So Let it be Written, So Let it be Done!

February 22, 2010

I am Tired

Filed under: blogging,grad school,kamakula,politics — kamakula @ 2:46 pm
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I am tired of a lot of things for a lot of reasons. I dislike the financial juggling act that has been my life since January 2006. I thought after working full-time for a year, I would finally be free of all that. However, that turns out not to be the case. I’d hopes that even first quarter 2010 may be the time I finally step out of the red so to speak, but that door seems to be fast closing in my face.

I’m tired of the state of our country. Our financial and health systems. The lip service we give to education. The idea that research and engineering and innovation can only be driven by the private sector. I ask you – who drove Boeing and Lockheed to come up with anything? If the US government was not engaged in wars, would they be the powerhouses they are now? Or rather, would the be the American powerhouses that they are now? So much of the technology and innovation we take for granted today has been driven by the federal government. Yes, ofttimes as a byproduct of defense and nation security ambitions but also through basic research.

Did the free market really need a space program capable of landing men on the moon? I think not.

I also want to address my previous post. In case I did not make it clear, I do not support the actions taken by Joseph Stack and in no way condone such violence as a means of expressing his frustration at the world. This tragedy serves as a prompt for discussion yes, but sadly because of the lives lost so horribly and not because violence was the only way to bring it to the forefront. I know I’ve not gone too much into political and related discussion here, but such topics are constantly flitting through my mind being worked for some semblance of rational solutions.

Returning to my main thesis, I am tired because in a couple hours, I need to have the barebones of a conference or journal paper written. The meat of the work has yet to really be done, but to be honest, I should have written 1/3 of the paper by now. I could have written that much. There isn’t much that would go in the abstract or introduction areas that I don’t already now. Certainly not much new will come up in the next couple weeks as a product of my work.

I’m tired because I’m splitting my time between research (which at the moment sits on the back burner), a robotics project, my relationship, and putting together the mess that is my finances. Supposedly starting at the end of this week, I will no longer be unpaid. However, I’ll also start a part time job where I’ll be working about 30 hours a week. The intersection of time between research, project, and work before the project ends will probably feel worse than this. Maybe. Perhaps once I have an income, I will be able to relax even in the midst of doing other things.

Who knows.

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February 18, 2010

What words are there to say?

Filed under: blogging,kamakula — kamakula @ 9:32 pm
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I have just finished reading this apparently the writings of a software engineer who is believed to be the pilot of a small plane that was deliberately flown into a federal office building in Austin TX. My sympathies go out to those who were injured or killed in this horrible event and their families.

I started reading it thinking it was the usual right wing complaint about big government taking over everything. But it is not. Instead it is the writings of a man who has lost all hope in making sense of his life, his government, and his country. This is a scary development, in part because it marks the second time in less than a year, that an engineer has gone out an taken the lives of several people for various reasons.

Reasons that while don’t justify their actions, I certainly feel are reasonable complaints. It is easy for me to denounce the acts of someone whose rationale makes no sense to me. Whose arguments seem not to be based in reality. I’m not saying I don’t denounce the actions of this man today, but it pains me to find that I agree or certainly sympathize with him, because I feel by treating him as a victim of sorts I am marginalizing the deaths that he has caused.

This is not the future I want to shape. I want to put an end to life where yesterday, one man could be seen to be a victim of circumstances beyond his control, the greed of others and injustice that has crept into our society, and today that same man becomes the architect of unspeakable, haunting, and senseless death and destruction.

When will I be Done?

Filed under: grad school,kamakula,rant — kamakula @ 8:55 pm
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This question probably pops into my mind at least once a week. That measurement is not an average – perhaps it is better phrased as “it pops into my mind every week”, just some weeks I spend more time thinking about it than others. Going strictly by the requirements for the degree, my school requires about 4 years to complete. Official documentation suggests students taking more than 6 years may find themselves booted without a degree. While I don’t expect to take up to 6 years, I’m likely going to push close to four. And that’s even accounting for already having a Master’s degree.

Then again, in the grand scheme of things, my degree doesn’t matter – well the grand scheme of things that encompasses only my graduate school. Why? We are allowed to transfer up to 30 credits (10 classes x 3 credits)  of “graduate” work. Due to my . . .unconventional passage through my undergraduate program, I barely have that many classes available. Furthermore, I cannot transfer a course similar to one I’ve taken here or a course for which there isn’t an analogue. That rule eliminates about half my eligible courses. So, I ended up only transferring a bit over a semester of classes. That doesn’t even shave off a year from the time here – though theoretically, if I’d started the graduate program at this school, by the time I would’ve received the Masters degree, I would have completed about 2-2.5 years of the program towards the PhD.

