Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Progress (and Reform)

I had a great Memorial Day weekend. On Thursday and Friday I came into work in the mornings, but went home early to help with the cleaning. On Thursday we cleaned out our closets, putting our winter clothes either away in storage boxes to be transported when we move, or in bags to donate to Goodwill. In fact I kept yet another pile, for the nice clothes that I had back before I lost all the weight. I took those very nice outfits to a local women's shelter, so that they could give them to women to wear at job interviews, or something like that. We had five bags of clothes for Goodwill, and an overflowing box for the women's shelter.

Then the next day I went home and helped clean in preparation for my father and bonus mom's arrival. They came for a visit and to help us install a laminate floor in the kitchen. Dad and I ended up doing most of the work on the floor together, while Jeff and Marvis prepared the quarter round, weeded the yard, and did other chores. It was fun to do the laminate floor with my dad.

It wasn't actually that difficult. You can simply place the underlayment right on top of the former flooring (even carpet!) and then the laminate floats on top of that. The laminate floor snaps into place thanks to a tongue and groove mechanism, and in a dry location you don't even need to use glue. But since we were installing it in the kitchen, we did glue the tongues and grooves together. The floor is faux tiles, about 15 inches square. There are three faux tiles per rectangular piece. It was an interesting experience because we had to watch for the chirality of the pieces of laminate. That is, if the long side facing down is a groove, then the short side on the right is also a groove and the other two sides are both tongues. You have to match the tongues and grooves carefully. Dad cut one piece wrong and we had to cut another. Luckily that piece wasn't wasted and was able to be used elsewhere.

I had computed the size of the room and from that I bought a certain amount of flooring. Unfortunately, due to the chirality of the laminate and the need to match the patterns, I hadn't bought enough. So I had to go back to the store for one more package.

The new floor is just gorgeous. I think it will be a good selling point for the house. We haven't quite finished laying the quarter round, but we should finish that up over the next weekend.

And speaking of selling, a house across the street has just sold. I saw that they put up the "for sale" sign, and the next day, they put up the "sale pending" sign. What I didn't know until our next door neighbor told us was that they had been asking $109,000 for it, but two buyers got in a bidding war and they got something like $117,000 for it. And this is a house that is smaller than ours! So I'm thinking we should be able to get a minimum of $120,000 for ours. And if we do, that is an increase in property value of 50% over six years. Our house may have been the smartest investment I've ever made. It's not something that I should ever count on happening again. But it will make for a nice down payment on the next house we buy.

And we completed our celebration of those who sacrificed their lives for freedom by consuming large amounts of grilled meat products on Monday. We also went for a walk at a park, which was kind of fun. I think I was a little bit sick all weekend, because I felt really low on energy for most of the days Sunday and Monday. But I went to bed early and slept it off. Today I feel much better!

As for working, I'm just trying to finish up my computer runs, and to write some final slides for my interview at IBM next week. I'm basically recycling what I did for Sandia, and just adding the latest updated information to the end of it. It is so exciting to be just about finished!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Things Other than Sweden

I've done a couple of other things in addition to obsessing about Sweden since I got home last week.

First of all, I've scheduled my visit to Oak Ridge for June 13-14. They only want me for a day. I'll leave here on Monday the 13th, spend the night somewhere near the lab, and have a day of interviews on the 14th. I'm not quite sure about the travel arrangements yet, but I hope they will be able to get me back home on the 14th. I'd prefer to be gone for as little as possible.

When I came home I found an e-mail from my former boss's boss at NCSA. He's now at Purdue doing a comparable job. It seems that Purdue is trying to become a major player in the HPC world, and they've been actively recruiting people from NCSA. He's the third person I can think of who now works there. Anyhow, he said he has a position to fill at Purdue and wanted to interview me for it. He's still working on the logistics of it, because I would be his first interviewee over there and he doesn't know how the bureaucracy works yet.

And then on Monday the guy from Los Alamos called me back, and said they'd like to have me out there for an interview. Those arrangements have not been made yet, but I think it would be nice if I could squeeze it in at the end of the week I go to Oak Ridge. That may not be possible, though, and in that case it would have to wait until the very end of June, after my defense.

It feels good to be wanted for all these interviews, but what will feel even better is to be wanted for one or more jobs as a result of all these interviews. With the meager knowledge I have right now, if all these interviews converted into jobs, I would say the partial ordering of my preferences would go as follows: IBM > Oak Ridge > Purdue > Los Alamos.

