It’s important to stress that a narrative of this sort sort of requires focusing on the things that stand out, which are most often problems and flaws. I could say, and it would be true, that it’s nice here, the teachers are energetic and hard-working, the classes seem promising, etc. But that’s not interesting to me and I can’t really make it interesting for you. Blake Ross (Blake Ross!) is right to note that things are not as bad as they may sounds and you should certainly keep that in mind when reading this because I’m not going to keep repeating it. On with the story:

At lunch I sit with a new group of kids, who have just experienced tubgirl and can’t stop talking about it. (If you don’t know what it is, you really don’t want to learn.) “I had a dream that tubgirl was just a dream,” one says.

In ASL class, they even make charades competitive. From my newfound perspective, the whole thing is pretty funny. There’s really no reason to add competition; the fundamental nature of the game is cooperative (group trying to understand sentence). Yet, to serve misguided notions about competition, they spend time dividing the group in half, picking names, keeping score, shouting over each other, arguing about which team really won the point, complaining when the point is given to both teams, etc. When it’s my term to act the signs out I insist that the scorekeeping stop to mild resistance. Competition is deeply ingrained.

Back at the dorm, I keep finding LaRouche stuff turning up in every crevice of the building. Those guys are dedicated! Next to the LaRouche stuff is an Esperanto propaganda poster. Unlike those other languages, Esperanto “does not destroy cultures”. Not only that, but there are Esperanto “nudists” (emphasis in original). Yes, you too can learn this amazing language over at the “Bechtel International Center” here on campus. (Oddly, a small note at the bottom of the page says “Labor donated”.)

Tonight, now that the upperclassmen have arrived, we begin the process of “dorm government” which means elections. The vote is apparently approval-voting-by-default, counted under what they call the “heads-down, eyes-closed, hands-up” system. (This means I spend a lot of time listening to the guy running the show with my eyes closed. Bizarrely, he sounds exactly like my friend Ben Adida.) We not only vote for conventional positions like president and treasurer, but also Stanford traditions like “webmaster”, “vampire”, “sunshine mafia”, and “garbologist” liason.

After the two presidential candidates give their 30-second speeches, it’s time for democracy-in-action. The female candidate wins by what looks like twelve to six. (Yes, I peeked.) This was in a large, packed room. Next, the frosh presidential candidates steal the winner’s line. Later, a cute and smart candidate for secretary gets more votes than both presidential candidates combined. Speeches are cut down to one word, then expanded to one sentence. A large gong cuts off those who go too long. Eventually, people get bored enough that we stop voting and let everyone win the job. “It’s like socialism!” one staff member comments.

Finally, an athlete begs us to support the athletes. I thought athletes were really respected here. For one thing, they have that big marching band. It turns out (and I have multiple sources on this) that the band is actually a place designed to segregate the freaks and misfits. They perform just as bizarrely as they did during their band run, play mostly rock songs, and tell off-color jokes. (They were recently sanctioned for poking fun at polygamy when BYU visited.) Then at lunch a bunch of people in baseball uniforms came in and demanded attention. I immediately guessed that we were going to be asked to applaud the mighty baseball team (yay, competition!), but it turned out they were just an a capella group. So, juding from the begometer: athletes out, humanities out.

I am running out of clothes, so I prepare to wash my clothes for the first time on my own. I learn how from Google, hoist my laundry nag and carry it to the stairs. A girl sees me pause and suggests I just drop the bag down the center of the stairwell. “At most you’d kill some freshman,” she adds encouragingly, before thinking to inquire if I’m a freshman.

I carry my laundry down the old-fashioned way. The whole cleansing process takes two hours and has no visible effect on the clothes. I’d guess that the process removed microscopic germs, except for the fact that germs only thrive in damp, warm environments — exactly the environment created by the washing machine. It’s quite late and I don’t see an iron so I leave my clothes as they are for that hip, grungy look.

In other news, the Stanford Copyright Police are on my tail. I think I’ll save the full story until the matter is resolved, but you can read my response to The Man over at Copyfight.

posted September 30, 2004 03:00 AM (Education) (8 comments) #


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
Stanford: Day 16


Saluton! Esperanto estas amuzo, sed ne pli amuzo ol lia retpago :-)

Seriously, I like your writing, though I dislike the obnoxious comments from people who are older than you and apparently try to make that very clear. I’m not, (well, not much, I go to one of those local engineering colleges mentioned in an earlier comment), so I won’t try to give you good advice, you seem like a fellow who is capable of serious, valuable insight into the big life issues as well as internet protocols.

