Thursday, December 15, 2005

I got a job, Engineering Scientist Associate, at UT. I'd probably be remiss to post the exact department on my blog. If you are one of the three people who reads this blog, and you want to know, please e-mail me and I'll tell you. Actually, two people already know, so Greg, if you want to know, e-mail me.

I am excited about this. I was worried I'd get a job that would force me to forget most of what I studied: physics, math, digital signal processing. This job will give me opportunities to maintain and build upon my academic foundation. My three year, unrequited love affair with the wave equation can continue; the job involves acoustics. On Tuesday I spent my coop bookstore rebate on a book called "fundamentals of physical acoustics." First chapter, the wave equation. It's easy enough to see that functions with an x-ct (position minus speedconstant times time) parameter shift right on the x axis as you increase t. A pulse glides right on the x axis like a wave, or a lightbike from "Tron." The wave equation is a partial, second order differential equation that, when you plug in tron-bike equations and differentiate like a good calc II student, works. Admittedly, I am still baffled by how mathematicians derived the wave equation. When I really get it--and I must--I will post a long blog entry or pdf document to explain. It has been too long in coming.

More to the point people, CLOSURE. In my Morita pepper blog entry I hinted that I feel that my life is almost too complicated to explain, but here are the lowlights, in sequential order: demeaning office jobs, lost my father to cancer, worked for a three-person multimedia start-up and the boss committed suicide, i made a serious go of it as a tech writer and got laid off, i went back to school and worked my way up from the lowest-level EE courses, selling my condo in the process. A decade of suspense. Of course, I am leaving many things out, many good things, and I am not so naive to assume that everything will be better here on out, but I think at some point you can safely say that you paid some dues.

Currently reading a fascinating book, Jeff Hawkins' "On Intelligence." He invented the Palm Pilot and went on to study neuroscience. His book attempts to explain the human mind as if it were an operating system. 50 years ago, a lot of his analogies and suppositions would have seemed trivial. Such as, intelligence is being able to infer from a siren that a fire truck is coming, we don't have to actually ID the truck visually. Big deal. But the point he makes is that our ability to predict outcomes is distinctively human, possible due to our large neocortex, the "new rind" around our more primitive inner brain. The upshot of computers and AI might not be that we eventually write intelligent computer programs, but that by writing computer programs we become able to appreciate the aspects of intelligence that are not "computational." Hawkins and his pals are out to build neocortex-like systems. I think this has fascinating implications for the field I am getting into. I would bet money that the kinds of systems I will be working on rely on instantaneous detection and recognition of patterns in the environment, and that the idea of recognizing patterns by correlating with stored "memories" of prior patterns has not been tried. I hope I'll be able to blog about it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

On the difference between pushing and merely leaning in to something.

I jog west, at a leisurely pace, by the Stevie Ray Vaughan statue. It's just after 7PM, dark, the trail is almost empty. Two guys pass me. The first one is thin and moving fast, the other looks like a butterball. I decide to keep pace with him, to see if he is really that fast or simply sprinting a 1 mile dash. We wind over hills, under Lamar, into the dark trees on the north edge of zilker, up and over a few hills. As we approach the footbridge near Robert E. Lee I realize the butterball is deceptively fast. He is not kicking his knees up so much as floating over earth with a quick scissor movement of the legs. I start breathing heavy. My feet make noisy, almost angry sounds on the planks of the footbridge as I chase him. I stay about 20 feet behind him for about a mile. We run up a tall hill, then down into a small arroyo, then up where the Zilker Zephyr mini train tracks cross. I am going much faster than usual. Up the hill, my feet seem to make tight, solid contact, and I think "I HAVE to be gaining ground on him." Perhaps one or two feet of gained ground, that's it. By the time we get to the Mopac bridge I go all out and pass him. I break my imaginary finish line at the north end of the bridge. He claps me on the shoulder a few seconds later, says "keep pushing" and floats into the street and up the hill towards Enfield. I shout "thank you, man" without hesitating. It was inspiring.

I noticed from the neck up he looked tough. (sure, sure) I'll have to start wearing a watch and report how fast I am actually running the 4.5 mile Mopac-to-Congress loop. I run .5 mile warm up on a track, and started doing .5 miles of sprint, cool-down. I'd like to get up into the 7-12 mile range and possibly do a half-marathon.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

My fingertips are burning. A few hours ago I was cooking with Morita peppers, which are simply roasted red jalapenos that you buy in a little celophane bag. They add a powerful, smoky aroma to stews. Lately I've been on a guisada kick but this might be my cue to try something else. Pain! I did the dishes, thinking it would wash off the hot but it simply aggravated it.

