Tag Archives: thesis

There is a Monster in my Computer

23 May

Okay so you guys.  Today I handed in my thesis.  I printed it on (the required) fancy paper, I ran all around getting signatures, and then I deposited the $40 worth of paper* (sorry, world) on the desk of the person who was tasked with receiving theses.  So, this means three things.  One, I have finally completed my graduate program thus bringing an end to our (AKA my) long national nightmare.  Two, I have more time to read things that are not school related.  And three, I can then write about them here.  So, hooray for you if you like reading my blog!  Anyway, not the point.  The point is that I am fairly certain there is a monster in my computer.

So, here’s what happened.  Today while I was riding the train into the city to get my thesis printed and signed (did I mention that I handed in my thesis today?!) I was reading this article in The New Yorker by John Seabrook called “Network Insecurity:  Are we losing the battle against cyber crime?”  The article is all about these groups of hackers all over the world, that are sometimes associated with a government, that are hacking into computers and stealing all the information!  I know, I know, you are wondering whether I have been living under a rock for the past like, 15 years.  Well, the answer is yes and no.  I remember those scams where that guy in Africa would say he was a prince or something and if you sent him money now you would get all the money later but actually there was no later and you were just a fool.  I also know about Aaron Swartz.  I also know that there have been some articles about how maybe the Chinese government was cyber-spying (which totally makes me think  of creepy chat rooms).  What I did not know is that there might be people hacking into my computer right now!  Like, as I am typing this!  And they might be seeing me type from the “other side!”  And when I think about the “other side” I think that they are reading everything backwards, but then of course if they are tech-y enough to get into my computer in the first place then they can probably read things forwards.  Also, they probably don’t really care about reading my blog while I am writing it because it isn’t that good and they might as well just wait until I officially publish it. (I understand that none of these thoughts are even close to reasonable, but technology totally blows my mind.  3-D printing? What?!)

Sorry, I got off track.  So, anyway, I was reading this article during which Seabrook interviewed all these different FBI guys, and private security firm guys, and NSA guys (they were all guys) about the cyber threat and it seems as though it is actually really big.  Not only is it really big, but it could affect any of us!  Even me!  So this is what really made me nervous.  These hacking people send out these spear-phishing emails that they tailor specifically for you using information they glean from social networking.  Then, when you open the email they attach malicious code, or “malware” (not mall-ware, I learned after I embarrassed myself by mispronouncing it to my adviser) onto your computer.  “Downloading the attachment,” Seabrook says, “silently installs the malware, without your noticing.”  And then this is the really scary part: “later, you may wonder why your computer’s fan is always on (it’s because the hacker is using your machine’s extra computing power).” (!!!!!)  When I got home today my fan was on!

Okay, so this might be due to a few things.  I have been using my computer a lot the last few weeks.  I just finished watching two episodes of Awkward (so funny!).  I am running an outdated version of Firefox because my computer is geriatric and I was afraid to get it updated while I was working on my thesis because what if it crashed and also my backup unit caught on fire or something and then I lost everything.  But this also could mean that there is a hacker inside my computer.  So when I imagine a hacker inside my computer what I imagine is that scene from Space Balls where that guy is eating some food and all of a sudden an alien pops out of his stomach and starts singing “Hello! Ma Baby.” It’s like I would be working on something “very serious” and then some weird mutant would pop out of the screen and it would be horrifying and then maybe my cats would kill it.  But that’s not what the hackers do!  They don’t pop out of things with tiny canes and hats!   They can steal your passcodes and take your money.  Or they can see you through your own computer camera and hear you through your own computer microphone!  That’s scary!

So, in summation, in order to protect myself from the hacker that I am convinced is living inside my computer, I have covered my camera with a small sliver of blue post-it.  Now I can sleep easy.

(I am actually really nervous about this.  Don’t mock me.)

*Shouldn’t the price of that paper just be included in my astronomically high tuition that I will be paying off for the rest of my life because 6.8%!

Sometimes I Hyperventilate

21 May

You know when you have the smallest little bit to do of something you have been working on for the longest time ever but you just can’t seem to wrap your head around doing it so instead you sit at your computer and read the news and watch funny videos?  No?  Well, then, I just don’t know what to say to you.  Yes? Read on for a ramble!

