A mish-mash flood of things because I need to clear my mind this morning in order to focus on work. Skip if you want content. Read if you want stream-of-consciousness gushing about what I've been up to for the past week.
First of all, I found a community of deaf hearing aid hackers, and I'm floored. They compare peripherals! They write detailed reviews of hearing aids with the sorts of questions and pokings I would ask myself, and ask for and rant about extensible auditory augmentation platforms instead of being spoon-fed. They mess with DAI cables and ask about the hackability of the devices. I asked for advice on my hearing aid selection and got some back; Dr. Krishnan and I will be making the final selection tomorrow, so it's good stuff to know.
It looks like I'll end up going the Phonak route. Widex is too expensive for VR, Phonak has stereo DAI, the models we're looking at for me come in one of those uber-rugged H2O-resistant housings that mean I might be able to hear while running Muddy Buddy (if that's not an abuse of HAs, I'm not sure what is), and if I want to go the Advanced Bionics route for a CI (cochlear implant) someday they'll be compatible.
Then. Yesterday was a flood of great conversations. An extended 3.5-hour marathon with Robin about spring and fall and summer plans, which... wow. I have the best PhD advisor ever. It's also comforting to see that someone as improvisational and cross-disciplinary as me can become an excellent professor (my brain: "ah yes, that'll work.") I'm doing crazy stuff and crazy amounts of stuff and she's not only letting me do that, she's encouraging (while being watchful of my sanity). I have an idea of my committee now, and we agreed it makes sense for me to do my readiness assessment ("quals") in the fall, which means I can not overload quite this much with classes in the fall (4 classes + 1 independent study + 2 research projects + student government position for my department + consulting = happy Mel but somewhat hosed.)
I think I've figured out my engineering classes; I need to take at least 3 for my degree, and they all need to be related. Psychophysics and Natural Language Processing (NLP, which POSSE alumni Kristina Striegnitz researches; when I take this class you can bet I'll be asking her for what I can do to help with the associated FOSS toolkit) are both electrical/computer engineering graduate classes, so that's two.
The third I'll need to petition my committee to accept; Dr. Alexander asked if I wanted to take his course on hearing aid technologies in the fall alongside all the audiologists-in-training. Once again, I'll be jumping into an advanced grad-level class in a field I've never studied at any level, but I love doing that (so far: qualitative research/sociology, and German) and seem to do exceedingly well with that sort of immersion, so yes. Yes, I do. I may need to tack on an independent study to extend the labs to be more "engineering-ish," but that shouldn't be a problem. You can see the theme of how these classes crowd around the "I'm deaf and want to be an articulate oral polyglot; how do I hack this?" area.
I also think I've figured out my engineering education specialization, which can mostly be described as "transferring interesting cognition-based techniques from language education into engineering education." (In other words, I really want to take FLL 575, "Theories of Foreign Language Acquisition.") It fits in nicely with my focus on "discourse exposure," as I'm calling it, and my framing of engineering as a culture that students need to learn (and communicate) their way into. All this means I'll graduate as a somewhat odd PhD. But Robin said she was sort of expecting that. And I think I was, too. It means my post-Purdue job is going to be a ton of fun, and that I'm going to need to create it (but that, too, is nothing new).
I'm in the right department. I have the right advisor. All this is just so right. I'm still lonely in Lafayette, and loneliness tends to lead to me overworking myself ("if I keep moving, I will be useful instead of sad!") which is why the last week has been a giant breathing pause button thanks to Sebastian being in town. The warm spell meant local ice cream shops were open, so of course we needed to try all of them (that weren't chains). I also recreated the roasted peppers stuffed in goat cheese we'd enjoyed at the Lebanese restaurant at SIGCSE. Actually, I'd say I improved upon it by mixing smoked chilies and sun-dried tomatoes into the goat cheese (with a bit of yogurt to thin and bind).
