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About this Journal
Format change for those few who use my actual default view. I'm using this section to maintain a list of topics to address so I don't forget.

-The nature of narrative (context and choice)
-Roleplaying is a skill
-Truth and the observer
-Design: Caper, Trust and Betrayal, Empire, and CQB.
-Use of props to control physical space.
-Gamelang orchestra and the restrictions of pure percussion.
-Close-loop roleplaying and what it offers (all good things must come to an end)
-Segregation and education, why legislate this morality?
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Apr. 21st, 2008 @ 09:27 pm I now enslave myself financially for love of knowledge
In the continuing saga of my plans to attend grad school I received my financial aid packet from NYU today. There are still details to work out, of course, but the bottom line is that I can do this, and it will be awesome.

Beyond that I'm just tired. Mondays are my long day (class starts at 08:00, work ends at 21:00, sometimes I have a one hour break for lunch). Coming out of a Saturday+Sunday 12 hour shift cycle means that I've had not nearly enough sleep. Fortunately I don't have to work tomorrow so I'll sleep in to the decadent hour of 08:00.

It's really dawning on me just how close all of this is. My last final is May 7, my last day of work is May 8, and on May 10 I officially graduate. Hopefully I'm on the road for the beginning of my trip by May 24 at the very latest. Then it's ten weeks of driving and visiting and hanging out.

Someone at some point said, perhaps in jest, that I could write a book about this road trip thing. At first I thought that was ridiculous. I mean... people who do cross-country journeys and go on to write books about them have interesting things to say, what would I talk about? Then I realized that I have an angle on this that I find fascinating. I could, very legitimately I feel, write a book entitled Road Tripping Across the Internet. Looking over my list of people to visit, almost every single one of them is someone I met online in one place or another.

Think about that: I'm taking a trip that involves hanging out with more than 50 different people, and with only two or three exceptions every single one of those relationships was first formed somewhere online. Wouldn't that be a neat book? I like to think so. I'll be making notes all along the trip anyway, just in case.

Speaking of the trip, I'm working on a project for my web apps class that I plan to use for the summer. More details to come, but it's sort of an experimental blog/forum system organized primarily around physical locations. We'll see what happens.

Thomas
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Apr. 18th, 2008 @ 11:20 pm At least I post this week
I've been crazy busy, but things have been progressing well, I think.

I made a final decision regarding graduate school. My acceptance of NYU's offer went into the mail today. I'm more than a little pumped.

I've got most everything I need to do in all my classes completed. The only thing left now is my final project for my web applications class, and that's mostly a fun one anyway.

Less than two weeks of class left. My last day of work is May 8. My last interaction with the university here will probably be May 10. I'm hoping to get my stuff from the apartment packed and ready to take to move when I'm ready by May 16. Things are coming to a head, and I'm excited.

Also: tired.

Thomas
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Apr. 7th, 2008 @ 09:38 pm Ah bureaucracy, I haven't missed you
Ever since I received my acceptance letter from NYU I've been slinging stuff back and forth with their financial aid department. My preference is still to be up that way, but I'm going to need far more on the way of aid to do that than I will if I attend GaTech. And with the GaTech response deadline originally April 15 (they very graciously gave me an extension), I had very little time to find out if I had it.

First I call financial aid only to be told that I'm not in the system at all. So I call the guy in charge of aid for my school but have to leave a message. I don't hear back so I give him another call a few days later and he pokes around and tells me my SSN was entered into the system wrong and that's what had happened. He fixes it. So I call financial aid again and they confirm that the SSN is in the system, but they tell me it will take a couple of days for them to process my FAFSA now that they know which one to process. I decide to stop bothering them for a few days.

Today I call to see if it's been handled and the guy I talk to is extremely helpful. He tells me that, oh, they have to send in a specific request to get the thing processed and that hasn't been done yet. He offers to immediately send an email to the appropriate people, but he warns that it won't get done before they close for the day. I should call back tomorrow he says.

So that's what I plan to do.

In only slightly related news, the NYC housing market is radically different from the one I'm used to. Around here our entire rental market turns over in August with the beginning of the Fall semester. This means that most rental properties are projected out to open in August sometime and you need to get in as early as you can to insure widest selection options. NYC is apparently significantly different. Turnover is, of course, higher, and this apparently leads to a market in which availability tends to project out about a month or so. That means that I probably won't know until sometime in June or July where I'm living or how much it will cost. That's a new sort of uncertainty for me and should be interesting.

It's also possible that I just fail to understand how this works. That wouldn't surprise me either.

Thomas
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Apr. 3rd, 2008 @ 09:43 pm Missed a day, but what the hey
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I'm not too worried about failing to post yesterday. Sleep was more important considering the day I had today.

Woke up at 05:00 to get ready for the trip to Atlanta to check out the program at Georgia Tech. Made good time and arrived without incident and without getting lost or missing any turns. Found the building that most of the HCI labs are in and discovered that it's actually more of an architectural nightmare than Haley. I suppose that it may be less confusing if you spend time in the building, but it's basically a maze of corridors with no obvious visible landmarks. It also doesn't seem to be symmetrical.

