November 30, 2002

Thanksgiving Weekend

Category: Personal — Biella @ 5:56 pm

I spent most of the weekend with family or in front of the computer working on a grant and some other random stuff not worth mentioning. Thanksgiving dinner was an excellent: small but tasty. Ok, I am a true Pdog lover so I would never eat a Pbog but one has to wonder what they taste like….

Here are some pictures from the weekend. It was your pretty usual thanksgiving day with family, friends, and turkey. I did perform a sex change operation which I guess is a bit out of the ordinary for thanksgiving, but come on, I could not play “Candyland” until the pieces were a bit more gender equitable….

November 26, 2002

JESUS! Was I wrong

Category: Humor — Biella @ 6:52 pm

I have been reprimanded. Patrice, a true hippie and hellster, reprimanded me about my desire for a high-speed train in CA:

Now why I am skeptical about HSR (High Speed Rail):
- It is very expensive to build
- It is very damaging to the environment (though less than a Motorway). HSR is not *that* energy efficient – because of hi-energy needs for speed.
- It is expensive to run & hence to use. ICE in Germany attracts huge fare surcharges. The French TGV is affordable, because subsidized.
- It does not serve local communities well, prioritizes (big) point to (big)point trips.

It would be preferable immo to build a more conventional, but state-of-the-art, comfortable & relatively fast (100 Miles/h) train system, with many more stops, and affordable fares. Basically like the existing Caltrain/Bus transport system, but better & more frequent.

So, Patrice you are right, I have changed my mind but I still, ask you:
What Would Jesus Drive?. I heard about this campaign on NPR a couple of weeks ago and I am glad that they have a nice web page up which is not as titillating as (and is there anything as bewitching as that site?). Seriously, I am intrigued by this whole Christian environmental turn…. I have a penchant for cultural/ethical/religious forms of political action in which a strong ethic underpins political arguments. And I wonder what all the Christian Republicans who like LOVE oil so much they probably bathe in it as our dear friend Jesus bathes does with woman, think about the Christian tree hugging turn?

But seriously, again WWJD?? I mean, the guy can walk… on water. He could like use his heavenly powers to walk, really fast, like a highspeed train, (but minus the train), so that he would not cause all those problems Patrice pointed out to me. Yeah, that is what the J-Man would do, for sure. :-)

November 22, 2002

On a Winters Night, Epistemology

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 10:10 pm

It gets dark early, even in “sunny”California at least Northern California. I am amazed nearly every day when I look out my window to see the silent dusk settle in, my heart usually sinking with the disappearance of light.

But today, I was reanimated, by words, books, and reading and was reminded why winter can be a great time of year. Unlike summer, which for me tends to be a very social time punctuated by long periods spent outside, I have come to reacquaint with the pleasures of alternating between sitting and lying on my bed, for the *entire day* just to read. My inward turn was first inspired to read up on “hacker ethics” for a grant proposal I am “supposedly” working on as well as for a paper that I want to write but then I sort of went nutso and after looking over like 5 books that deal in some fashion with the hacker ethic, I hit all these other books and articles that I have been dying to read but there never seemed an opportune moment till today.

The day started off with reading Seth’s Blog where midway in his long entry he mused as at to whether “computers have given us a new kind of understanding of the problems of epistemology, much as they’ve given us new ways of thinking about psychology. This is not to say that the metaphors we take from computing are more accurate or ultimately more faithful to reality. But they’re undeniably present.” He goes on to note that humans like software have no means for independent verification for “internal processes:”

In that sense, we are in the position of software: we can try to look at ourselves, but we can’t have independent confirmation that what we see is really there. There is always a philosophical possibility that we are implemented somewhere or in some way we don’t know about, that we have a particular feature we can’t anticipate, and in general that any part of our experience, not just our senses, could be unreliable

Indeed, a very sophisticated analogy although it made me wonder, which I have wondered often, why is it that western epistemology is so concerned with dissecting and knowing *the* (and I will return to the “the”) underlying nuts and bolts of human thought and emotions and for that matter, the nuts and bolts of everything on the face of this earth and beyond. On the one hand, there is the sheer drive to know for the sake of knowing, which can be worthy in its own right and has also produced many technological wonders that I adore. But it still strikes me on the other hand as a strangely creepy drive if only for the potential regiments of control and exclusion that can take shape if and when we feel that only absolute and underlying Truths can be “found.”

November 21, 2002

Reason alone to stay in CA

Category: Uncategorized — Biella @ 6:26 pm

Many have heard about San Francisco rant, still yet to be written about the fact that SF is really a Disneyland for young hipsters (yipsters), especially in comparison to Chicago, a real city with lots of grit. BUT if CA really ever does put this train in effect, I am so here. I mean, why not make the whole state a Disneyland in which we can easily travel to play at the beach, the mountains, and the desert without the guilt of using a car? Can you imagine the bike possibilities?

