Friday, December 26, 2008

東京行き

I'm leaving to go to Tokyo right now. I take the overnight sleeper bus from Sendai, and it gets to Tokyo at 6am. Then, Stephanie's plane tentatively gets in around 3:30pm, if all goes well.

Of course, don't bother emailing me with the expectation that i'll read it before January 5th. It's possible but I can think of a million and one more exciting things to do in Tokyo and Kyoto. :)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Missing the snow


(Very near the Bansui Sodo 晩翠草堂 in mid-late November)

As all my friends in the midwest IM in or facebook chat me to complain or celebrate snow delays, I slightly realize that I miss the snow. It's pretty, and especially since I am not driving, there isn't much danger element to it. Sendai rarely gets below freezing, typically hovering between 0-10 C for most of the winter. The city is on the dry side of a mountain range (in Yamagata Prefecture), so there is rarely any of the terrible snow storms that affect the western parts of upper Japan.

At least we get a Pageant of Starlight. I'll have pictures of that up tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Top 60 Japanese words of 2008

Found this via Neojaponisme:

http://www.pinktentacle.com/2008/11/top-60-popular-japanese-words-phrases-of-2008/

If you want a peek into how the twisted gears of 和製英語 (japanized english) and the Japanese mass media work, look no further. I found some of the ones near the bottom to be particularly funny.

Monday, December 15, 2008

A difference of paper

(A line of trees on the north side of the Kawauchi campus classroom laboratory building)


...And the paper reading continues. Lately i've been reading about Jikes RVM to gauge my interest in virtual machine/compilers research. While I've had a vague interest, I haven't exactly been hacking around in the code. I thought I would read some of the papers, and see how they compare to Programming language/type theory papers.

So far, they are a bit easier to understand on a first reading. Unlike many type theory papers, a typical breadth-first reading of compiler/VM papers seems to work, and I can selectively choose what parts to skim and what parts to digest. Unfortunately, many PL theory papers prevent this at a meaningful level, because they are highly linear. You won't understand the proofs if you haven't read the introduction and development thoroughly.

There are some similar things in VM papers. For example you won't know how to evaluate the graphs near the end until you can look at the algorithm and see what may be the cause of differences. But in general, an illustration representing a dependency graph is more readily understood than a page full of small-step semantics and judgements full of greek (which may or may not be greek to you).

I'll start hacking into the code probably tomorrow or on Thursday, and see what it's like to hack in a JVM written in Java.

In other news, the 忘年会 (bounenkai, or end of year party) is in a few hours, so I had better get ready.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Resumption of pictures

(Tohoku University Kawauchi Campus; behind Lecture Hall B, looking southward)

I updated to Picasa 3 on Linux, and while it is still bug-ridden (aka, can't use BlogThis to directly launch blogger on a picture), I can actually use it now. After I did my last dist-upgrade, the japanese localization got corrupted somehow for Picasa, rendering all of the menus and buttons blank. From here on, you get at least one picture per post.

Why do Japanese clubs cost so much?

So finally, after a few months of waiting, there's an act worth going to a club for:

【AFTER DARK presents 2008 KITSUNE MAISON 6 Japan Tour in Sendai】

In other words, the owners of the Kitsune label are DJ'ing in Sendai tonight. The Kitsune label has brought bands like Digitalism, Simian Mobile Disco, Hot Chip, etc to the forefront of electro, so I was really looking forward to going to this.

Unfortunately, I lost track of the days, and its on TONIGHT. And, I've spent a few hundred dollars on discretionary stuff in the past few weeks. And nobody else wants to go, because it costs THIRTY FIVE dollars to get a DOS (day-of sale) ticket. This wouldn't be so bad, except that it almost always costs this much, whether or not they have resident (shitty) DJ's, or they have some of the best talent from France and Japan.

Disappointing.. I will not be going, and instead probably drinking with Adam&co. I want to test this new Miyagikyo whisky (non-vintage) that I finally managed to find today at Daiei. I'd explain the intricacies of Japanese whiskys later, as I would rather get to the task now instead of talking about it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The ropes of paper reading

I'm getting a good feel for how the first few years of graduate school will be like: carrying around 5-10 papers at any given time, having a bag full of highlighters, pencils, and pens, and computing dependency graphs for paper references. Well, maybe not so much on the last one, but especially at the beginning, it feels like I'm always performing a depth first search on CiteSeer and other sites.

Recently i've gotten really interested in gradual typing and (dynamic) contract checking as potential research topics. It seems that Suenaga-san's research on statically preventing deadlocks and other things with types (the APLAS talk he's giving this week) will not be further researched. This puts me in the position where I need to be bored out of my mind (the option where I join someone else's project in the lab here), waste a few months (the option where I wait for US exams and holidays to blow over before the Purdue project to get back to speed), or make up something on my own (the option where I get lost in papers, and have no support from anyone else).