Watched a very strange movie tonight on TCM, The Devil-Doll starring Lionel Barrymore. His character, Paul Lavond, is a fugitive who teams up with the widow of a mad scientist in order to make miniature dolls out of his enemies. For most of the movie he hobbles around in a dress, in disguise as an old woman, talking in an absurd falsetto. When his last standing enemy confesses to the police and exonerates him, the lab and the widow conveniently explode, freeing him to make amends with his long lost daughter. In the most powerful scene in the movie he sees his daughter out of costume but chooses to lie to her that her father is actually dead. The practical reason he does this is unclear to me, but from an emotional level, you sense that he has done SO much weird shit that he can't possibly explain himself to the people he loves. message: We can become such weird creatures that it becomes impossible to explain ourselves, or to love. Yet the movie ends with him saying "this is the best day of my life." Such a movie would never be made today. Yet it expresses something real.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Robotic Fish.

"here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is...the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succesion moments during which we will confront the experience of meaninglessness itself."

-- Joan Didion, The New York Times Magazine, September 25, 2005

I recently read Susan Jacoby's Freethinkers, about the rich and deliberately obscured history of non-religious moral leadership in this country. And interviewed her last Saturday, which was terrific. I have Rob Brezsny, the syndicated astrologist, coming on in two weeks. So all of this freethinking has led me to question my own religious beliefs.

I recently discovered that when really pressed to the wall, I become a good Catholic. I apologize, sincerely, to some sort of deity, for my sins, and vow to do better. I don't know if this is human nature or whether by being baptised Catholic 33 years ago, a very subtle element was added to my personality. I suppose I could find out by studying rituals of contrition, repentance, in other religions.

But what Didion seems to be saying is that it's all window dressing. Only people add meaning to life.

Monday, September 19, 2005

a perk of my new gold's gym membership is a free personal training session. a trainer named chris analyzed my walk, posture, and squat, and concluded that I had overpronation of the shoulders, one leg longer than the other, and really tight (in a bad way) legs. He had me lay on the ground and proceeded to roll a foam rolling pin over the backs of my legs. a quick and painful way to stretch out and untangle the hamstrings. when all was said and done he sketched a pyramid for me and said that I needed to spend three weeks doing stretches--the bottom tier of the pyramid, a place without weights or machines, rolling around on a big pink ball, similar to rehab. at the side of the pyramid he wrote "886." What is 886 I asked. After some hemming and hawing, he admitted that it was the cost (in dollars) of the pyramid, or at least the cost to lead me up it. i had no idea the hour we were spending was a sales pitch, the first time I enrolled at Gold's I took the free training and the guy basically gave me a cruddy workout routine and said good luck. so until 886 i was really liking all that chris was saying.

he has me believing that the reason I have had problems breaking my 4-mile running limit, is not my aerobic capacity but the fact that a large percentage of my muscles are simply too knotted up to contribute to the effort. he also denigrated my previous workout routine, so the next time i go back, i am not sure what to do with myself that he would approve of. I am thinking I'll try the free yoga classes they offer, and keep running 3 days a week. if i ever get a job, i might spend the 886. chris seemed to be saying that in 6 weeks he could utterly transform me physically, from a hunched over, knotted me into a pressed, svelte me who can easily run 10ks. for the time being, though, i will keep trying to train myself.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Governor Kathleen Blanco of Louisiana has declared today a day of prayer. Wouldn't it have been nice for her to declare a "day of pragmatic thinking." Or "a day during which we perform our thoughtful contingency plan." Or even "a day of selfless behavior." But a day of PRAYER. As if the south needs that. We might as well have a press conference with Joyce Meyer, who seems to have more resources at her disposal.

Friday, August 26, 2005

I had taken beautiful movie of Lobo settling into bed, but alas, SBC Yahoo! does not let me post it.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

I've been summoned for jury duty! Something to finally blog about. People, grab your cutlery and tuck in that napkin, because I am going to be adjudicating.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The most coherent arguments I've heard in favor of staying the course in Iraq have been from Bill Kristol. He describes the aftermath of a pullout as follows:

"Since Iraqi troops won't be as capable as American ones, the situation will deteriorate. Then the insurgency could become a full-fledged guerrilla war, inviting a civil war--and we would be faced with a choice between complete and ignominious withdrawal or a recommitment of troops."

Ignominous, "Marked by shame or disgrace"

This scenario should at least be on the minds of the people in Crawford. The first image that leaps to mind is officially endorsed massacres of minority groups in Iraq.
Years and years of sunnis and shiites with RPG launchers skittering about on our television sets. Murders we won't see and won't feel.

I do support a pull-out. What Kristol assumes is that the "ignominious" outcome has not already been reached. His idea of shame is just as valid as Cindy Sheehan's. Our government has acted shamefully, from the top (Bush) to the bottom (Abu Ghraib). And currently, the same idiots who convinced us to go into Iraq (Kristol) are using the same doom-scenario technique to prod us en masse towards escalation. No.

