Wednesday, November 28, 2001

My ibook arrived today. It's the first major purchase that I have ever made completely with my own money. I'll need a laptop for when I move to Japan next month since I have to continue work on my AI projects even when I'm abroad. my new ibook I did a lot of deliberation over the kind of notebook computer that I would need. Since I have entered the realm of the power user, I can't get away with using a throw away computer any more. After consulting with dozens of professors and students I decided to go for an Apple laptop. Mostly I made my decision based on the fact that OS X comes with a UNIX shell, and the fact that you have to pay extra in order to downgrade from XP to anything else. XP doesn't sound like it's too friendly to people who like tinkering with their hardware. MacMall also offered me a great deal with a free memory upgrade, a rebate and half off next day shipping.

So now I have an ibook. It doesn't mean that I'm a full apple cult member yet, but then again I've only had my laptop for a few hours. I'm still a bit wary of the image apple products carry with them. The one thing that has always bothered me about apple computers is the fact that they are marketed more as a fashion accessory than a tool. Even the box has big pictures of people posing with notebook in hand. It makes it harder for people to take apple products seriously. my new ibook I also associate this sort of product with clever ad campaigns intense stylization like the new beetle. To a computer scientist this seems like a lot of waste, but we only make up a very small percentage of the general population.

To apple's credit, this sort of improvement on the packaging while still making quality hardware has kept it in business. Most of the apple owners I know love their computers. However, I'll probably come back from Japan and continue using a sun solaris computer for coding and my well loved windows machine for web surfing.

posted by Alison 11/28/2001 11:53:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, November 25, 2001

The best online personality test ever:

My results:
Click to see what Autobot you could be!

My favorite was always Laserbeak, but this is just as good.

posted by Alison 11/25/2001 06:06:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, November 22, 2001

Happy Thanksgiving.

Right now I am thankful that I get to come home and eat food that doesn't come from a box with the word 'instant' written on it.

posted by Alison 11/22/2001 05:40:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

I guess I have some explaining to do for the last post:

Originally we were going to have the '21 and over' section of my party at a jazz club called Vegas Lounge. Unfortunately, I am ignorant of the ways of DC nightlife so we arrived horrendously early at 9:00. The place looked deserted, not even a bar tender at the bar.

so much cheese
There was a Fresh Fields Grocery across the street, so we decided to kill some time in what is arguably the yuppiest grocery store ever. I was astounded by the cheese collection. This store had all sorts of ridiculous food products. Andres found the happiest cheese in the store (before | after). turkey butter Alice even spied butter sculpted into the shape of a turkey. I bought a bag of some snack called 'vegetable booty' that turned out to be a particularly awful mix of styrofoam covered with powdered spinach.

We ended up going down to Kramer books/Afterwords because Fresh Fields really isn't the proper place to spend a 21st birthday party. Besides, it has a full bar and the best peanut butter pie in the city. For my drink of the evening I chose a sour apple martini. It smelled like a sour apple blowpop, but it tasted, to quote Ralph Wiggum, 'like burning.' it tastes like burningI've noticed that I turn into a cartoon character whenever I drink with all of my motions completely exaggerated. Walking down the stairs back down to the bookstore part of the building was a lot more challenging than I expected. After browsing the books and chatting with my friends for another hour I was starting to feel kind of bold. I'd gotten through the last one without getting sick, so I felt that I might be ready for another one.

on the second floorFor some reason, the bartender was walking around in his underwear, which I didn't expect. All of my friends were pretty helpful in deciding what to order next. I chose vodka with cranberry and orange juice, which just confirmed for me that vodka is not my drink. I was quite entertaining with all of the sour faces that I made as I tried to choke my drink down. After a few minutes I fell off of my bar stool and I knew it was all over from there.

Two people walked me home and helped me up the stairs to my apartment building. When I sat down in my room it was literally spinning. It turns out that particular drunk cliche is pretty accurate. I fell asleep pretty quickly after stumbling around my apartment and writing a few drunken emails. I woke up pretty dehydrated at 5:00 am, just in time to watch the meteor shower while guzzling ice water.

cake from 3 weeks ago I was lucky and woke up without a hangover. Now that I've explored the alcohol territory between slightly tipsy and throwing up, I really don't understand why so many college students are compelled to spend every weekend inebriated. It was interesting, but it didn't make me have any more fun than I normally would. I'm sure I entertained lots of people with my exaggerated mannerisms, slurred speech and complete vocalizing of my inner monologue, but that's not what makes a weekend for me.

posted by Alison 11/22/2001 12:49:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Saturday, November 17, 2001

I'm at a bar with a computer waiting to order a second drink just to see if I'll be able to walk home later.

posted by Alison 11/17/2001 11:38:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thank you to everyone who has been sending me emails lately. I try to answer each email personally, but I'm slightly behind the queue right now. Sorry if I'm pissing anyone off with my slow replies. I actually have some pretty good excuses. On Thursday, the graphical user interface for my Artificial Learning System was accidentally erased in a UNIX snafu that left me almost in tears. I've managed to restore most of my work, but after integrating with the rest of my team, it seems all our learning entities can do right now is run around and bump into each other. Well, not literally, but that would be a lot cooler than our current on screen confusion. I already know that most of my Sunday will be spent cheerfully in front of a computer terminal, which is where most computer science people spend their weekends.