Jeff has been keeping busy too. He's started cleaning the house and fixing up the yard in preparation for our moving. When I gave him the idea of getting a dumpster from the trash company, he got really excited about cleaning our property. The dumpster came yesterday at about noon and he had it full by the time I left for karate. He had them empty it today and paid for them to haul off the next load. I suspect that he will have it filled up by the time I get home today.

I am a slob, and he came from a family of packrats, so we are destined to collect clutter. He said he found some really bizarre things that he had saved, such as used brake pads from a car we no longer had when we bought our house, and it felt liberating to throw them all out. Our garage is clean now, thanks to his efforts. Next on the list are the basement and the rest of the house.

He also cut down a whole bunch of volunteer trees and fixed the fence on the side of the house. Last night he was exhausted but happy. I am impressed by how much he has done.

And in other news, I got the rental of the lake house at the park for my party. So I am really happy about that. I went and paid for it this morning.

I've been going over my thesis with a fine-toothed comb, looking for minor errors to correct. I found a place where I had two ares in a row, and a place where I had forgotten the absolute value sign, amongst other things. I think that all my open parentheses have closes to match, and that sort of thing, so I should be okay. The only thing that remains is to put my final scalability analysis in there, and then get my advisor to go over it one more time with his vicious red pen. I hope to be able to give the final draft to the committee by Friday, June 3.

It's so weird to be doing this. I can hardly believe that I'm almost done. After this, I will probably never be a student again. I can't fathom what life will be like if it doesn't center on school.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Observations about Sweden

Sweden has to be my favorite foreign destination. I've never been there in the winter, that's true, and in fact I would probably hate it in the winter. A girl needs some sunshine every day.

But I still think Sweden is fantastic. It's such a beautiful country, and it feels so friendly, even though people don't smile at all times like they do in the U.S. I always smile at everyone, which I realize is sometimes interpreted as flirting in other countries. So even when I used my (limited) Swedish language skills with people, my beaming smile gave me away as an American.

I talked to the man on the plane about this. "Americans have no neutral expression," he observed. "They think that if you're not smiling, you're not happy." I think he has a point. I know that in Russian, they have an expression "American smile" that refers to a false smile. Sometimes our smiles and friendly greetings might seem fake. There are days when I don't feel so happy, but being friendly towards strangers and seeing the effect it has upon them cheers me right up. I know my mother was always cynical about it. She never believed that the people telling her to have a nice day cared at all about the quality of her day. I'm sure that there are plenty of people who don't care, but whenever I wish someone a nice day, I mean it. I genuinely hope that everyone has a nice day, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who feels that way.

I don't know much Swedish, and I have a limited ability to pronounce it. There are some sounds in Swedish that are completely unpronounceable to me. But I do have a surprisingly large vocabulary for one who never studied Swedish and has spent a grand total of three weeks in Sweden. While I was there in a particularly boring seminar, I wrote down my entire vocabulary.

There are 29 letters in the Swedish alphabet. There are the normal letters A to Z, and three more at the end: Å/å, Ä/ä, and Ö/ö. (In case the font doesn't work out, that's the A/a with a circle over it, A/a with an umlaut, and O/o with an umlaut, respectively.) In Swedish, these are considered separate letters. So if you're looking for Mr. Ångstrom's phone number, you need to go to the end of the phone book, not the beginning. Å is pronounced like "awe," but more like the Queen of England would pronounce it, not American. Ä is pronounced like a long A in English, as in "rain." And Ö is like the German, as in schön. The letter y is pronounced like the German ü, or like the French u as in tu. So the word for airport, Flygplats, is pronounced "FLYUG-plahts." The combination "sk" is usually pronounced as a "sh" sound. The letter j makes the y sound in "yes," just like in German.

Here is an interesting subset of my Swedish vocabulary, with approximate pronunciations and meanings: (Edited on 5/25/05 to add: I have no idea why it is this way, but there's a huge space between here and the table of words. Just keep scrolling down. Don't give up!)

