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February 21, 2000

Hi all,

I do not claim to own moral impunity and I do not wish to turn this mailing list into a personal, one-directional political rampage. Furthermore, I do not wish to give you the impression that I only have things to complain about, but it is a fact that bad news is more interesting than good news. Ok, after this disclaimer: I have to get something off my chest. This weekend I witnessed the campaign before the election in South C for Republican party presidential nominee. The election, as you might know, was between John McCain and George W. Bush in South Carolina. Well, it made me sick to my stomach. I am fully aware of my narrow mind concerning this matter due to the total absence of political issues in the Netherlands since the end of the 2nd World War. I really got involved when I turned on the television...

(Oh, yes. Let me tell you something about American television. There are 100 channels on our television ranging from dumb to sub-zero stupidity. Every 5 minutes there is a commercial break of 4 minutes which forces you to zap to another channel. You need a minimum of 25 channels to stay amused without having to look at commercials. One interesting difference with televisions that I was used to, is that you first have to type the digits of the channel (e.g. 245) and then press "Enter" on your remote control. This enables you to type a number op to 999.)

Where was I? While zapping I came across John McCain standing in a city hall talking to a bunch of people. To my total astonishment the guy was making jokes continuously for over 10 minutes without touching a political issue. When he finally cut through the crap, he talked about his army-past and god-knows-what. The point is that he tried to stay as far, far away from politics as he could. It was a total farce. George might be even worse. He *tried* to stay away from politics until he realized that a famous father and a bunch of cheerleaders alone were not going to bring him the presidency.

Speaking of the President: last Friday I was at another Hillel dinner where I sat with a French, an Israeli and an American student. The French guy kept making sexual remarks all the time. After doing that for over 15 minutes, the American guy said: "Hey man, you're going to be our President one day."

OK. Basta. Let me tell you about me now.

We are having a class A emergency here. A dog killed a skunk (stinkdier) in our garden. The skunk did not go without leaving his traces, though. The result is horrendous. It started while I was playing the piano. First I thought that the neighbors were smoking marihuana. But the smell got worse and worse. C enlightened me and explained to me that it was a skunk. After 30 minutes we could hardly breathe normally anymore. As I am writing this, the beast lies under my bedroom window. Animal Control will not come before Tuesday morning to remove it. (Sunday is Sunday and this Monday is President's day. God only knows what the cause for celebration is, but apparently the assumption is that animals don't die on Sunday or on President's day.) I covered the corpse with a heap of snow and went to bed. The stench woke me up twice last night.

My first countermeasure was spraying a full bottle of deodorant in my bedroom. I'm not sure which is worse, though. I can't describe this smell to you. It's a mixture between gasoline, marihuana, matches, sulfur and rotten eggs. It's so penetrating that, despite of all my deodorant, I can still smell it as bad as before.

Despite of a dead skunk practically lying in my bed, my life is very dull.

At the moment I work 14 hours per day, so I am slowly turning into a C++ machine. (C++ is a programming language that I use for my project). Everything I see and hear during the day is immediately translated to C++ in my head. I even dream in C++. If I need to remember something, I don't just remember it; I first malloc() memory, bzero() it and then memcpy() stuff into it. You get the picture.

I am making long days at the moment (09:30 I start, 23:30 I go home). This is to compensate. I am not as fast as the rest, so I have to make up for my slow motion by making longer days. Unfortunately the others work at least as long as I do, so it's hard not to drown. Working that long has a weird effect on me. After about 10 hours I get into a kind of hypnosis. This is probably the result of a combination of looking at a screen for that long and thinking too hard. After 10 hours my brains shut down. They simply come to a screeching halt. The only way to get the system back on, is by taking a long break and writing everything down. When I have worked that long I can't keep track of a thought. By writing it down I can always get back on track by looking at what I wrote. I try to do the hard thinking in the first part of the day and the 'easy' parts in the evening. I hope that after some training I will be able to also do complicated things in the evening.

In the evening everybody is tired ('swapped out' for computer scientists) and strange things start to happen. People start yelling at each other, a smell of ordered food dwells through the building and everybody gets a funny look in his (no ladies) eyes. I have never taken drugs, but I guess that programming continuously for 14 hours is a good approximation.

