Hickory Dickory Dock

So, due to some miscommunication, partially fueled by a wine drinking fest on Saturday, my bar trivia date tonight turned into a threesome. Myself, a friend, and the date, who I know through the friend. Still, we all had a lot of fun and I may have started a new Tuesday night tradition for us – which if it continues will likely grow to include more of our group of friends. As for my date, the more I get to know her, the more I like her, beyond the requisite physical attraction. Still, I’ve been playing this carefully, given that she’s a person that’s in my social circle.

If I were more callous, this wouldn’t matter. But given that I’m invested in the friends that I do have – I’m a person of few good friends – I feel a need to be more careful about how things transpire. But that in itself causes problems. This extra caution imparts more impact to things that happen between us. And makes it harder to read some of our interactions. One must always deal with deciphering responses, or lack of one, or delays in one in normal situations. But now, I must wonder whether some is influenced by out mutual relationships with others. Between tonight and this weekend, I’ve managed to figure out most of the conversations about me that have been had between my date and my friend but I still feel a bit behind in terms of controlling the flow of information.

What usually goes on is that I start seeing someone new, sometimes my friends will know that I’m seeing someone and may be told a bit about her, but not that much. And if things progress beyond a few dates, then she’s invited to join us on some occasion where everyone gets to meet. Here, this process is short circuited. We don’t have the luxury of getting to know each other without contamination, innocent, relevant or not, by our friends. There isn’t this sense that I’m exploring something on my own. Instead one feels that there could be outside eyes looking in at some point.

Some would argue that one should always date someone and behave in such a manner so that you’d be happy with others knowing most of what was going on. But I think that when it comes to romantic relationships, there is very much a lot of it that is separate, that should only exist between the two of you. And regardless of how close you are to other people, the presence of outside observers alters things. There apparently is a Heisenberg uncertainty principle for relationships.

So aside from this complication, she’s not exactly my usual type. She shares some characteristics, but not others. However, I have met and may be getting to know someone who is pretty much my type, in almost every way – she’s a couple inches shorter than experience says my type should be, though half of my girlfriends have not been my type and have been that height, so again, I must take this who type thing with a few grains of salt. And further adding to all this is I’m having coffee or something with my ex who can pretty much serve as the archetype of my type.

Though I do understand why we should not get back together in any way, I’m still conflicted about whether I should remain friendly or excise her altogether. In some ways, I feel that I should be friends, since I’m friends with another ex – so it would not be consistent with the way that I’ve treated others in my life to deliberately not interact with her. But on the other hand she was my best and most fulfilling relationship as well as the most chaotic and past experience lets me know that I’m not always capable of following my head when it comes to dealing with situations with her. Though I could be exaggerating in my mind what our whole interaction would be about, my intuition, and that of my friend seem to indicate that this will be something more than just catching up on the past few months.

Once More Into the Breach

Well, it would appear that good fortune continues to smile upon me. Yesterday I was informed that I was offered a fellowship to which I’d applied during the summer but was initially not among the finalists. It does not pay as much as my current arrangement (which ends tomorrow), but it will pay more than the alternative (which would have come out to just barely being the minimum I need per month). This will still require some adjustments and I’m not discounting supplementing my income over the next semester, but at least if I do nothing crazy, I will not have to worry much financially.

I found a couple years ago that rough finances can be hugely distracting. Despite knowing that there is nothing you can do in the short term and that you just need to roll with the punches, it still is quite painful and takes attention away from other things. Downgrading one’s standard of living is a pretty tough task to accomplish. It has been almost four years since I last worked professionally full-time and yet I still don’t feel I’ve fully made the transition to living as I did (a poor graduate student) before I got my job. And given my desire to be done with school as soon as possible, I don’t think I ever will again.

Aside from academic news, this weekend saw me having an interesting set of conversations with a few friends. The three of us have spent time together before, though usually in the company of others. But for some reason, Saturday was the night that I feel we really connected more than we have in the past year or two. With all of us having and living different lives in different cities, catch up time is usually superficial and doesn’t get down into the depths of discussing what we’ve gone through, what makes the challenges at work really challenging, our relationships (or lack thereof). Aside from this, there have been a few other developments.  . . but those will wait as I see how things pan out. For now let’s just say that for the first time since my last relationship ended, I’m getting to know people with whom I feel more than a physical attraction.

Hmm. . .ok, so I’ve known I have a “type” for a long time now. And I’ve noticed, anecdotal yes, that people that I’ve known with very similar looks have tended to have similar personality traits. So now, here is the interesting question: Assuming that I’m right about my type and the similarity across people of very similar appearance, am I my own type’s type? Or is it that because I tend to be attracted to the same sort of women, I end up fulfilling my own hypothesis since some are bound to be attracted to me as well. To make this easier to understand – let us assume that I’m a blue fish and I tend to like pairing with red fish. I hypothesis that red fish thus tend to like pairing with blue fish. But perhaps since at least half of the fish I really pursue are red, I’m skewing the sample population of fish which respond to my attentions.