So I have been working on my master’s degree basically forever.  Sometimes, when I am mad at myself for ever getting into this in the first place I think back to the day when I found out I got into my program.  I was convinced when I applied that there was no chance.  Then, one day, after a run I checked the mail and inside the little mailbox was a letter from The New School.  I ran upstairs, opened the letter, read that I was accepted and immediately started hyperventilating.  That’s this new thing I have been doing the last couple of years.  I seem to have grown into a person who is simply incapable of handling big batches of emotion all at once.  Case in point: a few months ago I was on a run, listening to Ira Glass on This American Life.  This particular episode (is that what a radio show is called? Is installment better? I should look this up..) was about an entire town being disappeared in the 1980s in Guatemala.  Everyone in the town was killed except for these two little boys who were found recently and one of them was reunited with his dad who had been out of town the day it was disappeared and thought his entire family was dead but in reality his youngest son was alive the whole time and living with the person who had orchestrated the whole disappearance.  Anyway, there is this whole big story with a reunion and it was really very emotional and there I was running and running and listening to it and trying not to cry but occasionally having to pull over on the side of the park to hyperventilate.  Crying and running at the same time is no bueno.  It was not my finest moment.  I don’t know why I thought it was a good idea to listen to that podcast while running but, yea, that’s me.  I am good at making decisions.  Anyway, back to the original story.  When I got my acceptance I immediately started calling people:  my parents, my boyfriend at the time, other people.  And wouldn’t you know it? No one answered the phone.  So there I was, standing in my living room, jumping around and also kind of crying, all by myself.  I basically couldn’t breath and thought I might die from happy.  Now that WAS my finest moment.

So anyway, here I am all these years later, finishing up this degree that has at sometimes been empowering and sometimes been incredibly frustrating and infuriating and I want more than anything to be done with it but I just can’t seem to make myself work through the final push.  I am getting in my own way, as I love to do.  I erect these little unnecessary barriers for myself, and then I have a stress attack and an anger explosion but the anger is always directed at myself because I am fully aware that I am just making it difficult for myself for no real good reason.  I like doing that I guess.  (Again, good at decision making.) Makes it all the more exciting when I persevere.  Like, the other week I realized that I had forgotten to fill out my application for graduation.  It was available online all semester long and I just never clicked on the link.  It would have taken me 5 minutes.  So then I got all stressed and was convinced they wouldn’t let me graduate and also was embarrassed by my own idiocy so I kept putting off doing it and then when I finally did it it took like 2 minutes and was so not a big deal.  But this was like, 2 weeks of stress.  I think I got a new wrinkle from forgetting to fill out my form.

Anyway, that’s me and that is what I do.  So I am going to close all my funny videos and stop reading about the tornado in Oklahoma (so sad!) and get back to work.  And I am going to take my dad’s advice.  A few weeks ago I was on the phone with my dad and I was stressing out about all the work I had to do and my dad just said to me, “Rebekah, get whatever it is in your head that is keeping you from doing this out of your head and just do it.  You are almost there.  The only person in your way is you.”

So, get out of the way, me!  Let’s do this!

When I Realize I’m My Own Worst Enemy

29 Apr

These lyrics from Ben Folds Five pretty much sum up how I am feeling right now:

She says, “Everywhere I go, damn, there I am.”

Here I am, sitting at the study center, working on my thesis while regularly checking my email to see if an old professor of mine, a professor to whom I still owe a paper, a paper whose completion, or lack thereof, will determine my ability to graduate from this damn program in a little over a month, will allow me to actually write the paper after all this time.  And I really want to be mad at someone about it.  I want to be mad at the professor for making the classroom environment, and therefore my learning experience, so massively unpleasant.  I want to be mad at the two professors who attempted to advise me earlier in this thesis process and, through their utter lack of engagement, made me feel dumb and inadequate.  I want to be mad at the tendency of academia to celebrate those who publish more than those who teach better, for causing my program to lose so many talented professors while keeping people who act as though teaching is a small requirement they must fulfill en route to raising their own status in the field.  But when it comes down to it, that would just be a technique in avoidance.  That would just be an attempt to place the blame on someone else when, in reality, it lands squarely on my shoulders.  I am the one who didn’t write the paper.  I am the one who let the actions of others determine my perception of my own self-worth.  I am the one who put all this off until the last possible moment when I knew I would already be at a loss for time and drowning in deadlines and stress.  I am the one.  Only me.  And sometimes that is the hardest thing to deal with.  But here I am, dealing with it, and figuring out how to get out of my own damn way.

If only I was flexible enough to kick my own ass.

