Visiting Japan: Part 1

So better late then never like they say. This trip was almost 2 months ago, but I’m only now getting to posting about it. Life has been distracting. I was in Japan for 8 days from May 22 to May 30. And I’ll give a quick day by day with some pictures.

This is the first of three posts. The three parts are 1, 2, and 3.

May 22-23

Rice paddies

I traveled for 24 hours straight from Portland to Los Angeles to Tokyo to Kobe. The flight from LAX to Tokyo alone was around 10 hours. It was exhausting, but went pretty well. As we came into to Narita Airport (Tokyo) I say a bunch of “fields” that made me think of coming into Kansas and seeing all the wheat. But it hit me this was not wheat. They were rice paddies. Eventually I made it to my hotel in Kobe.

May 24

This was my first day at FLOPS and it went well. I say some talks and I talked to people. It was interesting. That night was the conference banquet so they loaded us onto a bus and drove us to Arima Onsen where we had some time to wander around a little resort town of sorts and we had a rather fancy meal. I spent my free time walking around on my own. I saw some Shinto shrines and a Budist temple. It was all very beautiful.

Read more »

Posted in Life (other than code), Travel

A quick update

It’s been a while since I posted. Sorry about that. And this will be a short one. I just thought I’d post a quick update.

  • I got back from my Japan trip (which I will post about soon I hope with lots of pictures). Japan was interesting and I presented two papers.
  • I have submitted what I believe is the final version of my thesis.
  • I walked for my graduation and I should officially graduate in a month or so.
  • I am planning my move to Austin, TX and I’m visiting Austin next week to find an apartment and all that. I’m also going to talk to a few faculty members and maybe start some research thought.
I’ll try to post again soon. Hopefully with Japan pictures.

Posted in Life (other than code), Uncategorized

Going to Japan

I’m in the airport waiting to leave on my trip to Japan. I’m insanely early, but it seems to be one of those things where if you get there early everything goes fast, but if you are running late you get later. So I am over 2 hours early for my flight.

I am on my way to Kobe, Japan for FLOPS 2012. I will be traveling for roughly 24 hours: 2.5 hours to LAX, 11 hours to Tokyo, and finally 6 hours on a train to Kobe. That doesn’t add up to 24 hours, but there will be time in custom and things and I’m not sure how I estimated it in the first place. Maybe it will be less.

I will spend 3 days in Kobe and then head up to Tokyo to visit Marty for 2 days and then back down to Nagoya for another conference (WFLP) for my last day and then back up to Tokyo for my last day. It’s going to be quite a trip with lots of time on trains, but I’m kind of excited about the trains so that’s OK.

I have a JR pass (similar to the Eurail Pass) for 7 days (it just hit me yesterday that I will be in Japan for 8 days, so I guess that last trip up to Tokyo will be in addition to the JR rail pass cost). The JR pass does  not cover Nozomi (the fastest of the Shinkansen, “bullet trains”) but all of  the Shinkansen are fast which should be fun.

I am presenting a paper at both conferences. At FLOPS it is a paper I co-authored with my adviser (Sergio Antoy). At WFLP it is a Work-in-Progress extended abstract that I wrote my self based on a class project I did last fall. I’m excited about both, but slightly more so about WFLP because I am the sole author and because I’ve been working with the subject of the FLOPS paper way too much because it is also the subject of my thesis.

In other news, I passed my thesis defense earlier this month and I submitted the final version of my thesis yesterday. So I’m finally done with that and I will be graduating in June with my Master of Science in Computer Science. This is pretty exciting to me. ;-)

In my last post I mentioned the camera I was eyeing. I did get it and I’m pretty darn happy with it. You can see some pictures at my google plus album. I’m thinking about starting to use flicker or something like that for better photo sharing.

Anyway, wish me luck in Japan. It should be exciting. Sadly, I’d really rather have sleep right now, not excitement (and not just because it’s 5:30am). I am looking forward to getting back from Japan and getting some real rest. It has been a really intense term.

Posted in Grad School, Life (other than code), Uncategorized

An update on plans and schools and being an academic

So it’s been a while since I posted and, just in case there in anyone who reads this who I don’t regularly talk to, I thought I’d give an update.

