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Balasubramanyam Venkataraghavan's Journal

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4th October 2008

3:01am: drunk; saturday 3 am; found my friends
I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM I FOUND THEM

14th September 2008

1:38am: Karen and I had a really weirdly long and intense conversation tonight about super powers.

long ass post about super powersCollapse )

10th September 2008

4:54pm: Information overload! The first integrative test is tomorrow, my notes are pages and pages.
I've been listening to a lot of really great new (to me) music lately & I've been thinking of applying for a weekly show at the radio station here so I can show these kids how to really rock and roll.

3rd September 2008

7:11pm: Classes in order of awesomeness:

Machine learning. Totally sweet. It's not just teaching machines to learn, it's learning with machines. Basically it's a class about using automated methods for extracting the most useful characteristics from data. I don't technically have the prerequisite (or the prerequisite for the prerequisite) but the teacher let me in anyway. The homework is programming, which is a plus.

Cognitive and neural modeling lab. Also pretty sweet. It's taught by Dr. Golden, who is my thesis first reader, and who makes an excellent absent minded professor. He forgets what he is talking about and cackles uncontrollably at his own jokes. Homework is split between programming tasks and philosophy questions (my type of class.)

Sensory neurophysiology. Taught by a beautiful, ancient man, who sold us the textbook at a discount price because he wrote the thing. Class meets for 45 minutes, twice a week. At every class meeting, the professor hands out a CD-Rom containing an audio recording of the last class period and his power point slides. The entire grade for the class is based on two tests, both of which are take home, and we get them for a week. It doesn't get much easier.

Developmental neurobiology. Dr. Kilgard is excellent and hilarious, and the way he talks about things suggests that he's approaching the subject using the tools I like best: complex dynamical systems, physical computation, etc.

Integrative neuroscience. Extremely heavy reading load, which I have been advised to ignore. Slow moving professor who delights in teaching us that everything we know is wrong. It could go either way. At least there's someone I'm trying to become friends with in that class (though they're in my other two neuroscience classes too.)

Introduction to the arts. Required class taught by an aloof theater guy. I've always liked art, but I'm not really comfortable with some of the concepts used in this class, because they rely on some wishy-washy culturally determined concepts in judging what is good art and what is bad. There are other conceptual issues I have with this class, which I'll write about later.

It is time for me to go cook and then go to work!

2nd September 2008

1:28am: Classes started a while back, we have the longest semester in the country according to one of my teachers.
My class schedule for this semester:

Integrative neuroscience
Developmental neurobiology
Sensory neurophysiology
Cognitive and neural modeling lab
Introduction to machine learning
Introduction to the arts (ha!)

18 credits, 15 of which are hard ass upper level neuroscience/cog. sci., 6 of which I had to get special permission to take. So far integrative neuroscience looks the hardest, I'm supposed to be reading about 30-40 pages a day for it. I'm still working part time, so I will have no free time at all this semester, but when it's over I will be able to build a brain from scratch, basically.

Also I have been complaining lately because I want to build myself another bike, but I don't have the money to get a good frame or anything. Today I found a vintage Nikishi frame, abandoned and in (apparently) good shape. So, sweet.

13th May 2008

4:42am: I am headed to Ithaca for 10 days or so. Things are pretty good in my life.

25th April 2008

1:32pm: some disconnected thoughts
I haven’t been having a very good time.

I had a really bad 24 hours a while back where my bike broke, my laptop was destroyed, I spent a night in excruciating pain, my mom got in the second car wreck in a few weeks and I paid several hundred dollars for some dentistry stuff.

Then, last week, Samuel killed himself. I don’t really know what to say about that other than that it’s stupid and awful. He was my best friend for a solid period of my youth and I always felt guilty for not spending more time with him as an adult. Doesn’t that last part sound familiar? When I heard, I couldn’t sleep so I rode my bike to where he used to live and I just sat in his yard and cried for about half an hour. After that, I went to see my parents and they weren’t taking it very well either & you know it is always easier to bear things if you have to be the strong one in a group and I have always had to be the strong one in my family, so I was strong for them.

I had a lot to do this week so I put myself into my work and even though I couldn’t always concentrate, I think I did okay. This Thursday was my meeting with my honors thesis first reader which I have been anticipating for a few weeks.

Well, the meeting didn’t go very well. I don’t know how to describe it other than that we couldn’t communicate at all and yet he sort of tore up my thesis idea by not being able to understand it at exactly the points I thought it was weakest. I walked out just totally unsure what to think, and that night I decided that my thesis probably wasn’t salvageable and that I had wasted an entire semester working on it and that oh my god how am I going to get in to grad school what am I doing with my life. I feel slightly better now, but not much.