Nobody understood what makes Iraq tick THEN, and I'll be damned if I go along with more pundits telling me they think they understand Iraq NOW. There is no serious analysis going on. I suppose what must be next for Anti-War supporters is to formulate a credible withdrawal plan. Doing the homework of explaining how a horrible civil war might NOT happen, or at least explaining why we are still OK allowing Iraq to go to hell...but wait it has gone to hell.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Erin Collier, the Austin Chronicle's marketing director, was my guest today on Writing on the Air. She brought six or seven different jars/tubs of salsa for me to try, and a bag of chips. We agreed that she'd come on only this week, after I had posted a blurb in the Chron announcing I'd be playing readings from Billy Collins and Denise Levertov. So the show was a weird mix of Erin and I making silly comments about hot sauce and then playing austere, serious poetry. Billy Collins, not too austere, but Levertov's "Life at War" dealing with "burned human flesh in Vietnam" was austere. It seemed to work. Ironically, Erin was one my most lively, funny guests, and she isn't a writer, which means I either need to find better guests or do a different type of show. Maybe the "feed Graham show."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Latest news. I have graduated. My freelancing clients have me documenting the second version of their rich site summary (RSS) reader, quicknews. Which Julie is familiar with, having written an excellent first book on the subject.

Via RSS I learned that Wil Wheaton, ensign crusher from star trek next generation, has made a name for himself as a blogger and technical writer.
He has a book "Just a Geek" which is supposedly a touching tale of what it means to be human. Many stars. Whodathought.

I watched Bill Maher standup for 90 minutes on HBO last night "I'm Swiss" and agreed with practically everything he shouted. For example, he points out that putting the ten commandments in front of a courthouse is dumb because 8 of them aren't actual laws. Don't covet thy neighbor's wife, for instance, is not a law. He criticized Bush for everything, including the stinging observation that he benefitted from the "safe" national guard of the 60s only to make it an extremely dangerous military branch to join in the 00s.

What I'm getting at is that I don't think I have anything to SAY anymore. Wil Wheaton's take on technology is more interesting than mine (having served on the Enterprise) and Bill Maher is 100x more prolific.

The reason summer box office receipts are down? It's the 15 minutes of fucking commercials they make you watch. (my impersation of Bill Maher with my own observation) See, he's better at it.

Bill Maher has also been the only person I ever heard directly make fun of Christianity. He is like a bulldozer charging a barbed wire fence. Richard Wright's book "Black Boy" describes communist speakers carrying on like Bill Maher. The narrator stands in the street in 1930s chicago and some guy with a bullhorn yells out to a crowd, "Where the hell is this Jesus, strike me down now. I'm WAITING." I like this side of America.

Oh, here is a 2.4 MB video of my senior project in action. I do not want to go into detail as this was not a very good project, other than perhaps the fact that we got it to do anything. The clicking sound is me turning the frequency knob on a signal generator. The device uses a coarse scheme for picking out the frequency as I raise it from 0-20000 hz.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Ugh. What a past few days. My night of three beers turned into a morning of acute stomach virus. Probably something I ate. I had no time to spare on the senior project so I worked through it. This morning Ryan and I demoed a successful sound-interactive light tile (see pic). I was honored to be a part of the experience, but getting home, seeing my picture, and still feeling unwell, I feel sort of ragged.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Sitting around here with Lobo, the abiding snooze-hound. Turner Classics is on. When they announce "a day of Shelly Winters" I get thrills dreaming about August 14th when I can sit on my ass and enjoy "a day of anyone who ever sat in front of a camera but who cares, i have earned my degree and am drinking a screwdriver." Actually, I'm drinking now. I came home to find Matt and Andrew Dickens drinking scotch, so I drank beer to fit in, now I'm here in the living room with the dog and my third bottle of beer.

Some weird James Cagney movie, blood on the sun, where american crackerjack journalists duck and weave around japanese imperialists.

A few nights ago I watched Lost in Translation for the first time. The characters still sit with me, after four days. That was Scarlett's role, she was that character. Vain as this may sound, the movie reminded me of my 1997 tour of Japan with the JIMT program, when I was put up in expensive hotels and was dying for human contact.

Friday, July 29, 2005

This rocks. I got an A in telecommunications networks, my last lecture/exam course, and a B in Laplace Transforms (the 6 week course I agonized over taking at the start of the summer). I have no idea what's next, but I'm wrapping up in style.

However, I have only 6 days in which to make my senior project presentable for the ECE open house. It's currently a C3P0 good heavens pile of crap. Trying to get a PIC microcontroller to communicate via USB is interesting. This morning I was able to transmit two integers from the PIC to the console. Hey, I can just stop now, that's a pretty snazzy senior exhibit.

Friday, June 17, 2005

i want a boston terrier. it's the only motivation i have to move out of matt's house.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

this kid is brilliant.

notice how he answers both parts of the favorite word question with only one word.

i don't know, i hope he stays in canada.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

nothing's easy

i just found out that a graduation requirement enacted in Fall 2004 requires me to take a technical elective in upper level math, astronomy, biology, or chemistry. i am faced with two options, A) take a third course this summer in fourier analysis that meets at 7AM, 5 days a week. or B) wait to take such a course in the fall and postpone graduation by five months.

the first option would result in a hellish 11 weeks, beginning immediately. i have never attempted more than 7 credit hours in a summer; this scheme would load me with 10 and jeopardize the success of my senior lab. the second option would require me to find a part-time job or internship in the fall, which is probably more difficult than just finding a full-time job.

going with the first option would show that I value my time, that i'm eager to graduate and go to work ASAP.

