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Glasgow, United Kingdom

It's finally here -- my United Kingdoms passport arrived. I'm all set for Glasgow!

I just realized that I haven't mentioned it here yet: I received a big scholarship to support me as a PhD candidate in the department of Electronics and Electrical Engineering at the University of Glasgow.

I'm leaving Vancouver on the 9th of the 9th of the 9th. Quite fitting, since one of my secret shames is a fondness for numerology, with 9 (and, to a lesser extent, 3) as my favorite number.

I'll be living at the university's Maclay residence, shown on google maps. It claims to be a 15-25 minute walk (I see different numbers quoted in various places). That's definitely doable on a daily basis, which is quite nice -- no busses or transit to deal with. Also, I may well buy a bike when I get there, which would translate into a 5-10 minute bike ride.

In signing up for my accommodation (online), I was prompted to choose a password:

Your Password must be at least 6 characters long and include at least one number. Choose one you will remember such as your mother's maiden name, memorable date, favourite football team or pet's name.

Yeah, most people's mother's maiden names contain at least one number. I must admit that "memorable date" would contain a number, as does the local football team -- the Vancouver 86ers.

I'm very glad to be acknowledged as a British citizen. This means I don't need a student visa, I can easily visit anywhere in the EU, and I can vote for the Pirate Party in the next European Parliament elections. Longer-term, this means I can live and work anywhere in Europe. That's particularly good for an academic, since there's generally only 5-10 job openings (worldwide!) in your field each year. It's sad, but if you want to be an academic, there's a very good chance that you won't be able to stay in your home country. At least, not without damaging your career.

But now I have two home countries -- Canada and the UK. And this is the biggest reason I wanted to have the UK passport. I want Glasgow to feel like me home. I'll be living there for the next 3-4 years, after all! I think that one of the reasons I never felt at home in Singapore was that I never really tried to make it feel like a home -- I knew that I'd be returning to Canada in X months, Y weeks, and Z days.

(no, I didn't keep track of the Z days. It wasn't that bad. I did, however, keep track of the months and weeks)

Anyway, the whole thing feels much more real to me now. Only a few weeks of Canadian living left!

Almost half gone

My summer -- the beginning of June to the end of Aug -- is almost half over. I haven't been as busy as I expected, but that's mostly laziness.

I've been practicing violin for a few minutes (less than 20) a day for the past week or two. Most days. I have to admit that I'm not a terribly serious voilinist... I suppose that might change if I played chamber music more often. Maybe I'll try to organize someting in Sep or Oct.

Running has been slow (no pun intended) -- training yourself how to run in a different way is hard. I'm not completely unskilled at changing physical habits; I've had to do this a few times when playing cello or viola. It just takes time, effort, and constant reminders.

The whole "running barefoot" thing only lasted one day, due to my sleep habits. I went to the track of my old high school and ran a few laps -- that was great. However, I'm not (yet) sufficiently non-self-conscious (or certain about the benefits of barefoot running) that I want to do it when anybody else is around. Running at 4am was fine, but after that first time, I was waking up later. Fortunately, I'll still be awake before sunrise for the next week, so hopefully I can go back to this.

Instead of being barefoot, I bought a pair of "aqua shoes". Judging from the name, they're supposed to used for... err, swimming? Walking in the ocean? I don't really know, but the latter sounds right. There's a relatively hard sole, presumably to protect your feet from any sharp rocks underwater. Anyway, the important thing is that they don't have much padding, so it's one step closer to being barefoot. I can still run on my heels while wearing them, but it's more jarring than heel-running. Making a bad habit painful is the best way to change it.

Other than that, I've been throwing myself into a lot of LilyPond work. Too much, in fact; I got a bit burned out. While I have classes or work, "spending all my free time on open source" works out quite well, since I don't have oodles of free time. I got quite a bit done, particularly towards having a new, much easier to understand, website. I'll post a link there in a few days; it'll be a great introduction for everybody who's heard me mention it, but who doesn't actually what I'm talking about.

So right now I'm catching up on other things, such as this blog. I wasted most of yesterday playing a really cheesy old RPG called "Dink Smallwood" (whose sense of humor is completely described by the name). It was open-sourced a few years ago, so I played the GNU FreeDink version.

Yes, it's an official GNU project. The mind boggles.

Anyway, it was nostalgic. I don't recommend playing it unless you spent way too much time playing games like that when you were 10 years old. And even given my nostalgia, I still found myself struggling to finish it. About halfway through, I started looking up material in walkthroughs, about the last 20% of the game was fairly boring.