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The sheer joy of living in Japan (part 1)

11時51分19秒) Brian Burg: has anyone ever told you how fucking aggravating it is to pay bills in japan
(11時52分14秒) Emily Minnette: no, but like everything else in japan i would imagine it's unneccessarily complicated
(11時54分30秒) Brian Burg: for example..
(11時54分44秒) Brian Burg: i turned in an automatic withdrawl for paying the cell phone bill
(11時54分58秒) Brian Burg: and i initialed in the inkan circle instead of full sign
(11時55分12秒) Brian Burg: so i got a letter in the mail saying it was rejected because the sign was different
(11時55分44秒) Brian Burg: even though i EXPLICITLY signed a bank waiver saying that i accept any consequences of fraud of my signature
(11時55分51秒) Brian Burg: aka, they have no basis to judge whether its right or wrong
(11時56分51秒) Emily Minnette: wow, that sounds really dumb and tedious
(11時58分47秒) Brian Burg: then u have to mail the hagaki back to softbank in japan
(11時58分54秒) Brian Burg: they mail it back to the bank in sendai to get it approved
(11時59分02秒) Brian Burg: then maybe a month later i'll find out if it worked it not
(11時59分15秒) Brian Burg: i just got this back and i submitted it on 10-6

Monday, December 1, 2008

About CRA Outstanding Undergrad Award

Late last night, I received word that I have been selected as an Honorable Mention for the CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Award! Wohoo! I wasn't expecting that really, since it's a competition against the wunderchild seniors at Princeton, MIT, CMU, UCB, Harvard etc. Luckily every school can only nominate 2 male and 2 females :)

Also, congratulations to Rob Gevers, the other honorable mention from Purdue CS. Rob and I were the lone CS presenters at last year's Undergraduate Research Poster Symposium, and he won an award there as well. It is a strange coincidence that our advisors are married and got two honorable mentions.

Here's the email. The full list will be posted on the CRA website later this week.

TO: Brian Burg


FROM: CRA Undergraduate Award Selection Committee 2009
Dick Waters, Mitsubishi Electric Research Labs (Chair)
Geoff Keunning (Harvey Mudd College)
Clement Lam (Concordia University)
David Novick (University of Texas, El Paso)
Lynn Stein (Olin College)

CC: Department Chair and Nominators


We are very pleased to inform you that you have been selected for Honorable Mention in the Computing Research Association's Outstanding Undergraduate Award competition for 2009. Congratulations! Your award will be forwarded to you early in the New Year.

This year's nominees were a very impressive group. A number of them were commended for making significant contributions to more than one research project, several were authors or coauthors on multiple papers, others had made presentations at major conferences, and some had produced software artifacts that were in widespread use. Many of our nominees had been involved in successful summer research or internship programs, many had been teaching assistants, tutors, or mentors, and a number had significant involvement in community volunteer efforts. It is quite an honor to be selected for Honorable Mention from this group.

A list of the winners, runners-up, finalists, and honorable mentions appears below. A copy of the announcement as it will appear in the January 2009 issue of Computing Research News will be posted on CRA's website (www.cra.org) later this week.

On behalf of the Computing Research Association, we are pleased to have you as a member of the computing research community, and wish you the best for the future.

Today is World Aids Day

Sunday, November 30, 2008

November school and research review

(I've decided to write a month in review for every month, to chart my progress in research and learning)

This month has been the month where I have really gotten down and dirty in the canon of programming language theory readings. Starting off with fairly little background in formal theory, i've worked up through Chapter 23 in TAPL which is approximately through the basics of pure System F (parametric polymorphism, or "generics" for you object oriented people). I'm no longer scared of small-step derivation rules in papers, although my chance of understanding everything is still fairly low.

Along the research front, things have rotated a bit, but overall little has been accomplished. We have decided to use a XMPP client library and application as a simple demo of the programming style, but it's not as simple as I thought at first. This requires we have XML parsing (since all XMPP communications are XML-based), and it requires sockets (which have not yet been implemented). This is concurrent to a new implementation of message-passing and isolation in the component model, so going too far down the sockets road may lead to a lot of debugging of the underlying component primitives and will have to rewrite a lot.

I started to write a DOM library wrapper for XML for the standard library, but I have run into a number of roadblocks as to the best way to implement things beyond the ECMA standard DOM. We would like to use extractors to simplify the syntax for matching on XPath, and dealing with nodes abstractly- but this requires some hard architecture decisions on the interaction between Thorn code and Java code. This has been complicated by hard-to-find bugs in the existing pattern-matching/extractor implementation.

Ideally, we'd like to have integrated XPath/regex support as described in Matchete: Paths through the Pattern Matching Jungle. I think for now though, actually having literals is something that can be deferred until more important things (like sockets!) are in a usable state.

