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Pain and suffering

July 3, 2002

Dear [76 names],

So I finally shut up. My last e-mail has been months ago. It worries me; it is probably a troubling indication of my getting used to stuff around here. I used to see and hear all these strange things, but recently I've started to accept, and even defend, them. ``How are you guys doing today?'' sounds friendly, not stupid, even if the crowd is women-only. Star Market is not *that* big; Albert Heijn is just tiny. And worst of all; Bush is not *that* stupid. Just kidding.

It is 35+ degrees here. Welcome to Massachusetts, where we will freeze you to death in winter, and sizzle you dry in summer. And don't tell me you wish it was that warm in Holland. Really, you don't. These temperatures are beyond normalcy. Biking is a true disaster. In fact, movement of any kind outside is impossible in this blistering heat. My house and my room do not have air-conditioning. The fridge cannot keep up and the ice-cream is slowly oozing out of the freezer. I never pee, no matter how much I drink, and my computer keeps shutting down because it's overheatiO*KJS^#TE

So what have I done the past few months? I've had F from Holland over. Second time she was here. She's taking the lead!

Also, I went to Copenhagen (not the city, but rather a play about the (in)famous meeting between Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg in Copenhagen during WWII; some argue that Heisenberg went there to find out whether the Americans were building the A-bomb. Others sat that he came to tell Bohr that the Germans were trying to build one. Yet others argue that Heisenberg was just too stupid to build one; he himself claimed that he was trying to stall the process out of goodness of his hart. The play ``Copenhagen'' flirts with all these possibilities ideas. The play has a shattering ending. It's a definite must-see.

I got heavily involved in quite a heated debate that is going on at both Harvard and MIT. A group of faculty (professors) at both institutes started an initiative to divest from Israel. This group, led by Noam Chomsky, a left-wing fanatic and also a famed linguistics professor, were collecting signatures at Harvard and MIT that demanded both universities to halt all cooperation with American companies that, in some way or another, were providing Israel with technology. Their petition, one I strongly disagree with, can be found at

I got involved when, one night, some person wrote an e-mail to hundreds of computer science people at MIT calling everyone to sign their petition. This was the same day that a suicide bomber killed 19 Israelis. I was furious and enraged. Having opposing views is fine, disagreeing with Israel's policies is fine, voicing ones opinion is fine, calling people to agree with you is all fine; no problem. The reason I got so enraged is that their petition was very one-sided, unfair, and, at times, even misleading. For example, it quotes only parts from certain UN resolutions, thereby painting a misguided picture, especially for people who are not very well informed. Finally, universities should be a neutral playground, not engaging in political games.

Anyway. I responded to the e-mail, cc-ing everyone who received the initial e-mail also. I have never in my life received so much hate mail. Here's the best one. After I told this person to go read a book, she wrote:``I hope you and your Israely friends rot in hell!'' I wrote her back pointing out that she had misspelled ``Israeli''.

In the days thereafter, a group of Harvard and MIT faculty and some students, including myself, got together and drew up a counter-petition. I am proud to say that this petition got 10 times as many signatures as the divestment petition. You can read it at The outcome of all our efforts is that the original divestment initiative has been crushed. Also, I can safely say that, up to the moment when I got involved with this, I had been pretty much shielded from blatant anti-Semitism. This whole project was a sad introduction to a world that I had not yet faced. It doesn't take much to make people say and do very strange things.

I went to Amsterdam for 10 days or so. My new strategy is to tell nobody that I'm coming. That makes it all the more fun and bearable. Do *you* know where I am right now?

54% of Americans understands that the Sun revolves around Earth once per year. Almost half of all Americans reject evolution. An overwhelming majority of Americans approves of Bush.

We went to Toronto, Canada, a week ago to celebrate my 26th birthday. For some reason, I always believed that Canada is one of the coolest countries in the world. This was initially based on intuition and pictures on Discovery Channel. Also, the fact that you never really hear anything from Canada must mean that not much is going on; therefore, it must be a great place to live. This rule of thumb works well for Holland, so why not for Canada? So we went to verify my intuition. We went to Toronto. And my conclusion is that I was right.

