Cambridge Year

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I've been wondering what it is about math people that makes us want to torture ourselves. Near the end of Lie algebras, which is a one-and-a-half hour lecture (with no break) after a morning of lectures, the professor was in the middle of doing a long proof and paused, saying "So I'm wondering what I should do now... I think I'll prove part 4 of the theorem, and then we'll stop." At this point I'd already been half-asleep for half an hour and all I wanted was for the lecturer to stop talking and let me leave... to breathe fresh air and look at the sky (there are no windows in this lecture hall) and have a cup of tea. There were something like 20 other people in the room, all of whom looked as tired and worn as I felt, and I started thinking, why doesn't anyone just say "Please no! We can continue next time! My brain has already leaked all the way out of my ears and before I can understand anything that you're going to say I just need to put it back together!" Are math people just so fixed on being hardcore that they always need to ask for more torture?

I've seen this happen in other lectures, too. After two hours of lecture the lecturer stops, turns around, and says whether they should continue or not... and someone always speaks up to say yes, please keep going. And everyone else stays silent, or agrees with them. For a while I thought it was just me, but it isn't... almost everyone I've talked to can't sit still for more than an hours worth of math at a time, and the more hours are stacked on top of one another the more one needs a break... so why does nobody ever say "no, I'm too tired and I think a lot of people here are, too"?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Nothing Much

So I haven't been doing anything much. I spent all of Sunday doing laundry. The dryers here should really be called "less-damp-ers", as they don't actually dry anything. I put my Tshirts (no jeans, no sweatshirts, just Tshirts) through the dryer three times and still ended up spreading them all over my room to get them to dry properly. (I also have a drying rack, and it's still filled with jeans and such that need to dry.) I've also spent a bunch of time on the phone with the phone company trying to get the stupid line fixed. No go, as far as I can tell. I was told that I was "very rude" by the other person on the line, though. (This was after the sixth time I called, and all I wanted was a guarantee (or at least some way to check) that a technician would actually be sent to my room. Stupid company.

I've also been fighting with myself about my differential geometry class. To say I hate it with a passion would be an understatement: even thinking about the material ruins my mood. I've started doing the example sheet (here lingo for problem set) five or six times, and each time I work on a problem, figure out a way to do it, and then stop, too disgusted with the material to keep working. And it's not that the problems are bad: they're good, they're well-written, there's a good selection. I just really really hate thinking about them. I prefer wading through my group theory homework or diagram chasing on the category theory stuff.

Nothing much else going on. I watched Nochnoi Dozor with Andres on Friday. I really really like it: it was beautiful and fun to watch, and created a really cool world in itself. The subtitles were really funny, too: they kept saying things like "[speaks Russian]" for slang, and they mistranslated a lot. I recommend the movie to anyone who likes SF/artsy horror movies/thrillers. If you don't like any of these you'll hate the movie, so don't even try watching it.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006


So life has been going on in its nice slow pace here. I'm going to lecture, doing some problem sets, and generally wasting time the rest of the time. I read and knit and wander around. Cambridge is wonderful for wandering, except that I have to remember to stay out of the center of town. (In the center of town they have cobblestones instead of paving and they're horrible on the feet. It's unfortunate, because Cambridge is really really beautiful (and I promise I'll take pictures of it at some point), but walking for too long in town makes my feet hurt a lot.) But I walk around the different colleges and gardens on my side of Cambridge and generally enjoy the scenery. Almost every college has its own gardens around it, and most of the colleges are old and very beautiful. They look like castles, except for the "drafty dirty stone" aspects. =)

Looking for food here has become an exercise in thinking sideways. Most of the things I want I've found already, but some others continue to stump me. It took me forever to find zuccini a few days ago because I couldn't remember the British word for it (it's corgette, in case anyone is interested) and they don't sell individual zuccini in the local store. I finally found them right next to the dill and mint and such, sold only in packages of three. Cream cheese was another thing that took forever to find. It's not next to the butter, and it's not in the cheese section, but right under the yogurt. (Why?) And the butter! Half of an aisle is just for butter here! This is in a store where bread only takes up a couple of shelves, that only has a quarter of an aisle of cereal, and which only sells one brand of many things... half an aisle of butter! Real butter, four kinds of margarine, in huge tubs and tiny ones. (And they put butter on everything! I was having a sandwich with brie and grapes and there was butter on it... it's like mayonaise in the US.)