I guess sometimes there is just one part of your life that you feel you have some sense of control over and that you can invest yourself in. Karen has been really wonderful for me because what we have feels so stable, I know I can live my life and always have some comfort waiting for me just a phone call away. But I think that loving someone is not enough to feel like your life is completely in your own hands.

For a long time, and particularly as everything around me has gone downhill, I think I’ve really been structuring my life around the stability of working on this thesis. I used it as a crutch to avoid dealing with my own problems and with Sam and all that. That stability clumsily warped and fractured on Thursday and suddenly I felt that I had to deal with everything that’s gone wrong and with all of my doubts. I couldn’t bear the load: I just laid down and slept for thirteen hours.

Today I’ve been walking around in that state where you know what you have to do at every moment, but not why it is worth doing. I haven’t been able to convince my muscles that it is worth the effort to pick myself up and move around. I’ll stare at a bag of groceries for several seconds before lifting it. I coasted right past where I park my bike because I didn’t feel like squeezing the breaks. It’s been sort of comical.

Something to know about me is that I define myself through what I can accomplish in the world. I need a good reason for being here. My own personal experiences don’t add up to much and it isn’t really significant if I have a good time along the way (though obviously I’m going to function a lot better if I’m happy.) “We weren’t put here to have fun”, to paraphrase Wittgenstein. In my youth I thought I had something world changingly significant to contribute in the domain of philosophy. I grew out of that, it was very hard: I became convinced that I had something merely worthwhile to contribute to the domain philosophy. I feel like I’m growing out of that too. Whatever insight I might have, it’s certainly not comforting & that is all that people really want. They want their philosophers to tell them that it’s okay to live in the world, that they shouldn’t feel too guilty, or that there’s something that will make their guilt worthwhile in the end. They want to know that there’s some stability beneath all this, that it’s all being taken care of in some way.
I don’t have any of those comforts to give, so what good is my work? What good is a doctor who can only tell you that you’re going to die, and that it will be painful, and for that matter, that everyone you know will suffer the same fate?

Smart people have it rough, that’s what I’ve been saying about Sam. They need something to give them meaning. When I talked to Sam, it always seemed like he was searching. I guess he thought he’d found something, but you have to be so careful with these things. Even if other people can’t see the significance, losing what you’ve structured your life around is devastating.

I talked to him, a few weeks ago. I don’t have a record of what I said because my computer was destroyed. I told him that he’d need to just wait. I didn’t lie: I told him that it would be really hard and really painful, but that a person can recover from anything, no matter how drastic it looks, with the right outlook. I wonder if he thought about anything I said, and I wonder if I should have been more emotional and empathetic in my tone?

I guess it’s true though: a person can recover from anything, given the right outlook. What I didn’t say was that finding the right outlook is excruciating.

19th April 2008

3:27pm: god damnit samuel
open letter to my friends and loved ones:

please stop killing yourselves

28th March 2008

4:32pm: I got a first reader for my thesis!
And it's the head of the cognitive science program.
And when he read the plan for my thesis he said I should try to get it published in Cognitive Science (the m-f-ing journal.)
And I am PUMPED.

14th March 2008

9:43pm: Sprrriiiinnnggg brrreeaaaakkkk

I actually don't like breaks much, other than that I have a higher chance of seeing Karen during them. I am much more satisfied when I'm getting work done than when I'm goofing off, but I naturally start goofing off if I have a lot of free time and then it's hard to get back in gear when it comes time to work. I'd just like more three day weekends so I'd occasionally have a day off with no responsibilities, so I can have free time without losing momentum.

Here are some updates:

My room mate is fun, but questionable. We're polar opposites but reflected along some line of symmetry that allows us to get along.
I know exactly what I want out of my life and I do very little that is not directly related to working toward that goal.
He's an undecided major, coasting through college on a trust fund from the army, and he's spent this spring break playing video games for like 16 hour stretches every day.
We don't understand each other at all, but we have a good time.

All my (non spring break) free time is getting sucked up by my honors thesis, which is awesome and also rapidly spiraling out of control.

I also spend a lot of time worrying about grad school because it turns out in the humanities top tier (where I'm going for phD) admissions don't seem to be appreciably better than random & there's no step down from the programs that are suited for me: I just can't do the kind of work I want to do anywhere else. If all this work doesn't pay off exactly the way I want it to, they will record my wrath on the seismic scale.