In defence of the software project, one of the main features is the addition of a game editor, so people can make their own games. I didn't look at any of that user-created content. But really, there's nothing unique about that game in terms of the "final boredom" portion. I honestly can't think of any computer game that I was excited about finishing. Even the venerable Ultima games lose my interest around the 90-95% mark. I think it's the lack of novelty and challenge: by that point, you've seen everything the game can do, your character is powerful enough to defeat any enemy with ease, and you're pretty certain that you know how the story will play out.

Anyway, I think I'll limit myself to 4 hours of LilyPond work each day -- and yes, I'll time myself. But first I'll finished writing another 3-4 blog posts, unpacking from Singapore (I still have two NUS t-shirts in their plastic wrapping, one keychain ornament unaccounted for, and a book unsorted), looking at paperwork for moving continents again, and organizing my files in preparation for a switch to a new laptop.

Recovered from trip

I managed to sleep for 8 hours within a 12-hour period for two days in a row, so I declare myself cured of jetlag. Granted, interrupting my sleep for dinner may strike some as less than ideal, but having odd sleep hours is par for me. The important thing is that I'm no longer waking up after 4 hours, desperately thirsty and/or exhausted yet unable to sleep again.

As promised, on the day after I got home, I went for a 10.6 km run. It was... well, part of me wants to say "pathetic", since it too me 59 minutes. On the other hand, I was very short on sleep, food, water, and energy. And there's lots of people who couldn't manage a 1-hour 10 km run even in the best of health. Still, I'm not happy with that time. But it took quite a bit of forcing myself to achieve even that -- I hit "the wall" (NB: this is a runner term, not a literal wall) at 8.5 km, and ended up running the final 10 minutes with a wide-eyed look of pain. It also took me three days to be able to ascend/descend stairs normally. That far exceeds by benchmark for having pushed enough.

It was quite neat, though. I woke up at 3:50am, just as the sky was starting to lighten. I had a very leisurely breakfast while reading emails and whatnot, then drove to the park at 6am. Driving a car after only taking transit in Singapore was a real treat -- no waiting, no crowds. Just you, the massive acceleration (in comparison to human movement), the freedom to point the car wherever you want (modulo the traffic laws)... yeah. I've never quite enjoyed driving so much as I did that morning; probably in part because I'd talked to a few people in Singapore about public transit and the North American love affair with cars. Yes, this might make me an evil planet-butchering capitalist pig, but I don't want to sacrifice driving for 10-15 minutes each week.

After the day after I got back, I didn't really do much. Ate when possible, slept when possible, played computer games, watched anime, and answered a few emails. Not productive in the least, but hey, I figured I deserved a week off.

Today I went for another run. My time was only 56 minutes -- I expected to have improved much more over my initial time, since I wasn't tired. However, I think the problem is my muscles, not my cardiovascular system. I wasn't the least bit out of breath this time, but I was still in pain. I could have pushed myself more and shaved off a few more minutes, but I was being sensible (for once) and decided that it really wasn't a good idea.

As I hobbled up and down the stairs at home, I started to wonder if my current running practices were good at all. I mean, even with my "not forcing myself", it'll still probably take a day to regain normal stair movement. I'm particularly troubled by my knees; they shouldn't be this stiff after a run.

I started looking at few webpages about running. It's no surprise that my posture is totally wrong, but as I read more, I encountered an idea I first heard while in Singapore (it must have been from a BBC documentary): barefoot running. The basic idea makes sense: when you run barefoot, you run completely differently than you run when you have shoes on. I mean, you'd never slam your bare heels down on concrete -- so why am I slamming my (slightly padded) shoed heels down on the ground? And humans evolved to run without shoes. Also, the world's best long-distance runners (Kenya, Ethiopia) tend to run barefoot.

There were other arguments about the kinesiology, looking at weight distribution, bone structure, etc etc, but I'm hopeless at biology so I didn't really pay attention to that. Granted, barefoot running tends to be practiced by hippies... but then again, I'm a hippie -- at least in the digital realm (open source is terribly hippieish) -- so hey, why not?

I think I'll give it a shot for the next two or three weeks. Not for long-distance running; it takes time to adjust to a new running style. I'll go to a track and practice there.

In other plans, I'll start seriously catching up on my LilyPond work tomorrow. I want to have most of the organizational stuff finished within two weeks, so I can move on to actual coding. Once that's under control -- or perhaps even before that, just to give me a break -- I'll revisit the MEWER game. With a few more bugfixes, it could be quite useful for people getting ready for the WCAMS summer music camp.