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:

utica invitation

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!

two months

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.

last class ever

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):

space knit knot lattice 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:

  • You bathe!
  • You sure do speak English well!
  • You’re explanations are so clear! (see above)
  • You’re the best GSI ever! (GSI = graduate student instructor; I guess TA is too demeaning here in grand Cali)

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.

rescuetime is cool

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:

my first rescuetime graph

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, = the website for the class I’m TA’ing, etc). It’s a lot like the site we use for tagging our expenses ( — 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.

yee haw

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.

a busier than expected fall, so far

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:

raytraced ellipsoids

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:

renaissance fair fun

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.