I handed in my institute ID card today. It feels a bit weird, but not in quite the way I had expected.

Just walking around is a complicated endeavour now, because every time I see someone there is this sudden realization that I might never see them again, especially with people I’m not as close to.I talk to them even if I don’t feel like it, just in case. I have a feeling there’s far too many people I should say goodbye to that I just haven’t, yet. I don’t even know who I’m missing.

I have far too many books and clothes to lug away by myself and I will probably have to mail some of it, but the more troubling question is how much of the miscellaneous junk lying scattered around is worth saving. Probably nothing at all, but I doubt I will be able to just leave it all here. There are old birthday cards and CDs and coordinator badges and a screw-driver set and tiny notebooks I’ve barely written in and the violin that I should really give to someone who knows how to play it. But maybe I can still learn.

The Year in Review

Not bad, I guess? Laughed a lot and cried a little and mostly staved off growing waves of ennui and “stuckness”, bit by bit, and often not for very long. Not that there weren’t a lot of good moments. This year I’ve come closer than ever to accepting that life is mostly just little not particularly meaningful bits piled on top of each other, and not always combined in a structurally sound manner. But even if I were looking for it, the narrative I’m constructing looks happy enough, from this distance 🙂 .

Hawa Mahal

Hawa Mahal (Wikipedia)

January was mostly just settling in and being pleasantly surprised that some of my courses this year were actually interesting, capped up by the Jaipur Literature Festival and Saarang (the cultural festival on campus), which I skipped so I could go to Jaipur. Did catch the Hammerfall concert at the end, which was fun, and had a cozy if rather tame party afterward.  I’d been planning to write a rather long post about the litfest, but I guess that never happened, which is the usual result any time I plan too much about a blog post. To summarize: it was awesome fun, I got to meet Alexander McCall-Smith and Niall Ferguson and William Dalrymple and listen to some awesome music in the evening and there were a lot of lectures and discussions and we got to see the Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds, literally) . The main reason I wanted to go was to just take a break from the routine I’d been stuck in for a very long time prior to that, and I managed that and then some.

I really should start keeping a diary, because I don’t seem to remember much at all about February and March, and the blog doesn’t seem to have anything very useful. Also I am now realizing just how completely random most of my posts are. In any case, I don’t think I did much. I remember me and Slicer got 2nd in the Litsoc (inter-hostel contest here in college) Debate, which must have been around that time. I also remember that I became more interested in VLSI Design, continuing a trend I’d been observing since the semester before. I had to write GATE to be eligible for my grad student stipend this year, and although it’s a really easy exam there was a little scope for panic because I actually registered for the wrong bloody exam– electrical and electronics instead of electronics and communication, which apparently is far closer to what we had been doing in class for the last 4 years. In any case, I cleared it easily enough- we need to get in something like the 75th or 80th percentile, I came in just under the 99th, I think- so overall it was a very mundane 2 months. Apparently. For the level of detail I can bring up, I may as well have been Obliviated.

April was hostel nights and emotional farewells and a lot of dehydration. Oh, and endsems. It was pretty fun right up to that part.  After that, I was too busy worrying if I might actually have failed a course for the first time ever to really notice what was going on. (Spoiler: no, but I only just passed.)

May was a trip to Kodaikanal with my family, which went pretty much like you expect it to go: interesting, comfortable, and mildly fun, at least for some definitions of fun. It was also a month of raised and dashed hopes- I finally got accepted for the internship at Schlumberger/Harvard, and then my US Visa application got placed on the “additional processing” list, meaning I couldn’t join until a month after the date when I was originally supposed to get there, which meant that I would have only a month or so there, which brings the whole purpose of the internship into question.

June was sitting around and worrying and figuring out an alternative plan to do the internship, whereby I would drop one of my courses in the fall semester and join 2 weeks late so I would have enough time to do something in Boston. And a trip to Cochin for a cousin’s engagement. I don’t recall much here, either -although it’s better than my memory of the Feb-March period- but more than that I don’t think a whole lot happened in this month that I would care to bring up in a summary. Small joys, dull pains.

Statue court in the New York metropolitan museum.

Statue Court at the Met

July was Boston! Lots to say, although I said a lot of it here, which has everything about the first two weeks. After this I actually got started in earnest and did some work for my internship -by the end of the month I’d sent in the board I was designing for fabrication, I think- and there was a weekend trip to New York where I met 2 friends and an uncle, and all 3 were fun. Unfortunately, at the end of the month my phone crashed, and like an idiot I hadn’t taken a separate camera along, so I lost all the photos I had taken from 14th to 29th July, including the whole New York trip. I had a lot of photos inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was truly awesome – I can sincerely use the phrase “a giant labyrinth of treasures” to describe it. The Met is insanely huge, so the single afternoon I spent there allowed me to cover only a very small portion of it, and I know I’ll want to go back some time.  The next day I visited the Cloisters (a separate branch of the museum in the form of a recreated medieval abbey) with my uncle, who is something of an enthusiast and gave me little bits of background information on all the pieces there.

