Monday, January 31, 2011

Staring into space

Second night in the row now, I am left at 1 a clock unable to do nothing except stare into space.

For I am tired - too tired to think or read, even to watch TV - but still unable to fall asleep.

D.-s death still hasn't set in. I feel it pushing on my chest though, hanging overhead, like a dark cloud, clearly there, lurking, but unwilling to release the hailstorm it contains.

And there is something else. Concerning M. But again, I just feel it, without yet being able to pin down the reasons or even the character of it's existence.

Part of me wants to put off dealing with both things. But that is just delaying the inevitable. Then again, I see no way of forcing the storm down myself, so I guess only time will tell.

Friday, January 28, 2011

R.I.P. Diana Aitai, 1988-2011

One of my closest friends, Diana, died two days ago at the tender age of 22. She fell down an uncovered well while walking around in Pärnu and drowned.

I met up with some of her Tartu friends yesterday night. We talked about the fond memories we had of her.

She had a profound influence in many peoples lives. And the number probably ranges into the hundreds. Because she could form a very strong connection with people very quickly. Because she was genuinely interested in most everyone and everything.

She was the most inspiring and motivating person who I have met in my life. And one of the most influential too, being my first girlfriend, and playing a big part in me getting out of my depression, for she made me want to live again. And that stuck around even after we had broken up.

I will always remember the new year of 2008 - I met her right before, and we started going out right after... And everything in between was magical. I still have the chatlogs from that time (and I usually do not keep logs).

The two months we were together were also magical. Which made the breakup all the more painful. But I grew a lot as a person.

We didn't speak much the year she was in Salamanca, Spain... but the few Internet conversations we had were very important for me - for I was in Denmark, also away from home, and she could understand some of the things I was going through...

And that continued once we both got back, for she was there for me, and I tried to be there for her. And it was always good to be with her.

She was my flatmate for two months, when the Uni started in September 2010, before she got a room in a dormitory. And it was nice to have someone to share my daily experiences with.. and the feeling seemed mutual - as she had just started out in Põhjala and often had a lot to talk about. When she left, I was very sad that she did so. We had a Dr. Who marathon to commemorate her moving.

One of the last memories I have of her was us walking down empty Tartu streets at 1 a clock new years morning, singing 100 bottles of beer on the wall together... And we later repeated that act a few days later at K. place. And then she attended both of my birthday celebrations...

In the past month, she had been mainly concerned (ironically) about her future career choices. And from what I heared of M. and Da., she had just started to converge to a solution when the choices were taken away from her.

They say that the brightest flames burn the quickest. But she still had a lot of fuel left, before she was taken away from us.

You will be missed.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I've watched all the dropouts, who make their own rules

R. called me today at half to one at night. Since I had had a lot of coffee and had not seen him for a while, I went to his work to have a chat with him.

A single phrase he said made me nearly speechless for half an hour. Or well, made me take a time-out to think it though, because it had a lot of implications to my current affairs.

The phrase: You just make a decision and then live with it.

Not all there is to it, of course. Or not the firs time I hear (or even discuss) the idea. Just - the right thing to emphasise at this point in my life. Too right...

Basically, it is true that some decisions need long and careful deliberation. However, quite often it is that same deliberation that makes one worse off - because if you ever reach a conclusion, you will always have the clear picture of all the other possible choices in the head. And you cannot help but wonder if the decision you made was the right one or if there was a better one available. Especially when new and unfavorable information becomes available to you about the choice you made. And it inevitably will. For nothing and no-one is ever perfect.

These what ifs can drive a person mad. Especially if you are the perfectionist type who wants to optimise everything.

However, the reality is that all the choices have their flaws, and the one you made is usually not the wrong one - if not for any other reason then simply due to the fact that there is no sense of absolute wrong, and only you are in charge of classifying it as such if you choose to do so.

It makes no sense to doubt the decisions made. They were made at a certain time and place and with a certain reason. If needed, they can be changed by new decisions, but a decision once made cannot be remade different. Kind of like how you cannot step into the same river twice, for the river of life always moves on.

I look back on my life without any regrets, and with confidence that the decisions I have recently made and are yet to make are the right ones.

After all, I have control on what I label as right or wrong.

Friday, January 21, 2011

The development of Unprofesionalism

The theory I am about to expound is pretty general. However, for the sake of simplicity, let us assume I am talking about teachers.