Anyway, the trip was good and the tour/orientation thing was also good. I met a number of other prospective students, and some of them were dang sharp. Good conversations were had with them. A lot of questions were answered about all sorts of things, which was nice and tremendously helpful. The only truly weak parts of the experience (at least from the standpoint of recruiting) were that A) the actual lab tour was terribly unorganized and sort of aimless, B) the classes we sat in on were so-so, and C) there was little direct contact with professors.

I still found the entire thing to be very helpful in working toward a decision between NYU and GaTech. The short version is this: both schools are serious, but GaTech is serious business and NYU is serious fun. Perhaps a bit more clearly stated GaTech is focused on industrial research and direct application while NYU is more exploratory and interdisciplinary. Needless to say that second approach draws me in.

Ironically I'm coming to believe that the lack of an ITP PhD is a huge point in the program's favor rather than a disadvantage. I don't know if this is the case, but there's a strong sense at GaTech that the master's students are sort of second class citizens. The real money and time and energy are spent on the PhD students. Which makes sense, I suppose. But it means that ITP, without that higher level to suck up time and energy from the faculty, has more of that time and energy to devote to the class of students I'll find myself in.

The point of all this is that this visit was extremely valuable because it helped me get a feel for the program at GaTech and that helped me a bit with deciding that it's probably not as good a fit as the program at NYU.

Now all I have to do is figure out this whole "money" thing.

Thomas
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Apr. 1st, 2008 @ 08:53 pm Not really very coherent
I was hoping that today would present an opportunity for a bit more reasoned post on the grad school choice thing, but being keyed up (and poking around with NYU's online system) kept me up waaaay too late. With the early morning (05:00) shift I had today this meant I am woefully short on sleep. Honestly I should probably be in bed now, but...

Today was mostly me leveling out the emotional high of the letter. Part of it is, of course, that I got accepted, but much of it is simply knowing. I don't have to put off decision-making. I can move forward and get something done, and that's emotionally stimulating for me. So despite being low on sleep I've been pretty active.

Met up with the Nikki for a late lunch thing. Talked about grad school for me and interesting history stuff for her. (I gave her an idea for a master's thesis free of charge. I'm such a good friend.) Then we headed back to my place to poke around youtube for a bit which eventually led to Soul Caliber 3. Will joined us for some animated violence and we passed the controllers around a bit. Quite a bit of fun, really. I love that game more than, perhaps, I should.

Just as she took off for Japanese stuff Marie called. Marie and Deli and I decided on food (after twenty minutes we settled on Arby's as our location) and I called Claire (who I'd run into on my way out of work this morning) to see if she wanted to join us. She said she'd meet us there. Then, of course, on the way over there we decide that we don't want Arby's after all. No, we want Chick-fil-et. So I called Claire to give her the update.

It turned out to be pretty good though, so I call it a win.

Ran into Tabor, who I've seen around but probably haven't talked to in four or five years. He's going to be heading off to TX this summer and we talked about the possibility of me visiting him during the roadtrip which would rock. On the way home somehow the topic of Deli's friend Tate came up in conversation and it turns out she's likely moving to DC. So there's another person to visit this summer.

Then we got back to my place and watched an episode of Bones. I've seen them all, but I've been slowly getting Deli through the series as it's quite good and since she has good taste she recognizes that.

That's a decent summary.

Thomas
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Mar. 31st, 2008 @ 10:01 pm The best of times, the worst of times
(Apologies to Nikki for not using the far more amusingly cheesy title I proposed earlier.)

Some of you may know that I've been waiting to hear back from grad schools for a while now. More specifically, I heard back from everyone but NYU, the program with the earliest application deadline by far. I was really starting to get worried what with the decision deadline for GaTech being April 15.

So I called the admissions office this morning to ask and they said "Oh, we just mailed stuff out Thursday, so you should get it soon."

And I did.

And I'm in.

NYU's Tisch school of the arts has offered me admission for the Fall of 2008.

Which leads to a conundrum: I must now make a choice. I've spoken rather a lot with Amy Bruckman at GaTech via email and phone, and she's sharp. And the work she's doing? Constructivist educational theory applied to groups via computer-mediated social networking? That's... sort of exactly what I want to do in the long term. I mean... it's like someone took my interests and then designed a research program around them. So there's Georgia Tech looming large in my mind.

But Georgia Tech is in Atlanta, and I am not much of a fan of Atlanta.

NYU, on the other hand, has Clay Shirky. And reading Clay Shirky is what got me into the field the way I am now. I've had a chance to visit the ITP labs and talk with some students (something I'm going to due for HCI this Thursday), and it looked pretty dang awesome. Also: NYU is in NYC, which is one of my top five favorite cities in the US. It is full of cool people and places, and that's a part of education too.

So now there's a choice. I'm leaning rather heavily toward NYU, but here's where I throw things open: what do you people think? What's a good fit? Why should I consider one or the other differently than I am now?

Thomas
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Mar. 29th, 2008 @ 09:13 am Late isn't missing a day, right?
I was fully intending to post yesterday, but by the time I finished my web apps project I was too tired to do more than pass out incoherently. I did get it done, though, and it was a surprisingly useful exercise.

