Category Archives: Navel Gazing


Some time ago, a friend sent me this article about one of our high school class mates (first person, the one at the National Journal Group), mixed with some ruminations on the fucked up standards of the people I grew up with. Earlier today, I saw this on BoingBoing. It took me a minute to put the two together, but I’m pretty sure the business plan that made the Atlantic solvent again is the same one being discussed in the first article.

I don’t know if this is a classic “Credit travels up, blame travels down” situation, or merely a case of self-promoters doing their thing, but it’s interesting how our acquaintance is ever so involved in the first article, and completely absent from the second.

Posted in General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog | Leave a comment

Aloha ʻoe

Aloha ʻoe, aloha ʻoe
E ke onaona noho i ka lipo
One fond embrace,
A hoʻi aʻe au
Until we meet again

Posted in Entertainment, General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog | Leave a comment

Iraq War Logs

I was planning to get some work done tonight, but ran into a link about the release of the Iraq War Logs by Wikileaks, and got absorbed by the initial summaries and info-graphics from the news organisations with early access.
In short, the situation in Iraq is pretty fucking reprehensible, particularly because no one, except for a probable source, is likely to be punished for what has happened.

I’m also deeply unimpressed with the DOD Response, which I will paraphrase as “We don’t understand how the Internet (that we helped spawn) works. Also, we’re unrepentant about the various shitty behavior we’ve been caught covering up.”

One thing I am impressed with is the presentation by some of the media outlets, especially the interactive infographic from Der Spiegel (Link to English version), and the Google Map from the Guardian.

The important findings can be summarized in a single passage from any of the basic analysis (The Guardian’s is nice and succinct):

Although US generals have claimed their army does not carry out body counts and British ministers still say no official statistics exist, the war logs show these claims are untrue. The field reports purport to identify all civilian and insurgent casualties, as well as numbers of coalition forces wounded and killed in action. They give a total of more than 109,000 violent deaths from all causes between 2004 and the end of 2009.

This includes 66,081 civilians, 23,984 people classed as “enemy” and 15,196 members of the Iraqi security forces. Another 3,771 dead US and allied soldiers complete the body count. [src]

Which hits the three key facts: 1. “Coalition Leaders” have been blatantly lying to the public, 2. 109,000 violent deaths, 3. More dead civilians (as defined by people with a vested interest in not reporting killing civilians) than combatants by almost a factor of two.

The last round on Afghanistan actually did change my attitude toward continued American involvement over there, despite the constant talking point that they wouldn’t:
Before I saw the leaks, I was willing to accept the argument that, like a child, we (collective for United States) made a mess and have to stay until we were done cleaning it up. After seeing the leaked material, it’s clear that a more apt analogy is a child that got into paint, and the only thing we can do to help now is get the fuck out and focus on cleaning ourselves up before we make the mess even worse.

As much as the Wikileaks folks are probably not saints, anyone shining lights into dark places and exposing the vile things that live there is doing the world a service.

Can we start gutting the DoD for cash to use on things that aren’t shameful now? Maybe redirect large fractions of the military budget over the next few years to things that will actually reduce net suffering?

Posted in General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Class Impressions: Fall ’10

Another semester has begun, and it is thus time for my class impressions post. The chain to previous semesters’ before/after posts begins here. I have only the one class left toward my masters’ degree, plus working on the project, and teaching.

EE611: Deterministic Systems/ Zhang
This class is looking a lot like a warmed over version of the first 2/3 of controls, which I took several semesters ago as EE572 Digital Controls from Dr. Walcott. It took me about half the semester to get the hang of things in there, so another opportunity to solidify my understanding of systems manipulation isn’t a bad thing. The early indications are that the lectures are …discombobulating… rather than useful, but between the book, notes, and materials from last time I think I can handle it anyway. It doesn’t look to be unreasonably difficult, and the elastic grading policy puts a safety margin in place in case it turns out to be. Somewhat disappointingly, this class glosses over the modeling process too; I’d love to actually learn how to formally develop models of existing systems so the analysis/control techniques are actually useful, rather than just elaborate exercises in linear math.

