Friday, August 31, 2007


Dinner in Memphis. Not that good. The entertainment wasn't either. I've never liked the solo guitar player/singer act. This guy didn't change my mind. He sang in a very squeaky falsetto. The food was awful. We both have stomach aches. I had the crab cakes, Core had the catfish. We both had soggy vegetables on the side. Core had the mac and cheese, or more like mac and velveeta. Yuck. Meanwhile the flight's delayed an hour already. It's oversold as well so it's going to be packed. First thing we'll need to do when we arrive in Amsterdam is go to the recheck counter and get rebooked to Birmingham. Last time we did this (on our way to Dundee), they redirected us to Glasgow and lost our luggage in the process. I remember walking around the conference in sweat pants. Most embarrassing. Hopefully they won't repeat this this time.

The future's so bright...

...we gotta wear shades. (Remember that song? Timbuk 3 was the 80s band that did that one; wasn't bad actually, kinda catchy.) Here we are at GSP again, on our way to Birmingham, England, then Prague. It's late afternoon but it's still quite bright out and we're sitting right in front of the window (where I found a power outlet for the laptop).

For this trip I booked an "open-jaw" ticket, which lets me fly in to BHX but then fly out of PRG. I didn't know they let you do that, but it ended up being more convenient than having to return to Birmingham from Prague. I wish I had done this for the Zurich trip earlier in the year. Luckily European flights (in and out of smaller airports) are cheap. I booked a flight from East Midlands to Prague for 60 pounds. Not bad. The actual flight only cost 10 quid per person but they ding you for luggage, taxes, and various other "options". Prague was a kind of last minute idea, but since the conference I'm attending in Leicester was only two days and EuroGraphics in Prague ran all week, I thought what the heck let's go. My flight should be being reimbursed by the first conference since I'm delivering the keynote there. And a paper as well. The work students did last year with a prof from out west turned out pretty well and so I'll be presenting the technical aspects of the paper. The keynote is more of a review of others' work as well as a bit of my own.

I thought this was going to be my last trip this year. Turns out I have to drive down to Charleston next month. Meanwhile Rio in October is canceled due to dual paper rejections, pity. The conference I sent my paper to allowed simultaneous submission to a co-located workshop, but both venues sent back rejections, so we're not going. You can't win 'em all I guess. On a more positive note, although I'm not presenting, I do also have a paper at EuroGraphics (the educators' track) that I asked a colleague of mine to present. So on this trip I'm picking up credit for two papers. "Dziękuje i za to" as my Mom would say ("and I'll thank you for that as well").

We should be boarding soon. Next stop is Memphis, TN. Then on to Amsterdam and finally Birmingham. In Birmingham we have to take a bus and train to get to Leicester, our destination for the first segment of the open jaw. Should be a really long day. Hopefully they'll have those little private DVD players on the Atlantic hop. A couple of movies really helps pass the time. Either that or a long snooze since we're on the red-eye. Next blog entry is likely to be from Schipol since I know they have wifi in the airport and there's a nice cafe there where we'll probably grab a coffee. We'll need it after the flight. Bon voyage!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Morning Routine

Get up, feed the cats and let them out. Then it's off to the gym. An hour or so later a shower followed by a sensible breakfast (OJ, mini bagel with light cream cheese and a vanilla yogurt). That leaves time for a cup of coffee, a check for any new email messages, and perusal of various web pages. Sometimes, like today, even time to enter the blogosphere. Oh yes, why a picture of Harley? After they've been let out, like Hobbits they'll often come back in (maybe several times) for second breakfast. Their first course is moist stuff from the can, they then come back in for second helpings of the dry stuff. Which they seem to like well enough. After that they get let out once again to spend the day outdoors. But they don't seem to venture very far away, sometimes spending most of the morning on the deck railing as in the pic. (Today Sidney came back in for a third course and then hid under the bed. Very strange since she's usually quite eager to get back outside. Maybe something spooked her? I had to chase her out but finally once I put her on top of the recycling bin and opened the kitchen door she jumped down and out like normal. Goofy cats!)

