feelings of a positive sort. I suppose I just gotta continue trusting that something'll come along eventually, and meanwhile take my enjoyment where I can find it just as I've been doing.
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My combinatorics professor is awesome. Wish there were more like him in this department.

He posed a problem toward the end of class today with a difficult solution which he then planned to explain to us, only to have a student point out that there was a much simpler and more intuitive solution. Since we all (all seven or so of us--I'm not sure why so few people are taking this class, but it's kinda nice) felt there wasn't much point in going over the difficult solution after that, someone or other suggested we spend the last half hour of class outdoors, taking advantage of the Lovely Spring Weather (sorry, [ profile] emmett_the_sane) that has so suddenly descended upon us this week. On our way out there we were joshing the guy who'd solved the problem a bit--he joked about getting his solution published--and that led the prof, as we lounged on the grass, to dispense some very welcome advice as to just how one goes about finding useful and interesting math problems to tackle that no one else has solved yet. As one of my fellow students said, they just don't tell you this kind of thing during your undergraduate years. I've certainly never had a prof before who took the time to talk to the whole class about not just the material covered in the course, but the business of being a mathematician.

'Fraid it's too little too late, though, to make me want to stick with math past graduation even if I had the grades for it. Even now that I know better how one Does Mathematics, it still doesn't feel like my bag. I enjoy playing with math as much as ever, but I don't have the discipline to work with it. If I tried to tackle an open problem, I'd get bored and frustrated if I couldn't figure out the solution right away. I should've realized this years ago--my impatience with many kinds of puzzles ought to have tipped me off--but during my first couple of years as an undergrad my issues with mathematics on the whole were masked by my issues with simply being able to function; I couldn't tell the difference between "I don't wanna do math" and "I don't wanna get out of bed in the morning, let alone do math."

Anyway, I wound up chatting with Quick Solution Boy (I still have no idea what his name is) for a while after class ended and everyone else drifted away. We found ourselves exchanging some surprisingly personal information--I suspect we were flirting a bit, though not, I think, with serious intent. It's not often these days that I find myself getting better acquainted with anyone outside of my already-existing social network, and it's nice to know I still have the ability to socialize at random if I choose to, but on the other hand it still doesn't seem to be all that productive an activity. People out there in the Real World for the most part appear to have baffling attitudes about things like trust and honesty in human interaction, just to take the most salient example.


Mar. 10th, 2004 02:27 am
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A more detailed account of just what the upshot of all of today's running around was(*) (as explained to [ profile] joedecker):

v: Need to go to reduced courseload. For that, need to renew Disabled Student status. For that, need to get shrink to confirm I'm still depressed even though that isn't really the problem, because sleep apnea doesn't count as a disability.
v: New shrink and I got wires crossed and missed tonight's appointment; can't see her again till next week, need forms this week.
v: Old shrink has retired; office of old shrink fucked up and stuck my records somewhere where they can't get to 'em for a while.
v: Meanwhile I can get evaluated by someone else there, but not till, again, next week.
j: hmmm, must be workaround. *ponders*
v: might be
v: if the disability program guy is willing to take my word for it that i'll have the forms next week, and go ahead and sign off for me this week
v: which he might 'cause he's a nice guy, but then his last email suggested he might not
v: or if the dean'll let me drop retroactively, which they've done for me in the past but they've tightened their rules lately and i forget if that's one of the ones they've tightened
v: or if the old shrink people get on the stick and find those old forms and if that turns out to be all i need
v: but that's less likely

And of course, some self-recrimination:

v: this is the nth semester in a row I've tried to pull shit like this at the last minute
v: you'd think I'd've learned by now
v: the sucky thing is, I could've done this reduced-courseload stuff earlier in the semester
v: but I specifically declined because I needed to take a full load to graduate and I didn't want to ask for accomodations I wasn't gonna need
v: i dunno if it was pride or some misbegotten idea of efficiency
j: right, whereas now you're thinking you might take another year
v: *nod*
j: wel, taking on another year is a big Change of Plans
v: yeah...but i could've gotten the reduced load letter anyway, just in case, and then I wouldn't be running around after it now
j: sure
j: but what's done is done

v: yeah
j: not that that helps much, just something I remind myself in times like that
v: i just feel bad 'cause it's such a pattern with me
v: it's not even procrastination so much as i just don't figure out what i should do until the last minute
v: which come to think of it is not quite as bad as procrastination...i suppose that's something

(*) well, actually only most of today's running around--there was also the bit where I had to get authorization to see a cardiologist (it's been two weeks and the meds still aren't working), and found out that before I do I need to get bloodwork done. In other words, there are needles in my future. Fuck. Fuck fuckity fuck.
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Today was long and frustrating. I ended up having to skip all of my classes and spend most of the afternoon waiting in lobbies, only to find out that I can't get the forms I need because some people fucked up and some other people are on sabbatical and some other people are more inflexible than I thought.

