Thursday, March 31, 2011

We both have truths, are mine the same as yours?

- Pilate's song from Jesus Christ Superstar

It is only lately it is beginning to dawn on me that there really is no one single reality, but rather that everyone has their own. Or rather, that this is normal, and not something that should be changed at all costs.

But yes, sometimes it is better to accept that you have your own view of the world, while someone else has a completely different take, and that both of you are correct in some sense.

For some conflicts, the resolution requires the unification of world views of the two people. But this is not always so.

O ye that reject Faith!
I worship not that which ye worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,
Nor will ye worship that which I worship.
To you be your Way, and to me mine.

- Qu'ran, surah 109 "The Atheists"

And even for the cases where the unification is desirable, "talking it out" might not be possible, or reasonable. Sometimes actions speak louder than words. Especially repeated actions.

Which of course makes allegations of the form "you always do X" that much harder to disprove too. Ah well, life's a bitch and then you die.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Perfect right

"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."

- Raymond Smullyan

This has been my favorite quote since I first read it. However, I had now clue how deep it actually runs until two days ago, where a friend of mine spontaneously started sharing her insights on that topic.

I'm still quite sure I do not grasp the idea in its whole entirety and quite a bit of what she said to me is still way above my head. Nonetheless, some of it got through.

People have the perfect right to be who they are and to act as they see fit. Especially if a person feels good being who she is and his surroundings accept her for what she is.

Just as importantly, however - people have the right to not accept certain actions of other people - for instance when they perceive them as hurtful, inconsiderate or hostile. They have the right to react - to get hurt and to let the other person know that this has happened and why. Especially if the reaction is sincere.

However, a person that got hurt has no right to expect the other person to change his behavior. He might, if he feels that it is the right thing to do and wants to do better in the future.

In the end, it is up to the person who got hurt to decide what to do next. If the other party is willing to accept his mistake and do better, things can go on as before. If not, well, then one has a choice.

If it is just a casual acquaintance, it may well make sense to just steer clear of that person from then on. However, if it is someone close to you, things are somewhat different.

One possibility is to accept the person as she is and love her, her faults included - because noone is perfect and, more often than not, the few bad things are outweighed by all the good. And it is possible they may eventually want to change the more hurtful aspects, especially if the fact that they are hurting you hurts them too (i.e. if they really care about you). But you cannot really rush things - the wish has to come from within themselves.

Another one is to cut your losses and just move on - because, it is their choice if they wish to persist in hurting you, and you are allowed to use your freedom and just walk away.

It is important to realize that true closeness is only possible between two people who have both mutual and self-respect. The key is to respect the other persons own judgements and decisions, but not to the point where they surpass your own. To accept the other for who she is, and you for who you are, and not to try to force one over the other - or put up with someone doing the same to you.

After all, I want my partner to be my equal, not my slave. Which means, I expect her to have her own opinions, views and feelings. I expect her to be independent enough to contradict me and act on her own best judgement (even if I may not like it at the time) - and I expect her to let me do the same. And that this is the most valuable thing in a relationship - for, if you truly respect the other persons right to disagree with you, without washing it under the carpet (i.e. she's just too emotional, she doesn't know better, etc. ) ... well, I suppose that is the closest to "unconditional love" that is possible.

All my life I have had a bad tendency of getting mad at people who do not behave exactly like I would like them to behave. It seems that it's a game I play, and not a particularily healthy one at that. Now I only need to figure out how to stop playing it. And again - compassion is probably the way to go... and as Buddhists say, the first step is Awareness.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Just to write it down

As quite a few people ask me what my plans are after graduating, I thought I'd write them down. (Also, its good to have them down for reference for my future self)

So: In the semester that follows, I will Quit Cybernetica AS and move to uni full-time, where I will hopefully:

a) Give two lecture courses, "Introduction to Informatics" and "Programming 1"

b) Become the Study Councilor of our institute - so help resolve all sorts of organizational problems for the students.

c) Set up an after-hours study session where students can come ask for help about the courses for the first two years of bachelor's studies.

d) Be in charge of training our new teaching assistants.

