I finished my tattoo last night. If you like puzzles, here’s a primer for the language, and the design itself. You’ll need some basic algebra for the primer, and a little domain knowledge–or a few Google queries–for the tattoo proper.



I have it pretty good, in America. I’m White, male, young. Grew up with books. With enough food on the table during critical phases of brain development. In a neighborhood composed of people who looked and spoke like me, a neighborhood with a creek, and trees, and street hockey, somewhere safe. Through deterministic happenstance–a confluence of genetics and education and economics and municipal investment in public education and intellectually challenging parents and the right teachers at pivotal moments–I’m good at thinking about a class of problem which too few people are working on, and present market dynamics allow me to do what I love for far more money than I need.

People grant me the authority to speak as is expected of males, with the lack of recognition of my skin color that comes for people of northern European origin, and for my youth I am forgiven all manner of brash and disrespectful rejoinders. I am significantly more likely to be a victim of a murder, and feel constant pressure to be resolute, correct, gruff. I have never worried for my physical safety in the presence of male companions, and think nothing of walking alone at night. As a motorcyclist and as an engineer I am never the odd one out. I can wear comfortable clothes at formal gatherings. I can enter any building freely, and when boarding a bus, folks never rustle and stare at the delay. I feel tremendously self-conscious when surrounded by people of color. My coworkers never comment about how pretty I am. I am never expected to speak for all young, White males.

I will never have the experience of being a woman; to keep it together when my male coworkers take credit for my ideas and I’m still making $20,000 less than the junior devs fresh out of college. To move from Pakistan to the rural Midwest, to a new culture and bureaucracy, and struggling to learn math my classmates can barely cope with–in a language not my own. To be told all my life that I was White, because the family that adopted me was so much darker, and I was told I had beautiful light skin and to keep from getting tan, and when I moved to New York they called me Black, but I don’t know how to be Black and no one will teach me. To be the only kid from the Rez who went to college, and to have pleaded with admissions to let my dad off the hook for when he wouldn’t lift a fucking drunk-ass finger to fill out the FAFSA, and to remember my grandmother’s strength and intellect and passion: my inspiration always.

“So,” our CEO asked me, “what happens if our new service becomes a huge success?”

aphyr: I think basically we can *expect* the service to collapse in unpredictable ways
mark: that would not be good
aphyr: No this is good!
aphyr: It means we averted all the ways it would predictably collapse!
mark: thanks kyle, i’ll sleep well over the weekend now :-)

Today I realized that this project has basically been to build a service on par with Twitter or Yammer. The difference is they employ about 15 or 20 people to do my job! This… should be interesting!

So Justin took my bike out for a spin with some friends from out of town—and while locked up out in the Marina, it was stolen!

I’m sad to see you go, little grey hybrid.

I bought that bike seven years ago with my first paycheck from Kryptiq. Saved up $400 cash and bought myself a brand new Trek 7200 FX. We rode through thick and thin, all over the city. It got me to school, to work on Fridays, to friends' houses and through the rain to Aikido out in east Portland. It braved flooding, 80 MPH winds, power outages, nails through the tires, and kept on going. We ran Zoobomb, trails through the west hills, construction sites, and freeways. Mostly, though, it got me places without a car.


Optimism prior to embarking on the Great SF-Seattle Adventure…

Crash damage

It's midnight, and the car is almost packed. All our stuff in one little minivan, moving back to the west coast! Oh man it's exciting! Should be there in a little over a week.

I went in for the first implant surgery today, to replace the missing three upper teeth from my January Broomball accident. For those of you who haven’t heard of dental implants (I hadn’t!), they’re roughly 1.5 cm titanium screws which are inserted into the bone where the tooth’s roots used to be, ending right under the gumline. Artificial teeth are then attached to those screws.

The impact shattered two teeth, so I had to have the left-behind roots extracted from my upper jaw. Between the injury itself and having to dig around a lot to get the roots out, I’m now missing the thin sheet of bone which runs over the front of the roots, for the canine side of the upper jaw. Luckily the bone near the middle is reasonably intact. This is problematic, because the implants need solid bone to anchor to. If, upon opening everything up, they found that there wasn’t enough bone to place the implants, I’d need a bone graft taken from my mandible behind the molars, and six months additional recovery for that graft to integrate. Luckily, this wasn’t the case! The implants took hold in the jaw even though the labial bone wasn’t intact. (Note to kids: another reason to get your calcium!)

