Sunday, July 26, 2009

Concert's Coming

The engineering jazz band is playing an end of term charity gig Saturday, August 1st. Admission is free, with a recommended donation to the food bank.

We're playing at the Waterloo Park Bandstand ( at "1:29 PM" according to the official schedule, so somewhere around 1:30, hopefully. Also, we're being joined by the jazz choir Accent, who will be their usual awesome selves.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Procrastination Tale

I had an assignment due at 11:45 tonight. Checking my watch, I was disturbed to see it read 9:26. Then I realized I was looking at it upside down. I had a good laugh and turned it around.

Then I realized I'm an idiot.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

(Text)book Review : Signals & Systems (2nd Ed)

I've been looking forward to taking Systems & Signals for a while now, so when the official textbook for this year was announced (surprise! it's the same as last year's again), I went and picked one up.

And yes, I know it's a bit weird to get textbooks over a month before the term starts. And I realize that I probably won't get all that far before the term starts. And I realize that the promised 'review' in the post title will be weakened slightly by the fact that I haven't yet read the book.

But I think there's some value in giving my impressions of the textbook now, before the long and presumably difficult term that is to come goes and spoils my appreciation of it. Or maybe this will help someone deciding whether or not to buy this book at all. Or maybe I'm just crazy. Regardless, I've stalled enough, so on to the review...

The first thing you'll notice with this textbook is that it's remarkably plain. Gone is the translucent periodic table inserted into the chemistry text, gone is the lovely layout design of Linear Algebra and Applications, gone is the marketing spiel, the learning aids and the motivational pictures of Fundamentals of Physics.

It is, in short, not a first year textbook. There is nothing about it really that makes you want to buy it, or feel good about having bought it, or waste your little attention on it. By this point, the makers of this textbook know, you're damn well going to buy the textbook. The alternative, after all, is to flirt with failure and the chance to buy the textbook the second time around.

I'll admit to not being overly impressed with my initial glance through the book, but first impressions aren't everything and, as much as I like textbooks that will compete for my attention, it's really more important that they cover interesting material.

So what material does S&S cover? From the table of contents...
  1. Signals and Systems (duh)
  2. Linear Time-Invariant Systems
  3. Fourier Series Representation of Periodic Signals
  4. The Continuous-Time Fourier Transform
  5. The Discrete-Time Fourier Transform
  6. Time and Frequency Characterization of Signals and Systems
  7. Sampling
  8. Communication Systems
  9. The Laplace Transform
  10. The Z-Transform
  11. Linear Feedback Systems
Now, I realize that list might not strike everyone as fascinating reading; but honestly, Fourier transforms are pretty awesome. Especially reverse ones.

Recommendation : If you're not particularly interested by signals or systems you'll probably be slaughtered by this course anyway, but I would suggest getting the book. It's an old edition so you can pick it up second hand and it could be handy if you ever need to brush up on fancy signal transformation stuff before a job interview.

If you do like systems and signals, then this should be a pretty easy decision. Unless of course, you're really into them, in which case maybe you have a shelf full of signal processing books already.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Mobile Homes

The houses are literally driving away now. I was walking to the university recently, when a house drove by me on the road. It took up both lanes and had a police escort.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Keeping Your Sanity (Blanket)

This has been a pretty crazy week for me, which I could rant on for a while about but I've used my 'rant' tag a lot lately so instead I'll just say that I saw EngPlay today.

EngPlay is a once-a-term tradition here and, as the infinitely subtle name sneakily reveals, it is a play put on by engineering students and for engineering students. There is a lot of innuendo, some clever lines, a lot more innuendo, some decent acting, and a bunch of swearing.

It's one of the three events that I look forward to each term, along with the SyDE coffeehouse, and the end of term engineering jazz band gig. Of course, there are other high profile events, including the SCavenger hUNT, Bus Push (ceremonial hauling of a bus for charity), TalEng (talent show), the Water Boys (a cappella group) end-of-term concert, the Accent (jazz a cappella group) end-of-term concert, and so on, and so on...

Yes. Stay sane, kids. Stay sane.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Does anyone in Waterloo want to sublet or lease me a place for the next four months to a year? Anyone?

I've yet to find a place to stay and, while I do have some promising prospects, Kitchener-Waterloo is not a good place to be homeless. Not that there are any particularly good to be homeless. Even so, affordable housing in K-W is really not discussed enough (outside of student housing), although there have been efforts to change that.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pandering to the Biologists

Bioinformaticians seem to be disproportionately represented in the readership of this blog, so I thought you folks might be interested in this blog post. It discusses the public relations problems faced by synthetic biology and raises Drew Endy's (presumably) ironic assertion that the field be renamed "Shiny Happy Biology".

It's probably a good thing the PR people haven't heard of our bacterial contraception plans yet.

EDIT: Actually it's a good thing they haven't heard of most of the weird iGEM projects that Andre has helpfully curated.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Video Religion Survey

I was approached yesterday as I walked across campus during lunch by two guys who wanted to take a "video survey" of my religion. They seemed like nice enough guys and I couldn't think of a good reason not to do it, so I took the survey. I basically told them that I'm not religious although, yeah, I've been to church and, sure, I think it's possible that Jesus was a historical figure. The guys wrapped up their questions and explained they were trying to get a feel for religious attitudes on campus.