If it makes you feel any better, answering emails has actually gotten a higher priority than my grading. Most of my students have made it clear that they don't want to see their grades for the latest programming project.

posted by Alison 11/17/2001 07:51:00 PM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, November 15, 2001

My roommate doesn't think I've been quoting her very accurately (she's probably right). So when I told her today that meat cures most headaches, I made sure to keep an accurate record:

"Stop with the meat. And you can quote me on that."

posted by Alison 11/15/2001 12:28:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

From reader Brian Hoffman:

I think your friend isn't giving you the right advice on the protest. We're not trying to convert Saudis here, we're trying to enlighten Americans. If there were nauseatingly frequent protests in front of the Embassy in DC, the UN Embassy in NYC, etc...well, it might at least be able to counteract what's going on with Burton Marsteller and Qorvis...
First of all, to clarify, my list was about the reasons why there haven't been protests in the past. It was not about why there shouldn't be future protests. I've even decided what I'm going to write on my sign should I get the chance; it will say something like "look at my hair" and have an arrow pointing at my head. Okay, maybe my idea needs some work, but I'm sure other people will have much more relevant placards. Really, I'm just clinging to the idea of having an arrow pointing at my head. I'm also considering a reprise of the Simpson's 'honk if you love cookies' sign. As you can probably tell, I would not make a very effective protester.

Anyway, Brian is definitely right about the idea of enlightening Americans. It's a step in the right direction if the average American knows how the Saudi Arabian legal system actually works or about the status of women and foreign workers. However, despite appearances the activist system is surprisingly results oriented. And thus informing Americans is all part of a larger goal: winning change in the targeted system. Though I am speaking as an outsider rather than a member of the DC activist community, this is what I've noticed.

posted by Alison 11/15/2001 12:19:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, November 13, 2001

So I mentioned my thoughts about a Saudi Arabian protest (graciously picked up by Glenn Reynolds, a.k.a. instapundit). I had a nice conversation about this topic with my roommate. She's a local activist, which can be pretty tough in an town where most of the best internships require very thorough background checks. Though we disagree sometimes, she's a great source of information about the local protest scene. She made some very good points and got me thinking about a few things:

  • Eyewitnesses: "The authorities do not countenance criticism of Islam, the ruling family, or the Government." In Saudi Arabia, the penalties for speaking out against the government in are much more severe than in nations like Mexico. This being the case, it's much harder to find victims that are willing to talk. A cause is much stronger if you have someone who's actually willing to say that they've been wronged.
  • A government willing to listen: "Saudi Arabia is a monarchy without elected representative institutions or political parties." This means that they don't even have to pretend to listen to dissent. If the chance that your message will be heard is slim to none, most activists would rather put their resources where they think they will make a difference.
  • A grass roots movement: "Persons whose criticisms align them with an organized political opposition are subject to arrest and detention until they confess to a crime or sign a statement promising not to resume such criticisms, which is tantamount to a confession." With such harsh measures against organized opposition, there is little way for American organizers to interface with any sort of homegrown movement. Nations like Mexico have plenty of opposition organizations that are more than happy to coordinate with protesters in the United States.
  • Geographical location: "The Government tightly restricts the entry of foreign journalists into the Kingdom." Sometimes around campus you'll hear things like "So and so spent the summer with the Zapatistas. He got to meet Marcos!" It's important for at least some of the people involved with a particular movement to be able to see what they're protesting for. Mexico is pretty easy to get to, and not too expensive for an average college student. Saudi Arabia is much harder to get to, more costly and probably daunting for the non-Arabic speaking college student. Journalists might also have their access limited.
The above quotes came from the 1999 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. The bureau is a part of the U.S. Department of State.