So, what does this mean for me? Well, when my dad calls and wonders why (now) two years after starting, I still have not graduated, what can I say? I’m tempted to bring up this issue, but it feels weak as an argument, that the extra effort in getting a Masters degree only netted me about one semester in a 4 year program (instead of 4). All the other requirements that normally would have been fulfilled by that degree still need to be completed. What about research, do I have a dissertation topic? No. Well, what are you waiting for? I’m still working on coming up with one. Why, just get yourself an adviser who has open topics, then you could be done, right? Well. . . and what can I say?

I could argue that then I’d be working on something or a topic where I don’t have much interest. We’ve had this discussion several times before. About almost everything I’ve done since high school. When I took 6 months to get a job and refused to apply to the (at the time) numerous jobs in EM fields area so that I could find a robotics or embedded systems engineering job, I was told “Why does it matter – you’re going back to school anyway”. Now it’s “All that matters is that you have a PhD, not what you got it in”.

Perhaps that is true. And for some, that may be enough. Perhaps that is the immigrant attitude, get a terminal degree in some field and take the high paying job afterwards. But for me, this has not just been about a stepping stone to some higher place. Perhaps I am lucky in that I have the luxury of giving up so much of my life for the pursuit of something where I don’t really have a significant economic interest. Because honestly, if it were about money, if I never went back to school, I’d have been making more by the time I graduate than I could immediately command with a PhD.

Well, is it that you love research or teaching? While the answer is yes, I do enjoy those things, they are not alone in the core of my rationale. The core reason, what made me fill out those applications at costs of $1000+ when I was broke, what made me leave a nice job in a nice climate zone, was that this is something I’d always wanted to do. It is not quite a feather to line my cap, it is an experience that I am determined to have. An experience, like visiting the White House or traveling to a foreign country. So I do it, and do it my way. And in doing so, wonder if I’m losing a part of myself and feel like some sort of interloper amongst those who are motivated for other reasons.

Almost two years ago, I read a book entitled So You Want a PhD. I probably even wrote a post about it. I’m sure it is one of those events that turned the tide from me feeling depressed about my life back to optimism. I guess it comes to mind today because once again I sit pondering what is the real path to take between here and graduation? How do I live my life as a person who absolutely hates to borrow money from anyone, especially his parents, but for the past two months has been unpaid due to the bureaucracy of paperwork?

And I wonder how this affects my personal life and relationships. Certainly I know how it affects my activities with friends. I make excuses as to why I can’t go out because I don’t have the money to support such an activity. I wonder if I’m stupidly hanging on to some life I can’t have now because I have a car – which sadly now needs replacement parts I cannot afford. I live in an apartment with rent that seems reasonable, but I know there are much cheaper smaller places out there.

In my attempt to have it all, be a grad student, work on side projects at other schools, own a car, live in a relatively nice neighborhood, hang out with friends, have a relationship, perhaps I’ve just setup the situation where I can have none. Maybe I should have listened to those who told me to just focus on the school work, live in some apartment with 2 other grad students, leave only to goto my lab or get food, wall off all other distractions and be done with it.

Earlier this week, it occurred to me that regardless of where I am in life, I will always never have enough time. Work consumes a good chunk of my week. I’m constantly working on side projects. I’m constantly fixing a car that breaks down. If I were to just “focus” on one thing, there will never come a time when I could have it all. I would have gone from focusing on my undergrad work to focusing on my graduate research to focusing on my job. For what? So that I live out the image someone else has of a successful life and career? So that I attain some success which means less to me than it does to others? Or maybe they were right and I’m just trying to lie to myself and justify the life I’ve lived so far.

February 17, 2010

Welcome to 2010

Filed under: blogging,car,grad school,kamakula — kamakula @ 2:42 pm

It has been a while since I’ve written a post. I sometimes visit my own blog in a vain attempt to trick coerce or otherwise tempt myself into writing something new. But here I am today. I’m not sure there is a point to this other than to mark that once again I’ve reached a time where I have to make decisions about my life. Decisions that for better or worse will have impact that I will feel for a long time to come.

I’ve been in a relationship for about a year now. It’s had its ups and downs and a couple hiatuses. Now though, I’m not sure whether it can continue. However, this could be because I’m feeling stress in other areas of my life. I’ve started working on a research project and have been unpaid for the past two months. Running broke with my car breaking down and requiring repair, behind on bills, work, and projects, my outlook is no longer as optimistic as it usually is.

