You’ll probably be hearing more from me now.
You’ll probably be hearing more from me now.
Tomorrow, I start my last week at Berkeley. A week later, I start my new job. So yeah, I’m kind of busy tying everything up. But someday, I will write something.
Let’s discuss a number of awesome things, some sarcastically and some earnestly. In an awesome meeting this week with my advisors, we decided that my schedule for finishing my dissertation was too aggressive to get all the necessary results in and text reviewed, so my graduation slipped by a month! Awesome! Leslie put together an awesome invitation to this year’s camping trip to Utica reservoir:
How could you not go? Looks too awesome to miss. Also assuredly awesome is our upcoming road trip out to Colorado with the pup. You would not believe how many motels will let you bring your dog right in the room with you.
You’re probably thinking that there are too many awesome things in the world for you to keep track of all of them in your head, and you’re right. That’s why God created Awesome Overload as an authoritative source on awesomeness. Don’t miss it… they need submissions!
Yesterday I gave Jonathan the first three chapters of my dissertation for review. There will be many more chapters and many more drafts, but its a good feeling anyway. Summer is here, the puppy is six months old and infinitely more tolerable. You should check out the three new albums Leslie just perfected on the gallery. Let me whet your appetite (this one was taken by Clare):
Beware the ferocity of the puppy!
It was January 18th when we drove away from the Pet Food Express in Palo Alto. I was up front, trying to take it easy on the turns, Leslie was in back, trying to comfort the 11-pound puppy honking like a monkey. I don’t think I was well rested again for 3 weeks.
Now I’m typing this and Sous is quietly chewing on the ground beside my desk. She’s free to wander around the living room and kitchen, but usually settles down somewhere near me. I can more or less work all morning now, with a few pauses for a training session or a game of fetch (which, so far, she only plays indoors). It now takes her at least 2 minutes out of sight to get into trouble, which is like an eternity compared to the 4 seconds it was those first days. She has tried to put everything in the apartment into her mouth at least twice, and is starting to show signs of recognizing just how small the class of things allowed in there really is.
Things are in fact so much easier now that topics other than the dog occasionally cross my mind. Last week I finished my contract job, and I’ve been able to really turn my attention back to thesis research. The plan is to work with maniacal intensity for the next two months so that when I give my dissertation talk in May, I won’t have to fabricate the second half. I’ve also been trying to find worthwhile games to play. Most recently I’ve been toying with Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which I can’t figure out why everyone loves. Yes, it has a bunch of Nintendo characters, but how is the game actually fun?
You may have heard something of Super Mario Galaxy. It’s the true successor to the last classic Mario platformer, Super Mario 64 (let’s not bring up the aberration that was Super Mario Sunshine). Anyway… I picked it up on the internets a couple of weeks before the release and have playing it in basically all of my free time since then, which has been limited. The game is basically perfect–the controls are sublime, the difficulty ramp finely tuned to gently hone your skills from rank n00b to the point that you are capable of accomplishing outrageous shit like this:
Or this (in both cases the goal is to get 100 purple coins–you die, you start over. No second chances!
Every level you finish nets you a star, the currency of success in the game. Your star count is what it’s all about, and once you’ve got 60 stars, you’re welcome to go kick Bowser’s ass and save Princess Peach (again, yes!). You get a nice movie and the credits roll. But as any fan knows, this isn’t the half of it. There are 60 more stars, some of them diabolically hard to finish (as in the video above). So great! You buckle down, play through the last 60, now you’ve got 120! Must be done, right? No! You’ve just unlocked Luigi, who starts back at the beginning of the game with 0 stars, and you get to do it all over again.
It takes a special kind of person to play a game they just beat (twice) all over again, and I am that kind. Actually, Luigi is subtly different from Mario. He slides around when you try to stop him, which makes most things harder, but he’s also skinny, so he floats further when jumping and flys farther as a bee. He still can’t get the chicks that Mario is landing though, poor guy. So anyway, I write you this now, having just finished 120 stars with Luigi, thus unlocking GRAND FINALE GALAXY where I got to meet all my old friends and recall the joy and sadness and screaming frustration of all 242 stars, and that’s a wrap!
Oh, and… I also finished my last class of my life, and graded final exams for 6 hours, and generally polished of the last annoying tasks of the semester. In a few hours we’ll get on a plane headed for some serious holiday relaxation and shit. And it couldn’t come soon enough.
