Monthly Archives: May 2012

Travelog

1:15 PM

I am the only passenger in the airport. Actually, calling it an airport seems a bit overgenerous. In the pre-security waiting area at Tweed New Haven Regional Airport, there are 22 seats, plus 8 more by the inactive coffee booth. It’s pleasant, clean, modern, and utterly empty. It’s also smaller than a second-tier bus station in Boston.

Flying out of Tweed makes a certain amount of sense. After a crucial lift from a family friend from my parents house to the local train station, I took Metro North outbound from Westport (almost unheard of; I was the only passenger on the platform) to New Haven State St., then caught a bus out to the airport (you just have to ask the driver to go there!). I didn’t have exact change for the $1.30 fare, and no one could break a 5$, but two kindly passengers donated $0.25 each to cover the gap.

The trip is certainly more convenient than getting to New York airports, but the infrequent public transit, in concert with an abundance of caution, dropped me off at the airport 2.5 hours before departure. The security screening has not opened yet, but the lone check-in agent was happy to show me the location of the one power outlet and noted the free wi-fi. “Oh, you brought food.”, he said. “That’s good; there isn’t any around here.”

Two hours to departure.

7:45 PM

We’re sitting on the tarmac, 105 minutes after our originally scheduled departure, watching a dramatic cumulus front line approaching from the west while all the planes in Philadelphia sit parked and anxious. The winds from the approaching storm are making amber waves in the short prairie grass beside the runway, and the plane is rocking unsubtly in the gusts.

We could be here a long time, and the pilot sounds distinctly frustrated that ATC wouldn’t let him take off South and dodge the weather pattern altogether.

I have new respect for the weight on the shoulders of aviation meteorologists.

8:30 PM. Now we’re back at the gate, but not allowed to get off (if we do we can’t get back on). I just got a call from the airline’s automated flight delay service letting me know that the flight has been delayed until 8:58 PM. I can barely enumerate all the ways I find this hilarious. I’m already on the plane so of course I know it’s delayed. If I had been following orders my phone would have been powered off, so I wouldn’t have gotten the call anyway. Telling me when I need to be at the gate makes extra non_sense because going to the gate at the appointed time would not only be unnecdssary, it would actually prevent me from catching the flight (as mentioned above). But perhaps most crucially, the pilot has not mentioned any estimated departure time to the cabin, indicating that he either doesn’t have this information, or he doesn’t believe it. What a mess!

(I apologize if this sounds like an encyclopedic, deranged, murderous deadpan — I’ve been reading American Psycho while waiting.

5:12 AM (Eastern)
Arrived at the hotel around 2 AM local time (5 AM Eastern). The flight was delayed about 3 hours, long enough that Enterprise car rental closed and I had to transfer the booking to Alamo. I did probably also waste 20 minutes driving around semi-lost in the unfamiliar territory. Oh well.

Total travel time: about 16 19 hours. Not exactly great.

Mem Day

Today was my parents’ annual Memorial Day picnic, which doubled as a surprisingly complete graduation party, including banners, table centerpieces, cake, and even a few (appreciated but certainly not necessary) gifts. It was a lot of work, in a much shorter prep time than usual on account of our miniature road trip, leaving barely any time for me to book flights and hotels and car rentals in Seattle, all complicated by the need to leave from Westport but return to Boston.

Nonetheless, it was worthwhile, as it always is. Not everyone is fortunate enough to be able to share time with at least a dozen people who’ve known them for their whole lives.

The Cod

The morning after commencement, my parents and I packed up the campsite in my living room and headed off for some Quality Family Time. We had planned a celebratory vacation by enumerating, evaluating, and eliminating just about every tour destination on the planet. We settled on Cape Cod, a place we’d last visited maybe 20 years ago.

Yesterday we checked in at our eerie old hotel, ate lunch on the beach amid a thin cold fog, took the modest but somehow compelling tour of the Cape Cod Potato Chip factory, grabbed dinner at a classic Cape Cod tourist trap, and then watched a double feature of Men in Black III and 21 Jump Street at the Wellfleet Drive-In Movie theater, complete with low-budget intermission animations from 1959 and zero previews.

This morning we walked Fort Hill (on which no fort was ever built), visited the historic (if no longer quite luxurious) Penniman House, took a canoe tour of a salt pond and marsh, visited the (relocated) Highland Lighthouse, the (decommissioned and decaying) North Truro Air Force Station, the otherworldly Cape Cod dunes, and downtown Provincetown (which so lives up to its reputation as to resemble a parallel universe).

We’re not done yet.

