NC Food

February 29th, 2008, 11:09 pm PST by Greg

Now that I’m in Chapel Hill for 10 days, I have to figure out what I want to do: this will probably be my last long visit. My plans seems to be focusing around food. Here are the places I need to visit:

Allen and Son BBQ: The best local BBQ place. Actually went for dinner tonight. As you can tell, I’m off the vegetarian wagon in NC.

Goodberry’s Frozen Custard: We stumbled across frozen custard when on a quest to buy some damn thing or another last year. It doesn’t seem possible to get it in Vancouver, so I’m going to have to get it now.

Toledo’s Taqueria: This is a little hole-in-the-wall cafeteria-style Mexican place. Day labourers wait outside in the mornings, so I’m guessing it’s pretty authentic. Plus, nobody speaks English. Kat insists on exercising her high school Spanish. I’m happy to get out “plato especial”.

Some less authentic Mexican place: I’m not against a little tex in my mex either.

Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen: It’s just not possible to get biscuits this good in Vancouver. Something about the amount of protein in Canadian flour.

Bon’s: We haven’t been there before, but I need some southern food.

S & T Soda Shoppe
: A real, restored olde-timey soda shoppe nearby.

Heading out

February 27th, 2008, 11:21 pm PST by Greg

I’m heading to North Carolina tomorrow night for about 10 days.

I’ve said if before and I’ll say it again: the jetset lifestyle only sounds like fun until you do it. Once you actually find yourself in an airport more often than once every couple of months, you start to realize that the whole process is a lot like some colourful analogy involving something that’s really bad.

This might affect my thrice-weekly blogging. Or it might mean I have a lot more to talk about. Only time will tell.

My last stop before I go tomorrow is the SFU Surrey Open House. All should consider coming.

P.S. Musthaveone!

Programming Language Study Group

February 25th, 2008, 1:15 pm PST by Greg

As some of you know, I’m starting a one year sabbatical in September. There’s a lot to say about that, but for today, I’m going to limit myself to one of the plans.

I’d like to get to a point that I can teach CMPT 383 (Comparative Programming Languages). One of the things I’d like to do for that is expand my own breadth of experience with programming languages. I have worked with a bunch, but there are a lot more out there, and most programmers don’t give them enough thought. My goal for the year is to learn one language per month.

Of course, I wouldn’t have time to do a huge project in each. I’d like to get to the point that I could write some small (but functional) programs and know “the way” of the language. Here are some of the languages that come immediately to mind:

  • Haskell: I have used Miranda (which is similar), and took a functional programming course at SFU that used Haskell, but that was all a long time ago. I’d like to go through for a refresher.
  • Prolog: Again, I used Prolog back in the 383-like course I took in my undergrad, but it has been a long time.
  • OCaml: People who like OCaml really like it. That’s the kind of thinking that brought me to Python a few years ago, so it might be worth a look.
  • Lua: A lightweight scripting language that also seems to have some rabid fans.
  • Lisp: I find it a little odd that I’ve gotten this far in life and never written any Lisp. Time to right that wrong.
  • C#: The only language on the list that’s widely considered “practical”. I know it’s kind of just MS Java, but there might be something good in there. Plus, the Mono implementation seems to be working now, so I wouldn’t have to use Windows to do it.
  • Matlab or Octave: I like the array-based thing, and want to try some real stuff with it.
  • Erlang: You could say that Erlang is Just Another Functional Language, but it was developed by Ericsson for real practical stuff. That distinguishes it as interesting.
  • D: People like it, and it comes after C, right? That’s some good marketing.
  • Some esoteric programming language. These are mostly conceived as jokes, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something to learn from them.

That’s ten without even thinking too hard. There’s a really great list of programming languages by category in Wikipedia.

I think the way to go about this is to create something like an informal Programming Language Study Group. That way, there would be other people hounding me to keep going (and vice versa). We could have a few little exercises for each language, maybe.

Who’s with me?