When this happens, my patience for other things wear thin and suddenly things that may bother my slightly become problems. I start to wonder if this relationship is ok for me because it always sours when I’m under a lot of stress. I guess I feel like I carry the weight of supporting both of us and while I honestly don’t mind am happy to do so under normal circumstances, there are times, this is the time that I want the roles to reverse and they can’t.

As I find myself approaching 26 years of age, I wonder just how much of my life I’ve wasted. Could I have accomplished more? Probably. No, definitely. If I worked harder 6 years ago, I could have started the grad school process 2 years earlier. I could be right now at this moment putting the finishing touches on a dissertation or even be done and starting work somewhere as Dr. Kamakula. I could be in a stable relationship with good credit and buying a house.

But I’m not. And I look to my future and only see things getting worse. I have a year left and only a vague outline of the research and work between here and graduation. I will need to spend 40-60 hours a week working, reading, studying, testing. I will also want to spend time fixing my car, building my robots, and working on side projects. Between school, work, hobbies, and friends, do I really have time for someone else?

A couple days ago I was asked to list the qualities in my ideal girlfriend. At the time, I thought to myself, that is not possible, that people are different and I cannot expect to find one set of qualities in a person absent other idiosyncrasy that would bother me. But maybe I should make this list. I find myself daydreaming about going out, meeting someone who may for example say “I’m a physics major and work for X company” and asking her to solve some freshman physics problem and responding with “It was nice meeting you” if I don’t get the correct answer.

I’m sometimes often accused of being cold and emotionless. Uncaring and not willing to sacrifice anything for a relationship. Does this mean that I’m not truly invested. If I were an outside observer, would I draw different conclusions than the ones in my head? What does it mean that the same charges are leveled at me over and over again? The cynic in me says there is only one answer – you do not learn, you do not change.

There are times when I wish for a guidebook to life, even though I know, like just about any other source of advice that has been volunteered to me, I will read, listen, then follow my own lead anyway. I think this is just a search for validation. I don’t need guidance, I just want an authority that tells me my decisions are always the right ones.

October 15, 2009

You may be a hardcore engineer (or PhD student) if you

For those who are not engineers, this can serve as a handy guide to sniff out those of us around you. For those who are, but may be questioning your credentials or trying to play down your nerd card, this is your wake up call.

If you apply engineering principles to your regular life? I.e. the noisy channel model to dating, optimization methods to arranging your dishwasher, minimum entropy to your porn, you are likely a hardcore engineer.

Perhaps you solve “interesting” problems just to solve them, not for any possible benefit – grades, pay, extra credit, impress your boss/adviser – just to see if you can do it. If you regularly use up what is likely scant resources of your time and brainpower on problems that have a very low chance of actually paying you back something later, you are probably a hardcore engineer.

Or maybe you’ve having a conversation with a friend about something you’ve been working on and they ask for the “simple” explanation. And after you give them what is arguably the elementary school (in your head) explanation, they ask you to dumb it down some more. Until you end up saying, “well, pretty much I’m trying to *verb* *noun* much more {efficiently, cheaply, faster, simpler, to use less resources} and only then is when they nod and make that ‘aahhh’ noise that says “I still don’t understand but you’ve probably reached the limit that you mind will allow you to simplify this problem”, you are most likely a hardcore engineer.

Do you have boxes, parts, notebooks, and files on projects that you started in the past, where you were really excited about what you were going to do, but somehow never finished because you started on another project that had similar potential, but you never throw them away because one weekend, after you’ve caught up on the work you’re doing now, you’re going to go back and finish? You are definitely a hardcore engineer.

Did you read this and spend the whole time thinking, wow, this is all so familiar, but in actuality you spend your days teaching kids how to draw, or designing purses to be made out of eco-friendly fibers, or writing copy for a news article? If so, you are likely a hardcore engineer’s girlfriend.

October 11, 2009

I hope Obama Fails

Filed under: kamakula,politics — kamakula @ 12:44 pm
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Even if you hate Obama or don’t approve, endorse, or agree with anything he stands for, you actually have to wish, hope, pray, that he is successful in some degree.

Let us posit that you want Obama to fail. What does that mean? It means that you want his policies and programs to be so badly planned, managed, operated, funded, that it damages the nation. You are in essence actively campaigning for further damage to your country.

Now, if you find yourself saying “wait a minute, I don’t want to country to get worse than it is, just for Obama to do badly so that nobody wants to elect him again”, you are really hoping that Obama is just ineffectual.

