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03 April 2011 @ 04:29 pm

Over the past week, especially on April 1st, as I sorted through my RSS feeds I found a couple of nice links (both written and video) I wanted to highlight, in no particular order.

  • Patrick Rothfuss' Photo Contest II--Patrick Rothfuss, author of the awesome The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man's Fear (if you are at all interested in the fantasy genre, you should read his books) had a photo contest back in 2008 with paperback copies of NOTW. This post announces a new contest and links back to the old ones (there are some fantastic photos there, I love the angry baby). The blog is generally highly recommended.

  • [afd] ALL CAPS Band: New Album Announcement--All Caps is a techno nerdy spin-off band from two wizard rockers. Their new album announcement (released yesterday) I find pretty hilarious. For those who don't know ALL CAPS, their two most famous songs are World of Warcraft Ruined My Life and Don't Unplug Me. Watch them. :)

  • Google is awesome #1: This job is very tempting, I might have to switch away from Microsoft.

  • Google is evil #1: Do Not Anger the Alpha Android--reports Google's crackdown on their "open" Android platform. I am a happy iPhone 4 user (although my next phone could be a Windows Phone, depending on the market) and always knew the platform was controlled by Apple; which I find much less objectionable than Google claiming their platform was open, ridiculing Apple, and now trying to lock down their ecosystem.

  • NextUp Submission: Jason Munday--Jason Munday is a member of the Ministry of Magic (my favorite wizard rock group) and does his own music (called "Skyway Flyer"). This post has a short song he wrote about Mario and clips of his other music videos, most of which I really like.

  • On the slightly more serious side, a great presentation called Zombies, Cyborgs, and International Relations which makes the case that focusing on the zombie apocalypse just distracts us from the time when cyborgs will take over the world. Pretty fantastic. Linked to from Ezra Klein, a political/economic blogger who I've enjoyed adding to my bloglist.

  • [afd] The Shadow War of the Night Dragons, Book One: The Dead City (Excerpt): The first portion of John Scalzi (a sci-fi author)'s new Epic Fantasy series. Patrick Rothfuss, stand aside!

  • Google is awesome #2" TED video: Google's driverless car--I want one! Will be on the lookout for them when I go to California.

  • Photoessay: Images from first planetary orbits--great article and great images about the first images captured of the planets in our solar system. Ars Technica consistently turns out the highest caliber technology and science news; I'm extremely impressed.

  • The Problem with Microsoft--interesting analysis on a Fortune tech blog about Microsoft, Balmer, and Windows. Not sure I could say anything to prove or disprove any of the statements, but it might be useful to keep in mind as I join Microsoft's workforce in August.

As a long-time Mac user and Apple fan, I've tweaked my system a decent amount and have a lot of special-purpose apps, although I also use a lot of Apple's built-in software. I was asked by a new Mac user whether there were any "must-have" apps I'd recommend. Not really (besides Office); most of my apps / tweaks are so special-purpose I wouldn't say they were "must-haves", but I thought it might be nice to list them out as a reference; perhaps some of them are useful to others. Another note--most of the paid apps have trials, and I bought them in discounted bundles, in case you're wondering.

  • Backup:

    • Apple's Time Machine (built-in) is a fantastic set-it-and-forget-in backup system. If you're not doing backups (and have non-cloud data) you're courting disaster; I lost all my data in my first year of college due to my backup software deciding it was the time for a wipe and restore of my backup AFTER the drive failed and it was not a fun thing. I use a Time Capsule so all my data is backed up every hour wirelessly, but even if you just buy an external hard drive and plug it in every once and a while, you should do it.

    • Dropbox (2GB free) is a magic folder. Anything you put in it appears on all your other computers and on the web. If you're not using it you're probably nuts.

  • Organization:

    • Apple's Spaces (built-in); a virtual desktop system. Most of the apps I run frequently (Mail, NetNewsWire, iTunes, Eclipse, iCal) work better when given more space; so I generally give them their own virtual desktop. It also helps me multi-task; I can have different spaces for different tasks I'm working on.

