Category Archives: waterloo

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.

I Miss My Camera

The feeling I had today said that photography is one of those things that will stick with me for a long while yet. The University of Waterloo Electrical and Computer Engineering Department held a barbecue for the 4th year students, and I spent most of the time as the photographer. My D90 is at Nikon for repairs (bright pixel nearly in the center of the frame), but a friend lent me her D80, along with a Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 lens (I also own a copy), so it felt pretty comfortable. After familiarizing myself with the few minor button differences from my D90, I was off the the races.

It was the thrill of getting into the right position and catching that expression at the precise, perfect moment. The first bite of a burger, a throw-back of the head in laughter, the serious conversation with the professors, I sought them all out to capture the moment. Some wondered if I wouldn’t rather eat, but in all honesty, I didn’t. I did wish, however, that I had a lens with more reach than 50mm (or 75mm in full-frame equivalent) at the long end. Most people will act quite differently, with a big camera shoved in their face (I don’t blame em). Consequently, there was quite a bit of walking around, camera behind me, prefocused at a certain distance, and then swinging it over to take a picture before there was time to react. It was a lot of fun overall. The barbecue was very well run – lots of great food and a decent number of people showed up (around 100).

Lately, I’ve been running my Dell M1330 with one CPU core disabled to see if I could make do with a single core, low-voltage processor. The 13.3″ Acer Timeline that I have my eye on is most reasonably priced in its single core variant, at under $700. I plan on running this way until the end of the exam period. I figure that will give me enough data to decide whether a single core is enough for the workload I put on my laptop. Thus far, about a week into the experiment, it’s looking like I may be able to get away with a Timeline. I notice the performance drop in certain situations (resuming from sleep takes longer, for example), but all in all, my laptop use isn’t particularly stressful, as I suspected in the first place. I think I’ll be happy to trade the performance for triple the battery life in a lighter package.

It’s about time for bed. These last few weeks have been horrifically tiring, and with only 2 days to go before our fourth year design project prototype demo, 4 days until my GRE examination, and less than a week until a digital circuits project is due, I’ve become inured (like that use of a GRE vocab word?) with the pain and suffering. Sad as it may sound, I’m looking forward to exam period, in a couple weeks. At the very least, it’ll be less stressful!

Dean’s List, URA, Ovi, and Zune HD

I’m well into the swing of things in the new semester, with projects, assignments and research piling up.

Official marks and rankings were released this past Monday for the Winter 2009 semester, and I placed on the Dean’s Honours List once more, with a 5/89 rank. This means I’m essentially guaranteed the Dean’s List honour on my transcript upon graduation (assuming I can maintain 80%+ averages for the next two semesters). This was a goal I had set out at the beginning of the last semester, and I’m very happy to have achieved it. It’s a weight lifted off my shoulders as I progress into my last year of studies.

The undergraduate research assistantship has also been progressing well. I attended my first HCI group meeting yesterday. I was an eye-opener. I hadn’t realized the scope of subjects that fall within the realm of HCI. The professors and graduate students all gave updates on their respective projects, which allowed me to see the wide-ranging opportunities in the field. I’ve always enjoyed UI design and development, but I’m now more excited about the subject, after seeing just what is possible.

The opportunity has also afforded me some insight on research areas, and has especially helped me narrow my interests for graduate studies. HCI encompasses so much and can be applied to so many industries that I think it’s more along the lines of what I’m looking for, than, say, communications or semiconductor technologies. Those two topics in themselves are quite industry specific, and deep research into those topics may pigeon-hole me into a position that is too research-oriented. At this point, graduate studies is something I want to do in order to become an expert in a field, but be able to take that expertise and apply it in industry. I can see a direct link between HCI research and that end goal.

On the tech front, Nokia’s Ovi Store is now live, although I haven’t had a chance to look it over on my E71 yet. My initial readings seem to indicate it’s a nice aggregator, but the quality or quantity of applications isn’t quite there yet.

And today, Microsoft announced the Zune HD, which should be on sale in the fall. I’m very interested to see the operating system used. The device supports multi-touch, a browser, and an on-screen keyboard. Doesn’t sound too far from a smartphone OS.

Commence 4A

Now that it’s a bit over a week into the new semester, I’ve had a chance to sit through all the classes I’m enrolled in plus one, ECON 231 International Economics. Without a doubt there’s a different mindset when approaching this set of courses, because I selected each and every one of them. These are classes that I’m interested in and that makes it easier to apply oneself. I was one of four lucky people to get an override to attend ECON 231, so I’m sporting 5 courses instead of the typical 4 that is required for this project semester (fourth year design project).

Thus far, I can say without a doubt that ECE 438 Digital Integrated Circuits is my favorite course. I’m so glad that sucking it up through ECE 231 and subsequently ECE 332 are starting to pay off. Semiconductors are just such gosh darned interesting stuff. I had a chat with the professor this semester about topics on process engineering and it seems like that’s mainly a topic for graduate studies. Hrm…. I’ll jot that down on the list. It’s really too bad companies like Intel don’t hire co-ops, although I completely understand why. We’d be absolutely useless in the field.

I’ve been cramming GRE vocabulary for the last few weeks in preparation for taking the GRE, hopefully in mid to late June. While I’m very excited about going to work for Microsoft in the fall and of course would be delighted if they were to extend a full time offer, I want to keep my options open, and graduate studies is one I’m considering. In that vein, I’m also considering doing an Undergraduate Research Assistantship this semester, if I can find a professor interested in giving me the opportunity.

