I got an email from a student at IU, recently. I'd met him briefly while I was at Indiana; he'd just started his PhD, but then we moved out to California. He'd been turned down from a Google internship, and wanted to know if I could see his interview feedback to help him figure out what went wrong in the interview.

I can't see his interview feedback. But I *can* harsh on him unnecessarily about IU and professors there and dying academic labs, such as the one that I came from and the one in which I suspect he's currently toiling away the best years of his life...

Here's what I wrote. I think these questions should be posed to early-stage grad students at middling state universities, broadly.

Hey $NAME,

Even if I'd referred you, I still couldn't see the interview feedback! It's really super secret.

Oh man, time flies. Your fourth year already!

How's it going with $PROFESSOR? His lab didn't seem all that active when I was around, but maybe things are picking up?

Really sorry -- this is about to get more real than you might have expected. I don't really know your situation or what your current research interests are like, but in retrospect I think I probably should have switched advisors to somebody with a healthier lab, back in my 3rd or 4th year. I should have asked myself "OK, is $MYADVISOR teaching you things? Are his other students graduating in a reasonable time? Are they publishing in good venues? Do they work together and hang out? Is he teaching you how to be an academic in the current environment? Is he paying you to do research that will help you graduate? ..."

... and at least when I was around, $MYADVISOR's group didn't have good answers for any of those questions. In fact, nobody in computational linguistics or in knowledge-based AI had good answers for any of those. $MYADVISOR's students seemed like they were getting strung along for years, never publishing in any good venues and then never graduating. They just burned out eventually and faded away. $MYADVISOR never had any grants to pay me, and he never seemed to try very hard to get grants to pay me. I put up with it at the time, because I'm apparently not very smart, but you'll note that I still haven't graduated.

So I hope the situation's improved with $PROFESSOR -- maybe he's publishing a lot and you're on those papers! But you seem to be doing a lot of
TAing. You should ask yourself if this situation is OK, and if it's going to help you get where you want to go.

There *are* labs at IU where they're doing good work, getting money, publishing all over the place. Fil Menczer's group, who I worked for briefly, because I needed to get paid and $MYADVISOR had no money, seemed/seems like one of the healthiest and happiest at IU. I'm sure there are other good ones.

Ha, yeaaahhhh. That was pretty real.

On a more cheerful note, hooray for your upcoming wedding :D Best wishes!

one upside

Jan. 19th, 2017 11:37 pm
... is that now we've got some pretty good moral clarity going. We know what we have to do.

I think we got this. I think we're not doomed. Not because this isn't a bad situation, but because we're realizing how bad it is and we can take corrective actions.

I love all of you <3

The world has changed quite a lot, and in many ways I think for the better. We don't have to go back -- we can push things forward!

Take care of yourselves! Talk to me; I'd appreciate it <3
Looking back on my 2016 posts, I haven't been writing here a lot.

Like probably a lot of people, I spent a lot of the year kind of freaking out. Especially towards the end, for the obvious and non-unique reasons. People can be so awful. We have to push back.

For most of the year, I wasn't running a lot. But I got back into it towards the end.

I played a whole lot of video games, I think in large part to self-medicate.

I didn't make a lot of progress on my dissertation. I made some, but I need to get it done.

I need to get more OK with myself. I need to do more reading and programming and working out.

Writing is probably a pretty good way to check in with myself.

Oh, also this has become, uh, pretty relevant: http://phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=828


Sep. 1st, 2016 09:58 pm
Birthday! :D

I got so many really nice wishes, including from lots of friends I don't hear from all that often. <3 for everybody.

My mom came to visit! She and Anthony are here for about a week, so that's great.

I spent a lot of the day kind of freaking out at work, though, and I got some kind of ill that I don't really understand. Maybe stress-related, or maybe I ate something wrong.

I've been in a little bit of a freakout mode for kind of a while, and I need to take better care of myself. But I'm working on it.

This year, I wanna be healthy, in all the various ways that a person might be healthy. Work in progress.

(since last time I wrote, Lindsey and I did the ICFP Contest again! code here: https://github.com/lkuper/icfp2016 )

(also I cycled up to the city with my coworkers, two weekends ago. because we're beastly \m/ )
Evening run along Evelyn, Sunnyvale/Mountain View area. I stop at a light, because, y'know, Law-Abiding Citizen. There's a couple on big, comfortable cruiser bicycles.

