DIARY 2014











Sun, Dec 28

<16:28 EEST> This weird and wonderful mess of an autumn/year probably needs some recapping at some point, and this is as good as ever. There have been major events that should have seen their epic highlighting here, but being long gone, they can only be summarized in brief retrospect. On the other hand, the entire semester could use some epic retroreflective summarizing, but as a lot has already been said in the preceding entries, this is also somewhat moot. Hence, here be some random scramblings from the past few months.

The hectic pace of interleaving full-time math studies with theatre, film and music projects cannot be overstated. Eventually, my clean row of fives in university math (passing grades being 1 to 5 from worst to best) was broken by a pair of threes. While this is a major blow to my self-worth as a wannabe mathematician, I guess it is easily lost in the general business of current life.

In fact, one of these courses, Measure and Integration Theory 2, I was ready to quit early on, and I skipped about half of the supervisions. There was a lot about the course I found messy and uninteresting. So passing with an intermediate grade was not such a bad outcome, and I might now even continue on the path to Functional Analysis.

The other three was more of a genuine disappointment. It was Topology 2, mainly dealing with abstract topology, while part 1 had focused on metric spaces. It was one of the more interesting courses recently; somewhat surprisingly, I found deep conceptual connections to the kind of discrete thinking I have encountered in programming. I felt like I had a real edge on this material, and I was very active during the lectures and supervisions.

Unfortunately, I had a particularly bad night's sleep prior to the exam, and my focus quickly waned; I even had to skip a relatively standard question altogether, as my brain simply stopped working. In a way, this was not a huge personal loss; in my mind, I know I understand this material, it was just a bad day for an exam. Though it must be said that the departmental tradition of setting exams invariably at 8 am doesn't make any other day any easier. I guess the department is keen on weeding out the creative kind of people who, statistically, stay up late :-/

All in all, the situation reminds me a lot of my final year at Cambridge. My grades were tumbling from the straight row of Firsts, along with my interest, but I was so close to getting a Master's that it made sense to push along. Likewise, I now realize that this secondary Master's is not that far away; I could easily finish it next year.

This is somewhat surprising in a sense. After the initial excitement of starting these math studies, I faced the painful truth that I first needed quite a few courses subject studies, so completing the advanced ones would be years away — years during which my interest could change directions significantly. But I'm still here on the same path, presumably building on the fact that math has always been my strongest subject, even though other passions have made this path rather roundabout. Nevertheless, I still find most fulfillment in a union of math with science and engineering, and it is probably programming where it all comes together optimally for me.

<17:44 EEST> Somewhat on the programming side, my open source stance also suffered a minor blow this autumn, as I bought two Nvidia GPUs around September. For a while, the new Maxwell microarchitecture had been praised for efficiency in various cryptocurrency applications, so I decided to give it a go. In fact, the Nvidia-only availability of certain miners was an important factor, and I also hear CUDA programming is easier than OpenCL, though the latter also runs very nicely on the GXT 750s.

I also had an important secondary reason to try an Nvidia, due to their presumably superior video decoding capabilities, and I was impressed on both fronts. The entire procedure of migrating a machine from AMD to Nvidia binary drivers was surprisingly smoooth — I should say easier than setting up AMD in the first place. MPlayer with VDPAU worked fine without recompilation, and I no longer need my fast laptop to watch Full HD movies.

The video issue is a great example of how often sheer practicality can override ideology. While AMD naturally has video decoding hardware, the Xvba/VAAPI interface was a mess, which did in fact work sometimes, but it was painful to set up. Of course, all this time I was also using binary drivers on AMD to enable all the best features.

On the other hand, it must be remembered that AMD also supports open driver development, which is especially important for older GPUs. Moreover, I still use a couple of 7970s — the efficiency is on par or better than Maxwell in many applications. Having both major GPU vendors in my setup keeps things in balance in many ways, further preventing me from going down the fanboy alley.

<18:12 EEST> The one programming project that's been taking up my time since late October has recently come out with a public name: DNaLS. There is not much more to tell about it here, except perhaps its origin as an extra question in the Number Theory 2 course, which kind of got out of hand. A coursemate even started a more traditional/theoretical Bachelor's thesis on it, completely independent of me, so this is definitely an exciting problem for a lot of people. If nothing more, it has been a fun exercise in coding a distributed client/server system, drawing on my experiences with Primetools and the various Bitcoin projects. I even ended up with a new machine partly because of it :-j

Math and programming aside, you may recall the epic KEHY event that was arguably the culmination of this year's theatre life for me and many others. However, it was probably not the ultimate highlight of my theatre year. That award goes to Kansannäyttämö, who also hosted a similar "first annual" pre-Xmas gala on December 19, recapping the past productions. While the gala/party was a blast per se, not the least due to the more intimate setting limited to our single theatre, it was a major event for me as a stage pianist. In a way, it was one of the largest all-time musical gigs for me, with over 20 songs on my playlist. This included a couple of popular songs rehearsed with two singers during the preceding few days: Winter by Tori Amos, Snow by Cæcilie Norby, and last but not least-known Eternal Flame. Such cooperations are always more interesting and fruitful than soloing, and I now appreciate all of these songs on several new levels.

This apex of a career also marked the end for my theatrical endeavours, at least for now. It seems my cycle of interest usually lasts for about two years, but this time I've really had it with the struggle to focus on math and coding as well as the artistic stuff. I might as well try and settle for math for now, even though it may not be the greatest recipe for a balanced life.

<19:43 EEST> Finally, Christmas. Something I have not enjoyed in years, but this has been one of the worst in several metrics. Having reflected upon the issues of my family Christmas for these few days, I notice a more general pattern emerging in connection with other annual traditions.

For years after years, I have maintained a general contempt for all festivities calendrical: Oh, look, it is May 1st, or Dec 24th, or something, and that means we are going to have a good time, even if we don't feel like it. I think as a Finn I have first come to view these as an empty excuse to get drunk and do something stupid, but surely there are more profound issues at hand.

I guess if I were of a more social type, I could see my relatives more often outside these formal settings, and actually meet them for real. But I could also ask why we put up with these strict traditions. To me, the real sadness is that the traditionalists do not seem to believe in their rituals any more than me, but they simply have to keep doing it, year after year, for the sake of tradition. And it is that kind of thinking that gets the most rage out of me — not using your brain.

For a mild example, consider the line "It's OK for you to join us in the church even if you're not a member, at least you could sing". To me, this seems like the church-goers are trivializing their own faith by trying to be too all-encompassing (which, of course, is a much more general problem in the major religions, IMHO). They are making it just another empty tradition that everyone can follow because it doesn't really mean anything.

Risto A. Paju