Your development as a teacher tends to pass through the following stages:

Stage 1 - Amateur

You know the theory.. or well, at least some of it. You prepare for hours for each class.. and then go in front of the class - and fail. Miserably at first. Very miserably. Hours of preparation seem like a complete waste, because the problems you prepared for did not arise, while some you could not have seen in your wildest nightmares did. You feel like you want to crawl into a deep dark cave never to return.

However, this is not really an option since the next class is in 2 hrs. Or the next day. So you are kind of forced to push through that phase. It's hard, but it is important to acknowledge that most everyone goes through this phase and that it is of crucial importance, as people learn more from their mistakes than they do from their successes.

Stage 2 - Professional

At some point you stop failing miserably. And then, a bit later you realize that most of the classes are going more-or less ok. According to plan, as you would say, as you still prepare for each class. However, you now have enough experience to prepare for the right things, and to handle the occasional unexpected events - since you have had a lot of practice at both the preparation and at handling the unexpected (in stage 1).

(Small note - in case you do not have a creepy and horrible stage 1, you will probably lack the skills to handle the unexpected stuff when it does finally happen. So it is better to get it out of the way in the beginning, or you might get a false sense of confidence)

In short, you are now equipped to do the job assigned to you, in a way that is beyond reproach, assuming you do put enough preparation and effort into the attempt. You are now a professional.

This is considered as the goal by most educational establishments such as universities of vocational schools. And it is valued very highly by the society. Saying "Im a professional" is equivalent to saying "I know what I am doing"...

Which is the truth... well, more or less.

So what's missing, one might ask?

And the answer is pretty simple. The ability to improvise. To see the big picture and to bend the rules in a way that best fits the goal of common good. "Practical wisdom", as Barry Schwartz puts it.

Lembit Mehilane, one of the most acknowledged psychiatrists in Estonia, has said that "There are three ways to deal with a patient: the correct way, the incorrect way and the humane way". The correct is the one prescribed by the manuals - which will, on average do more good than harm. The humane way, however, requires bending the rules and going beyond them for the good of the patient, but allows for a much larger net benefit if done well.

And this is true in most cases. Rules are often there to protect the world against amateurs screwing up really badly. And we equate professionalism with being able to play well within these rules. However, a true master does not need the rules anymore, and they often become a hindrance to him, stopping him from doing what is truly the right thing to do.

However - I am not arguing that the true masters should be above the rules. This is infeasible, as it is hard to certify true mastery in most fields. The rules do have a purpose and they serve it most of the time.

My take on the matter is best summed up by the quote from a logician Raymond Smullyan:
"If the people want laws, they have a perfect right to pass them. The criminal has a perfect right to break them, the police have a perfect right to arrest him, the judge has a perfect right to sentence him to jail, and so on."

A true master has to know that there are consequences to breaking the rules. This forces him to think hard whenever he does attempt to break them - as he then becomes accountable for the indiscretion. If everything does work out well, the rule-bending will likely not be punished. If things do go wrong, however, the rules give a basis on which to discipline the person.

So I'm guessing most of you think that the next stage is the "Master". Sadly, it doesn't work quite that way.

Stage 3 - Jester

Why? The song "Jester realm" by the band Twilightning sums this idea up pretty well.

"Year after year --- this amusing circus remains
The day draws near - it's only the clowns that are to change"

Before you can really start bending the rules, you first have to push the limits and master everything you can do within the rules, as well as to test out the rules themselves and see where the limits really are. But this forces you to abandon the safe confines of professionalism where you could operate well without much fear of failure, and instead demands you work on the stuff you are not yet adept at - trying novel and unconventional teaching and grading methods, teaching in another context and so on.

However, this puts you in a different position socially and requires you
"To trade a crown in for a hat with tiny bells"

With each new thing you try, the initial risk of failure is pretty high - so you need to be willing to make mistakes, and have a healthy attitude towards them. After all, mistakes are there for you to learn things from them. But you need to drop the image of yourself as a professional, who is sure to succeed, and at least for a time accept that you can and will fail. Regularly. Because if you don't, you're not doing it right.

I have yet to see a master who got to where he was without a few major failures on his path. And all of them say that the failures played a significant role in their development. We learn more (and faster) from mistakes than we do from successes. So why fight it.