EE281:Digital Logic Lab /Me (+Jeff Ashley)
Based on feedback from students and faculty, I seem to have the system down pretty well for running this lab, and actually do feel like I have a pretty good handle on it. With a few changes to the class to address problems that cropped up last time (no, you can NOT start that lab from 5 weeks ago that you never made up…), I think things should run pretty smoothly. Dr. Ashley has indicated he’ll be a little more hands off this semester, and I think I’m up to the greater autonomy. I’d like to make a few changes on the same scale as last time, and now that I have some of the nontechnical matters situated more to my liking (ex: my nice formal (work saving) grading scheme), the changes can be more material-oriented. Perhaps getting HD44780 character displays (nice, simple parallel protocol with good visual feedback) into one of the later labs, or some similar practical tools with good theoretical underpinnings. I have every expectation that I will be spending an absolutely obscene amount of time in the lab again, but I actually feel good about the whole thing. I really rather like teaching.

My research is starting to make decent progress, I’m optimistic about teaching, and the remaining class looks perfectly tolerable; it should be a good semester.

Posted in General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog, School | 1 Comment


Another year older and… roughly the same.
Last year’s birthday entry still holds, with some additional support: Now I KNOW I like teaching well enough to do it in the long term, and I have a “real” publication out the door based on my masters project (which is actually progressing, albeit slowly).
To put it simply, I’m still enjoying what I’m doing, I’m still being rewarded for doing things I enjoy, and I should be able to continue in such a state for the foreseeable future. That last step does, however, involve starting PhD applications, which is terrifying.

Posted in Announcements, General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog | Tagged | Leave a comment

Spring 2010 Semester Retrospective

One of the intents of this blog is to publicly keep track of my before and after impressions of classes to share, and since another semester is complete, it’s time to repeat the process. The Spring 2010 “Before” post can be found here, and the link chain can be followed back. This one is a little belated from travelling immediately after the semester ended.

CS585:Linux Internals/Finkel
This is a very, very good class, which is also a HEAP of work. It really is taught by discussing the inner workings of some part of the kernel in class, and writing programs that manipulate them in some way… unfortunately, the detailed discussions and programs are not necessarily in the same order, or even the same topics, so very much of the value of the class is being given pointers on topics to learn indipendently. With that in mind, resources wise, Robert Love’s Linux Kernel Development is a really excellent book, that I would have done well to actually read ahead in instead of constantly using to catch up, and LXR is unbelievably useful for working with kernel code.
Keeping it short, if you want to be able to do *useful* things with operating systems, this class is perfect, and Dr. Finkel’s instruction was, as always, excellent. Just be aware you will be doing a lot of time consuming independent learning and programming.