Productive Day

February 21st, 2008, 9:27 pm PST by Greg

There are a lot of days where nothing seems to get done. There are days when the whole world lines up against you. Then there are days like today when everything just happens.

For background: I have recently learned what our admission cutoffs are for fall applications. You’d think I would know what they are, since it’s the undergrad director’s job to set them, but that’s another story. The cutoffs were a little nutty (maybe more on that in a later post), and I had a bit of a controlled temper tantrum about it.

Highlights from the day:

  • Started with my first Faculty Enrolment Management meeting. (For those that don’t know, “Enrollment Management” is recruiting, admission, and retention of students.) Found out that our new admit targets are actually pretty reasonable for the fall: definitely not enough to justify panicking and setting low cutoffs.

    Somehow in there, my Associate Dean decided to continue my tantrum up the chain in a productive way. I thought I was just ensuring that the same thing didn’t happen again next year, but we might get a change for this year.

  • Had a long discussion with Paula from Engineering about Enrolment Management stuff. ENSC is our closest ally in a lot of this, since our student pool is pretty similar.
  • Had lunch with Margo and Art at the Indian place on campus.

  • Got some data from Nathan on performance of students admitted last fall. Remembered how to do a linear regression and found out that the numbers exactly match my instincts on student retention. That means I have data to support where I want to set the cutoffs. Sent the information to everybody that would listen. Getting this information together and presented less than 48 hours after the start of my spaz is astonishing by University standards: huzzah Nathan!

  • Got information for our new Software Systems program to the web guy. The program doesn’t have final approval yet, but it’s critical that we start promoting.

  • School meeting. Got our proposal for concentrations in the major passed in time for the 2008/09 calendar. Sent the proposal up to the next level.

  • Inconsequential meeting with people from the downtown campus about offerings there. We’re okay; they’re okay.

  • Helped Daniela with her math homework.

  • Errands: Costco, and Home Depot. Now I have a doorbell again.

  • One last look at the job description for Amanda’s position.

Not a bad 12 hour day.

Career Fair

February 20th, 2008, 1:12 pm PST by Greg

As part of the Computing Science recruitment activities, we often send people to area career/education fairs. The idea is that people (usually high school students) come and explore their options.

I had never been to one of these, and decided I should go and see what they’re all about. Yesterday was the Vancouver Education and Career Fair, downtown at the convention centre. I decided to go, along with Margo, to see what I could see.

An “education” fair is probably a little more focused. An “education and career” fair is pretty all-over the map. There were booths there from a bunch of Universities (SFU, UBC, bunch of Ontario schools, some US schools), but I kind of understand Universities by now. What I found more interesting were the straight-from-high-school jobs: Kara Foods, esthetician training, police, certified accountants, and countless other crazy things. All of the SFU people got their skin analyzed at a nearby spa-training booth as the day started to wind down.

The practical implementation of being a “recruiter” for a day involves standing on concrete for 8 hours, and starting to think that the ratty carpet in the aisles would be really comfortable to lie down on.

I think that the whole thing was worthwhile. People had questions that ranged from “what kind of courses will I take in CS” to general career advising. It’s worth it to have a variety of people from SFU there who can answer a wide variety of questions. Students go away with good information about SFU, and thinking that we’re very helpful.

I took a few pictures at the fair, mostly as a memory-augmenter. It’s interesting to see what they actually look like if you’ve never seen one.

My Weekend Routine

February 18th, 2008, 12:12 am PST by Greg

Since I have been living the non-swinging bachelor life, my weekends seem to have been settling into a routine. Here is the most typical weekend plan:

Friday night
Sit on the couch. Stare blankly at TV, trying to recover from the week.
Loaf around the house, pretending I’m about to be productive at any moment, but mostly wasting my day. Possibly run a few errands in the afternoon. Possibly even do something social in the evening.
Start the day by hopping on the bike and doing a round trip around SFU (which takes about an hour). Celebrate my healthiness by having Taco Del Mar for lunch. Maybe some errands in the afternoon. In the evening, remember that I have no food in the house and get groceries at about 10:00.