As far as a project in the Kobayashi-Sumii lab, I have yet to really make any firm decisions as far as what project i'll be working on. I do not have many choices (between things that look both interesting and comprehensible). Early on, this indecision was compounded by the fact that I didn't know any basic type theory, which is what most of their research builds on top of. Lately, I've just been too busy with Thorn stuff and other classes to lay down a judgement.

---

On the Japanese front, I have nearly conquered the Kanji/Vocabulary book (40 lessons, 10 kanji and ~40 vocab per chapter). This has given me and average Anki load of 300 cards per day, roughly 40-80 new per day, which in total takes usually two to three hours to pound out. The rewards, however, make this a very good use of time. While I certainly have come a long way in my ears being able to keep up with fast native speakers (primarily, undergraduates and researchers), the injection of over a thousand explicitly studied vocabulary has made it a lot easier for my brain to parse all that my ear is hearing.

On the whole, my weekly classes have been frustrating. I had a poor showing for my Coding theory midterm, mostly because the midterm's questions were asked in a highly matrix/linear algebra style, while most of the lectures focused on the intuitive meaning of hamming codes and such. Worse, since the exam is done, the teacher is now teaching the more common way of approaching coding theory, through linear algebra and encode/decode.

Fortunately, most of the rest are only frustrating and have good grades to offset that. Listening class in particular has one of the most vindictive, petty teachers I've had since high school. The other day, I got chewed out in the front of class for writing too long of answers on the dictation quiz.

---

In the last month, i've also applied for several scholarships, such as the CRA Outstanding Undergraduate Award and the Goldwater Scholarship. The CRA is more of a practice run for next year, but I am very anxious to find out how the Goldwater selection goes. I felt that I had a very strong application this year (especially compared to last year), and my advisors seemed likewise optimistic.

In preparation for applying to graduate school and marketing myself once again, I've started to update my resume, begin work on a CV, and fill in a new web page design. None of these have been uploaded yet, but I think it's important to have an informative and timely homepage, neither of which describes the current incarnation.

---

As I write this post next month, I will be on my first vacation in a year with Steph. We will be spending the new year in Tokyo, followed by a few days in Kyoto then a week in the Sendai area. I hope to get through the remainder of the TAPL book and some graduate typing papers, and be able to begin the second volume. On the research side, my goal is to have a clear role in one of the lab's projects, and to be improving on a basic implementation of an XMPP client library.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Musical homelands and journeys


It occurred to me today that everyone has a musical homeland. Whenever you want to be comforted by the known, familiar songs, you can always refer back to these tunes. As they flow out of the headphone, you catch yourself banging the drum lines on the desk, bobbing your head in the fashion of a rocker, and feel at home.

Musical journeys are when you venture out from this comfortable, known and defined canon of songs. Perhaps you are venturing to the dark, incognito sounds of a grime/dubstep rave in the seedy corners of south London, without any bearings around you and a steady sharp hiss of the pirate radio. Time travel, alternate lifestyles, or sublime moods can define other musical voyages.

For me, the homeland has always been bands such as Radiohead, and other formative music from the long and cold years of high school senior year. Lately, my voyages have taken me all over the world, from hip-hop, dubs, breaks, jazz, soul, funk, and many uncategorizable but beautiful musical modes. Along with my geographic journeys in Japan, I hope to detail on my blog some of the musical journeys I've made.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Simple explanation of gradual typing

I found a page on Jeremy Siek's website that simply explains the basics of gradual type systems. So if you know just a little bit about programming, you can get an idea of what I may be working on in the next few months.

http://ece-www.colorado.edu/~siek/gradualtyping.html

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Equality March Roundup

Here's some of my favorites from the nationwide marriage equality pool on Flickr. (Sadly, such things are not relevant in Japan so I couldn't hold signs- I rather spent my November 15 drinking and bowling)

http://www.flickr.com/photos/intrinsicchaos/3033164375/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/intrinsicchaos/3033141835/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/intrinsicchaos/3033135337/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/adriannelacy/3033162321/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/adriannelacy/3033990662/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/edensembers/3033948698/
http://www.flickr.com/photos/edensembers/3033943652/

Opted to link to the pages, since I don't own the photos and this blog has enough embedded already.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Traversal in the wrong order


Lately, i've been pounding away at Types and Programming Languages, the canonical textbook for a grad-level programming languages class. While it is very thick and a bit of a challenge for independent study, it is definitely easier than trying to learn the content in Japanese. It occurred to me on the way home today that students at Purdue had to be learning this stuff too, since it is the basis for PL research, right?