I have decided (3 weeks ago) to go to Austin for my PhD. I’m scared but it’s the right choice academically. I will definitely lose something, since I have a several very good friends here in Portland. But who knows maybe I will be able to come back someday. I do like it here.

Regardless, it is decided. So in Aug I will be moving across the country again. Not quite as far as last time, but it’s still a ways. I’ve been thinking about logistics: I will either ship things (FedEx) or drive a mini-van or similar. I’ve already started making some contacts in Austin and I will probably visit there in July before I move. There are a couple reasons. One is that it will allow me to get an apartment. The other is that there are some people at UT that would like to talk to me before the semester starts, including a student who is leaving and I will be continuing their work to some extent (probably, nothing is set about what I will do and there are a lot of options).

Also I submitted my Master’s thesis to my committee. I will be defending it on May 10th (if you are in Portland you would be welcome to come to the defense just email me and ask for location and time), so I still have a lot of work to do to prepare for that and once that is done I need to prepare for my presentations in Japan (see below), so I’m still quite busy but I’m relieved to have the thesis out of my hands for at least the moment. I will still have to do another revision after the defense.

In other news, I’m going to Japan for a week in late May. I have a paper in FLOPS (First author is Sergio Antoy) and will probably have an extended abstract in the WFLP Work-in-Progress session. I will also have 3 days to be a tourist. I have a 7-day Japan Rail Pass, so I will be able to run around Japan in most of the trains. It will be pretty exciting, but also scary. I still have logistics to work out.

I’m planning on buy a semi-fancy camera for the trip and because I like to take pictures of things currently I plan on getting the Sony Alpha NEX-5N. I will be buying it very soon, probably today, so that I have it for my trip.

Also my websites got hacked a while back and I didn’t even notice. Grr. I feel like an idiot. I have now fixed everything and upgraded everything. I am 99% sure there are no lingering backdoors. :-/ I’m going to set up some monitoring scripts, so I will get notified immediately if it happens again.

Posted in Grad School, Life (other than code)

A musing on how to become a better programmer

So I had this thought and I wrote it up to send to someone so I thoughts I would post it here too.
If you want to become a better programmer learn lots of languages of different kinds. I think all programmers should learn at least one language from each of these groups (or a language of the same kind, these are just ones that came to mind) and really learn how to think in it and write idiomatic code in it:
  • Haskell, OCaml, SML (Functional languages)
  • Prolog, Mercury (Logic languages)
  • Python, Ruby, JavaScript (Dynamic languages)
  • Java, C#, Scala (Modern O-O languages)
As you learn how to think in all these languages you learn new ways to approach problems. Also learning each type system will help you understand what types are for and why you should care.
  • Functional languages show you how to think about computation as transformations on data and about side effect freedom.
  • Logic languages teach you how to express problems and solutions without needing to specify the algorithm used to find the solution.
  • Dynamic languages teach you how to make use of an mutable runtime environment (by doing things like changing class definitions at runtime) and how important types really are.
  • And finally modern OO languages teach you how to structure data in a way that captures the fundamentals of what the data is. Especially if you use generics and variances.
Posted in Computers, Programming

Random stuff I don’t need and can’t afford (But I kinda want anyway)

1. A computer

Yes that’s 64 cores. It would cost around $5000. Honestly not that bad for more than 50 cores.

Uses: Research into multicore and parallel programming and compilation techniques.

2. A sound system

A pair (or maybe 8 for ambisonics!) of Meyer UPM-1Ps. They are beautiful and durable and loud as heck. So really studio monitors are probably more realistic. But I have a soft spot for UPM-1Ps because I had a pair in my office for years.

They are around $1800 per speaker. So a pair is $3600 and a cube worth is $14,400.

Uses: Awesome playback of paraphonic audio. Out doing my neighbors sound system by several orders of maganitude. For instance I might be able to do justice to the cannons of the 1812 Overture if I didn’t like my windows too much. I think that would out do the hip hop my neighbors play.

3. A Camera with wide angle lenses

Probably a Nikon DSLR of some kind or maybe if I’m particularly insane a large format Red camera. Then a fish eye lens and a hemispheric lens.

