Random Happenings

Random notes and pics about events in the life of a not-your-typical Computer Science grad student. (Yes I am a nerd, but I don't live and breathe the SciFi channel, well maybe Stargate SG-1...)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Next time I'll wear knee pads

Audrey and I signed up for dog agility training classes. From Wikipedia: "Dog agility is a sport in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course in a race for both time and accuracy." (Image also from Wikipedia.) It's a perfect class for the two of us because Audrey really enjoys being active. Running, swimming, fetching, frisbee, ... you name it. She's a working dog, after-all!

There are only three dogs in the class, which I like because that means we get a lot of personal attention and there are fewer distractions for Audrey. I find that if I sufficiently arm myself with yummy treats like hot dogs and cheese (what dog could resist that?), then she stays pretty focused on me.

In our first class we worked on three obstacles: the jump, the open-ended tunnel, and the weave poles. Audrey was probably the most energetic and excited of the dogs there. (And no, I'm not just saying that because I'm her owner. Okay, well I'm maybe a tad bit biased...) She was running as fast as she could, anxious to jump over the bars and run through the tunnels. In fact, she was practically lunging at the tunnels when she was waiting for her turn. We were last in line, and while I held on to her collar, she would lunge forward every time the other owners yelled "Tunnel!" to their dogs.

After a few times through the tunnel, the trainer told us that we needed to run as fast as we could to beat our dogs to the other end of the obstacle. That would help teach them to run the course fast and not throttle their speed waiting for you. That's no small task when you have a 60 lb running machine sprinting at full speed.

We were working on the tunnel obstacle and the trainer told me on the next attempt to run as fast as I could. "Okay," I thought, "I can do that, I think ..." So it is our turn through the tunnel, and I prepare myself. First, I grab onto Audrey's collar at the back of her neck with my right hand. Then, I crouch down a bit in a lunge --- just like for a race. I look at Audrey. "Ready?" She looks at me with a twinkle in her eye. "I was born ready," she seemed to say. I take one last deep breath. "Tunnel!" I shout as I release her collar and sprint as fast as I could past the tunnel. I think she could sense the intensity I felt to sprint --- she was like a bullet shot from a gun. I'm running and shouting "Good girl, Audrey! Go! Go! Go!"

Just when I think "I actually beat her!", I find myself tumbling, no ... flying, across the mud and dirt. Somehow she got confused onto which side of the tunnel I would be and ran clear into me from behind. She hit me so hard it nearly knocked the breath out of me! I really didn't realize when I signed up for class that this would be a contact sport. I am seriously considering showing up to the next class wearing a helmet and knee pads!

Of course everyone ran up to see if I was okay and made a big deal out of things. Even when it is not your fault (witnesses confirm that Audrey takes the full blame for this one), it is still embarrassing to fall like that. I mean, it was pretty spectacular. I had dirt in my hair, down my shirt, and somehow inside my socks! The picture of grace.

We recovered, though, and managed to finish the rest of the class mostly unscathed. (The weave poles knocked me in the face a couple of times... They may look innocent, but speaking from personal experience, they can throw a few good jabs.) All in all, we had an absolute blast! I can't wait for the next one.

One last note: As we were leaving the class, the trainer pulled us aside. "Are you sure Audrey hasn't had any agility experience before?" she asks. I told her that her "experience" is a sum total of 30 minutes playing on an agility course once and I definitely didn't know what I was doing. "Well, she has the drive to be really good at this, competition level. You should think about it." Okay, I think, but really we've only had a single one hour lesson. I think it's a little too early to tell that kind of thing. Audrey and I won't be quitting our day-jobs any time soon. Pretty funny though!

Monday, October 16, 2006

I may look like a big yellow dork

This morning I woke up to a torrential downpour. It must be monsoon season here. I think it has been raining for hours. Audrey even refused to go outside, it was raining that hard. I checked the weather channel and found Texas completely covered in rain. Here is the radar image after the rain has let up a bit: I had to go to school, and I didn't want to be cold, wet, and miserable all day long. So, against my better fashion judgement, I donned my bright yellow rainsuit reserved for football games and camping. I think Nathan was even a little bit embarrassed since I noticed that he kept walking a few feet behind me... Well, I might look like a big yellow dork, but at least I'm dry!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Don't spend it all in one place

This morning Nathan noticed an unusual deposit into our checking account for the sum total of $1. "Hmmm....", he thought, "1 dollar?!?" Then he remembered --- it was our tax refund from the IRS. "We're rich!" he laughs, and I reply "time to go shopping!" Apparently, we slightly miscalculated our estimated taxes last year and when we filed we found we were off by exactly $1.

Nathan joked that "we shouldn't spend it all in one place." But how can you spend $1 in several places? Our friend, Timmie, suggested that we go to the bank, get the dollar in 4 quarters, drive to 4 different gas stations, and buy a 25 cent gumball from each one. "$1 worth of gumballs and $2 worth of gas," he quipped. Sweet.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Two peas in a pod

Jie and I volunteered at the Grace Hopper Conference a week ago or so. Here we are at the HP party greeting guests and stamping their "treasure maps". (It was kind of a party scavenger hunt with lots of goodies.) The theme of the HP party was "Dinner at the Movies" so here we are with Shrek headbands eating popcorn, hotdogs, and candy. Definitely a well rounded meal!

