Showing posts with label j0rb. Show all posts
Showing posts with label j0rb. Show all posts


things i have been doing today:

spinning on office chairs when nobody is around like a special child
lining up chips and PCB push buttons so they look like little creatures making a journey behind my keyboard to hunt for Penguin mints, which i then arranged them "eating"
swearing at electronic components i lack the finesse to pick up with my stubby little gimp fingers
stealing cola from the sports conference going on in our building

i am a mature, 22-year-old researcher in my field.



Milanese stars

i still can't believe they sent my streetscum butt here. i'm at the visiting scientists' residences of the Mario Negri Pharmaceutical Research Institute, in Milan, which turns out to be not a pompous and preening fashion capital but an industrial wonderland full of huge open factory spaces, lamps hanging from wires bundled down the middle of the streets, tram lines crossing every space of the sky. the Institute's HQ is new, and where i'm staying is essentially a fancy city apartment, or the best goddamn student dorm i've ever seen. there's air conditioning in here, and a power shower, and lights around the bathroom mirror, and ice water in the fridge, and a double bed, and goddamn i still can't believe they sent me, Lepht "Charity Shop" Anonym, here.

i'm writing from right in front of the open windows, looking across the Institute car park where you can see white pools of light on soft grey stone and the words "Istituto Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri" in huge neon letters, and the scientists' office balconies all lit up, and at first i thought you couldn't see any stars - this is Italy's most industrialised city, and the light pollution is pretty bad. i was wrong - you can see them if you're not looking directly at them, faintly, like the Pleiades in Scotland. they're still there; you just have to look for them in a different way.

uplifting, when you think about it.


revenge on Lepht

right now, ladies and gents, i am one sick-ass motherfucker. my stomach's roiling like the North Atlantic, i'm only sitting on the floor because to get up is guaranteed to make me hurl and i personally just want to jack in to my beautiful cluster and not ever look at meatspace again.

why, you ask? well, competition.

i don't like competition. and it's nothing to do with not liking to lose - in fact, i'd prefer to have the competition be in a subject where i know i'll lose, like sports or chemistry. (you're listening to the virtual voice of Dr. Rubber-Legs Can't-Catch What's-A-Reagent itself, here.) what's sparked off all this sickness is, once again, my last ex.

w3dyt, in his wisdom, has decided that he is going to take revenge on my dain bramaged ass. i'd thought that a relationship during which: i got jealous and got between him and his new flame; he punched me, a guy literally half his size, in the damaged kidney; i seemed like a total binary-flipping psycho because i don't even know my own mind when it comes to proper relationships; he posed my unconscious body in 'funny' positions and took pictures without my consent; i told him i loved him when i couldn't possibly know that; he ratted me out to the legal authorities for doing implants as soon as he wasn't the only one i was doing them for and coldly told me in Starbucks that he did it for moral reasons; etc., etc. - i woulda thought that a relationship like that, which i should never even have started with him, would be revenge enough for both of us.

apparently not. whilst i take a lot of the responsibility on myself - for not ending the relationship as soon as i realised i was in over my head, for allowing myself to play at having emotions i'm just not really capable of, for getting jealous, a million things like that - not all of it belongs to me. we both did awful things. in w3dyt's mind, though, it seems that it was just me.

so he's decided that he's going to try and - i quote, from a twenty-year-old man - "work my ass off to beat [Lepht, academically]". he says competitiveness will give him "the edge". i break no sweat over this happening - i've been selected for a dozen things over him, including the research job i'm working right now (he didn't even get shortlisted) and founder President of the CompSci society at the University, plus i'm pretty well known at the Department and my grades are generally a lot higher than his - but it's this i'm-gonna-getchoo attitude that makes my blood freeze.

you wanna know why? because it fosters a hostile attitude towards me in general that's not gonna go away. i am indeed a med-popping, drug-addicted, virtually friendless self-implanting machinehead nutjob, and having w3dyt in all my classes, trying to find out what my grades are so he can crow if they're lower than his and hate me if they're not, telling people he's going to beat me because i'm an asshole who "prides [itself] on being top of the class" (i'm not top of the class, ever, i hover around the middle) - this is not going to make it any easier for me or indeed him to get over what happened.