So, again, what does that mean? Well, there are two options. One is that Obama maintains the status quo. Things remain as bad as they are. We don’t get better, but relatively speaking, things don’t get worse. Here is the problem with that – if things are the same in 2012 as they were in 2008, the incoming president will have an even deeper hole to dig himself or herself out of. It is not as if we are currently riding a wave of success and prosperity. So, maintaining the current economic conditions is a very very bad idea.

Thus, the only way you can get your wish, that Obama be ineffectual to the point of having no chance at a second term, and yet not have this country worse off is to have Obama be successful. To have him make positive change.

So, seeing as even for those who hate Obama, but love America, you actually need Obama to have some modicum of success, why don’t you just temporarily join hands with us who support him and make that happen. Then in 2012, you can have a go at voting him out of office.

October 8, 2009

There are no Correct Decisions

Filed under: blogging,drama,kamakula — kamakula @ 3:01 pm

Well, I’ve returned to singledom. After months of being in an exclusive relationship, I found that she was not for me. This is a pretty hard decision to make because we still care a lot about each other. Sure, there were arguments and fights from time to time, but nothing I’d especially consider bad warning signs. There was hardly any bringing up of past wrongs, so most fights were on new things.

But as much as I would want, it just wasn’t there. Perhaps it is something that I could grow into or perhaps not. I think maybe not, at least not with me the way I am now. I want something else, someone else, and I need to be able to answer myself whether this something else (that I can’t obviously put down in words) actually exists with someone else.

Of course, the danger is that I’m wrong, and then I’d have ended a relationship that was otherwise going well. In these situations, no amount of list making and rationalization can help. Gut feelings is where the solution lies and my gut says I’m doing the right thing.

August 18, 2009

Put an End to Tolerance

Filed under: kamakula — kamakula @ 12:03 pm
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For a long time, we have preached and promoted tolerance in civil relations. Tolerance for people of different races, different religions, different genders, different sexual orientations; pretty much, tolerance for those who differ from us.

The subtext of tolerance is that these different people possess some quality that not only is different, but also threatens or scares us in some way. Every random person is different from me. The ones that you tolerate are those that bother you for some reason.

Growing up, that’s what I heard and read. That’s what I saw leaders of the present and past urging and encouraging. And for a while, I thought it was the correct message. But I’m starting to think it is wrong. We don’t need a message of tolerance. In fact, a message of tolerance is bad.

Why? Because tolerance, tolerating someone is essentially a way of saying, “while I don’t like you or what you do, I will restrain myself from doing or saying anything ‘politically (and legally) incorrect’.

Tolerance doesn’t actually change the hatred within a person, it just hides it under a veneer of civility. Now, that would be fine if by hiding such, it doesn’t get passed on to the next generation. But I don’t think that is happening. I don’t think tolerance has been enough to keep the problems it hides from propagating through time.

Tolerance is what leads to people making statements like “We (meaning white people) gave you (meaning minorities) x, y, and z and you people (again, minorities) are still unsatisfied”.

I will say this over and over until I die. Nobody, white or otherwise, has the authority to give me the right to goto college, to live life treated with respect and equality.

But when idiots think they are just tolerating me, then inside they feel they are giving up something to me. That is not the case. I’m not taking anything from some guy tolerating me. I’m claiming what has always been mine. I don’t want his tolerance. I want his acceptance or his casual indifference.

So fuck tolerance. We should teach indifference.

August 14, 2009

On Death Panels, Health Care Reform, and all that Brouhaha

Filed under: kamakula,politics — kamakula @ 9:41 pm
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Part of the reason the death panels and other nonsense around congressional legislation is able to flourish is because bills tend to be huge complicated documents written in legal terms that the average person has a hard time understanding from a casual read.

So, when someone else gives what sounds like an analysis after claiming THEY read the proposed legislation, it can be easy to believe. Especially when Republican elected officials who should know better do nothing to debunk any stupid myths floating out there.

Many are wondering why doesn’t Congress write these things quite simply (say, 10 pages or less) in easy to understand language. Well, they can’t. Though some of us think we know how the legislative process works, I don’t think most really know what legislation really needs to accomplish.

Some quick points. We cannot just pass a law that says everyone should have insurance. We have to detail who, when, where, and how. We need to explain who pays for it, who makes sure that everyone is ensured, how we actually educate people that they need to fill out forms to get insurance. We need to close loop holes that insurance companies use to deny coverage, write specific laws that protect teaching hospitals in NJ which can be quite different from legislation needed for teaching hospitals in WA.

