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Tuesday, March 30

in which our hero righteously dispenses JUSTICE. Or something

A quick apology for not posting for a while: I've just been too damn busy. Not as stressed or down as at the last post, but I have as little free time, and it will probably stay that way for the next month or so.

Anyway, I spent most of Sunday grading. It took even longer than usual, for some reason, but I had at least planned this well enough that it didn't screw anything else up for me, or keep me up stupidly late into the night. In general this assignment has been the one that the students have done best on, with quite a few 100%s and almost no really serious problems or low grades. There was one exception though.

A student (I'll call him K because that's not his name and I would quite rightly get into a lot of trouble if I named him here) handed in flawless output, together with a suspiciously short program. Looking through the program, it was obvious that it didn't have all the parts it needed to produce this output. I won't go into the details, but perhaps the most obvious issue was the complete absence of any instructions that actually output data, so even if it was doing all the data processing it was supposed to (which it patently doesn't) it wouldn't generate that printout.

I handed the rest of the scripts back to the instructor yesterday, and as is our habit I singled out a few that I wasn't sure how to grade for discussion. The others were simple enough—just people who had made unforeseen mistakes, so I needed guidance about how much to mark them down—but for K the prof suggested that I should contact him and discuss his work. So I emailed him yesterday afternoon, and we arranged to meet in my lab this afternoon. I was already certain that he had just used someone else's output, having got very close to the deadline without finishing the program, but it was only fair to give him a chance to explain himself. Wrongly punishing someone for cheating would be such an awful thing to do that it's worth taking a lot of care to avoid that situation.

He showed up a couple of minutes late, and obviously quite nervous. I sat him down, and played ignorant, just suggesting that I couldn't see how his program worked. I partly wanted to give him a chance to come out with some great explanation in case he had one that I hadn't thought of, and partly to dig himself in deeper if he was going to try and brazen it out. He did neither, just admitting straight out that the output wasn't from this incomplete program, but claiming that he had hand-generated it. It's an unlikely claim, but absolutely impossible to prove wrong, so we'll have to give him the benefit of the doubt there.

I had intended to give him a short lecture about cheating, how unfair it is to his classmates, and how it would be better to hand in rubbish or nothing at all than get caught cheating. In the end I just didn't have the heart, because he was shaking visibly (at school I was in his shoes often enough. Never as a cheat, but as someone who got called into teachers' offices to be given a talking to. I had always wondered how obvious it was that I was shaking, and now I know) and obviously did now regret what he had done, and having had my own grumbles lately about how much time coursework takes and how hard it is to keep up I can't help but sympathise. I did tell him that this amounted to cheating, and he sort of argued, because clearly in his eyes only plagiarism was cheating.

In the end I felt like being softer on him than would be fair—for all that I sympathise with him I do owe it to the many hard-working students on the course not to let him profit from cheating—but my junior standing gives me a convenient get-out in such situations. Rather than letting him off the hook, I just deferred to the professor, who wasn't around. So tomorrow K and his instructor will have to meet, and the instructor will decide what to actually do about this. Unfortunately I know the instructor has a strong tendency to be lenient, but it struck me yesterday that he was taking this one more seriously than previous things I had brought to his attention, so hopefully he won't be excessively lax.

All in all I'm moderately pleased with myself. I've been hankering for a while for more contact with students and greater responsibility, and being asked to meet K myself was a first little step on that path. I have come to realise that I won't be able to do a decent job of real teaching (meeting students as opposed to just grading) until I am doing fewer courses myself, which won't be in the coming academic year, but I still want to get into that eventually. I'm not sure I'm quite ready yet anyway—I need to develop my spine a little before I find myself without the easy get-out of someone senior to defer judgement to—but today's performance was pretty good for a first time.

posted @ 8:08 PM -

Thursday, March 18

The demotivating effect of not being trusted

For a while I've been meaning to write about the difference in style between American and British Universities, or at least my limited sampling of the two groups. One of the various reasons I came out here was to see how a different system works, and it has been an interesting experience so far.

