Thursday, December 14, 2006

It worked!

That brings an end to my best semester in the Master's program yet. I finished my thesis proposal, and made two programs that actually do something interesting.

One is a web crawler that many computers can contribute to at once. The more computers you put on (and it works over the internet, so that could be any number), the faster it will run. The major bottlenecks left are the bandwidth and storage of the central server.

The other one is a hierarchy browser that uses speech recognition, mouse, and ten-key for controls (specifically, to construct a grocery list by selecting items from this household products database). Thus, it is accessible to the blind and the paraplegic as well as to handed and sighted people. This project came together a lot in the last week, when I finally had major time to work on it. I was amazed that it worked the first time, practically the way I wanted to.

Also interesting to me is the fact that both of these programs are in Java. If you have well-documented, intuitive libraries to work with, it's a real snap to start making something interesting. I am also getting better at the Java GUI model, which makes at least a good deal of sense to me.

Once I can figure out how, I'll post the programs for public consumption. They both rely on the user's ability to install PostgreSQL (a database program), which is not all cream soda and sunshine, if you know what I mean. But they really are cool.

I'm considering something I haven't ever done before: paying money for a developer tool. The speech-recognition library I used was put together by some company. I'm about a week into the 30-day trial. It would be $16 to get a personal license, which I could use for research. Or, I can suck it up and learn Windows MFC, ATL, COM, and MS SAPI.

I also finished The Genesee Diary. One of the things that interested me most was the epilogue. After 7 months among the monks, where Henri Nouwen's world was beginning to quiet down a bit and he was getting serene, he returned to a hectic schedule as a teacher, writer, and priest. Six months later, he wrote this epilogue, that he had been hoping that the monastery would change him forever, that he would finally be single-minded, committed, wholly devoted to Christ. That's not what happened. Instead, he saw his time out of the world as something to look back on, to strengthen him with hope for a better life, and also to humble him in comparison with his life out in the real world. He quoted Jesus in a disturbing moment, where Jesus says that you can clean yourself out for a moment, but your demons will come back to haunt you worse than before.

I empathize completely. Not only does his experience remind me a lot of my summer among the Christians in Lake Tahoe, I also long for wholeness with God, that final inch where I tip over into unassuming love for him and the people close to me and the world in general. But I never do quite tip over. I feel the need to live on the edge of the religion and the world, touching both, as I was reminded by rereading a journal recently.

In a way, it was shocking when Nouwen wrote about this cold douse of reality, so different was the style from journal to epilogue. But in a way, it was gratifying and comforting. Not, that is, to think that mountaintop experiences are illusory or failures or impossibly idealistic. Plainly, I think there is more to idealism than meets the eye. Instead, to know that he walked the same road I am walking and felt like me, that it's all right to be out in the world and not feel satisfied with yourself or the world. We don't need to fit because we don't quite fit. We are citizens of another country. The question, of whether that country is the material world of the unconscious animals, the absurd world of existence, nonexistence, and death, or the strange world of the spiritual, is left as an exercise for the reader.

Knowing where you belong doesn't help you fit back into the world. Humans will never fit back into the world. But it can relieve the pressure of worry about not being able to fit, even at your best, into that which you long for desperately, or belong to deeply.

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