Our escape-from-academia brewery… the beginning

April 28th, 2008, 7:58 am PST by Kat

When Greg was last here in March, we went to the Carolina Brewing Company’s Saturday tour with Brian, Lisa, Lisa’s mom Ann, Danielle and Gary. It’s great – it’s kinda like the Granville Island Brewery tour but more inspiring and overall, just better. To start, it’s free! And, they open the taps before and after the tour. The brewing company is run by a few guys that decided they liked beer and wanted to make it for a living. It was really fascinating because it was all so science-y! There was yeast and temperature control and sterilization and tweeking the “protocol” (i.e., recipe) until the right things happen (the science-geek in me was happy). It’s science, but then in the end you get beer!

So yeah, needless to say, it seemed like a really good idea to start a microbrewery. Brian mentioned that whenever he goes on this tour, he also gets the same brilliant idea. There are relatively few independent microbreweries in Vancouver (at least for the city’s size). Portland, which I think is fairly comparable to Vancouver in size, has WAY more microbreweries. Yes… *tents fingers*

Greg, being the sometimes-more-practical one, said that maybe I should try brewing a beer first before I go out and set up a microbrewery. Silly Greg.

Now, Brian has been home-brewing for a while now, but I have never tried it. So last weekend Brian and I started brewing a porter that Brian named “Porter Dispute“. 😀  I think we bottle it in another two weeks and then can try it two weeks after that. I’m excited!

If it tastes good I might be able to convince Greg to let me at least buy home brewing equipment. We don’t have a lot of room, but I’m sure I can find a place to put it! I’d even think about getting rid of a craft box or two… maybe…

All microbreweries have to start somewhere, right?

CMPT 275 TA needed

April 24th, 2008, 2:21 pm PST by Greg

Apparently, we’re looking for a TA for CMPT 275 in the summer and are considering undergrads. Email Tracy (tbruneau@) if you’re interested.

Porsche followup

April 22nd, 2008, 11:46 pm PST by Greg

My earlier post about buying a Porsche has caused much conversation. Some people who I have told about the plan seem to think I’m going out to the dealer next weekend and blowing a lot of money. These people don’t see the inherent joy the plan contains.

You see, I don’t have to actually buy a Porsche for the plan to be wonderful. The plan is great all by itself: with or without a car. The point is that I could buy a Porsche in the not-unforeseeable future. How great is that?

When I told my mother the plan, she laughed appropriately. When I told her about people who interpreted the plan as me imminently heading out to buy, she replied “oh, you’re too cheap for that”. Gotta love her.

I also remembered that I can pinpoint the second I realized I needed a 911. It was when I first watched Top Gear series 10 episode 2. Jeremy Clarkson was reviewing the Audi R8. As they often do, another car was introduced as a counterpoint. Richard Hammond, being a huge 911 fan, offered the 911 Carrera S as a worthy competitor.

The car is introduced in a most dramatic fashion. I have extracted the piece of video that did it for me. Can you watch that and not want a 911? Any car that can be made to slide that far sideways has to be fun to own.

Personally, I’d prefer the Carrera 4S (the four wheel drive version). I’m not actually convinced of my ability to control a vehicle when I have to look out the side window to see where I’m going.

I have however been practicing in Gran Turismo (which doesn’t have Porsches, but still). As I have mentioned here before, I have a Logitech wheel and that gives the whole thing a certain amount of realism.

If I have learned nothing else from Top Gear, it’s that turning off the traction control makes cars more fun (if there’s nothing to hit and you’re not fussy about the condition of the tires). GT4 has traction control turned on for all cars by default, but it can be turned off in the settings screen. With the driving aids off, the powerful rear wheel drive cars seem to mock “you didn’t really think you could use the gas pedal and steering wheel at the same time, did you?”

I can foresee that, while I might not get a Porsche any time soon, Gran Turismo 5 and a PS3 may appear around here much sooner.