Swedish Word Pronunciation Meaning/Comments
Restaurang Res-tuh-RAHNG Restaurant (taken straight from French)
Hiss hiss Elevator
Plan Plahn Floor/story (the story above the entrance floor is the 1st floor)
Gamla Stan GAH-mla STAHN Old Town
Hej/Hej då hey/hey daw Hello/Goodbye (easy for young people to learn and remember)
Fem FEHM Five (for some reason, this number really stuck out for me)
Ja/Nej ya/nay yes/no
Gatan GAHT-tahn Street ? (most street names ended in -gatan)
och/eller O/ELL-er and/or (sometimes och was pronounced with a hint of a "k" sound at the end)
Frukost FRU-kost Breakfast (and how tasty it was, too!)
Stängt stankt closed
Drag drahg pull
Bil BEEL Car (shortened version of Automobil?)
Bilder BEELD-er Pictures (like German)
Barn barn child (like Scottish bairn)
Vatten VAHT-en water
Öl öl Beer (like ale)
Nu NU Now (also TLD for remote island of Niue, who make a lot of money off Swedish websites)
Rea REH-ah Sale
Glass glahs ice cream
Mjölk myulk milk (and I'm not completely certain on the pronunciation)
Ägg Egg Egg (hard-boiled eggs are commonly served for Frukost)
Bröd bröd bread

Edited to add: I have no idea why, but there's a huge space between the end of the text and the beginning of the table when I view this entry. I hope it's not that way for everyone else.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Adventures in Stockholm, Part II

On Tuesday, I attended the conference in the morning. But my session got out early just before lunch, so I took the opportunity to see more of Stockholm. I went to the Nordiska Museet, the national museum of cultural history. I took in big exhibits on shoes, Swedish holidays, Swedish homes, and Swedish furniture, before returning to the conference in time for the next session. That evening, we had a banquet at the Stockholm City Hall, the place where they hold the banquet for the Nobel Prize every year. Since that was the closest I anticipate I'll ever get to a Nobel Prize, I made the most of it. We had our banquet in the Golden Hall, which is used for the post-banquet dancing at the Nobel Prize banquet. Their banquet is in the Blue Hall, which is actually not blue, but brick red. The food was really good and fairly traditional Swedish: several types of fish, including two dishes with salmon; Swedish meatballs with parsnips; delicious hard rolls; and some sort of loaf of something that might have been pâté but was basically unidentifiable to a crass American such as myself. I tried it, anyhow. I still don't know what it was.

I slept in and when I went to eat breakfast, I couldn't find an empty table. Luckily, I recognized a couple who my friends from the plane had introduced me to at the banquet the night before. I joined them at their table and had a good time conversing and getting to know them better before the husband of the couple and I made our way to the conference.

I was so intrigued by the City Hall that I went back at lunch and climbed the tower. You can take an elevator halfway up, and then walk the rest of the way. I enjoyed the view from the top, and took more pictures than you can shake a stick at. Then I went back to the conference for another session. After that session, I went out to dinner with my friends from the airplane and my friends from breakfast, and two other couples and two others there by themselves. We went to an Indian restaurant. It was funny because all the items on the menu were in English, but the explanations of ingredients were in Swedish. I guessed and chose something that sounded like it could be good. I was correct, and was rewarded with a scrumptious meal. I tried to go to bed at a decent hour, because the next day I was returning home.

I got up at 6 a.m. on Thursday (11:00 p.m. the previous day in Illinois), so that I could make it in time to catch my plane. I ate a big, delicious breakfast before getting myself to the Flygbussarna and back to Arlanda airport. After a bit of confusion about which line I needed to stand in, I managed to get myself checked in and made my way to the gate.

On the plane, I ended up sitting next to a very gregarious Swedish gentleman of about the same age as my dad. We talked just about the entire trip home. He was really nice and very knowledgeable. We have similar interests: he's in computer science, loves music, and speaks 5 languages. He spoke very good English. I asked him all kinds of questions about Sweden, Swedish culture, and the Swedish language. He in turn asked me about the United States and American language and culture. The trip passed quickly.

Once we landed in Chicago, I had to wait for 2.5 hours until my shuttle came. But then it ended up being an hour late. I got back to Urbana at about 6:45 p.m. I thought about calling Jeff to pick me up, but realized it would be too much effort, so I just waited for the next city bus going my way and got home on the bus. Jeff was delighted to see me. I was excited to see him; so excited that I managed to stay up pretty late, until about 11 p.m., meaning that I stayed up for a full 24 hours. Then I crashed into bed and tried to sleep as late as I could, which ended up being until about 5:30 a.m.