I'm sure there are plenty of other reasons why I've never seen a protest at the Saudi Arabian embassy, but that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be protests in the future. Midterms are over. I'd be glad to take those hours that I've been spending with index cards and put them into something constructive. I've never actually participated in a demonstration before, unless gawking at the 2000 World Bank/IMF protests counts. I wonder if any of the activist groups in the area would be willing to pick this one up.

posted by Alison 11/13/2001 12:33:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, November 11, 2001

Some pictures that are starting to get outdated:

Squash, pumpkins and turnips at Eastern Market--




posted by Alison 11/11/2001 12:12:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Thursday, November 08, 2001

Today I got a package. A big white styrofoam cooler filled with dry ice, 6 sirloins from Omaha Steaks and a cheese cake from the Carnegie Deli arrived at my building sometime today. There wasn't a card or a message to tell me who it was from. Though I have a strong suspicion of who sent me the steaks, it's kind of fun to imagine random strangers so enamored that they are compelled to send me mail order meat.

One of the best bonuses of getting steak in the mail is that I get to tease my devoutly vegan roommate.

"Hey, Jess. Why don't we make meat helmets and run around?"

"You're not funny."

"Do you want to see my box of meat? It's full of little steaks that I like to call 'steaklets.' They're very cute."

"No I don't want to see your meat. Will you shut up about it already?"

I also got a little cookbook filled with glossy photos of beef cuts. I've never been really good at cooking, so whoever sent me the steaks knew me well enough so that they sent me multiple sirloins for trial and error.

My roommate and I had a great time playing with the dry ice, watching it sublimate and smoke. I enjoyed freezing flowers and shattering them like they were made of glass.

posted by Alison 11/08/2001 12:27:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Alcohol, Oh Alcohol. It's been Years with a capital 'Y' since I've ingested alcohol in any form, even Nyquil or Robatussin. Yesterday was my 21st birthday. As a treat I decided to buy myself lunch at a really nice Japanese restaurant on Eye Street. It wasn't until I was seated that I remembered that it was legal for me drink alcohol, so I decided that it was something I should try. Unfortunately, I only had a choice between hot sake and beer. I picked the hot sake because it sounded traditional and I know I don’t like beer. The sake was brought to me along with my bento box lunch in a little pink bottle with a little pink ceramic cup that I spent 15 minutes staring at. I was almost finished eating when I finally gathered up enough courage to take a sip. It was terrible. I hated the sting as it went down my throat. I kept on making horrible faces as I forced myself to drink the rest of the little cup bit by bit. The two German women sitting across from me would pause in their conversation and stare at me as I made those ghastly facial expressions. After that little thimble full I felt slightly flushed, a little bit spacey, but sick to my stomach. Alcohol is yet another one of those things in the adult world that hasn't lived up to the hype.

So, I decided for the rest of the day I would just go to class and go to bed early. My friends in my AI course would hear none of that, and were kind enough to take me out. Alice bought me a mudslide that was as big as my head, and I was just relieved to be drinking something that looked like it was at least 75% ice cream. I still hated the alcoholic sting in the back of my throat and as the only one drinking I felt a little like a lab experiment. But I knew I was only going to have one 21st birthday and forced myself to drink most of it. I got a little bit tipsy. It was hard to tell if I was drunk or just acting drunk because that's what I've seen on TV. I did feel lightheaded, but also completely sick to my stomach. My friend Keith was very kind and gave me a piggyback ride for most of the way home. But after I started to have a hard time holding on, he switched to a fireman's carry. Being bounced up and down on my already cranky stomach didn't do me any good and I had to be put down at once or I was going to be sick all over the sidewalk.

I'm glad I have friends who are kind enough to make sure that I have a good time on my birthday, but I don’t think I'll be doing much drinking anytime soon.

posted by Alison 11/08/2001 12:06:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Tuesday, November 06, 2001

It's my birthday now. I'm 21!

posted by Alison 11/06/2001 12:04:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

Sunday, November 04, 2001

Tiny Sepuku originally started out as a Hello Kitty parody but soon grew into one of the cleverest love advice columns/comics around. It's syndicated in only a few papers, but luckily there is a whole collection available online. This one is my personal favorite and this is a close second. I'm just happy to have something to fill the cute/smutty comic vacuum left by the conclusion of When I am King.

posted by Alison 11/04/2001 12:43:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

I went to a They Might be Giants concert on Halloween. It was probably one of the best concerts I have ever been to and definitely the best Halloween of my adult life. I went with Alice and Ben and we managed to wiggle our way to the front of one of the balconies. My friends were kind enough to let me have the one spot with a clear view of the stage. I ended up jumping up and down and cheering for almost three hours and probably almost knocked down anyone standing near me. Ben was a load of fun and ended up dancing with me for one of the encores.

I was surprised that there were so few people wearing costumes, but there were a few good ones. My favorite was someone dressed as a stove complete with a frying pan for a hat. Of course, it's almost impossible to get a cab after a concert in DC, so we ended up hanging out at Ben's Chili Bowl for some late night chili fries. I'm glad to have friends who will actually force me to go out and have some fun at least once a semester.

posted by Alison 11/04/2001 12:43:00 AM : (0) comments : splink

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