20th January 2008

7:29pm: I'm probably moving into campus housing, which is apartment style, with a room mate. It makes the most sense for various reasons. I moved out early because it got really awkward after my room mates started accusing me of things I didn't do, asking me to apologize to my own friends for things that they (the room mates) didn't approve of, and other unreasonable shit.
So I'm living with my parents for a few days.

My classes are pretty okay. The humanities class is pretty bad so far. The teacher looked interesting, and he's having us read an Eco book so that's a plus. But at the beginning of the class he asked "who's heard of semiotics?" and I was the only one who raised my hand, and the next day someone asked what a "pretext" was, and it's sort of gone downhill from there. Now he only uses small words and assumes that we don't know that the crusades may not have been totally awesome for God and everyone or that "A Knight's Tale" isn't historically accurate.

In other news, I hope Brett Favre singlehandedly destroys the Patriots.

11th January 2008

8:57pm: LIFE UPDATE:

I am being evicted! If you asked for a reason I would not be able to give you one.
I think it's a combination of the following factors:
1) I was kind of bad at doing the dishes sometimes (but I was good for long periods, and the house owners were sometimes worse than me.)
2) I left my stuff in the living room (because one of them told me I could and also I didn't want to pick it up after their cats peed all over it.)
3) Various other petty reasons (for instance I used their band-aids instead of getting my own when I cut my hand [note: actual reason given to me])
4) They don't like me.
5) They wanted more rent money (there's already an ad on craigslist for my room and it's $50 more expensive.)

I wish they had communicated with me in any way that there was something wrong, because I'm a grown up and I'm capable of changing my behavior to suit others, but apparently communication is harder than just throwing me out without any warning (just as school is starting and while my girlfriend is visiting.)
I am fine with moving out, because the living situation was basically totally unacceptable anyway. I could talk about the various problems but why go into detail when I can talk about what was essentially the critical factor for me: cat shit. The place was covered in it. All the time & it never got cleaned up. Now imagine the type of people who are fine living knee deep in cat shit but get angry with me if I leave a plate in the sink, and imagine the sorts of problems that might be associated with them. You now have a pretty good idea of why I am fine with moving.
Now my only problem is that wherever I move is going to be much more expensive. I considered moving in with this guy from craigslist who is a personal trainer, and got so far as to confirm that I would move in, but then he sent me this bizarre e-mail about how a lawyer he knows said he had too many liabilities and that he needs to draft a contract before I can move in and it turns out that he thinks this will take like two months and also that he is the type of person who doesn't know how to use quotation marks. I think maybe someone else gave him a better offer and he's trying to let me down easy. Whatever.
When I read his e-mail it occurred to me that I never want to live in anyone else's house again.
So I'm getting an apartment. If Elliot comes through I'll share it with him, but otherwise I'm going it alone. I can afford it provided that I stop spending money on things like sweaters from Target, movies and burger street.
Anyway, now I am having all these fantasies about finally living in my own place and it is really starting to sound good.

In other news all my classes are cool. Here is the run down:
Calc II (Easy 'cause I learned how to study for it)
Discrete Math for Computing (This class is going to be really fun)
Cognitive Psychology (Meets once a week, the teacher is cool)
Blah Blah Blah Humanities (This is about the middle ages, the teacher is a big Umberto Eco fan, you know what's up)
Honors seminar (Meets once a week, no real assignments, I get to work on my thesis)

So school is good.

30th November 2007

1:04pm: I finished the semester, probably lost my four point oh due to calculus. I did the math and I could have made a solid A if I got an exactly perfect score on the final, but there was one thing I couldn't figure out and so I'm hoping I didn't make any other dumb errors and I can swing an A-.

There's a road trip in the works which will be going down as soon as LARA CALLS ME BACK.

19th October 2007

6:32pm: From now on I only write entries about how great I am at school

I Rule School, entry #1:
I have a grade in psychology so high that if I make an 87 on the next test, I will still have an average of 100 on the tests. I will retain an A on the tests if I make over a 57 on the next test. Run that one through your calculator, poindexter.

16th October 2007

12:43pm: It's beautiful outside today.

17th September 2007

11:13pm: paid $25 (including shipping)

22nd August 2007

12:13pm: Dear Diana,
I just got a job at the campus library.

4th August 2007

8:17pm: I was gonna post a bunch of pictures of my new house but I don't have a good host for them right now.

Also: MY HOUSEMATES ARE ON VACATION which would be fine except THE AIR CONDITIONER IS BROKEN AND I AM DYING.
To imagine how hot it is here, take room temperature and MULTIPLY IT BY 1.278

20th July 2007

2:40am: Yeah so I am totally moving out of my house today! Karen will be up here on Sunday and we will take move in pictures of my new room & room mates.

