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    final report

Life as a CRAW Student
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The Journal

This summer is about more than just my research. I am excited to work with Adele and learn more about the research process, but it is also about figuring out if graduate school is for me. This log is as much to help me figure out and clarify my thoughts, as it is for you to maybe see a little of yourself in my experiences.

Wednesday, June 6, 2001

On campus 14 hours. I now possess keys to the CS building and my very own cubicle. I am about 10 years younger than the average graduate student here, and so am most definitely the new "kid" on the block. But they have girls here. Girls who do CS. Coming from a college with 3 female CS majors and no female CS faculty, I wasn't expecting the cubicles across from me to house women, but they do. I am blissfully happy.

Wednesday, June 13, 2001

It's hard to believe one week of my time here is done. The time has just flown by. Kristen arrived on Saturday. I feel a lot less young now. At least there are 2 of us. We met other students spending the summer at CSU to do research also. There is a group working on environmental management and another doing biochemistry.

Kristen and I spent Sunday exploring "old town". We originally intended to go to Target, but the Fort Collins' buses don't run on Sundays. Then we tried to use the Student Rec Center. It is also closed on Sundays. At that point, we headed off to explore and try to figure out what was open. "Old town," aka down town, is really cute. We had a fun day, even if it turned out much different than we were expecting.

Adele drove us up to the foothills on Monday. It was so beautiful! We drove along the dams and stopped to look out over Fort. It was a wonderful break from satellite data collection and coding. After trying for several days, I am convinced that nothing is visible from Greenland.

Wednesday, June 20, 2001

Two weeks done. I am almost finished with my "introductory" project. I finally found something visible from Greenland. It was a fluke, but hey, whatever works. Hopefully I get to start my main project for the summer soon. I feel almost guilty about having accomplished so little thus far. I don't really know what I expected myself to accomplish, but it was more than 2 files of satellite paths. I feel almost useless ... like I should be doing more, but I don't know enough to actually be of use.

Mostly, I feel like I am letting Adele, Darrell, Laura, and Jean Paul down. They have been so patient with explaining things to me that I feel like I am wasting their time. They have spent more time explaining to me what is going on, than I have spent contributing to the project.

This week, Kristen and I are not the only female guests of the CSU CS department. A few of the female profs are running a computer camp for middle school girls. They are making web pages, talking about binary numbers, and hearing about the changing face of computer science. Kristen and I have been their guests for lunch. It is great to see a room full of girls so excited about computers and coding.

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Three weeks done. My introductory project ended in a much more interesting fashion than it ever existed in. Nothing like saving the best for last.

I found a satellite (NORAD #24786) which generates really bizarre results for 76.87N, 69.00W. Using Netscape and Internet Explorer, NASA's website returns a blank page. Using Konqueror, Red Hat's browser, it returns pages of data. The weird thing is that regardless of what date a prediction is requested for, approx 6 days in, at approx 4 am, the satellite is supposedly visible.

The other interesting result was matching data for multiple satellites. About 15 satellites, all of which are over 35,000km from earth, all happen to pass over the same places on the globe at exactly the same time. I suspect something is wrong with the data NASA is putting on its webpage. Otherwise, pretty soon lots of satellites are going to be colliding.

I started my actual project yesterday. I am creating a user-interface to work with the scheduling software Laura and Jean Paul have created. Mission #1: Learn Swing.

My perspective on graduate school has changed over these last 3 weeks. I used to think only of getting into a tier 1 school, but the longer I'm here, the happier I think I would be here. Everyone has been so amazingly nice to me. They have made a point of making me feel welcome. I went to University of Colorado, Boulder last Friday to talk to someone there about their graduate program, and was completely blown off. Here, the faculty make a point of asking how I'm doing and whether or not I am enjoying myself. Sadly, things like attitudes of faculty aren't taken into acount when ranking schools. Makes you wonder how much the rankings really mean ....

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

Four weeks done. I spent the day celebrating the birthday of Wim, a professor. Having today off was a nice vacation. Fireworks and a party for Wim make for a relaxing day. I have spent a great deal of my free time lately hanging out with Wim and his students. They have really made me feel welcome here.

I have never fully realized the importance of code style before. I am obsessive about code style when writing, simply because it makes the code more beautiful, almost elegant. Then I tried to read code in one language, written in the style of another language. They made a basic sketch of what the interface should look like a few years ago. Unfortunately it is hundreds of lines of Java code, written as if it were C, without the use of a single 'this'. Step one, massive code overhaul to implement Java style. Step two, transfer the existing interface from AWT to Swing. Step three, remove the Exceptions. Step four, begin expansion. Along the way, I am planning to add some comments to the code, so the next person who looks at it, can read what it does instead of decipher what it does.

Wednesday, July 11, 2001

I hate GUIs. May I say that? I can't design them. I can't implement them. I can't understand how other people can. I am so frustrated. Adele gave me the GUI to work on because she thought I would have a lot of fun doing it ... except she didn't know that I hate GUIs. I have been trying to convert the existing mess of AWT code into working Swing code. The problem is no two books seem to agree on how to do that. I read book X, and think I understand what it is talking about and how to do something. Then I read book Y. The two tell me completely different ways to do the same thing, but I can't get either to work! Half the time, I have to read the chapters of these books 2 and 3 times to even understand what they are talking about.

