Had a very nice dinner last night at Soto last night. I’m not exactly sold on the foodie thing, but that doesn’t mean the experience wasn’t enjoyable. Now it’s back to work with a couple looming paper deadlines and a bunch of coding I want to get done for the internship.
Now that I have a non-biking commute I’m excited to start reading more. I’m not sure I buy into the whole good-reads thing that Amazon is pushing on me, but the kindle form factor is nice in that it’s small enough to fit in my back pocket and pull out on the subway.
Also interesting, to setup the device I typed the first three letters of my amazon account ID, and then it logged in. Not sure if there was a race condition where it was checking it’s serial number against amazon’s registration database at the same time, but it was an interesting and vaguely unsettling experience since it has 1-click access to credit card purchases.
I have ended up spending more time than I was expecting over that last few months struggling to figure out where I stand on how much of ones life should be public versus private. I’ve found myself being more private over the last year, somewhat to my dismay, and yet have felt increasingly uncomfortable being more open or publicizing fully what I’m working on. I think more than ever before I foresee my decisions forcing me down a more polarized path than I’ve previously realized.
And yet, the topic that I’ve been privately working on is exactly this issue – building systems for public communication. The core of the issue boils down to the fear that public association with anonymity and privacy issues will lead to increased surveillance and travel restrictions. At the same time, a more fatalistic voice says that I am already easily linked with privacy issues through my digital footprint, and as such I am failing to promote my work without protecting myself from retribution. As such, I am a knowing participant in the “chilling effects” of surveillance, taking fears of travel restrictions and life disruptions as motivations against talking more about privacy and censorship.
This unsettling association around the effects of working on privacy is seemingly pervasive. One indicator is how quickly we attempt to distance ourselves from the vocabulary. Research doesn’t attempt to circumvent censorship, but rather uses “adversary-resilient” protocols to handle “network interference.” I feel like I have unconsciously compensated by working on Code for Seattle, a great, uncontroversial, project supporting civic tech and my local community. Academic papers measuring the behavior of the Internet have been published anonymously presumably due to similar discomfort to what I feel.
My path so far has led me to a ridge that is now falling off precipitously on both sides. To one side is public advocacy of circumvention systems. Down that side are the realizations of the fears above, difficulty traveling, difficulty presenting myself as unbiased, and general polarization. This seems hugely unfortunate: I bear no particular ill will towards the countries I’ve been to, and would love to continue having the ability to travel and define who I am. To the other side is the lure of anonymity, starting over and creating a second identity for sensitive work distanced from ‘me’. Unfortunately, while the lure seems appealing, I believe it is also unachievable. I have seen only a single instance of a ‘successful’ anonymous online persona: that of satoshi, the bitcoin creator.
And so what is left is to continue balancing on that ridge while embracing a diversity of projects so that I can’t be easily labeled. I’m still heading the same direction I set in college and have used to navigate through graduate school: My goal is to make the Internet better.
2009 was another great year for me. I came back to the states from my semester abroad in China just after the new year, went back to China for the summer, and had two amazing semesters at Harvey Mudd.
My spring was very busy mostly because of classes in Algorithms and Galois Theory, both of which were very rewarding. A tradition I started last year of having a beach party continued this year, and was a nice break in the spring.
I went back to China this summer to work at Microsoft Research Asia, which was a great experience. I got to interact with parallel and distributed computing problems that actually interested me, and it got me excited about more challenging problems in Computer Science. I also got to travel a lot this summer, and went to Datong (inland from Beijing), XiAn (Near the middle of the country), Qingdao (On the coast), and up to Mongolia.
The last of these trips, a weekend that I went up to mongolia is probably the most memorable part of the year for me, and will stay with me for a long time. I took a bus up to the border of China and Mongolia, and hitchhiked both ways across the border. (Since you aren’t allowed to walk across and there aren’t any regular busses, hitchhiking is the only reasonable option.) I ended up meeting the family of the mongolian guy that took me across the border, and got to try to communicate with them in very broken chinese (which they spoke less of than I did) while he unloaded his jeep.
In the fall I buckled down and applied to several graduate programs in addition to school. The most interesting classes in the fall were Computer networks and Parallel programming, both of which got through important material, while also being very fun.
I recently got a job offer from Google that I am leaning towards accepting, although I still need to make peace with delaying graduate school.
WordPress is now configured to my liking, which has taken a turn to the minimalistic.
Some additional work may eventually go into making the comments fit better into the rest of the theme, and making some of the sidebar features fit in more naturally. Otherwise though I’m really happy with how it came out.
The next step will be to setup a google wave plugin that synchronizes posts between the two systems, because that would be cool.
In real life, it’s winter break. One more semester until I finish college. Some amount of neurosing over what to do with my life. But pretty happy overall.