31 Aug 2012
Journal for the 18th of August
A longwinded journal entry finished on August 18th. Never got Toto to work, but upcoming updates to Scriptogram are just what I was hoping for.
At the time of writing this post has no home (I’m having trouble installing my preferred blogging software, Toto, despite having Dmitry Fadeyev’s great guide in front of me, as I’m having problems with Git), but I will write it anyway to establish the habit of a weekly journal post.
I consider Sunday the start of the week, and so that’s where I’ll begin. My cousin Iris graduated earlier this summer (as did my sister Beth) but she decided to forgo a graduation party until later in the summer. So we headed to Albany and hung out by the pool for the day. We arrived home to the traffic that always accompanies the Delaware County Fair, one of the best country fairs in all of New York. At least that’s what most anyone who has ever been to it says, though I’m not so fond of it. Not because it isn’t nice, but because it’s practically in my back yard, which makes getting anywhere by automobile any time in the afternoon/evening nearly impossible. There’s also the noise, the people parking on our yard without permission, and family and friends (and those who consider themselves friends even if we might not) stopping in all day long. And while it’s nice otherwise, nearly two decades of frequent exposure have dulled my desire to experience the delights.
I successfully avoided it Monday, and instead finished Craig Thompson’s Habibi. It’s one of the few graphic novels I’ve read, but the description on the cover slip and the beautiful cover lead me to splurge (the list price is 35 dollars). Unfortunately, I can’t quite see how the novel “gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling”. Habibi tells the tale of a girl, Dodola, who is sold as a young girl to be the wife of a much older man. Later she goes to live in the desert (I think after her husband is murdered), where she prostitutes herself to provide for food and water for a boy even younger than herself whom she has adopted. This boy, Zam, witnesses her being raped on one of her expeditions for sustenance and determines that he must provide nourishment for them himself to prevent further harm to Dodola. When he ventures out though, he returns to find Dodola vanished (she has been taken to the Sultan’s harem). In his grief, he joins a group of eunuchs and is himself castrated. Eventually he and Dodola are reunited, and Dodola realizes she now loves Zam as a man, rather than as her son. Zam cannot fulfill her need for a husband, and contemplates suicide. The story concludes with him returning to Dodola from the dam he had planned to throw himself from, and they make plans to follow the river north. As they conclude negotiating for a watercraft, Dodola finds a replacement for the daughter she can’t have herself with Zam, a young girl being sold just as she was herself at the beginning of the story.
Plenty of spoilers there, but I wasn’t trying to convince you to read it. The story is very sad, and troublesome, but otherwise not very meaningful. If this was on your must read list, perhaps you’ll thank me for saving you some time (and if that’s not your inclination, I ask for your forgiveness).
Tuesday I did get drawn down to the fair, where I ran into one friend (it used to be that I’d run into everyone there, but now many of my former classmates are working or already at college). I got back the copy of The Name of the Wind (a great fantasy novel, and perhaps my favorite book) that I had loaned him a few weeks ago.
I also discovered Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by Less Wrong‘s Eliezer Yudkowsky. It’s a hilarious retelling of the Harry Potter story. While not yet completed, it is already at chapter 85. I’m getting through it quickly and think I will reach that point before I go back to school (on the 26th, classes start the next day). I keep sending friends snippets of the chapters, because it’s too good not to share.
I’ve also been spending time on Algorithms, Part I, from Princeton on Coursera. I’m hoping it might help a bit when I take my algorithms course at Stony Brook this fall (though the Coursera course is focused more on implementation than analysis). The learning platform is fairly polished, and I like that many of the exercises are procedurally generated which allows multiple attempts at problem sets. Grades are instant, though I have up to 10 chances to improve my score. Not only that, but correct answers and some steps are shown for all attempts. By working through these failures, I can see what I’ve done wrong and how to improve on my previous attempt.
And then it’s Saturday, and I’ve finished another book, issue three of The Manual. I highly recommend a subscription if you’re at all interested in the whys of design.
And at long last, the county fair is winding down. Well, not quite yet. In fact, it’s as crowded as it’s ever been, and will remain so until the Thompson Square concert (unfortunately it’s country music, year after year) concludes. But relief from the noise and the crowds is just around the corner.