Happy Birthday to me. I'm 29 today.

This last year has been remarkably boring, but not in a bad way. I was due for a boring year, and I was happy to have it.

I took a half-dozen or so trips back upstate so see my nephew. I wandered a line that bordered on OCD about that little baby, and people I know think that I'm a little weird for it. Here's the secret to all of that: I believe it is my obligation to give him everything that I never had. I'm not saying I'm going to spoil him or anything, but I'm going to make sure he goes to college if he wants, and that he eats on a regular basis, And teach him to play chess and smoke nice cigars. Least I can do.

They have another child on the way, due in December. I'm ready planning on blowing some considerable amount of vacation days to go out there around that time. Another excuse to go to New York. Another excuse to go and poke around at the nifty gadgets at the baby store. Another round of questions like, "If you like babies so much, why aren't you having any?" And then I'll meet my one diaper changed quota and come back home.

My wife continues to trudge along toward her doctorate in Sociology, and I have been working as hard as I can to make sure that we are able to eat, sleep, and pay tuition at the same time. I've been doing pretty well so far, but she has applied for some student loans in order to help take the pressure off. She will teach her first class at Loyola in the spring.

My dizzy spells have abated, and my chronic headaches are down to a manageable level. There were some medication adjustments neccessary to get things nice and level, and things are looking much better. For the first time in my life, am am largely without headaches. I didn't even know this was even possible.

Things are going really well. I'm looking forward to seeing (some of) you guys in in a few short weeks.

Things have taken a decidedly turn for the worse for me in the immediate past.

To wit:

  • I've gone through 100 Xanax tablets in four days. If this doesn't qualify as a drug problem, I'm not sure what does.
  • I have a urinary tract infection. Cranberry supplements seem to be helping.
  • Stomach/intestinal distress is decidedly no fun.
  • Five days without sleep (prior to the acquisition of the 100 Xanax tablets) is surely one of the forms of hell.
  • I no longer have health insurance.
  • I've been too ill to assert myself to finding steady employment.
  • My apartment is filthy, due in large part to my decrepit state of mine.

  • On the other hand, I quit smoking. So I suppose not everything has gone to pot.

I think I'll be heading to Walgreens to find, with the luck of the draw, a few things to help me feel better.

That venture also netted me a night mask (since I often find myself trying to sleep during the curs├Ęd daylight hours), OTC anti-diarrheal meds, a bottle of 5mg melatonin (previously, I thought the maximum for melatonin dosages was 3mg; shows what I know, I guess), and a 1.5 litre bottle of Evian, since I was out of drinkable water. The tap water where I live can be best perhaps described as cheese that's seen better days.

Jane taunts everyone.


“I never used to be afraid on Ferris wheels.”

“Not as high up as a plane. Vroooooooom!”  She grins and sticks her arms out to accentuate the “airplane” noises.   The car rocks sickeningly.

Jane on a good day is like the mountains in June. Cool and sunny, and streams of bright cold optimism breaking out of unexpected origins.  Of course she knew I was afraid of heights, precisely the reason we rode the wooden coaster, the spiral coaster, the tilt-a-whirl, and now, this, the “Giant Sky Wheel.”  She insists on sitting next to me, and our combined weight tilts the car.    

“In case you get too scared,” she says. “I want to hold your hand.”

It’s a clear night, but the theme park lights make it starless.  Jane is tearing a pink flier into heart-shaped confetti. She’s got a pen out too, to send little irritating messages to the other park patrons below us.  They land softly in bushes and cotton candy and slushie cups.  

She’s building a little pile of bigger hearts on the opposite bench.  So funny, she remembers everyone’s name, and she unlooses this nest of off-season valentines in the direction of a blonde parking attendent.  It’s only remarkable that the hearts say “Sarah, will you marry me?” because the girl’s nametag says “Sarah” and because her boyfriend runs the Scrambler.

Jane’s lost interest by the time Sarah starts squealing and punching buttons on her cell-phone, and she turns to ask me,

“Do you ever think you’ll get married, Brian?”

I say, “No- I’ll always be here for you.”


The Past :: The Future



I feel like I need to write about a few things instead of spending most of my time on e2 in the catbox. Yes, it's a daylog, so I reserve the right to make it rambling, unconnected, and occasionally incoherent. Caveat lector.


Kristen left three weeks ago today to pursue her life back in the US, in Oregon. I have been meaning to write my thoughts on the matter for some time, since the day she left, but I always seemed to find something better to do.

We haven't broken up, at least not in so many words, although I expect something much like it will happen of its own accord. We have spoken on the phone about every other day since she left, and I dramatically have made her promise that she will not stand me up for our next date in four years, at a very specific place, at a very specific time. Until then, we'll see what happens, but I fully intend to be there by all means possible, and four years to plan ahead for it seem like enough to make sure that we can both be there no matter the present circumstances.