    • Blank spaces in the Dock--I like to separate the apps on my Dock (which is always visible but with magnification turned off) into categories (media management, internet, schoolwork) and this link tells you how to make blank spacers appear in your Dock.

  • Calendar:

    • Apple's iCal, connected to a cloud-based calendar (formerly Google Calendar, now HeelMail). It's pretty essential that wherever I view my calendar (my Mac, my Windows netbook, my mobile device, the web interface) I get the same calendar and no manual syncing is required.

    • iDeskCal ($11) shows me my life in the upper-left corner of my desktop so that at a glance I always know what's coming up and when it is. Since I use Spaces, I can generally see my desktop or am a shift away to an empty desktop. Similar app I just discovered: Blotter--looks prettier but less useful for me and less flexible. Apparently iDeskCal 3 is coming, I'll wait for it.

    • MenuCalendarClock iCal ($20 or basic features for free)--shows me my calendar in my menubar. I recommend even just trying it out for the free feature of being able to see a simple calendar when you click on the time in your menubar.

    • WeatherCal ($10) shows me the five-day forecast in my calendar; combined with iDeskCal, it really gives me a view of how the next couple of days are going to be both physically and mentally.

  • System monitors:

    • LogMeIn (free version)--I use LogMeIn to remote into my computer(s) or my family's computers. All you need to use it is a web browser (I can use it on lab computers), it's cross-platform, easy to use, and free. What more can you ask for?

    • MenuMeters (free) lets me keep an eye on my CPU, disk, and network usage from my menubar (as well as memory if I wanted it). I love knowing what's happening in my computer and what's the bottleneck when things bog down.

    • Little Snitch ($30) is an outgoing network firewall; meaning that you can see what severs the applications on your computer contact and can filter things in real time. It's pretty interesting, imho.

    • HardwareGrowler (free, a Growl extra)--I am probably the only person in the world who likes the little Windows add-new-hardware bubbles. HardwareGrowler lets me know when a new device has been (un)plugged, (un)mounted, I lose or gain network connectivity (and its speed) and generally lets me know how my system is going. Install Growl, follow these instructions to hide its dock icon, and set it to run at startup.

  • Multimedia:

    • Handbrake (free): The best tool for converting DVDs or video files to H.264 MP4 files playable on a computer or portable device. It's great.

    • RipIt ($25): The best tool for ripping DVDs in full quality to your hard drive. Handles some disks Handbrake won't and is dead simple to use.

    • Perian (free): Enables QuickTime to play many more types of video files--believe me, before Perian things were quite a bit more complicated.

    • Flip4Mac Player (free): Enables QuickTime to play most Windows Media formats. Microsoft used to make their own player, then a third party came along with these components and Microsoft decided to license their solution instead of making their own.

    • Synergy (5€) is my favorite iTunes menu-bar controller--it disappears when iTunes is quit, displays Growl notifications when songs change, and will even try to grab album artwork from Amazon.com if it can. Its utility has lessened since my keyboard contains dedicated iTunes keys, but I still like it. I recommend "Xidius' Transparent Bar" as the button set.

  • Internet:

    • Apple's Mail.app with DockStar ($15)--I'm an old-school email user (YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN) and like checking all my email accounts in a desktop client. I absolutely adore DockStar, because it lets me know at a glance how much and what types of email I have, showing me different badges for different types of mail (I have general UNC email one color, ResNET email another, newsletter email another, facebook/topic reply email another) by adorning Mail's icon in my dock.

    • Twitterrific (ad-supported free version, $10)--Twitterrific is my favorite Twitter client, not only due to its very nice interface (recently redesigned) but the fact that it will send me Growl notifications when I get DMs or @s, which I've set to be sticky so they stay up on my screen and I can reply to them when I get back to my computer. Made by a Greensboro company (who actually designed some of the icons for Windows XP, the XBox 360, and Ubuntu)

    • 1Password ($32 educational for Mac app) is the premiere password manager software for Macs--store your website passwords, license codes, secure notes, personal info in this app, secure it with a strong password, and use it across all your browsers, and even all your computing devices with the other services. I did get it through a bundle, the cost is a bit steep but it is a great piece of software.

