It’s time to talk about the roommates. I suppose there’s a reasonable chance they’ll find this blog and get upset about my portrayals of them, but tough luck. I will, however, not use their real names.

I’ve heard that a typical roommate problem is always having the girlfriend over. Roommate A has found a novel twist on that — his girlfriend lives in another state, so they frequently videoconference. Thus, there’s always one side of a bizarre conversation going on, complete with frequent “I love you too”s (whispered, perhaps out of embarassment over the loss of emotional sovereignty), to a pixelated girl who can hear everything we say and frequently see (thru the camera) what we do. Sometimes she even comes out the speakers to talk back to us. When the girlfriend is away, A shares his favorite online humor with us.

Roommate B is very quiet, but when he does speak animatedly, these totally incongrous surfer-boy words come out. “Oh man, this guy has, like, no limits!” he insists before proceeding to play some samples he’s recorded to prove his point. Then he goes quiet again. I don’t think he’s spoken since.

I leave my dorm for day two of classes, which begin today at a more reasonable hour. The streets are chalked with slogans promoting the various dorms (e.g. hearts promoting Roble Love). It appears one representative of each dorm chalked the entire campus, but it’s not exactly clear why. I consider getting a hose or something and washing away all the chalk on campus.

As I get to the center of campus, there are bikes everywhere. There are more bikes than official bike spaces, so kids simply lock the front wheel to the frame and hang them against a wall. But there are also more bikes than walls so they are nested 3-deep against the wall on one side of the walkway and stand on kickstands on the other. Kids on skateboards, scooters, and rollerblades whiz by, while kids of all sorts, kids of every shape and sie and stereotype walk in every direction. For everyone I know, for everyone I’ve seen on TV, there is a kid who looks like them. Kids just cover the place.

And for a moment, I see things from another perspective: How bizarre is it that they’ve staked out this patch of land in the middle of California and flown kids from all over to the world to it? But then the insight fades and it just seems normal again.

i finally arrive at my first class, Introduction to Sociology. The professor is young! and energetic! and comitted to social justice! We will learn not thru stuffy textbooks but thru studying real work! And she is “all about choice”! No, not the false choice of being able to decide when or how to study the subject, but the Real Choice of what kind of test you want to take: essay questions or multiple choice. Now, that’s Freedom!

She presents this all to us through a whizzing and whurring PowerPoint. (She even uses the Office Assistant. “I see you’re writing a lecture!”) Stafnord, we learn, has a small sociology department (15 people), but it is headed by Mark Granovetter. Sociology, of course, is a very scientific and empirical discipline. Why it uses the scientific method, just like physics.

Later, at the required introduction to the humanities course, the professors, unable to claim the humanities is at all scientific, practically beg us to pretend it’s relevant. See, the philosophy professor sometimes uses philosophy to analyze things like the unfairness of child labor. And yes, even though their friends think that the “humanities suck” — not that there’s anything wrong with that, that’s a totally reasonable belief to have (they insist) — and while, unlike science and math, it’s probably “ot the most valuable achievement of human culture”, they’re going to try their best to teach humanities so that they’re concrete and relevant. One professor explains how when he was a kid a girl’s mom wouldn’t let her date him because of his skin color. That’s the kind of real-world relevance the humanities have. It’s not all about Great Books and Dead White Men. It’s about disabusing people of their cynicism — no, that’s too strong, it’s more of a “mild antidote” to cynicism.

I thought Stanford was supposed to be a liberal arts sort of school or “fuzzy”, as they say here. (They continually harp on this supposed “fuzzy”/”techie” divide.) Apparently I thought wrong, since the sociology department was relatively small and these humanities people are begging us to take them seriously. An introductory humanities course is required, but there’s no comparable math or science requirement. Is fuzzy dominance waning or was it never here to begin with?

Last I have the Noam Chomsky course, which is, uh, interesting. The professor explains that the whole intro seminar system was originally a student-run sort of thing, but it got totally out of hand when students started teaching about the Vietnam War and other crazy stuff like that, so they killed the program entirely. Later they brought it back as a professor-run sort of thing to kill off whatever interest remained in that counter-culture stuff.

I finish off by buying books. It’s not too bad — $150. Since you can return books within a week and for most classes we don’t use the same book for too long, I consider saving money by returning the books and rebuying them each week until I don’t need them anymore.

posted September 28, 2004 10:00 PM (Education) (5 comments) #


Stanford: Day 3
Stanford: Day 4
Stanford: Day 5
Stanford: Day 8
Stanford: Day 9
Stanford: Day 10
Stanford: Day 11
Stanford: Day 12
Stanford: Day 14
Stanford: Day 15


Ha, it’s a small world!

My former college roommate studied economics at Stanford before deciding that Sociology was a better fit for him. He became good friends with Granovetter, and thinks the world of him. Now, I’ve never met the guy, but it might not be a bad idea to introduce yourself. If you want to seed the conversation, you can say you know a guy who knows the Angry Nihilist Former-Economics Grad Student Steve. I’ll bet he knows exactly who you are talking about.

For what it’s worth, my buddy Steve’s blog is available online at If you’re interested in getting to know Granovetter, drop him a line at his blog and I’m sure he could tell you some useful stuff. At the moment, he’s teaching English in Japan, so any questions will probably be gratefully answered. (He seems bored out of his mind.)

posted by Chris at September 28, 2004 10:30 PM #

dude, the president just dropped out of the classes your taking.

posted by neal stuntz at September 29, 2004 12:17 AM #

Are you familiar with “The Granovetter Diagram” as the best [*] explanation of object-capability access control?

<img src=””> The Granovetter Diagram </img>

(Oh come on, surely you want images embedded into your blog comments!)

I think that “shopping” is a good way to select among courses. Cynicism and dissociation may or may not help. ;-)

How long do you have before you have to commit to courses? Two weeks, == 6 lectures?

[*] Best, that is, for people like me who intuit spatially and dynamically.

posted by Zooko at September 29, 2004 06:12 AM #

I bemoan the waning of techie dominance everywhere - including there : (

The world is a worse place if it lacks people whose socks match their shirt, both snowy white. Techies happily show their lack of inappropriate color preference; belt, pants and shoes are black.

Down with fuzzy gray !

posted by skeeter at September 29, 2004 11:18 AM #

The passage about the humanities cracked me up. I went to a real, self-identified liberal arts college and have spent much time since attempting to explain to geeks who earn twice what I do how my education has any relevance. I think it’s a “dancing about architecture” issue, to some degree: A fuzzy discipline is hard to justify using the logical, stricter “techie” yardstick. A partial and rather fuzzy answer, however, is that everyone has some way—might we even say, a philosophy?—of making sense of their world and climbing up the mountain of wisdom: literature is my way. (That sounds a lot like the “not that there’s anything wrong with that” cultural relativism of the humanities profs, doesn’t it? Hee.) Plus, as I’ve told you, I used college to study what I loved, and I was happy there. Whether that will satisfy the parents who pay one’s tuition instead of buying a new car every year for four years… well, let’s just hope they’re the fuzzy sort of parents.

By the way, sociology students get mocked for their major even more than English or philosophy majors do. Just so you know. Don’t let it dissuade you if that’s what you want to study.

posted by Riana at September 29, 2004 05:01 PM #

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