That just about describes my "morning grind". Corey's is a bit different in that she does a workout at home and then prepares lunches. We generally eat at our desks, munching on salad and fruits. These days it's still quite warm so I throw the lunch box on the back of the Harley (the bike, not the cat) and ride that to work. During the first week the "campus cowboys" (as they used to be called at TAMU), meaning the parking enforcers, are pretty lax about handing out parking tickets. They give this grace period that seems to drag on for weeks if not the whole semester. This results in full parking lots, with many of the spots designated for faculty/staff occupied by students. So the bike makes a lot of sense: less gas consumption (last week I think I filled up for about $6) and a guaranteed (well, almost) parking spot right in front of the building. See what I mean? Not counting half the bike on the far left, mine's the 3rd from the left with the helmet on the back seat (no helmet law down here).

Monday, August 27, 2007

Preparing for class

You might be wondering what is it that I do anyway? A little insight into my job. Besides research (eye tracking, a topic for another post some other time), my "bread and butter" occupation is teaching computer science. As I was thinking about my classes tomorrow, I thought I'd post my basic preparation process. This semester I'm teaching computer graphics in one class and eye tracking (coincidentally enough :) in another. I'll concentrate on the former here.

Computer graphics has changed somewhat since the time when I took the class myself (it would have been ca. 1990). Btw, at SIGGRAPH I met my undergrad computer graphics instructor; I see him almost every year when I attend. It's kinda cool to meet up with him — his research was and continues to be computer graphics, he works for Sony pictures now still doing pretty innovative things in graphics, I'm sure. I basically teach the same course material that I learned from him almost 20 years ago, but of course I update it to modern standards. And these standards (literally) are what have evolved over the years. The main one related to graphics programming is OpenGL. Back when I was learning graphics GL was not yet open, it was a proprietary C library offered by SGI. I remember we were programming on then-new Silicon Graphics Personal Iris 4D machines. Ironically, today's choice for graphics platforms are graphics cards, the most popular coming from NVidia and ATI. The irony lies in that these cards are in a sense the old SGI machines on a chip, miniaturized into what's called the Graphics Processing Unit, or GPU. Why is that ironic? Because the companies selling these cards are not called SGI!

But I digress...OpenGL is a graphics library (code) and as such comes with an API, or Application Program Interface. My job is to teach students how to use the API to render graphics objects on the screen. Besides OpenGL, a graphics program has to be able to open a window on the screen which is connected to the graphics card (via what is known as a graphics context). OpenGL does not do this on its own, rather, it leaves this choice up to the programmer. There are various ways to open up a graphics window. My toolkit of choice is Trolltech's Qt. This is a C++ Graphical User Interface or GUI (pronounced "gooey") API. And this is another major change from the way I learned graphics. Back when I learned it, there really was no GUI toolkit. Well, maybe there was, motif may have been around, but we ended up coding our own buttons, sliders, menus, etc. (I know, I know, at this point I could add that back when I went to school, we walked barefoot in the snow, uphill both ways, but I think I'll refrain :) The Qt toolkit is much nicer. Of course you have to know C++ to use it, but once you get the basic idea, it's not too hard to learn.

So what do I need to do tomorrow? Go over the program shown in the first image. This is the guts of the Qt program to draw an image on the screen. As you can see it's quite simple. After an image is read in (a file dialog or browser is provided by Qt, as are the file parsing routines), it gets displayed on the screen (two calls to OpenGL). The pixels just get transferred from the file (on disk) to the CPU (memory), then to the GPU.

So? Well, the above example is as easy an intro as I can come up with. But it's also a nice segue into two more extensions: using a texture map to draw the image and then using GLSL, the GL Shading Language. GLSL is really the next evolution of OpenGL. This is a language that lets the programmer program the GPU directly. This means that you now have the freedom to do some pretty interesting things with your graphics card. In fact, a whole new research area known as General-Purpose computing on GPUs, or GPGPU, has sprung up exploiting the GPU for its massively parallel processing capability. At SIGGRAPH, NVidia was advertising the "personal supercomputer" which is basically what the GPU is.

There you have it, tomorrow's lecture in a nutshell.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Hounds' Demo CD

Just got this today, hot off the mixing board: the Hounds' demo CD. It's just three songs, but they're all original Hoodoo Hounds. Here are Loner, Castle on the Cumberland, and Sho' Nuff Hoodoo Man. I just burned myself an audio CD. I think the band's intention is to present this to potential new gig places, such as The Spot and The Tiki Hut.