There are no promises of fidelity, which would be a bit of an unnatural pledge for both of us, considering both of our sexual proclivities. I expect that with time the body's memory, always so much stronger than the mind's, will slowly fade away and the contact of a new person will no longer seem as invasive as it may seem now to both of us. Regardless of the propensities of the body, I did promise that I would not look for anyone else for at least three respectful months, which seems close to my own natural rhythm for these things. I know I have been accused of being overly sexual or that I may seem that way in public catboxical discourse, but I should make it clear, whether I'm believed or not, that never, not once, have I ever had sex without making love at the same time, and that sex for me is never from the waist down, but includes the rest of the body, in particular the brain and the heart. Every woman I have been with has been important; I have loved every one in her own way, and I still do love everyone quietly, privately, personally, for I believe you never fall out of love with anyone.

This does mean that the promises of March 13, 2007 have been rescinded by mutual agreement. Eventually Kristen said to me, why would you want to come to Oregon? There's nothing for you here to do besides being with me, and I don't want to be the only reason why you would come. Go ahead with your plans to see more of the world.

And I agreed, even through my attempts to keep my side of the bargain and promise that I would do my best to adapt to life in the US despite my prejudices. At her own insistence that I should do what I think best for myself, I finally gave up and agreed that going to Norway or Russia is what I should be aiming for, and I am. Our love will have to wait.

I believe in the best love stories. I'm a deep romantic at heart, and may the day never come where cynicism, especially romantic cynicism, gets the best of me. As I see it now, both Kristen, my dear Kristenabella, and I need to go grow in our own separate ways, and if it's meant to be, if it works, and I deeply want to believe so, then four years are nothing, and it will work again after that time. I have known of such love stories and happy endings, and there's no reason why I can't have my own too.

I was afraid that I wouldn't cry the day she left Guanajuato, and I felt profoundly relieved when the abdominal spasms of tears shook my entire body. I was taken by them for a good hour, thinking of what we had shared, of the time we would be apart, and of the promise of what we may be able to share once again. You bleed just to know you're alive.

For the time being, deluser kristen.

And now for something completely different

Over the past few weeks, I have been busying myself with what feels like a secret identity. I, the mild-mannered mathematician playboy by day and in the public eye, by night become the daring free software coder attempting to bring quality software to users worldwide at great personal risk simply because I think this is the right thing to do after all that free software has done for me.

Did I mention that I enjoy being dramatic? Yet, this is a turn that I really want to take with my life. I have grandiose dreams of doing mathematics by day in order to earn a sustenance that will enable me to code free software by night. Indeed, although a few lucky souls are able to make money by coding for a free software job (let's not forget, for instance, that most kernel hackers are employed by the likes of giants like Novell, IBM, or Oracle specifically for their work on the kernel), after hanging out with the Debianistas, it seems that an overwhelming majority of free software coders still have to make ends meet otherwise.

I have a bit of a fantastical appreciation for this dynamic. It makes for good stories. It makes me feel part of this underground worldwide community of individuals powered by ideals of freedom, community, quality, and openness. We are few; we are scattered and international. We speak many languages, both natural and coding, and we often have our ideological differences, yet we're united by the commitment of free software ideals and the way that information should be shared amongst all humans. We're the rebels living in gritty Zion trying to bring freedom from the machines to anyone else who may want it. It feels good, and it feels right.

I have lived a very comfortable life. It's important that I say this. I have never been hungry, unsheltered, unclothed, or unloved. I have never been through a war, and nothing dreadful has ever happened to me. I have had the opportunity to have the best education that money can't buy, learning mathematics and fluently speaking more than one language. I have been blessed, gifted. I belong to an exceedingly small minority of the human race. Call it what you will, good luck perhaps, although I prefer to think of it as receiving a lot of good karma. I believe in karma not in any religious sense but as a vague sociological construct. If you give, you'll somehow get back through some path in the social network, simply because that's just the way humans naturally are. I believe I have this karma debt to the world, that I have to give something back, that all the good I have received cannot be in vain, and I will not die happily if I feel that I have done naught for this world except consume oxygen.

I want to save the world. The world is one messed-up place, as I needn't remind you. I feel a need to do as much as I can to make it better, but I don't see how I could impact most of its problems in any significant way. Mathematics seems to be one way to do it, if I can add to our knowledge of nature and the world in a useful way, then I feel like I have accomplished a lifelong goal. This is why I chose to work in applied mathematics after completing my undergrad degree in pure maths, because I have a need to feel like I'm doing good for others. But I ran into an obstacle: applied mathematics has a very large component of working with a computer, and how could I in good faith say I'm contributing to the betterment of this world and to creating a greater wealth of information if my code can't be shared, studied, modified, and used by everyone? Free software fits in very naturally with my lifelong goals, you see.

The most wonderful thing, despite what detractors might say, is that this idealism isn't empty idealism. Free software exists now, and it works now. Oh, sure, there is much work to be done if we are to fully attain its goals. Thankfully, there is almost just as much work already behind us, and we are heading in the right direction.


