Tag Archives: university

4B Completed


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.

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. 🙂

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.


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.

Done 4A

There are no more obstacles left in my path to Redmond!

My last exam of the 4A semester was earlier this evening, ECE 418, and it went quite smoothly. I now have two weeks before I ship off to the United States. I plan on using that time to prepare for graduate school applications in the fall and go out and do lots of photography, enjoy the last days of summer. I’m headed to Stratford (Ontario) this weekend for a photo trek. I hear it’s a nice town.

Wow, these past months have flown by. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.

Study or Photography?

I’ve spent the last little while studying for final examinations. I have only 4 this semester, but with it being the last semester that grad schools will be able to see, I’m hoping it’ll be a good set. I usually have a hard time sitting down to study for extended periods of time without getting distracted by this or that; case in point, while reviewing logical effort for ECE 438, I had my D90 by my side, staring at me through its Tamron 17-50mm lens. Oh yeah! Remember that debacle with Nikon repair? Well, Canada Post didn’t know where my camera was either, so imagine my surprise when I received both a call from Canada Post regarding the ‘lost’ package and a repaired camera back from Nikon. Oh well. I’m just content that my camera is back in my possession, with the burnt pixel mapped out of existence.

I'd rather...

I had to run an errand Sunday evening, and during the drive back home, I took a wrong turn and found myself amongst the high-rise hotels down by the Falls (the Niagara ones). Being Sunday, I remembered there would be fireworks later that night. I promised myself a small reward for some more studying. I’d hike down with the tripod and set up for some fireworks photography.

Bright lights

Upon further reflection, this was my first attempt at photographing fireworks, and the 5-odd minutes they went off for wasn’t quite enough time to adjust for some amateur mistakes. I arrived a bit too late and wasn’t able to set up the tripod in the best of locations. (The ground was really uneven.) To top it off, the place was infested with some sort of flying insect. They were crawling all over me, as I waited the few minutes before the fireworks started, and through them, too. Oh, and I started off using the camera shutter release, until I realized it was causing some camera shake. I quickly attached a remote shutter release cable midway through the performance. The photos after that turned out significantly better. After the fireworks were over, I walked a ways down down the street for a shot of the skyline. As any visitor (or inhabitant) of Niagara Falls knows, there’s very little behind the wall of lights by the Falls. Looks can be deceiving.

Niagara Falls at night

That’s about it, for the past few days. I also went out early Monday and picked up new Nikon 35mm f/1.8 AF-S from Best Buy. Now, I know what you’re thinking – Best Buy? Well, they sell a few Nikon lenses, and after combining a 10% off sale and some coupons, I was able to walk out of the store, short only about $268 (CAD) all told, and up a 35mm prime. It’s been on my D90 since. First impression: it’s a much nicer focal length on the DX crop body than the 50mm f/1.8D.

GRE Complete.

I spent the last few days anxiously preparing for the GRE examination, which was earlier today. In the final run up to the exam, I did another practice test, reviewed all the mathematics, and crammed as many words into my brain as possible. I would say I was about 90% prepared (obviously, one cannot reasonably expect to know every single word, or even close to it). My main concern was getting the perfect 800 on the Quantitative section. Looking at the schools I’m particularly interested in applying to, Stanford, Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon, and University of Washington, the average quantitative score was in the range of 770-780 for the PhD programs. Scoring perfect was almost essential.

My test center was Hamilton, and upon reaching the building, I attempted to go up to the fifth floor testing center. Little did I know, I couldn’t do that myself. There seemed to be a security card standing in my way. So back out of the building I went, and bumped into another student who had the same 12:30pm appointment. She called up to the test center, and a proctor came down to retrieve us.

I had to sign a confidentiality form, not to divulge any of the questions presented that day, and write (yes, cursive writing; printing was strictly prohibited) a short note on the matter. It was surprising how much of my cursive writing skills have vanished over the past several years. I butchered that seemingly simple exercise.

