Oh, the places I went

Edit 25/2/15: Fixed the location history link.

Did you know that if you opt into Google location services on your Android phone (I’m sure Apple/iOS do something similar) you can view a map of all the places you – or rather, your phone – has been using the Google Location History tool? Since a smartphone loses a great deal of its utility without your agreeing to location sharing, chances are if you use an Android you’ll have a map of your own to look at. I guess this is cause for alarm but it’s nice to know that I have the ability to at least view – and manage – the information I hand over.

You can only view up to 30 days of history at a time, so I used my data from June to August last year to construct a composite map of my brief travels in Europe. Everything is there: New Haven to JFK, JFK-FRA, FRA-LHR, LHR-EDI, the train back down to London; FRA-TXL, then meandering slowly down to Mannheim with a stop in Prague to visit my friend; after setting up in Mannheim, weekend visits to cities in Baden-Württemberg, and one logistically challenging but very successful trip to Denmark; finally, the flight back to the US and bus back to New Haven. This map reminded me of little details I’d already forgotten about – not a good sign for my memory, I guess…

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I thought this was a very fun data set to look at, although it’s obviously also another instance of the weird narcissism that quantified-self movement leads to when taken to an extreme. My movements during the academic year are less interesting, reflecting the small Yale bubble I live within, with an occasional trip to Boston or New York for choral performances, as well as cycling to neighboring towns down my bike trail of choice.

I thought briefly about how this related to infosec and privacy, but because I’m not European, I wasn’t particularly bothered by the location tracking: it was something I’d consented to, after all. (I do remember being initially annoyed at how Google was strong-arming me into giving up data.) If anything, seeing this map was reassuring: it lulled me into believing that my data was only being put to benign uses like helping me relive my tourist memories. I’d definitely like to discuss these issues more, though, which is why I was saddened today to find out that a class I didn’t sign up for (because I thought it was a really intense crypto course that required background) is a really fun discussion-based course that debates these exact issues.

Discussion-based computer science course sounds like an oxymoron and also the sort of thing I’d love to take. On Thursday I’ll be attending a talk by Peter Swire on why computer scientists need to play a larger role in public policy. It’s supposed to be very good – I’m looking forward to it.

In other academic news, I’m taking a class on medieval manuscripts this semester, and it’s been pretty fun so far. It’s my first “real” humanities course; I considered a military history course last semester, but it was too intense and required an intimate familiarity with the history of Europe despite being billed as an introductory class. Look at this cool manuscript I briefly examined on Monday! It’s a really narrow and long (1.73m) scroll – that’s my hand in the picture.

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Last Friday I finished writing my first humanities paper for this class’midterm evaluation, and it was much more difficult than I expected – even after two discussions with the teaching fellow to get an idea of the arguments I’d be advancing. I’ve always known in the abstract that I’m not yet as well-rounded as I’d like, but only while struggling to say interesting things about a seemingly boring old book did it really strike me how little I know about thinking and argumentation in this manner. I pointed out my discomfort with the vague and subjective nature of my argument to the teaching fellow, who responded (misrepresenting the nature of science I thought) that English [scholarship] is about thinking, not finding the right answers.

If all goes well, I’ll be done with my computer science major next semester, and I’m hoping to use a good chunk of the remaining credits on more humanities classes, as well as bringing back cognition and linguistics, which have fallen slightly by the wayside this past year.

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First attempts at packing for Mannheim

My first attempts at packing for a summer in Europe.

My apologies for the month-long delay between Beginnings and this post. It’s been a wearying end of the semester. The past five days have been a frantic rush consisting of a final examination, rushing a web app (note: it’s not entirely functional yet), packing into the wee hours of the morning, sleeping for a few hours, then packing the rest, pushing 40kg boxes down three flights of stairs, almost missing the deadline for summer storage in the school buildings, doing the final presentation for aforementioned web app – and then, and then – sneaking back into the dorms to clean up my old suite. I’m grateful to have had help from my friends – I don’t know how I’d have managed otherwise.

Packing went slower than it normally would have because I had trouble deciding on what I needed for the summer. This problem shouldn’t even exist, because if you can pack for a week, you can pack for three months. But still…although my internship isn’t going to require any special equipment, and the dress code is university lab casual, I feel a little anxiety about wanting to not look like a slob. Because, you know, ‘Europe’. As much as I feel stupid for over-romanticizing the continent, I can’t help but feel like the average level of street style is much closer to Yale than Singapore. Reading about how Europeans apparently don’t wear shorts was in particular very alarming. (I also think this is not true, at least, not for where I’ll be going.)

Singapore doesn’t really have seasons to speak of, and I haven’t been in New England long enough to grow fond of the dry air, eternally chapped lips, static and other assorted nuisances of winter…but the sartorial variety that cooler weather affords can’t be denied. Wear as much as you want! Soft, baggy, form-hiding knits! Interesting textures! Boots! Scarves! Tights! Pea coats! Pea coats! It’s much easier to be well-dressed when you don’t have to worry about overheating and perspiration-drenched shirts that stick to your back and vast expanses of skin. Dressing for summer requires effort. Researching the climate, for instance. The Weather Underground says that for the same period as my trip last year, the mean maximum, average and minimum temperature in Mannheim were 28, 21 and 12°C respectively: warm days, cool nights. Nice, but hard to dress for. Layers work best for this kind of weather, but since I don’t own that many layer-able clothes, I have to make do with being a little colder in the evenings, or bringing a cardigan and a fleece/blazer wherever I go.

Picking bottoms was easy, and jeans are wonderful. But most of my tops are T-shirts: not the fashionable clingy kind that articles about styling T-shirts talk about, but the unisex graphic-print kind that the same articles urge you to throw away. I had to find a few favorites that were muted enough to be suitable for pairing with various items for maximum versatility. Here is what’s in my suitcase so far.

no-style european summer

I haven’t got a scale, but I’d put the current weight of my suitcase at 15-20kg, including all my stuff, and the concert dress and scores I’m leaving behind. Far too heavy for my taste, but it will be easy to throw out two or three pieces, and the oxford heels can go if they must.

I hadn’t realized just how many clothes my style-anxiousness had made me pack until I created this graphic: there are 30 items in it. Thirty! I’m definitely going to have to rethink the bottoms, settle on a pair of shorts; the jean shorts are more comfy, but the dressy ones are…dressier. I actually do use belts for their original purpose, and am bringing two to have two ways of keeping my pants up, plus a skinny orange waist-belt to add a little interest to an otherwise plain blue dress (it’s not as fancy as the one pictured here.) The internet also tells me that scarves in summer are apparently a thing in Europe. I may toss a cheap lightweight crepe scarf into my luggage, just because it weighs next to nothing. Lastly, I packed two pairs of black tights to cover my legs in case I start feeling awkward about not being skinny.

Honestly, I could fit everything for the summer into my trusty hand-me-down carry-on if I wanted. If you haven’t ever done this, you should try it: travelling with just one piece of hand-carried luggage is incredibly liberating – I did it for the first time when I went to Cuba earlier this year and it just feels so great to know that you have all your stuff with you. The worry that your checked luggage will get lost is a subtle weight that you don’t really notice until it’s gone. Alas, since summer 2014 involves meeting up with family, it’s also my only chance to replenish my stock of Singapore food, and we’ll probably be doing some shopping – so I’ll be using my ridiculously huge Samsonite to be able to haul everything back. It gives me trouble on trains, and I don’t have enough to fill it up so my stuff moves around even with the straps fastened…but until I get a mid-size suitcase this will have to do.