    • NetNewsWire (ad supported free version, $15) is my RSS feed reader of choice. I have 194 feeds (many of which are defunct and I need to prune) of websites that I read in my spare time, and NetNewsWire makes it easy to organize and read them (I use the Ollicle Reflex style). I like NetNewsWire over Google Reader (although NNW can sync with Google Reader) because many of my feeds are pretty esoteric and Google Reader centrally checks for news updates with a frequency related to how popular the feed is; I always want to know I'm getting the latest news.

  • Assorted:

    • Library Books ($3) keeps track of the library books I have out in all my different library systems, lets me know when books come in and warns me when things are due. I've been using the software for a while and the developer has been great at adding new libraries.

    • WeatherBug Alert (free) is my weather app of choice--it simply sits in my menubar and lets me know what the temperature is (I turned off all alert functionality). I like it because WeatherBug gets data from local, live stations instead of getting the once-an-hour temperature from the local airport that most/all other apps do. The website is pretty trashy, but the Mac app is fine.

    • World Community Grid (free)--what is your computer doing when you're not using it? I leave my laptop on so I can access it remotely and have it filter my mail, and world community grid lets my computer do some number-crunching to help fight cancer and AIDS. Back in middle school I used SETI@home, but this is quite a bit more valuable.

  • Honorable Mention (very special purpose apps I have, like and occasionally use):

    • Bonjour Browser (free)--Apple does a lot with their zero-configuration network protocol, called Bonjour (zeroconf) and this app shows you all the Bonjour services advertised by items on your network (not just computers, networked printers, etc.) Interesting to look at, I can't say I use it too often, though.

    • SMARTUtility ($25) is the best Mac program to tell you whether your hard drive thinks it's failing, and if so, why. Its algorithm is a lot more sensitive than the one found in Apple's Disk Utility. It uses stats from an open-source command-line utility, smartctl.

    • fseventer (free) uses a hook into Mac OS X's file system events daemon to show you what changes are happening on your file system in real time. Pretty interesting and can be useful in certain cases.

    • DiskWarrior ($100)--an application I hope I never have to use, but has saved my drive's bacon several times (particularly my external drives). Fortunately, I haven't needed to use it for a while, but without doubt this is the best Mac disk repair utility--to paraphrase a review "It may be a one-trick pony, but man, what a trick"--it repairs disk directories like nobody's business.

    • Pixelmator ($60; I got it cheaper) is a very nice image editing application for OS X; if you need more than free apps but less than Photoshop this is your app.

    • Transmit ($34) is the best FTP(+) transfer utility for the Mac--while there are free apps (Fetch for educational users and Cyberduck) Panic makes great Mac software. If you do a significant amount of web file transfer, you should be using Transmit

    • iFlash ($9) is a flash-card app. Very helpful for foreign language vocabulary drills; so much better than physical cards.

    • Senuti ($19) is my preferred utility for copying iPod music back to a computer if the main library is no longer available (due to data loss, etc)--I've used it on several iPods and have not had any problems with it, unlike the (free) software I used when I lost my music library, which had some issues restoring the metadata for my songs.

    • Transmission (free) is my favorite BitTorrent client--simple and easy to use but feature-rich. Interestingly, I do very little BitTorrenting, there may be a new/better app, say µTorrent Mac.

Let me know if I got you to try something new, or if you think I'm nuts for using app x when y is so much better...
09 December 2010 @ 11:04 am
Wait, I have a blog? What...

I was going through and clearing out all the items on my desktop (and archived-desktop folder) and went through a whole bunch of links from 2008 onwards. There are a couple of gems I wanted to highlight here in the hopes others might find them interesting and I'll remember them for the future:

  • An Office User Interface Blog: Table Contents--Jensen Harris wrote a remarkable series of blog posts on the design of the Office 2007 user interface and on the feedback process. Very, very interesting (and you don't have to read all of them; I didn't until a couple of days ago).

