Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Day in the Life

This post is a bit belated, but I was going too crazy on the day it actually happened to write about it then. The day in question was the 20th of April; the day of my last exam.

I woke up that morning to find a probability exam written into my schedule. It had been scheduled in the night before in the large, desperate, pen-scratch font that is customary for scheduling morning exams. "Heed me," the font screamed from the sticky note on the wall, "or suffer the consequences as you sleep through your exam and fail miserably out of life."

And heed the note I did, as I sprinted out of the house and onto the bus towards campus. True, I came closer to missing the bus than I should have due to a poorly laced boot that threatened to fall off in the final sprint, but I caught the bus nonetheless and all was good. Yes, all was good, for not only had I caught the bus, but I had studied well for that exam and felt prepared to do battle with it. I felt, as I rode onto campus, like a probabilistic cruise missile, ready (nineteen times out of twenty) to deliver a deadly payload of ninety-nine point nine percent accuracy onto the questions that defied me.

That was until I realized I had left my wallet on the bus.

You see, earlier, upon boarding the bus, I put my wallet on the ground to tie the laces of my boot which, as you will recall, had come undone in the sprint to the bus. This literal undoing of shoe laces threatened to initiate a larger, more catastrophically metaphorical undoing of my mind right before the exam as I freaked out about my wallet. But I digress.

I should clarify that at the time of this incident, my wallet also contained almost every piece of ID that I own, plus the student card required to write my probability exam.

Fortunately, it turns out that people don't really care about that whole "show the student card" rule during exams. I subsequently aced that exam more thoroughly than I had any right to expect.

So the exam was over and things were going swimmingly, but I still didn't have my wallet or, by extension, any way to get into my house (yes, my wallet also had my keys in it). At this point, I called up my sister, a seasoned pro in losing stuff on buses, and a short while later we found that my wallet was being held by the local transit authorities.

Success! Exaltation! Oh, happy, happy day! I didn't even care that I had yet to retrieve my wallet from the bus terminal across town; it was found and everything would be okay. I was feeling so good about this turn of events, that I decided to just trek out and pick up my wallet. Of course, I knew it was a long walk and that it was raining, and that I probably could have just borrowed some change from someone to pay the bus fare before I got my wallet back, but that didn't matter to me just then.

It started to matter to me a lot more over the course of the next hour. Eventually, I was wet enough and lost enough to use the old 'phone a friend' tactic.

"Help," I pleaded, "I am cold and wet and have no idea where I am."
"Bahahahahaha" he replied, but, fundamentally non-evil person that he is, he then googled my location and joyfully informed me that I had been walking in the wrong direction for an hour.


Well that was pretty much the interesting part of the day. After that, I walked back, met up with the guy I had called, borrowed a bus fare from him, retrieved my wallet, and then went to a restaurant and had a grand old time celebrating the end of the term.

The End.

No Sequel. Ever.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Long Walk on the Beach

The data structures exam went well, so I'm tossing up this drawing of a guy relaxing on a beach to counteract the depressing tree sketch below. Unfortunately, the water looks pretty depressing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Data Structure (Exam Tomorrow)

Two exams down, three remaining. Next up: data structures and algorithms. Yay, b-trees.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Study Spots

(click image to enlarge)

I move around a lot when I study. It's an ongoing quest of sorts to find the perfect study spot where you can relax in comfortable surroundings (possibly outside) with a nice desk (maybe some air conditioning) and access to a computer. Ideal study spots should be out of the way so that you can have a nice solitary working environment, but not so out of the way that you can never see the Sun if you have to stay there for a few days; they should also be comfy (as mentioned above) but no so much so that you end up falling asleep in your textbook.

P.S. The lighting and a bunch of other stuff in the picture in this post isn't all that well done. However, I'm really tired and have a bunch of exams soon.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


12.5 hours remain until my first exam. Hence the twitter-sized post.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Design the System

(click image to see full-sized)

I knew a guy back in high school who had one of those "F--- the System" shirts. He was a pretty cool guy and he managed to get away with the blatant infraction of the school dress code that occurred each time he wore it.

Still, as fun as it is to wear slogans like "eff the system", there comes a point a in one's life, around the time when one enrolls in a systems design engineering program, when such slogans start losing their appeal. It's pretty hard to stick it to The Man and The System when you're the guy who's supposed to be designing the system.

It's a frightening thing realizing, after all these years, that you're The Man everyone's been printing angry t-shirts about. "Look," you want to say, "the System's not that bad, all right? I mean, okay, it sucks a little, but I'd like to see you do better and hey! Stop making those hand gestures at me, you little twits!"