I have recently completed my first Debian packaging. I packaged QtOctave, a Qt front-end to GNU Octave, in hopes of making Octave more visually attractive to newcomers by making a GUI for it easier to install. I'm currently waiting approval from Debian's ftpmasters, although I have no reason to expect that they would reject my submission (Debian is *very* strict about quality and enforces packaging policies as rigidly as it can). It felt good, and if I hear about people using it and sending me bug reports about how I can make it better for them, it'll feel better. I'm also building on the work of someone else; I didn't write the GUI, just packaged it. This makes me very satisfied, and it's one thing I enjoy profusely about free software: we keep building on each other's work to create a whole greater than the sum of its parts, and our work is infinitely reusable if done right. That most fundamental rule of economics, scarcity, is violated here. How wonderful.

I like the thought of working with Debian. It's the largest binary distribution out there with a good packaging scheme, meaning it's very easy to install and update its packages, and it sticks very close to free software principles. It's so good, that the fastest growing and most popular GNU/Linux distribution is based on it, Ubuntu. Ubuntu adds more user-friendliness to Debian's quantity and quality, creating this greater whole I was just talking about. Although I prefer to work with Debian because I feel more at home with its policies and ideology, the thought that my work will also be available to Ubuntu fills me with an overall satisfaction. Oh, I have my disagreements with a few things that Debian does, and Ubuntu still hasn't completely attained the degree of user-friendliness it aims for; nothing is perfect. Regardless, I am very happy with both of them as it is.

I plan on packaging more mathematical software for Debian because voluntary work like this has the best results when you do what pleases you the most. Motivation is everything; you have to work in what you believe in. Money may provide artificial motivation, but it can't usually buy your heart, and if your heart isn't in it, then the quality of your work will show it. Thus, my next packaging targets, in approximate order of how close I am to completion, are

  • surf: surf is a visualisation tool for algebraic geometry and produces pretty pictures like this one. It's been mostly abandoned upstream by its original developers, so I want to take it under my wing and adopt. It's the plotting engine for Singular, which is still under active development.
  • Rubik: Well, this one doesn't have a very unique name, and that may be because it's a relatively simple tool from which I have nevertheless derived great enjoyment (I'm going to try to change its name anyways). It's just a Rubik's cube simulator, and a rather simple one at that. It does have some very useful features like macros, so you can record a series of moves and instantly see their effect and undo just as quickly. It's a great tool for using and understanding Rubik's cube, albeit only its 3×3× version (perhaps I'll expand it to other cube sizes; after all, cube-solving algorithms are also available out there). This one wasn't free software until yesterday, after much lobbying on my part. It's a very simple program under which underlie many layers of complexity, much like the cube it simulates. It also has very good documentation, and there's an accompanying text that uses this program and Rubik's cube to bring group theory to a general audience (the target audience is those with a high school level of this mysterious "mathematical maturity"). I'm not sure I'll be allowed to package this text, though.
  • LiDIA: A C++ library for computational number theory. I only used it once about four years ago for an undergrad summer project on number theory, and I was generally impressed by it. Unlike other so-called C++ code out there (printf and preproccesor macros do not a C++ program make), LiDIA actually is written with good C++ practices in mind and true object orientation. There is inheritance, polymorphism, templates, namespacing, and all that good stuff. Plus, its algorithms are top-notch; about four years ago when I was using it, it had the best algorithms for elliptic curve cryptography available anywhere. Unfortunately, like surf it's also been abandoned upstream, but that doesn't detract from its quality in any way. It also wasn't originally free software. After some nagging from my part, its copyright holders decided to release it as free software, and now I feel a bit of duty towards Debianising it in hopes of bringing it to a wider audience.
  • Singular: A CAS specifically aimed at algebraic geometry and commutative algebra. It's not entirely unique, but it is unique in the free software world. I don't know much about it, except that packaging it will be quite complex due to its intricate build process. This one was almost free software except for some components. I also managed to convince the authors to release those components, and now Singular is 100% free, so I also feel a sense of duty towards it.
  • SAGE: The granddaddy of all free software CASes, SAGE actually is huge simply because it incorporates an interface to all major CASes, both free and proprietary (naturally, it only distributes the free ones with it). SAGE is more than just a front-end to the rest of them; it also offers functionality of its own such as plotting, and is written in that very comfortable language, Python (for which, reputedly you just have to write pseudocode and then indent it properly). It looks like the most likely killer of the three big M's and harmful addictions of the mathematical community, Matlab, Maple, and Mathematica. It still isn't there yet, although I get the feeling it's getting closer and closer. If Singular would be hard to package, SAGE would be triply so, in terms of its size and that it actually patches the software it includes with itself, such as Maxima (general-purpose CAS), GNU Octave (numerics), GAP (group theory) and Pari/GP (number theory), and even Singular.

That should keep me busy for starters. There are also other non-packaging tasks I want to indulge in, mostly related to Octave, because we desperately need a replacement for Matlab, the de facto industry standard. I want to improve Octave's Emacs mode and its graphical abilities via Octaviz, an Octave interface to VTK, the visualisation toolkit.

Some day I aspire to be a Debian developer, a double-D like our very own jaybonci is (or was?). First I need to prove my abilities and commitment, which seems fair. This world needs more actual free mathematical software. Let's begin.

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