The procedure took about an hour and a half for two implants, and was pretty much painless under local anesthesia. Started with novocaine (and another longer-lasting nocioception blocker whose name I don’t remember), followed by a few incisions in the gums to expose the bone, and a lot of tugging. They drilled out the implant sites with three progressively larger bits, which go way up there. I suspect my sub-nasal sinus got real familiar with that drill, which apparently is okay. The implants themselves look like stocky, truncated conical screws, coated with a rough titanium dioxide layer which actually bonds to the osteoblasts in your bone, creating an extremely strong connection. They literally screw right in to the jaw—I remember thinking “I’ve stripped screws before,” as they twisted in—but everything took hold right away and felt solid. After that, they packed in a processed bovine bone substrate around the sites. Over the next six months, my intrepid little osteoblasts will move into that substrate and grow new bone, hopefully back to the original thickness. Bunch of sutures finished up the job, and I walked out of there a little sore and bloody but doing okay.

Term’s almost over; one final left. Research reached a nice finishing point this week; I finished the comparative Lyapunov analysis and prepared the graphs for submission. Noise really kills the linearity we’re looking for, but it does suggest an experimentalist will see some unexpected things, which is what the original paper tried to show with power spectra–and moreover, the figures are in the right ballpark for More on that when we draft a response to PRL.

Tested for 2nd kyu this week. It was tough–especially remembering the right vs. left distinctions for techniques that sound very similar in Japanese! Mechanically things felt pretty solid, though, which was nice. I was even able to clear 3 feet on jumping-over-partner, which was a great feeling. Plus, the front strike continuation is just plain awesome.

Other than that, planning a second book, which will explore the various off-limits parts of Carleton, getting ready for Comps, and starting the post-graduation job search. Now, back to that last paper!

Winter term concluded nicely: solid work through 9th and 10th week, then caught a ride with Anna out to Madison for a couple weeks with Justin & company. Finished up my finals and emailed them in from WI–everything was either a paper or take-home, so I was able to take my time, put in my best work on everything, and turn them in without a 4 hour drive. So, spring break felt like 3 weeks, which was a really nice change. I needed the space to decompress, get to know myself again.

I’m taking up the guitar again: bought an old Suzuki from a guy in Madison through Craigslist, which sounds pretty good. Deeply resonant sound, bit of a buzz (in the tuner?) on the open G string, but otherwise plays nicely. I ran into Dirk’s Guitar Page, which pleasantly has many of the same pieces I played as a kid: Carcassi, Sor, Paganini. Progress has been surprisingly fast, but I’m a long way from playing well.

Carrie, Justin, Jenny, Bobby, and I all trekked down to Florida for Spring Break; my first independent vacation! It was really nice to spend the time with friends; screaming through the Tower of Terror at Disney World, swimming and hanging out with new friends from Ohio State at the beach, learning to play tennis, and just relaxing on the beach. I do regret not reading more of Quantum State Diffusion, but that’s a small complaint.

Brief update, as reading is tearing my life into tiny shreds right now. I died in assassins, after effecting a fifth kill in Burton. Decided the first Aikido Broomball game was worth going to, even though I knew Kevin and his partner would probably be there. I wasn’t killed at the game, but Henry Keiter waited in the trees outside the Libe for the whole game, tailed me home by running the long way around the Olin-Hulings-Mudd complex, and met up with me at the entrance to Nourse. I had time to block his 10-shot, but was exhausted from a hard game, so I was too slow. Henry went on to test his luck against Bendikson in a re-enactment of the Princess Bride iocaine powder scene, featuring two goblets of juice, one with tabasco sauce as a deadly poison. Man, those guys are winners at this game. :-D

Class has been interesting: quantum is tearing my brain to tiny little pieces, metaphysics is alternately interesting and infuriating, and psych of prejudice is absolutely fascinating. Lots of cool stuff about stereotype formation and metacontrast bias, but I won’t write much right now–maybe a paper or two to come later.

Broomball has been absolutely awesome: Reid and I are on four teams each, this year, and that means 1-3 games per night, on top of 11-14 hours a week of Aikido training. I haven’t been this sore in ages, and it feels great. The new liner gloves are holding up great and keeping my hands warm (thanks Dad!), and I even splurged and bought an Underarmour shirt as a base layer. The first game has convinced me it was worth the money: the fabric is warm (I was comfy with it and a fleece at -17 on the ice), breathable, and doesn’t get snow and ice stuck in it. On the other hand, I think the fit is designed for people with much thicker pectorals than me. Ah well, another reason to keep up on those pushups! :-)

So, I’m back in town! That was fast!

Managed to get out of school okay: finished my two papers on time, and despite my notes disappearing managed to make it through finals without too much difficulty. The papers are actually pretty cool: for Philosophy of Physics I got to look at two accounts of the mass energy equivalence relation, and talk about how we revise the scientific process for education. I didn’t get to explore that thread as much as I would have liked, but I did get to read all of Einstein’s work on special relativity. I know it’s been said before, but the guy’s a genius. The reasoning itself is straightforward, but he makes these intuitive jumps that are very surprising unless you know where he’s going.