The Major Battle is Past

It is done, I have officially passed my thesis proposal exam. This was my second try (and honestly would have been my final one). What is interesting is that I think I learned more or reached a point of greater realization about this process this time around than I apparently did the first time. What have I found? Well, the thesis proposal (at least here) is really seen as a dry run for your dissertation defense. And accordingly, your thesis proposal needs to be quite detailed and bullet-proof. To be honest, mine was not. There are still a few things I need to specify in the document to my committee’s liking. In fact, it is to my benefit that I complete this process sooner than later if I want to graduate at all. Why? Because this becomes a contract between me and the committee. They are essentially committed to allowing me to graduate once I demonstrate and defend that I have accomplish everything that I have specified I would in the proposal document. So the sooner I tighten up any loopholes in terms of exactly what I’m doing and what I will deliver, the better.

I am a bit unsettled that I’m learning this now. My cohorts and I have a different view of what a proposal document encompasses than is required here. Part of the problem is that we’re not really friends with anyone who has completed this process. I’m the first of our group (our adviser is relatively new, the last student of his who graduated with a PhD did so the year before I joined the group and other former students decided to leave with just the Masters and work fulltime). So, I definitely will impress upon them the seriousness of this process and the need to be very specific about what one’s contribution is to engineering beyond applicability to your specific project.

In a way, this actually improves my view of the PhD program here at Pitt. Quite frankly, we were starting to get the idea that it was not as rigorous as Pitt’s ranking would make it appear. But it turns out the reason for this is that your proposal exam is held up as quite the serious benchmark of achievement and readiness for original research and the work leading up to it – while important, doesn’t have quite that regard. I’d always just seen the proposal exam as a stepping stone – outline my intended plan, and move on with the real work to be done in the preparation of my dissertation. Instead the major battle is here, with the assumption that if you make it through and actually accomplish everything to the committee’s satisfaction, the dissertation defense is more of the formality as a check on whether it is you who did the work and not your adviser(s).

So, how can I learn from my ignorance and mistakes going forward? Well, one issue in preparing for this was a  lack of guidance on what the committee really wanted to see in the proposal the first time around. Our graduate student coordinator has copies of submitted proposals (though there is no way to immediately know which were immediately successful) but doesn’t loan them out – what she has is the only “physical” copy. Technically, we must email her copies now, but who knows how long that has been going on. In any case, the only examples that were available to me were those of current students of my advisers who’d happened to complete their exams before I did. So I turned to the internet for reading and there is a wide variety of time. Based on surveying the internet, one would conclude that if you’re not in engineering, a proposal is anywhere from a 5 – 15 page document and if in engineering, 15 – 50 page document. However, of the engineering ones, most of the bulk in those pages seemed dedicated to background material. There were few that seemed to really need a lot of space to explain the work  to be done and it’s methodology.

So, given how detailed our proposals must be, it implies that our dissertations will largely be proposal document + further background, more in depth introduction and motivation, and complete details on methodology, defense of approach covering stability and convergence issues, and other details. And here, I should get a better idea on how to express my intended contributions to Electrical Engineering and how that separate from the work on my specific project. Luckily, while proposal documents are not “officially” archived, dissertations should be and thus should be much easier for me to access electronically.

Let the Sunshine In

So, after being sick for most of last week and having my second thesis proposal exam coming up, I was very stressed out this weekend. I’d anticipated being able to work on my proposal document for most of last week, but being sick robbed me of any energy or motivation to do work. That and my general worry about the whole thing led to my nearly having a panic attack.

I’ve had a few of those over the years. They are different from being in a state of abject depression. In that state, you are aware of how you feel. Pessimistic and down sure, but life still goes on, you just don’t want to actually do anything. In a panic attack, you are frozen. Unable to actually think or process new data. Tasks you were able to do become impossible. Problems you could solve or begin to solve seem meaningless. Unfortunately, while I’ve been able to eventually motivate myself to work through depression, there is no working through a panic attack. At best, you eventually figure out that you’re having one, and not just stupid – which depressed you will accept as fact, and then start taking action to exit the attack.

Anyway, so after a grueling weekend of work, I’ve found that I’ve made pretty good progress. Coupled with a meeting today with my adviser where we not only ironed out some of the final details and strategy for my proposal exam, but actually cracked an issue that I’d been trying to solve three weeks ago with my research and things are looking much brighter indeed.

Though one upside of being sick – I got down to 202.8lbs over the weekend. Perhaps I’ll make 200lbs by the end of the month.

The Social Circle Gateway

Yesterday I went out to a few bars with a friend of mine. She and I hang out once or twice a month. It is mostly a platonic relationship. Now, I know that there are no such things as platonic relationships between two people who are both single – either you both want each other or one does while the other doesn’t – and my advice and what I typically do in those situations is to exit them. There is no point in being friends with that kind of thing in the background – one person is always not getting what they want and most people have enough other friends that you don’t need to be in a relationship with someone on different terms (yes, normal friendship is a relationship too).