Adventures in Stockholm, Part I

I had a completely free day on Sunday, so I resolved to go to the Vasamuseet (Vasa museum), the final resting place of an ill-fated seventeenth-century warship that didn't make it very far out of Stockholm Harbor. The ship's design was quite flawed; its center of gravity was above the water level and it was too heavily burdened with cannon. Apparently somebody did a finite element analysis of it and figured out that if it had only been about one foot wider on each side, it would have been fine. It makes you wonder whether history would be different if the architect of the boat had made this change in his plans.

The Vasa was built to help in the war against Poland. Apparently the King of Poland had once ruled Sweden, but was deposed because the Swedes were by this time Protestant, and he was Catholic. Unperturbed, he still believed he was the rightful king of Sweden, and waged a war against Sweden. I'm pretty sure that he never regained control of Sweden.

The ship was amazingly well-preserved in the thick mud of Stockholm's harbor. They even found some skeletons of those who didn't survive when the ship sank, and a locked chest containing four sails. The Vasa museum has the oldest existing sail in the world. It was fascinating to see. Unfortunately, all my pictures turned out really badly, so I won't trouble you with those.

I also saw the Medeltidsmuseet (Medieval museum), which was all about medieval Stockholm. I thought it was really interesting too. Apparently because of trade, medieval Stockholm had a lot of Germans, and some positions in the city government were reserved for Germans. After Gustav Vasa became King, though, they kicked all the Germans out of the government. Gustav Vasa was the first great Swedish King, and this inspired a bit of a nationalist movement in Sweden.

I went to the opening reception for the conference on Sunday night, and talked a bit with some folks I already knew, but then I turned in once again for an early night. On Monday morning the conference began in earnest. I went to some interesting talks, including a talk by the guy who's going to interview me at IBM. The poster session was on Monday evening. They bribed people to attend with food and wine. I had a fair number of people come up to me and talk about my research. Here is a picture of me in front of my poster.

After the poster session, it was still light outside, so I went for a walk, exploring Stockholm north of my hotel. I walked as far as a park which is the site of an old observatory, built several hundred years ago. It was on a high hill, so I stood up there and had a great view of the city.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Adventures in Travel

This is the first of the many entries I plan to write on my trip to Sweden. Let me say that I had a fabulous time there but I am glad to be home. I hate to travel, but a destination such as Sweden makes it worth it.

I can't say enough great things about Sweden. It is beautiful, it is clean, it is safe and not crowded, and everyone speaks English. The Swedish language is absolutely poetic and soothing. The intonation of the Muppets' Swedish chef is not far off from the truth. There is a certain rhythmic lilt to their speech. If you've ever heard Carl Sandburg (an American poet of Swedish descent) reciting his poetry, you have a hint of the soothing sound of Swedish, with words that you can understand. If I ever go back to Sweden, I plan to study the language a bit beforehand.

But enough about how much I love Sweden. I'm supposed to be talking about my trip!

I was standing in line at O'Hare airport behind a man reading a journal paper full of math. I talked to him and asked if he was going to the conference. Sure enough, he was, and he introduced himself as David Gay. At that point, I realized that I recognized him from my interview at Sandia, because he had attended my seminar. His wife, Tanner, was also coming along to Stockholm, and he introduced me to her. Once on the plane, our seats were apart from each other, but I did see them again when we got into the Stockholm airport.

The flight was all right. I'm not a big fan of sitting in a tiny seat in a big airplane for eight hours, but it worked out all right. I had an aisle seat, on the aisle of the big rows in the middle of the plane. It was just fine with me, because that meant I would have some breathing room on one side. The plane was a big Airbus plane, and each of us had individual screens located on the back of the chair in front of us. They were touchscreens which you could use to choose what music to listen to, what to watch, and even play some games. We also had the option of viewing from a camera on the front of the plane or on the bottom looking down, as well as that map describing the progress of the flight. In this way, it didn't really matter if you had a window seat, because the views from the cameras out the front and down were better than anything you could have seen out the window. While on the plane, I watched a Danish movie calles Sharks, which I thought was really good, listened to the latest Scandinavian popular music, and tried to sleep. I slept maybe an hour, which was pretty good for me. Normally I can't sleep a wink on those planes.