PSY562:Human Technology Interaction/ Carswell
This class is in the unusual position of being at once very interesting and very easy. I love the topic, to the point that my current first-choice PhD program when the time comes is in the area, so getting some formal credentials to support my interest was a high-value proposition. While I would have liked a little more depth, and a little more variety in perspective; we took a very Human Factors/ Ergonomic perspective most of the time; the topic has historically also been approached from a more classical psychological perspective, an Industrial Design perspective, and (my favorite) an Information Theory perspective, it provided an excellent overview for people who didn’t have as much prior reading, and was still an excellent exercise for those of us who did.
The class dynamic was pretty cool with the mixture of psychology seniors and other-topic “upper level” (mostly graduate) students. The other-topic graduate students tended to be considerably more vocal (sometimes to a fault) than other groups in class, and we all seemed to have higher expectations of what would be demanded of us than other students or the actual expectations, which was instrumental in preventing it from ever becoming stressful. From talking to other students, finding the class easy wasn’t limited to people with significant prior knowledge, so I’m reasonably sure I’m not just expressing my own skewed perception.
The project around which a lot of the class work and discussion was based was a usability/Human-Factors analysis of Lexington’s Mass Transit System (LexTran). Although it wouldn’t have occurred to me as an obviously suitable topic, the sad state of LexTran, the broad variety of issues to be addressed, and the LexTran official’s willingness to to get involved made for a very good situation. My particular project was on designing appropriate mechanisms to display bus tracking (AVL/GPS) information to users, and focused chiefly on the design of suitable smart signage, but other individual projects included website design, map design, route planning and representation, and environmental improvements for the transit center itself. This is the UK PR article (which is, amusingly, on a webpage that is a usability nightmare) about the class project, and even has a terrible picture of me from the final poster session.
Apparently it will be offered again next semester, which is interesting because this was the first time it had been offered in a while, and I highly recommend anyone interested sign up, especially if you have an otherwise intense semester planned, as it manages to not be difficult or time consuming, while also avoiding being a waste of time. As best I can make out, the requirements for instructor consent are “Seem Competent/Interesting” and “Express Interest,” since Dr. Carswell is quite interested in having a variety of disciplines represented, making it is an option for a wide variety of students.

TAing EE281
It turns out I really do enjoy teaching, which is extremely fortunate given my intended career. Most of the kids actually seem to have learned something from being in my class, and initial opinions from both students and faculty seem to be that I did a good job. I cleaned up the grading policies (created a set of fixed-form rubrics for all the assignments, etc.), and have a set of notes from the labs on necessary modifications and improvements. It also really, really improved my ability to work with Verilog, especially debugging, since dealing with 30some inexperienced coder’s problems exposes one to a LOT of code, with a lot of different approaches and bugs.
The plan is for me to do a little bit of writing up (ABET, and some internal-to-UK thing) from my notes over the summer, and TA the same course again in the fall, which I’m actually kind of looking forward to.

Overall: Hooray. I like what I’m doing, I like where it’s headed, and I’m not feeling over-extended like I did in some of my more intense semesters as an undergraduate.

Posted in General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog, School | 1 Comment

Pets, Power Tools, Firearms, and Furniture

I’ve recently had several discussions, with a variety of people, about things I might like to own, but am not willing to at this stage in my life, and an interesting meta-discussion on the matter with my mother. The reactions seem to imply this is an unusual enough idea that it is interesting simply for being novel, even though it seems perfectly logical (in my mind anyway).

The basic premise of my willingness to own things, in addition to the normal “will I derive pleasure/utility commiserate with the expenditure” sort of thought (which tends to make me not want much anyway), is dictated by the following argument “I shouldn’t buy anything that will still be around in a year, I will want to keep, and I won’t be able to keep if I am in graduate student housing in another state.” I tend to use MIT as the straw man because 1. There is awesome stuff going on there, that I would like to be involved with, and 2. The housing situation in Boston sucks, because, well, Boston continues to be a dense population center for no reason I can discern.

It’s never really made sense to me to buy nice things knowing I’ll have to give them up, when I can simply wait until it is more convenient, and the fact that this attitude keeps my living expenses ridiculously low is a nice bonus. I use the titular set as an example, because they pretty well cover all the angles of the idea, and the set tends to have at least something that makes sense to anyone I am talking to. To elaborate a little bit (Topic/Desire/Reason Not/Holdover Solution):

Pets: I’ve always had cats, and love having them around v. not generally allowed in student housing. So, enjoy the house mate’s cats for now.

Power Tools: I love fabricating things v. space, weight, mess; this is about large stuff, not hand drills and rotary tools. The flip side is I’m getting REALLY good at improvising things with hand tools.

Firearms: Shooting is fun, and I currently reside in a region where it is a widely accepted hobby v. not generally allowed in student housing, legal concerns depending on locale, and incompatibility with my desire to avoid keeping a car. The fact that it is an area where there are people who shoot means I know people who periodically invite me along, and thus I get to shoot for only the cost of range fees and ammunition.