Last Saturday I went on a boat cruise on the Thames that the Gates was sponsoring. They got buses from Cambridge to London (which was a two hour ride, but we didn't seem to be driving that quickly), and then we were on the boat from 7 to 11 pm, and then they took us back. They'd advertized it as a "dinner boat cruise" but this ended up being kind of a lie: they had a very very small buffet with different finger foods and nothing else. Everyone ended up very hungry. =) The boat went between two bridges (and don't ask me which they were, I have no idea) back and forth for the whole time. It was actually very pretty and interesting to watch the scenery going by. We could go up onto the roof of the boat, and it was very quiet and pretty there... but unfortunately very cold. I only went up once, and then stayed downstairs and talked to people.

And I actually talked to people that I didn't know, and I had a good time doing it. =) I think it helped that there was another Gates girl from Trinity there that I stayed with the whole time, and she was there to talk to people when I couldn't think of anything to say. So even when I would have been completely useless it all turned out ok. I was really glad that she was there, because the people on the cruise were interesting enough that just standing around and listening to them talk was interesting. (Actually, the only downside was that it was VERY loud there, and they also started playing music so that people could dance and it ended up being difficult to talk.) But I still met a lot of cool people.

First, there was Joanna (the girl from Trinity). She's also from Harvard (and originally from Singapore), and she's doing an MPhil (like a masters) in international relations. She's focusing on preferential trade agreements and how countries decide whether to sign them or not. I met a couple of engineers, doing various engineery things =), one from Emmanuel and one from St. Johns (two other colleges at Cambridge; Emmanuel is the college that David is at). We spent a bunch of time talking to a couple of Ph.D. students (one in education, one in paleontology) about differences between the UK and the places we were from (US, Singapore, and Colombia). There was a cool guy from Ghana who is doing a Ph.D. in criminology, in particular looking at contributing factors to juvenile delinquency. (I really wanted to talk to him and get him to talk about his work in more detail, but I never got the chance.) Joanna kept doing this thing where she'd see a couple of people sitting at a table and say "let's go sit with them!" and intrude on whatever conversation the people were having to ask them about themselves. I'm not sure whether they appreciated this, but it definitely helped for meeting people. We met a couple of Ph.D. students in sociology this way, which was pretty cool because one of them was studying preferential trade agreements (which was interesting for Joanna) and one was comparing the way the media in England and the US discuss scientific questions (which I'm interested in). So we had a really nice double conversation. =)

The person I talked for the longest to was one of the engineers (from St. Johns), named Larry, who is studying the way that engine shape affects fuel combustion. We talked a bunch (it helped that we were sitting together on the bus ride back)and I think I'm going to get him over here for tea at some point; I think it'd be fun to talk to him more.

One of the most amusing things here was that everyone I talked to agreed on two things: prices are WAAY too high and the weather is schitzo. It's cloudy, and then 10 minutes later it's sunny, and 10 minutes later it's raining... it turns out that I'm not the only person who ends up turning lights on and off every 15 minutes and opening and closing my curtains all the time.

Other than that there isn't that much news. I spent a bunch of time on Sunday and Monday doing homework, slept a bunch yesterday, and am planning on doing some (math) reading today.

Thursday, October 12, 2006


The last few days haven't been too eventful. My day consists of going to classes in the morning (and some of the afternoon), then running some errands if I need to, and then sitting at home reading a book or typing up lecture notes. I'm trying to type up all of my notes so that (a) I can put them on my website and (b) I don't have to worry about not being able to read my handwriting. It also makes me look at my notes at least once, and points out the bits I don't understand. (Sometimes in lecture I zone out so that I don't notice some steps in a proof or something and this makes me work those out.)

The class that's surprised me the most so far has been Ramsey theory. I generally don't like combinatorics, so I wasn't expecting that much from the class. (I'm taking it because Tom said that the professor is great.) But I'm really enjoying it! We've spent the first couple of lectures proving various forms of Ramsey's Theorem, and now we're moving on to Van Der Waerden's theorem, but the bit that I like is the applications of the various theorems. (The theorems don't excite me so much as I already knew them before the class.) For example, you can use Ramsey's theorem to prove that any sequence has a monotonic subsequence, which is just cool.