Busy Week Ends

First week of classes, two band rehearsals and two gigs. Busy week. I set up on stage at Spittoono in about 45 minutes. That's got to be the fastest kit setup yet. I only used one floor tom and didn't bother with the splash cymbals or the cowbell. The sound guy helped with the drum mics. He actually had them all set up and plugged in before I had finished arranging everything.

I'd never heard of Spittoono before playing at this self-proclaimed outdoor "redneck festival". Spittoono XVII was in fact "successfully redneck". They come up with a new adverbial slogan every year. The signs on stage sum up what this is about: a non-profit event benefitting various charities. Why "no coolers"? With the whole thing being free, that's where they make their money for charity: from food, beer, and t-shirt sales. The pic at right shows us setting up on stage. The drums were on an elevated platform. I don't really think it's as much for show as it is for the practical reason of letting the drummer see the other band members on stage. So that we can get our endings right. Even though we practiced the songs beforehand, the songs can get a bit transformed during their live performance. A head nod from the singer is usually what signals the last verse. And I need to see that to finish off the song with some kind of bass crash cymbal combination at the right time.

So here we are doing our thang. Looks like this might be "Castle on the Cumberland", our lead off number for this gig. A Hoodoo Hounds original in fact. It starts off with just an acoustic guitar. I come in on the second verse with just the kick drum. Then I do a half-measure fill to start off the third verse which is the harp solo. The woman in the pic is who we were backing, subbing in for her band, Tanglewood. And that's who's on the playbill. We may get invited back next year as ourselves, but I guess it depends on what the organizers thought of our sound. On stage we sounded quite good if I do say so myself. The monitors, which I guess can be hard to set up right, sounded great. The difficulty lies in setting the right levels. The band needs to hear each other to cue changes from, but if the monitors are too loud they feed back into the mics. The resulting feedback is most annoying. So to get this right you need a sound check. Being the first large band on stage this drew out to about half an hour. I'm not kidding, a grueling half hour of "check one, check two" and so on. They had me banging on the drums to the point of annoying just about everyone in the band — they were looking back at me with this questioning expression: "what ARE you doing?" To get the drum mic levels right, you have to monotonously hit the drums, each one in turn, until the sound guy gets it right. There were two sound boards in play, both guys talking to each other over walkie-talkies. And the result? After all that, the sound was disappointing to say the least. Every time I'd kick the bass drum you'd get this buzz. Not on stage but in the audience where it matters more. I don't know how the sound guys managed this after the extensive sound check, but they overdrove the bass drum output. They still hadn't gotten it right for the band coming right after us judging by the major feedback whistles I heard. Maybe they got the kinks out later I don't know, but being a school night we left fairly early. The next day I heard that local residents complained to the cops that the whole thing was just too loud.

Complaints about the Spittoono PA system aside, I think we played a decent set. Good selection of songs and I think performed fairly well. No major screwups. Maybe we'll do it again next year, we'll see. Meanwhile, the very next night (last night) we played 356 again. The sound setup last night was the reverse of what it was at Spittoono: I think we sounded good out in the audience but I had a tough time hearing the vocals in my monitor. This is rather annoying because for better or worse I tend to cue off the vocals. As a drummer I really should be counting but I have to confess to playing more by feel than by measure. On "Sho'nuff" I do try to count, but I can still get lost and/or the band changes things up midstream, so hearing what the band is doing is important. And when the monitor craps out, it makes playing more difficult. Still, I think we managed to play pretty well through the first two sets. The third set was "tired". Just not the same vibe as the first two. We had some sound problems to begin with, so there was a good 10 minutes of standing around doing sound checks. Sound checks that late into the night are I think a momentum killer. I think it put the audience and band off. I think it may be fair to say we struggled through the third set. Maybe two gigs in a row is a bit much for us.