in addition, i can see it engendering a common practice of grade competitiveness, and from that stems that culture that makes undergrads value themselves on their grades alone. getting a 12 when i get a 9, or vice versa, does not make the higher graded guy the better person. whether he "beats" me or not, we're still both going to be fucked up humans with serious problems to get over.

so far the best practice i can think of is what i usually do, which is to avoid revealing my scores to anyone who isn't in my immediate tribe. i'm still sick as a dog, though. to be honest the fact that he's reduced the whole situation, in his mind, to one where he is the good guy, i am the bad guy, and he will work hard and beat me like some Hollywood high school movie, just hurts. even though i vehemently dislike w3dyt, i'd hoped to see him do something more mature than that.


six months

so ten minutes or so ago, we got an 8-node Kerrighed Beowulf cluster working with Bio-Linux. i've never had access to this sort of computing power before; 18Gb of RAM, 3Tb of storage and 10 Opteron CPUs - it's a behemoth made from nothing more than off-the-shelf components. it's utterly fucking stunning.

working this job mostly makes me think i've died and gone to hacker heaven. there's the little perks, like i can wear what i want (facial skin divers? circuits and vines drawn around my eye socket? no hair? fine by these guys) and the canteen food is somehow both dirt cheap and delicious (strawberry meringue cheesecake in a box = 50p), and the free coffee and my own goddamn lab - yep, they gave my streetscum ass a lab of my own, and i still boggle at that - but more than that, there's all the shit i'm learning. i've learned more about networking and Linux here than i coulda done in the entire summer by myself, and i've only been here a month. i can't fucking wait to see what else there is.

as if that wasn't enough, not only are they gonna be paying me in a month what i thought i'd make in the whole term of employment (i'll be able to afford my big ink way sooner than i thought), but i'm gonna get to go to Milan, to help out at one of our partner institutes for a week. i'll get to play with a huge cluster they built out of garbage.

looking back at six months ago, when i was stuck in an abusive relationship, broke as fuck, dependent on escapism and drugs to survive, i can't believe i survived that long with major depression. i was so lucky not to get any more fucked up than i did. i didn't think it was all that bad at the time, even, but looking back on it makes things these days seem like a fucking dream; i just used to always have this sense that something was wrong, that i needed to get away. i'm so fucking happy compared to back then.

if i'm asleep, i don't wanna be woken up.



the curve, or why i'm glad i'm not dead

seems like the learning curve for your first research job is pretty steep, especially one where you're expected to be almost completely independent - here, i've just been given an overarching task ("see if this cool clustered Linux workstation idea is viable for what we want to use it for") and a lab full of hardware to set it up in, plus a knowledgeable superior to ask questions of if i need it. this is my third week now, and in two weeks i've learnt:

- better bash scripting
- the structure, merits and disadvantages of cluster systems Kerrighed and openMosix
- how to use Debian-based systems, especially Ubuntu and the NERC's BioLinux
- practical (i.e. kludge) networking
- Beowulf cluster theory and architecture
- how to patch and recompile the Linux kernel
- how to use vi
- not to fear machines without a monitor or keyboard
- all about PXE booting
- how to SSH into remote machines without being a floundering idiot
- not to fear setting up your own servers
- way too much about NFS, GlusterFS, and XtreemOS/XtreemFS
- how to get around a crappily-written government wiki and edit it without the European professors who contribute to it kicking your ass for being retarded
- how to use skype (yeah, i didn't know how before.)
- how to build machines from scratch without shorting anything out or electrocuting my part-metallic ass
- the difference between IDE and SATA drives (yeah, that's another fucking duh thing i shoulda already known)
- how to network printers under Linux

...and how to use a filter coffee machine that's older than i am.

my head is so full of new stuff, i'm fairly sure i'm gonna lose a language or something to make space, like all the Japanese or Python is gonna drain out of my brain because it's full of init.d commands. this has got to be the steepest learning curve i've ever encountered, and it's fucking brilliant - i have never learned this much in two weeks, ever. the best thing is that there's so much more to go - i've got another two and a half months of this, and next week a cluster guru from Milan arrives so i can pester him with questions he'd expect from his seven-year-old kid rather than his twenty-year-old colleague. and as if all that wasn't enough, i might get to go to Milan myself to go see said guru's research institute and help him build a cluster like my prototype - Linux and hardware and a chance to practice my Italian and my favourite summer food in the whole Union, delicious chocolate semifreddo!