  • Top 25 most Dangerous Programming Mistakes--a list from Coding Horror, actually ganked from SANS, about the top 25 security issues code, especially web-based code, can have. Very interesting list to keep in mind while coding (or testing).

  • A Web Developer's Responsibility--a detailed post by John Resig on reporting web browser bugs; which I found very interesting and is something I will really try to do at Hotmail.

Hope all you readers are doing well. It's exam time here at UNC. :)
23 May 2010 @ 10:28 pm
As most of you know, this is an unusual summer for me. For the past six summers, I’ve gone to Lille, France with my mother’s study abroad program and spent the majority of the summer abroad in Europe. This year, however, I’m in Mountain View, California (Silicon Valley, near San Francisco) and am spending my summer working as a summer intern for Microsoft. This journal has fallen into disuse, but I’m hoping I can revive it to chronicle my summer.

Relevant Disclaimer: Any opinions I state in this journal are completely my own, and do not reflect the view of my employer. No, I’m not going to disclose confidential Microsoft information, if you’re looking for corporate secrets you’re out of luck. [Can you tell I recently watched the legal training videos?]. Even so, I may make these journal posts protected. I’ll put up a test protected post after this one, and if you can’t see it post and let me know.

So—those who met me in the week of exams knew that I was freaking out a bit because all my Microsoft plans were in flux. I was originally scheduled to start May 17th, then in February Microsoft let me know I could only start on the 10th or the 24th, so I selected the 10th, which meant I had to fly out just over a day after my last exam. This was rather stressful, since I had to take my last exam, see Wicked (which was great, by the way), move out of my dorm, pack for California, and leave for the summer in a matter of two and a half days. However, that week before I had a call from my Microsoft recruiter (who seems to have adopted me in a sense, because I don’t think she’s UNC’s college recruiter, but I met her at my second-round interviews and she was my link with Microsoft ever since) who suggested that it might be valuable for me to end a week later then I was planning as the interns would be working on group projects and I’d be able to finish with my team (since I’m going on vacation for a week, even though I was starting two weeks earlier I was ending only one week before the others). We discussed it and I eventually suggested that they push my start date back a week (to the 17th, as I originally wanted) which would make me end the same week and also have a week to repack and prepare before I left for the summer.

Early that week, I electronically resigned my offer letter (now revised for the fourth time!) and then waited nervously for my relocation specialist to redo my flight and also to let me know where I’d be staying for the summer—while I asked to stay somewhere that I could get to work by public transit I wasn’t absolutely sure they would take that into account and I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to actually get to work.
However, it all (eventually) worked out and I found out that I’d be living in a studio apartment within walking distance of work (on a trail, no less), a grocery store, a CalTrain station and local public transit hub, and downtown Mountain View (with a library, bookstores, and restaurants). This was all rather exciting for me, and I started using Google Maps and the Internet to make lists of places I wanted to visit. (Why Google Maps? It has a ‘by public transit’ option. Bing Maps ironically doesn’t even have the trail that runs from my apartment complex right to Microsoft in its database, even though I asked for ‘walking’ directions, and has no public transit directions to speak of).

The week between school and Microsoft was spent relatively productively—I visited campus a couple of times during the week. I spent most of Monday as it turns out working on ITS matters, finalizing the tech resources flyer I had spent so much time working on (which ITS is printing and distributing to all incoming students at CTOPS!), having lunch, a crêpe, and a tour of ITS-Manning with my friend Andrew (who was my Tech and Web co-chair this past year), and then talking to the director of user support about general thoughts on support and on the support ticket system we use and how it could be better. That evening, I played a round of Dungeons and Dragons (or simply “D”, as we call it) with Noah, Mandy, Stanley and Zenik. Wednesday, Michael drove me to campus and I had lunch and games (both board and Wii) with Mary and Michael, which was a lot of fun, then went to a farewell party put on my grandparents. Thursday I went back to Durham for another round of D (and even drove part of the way there, at the urging of my parents—and I learned if I want decent driving directions whenever I go someplace I’d need to make them myself, even if I’m not the navigator)—a bit bittersweet as it was enormously enjoyable but I wouldn’t be able to rejoin my friends until the end of the summer, missing further escapades into the Labyrinth and into the world of d20 Modern they had already started planning.

