Category Archives: university

4B Completed

Studies

Taken quite some time ago – certainly not during this semester. Playing with the camera instead of studying.

Yes, exams wrapped up several days ago, but it didn’t feel quite right that I write my traditional concluding message on the semester until finding out the last final’s mark. As it turns out, my fears of failure were quite unfounded, and I passed the course with flying colors.

The last semester went by in a flash. A few defining moments offset its otherwise monotonous passing: signing the Microsoft offer, IRS/IRC, fourth year design project symposium, end of classes, and my last examination on April 23. It’s somewhat interesting to note that perhaps the most important event, the signing of a full time offer, happened first in the semester. Needless to say, with my immediate future mapped out, the main goal was to simply graduate. It did help somewhat that I was able to choose a couple of interesting courses.

Since my H-1B visa petition precludes me from entering the United States, which I had planned to visit during the summer, I’ll likely spend some time traveling through Canada, a vast land that I really haven’t seen much of. With my future pegged south of the border, I’m going to take the opportunity to enjoy this great country.

As for this phase of my life? It’s time to close the book.

Graduation Present

Apple iPad

Taken in my home-made lightbox, wireless flash triggered.

I picked up a preemptive graduation present for myself, after completing my undergraduate degree this past week, although marks have yet to be seen. The last final (ECE 429) was the most difficult exam in recent memory. It seems only fitting that the last gasp would be representative of the difficulty of the program. Still, passing shouldn’t be a problem 😉 (knock on wood). It’s been heaven and hell for the past 5 years (more the latter than the former, unfortunately), and I’m glad to be moving on to the next phase of my life.

The conclusion of this final semester was celebrated with a significant portion of the class, which was awfully nice. Many of my classmates I won’t see in the future, aside from convocation later in the summer. That was a conclusive farewell for many. It’s a shame I haven’t gotten to know more of them better. One of my regrets.

As for the iPad, I’m just getting some time with it now, but the screen and battery life are immediate stand-outs. The IPS panel is gorgeous, and brightness is set at something around 30%. Plenty bright at that setting. I’ve been out of the loop with the whole App Store growth, so I’ve been rediscovering the whole application ecosystem. There are some pretty cool applications, but the vast majority are very expensive, simply because they’re for the iPad. Some careful picking and choosing of paid apps will follow soon, no doubt.

I’m looking forward to the Vancouver Canucks game later this evening. Let’s wrap this series up in 6! Go Canucks!

UWaterloo – Mission (Almost) Complete

In an ironic turn of events, the last semester of my undergraduate degree has been, well, a non-event. The courses I selected turned out to be rather easy (or perhaps I chose my strengths) and even this final exam period has been very anti-climactic. Over a three week timeline, I have only three exams. I wrote my first one this past Saturday, and my final two aren’t for nearly two weeks. It almost feels like it’s all over already. I’ve taken the last two days off, before restarting a slow-paced study for the last two. I can’t believe five rough and tumble years ends like this. Then again, it ain’t over until the fat lady sings. There I go counting my chickens before they hatch.

I’ve always felt that this blog is more for my own perusal than anything else. I can look back on my life as I was finishing high school, and although I haven’t much important to say, I feel it’s necessary for me to put down the thoughts whirling in my head during this transitional period.

Hockey – my team of choice over the past few years has been the Vancouver Canucks, so it’s no surprise that I watched with glee on Saturday as Henrik Sedin put up 4 points to take over the points lead. The game was one of the most fun games I’ve ever watched. The guys out there looked like they were having fun too. Congrats on the Art Ross, Hank! The Canucks will play the Los Angeles Kings in the first round. I’m pumped. The Montreal Canadiens, a team that I’ve liked all the way back when Patrick Roy was their poster boy, scraped into the playoffs as well – I watched that Montreal-Toronto game with great anxiety. Boy did they really barely get by with the single point…

Travels – I’ve been planning a post-graduation vacation with classmates. Initially, I wanted to go to Europe, but the budget nor opinion could be agreed upon by all (some wanted to backpack, while others wanted more opulent accommodations). We finally settled on two Hawaii islands, or so I thought. As part of my employment at Microsoft, I obviously needed a work visa for the United States. I knew a TN would be applied for, but I was notified, last minute, that they would be petitioning for an H-1B as well. Apparently, during the application process, visiting the United States is a crapshoot. The lawyers strongly suggested I avoid traveling to the States during the application. Out the window Hawaii went.