Turns out Prof. Vitek (my research advisor at Purdue) is teaching the graduate-level programming langauges class at Purdue this semester. If only I could have taken that before coming over here, I wouldn't be dawdling in the dark with the finer points of the typed lambda calculus! I suppose I can still use the class slides, but without accompanying lecture it is sometimes hard to make heads or tails of the more tricky parts. Also, that class only goes halfway through the book, and has a more practical bent with topics such as concurrency and garbage collection (the latter no doubt a result of Filip Pizlo being the TA for the class).

Lately, i've being pushed by lab members at Tohoku to see what everyone else is doing and find a project. The problems are twofold: aside from the extroverts (who talk about their work all of the time!), its very hard to approach/interrupt other students for an impromptu presentation. This is complicated by the fact that I am at a total loss when you combine type theory and Japanese. Secondly, many of the projects just do not look that interesting. Either they are doing things which have already been done to death (timing attack prevention by types? check. safe deallocation in single-thread programs? check), things which seem purely academic, or are well beyond the scope of my current (limited) grasp of theory (higher-order recursion schemes, multi-stage calculi).

If I could simply postpone doing any real work for another month or two and catch up on System F, Pi Calculus, and similar base theory, I might actually have a chance to make some contribution (or at least have an intelligent if awkward conversation). Even if I join someone else's project, without such base theory, I won't really know what's going on anyway. Similarly, I need to be able to read and understand papers on gradual typing (and the long line of literature such papers stand upon) if I want to have a realistic chance of adapting it to Thorn's type system at Purdue.

Time for catching up on Japanese (especially technical and speaking experience) is similar, although it's a shame I can't stop the world from spinning away so I can catch up.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Scholarly Update


I've spent the last week or two putting together my application for the Goldwater scholarship, and as of Friday 1PM EST, it was submitted through CS Advising office. This time around, I was a bit more stressed to finish the essay in time, but I actually had some good ideas.

The essay part of the Goldwater application is 2 pages, 11pt font or larger, with the purpose of you telling the reviewers something that you would like to research. Typically in this spot, you are supposed to implicitly talk about the research you've already done, the people you've collaborated with, and a new project you want to undertake. I simply wrote about Gradual Typing for Thorn, added a handful of references, and had a well-researched essay done! The best part is that this "research proposal in an essay" can also serve as a blueprint for my research projects this semester (and perhaps beyond?).

Some people may wonder if the irony is lost on me, for a queer liberal to be applying for the Goldwater scholarship, the namesake of which is after Senator Barry Goldwater, "Mr Conservative" and the hero of the modern conservative movement. Why would I have the audacity to list "Queer Student Union" in my leadership and community section?

Well, last year I was afraid of this too. Then I discovered this old-school gem. No more worries, because Goldwater predates the religious right, and is more of a libertarian. He went so far as to be a gay rights activist in 1994 (he left public life in 1996 after a massive stroke). I guess I can fit into this scholarship foundation's ideals after all :)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

How do Japanese classes compare?


When I was just a mere Sophomore, I had heard many differing rumors as to the structure and difficulty of the major curriculum courses in Japan. Advisors were afraid of me bombing out, and people who had been there were telling me it was the longest vacation I'll ever have. Here's my take, a month into the semester.

The typical course format at Tohoku University is a 90-minute lecture, which meets once a week. Typically the division of grades is along the lines of 20% attendance, participation, and reports, and 80% decided by the final exam. The idea of a report here is that you write an essay near the end of the semester to summarize what you had learned. In many classes, there is little to no homework, and textbooks are almost always optional in classes that do not involve reading comprehension.

The lecture style is more similar to that of Purdue; technical classes are dominated by Powerpoint presentations and overheads, while language classes and the like are very handout/worksheet-oriented. Unlike at Purdue, I appreciate presentation slides here because it is much easier for me to decipher a slide with kanji than to struggle to decode high-velocity Japanese lecturing. There is also a very minimal amount of interaction; most of it takes form of randomly calling out students to answer quick comprehension check questions.