Life Plan #3

April 18th, 2008, 12:00 am PST by Greg

I know that a blog post with the title “Life Plan #3” should be preceded by life plans numbered 1 and 2. The thing is: life plans one and two have some actual realistic possibility of happening, so they aren’t as fun.

SFU’s CIO (Chief Information Officer) just quit. Or he “quit”. The rumours aren’t really clear. In any event, he don’t work here any more.

The CIO is basically an Associate VP Academic by another name. The position is responsible for the campus network infrastructure (including wireless), phones, computer store, email, WebCT, and a bunch of other stuff. Wait… there’s something else in there that’s important… what was it again… oh yeah!

The CIO is responsible for our information. The last guy was responsible for the purchase and subsequent support of PeopleSoft/SIMS/goSFU. You know: the millions-annually albatross around the University’s neck? Go ahead and read the “Peoplesoft in use” section on Wikipedia; I’ll wait. We bought in several years after those very public experiences. I have mentioned the SIMS project here before.

Amanda and a few others have opined that I should apply for the job. They forget two things: (1) I’m not qualified and (2) I don’t want to. I’m not qualified because one would need a hell of a lot more experience with managing both employees (I’d guess the headcount is easily >100) and budget (>$10M) than I have. Also, I’m pretty sure being an undergrad director isn’t sufficient qualification for being an associate VP.

The reasons I don’t want to do it are many. The biggest one is the most obvious: PeopleSoft. The only way to get away from PeopleSoft is to spend some money on another solution. There’s no money to do anything else because PeopleSoft costs so damned much. The person who gets the job is doomed to either spend even more money (in a time of cuts), or be the guy that keeps the shitty solution to the University’s biggest IT problem.

But (because Amanda knows me that well) I have been thinking about it. I’m the kind of guy that looks at the “Careers” section in the newspaper and thinks “CEO of a sporting goods company… yeah, I could do that. Maybe I should apply.”

If I had the job, I’d stop all development on SIMS and skim a quarter of the SIMS budget off for internal development of a replacement. The replacement would have to happen piecemeal, which would require a very clever architecture that could interface with the existing database. If other Universities in BC were willing to team up, it would make sense to join forces since our business practices are mostly similar and we could share most of the code.

Also, there’d be some modernization of the core campus IT infrastructure. Things like virtual machines and AFS would allow real-time replication of essential services across campuses, and leave us much less vulnerable to catastrophic system failures.

In summary: if they don’t hire in the first round and open up applications a second time, I’m going for it.


April 15th, 2008, 11:36 pm PST by Greg

I have been watching a lot of Top Gear recently. Top Gear is a British car show: I have been describing it as three middle-aged idiots playing with cars. Their motto is “ambitious, but rubbish”, which pretty fairly describes the challenges they are given.

My favourite challenge, by a wide margin, is when the three of them try to prove that British Leyland made decent cars. That video is about a half hour long, but well worth watching. If don’t howl with laughter during the rough-road test, you just aren’t trying. I love it when one of them almost falls down laughing at another. It happens a lot.

They also spend a lot of time driving outrageously expensive supercars that I could go a lifetime without seeing, let alone driving. Basically, car porn. All of this has made me remember that I actually like driving: I just haven’t ever owned a fun car to drive. Clearly, I need a sports car. Stay with me here…

Now, a nice Ferrari or Lamborghini runs somewhere upwards of $200k, but a Porsche 911 or Lotus Elise is more in the $100k range. A Porsche Cayman is a damn nice car too and lists new for only about $60k.

That’s certainly downright affordable, but I’m not proposing that I buy a brand new Porsche. As with all cars, these things depreciate a lot in the first few years of ownership (which is approximately the time interval between becoming a doctor/lawyer and having a child, forcing you to sell your sports car and get an atrocious SUV). A used 911 that’s in solidly good condition can be had about $50k.

After the first few years, depreciation on such a car should be relative to how much it is driven, not its age: if it’s driven occasionally, well-maintained, and kept in a garage, it should resell for a good price. Fuel economy in one of these cars isn’t actually bad either: they’re so light that the big engine doesn’t have to work terribly hard.