Uses: Panographic photography.

4. A paraphonic microphone array and a multi channel portable recorder

This is the equivalent of a panoramic camera setup except for sound. There are 2 approaches: a ambisonic microphone (4 or 9 channels, first and second order respectively), or a 2d (or 3d) microphone array and some pretty advanced software (this works by measuring the phase differences between the mics and building a model of the sound field). The second case it more accurate than ambisonic because ambisonic encode only the pressure vector at a single point where as the array actually gets you some information about the wave fronts. So a mic array will in theory have be able to give you information about the sound over some small area instead of at a point. This could result in better playback over an area; ambisonic tends to have a sweat spot outside of which the localization degrades quickly.


So whenever I think about audio and image capture gear I always find my self wanting to capture the essence of a place more than any specific image or sound. I want to take a panorama and 20 minutes of audio and then show it to people. Because in some small way it would allow them to be there. Far more than a single picture or just a few minutes of mono audio. They would hear the cars drive by and see the whole sky and hear the bees that investigate the microphone. I really want to try to do that at some point.

As a side note. I actually do think it’s time for me to own a digital camera. Probably a Nikon COOLPIX P7100 or P7000 or something similar. I like having a view finder and I want a full manual mode. Though I might give up on the viewfinder. All the cameras from listed here look good: The Panasonic looks pretty good too and you can get an external viewfinder for it (attaches to the shoe). I’m not sure when I will do it but I think I’d like to have a better camera than my phone.

Posted in Computers, Hardware, Life (other than code)

Robots and life

Pasted directly from my chat log with a friend, but I typed the whole thing
Let me tell you a little story about a robot. Someone was training a robot to dual other robots. They would reward the robot for doing better each day. The robot learned that if it got shot it was bad. So it would run away. And it would be rewarded. But after a while it couldn’t do any better. The robot was very good at running away but it never did anything else. So it couldn’t improve.
It was trapped in what is called (mathimatically) a local maxima. It would have to do something that would make things worse to learn how to make them better. My point is it’s really easy to get stuck in one place and not be willing to take the risk to get out of the place you are stuck and find a better place.
(This is a true story about someone trying to build an battle bot AI of sorts, it would run away but never shoot.)
Posted in Computers, Life (other than code)

Visiting University of Texas at Austin CS Department

Austin is a nice town. It sees it self as a liberal mecca and in many ways it is. However I get an odd feeling that there may be a bit more don’t ask, don’t tell type attitude about things, meaning that although it is “accepted” people don’t openly talk about some thing. I don’t know if this is true, but I got an odd sense of that. That being said it is a really nice place. Lots of sun and nice weather some nice big parks inside the city. Also it’s a university town in many ways because although the student population is not a huge percentage of the overall population the city grew up around UT Austin in many ways.
Like I said in my last post none of this should be taken as factual information about anything especially UT Austin. It’s just my sense from spending 3 days in an around the campus.
  • Nice city. Feels a bit more like home than Philly. But in other ways I would prefer to be in philly.
  • Seems like a more connected department in the sense that faculty and students have more casual relationships. There would be some ability to walk into peoples offices and talk to them. It’s not PDX but it’s closer than UPenn I think.
  • The visit was a little more calm.
  • I really like Orc, however i don’t know how much real interest there is in doing a higher-performance implementation or even if it would be a good idea.
  • J. Misra is a very nice guy.
  • I find the work of Don Batory on code “synthesis” very interesting.
  • I feel like my work is at the intersection of more peoples interests and skillsets than at UPenn.
  • However there does not seem to be much type theory here.
  • Unless you get outside funding you have to TA to maintain funding. This can be quite a lot of work in some cases. However I do want teaching experience. However it can really cut into research time.
  • Like UPenn the faculty doesn’t seem to be willing to come in on the weekend even for the prospective students.
  • I could get involved in the Orc work directly and I could probably get publications out of that. It would be a lot work but that’s the way of publication.
  • Very few department clubs oddly enough. But there are lots of clubs on the rest of campus.
  • City is quite bikable. There are several grad students who ride everywhere. Not as good as portland but still nice.
  • Very strict police force in terms of enforcing traffic laws for bikes.
  • People love this place. However I’m a bit worried about finding actually like minded people. I’m sure they are there, but it may take a bit of searching.
  • Food is reasonably priced but a bit on the high end.
  • Housing is fairly cheap if I am willing to ride a few miles or have a share.
  • I really don’t know anyone in Austin.
  • An hour out of town you can get some nice astronomical seeing.
  • 4mo sunny days per year.
  • It seems that fire dancing is legal in the parks with a permit!