This semester I’ve got just one class I’m taking on solid modeling. The class is fun, and while not a blow off is not as difficult as your average graduate CS course. I’ve got a final project I’m working on, which I was having a lot of trouble getting revved up for until I realized that it was my last assignment for my last class, ever. One the one hand, this is cause for celebration–no more homework assignments, ever. No more exams, ever. But, then I think about who I am. For almost a decade I’ve been living on a steady diet of college coursework. There’s clearly a few crossed wires up there that have somehow convinced me that working harder than I did at my full time job for drastically less pay was a good idea, and that part of me sheds a tear. In case you’re interested, he’s a picture of a prototype result of my project, which is basically to fill space with a 3D cloth made of knots (I call it SpaceKnit, with bumpy capitalization for added irony):
I’m not sure why this is useful, but heck, at least I can make pictures.
A corollary to my class coming to an end is that my duties as a TA are winding down. I sort of busted my ass being a TA, partly because I was new at it and partly because it was so obvious how to suck less than most TAs do–spend time on it! My last discussion section was on Tuesday, and it included a moment that made the entire semester worth it. As I was closing up, it occurred to someone that there would be no more discussions, which triggered a flurry of thanks, which included statements such as:
Up until this point I had suspected (but hadn’t been sure) that the TAs at Berkeley were just as bad in general as the ones at UT. And you can’t really blame them: they’re TAing because their advisor can’t or doesn’t want to support them with grant money, they are taking classes themselves and trying to get research done in there somewhere. Still, I’m glad they force every grad student to do it at least once. It’s scary to imagine people taking teaching jobs with their shiny new Ph.D.s having never faced a room of glazed-eyed undergrads.
Disclaimer: please do not confuse my task this semester (aiding the transfer of knowledge to interested, well-mannered humans) to the task of teaching “pre-college” individuals. That task includes as a subpart everything I had to do this semester, as well as the job of herdsman, psychologist, self-defense artist, animal trainer, among many others. And get this: it pays only slightly better. I’m sure glad no one I know would think about taking such a thing on.
School’s out for winter. School’s out forever.
My friend Bryan (no, not an alternate personality) showed me this whizzy little web 2.0 site/app that you put on your computer which then times, down to the second, how long you spend in each application (and, for web browsing, how long you spend on each website). It then reports this data to the central website and makes little graphs of the time spent. Here’s my first graph, encompassing about an hour of computer use at the lab:
So much fun for people like me who spend most of their waking hours staring at computer screens. You can then go on and tag each application with its category (textmate = coding, inst.eecs.berkeley.edu = the website for the class I’m TA’ing, etc). It’s a lot like the site we use for tagging our expenses (wesabe.com — also super-cool), except for your time instead of your money. It’s nice to see something come out of web 2.0 other than silly useless stuff like drop shadows, gradients, and digg.
I’ve just arrived in San Antonio, the second stop on this last trip of the fall. We had a kick-ass time in Ann Arbor. We kicked things off on Friday with a comprehensive walking tour of campus, done in two parts. First, we did central campus, dropped Karen off (sadly, she had to labor feverishly all day to finish a post-doc application), then hit one of Ann Arbor’s 14,000 small markets to pick up some pasture-raised Amish chicken to go with the locally grown vegetables that Ali and Karen had recently bought from “their” farmer. We dropped by the house to give the chicken a luxurious brine bath and hit north campus, where they sequester the engineers.
Ali’s department has a new building, which is made almost entirely of glass and 70″ plasma televisions. Outside, we terrorized passing students with Ali’s $12 remote-controlled airplane, then drove to a mall and bought a matching set of iPhones.
What? Hell yes, we did. Like global warming melting our arctic north, the allure of the glistening Jesus phone has been gently but irreversibly eroding my resistance, which finally collapsed after Leslie played with and was mildly amused by Ali’s iPhone. We marched dutifully into two years shackled to the “new AT&T,” a moniker which to me is an almost too honest acknowledgment of their past and present hegemonies. But, in truth, the phone does more or less represent the second coming, as evidenced by the sparkle in Leslie’s eyes the first time she checked email in the car and the religious epiphany that accompanies checking in for your flight while drinking hot mulled cider next to an idyllic stream littered with autumn’s gilded leaves. So yeah, they are fun.
That evening, we roasted the chicken, some summer squash, and pan fried a metric ton of Brussels sprouts. Michael Pollan would have be proud. We chased that with beers at the nearby Arbor Brewing Company, then hit the sack.
