Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer in CA

I had the good fortune to make a trip home for the summer, combining some work activities with seeing friends and family. It was a short, week and a half trip, but I packed a lot in and had a great time.

First day home I went on a nice bike ride and then went to trivia night at Rogue Ale House in the city with old roommates and co-workers, and we managed to win. Friday I worked a bit at home, played tennis, then Saturday spent most of the day with my brother and sister and had a BBQ in the evening with old friends.

Sunday we went out on the bay sailing with the family and some old and new friends. That's my old roommate Dave at the helm-last year at this time we were sailing a tiny boat in Mexico. Monday was more work, because I gave research talks at Facebook and at Stanford on Tuesday, then attended a conference in Mountain View on Wednesday-Friday.

Friday night was maybe the highlight, as the family and a few friends went to an A's game on my birthday. We had a very nice group, it was an exciting game, and they were holding their annual 'dog day at the park' promotion, so the outfield bleachers were packed with dogs and it was a very fun time out.

I also got my name on the scoreboard (thanks Mom and Dad!), which was a first for me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Beep If You Love Engineering!

It's nice to get back to the simple joy of being engineer. In it's basic form, being an engineer is seeing a problem, unscrewing the thing, thinking of all the things you can do, picking the best one and hoping it all works out. Catchphrase is one of my favorite games. Basically the unit above shows phrases like "Gone with the wind" or "Not on my watch" and you have to race to get your partner to say as many as you can in a short period of time. Like a game show in your pocket. Only problem is that it is really loud, to the point of annoyance and people not wanting to play.
So Jess and I cracked it open and thought of some ways to dampen the noise:
  • Add a resistor in sequence with the voltage line going to the speaker, lowering it's power to make noise.
  • Damaging/cutting the diaphragm on the speaker.
  • Surrounding the speaker with noise insulation.
  • Soldering in a quieter speaker
  • Re-programming the microcontroller to not make the ticking noise, only the end-of-round noise.
Okay, most of these weren't too serious (though I think this might actually make a good interview question: how many ways can you achieve this goal?). But that's part of engineering. Think of all the things you could do and try the simplest one. We picked noise insulation, in the form of paper crammed into the speaker's plastic housing. It took a few iterations to get the right amount in to get the noise to a pleasant level on the outside. Problem solved.

Sometimes computer scientists aren't considered engineers, and sometimes I certainly feel like a mathematician, a lawyer, or an economist at work. But I definitely enjoy being an engineer every once in a while.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

4th of July

Happy 233rd birthday, America. I felt the need to write a blog post though the only thing we did was have a small barbecue and play all the songs in my friend's play list which had "America" in the title. It was a nice moment to stop and think about my views on country having lived abroad for nearly a year though. If anything, I think I appreciate some things about America, it is a beautiful place and in many ways the society is more the land of opportunity than anywhere else. But the political process is poisoned in a very specific way, the more news I read from home the less I want to read any more. I worry sometimes that America is losing its open-mindedness as it loses its dominance and hopelessly clinging to the past. It's nice to be away from all that for a bit. But I still think that in the end, it's an issue of America being the worst country out there, except for all the others. I'm excited to get back.

Friday, July 3, 2009

St. Edmunds, Night Punting and Bridge Hopping

Interesting evening out. First went to a formal at St. Edmund's with my friend Garth. St. Edmund's one of the poorer (near-bankrupt) colleges so I was surprised at their fancy dining hall and quite formal dinner. The most interesting thing though was afterwards we took out a St. Edmund's punt on the river Cam. Punts are flat bottom boats that you push off the bottom with a pole instead of rowing. They don't go fast but are quite peaceful and there's so much beautiful scenery on the river by the old colleges it's more like an amusement park ride.

But the river was actually quite loud on this Friday night. There seemed to be a lot of people yelling at us from various drinking spots on the shore. For some reason I decided to try my hand at bridge hopping on one of the tougher bridges, the Darwin bridge. Bridge hopping means you jump off the punt while passing a bridge, grabbing onto the bridge and pulling yourself up, then jump back onto the punt from the other side.

I did this without too much grace in front of several bar patrons who were hoping I would fall into the water. They were disappointed when I managed to stay dry, but begrudgingly admitted it was still an entertaining site.