After some tutorials on using a computer, and a short prayer to whoever’s listening, I set out on my essays. The topics were fortunately straightforward and I had lots to say on both essays. A good start.

Then I reached the quantitative section. It was a terrible start. I spent nearly 10 minutes on the first three questions, and I thought I was done for. The start threw me off for the rest of the section, in which I constantly felt rushed. I hoped with all of my will that it was to be the unmarked, research section.

I can’t deny that I thought about more than one of the math questions as I embarked on the Verbal section. I know every prep book says to block out everything prior to the current question, but, as you’d probably expect, that’s far easier said than done. The words I crammed in the last few days before the exam didn’t show up, and there were several questions that I had do some educated guessing after eliminating some choices.

Expecting (or perhaps hoping for) another math section to wrap things up, I saw only a prompt for an unmarked research section. I was tempted to do the section for ETS’s sake, but  the apprehension of not knowing my score in the two marked sections proved to be too strong. I clicked the ‘Exit Section’ button and held my breath. *Stomach leaps into throat*

Quantitative: 800

Verbal: 660

And exhale. I didn’t quite expect it, but 800 on the quant was achieved. I was slightly disappointed in the verbal score (was aiming closer to 700), but all in all, not a bad day’s work.

So step 1 of the grad school application process has been successfully completed. The score was sent off to the four schools I mentioned earlier. Now it’s time to put together the Letter of Intent and some information for my referees. Good weekend to all! 🙂

Grad School Prep

It’s been a while since I’ve found myself sitting on a bus on my way back home. But here I am, and I’m taking the opportunity to finally write a few things.

Midterms are all done for the semester, and they were mostly successful. Current marks for the four classes are all well into the 90’s, which is boding well for Dean’s List once again. I really can’t complain about much in any of the courses. Of course, being able to select the courses played a part I’m sure. I was shocked at how little time is left in the semester when I looked through my calendar yesterday. The semester has flown by. And for good reason.

Boredom stretches out time, and I’ve had very little of it. Between preparing for the GRE (in less than a month), keeping up with the 4 courses, fourth year design project, percussion lead in the university orchestra, being an executive in the photography club, and an undergraduate research assistantship, I feel stretched pretty thin. With only 3 ECE courses, this should have been a fairly relaxing semester, but instead it’s turned into my busiest by far.

That GRE… I’m getting into gear for graduate applications, and I’ve narrowed my fields of interest to Human Computer Interaction (HCI) and Communications (the lower layers). With a work semester in the fall, I have to wrap up much of the preparations for applications this semester. My biggest concern is references. I’m well on my way to two or three academic references, but theses are professors I’ve only known for a few months. It’s been difficult to stick myself into professors’ faces for no reason – I’m not wired that way.

Graduate school. If I achieve what I’m signing up for, it will mean another 5 or so years of studies. PhD. Sure, it’ll be nice to have that after my name, but sometimes I’m not sure if that’s where I’m trying to get. Everyone tells me that research isn’t like undergrad, and I completely believe it, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m still not quite living life. My 4 years at the University of Waterloo have made me itch for the ‘real world’, little tastes of which I’ve experienced through co-op, and I love it. I think I know what I want to do, yet I’m still actively pursuing grad studies. Why?

Part of it is my belief that only an undergraduate degree could become an impediment to my goals in the future. What decisively sets me apart from the average if the average has the same piece of paper? Say what you will about the system, credentials help identify a person.

Perhaps the most important factor is the occasional pangs of regret I see in my father’s eyes, when we speak about graduate studies. Don’t get me wrong, he’s done very well, but there’s always been a part of him that wonders how things would be different if he had of pursued his engineering masters at McGill, instead of taking the job on Prince Edward Island to support the family. Where would he be now? He doesn’t want me to wonder the same thing, 20, 30 years down the road.

Do I take 5 more years of potential pain for that certainty in the future? I’m leaning towards yes.

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.