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Monday, January 31

something happy

I think one of the reasons why I haven't completely lost my rag over the past few days is that I do have plenty of nice things to think about. Foremost among those is the wedding that's going to happen... probably next year... probably wherever it is we end up living. Anyway, because it would get rather unwieldy if everything about wedding plans and so on were to be posted twice, we've started up a joint blog about it. There's nothing new there yet, but it's where we'll write about anything else wedding related in future.
posted @ 6:38 PM -

One fucking thing after another

Today, most grad students who received stipends received only a small proportion of what they should have had, because of an error calculating the amount of tax to withhold. I received nothing at all. The amount of my money to which I do not have access thanks to Case's incompetence is approaching $4,000. I am very proud of myself for resisiting the temptation to wander around punching walls and/or shouting at people, and instead I went knocking on doors trying to resolve things. I didn't get very far, so then I went and wrote a long email to someone relatively high up in the university's management, chronicling all of the problems I've had here since before arrival (yup, it starts before I even arrived), and quite how absurd the situation is right now, and somewhat melodramatically pleading for his assistance.

If you really want to read the letter, it's here, but if you've been following this blog for a while none of it will be new to you, and if you haven't, well you probably won't want to read such a long rant. Meanwhile another afternoon has been lost to useful work, because I've had to chase money that should already be in my pocket.
posted @ 2:56 PM -

Friday, January 28

Fuck you, Case

Case's litany of incompetence continues. I received my W-2 (the form that summarises my earnings and withheld income tax for the previous year) yesterday. My name is spelt wrong on it, and it significantly (by about 35%) underestimates both my gross income and the tax that has been withheld.

Also: They lost my GRE score report so I have to get another sent at my own expense and inconvenience. It's only $15, but my god is it a hassle to arrange.

Also: Amount of money currently owed to me by the university health plan: 4 months of my prescription.

At what point do I hire a lawyer and start looking for compensation?

While in Seattle I paid a visit to the University of Washington CS admissions people to make some enquiries. Unfortunately if I were to transfer I'd have to take the new department's qual and at least a year of classes there, so I'd be back mired in the stuff I'm really really glad is over, which still isn't worth it.

This is starting to feel like an abusive relationship. Every time I get kicked, I make some excuses for the place, try to come back to terms with it, start picking myself up, and get kicked again. I've had enough though, and it's reached the point that it's hard to see what the university could do to rehabilitate my relationship with it. The only good thing is that as I finish with classes, move out of Cleveland, and hopefully have the option of being covered by a company's health plan sooner or later, stupidity at the university will make gradually less difference to my life.

Hating one's employer is not a good feeling.

Update [10:45 am]: Also, for the fourth consecutive semester, I'm being billed for fees that are covered by my grant. (Title of the post changed to reflect this latest issue)
posted @ 5:20 AM -

Thursday, January 27

quick update

We flew back from Seattle yesterday. It seems to have been a successful trip.

We got lucky with the weather—so much so that I think I caught more sun in 4 days in Seattle than when I spent a week in Miami last month—so I spent a large proportion of my time walking. I really like the city. Aspects of it remind me of Wellington, San Francisco and Brighton, which are some of my favourite other places in the world, and overall it seems like a wonderful place to live. So appealling that I'm trying to figure out how much it really matters that if I live there, every meeting with my advisor would involve having to write off the best part of 2 days to travelling, and feeling like it's probably worth it. I have more thinking to do about that, but this is how it seems to me right now.

Meeting a few of Melinda's friends, one person I had only previously 'known' through electronic media, and a former member of my lab was fun, and one distinct advantage of moving to Seattle as opposed to a lot of other places is that there are already a number of people there who I feel very comfortable around and would enjoy hanging out with.

Of course, this all depends on how Melinda's job offers pan out. Her impressions of the interview day seemed positive, but I should stop thinking about moving to Seattle until we actually have answers. It's too easy to play the fantasy new life game and then discover that I was planning too much based on an assumption.

Now I have to get back my focus on work. I'm meeting my advisor tomorrow to hopefully help fan down from the shortlist of possible thesis topics to just one or two. Hopefully then I can start to make more tangible process towards the proposal I'm supposed to defend before leaving Cleveland.
posted @ 1:49 PM -

Thursday, January 20

Making plans

In a few hours, Melinda and I will be flying out to Seattle. We'll be there till Wednesday. I get to see a city that everyone says is cool, and meet some friends of hers who I've heard so much about, and read so much by, that I feel like I know them already. I'm excited about that, but much more important is that we're going there for her to interview for a job.