At Sussex, even as an undergrad, and more so as a Masters' student, I was mostly left to manage my own education. Each course would have a limited number of assessments, so it was possible to go through a term without doing very much work, provided I was learning the material and would be ready for the project and/or exam that was waiting for me at the end. In practice this meant that I did a lot of work, but much of it was self-directed; reading papers, trying technical things out, and so on. There is a danger to this system, which is that some people will just drift until the assessments come along, and then find they can't cope, but I think that's fair enough, seeing as we were supposed to be adults by the time we got there, and I don't believe in protecting adults from their own stupidity. It also suited me well, because it meant that if I ended up writing off any particular week (and let's face it, I do have weeks when my productivity is so low I may as well have stayed in bed for days) I could always make up for it afterwards, and overall I had plenty of freedom to explore the threads that interested me in depth, and skip over things I was less enthused about.

I knew it wouldn't be quite like this in America. One of things that appealed to me about the system here (and which I still like) is that it doesn't allow a student to narrow down too much until quite a late stage in their programme. I knew that coming here I would be forced to pick up a load of computer science and pure maths work that I had avoided until now, and I knew it would be hard work, and I was prepared for that. What I was not prepared for was the micromanaged format of education here.

There are so many exams (9 last term, 5 this term) and short-deadline (as short as 1 week at times) pieces of coursework that I am spending almost all of my time jumping through assessment hoops. To make things worse, I have to get at least a B on every course, and the assessment here is seriously hard, so I can't afford to let anything slip at all. This has a few very undesirable consequences. The first thing is that I am permanently busy and overworked; it only took me 3 days to go from nice and relaxed after Spring Break to highly stressed, exhausted to the point of having difficulty staying awake and feeling swamped with work. Then there's the fear, knowing that I may well actually fail some of my courses, which is not a concern I'm used to having. But the worst thing of all is that I actually don't have time for learning. I'm having to focus so much on grubbing for marks and getting petty things in on time that I can't stop and think.

I used to read a lot, and I used to think a lot about how the different things I was looking at linked together. So far since arriving at Case I have hardly even set foot in the library, I haven't even read everything submitted for publication by my own lab, and I am in serious danger of losing the big picture of what I'm supposed to be doing here. Meanwhile I'm not even learning as much as I might from the assessments themselves, because each and every one ends up being done under such intense time pressure that I just have to throw things together and hope they stick, rather than working anything out systematically. Then I get to class and have difficulty concentrating, not through lack of interest, but because I was up so late the night before getting some stupid bloody homework done.

My academic self-confidence is at an all-time low, because having somehow talked my way in here I'm finding that I just can't cope, never mind that I know I'm painfully out of date with the literature in my field. I feel like at the end of this I won't really have the solid grounding in computer science I was hoping for, because the format of the assessment is driving me to extremely shallow, superficial coverage of everything.

Then there's the consistently demoralising effect of not being trusted by the university to manage my own education. This manifests itself in all sorts of ways, from the excess of short-term assessed coursework, to the fact that for the first time as an adult I have compulsory sessions I have to sign in to. They never did that to me at Sussex; we were simply assumed to be interested enough that we would go to such things. Having stupid requirements to meet makes me inclined to play the system and only just meet them, rather than simply going because these things are interesting and useful.

And you know what the worst thing is? I'm in this for the long haul. I'm assuming that when I finish with the taught course requirement and get to actually concentrate on my own research I'll start enjoying this again, and I'll be able to catch up with fundamental things like reading and intellectual curiosity. But I have an asbolute minimum of 2 more semesters like this to get through first, and that's assuming I don't have to re-take anything.
posted @ 9:40 AM -

Wednesday, March 17

schadenfreude

I'm in a pretty bad mood right now, for no apparent reason. Therefore it comes as great comfort to me to be able to watch one of my least favourite people squirm. Thanks Scott for the link.

posted @ 7:17 PM -

new toy

I have a PowerBook. It's very pretty. So far I like it, but I am still getting confused by things not being where I'm used to looking for them. It's looking like a fairly painless switch from Windows though.
posted @ 8:22 AM -