Throughout that week I had been slowly packing to leave and organizing the storage boxes in my room, some of which date from high school. Many of the boxes are filled with books (I have an odd aversion to selling back my textbooks and always want a mobile library with me, even if I never read the books I bring) and I managed one day to clear off a couple of shelves worth of books from one of my bookcases I knew I wasn’t going to read again, then filled in several years worth of textbooks and assorted books I had bought over the past years. Before I left, I carefully labeled each box, letting my dad know which boxes I wanted for school, which ones I might want materials shipped to me from (since Microsoft will reimburse shipping costs!), and which ones were meant for deep storage (the attic).

The trip itself was somewhat eventful—the plane out of RDU was delayed, causing me to worry I’d miss my connecting flight to San Jose, especially when the AirTrain system in Houston partially broke down and I was stuck in the wrong terminal for a bit, part of an enormous throng of people trying to get between terminals. I managed to make the flight, then became a bit frantic on arrival as a combination of luggage that was a bit slow to arrive, one bar of signal in the baggage claim area, automatic and manual calls from Super Shuttle asking where I was and my trying to tell a Super Shuttle representative over the phone who didn’t speak English well that I was waiting for my luggage, but it eventually worked out and I arrived at my apartment complex safe and sound. The security guard who checked me in gave me a key that didn’t work (and no mail key, as it turned out), but eventually I even got into my apartment.

And this seems quite long enough for an installment, even though it only covers up to last Saturday and none of my actual trip. I’ll try to post the next installment covering the past week soon, and please do post below if you have comments and questions.

* The first revision was because my end date was incorrect (they marked a twelve-week period when I had agreed on a thirteen-week period with one week of vacation), the second was to republish it with my name properly hyphenated, the third revision was when they changed my start date to the 10th, and the fourth revision was when they changed my start date back. The onboarding logistics people probably are sick of me.
12 March 2010 @ 10:50 am
And now, in a shameless rip-off of Daring Fireball's Linked List, I present to my faithful blog readers a list of articles I found interesting over the past couple of weeks (some of which I believe are actually stolen directly from the aforementioned Linked List):

  • We Pretend We Are Christians--an very interesting blog post/reader email on the Freakonomics blog talking about a family in Texas who pretend to be Christians so they're not ostracized from their communities. It made me think about some of the failings of American equality and of the pressure and desire of "fitting in", and generally of the difference between the majority of Americans, who seem to be lip-service Christians, and several of my friends, who truly believe in the Christian faith and how much it shapes their lives, and my own agnostic atheist beliefs. (Reading in my history textbook about how similar Christianity is to the earlier "mystery religions" that swept the Western World and how it adopted the customs of pagan religions adds another dimension to the debate). My personal hope (and goal, perhaps) is that I'm not one of those forces that pressure others around me to conform to whatever norm I'm spouting and lets others state their beliefs as they are, even if they're different from mine.

  • Hey, Waiter! Just How Much Extra Do You Really Expect?--an blog post/rant, also from the New Yorker, about tipping. I think wait staff should be paid a decent wage (and treated as a serious employment) and a base tip should be included in prices basically because that's how they do it in France and from my perspective at least it seems to work quite well. Even as an American I'm often unsure how much to tip (I generally do something around 15%, rounding to make the totals seem nice). I once got yelled at for (not completely intentionally) giving an <10% tip.

