Monday, August 30, 2010

Outside Lands and a Grey Whale, otherwise Known as Time Management

This "phase" of this blog is turning into a reflection on finishing the phd thesis.  It's actually quite anti-climactic; the real story is in everything else.

Last week I wrote an entry about Outside Lands, the two-day music festival held in Golden Gate Park.  As mentioned below, I procrastinated on looking up a band name and didn't get around to posting it.  Written in the past, it seems silly to post it as its own entry.  And I make the rules here, so here's an "embedded entry:"

A week ago Friday, while perusing weekend happenings, I discovered this two-day concert called outside lands.  I never make it to the whole show for these festivals; it's more of a get-back-into-what-the-rest-of-the-world-is-listening-to thing.  And long days of music outdoors is always relaxing, whether it's classical (rare), metal (rare), or something in between (most things).

Al Green was amazing.  He does things with his voice that few even try.  Social distortion was fun, and their Johnny Cash closer was a great burst of outdoor energy.  Furthur was unexpected, since I've never listened to the Grateful Dead.  One of those random omissions; no real reason.  The music was great, and they played quite a while, which was a great close to Saturday.  Their cover of Time, was, of course, a fun surprise.  Some of the best music was on the smaller stages.  Favorites were Aterciopelados, from Bogota, and Beats Antique.  Each was far more original than many of the headliners.

Empire of the Sun I should say something about.  They were definitely…interesting.  Costumes and danceable electronica and an interesting light and video show.  But after the 5th song that was the same, I needed a reprieve.  I once had MIchael Jackson's Dangerous on in the car while driving my mom, since I was paying attention to rhythm a lot at the time, and it seemed pretty mom-friendly.  Halfway through she told she was tired of hearing the same song on repeat.  It caught me off guard, but I expect this was the same effect.

That's that entry.  Then I wrote this one, about a film I saw.

I rented Collapse the other night, since I was looking for a documentary that makes you think (about something other than quaternion math).   A man collapsing as he studies collapse.   I'm getting distracted away from movies a lot right now, since I have far too much work on my mind, but his emotional moments pulled me back in.  

i really liked the talking head staging set in a dark room.  It really tells you that this film is about him, and not so much about the story he is telling, although that gets your attention too.  The story is a theory of the in-progress collapse of western society.  Many points I agree with, but his expected conclusion I do not.  Personally, I think some people will put up with hardship of a growing world with limited resources, while others will jump at the chance to innovate.  The innovation is happening now, but it's crawling.  When energy loss really starts to affect a lot of people is when it will take off.  

After that entry was written, I rented The Man from Space, which was also really good.

Watching these is becoming a late-night mental release from the far--too-constrained mental efforts of rewriting the related work section of my thesis.  It was long and rambling.  I cut it in half in terms of length, and that's with more content included.  

Two days ago, it occurred to me that the real reason putting a thesis into a finished form, instead of scattered bits of writing, is hard, is that it's boring me out of my mind.  Finishing the related work had to be the worst, which I completed today.  There's still a few references to add, but the structure is all the way it should be now, and it stands as I want it.  That said, the creative work on this is long since done, so it's come down to time-management mind-games that I'm playing with myself to keep it moving.  

A few days ago had one of the most fun time-management mind games.  I ignored the thesis, I rented a car, and I took off to do four random hikes, without much of a plan.  Surprisingly, I saw a whale breaching off of Point Reyes (it's not the season for it).  I don't know that I've ever seen a whale, but I was endlessly fascinated by them as a child, and seeing one unexpectedly was really great.  

The other excuse for the trip was to draw.  Not to create drawings, but to draw.  Having done it intensely in the past and having set it aside while I was in the "thesis trenches, " as I call last year, it was way overdo.  They were fairly bad drawings, since it was more about the act of moving a pencil around on paper and picking and choosing what to show.  Landscape gestures from the top of Mt Tam.  I made a few more today.  It's a mental loosening-up, in a way.

That all said, the next part of the thesis will move more quickly, probably taking a week, and then the revision will be half finished.  Then there's some fun things to do. 

And to make the context of this entry even stranger, it was written a couple days ago.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

heat wave

I have an unfinished post that is a week old, but I'm procrastinating looking up one word for it.  So I'm going to move on until I deprocrastinate on that looking up that word.

We're having a very short heat wave, but hot enough that it threw off my writing routine today.  I've fallen into a good rhythm of writing for a couple hours after breakfast, getting some exercise, than heading out to a cafe to write again for the afternoon.  I've set myself an aggressive deadline, so there's occasionally a third stint of writing in the evening.  It's probably the least rewarding piece of writing I've ever done, but also the longest.  The combination of an aggressive time frame and a strict routine seem to be about the only way I'll get it finished though, so that's the time management game of the moment.