This stage is also there to develop the responsibility. Because, as mentioned, failures will happen, and you will be held accountable for them at some point. And yes, you will then realize that you might have gone too far. But you then know not to go that far again. And to be more careful next time. Nevertheless, it makes sense to push the limits in small increments, so that when you do finally go over the top, you do so only by a small margin, which will probably mean no irreversible damage has been done yet so you can still make good.

And you should, because moral development is paramount in becoming a master - you will have to make decisions as to when to bend the rules - and you should only do so if it is for the good of the world and never for purely selfish needs.

Another important point to make is that you also need to keep pushing your own limitations alongside with the social norms. To forget who you think you are and to test out the real you, by putting yourself in new situations that possibly even threaten your sense of identity.
"Lose your mind and lose your personality
Step inside and see how foolish things can be"

Again, this allows you to confidently deal with the new frontiers and unexpected situations, since you have a strong inner foundation on which to fall back on should the need arise. Because castles made of sand can be very beautiful, but they usually vanish once the tides come in. But you need to be left standing in the midst of adversity - and to do that, you need to see what remains once the tide has washed the beach clean. And - not all of it might be pretty. But knowing who you are is essential to becoming a master - because no two masters are the same, and to develop a style suitable to yourself, you first need to know who you yourself are.

Stage 4 - Master

If you are lucky, then after a few (~10) years of self-exploration, practice, mistakes and limit-probing you finally do develop your own distinct style of dealing with the chaos of your chosen field, doing so with creativity, enthusiasm and in such a way as to serve the greater good and without harming yourself in the process. You not only know, but feel what the right thing to do is in all the situations, and what its possible consequences are. That is what I mean by true mastery, or true unprofessionalism.

Sadly, only very few ever get there. I only hope I'm still on the right path, though.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blatant self-advertisment

The persona story of me was published about a week ago.

Excerpt from a Skype conversation:

Margus N.: "Tarkade klubi" ka said juba?
L.: Jah. Meil kõigil on oma versioonid, kuidas haakub su pilt selle kohal asuva pealkirjaga "Kuidas suri vaarao Kleopatra?". Mina ja S. pooldame tugevalt, et see on Kleopatra patsidega näo rekonstruktsioon, aga T. paistab arvavat, et see on metsaline, kes ta tappis.

I'm hailed as a "Mathematician of the MTV generation". My colleagues burst out in laughter when they heard that. Can't say I blame them.

Ah well, while I'm at it, might as well get some real self-advertisment in as well:

This is the list of lectures in "Introduction to Informatics" course, with videos available for most of them.

This is a lecture given by Tõnu Samuel that was rated as by far the best lecture in the whole series (by the students).

This is a link to a lecture about "Attitude" that I myself gave and am sort of proud of and have been recommending to most of my friends. Students rated it as the third best.

If in doubt, which one to see, watch both ;)

Monday, January 17, 2011

As tightly packed as weekends get

This weekend has been... interesting. In more ways than one.

Let me start with Friday evening. I had a meet-up with 8 of my Introduction to Informatics students. I went a bit early so I could have a quick lunch before the others arrived. And I met D. on the way and she joined me for a quick cup of tea.

The meetup itself was also quite enjoyable - as most students already knew each other and so could talk pretty freely and on quite a wide range of topics, ranging from schoolwork to economic theory behind money. However the conversation was intermittently interrupted by a drunk russian man sitting right behind me, who kept knocking on my shoulder and just plain yelling behind us. And this was in TsinkPlekkPang, which is usually a very calm establishment where people do not come to get drunk. Anyways, towards the end of the meeting, the security firm sent two guards over, who in turn called the police and handed the guy over to them.

I then headed for home. M. had sent me an SMS asking when I would get back, to which I had replied soon. But that was half an hour before I actually headed back from the center, and she wasn't picking up her cell so I was kind of worried she would arrive back before I would. Thankfully, that was not quite the case.

Close call though. She arrived just as I had searched all my pockets and concluded that I did not have keys to my front door. Thankfully, my flatmate Mi. was still there and came down to let us in. Since none of us had had a full meal during the day, I cooked up Rice and heated up the Dahl I had from my birthday party two days prior. Mi. left soon and left the two of us alone.

We actually got to sleep pretty early. 1-ish, I think. I had to get up pretty early though, since I needed to go to work to fetch my lost keys before going on a bus to Tallinn to meet an ex-classmate of mine for a cup of coffee.