The point is, it's easy to criticize and it's even easier to not criticize and just ignore things, but when it comes down to actually fixing problems things get a bit more complicated. Now, I'm obviously biased, but I think that engineering is probably one of the best equipped fields to deal with these problems. But what I didn't really consider before beginning my degree is that there's only so much that can be taught in four years and during that time the world's problems are not going to get any easier to solve.

It's particularly mind blowing to me that, due to the amount of new knowledge about the world gained by scientists and engineers in the past few decades, a few years of an undergraduate (or really even a high school) degree will give you more theoretical knowledge (in certain fields) than practicing engineers of a half century ago. The reason this blows my mind is that it leads to the question: knowing only what you know today, could you invent and build a lightbulb? A record player? A computer?

Naturally, I'll be more qualified in five years than I am right now, but you have to wonder: if I there were a reasonably good chance you could become a practicing engineer five years from now, what could you do right now?

[DISCLAIMER: I am not an engineer (yet). The PEO would destroy me if I tried to claim otherwise. Not that they read my blog. (And PEO members, if you do read this, I'd love to hear about it.) ]

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Microsoft I-Pod

There's a video floating around the internet these days of how the iPod packaging would look like if it were redesigned by Microsoft. It's pretty entertaining, especially considering that it was produced for internal use at Microsoft.

I also went and coloured one of my old sketches:

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Bands, Blue Men, Bridges, and Balls of Toilet Paper

A lot of stuff has happened since I last wrote here, so this post will be an interestingly funky hodgepodge of stuff (hopefully).

First up: I just got back from an end of charity gig I was playing at with the engineering jazz band. It was pretty rocking, if I do say so myself. I'm also listening to a Blue Man Group CD while writing this, so I'm definitely riding on a bit of a music high at the moment. The Blue Man Group album (The Complex) is also really good, so I'm not really paying attention to what I'm writing. I apologize for this.

Second: The final project of my Mechanics of Deformable Solids course (which shall be referred to henceforth as 'MoDS') was to build a bridge out of cardboard (well, millboard, technically). We tested the bridges this week, which was a lot of fun because (a) it helped satisfy everyone's natural need for watching things break, (b) some of the failure's were pretty cool examples of shear deformation as the bridges slowly contorted around weak points, and (c) my group did well, supporting five hundred pounds with our 0.96 kg bridge bridge and getting within ten pounds of our predicted failure load. Granted a 1:250 weight to strength ratio is not unbelievable, as there was a group that supported over seven hundred pounds (and the all time record is rumoured to be over a thousand), but it's always nice to see stuff work the way you expect it to.

And last up: the balls of toilet paper. Yes sir. This one needs some explaining...

You see, on the day of the bridge testing, it also happened to be April Fool's Day and naturally, in our houseful of engineers we wished to celebrate the occasion. Naturally, with a Costco-sized supply of toilet paper available, the thought of strewing paper around ('TP'-ing) one of housemate's rooms was suggested, but, nice people that we are, we decided that was too messy / unoriginal / difficult to clean up. Then the classic idea of gluing all his furniture to the ceiling (using glue leftover from the bridge project) was floated -- again though, too evil.

Then genius struck.

We'd leave the toilet paper rolls in their plastic packaging and tape them, and other small items lying around, to the walls and ceiling. It was simple, clean, surreal, visually interesting, and (at least in our own eyes) a work of art.

You wouldn't think that this plan would be very hard to carry out for a couple of guys who just built a bridge a gorilla could walk over out of cardboard... but it turns out that scotch tape doesn't adhere well to the ceiling and it was having a lot trouble supporting the weight of the toilet paper rolls. The prank was turning out to be on us as the few rolls that were able to briefly stick to the ceiling came pelting down onto our heads after a few minutes. Lesson learned: use masking tape; it's much more effective.

So finally all the toilet was stuck up, with a water bottle and kleenex box strung up for good measure, and we built a little pyramid out of the remaining toilet paper and rubber ducks to fit in the doorway. The whole thing went over with my other housemate pretty well, although we quickly discovered that toilet paper balls made good projectile weapons in the same way that nerf balls do (because they have enough weight to be tossed, yet still don't hurt). After this discovery, we spent a bit more time exploring the possibilities it created (read: all out toilet paper warfare) before cleaning things up (all right, technically, we haven't gotten to the cleaning part yet).

I could go on, but I'd rather go and sing along to some songs on my computer.

If I sing a song / Will you sing along / Well I keep on singing right here by myself... ba dow dow dow bow dow dow dow, ba dow dow dow ba dow...

[Edit: For anyone concerned that with all the above shenanigans, I'm not studying / writing about studying enough, let me add that as of last Tuesday, my last 'midterm' was over, and as of Friday classes are done for the term. So yes, much studying will ensue over the next month as exams hit, but that won't stop us from having our exams and toilet paper too.]