Now I think it's time to take a break. Today is relax day for me. I still have to unload the gear, then it's a day for doing stuff around the house. Someone was taking pictures at 356 last night. If I can get one or two, I'll post 'em.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Calhoun Corners

We went out for dinner again tonight. This time to my favorite restaurant in Clemson, Calhoun Corners. No pics because we were seated at a table in the middle of the floor, a bit too much in the open to start taking pictures. I suppose they could improve their atmosphere a touch to provide each table with a bit more privacy, but then maybe they'd have to reduce the number of tables. The food was great but the portions, like in many restaurants, are just too huge. I guess we could have skipped the appetizers. I had the snails and Core had the Crostini. For the main course she had the twin filets and I had the imperial filet. Steak and crab is a tasty combination I have to admit. Each main course came with salad, so dinner felt like a three course meal. No room for the fourth course, dessert. Just a cup of coffee and we were stuffed. Then lotsa water cause the other thing restaurants could reduce is the amount of salt in the meals. So now we're guzzlin' water at home trying to digest. Tomorrow, hump day, is back to school day (first day of fall semester)...and then rehearsal before our Spitoono gig.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Saturday we went flying and Sunday motorboating. My kind of weekend :) Last weekend we tried taking care of our typical weekly chores on Saturday and then gambled on good weather intending on going boating all day Sunday. Well, we got burned by a mostly cloudy Sunday. We tried it again this weekend and our patience was rewarded. Since the intro flight ended by about 12:30pm, we did our weekly shopping on Saturday. Once again we prepared drinks and snacks for the whole of Sunday. We got out on the boat before Sunday noon and went in search of T60.

T60 is a buoy on Lake Hartwell, its location roughly shown in the lake chart above. The T60 Grill should be right there and it should be another of a score of boat-accessible restaurants (we've thus far been to Pitcher's and Charlie T's). I learned about this place during a Harley poker run a few years ago. Since then we've talked about taking the boat there. Well, we got as far as T-24 as the top picture shows. But alas, T-60 is much farther than we had anticipated. I think to get there we'd really have to start early (10am maybe?) and pack a lot more food. And drinks, of course. Here's a clip of Corey driving.

Aerial photography

Some pics from my intro flight (the movie clip is small in dimensions but a bit hefty on disk space at about 20M so you might want to right-lick and "Save As..." instead of playing it in the browser)...the first two are of the HWY 93 and HWY 123 bridges. From this view if you were to look to the right you'd see the campus, not quite in the orientation that is shown. Doing a little mental rotation, the stadium is between the two bridges. To put it another way, if you're on the water between the two bridges and you look to the right (East) you'd see the stadium. During football weekends you'd hear it as well. The HWY 93 bridge was constructed just a few years ago, doubling the number of lanes on our daily commute.

These next two are of two marinas. The first is Portman, on Lake Hartwell, south of Clemson. It usually takes us about half and hour to get there by motorboat, but only a few minutes by plane. I think we were flying at about 120 mph and the boat does only about 20 mph when running at high RPMs, so that's about right: 30 min vs. 5 min. The second shot is of the Keowee Sailing Club on Lake Keowee, a bit northwest of campus. Both are man-made lakes, but Keowee is the cleaner of the two because I think they managed to clear the bottom before filling it up. At least that's my understanding of it. Hartwell is by far larger and when the level is down (like it is now) you can see some rather large stumps sticking out so you have to be careful driving in some places and keep an eye on the depth gage.

The last two are of our subdivision and our house. In the first pic you can see how low the lake is. That grassy region in the upper left is usually underwater. Right now it's a meadow where the deer and beaver play.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Intro Flight

Yesterday Corey treated me to my first hour instructed piloting a single-engine Cessna. Although an informal lesson, it counts towards the required hours for a private pilot's license, should I decide on pursuing it. A pilot's license would require about 60-80 hours of flight time, if I remember correctly, and take about 6 months to do. It would require a substantial time commitment, something I'm not sure I have at present. There's still sailing, power boating, golfing, drumming, among other things that vie for my "hobby" time, not to mention time for travel, which has been considerable this year. However, the instructor goes up every weekday at 7am and he invited me to come along if I wanted to. I might take him up on this one of these days, particularly since he flies a little plane around that is supposed to be much less complex than the 172 RG (Retractable Gear) we flew yesterday.

The 172 RG had a lot of dials and switches inside (avionics). At first glance certainly many more sensors than in your typical car engine. Although the engine still relies on the same internal combustion principle, the pilot needs to monitor several more components, including carburator temperature and gas/air mixture. There is also the tilt of the propeller itself, although I don't think all aircraft can vary this and I now don't recall whether there was a way to do it manually on this plane. Suffice it to say that the number of things to be aware of was a bit overwhelming. I'm sure I could eventually get comfortable with it all, but the first impression was a bit intimidating.

