Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thesis Proposal Scheduling

I finally finished my thesis proposal. After the seventh or so draft, my adviser finally approved, and I passed it on to my second committee member. Surprisingly enough, he didn't have any problems with it either. The next step: scheduling my thesis proposal defense.

"The real hard part of a thesis proposal defense isn't writing the proposal," said my adviser. "It's getting the three professorial members of your committee together in the same place at the same time so you can defend it."

I thought he was joking. He wasn't.

Round One

Dr. Goodrich suggests the second week of October, a nice two weeks away. Clever person that I am, instead of just sending a general email asking if Dr. Snell and Dr. Olsen are available that week, I pick four times on four different days, then send an email asking if they are available those times.

Dr. Goodrich: I'm free
Dr. Snell: I'm free two of those times
Dr. Olsen: That whole week is out.

Curses. On to...

Round Two

Will the third week in October work?

Oct. 15YesNoNo
Oct. 16NoYesYes
Oct. 17NoYesNo
Oct. 18NoYesYes
Oct. 19YesYesNo
Curses again! Are they deliberately arranging their schedules to make this impossible? Let's try...

Round Three

The last couple days of the first week in October? Any closer than that, and there won't be time to prepare, schedule, let Dr. Snell (the third committee member) read the proposal, etc.

Between Dr. Goodrich, Dr. Olsen, and Dr. Snell, the available times are:

Oct. 4After 1 pmBefore 11 amBefore 3 pm
Oct. 5Not 2 pmBefore 3 pmNot 10 to 1

October 4 is obviously out. However, a flaw in their carefully designed scheduling algorithm reveals that they have nothing scheduled from 9 to 10 am, or 1 to 2 pm.

Or is it a flaw? Is an hour long enough...especially since they have to leave time to actually get to their "scheduled activities"? (I put that in quotes, because my theory is that they just randomly choose times to be unavailable, finding my struggle to coordinate their schedules amusing.)

I'm guessing they'll say an hour isn't long enough. But...the fourth week in October? That's a month away! I'll almost be ready to defend my thesis itself, along with the proposal!

Sigh. We'll see what happens. I guess there's nothing stopping me from starting on my thesis itself while I wait to defend my proposal. The problem is that as I've coded my simulator up, my direction has already changed from what's in the proposal. In another month, my thesis won't look anything like my proposal and I'll have to defend a document that has no basis in reality. :)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Possum Man!!! Dun dun dun!!!

Child and I were watching "Heroes" with a friend (Balgram), and started wondering how a guy (spoiler alert) came back to life. This guy could steal super-powers from other people, so we came to the conclusion that he must have stolen super-powers from Possum Man. Dun dun dun! (end spoiler alert).

Balgram drew a depiction of Possum Man (note the bottle of ketchup in his hand), while I came up with his theme song, sung to the tune of "Particle Man" by They Might Be Giants.

Possum Man, Possum Man!
Doing the things a 'possum can!
Is he alive? Or is he dead?
Did he really get shot in the head?
Or is it just ketchup instead?
Nobody knows. Possum man!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Powderpuff Police

Provo High and Mountain View unofficially got together tonight to play a game of Powderpuff football.

Apparently, the principal wasn't too happy with this, and even after officially distancing Provo High from the event, he followed the event to the new location (Westridge Elementary) to try to break things up.

People weren't too happy about that, or about the fact that he called the cops (below picture, see the badge on the guy in the blue checkered shirt?). Some guy made the point (anyone know who the guy was?) that like it or not, the event was not being held on Provo High grounds, so the principal couldn't really do anything about it.

I couldn't really understand the principal's reasoning. At first I thought he didn't want the game to happen because he was afraid the students would be injured, and that made sense to me, even if I didn't think it was an adequate reason to cancel the game. People die canyoneering, but do I stop doing it?

Then I found out that apparently there's an "official" game later on this year. Will less people get injured at that? Would the assembled parents be any less quick to get their children to the hospital at this "unofficial" game than at the "official" one? Anyway, the principal finally realized that as good as his intentions were, he didn't really have a leg to stand on. He made a final announcement to the crowd and left.

Let the games begin!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


A man came into the shelter yesterday. His dog had been hit by a car and crawled into a ditch, where it had been found by a policeman about midnight. The policeman brought the dog into the shelter and the shelter called the owner in the morning.

The owner was wearing a ratty Harley-Davidson tee-shirt, with chains hanging off him and a cigarette tucked behind each ear. The shelter employees told him about the fees (including $25 to license the dog, refundable if it died [it was in pretty bad shape]), then the police officer came in and gave the man a citation for letting his dog run at large. Meanwhile, the dog needed to get to a vet ASAP. All in all, the man had every right to be frustrated.

