Saturday, August 30, 2008


I just finished running around in the woods shooting at people.
Airsoft is a sport that uses replicas of military firearms to shoot
starch BB's. The airsoft club was holding a demonstration to
introduce the sport to new members. There were not many new people
there; I was the only one who had never played before, and there were
several new students who had played elsewhere.

The club has inherited an old wildlife research station in the forest
near the university, and they use that for their games. It was a good mix of
terrain, very similar to the woods that I am accustomed to romping
through. We ran about eight games. I didn't embarrass myself, but
the old-timers had better guns, better camoflage, more experience, and
more knowledge of the terrain, so I usually didn't last too long.

At the ranges we were playing at, I barely felt the BB's through
clothing, and when one hit my cheek it was only a slight sting. I
learned that I am fairly cool under fire. I did not get excited or
jumpy at any time during the game, and I did not lose fire discipline.
I usually stayed with the single-shot semi-auto mode, unless my
target was running around quickly.

I was warned that my back will ache tomorrow morning, but I doubt it.
I have a fairly strong back, thanks to martial arts exercises.

It was fun, and I learned a lot, but I do not know if it will fit my schedule.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Grad Student Social

Student Government organized a grad student social yesterday. I
decided to go to go and be social. It was in a bar downtown that they
had reserved. I had to show my graduate student ID to get in, as well
as my driver's license. The place felt like some kind of ratty old
garage or basement. It had bare floors, and bare walls with exposed
steel beams. Random pool tables and arcade games were scattered
around the place.

It was incredibly loud. There were no carpets or cloth of any kind to
absorb sound, so all of the background conversation was magnified and
distorted. This, of course, just forced people to talk louder. And
it got worse and worse as the night went on. More people started
showing up, and then they started playing music. The music itself was
not loud or obnoxious, but it was just enough extra sound to make
people want to talk louder, so it magnified the noise even more.

It was almost impossible to communicate. If you were not within a
foot of the talker, you could not understand them unless you could
read lips, or were really good at reading body language. I suspect
that this effect is an intentional feature of the environment, that
they want people to either get really close to each other or to
communicate on a primal level.

I met a few people I knew, and a few people I didn't. But because of
the communication difficulty, I really didn't get to know anybody. I
tried to be social, but I ended up just leaving early. I was getting
nothing out of it, and risking damage to my hearing.

So now I have attended a party in a bar. It was like touring the
Paris sewer system: interesting and educational, but I have no desire
to do it again.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Philosophy and Freedom

I just got back from the year's first Philosophy Club meeting. Our
normal meeting place, a cozy coffee shop, was closed because a tornado
knocked out its electricity. So we went to a pizza place instead. It
was louder, and did not have the furniture to pull into a circle, so
we talked about random things in smaller groups.

On one end of the table was me, an undergraduate philosophy major, a
blue-haired Syrian atheist, and a Sikh astrophysics Ph.D. who got off
the plane from India two weeks ago. We had an excellent conversation.

Most of it was driven by the undergraduate asking naive questions like
'What is the drinking age in India?' (Answer: Whenever you are old
enough to get the money to buy it) We got lots of interesting
accounts of life in developing countries, involving stealing
electricity, bribing police, running your own phone lines across
several city blocks, bribing tax collectors, throwing wild parties for
less than ten dollars, bribing police, etc.

It seemed, through most of the conversation, that the theme was that
you could get away with almost anything if you had cash and savvy.
But when the undergraduate asked what people in India thought about
America. The Sikh was quick to respond, "In America you have so much
freedom. You can do anything, say anything, and wear anything you
want." The Syrian added, "Here, people might look at you funny, but
that's all. Nobody yells at you or hassles you."

It was a good illustration of how the rule of law preserves the
freedoms that really matter.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Quote - Consciousness

Consciousness is the ability to escape genetic and social determinism.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Starting Year 2

I took the comprehensive exams yesterday. The Micro exam was from 9
to 12, and the Macro exam was from 2 to 5. The Micro exam was about
as hard as I expected it to be. I was able to finish most of it, and
I am fairly confident that I did well. The Macro exam, however, was a
joke. I finished it in two hours, spent 30 minutes fine-tuning a few
answers, and then spent the remainder of the time bored. Lots of
other people also finished early. The department does not really care about
macroeconomics, everybody knows that the Macro exam is mostly a
formality and the real challenge is Micro. If you do well on the
Micro exam, you will pass both of them, and if you do badly on Micro,
your Macro score will do nothing to help you.

The teacher recommended that we take the weekend off. Yeah Right.
Before next Tuesday, I need to read five methodology papers and write
an essay on them, teach myself how to deal with Markov Chains, and
prepare for the class I am teaching. In the near future, I also have
to study several chapters of the Econometrics book, come up with a
paper topic for another class, and grade a pile of problem sets from
the first-year graduate micro class. So here I am, working in my
office on Saturday morning.

But I would rather be doing this than working in my old job. It is
usually fun, and I don't get bored.