The year 2001 is coming to a close. In eight days, after two final projects and two final exams, I will be home. Frankly, I couldn't be happier to rid my memory of this year.

payne and suffering: a look back

December 2001 marks the one-year anniversary of a most bizarre, most rapid, and most unanticipated event: the time I almost sorta kinda had a chance of getting a girlfriend. She was Jessica Payne, a highly talented student at the University of Pittsburgh, and I was "CMU Drone 1" assisting at a Pitt high school quiz bowl tournament. I caught her eye, she caught mine, some hijinks ensued, and then she chose as her boyfriend a friend of mine who had also been helping with that quiz bowl tournament. That part was not too hard to get over, although the after-effects were a bit more than I was prepared to handle.

Almost a full year ago, I posted an update to my web site detailing the whole ordeal, prompting her to post a rebuttal (since removed). Despite the animosity that this generated, our war of words ended peaceably enough when we both realized that nobody else cared. We remained in friendly contact for a few months thereafter, until a May 12 message briefly explained her true feelings towards me.

"just so you know, I'm not talking to you any longer"

- Jessica Payne, May 12, 2001, 11:01:45 PM

So after a solid five months of communication (with various fluctuations of opinion and emotion) that ended it. Sure enough, she did talk to me a couple of other times via ICQ in August, although we never addressed the reasons why she had been refusing to talk to me. She sent me a message on September 11 at 12:20 PM saying simply, "I'm scared," but attempts to start a conversation from that proved futile. That's the last that I've heard from her via ICQ. Actions speak louder than words.

The Carnegie Mellon KGB, a social but not socialist student organization, has a twice-annual event known as Capture the Flag With Stuff wherein two teams run amok through the halls of Wean Hall and Doherty Hall on campus. I pulled out all other plans on November 9 to attend the event, realizing only at the last minute that she might be there. She was.

I first noticed her sitting in the row in front of us. Her hair was Noticeably shorter, although she looked more or less the same as I last remembered her. I quietly whispered information about who she was to my friends, to avoid them creating any sort of conflict. The players choose sides. She and I are on opposing teams. Red flag, no pun intended. I go on an assault mission into Wean Hall, am caught, and am brought to jail.

"See her? We used to go out last year. We haven't spoken in six months. She hates me. Welcome to my personal hell."

- me, to fellow prisoners, upon entering jail, November 9, 2001

Stays in jail last up to fifteen minutes, since jails clear on the top, :15, :30, and :45 of every hour. My stay was to last about ten minutes. Upon entering jail, I see her for the first time in six months Face-to-face. Her first words? "Hello"? "Long time no see"?



This will be a long ten minutes. To pass the time, we form a prisoner chain in a vain plot to get ourselves out of jail. This results in much taunting from my jubilant captor, as we trade barbs back and forth. "You called me fat!" she shouts in an accusatory tone. Snap judgement.

"Fuck yeah," I snap back, knowing full well that this relationship can't be saved. When she's not quite out of hearing range, I add, "you fat fuck."

I am not often a profane man. I am not often someone who will be so upfront and brutally honest with a member of the fairer sex. That night, I was not thinking. She prods me with kicks from her pink plastic shoes as I slither my way down to extend the prisoner chain. The gentleman beside me tells me to fully extend my arms and legs. I do. I am vulnerable.

The kick comes. It is dead on. It hits a very unfortunate area with an unfortunate degree of accuracy. "Back... the... fuck... up..." I stammer, not having realized the full pain.

The jail breaks, and I stagger back to base to do some defense. It's useless, with my weakened condition, and I resort to telling folks in disbelief about what just happened. Verbal abuse is one thing; any sort of physical response is uncalled for. I am gone after game one.

A friend of mine nearly died during Capture the Flag with Stuff this semester, as he plummeted about fourteen feet onto a concrete stairwell. Had he been about two feet off in any direction from his target, he could very well have died. He walked away with minor cuts and bruises.