Finally

Today is a momentous day. For the first time this year, the University don't owe me any money, and they have managed to issue me a bill only charging for the relatively small amount I owe them. And when the cheque I'll pay in today (from one part of the university) clears in, I'll be able to pay my bill (to another part of the university. Hooray for efficiency!), so by the end of this week my accounts with Case should be all square. I suppose they're probably quite pleased with themselves, because it's only 60% of the way through the semester, for crying out gently (as a certain charmingly insane teacher used to say).
posted @ 8:19 AM -

Monday, March 15

Back to reality

A quick post because I came back to a pile of work.

Saturday morning we got a couple of hours' skiing in before having to set off, and it was the best I've ever had. The snow was beautiful, the sun was out, and everything was just right. Since then, it's been a long journey home, but it turned out that quite a few people I had met in the week were staying in Calgary for Saturday night, so we had dinner and a few drinks together, which made the whole thing more pleasant.

I'm home now, and have grading to do. Meanwhile, I've added quite a lot to the photo album, but there will be plenty more through this week. I'm less than half way through at the moment, though I think in the pictures I haven't edited yet there's a lot of duplication and rubbish.

posted @ 10:42 AM -

Friday, March 12

last day

Snow started falling late last night, which gave us a fantastic last day. Limited visibility restricted where we could go to, but even repeating the same runs didn't matter because enough fresh snow was falling to keep everything good. Probably the best skiing I've ever done, both in terms of conditions and my own confidence; I used to get really nervous skiing among trees, but today I was pushing myself through tighter and tighter gaps, occasionally forgetting that though my skis are short (15cm below my head, for people to whom that means anything) there were still some inches of plank sticking out behind my feet.

Unfortunately we had to stop an hour or two early because of ice forming on the chopper, but if my only complaint is that the day was too short it's hardly a real problem.

Now I have an absurd return journey, because when I booked flights there only seemed to be one vaguely sensible route back to Cleveland, at an inconvenient time, so I had a choice between wasting a lot of time in Calgary or missing the last chance to do some skiing here. Naturally I took the former option, so tomorrow morning I should get out for about 3 runs, before the chopper will take us to the road, where my dad and I meet a taxi. That will rush us back to Calgary so that he can catch his flight to London, and then I'll have to wait about 20 hours there for my flight on Sunday afternoon. Then it's back via Minneapolis, and all told I'll get back to Cleveland much later than he'll reach London.

posted @ 7:59 PM -

Thursday, March 11

possibly the finest restaurant in the world

Another full day, so I'm pretty tired. The morning's skiing wasn't up to much; to be honest the pleasure came far more from the surroundings than the activity. In the afternoon we found better snow, but it was still a matter of good patches with shit in between. Even in the worst conditions that are still skiable it's a pleasure to be out there though, and I leave you with a small illustration of why. This is where the three groups met for lunch:

lunch on a mountainside with a helicopter and a deep blue sky


posted @ 8:12 PM -

Wednesday, March 10

first full day

The weather did improve today, and there were patches of good snow, but it was a very mixed bag. We'd do a few turns in nice conditions, then suddenly the surface would change into something really horrible, and then it would change back again, unpredictably. It was still great to spend the whole day out skiing, and still a better experience than we could ever have had at a resort, so I'm not really complaining.

Our group is really nice, which helps. Two people have to carry packs and stay at the back, so that the guide (who of course goes first) can always communicate with the back of the group (the packs contain radios and rescue equipment), and so that it's always clear who is bringing up the rear, to make it easy to work out if anyone goes missing. Everyone should take turns carrying the pack, but often it's clear that people don't really want the pack, and only take it grudgingly. In this group, everyone volunteers willingly.