The Saturday/Sunday things can swap days, but they’re otherwise pretty consistent. Sometimes, the Taco Del Mar will be replaced with some by some other Mexican-ish fast food.

Some actual productivity might happen at any point, but most likely on Sunday evening. That’s when I remember the things that really have to be done by Monday.

There was definitely less wasted weekend last semester, since I was a lot busier. This semester, I can afford to actually have most of a weekend. There’s something to be said for that.

Academic Enhancement Program

February 15th, 2008, 12:37 pm PST by Greg

For the last few semesters, we have been piloting a learning skills program in our first and second year classes. The program is called the “Academic Enhancement Program” (AEP), simply because we felt it had to be called something.

The deal is: each class that is touched by AEP (CMPT 120/126, 150, 225, MACM 101) dedicates one week of labs (or equivalent) and a couple of percent to a learning skills session.

On Wednesday, I went down to Surrey to facilitate sessions for CMPT 120 there. Diana Cukierman usually does the sessions (with somebody from Learning Commons), but she couldn’t go. I’m maybe the only other one who know the CMPT 120 session well enough to lead it. Thus, I had to miss CMPT 376, as I said earlier.

To give you an idea, the session for CMPT 120/126 is a bit of a sampler platter (since it’s the first one students typically see) and contains:

  • time management: where does the time go, basic time management skills
  • study skill scenarios: “Beth is a CS student who can’t… What is your advice to Beth?”
  • learning hierarchy: levels of learning (recall, understand, apply, analyse, evaluate, create)

A lot of first year students get caught on these things. Time management is, of course, an issue for everybody. There’s no magic bullet, but we can give some tips.

The learning hierarchy stuff is more interesting (to me at least). A lot of struggling students get stuck on the first few levels of learning: “I understand what a for loop does.” But then, we ask questions at the higher levels: “Create a program that…”. The gap between the levels is really hard to bridge for a lot of students. The hope is that some students will realize that they’re living at the wrong level and start to step up.

There are different sessions for the other courses. The idea is that all students get four(ish) different learning skills lessons by second year.

I will admit that I was sceptical when Diana started doing these sessions. The turning point for me was realizing that the point isn’t to give an hour and a half of material that’s relevant for all students. If we can ramble on for an hour and a half and have most of the students take away one thing that’s relevant to them, then the whole thing is a huge success. There are a lot of students who are a few study skills away from an extra grade point.

I’m hoping we can turn some marginal students into reasonable students, and some reasonable students into good students. The top students are going to be good no matter what, and the bad students are going to suck no matter what: the ones in the middle might be able to benefit.

So there you go. I did, in fact, miss 376 for a socially responsible reason. Hopefully we can put the whole program into policy in the next few months.

The Crack of Flash Games

February 13th, 2008, 9:23 pm PST by Greg

I had to skip my first 376 lecture today. There was a perfectly socially-responsible reason for it that I’ll try to write about on Friday. For now, I’m tired, and annoyingly addicted to American Idol.

So for today, I will present the crack cocaine of Flash-based online games: Spin the Black Circle. Play it. Do it now. There is a runthrough on YouTube if you’re really stuck on a level (but try to keep the cheating to a minimum).

I finished it (level 24) over the weekend. Kat was making impressive progress through it the last time I checked in. Any game that can captivate both Kat and I must have something going for it.

What’s 376 for?

February 11th, 2008, 7:49 pm PST by Greg

Since my recent blogging spree is for CMPT 376 (Technical Writing, etc, etc), I have been thinking about the course. It seems to me that a lot of people probably don’t actually know why we suddenly have a writing course in CMPT.

A couple of years ago, the University introduced requirements for all SFU students (that started after a certain time). Now, if you want to get a degree from SFU, you have to have taken:

  • Two writing (W) courses. One of these has to be in the upper division (300 or 400) and probably in your own discipline.
  • Two quantitative (Q) courses. These are math-like courses, but don’t have to be MATH.
  • Eight breadth (B) courses: 2 humanities, 2 social science, 2 science, 2 others. These are courses outside of your discipline.