He says to her, "oh, see if you can catch that guy!"

I grin. My inner engine revs. There is absolutely nothing better than outrunning a cyclist.

I glance over. They're looking at their phones.

Some things that help me feel a lot better:

- Playing Rock Band, both on my own and with Lindsey! Leveling up at drumming. I used to do a lot of this, but we fell off for some reason...

- I'd better git gud at drumming, because I seem to have gotten volunteered to play drums for the not-church band...

We've been going to Sunday Assembly, this thing that's basically church, but secular. Not, like, explicitly atheist, but pretty much church-for-atheists. Not sure if you knew this about me, but I used to really enjoy church; I *like* getting together with people to sing songs and hear an interesting talk. It's just that I figured out I didn't believe in god, y'know? But I used to be really involved with church, back when I believed; some of my best high school memories were running sound and occasionally drumming or playing horns for the band at rock 'n' roll church. Mom was in the band; they were *great*. Like legitimately really great music.

Anyway, we've been going to this Not Church for a year or so, and the music has been gradually improving with the Not Church rock 'n' roll band. But the current drummer is moving out of the country, and nobody else stepped up, so Lindsey seems to have volunteered me...

- We've been doing some yoga. This is *really* good for me, and it's good to have a thing we can do together. And I'm easing back into running.

I've been a little bit hurt; my tendons haven't been in great shape. I've been slightly injured off and on for a while now. Gotta run gently and gradually ramp up, so it's sustainable.

... so this is all things that I've done, at one time or another, but haven't been doing recently.

Important to remind myself: these are things that are good for me. Invest in doing them.
Maaaan. Everything seems dumb and hopeless recently.

I need to get some *wins* somewhere. I need to take better care of myself. I feel lonely a lot, and like I'm not making progress on anything useful.

It's not totally obvious what I've got to *contribute*, either.


I did have a really nice visit with my dad recently, over the 4th weekend. We cycled from the house to Google and looked around and ate lunch. We visited with his siblings, who were visiting to see our relatives who live up in wine country. (their uncle and aunt; he's my grandmother's little brother) ... it was nice to see the family.


I need to feel like I'm making progress. I feel like I'm kind of spinning my wheels, and I get freaked out about living and working here, often.

The Bay Area makes me freak the hell out. I feel terrible about it, but I often can't make myself go up to the city. SF is really stressful, getting to SF is really stressful, *being* in SF is really stressful, being invited to things and then laming out is really stressful. It's dumb as hell and I hate this about myself. I should just person up and fuckin' go to the city. (nb: I am more than happy to go to the city if it's to see your artistic performance or whatever, or for your party, if you're important to me.)

... I wish I didn't have to live here. The whole situation seems immoral; there's no water here, there are eight zillion people who want to live here, traffic is ludicrous, the public transit is mediocre. At least in the South Bay it's not like I took somebody's rent-controlled apartment, and I can usually ride my bike to get around.

Also Martin has, just today, gotten on a plane to Spain. Lauryn will leave soon too :-\

... I miss everybody.

... I started reading SuperBetter recently; I should get back into that. I think it was pretty helpful.
I haven't been super emotionally healthy, recently, but I'm working on it.

I had a pretty bad bout of feeling *awful* last week, especially while Lindsey was out of town. Everything felt hopeless, I felt like I couldn't get anything done that I cared about. I felt dumb and annoying, and I was furious that anybody was anywhere near me, or saying words, or making other sounds. Something like misophonia, to the extent that that's a thing. And I was embarrassed about like my entire existence.


Part of it was that I was really frustrated about work, felt like I wasn't making any progress or learning things fast enough, frustrated about my PhD, frustrated about not running much recently (my connective tissue's been acting up a bit recently, so I haven't been running)...

I need to take better care of myself. These are all fixable things; I could stretch better and do more strength training. I need to spend more time on my PhD so it doesn't seem so intractable and eventually gets done. I could find somewhere more quiet to work in the office. You only get one you.
Today, my sister had her second child, Fiona Renee! She came a little bit early, just a couple of weeks. Apparently mother and daughter are doing well. I've got a great picture of her first daughter, Penelope, looking at Fiona. Socute :3

Meanwhile, I was up in Sacramento, playing some video games at a comic convention. Hrm.
Some days, maaaaan.

