Today is the real start of the new year, with a new president in office and a lot of hope and promise. I feel very proud today, optimistic, but I can't quite get the dread out of my mind.
Bush was truly a terrible president. Political speech on blogs is given to hyperbole, but I don't know what else to say. Bush was challenged by a terrorist attack and failed miserably, botching the occupation of Afghanistan, destroying important civil liberties, and turning us into a nation of torturers. Bush led us into war on Iraq under false pretenses and failed there, too. Domestically he failed New Orleans and his financial policies have failed the country. New Orleans may never recover, let's hope our economy does better.
Obama ran on a campaign of hope and change. Lord knows we need it. But given the shit sandwich he's inherited we're bound to be disappointed. We can't just bail on Iraq and Afghanistan. Gay rights will move slowly. The economy is in awfully bad shape and will take years to recover. Health insurance and income taxes both need radical overhaul, problems that have been slowly burning for twenty years. We've got a long way to go, but at least we finally have some hope at the top.
Like most of my nerdy friends I find twittering is replacing blogging. Poorly archived 140 character statements are a meagre substitute for thoughtful essays, but it's so much easier to tweet. Also I haven't had a lot to blog about. Which is why I'm starting on a short blog series about the interesting things I've done in my life so far.
In college I did a lot of fun and valuable things: academics, friends, Unix hacking, etc. I was very lucky to be at Reed, just the right college for me, and I look back on that as the most formative time of my life. But what did I do that matters?
The biggest thing I did as an undergrad was my thesis, Relaxation Dynamics of a Lattice Spin System. Catchy title, no? It was an outgrowth of some work I'd done as a summer intern at the Santa Fe Institute, a discrete dynamical system that is a useful foil for understanding solid state physics. Mostly I liked it because it involved computer simulations and pretty pictures. As far as I know this work has had no significant influence, although I learned a lot about how to do computational modelling research.
The most influential thing I did while in college was html-helper-mode, an emacs mode for editing HTML pages. I was offended by some crappy emacs code from a scrub named Marc Andreessen so as a way to procrastinate on my thesis I wrote a better one. I don't know what's more appalling: that an emacs lisp program is my most significant open source contribution or that I still use this code fifteen years later. But I did a good job on it at the right time and I'm proud of it.