That sounds like a lot, but you can double-count all you like. So, a philosophy course could count as both W and B-Hum. These courses can also count towards degree requirements: a CMPT student that takes MATH 151 fulfills a degree requirement, and gets Q credit.

Anyway, back to CMPT 376. Since CMPT are good members of the University community, we introduced this as a “discipline specific” writing course. That will let our students fulfill the University’s upper-division writing requirement in a way that’s (presumably) relevant to them.

There was talk of making CMPT 320 (social issues) a W course. That course has a lot of problems of its own. We ended up deciding to go for a dedicated, functional writing course, rather than a disfunctional course that did two things badly. Plus, a lot of our students could use a full three credits dedicated to improving their writing.

Because Ted’s a good person, he agreed to design and (initially) teach the brand-shiny-new writing course. So far it has been quite interesting. Ted is a very different kind of instructor than I am. Usually when I say that about somebody, it’s not meant to be complementary, but in Ted’s case, though, I’m really enjoying the course.

I keep oscillating on whether or not I would want to teach the course. Some days, I’m excited to give it a try. Some days, the very idea terrifies me: what the hell makes me think I know anything about writing?

The Un-Snow-Day

February 7th, 2008, 2:05 pm PST by Greg

As most of you know, I was stuck on Burnaby Mountain last night, along with several thousand of my closest friends.

The more I think about it, the more I’m annoyed by people blaming the University for all of their woes. First, it’s not the University’s responsibility to wipe your nose and pat you on the head every moment you’re on campus: working/studying on a mountain with a single choke point to leave comes with some risks. We have accepted those risks by coming here.

Second, Burnaby Mountain is a microclimate, and there is just no way to get a reliable forecast for the weather up here. There have been plenty of other days that have been as bad as it was at 3:30 yesterday, and everything was just fine. The University can’t close every time there are a few flakes floating around.

Yesterday, things went from bad to worse very quickly. I was sitting in my office, thinking it was snowing a lot and that I should maybe leave before the rush. By the time I finished a couple of emails, the buses had stopped. There just was no way to get 8000 or so people off the hill in the time window they had to work with.

Then, the roads were clogged with cars. Cars everywhere mean no plows can move, and roads get worse. At some point, I think Security blocked some roads to let the plows get around, and things started to get better

By 9:30, the official message was “some traffic is getting through, but the roads are still bad; we don’t suggest you drive without chains or snow tires.” That was a good message: it kept people leaving in a trickle and crawling down the hill.

I drove Daniela’s car down around then (with her and Nathan), and it was fine (as long as you drove appropriately to the conditions).

This morning, I sent the following suggestion to the emergency preparedness people:

When the roads start to get really bad, close them to private vehicles immediately. Allow only plows, emergency vehicles, and Translink on the roads above the lights. Last night, I suspect the roads could have been kept passable if they weren’t littered with cars, and buses would get as many people off the hill as possible.

That would leave plenty of room for the plows to clear the roads. (Remember: we’re only talking about 2 km or so of roads here. One plow could easily keep it passable if it can move.) If Translink could run a regular schedule of buses, it would have cleared campus in an hour or so. People determined to drive their own cars could then be released slowly (to not create gridlock).

I really think the root problem yesterday was crappy driving. My impression was that every time an accident was cleared, traffic sped up and caused another one. If you aren’t experienced driving in snow, don’t: wait it out or take the bus. There was nothing the University could have done to keep idiots from slamming into each other in the middle of the one intersection off campus (except keeping them off the roads).

Bright points from yesterday: John Grant standing in the ASB exit for probably 3 hours, yelling at the top of his voice about the current road conditions and safest thing to do; Kate Ross, the Registrar herself, standing in the AQ for the same length of time, handing out free coffee tickets and answering questions about the conditions. She could have fobbed that off on an underling and walked home (since she lives on the hill). My platonic crush on Kate continues.

A group of complainers has at least posted some good pictures of the exodus.

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