As for the individual classes, i'll summarize quickly here.
  • Japanese grammar class (level 3): Almost entirely review, so I do not have to pay much attention in this class. There's a weekly worksheet, which I can easily do over coffee the morning its due while half asleep. Still, they cover more variations and subleties than grammar class at Purdue, and it forces you to learn the boring parts. Nobody likes to study alone out of a grammar book.
  • Japanese listening/dictation class (level 3): The teacher in this class is a huge drama queen, and routinely fusses about tiny mistakes and gets annoyed when students don't know the answer. Thankfully there is no homework, and the reward is also good: almost every class I walk out, muttering "so THAT'S what they said that one time.."
  • Japanese reading class (level 3): I went to this class one time, and it was not a very good use of my time. They used a lower-level reading book, and spent the whole 90 minute lecture on a passage that I could read on my own in 5-10 minutes, at the most.
  • Technical Japanese III: This is among my favorite classes, mostly because there is no attendance, grades, or even registration. It is held by the Engineering school's international office, and covers technical Japanese. The best part is the class size: the most that have ever been in this class at once is 5 students including myself. Essentially, a 90 minute free tutoring session.
  • Artificial Intelligence: Very slow, so I usually just doodle in my notebook, study kanji on my phone, or similar things. I even have the option to take the final in English, so as long as I keep up in the english textbook I'll be totally fine.
  • Coding Theory: This class is the wildcard, because I have no background at all in it. Okay, that's a lie: I haven't learned anything yet, because all of it was covered in the ECE270 (Digital Design) textbook's first two chapters. I think eventually though it will get hard, as I'll have to parse the Japanese to get further ahead in the material. Thankfully the slides are online and free :)
One thing I noticed in the Computer Science classes is that it takes a lot more words to explain technical concepts in Japanese. Probably on the order of 1.5x as many. This is to my advantage, because I have about 5 chances to understand what they are explaining due to the repetition. (Perhaps it doesn't actually take that long, but they have to repeat themselves to wake up the ever-sleepy undergraduate students).

All in all, I'm able to concentrate on more important things (like research! and foundation reading!) to a much greater extent than at Purdue. I think I will enjoy this "intellectual vacation".. in that I will be freed from the enormous time sink that i'm strapped into at Purdue.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

日本に慣れるについて (About Adjusting to Japan)


Culture shock is a common feeling when studying abroad. It can manifest in any number of ways, for any number of reasons: perhaps everyone maintains a different personal distance, the food is different, or just the way of thinking is very perpendicular to wherever you came from. The study abroad office at Purdue goes to great lengths to prepare students for abrupt changes to their lifestyle and culture, but all too often I see many exchange students who passively or actively fight the new environment.

I'll admit, there have been a few things that took a while for me to get used to, and still another laundry list of things that will confuse me for a while. Some representative examples: the roads are gyaku (reverse - drive on the left!), people think ~$2.20 for a 15 minute bus ride is cheap, the abundance of temples and shrines in the most unusual of places, no sidewalks on roads with less than 4 lanes, and so on.

In general though, I'm letting go of my cultural inhibitions and fitting in. Some of the other exchange students are not faring so well; many of the cliques already formed are not innately for friendship, but to stick together and resist adopting a more Japanese lifestyle. By my valuation, this is especially prevalent within the English language program. Many of these program participants revel in the fact that they know nearly nothing about the country or language they are being immersed in, and actively avoid interaction with natives, or solo expeditions to explore close-by temples.

A related issue is that most other American exchange students have a Japanese proficiency below that of mine, so they get intimidated and almost always defer to speaking in English even if the Japanese phrases and words are easily availed. Hans, Ryoichi, and I actually discussed this while we visited Purdue in late September. We came to the conclusion that Americans are embarrassed to speak Japanese in front of each other, and Japanese are embarrassed to speak English in front of each other.

Even though i'm doing well as far as fitting in is concerned, I still have a long ways to go to develop real rapport and friendships with Japanese people my age. Spoken in Japanese or not, being able to order food or introduce yourself in 3 sentences amongst Japanese people is much easier than engaging on a personal level. I suppose as I get more comfortable with the city and my conversational abilities and limits, this will be dissipate. I suppose it also motivates me to actually pay attention in Japanese Listening/Speech classes.

Imoni in Sendai




Last weekend, I had one of my first "real" cultural experiences in Sendai. Imoni (芋煮) is a regional food very specific to the Sendai and Yamagata areas. Typically once a year in the month of October, groups will traditionally meet under a specific bridge, and enjoy the Imoni dish as a late lunch.

This year, I went with my research group, the Kobayashi-Sumii Lab (小林・住井研究室). There were at least a dozen grad students and assistants there, as well as me and the other DEEP student. I think his nickname was Dion, but I have yet to meet him since. On the whole, most graduate students in the lab are very shy, but once the shochu (焼酎, distilled rice spirit very similar to scotch/whiskey) was opened a few of us lightened up and had fun. The main perpetrators were myself, Prof. Kobayashi, and Suenaga, the post-doc (and if you are wondering, I rarely remember given names).

Other notable members of the party included Prof. Sumii's little kid, who was extremely adorable, and a few circles away, the rest of the exchange student population at a (entry fee) Imoni hosted by the @Home student group. I stopped by to talk to Hans for a while, but did not feel terribly inclined to try socializing with the rest of them. I was inebriated enough that I probably would have come off sort of silly (or fall on the rocks trying to).

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Broadcasting from Japan


So I'm finally in Japan. Things are moving along well, though classes are yet to be finalized. Over the next few weeks in my spare time, I will detail my new life here, and if I remember anything from the trip over here, perhaps that can be detailed too. There is plenty to write about, the trouble is finding time, and then finding something intelligent to say.