However, he stayed completely polite, "sir-ed" the policeman, "ma'am-ed" the shelter employee, and went over to the front door to hold it open when he saw a lady coming in carrying a heavy cat carrier. I've seen all sorts of people get angrier at far more trivial things than this guy did about his dying dog. If only more people could be like him.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Bad News in the Writing Dept....

So, no winning for my Q3 submission to Writers of the Future. The finalists were posted today, and my name wasn't among them.

Oh well, on to the next story!

Comcast Part II: Nearing of the Cancelation

So, you remember last month? Here, let me remind you:

Finally, FINALLY, she tells me that all the additional changes/credits, whatever, should appear on my next bill. "As a matter of fact, it should be negative," she says.

I asked her three different times, in three different ways, to confirm that my next bill will be negative (i.e. Comcast should have credited me) and each time she confirmed it.

We'll see. I have more faith in Osama bin Laden converting to Christianity than in Comcast getting something right.
--"Comcast...DE MUERTE", 8/17/07

Well, welcome to Comcast de Muerte, part II. I'll give you a spoiler: it's going to end in cancellation.

I received our bill. It was 28.14. It's missing just one little thing: a negative sign.

No problem! I was smart last month: after finally resolving the issue, I asked the lady if she could write a note in her computer system stating, explicitly, "This guy's bill will be negative." "Sure!" she says. "Done!"

"Great," I say. "Now give me a reference number, so next month, when my bill ISN'T negative, I can call up and say, "Here's a note that says my bill should be negative."

"Here you go," she says, and gives me a number.

This month, my bill isn't negative. Again, no problem. Instead of calling, there's apparently a new "Chat Online About Your Bill!" service. I decided to try it. I log on. "Jeff" comes online to help me. "Hello! What seems to be your problem?" I start writing back, but before I can finish, Jeff leaves, with the chat message, "This issue has been resolved" or something along those lines. What the...?!

I try again. This time I get "Amis." This guy sticks around long enough for me to explain the situation and give him the reference number to the note. "Let me read the note...sorry, there's nothing here about your bill being negative. If you need more help, call Comcast. Goodbye." He vanishes with the same, "This issue has been resolved" note before I can even respond. Wow. Remember that picture I posted about Comcast's customer service being as smart as a brick? That was extreme flattery.

I go back to the phone and get Chuck. Chuck is nice, but confirms that there's no note about my bill being negative. "I *can* give you $10 credit for the 11 days you were without service," he offers. Thanks, but that's not really what I was promised or expecting. And 11 days? Where'd THAT number come from?

"Alright, Chuck," I say. "Give me the $10 credit." And what I didn't add, because Chuck doesn't care and I don't like taking my frustration out on low-level phone-answerers, "And when your supervisor approves it in the two days or whatever you said, I'm paying my bill and canceling."

So there you go. Comcast is gone. Not because I had to call them so often with problems that they made it to my "Fave 5" callers on my cell phone plan (it's true), and not because the service is spotty (also true), but because I was lied to. It's a "principle of the thing" now. I'll make do without internet at home rather than deal with a company whose employees will out-and-out lie to me.

...oh, and before I forget, when I signed up, I didn't want to give them my Social Security Number. Identity theft reasons and all that. "No problem," they say, "Give us a refundable $70 deposit instead." No problem. I give it to them. Now, what are the odds that I'll get that back? I'm not too confident.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Evan Almighty

Spoiler Alert! Don't read this post unless you want to hear about Evan Almighty.

Child and I watched Evan Almighty last night. Overall, I thought it was a good show. Some humorous bits, a good message, the usual. I did manage to spot one glaring plot hole: after Senator Long leaves the ark, the flood comes and washes the ark down to the congress building, where Senator Long has mysteriously managed to negotiate D.C. traffic, get through a discussion of his bill, and initiate the final vote, just as the ark comes to a rest against the building.

Evan Almighty also reminded me of an issue I have with "movies these days." (Do I sound old?) Anyway, the issue is this: no matter what the subject matter is, or how young of an audience the movie is aimed at, there always has to be some "bathroom joke" thrown in. If there's a dog, it has to bite someone in the crotch or defecate on the lawn. Does there really have to be a joke about passing gas in every move from PG on up? Did it really add to the movie? Are more people going to go see it because it's in there, or are fewer people going to watch it if it isn't? Sigh.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Stealing Candy from Babies (new grad students)

This afternoon, I went to the "New Grad Student Fair" to help man the "Talk to a Current Grad Student" booth. One the table we had a bowl of candy, refilled occasionally by the people in charge of the fair.

Being grad students, we started figuring out ways to get more candy.