Update: I am out of my mind with joy.

13th July 2007

4:35pm: The surgery was a success! We managed to save the fenders, handlebars and front light though we lost the generator and gear changer. The wheels were transplanted from a willing donor, but in the process we lost the chain guard. The old parts were almost all saved for further inspection. We also got some new handlebar grips, which are slightly more sparkley than we were hoping for. The patient is now a single speed, but is quite functional and may even recover in the future.

It's a beautiful bike.

9th July 2007

2:23pm: I've apparently started writing in this LiveJournal thing again.

1) Against Me! has finally gone and totally failed me. The last album had good lyrics, and I could excuse some of the songs because the demo versions of them were much better than the album versions, but there's virtually nothing good to be said about "New Wave". The only thing that caught my attention was "The Ocean" which has some lyrics that should be sort of unexpected for Against Me! fans that haven't been reading between the lines, but it still sounds like hell. At first I thought it terribly ironic that the moment this band started to hit it big, they began to lose what made them so damn good, but then I remembered that it probably happened the other way around. I'm sure they're still the same old great guys, and I can understand what they're doing, but this time they've lost me. Still, any band that writes Crime As Forgiven By has a permanent pass to "benefit of the doubt" and I'll probably be giving them chances until the day they break up.

2) My computer science teacher is so bad that he could not even grade things right. We get our grades online, and it appears that he's written the maximum raw score on our last test as being 80 instead of 70. I know this because I can view the statistics of performance on his tests and it's basically impossible for like half the class to have gotten a 70, with no higher scores, when previously about half the class got a perfect score on his dumb tests. Even adjusting for the obviously wrong scale, it appears I got a low A, which I attribute to correcting him several times and pissing him off. This marks the first time in my academic history that I have been upset to receive an A.

7th July 2007

5:02pm: So my new bike was stolen a while back. I decided to fix up my previous bike. There's nothing really wrong with it other than that it is basically rusty as hell and I can feel the crankset slowly disintegrating. And the gears don't change, the brakes hardly work, the handle bars are terrible, the pedals have no traction and it looks like crap.
So anyway today I took it to the store and they said the parts were too old to find and that I'd be much better off getting a new bike. I don't have the money dollars for a new bike, and I love this bike because it's light, it's geared just right and it fits me perfectly. To replace it for the amount that I would like to spend means getting basically some off-brand mountain bike piece of crap that weighs twice as much and is geared for a twelve year old.
So I came home and my dad drags out this antique Sears bike that he picked up a while back from who knows where and we sit there and look at it and the thing has basically the exact same frame as my bike. I mean to the millimeter, essentially. The cranks appear to be in perfect condition and the front gear is even the same size as the one on my bike. It's also got a nonfunctional light system, a way old school in-hub gear changing system, funky handlebars, a busted old seat and some bent fenders.
I figure we put the wheels from my bike on this one (it doesn't have any derailleurs, so I'd be converting it to a single speed but that's fine because my bike doesn't change gears anyway,) we strip the light system, replace the handlebars and seat, and see if we can bend the fenders into place (if not we'll just take 'em off) and I've got a perfect old school roadster that's rides exactly the same as my current bike.

Pretty sweet, huh?

The paint job on it is kind of retro, so that's okay, but it's a little scratched up, especially the fenders, so I'm considering giving it a new paint job and customizing the hell out of it. Daniel was talking about customizing his bike a while back and gave me the idea to get some decals on it. So I'm over here cooking up bike names and paint schemes, you can tell I'm excited.

Oh and I'm moving in with my new roommates the Sunday after this one.


UPDATE:

5th July 2007

5:04pm: Today I saw several human brains.
1) They look exactly like you'd expect them to, if slightly smaller.
2) They make exactly the squishy noises you'd expect them to make when you mess around with them.
3) You can pick them up and play with them when they have been soaked in formaldehyde, but in your head they are basically jello. They are also covered in veins, and webbing.
4) The cerebellum and the midbrain are both very gross.
5) They seemed to float in whatever liquid was in the "bucket of brains" which I am guessing was formaldehyde.
6) It is somewhat hard to believe that they are real, and even then they seem more like a dead fish than anything else. They are very inanimate and it's hard to imagine that they do what they do at all, especially when someone is basically poking his finger into one. A severed hand, being more recognizably human, would probably be significantly more macabre and disturbing.

This has been an educational update from your resident brain scientist in training.

3rd July 2007

8:54pm: I'm doing absurdly well in school.

19th June 2007

7:07pm:
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