Some days, it's Take Your Children To Work Day, and they need *somebody* to be the big green Android mascot and dance around and play with the kids and do silly things for photo ops. THIS JOB. THIS JOB MAKES USE OF BASICALLY EVERYTHING I'VE EVER LEARNED TO DO; HOW DID THIS HAPPEN.

Some days, you're working on software that meaningfully impacts millions of people's lives, and you're doing a thing that involves writing a bunch of code but it might make things dramatically better (and at the very least it's causing a nice refactoring).

Some days, at the end of the work day you get to hang out with a bunch of people from your company who *love* playing fighting games, and you strike up super-interesting conversations with a guy who helped develop Skullgirls and knows about a zillion different fairly esoteric games, and shares your love for the weird back-catalog of gaming and wants to help bring less-common games to the meetup. And you find out that the new guy at the meetup this week is also a Tekken enthusiast, and you play a long mirror-match set. (his name is Mo and he's got a pretty mean Jun!)

Tomorrow: off to Seattle to visit with Lisa and JD, then fight at Northwest Majors! \m/

Gig economy for everything, including-especially teaching at universities! It always works out well.

True story: when I was at IU, there was no course for CS undergraduates to study natural language processing. At all. Because they really care about the students.

They let me teach one, and paid me a miniscule bit more for the zillion extra hours of work, and provided basically no oversight or guidance.

Great excerpt from the essay:
"""... we need to highlight a crucial distinction that comments like Bogost’s either neglect or willfully obscure: there is a fundamental difference between the expression of frustrated professional aspirations and the criticism of an exploitative system of labour. Yes, Quit Lit might contain a lot of the former; but it emerges predominantly from the latter. The two are without doubt intertwined in complex ways, but the problem with responses like Bogost’s is that they treat Quit Lit solely as the whining of wannabe intellectuals who simply can’t hack it in the elite world of tenured academia. In doing so, they absolve tenured professors from having to confront the systemic exploitation of part-time labour from which these professors benefit on a daily basis.

... In other words, he is caught up in a system where he has a direct incentive to graduate more PhDs—not so they can become tenured professors, but precisely so they can become poorly paid part-timers."""
I carry around a lot of worries and anger and anxieties and insecurities. For some reason, driving up to San Francisco seems to set off a lot of them. I need to get over it. It's dumb and embarrassing.

Also I should figure out how to enjoy this cool concert I'm at now.

Also I have a failure mode where I can't get into a performance I'm at and I totally check out. It's not good and doesn't help the people I came with have fun. I've walked out of a few movies and just waited in the lobby for my friends.

I have trouble relaxing and enjoying art when I feel like the time could be better spent some other way. I just often don't spend my time very well when left to my own devices.

And whose fault is that, really?
Often, "clever" "abstractions" just make it harder to figure out what software is doing. Maybe I'm really dumb, but I find myself digging into a piece of code to repurpose it slightly all the time, and before I can actually Do A Thing, I have to understand your bespoke DSL for configuring configurations and handling any conceivable use case in Full Generality. Except the use case of "I just want to call these three functions".

If you were wondering, I want to throw you, bodily, through a wall. You are not actually clever.
OK, let's try this: for the rest of the month, first thing in the morning, I'm going to do a little bit of strength training. Enough for an "Arnold", if you recall "Arnold's 1% challenge" from back when ever'body was on Fitocracy.

Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.
I fixed my sick Playstation 2! That was really satisfying.

Pictures and description over on that other blog.
Just read Machinamenta: The Thousand-Year Quest to Build a Creative Machine by Douglas Summers-Stay!

It's not a long book, but it's got lots of interesting bits about the intertwining histories of augury, formal systems, games, creativity, language, art and artifice. In some of the most interesting bits, he talks about the very early interactions between approaches to fortune-telling in Africa and the Near East and early versions of the game Mancala. There were also great glimpses into the work on automata in Europe since the Renaissance, and early machine-generated poetry. And quick discussions about the relevant philosophy-of-mind and the various relevant approaches to AI, while grounding them in the historically relevant philosophical views. (ie, rule-based deductive systems are in a sense an outgrowth of the European Rationalist tradition)

He talks a lot about shifting standards of what counts as art, though this is sort of implicitly in a Western setting -- it would be interesting to talk about whether standards for what counts as "art" differed dramatically in different parts of the world. Or how about currently?

All in all, I'd say that this book is a good sampler of interesting things -- I wanted it to give more detail about any of the topics! Anything in here could easily be expanded into several books themselves.