There’s a lot more to say about New York and Boston and what I did, but this post is going to get far too long if I do, so I will summarize and say it was a lot of fun and apart from a fair bit of drinking, nothing particularly scandalous happened. Not that I would have mentioned it here if it did, of course, but it was very comfy sort of good times, which, while pleasant, was a little disappointing. But only a little.

View of Boston skyline from Gasson Tower Bosto...

View of Boston skyline from Boston College. (I stayed opposite BC, in a very suburban area.)

August was more fun in Boston, and touristy stuff there -I would like to talk about the funny old guy who was the volunteer guide at the Boston Public Library (awesome again, not only because it’s the oldest in the country or because of its size but also because of all the artwork inside it and its architectural significance) but it was a very “you had to be there” sort of funny.

Boston Harbor - Double Baked / Color

Boston Harbour: Image by Raymond Larose via Flickr

I also visited the USS Constitution, the oldest floating commissioned naval vessel in the world, and went on a Whale Watch Cruise twice (awesome the first time because it was effectively free and we got drunk on a boat, awesome the second time because we saw whales! And huge ones! And up close! And we got drunk on a boat). We also visited several more of the things to see in Boston that you would find in a tour guide, which I will skip over for now. We here refers to A and me, who I’m hoping will click through to this post when he sees the link on Facebook. We had fun, man!

August was also weddings and other fun here in college, but I’ll skip over that, too, except to say that it was all good. September was more little ups and downs, pains both dull and sharp. This I remember, but there’s nothing I can talk about here (a pair of protected posts from that month describe one angsty part of my troubles, if you know me enough to ask for the password), so we shall move on.

October was slow progress on my dual degree project (master’s thesis) and preparing for/writing GRE/TOEFL and so on. November was more work on the project, followed by some sort of preparations for campus placements, followed by me deciding to give up on applying for MS/PhD until after I had got a job, at the very least. Nothing more to say here because nothing more happened, or at least nothing that merits re-counting here. Yeah, it was a sad few months, in retrospect, but I guess you can’t avoid a bit of drudgery every now and then. And of course there were all the usual little spikes, so it wasn’t all bad.

In December, I got a job! As already mentioned. It happened on the 2nd so it shouldn’t be the only thing to say about the month, but it dominated most of it in terms of mind-space, which I guess is not so weird. I would like to repeat here the stories I’ve already told about the interview process, with all my gripes and cribs and that sweet sense of relief at the end, but I’ve done it too many times now in casual conversation and it’s probably of limited interest to people from outside IITM. Of course December was also Xmas and all the things around Xmas… food,friends, family and fun, not in that order. A lot was eaten and drunk. A lot was said and non-verbally communicated.

Oh, and I saw an Audrey Hepburn look-alike at Kumarakom Lake Resort yesterday. She looked so similar that it was a little bit surreal. I would go on, but this post is way too long already. So, Happy New Year everyone! Hope to see you all next year.

PS: October/November had Creative Writing week, for which we wrote that story, so that counts as something, especially since we got second! Not as good as first, but a lot better than nothing.

Leaving On a Jet Plane

I really want to dig into it right now-the smell of fresh packaging is so awesome, isn’t it?- but I’m going to save “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” for the flight on Sunday that I’m taking to Boston to do my intern at Harvard that I hadn’t posted about here yet because my visa got delayed and I wasn’t sure when or if I’d get it but now it’s here and I’m off! On Sunday. In the meantime, I’ll have to see if I have some clue about the thing I’m supposed to be working on once I get there. Also packing and shifting rooms and whatnot.

Because I have nothing better to do

“Hey, I’M prettier than HER!”, she says, and that’s…true, although it’s not the same kind of prettiness at all. Or maybe it is, and I’m rationalizing, even though I have no incentive whatsoever to rationalize. I don’t know why that cheered me up, but it did.

Being left alone and not being forced to do anything-even if you have things that need doing, I mean- brings out my tendency to over-analyze things.

The Schlum/Harvard intern- which I have deliberately not mentioned on this blog so far, mostly because I wanted to wait until I finally got to go- might not in fact work out, because even though the university has agreed and everything, they’re sending my visa application for “additional administrative processing”, which means it might be delayed so long that they may as well refuse me. At least according to the time they said they’d take. A friend says I might get it back in a week, however, in which case I would still get to go. Fingers crossed, for the moment.

