Old Daily Shows--February 2003

Find the archive of past entries at archive.htm. Today's entry is at daily.htm.

Saturday February 1, 2003 Goodbye

With luck, I'll write sometime about the flute workshop I had today with Chris Layer, the nifty rugs I got at IKEA for my room, the wonderful latkes Elizabeth and I made, or the fun I've had reclaiming my own space.

I might even wax poetic about how good my flute felt today, how responsive the instrument was in my hands.

Right now, though, I'm thinking of seven people who aren't home with their families tonight. Lots of other people died today, and their deaths are just as sad, but I didn't hear about them. The shuttle... that's something that makes news.

I felt this strange numerological connection today. The shuttle Columbia was commissioned in 1981, the year of my birth. This was its 28th mission; that's the day of my birth. In 1986, the Challenger exploded on my birthday.

And that doesn't really get across the main point, which is that this shouldn't have happened, and I wish there had been some way to make it so the lovers and children and friends of those seven people didn't have to make the evening news tonight. I wish they could have just had normal days, gone to pick up their astronauts, and gone home.

I hope they're all getting as many hugs as it's possible to receive.

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Sunday February 23, 2003 Life in many flavors

As you can see, it's been a good long while since I've written anything here. Somewhat unexpectedly, I've found myself in the middle of a semester with a rather huge workload, despite taking only "three" classes. I was shocked to find today that we're entering our sixth week of class. I remain mostly on top of things, a commitment I made to myself. This semester, at least, I'm trying to keep religiously current with my work, and actually get some sleep.

I'm up too late for that last to be truly possible, but I'm getting six hours of sleep a night fairly reliably, and finding that I need it. Gone are the days of my freshman and sophomore years when I could get two or three hours of sleep each night, a bit more on weekends, and still be up and kicking in the morning. Maybe I wasn't really up and kicking.

I am perhaps unduly proud of the fact that I've made time for life amid all this work I'm doing. Death and computers are really the topics of my work this semester: Natural Language Processing and Developmental Robotics fill in the second category, and the first is filled by my New Testament class (yay Jesus) and Gabriel Fauré's Requiem, which I'm analyzing for my senior comprehensive exams in music. Life, though, fills the rest of my time. A basil plant sits in my window, and though it's clinging tenuously to life, it hasn't died yet. We've had long talks, my basil and I, and I think I may have convinced it that I value its presence far too much for it to die.

And then there's the sourdough. It seems that I make a culinary discovery each semester. Last semester was homemade pasta; the one before that was latkes and other things one does with potatoes; before that came soups and rice. This semester is sourdough bread.

I made it for the first time, you see. There's something appealing to my unnecessarily frugal ingredient budget about bread for which I never have to buy yeast. So I made some honey starter, let it ferment in my room for a week, and have made bread at least once or twice a week since getting here. It was especially strange at first--I'd never made sourdough starter before, and I didn't realize that it becomes quite alcoholic. I arrived back at the dorm one night, and smelled something, and thought that some hallmate of mine was getting really intoxicated. Imagine my surprise when I opened my door and found that I was the source!

Starter is finicky and picky about things, and it doesn't tolerate distress too well. It's definitely the diva of the kitchen. Gotta keep it warm and well fed, rather like the cat I've been missing. Lately I've been using my microwaveable hot pack to keep the starter warm in its jar while it has a tasty homemade meal of flour and water.

I never used to like sourdough bread--it was always too tangy, too strong, too... something. I never realized that what I was calling sourdough bread was the kind that comes in a plastic bag, that has lots of additives to make it mouth-puckeringly sour, that has no crust to speak of and a crumb that would make you cry.... I hadn't had the real thing. Real sourdough isn't necessarily a terribly sour concoction, though it has a characteristic tang that's quite nice and refreshing.

Sourdough is maddening at times. It will not rise on schedule, nor will it play according to the rules you think it should follow. The analogy with the cat feels especially apt, somehow. Like the cat, the results are never quite what you expect them to be, and are worth it. Sourdough cannot be compelled, though warmth speaks strongly in your favor.

And so today, I kneaded bread on the countertop downstairs (it's just the right height for me!) and communed with it. I reworked my kneading technique a while ago, and it works much better now. The bread and I played together for a time, and then it was back into the bowl for another rise....

And the work and the stress and the backache seemed rather less important in the face of it. I'll find out about the Watson Fellowship in less than a month; research papers are due the same day; the Magic Flute will follow, three days later; and a concert of Scottish music isn't far down the line from there. I think, however, that I'll still be making bread. It does the spirit good. Never underestimate the positive effects of living things on one's outlook.

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Wednesday February 26, 2003 Sleep?

I shouldn't have said those things about the sleep that I had been getting. The universe has read my webjournal and conspired to take away from me that sleep which I had so badly needed. Unsupervised learning of the morphology of a Natural Language? Bring it on. Whee... 271 pages of mathy NLP papers in five weeks of semester that we've read and analyzed so far.

And now I'm going to bed. Hugs to those who especially need them.

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Thursday February 27, 2003 Fairy tales

On the way back to my room after a day on campus, I noticed a smallish Brach's caramel lying on the sidewalk in front of me. I eyed it carefully, wondering what it was about. Earlier this morning, I saw a wrapped Three Musketeers bar just beside the path, all shiny and new in its silvery wrapper.

I saw two or three more abandoned candies in the sidewalk before I got back to my room, and I wondered if I was to be Hansel, and if there were some dark creature hulking inside my room, waiting to toss me into an oven. When I turned on the light, though, all that greeted me was a sheaf of articles to be read, Fauré to be analyzed, and books to be skimmed.

I think the candy might have been a pleasanter end, but I left it for others to enjoy. Now a light dusting of snow covers it all, but it will turn up again.

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