Pictures are worth more than words, especially in a place like Japan where your visual senses are overwhelmed constantly. As I (serendipitously) take some nice photographs, I will share them here, and also share the story or anecdote that they inspire. This tends to keep entries focused, on the shorter side, and also gives me motivation to take pictures (and of course, sort them afterwards with Picasa).

All photos and text on this blog are hereafter licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 License (USA). In normal-ese, that means you can copy, redistribute, or modify site contents for a noncommercial purpose as long as attribution to me is given.

Until the next photo...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

First-ever visit to Madison, WI

After a looooooong weekend visiting folks and giving my goodbyes at Purdue, I muscled my way up the nasty I-65 > 80/94 > 294 > 290 > 90 highway tollbooth hell to the lovely place I'm told is the capital of Wisconsin.

I'm here with Steph, and didn't realize just how much I missed her! This is my second day here and just now starting to see some of the campus. I'm extremely jealous; unlike the uniform brick-a-brack ugliness of Purdue's campus, UW-Madison is overflowing with energy, bikes, mopeds, and pretty buildings.

Today is Steph's birthday incidentally, so I got her a few presents and paid for lunch today. The main birthday present was the knife set I bought in Seattle; she previously had a motley collection of dangerously dull knives. Although I could have used the knives myself, i'd rather not ship a 10lb set of knives to Japan, rising-sun-of-nice-cutlery.

Tonight is the birthday dinner... maybe we'll go to the piano bar (match that, Purdue!).

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Admissions also snoop on Facebook, apparently

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-facebook-college-20-sep20,0,2460681.story

According to the above article, 10% of "prestigious university" admissions officials look on social networking sites to get information about a student. While i've heard that some employers do this, I think admissions officials doing likewise is a bit silly.

For some, getting into college is a by-any-means competition, so in order to avoid a disadvantage they delete their Facebook or Myspace profiles, or whitewash them. In recent times, Facebook has wisened up to this extra screening and added sufficient privacy controls so that content can be restricted to a certain subset of people you authorize.

So essentially it is more a screening of who has a better understanding of privacy settings, and by extension, who has more technological savvy. Perhaps there are better ways for colleges to judge such proficiency, like ... AP test scores! Personally i'd use external achievements (open source contributions, competitions, pro bono help) as a better indicator of initiative and technological whizbang.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Packing up and rolling out

Wohoo! I'm finally done with my internship, which means that more blog posts are now possible.

The last two days of work were a bit of a misnomer. By that I mean that no work was done at all... Much of Thursday was spent on Salon, NYT, and HuffPost, while Friday was consumed with exit interviews, lunch at Pike Place Brewery (which is a horrible place to eat if you are paying), and acquiring undeserved schwag from the College Recruiters.

Today I'm wandering my favorite spots, and just wasting time. Later I will be giving up my food to Jon Micklos, bless his heart and car.

There has been a lot of random stuff this summer, so as I feel like it maybe i'll write a memoir post once in a while.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Kanji and Life Update, Steven's Birthday Edition

It's been a crazy summer!

Today is Steven's birthday, and I feel slightly guilty for not getting him anything yet. I may be trading/selling in my current laptop as a birthday present, but not sure of the financials until my parents get back from their fabulous anniversary vacation. In any case, I'm looking forward to snatching up a late-model macbook pro once the new models are released and retailers try to dump old models.

Life in Seattle is well, and too complicated to explain simply in a single blog entry. I've been hammering away on kanji study, despite some very worthy distractions. Currently i'm adding roughly 30-40 kanji a day, which leaves me with a daily load of about 120 review + 30-40 new. It takes a few hours every night which is a drag, but it's worth it. I already play the nerd gig while in Chinatown, and crudely translating the Chinese (Wow, its the beauty-taste-store! Look, Oasis sells fruit-soup-type drink)!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Rapid response boat flipping

So i'm just chilling out in Seattle, you know.. yesterday about 100 interns went white water rafting on the company dime. There's nothing quite like Class 5 rapids with a bunch of indian interns who don't know how to swim.

At least the follow instructions. :)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

I wanna fly away, yeah

I started peeking around at flight reservations to Japan. My thinking was that the easiest, most pain-free trip would be non-stop from Chicago (ORD) to 成田国際空港 (Narita Int'l Airport, NRT). It seems I will need to find $650-1000 dollars for a one way ticket, or play around with a round-trip (and rescheduling the return).

I'm not sure which is better, a one-way or round trip. Considering that i'm leaving nearly a year after I get there, a round-trip ticket shouldn't be any cheaper than two one-way tickets. Invariably there are fees to move around the return date, which will probably be similar to the higher cost from inflation/devalued currency. Either way, I'm going to be out a lot of money.