There's also a guy in the group with a helmet-mounted camera; must try and get a copy of his footage. He was awarded his million vertical feet commemorative ski suit today (depending on how you look at this it's either a freebie or the most expensive piece of skiwear on the planet), and the ceremony was, shall we say, entertaining.
posted @ 8:40 PM -

Tuesday, March 9

no truth up in the mountains

The rain came back but eventually did clear up, and half of the afternoon was gloriously sunny. I tried to go for a walk, but with the depth of damp snow it was simply impossible; I was sinking into it even where there were tracks to follow.

Eventually the guides decided that there was some good skiing, so they took a group up in the chopper, but some of the other problems of the day had not gone away, so with high and inconstant winds it just wasn't safe to land up there. We had a grand tour of what I recognise from school geography as a glacial hanging valley, and then had to fly back to base.

To make the best of a bad lot, some of us went cross-country skiing. If you want a laugh, take a few people who are reasonably good and very confident downhill skiers, and stick us on cross-country skis. Our habits are completely wrong, I have no idea how I managed not to fall on my face repeatedly, and none of us seemed to know how to stop. At least it got us out onto the mountain though. That beats sitting in the lodge any day.

Things look like they might be improving for tomorrow. The freezing level has been coming down the mountain through the course of the day, and importantly fresh snow has been falling above it, which might just be enough to salvage what was rained on. This picture, taken today from the cross-country trail, shows what's been happening nicely:

mountains with an unusually visible fresh-snow-line


The dark trees are trees that no longer have snow on them, which did have snow on them yesterday morning. It's a combination of melting and rain that has washed them clean, and at lunchtime all the trees we could see were dark. Meanwhile, the grey trees towards the top of the slope are those that have had significant amounts of fresh snow since then. At the moment I took the picture, this was an unusually clear visualisation of where the freezing contour had been when that slope was last covered in clouds. Since then, the temperature has dropped somewhat, and there's even been a small snowfall at lodge height. If the flying conditions improve tomorrow, we should be able to get out again.

Meanwhile, my dad was talking to Pierre the helicopter pilot at dinner, and it turns out that he's written a book about flying choppers in this environment. He was talking about the perceptual illusions that can make landing on snow very dangerous in certain conditions, and how understanding these things lets them arrange the markers around each landing site in a way that minimises the risk of crashing, and it struck me that this is very closely related with the research I did as a psychology undergrad. It's always cool making those sorts of connections, and now he's given me a copy of his book to read.

If things do work out tomorrow I won't be writing as much, because I'll have something better to do.
posted @ 9:38 PM -

time at the bar

This must be one of the few places in the world where the words the bar is now open are greeted with general disappointment. A combination of sensible safety concerns and over-the-top litigation fear (Canada only lags slightly behind the USA in that respect) mean that any consumption of alcohol at all is banned before going skiing, so on a normal day the bar doesn't open until late afternoon, when people start to come back tired. On a down day, they won't open the bar if there's a chance that we'll get to ski later on, so when the bar opened before lunch today we knew that that was it.

On a brighter note, the rain has eased off considerably in the past half hour or so, so we might at least get to do some cross country skiing or something after lunch, and there is some optimism about snow for the next few days.
posted @ 10:58 AM -

waiting for the sun

Pah. It's raining. Heavily.

This is just about the worst weather we could have, because not only does it completely spoil the snow for downhill skiing purposes, but it also makes going outside for the alternative activities (snowshoeing or cross-country skiing, which are at least other ways to get out on the mountain) rather unappealing. It's still good to be here, but I'm really hoping the conditions improve. If not, this week will have turned into a research retreat, which is hardly the end of the world, but not what I came here for.

Meanwhile, here are some more photos from the last couple of days. Usual Ofoto conditions apply: I like it if you log in so I know who's looking, but if you don't want to be tracked or can't be bothered to open an account, you have the option of not doing so. I'm also likely to add to this album over the next few days; I'll mention it here when I do.

posted @ 8:28 AM -

Monday, March 8

you win some, you lose some

The weather is not as much on our side as I had been hoping. Today has been far too warm, which makes the snow heavy and difficult to ski in, creates an injury risk because it's easy for skis to get stuck in this stuff, and creates an avalanche risk as the deep snow begins to melt. It might have been alright if we could have gone to the highest slopes, but there's still enough wind up high that flying there is a problem.

