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.

URA, Co-op, and Orchestra

The last week has been quite eventful.

After some scrambling, I was able to get an Undergraduate Research Assistantship with a professor in the Computer Science department, working in the area of HCI, which is a great match for my user interface interest. I’m slightly unsure how to approach the project I was given, which will involve interviews with others, so I’ve been absorbing all the research papers on the topic as I can get my hands on. In the meantime, I’m planning some meetings with my supervising professor to get some pointers. The excellent opportunity should give me an idea of what graduate research is like, before I apply to grad schools in the fall. It’s like… part-time co-op for grad school.

Although I didn’t need to apply for jobs this semester, I am more pleased than ever that I secured a job with Microsoft last semester. The Microsoft job posting for the fall semester was suddenly pulled from Jobmine earlier this week. I later found out that all the positions for the fall had either been filled, or were in the process of being filled. The head recruiter was quick to point out that it wasn’t a matter of Microsoft not hiring, but rather that the available positions had been filled. Although slightly odd to have interviewed a semester early, in retrospect that would have been the only way for me to work there in the fall.

Orchestra is in full swing now, and I’ve been appointed percussion lead once more. The others in the section are all musically talented, but their musical training, like mine comes from piano, and neither have much experience in percussion. Consequently, I’ve been ‘mentoring’ the section somewhat, with my decidedly meager skills. It’s a great learning experience for me, both in terms of making sure I know the technique well enough to impart it on others, as well as actively teaching something to someone on a continuing basis. I’m planning extra sessions outside of rehearsal to answer questions and help the other percussionists.

I’m headed home again this weekend as my cousin is coming to visit for the US long weekend. From what I understand, he’ll be bringing his newly acquired Nikon D700. I can’t wait to talk shop with him, not to mention try out a damn nice camera.

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.