We did some data analysis for our research project, and applied for summer jobs, and poked at Teaching Open Source, and did our taxes, and shopped for groceries, and sang along to Sara Bareilles songs on the radio. My life is much more balanced when I have company. And when I came back on Friday from visiting a local couple... the wife is deaf, and they're both academics, so they built this house a few years ago when they retired and designed it from the ground up to accommodate her: floorplan with clear lines of sight, flashing/buzzing notifications in every room wired to cameras by the front door, pressure-sensitive doormats, a phone with an LCD screen for captions from the relay service, everything - and they travel (yay academics!), and here's how they work together to make things accessible when they travel, and... I was awed. And I came back from that blinking and wobbly and sorely in need of a hug, and I got one. It's a weird feeling, watching your future widen up. Realizing that maybe you don't need to restrict yourself in order to go as far as you'd like, the way narrowing the nozzle of a garden hose makes the spray into a pressurized jet but a needle-thin one. Thinking that okay, maybe if I widen the nozzle, instead of turning the flow into a wimpy spray, more water will gush through and I will have this torrent...
I used to think that in order to do what I wanted to do intellectually and career-wise (and I've felt pretty strongly since I was a kid that some sort of intellectual career was my vocation), I would always need to fight to mainstream, spend my days working like a maniac, be alone (and no kids ever), just... all these tradeoffs. Which I was fine with, because you don't gain anything by standing and sighing wistfully at opportunity cost; if I needed an active life of the mind to be happy, and I could live without the rest, then the choice was obvious, and I was going to be damn happy that way. And I don't think I'd be unhappy that way, still. But my hypothesis of "you need to vigilantly fight these things always in order to have that which makes you happy!" has been challenged massively these past two years.
Anyhow. Last night also featured the start of an intriguing discussion on religion and truth with Andrew and Stephen (Juntolin, how I love thee) and then a long, long talk with Seb Benthall over at Berkeley, our first chance to converse since we both started grad school, and we just rammed our budding academic selves together full-tilt and marvelled at the overlaps, the differences, the... wow, we really have to figure out how to collaborate, we're both on 15 bazillion different projects around different-but-related areas, we think and work so differently but in what could shape up to be highly complementary ways... both of us are keenly into open source communities (because we came to academia from them), but I'm education-minded and qualitative and into understanding systems of people, and Seb is quantitative, computational, into building scaleable tools that solve specific problems.
He shows me papers like "Visualizing the Signatures of Social Roles in Online Discussion Groups" and I show him papers like "Hacking In-Person: The Ritual Character of Conferences and the Distillation of a Life-World." My research is marketing and documentation and context for his research; his research is toolbuilding for my research, or at least that's how we're looking at it right now. I introduced him to AIR. He introduced me to the notion of symbolic communities. We looked at proposals for FOSS community metrics dashboards and wondered what tiny experiments would look like - envision the OkCupid blog, except on FOSS communities instead of dating and sex. We are both in the explosively enthusiastic stage of our young research lives, and so are the MIT Media Lab grad students I went to see last week (Natalie and Emily and Ricarose and Jie) and so are my classmates at Purdue and so are... oh, we "burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars," to quote Kerouac.
I thought of all the friends I've worked with, argued with, laughed with over the years -- the people with whom I stay up all night for intense debate-fueled worksprints, the people with whom I find flow. I thought of Sally coming over to visit Robin over spring break, thought of Christian staying with Matt when he'd first moved to Allegheny, wondered what it would be like to have those sorts of intellectual collaborations, friendships, years and years and years down the road... how work and research and hacking all intertwine in rich and unpredictable ways over the years, how full and satisfying it must be to look back on that sort of life well-lived when you are older and the narrative of work collaborations wind into this great blossoming ecosystem, how wonderful it is to have begun. A fledgling garden, a stripling forest.
I must make sure I do not overload. I must make sure I breathe. I must make sure I make the tough choice not to max out my capacity at all times so that I can take advantage of these sorts of opportunities. I'm learning how to anchor and to balance in order to fly further up, and... life is grand.
Now to anchor and balance my work, my day, my commitments. What do I want to accomplish today? I'm getting better at this, slowly. Spiral learning.