The next day I slept into the double digits for the first time in years, then hit the climbing gym with Ali whilst the ladies toured Kerrytown. In the afternoon we visited a cider mill, then ate another obscenely delicious meal at Pacific Rim (Karen got the scallops, which I thought were the standout in a crowd of excellent entrees). At home we played some silly card games, watched Ratatouille finally (for me, the movie was a bit of a let down except for this one part where there was a crepe being flipped–the physical accuracy of it was astounding!), then turned in. We awoke this morning and rushed to have breakfast before arriving at the airport an hour early, despite our explicit knowledge that daylight savings was ending.
And now I’m in San Antonio at the historic Menger Hotel, looking “forward” to a week of conferencing the hell out of geometric design.
I kind of thought that this fall was going to be easy. You know, maybe not as worry-free as the summer in Berlin, but certainly mellower than the insane write-a-paper, pass-a-qual, get-married spring I had. I guess it is, a bit.
This semester I’m a TA for the first (and, in all likelyhood, only) time. The class is James’ graphics class. So far, I’ve actually had a lot of fun. I find myself looking forward to office hours and discussion sections. It’s a totally different ball game than what Leslie had to go through teaching: I can ignore the students who don’t care, no one talks during class, and for the most part people actually want to be there. Granted, mostly they are interested in their grade, but occasionally I can distract them with some interesting chunk of knowledge, and that’s pretty satisfying. Also, it turns out that it’s not too hard to be a much better TA than most–so I tend to get positive feedback.
The downside is that I’ve probably been spending far too much time with my TA hat on and not enough time doing research. I’m on the home stretch now, and if I actually want to graduate in the spring I’ve got to keep the ball rolling as much as possible on writing my thesis (and hopefully one more paper). The job I do as a TA, beyond fulfilling the requirment, is kind of immaterial. It has been fun to work through the assignments, though. For example, I wrote a ray tracer along with the rest of the class just to keep their questions fresh in my mind, so I get to make silly pictures like this again:
Leslie is out of town again, sigh. At least this time I’ll be gone for part of the time as well; I’m leaving on Sunday for a conference in Seattle to give the talk on my tet paper. It’s at one of those fancy W hotels, so that should be fun.
I’m also taking my very last final class ever this semester. It’s a class on solid modeling, meaning designing actual solid objects that could be made. The best part is that we get to print the parts out on the 3D printer in the mechanical engineering building. It’s pretty cool… one step closer to The Diamond Age every day.
Last weekend we had a blast celebrating Doug’s birthday with Fedexed-in BBQ from the County Line and, the next day, a surprise trip to the local renaissance fair:
Hopefully things will settle down a bit after the beginning of November, when we’re treating ourselves to a weekend trip to see Ali and Karen in Ann Arbor.
It’s not as glorious as my smoke videos of old perhaps, but I’ve finally got some decent video of my current research work. What’ you’re seeing is a tetrahedral mesh of a cube with the tetrahedra (pyramids) colored according to their quality. As the quality improves, their colors shift toward green, and when they’re good enough, they disappear. At the bottom right is a histogram of qualities for the entire mesh. Should be a fun little clip to show when I give the talk at the International Meshing Roundtable in Seattle in a couple of weeks.
Yep, we’re still here. We went to Amesterdam last weekend, and posted the few pics we took there on the ol’ gallery. We just happened to be there the same weekend that Ali was meeting up with Karen to head on to their awesome-sounding trip to Italy, so we grabbed some dinner with them. Ali had his nice new camera with him, and got some great shots of what is really a beautiful and perfectly functioning little city.
We’ve been catching our breath back here a bit, and I’ve been working on the camera-ready version the mesh-improvement paper I wrote with Jonathan, which was finally accepted to the International Meshing Roundtable. So I guess I’ve got a trip to Seattle coming in October.
Next week we’re heading to Prague, and then we’ll have just a couple more left before we pack up. It’s amazing, the slowness and quickness of the way time passes over here.
Another big sigh of relief: on Thursday I gave my qualifying exam talk–and passed. The qual at Berkeley is a bit different from most places; it’s basically a proposal of your thesis topic in the form of a two-hour talk given to a committee of four professors, who pepper you with questions throughout, ostensibly to test your knowledge of the area and to confirm that your thesis topic is “good enough.” I’ve spent most of the last two weeks making the slides and otherwise preparing for the talk. Although in theory you can fail your qual (and be kicked out of the Ph.D. program), I’ve never heard of it happening. This is because your advisor really shouldn’t let you take your qual until he knows you’re ready to pass. In reality, the hardest part of the qual is getting four professors to all agree to be in the same place for two hours on your behalf.