If all goes according to plan (and passing the qual amounts to having got by far the biggest hurdle out of the way) I'll be finished with courses and compulsory TA assignments in April, and I'll be defending a dissertation proposal in May or June. She should be graduating around the same time. After that, we'll move somewhere for her to start a job and me to carry on my PhD by working remotely.

What this means for the short term is that I'm following her to cities in which she has job interviews, since we're also deciding where I will live for the next few years, so it helps if I have some idea of what each place is like. For the long term, we also have no idea, because we may well end up doing this again when I finally graduate. The time in between is the most important though, because it's 2-3 years in which we will live together for the first time, we will get married, she will start a career, and I will write and defend the dissertation itself.

I ended last year quite unhappy, but with the feeling that the worst was over. It's nice to be more sure of that now, and I feel like I have a lot to look forward to.
posted @ 11:00 PM -

Wednesday, January 19

Melinda and I are getting married.

I proposed on Friday, and she said yes. Though we had been talking about this for a while, and there was no element of surprise at all, I was still very nervous when it came to actually saying those words. I suppose that shows how much it means to me, which is as it should be.

As yet, we don't have a date, or a location, because we also don't know where we'll be living 6-7 months from now.

We do both have rings, though they may not look quite as you expect. We will get each other more... permanent rings in due course, but I really wanted the talking between us and the telling all of our families to precede the buying of metalwork.
posted @ 12:07 PM -

Monday, January 17

Skiing!

This happened yesterday. And then the snow stopped overnight. Very convenient, considering that I'm going here for the day, and as recently as Thursday it was warm (60°F so about 15°C) here and there was no snow at all.
posted @ 6:51 AM -

Thursday, January 13

I passed

how's that for timing? I've just been told that I passed the qual. Now I can get on with my life.
posted @ 10:27 AM -

Learned Helplessness

It is very hard to motivate myself to do anything constructive while aware that any day I may yet be told that I can't continue the work I want to do here, and I'd better figure our what the hell else to do with my life. I just want this bloody waiting over.

For those who ask for news about the quals from time to time: thanks for showing interest. On one level I do appreciate it, but at the same time if I could stop thinking about this it would be much healthier for me. Anyone who has shown the slightest indication of caring will know the result the same day that I do, so till then if it could just not be mentioned, that would be helpful to me.
posted @ 10:13 AM -

Sunday, January 9

Bandwagonesque

I decided to copy everyone else and start a photoblog. If I can even approach the quality of work shown on some of the other peoples' photoblogs that I look at, I will be very pleased with myself.
posted @ 10:19 PM -

Saturday, January 8

fashion sense?

Today, for the second time, a complete stranger complimented me on the trouser clips I wear to cycle, as if they were a fashion item. It's funny, because I think they look really stupid, and it's only because of laziness that I don't take them off when I go into a shop. I guess it takes all sorts.

Fortunately I bumped into a friend who reassured me that all is still as it should be in the world by immediately telling me that I am quite a sight in my winter bike gear. From his tone this was obviously not meant in a complimentary manner. I think I'd have spent the day concerned about what else was out of joint had that not happened.
posted @ 2:30 PM -

Wednesday, January 5

epidemiology redux

The day after arriving back in Cleveland, I found myself feeling ill. I suspect food poisoning. I'm sure you don't want details of the symptoms, but let's just say that my body took appropriate steps to remove the pathogen, and I can think of many more enjoyable ways I could have spent my Monday. As far as such things go, this wasn't a particularly bad case, and it was mostly over fairly quickly (though one issue with colitis is that it always takes a while for me to fully recover from anything going wrong with the digestive tract).

Since then, I've heard that a few other people who were at my new year's party were also ill. So I'd like to see if we can work out if this really was something food-borne. The suspect so far seems to be the cheese that 3 of the 4 known victims so far ate plenty of (myself included), and I'm not sure about the fourth person. There has also been a suggestion by one victim that this was over too quickly to be food-borne, though I'm not sure I understand that reasoning.

So it's time for a quick poll. Please comment or email me if you were at the party, saying whether or not you ate the cheese, whether or not you have been ill since, and if you were ill, when it hit. And if you weren't at the party but also got ill, please comment, because if this wasn't food-borne that might help us realise.
posted @ 7:50 AM -

Monday, January 3

2004 in review

...And not 2040 in review, as had originally managed to type. I hope that I do find myself reviewing 2040 in due course, but let's not jump the gun. It is, after all, further ahead than I am old.

I'm going to rip off a set of questions that's been going around livejournal to do this, as much as anything else because I need a little help getting back into the blogging habit, having mostly given up last term, for good reasons.
  1. What did you do in 2004 that you'd never done before?
    hrm... there are a lot of individually small, but collectively significant pieces of Americana. Things like watching hockey and basketball, and going somewhere just to see the colour of the leaves in autumn. Each one wasn't that big a deal, but altogether it's kept me having some sense of this all being new to me, even when most things about living in the US are now mundane and old hat.