Furniture: It would be nice to accrue nice stuff for storage and work areas while I’m in a gigantic nice house v. space, student housing is typically mostly furnished. Because I mostly compute on laptops, my desk is “enough” space, and there is an improvised workbench in the garage made of a headboard and pair of dead A/C units that were out there when we moved in for messy things.

When discussing this idea with my mother (From whom I largely inherited this attitude), she brought up another neat fact. She reads horrible finance books for fun, and ran across one recently that mentioned some research, which, in addition to the fairly well known (I think?) link between children of people with thrifty habits held-over from the great depression and hoarding behavior, discussed a link between (descendants of) Japanese-Americans interred during World War II (please, please tell me this isn’t novel to anyone.), and an attitude that “I shouldn’t own unnecessary nice objects because they could be taken from me at any time” …Which one might argue the my attitude is descended from.

I’ve had had that idea before, observing how my family operates, and now want to go article finding because I didn’t expect there to be evidence as to which factor was the source of the behavior, or serious research on the topic. A quick googling doesn’t turn anything up, but I always love legitimate studies to verify my passing thoughts; sometime (”In my copious spare time”) I will have to have a wallow in consumer psychology literature, it looks interesting.

The inital horrible finance book was apparently Mind over Money, (which is a (un)remarkably common title, but probably Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health. This is not a recommendation.) and referenced the authors (but not the text) of D. J. O’Brien, S. Fugita The Japanese American Experience (google books link with partial text).

Posted in General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog | Leave a comment

Panic Time!

Through a couple of poor time management decisions, and the usual end of semester crunch, my last two weeks of this semester are going to be an adventure. I’m pretty sure I can pull through with something resembling grace (ie. alive and with acceptable grades), although it will be unpleasant, and likely only via a principle I’ve never managed to teach myself to have faith in (despite many, many reliable repetitions); that everyone else is going to fuck up at least as badly as I have. Head down, shoulders back, reduced posting until I get through.

Posted in Announcements, General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog, School | Leave a comment

Hip Resurfacing

The lesser posting for the last few days is in large part because my father got his hip resurfaced last Thursday, so I’ve been visiting and running errands for my parents. Resurfacing is apparently now the preferable option when it is possible, as it heals faster (makes sense, less is replaced), and may be longer lasting. The widget itself is pretty neat, its a non-ferrous (CoCr) metal ball-and-socket, with a bead-blasted shaft on the ball (To grow into the leg bone) and a ceramic layer bonded to the outside of the socket (to bond with the pelvis*). Having him ask about the chemistry of the replacement module (So how is the ceramic bonded to the…) and weather it was safely non-ferromagnetic for bringing near NMR machines (it is) was clearly a little bewildering to the surgeon, but definitely means hes thinking it through.
Everything went well, and he’s recovering impressively quickly. He is even startling the PTs with how enthusiastic and capable he is about hobbling around with his walker. Should be home in another day or two and as mobile as he was before the operation in a matter of weeks.

*Excuse any gross errors in anatomy, I’ve never been terribly well versed in it.

Posted in General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog | Tagged | Leave a comment


I turn 22 years old today, and it occurs to me that if I follow the obvious path of least resistance, or anything like it, I may never have to do anything I don’t feel like again. Obviously not on the day-to-day scale, but on the macro scale of career and lifestyle and the like, it has passed conceivable and headed off toward likely that I can continue to learn about and play with things that interest me (which certainly includes education itself, and, based on conversations with faculty that have done this sort of thing, can also include deciding I’d really like to do other quasi-related things that interest me like HCI or demographic-scale computational sociology), and make a comfortably self-supporting life in the kind of environment I enjoy out of it.
I think this means I’m doing it right. I feel very lucky.

Posted in Announcements, General, Navel Gazing, OldBlog | Tagged | 1 Comment