And somehow, after all this, he didn't definitively put a box around what Counts As Art or Counts As Creativity, and source code for a Truly Creative Machine is not included with the book. Maybe that'll be in the second edition.

- Blog associated with the book
- Talk by the author on basically this subject matter
For another ska resurgence.

4th wave, forthcoming! Let me know if you want to be in my ska band.

(tonight during dinner I was spinning this elaborate backstory for one of Lindsey's coworkers, whom I don't know very well, about how she's super into ska and always wears two-tone checkerboard patterns and clothes with enough freedom-of-motion so she can skank wildly at a moment's notice)

(I'm pretty glad Lindsey puts up with me)
People are often like "ew, the South Bay". And there are valid reasons for that! But you know what kind of stuff is in the South Bay? The Digital Game Museum.

There is *so much* computing history around these parts, and the Digital Game Museum is doing quite a lot to catalog it and archive and preserve it!

I went to volunteer there tonight -- found out about the event through a local Meetup group -- and it was super interesting. There was the museum director and four other volunteers (and me), and they were all super cool people. We went through a few boxes of donations and cataloged everything in them. Mostly, the box I picked through was the game boxes from old 3DO games, which had been carefully flattened for archival purposes. There were some really strange ones, such as Shelley Duvall's It's a Bird's Life and Dennis Miller's That's News To Me. But also SUPER STREET FIGHTER II TURBO (did you know there was a 3DO version?) and SAMURAI SHODOWN (which *I* didn't know had a 3DO release).

We also went through a bunch of N64 and SNES game boxes, all of which had been nicely flattened! I sat down with a scanner and scanned all the pages of the manual for the first-edition "Street Fighter II" manual for the SNES.

The people there had all kinds of interesting interests; it turns out the director has this fascination with Korean culture, and she was talking with one of the volunteers about their favorite K-TV-dramas. Another volunteer was a university student studying history, and another was a programming teacher who'd formerly worked on AAA video games. (like the relatively recent Tomb Raider games!)

A few of the items that we cataloged, for your perusal:

I'll have to go back and look at the collection as a visitor, rather than as a volunteer...
There's a repeating scene that happens at our house. The doorbell rings, and at the door is a youngish man, typically Black or sometimes Latino, and he's dressed in a suit or sometimes a baseball uniform. Selling magazine or newspaper subscriptions. And he's got a patter down; he says he knows that you don't need magazines or a newspaper on paper anymore, but won't you help him get commissions for selling them?

Today it was a guy saying he'd come from Valdosta, Georgia, and he wants to show his young son that he can *be somebody* by selling magazine subscriptions and *becoming a manager*. Sometimes it's a kid who wants to Get Money For College. Or the kid in the baseball uniform helpfully informs you that their motto is "accountability and responsibility now -- drugs and gangs never!!"

It's really super sad that this is happening, for a number of reasons. Firstly and most importantly, there should be good actual jobs in the world. Door-to-door magazine subscription sales has got to be all kinds of demoralizing. And demeaning. The racism inherent here is palpable; there's a script that these guys have to go through to ensure you, the person opening the door of a house in an affluent neighborhood in Silicon Valley, that they're one of the Good Ones.

One step out from that, it's all kinds of disgusting that dying media companies are exploiting under-employed people to prop up print media sales. I wonder whether this moves the needle for their subscription numbers. Maybe it's not the media companies themselves, but some smaller operators who've discovered they can do something that looks like charity for profits. Operating costs have got to be tiny.

What to do in the short term? What to do in the long run? I mean, clearly in the long run we need to head towards a more equitable and just society where people aren't forced to do stuff like this.

In the short term, of course, I don't need more sheets of paper being mailed to the house.

I have a problem: both physical mail -- not mail carriers -- and people knocking on the door really upset me. My goal, when someone knocks on the door, is to sneak up behind them. Ideally I'd be mysteriously on the front walk directly behind them with a scowl on my face and a steaming hot cup of coffee in hand, steam on my glasses. "Can I help you?" I'm actually a very nice person usually.
As of this evening, I turned in another dissertation chapter! Now up to 4 of them.

This hasn't been a necessarily smooth or fun or rewarding process! But I'ma get it done.

Check check check it.

It's entirely possible that my advisor and actual-acting-advisor will have a lot of feedback for that chapter, but I already got, and responded to, quite a lot of it...

More than three weeks left in the sabbatical for cranking! I bet I can get two (or three??!) more chapters done before I go back to work!
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