A couple of the professors here are really hyper (even more so than Elkies). My algebraic topology professor speed talks through each lecture (I keep expecting him to start panting for breath at some point during the lecture). He's a little like a manic rabbit, always moving and gesturing. The professor for Lie algebras is also a little hyper, but more in the pace of his lectures than in how he talks. In algebraic topology the lectures are pretty slow (especially since I already know the material) even though the prof talks fast, mostly because he says most things two or three times. In Lie algebras, on the other hand, the professor seems to think that everything is trivial, and so he doesn't really need to explain anything. He writes on the board in shorthand (most of which he doesn't explain) and his handwriting gets smaller and smaller as the lecture goes on (although he's very receptive to requests to write bigger). I get the feeling that the lectures would be really good as review lectures, but as new material they're kinda hard to follow and sometimes I end up just writing down what he's writing (I have no time to write down what he's saying) and hoping to figure it out later. The funniest thing about his lectures, however, is that even though he doesn't bother to write out words like "weight" and "vector" and "space", he still writes interjections on the board. For example, a proof we did today started with "Well, if V is irr. rep. of sl_2 then ..." (My favorite quote from one of his lectures: "It's only in academia that one person talking can be called a discussion.")

A couple of the classes I'm taking have good content but the lectures are very dry. This is especially true in my group theory class, where the professor gives out typed notes and then reads them aloud to the class. (This is good for knitting time, but not a good use of the time: the notes are pretty clear and only take about 15 minutes to read.) Differential geometry is also kinda boring: the lectures are well-structured and are moving along at a good pace, but something about the way the professor lectures just means that he's boring to listen to... I'm not really sure what it is. I'm sure the fact that the class is at 9 doesn't help. =)

Andres came over today and went grocery shopping with me. (I can deal with most errands, but grocery shopping really really sucks. It's boring and involves a lot of weaving in and out of people, and difficult searching through shelves. It's absolutely impossible to find anything in the local grocery store, and the store's size (tiny) and the number of people in it at any point (lots) don't help. Also, the store closes at 10, so it's not like I can go late to avoid crowds.) When we came home we hung out and had tea and chocolate, which was nice. He seems to be doing ok so far, although he was sleeping when I knocked on his door (at 6 pm) so I think he might not be sleeping well.

There's a farmer's market in the middle of town here every day. It's not very large, and there are only a couple of food stalls (there's a used book stall and a bunch of stalls that sell really expensive clothes, though). I've stopped buying vegetables there, as they're more expensive than the ones in the grocery store and don't taste any better, but I really like the bread that this one stall sells. It's a bakery stall, and it has about 20 different kinds of bread in it. It's pretty expensive, though, so I've only gone a couple of times.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention the cooking situation. It turns out that the kitchen on the floor below me has a stove, so I go down there to cook a bunch. On the other hand, the kitchen on my floor has a toaster and the other one does not, so the people downstairs come up to make toast. =) I've been cooking some days (mostly simple things: sandwiches, pasta, rice, fried potatoes, etc.) and others I've been eating prepared food that is sold at the grocery store. It's frozen food for the microwave, and some of it is actually decent. They also have some nifty hand-made tortellini which is good and fask to make. The only down side to not eating in a dining hall is that I don't have anyone to eat with, or a table to eat at. David's come over for food a couple of times, and we end eating off our laps. (When I eat on my own I just sit at my desk.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

First Few Days of Classes

The first few days of classes have come and gone, and I've learned a bunch. None of it was about math, but still...

First off, I never knew how tired one can get just from sitting still and being incredibly bored. On Thursday I went to four classes (Differential Geometry, Topics in Group Theory, Computer Aided Geometric Design, and Ramsey Theory). None of these was difficult or covered anything that I didn't already know, and none of the lectures was particularly good (the Ramsey Theory one wasn't bad, but it was slow and material that I already knew). Afterwards, however, I was incredibly tired and sleepy, and went home and did nothing all evening. It was surprising... I'd never before been so pooped just from sitting and being bored (and thinking about other things). (And before anyone asks, no I did not knit. I didn't have a chance to ask the professors beforehand, and I wanted to take notes. I should have, though; I would probably have been less bored.)

Secondly, I learned that the Cambridge math department has no logical system for (a) locking/unlocking doors to buildings and (b) room numbering. Some of the buildings have locked doors, others have unlocked doors, and they are all connected on the basement level... so it's unclear what the point is. In addition, they have a bunch of "meeting rooms" (which are the classrooms), but no system to the numbering. Rooms 2,3,5 and 13 are all close to one another, but room 9 requires going to another building. Not that any of the walks were that long, it was just difficult to find where you were supposed to be.

