The icy roommate - a New York Winter story for the Moth

- Is that a SPACE HEATER? Do you KNOW what that's going to do to the electric bill?
Ah, my roommate, the heat Nazi.
- How about I just pay a bigger portion of the utilities?
She didn't like that idea. Our calculations for who pays how much utilities were already so complex that only a quantitative analyst from Goldman Sachs could follow them.
- We'll talk about this AFTER I have my cigarette.
But I really wasn't looking forward to this conversation, so when she stepped outside I just locked the door behind her. She never takes her keys or cell phone, so in a few minutes she was banging on the door and being like LET ME IN...and I was like - Well it's the same temperature inside and outside house, so what difference does it make? Of course I was going to let her in in a few minutes, just as soon as I finished watching this video on youtube...but you know how those youtube things are, I clicked on another link and then another...then I realized half an hour had passed and I was like Oh shit. I opened the door...but she was gone. I walked down the street looking for her, then down another street, and found myself in an unfamiliar part of town, all warehouses and lofts. One of these buildings was transparent, like glass, so I came up to take a closer look at it, touched it...and it started melting beneath my fingers! It was made of ice.
- You like it?
I turned around and saw this guy with the oddest beard and moustache - they were covered with icicles that moved and jingled when he talked.
- This is your place?
- Well the landlord let me have a great deal on it, because of the economic crisis. And also because I've converted it into a loft, I've built out the entire inside myself. Wanna see?
- It sounds really cool, no pun intended, but I'm in the middle of looking for my roommate.
- Perfect, she's already here.
So I followed him inside. The inside was just like the outside - even the pipes and the wiring were ice, twisting up on the ceiling, the drywall was ice so you could see what looked like the wood frame inside of it, also made of ice.
- The best part about this is that I have so much space to work on my art.
He pointed to a fire pit in the middle of the floor. That's gotta be breaking all kinds of fire codes, I thought, but then I saw that this fire was very different - the logs were ice, the flames were black and grey, and instead of radiating heat, this fire just made everything around it colder. Next to the fire, there was a pile of little bodies, pigeons and rats and even a cat, all cold and stiff.
- Have they frozen to death?
- They were only a little bit frozen when I found them. To really freeze them, it takes more work.
With that, he picked up a rat and held it over the cold black fire. The poor rat first turned white as snow, and then it became more and more transparent until it was completely ice. He did this to each animal in turn, and then gathered them up.
- Now we'll take them to the gallery part. I built all those rooms to store and exhibit my work.
I followed him further into the loft. The first room was full of ice birds, and he added the new ones he had just frozen to the collection. The next room was for the ice rats, cats, and dogs. In a smaller room there were tiny intricate ice roaches and ice flies. And the last room, of course, was ice humans. Most of them looked like they had been homeless, with their ice bags and ice shopping carts. But the newest addition was my roommate, all ice, still with that pissed off look on her face. And when I saw that look, I remembered all those times I wanted to hit her, but was afraid she'd call the police on me...again. But now she was defenseless, so I came up to her and gave her a shove. She fell and broke into a thousand icy shards.

That was very satisfying, but she was the one on the lease, so without her, I'm going to have to find another place to live. So I'm looking for a room - this is just a substitute for a craigslist ad. Let me know if you or anyone you know has a room available. Thanks.

Like, whatever

Whee! I have finally decided to test what would happen if the point of failure in all of my current relationships with people at Raytheon was me. I don't even care who I told what. People only trusted me as much as they wanted. And then they'll take the right action about me being there or not being there.

I feel good about the result now, and now I will remember when I wake up - I will try to complete the project that I'm assigned to do, but it's not really important whether I'm there or not. They're fine without me being around.

a textbook case

Thursday I learned about Six Sigma, which confused the heck out of me and made me want to avoid business like the plague. Once again, I congratulate myself on quitting - in this case, quitting majoring in finance after about a year and a half. On the plus side, the Six Sigma training process itself included some fun games, including a hand of poker at the end in which I won an old, slightly beat-up but respectably hard-cover tech book. Skimming through it, I saw that my old NASA project was used as one of the examples in the book - the architecture diagrams, even photos of what seemed like the inside of the building - in a regular textbook-like fashion. At first it seemed like a strange coincidence, but then I realized that, duh, if somebody had written a book about me, I might buy a few copies and give them out as raffle prizes.

