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Response to Laura's interview questions - Omnia mutantur, nihil interit.
June 18th, 2003
09:34 pm
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Response to Laura's interview questions

Here are my answers to theadana's questions - and I guess I owe an interview to anyone who wants one now, so post here if you do.

1. What has been your most shining academic moment? What has been your most dismal academic failure?

My most shining academic moment would be, I think, a photo-finish between my kernel, my filesystem (both for OS) and my raytracer. The kernel and filesystem were done with Mark, both in probably half or less of the schedule that they should have been allotted, and both received A's. The raytracer was written alone, in roughly 3 days, for what should have been a 3-week project, and darn it, I'm still kind of proud of that thing.

My most dismal academic failure would have to be Compilers, in which I received an incomplete which eventually became a C when I did nothing to make up for the work I hadn't completed, which was actually almost the entire course (I really didn't deserve even the C). Not that I haven't received equivalent or even worse grades before, but this was the only one in something that I really cared about, and was just too damn lazy to ever pull off.

2. What philosopher do you find yourself agreeing with the most? What core idea of theirs do you find most enjoyable? Is there a philosopher who disagrees with this idea? What argument do they offer?

This depends a lot on what you mean by "philosopher" - I have a good friend, Charlie Dake, who largely introduced me to philosophy and with whose own philosophy I still find myself mostly in agreement. As far as historical philosophers, I think that Descartes, Hume and Kant each had a seminal idea - cogito ergo sum, the logical invalidity of induction, and the noumenon/phenomenon distinction. There's no single historical philosopher with whom I find myself in agreement on most ideas. Of the ideas that I listed, no one really denies cogito ergo sum, except perhaps for those who deny cogito itself. Some do argue that it's unnecessary, though, since they think that the perceived world is just as "basic" as - if not more basic than - the inner mental world. There are those who argue that induction is logically valid, but mostly they either beg the question or try to redefine logic to suit their arguments. After all, no matter how many white swans you've seen, it would always be logically consistent if every swan you had never seen was black. The noumenon/phenomenon distinction is, I think, more controversial. In fact, a lot of modern philosophers assert that the noumenon is void of meaning or use and therefore nonexistent. I agree that it doesn't have a whole lot of practical effect, but come on, this is philosophy, not physics! I think it makes a lot of philosophical problems a lot simpler to think of things this way. (For those who don't know about it, the phenomenon is the perceived entity or the best picture a mind is able to form of what underlies it (I further divide these two items in my own philosophy, but I'm pretty sure that Kant conflates them) and the noumenon is the pure object-in-itself.)

3. You have the option to raise your ability in some skill by similarly decreasing your ability in another skill. What would you give up, and what would you give it up for?

An obvious and "fair" trade that I'd be willing to make is to lose all my knowledge of the French language (except for that possessed by any competent English speaker) in exchange for an equivalent enhancement of my knowledge in Japanese. Unfortunately, that's also fairly boring. A more interesting trade that I might be willing to make is to lose my ability to write fiction in exchange for an equivalent ability to write music, although I'd have to think about it, and I wouldn't be willing to lose my general ability to write well. Of course, given the ability to write well I think that the ability to write fiction isn't that hard to develop, which makes it seem like this answer is just dodging the question...

It's hard to give a more interesting answer, because I haven't really spent much effort developing abilities that I don't want quite a bit, so there are a ton of abilities I'd like to have but not much that I could sacrifice for them. I wouldn't be willing to give up any of my more important abilities, such as logical reasoning, good command of spelling, grammar, diction and phrasing, the ability to retain large amounts of information in my head at once or to manipulate same with relative ease, etc.

4. Does your beard have psychological significance? Or is it grown out of pure indifference?

There are several factors that play into this. First, my high school required students to have short hair (above the ears was the official rule, I think, although you could get away with a bit more than that) and be clean-shaven. I really didn't like that, and I probably started growing a beard in reaction to it. That said, I have trouble maintaining any kind of a regular routine if it doesn't cause me immediate and significant annoyance or pain to disobey it (the qualifier is necessary since I have little difficulty managing my diabetes, because if I miss a shot, I feel it), which obviously makes not having to shave on a daily basis a natural for me. Also, the beard is part of an image which I kind of like - I always hated how I looked in middle and high school, but I actually think I look kind of cool now. Last, although I don't think this one is necessary for explanation, it's possible that subconsciously, I'm trying to drive away girls who might want to go out with me by having a long beard, since I've been repeatedly told that most girls don't find it attractive, and one would think this would likely overrule my other considerations if it were something I really wanted.

5. Sometimes, you write stories. Could you write one right now? Please provide a story by writing on the fly, without planning, in a time not to exceed one hour. You may begin now.