On the extracurricular front, I’ll be in the photo club again, probably as an executive, and I’ll be back in the university orchestra after a one semester absence. This semester shouldn’t be too crammed, so I feel I can devote some time to music again. I know I’m being a bit hypocritical after writing about possibly being on the wrong side of the conductor, but after turning down an urgent plea for percussionists last semester, I’m partly doing this to assuage my own guilt for (sort of) letting the group down.

Alright, I’m off to play a bit of tennis. I just love the great weather!

3B Completed

I’m finally beginning to accept that I have the next week and a half off from school or work or any other type of scheduled behavior. Boy, does it feel nice to spend some time doing nothing without feeling guilty about shirking this or that responsibility. Well, perhaps not absolutely nothing; the GRE preparation book calls my name every now and then.

The 3B semester was one of the tougher semesters thus far, not because of the material itself, which proved to be easily grasped, but due to the endless projects. As always, one of the difficulties in group projects is the management task and making sure everything gets finished according to the timelines set out. It’s easy to be responsible for oneself with assignments, but to get everyone on the same page, not to mention the inevitable head-butting at times, is a much more draining task. Thankfully, things worked out alright. Our fourth year design project group also has a decent start, in preparation for the push next semester.

Yes, I’m back for 4 more months of university in the summer semester (or ‘Spring semester’ as UWaterloo likes to call it). The 4A semester is the first where we get to choose what we want to do since beginning university 4 years ago. I’ve lined up ECE 411, 418, and 438. Two communications-related and a microelectronic devices course. The fourth course I’m enrolled in is Anthropology, but I’m hoping to switch that out for ECON 231, International Economics. Anthropology is simply there to satisfy my List A Complementary Studies requirement, but I think taking that course as a distance education class would be easier.

The 4A semester requires only 4 courses, with an additional course unit being used up for the 4th year design project . I haven’t had a schedule as open and lax ever at university. There are several days with only one or two hours of classes. It will require some seriously disciplined time management to ensure that I don’t waste a lot of time.

For the break, I’m planning a short trip for the family over the weekend and into the next week. The weather in southern Ontario is supposed to be absolutely fantastic, 20C and up with beautiful, clear skies. Preliminarily, the plan is to drive up to the Bruce Peninsula. There’s some fantastic hiking and scenery to be had. I’m already excited about the photo opportunities! Then, later next week, I’m planning to spend a day in Toronto and attend a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert with a friend. Should be loads of fun.

One Year Til MY Iron Ring Ceremony

Yesterday, a bunch of dressed up, half drunk engineers invaded our lecture room to pronounce their last day before the Iron Ring Ceremony, a ceremony that (almost) all engineering students look forward to. The symbolism of the iron ring itself is best left to another article at another time, but in the context of the engineering program at Waterloo, the ceremony marks the culmination of 5 years (or more) of hard work and harder complaining.

Pre Iron Ring Ceremony romp

As I sat there, glad for the temporary respite from circuit fault testing, I realized two things:

  1. I will probably be amongst those raucous engineers in a year.
  2. I will probably be amongst those raucous engineers in one year.

It’s now one week before the end of lectures of the 3B semester, and it seems such a short time ago that I was writing about the approach of midterms and reading week. This semester, more than any so far, has veritably flown by – projects, labs, and assignments have contributed to the feeling that I wrapped up my semester at Indigo but a few days ago, when in fact it has been 3 months. I sense myself growing tired of so many things about where I am, and whereas during any other semester, I’d simply look to the approaching co-op, I only have another 4 months of school to look forward to this time. I’m finally experiencing what a typical university career feels like.

To keep myself from going insane, I’ve been injecting little bits of interest into my every day life. What I didn’t consider but a year ago now keeps me content: photography. It’s one of those activities that allows a curious mind to wander and look at things in a different light. It’s possibly the single biggest thing I’m looking forward to in the summer. At least the drab greyness that is Waterloo in the winter will be replaced by some color. With only 4 courses (and 1 additional slot for work on the fourth year design project), my schedule has large swaths of emptiness, pretty conducive to going out and shooting some photos.

I’m also spending some more time researching topics of interest outside (or extensions) of course material. Among the topics are semiconductors, processor architecture, and some program management related fields. I recently picked up two books on the third topic, How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie and Making Things Happen by Scott Berken. These two books were recommended by Joel Spolsky at the end of his wonderful article on program management and were very well reviewed at Amazon.

Making a proactive change to my schedule, I’ve begun studying for final exams already, starting with ECE 327, Digital Systems Engineering. There’s about 300 pages of lectures notes to go over since midterms. Split into little chunks, it’s my hope that I’ll be able to properly digest it by the time the exam rolls around.

3B – Crying Wolf

I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises through nearly 4 years of university now. I was told 1B would be difficult, but while we did lose something around 30% of our class, I sailed through without much issue. Then the killer was supposed to be 2B, but again, it wasn’t terribly trying. So when I was told 3B would finally bring the pain, I chalked it up to the upper-year students who cried wolf. I wasn’t worried.

But with a day less than a month before I write my last exam for the semester, I find myself living in labs, the library and empty classrooms, working on projects, reports and assignments. It’s been literally weeks since I’ve been able to return home after lectures end for the day. I’m tired.

It’s with a big sigh of relief that I’m spending most of this weekend simply sitting in my room, catching up with lectures and practice problems, taking time to relax in between. I can clearly feel my progress through university. I’ve arrived at the point where I’m understanding most things simply listening in lectures, instead of having to re-learn everything on my own after the fact that was the case for the first couple years. While it’s true that I haven’t retained all the details from the courses I’ve taken in the past, university has improved my ability to learn, as clichéd as that may be, and that’s the most important thing.

It’s coming up to the endgame for the 3B semester. This time I don’t have an exciting co-op semester to look forward to, just another 4 months of school, in the summer. Ho hum.