I have a new roommate, my project partner has a price on my head, and my laptop has a nice-sized hole in the corner. It's been quite an eventful March so far.

women, women everywhere

And where does the overworked Carnegie Mellon student go when drowning in work? Why, to Smith College, of course. I'm here this weekend to visit my good friend and one-time CMU student Megan Adriance, and see what life is like at a very different type of school. Indeed, life is quite different here: for starters, the university is 100% female, and their computer science department isn't their strongest. I saw all the sights around campus and around the town of Northampton, Massachusetts; it's a beautiful campus and a charming if not crowded town. (The unseasonably warm temperatures yesterday helped that out.) Although the student body is 100% female, there is a large population of openly lesbian couples in the area, cutting down the pool of "eligible" ladies. It reminds me of my rule about Carnegie Mellon: all of the women here are ugly, taken, or both.

From the many stores that dot Northampton, it is very clear that the town loves journals, candles, and anything natural. Just about anything needed for college life can be purchased in town, although the offbeat brand names and promises of purity jack up prices substantially. I picked up a set of matryoshka, or Russian stacking dolls, made in India, at a shop in Northampton. What a country.

microcosm is injured

Unfortunately, it became cold and rainy outside in Northampton shortly after we returned from our shopping and dinner expedition. We decided to watch a couple of movies: first "American Beauty" on VHS, and then "Memento" on DVD. My friend didn't have a DVD player, but I had brought my laptop. I plugged it in to a nearby outlet, set it up in front of the TV, and played it. We all loved the movie, but as I was cleaning up afterwards, I tugged on the power cord accidentally.

Six pounds, four feet, and it landed on a corner. Ouch. A portion of the casing cracked clean off, although the system was still up. I immediately put it into "hibernate" mode just to be safe, as I swept up the pieces. Today, I'm faced with contacting Compaq or someone else to repair the laptop, a voided warranty, and a probable bill of several hundred dollars in parts and labor. Did I mention that I had committed this laptop to be used in a presentation on Tuesday?

Oh, and now the hard drive seems to be going bad too. Just toss it on the pile of Stuff Jason Doesn't Need.

"double" life

Last month, I remarked that living by myself in a double room had its ups and downs. I'm no longer alone: on March 1, my new roommate proceeded to dump all of his stuff into our living room, move it onto all of the available floor space in the bedroom, and then go off to a party. Although he's a business major, he still stays up late mostly to talk to friends. Also of note, I'm now living in a "triple" most nights: his girlfriend often spends the night. As with most freshmen who get to live in West Wing, the "Hey, look at my room!" syndrome is just wearing off. The worst part was the Sunday after he moved in, when as many as five people excluding me were in the bedroom at one time. He agreed that such a situation shouldn't happen again.

Fortunately, things have calmed down a bit, although I hope his girlfriend and he start to get a certain message after I keep on walking in on them while they're "studying." On the upside, my new roommate is a very neat person, so he's always keeping the room tidy. I like that.

class by class

15-412: Operating System Design and Implementation

I'm in the midst of The Kernel, an Operating Systems (OS) project that spans a total of five weeks. Unfortunately, my partner and I spent much of the first week working on OS homework and catching up on other commitments. My partner, seeing this lack of time, worked up a schedule and issued the first of several ultimatums about him expecting substantial work from me.

"... unless you start producing code, and fast, expect to find another partner"

-- my OS partner, March 11

My partner is a very smart guy: he has even been a TAfor two of my prior computer science courses. However, sometimes he can be a bit patronizing if not outright condescending. Our "meetings" often degrade to the point where he merely lectures me on the code he has written, asks me comprehension questions in a very TA-like manner, and gets mad when I don't instantly see his reasoning the same way that he does. I get assignments, but when I don't do them instantaneously or to his standards, he merely rewrites them from scratch. When I last saw him on Thursday, he basically gave me a diatribe on how he feels that I'm too dumb to work on this project, and that he will be basically assuming all the responsibility for the project. I've been relegated to janitorial work on the code: cleaning it up, commenting it, and so on. This is not where I want to be.

Obviously, I haven't been producing code to his liking. But why should I even bother? After all, when my code doesn't meet my partner's standards, he just rewrites it. He has no faith in me, and I know it. The worst part is that I'm not learning anything from this whole experience, except that it's wiser to pick a partner with a comparable level of knowledge instead of one with a substantially higher or lower level of ability. The whole thing is reminiscent of last semester's Databases debacle, in which my project partner was a former CS major who thought we could do our schematic diagrams in MS Paint.

Having a group with one dumb member and one smart member is just a bad idea. The smart one gets mad because the dumb one can't work effectively enough, while the dumb one gets mad because the smart one regards himself too highly and won't give any meaningful work to the dumb one. Last semester, I was the smart one. Times have changed. I don't like being dumb any more than I liked being "smart." I just want to work on the project.

One more thing: to pass the course, you must have a passing grade on both the exams and the projects. I'm not too optimistic about my midterm grade, and after that there's only one more exam -- the final. I could find myself in a very tight spot at the end of the semester.

80-311: Computability and Incompleteness

Right now, this course would be my only A if the semester were to end today. This is ironic, since I tend to do worst in theoretical courses. Of course, now we're in the section of the course where I have absolutely no idea what's going on, and where I don't put nearly enough time into the homework assignments. I've already neglected to do one assignment, although the lowest two homework grades will be dropped.

The worst part is that I can't work on these assignments enough, and I can't focus in class well enough to understand the material. What am I supposed to do, go up to the professor at office hours and say "I don't understand"? It's not fair to ask him to teach me the course all over again.

82-372: Advanced Japanese II

The minor is in reach, but this course is a big question mark. I ran out of time on the first exam, despite the fact that it was extended to the next class. I have already missed quite a few homework assignments, although I've been good with the more major ones so far. There's a big project that I have to present this week, but I don't have the slightest idea what to do. The person I was supposed to interview last week was on spring break, so it's not entirely my fault.

At this point, I have four options.

  1. Stay with the course. Plan A involves devoting ever more of my nonexistent free time to Japanese, and trying to get ahead of schedule for once. It also means studying well and sleeping well to improve my test performance in the future.
  2. Drop the course, and take a comparable course abroad. Plan B is looking more and more likely by the day. If I study abroad through ICU at the advanced level, I could get transfer credit for study abroad to complete the minor. My minor advisor has already OKed this arrangement, but I haven't even sent in the forms for ICU yet.
  3. Drop the course, and try again in a year. In the spring of 2003, my final semester here as an undergraduate, I will likely have a much lighter schedule than I do right now. However, at that point I must pass the course or risk non-graduation. Plan C is risky, but doable.
  4. Drop the course, drop the minor, and take three physics courses next year. Plan D emphasizes the fact that I only have three physics courses to go until I graduate with a physics minor. While I have no immediate desire to do this, it would work as a substitute or second minor next year. Coupled with the fact that I only have two courses in computer science next year, this could work in concert with Plan C above.
We'll see what happens.

82-374: Technical Japanese

Not too bad so far, although I'll have to do something about my laptop-using presentation currently scheduled for Tuesday. If I can't have another laptop on hand, which is likely, I'll have to do it by hand. Great.

Aside from that, the course is interesting and not too difficult. It should be manageable. No bitterness is required.