My roommate for spring term moved out early in finals week. Or at least, he himself moved. Most of his stuff stayed behind, and the friends he said would come pick it up never arrived. Hence, at 22:00 the night before flying out, I found myself reluctantly dropping cubic meters of clothes, games, books, and food down at the Lighten Up donation area. That was kind of a tough break, and I hope his friend manages to save my roommate’s stuff in time.

Two hours after going to sleep, I awoke to a shrill alarm with a start, kicking off the bed and into the air. Three things went through my head in the second or so before I touched down.

  1. Hmmm, that’s not my alarm. It’s much too high-pitched, and isn’t intermittent.
  2. Gosh, there’s a lot of smoke in here.
  3. Hey, is that the ground?

The weekend was pretty darn awesome. Sophie and her housemates invited Nik, Max, Rachel, Anna, and I to dinner, where they’d made tons of delicious Jewish food. There was salad, fresh-baked bread, delicious kugel, and a massive roast with carrots and other veggies… it was *soooo* tasty! After weeks of Sodexho, getting to have a real meal with good company made my day. Max and I washed the dishes, and after we hung out on the couches, studying and watching Grey’s Anatomy.

The two tests from Monday’s classes went okay–I was definitely more confused by the EM material than Partials. Of course, the Partials test didn’t actually ask us to solve any PDEs, and that’s the part of the course I totally don’t understand yet, so I got off easy. Seeing the unusual connections between function spaces and Linear Algebra is mind-bending at times.

This weekend is the Genyokan trip! Ten of us are packing into Sophie’s car and Joel-sensei’s van, and driving up to Ann Arbor for the weekend. Unfortunately, we’re leaving Thursday night, so I’ve got to get all of Friday’s HW done by then. There’ll be classes, clinics, and the demo, which we’ve been preparing for every class of the last two weeks. I’m really looking forward to going–I didn’t make the trip last year, so this will be my first time.

A couple of funny things happened to me today. Over break I got a series of e-mails with tips for taking the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a scenario-based assessment of critical thinking skills. The names for each tip started with the letters B and S: “Be Specific”, “Be Skeptical”, etc.* However, the e-mail for tip number four was:

TIP #4: READ DIRECTIONS ($5.00 extra to anyone who can come up with a version of this tip’s name that starts with an “S”) Check that you’ve done what you’ve been asked to do. If you’re being asked to play a role, think about who you are suppose to be writing for. Don’t assume that your audience knows what you’re writing about.

To sum up the last term:

I took three classes: Ordinary Differential Equations, Japanese 205, and Classical/Computational Mechanics, affectionately (though with a thin edge of nervousness) referred to by many physics majors as “Classy” and “Compy”. These last two ate me alive: the average weekly problem set was 18 hours in length, although one went up to 25 hours. I spent a lot of mornings (9:00 P.M. – 3:00 A.M.) in Olin, the physics building, staring at Mathematica and struggling through Lagrangians. “You know, the windmill is really pretty at sunrise,” my friend Max told me. “You can see it through the windows of the Olin hallway.”

The last two weeks of the term were consumed by a massive final project: building and modeling a tinkertoy siege engine with the use of Lagrangian and Hamiltonian mechanics. My partner and I wrote hundreds of lines of code, and dozens of pages of equations, trying to model the energy transfer between the pendulum falling and the motion of the wheeled base. The problem consumed my life; walking to dinner, waiting in line, even in other classes, I’d think about drag models, wheel inertia, and projectile efficiency. We worked somewhere around 60 hours per person over two weeks.

Classes haven’t killed me yet!

It’s eighth week, and time for overdrive. Two take-home finals (one expected to take two weeks!), an ODE lab, an 80 hour final project for Computational Mechanics analyzing the dynamics of our tinkertoy siege engines, and all the regular Japanese and ODE coursework on top of that. Of course, this can only mean one thing: it’s time to take harder classes.

So I’m registering (hopefully) for Partials, Electricity and Magnetism, and some mysterious third course. I’m thinking about Epistemology or Philosophy of Physics, although those courses fill pretty darn fast. Philosophy of Physics looks particularly awesome, talking about issues with non-locality, causality, and the far-out world of quantum. Only a few spaces left, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

So stuff here has been busy as heck the last few weeks. Classes are beating me up: Classical Mechanics, Ordinary Differential Equations, and Japanese 205 this term. Aikido hasn’t been going at all recently, which is sad. First week I caught whatever cold was going around, then this Monday I knocked my shoulder out of commission on one of the 4th kyu sacrifice throws. It’s slowly coming back, but I’m still not up to rolls, or really much of anything with that arm. Realistically speaking, I’m probably not going to test this mid-term: I’ve just missed too many classes.