The second option would allow me to take interesting upper division courses in the fall such as the network engineering lab and the computer architecture course taught by yale patt. i'll never get another chance to take courses such as this. i could also choose an upper division math course i want rather than the only one that is available.

the first option seems more ambitious and bold, get the diploma and turn the page. since I'm 33, this seems smart. this is what i think 80 percent of people in my position would do.

the second option seems more cautious but also more optimistic, READ the page before turning it, and trust that you will make yourself into a stronger job candidate with the extra time.

i think i'm going to push ahead with plan A, take 10 credit hours this summer and begin a real job search now. this means i could relocate, get out of matt's hair, and feel like i'm not backing off. i'll check out the fourier class tomorrow morning. if it looks bad i can reconsider.


Sunday, June 05, 2005

first denial then acceptance

the only issue i have with star wars III is that it was a Frito-Lay retail display at HEB four weeks before it opened as a movie. sith settles like a 100 million dollar layer of nacho cheese on every other serial/saga/shootemup that came before it. we are creating so much stuff for our children to watch that eventually they will never be able to reach bottom. yet, we will hand them a polluted environment, inadequate health care, budget defecits, and an estranged third world.

i don't know about you, but into my 30s my whole existence has begun to feel like a movie. impressive, unattainable things shoot back and forth across the screen but i am compelled, compulsed, to just reach for the next kernel of popcorn. in my case, next piece of odwalla bar.

always in the back of my mind when viewing a summer blockbuster is the sense of seeing a precious resource go up in flames. we witness how wealth, put in the hands of a privileged few, results in packaged messages that can only be heard when sitting silently and obediently in a theater. there is no natural law that requires millions of people to submit to the artistic vision of one man. all men are created equal, and with enough practice we could convert our cineplexes into public assembly halls, and entertain each other with music, lectures, strip tease, perhaps leaving ONE theatre open for film.

then again, my discontent over what is only a free market process is stupid. confining. i will continue going to the movies, enjoying the movies, and rather than allow some doubt to tickle the back of my conscience, i will just say "this is what it is."

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

I am writing to say that George Lucas deserves canonization, beyond the usual Oscars fanfare for “lifetime achievment.” We should build a large bronze monument in his image. After all, he sustained a vision for 28 years. He created his own standards and put his evolution as a filmmaker out there for all to see. He made no apologies or conciliation to critics.

When I was six years old, sitting between my Mom and Dad in a crowded movie theatre in Queens, the sight of an enormous blue imperial cruiser coming into view, carrying Darth Vader and his ominous respirations, made my palms sweat and instantly began shaping my concepts of right and wrong, darkness and light. Christmas 1977 I got a red T-shirt with the reflective silver adhesive letters, “Star Wars.” I’d talk to grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, about Star Wars. I would play Star Wars (one note at a time) on piano. I also knew that I did not have the full story regarding Star Wars. My father, already an Alec Guiness fan, remarked that he thought Obi Wan was the most interesting character, that the force actually did exist, that the beginning of Star Wars was not really the beginning, etc. (This was a man who took philosophy courses at Columbia and had a rough childhood, who was practically a kid himself in 1977.) As a result I imagined what the Jedis were like; in daydreams I would ponder why and how Darth Vader was once “good.” It amazes me that 28 years later I would find my curiosity on these matters still intact, that George Lucas could plant seeds of wonder in children, allow those seeds to sit for decades, and then complete his story only after the children had become adults. Unlike any filmmaker I can think of, he extended his epic vision over an epic length of time, providing a new mythology that an entire generation could share.

Some critics are currently trashing his work. They whine that the characters seem wooden, or make fun of Hayden Christianson’s performance, blithely ignoring the fact that if George Lucas gave up on making films or decided to just skip doing episode III, it would have thrown millions of people such as me into an abyss. George Lucas ignored the naysayers, determined to finish what he started. As a result he brought us full circle back to our childhoods. He gives a sense of wisdom, a sense of gratitude for having been born when we were and having waited 28 years for an answer.

The scene with Padme’s funeral procession shows a silent, mournful JarJar Binks (an object of many critics' ridicule) and several exotically facepainted, headdress-wearing Naboo characters. Putting JarJar into the movie at any other moment would have drawn guffaws from the audience. Lucas puts him there in a cunning way, as if to say "try laughing now." They walk in a beautifully gloomy evening light, more sophisticated in terms of set design and lighting than anything attempted in episodes IV, V, and VI. Lucas effectively scolds his critics here, showing that his “phantom menace” characters had value, or at least that his attention to costume and atmosphere grew substantially via these characters. Compared to Leia’s hair buns the Naboo facepaint and headdress is exquisite. Perhaps, Lucas suggests, you were all too insensitive to appreciate the new things I tried.

