Fending for Ourselves

Coming to college was a big change. The number of and influence of authority figures lessens. No one tells you how atrocious your living conditions are. No one even suggests that you need to study or that you’ve wasted your evening screwing around with your friends. But with great freedom comes great responsibility. Gotta keep tabs on your general diet. Have to plan ahead and do laundry before undies must be turned inside out.

There are, however, still many crutches in typical dorms. A cleaning staff maintains the washrooms and showers through truly horrid conditions. The dining staff ensures that if you arrive at the right times of the day, edible things will go into your mouth. They streamline chores so that students can focus on their task of learning.

Now, the school year is over, and summer life begins. I decided awhile back that I would be doing research on campus this summer, and I figured it would be a good chance to live different. I convinced two of my dormmates to join me in toughing out the summer in Mirrielees, the highly anti-social, but apartment-style on-campus housing.

Last Tuesday, I went through the tremendous task of moving my stuff, which was somewhat more than I had originally thought. Kesav, one of my roommates, temporarily had a car, though that was less helpful bringing stuff up to the 4th and top floor of Mirrielees. The climb, however, was worth it, as the conditions are fantastic.

The room isn’t plush, but it is absolutely sufficient. We have two bedrooms (I put my flag down in the single), a kitchen/living area, a sink area, and a shower and toilet room. The kitchen has a stove, fridge, sink, and many cabinets, and is certainly enough. Throw in a few closets around the apartment, and it is fairly cozy.

That night, we made our first Safeway run to get basic foodstuffs, else languish in starvation or eternal ramen. Kesav, Rob (a past and present dormmate), and I had a mildly terrifying moment, as that trip was the first non-trivial, unsupervised grocery shopping any of us had ever done. It, however, went well, as I foresaw the need for reusable grocery bags (which also netted me a discount in the single cent range! I think it’s 3 cents a bag) and am also currently alive. My only regret is that we passed the popsicle and ice-cream aisle, decided to hold-off to avoid melting, then forgot about them.

The moving, however, did come after my internship was supposed to begin. The research I’m doing this summer involves writing part of an agent for a cognitive architecture to see how effective transferred learning is in this environment. What it actually boils down to is writing code so that a computer can learn about football plays and make its own. Seriously. After a minor calamity, I began on Thursday, where I met Kamal, the guy who I’ll be working mostly with.

I am kind of scared about this. I thought I had prepared decently well, as I brushed up on my Lisp chops and followed along with a course taught by the head of the lab. I feel like fear is somewhat appropriate now, though, because as we walked over to Kamal’s desk, he asked me, “So are you a graduate student or a PhD student?”

Things look somewhat better, now, as I power through a textbook on machine learning. And I’m very quickly getting used to living here. Just today, Kesav and I made a Wal-Mart and Safeway run where we picked up a rice cooker, a 7-piece cooking set (for $17! Who knew kitchenware was so cheap?), and more foodstuffs. Combining that with a 7 lbs package from my mom, and we now have a working (and for us, complete) set of kitchen equipment. In celebration, I cooked my first serious and entirely unsupervised meal. And I didn’t even burn anything!… because I steamed the vegetables.

I’ll hardly be cruising over the next 9 weeks, but it certainly won’t be too bad at all. My current situation is definitely beyond my life before, but I’m feeling competent enough to make this work. Sure, we don’t have the mini-TV on the kitchen table that would totally complete this place, but I’ll have adapted. The first few steps have seemed dangerous, but it’s only slightly more than what I’m comfortable with, and everything has turned out just fine.

And so I sit in my room, shirtless and with a very hot computer, but in an apartment that I’m very satisfied with. It hasn’t been as hot as I’ve tolerated in the past, but apparently, this summer is a hot summer for California. The high has hovered around 90, which doesn’t sound bad at all until one considers that air conditioning is not installed (or even allowed) in dorms, and that heat rises to our 4th floor apartment.

Dang it. We forgot the popsicles again.

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