I still want to cap off my university career with my new friends, so we’re going to plan a road trip within Canada. I’m likely not going to be spending much time in Canada, starting this summer, and there’s so much of this vast country that I’ve not yet seen. This will be a good opportunity to experience this wonderful nation just a little bit more. Of course, one of my primary objectives is to do lots of photography; I’ve gotten several of my friends interested as well, so we’ll be a bunch of DSLR-sporting tourists. It’s always fun to have a few shooting buddies.

Cars – I’ve decided to live on the East Side in the Puget Sound area when I move there this summer. I simply prefer a suburban lifestyle. I blame (?) my time on Prince Edward Island. I’ve developed a preference for a slower pace. Consequently, I’m looking to get a vehicle for commuting to and from work. Trained as an engineer, I’ve been running numbers, reviews, features, and aesthetics on a variety of vehicles, and I think I’ve narrowed it down, somewhat.

Volkswagen (Passat) CC – This was the first car I identified for my list. I’ve developed a think for German cars, ever since my parents picked up a BMW 5-er a bit more than a year ago. The CC looks incredibly slick, combines decent mileage with decent power, and is moderately priced. The drive was alright, but I’m probably expecting too much after having driven the BMW 5 for the past year.

Volkswagen Passat CC
The Volkswagen CC – delicious

Volkswagen Jetta 2.0T (Wolfsburg) – Since it seems like Volkswagen USA no longer sells the standard 2.0T Jetta without going for the Wolfsburg special edition model, this is the only choice for a 2.0T Jetta. Compared to the CC, it’s cheaper, has the same engine, is smaller (perhaps a good thing, since it’s just me, no family…) and still has a nice interior. I’m not a huge fan of the external design (too much bubbly), but the 2011 model looks more like an Audi A4-esque exterior. I like.

Hyundai Sonata – I’d be remiss not to include the 2011 Sonata on the list. It’s gotten tremendous reviews, but the test drive that I did made me feel a bit ‘eh’ to its driving feel. Of course, it’s a family sedan, but it’s quite cheap and looks alright. There’s a good number of tech gadget inside, which, of course, appeals to me.

Mazda3 – Surprisingly, this car looks fantastic in the flesh, despite some concerns about the perma-grin of the front grille. It apparently drives very nicely, has a decent interior and is cheap as chips. Not a bad combination.

Audi A3 – This is an outside shot, mainly because of the badge. I don’t want to show up at work, as a new-hire, cruising in an Audi. Just doesn’t send the right message in my opinion. Price-wise, it’s pretty near identical to the VW CC, so that’s not a major concern, just the badge. Still, a nice car with a nice interior. I’m quite partial to the hatch designs, despite the fact that most Americans are not. Shame really.

The Nissan Altima and Acura TSX are just barely on the outside looking in. The TSX is surprisingly affordable (a combination of a reasonable price and high residuals for the lease), but reviews have widely panned the redesign in 2009. Given the similar price to the CC overall, I’ll likely agree.