Right now i'm considering 3 options: JTB (Japan Traveler's Bureau) is a gigantic Japanese travel agency which mainly does business in Japan (http://www.jtbusa.com/enhome/s-chi1.asp). They have some good deals, but I'm unsure about their level of flexibility. I'm pretty sure I'm not eligible for a rail pass, either :(

Second option is Orbitz, Travelocity, or something like that. Prices are generally more expensive than a travel agent. Third choice is STA Travel, which I've heard has reasonable rates and easy rescheduling.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Computer Science Awards Banquet

Last night was the annual awards banquet, wherein money is doled out from Corporate Sponsors to undergraduates. They also announce other awards and so on, and this year they even had entertainment. Some guy did a hilarious stage act of Thomas Edison, and helped to give out awards.

This year, I actually got a scholarship! Well I did last year too, but it was not announced at the ceremony. My sincere thanks to FactSet Inc. for a $1000 scholarship. Although, I have my doubts whether or not I'd ever want to work there. They do mostly concurrent programming in C++, which sends shivers of pain down my back.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Undergraduate Research and Poster Symposium

A week ago, I presented a poster at the Undergraduate Research and Poster Symposium 2008 (link). The poster that I made (link) details some high-level ideas from the research I am involved with. I spent a great deal of time working on it, and learned a lot of about the direction of my project. And naturally, learned how to use Adobe InDesign pretty well :)

Perhaps in the future I will post some more discussion of the poster material, but for now I am too busy for such a writing.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Stuff White People Like

http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com/2008/03/23/91-san-francisco/

In the past few years, the speed at which a meme can be generated, popularized and overused has gotten only faster. Take Stuff White People Like: a blog about "white people", in the context of the white people you might find in Hyde Park, San Francisco, or more well-to-do parts of midsize cities. What of the white people you might find at say, my hometown (western Michigan), or those mostly white people in fraternities and sororities on campus? According to the blog, those are the "wrong kind" of white people.

Overall, I enjoy this blog for the deadpan humor, but for the most part (based on my limited exposure) this is a good portrait of white yuppie-dom. Even I fall to many of the categorizations on the site (Like coffee? check. Hate corporations? check. Like having black friends? check. Barack Obama? check. Don't have a TV? check). Okay, this parenthesized checklist isn't working, so let's go full-form:
Yea.. maybe I should move to a more suitable place. Purdue is great for getting drunk, and examining the intricate structure of brick.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A critique of the much-touted B.A.P

In recent weeks, the B.A.P. (Boiler Advancement Proposal, http://www.boileradvancement.com) proposal has come to the forefront of campus politics and discussion. At first I was slightly off-put by the obnoxious and dubious flyering practices, but I decided to give the proposal a fair look. Here is a thorough compendium of my thoughts regarding the proposal.

My main reservations are not concerning the fee part or the overall goal; they are about the proposal itself.


The proposal is very poorly written, imprecise and ambiguous in its wording throughout, and often lacks a clear direction or purpose. I suppose this is too general for any useful debate, so let's elaborate, section by section:

1. Why is there a list of organizations in support? Is this even relevant to the proposal aside from political reasons? Does it directly affect how the plan is structured or administered? I see no purpose for this except to impress cursory readers.

In the few weeks since the marketing campaign (as it were) was launched, I have had few substantiative debates of the merits of the proposal. Grandstanding tactics like listing supporters before explaining what it is that enlisting their support for is probably contributing to the vague notions of the program proposal's (good and bad) points.

2. The mission statement is slightly confounded, in my opinion. Isn't the quality of life enhanced by co-curricular activities? Which is the cause and effect here? Next phrasing difficulty: "exploration of funding" sounds like the work of some sub-committee meeting at a random time on the weekend, groveling over audit logs and mundane details.

With all of the current Purdue Strategic Plan activity going on, wouldn't it make sense to align the language of the proposal (especially Mission and Vision) to the language and focus areas of the new strategic plan? I have been involved in other proposal-writing ventures this strategic planning cycle, and it was made very clear the imperative nature that the document cling closely to previously-outlined strategic planning goals. Here's a short hack at a mission:

"The Boiler Advancement Program strives to enhance the Boilermaker student experience by providing financial support to co-curricular and extra-curricular student activities and programs."

Sure, it could probably be polished a bit more. But as written in the proposal, its almost laughable from an authoring standpoint. Did anyone proofread this document?

3. The "Vision" suffers from similar ailments as the "Mission"; namely, that it does not suit the purpose of the particular section. The vision should move quickly from the current situation to the ideal vision made possible by the implementation of such a program. The "Vision" is not a "Needs" section. First, illuminate why the mission is relevant and important (student experience leads to better recruitment and retention), and how the proposed program will enhance this aspect (more funding leads to better quality events, more events, and so on). Using the word preeminent over and over doesn't really qualify as a vision: it is merely a happy word which any university marketing campaign cannot restrain itself using.