  • Why Ad Blocking is devastating to the sites you love--I thought it was an interesting article, especially since I haven't ad-blocked for years (I used to use PithHelmet with Safari). I believe there were enough times my ad-blocker blocked part of the page I actually wanted that I just turned it off, an inability to block Google suggested sites, and the fact it would break with every Safari update which was also rather obnoxious. Apart from Flash ads liking to chew up CPU cycles and crash at regular intervals (affecting nothing else), I'm not really bothered by ads. Perhaps the issue is skewed by the fact that I have paid subscriptions to several of the major sites I view (Ars Technica, Daring Fireball, Slashdot, LiveJournal) so I see fewer ads / see the value in supporting sites I find valuable.

  • Browser Ballot--the Microsoft Browser Ballot was in the news recently (such as the fact that its randomization was not actually random), and perhaps you might find it interesting to actually see the ballot and read how browser makers sum up their browser into one sentence. Also interesting: the ballot contains twelve browsers. I definitely didn't know there were twelve, I could have told you half of them at the most (although I know a couple non-Windows ones left off the Windows ballot).

  • Two blog posts by David Pogue on various features of Windows Live (Skydrive and Windows Live Sync). As a future intern working for Windows Live Communications, I approve of Windows Live features being publicized, and as someone who may bring Live@Edu/a> to UNC, I think these features could be useful to UNC students. Also, I didn't actually know what Windows Live Sync actually was (I thought it was a mobile contact sync thing, but it is basically more like Dropbox, a folder sync and sharing tool, although Live Mesh is actually even more like Dropbox with cloud storage options). Hmm, I think I need to look at the Live tools more in depth.

  • (Federal CIO) Vivek Kundra On US Government Inefficiency--Slashdot discussion which intersects government inefficiency, bureaucracy , libertarianism, private sector inefficiency, health insurance, etc. which I found pretty interesting.

  • "Markets are efficient if and only if P = NP"--'nuff said.

  • Dutch politics -- a primer for foreigners--a good and thorough explanation of the Dutch political system, of the different parties, of the recent happenings. Interesting to me.

  • The Path of Most Resistance--a blog post linked on Daring Fireball on a couple of short topics (tech support, Macs, search engine, design). One of the more interesting things: Time and again he sees that non-techies just don't understand file systems. They just seem like a labyrinth. I think I agree, and I truly believe that special-purpose computing devices like the iPad are the future for the grand majority of computer users (they don't want to do maintenance on their computers, they just want them to work without being messed with).

  • Constance McMillen takes fight over same-sex prom date to court--A school (in Mississippi) that would rather cancel prom than allow the horror of a same-sex couple there? *sigh*. Makes me want to join the ACLU.

Hopefully I should post more things soon that aren't just links; but my track record is pretty bad when it comes to that.
31 January 2010 @ 11:24 pm
Wizard Rock videos on Youtube makes everything better. Too bad I'm probably not going to Sonorous this weekend. There better be wizard rock in California this summer, is all I'm gonna say. (Oh, and HTML5 Youtube FTW. Less Flash == much more happy and responsive computer)

But seriously, life is pretty crazy, y'all. Some highlights of my next week:

I have 8am Physics mechanics. I have discovered I really don't care very much how the world works. I think this bad mood has a lot to do with the first exam coming on Wednesday and a lab report due on Thursday and an assignment due on Friday. But I've had it for a while. Did a bit of studying today; I derived all the basic constant acceleration kinematics equations. Fun.

CS Club Student Body President forum on Tuesday. Hopefully will be enlightening both for us and for the candidates. Prepared and graded platforms this afternoon.

ResNET monthly meeting on Wednesday. Will be doing a presentation on IT at UNC news. Made a presentation on SEP 11, Virtual Labs, VPN, student email outsourcing, and the MS student fee; submitted it to the management team for suggestions and comments.

Also with ResNET, decided to apply for SRCC, am interviewing on Thursday.

Grandfather's birthday celebration on Thursday. Hmm, does he want presents/cards?

Weekly research meeting on Wednesday. Am finally working on creating an H.264 parsing tool ("H264Katana"); still working on parsing the slice header. It's nice to check in code. Probably am not progressing as fast as KMP would like; in fact, need to send him another email with a question, he's not parsing something in NAL Units that I need in the header.