Friday included a fun encounter with data structures. Meesh would have loved to be there. Or maybe she'd be so frustrated that she wouldn't have liked to be there. Anyway, I would have liked her to be there, because I really didn't want to sound like a crusty old pedagogue by lecturing about log(n) and how looping through arrays is so 80's, so it would have been nice to have somebody there who's a professional advocate for data structures. In further fun, I may actually get to use graphs and graph algorithms at work - nothing crazy, just some dependencies that could stand to be stored in a graph.

Finally finished all the CS428 lectures, now it's time for the readings.

Level up! Otherwise, quit.

A CS428 lecture this morning before work, and hopefully another one this evening. Damn, it's almost like being in school, or something.

Professor Johnson said something that really got to me in today's lecture. Well, actually he said it in a lecture two weeks ago, but I was so busy with the term paper and then with work that I didn't listen to it until today (:P). Anyway, turns out that he was a math grad student, and he was doing all these proofs, and getting A's on his homeworks and tests, so he knew the math proofs he wrote were convincing his professors and his graders, but he never felt that those proofs were convincing to himself! He wondered whether his proofs were actually proving something! And it really bothered him, even to the point that he asked his professors about it. Then after doing graduate math for three or four years, he gradually began to be able to tell when a proof was good, enough that he recognized that his proofs really did prove stuff...Well, this makes me wonder - when I was in the math department, I often felt exactly the same worry - I got A's on some stuff, but I couldn't really tell whether what made my answers any good. (Unless it was a straightforward "for all X, Y is true" and I could just substitute things through like a computerized theorem prover would). I especially couldn't get a feel for the quality of my answers when I tried grad math classes. So then I quit. But Professor Johnson's story makes me wonder - if I'd stayed in math for four years, let's say, would I have eventually gotten enough experience to tell a good proof from a bad proof? Maybe it wasn't so hopeless as I thought, and I just gave up too early.

Still, I'm not too concerned about what might have been between mathematics and myself - I'm glad I got out, and I wish I'd done it sooner. In fact, three or four years is way too long to be patient about anything that's uncertain. Hmm... how many things in my life have I carried on for over four years... not many! Only two, in fact, and both of those were cases that I felt I hadn't a right to quit because my quitting would cause an unacceptable amount of damage to my family. When it was up to just me, I haven't sustained any effort for even three years. Quitting can be very gratifying.

On the other hand, you never know when nonquitting is going to pay off. For example, at work today, I had a pleasant surprise - I am now officially on the second rung of the corporate ladder! Woot! I am now E02 rather than E01. (The E stands for Engineer). It's made me quite giddy. Or maybe it's the spinning around in the chair that's making me giddy, I should cut that out. Anyway, now I have to work harder. No, not just to balance the karma, but because it's in the rulebook - E02's have to work harder than E01's, in like five categories, which I forget at the moment. Yeah, I'm a cog in the machine, and I'm happy about it.

Still more shiny cog-in-the-machine feelings to come: Following the suggestions of my classmates in CS428, I started looking at the content of the summer's course. For this summer, I am registered for a class I've been wanting to take for years now - Object-Oriented Programming and Design with Ralph Johnson. That's right, the mother of all patterns courses, straight from the horses mouth, based on the classic "Design Patterns" book that Johnson co-authored as one of the Gang of Four. It's going to be very interesting, and directly useful for the project I'm doing at work.

So, the only issue is - between May 11th (CS428 final) and May 31 (first day of CS598), I'll have two and a half weeks of no lectures. I could:
A) Start reading the "Design Patterns" book and learning Smalltalk (to increases my chances of still having free time during the summer semester).
B) Slack off, party, and hang out with people (because once the summer semester starts, I may end up having no life whatsoever).
Of course, I was better at life, I could just balance my time better and this wouldn't have to be a choice. But I'm not, and it is. So, any suggestions? Your vote counts!

weekend? what weekend?

Saturday and Sunday went by in a haze of bug hunting, bug fixing, and even more testing. By Sunday night I was totally fried. Is it just me, or does "there's gonna be a demo sometime next week" usually not translate to "this is going to be a really important demo to a new group of clients, so let's put in some new features on Friday, and then throw all the code into a suitcase early Monday morning and ship it off to the West Coast." Anyway, this short notice wouldn't be such a problem, except for the somewhat inconsiderately aggressive refactoring that I did over the last two weeks (while the other developer was in Israel, there was no one to keep me from changing code to my heart's content). So, any bugs that come up during a demo would almost certainly be my fault. The moral is: don't change nothing, unless you want to spend a weekend testing.

On Monday all my desk stuff had been magically moved to a new cubicle closer to a window. In fact, if I took a chainsaw and sawed through one wall of the cubicle, there would be a giant panel of glass with a nice view out of it, right there, only like six feet away!

