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Traitors to the cause - Lindsey Kuper [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Lindsey Kuper

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Traitors to the cause [Jun. 21st, 2010|02:49 am]
Lindsey Kuper
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Alex oniugnip came up to Ithaca to visit me this weekend!

Our original plan had been to spend Friday through Monday doing the ICFP Programming Contest, as has been our tradition for the last couple years. When Alex showed up around 11:30 on Thursday night, though, my reaction was more or less, "Uh, we both just spent the whole week writing code, and right now I mostly just want to show you some waterfalls." I figured my enthusiasm would pick up by the next day, but on Friday I looked at the contest description and, well, maybe this shouldn't matter, but the theme of the contest is, like, vendor lock-in and dependence on fossil fuels, and it was a little off-putting. Hours after the contest had officially started, I still had bugs to fix in my OS homework that was due that night, and in the meantime, Alex had a project of his own to hack on that he was finding more appealing than the contest. Then we had to spend some time dealing with insurance-related fallout from someone hitting Alex's parked car1, and basically, it all added up to us not really being willing or able to participate in the contest this year.

I feel a little traitorous; I'm going to have to 'fess up to my co-workers, who know that I took Friday off with the intention of doing the contest and are going to ask me how it went. And I feel that I've betrayed a small part of my identity. But honestly, I don't feel too bad. I'm working so hard during the weeks that, dang it, I deserved a relaxing weekend. And I got one. Alex and I ended up spending the weekend walking around large chunks of Ithaca and doing a lot of leisurely hacking on things that were not the contest. I took him to the Moosewood Restaurant on Saturday, because my mom would be deeply upset if I spent the whole summer in Ithaca without going to the Moosewood, particularly if she knew my office was a block away from it (hi, Mom), and this morning we went to Waffle Frolic. We were going to walk to the lake from my place today, but we weren't sure if we could reasonably expect to make it there and back before Alex had to get on the bus back to NYC, and it was threatening to rain, and oh, look, there's the comic shop just opening up for the afternoon, let's just duck in there for a minute, and yeah. Alex found an impressive run of issues of The Maxx in the three-for-a-dollar section, and perhaps predictably, I picked up Logicomix. I've been reading it this evening after sending Alex on his way. It's the first comic I've read in recent memory that has sent me scurrying for scratch paper.

I didn't get all the bugs out of my OS homework -- a dynamic heap allocation library that replaces the functionality of malloc/realloc/free with a different interface! -- before turning it in on Friday, giving rise to an utterly one-sided email exchange with our instructor, if such a thing can be called an "exchange". It went kind of like, "I'm having trouble with such-and-such a problem"; "never mind, I fixed it; on to the next bug"; "argh; this still doesn't work, but it's due in four minutes and I'm turning in what I've got"; and finally, triumphantly but a day late, "it works!". I don't know if he saw any of the four messages, but the whole experience is making me think that maybe I shouldn't be so quick to answer my students' emails; maybe I should give them a few hours, at least, to let them try to figure it out themselves. Anyway, it all worked out in the end, but I'm irked at myself for blowing my heretofore perfect homework score, which as far as I can tell is the only basis for grading, since we don't have exams. I really want to get an A in this class, because I think that's the only circumstance in which I can justify putting it on my CV, which is obviously the only reason to do anything ever.


  1. Alex's car is here in Ithaca with me for the summer. At some point on Thursday morning, someone managed to smash their car into its left rear corner as it sat parked on the street, rendering it undriveable. I discovered this on Thursday evening, when I was about to drive to a dinner party at a co-worker's place and discovered that there was a note on the windshield and a strange askew-ness to the left rear wheel. Nobody's hurt, but we've had to spend a fair amount of time on the phone with Geico.
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Comments:
[User Picture]From: keystricken
2010-06-22 04:37 am (UTC)
I was very intrigued by Logicomix. I read a few pages in Powell's Tech. How would you characterize it?
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[User Picture]From: lindseykuper
2010-06-24 01:57 am (UTC)
Well, you know how in Hofstadter's books, Bertrand Russell is sometimes characterized as being abjectly terrified of self-reference, recursion, infinity and all that? This book paints a more nuanced picture. It doesn't hold Russell up as an infallible hero -- not even close -- but it emphasizes the idea that if it hadn't been for Russell's work, Gödel couldn't have done his. It's nice to see Russell get a fair shake. You get to see the human side of Russell and his colleagues in the book, too. And you end up admiring Russell for surviving the foundational crisis in mathematics without either going batshit insane or giving up on math entirely, as it would appear so many others did.

The book is, of course, itself self-referential; it's partly about the authors and their process of writing the book, a la Maus. And it starts with exactly the same surprised-artist-looks-up-at-reader-peering-in-on-them device as Stop Forgetting to Remember does. I'm not sure it's possible to do better than Maus in the self-reference department, but I like what they do with it, and you very much get to see the human side of Papadimitriou, the modern mathematician, too. (When I picked up the book, I saw the author's name and thought "Huh -- wonder if he's related to the Papadimitriou who writes theory textbooks." A few pages in, I was delighted to discover that it was the same guy.)
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