Good luck on your education!

posted by Harald Korneliussen at September 30, 2004 04:15 AM #

FYI, about the copyright issue—the trailers for the movies were probably movies that will be shown at regular Flicks during the schoolyear (I wasn’t there, but that’s typically what happens), so I assume the ability to show previews there is the same as advertising a movie in a movie theatre. And the last I knew, TVs in dorm lounges only get paid cable if a) the dorm agrees to pay the equivalent of the cable fee times the number of residents in the dorm, or b) a student (not Stanford) jacked cable from an individual room and essentially stole it themselves. No idea about the CourseWare site—but maybe you should engage in a little fact-checking before proceeding to engage in defamatory innuendo. Not to say that I’m a huge fan of the copyright police, but Stanford does have an obligation to protect itself.

posted by Sara at September 30, 2004 04:19 AM #

Aaron wrote, “I am running out of clothes, so I prepare to wash my clothes for the first time on my own.” That definitely takes me back to my first week on campus (1974). As at home, I threw all my clothes in the laundry every day. Then when I had to try to study at a laundry mat for 2 hours, I realized how much I hated the place. I quickly learned how to “recycle” clothes so that I might have to was them only once between trips home. Fortunately, it was the 70s and I had hair down to my shoulders and everyone expected me to smell, anyway. ;-) I bet nobody goes to class barefoot in cutoff jeans anymore, either. :(

posted by Russ Schwartz at September 30, 2004 08:16 AM #

It’s not for the bacteria…it’s for the smell. Do what I do and sort your dirty clothes by stink factor. The really bad smells get done today and the semi bad smells get worn for another week….ah college.

posted by Gregg at September 30, 2004 10:33 AM #

Aaron, I think this is some of your most interesting writing. Some of it I can really relate to (I only got out of university a few years ago) and some of it drives me mad :)

As I’ve not been following the comments (sorry) I may be repeating some other people’s words …

Foremost, I love watching you grow and look forward to seeing how much change you experience. As you’re reasonably clever I expect that to be quite dramatic and that’s good entertainment if nothing else. Yet given how you articulate your experiences, and hopefully will continue to do so, I’m learning a lot.

I think your sense of self and the barriers you put up to defend it are counterproductive to the college experience. I’m not sure what you are expecting from college or life in general but personally I find that all the anchors of my identity dissipated at University and the long journey to self-discovery began just about the time I thought I was most sure about who I was (or wasn’t).

Whilst I’m fairly sure that the spin you put on your narrative doesn’t necessarily conform to the reality of your behaviour, I’m not sure I agree with the artistic style of intellectual distance you seem to aspire to. Whilst a nerd myself and appreciative of the sardonic tone, I think there is something to be said for reducing the appearance of arrogance in return for a little humility. This is not just a matter of presentation but one of intellect: admitting that perhaps the culture you’re dipping your toes into may have value that you may not yet recognise. Anyway, objectivity is a fallacy even within ones own life (perhaps especially so).

I admire your candour about your own shortcomings, particularly your earlier post about the innate racism which I think most people have (I know I do) and fail to recognise. I’m interested to see how your learning experiences will change this and more so how (and if) you pursue a means to altering your instincts on such things. It’s something that I’ve been examining within myself for some time too and seeking to challenge where I find it.

Fundemantally our major difference of opinion seems to be the continued theme of devaluing competition as a tool for growth AND cooperation. The tribalism you find disdainful (and I did too) is actually, if controlled and governed by civic rules, a powerful tool in cooperative development. Whilst we probably share a cynical and disdainful instinctive response to cheerleading and other non-intellectual motivational tools, there is a lot to be said for them. As a low-level (consciousness) tool for group forming I think it has merit and would be interested to see where your continued observations lead you on this.

In comparison to the British schools and universities I attended where communal spirit and democracy were boxed into discrete sub-groups its interesting to observe (and remember from my days in American schools) the contrast. There’s a lot to be said for British cynicism but then American optimism has its virtues. At least when that isn’t machinated into unbearable pressure to comformity.

Anyway, keep up the good work and hope you find your gregarious side extends beyond intellectual collaborations. I think you only get a few decades at the beginning and end of your life to be truly irresponsible, silly and stupid and to miss out on the experience… Well, I know you won’t.

posted by Seyed Razavi at September 30, 2004 11:32 AM #

Laundry Advice (stop me if you’ve heard it before): Whatever you do—this is extremely important—don’t leave your laundry detergent in the laundry room, even with your name written on the container. It will be used up by other residents very quickly, which will make you resent them even more. Observe laundry room etiquette: don’t take up multiple machines at once or leave your clothes in a machine for a long time after they’re done; clean out the lint trap after using the dryer. Keep your loads moderately sized. If you have more than one load’s worth of laundry, prioritize: socks and underwear first, jeans last. You can always wear the jeans again. Cold water is more energy-efficient and won’t set stains like hot water will. I prefer liquid detergent to powder, as powder can clump and leave little white streaks on your otherwise-clean clothes. I found this book quite useful despite the corny title.

posted by Riana at September 30, 2004 01:05 PM #

Re “It’s important to stress that a narrative of this sort sort of requires focusing on the things that stand out, which are most often problems and flaws.” I couldn’t disagree more strongly.

When I wrote “let’s hear more about the good stuff” I didn’t mean “please blather on about how lucky you really are” but rather: yes, I know life is full of problems and flaws; they actually don’t stand out; they’re the norm; 80% of everything is drek. When you see drek, don’t write about it. Fix it, and tell us how you fixed it. Or at least ignore it. Don’t amplify it. Write about what you did or what you hope to do despite the drek around you.

posted by Dan Connolly at September 30, 2004 09:17 PM #

IME, the University Band, no matter which university, is always for separating out the weird, strange, and silly people. Therefore you want to make friends with them.

My freshman year, our band spelled out \int e^x on the field. I was so proud. Even after someone explained the joke to me.

posted by DavidM at October 2, 2004 02:28 AM #

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Aaron Swartz (