November 16, 2002

A UNIX sort of day

Category: Research — Biella @ 3:56 pm

I finally got around to signing all the keys that I exchanged while I was in the Netherlands. Seth wrote a nifty script so that I was able to do the whole deal with one command, which was nice. One of these days I need to really write about my ethnographic experiences with key signing. If there is one purely non-technical event that makes a Unix geek full of glee and joy, it is the key signing event. If you ever encounter a sad Unix geek and want to immediately bring some cheer into their lives, just break the emergency glass and aks them: “want to exchange keys?” and it will produce an effect that no anti-depressent or recreation drug could ever produce.

Today Seth and I also recommenced our weekly “Unix” and networking lesson and I have to say that he is one fine, fine, fine, fine, I do mean, fine teacher. I learned, at least conceptually, about IP assignment, dhcp, static vs. dynamic and public vs. private IP addresses as well as some other things about netmask, routing, and routing table. He makes it seem like the whole world of networking is so, so, so straightforward. If only everything could be presented so clearly…

Speaking of Unix, I never told people about the funny Debian joke that I told at the 4S paper presentation last weekend in Milwaukee . So, the paper went well mostly because I am no longer really nervous at public speaking and in fact kinda enjoy it as it is a good venue for telling jokes. So, at the end of the talk, someone ask me whether Debian developers “really get” by participating in Debian as I sort of argued that part of the devotion can be explained by the fact that Debian developers receive and get all sorts of material and immaterial things through sustained participation. To answer, I could not help but blurt out: “wow, do they get?!!!? Well, we all get through Debian, we apt-get.” Of course I was like one of two people there who got the joke but I could not help laughing at my albeit very corny joke. But there is a real sort of crazy sensation of pleasure when I run apt-get install. It is a bit like magic and I can’t help but feel a burst of amazement and joy. Perhaps this is what folks feel during key signing?? :)

November 13, 2002

Chicago Pictures

Category: Personal — Biella @ 11:38 pm

Ok, so I did not take many, but I think the ones I did were of high photographic quality. It will give you Veal Satisfaction……

The “life of the mind,” uhhh, I mean THIGH

Category: Humor — Biella @ 3:52 pm

University of Chicago’s slogan is “Life of the Mind.” Though dramatic, this tends to be true being that there is not much one can do in the isolated neighborhood of Hyde Park. The university’s gothic architecture and Chicago’s gray skies reinforces that you are there, for one purpose, and one purpose alone, to cultivate that feeble mind of yours. It takes only one excursion to the athletic facilities to really know why the University of Chicago is a place that can only cultivate the mind. It is a dungeon of a place, with no windows, gray interiors to match the lovely weather. It exudes an oppressive and depressive atmosphere, and contains only a smattering of exercise machines for those students who feel that though indeed they have good hearty minds to cultivate, they have also come to the amazing intellectual conclusion, that they too have, bodies. And I am one of those students so when there, I grudgingly make my way to the gym. Yet, I find a means to still cultivate my mind by scheming imaginative stories about other students who dare to use the dungeon. My last two visits to the U of C have been marked by this indulgent fascination with this one particular undergraduate student who has this very, well, now I can say for certain, pathological relationship to the “Precor” elliptical trainer, a relationship borne of the desire to thin her thighs.

Every Time and there was no exception, I went to the gym, she was there, whisking her legs with unnatural, yet highly effective, elliptical movements, as fast as humanly possible (she would indeed win the “World Precor Championship”, if there were such a thing). With a sour expression gripping her face just as tightly as her hands on the sidebar, she could only be thinking one thought. Though a lovely young woman, with only a minimal layer of of horrendous blubber on her physique, I know she was thinking with every whisk of her legs:

“I HATE my thighs, MUST skinnify my thighs, I HATE, wait, no, I mean LOATHE my thighs, must, must thinnify my thighs” the noise of the swishing and swoshing of the machine the backdrop of her religious mantra.

My keen sociological and anthropological mind felt that there was no other explanation but thigh thinning for her crabbed expression and unmatched Precor intensity. So as I whisked away on my own Precor, probably not all that happy about my thighs, I created a whole fake persona around this young woman who did have nice thighs, though I have to admit, they did lack a certain tight definition. Along with creating fake childhood scenarios as to why she grew to hate her thighs (like her supermodel mother denying her Twinkes in the name of “The Thigh”), I found myself perplexed as to how she managed to stay on this ungodly machine for well over an hour when the rule in the dungeon is that you have 1/2 hr slots although there are small exploits enabling a 45 minute session. It was an exploit that allowed me to stay on the Precor the day that I finally clashed with this woman who was growing to inhabit a figment of my imagination. What I was to discover was that everything I concocted about “the World Champion of Precoring” was in fact, true.