I finally got time to do a CS428 lecture, and to fill out my billing for the summer course, CS598. I was mostly too out of it to be productive at anything. I did go to Jenny's yoga at NASA. And on the way back, I had my first encounter with the awesomest grocery store ever - a huge selection of organic stuff, kosher stuff, frozen stuff, and produce. Very strange - I knew Greenbelt was a good place in general, but I didn't really expect any PG Country store to be so nonghetto. Oh, that reminds me, last week Thursday, I forgot to mention another Greenbelt experience - dinner with Dan at the New Deal Cafe, with much happy reminiscing.

In general, it's amazing how many people tend to think about death and dying, like seriously think about it. Probably lots of people, who aren't anywhere close to dying, at any given time, are thinking about death and what it's like to become or to be dead! I've never had those kinds of thoughts - even if I try to think about it, I get almost immediately get bored and start thinking about something else - so it's difficult for me to relate. The closest I can get is that it seems like a generalization of the "damn, how am I going to have time to iron this shirt and go to the ATM and listen to a lecture and go to work and call my grandma and also make dinner and clean stuff and dance dance and hang out with friends, all in this one day" problem - lots of stuff, limited time.

Today I am somewhat more sane, and registered for the summer class. Lisa Pearl and Jesse MB were here visiting Meesh. Jesse shared her awesome Hungary photos, in the most organized scrapbook I've ever seen. Lisa stayed after and DDR'ed :) Now it's way late, and even though today's CS428 lecture is only fortyish minutes, I don't know whether I should go on with it or go to sleep.

as usual, a review of the saturday that was a week ago

Saturday the 23 I helped Alex move a little bit, and met Greg, CJ and Sarah.

Then I visited Cam and met a fellow named Avi. Cam has moved to Herndon, apparently. Cam's sister is going to high school now, except not really, because she's being homeschooled. Odd.

The rest of the week was kind of crazy. I had a term paper to write for CS428, which I got through without too much damage. Now I'm way behind on the lectures, though.

Work has been a lot of fun the last few weeks. While the other developer was on vacation, I went on a coding spree. Hope I didn't put too many bugs in, seeing as it turns out there's going to be a demo on Monday.

Unfortunately, with all these work and school deadlines this week, I didn't get a chance to participate in a visit that the www.russiandc.com folks made to a Russian soldier in the Ukrainian army who got wounded in Iraq and is now at Walter Reed. They went on Wednesday, and again today - hopefully they'll go again this weekend, and I'll come with.

In great stupidities, I seem to have left the power supply for my laptop at the Virginia office. Nothing to start a weekend off like a long, pointless drive to Rosslyn.

The rest of last week

Monday, finally another Jenny yoga class at NASA. Then off to dryclean, and meet a bunch of people for no good reason. And some CS428.

Tuesday, another CS48 meeting. Another person is stuck in the same place I am, so I feel a bit less stupid.

Wednesday, more drycleaning, and a visit to the library to get a book about how to speak Ukrainian. Yes, that's right, just because of all those cool Ukrainians at the picnic on Saturday, I decided to get more familiar with it. And also my boss's boss from Rosslyn occasionally lets on that that I'm the Ukrainian expert of the office. So, I'm looking over the alphabet, to begin with. It's almost like Russian, except that "eh" and "yeh" are reversed, and there's four letter for sounds like i - one "i", one "ee", one "yi", and one "y".

Thursday night, unexpected phone calls, one from NY and one from my dad who got salmonella. Yeesh.

Friday, another CS428 meeting. It turns out there's a document that was written on March 1 that explains how to get around the stuff I got stuck on, and I didn't know about it until now. Also, started reading an online book for CS428, and my favorite part so far is the visitor's comment by Alejandro Ramirez at the bottom of http://philip.greenspun.com/panda/suck - towards the middle of his comment, I find myself agreeing that there's multiple viewpoints held by people about one truth that can only be known by an omniscient viewer, but then his conclusions towards the end of his commment are such that I can't tell where he's being serious and where he's being sarcastic - no basis for a decision being made, failure of the WWW, marketplace for militants... I'm not sure where he's going with all that, and especially the last sentence - I just don't get it.

Saturday night. I hate MRN.

Yeah, I'm still talking about the Saturday that happened about a week ago. I'm slow that way.

Darcy's birthday at Sofia and Rowin's place. I brought the other one of the two chocolate raspberry cakes that I baked that morning. The presentation on Darcy's life was wonderfully businesslike, complete with corporate-style technical difficulties. It should have had an "invest in Darcy" sales pitch, too.