Also: Other classes (Empire and Diplomacy; still waiting on the professor to email out the assignment for Tuesday while somebody wants to borrow the book we're reading because he doesn't have a copy; Internet Architecture and Performance, which hasn't heated up yet, Personal History of Computing on Fridays which I may still drop due to its non-zero workload, ACM programming practice which I/my team worked on today). Tech and Web office hours. My first CAPCOM meeting. A Lenovo roadmap presentation on Friday.

Yay. Oh my life, never a dull moment.
21 November 2009 @ 06:41 am
Yesterday, I was offered a paid summer internship as a SDET (Software Development Engineer in Test; a tester) with the Windows Live Communications team (who run Hotmail, Messenger, Calendar, and other services) which is based in Mountain View, California on Microsoft's Silicon Valley Campus. (Yes, the campus is a couple of blocks down from Google's headquarters; I'm actually sitting on a Google beanbag right now in the airport advertising their free wifi, which I am using to write this message).

I was sent an email two weeks ago that I was selected for second-round interviews, Microsoft arranged my flights from RDU; I left early Thursday morning, had four 45-minute interviews in a row yesterday morning (and then they gave me the news about an hour later), and as I mentioned above, I'm flying back now.

It's all pretty exciting--the people I met at Microsoft were all very nice, smart, and doing cool stuff. Five years ago, I thought of Microsoft more as the evil empire, and now I'm really excited about doing an internship with them this summer. Interesting how things change...

I'll be getting more details, be able to pick a starting time for my 12-week internship, and can sign all the official paperwork sometime soon. It's all still a bit crazy for me.
13 September 2009 @ 12:46 am
Just wrote a protected (as it was rather personal) reflection on friendship and social encounters. If you can't see it but want to read it, comment here and let me know so I can give you access.
17 August 2009 @ 10:03 pm
So, fellow readers, I beg of you to offer me advice on my course schedule for next semester.

Abbreviated Background: Next semester I'm working for ResNET, serving as co-chair of the Technology and Web Services committee of the Executive Branch of Student Government; and plan to start a research project (of which Noura has convinced me to do for academic credit, as less would be unfair to my professor and would make things too stressful for me).

Considering all this, and the fact that two of my classes are COMP 530 (Operating Systems) and COMP 550 (Algorithms and Analysis), both considered to be rather difficult, it makes sense that I take no more than two other academic courses (meaning I'd be taking 4 academic courses + research for credit = 5 courses, my standard courseload). Right now, I'm signed up for three courses, and am deciding which one to drop (unless you'd like to convince me I shouldn't.) Your advice would be greatly appreciated.

The contenders are: STOR 435 (Introduction to Probability)
+ required by my major. going to have to take it eventually
+ I've done a bit of requirement-avoiding; the responsible thing to do is take this
- I'm least interested in this course [edit: of the three. Probably could still be interesting, I don't know too much about it, but it is a required course which is why I signed up for it (while I was waitlisted for 455).]

STOR 455 (Statistical Methods I)
+ it bills itself as the beginning of a two semester introduction to higher-level statistics and on to applying statistics properly. I've been interested in taking statistics courses (and one with a more rigorous foundation than pushing calculator buttons) since I took AP Statistics in sophomore year of high school. I wanted to take this.
+ the teacher was very communicative when I emailed him to get into the course (it filled up)
~ currently doesn't count for my interdisciplinary requirement for CS. 435, 445, yes, but not 455. I might ask about that; it may be too 'applied' for the CS department.
~ offered only in the fall since it's the start of a two semester course
- taking this does mean that I still have to take STOR 435.
- part of the reason I might want to stay is because I emailed the professor and talked to him; that shouldn't necessarily be a reason

FREN 300 (grammar review)
+ with the teacher I've already taken French with and I like
+ opens up the entire French major courses to me; the last low-level French course
+ it'd help me keep my French
+ It's a breath of liberal arts in my math/CS-heavy schedule
+ one of my friends from Dutch class should be in the class
- ANOTHER language course? I have credit for NINE. The CS major requires frakkin' three. Get over yourself.
- I can take this anytime.
- I'm not necessarily planning to take courses in the French major.

