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.