I predict that Lucas’ next film will be less about fighting and more about fantasy. He is going to deliver a true modern incarnation of Fantasia, something that absorbs a new generation in heavenly forms, high resolution color, perhaps a little mathematical precision. Hopefully he’ll also discover the next Harrison Ford (female or male) and recapture the daring feel of the first Star Wars.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

studying for a final tomorrow, and for some reason i'm dwelling on the U.S. collective psyche. the poor little girls killed in zion, il. and Fox is making their usual circus out of it. i had a choice between the murders on fox and congressional happenings on CNN. I chose fox. i think the reason is that i am hoping for some sort of calamity. when 911 happened, it had the effect of leveling the social hierarchy. the way the event "pulled the country together" also gave everyone a reprieve from whatever ruts they may have dug themselves into. you could drop whatever you were doing and just watch television, and you were no worse than the next guy. some part of me, which i think many americans share, wants more legitimate calamities to occur (in remote cities of course) such that there is always a convenient escape from having to struggle and compete. did i mention this is finals week.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

sitting here in lab, waiting for a program called design vision to finish generating timing and area reports for my synchronous serial port (SSP). the tool takes about 5 minutes to run. so i'm done with part A. the goal of part B is to interface the SSP with a real-world commercial processor interface, called an ARM. doubt i'll have time to finish this.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

i have had a pleasant evening at school. the final 345L assignment calls for soldering components to a PCB board. i've been procrastinating on doing it, fearing a molten disaster, but after making a few ugly globs, i got it. you put the wire near the base of the pin, apply the soldering tip, and there is a puff of smoke and a nearly instantaneous transfer of the solder to the pin. it's easy, no superhuman touch is needed.

also, i figured out a bug in my verilog design. have been seeing red bars for a week, and these red bars are gone. i can go home, have a beer, and go to bed at a reasonable hour.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

finally, finally, i finished the schematic of my ALU. impatience and panic started setting in today. i had earlier tested the comparator block successfully in isolation, the part that detects greater than, less than, equal, etc. around noon today i attempted to put it into the larger design. i was so fed up with the project that i lost any interest in the details, and for awhile i was speeding along connecting the comparator wires, feeling very smart. then at the last stage where i wanted to see all of the correct patterns coming out, it gave bad results and I became upset. in fact, i went over my disk quota at school causing weird errors just as i most needed to be thinking about the design.

i had gone out drinking in honor of matt's birthday last night. matt went home and then will, andy, and i went to the whiskey bar to meet will's friend who is a world renowned animal psychologist. but that went nowhere and the result today was that i was upset moreso than usual with being behind on projects. a mental rather than physical hangover. really hitting a wall. i came back here just as julie showed up with her friends annie and megna from canada. they seemed to detect my mood and proceeded to lavish my roomate matt with warmth for his having met them (annie and megna, in vancouver) for dinner. i was waiting for some kind of stinging coup de grace from the situation, something that would really make me regret everything about myself, but they just said bye and that was that. i ate an apple, a very tart and firm jonagold, muttered vulgarities for awhile, and then went back to the lab. i probed the interconnections of my design looking for the stupid error, the shorted wire, the misnamed pin. actually, i had forgotten a fundamental step which was to make sure that the arithmetic part of the ALU performed subtraction whenever being told to compare. really not that subtle a problem. but in the agony of being behind and having more tests bearing down i just wanted there to be some easy mistake to fix. i had willed myself into a state of denial where i was "finished" and simply needed to debug to be done. since i was not finished, i wasted hours searching for bugs that weren't there. as my bitchy ex boss from general bandwidth used to say, the absence of something is difficult to detect.

another sleighride of the mind is to celebrate prematurely. to want to be "the person" finishing an assignment rather than actually finishing the assignment. all this might seem incredibly obvious. but i am all too human. whenever i finish something or take a test i have a flood of thoughts. good engineers and scientists, like richard feyneman, for instance, would never pause to congratulate, chastise, or overanalyze themselves. their minds were quick and their routes of thought went straight to the essence of a problem. on to the next thing, the next truly big thing.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

i created my first latex document. when matt alden lectured about latex i thought it sounded like the greatest thing since sliced bread. when i was a technical writer my boss told me that a lack of version control (ability to track who changed what file, how, and when) was why i could never gain her feel acceptance or appreciation as a human being. well, i'm exaggerating, but our little ephemeral group of tech writers were never allowed to feel whole because of this.

so here is LaTEx, a document SYSTEM that lets you typeset documents right in unix. with latex you have total version control. you can set up makefiles, check your books into CVS, the works.

well, follow the link and look at the results. it's my first latex document, but it's a fucking pain in the ass to use.

but so are 16 bit funnel shifters for that matter. i spent the whole day building one.

i'm actually posting this because i think the picture in my latex document is funny. you can really just skip to that and i'll be happy.