I sat in the pilot's seat during the flight although of course the instructor had complete control over the aircraft from his seat the entire time. Take-off and landing are the most harrowing but he made it look pretty easy. Corey took a ton of pictures from the back seat and there's more to say about the flight itself but it'll have to wait. The weather today is supposed to be hot and sunny so we're off to the lake!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Snare splurge

I splurged today and bought myself a high-end and somewhat rare snare drum. It's a Peavey Radial Pro 1000 14x6 maple snare. What's unusual about it, besides being made by Peavey (they're better known for electronic products, monitors, speakers, etc. and not drums), is that it has this bridge system with a built in bearing edge. The bridge, consisting of 8 solid pieces of maple glued and pinned together into an octagon, is glued to the snare shell, eliminating all lugs, holes, and other tone robbing hardware. I got this info here. It's also the same kind of snare I've been playing on at Mountain Music where I've been taking drum lessons. I've always liked the snare's crack and stick response and the store had this snare on sale for a few weeks now, so I finally took the plunge and bought it.

The snare is somewhat rare since Peavey doesn't make this kind of drum anymore. From my little bit of web research this is probably due to poor sales of the drum which is likely due to the drums' unusual appearance. That bridge system gives the drum a kind of strange fat, bulge, or "spare tire" around the shell. This particular snare also has a dual snare strainer, which I think is also a bit weird. This means you can half-tension the snares by clamping one lever and releasing the other. It provides two different sounds.

I put on a Remo Ambassador drum head (compliments of Mountain Music, thanks!) on the drum tonight and gave it a quick tune. There's still a bit of a buzz with it but I think an Evans Genera head would take care of it (I just don't seem to have good luck with Remo heads). Either that or maybe my trick of putting a batter head on the snare bottom may also dampen the buzzing somewhat. That seems to have worked for my other two snares. The cheapo Pearl Rhythm Traveller snare actually sounds fairly decent now, and my other Gretsch 14x6 also got fairly well dampened by this approach.

Update: I put on an Evans Genera Dry head and that seems to have taken care of the buzz. Both Genera heads have the built-in dampening ("overtone control") ring that takes the ringing out, but at the moment I prefer the Genera Dry for its vent holes. I think these somehow give more of a crack than the Genera. Both the Genera and Genera Dry are single-ply heads; I thought earlier that one was two-ply, but that's the G2 head, which I don't have on any of my snares. I'm not sure how a G2 would sound on a snare, but the Evans web page seems to suggest that the G2 is more appropriate for toms than for snares.

So now I have two "show snares". I think I can crank up the Peavey a bit more than the Gretch (maybe due to its different bearing edge?) to give it a bit more of a firecracker sound. I think it'll stand out more during gigs. Furthermore I now have a spare snare. I've always been paranoid about busting a snare head during a show, and now if I do I can just plop my old snare on the stand and be ready to go. I just need a 15x6 or maybe a 16x6 drum bag to carry the Peavey around. I'll try out this new sound at Spittoono next week. Somehow we got in Tanglewood's spot. I'm not quite sure I understand the full story, but it may be that we're actually subbing in for Tanglewood, backing up that band's singer. We're playing on the 23rd, then on the 24th we have a gig at 356 again. So the new snare will get tried by fire next week. Should be fun!

Another week of workouts

I quit smoking Jan 1, 2006 and a couple of weeks later started going to the gym every weekday morning (when I'm in town). I've been pretty good about getting up at 6am every day and making it into the gym even though some mornings are tougher than others. So I'm happy on Fridays when I complete another full week of workouts, like I just did today.

I go the University gym, which after an extensive remodeling effort (about $12M worth) a couple of years ago, is pretty decent. Especially in the summer when it's almost empty, like it appears in these pics. Next week when school starts up again, it's going to be much busier.