We went out in the morning, and got a few reasonable runs in, but by lunchtime we had to shut down for the day because there was nowhere left that was both in good shape and safely accessible. Obviously it's a shame, and the worst thing is that the only way the lower slopes will become good again is if first the temperature drops and then we get at least 10cm of fresh snow. If it just freezes, we'll have a hard crust, which is not fun to ski on at all. If we're lucky, the flying weather will improve and we'll be able to go further afield and higher up and find places that didn't start to melt or get rained on today, but there's a good chance that today's weather has screwed up our skiing for the next few days.

It's also a shame for me, because having missed the 2002/03 winter entirely, and only skied a couple of hours in a small local resort so far this year, I was just starting to loosen up. If we do get more good conditions, I'll be able to enjoy them much more from now on than in my first few runs of the week, because it always takes me a while to get into it, until which point I ski badly enough to actually diminish the pleasure of it (and make it much more tiring—though I am definitely in quite poor shape today's skiing wasn't nearly as hard work as yesterday's, and I think that's because I was so stiff yesterday).

It's not the end of the world though. I have plenty of pleasant work (by which I mean mostly my own work, and the one homework I've brought with me is for the course I'm finding most interesting so far) with me, and I get to do it with no time pressure because this is all unexpected extra work time, sitting on the terrace (there is that one advantage to the weather being too warm for good snow) in a wonderful place. Even if we are lodge-bound for the rest of the week this will beat spending Spring Break in Cleveland hands down. In case my point needed proving, here is the view from my window when I woke up this morning:

dawn in the mountains


I have taken a lot of pictures, especially today because another advantage of the warm weather is that I don't have to worry about condensation forming ice crystals and breaking my camera, as happened on my first heli-skiing strip, but Ofoto is the latest part of the computer world to decide not to like me, so I won't be able to publish them until it starts to co-operate, and I'm on holiday, so I'm not going to put much energy into working out what's going wrong with it.

[written at 10pm]
posted @ 9:42 PM -

Sunday, March 7

day's end

We only got one more run in, because the wind picked up and landing became a problem. It's a shame, but at least being the first day we have time to benefit from all the snow that this storm is bringing.

Being the first day, and especially because I'm not in very good shape (if only I had the time to go to kung fu remotely regularly...), I'm still a bit tired even from such a short day's skiing. The lodge is nicely set up for relaxing after a hard day though. Once it was clear that we weren't going to get any more skiing done today, I got a beer (Kokanee; a nice light local brew) and went to the hot tub. The great thing about this hot tub is that it's outside, so you get to sit in a warm tub with snow around, and on a clearer day a spectacular view of the mountains.

Then after dinner I have a massage booked. It's not exactly necessary after such a short day, but the masseurs here are properly trained sports massage people, so after a really hard day there is nothing better.

This is the life, no question about it.

posted @ 4:03 PM -

precipitation stops play

When I was little my dad used to joke that rain stops play was the most common scoreline in English cricket; a peculiarly British joke from someone who had only been in the country for a decade at the time. Anyway, the trouble with skiing is that we are at the mercy of the elements, and heli-skiing more so than standard resort skiing. There are large amounts of snow out there, and it looks like when things clear up we'll have some pretty spectacular skiing, but the snow is still coming down and it's keeping us grounded for the moment. This was the view from the lodge this morning:

the second chopper with a lot of snow falling around


We had two runs this morning, but even then the conditions precluded going far from base, so we couldn't get to the best stuff. There were patches of beautiful snow, but also patches of harder going, and then we had to shut down because ice was forming on the chopper blades. It does look like when we can get out freely we'll get some great skiing, but it also looks like that might not be for a few days, between the limited visibility, high winds at altitude, and not being quite cold enough at lodge height, which is what causes the icing problem.

Of all the things that might stop us from skiing, snow falling on day 1 has to be the best though. At least it holds promise for the rest of the week.