This was a tough question for an interview, and I have to admit that I failed slightly to comply with the terms; although I did start almost immediately after I read the question, I ended up taking a total of probably an hour and 15 minutes to finish, and I did some planning in the middle of that for the second half (not sure if that was allowed). Anyway, here it is: Incomprehensibilia

Keep in mind that an hour is an extremely brief period of time in which to write a story, so not only is it very short, I make no promises as to how well it fits together (as I had time neither to plan it nor to substantially revise it). That said, it has one interesting quality, which I'm curious to find out whether you notice. If you think you have it figured out, post a comment, and I'll tell you if you're right.

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From:theadana
Date:June 18th, 2003 08:46 pm (UTC)
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Well, the narrator is never named, but I don't know if that's to what you were referring. In any case, curious qualities aside, I really like that story. Would you be interested in posting it to the lx_arena community for review? The link is in my communities list, if you are.

I like like like it. Fantastic job, my friend.

Would you interview me?
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From:kenoubi
Date:June 19th, 2003 11:22 am (UTC)
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Well, the narrator is never named, but I don't know if that's to what you were referring.

That's half of it.

Would you be interested in posting it to the lx_arena community for review?

I will after I finish this post.

Would you interview me?

Okay, here goes:

1. How would you define the word "love"? If you can't come up with a definition, give an anecdote that illustrates how you use the term. Do you think your usage is more or less standard, or do other people use the word "love" in a totally different way than you do?

2. Do you think it a universal human trait to attempt to project an image distinct from one's core goals? Do you think this is a positive trait?

3. A baby is left on your doorstep. What do you name it if it's a boy? What if it's a girl? Briefly explain your choices. (Don't spend too long on this question - maybe you wouldn't anyway, but I know that if it were asked of me, it would make me think for hours.)

4. Do you think that technology has fundamentally changed human nature? If so, give a few examples. If not, explain the apparent changes in human society over the past few hundred years.

5. What one non-living material object would you most like to possess, assuming you can never sell it or give it away?

From:rbraun
Date:December 12th, 2003 05:33 am (UTC)

holy shit

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well, it's an old comment, and i'm not sure you're reading this, but since i'm bored...

"My most dismal academic failure would have to be Compilers, in which I received an incomplete which eventually became a C when I did nothing to make up for the work I hadn't completed, which was actually almost the entire course (I really didn't deserve even the C). Not that I haven't received equivalent or even worse grades before, but this was the only one in something that I really cared about, and was just too damn lazy to ever pull off."

if it makes you feel any better, I did exactly the same thing, with compilers last fall. (heck, weren't you in the class?). (You might have already heard this.) That was the semester I tried to take it at the same time as OS... uh, bad. right. I'm not sure if I really cared about it (or anything academic) after that semester was over though... ugh.
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From:kenoubi
Date:December 12th, 2003 07:41 pm (UTC)

Re: holy shit

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well, it's an old comment, and i'm not sure you're reading this, but since i'm bored...

Yup. How's it going, Rolf?

if it makes you feel any better, I did exactly the same thing, with compilers last fall. (heck, weren't you in the class?).

Yeah, that's the one. There was something about that class … the workload should have been comparable to OS, but 1) you didn't have a partner to keep you going and 2) Peter Lee was too forgiving. Forgiveness works as a short-run aid for short-run problems—I certainly think that late policies should make a few accomodations—but when used as a major component of the class, it lets people slack off so much that they can't recover.

That was the semester I tried to take it at the same time as OS... uh, bad. right.

That was probably not the greatest of ideas. My schedule was actually pretty easy that semester, but it was the semester after I TA'd OS at the same time as I took a full courseload (5 courses, only one of which was a total pushover), and I was completely burned out.

I'm not sure if I really cared about it (or anything academic) after that semester was over though... ugh.

I know exactly what you mean. I had only one more semester left, so I didn't really have a chance to recover, either. I mean, spring semester was good socially, but I was still pretty lazy about my classes—it just turned out that they were easier that semester and I was smart enough to wing it.

Mostly the reason I'm still upset about it, a little, is that I feel like it's a personal insult to Peter Lee. He was a really nice guy and a good teacher (probably still is, but I'm going by my experience with Compilers), and I feel like I led him on that I would eventually finish that compiler and get that incomplete changed into an A, even though I did honestly intend to do it at the time and it just didn't end up happening. In practical terms, the only effect this has on me is that it kills my shot at what could probably have been a really good recommendation from him, for whatever, but it still seems like I owe him something, and I hate to feel that way. Maybe eventually I'll figure out some way to make it up to him, but I can definitely see that not happening.

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