The last two weeks have been really tough. So much happened but I haven't had a moment to relax, well, not exactly. Here's the recap.

Going Home

I don't mean home in the literal sense, but mentally. Last monday classes were cancelled so I decided to take an esaver and visit Pittsburgh for the weekend. I had to fly out of Providence which meant I was dependant on the train schedule which doesn't always go all the way to Providence. Therefore, I ended up spending the night with Jackie at Brown. It was nice to see and spend some time with her, since we can't do that often.

It was really great to be back at CMU. Possibly it was just because I was on a trip and there wasn't anything I had to do, but the whole time I was there was very relaxing. Just sitting in these familiar rooms on familiar couches with my best friends was really comforting.

Mike Weiss was also in that weekend. He flew in to take his stuff from storage and drive it back to New York in a U-Haul. Nate and I helped him load things up. The U-Haul he was given, old-faithful we called it, seemed a bit beat up, but we didn't quite know how bad it was when we first set up. When we got to the storage facility we noticed that the radiator was leaking. Instead of packing up storage we just had to wait around for a while. After U-Haul determined they weren't going to do anything for us, we had to walk and take two busses home. Then we had to return the next day with a better truck and do the actual packing.

Except the amount of time spent on that ordeal, instead of seeing people, the weekend was good.

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Keywords:Carnegie Mellon | TV | Classes | Media Lab
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Up at 3am

... or midnight for all you pacific timers (just for you Steve). I tend to be up really late, in general, but specifically recently. I just have so much work to do. Quite contrary to the boredom of the first week or so. But I'll get to all that in just a second. Often I write in my journal at night just before going to bed. The problem is that what I always think as the closing of one day, the automatic titlizer and file namer seems to think it is tomorrow. Well I fixed that. Now it is today until 5am.

It has come to my attention recently that some people have actually been reading my journal. This is a bit surprising to me. Do you really read this regularly, or thoroughly? Why do you read it? What do get out of it? How is it like talking to me, assuming you know me? I'm just looking for some feedback, I want to understand. Would it be good to allow people to leave comments on my entries? Send me an email, ben@sparkyb.net.
Keywords:Website Projects
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Teacher's Pet

I've never thought of myself as an especially good student, but I feel like I'm doing pretty good now. It is a high pressure environment because we are expected to get all A's in our Media Lab classes. Also, having only two classes, albait hard ones, to split my time between, and no social life, makes it easy to work hard and get a lot done.

Although last minute my analysis for the first paper we had to read for Context Aware Computing got me an A+.

I can't remember the last time I've seen a grade like that. Following that I spent most of my weekend working on my first project for fab class. The project was to come up with an idea for a final project and model it in 3D and then animate it doing what it is supposed to do. We could use any package we wanted, but if we didn't know any, Blender was suggested. Since I only vaguely know Max and my cracked copy seemed not to be working, I decide to learn Blender. Although I'm not sure I'll actually want to do this for my final project, I decide to render my haptic fountain idea. The idea is a fountain that is a grid of water jets. The height of the water is controlled by one of those pinart toys. When you make an impression in the pins, the water duplicates the shape. I think I worked a total of 30 hours on this project over less than 3 days. Over 12 hours two days in row. I don't know if I spent more time than most or am just a faster learner but my animation seems to be the runaway winner. When it played people were very impressed, both in general and that I was able to it with such an opaque tool (there were quite a few problems people had figuring it out) in my first week of using it.

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Keywords:Classes | Busyness
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Getting back to classes, for Context Aware Computing we had to take a look at Ken Perlin's webpage. If you don't know, he is a brilliant computer scientist and genius programmer. He is a professor at NYU. His main area is graphics and he has won an acadamy award, a technical oscar. He was one of the people who did the early CG for Tron. Well his webpage is amazing. I spent hours there. I love all the little projects he shows. It is great how almost every thing has an interactive demo. He has some really neat ideas. I think it is great that he has been able to work on so many of them, even if only a little bit, enough at least to document the idea on the webpage. I wonder about all the idea I lose because I have no way to get them when they happen. Furthermore, I think his humor is immensely funny and insightful comments an quotes are well picked. Check it out, I'm totally inspired.
Keywords:Projects | Inspiration
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Day Awesome

Today has been dubbed, Day Awesome, for no particular reason. In the history of following up a down entry with an upbeat one, I shall follow one of the longest with a rather short one.