I spent half a day trying to remove a hack from the AWT code I was given, only to put it back in when I couldn't get Java to do what I wanted without it. I am at the point that I don't even want to come in and work anymore. I don't want to study Artificial Intelligence in grad school anymore. I don't even want to be here anymore, because it means working on this stupid GUI. I didn't come here to work on Graphics or HTI. I just want to crawl under a really big quilt and sleep for a very long time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Six weeks done. The last two days have been filled with happy relief, as Laura found something other than the GUI for me to do. Two blissfull days of C++ code. The STL is a beautiful thing. I wrote code to remove duplicate data from the satellite alternative data I collected earlier.

I suspected there was some duplication, and when I showed Laura and Adele what I had seen, they agreed. I could never have guessed exactly how much duplication there really was. My file of low altitude satellites went from 88 satellites to 88 satellites when the "duplicates" were removed. No duplicates in data was a very good thing. The more data we have, the better. However, my file of high altitude satellites went from 100 satellites to 24! Over 75% of my data was lost because it was duplicates of other data. Perhaps NASA might want to consider fixing their website, as clearly there is something wrong with the data it is spitting out. I tried emailing the webmaster and inquiring what was going on with their site. I haven't heard back yet.

Every Friday night, a group of grad students and advisors go to a local pub, The Crown Pub, for drinks and appetizers and fun. This was my third week in attendance and the first week I could convince Kristen to come with me. The first week was so much fun. The second week was much tamer. This time was the biggest group yet. It is so great to see the advisors and grad students hanging out together. They work hard, and then they play hard. As a result, everyone gets a lot done, but enjoys doing it. I watch some of the advisors, who never seem to socialize with their students and wonder why. The students at the pub end up working harder on their projects because of the relationships they have developed with their advisors. For them, the research isn't just about papers and data and work, it is fun and exciting. That is the kind of relationship I want with my advisor someday.

Wednesday, July 25, 2001

Seven weeks done. This week's lesson is to always speak your mind. What a beautiful week it has been. I met with Adele last Wednesday about what I was up to and how things were going. Laura had told her how unhappy I was with what I was doing. She gave me a list of options, and asked what I wanted to do. One of the options was to work with the Cameron group, an option I jumped for. I talked to Wim, the man I would be working for, and got permission to join them that night. I have spent a blissfull few days getting set to start working on Cameron. I am going to implement 0-1 Knapsack Algorithm in SA-C. The algorithm lends itself to recursion really well, but SA-C uses only loops and arrays. Therein lies the challenge.

Wednesday, August 1, 2001

Eight weeks done. For the first time all summer, I am really excited about what I am working on. I learned SA-C in 3 days, apparently this is much quicker than most people. The language makes so much sense though. It is a mix of C/C++ and SML, both of which I know and use. SA-C is so much fun! Monica and Charlie have been incredibly patient with me. Between the two of them, they explained convolutions to me 3 times. Once I understood what a convolution was, it only took me about 20 minutes to write the code. They were amused, but both understood that I have never taken any graphics or vision before, and so don't necessarily know the terms. My goal has changed. I am implementing sorting algorithms for their system to use. I have already finished Odd-Even Transition Sort and am now working on Bitonic Sort. Since SA-C compiles down to hardware, the Sorting Network ideas of Bitonic Sort fit really well. Besides, it is really efficient.

The wierd thing about writing SA-C code is how efficiency works. I have never worked with or studied parellel systems. I am used to object-oriented or imperative languages, like C++ or Java. I am even used to functional languages, like Lisp or SML. SA-C functions like none of them. Typical efficiency optimizations, like not calculating the same expression in a conditional each time a loop is run, don't play in. SA-C unrolls loops and replicates code instead of looping once it is compiled. Instead of stepping through arrays, it is better to create a window of the array. Building extra data improves efficiency. Wild.

I am so blissfully happy. I have not been this excited about Computer Science in I don't know how long. It doesn't matter what gender I am, or how old I am. They don't care. They care that what I am capable of. They believe in what I am capable of, and are having me do something useful, yet not above my head.

I consider myself to be a fairly radical feminist. This summer is really making me re-think my stance on women in Computer Science education. For a long time, I have thought the solution to the problem of such small numbers of women in Computer Science was women in Computer Science education. If we just had women as mentors and role models, we would have women as students. While I still feel we need women as mentors, the need for women doesn't negate a need for men. Men, who care about what they are doing and don't discriminate by gender, are just as valuable as women, and just as good of mentors. I am very lucky to have been given the chance to work with and get to know BOTH Adele AND Wim.

I am planning on coming back to Colorado this December to work with Cameron again. I offered to volunteer my time, and they said I was welcome. I have already moved my plane ticket home back two weeks to stay and keep working this summer. I think I am learning, and will continue to learn, a great deal by being a part of this project, even in a small way.