EDIT: Today we rented bicycles and rode along the Cape Cod Rail Trail from Orleans to Wellfleet and East to Coast Guard Beach. We then dropped in at the vineyard (tours only at 1 and 3, alas) before heading South to the surprisingly professional Marconi museum in Chatham, which reminds me that I need to look up what a goniometer is.

From there we headed back to Westport in the evening, stopping off for dinner at a Pita shop in Mystic, CT.

Tomorrow: Memorial Day picnic. The day after: flying to Seattle.

Seattle

It looks like I’m flying to Seattle on Tuesday for a meeting of sorts, and flying back on Thursday. This is pretty exciting; I’ve never been to Seattle before, or to the state of Washington, or to any of the states that border it. Apart from meetings on Wednesday I should be totally free to roam the city (and surroundings), so I need advice on places (or people!) to see on a very brief midweek visit.

This will be my fifth round trip by airplane, and something like my 20th direct leg, in 4 months. Maybe it’s time for me abandon my proud ignorance and learn about this whole “frequent flier” business.

C O M M E N C E M E N T

At Harvard commencement today, the booklet on every seat contained the following gem.

History of Commencement
The word ‘Commencement’ conveys the meaning of the Latin Inceptio, a term used in the Middle Ages to describe the ceremony…

‘Commencement’ is indeed a synonym for ‘Inception’, and in a way this is fitting. Graduation is very much like waking from a long dream, a holiday from the real world.

And much like Inception, a nagging uncertainty remains as to whether the world after waking is any more real than the dream we leave behind.

In the nick of time

I think it’s finally over. I got an e-mail today (Thursday) that said, in its entirety

Dear Benjamin Schwartz,

Congratulations. Your submission, 10431 has cleared all of the necessary checks and will soon be delivered to ProQuest/UMI for publishing.

Regards,
Harvard University Administrator

which means, in almost the driest imaginable way, that I’m truly done and cleared to do the cap gown hood diploma thing.*

Given that Friday is the absolute deadline for final approval, and far from the first tight timetable maneuver required through the course of this process, I find myself proud, in the way one might be proud of making two yellow lights in a row.

*: Anyone else notice that having a hat and a hood is a bit redundant?

Almost

It ain’t over ’til it’s over.

Yesterday I got a note back from the Registrar of the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences. They informed me that my dissertation could not be accepted because the abstract was not double-spaced, my figures in Chapter 3 were too far from the relevant text, and they couldn’t find an included form and three additional missing mandatory surveys.

I spent the last 24 hours addressing all their complaints as best I could. Hopefully it’ll all be settled by Friday, the hard revision deadline.

One wonders if they’ll manage to work any Wagner into the commencement ceremony.

Finished

On Friday, at the last possible moment before racing off to prepare for the VoiceLab concert, I officially submitted my dissertation. I spent the week following my defense implementing my committee’s suggestions by improving the text throughout, and adding four additional, detailed figures. The last two days went to tweaking fonts, styling the linear algebra, and as much proofreading as I could bear.

For the first time in Harvard history, the submission process was entirely digital, although I did have to pay a small fee for the printing of an archival copy that will be stored in the Harvard vaults in case of apocalypse. Completion of my last ever assignment as a student (maybe…) was accomplished by the press of a button on a web form, in my own bedroom, not by the provision of any physical object representing my work to any registrar or librarian.

There are always more things that can possibly go wrong, but as much as one can be certain about upcoming events, I will certainly be graduating officially in a little less than two weeks. It feels very over.

Still here

On Friday I defended by dissertation, formally ending my career as a student. Now it’s Monday, after 9 PM, and somehow I’m still in lab, writing my dissertation. I’m lucky to be more easily amused than consternated by these sorts of things.

It’s not, in fact, unexpected. My impression is that most defenders get a bunch of suggestions on small textual improvement to their dissertation, from typos to clarifications to whole missing arguments that ought to have been made. I got slate of helpful comments … and I have to turn in my absolutely final draft by Friday (at least if I don’t want to disappoint my parents, who’ve been planning to come up for the commencement ceremonies in a couple of weeks). As it happens, I’ll also be among the first cohort of Harvard Ph.D. candidates to hand in dissertations electronically, which seems like all the more reason to leave plenty of time for mishaps.

Dr.

Yesterday, I was a Ph.D. candidate. Today I am something else. By tradition, I am entitled to use the title of “Dr.”, but cannot claim the Ph.D. until commencement three weeks from now. You could say I’m ABC, although there are also a slate of corrections and improvements to be made in the text of my dissertation before the Friday submission deadline.

I have a lot to consider, at the end of six years’ work, but for now the next step is clear. I have six days to finalize this text and submit it. Then, maybe, I will finally be able to step back and take a look around.