Self-diagnosis

I am now in North Carolina, enjoying the plenty that is the deep South. I’ve eaten at a number of restaurants on the main street near campus and the 3 dining halls that are open for the next two months. Apparently the best dining hall, which is the one adjacent to my current dorm, has closed for the summer. In other words, to get dinner is a 15 minute walk from my dorm, whereas lunch is a scant 2 minutes from where I work during the day, itself about 10 away from the dorm. So I’m sort of isolated from anything helpful here.

What’s more, there is a ton of construction on campus. Not only are they building a new mathematics building (one year too late, in my opinion), they are changing several other buildings, meaning that many pedestrian paths are closed or covered in red dust. Speaking of pavement, everything here is brick: buildings, small streets, sidewalks, etc. It gets kind of frustrating because there’s nowhere to look when you want to not see brick.

My room is quite typical for a college dorm, all in off white with tile. The tile has a yellow and black pattern which I just now noticed when searching for a way to describe it. There’s a sink in the room, which has been convenient for shaving, tooth brushing, and hair combing. I have two beds and no roommate, which means there are a number of items on the second bed that haven’t moved in 2 weeks. I think it’s the natural way.

Foodwise, I need to figure out what to eat on weekends because nothing on campus is open. I have no means of transportation besides asking for rides, which I’m opposed to out of principle. Last weekend this meant Jimmy John’s and other such cheap eateries, although frozen food seems more productive. I bought some utensils so I could eat those kinds of things, but I’m not able to buy them without going to the overpriced convenience store.

I also had Cold Stone ice cream for the first time in a couple of years (excluding a free sample I got once), one of the two non-mandatory social events I’ve attended. The other was a highly necessary trip to Walmart for room supplies, including my two Transformers pillowcases. I’ve forgotten which pillow came with the room and which one is the eco-friendly corn-something-stuffed pillow I bought at the ‘mart. I’m probably just going to take the one I like, which will relate in some measure to the amount of saliva deposited in said pillow. In preparation, I’ve selected the pillow I really want to preserve and tried to avoid drooling excessively on it. I’m about 90% sure it’s the Walmart pillow, so the environment can be reasonably assured that I will continue sleeping with corn even after my summer experience.

After arriving here on Memorial Day, I went to the pizza feed event. It was pretty fun; the pizza reminded me of the pizza I used to get in my Mom’s hometown. It had one meat I’ve never seen on pizza before (gyro meat?) and one I’ve seen only one time (bacon). Damned good. I’ve been learning a lot of names in my characteristic fashion, although I’ve only spoken with maybe 8 of the 40 math students here. The math group has its own floor; it is the biggest mathematics REU ever.

The other mandatory social event was a North Carolina “pig pickin,'” in which the majority of a pig is smoked, chopped to bits, and “pulled” from the carcass in order to produce smaller pieces of pork for consumption. This is a damned fine ritual. I especially approved of the barbecue sauce, which was mostly vinegar (both distilled and red wine) with pepper flakes and a couple of other spices. This is a really good way to eat pig. I highly recommend it, although the preparation seems like a huge pain. Other notes: the dude who prepared the pig had the sweatiest head I’ve ever seen. The dinner was delayed by about 45 minutes because of confusion as to where the grill was to be set up. During this delay, I spoke for the first time with 2 of the 8 people I “know.”

I shouldn’t exaggerate; during the ice cream trip the next day, I did speak with the 5 people who went with me, so I guess it would be more like 12. That’s as high as I’ll concede.

Anyway, last week was spent learning Matlab and LaTeX, both instrumental in being a kickass mathematicist (or so they told me). Matlab is basically a C-family language with vector-based syntax, so nearly everything is represented as a vector.  Its implementation reminds me of Java, where nearly every function has been defined already but you have to find the right one: i.e. textscan vs. strscan and so on. LaTeX is just markup, although technically it’s “compiled.” The syntax is straightforward and the learning curve is just a matter of memorizing which tag represents which mathematical mark. It does look nice after compilation, but it’s mostly a hassle. Better than Microsoft’s equation editor, though.