But there are times when you can forgo that rule – namely when said person can be a very effective wing-person, you have managed to move on to the point where 95% of the time you can treat them as just friends, and/or they are gateways to a larger social circle. In the case of a attractive female friend – she is a gateway to more attractive women. (Because as we all know, women tend to be friends with women of similar attractiveness. Anyone far off the scale tends to get excised from the group. If you are much less attractive than the group average, you tend to stop hanging out with them because the guys either ignore you in the group or placate you with someone who is “taking one for the team”. If you are much more attractive than the group average – you tend to get the most attention leaving the rest of the group wondering why they even bothered getting ready to go out.)

Anyway, so I’ve been hanging out with attractive female friend (let’s call her Julie) and a few of her friends off and on. Last night, we happened to run into another friend, we’ll call her Lucey, whom I ended up spending more time this night. I can’t remember how the conversation originally began, but earlier in the evening Julie and I happened to be talking about Lucey – ah, I remember – we were discussing when we’re next going salsa dancing and Julie mentioned that Lucey wanted to come along – and I asked if Lucey was still dating some guy that we’d met a month or so ago. The answer was no, Lucey is now single.

One thing that made things different is that typically when out with Julie, people tend to assume that we’re together. Which sometimes makes chatting up her friends a bit more difficult. I tend to have a laid back approach, friendly with everyone (relatively speaking) and only make a move when I see mutual interest. But assuming that a guy is with someone else tends to turn off the possible interest showing for some. Anyway, an interesting night was had by all. And now I play the waiting game. I’ll call her tomorrow evening. Lucey is definitely not a girl one casually texts before having engaged her over the phone a few times. In fact, the best way to handle it is to follow her lead, don’t text her until she texts you. More on the negotiation of pre-dating etiquette here: http://junglelaw.wordpress.com

Dreams of my Best Friend

So, starting a bit over a week ago, for a few days I had intense dreams starring one of my best friends, we’ll call her Maria. I’d met her several years ago, and like all “platonic” friendships, she was not available for me. But we had a class together and for whatever reason, she wanted to work with me so we did and slowly became pretty good friends. Since then, we’ve never been mutually single, but for the most part, I’ve kept her as just a friend in my head.

But not so recent events has strained our contact, school, work, relationships, and since we no longer even live in the same city, opportunities to hang out are few. But in the past month, we’ve spent about two weekends together. She was in the “area” visiting family and prepping for a trip and so we took advantage of the chance to catch up. And after all this catching up, she’s suddenly starring in my dreams. The first time it happened, I immediately woke up thinking “Hey, that’s Maria! This isn’t supposed to happen”. But after a few more times, I gave in to my subconscious.

Yes, in many ways we are very compatible, but I also know from being her friend and knowing her very well all these years that there are parts of us that are not. But that’s how things are with everyone. Whoever I meet and with whom I initially have a connection, we we have compatible and not so compatible parts. The difference here is that with Maria, I know a lot of these ahead of time. I think part of the renewed fantasizing comes from our discussions. This time around, we talked a lot about relationships, what we wanted in a partner, the kinds of people we were attracted to, sex, and other topics. Perhaps all that just served as fuel for my imagination.

My Vaio is Here!

I haven’t posted in a while. Don’t really have a good reason. I suppose I’ve been a bit more busy, but that’s little excuse. Yesterday, my new laptop arrived. I’ve posted a mini-review on one of my other blogs (http://weethomas.wordpress.com) which I’ve decided to start using primary for tech related stuff. Not that I won’t bring it up here from time to time, but that isn’t the main thrust here.

Regarding my workout/diet plan, my focus has shifted to a mixture of strength training and cardio. I was doing some reading on calculating body fat (I wanted alternative methods to my scale’s bio-impedance analysis) and found that unless 100% of the weight I’d lost between now and my goal was fat, I’d still not be at the bodyfat percentage that I want. What I would be is a smaller guy, having lost some fat but also muscle and other mass. Anyway, I’ve found that my best bet may be an exchange of muscle for fat. The strength training and cardio will help ensure that most of the net weight I lose is fat or I replace fat weight for muscle. Either way, my real target – decreasing my bodyfat percentage will be achieved. Losing weight was just how I’d initially expected to accomplish this.

Schoolwise, I need to get on the ball. I’m in the process of scheduling my proposal exam and augmenting my existing proposal document. I think if I can double the size, I will allay the fears of everyone who made their decision based on its heft. Still, this requires actually sitting down and working, though now that I have a laptop, I think this is more likely. While I feel fine coding and running simulations on my desktop in the lab, I’m still very much a person who likes working on his own machine. Despite my insistence that I’m trying to move away from bringing work home. If that was the case, I could have saved $1000 and bought a cheaper, not so powerful, and perhaps .25lbs heavier laptop.