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As I write this, I am on a plane from Pittsburgh to Dallas. Carlson… - Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.
October 30th, 2007
09:12 pm
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As I write this, I am on a plane from Pittsburgh to Dallas. Carlson needed me to recruit at CMU, and I extended this into a vacation by taking off Monday, flying out Saturday and back Tuesday evening (the actual recruiting was today).

It was kind of a strange trip. Saturday evening I went to Chuck and Annette's party (at which they got engaged, woo) and had a pretty good time, but got horribly drunk, evidently forgetting my commitment to moderation. I have plenty of general memories of the party, but the one specific thing I strongly remember is sort of blurting out to Katie how I really respect and admire her, which I excused by saying I was very drunk. I've regretted barely talking with her since moving to Dallas quite a bit, and not had much of a chance to express it. And moving back to Pittsburgh still wouldn't solve anything since her career as an academic will likely lead her away from there reasonably soon. (Of course, I wouldn't be moving back to Pittsburgh for Katie anyway, but it's part of a drip-drip-drip of people leaving—see below.)

I had worn a pretty minimal-effort zombie costume to Chuck and Annette's party, with the thought that I might also be able to use it for Zombie Fest, but instead of even attempting to go to that, I spent most of Sunday recovering from my fairly severe hangover (I also hadn't applied the techniques I should have to prevent it) and realizing that I had lost my glasses. I also watched Phil (a friend of the Cabana's, though not a resident) play through all of Portal at the Cabana, which was probably the best way to experience it since it was a cute little game but I wouldn't have wanted to bother playing it on my own.

Monday I was still unable to find my glasses, so Doug took me out to Lenscrafters to get new ones—a pretty big pain, since I also had to contact my opthalmologist to get them to fax the prescription up. In the meanwhile we went out for lunch, then went to Circuit City and then Borders, browsing and talking. Doug pretty much agreed with me that, had they known how things were going to shake down, it would have made sense to buy a house at the beginning rather than renting the Cabana; but at this point it seems likely the Cabana will dissolve next August since it's already down to a minimal number of residents and yet more people will be leaving.

Monday evening I met Laura for dinner. (Actually, I brought takeout to her place—I was kind of glad to get to see where she's living, an efficiency which she has very efficiently organized.) She's back in Pittsburgh for now, but probably not for long—she's working on applications to grad school, and teaching pre-school for now, a job she says she doesn't have to take home with her. She also said she's been pretty antisocial since coming back to Pittsburgh this time, which didn't surprise me, but it did surprise me that she hasn't had to more actively reject social opportunities to stay that way. It's obvious, though, that Pittsburgh is already different than it was and that it's going to keep changing.

Today's been mostly interviews, though I had a pretty long break and met Doug, Naveen and Phil for lunch. Last night I stayed at a hotel (unlike the previous nights I had been at the Cabana) to be a bit more focused on being up and presentable for the interviews today.

It was a nice little trip and I'm glad I got the chance to do it, but if I derive any message from it it might be that in my current state, I'm only hanging on to doing things acceptably by a thread, and any slip can push me over the edge. (Also, on the details-I-somehow-didn't-slip-in-otherwise line, I rented a car for the first time this trip.)


You may have noticed (or this post may have reminded you) that I haven't posted in a very long time. That's basically because my life has been sucked up by Final Fantasy XI (the MMO Final Fantasy). When I started I felt a pretty strong sense of purpose to playing, due to my intense earlier attachment to the Final Fantasy series and always wishing I had given XI a try. Katie also used to play and I was hoping she would re-join, though that seems very unlikely to happen now.

I had a linkshell (a group of people, the FFXI equivalent to a guild) founded by veteran players (the game's about 5 years old at this point) with an eye to helping out newbie. It was extremely promising in concept, but poorly organized—apparently most people would just ask the veterans for help rather than attend the scheduled events or make any attempt to do things in a group so they'd be more efficient. Also, apparently most new players quit the game pretty soon when they realize how hardcore it is. Eventually the leader of the shell and his wife decided to play far less, basically resigning their roles, and the shell eroded from that point into its current more-or-less nonexistence. I've found another shell but it makes no real pretense to being so organized (though maybe that's a plus, since there will be less disappointment when it isn't) and how many people are on it varies widely.

Charlie was playing briefly, but I think it was basically because the computer on which I run AIM/ICQ (on which I'm also typing this post) dual-boots into Windows to play FFXI, and lately I've hardly ever been in Mac OS, and thus hardly ever on AIM/ICQ, where he normally would have talked to me. I think he's more or less quit at this point (at least, I haven't seen him on any time lately), which reduces the number of people I know in real life who play back to its norm of zero.