Noticing the refill-lady coming down the row of booths, I quickly emptied our bowl on the ground. We got a full refill, then I added the old candy back, filling our bowl to overflowing. Later, we noticed that occasionally some of the other booths would be left unguarded, yet their candy bowls were still being replenished. Their candy quickly migrated to our table, as well as a collection of unguarded pens. If we were Israelites, we would have found some way to double our manna supply and probably would have bummed a mug and tee-shirt off God to boot.

Of course, in an amusing act of cosmic retribution, a lady came by our booth and gave the three of us grad students a book of "Buy 1, Get 1 Free" type coupons. Moments later, someone came by the booth, chatted a couple minutes, then took a piece of candy, my coupon book, and walked off.

I started laughing, and the other two grad students quickly took their coupon books off the table and moved them to the floor. In the guy's defense, those coupon books were being handed out for free by one of the booths, so he probably thought we were just helping. Most of the booths had free pens, pamphlets, etc.

In the same vein, the Computer Science department held a social last night. At the end, I managed to make off with an entire "probably-would-have-ended-up-as-a-leftover" pizza, while Child nicked a half-jug of her favorite salad dressing. The trick is to look official and not stop walking if you hear someone yelling at you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Balanced Breakfast

Giant ├ęclairs. Part of a delicious, if not particularly nutritious breakfast. (I love Child's day off!)

Monday, September 10, 2007

Deadly Horse Ride

Whoo. Been a while since I last posted. When I get home this evening, I'll post some pictures from my canyoneering trip over the weekend.

For now, though, here's an unfortunate incident that also happened over the weekend. I found out about it when I asked about two horses we had at the animal shelter this morning. Apparently, two men were riding the horses when a fisherman's dogs and possibly some kids spooked the horses. One of the men was thrown off, but his foot caught in the stirrup and he was dragged 75 feet until his horse either fell into the reservoir or ran into it, drowning the man (who was probably unconscious, if not already dead, by then).

The police brought the horses to the the shelter yesterday, although two people (I think one was a family friend, and the other a relative) came to pick them up this morning. No charge by the shelter of course, it's the least you can do in a situation like that.

On an unrelated note, I was walking a dog around the inmate-run garden behind the shelter, and stopped to talk to one of the inmates while he petted the dog. A deputy who was out inspecting the tomatoes yelled at me to stop talking to them. What, the inmates aren't people now? I can't say hello? Maybe it's against the rules, I don't know, but either way, none of the other deputies have ever had a problem with me walking by.

I mentioned the incident to one of our inmates that works in the shelters, and he said the lady had a history of being a jerk to the inmates. It just seems bad form to me. Go ahead and be a jerk to people who can respond, otherwise you're just a bully.

Quandary Canyon

Over the weekend, a friend, his brother, and I went on a canyoneering trip. We chose Quandary Canyon in the San Rafael Swell of southern Utah as our destination, mostly because it was infamous for its "keeper potholes" and we wanted to try out some gear.

Keeper potholes are so called because once you're in them, it's very difficult to get out. In the picture below, my friend is spanning a pothole...not one we had to go down inside.

In the below picture, my friend is using a "Happy Hooker" to get out of a keeper pothole. This is a long pole with a hook on it. Attached to the hook is a set of "aiders," like a rope ladder with loops for your feet (but made out of the same material seat belts are made of). Using the pole, he set the hook on the lip of the pothole, then climbed up the aiders.

Another technique we used on a different pothole employs "pot-shots." These are simple canvas bags that you fill with sand (or in our case, mud), then throw them up and over the lip of the pothole. The weight of the sandbag offsets your weight as you climb up and out. Note how small the bag is. It doesn't really need to be much bigger; the friction of the rope over the lip of the pothole, added to the weight of the bag, really is enough to offset your weight.

The final technique for avoiding keeper potholes is to use a guided rappel. After one person is over the other side and wedged in a crack (me), the tension on the rope is used to let the person slide right over the top of the pothole. While my friend is posing for the camera in the picture below, I'm slowly being squeezed to death in the crack.

Quandary Canyon was one of the more "open" canyons I've traversed. It had a few sections of narrows, but unlike some slot canyons, it would be possible to climb out in several locations in case of a flash flood. Unfortunately, it didn't have a lot of the deep reds and yellows that places like Zion National Park has, but it was pretty in its own drab, gray sort of way.

Near the end of the canyon, a little growth had sprung up. Standing above the other two guys in the party as they pushed their way through it, I thought they looked like they were in an African safari with their white "pith helmets."

Stopping for lunch. Don't drop your food down the hole, it could be hundreds of feet to the bottom...

We climbed up a steep slope in what we thought was the right direction...only to find nothing but a cliff on the other side. Oh well, we'll take a picture, try to salvage at least something out of the climb.

And the worst part of the trip: going home.