  2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
    If I had resolutions last year, I've entirely forgotten about them. I don't usually, and when I make resolutions at other times I usually fail to keep them.
    Having said that, new year, or at least the holiday as a whole, is more of a natural break for me this year than usual. So there are a couple of resolutions:
    • Control my blogging. If you've followed this site for a while, you've probably noticed that I lurch between writing a lot and writing very little. If you blog yourself, you'll probably realise that blogging a lot is a real timesink. So I'm going to try and set some simple restrictions: no more than once a day, and no less than once a week.
    • Write to friends more often. There have been perfectly good reasons why I haven't been writing, so it's not something I feel guilty about, but it is something I regret. Hopefully I'll have more time from now on, so I want to be a better friend to the many people I care about and who don't live nearby. So far, I haven't even got far with catching up with people, but I've made a start.

  3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
    Two people:
    Tyna. And the boy (Eifion) is adorable. I've met him twice, and he and his brother strongly reinforce my desire to be an uncle.
    Stef. I only met her daughter when she was very young indeed, so not very responsive to the world, but still cute. I just don't know what to do with extremely young babies....

  4. Did anyone close to you die?
    Nope. A few people close to me were bereaved, but no-one I know directly died.

  5. What countries did you visit?
    Canada and Britain. Poor by previous standards, but I have seen significantly more of North America than I had done a year ago, and that's satisfying, not least because everywhere I've been has been nicer than Cleveland, which I need to remind myself of from time to time.

  6. What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004?
    More patience with people and a better ability to just accept things I can't change. I've diverted too much energy over the past year into being angry with people and situations I was powerless to influence. They mostly deserved it, but it's still a waste of energy that could be spent on projects with an actual chance of success.

  7. What dates from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
    I'm terrible with dates. I should probably mention that Melinda and I had to go back to archived emails to figure out exactly which day our anniversary was. As for events, probably the biggest single thing was presenting to a conference in the summer. It's definitely the biggest career landmark I've passed since starting my PhD, and I think it even went well.

  8. What were your biggest achievements of the year?
    Presenting to that conference.
    Not actually breaking down or giving up and walking away over the past few months, however often I felt like I was falling apart.

  9. What was your biggest failure?
    A complete lack of anything resembling a balance between work and everything else.

  10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
    Colitis has a way of making a particular nuisance of itself when I am stressed, but that's nothing new. I also got hit by flu 3 times last semester, when I can normally guarantee that I will lose precisely 1 day to flu in a year. I blame overwork for that, especially for the last time which was just a couple of days after the quals.

  11. What was the best thing you bought?
    A Powerbook. It wasn't with my own money, but it was part of my first-year funding and I have no qualms about claiming that I earned every last cent I've been able to squeeze out of the university. I won't rave too nauseatingly about MacOS, but let's just say that I now find Windows computers very frustrating to work with, because I'm no longer used to having to wait an appreciable amount of time from issuing a command to seeing a result. That buys me time, but more importantly makes any kind of work on the computer significantly more pleasant.

  12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
    Melinda. Again, I should avoid gushing, but let's just say that now I know what it means to be stuck with through thick and thin, and if it's ever needed, I hope I am up to returning the favour.
    Vinay & Jim. While I just sat at home and ranted, they got off their arses and volunteered with Election Protection to play their part in making sure that the pessimistic scenarios of a stolen US election didn't happen.
    Duncan & Mark. They took this a stage further and went to Ukraine to monitor the re-run election there a week or so ago.

  13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
    The many people at Case who could play their part in really making it the great university it claims to be, but instead opt for the path of least resistance every day, obstructing the best efforts of the large number of people who do care and bust a gut to be here and make good use of the opportunity. I'm always saddened by people who have worthwhile jobs and don't care about doing them well, but it's never had as much of a direct effect on my life.

  14. Where did most of your money go?
    I'm not sure tuition counts, as it's money that I never see. It's still more than my entire annual living expenses though, and I've been very fortunate to have had it covered until now.
    Excepting tuition, the next thing would be rent. I am being rather extravagant by living alone in a nice place on a student income, but it's been worth it.

  15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
    Planning a future with Melinda. At times this has been the opposite—a thing to be scared about because it seemed like our future directions were going to split us up, and I had realised quite early on that this would be a terrible turn of events—but now we have some ideas, and things to be optimistic about. Only trouble is that much of it remains up in the air until I get the qual results, and I still don't even know when that will happen, and have very little idea of whether I did well enough or not.