At this point I am leaning heavily toward UT Austin. However I’m not very happy with that. It will be very lonely to move to another city where I know no one. If I went to Philly I could visit all my old friends in NYC and that would be really nice; I miss them. However I think as far as being able to follow the research direction I want and enjoying my degree I think Austin is better.

It has also hit me how much I will miss Portland. In theory I could stay at Portland State and get my PhD here. It would be faster for one thing (since I could roll my Master’s work over into the first requirements for the PhD). However Portland State is not well rated or well known, and although I believe it is a good school (although there is no one here whose interests line up perfectly with mine, but that will be true to one degree or another anywhere) I have been told by many people that school reputation matters and this makes sense. When someone has a bunch of applications on their desk they need a way to make a first cut and where you got your PhD is one of them. However other people have said that publications are more important. Honestly I don’t know who to believe. The only thing I know for sure is that having a PhD from a prestigious university like UPenn or UTAustin would be nothing put positive even if it isn’t the only important thing.

So I am faced with a choice of school something like this:

  • Portland State: Very fun and nice department with many smart people though no one exactly in my field. But not prestigious so I would probably have to work harder to get a job once I graduate. I have good friends here.
  • UPenn: Less fun department but with lots of smart, nice people however again no one exactly in my field. However it is the most prestigious program of the three so I would probably have an easier time getting jobs. I know 1 or 2 people in Philly and I know a lot of people in NYC and I could visit them which would be so nice.
  • UTAustin: Middle of the road department in terms of fun; intense but open and seems to enjoy itself. There are several people in the department working on what I am interested in so I would not be working on a secondary research project. This is a very close second to UPenn in prestige so either would be a good bet as far as getting jobs. I know almost no one in Austin or anywhere near by. I’m sure I could make friends but it is very lonely to move to a new place and not know anyone.

The issue about prestige bothers me a lot. As I said I have been told different things by different people and I don’t know who to believe. In the end I am going to have to just choose one and no matter which I choose I will have lost some things and gained others. That is the thing that hurts the most for me is that I cannot “just follow my heart” since no matter where I go I will have lost some opportunity I care about.

However there is one thing I am very happy about. I don’t have to travel again for mouths. Being gone to another state for two weekends in a row was really exhausting. It’s nice to be home, so I can try to get caught up on things. Speaking of which I need to get my thesis committee setup. My stress level is high enough that I have been running a mild headache for a week. Life is not fun at the moment.

PS: Again, if you have any comments on either of these schools or towns or recommendations or random thoughts on the subject tell me. I’m looking for all the input I can get.

Posted in Grad School, Life (other than code)

Visiting The University of Pennsylvania CIS Department

Last weekend I visited UPenn. Philly is a nicer town than I expected. And UPenn is a very nice school. Here is some notes I took on Fri night after spending the day meeting with people at the school. These are of course only my person opinions based on spending a day and a half meeting people and wandering the city. None of this should be taken as factual information about UPenn.