I’m noticing a lot of latent(?) exhibitionist tendencies. As exemplified by this very post. I want to say “God, I’m so bored and pained and goal-less that I’ve been dancing naked in my room listening to Lady Gaga”, even though I know that that can’t possibly be something I would rationally want to signal. (But I will say that it’s more fun than I thought it would be, at least with some sort of artificial supplements. “I’m your greatest friend I’ll follow you until you love me…”)

So that’s pretty much what I’m up to, at the moment.  I had so many plans for the summer…finally lose that extra 5-10 kilos (well, at least some of that extra 5-10 kilos), practice the violin (almost) every day, streamline my reading habits-cut some of the more arbit feeds from google reader and bundle things better so I can read them the way I want to and rely more on long-form things on things I actually want to learn, anyway, so that I’m not just randomly browsing. Instead, I’ve been eating junk food every day and relying on biscuits and puffs for brunch (there isn’t really much else I can eat unless I pay for a proper meal, which I mostly just don’t feel like doing), not so much as touching the violin (although I plan to try that right after I’m done with this post) and spending hours and hours on tvtropes.org. I AM getting some long-form reading done… in the form of really long Harry Potter fan-fics, mostly ones with very out-of-character Harrys like Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality and “Oh God, Not Again!, which manages to be fun even without posing any sort of a challenge to Harry at all. I love snarky/cool Harry so much more than nice/tormented Harry.

Although I did read the 6th H2G2 book, “And Another Thing”, which was…good, but not quite up to standards. Even Mostly Harmless was not quite as good as the first 4, but that’s mostly because I didn’t like poor Arthur losing the one bit of happiness in his life so soon after he got it. I also read Ashok Banker’s new book, Gods of War, which is to be the first of a series. I don’t think I’ll be picking the rest up, and I’m left wishing I’d just read this on his website when he put it up for “beta-testing” before publication. I plan to do a post on that sometime, though, so I’ll elaborate then.

We will return to regularly scheduled programming by the end of the week, if not before.

Did Everyone Know This? The “Buy Me a Drink” Problem

Admittedly, this doesn’t really come up that much in my life- and I don’t even think it applies to Indian bars/dating scenes in general, but that’s a blind guess. But the example on this post took me a little by surprise. (The post is essentially on how high functioning people with Asperger’s need to compute social interactions “in software”, i.e. think through them manually and not rely on instinct. )

  • Cached answers – you can precompute the “right” responses to social situations. Probably the best example of this is the answer to the “buy me a drink” problem: you approach an attractive NT person who you might like as a future partner. After a short time, they ask you to buy them a drink. The logical answer to this question is “what kind of drink would you like?”, because in most social situations where you want to build up a positive relationship with a person, it is best to comply with their requests; not creating explicit conflict is usually a safe heuristic. But this is the wrong answer in this context, and you can store in your cache of counter-intuitive answers.
  • Scientific theories of social games – including game theory and especially signaling games, information economics and evolutionary psychology. Building on the “buy me a drink” problem, instead of simply storing the answer as an exception, you can use evolutionary psychology and information economics to see the underlying pattern so that you can correctly answer the “drink” problem and many other similar problems. The NT is using the drink request to solve a cheap talk problem – they don’t really want the drink, they want to know if you have higher dating market value than them, for example higher social status, income, success with other partners, etc. This is because evolutionary psychology makes some people want high-status people as partners. If they just asked you directly for these facts about yourself, you would have a strong incentive to lie. So they make a request that is somewhat rude, where only a lower-status suitor who thought they were worth “sucking up to” would comply, and then reject suitors who comply. This is really a kind of screening, where ability to give the “right” answer plays the role of a credential. Neurotypicals play some devious games, and this is actually quite a tame example.

NT, as you can guess from the quote, stands for neurotypical.

Is this such an obvious thing? I get how blatantly asking someone to buy you a drink is rather rude, but I didn’t really know the rest of it. I would have simply assumed that it would either show the relatively poor social skills of the person who’s asking, or alternately simply indicate that his/her society is more to the “Asker” side of the Asker/Guesser spectrum.

UPDATE: Apparently a lot of people at Less Wrong didn’t really get it, either. Although some people did. And from what I can guess, the people who do seem to have more experience in similar social contexts. So I still don’t really know. Anyone?

Endsem update

Three exams down and 2 to go. Two were not quite up to expectations(mostly because my expectations were too high for the effort I put in), but yesterday’s was the most disappointing by far. I’ve had a mild cold and fever for about a week now, and although the paper wasn’t that difficult, I just couldn’t think properly through it. But I have resolved to stop making excuses and just study properly for the last two.

Just as soon as I’m done with this post, at least.

On Friday I have an exam where if I perform the way I have been performing in the quizzes, I am in very real danger of failing a course for the first time ever. And I do NOT want to be repeating Analog IC Design in my final semester here. It already ruined what should have otherwise been a fairly enjoyable sem.