After learning all of that crap and modeling a spring-mass system (easy), I started my group’s project. We’re quite far along already, because most of us are pretty good at this. One member is the person who I was sure I wouldn’t get along with, with a severe lack of social awareness but admirable programming skills (as if any programmers are socially inept. pff). He’s far ahead of me in terms of getting things done, so I don’t end up doing much. The other member worked on a similar project last year, with an aura of laziness and experience about him. I think he’s a good balancing member of the group, able to explain things to me when the programmer is busy or unable, and able to communicate my often improperly worded yet sometimes viable suggestions or ideas to him. My biggest worry is that there is no room for me when programming is going on, because the programmer takes the reins and the other member is much better at assisting him. I end up on my own computer doing all the things I do on my computer.

There are two professors and two graduate students assigned to the project. One professor is named after a character in a flash cartoon; the other is a former student here who has ties to the university. His company builds ray guns, making him cool by default, although he’s pretty awesome anyway. The primary graduate student is very easygoing and helpful and seems to like me despite my lack of productivity. I suppose on the occasion where I programmed something, it worked acceptably, so I at least look trainable. The other graduate student has only showed up once.

Naturally, she’s the one who will be around for the duration of the summer; the other grad student is leaving in two days. So is the ray gun specialist, whose company is in California. I’ll be left alone with the others to get progressively more frustrated with not helping. Maybe I can do presentations or something. God knows I need things explained to me simply enough, so I could maybe do the same for the other students. Here’s hoping I find a niche before someone gets pissed. Other than that, the project is fascinating, and I like the people. I just wish the people who I like the most would stick around. No choice, though.

Anyway, we’re getting to where we’ll be performing some extensive and time-consuming optimizations, so laziness will be perfectly acceptable. Our group also meets at 10am, meaning I can stay up ’til 1am or so and still be rested. God, I love college.

Our next mission is to work distributed computing into the project, meaning my lappy will have to help out, as will some other computers in the building (I suppose). The minimizing algorithm benefits most from 3 separate processors running different parts, so maybe just one more computer would be needed. Where or if we’ll get it is unresolved. Done properly, this would actually cut the time taken by 2/3, although there will be overhead for the distribution.

Having covered recent events, I have to move on to the most interesting part of the past two days: my self-diagnosis of my neuroses. This is exciting, so get ready.

1. I am a highly sensitive person. This means that I analyze sensory input more than most people, causing a few symptoms, one of which is hypervigilance, my “paranoid” tendencies. One thing this has made me realize is that while I am observant, I place more value on my insights about people than observations of the world. One thing that happened that was kind of weird was that I realized that one person was either engaged or a newlywed with no evidence, but I turned out to be correct. I came to that conclusion without looking for rings, but from behavioral clues. I have no idea how.

2. I have avoidant personality disorder. Essentially what this means is that I would rather be alone than interact socially because I consider the risks too great. This was a weird thing to find, but an apt description of my behavior. I’ve long known I had a generalized anxiety disorder, particularly in social situations, and I’m fairly agoraphobic, but I didn’t realize how significant those attributes were. The fear of crowds also stems from too much sensory input relating to #1.

The reason I looked this up (besides my typical wikipedian curiosity) was because of my recent anxiety. My lack of social contact has been somewhat oppressive here, continuing a trend that started 6 years ago. It doesn’t help that for some reason, groups congregate in the hallway in the area around my door and talk loudly very often. Anyway, I made my typical mistake that somehow I’d stop being reclusive if I were in a new environment (the fresh start hypothesis). Even I’m amazed at how much I buy into it. It’s like I think I’ll be someone else if I have the chance, but it almost always gets much worse.

I’ve had some frenetic mood swings in the past two days. On Monday evening, I was in a really good mood thinking about potential. Tuesday reminded me that I don’t have any, so I ended up trying to take a nap at 6pm to avoid thinking about it. That failed and I had some feelings I thought I had left behind a long time ago,  but I finally got out of bed and got online. Then I spent the next 4 hours looking up stuff online, including all of my various neuroses. During that process, I crashed violently back into the realm of normal emotions, feeling much better. Now I’m just trying not to think about it, which is my usual method for dealing with these things. It seems promising so far.

I think I like it here. I just wish I could have more realistic expectations. Maybe next time.

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