I also am currently in the honors junior colloquium on 'medicine and society'. planning on dropping it because:
- conflicts with ResNET meetings.
- I don't need more on my plate and the Honors program is dumb
- don't know next to anything about it, I'm not sure I'm particularly interested in the class, I'm not a medical person. Politics, perhaps.
- one credit hour course. really.
+ it would help me keep in the Honors program
+ perhaps this should be my liberal arts flavor?

People I trust have suggested I drop each of the three (well, four. but the last doesn't count, just put in in case you want to argue I should keep it). Please measure in, even if you did before.

Thank you, I really appreciate it.

[edited to say: This really is a somewhat trivial choice. All of these courses (well, not colloquium but whatever) will come again. It's just that I see them as pretty evenly balanced but the pros and cons weight different priorities in my life. I could also take all three and drop one later, but part of that is just delaying the decision.]
03 July 2009 @ 01:58 pm
I've been creating a list of books that I've been running into here in Europe that I want to read / get from the library. While I know Davis is an enormous library, since UNC isn't particularly strong in computer science books (which is what I generally look for), I haven't thought amazingly highly of UNC's library. However, the books I've been completely randomly running into here have an extremely high chance of being found in the UNC library, and I'm extremely impressed. I thought I would post up a list of the ones I have so far (I find the book, add it to the built-in list functionality of the new search engine, then email the list to myself), in case others were interested in what I've been thinking about reading.

  • The Breaking and Remaking of the Portland Vase—the story of one particular vase in the British Museum which was related in brief by my tour guide and sounded very interesting. Apparently it's a short story as the book is only 32pages (which I didn't notice until now. But we have a copy of an obscure pamphlet about a vase in the Art Library!

  • Advertising Next—a coffee-book style book on successful and interesting advertising campaigns which seemed like a neat book to take a look at (saw in the Victoria & Albert bookshop).

  • Traffic: why we drive the way we do (and what it says about us)—I've seen notes about this book for ages from my economics blogs, and decided it's definitely worth taking a look, especially after spending some time in a car in European traffic.

  • Why we buy : the science of shopping, one of the three books on this list from Don't Make Me Think's recommended reading list, which was itself read because it was on Jeff Atwood's recommended reading list, which sounds like a very interesting book on how consumers make purchasing decisions (in retail stores).

  • Sources of Power : How People Make Decisions, the second item from the reading list; a book that describes how decisions are actually made by those who have to make them quickly, not how in ideal a decision should be made, which in a sense is similar to a portion of the usability book ("how people actually use your website vs. how you think they use it").

  • Information Architecture for the World Wide Web: 3rd Edition, the third item from the reading list. A reference book on how to design websites which sounds both interesting and not necessarily as light reading as the others. However, it's on reference at SILS, so I can't check (this edition) out.

  • The fall of the Bell system : a study in prices and politics. I was reading up on AT&T today. I probably started with some mention of cell-phones, then started digging a bit more into the history of AT&T (via Wikipedia, what else?) and doing my perodic checking-of-AT&Ts-website-to-see-if-they've-lowered-prices. Generally, they create new plans with the same features as the old ones but lower prices or flat out lower the plan's price, but if you're a current user of the plan you don't get moved to the lower price (a method of price discrimination). I switched my family's local phone service from "2Pack" to "CompleteChoice Basic" and we'll now save $2 a month with no service change. Well, this book is one of the books recommended in a biography on the judge who broke up AT&T (into the Baby Bells, which eventually merged back together to get the new AT&T).

  • The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T —Another book. Very much out of print but with very good ratings on Amazon, and fortunately very available in Davis.

Oh, while I'm speaking of books, The Name of the Wind and Don't Make Me Think are two damn good books. Ben and I can choose good books (we're doing a loose book club this summer and these are the two we've read so far).

Yeah, yeah, yeah, France, Amsterdam, research, my life, yeah, stuff I should be blogging about. But you get my book list first. :D