Saturday, October 07, 2006


As I sit here on the bouncy school bus with 20+ tired girls on our way back to good ole College Station, I think to myself that I'm glad to be coming home. In fact, even the song playing now has "I'm coming back" in the chorus. (Okay, okay, I am not actually posting this from the bus without internet, but I am writing it on the bus and will post it later.)

I sure love to travel, but there is nothing like the feeling of coming home. Especially when I have Nathan waiting there for me. His Nana said to me once that you know you have been gone just long enough when you are ready to come home again. I have to agree with her. It's been a lot of fun at the conference, especially seeing some of the undergrads really get into it (I remember when that was me a while back), but I'm ready to be home.

So looking out the window now watching the trees zip by, it is kind of peaceful knowing that I'll be home soon.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Chili's flair

This week I had the honor of receiving my very own Chili's flair. Here is how I got it:

I attended the 2006 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing Conference in sunny San Diego, California. In order to go, I traded 8 hours of my life for free conference registration as a nameless "volunteer". A private in the Grace Hopper army if you will.

Part of my volunteer duties included manning the "gift shop" booth where we sold T-shirts, posters, and pins to spread the propaganda to the masses. We were also soliciting donations for the Systers Pass-It-On Grants. (They are small, one-time grants for incidentals to graduate students like me in the computing fields. A good cause that is appreciated by graduate students everywhere.) When someone makes a donation of any kind, they get a Systers pin to wear.

Well I probably should have started the story with a description of the lady I was working with. She was a little over the top, but in a good way with a small fetish for jewelry of any kind. Okay, maybe small is a bit of an understatement. At one point that afternoon, she admitted to me that she has a pair of glasses in every color. "Really?," I ask in ignorance of such things, "Why?'" "So I can coordinate them with my outfits, of course." she smiled from behind her bright aqua glasses. Of course.

As the afternoon went on, she kept putting pins on my name badge lanyard (the thingy that hangs around your neck). Before I knew it, I had been decorated with pins all over. I think she just couldn't help herself. When I actually got someone to donate (which was a stretch for me but a great learning experience), she was so excited that she would pin me.

Looking down at my name badge lanyard, I couldn't help but feel like Jennifer Aniston in Office Space. Without even knowing what was happening, I had acquired my Chili's flair.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

A walk on the beach

It was a long journey (starting with a school bus ride at 3:30 in the morning after a day of unprecedented power outages in the Brazos Valley and little sleep), but we finally made it to San Diego. I'm here as part of a group of female students from Texas A&M (a.k.a. AWICS) to attend the 2006 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. It's a conference held every two years to promote women in the computing fields.

After we checked into our hotel and got some lunch (I had fish tacos --- you can't go to San Diego and not eat fish tacos), some of us thought that what we really needed more than anything else was a nice, relaxing walk on the beach. Happy to not be in-charge in any way, shape, or form, I let one of the other girls navigate us through the public trains and busses to Mission Beach. It's nice to be a follower sometimes.

We got to the beach and it was gorgeous! Just look at this view!

Some of us (me included) had to throw off our shoes, roll up our pants, and in a moment of weakness went running into the water. It was just a little bit chilly, okay it was pretty cold. bit it was fun. Just like kids, we went hunting for sea shells and sand dollars. I have never found a whole sand dollar, and I'm on a mission to find one someday.
This is as wet as we got!Looks like we are discussing something important... (probably not)

After a little too much sun and a lot of walking in the sand, we stopped at a little ice cream stand. Just like an oasis in the middle of a desert, it was perfect! Here we are dusting off or feet and donning our shoes again.

After the beach walk, I was perfectly content. After getting through all the school work from last month (see my previous blog entry), this was just what I needed. That afternoon I went back to my hotel room and slept like a rock. Life is good.

Surviving september

Well, it's been a little while since my last post... actually since August. But good news, I'm back in the saddle again. It has been one crazy crazy month, school-wise that is.

Most students look forward to September as a fresh start with a new set of classes (whether they would admit it out loud or not). September, after all, can be a great month for a college student. One, you start out with a blank slate, a very good thing if you happen to have had a rough last semester. Two, there is a sense of excitement in the air as you get to make new friends and see old friends in your brand new classes. Third, you can usually breeze through September, at least the first few weeks, without midterms, mountains of homework, or term projects to finish. All in all, if you look at it right, September can be a very good, relaxing month.

For me however, September has come to mean deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. One of my jobs as a grad student is to submit papers about my research to various conferences. In good years, I submit papers to about 3 or 4 conferences max. The catch is, two of those conferences happen to have deadlines within a mere 2 weeks of each other in September: ICRA (a robotics conference due in the middle of the month) and RECOMB (a computational biology conferences due in the end of the month).

You can handle a single conference deadline well enough, even if you have multiple papers. Depending on how much work there is left to do (research is funny and variable like that), that could mean a few weeks of solid, batten-down-the-hatches, working around the clock and probably a few all-nighters thrown in to spice things up. That is all well and good if you know that the minute you turn in the paper, you can sleep to your heart's content without a single care in the world. But for me, in September, I don't get that luxury. I know that after I turn in the first round of papers, it's immediately on to the second without a chance at some real rest.

This year was no exception. In fact, we somehow managed to crank out 4 papers, 2 to each conference. To put that in perspective, I'm lucky if I submit that much in an entire year! So, in all truthfullness, I can say that yes, I am a survivor. September came and went and I'm still here.

I promise to post a little more often now that the month of torture is over. In fact, I am currently submitting this post from sunny San Diego, California. There's nothing like an afternoon at the beach for relaxing and unwinding. But more on that in my next post.