Ensuring that everyone has affordable health insurance that is available WHEN they NEED it is not as simple as ensuring everyone has insurance. There are plenty of people who have insurance, pay premiums, then get diagnosed with cancer and discover their insurance doesn’t cover it.

Part of the issue is that our laws are interpreted by exactly what the writers intended, and not the spirit of the law. Even after abolition, blacks were still treated as second class citizens. Despite the fact that our founding documents recognize that all persons are created equally. And even if we allow that prior to the 13th amendment, US law did not recognize blacks as complete persons, from that point all, that technicality no longer existed. Yet, instead of obeying the spirit of the law (the constitution and bill of rights), it took (and is still taking) over 140 years of struggle for minorities to achieve some semblance of equality.

There are lots of other examples, did we really need a court case to establish miranda rights? Do we really need court cases to adapt copyright laws to the digital age? We shouldn’t unless we interpret laws strictly to apply in the manner that they were written, instead of recognizing they should adapt to our current times and reality.

The other thing is specificity. Our laws, as much as some would like to claim are based on the ten commandments. . . they are not the ten commandments. Thou shall not kill. Pretty simple right? No exclusions there. As far as I’m concerned, no matter how or why you kill someone, you are in violation of that commandment. Yet we have 1st, 2nd, 3rd degree murder. We have grand and petty larceny. I list those to illustrate that our laws are written to prohibit or enforce specific directives.

We don’t enforce a thou shall not kill or thou shall not steal directive. Arguably, we can’t. Certainly, we live in a world where these things are not simply black or white, there is a lot of gray involved. So we write laws. Laws that define what is black, and levels of punishment depending on gray level.

Similarly, like it or not, health care bills are written this way. We cannot really enforce a law that says, “you cannot cheat your customer”, one could always argue that is too vague or what you did isn’t really cheating? Remember the smart ass in school who would try and talk the teacher out of why what he did really wasn’t wrong but right? Our system works with laws that criminalize specific -very specific behavior. And as such, our congresspeople, in order to ensure that their goals are met, must write legislation that is complete and includes all of these minutia.

The final things is that crafting such legislation is akin to having to specify the complete design of a car. Not only the design and all supporting safety and other documentation, but you must also specify where the car will be built, where the parts come from, how it will be paid for, how it will be marketed.

You can imagine if we had public debate on design specifications, someone could cause trouble by claiming some subsection included a provision that allows honda to forcibly restrain your baby in the back seat of a car which could kill them if the car got too hot. Ridiculous statements that can be taken out of context or flat out lied about if the general public is unable to parse the language the specifications are written and thus must rely on someone else who they trust to explain it to them.

Let’s be careful.

July 31, 2009

The “Best in the World” Myth

Filed under: kamakula — kamakula @ 2:27 pm

I’m tired of this “best in the world” framing of political issues by the right. We have the “best healthcare in the world”. We are the “best place in the world for persons of African descent”. Yada yada.

Let me tell you something, America was the best in the world 200 years ago. In 1809, should that have been an acceptable excuse for maintaining the status quo?

Just because we are the best in the world doesn’t mean what we are doing is just or right? Just because I beat my wife less than everyone else on my block doesn’t mean I am a good husband. Conservatives need to get off that bullshit. Everytime I hear it, I cringe internally knowing that I’m about hear some thoughtless argument come out of the speaker’s mouth.

Telling me that my life could be worse somewhere else doesn’t make me feel better. What, I’m supposed to be grateful for a shitty life in America because it could be truely crappy somewhere else? GTFOH! That because things are better here, I should not want to improve it? GTFOH!

What’s worse is that the whole “best in the world” meme is not even always true. As soon as someone brings up things like mortality rates due to some disease and other metric that reasonable people would think should factor into the “best in the world” measurement (with respect to healthcare), the response becomes “well, the American people aren’t so much worried about the quality that they’re getting as much as the cost”.

Again, let me cry with a LOUD VOICE, BULLSHIT. Cost and quality are not independent. I am willing to pay more for higher quality. If the quality of my medical care sucks, you can be sure that I’d be concerned about the cost. If anything, American’s concern with cost shows that they feel they are not getting as much bang for their buck. And you want to know some technical terms for “bang for your buck”, they include:

  1. Quality
  2. Features
  3. Benefits
  4. Coverage

Bang for my buck means not waiting in long lines, it means getting access to professionals with long years of experience, it means getting things right the first time, it means not having to deal with a lot of paperwork, it means once I pay for something, I don’t get follow up attempts to nickel and dime me.

Best in the world? Yeah, best in the world at fucking you over while smiling right in your face.

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