[written at 12:50. Timestamps will be meaningless while I'm here, because I'm leaving things in my outbox to send whenever my dad happens to go online]

posted @ 2:32 PM -

Saturday, March 6

O Canada!

I'm in Canada. In the middle of nowhere. Previous times I've been here, contact with the outside world has consisted of a single telephone shared between 30-40 guests, so for me it amounted solely to phoning my mum a couple of times over the course of a week. Now we have internet access in the lodge, and I'm in two minds about whether this is a good thing. Obviously if I strongly disapproved I'd just not use it myself, but if I explain a little more about where I am my ambivalence might make a bit more sense.

I'm heli-skiing, or at least I will be from tomorrow morning. Lest people wrongly get the impression that I'm some sort of hardcore extreme skier, I ought to point out that this is not an activity that involves jumping out of choppers. I'm too much of a wuss and not nearly a good enough skier for that. What it does involved is staying in a lodge with a total (guests and staff) of about 50 people, and not seeing anyone else for the whole week. It's just us, two helicopters and the biggest mountains I've ever seen. The choppers replace ski-lifts, so we get to ski a large enough area that [weather permitting] it's not necessary to even see our own tracks, and we don't have to spoil the beauty of where we are with lift cables and so on.

I'm in one of the less remote lodges that this company runs, but even so it took me close to 24 hours to get here. First I had to fly to Calgary via Minneapolis, with a total door-to-door travel time not far short of my dad's trip from London. Then we spend the night in Calgary, and leave early to head west by bus. At this point my understanding of exactly where we are gets rather vague. The bus heads west for about 4 hours, and then stops at a yard, where the chopper picks us up. It's about half an hour's flight from there to the lodge, and I'm pretty sure that is the nearest road.

Obviously the biggest attraction of all this is that it's the best skiing someone of my ability can dream of. One day, if I ever really get myself fit, I'd like to do a proper ski tour, climbing under my own steam and camping out in the snow, but this is a much more realistic thing for a dilettante like me to do. I've also heard wonderful things about heli-skiing in the Himalayas, but it's apparently far more strenuous, if only due to the altitude, and skiing here stretches me, so I don't think I'm ready for that either.

Anyway, that isn't all that I like about being here. It's also staggeringly beautiful. After the West Coast of New Zealand, I'd have to say the British Columbian Rockies are the most beautiful environment I've had the privilege to see. Having an internet connection won't change that, and if anything it might allow me to post photos while I'm here. If I can get some good images I'll be eager to do that so other people can envy me more.

But the issue is that one of the things I've really enjoyed about this experience in the past has been that by being so shut off from the world, all the guests are very friendly and sociable, and people who live very pressured lives are forced to switch off for a while. I am being grossly hypocritical right now, because I'm sitting in my room typing, and I've spent a while on the computer today due to technical difficulties (I'll spare you the details, but let's just say that my computer hates me, I'm having to use my dad's as a bridge between mine and the internet, and I'm very glad I'll have a new machine shortly after I get back to Cleveland and won't have to rely on this creaking pile of shit any more). From tomorrow I'll ration my computer use. No more than one hour of work (whether it's on the computer or reading) per day, and no more than one hour of writing, between blogging and emailing. But I'm not worried about the amount of time I'll be spending on the computer, because none of this will be generating stress for me. The work I've brought is something I'm looking forward to getting stuck into, and which has little enough time pressure that not finishing it this week won't matter, and email isn't really a way for work to intrude on my life, because no-one depends on me in the way that people do depend on a CEO. My worry is that excessive ease of contact with the outside world (and getting my dad's computer online was really straightforward; I only had problems because my computer is cranky) will make it harder for others to switch off, and dilute that blissful feeling of being in a bubble untouchable by the outside world.