In line at passport control, I met my new friends David and Tanner again. I also met some people from Argonne, who had also taken that flight. One introduced himself, and I realized that he was the guy who wrote me the rejection letter. So I light-heartedly said to him, "I know you, I received the nicest rejection letter from you a couple of months ago!" He looked a little sheepish but I reassured him that it was a nice letter, saying that I felt better about myself after reading it than I had felt before I read it, and that I was keeping it to use as a model if I ever needed to write rejection letters someday. We had a fun conversation about it, which was particularly remarkable since we were coming off a plane with less than an hour of sleep under our belts.

In the airport I bought a round-trip ticket on the "Flygbussarna" (I'll tell you how to pronounce that in a later entry) from Stockholm Arlanda airport to downtown Stockholm. My hotel was a short walk from there. By the time I got to Stockholm it was before 10 a.m., so I knew it was too early to check in to my hotel, but I went there anyhow, intending to get permission to leave my bags there until check-in time. The man I talked to took pity on me and let me check in early. I went up to my room and took a shower. That turned out to be a great idea. I take a shower every morning, so doing that made it feel more like morning, just a morning preceded by a really short night of sleep.

After that, I went out on the town. I took a free map of Stockholm and plotted a course to Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm. It turned out that I had chosen to walk south on the gigantic pedestrian shopping section of town, so I was able to take the opportunity to do some shopping too. My activities for the day included going to the Coin Museum and taking a tour of the Swedish Parliament Building, both of which were in Gamla Stan.

The museum was interesting. I had a coin collection as a child, so I enjoyed looking at all the historical coins from around the world. The problem was that all the signs were in Swedish so I didn't get to read all the captions. The Parliament building was beautiful. I went on a guided tour in English, and I learned a lot. One thing I learned was that in Sweden, instead of sitting with members of their political party, members of parliament sit according to geography, with other members from the same area, regardless of party affiliation.

After my tour of parliament, I was so tired that I managed to drag myself back to the hotel and watched some TV, waiting for it to be a decent hour back in North America so that I could let my better half know I had made it. He had gone to Kentucky to visit his parents for the duration of my trip. I called there at about 9 a.m. Eastern, and talked to mom-in-law, who answered the phone. She offered to wake him up, but I told her not to worry about it, just to give him the message.

I read my book and tried to keep my eyes open for the rest of the day. I lasted until about 6 or 7 p.m., before turning in for the "night." I say "night" because this time of year the sun doesn't set until 9:30 or 10, and rises at about 4 a.m. I woke up at about midnight, stayed up for two hours, and went back to bed again, getting up at 8 a.m. or so. Effectively, I slept two nights, with a two hour break in the middle.

I plan to tell you more, but I really wanted to have some pictures in the narrative, and I forgot to bring the camera to download the pictures from. So my story will have to continue later.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Adventures in Conferences

Last night the poster session went really well. People attended, bribed by the prospects of free food, and, of course, of talking to me about my poster. I met the guy who's going to be my host when I interview at IBM, and one of my classmates' undergraduate advisor, and someone who knew somebody on my committee. The optimization world is small, it seems.

The talks were interesting, although some were less interesting and made it difficult to stay awake. Although I feel adjusted to this time zone, I still get kind of sleepy, especially in the mornings when I would be going to sleep back home.

Tonight we are having dinner at the Stockholm City Hall, where they present the Nobel prizes every year. Although I don't think the King of Sweden will be showing up, this is as close as I'll ever get to the Nobel Prize (there is no Nobel Prize in Math or Computer Science) so I'd better make the most of it.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Adventures in Stockholm

I'm limited to fifteen minutes on this computer, so this will be short. Yesterday I planned to tour Stockholm, including seeing the Vasa museum and walking around a lot. One thing I had neglected to plan for was cramps. I forgot to bring some pain killers, and it was Sunday, too. Luckily, reading the hotel brochure, I saw that they offered free aspirin. So I made my way to the front desk and asked for some.

The woman at the desk gave me these big tablets, too big to swallow. Weird. But things are different in Sweden. She told me to dissolve them in a glass of water and drink it down, and that it tasted nasty. She was right; not only was it bitter (with a hint of lemon) but it was grainy. In the end, though, it was worth it, because I felt good enough to continue with my plans. Not great, and periodically I had to sit and rest, but good enough to enjoy my free day in Stockholm.

Today is the first day of the conference. Tonight I present my poster. Wish me luck!

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Adventures in Sweden

Just a really quick note to let everybody know that I made it safely here to Sweden. No, it's not actually 3 a.m. -- it's ten in the morning.