This November was an unfitting end to an unfit relationship, and I only wish that I don't have to go through anything like that ever again.

class-by-class: the semester revisited

A year ago, I headlined my update with "worst semester ever!" in response to the aforementioned personal events. Academically, despite my lackluster performance in my core computer science class, I did fairly well in the Fall 2000 semester. This fall, there's no silver lining to such a designation.

15-415: Database Applications

I would not recommend this course. It is not particularly difficult; for me, the hardest part has been staying awake for all of the lectures. I am very fortunate to have a partner who knew his stuff for the final project, as introduced to me by my former partner after she dropped the course halfway through. The lackadaisical attitude towards grading and standards in the class end up being very frustrating, and I don't feel that I've taken away anything beyond an overpriced SQL book from this course. Final grade prediction: B.

15-451: Algorithm Design and Implementation

A course that I took solely because I had to, this course has put me on the losing side of time more times than I would care to recall. Poor time management on my part, combined with difficult and largely unininteresting subject material, has cost me many points overall. I'm lucky to be getting out of it alive, I think. Final grade prediction: C.

57-117: Choral Ensemble for Non-Majors

A mistake. While the conductor is undeniably the best I've ever had, I was outclassed from day one in this entry-level choral ensemble. My evaluation at my audition contained such terms as "rusty," "fair" and "poor" for most performance metrics, and "take a chance." That chance has not caused me to blossom as much as I would have hoped, and I am not taking the course again next semester. I appreciate the chance, but I realize that singing is most definitely not my thing. At the holiday concert last Friday, I very nearly blacked out from fatigue during the last number. It was the closest I came to collapsing in my life so far, and it would have been before a live audience numbering in the hundreds. Final grade prediction: B.

82-371: Advanced Japanese I

Speaking of being outclassed, I am the only one in my section who has not visited or lived in Japan at all prior to taking the course. Homework has been a consistent problem, although the final project will make up for my agonizingly poor grade on the third exam. On that exam, among other quizzes, I didn't even receive the paper back. Had I received it, I would have crumpled it up and tossed it into the garbage sight unseen. Final grade prediction: B, although I don't deserve it.

82-373: Structure of the Japanese Language

Not a bad class to be my one shining star this semester. This is a low-pressure discussion course which covers an array of linguistic and cultural topics not discussed in any other class. The only major problem was that the homework assignments were often so vague or unfeasible that they were practically impossible for the entire class. These assignments were universally ignored. Aside from those, my final project should be perfectly feasible if not boring. Final grade prediction: A.


A 3.00 for the entire semester would at least let me keep some of my dignity intact, but I'm not holding out hope. Next semester doesn't look too much more inspiring, continuing with my law of threes being bad in academia.

what's up next

Next semester, I have only four courses on my menu. Hopefully I won't need to drop anything.

15-412: Operating System Design & Implementation

Yes, I am. No, I'm not kidding. This course will easily occupy 30 to 40 hours per week at its peak, requiring much caffeine and the termination of my jobs as a course assistant and an information desk attendant. I only hope that I can find a suitable, knowledgeable partner early enough.

80-311: Computability and Incompleteness

Another math course, this one should wrap up another of my fundamental requirements. It's also my likely First-To-Go class, which if dropped would bring me down to the minimum of 36 units for next semester.

82-372: Advanced Japanese II

The punishment continues. Maybe next semester I'll actually do what I'm supposed to when I'm supposed to.

82-374: Technical Japanese

A seemingly integral course to bind my computer science major and Japanese minor, this course finishes the minor in Japanese and should be a good resource for my planned trip to Japan in the summer. (Preparations for that should start Real Soon Now.) I don't quite know what to expect, but at least I'm on good terms with the professor.

in closing

I know now what trouble can be
And why it follows me so easily
It's half the distance through the open door
Before you shut me down
Let me introduce you to the end

- Vertical Horizon, "Shackled"

See you next year.