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Minnesota Winter

22 February 2014 Leave a comment

It’s been a tough press of a term so far. This week saw three overnighters (as contrasted with true all-nighters in that I did get to sleep some in the day), but with those items in, and with my tri-class day conquered, I’ve had a good Friday afternoon: laundry, exercise, short stories, and Obsidian Stout.

The short stories in question are from Neil Gaiman’s first collection, Smoke and Mirrors. It’s been uneven, but almost all of them get under your skin. Two in the last stretch did more than that, and quite appropriately they were the least fantastic. ‘Foreign Parts’ was about a very ordinary person who changes, and ‘Mouse’ was about the odd forest sounds not being very much comfort in a tricky time; I feel these might be terrible descriptions, but I estimate (or hope) that they might at least have the virtue of not detracting from the reading experience, if you should come to read them.

I’d picked up the short story collection in uptown Minneapolis two weekends ago. While at the store, I was also fortunate to here a wonderful story about the time the author walked in, not too long ago. More on that when my posts about the trip up to the Twin Cities come up, but I feel no compunction in relating the best detail now (best to me, anyway), which was that he’d purchased a large stack of books on mythology.

I had a good weekend in the city, but, alas, it was also partly the reason for the tough grind of catch-up recently. Taking three days off rather than the allotted one (mid-term break was technically only the Monday) meant that I found myself having to run extra hard to get back on top of my four classes this term; the usual is three (I overloaded), and I go for eleven classes a week – which is wonderful, really, but there’s work for almost everything.

One compounding factor is my new-ness to computer science. I elected to do the class (really a class about discrete mathematics) out of what I would most truthfully describe as wanting to acquire new capabilities and add new dimensions to existing ones. A good friend of mine described it as ‘indulging my inner geek’, and that’s not really very far off either. I’ve mostly gotten my wish: I had to learn LaTeX in my first week for the class, I picked up some very basic Python over a weekend to render the solution to one particular homework problem, and, some time over the Chinese New Year, I was reading about the basics of graph theory in a book about the mathematics of chess in order to solve yet another problem. Said problem involved proving the Knight through all the squares on boards of certain sizes at least once (yes, it is solvable on the standard 8×8), and (or so I thought) no more than once (it turned out I’d been attempting to prove something harder than I needed to – but no matter). So it was that I spent a few nights and many hours over the first few days of the Year of the Horse chasing a horse around various chess-grids.

The other classes have also been fun, and there’s been a great deal of confluence in the courses. The formal logical manipulations that I was doing in the CS class come up often in the class on the philosophy of language, which is, broadly speaking, about semantics and pragmatics, which bleeds into both my syntax class and sociolinguistics class. At some point I even gave a just-about spontaneous presentation about what LaTeX was like for me as a beginner to a linguistics class (it’s useful for drawing syntax trees and the like).

I feel like I’m about to bust the nerd meter, but over and above the Neil Gaiman stuff I picked up in Minneapolis, the books I’d picked up over the winter break and from the library have also been wonderful. I picked up William Gibson’s Pattern Recognition in New York, and enjoyed it thoroughly. When I got back to Carleton, I picked up Neuromancer from the library, and that was a crazy ride. Lots of the other Sci-Fi stuff I’d gotten into over the summer and fall term has been amazingly complementary to the ideas we’re dealing with in class, which is mainly because as language, the Mind, and The Math were central themes: China Mieville’s Embassytown, and two from Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Anathem).

This post has been as breathless as this term has often made me feel, mainly because of the overloading. At the same time it’s not all been books and consoles; one thing I’ve realized is that what was before only the informed anticipation that I’d miss the College and the people here has become something like resignation, if that’s something that can be done in advance – ‘resigned’ implies helpless, but really it’s more that I’m putting it aside, knowing that I only have the few months and weeks to live here as I have come to live, so as not to miss it before it’s gone.

This post has also been breathless because the home stretch of the term is ahead, and I anticipate I won’t be doing a catch-up post like this for a while. I do have a few drafts that I’ll continue to peck away at from time to time (all those over-late winter travel posts, etc.), so those might come up.

In the mean-time, we’re bracing for Polar Vortex III. Last night the ice and the fierce wind frosted all the trees and leaves and branches. But this will probably be the last time this season they’ll be iced like that.

frost_tree

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