Canada is a vast country, rich of natural resources and, oh yes, Canada is EMPTY. Roughly 30 million people live in, ah well, a handful of big cities, scattered around this huge, huge, vast emptiness of rivers, lakes, mountains, and animals. Toronto is the apotheosis of Canada's ideal of blending without identity loss. Nobody in Canada is Canadian. Everyone is Italian, Lesbian, Japanese, Muslim, Russian, Indian, German, Jewish, Turkish, Korean, Chinese, Gay, or otherwise malformed. Toronto has Chinatown, little Italy, Greek village, Portugal village, and an almost infinite other number of ethnic city areas. But nobody seems to step on each other's toes there. Tolerance and the economy flourish, and Toronto is clean, has low crime rates, flows over culturally, and is, generally speaking, very hip and cool.

Toronto's sad irony is that its inhabitants prefer Montreal. Everyone we met who lives in Toronto advised us to go to Montreal. Everyone from outside of Toronto advised us to go to Toronto. One other surprising fact is that, despite of Canada's welfare system, Toronto was scattered with homeless people. More so than any other place I can remember.

Toronto is trying very hard to live up to its self-declared international standards. Admittedly, the CN Tower is pretty hard to ignore. Not only can one see the highest free-standing building in the world from virtually every corner of the city, but, for the people that never look up, billboards stubbornly remind you that the CN Tower has ``its place in the World'' next to the Taj Mahal, the Tower Bridge, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Neither CN Tower, nor those billboards, convinced me. But, tourists as we were, we went up the CN Tower (22 seconds in the elevator) where one can marvel at Toronto in its vast, uhm, beauty. Most memorable is the glass floor high-up in the CN Tower where people daringly jump around, defying fear and common sense, while looking down at the depth that will surely swallow and kill them in case of an unexpected surprise.

Ah. Here's a cool story. For the loyal among you who have been reading my e-mails for 2 years now: can you remember that I got some pretty random e-mail from a girl who had seen my web site with these stories? In ye olde time, she identified herself as my stalker, but, as it turns out, O is a nice young lady from Toronto, studying totally hardcore computer engineering. I've met her in real life and she was a bad excuse for a scary stalker, but she compensated my initial disappointment by being very nice, good company, and a somewhat erratic city guide. I can't remember the last time I discussed compiler design with a good-looking---female---stranger. Not your average pick-up line: ``Hey, babe, whadda you think of my parse tree?'' Maybe that's what I should have doing all this time.

Anyway. Except for the security alert on the plane---we all had to get off again---that trip was loads of fun.

So tomorrow is the 4th of July, Independence Day. This year, more than others, it will be a grand orgy and outpouring of nationalism, an opportunity to commemorate the American Heroes that have died on 9/11. (I'm not making this up.) One can only hope that terrorists are smart enough to not grasp this occasion to inject more pride and nationalism in America's pumping veins, because it shouldn't get much worse or we'll have to bomb you all to oblivion. And we'll make the whole thing look like a mistake, you hear that?

Have I told you already that they built a building next the Laboratory for Computer Science? They built it so close, that half of the building is deprived of sunlight now. I happen to be on the Dark Side of the building. We have no idea whether it's raining or shining outside. Sometimes I go into the building when the sun is out, and walk out into the rain without having noticed anything. Hm. Maybe that's just a striking metaphor for life at the Laboratory for Computer Science.

The good news is that Frank O. Gehry is designing a new building for us poor Computer Science students. You should have a look; It is outrageous.

I have found an apartment (not designed by Gehry) in Cambridge, perfectly located between Porter Square (shops) and Davis Square (hip place to go out, tons of restaurants). The apartment itself is on the 2nd floor (1e verdieping). The apartment has 2 large, adjacent, rooms and 1 smaller room. One of the big ones will be the living room, the other the bedroom, and the small room my work space. There's a large kitchen (large enough for a dining table) and a bathroom. We're moving there September 1. My poor 90-year old piano will have to be dragged up by 4 sturdy men and women. I'm having nightmares already. Horrors.

So have you noticed that the quality of these stories is going down rapidly? This is, in fact, the main reason I have not written for so long. I feel that the concept is getting boring and that my life is too uninteresting. It's very hard to come up with interesting things to tell if you spend 12-16 hours per day behind a computer. And what I do during those hours is not something most of you wish to know. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the irony of my professional career.

So what should I do, I wondered? I am trying to think of a new concept. I am considering several options, but I think I need your advice. If you have any ideas for a different, unique, amuzing, approach or concept, let me know!



Copyright © 1994-2016 by Thomer M. Gil
Updated: 2004/09/06