A day at MIT usually looks like this: at 09:30 I arrive. I lock my bike, walk in, greet security (always there, 24 hours per day), go to the 5th floor, unlock the door to my room (I'm usually one of the first to arrive) and install my portable CD player. At 10:30 everybody is in, but I am very lucky because nobody is in my room with me which means I can pick my nose whenever I feel like it. Around 12:00 I go to the fridge to get a pita and humus that I brought with me. That's my lunch; sometimes I go to the nearest Deli to buy a chicken sandwich and a cup of soup. At 12:30 I'm back to work enjoying music of Beethoven, Mozart, Tori Amos and Shlomo Artzi. At 19:00 I warm up the food I prepared in the weekend and eat it. Sometimes I join the rest and order pizza or something else. Unfortunately ordered food is often very fat and expensive so I try to limit that. The salads from Bertucci are good, though. Then comes the hardest part of the day. First I try to sleep for 20 minutes and then at 20:00 I'm back to work. Usually I quit at around 23:00. At 23:30 I'm home (on my way back home I go to the supermarket). At home I eat Ben & Jerry's frozen yogurt to counter my frustrations I suffered during the day and at 01:00 I'm in bed. At 08:00 I wake up, eat a bagel, step on the bike, goto start.

You might wonder whether or not I actually like working that hard. I LOVE IT! It's hard to explain why I like programming that much, but I think I like the feeling of 'building' a machine that slowly gets bigger and bigger and more complex. It's like playing with Lego. It's a combination of creativity, finding practical solutions to problems and hard (sometimes very abstract) thinking.

Programming has its frustrating sides, though. When there is an error in your program you call that a 'bug' (well known from Y2K; people call it that because in the early days of computers a bug meant that there was an actual live bug flying around in the tubes creating havoc). Searching a bug can be tremendously frustrating since it was me who put the bug in there in the first place. The reward for finding (and fixing) a bug is a sense of satisfaction that makes up for all the searching. Everytime I find a bug I have a little Aha-Erlebnis. After that comes the "How could I have been so stupid?"

I'm still having my struggle with Loneliness. It has its good sides also. The past 3 weeks were very good to come to terms with the last disastrous week in Amsterdam. I miss a good friend, though. There might be a solution to that problem. I now have Humphrey. Humphrey is my new friend. Humphrey is a nice fellow. He always smiles and he never complains. I can see him from my window and I wave at him sometimes. He doesn't want to come in, though. Actually he shouldn't come in because he wouldn't survive it. The warmth would kill him in no time. Humphrey is a snowman that Martin, C and I created Friday night. It snowed and after having had a snowball fight in the garden we built Humphrey. We also tried to slide down the street (I live on a hill) on plastic bags. For a moment it felt like I was only 23 years old, which was nice.

Speaking of snow: I was at MIT when it started snowing and I had to get back home on the bike. I wasn't going to let a little snow keep me off my bike, of course. That's my Dutch 'blood'. It was fun: people opened their window from their cars to applaud me and after having slid down a sloped street on my bike, a few guys that had been watching me congratulated me with having survived that ride. It took me 45 minutes to get home where it normally takes me 12 minutes to cover that distance.

I quit the choir. There were 2 rehearsals per week and then they told me I would also have to come to the sectional rehearsal with the basses only. Forget it. 3 days per week is too much. Even for music.

As you can see I'm slowly running out of exciting stories and the real juicy ones I will not write to all of you. My parents are reading it too, you know. (Actually I hardly have time to get involved in juicy stuff, but I have to keep up the image.)

I have some photographs now. Some are too dark (still have to practice with my new camera) and the nice ones are soon to be scanned. Be patient. I will let you know.

The husband of my mother is the winner: he is the first one to visit me the weekend after the next. Immediately after him, two friends from Amsterdam (Lotte & Floortje) are coming to visit me. I'm very much looking forward to that. Who will follow?

Bye now,

Thomer

PS: You are still on my mailing list. Together with 39 others, by the way. If you want to leave this elite group of people, let me know. You can always see my new (and old) mails on http://thomer.com/mit.

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Updated: 2004/09/06