Two Storms, Two Gardens and a Thesis Topic

9 Apr

Update!  They posted the piece along with my original abstract on the journal website.  You can read it here, if you want.  Or you can just read it on this site.  Although my site doesn’t have an accompanying photograph or an abstract.

Later this month I am participating in a conference at my school during which I will be presenting some ideas on a topic that is sort of connected to what I am writing my thesis about.  Anyway, seeing as how I am a touch behind in the thesis writing process (surprise, surprise!) applying for admittance into this conference was perhaps not my best ever idea but there you have it.  As part of my participation, I had to write a 5-7 page paper on my topic, which I turned in yesterday, along with a short bio and a little teaser about what I plan on talking about to get people excited, or warn them, or something.  So I did all that and then I got an email from the staff of the school’s academic journal, which is apparently partnering with the conference organizer, asking me for a short piece about what had gotten me interested in the topic I decided to write on in the first place so they could publish it alongside the abstract I sent in as my conference application a few weeks ago.  If they like it, anyway.  So, I wrote that and then I decided well, if they decide not to publish it, then I would feel as though it was a semi-wasted effort so in an attempt to prevent that from happening, I am going to post it here!  So, here it is.  The story of why I got interested in my conference topic via the story of how I got interested in my thesis topic.  Enjoy.

The day after Hurricane Sandy left large swaths of New York and New Jersey damaged, burnt and under water, I took a walk down to the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn to survey the damage.  I was shocked by what I saw – three foot high water marks on the public housing buildings, puddles the size of small ponds, piles of drenched belongings stacked on the sidewalks, cars that had floated from their parking spaces and had landed, water-logged, in the middle of normally heavy-trafficked streets.  I thought about the long road ahead for the people of Red Hook and other seriously impacted neighborhoods.  Quickly, my mind raced backwards to August of 2005 and the destruction wrought on the city of New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.  I thought back to the images and stories that spewed out of that storm-ravaged city during the weeks, months, even years following the storm.  I started thinking about what it takes to repair.  Or, more specifically, who it takes.  I thought about the aid money flowing into New York from all corners of the globe.  I thought about how long that money would continue to come our way, what areas would receive most of it, what areas would soon be forgotten.  I thought about the Lower Ninth Ward.

During my walk through Red Hook on Tuesday, October 30th I started questioning my own thoughts about the abilities and, perhaps more importantly, the priorities of the United States government.  I am a staunch believer in the importance of a big government.  In the modern, capitalist society that we have created, I think the role of the government is largely to protect the people from the injustice of the unfettered market.  For years, I have been avoiding the reality that rather than being a beacon of hope for the millions of people forgotten by capitalism, the government has become a protector of the system at all costs.  The government has become a partner in further disempowering those most devoid of power to begin with.  I finally realized that if areas like the Lower Ninth Ward and Red Hook wait for the government to clean up a mess that is largely, through the persistence of its racist and classist policies and rhetoric, its own doing, they will be waiting forever.  Indeed, the Lower Ninth Ward, almost 8 years later, still has not gotten even close to the kind of sustained help as the French Quarter despite the fact that it sustained significantly more damage.

Once the waters and the aid money recede we are left only with ourselves and our desire to rebuild.  I began looking into similar movements in the Lower Ninth Ward and Red Hook that incorporated my own interest:  agriculture.  What I found were two separate organizations – The Backyard Gardener’s Network in the Lower Ninth Ward, New Orleans and Added Value in Red Hook, Brooklyn – both working to better their own neighborhoods in the aftermath of the storm through community gardening and youth empowerment in agriculture respectively.  This idea of using community gardening and urban agriculture as a means through which a neighborhood can build bonds, power, and resilience in the face of future disaster became my thesis.  Through my reading and interviews, I began to delve into the idea that the same structural racism that undergirded the poor response by the United States government, particularly in the case of Katrina and the Lower Nine, actually exists in our current conversation regarding urban agriculture.  This idea of certain people’s lives being hidden from the public eye is not something unique to disaster deterrence and response, but is something that works its way into a lot of what we do and what we talk about.  It exists in the interstices of lived and documented reality.  Urban agriculture is not something that is new but is instead something that has been happening in urban centers for generations and yet that experience has largely been omitted in our current narrative.  My idea was to use this conference as a way to delve a little deeper into a topic that is of great interest to me but which is only tangentially connected to what my thesis is principally concerned with analyzing.