Happy New Year

Jan 04 2006 Kelly Norton

The end of year has arrived and for me that means that I am actually aware of the current year for about two weeks before I started to get confused again about whether it is currently 2006 or if that was the year that just passed. I've tried to explain to my wife on many occasions that my brain only understands relative time and only within a window of about two weeks, three if something big is approaching. Absolute dates, like February 12, are generally meaningless to me until I recognize that it corresponds to something in my window, like “next Sunday.” In fact, about three weeks ago I woke up from a nap in full panic because I realized that I forgot to buy Stephanie something for our two year anniversary back in August. I was halfway down the hall ready to deliver the apology of a lifetime when the numbers became suspicious and my recollections of our first anniversary seemed a little too fresh. Stephanie was standing in the kitchen taking care of the million things that I always forget about when I turned the corner looking perplexed and asked, “have we been married two years?” I thought that was better than asking the more direct question of whether I had missed our anniversary. She responded with intense laughter, which I took to be a good sign. That's one of the more dramatic examples of what happens when I go too long without syncing my brain's clock against an outside source; I begin to imagine that an entire year has passed unnoticed. Given the fact that I spent so much of 2005 in that out-of-sync state, I think it's probably wise to take this occasion reserved for such synchronization to do just that by offering up some reflections on the late 2005 and some thoughts about what it's successor has in store.

a photo depicting a refleced 05 resulting in 2005 - reflections on 2005, get it.

Reflections on 2005

To be frank, I really don't know what the hell I did last year. I did a lot, but I took so little time to think about what I did that it's almost as if it never happened. This time last year, winter was beginning a long assault on the northeast and I was awaiting word that a previous chapter in my life was officially closed. IAP was in full swing and I was trying to recover from a lesson learned about trying to drive from Boston to Atlanta non-stop. This year we flew. We were stuck in Newport News, Virginia for five hours but playing on the laptop and watching movies in a departure lounge sure beats driving the Jersey Turnpike. Another lesson we learned was that contrary to what Bostonians will tell you, the winter really is the high point of the year in Boston. The snow is pleasant and white and makes the world brighter. Yes, it turns to black crap on the side of the road and freezes as sheets of ice on the sidewalks every night, but it sure beats the hell out of Spring which is just a couple of months of torturous gray, rainy skies. Plus, as southerners, the snow is completely novel to us. We managed to accumulate an entire closet full of sleds: one for speed, another to accommodate multiple riders, yet another for portability, and about three more because they were on sale. Thanks to Stephanie's diligent watch over the Target shelves, we pretty much rode a different sled during every snowfall last year. I also discovered the joy of walking in freshly fallen snow; the snow grunts with every step as if it were harboring a lot of irritable hedgehogs . On late walks home, when the buses found new ways to malfunction, I would imagine myself walking in a Pushkin novel enduring great Russian hardships and such.

Then along came Spring, a season we were so accustomed to loving as a temperate Summer, and it's covered in a smelly wet gray blanket that manages to block out the sun for a couple of month's straight. Our little apartment was not a peaceful place in the Spring. We were all so irritable and blue that we could hardly stand to be around one another. While summer proved to be nothing special, we were delighted to see it arrive. There was sun, Trey was right around the corner at summer camp, and I had no classes to worry about. Intense work continued down at the lab, but I had more liberty to adjust my schedule so that I arrived home before everyone fell asleep. At least until, the Digital Design Camp started and sleep once again ceased to be a priority. Later in the summer, Trey did a whirlwind tour of Georgia and North Carolina which gave Stephanie and I the opportunity to visit our respective families. Trips south are pretty much the only way to cleanse your soul of the corrosive Boston bitterness. I spent the two weeks after I returned from Georgia saying hello to everyone I met while walking. That really pissed them off.

As more chill crept into the air during the Fall term, I found myself unbearably busy. The PLW agenda was one event after another, I was taking an intense computer science course and my thesis proposal was due just before the end of the term. Stephanie and Trey managed to escape the madness early on with a trip down to Disney World with Stephanie's family, but the final few weeks were pretty memorably painful for everyone as I struggled to finish my thesis proposal on virtually no sleep after traveling to Japan for almost a week to hang out with Toshiba and Toppan research folks.

For me, the year was like that part of the movie where the inspired music plays and a year of work is compressed into a minute and a half of short vignettes that make hard work look as enjoyable as eating ice cream. Stephanie spent her year becoming a usability expert, though she is too modest to admit how much she now knows. She now splits her time between doing usability reviews and testing with miscellaneous web-related work for another group over at MIT's IS&T. Trey is well on his way to becoming an avid reader. Late summer, we decided to offer up a book reading incentive payable at the rate of one yugioh card per book. By the end of the year, we were in negotiations for a new system because our living room has no more room for his ever expanding “duel deck.” 2005 was definitely a year of focus and perseverance. I suspect 2006 will be more about change.


Looking into 2006

Two big changes are pretty much a certainty this year. First I will finish with the masters program in May and, assuming I finish my thesis, graduate in June. Then, we're off to parts unknown to do things unknown or maybe stay at the lab and do a PhD or maybe just work at Starbucks. I really have no idea at this point, but I just hope it includes all-you-can-drink free coffee. Ideas are welcome, so long as the free coffee constraint is met.

The second big change is something that most people reading this will already know, so it's more a matter of just making the first public announcement for posterity's sake. In approximately early May, we'll officially need to upgrade to a fourth Gamecube controller as there will be another Norton to add to the competitiveness of Mario Kart. In August, Stephanie came in wielding the same little stick that El Noodle described and having kept track of the story that followed at angrynoodle.com, I was able to deduce what it all meant. The attentive reader will also take notice of the fact that our new baby is scheduled to arrive just before my thesis is due, and so you now better understand my non-committal phrase of “assuming I finish my thesis." So, if I manage to survive this term and turn in my thesis early, it will be an extremely joyous occasion as I'll have a baby in one hand and an MIT degree in the other. Despite Trey's demands for a younger brother, we still don't know for certain the sex. The ultrasound technician would only venture as far as saying that the anatomy seemed to suggest a girl, but she could not say for sure. It seemed and odd assessment to me and when we took the snapshot home to show Trey, he cut right to the heart of the matter asking, “where's the wiener?” Baby Norton reclining during our first ultrasound. When Stephanie informed him that there might not be a wiener, he walked over to me and with all the seriousness of a six-year-old faced with the dilemma of having to share, he said “oh no Dad, we're in big trouble.”

Beyond those two buoys on the horizon, I have no idea what 2006 holds for us. I'm sure it will be exciting and sometimes painful and exhausting, but I'm in good company so it's all good. Happy New Year, everyone.

a sketch of my impressions of the coming year