Thirdly I learned that even though the math department doesn't seem to want to change the policy of having class on Saturdays most professors don't want to go to class on Saturdays any more than the students do. Of the four classes I went to on Thursday, two simply had no Saturday lectures, one changed the Saturday lecture to Friday afternoon, and the third I'm skipping (it gives out typed notes). What's the point of theoretically having class on Saturdays if everyone just tries to get out of it?

On Friday I went to four more classes: Category Theory, Root Numbers, Algebraic Topology, and Lie Algebras and Their Representations. I'm not going to continue taking Root Numbers, as it assumes a lot more number theory background than I have. The Lie Algebras lecture was good and interesting, and the professor seemed cool. The algebraic topology lecture was also amusing: the professor speed-talked through the entire hour, and his handwriting was almost illegible. He almost reminded me of Elkies, although without the lisp and without the desire to show off. I'm mostly going to the class for fun, as there's no other class in the time slot that I want to go to. (By the way, the scheduling of classes here is hte stupidest thing I've seen in a long time. There are about one and a half times as many classes offered next term as there are this term, which means that I already have three class conflicts that I know about and I haven't even really looked at what's offered. Silly department.)

When I went to class I was worried that all of the lecturers here would be like Kronheimer, and lecture so fast that I'd be panting to keep up even if I already know the material. But it turned out that most of the lecturers go at about the pace of a Harvard class (and not even a graduate class; more about the level of an advanced undergraduate class), at least for the first few lectures. They're supposed to get harder as the term goes on, and I'm really hoping that this will happen as right now I'm just INCREDIBLY bored. And still amazed at how tired I can get just from being bored.

A final note about phones: I'm trying to get the land line in my room working, but it doesn't seem to be going up (although the company claims that it is...). I'll post here when I have the number (not the number itself, but that it's up and running and I have a number).

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Last Day Before Classes Start

The last two days have been very calm. Yesterday I didn't do much: walked over to the math department (to make sure that I can find it) and then relaxed all day, hung out with Andres in the evening. (He's living in the next stairwell over from me; it's nice.)

This morning there was a meeting at the math department to tell everyone to sign up with an advisor and to introduce the course. It was a complete waste of time, as all of the information that they gave us was already up on the website and in the course catalog, both in really obvious places. (They spent two hours just going over all of the classes that are offered, all the while giving LESS information than was in the course catalog... I wasn't really sure what the point was.) They first spent fifteen minutes talking about how difficult the course was and how it's ok if it's too difficult and you have to go home. At Harvard, a talk like that would be followed by introducing several support services, explaining how to get help if you were falling behind. Here all they said was that if you decide to drop out early enough you can get your money back. I thought the whole thing was stupid and obmoxious.

And now for some pictures. First, my dorm. When you first approach it you have to cross a bridge,

and then you see the dorm complex itself.

My entry is one of the less nice ones (they're refurbishing the dorm, and they haven't gotten to my entryway yet) so it looks like this:

Next to the dorm there is a pond,

for no reason that I can tell. I've been told not to fall into it, as it's really stinky. (The tiles next to it are just the walkway between buildings, so it actually is possible to fall into the pond.)
The park around my dorm is very nice. Walking from my dorm to the gate to the park looks like this:

(I'm sorry that the last photo is so blurry; I couldn't get the camera to focus properly because the light wasn't very bright.)

Right in front of my dorm is the Fellows' Garden. In most colleges only fellows (professors) are allowed into the Fellows' Garden, but in Trinity everyone is allowed to visit it. It's absolutely beautiful, with a lot of corners to sit in and places to work. These pictures don't do it justice, but they give some idea of what it's like:

The math department is also very interesting. It's actually a huge site, with lots of buildings (which are called "pavilions"). In order to get into the site you go through a gatehouse

which has gates with knots on them:

At some point they lock the gates, but we get 24 hour access using a swipe card. The library, just inside the gates, looks like this:

It's really cool inside. It's round, and the bookshelves are arranged like spokes in a wheel. The rest of the site looks like this:

The most interesting thing about the way the site is constructed is that it's sunk into the ground. The grass that you see up there isn't actually on the ground: it's on the roof of a huge array of rooms, all located below ground level. If you look on the pictures above, though, you can see that there are railings around the site. Beyond these railings isn't more ground: it's a drop of a story or so, where the ground has been hollowed out around the building. It's a really strange construction for a building, but apparently it was done because the neighbors didn't want a lot of tall buildings around.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Yom Kippur

Kind of an unfortunate day today. Got up at 7:30, tried to go to an 8:30 meeting. I'd miscalculated the time it would take me to walk over to the meeting, though, and I was a couple of minutes late. (About 3 or 4, I think.) By the time I got there, everyone was inside and the door was locked. (I'm not really sure why it was locked, it might have been an accident.) I went to the porters and asked them where the meeting was, and they said that nobody had requested the key to the room yet, which means there is nobody in there and to just wait outside the door. So I waited for a while, and then left and wandered around trying to figure out where the meeting was.