Friday, April 01, 2005

my 379k lab partner, who was almost brought to tears a few weeks ago, rallied and produced a working wireless communications link. what this means is that bits leave the computer, enter the air, and return via another antenna (only a few feet away) in the exact same arrangement. i held one of the antennas. the flowchart bryan created to accomplish this looks like the map of a small city. once the bits flew and returned none of his former agony mattered. all of the pain and doubt just vanished as he realized that he grasped something truly difficult. differentiating him as an electrical engineer, and giving him knowledge he might be able to apply for decades. such is the drug.

i've created my own map of a small city, but in a different class, VLSI design. my arithmetic logic unit (ALU) adds, subtracts, increments, or decrements two sixteen bit numbers in 1090 nanoseconds. the core of the ALU, called a kogge stone network, contains several layers of lookahead logic. if at one stage you need to carry a one, it wires this information ahead in parallel rather then slowly ripple the information one carry at a time. for example if your 2nd grade teacher gave you a difficult addition problem like 9997 + 8879 where the numbers were all big and generated carries, the kogge stone network would be like an extra set of hands, doing all of the carries nearly simultaneously rather than one at a time. this is something about 200 ECE graduates learn how to build every year. bryan with his flying bits is in the company of more like 4 or 5 people. i'm beginning to see people punch their tickets out. in fairness to myself, bryan is a graduate student. But I have a tremendous amount of work in front of me and a very short time to do it in. i don't think I'm going to grad school, and for the last few weeks I've been just hanging on.

prof. rappoport gave a brilliant lecture today on the subject of correlation filters and gaussian noise. he showed that with calculus and some basic knowledge of probability theory you can quantify how powerful the distortion is on a filtered channel. it gives noise a bandwidth of a half hertz he said, and indeed you could see on the whiteboard that the effect of a filter on the infinite chaos of random thermal noise is like taking a baby slice of cake out.

alex, my 345L lab partner, perfected his stepper motor program today. my contribution to the lab was to wire all of the hardware together. i used something called an L293 quadruple driver which was a professional kind of touch recommmended by the TA with only 20 minutes to go in lab last week. nobody bothered to try it except me. the thing about this course is that you have to fight for the TAs attention, and when you do get it there are always a few other students hovering around, wanting to take him away. in today's episode two such guys wanted to know how they could calculate the rotational rate of their motor. the lab instructions said that these things turned at 18 degrees per step. we ran our device and counted 20 steps. "count the time duration of 20 steps as the period" we told them. they didn't seem satisfied with this, perhaps because it was OUR device. i multiplied 20 * 18 on my calculator and showed them that the result was 360 degrees. for once i was issuing a smackdown.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

i woke up thinking about all of the hours I spent as a child doing things which helped prepare me for my midlife transition to electrical engineering. i used to be an expert when it came to delta drawing, i had vast libraries of artwork, from bleeding snowflakes to armadas of spaceships that wiggled in space and "exploded" (red fill).

i could get to 99 on safari. as an aside, reader, explore the miniarcade site if you've ever owned a handheld game. check out puck'n monster.

i had a library of casio synth compositions, lego designs. cannot deny that was not mozart in any of it.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Spring Break Hell

I'm a little freaked out by wireless digital communications right now. Supposed to be preparing for lab 5 and am still trying to do a post-mortem on lab 3. I realized I was in over my head and found a lab partner last week, but it feels like it is too late. He seems brilliant but was almost brought to tears when his LabView model of a QPSK system wouldn't run. I sat like a vegetable trying to deduce what was going wrong within his large flowchart. As it turned out, he (we) did not physically connect the transmitter to the receiver with a cable. The TA who never helps me understand anything (not to be confused with my helpful 345L TA) tried to joke that first rule of debugging is to make sure it's plugged in. We knew he was scoring easy points. The professor in this course looks like one of the Irish thugs in "Mystic River." I need to see him in office hours next week and ask him if I need to drop.

This is pathetic, I can't express in words how hard I have been trying. The thing is I am not connecting. It seems like sitting around the house all day sitting here staring at notes and books is not really "trying." I suppose I could sit in a library. There is no tutor who can teach this stuff. I attend all the lectures. What more can I do?

By Tuesday, I am supposed to prove the complex least-squares solution to Ax-b. I took a course in linear algebra two years ago that required no proofs and treated complex numbers as "beyond the scope." I flattered myself by looking through the online course notes provided by MIT. For the last few days I have been wondering what a "Lemma" is. At MIT they talk in "lemmas." I had to review the derivation of a proj b! I'll never get it at this rate. It's as though I need to go back to school so that I can finish going back to school.

I figured out the concept of interpolation yesterday. The chip we are using in 345L has a special command calld ETBL that fills in the gaps between entries in a lookup table. A lookup table is 256 straight line segments approximating some sort of nonlinear curve. It is probably how robotic hands are able to grasp things without breaking them. A few days ago I came up with a method for debouncing pushbutton switch inputs using another freescale feature called "interrupt capture." Satisfying, you press the button, setting a latch, and then check the status of that latch a few times to make sure that the button has in fact settled on a 1 or 0. We use this everytime we type a character.

Relax and let the sheer hell of the next two months just hit. I saw "Constantine" a few nights ago with Julie, and am thinking that the question will not be "will i go to hell" but "how" and "when."

Readers, I do understand the importance of remaining positive. However, I suppose it is just that, a logical conclusion that "it is important to remain positive." I want the thrill of getting it, that's all. But that's quite a lot.