Everything went smoothly and I even managed to grab the latest issue of "Tarkade klubi" (with my story in it) along with a quick banana pancake before meeting my friend. We then talked for nearly 3 hours, mainly about the different ways that people can match each-other.

In the psychopathology course, the lecturer noticed that a person can be analyzed based on their intellectual, social, emotional and physical age - all of which may be markedly different. And the same four axes seemed to be a good fit to describe the different ways people can match eachother, although, of course, they need to adjusted somewhat:

Intellectual - you can have interesting conversations. Verbal and conscious understanding of others also seems to fit here best.
Social - you hang in the same social circles, have a common cultural background, have about the same status etc.
Emotional - the intuitive, unconscious understanding of the other. Things that you know, yet find impossible to verbalize.
Physical - the "animal magnetism", or pure physical attraction to the other person.

Ideally, you would of course want all four. But this is often impossible. However, I argued that for different people, different aspects have different priorities. The said friend, for instance, places fairly high emphasis on the intellectual side, and yet also yearns for the emotional closeness, which the intellectual side often makes hard to find. Can't say I don't understand her - as I am, or at least used to be quite similar..

The thought came out of the fact that she basically met her soulmate, but not in Estonia but far off in the USA. To which I replied that yes, the culture does play a role, but the deeper level connections are a lot more important most of the time... and that M. (who is by far the closest thing to a soulmate I have yet to meet) also has a very different background from me.

At around 2 a'clock we said our goodbyes as I was picked up by my Limping Wolf friends. We headed for our annual feast of medieval foods. Mostly meat, of course, so there was not all that much for me, but I did not go starving either.

Preparing the fish was quite interesting. A. asked me to help out. She handed me stuff and I had to pour it out on a frying pan. Here is the list of ingredients:
2 x 0.5 l beers
0.125 l bottle of wine vinegar
10 tbls parcelly
A few other spices...

Well, for 4 kg of fish it is okay, but still.. I asked for confirmation thrice on the wine vinegar... Still, thats medieval cooking for you.

Also, another confirmation to how small Estonia is. There was a doctor in the company.. who I had seen at medieval reenactment events before. However, when I mentioned homeopathy and she sighed and asked me not to discuss it any further as she works with two GP-s who really like prescribing the stuff, I realized I had actually seen her as a patient as well - as she works in the same center as my GP (who, yes, is a huge fan of homeopathy... which I am not too happy about, tbh). But yes, I remember the visit and I remember her from the events but these were so separate domains for me it took me a pretty direct hint to connect the dots. She did not remember me as a patient, though. Which is mildly strange since my dreads make me pretty memorable for most people.

In any case, the event was quite fun. I don't really do reenactment any more, but I like the people at the club and so I still hang out every now and then. And I'm not the only person there who does that.

I got to my moms place at around 1 and headed straight to bed and fell to sleep immediately. The short night I had had before made it pretty easy. I woke at around 10 and helped my mom with her accounting application, and also caught the first episode of "Rakett 69" on TV (that had two of my friends there).

I then headed to K.O. for what I hoped would be a very enjoyable 3 hours. Roughly, it was - as I had agreed to meet another friend of mine as well in the evening. But by that time, the conversation had gotten so interesting that I left my laptop as a hostage and promised to come back later in the evening, to hang out, watch a movie and talk some more.

And that is what I did, eventually, but before I walked over to another ex-classmate of mine to check out her new flat... which was nice. They were still moving, but the apartment was already very nice, even without all the extra stuff. At some point, her boyfriend also showed up.. whom I saw for the second time, despite them having been together for well over a year by now.

They introduced me to a game called "Plants and Zombies". Seriously, this thing is addictive.. I spent over an hour playing it, I think... not good.

They then gave me a lift back to K.O. - who had invited two of her friends over. Initially the plan was to watch the movie with them, but as they had to leave early for work the next day, they opted out, so by 1 a.m. it was just the two of us. So we watched the movie.. which was meant as a deep and serious philosophical movie, but ended up as a comedy for the two of us. And then stayed up until 5-ish, just talking about stuff. Which was very nice. Again, the soulmate topic was somewhat central, but it was nice to have a semioticists take on the matter.

Waking up the next morning at 9.30 to go catch a bus back to Tartu was not that nice, however. Neverthelss, I had no choice as I had to go give an exam to my ItoI students. Ah well, I can sleep on thursday, once I have more-or-less finished with my academic duties...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Insanity defense

So what has happened over the past week?