And then I fell and scraped the palm of my hand, and there are still one or two little bits of grit embedded in the skin. They'll work their way out eventually, right? I honestly can't remember if that's how it usually works; it's been a long time since I've had this particular kind of minor injury.


Mar. 8th, 2004 12:44 pm
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I've only just now realized that it might actually be better for me to get a job and take one more year to graduate than to try and pack all these classes in when it doesn't look like I'll have an easy time getting through them (not now that all the medical crap that was supposed to be fixed by now has turned out not to be). I'd been thinking I couldn't afford it, but I hadn't been thinking clearly about how I was going to afford grad school; really I can't afford either without a job, so I may as well just find myself a job and finish out my undergrad career at a nice leisurely pace. It'll almost certainly help my chances of grad school admission as well, since I can spend the extra year improving my academic record and finding better people to get recommendations from. I just need to make sure I can still get financial aid (such as it is) for one more year. But if I can do that and find work, then damn that takes a lot of pressure off.

It puts a little pressure on in the short term, though, because this is the last week to drop classes and so any decisions I need to make along those lines need to be made pronto. Cue another bout of busy-ness. But running around to people's offices and such ought to be easier now that my body seems to've yanked itself into a Daytime Person kind of schedule. Knew there had to be some kinda benefit to that.


Mar. 5th, 2004 09:42 pm
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Blarg. My conscience is eating at me from one direction and my sense of self-preservation from the other.

I've got a midterm to study for, in a class I'm way behind in. Only within the past day or so have I even begun to feel that my cognitive abilities are back up to snuff to the extent that I can actually get some productive studying done. Over the next week, reading and working through the sixty pages of formulas we're supposed to be familiar with has got to be my top priority.

But I'm lonely, dammit. I haven't had any company all week, other than a couple of all-too-brief conversations with friends (only one of them in person). What I want is to spend an entire afternoon or evening with someone I'm close to, or potentially close to, instead of being alone. But that would be counterproductive (getting any work done would be the farthest thing from my mind) and therefore irresponsible.

The last friend I spoke to suggested that going out to study someplace with lots of people around might help, even if they're strangers. I hope so. Otherwise I may not last another week without breaking down and asking someone to come over.
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Of course, the Alameda County registrar of voters is also teh suq. Here's a letter I just wrote to the Tri-Valley Herald:

As an Alameda county poll worker, I'd like to explain a couple of things you mentioned in today's Herald article.

First, you said that "Poll workers failed to post notices or otherwise inform unaffiliated voters that they had to request a Democratic or Republican ballot in order to vote in those primaries." I can tell you that this was not a failure on the part of the poll workers. We were specifically instructed during our training not to ask voters if they wanted those ballots; we were only to give them to those who spoke up and requested them, though it was clear that most voters wouldn't know that they had to do that.

You also said, "Voters who did not have the mayor watching over them said poll workers would not let them void mistaken ballots and vote their preference." Now, there may have been inflexible poll workers in some precincts, but I can also tell you that it was often impossible to let people cancel their ballots and get new ones. Once the "Cast Ballot" button had been pressed, for example, the ballot absolutely could not be canceled, and many voters didn't complain until after they'd pressed the button--somewhat understandably, since requesting assistance would have involved either yelling across the room or leaving the voting machine unattended while they came to fetch one of us. This is in sharp contrast to the paper system, where voters could easily take their half-voted ballots back to us and request new ones; with these machines, voters can only get their cards back if they press either "Cast Ballot" or "Cancel," and during this election, incredibly enough, we found at least once at my precinct that the "Cancel" button didn't show up anywhere on the screen.

I hope this helps to clarify things.

For the record, most of the other things he says in the article are quite true. Our card encoder was one of the problematic ones; it showed a "serious error" message when we turned it on and it took several phone calls to the ROV over the course of a couple of hours before I was put through to a technician who could walk me through fixing it (some sneaky things had to be done in order to delete some files that evidently should've already been deleted. For what it's worth, the sucker was running Windows.) It also took a couple of hours for them to send us a substitute poll worker to replace two of ours who didn't show up, and a while beyond that for them to send us extra provisional ballot envelopes as we'd of course run out of them before we got the electronic system working. Then again, the same thing had happened a few years ago, before the touchscreens were even in use; I was working a precinct that was mostly dorm-living UC students who often hadn't bothered to change their registration (or they had and it hadn't been recorded correctly), so we ran out of envelopes twice and had to turn people away while we cooled our heels waiting for more to be sent over.

Now, all of that was merely due to the ROV being either understaffed or just incompetent, I'm not in a position to say which, but we also had problems with the machines that were scary--not just the disappearance of the "Cancel" button, but the disappearance of local measures and other things from ballots that should've had them, as mentioned in the article. And of course there was no way to fix this. Before I'd worked closely with these machines I was merely worried about the potential for tampering; now I know they're unreliable enough even without being tampered with. I'll certainly be complaining.


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