Friday, February 25, 2005

i dug through boxes to find an electronics part this evening and came across my textbooks from community college. fundamentals of financial accounting. college algebra. seeing them made me feel humble rather than humiliated; i am just an average guy. i used to feel that i was too good for those books. now i realize that the books are a part of me. some people go through life at a faster pace, building brilliant libraries. the nausea of life is that it is always possible to speed up, yet at the same time the amount of things we've done to define ourselves is always increasing. the moment screams "read the best things, go to the best places, be with the best people," but the sad truth is that most of us cannot handle the best. we wait in loops to find or be ready for "the best," and then we die.

now the books i'm reading are a little more challenging at least. studying computers and engineering is addictive because the battles can always be refought. being baffled today only sweetens the pot of being right tomorrow. the problem is today.

at ECE the scarce resource is time. those who make the best use of it succeed and gloat in inverse proportion to those who fail and cower.

enough prose.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

my life has become nonstop school. i feel as though i spend almost as much time carrying books around as I do reading them. slice the pie chart up and the largest wedge by far would be staring into the computer screen. not necessarily learning. in the case of my VHDL course, lining up the edges of metal traces and dealing with a crappy CAD interface. a lot of time sitting in lecture. fascinating professors this semester. two of them are on the subject of timing, making sure that read data required starts and ends within read data available. i noticed somthing that binds together many fields of electrical engineering and computer science: parallelism. the computer program runs between samples, or processes between interrups. or on a finer level, multiple steps of computer logic execute between the miniscule edges of the system clock. i wrote in my notes that "it's all the same problem." controlling execution, which entails controlling time. the fields of electromagnetism, optics, seem quaint in comparison to the herd of geeks devoted to the pursuit of speed, moore's law, capturing higher and higher frequencies. 60 jigahurtz! my digital communications professor bellowed, the new frontier, ubiquitous broadband content. speed of course. very tiny time delay. robin tsang, my embedded systems TA remarked that intel chips are now so fast that execution cycles can no longer be traced with rectangular edges so much as humps measured in nanoseconds.

Friday, February 11, 2005

a painful day ends in revelation. a prelab, due this evening, called for a printed circuit board (PCB) schematic and wiring diagram. rectangular blocks, each having between 16 and 56 pins on them, needed to be wired together such that synchronized memory reads could occur. my lab partner alex and i sat in the freezing computer lab at around 1 PM wracked with confusion. his first question to me was why components could not be loaded from the schematic to the layout diagram. We wasted an hour trying to debug netlist errors in a vain effort ("to load the schematics"). alex seized the day and walked down three flights of stairs to the embedded lab. there he saw that people were not designing with specific serial numbered components but with generic dual inline package (DIP) footprints which matched the dimensions of the components. it was only then i realized that there was no need to load schematics to the layout tool. it doesn't care what the serial number is on a component. nonetheless, the assignment called for both schematic AND layout. i discovered that schematic tool was hinky. parts could be cut and pasted between schematics only by copying to the clipboard, closing the file, opening the file you want to paste to, and then pasting. the schematic software couldn't hold two documents open at the same time and let you cut and paste between them. two problems solved. 4 pm. we then proceeded to draw hundreds of wires, connecting write enable pins, wiring logic into nand gates, forking datapaths around latches (multiplexing), etc. alex muttered that what we were creating was fucked up. into lab. it is there that we bask in the warm glow of information. after some more nervous "what do we do now" kind of moments we are paired up with two chinese students for the actual PCB hardware segment of the project. (custom PCB boards are relatively cheap, but at $51 a pop you still don't want a bunch of people running willy nilly with their own designs. better to create large groups.) one of the fellows had a beautiful layout on his monitor with all 45 degree wire turns. meanwhile our layout was a 90 degree maze. we'll get to why this is bad in a minute.

it was getting late and we had a crankyness settling in, but alex had a few questions. why did the TA tell somebody that they could wire their external memory pins anyway they wanted, why could the write enable pin be set to ground rather than carefully wired. robin came over and showed us that an external memory has practically no preferences as to how you hook up its address and data pins. since the program always reads data from where it stores it, the actual hardware location of data is irrelevant. coming and going. it stunned me and then filled me with a sense of zen enlightenment. after the long day, you come to the realization that is you, not the computer, behaving rigidly. "did i give you a hard day? i think not, i could give a fuck where you wire my pins, i'll put your data wherever you tell me and give it back regardless of how i am asked. regarding the write enable pin, it is there for larger PCB schemes containing a bus, wires that are shared between multiple IO components. when one component is no longer using the bus, it sets its outputs to "undefined," effectively greasing the rails of the bus for other users. however, since we were only interfacing one memory, there was no need for a bus, no need to worry about setting the write enable bit correctly. more slack from the computer. it cares less than you do.

finally, i asked why it is so important not to draw PCB wires at 90 degree angles. robin drew a square outward spiral, asking, "what am i drawing" "an inductor" i say. he says right. "what does an inductor do" "disrupts adjacent wires, traps energy." right, "how many turns is this?" i count four square turns; a powerful inductor. he draws two sides of a square, a corner. "how many turns is this?" "1/2 turn" i say, "wrong, one quarter turn." obviously, the corner of a square is a one quarter turn, you need four of them the get back to the beginning. ultimately, the circuit is better if all connections are smoothly sloping, aerodynamic almost.