Spent most of the week with a girl. Including my birthday. Got one of the best birthday presents I have yet to receive in my life. The next day my new roommate arrived in Tartu and moved in. Then I celebrated my birthday with my non-colleague friends, spending half the day cooking Japanese food and the other half playing Alias and just chatting with my friends.

Trouble is, I haven't been doing work- or school-related things. Or well, not nearly at the pace I should be doing them. I had an exam this morning, and although I probably passed, I am doing so with about half the amount of studying I would normally have put into it.

Not that I am saying that I spent my time doing the wrong things but rather that the priorities have somewhat shifted, and it will take some coping. This week promises to be pretty busy as well, but I hope to get a bit more studying done for the two remaining exams.

From February onward, I have relatively little duties, so I should get my priorities straight. This is my first attempt.

* Relationships come first. Especially the one with the aforementioned girl, but my friends are not too far behind.

* Reading. Both security and psychology related things, with (hopefully) a little fiction on the side as well...

* Work - I have a course to give practice sessions to, but other than that, I have no real duties. I will consider taking on some with a project in Cybernetica, but it depends on the details.

* Bass playing - it is progressing, and noticeably, and if I keep up the practice, it will keep on doing so with reasonably high probability. Last attempt at "Californication" by our band sounded pretty good already...

* Taiji - definitely taking a backseat to everything else, but I do want to keep it in my life

After the exams are over and my PhD thesis is presented for approval, my first immediate goal is to restore myself. Because I have all the symptoms of overworking - which is quite akin to clinical depression.

"Depression is fairly easy to diagnose, because a person who is depressed looks like he is depressed and will usually tell you that he is so when asked.", they taught us in university.
The three main symptoms that should be present for the latter to be diagnosed are:
* Decreased mood (sadness)
* Decreased motivation (tiredness)
* Decreased pleasure in activities (anhedonia)

Although there is no sign of the first (subjectively), the second two are clearly present, and indeed two of the three qualify for a minor depressive episode, if you also add a bunch of secondary symptoms.

Not that I want to say I am depressed. I'm not. Not in the classic sense, anyways, since on a rational level, everything is better than it has been for a VERY long time and everything seems to be moving on an upward slope. Its just that I'm having trouble enjoying it to the full extent because everything just feels as though looking through a thick fog - distant and hazy.

"Like being drunk", my new roommate commented. And I kind of have to agree.

In any case, Ill try to figure out how to start seeing the world clearly again.

And once I do - beware (6)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Same wavelength

Today, I had a feeling I wanted to meet up with K. again. I had met her a week ago at a party, and have 3 common friends with her but it would have been somewhat hard to get in touch with her directly.

So, I was about to call D. and ask her to set up something when, lo and behold, my phone rings, it is D. who is calling me because she wants to invite me to K.-s place to hang out...

Things got especially weird, when later that night it turned out that K. had also thought that D. should invite me along, although D. had done it entirely on her own accord.

Anyways, it was a fun 6.5 h. Should do that again some time.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

2010 Was a good year

So what did I do? In brief:

In the beginning of the year, I decided to start learning to play the Bass instead of the regular guitar.

Spent a month in India (just to get away from everything)

Spent another two in Denmark, where I devised and implemented new and more efficient protocols for Sharemind.

Missed a Metallica concert because of that (I had months mixed up).

In the summer, I wrote my PhD dissertation and then chose to postpone its defense until May 2011

Went to Australia for a conference again, and spent a marvelous week and a half in Cairns.

Just before that, I attended a wedding where two friends of mine got married. I was assigned the role of the guardian of the bride :)

In autumn, I took a lot of university courses, taught a few and also implemented the two division protocols for Sharemind.

Also formed a band with a few friends to have someone to practice together with.

Went to a conference in Japan. Saw the most beautiful gardens and natural scenery there.

Spent most of the year in a very weird communication pattern with M. Had a brief relationship with L. Learned a lot about myself in the process.

That learning is actually why I consider 2010 such a good year. I now know considerably more about myself than I did a year ago. This has made me a lot more self-confident and aware of what I want and need. And a lot more prone to search for solutions to problems rather than just complaining about them.

There is still a long road ahead, of course, but I am making progress, and at a completely reasonable pace. That is something to be happy about.