Holding the baby Thaisa proved unexpectedly difficult, don't know if it's just me, or whether she was extra squirmy. I've never held a 2-month-old before, so there's nothing to compare.

Then we played a game of MRN, which really got on my nerves, and I wasn't even the one guessing at this round. For those of you who don't know what MRN is, the basic premise is that the guesser, G, asks questions and tries to figure out the rules of the game, which everyone else in the room already knows. These questions are often insulting, intrusive, and insinuating, so that everyone who knows the rules laughs at some other person. For example:
G: So, tell me, is MRN an annoying asshole? Does he ever get laid?
A: Yes, MRN is an annoying asshole. Obviously, he never gets laid.
At this point, everyone in the room knows the rules, and they know that A has just just called MRN an annoying asshole, so they laugh. MRN also takes this with good-natured humor, and laughs along, because, hey, it's funny to be called an annoying asshole, and it's good for the world to know how often a person gets laid, and MRN doesn't want to give away the rules of the game by getting offended. G does not know the rules, and wonders why everyone in the room is laughing. :)

I don't know why this time MRN had more of a negative effect on me than it has in the past. Perhaps it was the contrast to the peaceful card games of Durak and the cussword-punctuated backgammon rounds earlier in the day, two games which involve some heated competition, but don't derive their value from embarassment, confusion, and probing people's personal lives the way MRN does.

Anyway, there were other party games after that, but I missed out on those. It was time to kick it down a notch, after a day of so many things that it took three livejournal entries to describe them.

Super Saturday afternoon

Met many happy people at a random picnic in Greenbelt Park, which was announced on RussianDC.com on Friday. The instigators, Vitaly and Misha, showed up with two pots full of pork, and I with a chocolate raspberry cake. We tried to find a secluded spot, so the police wouldn't see the beer. Turns out Misha knew Greg from the Takoma Park aikido dojo. Small world moment. Another Misha showed up with Alena, Julia, then Elly and Leo, and then Olga. Then, in the midst of heating up the grill, skewering the meat, and making tomato salad, the police showed up and said the party needed to move to a less secluded spot. Well, at least they didn't take the beer, so except for the wasted coals, there was nothing lost. I got a ride to the new spot in a car that had the soundtrack from "The Triplettes of Belleville". More people arrived, including Andrew, Volodya, Lena, Leo, Zaur, and Anna who happened to know the artist Anna Shakeev from the Torpedo Factory, and Oleg whom Masha and I met earlier at the UMD Valentine's dance. Oleg was getting interested in Hillel stuff, to my surprise. Anna told me about how much fun the artists from the Torpedo Factory have - I guess I never thought of Russians as a particularly artistic lot, but there were at least two graphic designers at the picnic, and two other who had attended MICA. More small world moments. But, less about art, more about food - Volodya had brought and cooked a competing lot of pork blobs. Of course, besides the bbq people brought all the standard fixings like bread and pickles, and somebody brought honey pepper Nemiroff, but fortunately, I only found that out towards the end of the bottle, so there wasn't any temptation of yummy vodka to resist. After the eating, a game Durak in a format that I had never seen before - same rules without passing, an even number of people, and alternating people form teams, so a person on your team never goes against you and never adds cards against you. Lots of people were speaking Ukrainian, and even singing Chervona Ruta, and it made me wonder why I've always been so anti-Ukrainian - I guess I just didn't know so many cool people spoke it!

Also, there were more people whose names I didn't find out or didn't remember. I'm hoping that listing all the ones I do remember here will help me remember them even longer.

Super Saturday morning

Saturday morning I volunteered at the job fair for PG county teens held at the Raytheon building. There was one woman with a granddaughter who told me about her volunteering in general, a US National Guard recruiter who tried to tempt me with a security clearance, and a teen named Allen who seemed like he had a pretty good plan for getting somewhere better in life.

On the way home, a speech by Constance Rice on the radio did something no speech on CSPAN has done before - I instantly wanted to vote for her to be made president of the US, or the world, for that matter. Where do I send the check? Where do I sign up? Her vision unites women and men, inner-city gangs in LA and farmers in Appalachia, soccer moms and Al-Qaeda operatives - every person dreams of security, opportunity, hope of reaching their goals, becoming who they want to be for themselves and for others, and all of them could benefit from a safety net, more education, and more of a chances to improve their economic position. Damn. I just can't explain it as well as she did. She's awesome.