Monday, January 17, 2005

For weeks, sticky mousetraps have been empty behind our rat-infested oven. With the appliance guy coming over with a new oven I needed to move them out of the way. Holding and inspecting the trap (which had dust bunnies and dog hair clinging to it), I realized it required bait. I stuck a little wedge of parmesan in the middle and placed it on the floor in Lobo’s dogfood closet. The appliance guy arrived within 20 minutes. I cleaned up the floor beneath the old oven and let the guy bring in the new one. I went to wash my hands and saw the rat peeking out at me from around the bathroom door. I called the appliance guy over to see him. We both stared at him and wondered why he was standing his ground.

Appliance guy recommended putting on gloves and I proposed trapping him with a wastepaper basket. Appliance guy went back to his work and I entered the bathroom prepared for war. It was then that I saw that the trap was stuck to the bottom of the rat. Despite this, it was able to scurry past me and run to my bedroom. I finally got the trash bucket on top of it there. Sliding a manila folder underneath I was able to flip it into the bucket.

I took the bucket to the backyard where Lobo (Matt’s dog) was. It is embarrassing to admit, but I showed Lobo the rat in the bucket. Why did I do this? Hard to say. Lobo is like the child in the house, and in some way I felt like I was educating him, letting him see what a rat looked like. Another reason is that I have watched him chase phantoms around the house for weeks. He has been aware that SOMETHING was in the house but was perpetually too slow to see or seize it. I wanted to say “here is your culprit, boy, we have him.”

Naturally, Lobo trotted with me over to the marble-topped game-cleaning table that sits in the middle of the backyard. This was left over from the previous owners, and my plan was to bash the rat with a shovel on that marble slab. I lifted the bucket and the rat immediately flipped off into the grass. Lobo stuck his face in and the rat began making the trademark “eeee eeee” sounds. I had to fight Lobo off of the rat, shouting “no!, get off Lobo, goddamnit!” Lobo, resisting every instinct god ever gave him sat and watched me bash the rat with the shovel.

I breathlessly told appliance guy what had happened. I realized that I had needlessly exposed Lobo to rabies. He doesn’t appear to be bitten. Matt will have to decide what to do. The moral of the story is that in the heat of battle one can make pretty stupid decisions. I was supposed to make sure that Lobo was in the house before bashing the rat. For some primal reason, I wanted Lobo to see that I had a rat and was bashing it.

It’s the fog of war. You focus on the killing, not realizing that you are also being quite reckless.

Tomcat adhesive rodent traps are extremely effective if you put parmesan cheese in them. The rat’s legs were completely submerged in the rubbery goo. I put another trap down in the same place and will gladly repeat the experience without Lobo there. To give you an idea of why a rat in the house is bad, imagine turning on the oven to cook a pizza and have the house fill with the odor of a subway station.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

finally getting somewhere with my idea for this year's braden essay contest. i am tempted to write about the interesting things i found on the web this evening, but somebody could stumble across these ideas and steal them. a 1/million chance of that happening, but why risk it.

came across another interesting science writer named philip ball. i would love to read his new book, but i've suddenly developed a backlog of books. i started a book called "designing embedded hardware" by John Catsoulis. it's cool in that he explains all of the tangible features of computer hardware. for example, he devotes a chapter to printed circuit boards (PCBs), such as the ones found inside a PC or Mac. he talks about what each feature MEANS, why there is a green film on one side of a board and a bunch of soldered bumps on the other side. he explains why subcomponents on a PCB must have individual voltage regulators. etc.

matt (my roomate) gave me Tom Wolfe's "I am Charlotte Simmons" for my birthday. the first few pages are pretty good. a drunk frat boy admiring his own beauty in the mirror.

i also acquired a book about digital signal processing that seems to fill in all of the things that went over my head in lectures with Professor Brian Evans this semester. Evans is an enigma. Of all the professors at ECE he has seemed to do the most work on advancing the curriculum. for example, he has posted a game plan for how EE seniors (such as myself) might be educated to be able to do embedded system design before they graduate. however, he seemed to treat fundamental aspects of DSPs as advanced subjects. i.e. i was led to believe that what he was lecturing about was NOT neatly summarized in a book somewhere. yet this book "understanding digital signal processing" has sections i would have killed for when preparing for the first DSP midterm in october. i am brought back to the cynical conclusion that lecturers often explain things inadequately and that most EE subjects are best learned from books. professors merely stand there firehosing you with information that they had the time to sit down and absorb before you could. evans taught a lot of things that definitely were NOT in any textbook, but he also taught a lot of things that were and i did not realize it. in my automatic control course the situation was worse, the professor never referred to the book and spent most of the class time fiddling around with his self-devised sys ID and root-locus plotting programs. complain complain. i don't even know what i'm going on about. it's late!