My workout regimen has a spotty history, and dates back to the Student Rec Center back at Texas A&M pictured here (but I actually tried lifting iron even back at the stuffy old gym at SFU and the employee fitness center at Esso in Calgary while on co-op). I established my routine mainly at TAMU. The history is spotted due to various gaps in time. As soon as I started going to the gym at TAMU (which btw was newly built after a $16M outlay) we had to move. TAMU's facility is quite nice, especially the outdoor pool. Then as soon as I developed a routine at Clemson they shut down the old gym for a year-long renovation. Both disruptions were quite lengthy so this period since 2006 is really the first time that I've been able to hit the gym with any sort of consistency. I now whale on my pecs and shoulders Mon and Thu, biceps/triceps Tue and Fri, and legs and back on Wed. Each day I do situps and end off with either a jog on the treadmill or a ride on the stationary bike. It's a decent routine and I hope I don't get too bored with it too quickly. Bringing along the iPod shuffle really helps. I just wish they had built an outdoor pool here like they did at TAMU. Swimming is one activity I miss that I haven't been able to incorporate just yet.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Operation Dinner Out

We went out for dinner last night to the 113 Grill. It's just about the only decent restaurant in Seneca (there's another one that I like in Clemson, but that's about it). Btw, once you get past the annoying flash animations, you can take a peak at this restaurant's menus and wine lists online. This place is on Ram Cat Alley, same street where The Spot is, the bar we used to play pool at. Haven't been on the pool league for a while now, but that's another blog entry. Ram Cat Alley is a tough place to run a decent (read expensive) restaurant. If I remember correctly, about three different restaurants have tried but failed. Hopefully 113 will be here for a while because they serve good food and the atmosphere is good enough. To be fair, Copper River is another restaurant that recently opened in Seneca, so 113 isn't the only one, but Copper River isn't as nice. More like your average Outback.

Corey had the pan-seared tuna tataki to start and the scallops as the main course. The tuna was I think similar to "spicy tuna" that you'd get at a sushi bar, except here it was served sashimi style, without the rice. Which is just as well, the rice is really just filler. I was surprised she'd ordered this since she usually doesn't like sushi. But she liked it so whaddayaknow, maybe she'll be more open to trying sushi. If the water level ever comes back up I like going for sushi by boat to the Blue Heron. Next time we go I'll suggest the spicy tuna for Core.

I had the crab cake to start, followed by an 8 oz filet with shitake mushrooms and haricot vert. 113 makes a really good crab cake. IMO, the secret to a good crab cake is not over cooking it. It's best when it's crispy on the outside, but inside you have a sort of moist, creamy crab meat filling that isn't too dry. I've had stuff in places that call themselves seafood restaurants where they serve you this deep-fried hockey puck they call a crab cake. Nope, sorry, it's got to be squishy on the inside. I ordered the filet medium but I should have gone for medium-rare. I find that some places really under cook steak when you order it medium-rare so I usually now order medium. I prefer medium-rare but I just don't think many places do it right. Here I suspect they would have because the steak was medium, just as ordered. So next time I'll order medium-rare and I'm pretty confident I'll get medium-rare and not steak tartar. Getting an 8 oz cut left some room for a slice of chocolate pecan pie for dessert. Yummy.

For libations, I had a Guinness and then a glass of Sterling Napa Merlot with the main course. We split a baby bottle (375 ml). I prefer wines that are less tanic than Cabernet, so I tend to drift toward the merlots and pinot noirs. The glass went well with the steak. Then for dessert Core suggested a shot of Limoncello. It was a little too syrupy for me just on its own. I think it needs to be cut with something but I'm not sure what, seltzer maybe? Need to lookup some drink recipes for Limoncello, there's bound to be a good lemony drink with this stuff. After dinner a traditional coffee and Bailey's on the side, and then it was time to pay the piper.

To complete the dinner-and-a-movie evening we watched Borat again. "Yeees, I like." Although Spy Game was also suggested. Which is what the title of this post refers to. Operation dinner out was a terrific success, mission accomplished!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

When the going gets tough...

...the tough go shopping! So today it wasn't as much tough as it was hot. Man, talk about stepping outside into an oven. Have you ever been to Hawaii? And gone shopping at a grocery store? It's all nice and cool inside, and then when you walk out the doors, whoomp! You get hit with this blast of hot air. That's what it was like here today. The day turned into something of a chores day even though we had planned on going boating. By the time I got ready, went to the dump, went to Lowe's to pick up some more tools (a ditch blade for me, like a one-handed scythe, and shearing blades for Corey), it was about 3pm. We had actually assembled the boating bags (towels, books, suntan lotion, etc.) and the cooler, but then I proposed that we just handle a couple of chores today and have the entirety of tomorrow for boating.