Then I had to go and buy formal clothes, since the BA picture (a picture of all new grad students in the college) was at noon, and I didn't have anything to wear. It took me a couple of hours to find clothes that (a) did not cost a fortune and (b) did not look horrible. (I was told to look "smart," whatever that means. It does not refer to looking intelligent, but apparently to "blending in" and being dressed formally but not too formally. I was confused.) Finally, after going to four stores and spending way too much money I was able to get clothes, just in time to rush back to my room, change, and go to the picture. Where it turned out that I'd gotten the wrong kind of clothes, and should just have worn something dark. (I stand out like a sore thumb on the picture. They were doing it in reverse alphabetical order, which meant that not only was I the first person to do everything, but everyone got to look at me in my "I stand out like a sore thumb" clothes. Oh, and I could barely understand the person who was giving directions, so I kept feeling like I was doing something wrong.)

Then I went to the bank. I decided to get an account with the bank that some of my friends had used, simply because they didn't have any problems with the application. Banks here need not only proof of ID but also proof of address, provided to us grad students in the form of an intro letter from the college. Apparently, one bank refused to look at this letter because it didn't have Trinity's official stamp on it (it was on the college stationary, though), and another bank had refused it because the letter was adressed "To the Bank Manager" and not to the specific bank. So I chose the path of least resistance, and went to the bank that I had not heard anything about other than that it takes five days to process the application. It took three tries to be able to apply, though, because the first branch of the bank that I went to had no people who specialize in international student accounts, the second branch (that the first directed me to) had a line two hours long, and the third one had only one person doing the work and she was going to lunch. But in the end I only had to sit there for 45 minutes, and I spent most of that time reading the explanations of the accounts. (They have a very limited set of accounts for international students. A couple of the banks only have one possible account; the one I went to had three. I'm not really sure why the limited options.) Quote from the brochure: "Student Solutions is a bank account which allows you to carry out your day-to-day banking with the minimum of ease." While that may be true, I'm not sure why they want to advertise the fact... I'd think that they would advertise MAXIMIZING ease, not minimizing it.

After the bank I went home and spent a few hours craving a cup of tea. By the time the sun set I had prepared the tea and a couple of sandwiches, and I ate as soon as I possibly could. And then I went to the BA dinner, which consisted of drinks, then a formal dinner (to which I also wore the stuff that I bought this morning) and more drinks. It was actually a pretty cool event; there were lots of interesting people and I (mostly) had a good time. Dinner was pretty weird, though. There were no choices of what to eat (they just served you), there was assigned seating, and something like grace was said at the beginning. (I missed the grace (or whatever) for some reason that I can't fathom. While we were all going down the stairs to dinner the line stopped for a bit, and then kept going, and I was told that this was because they were saying grace. I was confused.) Also, in the middle of dinner everyone got quiet, stood up, waited a few seconds, and then sat down. I have no clue why. Neither did anyone sitting around me... it just happened, and nobody paid attention or tried to find out why. After the second round of drinks I went home with a horrible headache. The dinner was nice and the conversation was nice, but it was AMAZINGLY loud. I'm not sure any of the Harvard dining halls ever got this loud, and I've definitely not had quite this kind of headache before. It's not really like my head hurts, more like I don't want to hear any sound. I didn't even really want to take a shower because I didn't like the noise.

Oh, and almost forgot. Last night I went to the BA intro meeting (which was boring and had food and drink which I had to avoid), but I met a nice guy who I talked to for a while, and who showed me how to climb the fence on my way home. The fence is about a shoulder-high metal thing (with spikes on top) which blocks the most direct way home from Trinity. It has a gate in it (which is about 10 feet tall, for no reason that I can see) which only opens during the day. At night we're supposed to walk around, but everyone just climbs the fence. Which I now also do. =) (I'll post pictures of all of this when I'm not so tired, hopefully tomorrow.)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

My Room

I'm starting this blog to (hopefully) keep track of what I'm up to at Cambridge, how the year is going, and my general impressions of the place. I'm going to try and post at least once a week, and hopefully more.