That brings me to the real plan: get a gently-used cheap car (a Yaris, Civic, etc.) and use that for everyday driving. Get a used 911 for occasional fun-driving. Come on… how can you not want that?

Imagine the joy of it: pack an overnight bag, throw it in the 911, and go to the Okanagan (the hard way, through Manning Park) for the weekend. Marvel at the tool beside you that paid only $10k less than you for his ugly, boring SUV.

Of course, we’d have to have a garage to put it in. So, buy a house first. Also, our current car has been making a different noise for the last few weeks. That probably has to be replaced first too. Kat should probably have a job to make it all affordable. Kids are out too, but that was the plan anyway. So, some time in the next decade, this plan may be implementable.

What was most surprising was that Oli and Tina had been watching Top Gear as well, and Oli had the exact same thoughts at the exact same time. He wants the Elise.

Strangely, when I mentioned this plan to Kat, she didn’t really seem to think it was a bad idea. I think it’s a trap.

Hello friend, I’ve been waiting for you

April 14th, 2008, 4:01 pm PST by Kat

I’m giving this Friday’s Lunch Bunch talk in the department. For those of you at SFU, it’s like BISC’s Les Ecologists seminar. Today is Monday, and I just started working on my talk this morning. I’m supposed to give a practice talk to the lab on Wednesday afternoon.

For the past week or so I’ve been wondering when my friend, The Fear, would show up. Well, it finally got here today.

For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, picture this. You have a large assignment, exam, paper, or *ahem* dissertation due soon, but for whatever reason, you procrastinate… a lot. Then at some point, generally close to the due date, it finally dawns on you that you have JUST enough time to finish said project. You get this feeling of dread. What if you don’t finish? No… you HAVE to finish. Crap! Yup, you have what Greg and I have termed “The Fear”.

Sadly, it seems like I have made an academic career out of facing The Fear. It started with studying the night before exams. No problem. Then it was waiting until the last minute to write my MSc thesis. I cut it a bit close, but really, who doesn’t leave the printing of the thesis until the day that it’s due? The crowning glory to my increasingly unhealthy relationship with The Fear came the night before my dissertation was due; by 11 pm that night I had yet to write the introductory and conclusion chapters. I think I broke down at around 2 am and cried, but in the end, I made it. The dissertation was turned in on time (thank you Tina, Oli, and Em for last-minute proof-reading and help with printing!).

So now with the last talk I’ll ever give at UNC looming, I think I’ve finally got it down to where The Fear is showing up at the appropriate time. I think I can prep this talk in about 3 days, and technically I have 4 days until I have to give the talk. So maybe I’m heading back towards the more supportive (sometimes you just need a little push to get started) and less psychotic relationship that I had with The Fear when I was an undergrad. I hope so. I’m getting old, and the stress associated with The Fear is really starting to kick my ass.

Ask me on Friday whether today was a good day for The Fear to show up, or if it should have been here last week.

CMPT 376 Post Summary

April 7th, 2008, 12:39 am PST by Greg

In week 2 of the semester, I started blogging for CMPT 376. Since then, I have made 37 posts with an average of 284 words per post (not counting this post).

If I had blogged thrice-weekly during that time, there should have been 36 posts. Somehow an extra post slipped in there. The offender seems to be a throwaway post about gaining back an hour of my jetlag.

I managed to more-or-less keep the Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule too, but certainly wasn’t too anal about a little drifting:

Posts by day of week
Posts by day of week: MWF schedule kind of worked.

I also allowed Ted to mock me during lectures. I have clearly earned my full 5% class participation marks and will appeal anything less. As the one who handles mark appeals, I’m pretty sure I will emerge victorious.

That makes my final mark in the course… 5%. Hrm. Clearly I haven’t taken the most efficient route to passing the course. I guess it’s time to do what every student who is about to fail miserably does right before the final: email the instructor and ask if the course is going to be curved. (If you thought the thing after the colon in that sentence was going to be “study”, shame on you.)

