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A few ground rules in cluster etiquette can save everyone grief

Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor Credit: Adelaide Cole/Art Editor
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As a computer science major, I spend nearly every day in the computer clusters. Well, it’s actually more like 72 hours straight up until a deadline, and then I don’t set foot in there ’til the next deadline. But that’s beside the point.

Frankly, Carnegie Mellon, we need to talk about what’s appropriate in a cluster at 4 a.m.

I hate to confirm the stereotype, but a lot of us CS majors do, in fact, smell. The first day of our Freshman Immigration Course, (or “Get out of your dorm and talk to another person or else you fail,” for all you art people), we were expressly told to shower. Some people seem to have missed that class.

Look, I get it: You’re in Wean, you’re working, and there are no windows, so you lose track of time. Terms like “morning,” “night,” or “bathtime” stop making sense after 38 hours without sleep. I’ve been there — I’ve received my fair share of angry glares and flared nostrils. But every 23 hours, you should take a break, grab a shower, pull on some clean clothes, and please, please, put on some deodorant.

Okay, so now we’re smelling good and ready to work.

It’s about 4 a.m. and we’re typing away, in the zone. Suddenly, someone new walks into the cluster and spots his friend. They spend the next half-hour yelling at each other. Apparently, the later it gets, the louder people talk.

But hey, there are only like two other people in the cluster — what’s the big deal if you don’t whisper?

Those two people are silently wishing for your violent death.

From their point of view, it’s the middle of the night and they’re trying to work, but instead they’re going to be focusing on your friend’s story about “that one really sweet party, man. You totally had to be there.” Because no matter how inane your story, it’s better than working.

Your friend leaves to work somewhere else (he’s a little weirded out by that kid in the corner who keeps glaring at the two of you), but he calls you later to find out if you want to get food. This leads to a 20-minute conversation, one your eavesdroppers only get to hear half of. The only thing worse than being distracted by one conversation is being distracted by half of one. Instead of focusing on our work, we’re trying to figure out what question gets the answer “No, leave the horse, but bring the boombox.”

There’s nothing wrong with working with someone in a cluster. Clusters are a great place to collaborate — just keep your voice down. And if you’re going to talk on the phone, take it outside.

You’ve learned your lesson — you’re quiet, you smell good, you’re ready to work. You bring some headphones to tune out everyone and really focus. You crank the volume and start coding.

A few minutes later you notice someone violently shaking you and shouting, but you can’t hear him. You had your music turned up so loud everyone else could hear it.

This is probably the most common problem. You want to focus, so you turn up your music — except those earbuds do a terrible job of blocking out music for the rest of us. And nine times out of 10 you’re listening to some crappy techno song, since that helps you code.

After enough shaking, you finally turn down your music. But now you’ve worked up an appetite, so you grab a quick bite to bring back to the cluster and work. But what should you have — curry, a block of cheese, mung beans, or just a few cloves of garlic? Because apparently it’s impossible to bring food into the cluster that doesn’t smell like death.

Do you see the error of your ways now? Let’s recap: Shower, shut up, turn down the music, and keep the food outside. With all of this in mind, you can spend a night working without the quiet kid in the corner cursing your very existence.