For starters I got my Razor scooter today. It was incredibly hard to find but now I have it and my commute is much faster. I got a late start though my morning at home was productive. When I stopped for lunch (it was good) I bumped into Carly. That was nice and I sat with her while she ate lunch (I was already done). We talked about classes and such and then she had to go to one. I think this will be fun, both being here.

At the Media Lab, although I got in very late, I stayed somewhat late, never sitting around or being bored, but actually getting things done. Brad and I rearranged our office and I'm really happy with the new setup. The place actually feels like some place I'll be happy to live and a place where work could actually get done.

In the middle of all of that we had a recitation for fab class (how I will refer to How to Make (Almost) Anything). Being the web guru seems like it is going to be a lot of fun. Even if it will be a lot of work it shouldn't be too bad as a job. It's something to do. I'm excited to start learned Blender to do 3D modelling for this assignment. I'm still not sure what I'm going to model and animate but it should be fun once I think of something.
Keywords:Family | Media Lab | Classes
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In the trend of plugging great new services I've discovered (like Rhapsody) I'd like to mention the latest. Zipcar is sort of a rental car service, but it feels more like sharing a car with a bunch of people. This company has many cars that live in designated spaces all over Boston. These spaces could be in anyones lot like the one down the street from me at the Star Market. Members of this service can go online or call and automated number to reserve a car for blocks of an hour or day at a time. Each member has a proximity card that will lock and unlock the car for you when you have a reservation. Just go pick it up, no human interaction is neccessary; any time of day or night! The cost is $8.50/hour (or $75/day) up to 125 miles and $0.18/mile after that. Gas is included, all you have to do is make sure to return it with more than a quarter tank. If you need to add gas they provide a card to pay for it! In addition to the driving cost, there is a $30 startup fee (for the driving record background check), $300 security deposite (you get it back when you are through with the service), and $30/month or $75/year minimum. What this means is that if you are on the monthly plan you must pay $30/month but this counts as a credit towards driving (which you lose if you don't use). But if you drive at least $30 in a month, then it is really just driving costs. However, MIT has a deal with them that as an MIT grad student, MIT pays the initial $30, MIT pays the $300 security fee, and the yearly cost to me is only $20/year. This is great because while it doesn't make sense for me to own a car while living in the city, I will at least have access to one when I need.
Keywords:Product Plugs
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I don't doubt my ability to do the Media Lab. I know that my acceptance wasn't a mistake. They accepted me because they liked what I had done before and knew that I have what it takes to succeed here. My problem is that just because I can doesn't mean I should. Each day I have wondered if I wouldn't be better off somewhere else.

At the ETC I would have my friends in Pittsburgh. I think those students are more like me, I know what that program involves and that I would not only succeed but also enjoy it. Of course I question what value it would have for me but that is a different issue.

Here at the Media Lab I don't feel like I fit in. I haven't done as intellectual stuff as other first years. I've never been published, I came straight from my undergrad, and I wasn't doing real research. In this context the stuff I've done before seems even more childish. I wasn't doing research I was just a programmer. And I don't think there is anything wrong with making games, maybe that's what I should be doing.

The realness of this place scares me. I have always been good at coming up with clever solutions to problems. I feel I would have an adequate ability to perform experiments on the solutions to measure their impact or to iteratively improve them. Within a give domain I could probably even identify what might be needing an improvement. But what I am not good at is coming up, out of thin air, "interesting" problems to work on. This is a factor both in my research, where we need to decide what to work on, and in my classes, where my first assignments have been to come up with ideas for class projects with no further guidance.