Apart from the one change of having internet access, which really is a sign of the times, everything else here is exactly like it was two years ago. So much so that it feels like more of a constant than Cleveland does; everything from landing at Calgary to the drive into the Rockies to the arrival at the lodge itself felt like a sort of homecoming. I guess this is partly a side-effect of having moved around so much in the past few years—there have been so few constants in my life that going somewhere I last visited shortly before going into my wandering phase feels like a return to a fixed point.

posted @ 8:54 PM -

Friday, March 5

oh no, not another ****ing virus warning

I've had feedback from a couple of friends suggesting that I should write about computers less, and I take that on board, but this is important. I received it from my ISP on Wednesday, and two things strike me as making this one stand out: it's more devious than most, and might have fooled me had I not been warned, and I've had a couple of copies arrive this morning, so it's definitely doing the rounds.

-----Original Message-----
From: Verve Hosting
Subject: Verve Hosting Virus Warning

On March 3rd, a new virus/worm was discovered. The worm is known as W32.Beagle.K. This worm opens a backdoor on port 2745 in the infected computer and uses its own SMTP (email engine) to spread through email.

The worm has the capacity to spoof the from field of an email message to appear as though it is coming from one of the following addresses at your domain:

# management
# administration
# staff
# noreply
# support

The message may also include a randomly named .zip file that is password-protected. The subject usually varies, but may contain one of the following lines:

# E-mail account disabling warning.
# E-mail account security warning.
# Email account utilization warning.
# Important notify about your e-mail account.
# Notify about using the e-mail account.
# Notify about your e-mail account utilization.
# Warning about your e-mail account.

IMPORTANT: This virus is very deceiving. It may mislead you to believe that the message has been sent by your Internet Service Provider. Please note that Verve Hosting would never send any kind of attachment via email to our customers. If you receive an email message with the characteristics described above, please delete it immediately.

If you would like to learn more about this new virus, please visit the Symantec Security Response report for the W32.Beagle.K at the following URL: Beagle worm information from Symantec

posted @ 10:39 AM -

time zones

Why do time differences still confuse me so much? I've travelled enough, and I've had a constant time difference between where I am and where my family are for long enough now, that you'd think I'd be able to figure out what time here corresponds to a reasonable time to phone my mum without thinking about it. Yet I still have to add numbers and work things out as if I've never done this before.
posted @ 10:12 AM -

Thursday, March 4

a deep breath

I'm finished with this half of the term. I will have to take work with me over Spring Break, but I'm thinking an hour a day will be enough to not have a stressful pile of things waiting when I get back, and then I have about half a day to kill in Calgary, which seeing as it's not the most exciting city in the world I'll probably just spend in a cafe or hotel room working.

I have my results from Tuesday. The homework that I thought had kicked my arse turned out better than I had feared—a B on the one course I was hoping to never drop below A grades on, but that's hardly a serious setback—but I only just scored above average on the exam, which is a bit disappointing (though again not a major problem). This morning's exam was hard, but I was expecting it to be, and I don't think I screwed it up.

Now I just have to order a PowerBook (at last!) so it will be ready for me when I get back, and I can go home, pack and clean my apartment. Oh, and do a long list of little administrative tasks that I've been putting off, but really should get done before I head out of town. And then there will be Canada, and big mountains, and clean air, and everything will be cool.

posted @ 3:43 PM -

Wednesday, March 3

I know I'm a little behind with this, but it still seems worth a mention: Mars had water once.

That will probably be all from me for a day or two, because I had a midterm yesterday (the exam was OK, but I also had homework to finish, so overall it was a horrible day), and another tomorrow (which I'm expecting to be much harder than yesterday's).
posted @ 2:04 PM -

Monday, March 1

FactCheck.org

Vinay has emailed me various things in the past couple of weeks from FactCheck.org, and because I'm very impressed I thought I ought to plug the site. It's a nonpartisan service that questions claims made by anybody involved in US politics, and publishes rebuttals if they turn out to be unjustified. I trust their impartiality, not least because looking at the front page right now it debunks about the same number of claims made by the Democratic and Republican camps. Given that I trust both equally little, this feels even-handed to me.

Obviously such a site has a lot more to do in election year than usual, but I think it's always important for politicians to be subjected to this kind of scrutiny, and they just do the sort of research I would if I didn't have more pressing things to do with my time.
posted @ 11:02 AM -
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