Right now it's cloudy and raining (which shouldn't be a surprise, but the last couple of days were sunny and nice) so I'm not taking any pictures outside. But here is a guided tour of my dorm room.

I'm living in a really nice complex (which I'll have pictures of later), on the fourth floor (which is called the third floor here). First, the room itself:

I couldn't get a good picture of the room as a whole, but it's a deent size, about 2/3 of my room at home. The closet situation is kinda funny, because at first I thought I had a lot of closet space,

but then it turned out that half of it is a sink:

(And yes, the sink has the silly British two-faucet thing. And the hot water is scalding while the cold is lukewarm. Silly setup.) When we first got to the room, I asked where the bathroom was, and was shown

the bathroom. Not exactly what I had in mind, but undeniably a bathroom. There's also a toilet

(it also has a tiny sink, you just can't see it) and a shower.

The shower is interesting because it's just in a long skinny room (no curtain or anything) and there's a bench on the other side of the room (the dry side) so that you can put clothes and towels there. There's also a kitchenette (which for some weird reason is called a "gyp room") which isn't large and doesn't have a stove (although the one one floor below does), but which out to be ok.

At least it has a tea kettle. (And that's me making a cup of tea next to it.)

Everyone here is really nice and helpful. This is wonderful and very important, as without people being nice and helpful it would be impossible to get anything done around here. It's completely decentralized, which means that nobody has any clue of what is going on or who to talk to to get things done, or where to find any information. I'm not sure I would have been able to accomplish anything on my first day here (with a redeye flight and a 3 hour bus trip and all) without a very nice guy who showed me around, helped me get internet set up, and explaining to me where the stores were. Also, since everything is different in each college asking friends that are here is pretty useless.

Here's an example of what I mean. In order to get around the dorm, I need a key card. When I signed in to the dorm I got a card that would work, but which I needed to return as soon as possible. Everyone thought that my personal card would be in my "pigeonhole" inside my "Freshers pack." Unfortunately, everyone was wrong: there was a card in there, but it was my Gates Scholar card (whose purpose I'm not yet sure of). Everyone I talked to thought that the "porters" (the people who run the local equivalent of the superintendent's office) would have my cards, but they were wrong (and the porters didn't know where it was). The only way that I found out who to go to is because the person showing me around knew where the graduate secretary's office was, and it turned out that she had the card. (Actually, two cards, whose different purposes I'm not yet really sure about.)

In order to set up the internet, you need to first find a computer lab and set up your account (which you can't do from home, and for which you need your application number (which I luckily had in my email)). THEN you can go back to your room and set up your computer, which involves registering a bunch of things with Trinity and waiting 24 hours. (Actually, it turned out that most things worked after about an hour, but the website clearly said that you MUST wait 24 hours, and also set up your browser to use their proxy settings). Also, you're entitled to a free ethernet cable, but this isn't written down anywhere and there's only one place to get it (and I only found this out because uf the nice person showing me around). Another side effect of whatever stupid setup Trinity has for their network is that I can't ssh/telnet/ftp ANYWHERE, and if I try to use a browser other than Mozilla it won't let me connect to the internet. And they don't have wireless. And the internet connection is slow. And they block Skype. And I can't install a different software for talking online because I need to upgrade some library for which I can't find the source online and I can't connect to the Debian repositories because of the aforementioned lack of ssh/telnet/ftp. So I'm pretty pissed about the whole internet situation here.

I had some interesting experiences while shopping for things. First off, the grocery store here lies about what's in each aisle. They have the usual signs above the aisles, and the signs say things like "tea and coffee" or "frozen desserts", but what they omit is that there are likely fifty OTHER things in the aisle that they just don't mention. Like pasta, and rice, and spices, and bread, and wonderful things like that. So I end up wandering up and down each aisle looking for whatever it is that I need. Also, finding contact lens solution here is incredibly difficult, because (a) nobody seems to know what it is and (b) there is only one brand of it (that I could find, anyway). It's also impossible to find clothes hangers. The only store that I found that sells them is sold out until November (and it took me about 20 stores before I found that one). The grocery store sells towels, dishes, magazines, knives, but no clothes hangers. And everyone here looks really really confused if you ask about them. Maybe they're called something different?

But this is all just minor annoyances. Cambridge is beautiful, the area around my dorm is beautiful, and I really like just being here. I haven't seen the math department yet, but I'm hoping to go tomorrow.