  • Lots of people doing interesting work.
  • A very busy department. Some competition for time between students and other responsibilities.
  • Very nice people; both faculty and students.
  • If I followed the Lolliproc path I would be working on a secondary project which could make publication a bit more work. However Steve Zdancewic seems interested and I think i could do it without too much trouble.
  • Andre DeHon‘s work on streaming data processors also seems interesting. However I think that would need to be a secondary relationship because I don’t know it I would be happy doing just architecture.
  • Stephanie Weirich‘s work on dependently typed languages like trellis could be very interesting. I don’t know if they are looking to implement yet or not. It is not at all parallelism oriented. Also some people think trillis is just taking the wrong approach to the problem, so it might turn out to be a dead end.
  • Lot’s of type theory skill.
  • A big focus on security and program correctness. Which I really don’t care about since I want to develop new languages.
  • Department takes itself very seriously. Which is good and bad.
  • Could be a very stressful school. However the actual hours per day expectation seems reasonable (very high some weeks however flexible so other weeks you can catch up on sleep). So it’s a full time job + overtime.
  • Very active PL group. So I would learn lots of interesting things on any PL-related subject.
  • Also there is interesting architecture work, so maybe I could actually start to merge those threads but I don’t know.
  • Split culture the students and the faculty are not on a level and have seperate “living spaces”. That being said it is a first name department and there are club meeting once a week where students and faculty hang out and talk about various things.
  • They never gave us a break on Fri. It was a really intense day and they didn’t seem to think anything of it.
  • Everything was scheduled for Fri instead of Sat. One of the students mentioned that this was because the faculty didn’t like to come in on weekends. This does not seem reasonable to me since this is a open house and the faculty should be all in. I worry that this means that the faculty don’t feel like they need to do anything inconvenient to make the department work. That could make it hard to finish a thesis if my adviser refused to go out of his/her way to help me when that was needed.
  • Reasonably lax graduation requirements.
  • Would probably still take me 4-5 years.
  • Nice funding policy. I would have to TA for two terms. After that any TAing would be bonus and paid (at least a little) on top of the funding.
  • Living on the funding is fairly easy even with a pretty high standard of living.
  • First couple of semesters are harder but then it calms down a bit.
  • Nice city.
  • Bikable, looks easy to get around. Not as nice as Portland but not bad.
  • Reasonably cheap food and drink.
  • People seem to like it here and I think it’s honest.
  • 2-3 hours from NYC by a cheap bus ($15 each way day of) or a train ($25). So I could see me NYC friends on a somewhat regular basis.
  • 3 months of sunny days per year.

It is going to be very hard to choose between UPenn and UTAustin. They are both very good schools and are in nice cities. UPenn has the notable advantage that I would be near NYC without being in NYC. I still have a lot of friends there and I miss the people and places.  However I need to make sure to make a good academic choice (based on how the department and the school is) and not blindly choose one place over the other because I want to be able to hang out with my old friends once or twice a month. It’s going to be hard. No matter where I go I will be closing some doors (at least for the time being) and I have to make my choice on fundamentally incomplete information because I really do not know how it will be to go to any of these schools, since I will have only visited them for a couple of days.

This coming weekend I go to Austin, TX to visit UTAustin. Then I will start trying to compare in earnest. I have over a month to decide, but I don’t want to put it off too long because it will probably not get easier as I wait longer.

PS: If you have any comments on either of these schools or town or recommendations or random thoughts on the subject tell me. I’m looking for all the input I can get.

Posted in Grad School, Life (other than code)

RAGBRAI 7: Epilogue

I am now in the car coming back from Iowa (I’m actually posting this while going 70MPH of I-80 … Zach is driving). Ironically we are following a route fairly similar to the second half of the ride just in the other direction. And 5 or 6 times faster.

Zach and I did ride down to the river and dipped our tired as is traditional for RAGBRAI. It was 9 miles each way, but 18 miles is not that bad for me at this point.

My hands hurt most of the riding. They are just really tired and sore. The numbness in my right hand did not get worse that I could tell and the rest of the hand pain is just muscles and some bruising I think so it will all heal up. My legs also hurt but that took a long time to develop. I only started having leg pain like the 4 day riding. My butt kinda hurts from the seat, but I managed to avoid to much chaffing by using “Chamois Butter” which is basically lube to apply your crouch to prevent chaffing against the seat (no need to share the dirty jokes I’ve already thought of them all). So at this point it doesn’t hurt unless I sit on a bike saddle.

I don’t expect to do RAGBRAI again, but I said that about Burning man after the first time too and I’ve been back 3 times. So who knows. Riding that far sucks, but drafting is awesome. Camping in the hot and the rain is no fun but the people along the route are really nice and helpful. So who knows maybe in 3 or 10 years I’ll get the urge and go back.

Posted in Uncategorized