This week was full of out-of-town visitors: Des and Bitsy came out here for the weekend, which was full of Aikido, reading, and photography. Bitsy helped me out with the alumni interview for Physics, which was more informative than I had initially expected.

When it came time to head back to the airport, Max, Des and I borrowed Pechous' car for the trip–or at least his keys. Turned out the car was across campus, encased in snow, low on gas, and incapable of starting. Luckily, as we were just about to give up, Chase arrived! He pulled out the jumper cables, which after extensive maneuvers eventually reached between the cars. We *still* couldn’t get the car to start, so Chase kindly offered us his car for the trip. After he left, though, Max couldn’t get the car started! I tried, but the keys just wouldn’t move. As it turns out, starting the CRV requires focusing very intently on the engine turning over and rumbling into life, and believing the car to be in motion. After buying gas by committee, I restarted the car for Max, and we made it to the airport in record time.

I am thankful for good friends, fun, educational, confusing, and generally unforgettable college experiences, a warm (comparatively speaking) house, cats, music, large quantities of delicious food, a job doing what I love, bicycles with functional pedals and brakes (The Brick, I'm referring to you here), photography, and hugs.

I guess I’m back. Woke up Tuesday at 7:30. 11 hours of cars, airports, airplanes, half-hearted goodbyes, J.D. Salinger, The Samples, Neil Gaiman, and Something Corporate later, I arrived (somewhat displaced) at the doorstep of my old house. A lot’s changed since I left. The walls, once a gallery of landscape and family photographs, are home to spare collections of hooks where frames once hung. The plan is to re-paint most of the interior walls, hence the spare decoration. The back door, the one that never closed properly, is replaced as well. All the doorknobs feel small here.

Writing the title of this post makes me wonder really where home is. I don’t have a permanent address, really, just a probabilistic chance of successfully being reached. I live a quantum life, shifted by finite yet predictable uncertainties.

Stopped by my old school today to say hello to friends and teachers. Meetings were brief but enjoyable–the security personnel ordered me (contrary to official policy) to come inside, which I gladly obeyed. Mark and I went out to Sushi afterwards, which was amazingly delicious. ^_^

It's 11 PM, and once again I'm stargazing on the hill of three oaks. There is no trace of human activity here--only the full moon for light, the soft sound of snow crunching beneath my boots, and winds slipping fiercely past my coat. An hour at these temperatures concentrates the mind; one's world contracts to the blazing, tingling flame igniting in one's fingers and toes from the cold, the taste of blood flowing from frozen, cracked lips, and the howling of the wind against one's face, slowly numbing into a frostbitten simacrulum of one's former physiognomy. At the same time, there's nothing else like looking into this white expanse, tinged blue by the cold light of the moon and stars; to wonder at the majesty of the trees which stand here year after year, etched in black against the sky; to look up, and fall softly to the ground at the sight of ten million brilliant and specific stars.

I lay here, and wait to become a part of the landscape.

It's snowing today: dry flakes swirling down through the cones of light from the street lamps. -17 degrees celsius wind chill, says the observatory's weather station. Walking to work at this hour of the night is an exercise in self-control, moving from step to step with care to avoid slipping on the icy walks, squinting to keep the flurries of snow from smacking into the eyes, and keeping hands tightly within pockets to keep the frigid air at bay.

Really, though, the snow and the cold make me happy. The vortices of air swirling around buildings whips the flakes into an intricately fractal frenzy, and the biting cold is a reminder of how crisp the world can be, absent of warmth. Tomorrow morning, I look forward to opening the door onto a landscape transformed into smooth forms of black asphalt, white snow, and grey stone and sky. Black and white has a certain, quiet, eloquence.

It's a crisp autumn morning, the trees are alight with midwestern color, and cool sunlight defines sharp shadows on the pavement, grass, and leaves. I'm making my way down to the dining hall for lunch, and observing the trajectories of warmly bundled students flowing towards the chapel for convocation. Suddenly I realize that the half-familiar melody chiming across campus is not the bell tower's usual sonorous intonation, but the Hogwarts theme from Harry Potter.

I love this place.

After a harrowing day of homework and Assassins, Pechous and I stopped by the mailboxes. I'm used to not getting much mail, but I was expecting a book for my physics class. To my astonishment and suprise, my mailbox door was ajar--and a bouquet of colorful flowers were sprouting from its brass frame! I took them home, converted a CD spindle into an impromptu vase, and placed this unexpectedly joyful gift on my desk. It brings some much appreciated color to my space.

Thank you so much, mysterious giver of floral festivity. This makes me very happy. :-)

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