the downside is that i've been getting up at six and going to bed at one, so i look... frightening. i'm as white as my coffee mug and the shadows under my eyes are getting frankly Gothtacular - like i've said before, i look a bit like Bela Lugosi dressed up for an all-night rave. (i'm gonna look even worse after i shave my head for Cancer Research.) i'm pretty much permanently exhausted, but it's so utterly worth it that i wouldn't mind surviving on four or even three hours a night indefinitely if it meant this kind of knowledge access.

knowledge, people, software, freedom and fun - man, i am so fucking glad to be alive.



the sorceror's apprentice

working this job is... difficult. the material i study and use here is arcane and obscure; i'm working with Linux distributions i've never heard of before, modifying their kernels and filesystems to do clustering and grid tasks whose theory i've been studying for a week, if that. i'm eyeball-deep in complex projects, sub-developer teams, many-branched source trees and technology i only barely understand. i'm also surrounded by people with an average of about twenty years' education and experience in the top of this field, several degrees up on yours truly; i should probably be depressed at how little of this i get.

i'm pretty damn happy, though. i discovered a method way back in my first year of University that helps you deal when you're on the brink of being overwhelmed by your own crappiness. it's an experience metaphor, a way of seeing your life in analogy; you're the sorceror's apprentice. it's particularly apt when you're working with advanced tech, since 90-node clusters doing complex genomics computations sure as hell seem like magic if you're seeing them for the first time.

the apprentice is a learner in their world. maybe they're one of many, maybe they're the only one, but they're a newbie in the midst of masters, someone whose task it is to gain knowledge from those around them. it's an image in direct contrast to the 'fighter', a metaphor i know a lot of guys use - the fighter's approach is to see others around her as rivals to be competed with in terms of skill level, whereas the apprentice sees them as sources of wisdom.

considering yourself to be an 'apprentice' seems to improve your motivation to learn and to perform better at your tasks. it stops the whole "Everybody's better than me, therefore I'm worse than anyone else, therefore I feel like shit" thinking that plagues you sometimes in situations like these, and it makes you consider your peers as a beneficial force rather than an army of rivals. after you've stopped thinking of them as people who've 'beaten' you, you're in a better position to pool your knowledge with theirs, and you can approach them for help - that way, you help each other. it's also a pretty good way to minimise your own hubris - you can't walk around thinking you're the schiznit and nobody's greater than you if you've been considering yourself a humble apprentice for a week, so you don't get overconfident and neglect stuff.

most people probably don't need this kind of cognitive metaphor, and i know a large percentage of you won't have a goddamn clue what i'm even trying to say because i'm bad at expressing myself. but it sure helps me, and i hope someone'll get something out of using it.




finally, i have some work. work that involves NuGO, the European Nutrigenomics Organisation, a Kerrighed-based Linux Beowulf cluster, and a research institute of bioinformaticists all eminently more qualified than i am (the guy i'll be working directly under has three degrees; i haven't even finished my first.) i'm not all that sure what is and isn't protected data on this, but i'm going to be developing a prototype cluster, one that implements BioLinux and Kerrighed, among other things. that's to stop me b0rking the main Beowulf before the new stuff's properly tested. i'll be writing a report that'll go all the way to NuGO on it.

this is going to be so much fucking fun!

ed. in addition, i got the ego massage of a lifetime when i found out that one of my three rival candidates dropped out of the running because "If Lepht's running for it, it's out of my depth"; the professor i worked for last summer didn't just give a good recommendation but actively told the bioinformaticists that i'd be good for the job and they should interview me; and the interviewers told me they'd already heard of me from the Computing Science department (cause of my grades and my running the CS student society), the helpdesk (cause i volunteer, natch) and through the secular society website (cause i wordpress'd it). i'm famous amongst my vast superiors!