At the moment, I am just writing up ideas and drafting documents that will hopefully one day become job descriptions for b,c and d. The main goal for the first semester is to finish these documents, i.e. figure out what actually needs doing and how to best go about it. I have enough ideas to start with but it is realistic most of them need to be reconsidered multiple times during the course of actual work.

Nevertheless, I do not want to jump into the matter unprepared and waste considerable effort reinventing the wheel. So I am doing research. For instance, today I met up with one of the graduates from "Noored kooli", who gave me an overview of how they were trained and what got him to where he is as a teacher. I also plan to have a chat with someone from Southwestern on similar topics. And last weeks visit to IT College was also to figure out what makes their system work better than ours. We also have ideas to use machine learning to determine the students most at risk of dropping out, so we could work with them directly as well. So work is ongoing.

Nevertheless, there is a lot of uncertainty there, as it doesn't happen often that you get to write your own job descriptions. Everything in this list is something I look forward to doing. But taken together, they may be biting off a bit more than I could chew, and I have considerable anxiety because of that.

Out of the ordinary

It has been a fairly unusual week, for practically noting interesting has happened.

Firstly, my home computer finally died. It has given me 6 years of good service and was already making horrible noises for the past half a year.. so this was to be expected. However, I did not run to replace it, but rather decided to live without a computer at home for a while. A week to begin with seemed reasonable.

Secondly, I spent the whole Monday and Tuesday in the library, reading. 100 pages/day of a textbook on security.

Thirdly. I have done next to no real work. Okay, I have drafted up a few ideas about my future, but otherwise, it has all been pretty laid back. Calm.

The strange thing is that its the first time in my life when I actually feel I need to slow down. I have known it rationally before, but this time, its not something I feel I should do, but actually something I want to do. That I have something to gain, to learn, from not running forward but just standing still.

So what do I hope to gain, really? Get my priorities in order and figure out which of my problems are imaginary and which ones are actually real. Deal with only the stuff that needs to be addressed as opposed to mindlessly running around trying to make everything better. Accept the world as it is for the most part, for only then is there real hope of improvement.

Nights can still get pretty bad though and I regularly have trouble falling asleep. Thankfully, it's usually all better in the morning.

Friday, March 11, 2011

I'd surrender, if only I could

I have come to realize quite a few important things over the past few days.

Firstly - emotional closeness is built on common experiences. Not talking, but just hanging out with no reason, or doing something fun. Devoting time to people that are important to you. Validating your understanding of their words through the feedback process of seeing their actual behavior. And that is the point of parties or get-togethers and going out drinking together. The point of all the activities I have systematically ignored as meaningless.

No wonder I feel distant from the world. And this is one of those things that you cannot really fix overnight - especially if your friends don't invite you anywhere any more because they "know" how it will turn out.

Secondly - this closeness has to be there with a girl before it can develop into anything more for me. Otherwise, it just feels so wrong. And not in some absolute moral sense. Just emotionally. Raw wrongness. Even with a nice, intelligent girl who I could see myself with... Learned this the hard way recently -- and yes, I'm capable of feeling like complete crap the morning after, even when practically nothing happened the night before.

Some days I just wish I could be like normal men my age.

Thirdly - we are all victims of our past experiences. And old habit, once developed, are hard to change. Same goes for assumptions about your friends. If a friend of yours used to be a complete moron and a prick, you still assume he behaves that way even when he has actually changed and does not do that any more with others. But since you so expect this to be the case, this is what ends up happening, partially because that is the only thing you look for in his behavior, and partially because he is used to interacting with you in those ways and is also a victim of his own habits.

The only way out of that situation is to confront it, and have both sides acknowledge this might be the case. Because it doesn't really help if just one side changes his ways.