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Keywords:Media Lab | Grad School
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Event Update

I signed up for three classes: Tangible Interfaces, Context Aware Computing, and How to Build (Almost) Anything. Tangible Interfaces, while interesting, was mostly a backup in case I didn't like the teaching style in Context Aware Computing or I didn't get into the very selective How to Build (Almost) Anything. There was a project in Tangible Interfaces due tomorrow, so luckily I found out that I did get into How to Build (Almost) Anything this morning, before I would have had to do the project. It still scared me that I had left it until so last minute. I had planned the time in the day today to do it, but that is assuming I wouldn't have procrastinated and not followed the plan and stayed up all night or something like that.

How to build (almost) anything seems very interesting but also very hard. We learn about all sorts of shop tools (laser cutters, water jets, 3D printers and scanners, etc). But it is a lot of material to cover in the time we have. Each requires input that neccessitates the use of many hard to learn specialty programs. This semester, unlike previous instances of this class which used powerful but hard to install and use program, we will be using weaker but simpler open source applications and modifying them ourselves, as neccessary to get the job done. We need to come up with, already, an idea for a final semester-long project using the skills we will learn. How am I suppose to do that if I don't really understand anything I'm going to learn yet? Part of the way the class works is that the students are responsible for helping each other and other people.

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Extra, Extra, read all about me!

I recently spoke to a reporter doing a story about how the RIAA's attempts to monitor and prosecute file sharing has affected the attitudes and actions of college students regarding downloading music. A coworker of his at the Philidelphia Inquirer has his daughter post to a message board I read asking if anyone wanted to add their input, and I did. My position was essentially that I felt the RIAA was only after serious offenders which I didn't think I was, I was alway very cautious because of my school's rules rather than the RIAA, and I generally don't like downloading since I do believe there is something to be said for the fact that it is illegal, regardless of whether I believe that is right or not, so no, my attitudes haven't changed. I'm still as cautious as ever. However, I wanted to voice my opinion as one of very few (likely one of the only that he spoke to) kids who actually have ethics and respect the law. I wanted to explain my justifications for defying the law despite my morals. Mostly I wanted to provide a plug for Rhapsody (which I mentioned on 6/16) which is a service that I strongly support as an alternative to stealing music. I want it to succeed. Anyways, the article was published and fully a quarter of it was about me. There are a few mistakes. First of all, when I was talking about invitation only sharing with strong encrytion, I never mentioned IRC, I was refering to (though didn't actually tell him) WASTE. I just discovered, while trying to find a link to WASTE for this entry, that WASTE, written by Nullsoft, was removed by AOL.

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Keywords:Product Plugs | Publication
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Ups and Downs

I'm going a mile-a-minute and I felt I needed to write a journal entry before there were too many thoughts to ever deal with. I really just want every thought I ever have recorded any time of day. Maybe I need a voice recorder or something. As far as brains go, my thinker seems to do better than my rememberer which renders the first slightly less efficient than might otherwise be.

Down: Social

No doubts about me as me, but I'm in a very different situation than I'm used to. I used to live with 30 of my friends. Now I live with 3 people. It is a big difference. I never had before and must discover now, the right way to hang out with people. It isn't like I haven't been making friends, I just don't know how to make them good friends. I don't know what to do when people aren't just there.

In addition there is something I wanted to call Not that feeling again! or "I think I'll have that drink now." The reasons for these strange titles are wholly unimportant. The sentiment is that, for all the progress I've made confidence-wise in social situations, I lack certain essential skills neccessary for moving past the types of social relationships I have now that I failed to develope at the time where it was possible.

Up: Media Lab

It was good to finally see my advisor, pick classes, and find that I had an office. Getting aquainted with the Media Lab will take some time, but I feel more comfortable there after touring around. I felt that I belonged. David is cool and I think we can work together.

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Keywords:Depression | Media Lab | Website Projects
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Thought Repository » September 2003