I arrived at the gym at around 11:35 am, dutifully signed up for the 12:00 slot and after I changed, I hopped onto my machine 15 minutes early at 11:45 as the 11:30 person was a no-show (I know, a lame exploit, but still an exploit). 5 minutes later, “thunder thighs” arrives, and makes an immediate dash to the sign-up board, and is utterly dismayed that there was NO 12:00 slot for her, I mean for her thighs. It was as if God had told her: “Ms Precor, on average your thighs will grow 1.3 inches per year and the goddam Precor ain’t going to do anything about it.” She paced back and forth from the black board to machines, destabilized by this tragic turn of events. At the time, there were three unused machines (lots of 11:30 no-shows), so she hurriedly gets on one and 10 minutes later is promptly kicked off by the next user. She then decided to externalize her despair and anger towards, yes, me, the woman who obsesses over her obsession. My endless imaginative machinations of what caused her tragic compulsion with “thigh thinning” led to her attack of me, an attack based on that 1/2 hour rule. She trots over to me and asked why I have remained on the machine given the The Rule. I was… aghast. How did miss thunder thighs have the nerve to accuse another fellow Precorista of rule bending when she is the Queen of such exploits. But then using my rational mind that has been delicately cultivated by the University of Chicago, I concluded that those who obsessively want to thin thighs and, on the Precor, are not reasonable creatures, even those from the University of Chicago. So, I explained that like the lady next to me I got on my machine 15 minutes early as there was a no show. And then I reminded her that she too was privy to such “shady” practices. She humphed, snorted, and using her strong thighs to turn around in defeat, she then paced around for the next half hour in disgust of me and I am sure her thighs growing thighs.

What I could not understand for the life of me is why she would not get on one of the other many willing exercise machines: stairmasters, bikes, treadmill, rowers. It was as if she made a pact with satan himself (or the CEO of Precor) that she would not use any other machine if her thighs were kept, you know, “just right.”

At 12:30, she trots back to me and demands my immediate departure as my time is OVER. I was not in the mood to fight with her pathological obsessions so I did just that–dismounted.

I am back in San Francisco now where I don’t have to go to a dungeon to par take in my inner obsessions or see her outer obsession. But I am sure Thunder Thighs is relieved that I am, gone. You see, I am convinced that she lived up to the great Chicago tradition of cultivating her mind by scheming a usage and statistical model of the “best time” to use the Precor based on numbers of people attending at certain time segments. After carefully collecting data over months, and running them through some statistical software, she picked the time slot between 11:00-1:00. I being a mere visitor for the week, ruined her entire scheme. Although, being that she is a University of Chicago student, I am sure she is back at work, cultivating her mind by integrating “random visitor” variables into her statistical model so that she never has to face the prospect of a 1/2 hour off her beloved, her Precor Machine.

November 6, 2002

I MEAN Vegetarian

Category: Humor — Biella @ 8:05 pm


For Vegertarians

Category: Humor — Biella @ 7:57 pm

Big Bird’s For Dinner

November 5, 2002

Birthing papers

Category: Other — Biella @ 10:05 am

When I left for the ?field? to go to San Francisco, I never thought that life would feel that different for me there as it is here in Chicago. Now that I am back doing the student thing, I really see how being full-time in an academic environment is really its own unique social space. I am dumfounded by the fact that I can spend all day reading and writing and that everyone (Biella looks around the computer lab) is doing the same darn thing. Soon I will be back in SF shocked out of this idyllic state.

I have made attempts at going to Berkeley to use the facilities but I never feel like a student there. In part it is because I don?t really know many people there. But I think the timeless weather of the east bay, which is always nice, does not make it feel like school. Fall, which never hits the east bay, is here. The trees are brilliant. They are on the one had momentarily dying but at least they do so in style. The leaves are so very beautiful, with red, yellows, and oranges giving life to the gothic architecture of University of Chicago. I think I associate the change of seasons with the process of learning, as the change of seasons metaphorically is a good way to think about what us academics do. Basically, we take some stuff, raw material, and transform it into some different and finished process or thing that has a resemblance or relationship to that early stuff but in the end is different. The change of seasons really captures the beauty of transformation and how one can be in one place, yet be in an entirely distinct state over time. It reminds you that life moves along and in terms of doing academic work, that is a good thing : )

The fall represents the excitement of starting a new project, a new academic year. There is a vitality in the air that makes you want to go ahead and start something new but then winter comes along, and it can make for wonderful conditions for really focusing in on work as you don?t want to step outside in the cold freezing winds but it is also a good metaphor for the darker side of the creative process, where you feel completely stuck in some pit of despair where you question the very essence of what you are doing. Luckily or better said hopefully, you emerge out of this pit with a more clear sense of what you are doing, ready to deliver something final after months and months of hard work. Your birth comes just in time for the birth that is spring.

Funny thing about ?birth? is that yesterday I think I have come up with a gross but highly accurate (for me at least) metaphor for what it is like for me to write a paper. I have been working on a conference paper for the 4S Con (No h0mee, academic conferences are not CONS!!!) and it is the first academic paper that I have written in what feels like ages. It was a messy birth to say the least but you know, I think underneath all the blood and placenta lies an a-ok- baby? And yes, it is gross to think about writing papers in terms of giving birth but that is what the process usually feels like for me, not that I really know about the actual process of birth but I can project. Sometimes it is easy and the critter just pops out, while other times, it is a terribly messy birth but really the critter is fine. One just needs to clean up the gunk all of the paper. Then there are those disastrous births that require not just a C-Section to get the darn thing out (truly painful and requiting an excess of drugs like loads of caffeine) but perhaps also cosmetic surgery as there was some serious damage when you brought the critter into the world.

Speaking of blood and guts, I should go do some more placenta cleaning, opps, I mean editing.