One of the painfully disturbing things about the whole proposal is a complete and utter lack of facts. As we all should have learned in ENGL 106/108, reputable facts come from references, citations, and peer-reviewed material. Maybe the PDF i'm looking at has a bibliography omitted and the citations printed in white, but what is there to convince me that arguments presented in the "Vision" (and throughout the whole proposal) are simply not pulled out of thin air? This is simply ridiculous and cannot be allowed in a proposal with so many implications for student life. If the authoring group is not competent enough to include a SINGLE citation in a $1.6m/year proposal, why should anyone reasonably assume the (presumably) same group of people can competently manage and disburse such a large sum?

4. The "Goals" section, at first glance, seems like a list of goals: "enrichment of campus environment" (how?),
"enhancing the collegiate environment by improving co-curricular opportunities and activities" (okay, a little more concrete, but still vague as to means)
"higher quality of programs and events" (by virtue of...?)
"Service-Learning opportunities" (is this a goal?)
"Collaboration among student organizations" (how is this beneficial, specifically?)

... After this point, it seems to devolve into a Santa-style list of "OMG WANT!" items, and phrases that sound vaguely positive. I'm not saying that some of these are bad goals; i'm asking where is the justification for the goals? I rather think that many of the items enumerated here in the goals section are good examples of activities towards certain goals, not the goals themselves. Should not each goal relate back to the "enhancement of the student experience" which we agreed upon in the mission? Instead of something very concrete like "homecoming", how about generalizing to what Homecoming provides to the entire student population (and probably alumni as well). Something such as "Increased alumni-student interaction and involvement" sounds more like a goal to me, especially if it can be succinctly explained how this relates to an enhanced student experience.

Another example could replace several items: "promote and support activities and programs which increase the cultural, societal, and intellectual awareness of students". Some obvious examples meeting this goal could include campus movie showings, concerts, diversity-related programming, and awareness programs. This can be justified on the grounds that increased student awareness in these areas promotes a more diverse and healthy academic environment, which probably can be correlated to student success and recruitment/retention. Of course, such an assertion must be supported by evidence; the academic literature concerning such issues in a college campus environment is well-developed and must be utilized to support these goals and their relationship to the program mission.

Optimally I think that there should be a half-dozen or so general goals with clearly explained benefits. From these axioms it would be much more straightforward to determine whether a suggested event is consistent with the mission and goals of the program. It would also make it more straightforward for those proposing an event to justify their requests in terms of advancing program goals.


From here, I will address some organizational shortcomings in the remainder of the composition, and defer criticism of the board composition and money distribution for a separate blog post, in the interests of keeping post lengths to merely "long" instead of "epic". I also have some worries about the specific methods outlined for the applying of, reviewing of and awarding of funds. These concerns will also be saved for a later post.

For the description of the board, a more orderly flow would be beneficial. As written, everything from the time of the meeting, to who constitutes the board, to how new board members are selected is jumbled into a single paragraph with no discernible order. Perhaps following the structure and semantics of a constitution, which practically every other valid student organization on campus is required to have, would lead to a more coherent and normalized definition of the roles, responsibilities, and bylaws of the board. On the page following, two different representations of the board structure are presented. They convey the same exact information written in the paragraph, so I am not quite sure why both are included in situ with other parts of the proposal. Also lacking is a description or rationale describing the division of board seats, which I will address in the next blog post more thoroughly.

The page labeled "Funding" has several deficiencies and lacks coherence with the rest of the paper, specifically "Goals" and "Mission". Through the rest of the paper, this disjunction between sections is rampant, and I'm kind of wondering why a mission, vision and goals were set up if they aren't adhered to throughout the rest of the proposal. Finally, there is no detail in the description of the board itself how changes to the program, or the board, are to be considered and implemented. Were there some sort of process laid out for change, I would gladly look past other deficiencies outlined

As I wrap up the first part of my critique, let me recap the main points covered so far:
1. The coherence of the whole proposal is significantly hindered by vaguely written and unfocused statement program mission, program vision, and program goals.
2. There are no citations, references, or uses of external sources for facts in any part of the proposal.
3. The description of the program board, its member composition, its procedures, bylaws, and processes for change are poorly-structured and vague, and do not follow standard formats and conventions applied to other organizations on campus.

I do value the ultimate mission of the Boiler Advancement Program, but I also contend that at an institution of higher learning such as Purdue University, a higher standard of rigor must be set by those who claim to lead and represent the student body. If writes well as one does well, then you can probably deduce the equivalent formula for competence.

Until next time,
Brian