Of course it would have been done far earlier if someone hadn't called me up after work and said "I know you're having a bad day, let's hang out". And then forced me to eat steak and shrimp and go to the bookstore to mock back-cover copy. So if you want to blame someone for this being late, you know who to aim your ire at. (Thanks, by the way.)

I haven't worked enough with PHP to know if it handles session attributes the same was JSP does, but I know that the way that JSP handles them is pretty dang infuriating. For those who don't do this sort of stuff, the "session" object is a piece of information you use in web-programming that tracks data from a user across multiple pages of the same server. It's sort of like a set of cookies that expire when you close the window and don't actually get stored on your machine (actually, and importantly, session data is stored on the server, so it can't be tampered with or hacked). One nice thing about the way JSP handles sessions is that it attributes you set are objects, which allows for nicely complex (or simple) data-forms. The thing that I spent all night really upset about was that I couldn't store a dang primitive type. Or, rather, I couldn't retrieve it because the command to get attributes returns object types and primitive types are too simple. This meant that instead of having a simple "is the user logged in?" flag in the session history, I had to revalidate from strings every time. There's a workaround to this, but I didn't have time to delve into package generation for a simple state-tracking object.

Anyway, long story short (too late), this was frustrating.

What wasn't frustrating, beyond dinner and bookstore, was just how awesome the internet is. My mom gave me a call last night and I realized that most people don't know that they, despite living on the other side of the world, have a United States phone number. Because Vonage only cares about you having an IP address and some bandwidth. They'll plug you into the phone network wherever you dang want in the US. This means that for my parents, calling numbers in the US is already paid-for with their Vonage subscription. And it means that for the growing number of people with unlimited long distance, calling back is just as paid-for. Ten years ago, when we were there the first time, it was hard and expensive to do international calling. Now you just pick up the phone.

Thomas
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Mar. 27th, 2008 @ 08:36 pm Programming is oddly paradoxical
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The part of it that is compelling and interesting is in design and implementation. It's the same interesting thing you get in any creative endeavor: coming up with good ideas and novel solutions and efficient approaches to problems. That's fun and interesting and even exhilarating.

The part of programming that sucks is error-checking and fixing. It's grunt work and largely a derivative of syntactic elements. I absolutely hate it. There's nothing really interesting involved in it. It's not stimulating staring at where the compiler has thrown you a highly uninformative error message.

This, probably more than anything else, is what drove me out of computer science. I love the design work. I've recently been discovering the joys of developing XML schema and XSL style sheets. It's downright fun and fascinating and because it doesn't involve programming (XPath is not programming) there's no debugging. I love doing design specs, I love designing interfaces. I just hate the drudge work that accompanies implementation.

Surely there's a way to get rid of that. Though I've got no idea what it is. I bet if I found it, though, I'd be rich quick. It would be the key to both enjoyable programming and quite possible wide-spread computer literacy (in the sense that users can read and write it).

Thomas
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Mar. 26th, 2008 @ 09:33 pm Things you appreciate in their absence
I've got this project for a class. It involves designing and implementing a very bare-bones form of an internet guestbook (in JSP, which is sort of silly since no one likes Tomcat, least of all me). I've got all the design and data work done. I've got my data structures laid out, and my interface designed, and everything else. All that's left is the data storage and handling stuff.

Now I'm doing this in JSP and I don't, for this project, have access to a MySQL server, so I'm forced to fall back on writing flat-text files and writing search and parse code myself. As a method of data storage flat-files are fine, I don't mind them at all, really. But I positively hate writing my own parsing functions.

This is all a way of me saying that dang do I love the way MySQL automates searching, parsing, and data retrieval. And I very much wish I could use it here.

Thomas
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Mar. 25th, 2008 @ 08:01 pm Imagine that
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I'm actually managing to stay with the "update once a weekday" thing. I'm sort of impressed with myself.

I'm sure there's more interesting stuff that's happened in the last 24 hours, but I'm not really doing this to do work so I'm just going to talk about what's on my mind.

And what's on my mind at the moment is Fox's Bones. Mostly because I just finished watching a couple of episodes with Deli. She got hooked when she showed up on the day I "forced" Nikki to start watching it with me. Both of them, of course, like it.

If you're not familiar it's a rather intriguing show structurally. It walks that thin line (which is so rarely walked) between being plot-driven and being relationship-driven. Most shows fall too far into one or the other. Heroes lost me because while it was driven hard by the plot, I lost interest in too many of the characters. Joss Whedon (with the exception of Firefly, which I sometimes suspect got lucky in being canceled so early) tends to lose me by driving everything through relationships at the expense of anything actually happening.

Bones walks the line between. It's a show that very clearly only works because of the relationships. The tension between Brennan and Booth is clearly the key, but all of the inter-character relationships are dynamic and fun. Yet while it's a show that works because of the character relationships, it's not actually about those relationships. It's a hard balance to strike, and it's done well here. I love it.

You should watch it too.

Thomas
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