Certainly the most surprising thing for me from the course is how really easy the daily writing exercises (a.k.a. blog posts) were. It turns out that I actually think three things a week. Writing close to 300 words about each one didn’t feel like work at all.

I am firmly convinced that writing is like any form of physical activity: the more you do it, the easier it gets. The dailies were a good way to exercise the writing muscle.

So, if I ever end up teaching 376, I will certainly keep the daily writing. I probably wouldn’t do as much free-writing as Ted did, not because I don’t see the value, but doing it in lecture time just isn’t my style. I would probably keep the assignment structure more-or-less the same as well. The thing that would scare me about the course is that, even having seen Ted give most of his lectures, I have no idea what I’d say in 150 minutes of lecture per week.

Oh well, let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.

Edit: I thought it might be worth sharing the email I sent to Ted as promised above:

Dear Prof Dr Kirkpetrik,

im a student in ur COMP 376 class. i want 2 know if the class is going to be on curved grading or regular? i am worry about my mark, so i want to know what happens.

Maybe there’s a little hyperbole there, but down around the bottom of a first year class, that’s not totally out of range. As you can see, it’s not just ESL issues, but total lack of attention to detail: prof’s name and course number are incorrect. Also note that the form of the question indicates a level of understanding which means an honest answer to the question (e.g. “not curved”) will not help the student in any way.

Facebook Application Update

April 4th, 2008, 1:46 pm PST by Greg

The “SFU Courses” Facebook application has been up and running for about two semesters now. It ended up working just about like I imagined in my original plan: data comes from the goSFU database, and students can publish an automatically-updated list of their courses on their profile page.

Getting the data took a little political wrangling, but ended up happening without too much trouble. Thanks go out to Richard MacLeod, the Director of Records and Registration, for running interference for me a couple of times when administrators got wind of this and fully misunderstood what it did. The consensus now seems to be that this is a legitimate thing to do with University data, as long as students give permission properly. For the first semester, I was half expecting the President to summon me to his office for a beating at any moment.

The data feed that I eventually got is a little circuitous. Of course, it starts with the live goSFU database. That database is replicated in real time to a backup server. The almost all of the data on the backup server is copied nightly to the “reporting database” that is used for all of the University’s reporting and data analysis stuff. The reporting database is used to feed a legacy database called “AMAINT” that is still used by several older systems around campus. The CS tech staff get a view into AMAINT that runs Gradebook, etc. I have a view to that which is used to update the application’s database.

Miraculously, all of that usually works and I get data that’s updated daily. This is used to update everybody’s profile box every morning with their most current course list.

In previous semesters, I haven’t received upcoming semester data during the registration period. This semester, Nathan from our tech staff got me summer courses almost as soon as registration started, so people could see courses as registration was happening.

There are currently about 1800 Facebook users who have added the application, and 1600 who have also authenticated as SFU users and authorized the relevant data release. The 200 person difference is curious: the application will do absolutely nothing for you if you haven’t agreed to release your SFU data. I have no idea who those 200 people are, or why they have the application.

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the whole thing, particularly with the number of users. That’s something like of 10% of all SFU students. I can’t think of any other (optional) service the University has for students that has that kind of uptake rate. Maybe residence or orientation?

Anyway, I accomplished my goals: learn the Facebook API, make the University seem a little cooler, give students access to their own data in a useful way.

April Fools Links

April 2nd, 2008, 11:45 am PST by Greg

Yesterday was April Fools. Most site were pleasantly restrained: I find most Internet April Fools things annoying and commend Joel at Boing Boing Gadgets for his restraint. Still, I had two favourites.

I was Rick Rolled in a most pleasantly non-standard way at Digg. That video is well worth watching: it’s a Muppet Rick Roll (and I’m not Rick Rolling you when I say that).

Then, over at my dearest Boing Boing, I was Numa Rolled. Yay Xeni!

It’s not April Fools related, but my cover song fetish led to me love Leningrad Cowboys and Red Army Choir covering Sweet Home Alabama.

Finally, at Channel 4, they apparently ask celebrities “What’s Your Favorite Curse Word?”