Anyway, it went fine, which means my thesis topic (TETS!) has the stamp of approval and I’m officially ABD (all but dissertation). I wish I could say that’s the last loose end for the semester, but I’m currently working on the take-home final for my graduate theory class and optimistically polishing up the SGP paper for it’s final “camera ready” version. We don’t yet know whether it will be accepted (and hence whether a camera ready version will even be necessary), but because the deadline for submitting the camera ready version is right in the middle of my honeymoon, I think I’d rather hedge and do the work now.
Oh yeah… we got an apartment in Germany. It’s smack in the middle of everything, about 15 minutes on foot from WIAS where I’ll be working, and 500 feet from a major transportation hub. Literally the ‘B’ in Berlin:
Yesterday afternoon Jonathan and I submitted our paper for the Symposium on Geometry Processing, marking the first big sigh of relief for the spring. I promised pictures, so here’s one, for what it’s worth:
On the left is a tetrahedral mesh of… uh… a tire incinerator! Exciting. But it’s a sad tire incinerator because of all its bad, skinny, flat, tets shown in green, yellow, and red (increasing badness). But then I save the day by swooping in and lovingly molding all the sad tets in to plump round ones. And that has been my life for the last three weeks (and to a lesser extent, the last nine months). Oh yeah.
Okay, so I’m a bit early. I’ve only waited two weeks where I was supposed two wait four. But damn, it’s actually beer. When I popped off the top, it made that little hiss noise just like it was supposed to. It smelled like hefewiessen. The taste was good… a bit too hoppy, and not as clove-y or fruity as I had hoped, but it was beer! Leslie agreed. It’s thrill for sure that for $25 I can make five gallons of good beer… actual beer. What fun. We’ll see how it tastes when it’s been through it’s full bottle-sitting time.
I’ve settled into my classes for the semester… I’m taking three, which is one more than even I expected. I thought at first I’d stick to one, but Jonathan persuaded me to stick with my theory class by reminding me that it’s actually not necessary to ace every class you take. So I’m planning on a nice B+ and by the end of the semester, I’ll only have one more class to take for the Ph.D.
In other news, three distinct Wii modchips have been announced. Those of you who know of my video gaming proclivities are no doubt aware that all the other consoles in my life (PS2, Xbox, DS) have been mercilessly soldered into submission to deliver me free games, emulators, media centers and whatnot. The potential to do the same to my Wii brings me joy… I can go back and take a look at some of those Gamecube games I never had a chance to buy (the Gamecube avoided my onslaught by such simple physical measures as having mini-DVDs burned backwards), as well as trying out the new Wii gimmicks without throwing down $50/pop. I’ll be sure to document the debasement of my little white beauty.
This was the first week of class in my 6th (!) semester at Berkeley. Here at Berkeley EECS they believe in making grad students take plenty of classes, and I’ve got a few more to get through before I’ll be done. I’m taking one class that’s a full-blown lecture setup, with problem sets, a project, and even a midterm and a final. Yuck… but if I make it through I will have completed my inside minor in “Theory,” and I’ll have just one more class left to take. I’m also in a “reading” class taught by James, which basically consists of reading a paper or two every week and discussing it in a group–much lower work load. If only I could find a theory class that fit that same mold, I’d be a happy camper. I’ve got a paper deadline in April, and also around that time I’ll be giving my quals, which if I pass I will be “ABD” (all but dissertation), very exciting.
Also exciting is the 6-gallon glass jar on the floor in my kitchen that is filled with fermenting beer. Now, lest you think too much of me, brewing beer is not, as far as I can tell, cool to do anymore. No, it’s squarely in that awkward stage between being cool and retro. I know this because whenever I mention that I’m doing it to someone the response is usually “You too?” or “Oh yeah, I used to brew beer a few years ago,” or something along these lines. But ponder this, hipsters: beer for $0.10/bottle in raw materials never goes out of style. My first batch is a wheat beer, which has been fermenting for about a week and is ready to go into bottles. After it’s in there, I’ll have to wait a couple of more weeks before I can try it. I’ll be sure to give a full report, assuming I’m not killed by some super bacteria I’ve bred along with the yeast.
Well, classes for the semester are over. In machine learning, I trained a computer overmind to automatically tell when a DJ starts blabbing on the radio and change the channel. No, really. My last computational geometry homework (if you’re a glutton for punishment you’ll want a look at that, too) went like a great weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I’m working full time on tetrahedra these days, and I hope to even have some pictures for you soon.