That’s about all for now. Lots of rambling, but there’s what’s in my head. See, nothing about school at all, in the midst of final exam season. 🙂

Self-Aware

The first step is admitting a problem exists. – Various addict help groups

Knowing is half the battle. – G. I. Joe

The basis behind these two cliched quotes is self-awareness. One of the characteristics I am most proud of in myself is self-awareness, the ability to analyze my thoughts and emotions and make decisions based on the analysis. That doesn’t necessarily mean I am only cold and calculating. I act upon emotion, but likely only after I’ve rejected logical reasoning after conscious thought. It’s a characteristic that I believe aids in my learning potential, analyzing myself, my strengths and weaknesses and addressing them as I see fit. What sets humans apart from the rest of the life present on this planet? It’s supposed to be awareness of existence, conscious thought, feeling of meaning in life, yet so often it seems like we exist on a subconscious level, going through our days without so much as a thought on anything but the exact present moment.

Shortly, I’ll have completed this university phase of my life and moved on to something new. I started thinking about how I’ve changed over the past 5 years. It’s easy to see the improvement in my writing skills, for example, by looking at the content here from the last year of high school. What else have I been becoming aware of?

Behaviour – I’ve made a conscious effort to analyze my day-to-day behaviour. This isn’t Prince Edward Island anymore and the people I find myself around are very different from the friends I had back there. I’ve worked on my stubbornness, definitely making myself more amenable to friendly debate without feeling defensive or insulted. I’ve become much more capable of admitting mistakes, apologizing when I am in the wrong. Don’t get me wrong, that’s not an out for doing a ton of things wrong; it’s just knowing that a genuine apology goes a long way to smoothing over differences. I’m okay with getting knocked down a notch or two. Learning to admit when I’m wrong has been a difficult thing to do, but I think it has made me a better person.

I’ve also become quite comfortable with disagreement. There was a time when I needed to convince everyone of my views. But I’ve long since realized that the point of opinions is that everyone should have one. Furthermore, it’s extremely rare that there exist an absolute right or wrong view.

Programming – I’ve done a lot of web development, both as a personal hobby and on the job at Shortcovers (now Kobo). It has a highly visual design component, which I’ve been drawn to. At the same time, my development skills on other fronts is not up to the same level of comfort as web development. While a program manager at Microsoft will rarely if ever write production code, being able to communicate every day with the developers on the same level has fantastic results. I’ve begun some side programming projects in the meantime to improve those skills, which I hope will help me on the job.

Inter-personal relationships – This is one area I still need a hefty amount of work on. During my 5 years here at the University of Waterloo, I’ve left relationships by the wayside, instead concentrating on study during school semesters and work during co-op semesters. This is perhaps my greatest regret over my university career, but I’m making strides to change this focus as I end this final semester and move off to the Pacific Northwest later this year. Perhaps most telling was the recent shock I had, when a friend asked, “Am I talking to Waterloo Charlie or PEI Charlie?” There has been a huge change since I came to Waterloo from Prince Edward Island. I knew it in the back of my mind, but that sentence was the most crystallized representation of that change.

Decision-making – I make it no secret that I don’t see myself as a worker drone for the rest of my life. I want to be in management, a position of influence. A key differentiator here is the power to make decisions. That distinction is only given to those who have a track record of making good ones. One area I haven’t always made the best decision in is the purchase of tech gadgets. Yeah, I’m a curious person, and always wanting the latest digicam, cellphone, computer, and whatnot. However, making sound financial decisions based on fact and numbers will be necessary in my desired profession. Making budgets and sticking to them is a life skill worth having. I’ve been driven by emotional desire for the latest gadget that has sometimes clouded my impartial judgment. Recently, I’ve made a conscious effort to hold myself back from these types of purchases. Another example is my car decision for work. My initial desire was for a nice car, but after some more thought, that money is probably better saved for now. A twenty-something year-old hardly needs a status symbol, not to mention it might be provocative for others less fortunate.

