Thursday, April 28, 2011

What doesn't kill us, makes us ...

Today I had to represent our institute at an internship fair. Which is quite contrary to my belief that internship should be done outside university, in a company - as one of its main aims is to get a glimpse of what life is like "in the wild".

Nevertheless, I had voulonteered, and so did my part. Which mainly involved actively working against myself... which was kind of fun. For a while. Only it worked too well, so noone even tried coming. So I got a chance to look around myself too.

At some point, A. contacted me and said she needed help with something. That something turned out to be Visual Basic.

Which is an AWFUL language. A few illustrative examples:

a) You can only draw on visual elements that are on forms - not in abstract variables that are just in memory.
b) You cannot draw on buttons - so to put a drawing on a button, you first need to draw it on some other visual element, and then copy it to the button
c) Only you cannot copy by value, only by reference, so you need an extra picture box for each button that you want a picture on. Which in this case resulted in 12 picture boxes that needed to be added to the form, and then hidden first thing on initalization.

d) The standard recommended way of getting the value of pi is 4*atan(1). This was found whilst searching for a polite replacement for a hard-coded constant 0.7854

I could go on, but I'll make it brief and just say that I spent nearly 5 hours wrestling with VB just to make some fairly simple changes to a fairly simple program. But it did remind me just how bad a language can get. I mean, Java is heavenly compared to this... seriously.

At the internship fair, I had won a ticket to a movie in the evening... so I of course went... and now regret the 1.5 hours wasted there. The movie was supposed to be a comedy ("Paul"). Only the jokes were worse than the estonian Stand-up comedians I saw on tuesday evening. And trust me, the standups were pretty damn bad already.

Most other people found the movie enjoyable though... and I think a few years ago, I might have too... but now, it was just bad gay jokes combined with lame and predictable situation comedy... Had I paid, I would want my money back.

By the way, all three of the aforementioned things were done on an empty stomach too. Skipped breakfast and didn't have time for lunch... which happens a bit too often lately..

Despite the outward horror of it all, I actually feel pretty good. Better than I have in quite a bit of time, actually. Guess I am somewhat sadomasochistic after all :)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Row, row, row the boat

Went canoeing on Saturday. Which was fun. Especially the steering, which took me about half the trip to figure out (so the other half was spent zig-zagging). Despite the fact that my torso still aches somewhat, it was a fun experience. One I would like to repeat again in the near future.

That evening was spent with T., L. and S. around a campfire at L.-s place...

Most of Sunday was spent watching Master and Margarita.. 8 hours divided in two halves so I could have a band practice in between.

And today was spent in front of the library reading.. and then singing my throat out... and then walking aimlessly about the town full of drunken students.

Constant motion. In more ways than one.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Never had a chance to pause to get a better glance

Its surprising how insightful pop songs turn out to be sometimes. Especially if you engage in some selective interpretation.

The subject for today: Limp Bizkit's "Lonely world"

Had a lot of fun living life on the run,
Never had a chance to pause to get a better glance
Everything was free and everything was fast
Never even thought it wouldn't last

Yep. Its very easy if you have specific and fixed goals in life. Like graduating high school, then university, then earning your PhD... Or finding a girlfriend and a future wife. And once that happens... well... you rarely if ever think past that, because - well, these goals are definitely worthwhile, so who cares what comes after?

You are basically living in a myth you have created for yourself. You are on a magical quest that will grant you salvation if you finish it, at which point you will live happily ever after. Or at least so you believe.

One slight problem with that though: real life and fairy tales are two very different things. But, since you are constantly in a hurry, you somehow fail to notice that small but significant detail.

Or rather, you build your world view based on such a conception, so this is essentially how the world seems to work for you.. and you build your world view around that - making this core assumption hard to criticize.

So. The aim of your life is to achieve the desired goals as fast and effectively as possible. So, everything that gets you closer is useful and meaningful. And everything that doesnt, isn't.

However, sooner or later you realize that this is so only for yourself. Others have different goals, aims and ways. But you adapt by just letting others do as they want. Your goal, concerning others, is just to understand their behavior, so you could best account for it in choosing your own actions. Criticism is pointless, for it causes conflicts, which only slow down progress towards The Goal. You soon become pretty good at giving interpretations to other peoples behaviors. However, you rarely, if ever validate them with others - which means you end up with a very good theory that is often useless in practice. In short:

When you go the mind of a man in the middle
Life is just a big fat riddle, so figure it out
Always thinking that you know
Every little thing there is to know.
Buy you don't really know, ya know?

At some point, reality comes knocking at your door. Hard.

You either fail at one of your goals. Or even worse, you succeed. And ask yourself the inevitable question: What now?

And have your world collapse into tiny pieces. Pieces that used to fit together, but no longer do.

One way forward would be to set a new goal and start running blindly towards that. But that seems... pointless... for you know achieving that will make you no more happier than you currently are. And you are not happy.

So you realize that the problem is deeply rooted in your conception of the world. In your innermost core beliefs. The ones you just know, beyond question. Because if you could question them, they would instantly collapse because of their sheer idiocity.

But you now know they exist. You may not be able to find them yourself but - hey, what are friends for?

So you ask your friends. And they tell you that you are living in a stupid myth about salvation and that it is driving all of them crazy.