The flight was fine, and a lot of fellow conference-goers were on the plane with me. So I started schmoozing before I even got on board. I got about one hour of sleep on the plane, but that was enough that I made it until about 6 p.m. last night before crashing. I spent the day walking through pedestrian shopping districts and visiting museums. I was menally psyched up, but physically exhausted all day.

I need to get going now. I'm off to see the Vasamuseum and a few other things. I'll write more when I get a chance!

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Adventures in Being Incredibly Popular

I had a really great day yesterday. A friend of mine at Weight Watchers recommended some foods that I should take with me when I leave for Sweden tomorrow. I found out that I got the rental of the Lake House at Crystal Lake Park for my party. I was pretty excited about that. Then, I got a hit for my job search prospects from somebody at Oak Ridge, who wants me to come out and interview. We're arranging that for sometime in June.

Also yesterday I met a friend for smoothies and we had a really nice talk. The smoothies were good too, although the company was better. And while I was sitting there, a woman whom I vaguely know came up and asked me about my NCSA shirt. I was wearing my bright yellow NCSA shirt, and she used to work for NCSA but got laid off and didn't want her NCSA shirts anymore, and wondered if I wanted them. I am a sucker for free shirts, so I said yes. I think it was kind of cathartic for her to be able to give those shirts away, too.

This morning when I arrived, the bag of shirts was hanging on the door to my office. I was really pleased to see them there, especially after I realized that a pooping bird had made a bull's eye on my shirt. So I changed into one of the shirts she left for me, and wrote her a very nice thank-you e-mail.

And on Tuesday I applied online for a job at Los Alamos. It's a job that I don't really think I would want but for which I think I am eminently qualified. This morning I got a phone call from the guy who manages that group. He seemed really interested in my qualifications and is going to call me back sometime in the next couple of weeks.

So I am feeling incredibly popular. There are so many people out there who seem to like me and/or want me for a job. That includes you, my vast fan base. I know how much you are going to miss me while I am in Sweden. I don't think I'll have any opportunity to update while I'm there, but if I do get a chance, I'll be sure to keep you updated. Otherwise, have a great week everybody!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Go Forth and Multiply

The first tree to bloom in the spring is the maple. Maybe there are others, but the maple is the first one I notice. You have to know what you're looking for in order to see the small, reddish-brown flowers at the end of the branches. You might not even notice them otherwise. But as a spring aficionado, the maple flowers are something I search for in late February or early March. They give me hope that spring is coming eventually.

Because of the maple's early spring activities, it is also the first tree to go to seed. It produces these whirligig seed pods that are meant to be dispersed in the wind. For those unfamiliar with maple seeds, they have a small, egg-shaped part (maybe one centimeter in length at the very most) containing the seed, which is attached to a much longer wing. Often they are in pairs attached at the seed end, and as a kid you may have called them helicopters.

We have a stately maple tree in our yard. The tree must be more than fifty years old, and its wide canopy shades most of the back yard and part of our house. It is an incredibly prolific seed producer, too. Every year it covers our yard with maple whirligigs. This year is no exception. Last night when I left for karate, the car was covered in maple seeds. They had gathered on the car in much the same way as snow does. There was a thick layer of them propped up to the windshield by the windshield wipers. I ran the wipers to get them off. The hood and the top of the car were also covered in the seeds. I noticed as I backed out of the driveway that the spot in the driveway where the car had been parked was black, whereas the rest of the driveway was brown from all the maple seeds.

As I drove along, I began to hear a whirring sound, which came from the air lifting the whirligigs from the car. Although it was a hot evening, I couldn't open the windows unless I wanted to be inundated with maple seeds as the wind tore them from the hood. The whirring continued for the whole drive.

I realized that I was giving the maple seeds a way to spread farther than the old maple tree could have done the natural way. Five miles from the source, I was dispersing seeds as the wind removed them from the car. I wondered if one of those seeds might grow into a majestic maple tree someday, and astonish scientists performing a genetic survey of local trees by how far maple seeds could disperse. I had never thought about plants spreading via car. I imagine that pests (e.g. insects) could spread that way too.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Adventures in Frustration

On the one hand, I am so close to graduating! On the other hand, I'm so close to graduating! Aargh!

All my runs are completed. Now I'm just trying to make sense of the data. In particular, I am having trouble fitting a sensible model to my data. You see, my program has the curse of superlinear speedup.