Getting things done – This might have something to do with the experiences and learnings from my PM internship at Microsoft. I’ve learned how to keep meetings on track, focusing on agenda points, curtailing superfluous discussion and debates that go nowhere very slowly, and generally maintaining a high degree of efficiency. It’s often easy to get sidetracked with a lot of smart people all actively participating in a debate. Again, like I mentioned a few points above, everyone has an opinion, but only one decision can be made, and it’s often a compromise. Arguments get heated and sight of the end goal is sometimes lost or forgotten. How many times have you been in an argument and completely forgot what prompted it or that the goal was to reach an agreement? Argument for the sake of argument is a bit of a pet peeve now. I’m quite conscious of the actions that initiate discussions, quickly pulling people back to the topic at hand if things drift for too long. Step back, look at the big picture, and remind everyone they’re working towards a common goal.

Scary movies – Yes, I despise scary movies or even thrillers. I’ve indirectly connected this dislike with my discomfort with uncertainty (that, or I’m just a wuss). However, a big part of my future will be to effectively manage that uncertainty and ambiguity. So, I’ve been easing myself into the genre, with the hope of calming my nerves a bit in the face of horror.

I’ve identified several of my own characteristics that I’ve worked on throughout the years, and the above are ones I’m currently tackling. I think my self-awareness has been a most useful trait, helping me identify and work on issues, even when it’s not exactly pleasant to think of one’s own deficiencies. But that is an important part of life and the goal of continual self-improvement.

One Ring

I’m sporting my first piece of jewelry, in the form of an iron ring on my right pinky. It’s the sign of a Canadian engineer who has taken the Iron Ring oath to uphold a certain level of ethical behaviour. The ceremony was this past Saturday. I won’t talk any more about the ceremony, since it’s intended to be a quiet, private thing, not an event to be described.

However, the ring, well, it symbolizes for me the (near-)completion of 5 years of continuous schooling and internships.

The engineering program at Waterloo hasn’t been easy. We’ve lost around half our class and I hope with all my heart that everyone that’s made it this far will graduate this June.

Five years ago, I was wrapping up my high school days, and just informed that I was accepted to Waterloo, Toronto, Queen’s and McGill. I hadn’t yet decided on Waterloo; in fact Waterloo gave me the worst offer of them all. I remember my calculus teacher in grade 12, Mr. Taylor, asked me if Waterloo was the only co-op school out of the bunch. It was, and he highly recommended that I try it. I respected Mr. Taylor a great deal. He helped make calculus interesting for the class, which is a pretty tough thing to do. Between him and another teacher at the school, with whom I didn’t have any classes, but graduated from the Waterloo mathematics program, I was eventually convinced a co-op program might be interesting.

Life certainly would have been different had I gone to any of the other schools, but I don’t regret my decisions. Sitting here with a Microsoft offer signed and a late July start date booked, I feel alright. We’ll see what the next few years bring, but one thing is for sure – I’m not going to settle for anything that makes me unhappy. That’s also not to say I’m averse to hardship. I simply need to know that I’m working toward something that I can be content with.

The ring is a tangible representation of the hard work I’ve put into the program, and while I won’t always look back with great fondness, I will always appreciate the opportunities the program has provided me.

The Best

A guy, whom I’d not seen since first year, gave a talk today in my Entrepreneurship class about the company he started a year ago. He’s my age and already off doing great things with kik. It was an inspirational talk, and got me thinking about my life goals.

I think this ties back to my rant/rambling on New Years Day 2010. I have this begrudging sense of dissatisfaction. I feel like I’m taking the easy way, the boring way out by accepting a full time position after graduation. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time at Microsoft last semester and it is a fantastic place to work. But perhaps that’s the issue? It’s just a job? It’s not living life (however you want to determine what that really means) and doing something I’m super passionate about.

I grew up being at the top of my class, and while there was a setback at the beginning of my university career, I regained the top spot again this past semester. Being the best I can be is a great goal, but there’s also a part of me that simply wants to be the best, full stop. Sounds ultra jealous and perhaps selfish, but I’m competitive. There’s no reason to deny that. It’s part of what defines me and drives me to overcome challenges I’ve faced throughout my life. But there’s always someone better. The other day, I was reading Wikipedia articles on the Ivy League schools and their prestigious alumni. Glancing at the University of Waterloo page only made me feel small, insignificant.