I’ve been watching a lot of Glee over the last week or so-about an episode or two every day- and I am getting more and more dissatisfied with it. First of all, the singing and dancing is still fun, but it gets tiring (maybe I should space it out more?). Secondly, it is entirely absurd that Terri Schuester can hide the fact that she’s not pregnant from her husband. I mean, come on. She’s taping a big…cloth something to her stomach. Even if she claims a headache or nausea or whatever every time, how hard can it be to notice that something isn’t right? I know picking holes in a show like this is silly, but I just can’t get over it.

Also, I didn’t even get it when Mercedes told Puck that “you might be the daddy, but Quinn picked Finn (aside: aren’t the rhyming names a little too much? Quinn and Finn, Sue and Schue?) to be the father” of her baby, and he should just lay off. WTF?

Also, I can’t wait until Finn finds out it’s not his kid. I have a feeling he’s going to be disappointingly nice/understanding/wimpy about it, though.

Also, for once I don’t mind one of the lead characters being this stupid. I’m pretty sure I’d hate someone like Finn in just about any other show.

Also, Dianna Agron is hot

I had the strangest dream yesterday. I’m alone in a tent somewhere-the tent door is open, and I can see trees so it’s probably a forested area-,lying on a mat and watching Glee on my laptop (maybe I brought lots of spare batteries?). It’s drizzling lightly, and the overall effect is quite pleasant. I also happen to have a rope tied  around each ankle, extending out of the tent and far into the woods. Every now and then I’m lifted by these ropes -and I do mean lifted, not dragged, it “felt” like flying, I think- and taken through the trees to a clearing of some sort, but for only a split second, and then I bounce back right into the tent, in the same position that I was lying in before. It’s a bit like bungee jumping, only horizontal, and it feels utterly normal and even fun, the way weird things always do when you’re dreaming.

After a while, I switch off the laptop and zip up the tent and go to sleep. It’s a fairly roomy tent, and I’m pretty sure someone else is meant to be sharing it with me: I get a feeling that someone is missing, even in the dream. I’m not very disturbed by that, though, it’s just a stray thought. I’m woken up in the middle of the night (still in the dream) by water dripping on my back. So I move my sleeping bag or mat or whatever to another side, but just as soon as I get back to sleep it’s dripping there, too, and when I look up I see a huge gaping hole on top, and it’s raining quite heavily. The earlier part of the dream was cozy and pleasant and comforting, but at this point it starts getting a much darker vibe, and I’m shivering and curling up while trying to cover myself up with something.

That was when I woke up.

Any interpretations?

Fictional Nostalgia

Interesting article (something this long and elaborate just seems to resist the adage of “post”) at the New Yorker on Salinger and Catcher in the Rye. I’ve never liked the book all that much, although it was certainly an interesting read. But I can certainly appreciate the sentiment below.

Life and Letters: Holden At Fifty : The New Yorker

Maybe, in fact, the nostalgia of youth culture is completely spurious. Maybe it invites you to indulge in bittersweet memories of a childhood you never had, an idyll of Beach Boys songs and cheeseburgers and convertibles and teen-age crushes which has been constructed by pop songs and television shows and movies, and bears very little relation to any experience of your own. But, whether or not the emotion is spurious, people have it. It is the romantic certainty, which all these books seduce you with, that somehow, somewhere, something was taken away from you, and you cannot get it back. Once, you did ride a carrousel. It seemed as though it would last forever.

The most interesting thing is that it’s not even a “maybe” for me. All those bittersweet memories that the pop songs and teen movies conjure up are completely spurious in my case, and I know they are, but that doesn’t change how easily they affects me. Yes, on the one hand it’s an interesting side effect of the globalization Americanization of culture. But purely as a psychological phenomenon, it’s still interesting. I noticed this most recently after realizing how much I liked Bowling for Soup‘s songs, and not just because the tunes are so catchy. They’re hardly universal love songs. They mostly sing about a very obvious and stereotyped American high school culture, which was really nothing like my own. Oh, we had the usual relationship issues and some rough division into nerds and jocks (no cheerleaders, though) and a range of people in between, but it was a far, far smaller school and everyone talked to everyone else; most people even talked to me. But I still empathize with all the angst and the longing and the high-tempo drama . And I don’t even feel bad about it.

PS:It has to be said, though, that like Holden, Bowling for Soup is hardly nostalgic for the high school years. One of their songs is bitterly titled: “High School Never Ends”.

PPS: Whoa. I just looked them up. I had no idea they were so old.

Quote of the Week: ‘the product of a male obsession with speed’

Is e=mc2 a sexed equation?…Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to me to indicate the possible sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes the fastest…’

–Luce Irigaray, Le sujet de la science est-il sexue?

Via Fashionable Dictionary.