So we ended up doing the meal plan for the week, going shopping, then Corey mowed the lawn while I used the ditch blade to clear out foliage around our dock. It only took about half an hour but when I emerged Corey said my face was as red as a tomato. Did I say it was hot out? Anyway, I was planning on washing the vehicles, but I think if I'd attempted that I'd probably have keeled over from heat exhaustion. So we decided on dinner and movie night instead. Maybe a double feature if we can stay up that late (it's already 8pm). Now that the week's shopping is done, we're looking forward to a full day of boating tomorrow. The boat bags are already packed.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Home for three weeks

Left Chicago last night, slightly delayed. Touched down I think around 11pm and finally got home around midnight. Luckily I had an excellent CD that Core made for me the week prior. I wanted to hear it on the boat and tonight after work an opportunity came up. It's really hot around here lately: 100F in the day, 90F at night! So today I took the bike to work. It was almost too hot to ride. On the way home the heat from the asphalt was intense. I thought a boat ride would be an excellent way to cool off.

We took her out and intended to go dock at the public docks in town and then walk over to a sushi restaurant to meet our friends there. The lake is so low that we couldn't get to the dock. Yeah, we grounded out and even managed to scrape the prop. Major drag (no pun intended), but the boat seemed to drive ok on the way home. Well, after that we just decided to pack it in. At least I got a nice pic of the driver and the sunset in the wake. We're planning on going out tomorrow. Maybe on a long cruise to find the T60 grill. This is all the way past Portman Marina, Big Water Marina (where we had our sailboat), and up an arm of the lake that I think borders Georgia. Should be a long run. And a scorcher!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Chicago's O'Hare

This company has it right. We are hungry for bandwidth and there's nothing more irritating than a flaky net connection. My wifi signal strength indicator bars were up and down almost second to second in San Diego's airport. Most annoying. The hotel's connection in SD would also seize up from time to time. It seemed to happen when I heard the housekeeping staff rumble around outside my room (I think my room was next to some kind of supply room; maybe that's where the router was). Housekeeping probably unplugged the router to plug in their vacuum cleaner or something. Wouldn't surprise me. I think someone used to do something like this on a regular basis back in Texas when we still used coax. (Remember that? There were never enough of those T-connectors, eh?) The coax would snake around the room and I think there was some place where someone was kicking it or banging on it with a desk or chair leg.

Here I have the full strength 4 bars. I'm sitting at the gate at O'Hare waiting to board the plane on my last leg of the trip home. Flying across the US is a bit less tiring than the hop over the Atlantic. Especially when you break it nicely into two almost equal jumps. SD to O'Hare was about 4 hours. The last leg is about 2 I think. I ate breakfast in SD and had dinner here in the same restaurant we had dinner in when we flew to Warsaw. The entire trip takes the whole day, which is a bit of a drag since I won't get in till 11pm or so, but the long layovers are actually somewhat useful. You can eat, walk leisurely to your gate, and of course update yer blog.

House of Blues

Went to the Vicon party last night after the reception. I found placing a DJ on stage a little goofy. The House of Blues itself is designed well enough: there's a stage, there's a dance floor, balcony seating. All that makes sense. I keep kicking myself for not spending the $47 they wanted for The Pretenders when they were here. It would have been a decent show I think and I should have gone. At least I'd expect some kind of performance in the sense of musicians doing something, producing good music. Here we get this DJ spinning records. Yes, vinyl. There was a bit of intrigue when she actually scratched the record to put in this kind of dramatic pause into the techno music. But apart from that she just stood there, occasionally egging the audience on by lip-synching technified song remixes (think Pet Shop Boys' "West End Girls" on speed). I think as a DJ she was pretty good, but as an act "center stage" not really. But that's just me.

What's with the go-go dancers you ask? As I was walking up the street to the bar I struck up a conversation with a seasoned SIGGRAPH attendee on this very topic. She said that she'd seen some SIGGRAPH newbies earlier with their jaws on the floor taking pictures. Well, I'm not exactly sure why they're there, but they seem to show up every year at these types of events (I mean the go-go dancers; well, the newbies too I suppose). At the House of Blues there were two on stage as you can see, and at least three more placed strategically around the bar. There may have been more somewhere else. I've seen them just about every year. I guess they fit with the DJ act well enough (got to have somebody moving up on stage), but really I would have preferred a band. One year (in L.A. I think) they brought in Ronnie Dawson, a rockabilly band. They kicked butt. In New Orleans they had Rosie Ledet. She was good as well. I was hoping for something like that at this venue. Call me old fashioned but I think a DJ is boring in comparison.