All three points are important lessons to be learned, of course. It's just that I am tired of pushing forward in my social and emotional development. The past few months have probably aged me more than the two years preceding them - but the further I go, the more clearly I see the long road still ahead. Then again, that is always the case with true progress.

I have failed, I have been forsaken
I've been scorned and misunderstood
I have lost, my life has been taken
I'd surrender if only I could

-- Ayreon, The Charm of the Seer

But, as usual, surrender is not really an option, so I will just keep moving onwards. Not always easy, but worth it, at least judging by the past descisions.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

From One Path to Another

There is a Path (Raja) Street in Tartu that is to locals synonymous with the mental hospital situated at its end. In Tallinn, there is a street with the same name - with the main attraction being the IT-College.

Yesterday I took the trip from one to the other, for I had a meeting with the director of the IT college to talk about the future of IT education. He explained the ideas behind his school and how they managed to get the costs down and quality up. Gave me quite a few good ideas.

I also stopped by a guitar shop to try an acoustic bass guitar. It actually sounded a lot better than I thought an acoustic bass would. I have wanted to try playing one for ages, but I haven't seen any on display in the stores in Tartu.

Afterwards, I went to see a friend, and then stopped by my mom's to wish her a Happy Women's day. My uncle was also there and he gave me a lift back to the bus station.

The decision to go to Tallinn for just one day actually came to me just yesterday evening, when I realized that Tuesday would be the only day this week that I could - and the guy I went to meet would not be there the next week.

In any case, it's been a pretty busy few days.
Saturday: Morning - tabletop role playing game. Evening - Birthday of two colleagues
Sunday: Morning - lab sesssion with high school students. Evening - Dancing class and band practice (with me serving pasta with mushrooms and octopus)
And on Monday I actually did some work... and then had a long chat with La. in the evening, when we were the last two people left at work.

On Monday, I got another good proposal for what to do after graduation. But after considering it, I decided to stay on the course I had chosen for myself beforehand and still stay with the University. Which may mean cutting some ties with the other company I am working for. Which is probably not something I should worry about.

And I don't. Because even if it is, I am still young, and have ways to go before reaching PNR, as my uncle so insightfully noted. So I still have time to make mistakes and to learn from them. After all, experience is what you get when you do not get what you wanted.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Non-Hamiltonian Thoughts

A Graph (in computer science terms) is a collection of points and lines (edges) that connect them. Like this:

The points and the lines can symbolize many different things. For instance, points can be cities and lines can be roads. Or points can be people and an edge can mean that the two people it connects are friends.

For the purposes of this post, the points are different thoughts and facts and the line between any two of them means that they are connected.

Now, when I start writing an essay (or a blog post), one of the first things I do is gather up all my thoughts that might be relevant to the topic in my head. I then try to find a narrative that passes through all of them but proceeds smoothly from one thought to the next. This usually means that every new thought has to be connected to the one directly preceding it, which means that the essay turns out to be a "walk" in the Thought graph - you start at one point and then move along the edges until you eventually finish at some other point.

You usually have an idea what thought you want to end up at. And finding a path from the starting thought to the ending one is usually not hard. So, in formal terms, essay writing is in P.

However, imagine a different problem. You have some problem that you want to discuss with a friend. You want to give her all the relevant background information.. and you would prefer to give an essay-like presentation, smoothly moving from one point to the other without repeating yourself. In graph-theoretic terms, this is the problem of finding a Hamiltonian path.

And the sad fact is that for most graphs, this is impossible to do, and, even when it is theoretically possible, it is NP-hard to find such a graph.

So even when you have a fairly good idea about all that you would like to talk about, it is still hard, if not impossible, to formulate them in a linear and coherent way - especially if the graph is not connected enough.

As a corollary: topic jumps and/or repeating yourself are sometimes unavoidable, and should thus be seen as a normal part of conversation. After all, they are the only two solutions that still allow you to cover all of the graph.