But I was sluggish through my morning writing.  Then I drank about two gallons of water while exercising.  I took a shower and still felt sluggish.  Something was up, so I checked the weather.  It said 96.  I thought it was a cached value from the trip to Florida or something.  No, it was 96.  Being an east--coaster, the lack of humidity threw me off completely.

Unfortunately I don't handle heat well for mentally intense work, so writing went nowhere after that.  After getting through one paragraph in a half hour and reading that the heat wave would last two days, I decided to toss it aside til the temperature drops.  It's like day and night.  The last time this happened, a cold front blew through dramatically to end it, and it was like suddenly drinking three cups of coffee.  Experience tells me to wait, since that breath of fresh air will kick everything back into gear, and that'll probably get me caught up  in a day or two.

Now, about rhythm.  This more freeform, fun writing, just comes out fine.  I think it's the entertainment value of creating it, while the "day--job" writing requires concentration on many more things, most of which have nothing to do with the writing itself.  It's mostly concentration to say no to every distraction that calls out your name.  Like the top of the door that just might need to be dusted, because cleaning that would be more entertaining than the day job writing.  It really doesn't need dusted, and that next paragraph needs to be put together.  Do that about 600 more times and you get to be finished!

This entry is lacking in much real content, but it really much more of a tool, to make Friday's writing resume.  It's about rhythm.  A light-hearted stretch between longer, less fun stretches that make you want to do strange things like dust the top of the door.

I am not going to go dust the top of the door now.

Friday, August 13, 2010


I went to siggraph for three days this year, rather than the full week.  I tend to get exhausted at siggraph--it's non-stop learning, catching up with people, socializing, seeing incredible ideas, and sneaking in a few hours of sleep a night.  I took a 6am flight down to see most of the morning sessions and decided that shuttles are still too much of a waste of time (it took well longer to get from the airport to the hotel than the duration of the flight).  

There were two big topics at the conference I was interested in.  The first is controllers for character animation, mostly in terms of walking.  The big trend this year was the use of simplified physical models, especially inverted pendulum models, to plan and control the motion of more complex articulated characters.  Having seen some of this work grow to maturity behind the scenes before it was published, it's nice to see a large portion of the field thinking the same way about a problem.  In coming years, if the presentations become more concise and the ideas are generalized to more types of motion, this could start to have a big impact in the game world.

Fluid simulation is the other area that work that really caught my interest.  Surface tracking is a big thing, using geometric processing steps interleaved with simulation steps.  The detail looks great, although some approaches are somewhat conservative in terms of trying to keep things from breaking apart.  There's also interesting work on adapting grid resolution and non-grid domains for specific simulation steps to increase detail.

The electronic theatre was great this year.  Some years it feels gimmicky, but many more pieces were quite original this time.  Some favorites are The Light of Life, Loom, The Lost Thing, Poppy, and Upgrades.

Emerging Technologies can be hit or miss, but there's usually one or two things that are really really cool.  I only saw about a third of it, but a friend pointed me to a voice-responsive zoetrope from Disney, which was made using hand drawn expressions on ping pong balls.  It has the right mix of hand-made originality, technical wizardry, and charm, which probably makes it the most fun thing I saw all week.

Of course, siggraph has parties.  Since we started our own a couple years ago, I've become less interested in finding them as opposed to helping put one together.  We handed this year's organizing off to UBC, who did a great job.  The number of people doubled again, which is good, and quite amazing considering the small group on a patio that it grew out of a couple years back.  

One final thought: The food choices near the conference center have significantly improved since two years ago, although I did end up on one walk with someone who stubbornly believed there had to be something good a little further away too.  He was proven wrong, of course, but most people have to see downtown LA culture to believe it.  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Deface Book

I'm taking this blog off the Facebook broadcasting.  I feel it's good to have it in public, since it constrains my writing, but I've come to have an odd behavior pattern with Facebook.  Basically, I don't want that many people knowing what I'm thinking or doing on any given day, at any given moment.  It used to be amusing, but now it's kind of strange.  It might be that in a sufficiently large crowd, I'm always quiet.  Hence how many blog posts have been written in the last year.  So while you're more than welcome to read or not read it, I don't want to throw it at you.  

But it's an overdue blog post, at a time when I'm spending a few days reorganizing a lot of life logistics to get a really really big project moving again and wrapped up.  So there's a lot on my mind.  And I'll write about it in coming posts.  Or I won't.  That's the beauty of the blog.  I can abandon it for weeks, or months at a time.  But it's always there waiting for itself to be revisited.  Kind of like Lisey's story.  I've been reading it in parts since 2006.  It's probably one of the most-traveled books out there, in that it's been all over the world.  I take it on every trip.  Some trips I read it on, others I don't.  It's actually quite good, but I'm enjoying it enough to _really_ take my time with it.  

I might or might not write about running, tar balls, siggraph, oysters, lists, music composition, and the strange act of working at home for a while.