I bowled 216 today in Wii bowling. Four strikes in a row at one point. It turns out that Marc’s excellent advice to “shake the hand of the head pin” works in the virtual world. If only I could translate my skill with pixels to the real thing. You should see the spin I can put on it.
In a week we leave for Christmas festivities in Texas, which include a lot of quality time in Dallas, some wedding-related festivities, and, after the new year, some skiing in Utah, which should be fun. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a lot more skiing in my future, as my parents are looking into picking up part of a condo that my uncle owns just down the street from Winter park. Amazing.
This is the calmest I’ve been at this time of year since I started at Berkeley. Why? Because I probably won’t have a SIGGRAPH submission (due late January), and even if I do, it will be on my terms and the fruit of a project I really love. Also, I picked up a (virtual) 6-4 split–Leslie as my witness–and that alone should keep a smile on my face for weeks.
Today I sold my shiny new MacBook Pro, so recently acquired. Why? Our research group had two of them donated very soon after I got mine, and one came my way. Luckily craigslist made short work of it so now it’s like i’ve got the same laptop except I didn’t have to pay for it.
Classes kicked off this week. I’m taking swimming, which looks like it will be a great way to get some more cardio, plus the pool it’s located at has a beautiful solid marble deck and a great view of campus. I’m also in a couple of hard-core CS grad courses that should be fine and move me that much closer to my Ph.D.
Today I gave the lecture in James’ graphics class–it was basically just a show-and-tell of recent graphics research–and I really enjoyed it. The pressure level was so much lower than the talks I’ve given recently, and I didn’t even have to rehearse. It was nice to remind myself what that kind of presentation can be like.
A couple of weeks ago my parents came up to Leslie’s parents ranch and had a great time eating and drinking and occasionally planning wedding stuff. They seemed to hit it off, which bodes well for the rest of forever our families will spend fused by “holy” matrimony.
Otherwise, things are just rolling along. We’re cooking and eating lots of good food, enjoying the dregs of summer weather before the rain comes. Leslie pointed out to me today that some of the trees here in Berkeley have started to change already, as we careen down into this second year of our Berkeley life.
I love that I may actually make it to my 10-year high school reunion and still be in school. I was planning to discuss my possible classes for the fall (Computational Geometry, Machine Learning, User Interface Design) and I realized that the first time I posted my class schedule was six years ago. And that was for my sophomore year in college. I’ve got this feeling after this I’ll be done with school for good…
I got back last night from Boston. A long day of travel, but not too terrible. Since I last checked in with you, the rest of SIGGRAPH managed to happen, so maybe I’ll share a bit about that. Monday night was the Electronic Theatre, a showcase of a bunch of recent cool computer animations. One neat thing they had going on was that they gave each person in the theatre (probably about 2000 people total) a little reflective stick that had green on one side and red on the other:
There were cameras mounted at the front that counted the number and location of each color. The point was that by showing red or green, you could vote to control the action of games shown on the big screen. They started with the Guinness-certified world’s largest etch-a-sketch, though the results were less than stellar:
Things heated up with pong though. It was left side of the theatre versus right, and being right in the middle I took up the role of journalist. See an entire point played by the room here.
Wednesday morning I gave the talk. Things seemed to go off without a hitch, though my phone went off in my pocket about 5 minutes in with an alarm reminding me not to miss my talk, which threw me for a loop for about 30 seconds. Because this is quite possibly the only time I’ll give a talk like this, I got one picture before the session of my view (though really I couldn’t see anything because of the lights they had on me):
And finally a shot me in the act of “talking” or whatever the right verb is. Probably the biggest version of my head that will ever exist.
So with the talk over, I had several good questions, some meeting with people after the sessionand it seemed like the general consensus was that everything went fine. I’m told that the videos elicited both “oohs” and “ahs.” I made my way from the hall to decompress by watching about 3 hours of animation theatre, which ended with our clip. It was fun to see it on the big screen in full 1080p glory.
Wednesday night most everyone was done with talks so we went out to celebrate. Luckily for us we ended up at the EA party which not only had tons of free food and bowling, but an open bar. This was a nice change from the typical $7 beers you encounter in conference land. So we all drank a bit too much and I shamed my self (and my great mentor, Marc) by bowling one of the worst games of my life. Thursday was sleeping in and flying home, and now here I am. Three SIGGRAPHs under my belt–how many more await me?