Superlinear speedup is actually a good thing, in real life. It means that your program runs more efficiently as you increase the number of processors. In other words, it will take less than half the time to run the program if you use twice as many processors. This defies logic upon first examination, but in reality it is possible. Usually it is due to caching and swapping in the CPUs. Also, it usually happens only once, like if you make a graph of number of processors versus the log of the compute time, you see one big dip in time and then things continue on as normal. In my case, the slope of that line is consistently steeper than one should expect.

So I am running a few more runs to see what will happen with more to compute. I'm having it do twice as many computations as before, hoping that maybe this will cause it to average out. Also, I need to investigate because there are two different types of communications on the machine, and it is possible that my low number of processor jobs used the slower communications. I will also see if I can have a meeting with my advisor before I leave for Sweden on Friday.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

More Shameless Bragging

Last night I passed my brown belt test! I now have a brown belt in shito ryu karate!

The test was grueling. It lasted over an hour and a half. We started with some brutal across-the-room kicking exercises. Then we did across the room multiple move exercises, including some techniques we'd never done before but that I imagine will be featured in the kata in the next level. Then we did kumite, sequences of counters to punches and kicks that we came up with ourselves. Mine were fairly creative, and I think he liked what I came up with. A lot of mine were inspired by kata. And then we finished up the evening with kata. He omitted the kata from the yellow belt level, but we had to do the orange, green, and blue levels as well as the brown belt kata. I flew through the orange, green, and blue belt kata, and did fairly well on the brown belt kata. Then we had to do a favorite kata. I chose one from the green belt level, Pinan Sandan, which reminds me of square dancing.

I think that my karate teacher was really impressed. He remembers my lack of body awareness when I started karate about three years ago, and he knows that I have really come a long way from that. Last night he expressed how impressed he was with my progress. He was amazed at how much I had overcome in the time I've been doing karate, and he said I did a good job on my test.

I'm really impressed with myself, too! I'm amazed that I was capable of learning all those kata, of doing a flying front kick, a spinning back kick (with some force), not to mention a three kick combination. Heck, it's kind of amazing that I can walk across the room without tripping over my own shadow. I joke that if I were a D&D character, I started off with a DEX of 8 or 9, and thanks to karate, I now have a DEX of 11 or 12. Maybe if I get a black belt, my DEX will rise to a 14!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Adventures in My Really Boring Life

Yesterday we worked in the yard for several hours. We're about halfway done with the stuff we're doing in the front yard. That means that the landscaped part of the yard, with the roses and holly bushes, is about halfway weeded and covered with weed control fabric. The second half is going to be harder than the first, because it's overgrown with grass, and grass is very pesky stuff. I got some killer attack plant killing nasty chemical, which seems like cheating in some ways (also cruel and unusual punishment for plants), but desperate times call for desperate measures. I'd really like the front yard to look nice, because first impressions help sell a house, and it won't look very nice if the landscaping is overgrown.

We worked outside for about 4 hours. Today, I have a tickle in my lungs, just like I did the last time, which led to a nasty case of bronchitis. If I get bronchitis again, I will have to hit myself over the head really hard as punishment, because if it progresses as it did this last time, I will have a head full of congestion as I'm about to get on an airplane. Hopefully my immune system isn't as wussy as it was the last time I did yard work. We need to finish up the front yard before Memorial Day weekend, when my Dad and his wife are planning for a visit. We just want to be able to say, "See all the work that we did?" because when they come, they will do a whole bunch of housework for us. They are a whirlwind of energy, my dad in particular. This work that has taken two of us eight hours to do, he would have done in half a day. I don't know how people work that fast, but there we are. My dad is an amazing guy.

In other news, I'm just about done with everything. My parallel implementation of diffusion on the 3-D objective function is running as I write this. All I need to do is run the program three times each for 8, 16, 24, 32, 48, 64, 96, and 128 processors. That could take a long time, or it could take little time. I just need to pack the queue as much as I can without getting a nasty note from the admins. Then I just make some pretty graphs, evaluate the performance of my method, write it up, and voila! a thesis is done!

I can hardly believe that I am just about done with my Ph.D. I have been here for so long, I never thought I'd be able to leave. It makes me quite happy to be finishing up! Of course, in order to actually leave, I need someplace to go, which means getting a job. But I feel pretty optimistic about that at the moment. If nothing else, there must be plenty of folks who need a good numerical analyst, and there's gotta be one who's desperate enough to hire me.