  16. Compared to this time last year, are you:
    1. happier or sadder?
      I'm honestly not sure. Certainly much stronger and more mixed emotions, so at any given moment I could easily say much happier or much sadder, but overall I'm finding it hard to get some perspective and evaluate this one. You'd think it would be an easy question...
    2. thinner or fatter?
      Noticeably fatter, and less fit. I've put on about 10Kg since March 2004, which is definitely not muscle, it takes too few flights of stairs to leave me out of breath and sweating, and I really hope I have the time to do something about that in the immediate future. I used to do a lot more exercise, and I used to feel better for it.
    3. richer or poorer?
      The same on balance, but I've sold some assets to pay off some debts, so my financial situation is actually much healthier.

  17. What do you wish you'd done more of?
    I wish I had had the chance to spend more time with Melinda when neither of us had work on our minds, visit more places, and spend more time with old friends in the UK, but there's no way I could have done any of that without sacrificing something else significant.

  18. What do you wish you'd done less of?
    Filling out forms. Fighting the University to get money they owed me. Fighting my medical insurer to get money they still owe me. Fighting the University to get my information straightened out so they would stop chasing me for money I never owed them. Waiting in line to get frisked by the TSA. Studying for exams and doing busywork assessed coursework assignments when I could have been actually learning about things instead of preparing to jump through needless hoops. Crying. Questioning why I put myself through this.

  19. How did you spend Christmas?
    That will be another post, later in the week. In brief: I met up with family in Miami, and actually managed to relax and stop dreaming about work. Then flew to London for 3 days in which I saw almost all the people I had wanted to see, though none for long enough.

  20. Did you fall in love in 2004?
    More in love?
    I suppose there is the puppy, but I'm not sure that's quite what the question meant.

  21. How many one-night stands?
    None.

  22. What was your favorite TV program?
    I don't even own a television, because it's so full of shit. I have occasionally seen the Daily Show and it does make me laugh, but not quite enough to justify buying an idiot box and shelling out for cable, in front of which I would then vegetate just like I found myself doing all too often in my last house.

  23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
    I'm not sure there's anyone I can really say I hate. There are some people whose actions have made me very angry, and this business of getting frisked reliably every time I fly is changing my feelings about the TSA from contempt to resentment, but that's a perfect example of the kind of negativity I'm trying to stop wasting my energy on, so I should stop thinking about that.

  24. What was the best book you read?
    Want to read something disappointing? I can't remember the last time I started reading for pleasure and actually finished the book.

  25. What was your greatest musical discovery?
    So many... I might just have to cop out and say ourTunes, because it's led me to so many albums that I wouldn't have risked spending money on, but have found myself enjoying. The day I have a stack of spare cash, I'm looking forward to raiding some record shops.

  26. What did you want and get?
    Good friends in Cleveland. Each time I go back to the UK I'm reminded of how long it takes to develop the kind of closeness and ease in each others' presence that I have with a select few of my really old friends, but all the same I've been lucky here. Even at the start of last year there were a number of people I was really pleased to know, and that has only got better since.

  27. What did you want and not get?
    Closure on the parts of my PhD that have not been their own reward. Time to concentrate on the work that I was looking forward to doing when I first arrived here, and have had frustratingly little time for so far. Time to relax.

  28. What was your favorite film of this year?
    Kinsey. It manages to be a hugely important film for this time and this place, and at the same time moving and entertaining.

  29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
    Was hungover from a great party at Froggy's & Tyger's place the night before. That was one of the few times when I really regretted the amount I had to drink, but until I started to feel nauseous, the party was a lot of fun, as parties at their place always are.
    I did feel a little sad about not having time to actually throw a party myself, but hopefully I can put that right this year. Throwing a party for friends in London last week led to many reminders of how much I usually enjoy my own birthday.

  30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
    Having been told that I had passed the quals, rather than waiting nervously for news that has the potential to completely ruin all of my future plans.

  31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004?
    That of a man with other things on his mind.

  32. What kept you sane?
    Melinda.

  33. What political issue stirred you the most?
    Gay rights. It's ironic, because it doesn't directly affect that many people I know, but it strikes me as emblematic of the side of the USA that I really don't like.

  34. Who did you miss?
    My brother.
    Dunc (the one who doesn't live in Cleveland, obviously).
    All of the wonderful people in the UK who I at least had a brief chance to reconnect with in August or last week, because I can never have enough time with them these days.

  35. Who was the best new person you met?
    I'm not picking out one individual. I don't like that game.

  36. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004:
    When someone really loves you, you can have what feels like a shatteringly huge argument with them and it will still be OK the next day.

  37. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year:
    All I ask of myself is that I hold together
posted @ 7:38 PM -
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