Time to pack up and head to the airport. Surely there'll be a long queue to get through security. I think the last time I was here the line extended all the way out of the airport into the parking garage (really, I'm not exaggerating). I'll take a snap if that's the case today.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Last day at SIGGRAPH for me

I started the day off with brunch at the Dublin Square Irish pub. Fish and chips. Then off to the conference for my last day. Had to go back to the exhibits hall to find autostereoscopic displays. Finally found them. Only one vendor at SIGGRAPH apparently. Interesting technology that I'm not quite familiar with yet. You don't need shutter glasses but you need to be at a certain viewing position. There are cameras to track your eyes, but I think only to estimate where your head is in space in relation to the display, but not what you're looking at. Interesting.

Then one more stroll on the floor. Came across the Springer bookstore. Say, that looks like a good book there on the 3rd shelf from the bottom. Yup, it's a new edition. A little farther down there was this green Mustang. I'm not quite sure what it was doing there. One guy said it's just so that you can compare their rendered image with the real thing. I dunno; I think they were just showing off. Then it was off to the paper session on Perception and Color. Pretty decent talks on perceptual metrics and psychophysics experiments.

After that paper session I'm now basically done with SIGGRAPH. Tonight it's the reception followed by the VICON party at The House of Blues. But before that I think I'll grab dinner where I've been eating all week: The Field. I think it's better to fill up prior to the reception. Eating at the reception usually amounts to queuing up for deep-fried finger food. Well, not always. SIGGRAPH has had good food before. I think in Boston there were pretty good Bratwurst dogs. But I don't think there was much in L.A. So you never know what to expect. As a student I used to "live off the land" as it was put to me, but these days I'd rather avoid the queues. I'll be in plenty tomorrow while in transit back home.

Electronic Theater

The Electronic Theater ain't what it used to be, IMHO. It used to mainly be student animation work mixed in with research result videos supporting papers. There's still some of that (research paper work got squeezed in to one clip) but it has mainly been supplanted by advertisements and movie trailers. If you click the link and look at the list of animations, you'll see what I mean: the first animation is a TV commercial for insurance, there's animation for Sears tools, movie clips for Spiderman 3, Children of Men, etc. A few gems sprinkled throughout, but they're really in the minority. The pic is from "Burning Safari". I'm not sure if this is student work or not, but it was one of the funnier episodes. YouTube has it here. Actually, they have their own web page:

Speaking of student work, the best of show "Ark" looked pretty amateurish. Why is it that SIGGRAPH always picks some lamentable animation for this award? I mean, what's with the head shaking, depression, and dementia? You see this quite often in student films: there's some character that's got some major problem. Maybe they're old, crazy, or schizophrenic. (Come to think of it, I don't recall a schizo animation; I bet that would win the award—any of you animators happen to be reading this?) In this clip the main character is literally insane, thinking he's on this ark sailing in search of an uninhabited island because the mainland is infested with disease. But it's all a dream (oh big surprise there) and he's actually in an asylum. There's plenty of "no this isn't right" kind of head shaking in this piece...

There were some decent films though. The farting squirrel was funny ("Vigorsol: The Legend"), "Portal" was also well done (how to use portals in a video game).

"The Itch" was also brilliant as the Brits say (it was made by Joel Green from the UK). Here, this little man with a cane starts tapping the leg of the main character. The main character narrates the whole thing. In the beginning he politely tells the tapping guy to stop. Then he punches him in the nose. Nothing helps. The tapping continues, and it goes on everywhere, even in some uncomfortable places (on the crapper). The narrater goes on to say that eventually he got used to this tapping as it went on for seven years. So eventually you see the two characters doing things together (riding a motorcycle for example). Then one day the tapping stops and that's it. Ok, so it's probably "you'd have to have been there" kinds of descriptions, but it was a good clip. Update: you can find the clip on YouTube here.

"Equilibrio" and "Raymond" rounded out the good ones for me, and that was about it. Sure, you also had "Lifted" and another Scrat clip, but these were pretty well polished entries from well established houses (Blue Sky Studios and Pixar, resp.). And that's about it. The remaining 90 minutes of stuff was composed of commercials and movie trailers. Like I said, ain't what it used to be.