top image
home  /  pages  /  tech tips  /  contact about

Homo Americana

February 8, 2000

Hi all,

I have a lot to tell, so here goes. This mail will take you about 6-7 minutes to read. I'll be telling you something about my project, MIT, my choir, and some other random stuff. This is the time to bail out if you do not find any of these topics even remotely interesting.

First of all the reason why I'm here: Click. In the previous mail I told you that I had was going to write an element ('Lego block'). I did it! In 3 days, that is. To explain what the element does, let me take you back to the analogy of the people in the room giving each other presents. Let's change the present to a bomb, for a moment. Person X wants to blow up person Y, takes a bomb, lights the fuse and quickly passes the bomb on to his neighbor. We introduced a new concept here: the "Time To Live" (TTL). The TTL is a property of the bomb, not the one holding the bomb, although that specific person might not fully agree with this view. Anyway, the TTL of the bomb is simply the time that is still left before it blows up. When a person gets the bomb he quickly checks the length of the fuse and decides whether or not it is still feasible that the bomb reaches Y. If it has to reach Y *very soon* it can decide to give it to neighbor A in stead of neighbor B, for example. One other option is to blow out the fire and forget about the bomb. In that case we say that the packet is 'dropped'. That's the element I wrote: the element checks the TTL of a network packet and decides to which neighbor to pass the packet based on the value of TTL. The element may also decide to drop the packet if the TTL has reached 0 (equals BOOM!). Unfortunately, the element I wrote is totally useless because a router never decides a direction based on the TTL, but it was fun and instructive to do anyway. The goal of the whole undertaking was to get familiar with the code that was already written by other people in the project (about which I am going to tell you some other time).

(You might be asking why a packet needs a TTL in the first place, although you are probably not asking. The idea of a TTL is to avoid that packets will be flying around a network 'till eternity comes (for example; when the destination computer crashed). When a router receives a packet, it decreases the TTL of that packet by a small amount before passing it on. If the TTL has reached 0, it is dropped by the router who is holding it at that moment. In tha case, the packet never reaches its destination and the sender has to try again).

Tomorrow (Tuesday) there will be a meeting on Click and after that my professor and I will define my goal for the coming 7 months.

Let me tell you a bit about MIT. MIT is in Cambridge. It has a huge campus in a triangle form. The base of the triangle is roughly 1 km, its height 0,5 km. It is situated on the North bank of the Charles River which divides this area in two. Cambridge (and MIT) is on the other side of the river than Boston. Somerville (where I live) is also on the MIT side of the river. Actually, I haven't been in Boston yet. MIT is not one big building. It consists of a few dozen buildings spread out over the campus. LCS (Laboratory for Computer Science) is just outside of the campus. They hide the geeks, just as they do at the Vrije Universiteit. It's a building with 9 floors, gray and very ugly, but the Vrije Universiteit gives its students a very thorough training in coping with ugly buildings, so I can stand it. I'm on the 5th floor in the building. That's where the PDOS group resides. PDOS stands for Parallel and Distributed Operating Systems which is the group I joined. The floor consists of two parallel, long hallways with an open space in the middle where there is a kitchen-like thingy. Well, that's what they told me, but I'm sure it must be somewhere there under the pizza boxes and empty Coke cans. In the open space there are tables and comfortable chairs on which students sometimes spend the night. The walls are used by everyone to promote his/her personal beliefs, political opinions and written correspondence with institutions.

The Coke machine is an ordinary Coke machine with a computer connected to it, where you have to type "thomer coke". Voila, out comes the Coke and the money is taken off from your personal account. Technology has brought has a long way, hasn't it?

Here are a few links for those of you interested in MIT and/or Click:

MIT in general:
Laboratory for Computer Science:
Parallel and Distributed Operating Systems group:
Click (my project):
Frans Kaashoek (my professor +picture!):

End of Click. *Click*

Yesterday I suddenly realized I suffer from a bad case of acute schizophrenia. I was standing in a newspaper stand with a 'Volkskrant' in my hands. People who know that in the Netherlands I was subscribed to the International Herald Tribune can see the strange twist in that. This is accentuated by the fact that my professor at the my university in Amsterdam is an American while my professor at MIT is Dutch. I'm not very good in finding a balance, apparently.

Did you know that in the grocery department of the Star Market, the vegetables get automatically sprayed with water every hour? First a taped messsage warns you to step back and then the water comes out. I was looking at it as if I had seen Moses himself. People probably thought I was crazy.

Tonight I've been singing the whole evening! Hurray! I've been accepted in the MIT Concert Choir ( That means I'll be singing two days per week from 18:00 to 20:30. We'll be singing (among others): Brahms, Bruckner, Copland and Hindemith. (Full description of repertoire on: The pace is gruesome: in one evening the conductor forced 2 full pieces down our throats. The overall level of the choir is not very high, though. Wednesday I'll be joining the MIT Chamber Choir in a concert where they sing 2 easy madrigals (Thomas Morley and da Palestrina). I had to learn those pieces in 20 minutes. What is totally amazing about the MIT Concert Choir, by the way, is that at least 60% of the people in the choir is of Asian origin. In general, there are very many Asian-looking people at MIT, although most of them are born Americans. Anyway, I asked the conductor about madrigal choirs, and he told me there are many, many such choirs in Cambridge. He'll give me e-mail addresses and telephone numbers of these choirs so maybe I will switch to one of those, or do both. I don't know yet.

Did I already tell you there is a piano in the living room here?

I've been making photographs around here. The film is almost full. As soon as I have them I'll be trying to find a scanner and put them on the Web so that you can all visualize my life here a little better. Speaking of putting stuff on my web page; if you look at you can see 2 posters I bought to hang in my bedroom here. I'm just trying to help you vis-u-a-lize.

In short: I'm having a great time. I'm trying to squeeze every drop out of the opportunities that are thrown in my face around here. I'm enjoying every second of it.


P.S. You received this e-mail because you are on my MIT mailing list. If you want to get off, please let me know. I'll be mortaly insulted, but that's ok. These e-mails also appear on so you won't miss a thing. The rate and length of these e-mails *will* go down over time, don't worry, but in the beginning there is so much to tell!

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