Today, I was having lunch in a residence cafeteria (we ran out of bread at home so I didn't bother packing a lunch) and was approached by another guy. He struck up a conversation about the cafeteria food and we went on to talk about the university in general for a while. He was apparently a computer science graduate who was just hanging around after graduation. After a while, he slid a piece of paper my way telling a parable about Jesus and explained how He's more interesting when you "let Him into you life" than when you're forced to sit through church services with your parents.

In some ways, I appreciate the efforts of these university missionaries. I'll give them credit for being willing to approach strangers and start conversations, and I do admire their passion. At the same time, I've never really gotten much out of a religious discussion initiated in this way. For one thing, I'm usually in a hurry when approached in public, so I don't really have time to debate the merits of monotheism at length.

I'm also not really confrontational enough to ask the questions that would start a true theological debate. Instead of asking "but even if we did accept the need for a First Mover, why would such an entity have to be a sentient embodiment of moral goodness? And what does 'good' mean anyway? And what's with the burning bush?" I would usually be content to ask "oh, yes?"

Again, I do respect the religious groups on campus for getting out there and pushing their respective causes. I just wish that one of these days some random stranger will strike up a conversation with me to start a great philosophical debate about intellectual property. Or bioethics. Or cheese.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mysteries of the Long Lost Folders - Episode 2

Deep within the Majugi archives there lurked a collection of moldy old Word Perfect documents. They contained prose of terrifying ineptitude created for elementary school book reports and high school creative writing assignments.

But amidst those files, there lay one that was a little less moldy than all the others and reeked a little bit less. It was the smallest file, containing a mere 55 words. So without further buildup...

The room was stifling: I couldn’t sleep; could barely breathe. Every time I drifted off, a moth nearby would beat its wings against my window, producing an irritating buzz. Exasperated, I trapped it under a cloth. The buzzing grew louder.

“Die, you damned moth!” I snarled.

It did.

Strangely, the killing didn’t help me sleep.

...which is all well and good. It satisfied the requirements of the eleventh grade English class it was written for (telling a story with a setting, characters, conflict, and resolution in fifty-five words), but it could use some editing, right?

Strangely, the killing didn’t help me sleep.

The room was stifling: I couldn’t move; could barely breathe. Every time I drifted off, a moth nearby would beat its wings against my window, producing an irritating buzz. Exasperated, I trapped it under a cloth. The buzzing grew louder.

“Die, you damned moth!” I snarled.

It died.

...and once again, I've ruined a classic.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Showering in the Dark

Has anyone else ever experienced this? Our washroom has a timed light which can only be set from outside the room... and no windows. It's great for motivating people not to take half hour long showers in the morning, but I keep forgetting to set it for more than five minutes when showering.

So it's 3 am right now...

Sleep deprivation. It's an important topic. Just go to the Wikipedia page on the topic and you'll find some supposed effects of it that are frightening enough to keep you awake for a while.

Yet sleep deprivation is basically a fact of life for university students. For some, it's a point of honor to stay up late (this usually goes with the mantra "sleep is for the weak"). Others are pressured into staying up to finish assignments, cram for tests, or play World of Warcraft. But the fact remains, you cannot function well when tired. In fact, I don't think I can finish this blog post right now. Seriously, I can't do it... come back in ten hours and this post will be jaw-droppingly good. I'm going to bed.

<------- Nine and a Half Hours Pass ------->

Okay, so what did we just learn here? Other than I've lost the ability to stay up late in my old age?

Things become harder when you're tired. Assignments that should take two hours under normal conditions can suddenly take fourteen hours to complete (I have fairly reliable sources that indicate that this has really happened, but not to me personally... my record is about eight hours).

Can sleep deprivation ever help get things done? I think that most students have experienced a late-night essay writing binge at one point that felt remarkably productive. This is usually attributed to last-minute pressure providing motivation to work. You'll note though, that you only get that feeling with projects that have subjective marking schemes: math assignments never get easier with "last minute pressure."

I'm going to throw a wild conjecture out there: when you're able to write an essay quickly at three in the morning, it's not because of last minute pressure. No, it's simply a case of your standards dropping to the point where you become more focused on finishing the essay that doing it well.

"But," you say, "I got really good marks on all the essays I wrote at 4 a.m. the day before they were due!"

I don't doubt that this is possible, because I've also done remarkably well with essays written in the witching hour. There are times when you need to stop overthinking everything and just start writing, and if too much thinking is the problem, sleep deprivation can certainly cure that.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Disc Golf

It is a beautiful Saturday afternoon here in Waterloo, and I've just finished playing a round of disc golf with my sister and her boyfriend. We went to the Chicopee ski hill which, like a lot of other ski places, is used in the summer for mountain biking, hiking, and recreational throwing of plastic flying discs into baskets.

We played the 'easy' course (the hard one usually involves starting all the holes a few meters back), but still spent a significant amount of time searching through the forest for the discs we threw off-course. Especially the yellow ones. Attention disc makers: greenish-yellow disc + long grass = invisible. Still, it was a pretty good time and disc golf is definitely something that's worth trying.

For the record, I lost. I think my score was something like 110 or so, a little over double the record for the course.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Canada Day!

Oh Canada!
Our home and native land,
True patriot love, in every DNA strand...

Okay, so I still have iGEM stuff on my mind, because we're continuing to code away on Recombinatron (see previous post), but it is Canada Day and that calls for celebration. The engineering jazz band is not in fact playing today, but the Water Boys (a cappella group) will be performing twice today at Columbia Lake for anyone in Waterloo (no, I don't sing with them currently -- I'm just a fan). Also, there will be fireworks and other fun. Yaayyy Canada!