It’s probably about time I ‘fess up.

It all started innocently enough: I was performing my very first job here at the lab , a job which involved a long wait while my computer performed an extensive computation. Tweak parameters, sit for 20 minutes, GOTO Tweak. One can only read the sports pages for so long, and since it was 1997, blogging wasn’t around yet. Looking back now, I can see that my idle hands were about to be used by the devil.

I don’t even remember how I stumbled onto Ebert’s search page , but I do remember looking up reviews for all the movies I could remember seeing. Reading his words, I felt a rush that I had never experienced before. I laughed out loud at my desk. I read unfamiliar words which I had to look up. I pieced together a basic knowledge of film theory. In no time at all, I was hooked.

A few-reviews-a-day habit quickly escalated into an all-morning-wasting problem. I was staying up late at night to read reviews of movies I hadn’t even seen. I would see a link to a review I hadn’t read, and I HAD TO READ IT RIGHT NOW. I would bring up a page, gorge myself, and then slouch back in my chair, spent. Friday mornings were binge days: new reviews were published around 6:45a. I would set my alarm, open my eyes, reach out of bed for my laptop, and read up before I even got out of bed. It was an illness.

Like many in my position, it took that final horrifying episode to get me to stop. My lowest moment came in the form of a class project . Needing to demonstrate my (lack of) dexterity with machine learning techniques, I downloaded over 500 reviews by hand and cut-and-pasted them into Excel (a classic cry for help). I then parameterized the text of the reviews and used a variety of techniques to predict the star rating.

It was worse than it sounds. I was a complete mess by the end of this project. I had neglected my research for months. I had stolen memory from other computers and put it in my laptop to help handle the giant data set (this is true). I was lying to my advisor about how I spent my time. The monkey on my back had taken over.

I’d like to say that I had the gumption to quit, but the truth is that the deadline came and I turned it in. Went from a B- to an A for the class on the basis of my project alone. I dodged a bullet.

After that, I eased up on reviews. Sure, I’d read on Friday, but I was reading to find out what to see, not just to get high. And these days, I even occasionally miss the reviews on Friday and don’t read them until the weekend. I finally figured out that I don’t need to read reviews to have fun. I’m not cured, but I know I can make it if I just take it one review day at a time.

Posted by bpadams at April 22, 2003 10:46 AM