So you start looking for a better alternative. And look at what they are doing themselves. And realize many of them have myths even stupider than yours is... but some don't. So you try to understand how their belief systems work.

So what do they believe?
That you are not in a hurry to get anywhere. You are allowed to take your time. You have the perfect right to be who you are, as you are. And so do others. That everything around you is real, but all the worry is illusory.

With the mind of a man in the middle
It could be the end of the world as we know it
Still I never want it all, and I never want it now
I just want to cruise, if I loose then I'll figure it out

Constantly in motion, but still at rest on some deeper level. They have what one of my friends called a "metaphysical shelter" - something inside them to fall back on when everything outside has hit the rocks. Belief that everything will be alright, or rather that everything IS alright.

True confidence. Not that stupid posing and game-playing people often mistake for self-confidence.

You contrast this with your own previous belief about salvation through hard work and have a good laugh.

At yourself. And the world around you.

And then start putting the pieces back together. And find that although some have to be thrown out, you do not have to start from scratch either. After all, you have a life full of experiences behind you and it is just a matter of interpreting them in the new framework.

How the times flies, even with the blink of an eye
When you're young you absorb like a sponge in disguise
Then you get a little older and gather your thoughts
It's amazing what you learn
When you've never been taught, ya know?

Phew. This is probably way more meaning than the song originally intended.

But somehow it clicked with me, and I have the perfect right to overinterpret it.

The perfect right :)

Monday, April 18, 2011

Long journey home

I had nothing to do yesterday. So I asked a few friends over for a movie..

But that was for 8 p.m. At it was just 5 p.m.

So I went bicycling. And it was pretty smooth sailing, first to Ihaste, then to Luunja, then to Kavastu...

Spring sun shining low, illuminating the fields, hedges and old abandoned barnhouses. Just Idyllic.

At Kavastu, I looked at the time.. I had been out for a bit over an hour. So I thought I best start back.. but I thought I'd take a different route this time.

So I did.

Problem was that the different route was unpaved...

And then there was the wind...

I spent the next 24 km pedaling against it, racing to get home before my guests did.

Thankfully, both were late. Nevertheless, I still arrived 5 minutes after they did..

But they weren't mad. E. commented that "I don't think we would have been mad even if you arrived an hour late, provided you looked in as bad a state as you currently do", noting the fact that I had slight trouble walking once I got off the bike.

Thankfully, nothing permanent. And it was a very pleasant evening, not one I plan to forget any time soon...

But I am considering repeating it - although, in hindsight 50 km for the first longer trip of the year was probably a slight overkill...

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

True freedom is slavery

I used to encourage everyone I knew to make art. (long pause) I don't do that so much anymore.
- Banksy, "Exit Through the Gift Shop"

This could easily turn into a discussion about what is art and when is it good...

But I will leave that for some other time, when I meet up with one of my artist friends.

Anyways, I have spent most of today working.. and discussing how the higher education might be the next big bubble to burst since the financial bubble a few years back...

All the signs are there by the way...

I am somewhat manic after the movie today. Not entirely sure why, although it is one of the best movies I have seen in a long while.

What was interesting was to exit the theater only to find that the sun was just about to set - so it was still light outside... and then to walk through the center as the sun is setting.. and to walk past a group of russian youths listening to dance music at our faculty parking lot...

I now have two friends over - one invited, the other just dropping by.

Probably going to send one of them home to the other side of Tartu later. Today was the first day I biked to work and back this spring.. and I really did not realize how much I missed the feeling of freedom bicycling gave me...

Friday, April 8, 2011

E-learning spring conference

I have spent the past 3 days at an e-learning conference.

I was invited to speak at the first day about "The role of the teacher in the changing world". The talk turned out ok, but somewhat less so than I expected of myself after 8+ hours of working on it. Provided for a good learning opportunity though, and sparked some discussion as well, so it probably filled its purpose and I have no real regrets :)

The rest of the conference was filled with good networking opportunities, as Anne made it her mission to introduce me to everyone even remotely important - and she turned out to have some pretty good connections. The foreign guests were of fairly high caliber, and she seemed to know quite a few of them personally.

As for the talks, they contained relatively little in terms of important information, but I had a lot to learn from the way they actually gave the talks. Especially so from a lecture on the second day, which was exactly the lecture that I would have wanted to be able to give myself, but for which I lacked the experience, skill and background. But that is normal, considering the speaker was twice my age, and had probably spent most of it teaching.

The conference dinner was at a night club, which meant that after the awards ceremony was over, they cranked up the music. This made having a conversation impossible - but provided an opportunity for dancing. Even two ballroom dances :)

All in all, it was a good conference - even considering I was somewhat underslept. But then again, that's what coffee is for, after all.

Monday, April 4, 2011

12.5 h workday

Ow how I missed those. Not that I plan to get into a habit of them any time soon, but it feels nice every once and a while

Agenda for today included:
Interviews with two students who are both just a thesis short of graduating
A discussion session between third year physics students and their program manager
Preparing a lecture for Wednesday

It seems that the physicists are putting much effort into making their teaching more effective.. just as our institute is planning to. So I have started warming up my old connections in their faculty... and finding the people I knew from the physics bus days right at the heart of it. It seems that they have been at it for quite some time, so it seems I may have a lot to learn from them... but I might also have a few things to contribute from my own side as well... As usual, only time will tell