Meanwhile, I've been doing incredibly repetitious activities in the game to earn money, and been playing mostly solo. I've realized that some of my attitudes (like the desire to craft my own armor for Paladin, my favorite class) are kind of absurd obstinance that have been holding me back from progressing, but other factors are based on attitudes of other players, most of whom are veterans with plenty of money or at least decent ways to earn it. I'm starting to see the game as largely an insane grind for money and/or experience points, sometimes briefly intermixed with things that are actually interesting, but I'm still finding it extremely difficult to divest my attachment to it. This is probably due to the amount of effort I've already spent on it (though it's a sunk cost, humans aren't really rational about that) and a strong desire to be respected by the other players as someone who's skilled, though I'm often frustrated by the fact that as an old game, people often have already figured out the best way (or think they have) and are less willing to be creative.

I think I'm ready to describe what the game provides as the illusion of purpose, but an illusion of purpose (somewhat unfortunately) still beats no purpose at all. And my life before I started playing was suffering from a lack of purpose, due to feeling that my goals (primarily, saving up enough money so that I wouldn't have to work any more) were impossible and kind of pointless anyway. But the game is definitely taking its toll on me. I've lost 12 pounds (not quite reaching the point that I think is severely unhealthy, but bumping up against it) through neglect since I started. My blood sugar control hasn't been very tight (I told my endocrinologist at my last appointment that I'm going through some stuff right now, but was too embarrassed to say what). My control of my free time has been weak, with obligations being pushed off about as long as they can bear, and my sleep quantity and quality have been even lousier than they already were. These things have combined to produce a significant decline in my general level of awareness of and responsiveness to my surroundings.

I've determined that I need to focus more on my health, more on my diabetes control and my eating and that I need to start exercising again, though I only realized this a few days ago and have yet to really act on it. But I'm fairly worried that increasing my level of awareness will only serve to re-acquaint me with the irritation, drag, and meaninglessness of my life as it currently is. Every aspect of my life degrades and slowly disintegrates without fairly regular meaningful interaction with other people, ideally in a context that doesn't drain me every time I do it (as travel can), ideally in a community. I've known this for quite a while, but I've been almost completely punting on actually implementing it due to people's migratory patterns making it impossible to choose a place to do it, and practical factors like money. I wonder if this may be coming to a head, though. I've been feeling (to the extent that I feel anything lately) pangs of desire to get out of Dallas, and to move back to Pittsburgh, even though as I've tried to make clear through this post I'm not at all sure that would solve anything.

Well, there's my rant to make up for all that not posting. I should post more from now on, but don't count on it. Advice gladly accepted, though I'm starting to worry that more active intervention may be required. Or tell me what you've liked about me, 'cause my self-esteem is pretty weak right now and I could use a reminder of which of my characteristics to try to enhance.

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From:(Anonymous)
Date:March 28th, 2008 09:13 am (UTC)
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>Advice gladly accepted, though I'm starting to worry that more active intervention may be required.

Answer teaser emails about ocaml. :-P

>Or tell me what you've liked about me,

Probably the brightest person I've ever known, willingness to analyze and honestly critique own mental process, interesting interests -- CS and philosophy, both good conversation topics, direction of society, nice libertarianish views. Made me push myself a lot further than I'd have been likely to have done so otherwise. Hell of a fun person to debate, and someone that complex ideas can really be discussed with. Willingness to take social risks (I'm remembering an epic past bboard post). Motived -- only person I personally know who sought out and started working as an independent contractor immediately after college. Had fun working with on open-source.

Changing the subject slightly, it seems as if the modern practice of moving far away from everyone we know, a common action after university, is one of the more historically unusual things that we do today. Most people grow up with a set of people they know, and even if they move, retain some subset of people. When they go to college, they're adrift, but jammed with with lots of people with free time who are similarly looking for new social ties and have similar interests, education, and possibly economic class. Post-college moves absolutely slice off all of that. If we historically tended to live in the same place, in the same tribe, that's a pretty unusual step to take.

I've suspected that a major reasons churches do well in rural areas is because of that social disconnect -- they provide a single reason to get everyone together on a regular basis. Otherwise, someone might live out on their farm alone for years and never see anyone else. Religiosity falls off in cities, where it's easier to run into people on a regular basis.

I'm guessing that some of the success of MMORPGs is also due to the ability to connect those people and provide goals. It seems like a lot of the people I know became much more interested in MMORPGs after university.
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