I need to find my own direction. I need to make the best of my situation. Enough with reading about others’ successes. There comes a time when one needs to find their own success and be the best in some other way. All I’ve done is try to emulate others, but that needs to stop. Time to drive.

An Emphasis on Typography

Just yesterday, I wrote about some redesign efforts that are underway. One huge catching point has been my struggles with typography and fonts for the new design. I never put much thought into web typography in the past, but after perusing some great designs around the internet, I’ve come to realize its importance, especially in a text-heavy design, such as a blog. Web compatibility was a big reason for staying within the safe confines of the common fonts in the past, and I didn’t want to venture into Flash-based text renders to expand the font-palette.

So, when I read about cufón and subsequently typeface.js not three days ago, I realized the means for inserting some new fonts into the design was possible.

Then imagine my surprise when I sat down in my User Interface Design class today and found out the topics for the lecture would be typography, fonts, and design salience. The first few lectures of that course have been a bit dry. They focused more on the analytical (scientific) side of UI design. They drove the design processes and methodologies used for gathering information on the system, with which design decisions can be made. Now with that largely out of the way, we’ve moved onto the emotional design (artistic) portion of the course. This is what I signed up for.

As with any practical topic, attempting to teach design in a classroom can be difficult (similarly, we had a debate on the merits of teaching entrepreneurship in my entrepreneurship class), but I firmly believe that there are academic concepts which can be used in very practical situations. For example, our discussion today on the effect of color on design element salience enabled me to make a better decision (in my opinion) in the upcoming redesign. That’s academia in practice.

Listless

Alright, a quick post before I head off to bed.

There’s been some serious neglect around here. I honestly haven’t had much to write about these past days. University has started back up, but I’ve felt completely listless this semester. Part of it has to do with the fact that it is my final undergraduate semester (boy, it feels weird, not necessarily good to say that), and part of it is that my schedule isn’t conducive to a whole lot of caring. Classes start no earlier than 11:30am each morning and I have Thursdays off. I should be careful not to let go too much. Reading the fourth year design project documentation is so very boring. The lack of enthusiasm and interest has translated to this blog for the past couple weeks. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way.

Fortunately, I felt a burst of inspiration mid-day Saturday, but not in the form of writing. Instead, I spent a chunk of time mocking up a redesign for random process, working late into the night. I’ve come up with something I’m happy with. Now comes the tough part of translating my static Photoshop mock into a real, working website. Here are a couple teasers.

Photography has clearly been a huge part of my life over the past two years. I think it’s about time the website reflects this. I’m going to put more emphasis on showcasing some photos.

I purchased a Zune HD while I was working in the States, and have come to absolutely love the design of the UI. You can expect to see many of its design elements incorporated in the final product, such as purposely truncated text.

Furthermore, web technologies and ‘fads’ have progressed at a rapid pace since my most recent design (about a year ago). I mentioned back then that I wanted to incorporate a bunch of dynamic features and a more static portfolio homepage, that would make the site a bit slicker to navigate. Unfortunately, only the blog portion of the site got redesigned and there’s still no AJAX-y goodness. As much as I’d like otherwise, it’s unlikely I’m going to have much of a portfolio to showcase, and I haven’t come up with a good way to manage the content there, short of a lot of manual editing. And let’s be honest, I’m almost sure to let the content get stale. Yuck. But, I’ve identified some cool effects that I want in the next iteration of random process. Yum.

Okay, I’ll leave it at that. Night.

Goodbye Seattle…

I was a mountaineer,
Having climbed Mount Rainier
(sort of…)

I bid adieu to the Pacific Northwest today, as I head home to Southeast Ontario. Things are packed up (really had to jam those bags) and I’m setting off to the airport in 15 minutes.

It’s been a fantastic experience, one I have very, very few complaints about. For now, I’m simply content with a short break, before beginning my final semester of university. Has it really been so many years already?