Saturday, September 4, 2010

when I look up, I just trip over things

New Zealand had an earthquake. Here's some pics.

I've been getting my geek on by learning about discrete-event simulation. That's a fancy technical term for "making a computer model things like banks and fast-food restaurants," with independent events (customer arrivals) that take time and require limited resources (like cashiers). There's actually a large and important branch of mathematics for this, called queueing theory, but beyond me having a hard time and no interest in learning math on my own, the kinds of systems I'm interested in actually get too complicated for formal analysis. We saw all kinds of nutty stuff in Danger's backend system, for example, which (so far as I know) has too many moving parts to divulge its secrets in formal analysis. So you simulate it and see what happens, and it's faster and cheaper because you don't need 3 weeks and $8 million worth of computers.

We desperately wanted a simulation at the time, and one guy started writing one, but writing your own discrete-event simulator isn't a small project. Like so many things in software, it's not that it's hard, exactly...not simple, but mostly tedious, and a pain to get it right. Fortunately, other people have already done this, many times, and I'm playing with a thing called SimPy. It's pretty cool, and I'm not sure if it wasn't up to snuff in 2005-2006, or what. I want to use it to model something like the Danger system and see if I can produce the screwy behavior we saw, so I can think about what caused it and how to do things differently in my future projects.

Programming is unfortunately more fun than teaching, and way more fun than lesson planning. I'm trying to work on the planning anyway, though, since then I can enjoy my Sunday.

We had a lovely aikido class this afternoon. Jorge says he may add 2 more classes, in the evenings at a different location, which would be pretty awesome. It's a fun group for me to train with, because they're all really nice and Jorge studies aspects of aikido that interest me. It's also fascinating, though, because I'm far and away the most experienced student there, and it turns out that my training has been really good. Although we don't talk about it much, the standards at Aikido West are really high compared to many other places: partly because of the impossibly high level of accumulated experience in the students there, but also on purpose, so that when we go out into the world, we can acquit ourselves well and represent our teacher and our association. We've all had the experience of training with someone and thinking, "Wow, you're a second-degree black belt? Really? Because you're not very good." Aikido West intends that one of our students should never be that person.

From what people say and how they respond, it seems like they're pretty happy to have another experienced person around, someone who's maybe a bit more willing to show details of techniques than Jorge is. It seems like they're interested in how a more experienced person trains with Jorge.--he's bigger than me (about 6'1", 200lbs), and while he doesn't use any strength in throwing you, it's quite another thing for you or me, at our level, to throw him. Many of the students are smaller women, so it may be helpful to see that scrawny little me can throw him, without breaking a blood vessel with the effort. And I think Jorge likes having someone he can fling around a bit more fearlessly.

Odd side effect: despite the lack of training, I think my aikido has improved, and will continue to. Manuel (the teacher in Santiago) and Jorge both teach styles where relaxation is important, and I just don't have the physical strength and endurance I'm used to having, so I'm finding out to do things the relaxed way.

Short version of everything: I'm excited to be home, which makes it hard to focus on being present here and focusing on what's needed in each moment. Just like normal, only more so.

(The title is from Ani diFranco's excellent song "As Is": "When I look down, I miss all the good stuff / When I look up, I just trip over things.")

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