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I hate computers December 9, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, grad school.
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I hate it when things don’t work the way they should….like when your software license that’s supposed to last for one year suddenly stops working after 8 months.

Sadly, that was pretty much the highlight of the day.

Does this make me multilingual? July 16, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, electromagnetics, engineering, grad school, math, physics, research.
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I began my programming education quite young and have maintained my skills over the years.  I have recently been thinking of documenting some of the various languages and software programs I’ve learned to use, so here is as good a place as any.

  • 4th grade – TI Basic
  • 8th grade – Logo
  • 10th grade – BasicA and Apple Basic (pretty close to the same thing)
  • 12th grade – Fortran and QBasic (these were at the college)

In college:

  • took a class on C and had to learn unix, too
  • learned Maple in a calc course
  • learned matlab for a research project and used it extensively in a numerical analysis course
  • learned mathcad for a physics lab course
  • learned mathematica for intro to differential equations and used that for many other classes

During my MS, I was exposed to half a dozen software packages for computational electromagnetics modeling (half of which are trademarked, so I’m not going to bother listing them).

In the past couple years at work, I’ve gotten pretty handy with Scilab.

After all of this, you would think that I have a pretty complete toolkit.  I should be able to do pretty much whatever I need with what I’ve already learned.  I find it ironic, therefore, that I am back to using Fortran (one of the first things I learned).  I also have been spending the past month trying to learn IDL (which, if you don’t mind me saying, seems like a less friendly version of matlab), so there is something new, again.  Also, I have people pestering me to learn python.

Looking at this list, I’m starting to think I’m learning things so that I can simply forget them again later.  I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten more than I remember.

Review me, critique me, pan me, print me March 14, 2013

Posted by mareserinitatis in engineering, papers, research.
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One of the first things I remember asking my MS advisor was how much detail should I include in a paper for publication.  He said to make sure there was enough for someone else to replicate the work.  When reviewing papers myself, I also look at this as one of the major criteria for publication.

I have tried very hard to stick with this rule of thumb, though there are things I overlook.  Given most of my work is simulation, I sometimes forget that there are certain things which I tend to always do in my work, and not everyone does.  Or maybe there’s a setting I never use and so the default stays in place.  However, someone else may have a different default for that particular setting.  And on and on.  Regardless, I do my best.

The past couple weeks, I’ve been working on a new set of simulations.  I’m basically taking widgets that other people have designed and seeing if I can use them for a particular, and somewhat unusual, application.  I think it’s a rather interesting approach to the problem, but I keep getting mucked up.  The reason is that several of the widgets I wanted to use are not described adequately in the papers.  I’m not talking about some esoteric setting: some of these papers show widgets that don’t give physical dimensions of any of the parts!  I have come across three different papers, all suffering the same problem.

I have decided that these papers are going in the round file.  I was, at first, inclined to write to some of the authors of these papers and see if I could get some clarification.  However, after encountering the third one, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort and decided to use papers from people who are more careful.  I’m lucky in that there are several approaches to making these widgets, so I can be picky.  That isn’t always the case, however.

I’m sitting here wondering first why the authors didn’t think to include this information and, second, what were the reviewers doing?!  It’s not like these are complicated widgets with a million parts.  Is it just my field of research?  Am I the only one who replicates other people’s work?  As much as I think peer review is awesome, I kind of feel like some people have fallen down on the job.  It makes me appreciate those third reviewers that much more.

Always mistaken for a student December 7, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in education, work.
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A week or two ago, I commented that I get mistaken for a student a lot.  There’s another way this happens, and it has nothing to do with my appearance.  It has to do with the fact that my work email ends with .edu.

I work for a university, hence the appendage on my email.  Many vendors, but particularly those who sell software, give educational discounts on their software.  The problem is that I work in a center that does a lot of work with commercial interests, thus requiring we have commercial licenses on our software and any other equipment we need to buy.

This is not a big deal except when it comes to getting support or information from the vendors.  That little appendage on my email means certain doom.  The assumption is that, because I am at a university, I must be a student and don’t have the right to get support from the vendor.  There are also those vendors who won’t call back to give prices, likely for a similar reason: I’m probably a student who doesn’t have any money to spend.

While I really like where I work, this is one of the more frustrating aspects of the job.  I would like to say it’s a fluke, but it happens to my colleagues and myself on such a regular basis that I know it’s not someone just having a bad day.  I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for an actual student.

That’s totally the way it works… November 18, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers.
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When you finally have the time to sit down and work on something that you’ve been putting on the backburner but is very important, you know what’s going to happen: the computer will decide it’s the time to have a temper tantrum.

Computers will make our lives better! September 3, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, engineering, teaching.
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Some days I really wonder.  I mean, my research would be almost impossible without computers.  However, I sometimes wonder about using them so much for teaching.

On the one hand, computers are very helpful if you’re attempting to implement universal design in a classroom.  Computers make things far more accessible.

And then there’s the other hand…

After last year, I decided that I would make one major change to the class.  I decided that, as much as possible, I would not accept in-class submission of homework assignments.  There are a few assignments my students must do on paper, such as their course schedule.  However, they have several assignments that are, more or less, short essays.  There are also assignments where they need to submit a file, like a powerpoint.  In order to avoid all the hassle of collecting assignments and handing them back (especially given one of those hassles is that it’s easy to lose submissions that are not handed in with everyone else’s), I figured that electronic submission would be a great way to keep track of these assignments.

Except…it seems like we’ve been plagued with technical difficulties so far this year.  Last week, a couple of the students couldn’t get in to submit their assignments.  (One brought his laptop to class to show me the problem.)  Yesterday, I was trying to post class notes, which students need to do their next assignment, but it wouldn’t allow me to upload any files.  Today, we can’t access the online classroom at all.

Obviously I’m going to give the students extra time because of these issues, but I hope they’re resolved soon.  I’m not sure I can deal with issues like this all semester.

It’s working! Bwahahaha! July 18, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, grad school, research.
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I really try not to let myself post too many blog posts when I’m overly tired.  Usually this results in a post that is only semi-coherent and riddled with grammatical and spelling errors.  (The other day on Facebook, I intended to write “more likely” but it came out “morely like”…which is a sure sign of sleep deprivation.)

However, I’m rather excited that after months of trying to deal with my bad programming, the compiler not being overly friendly with my code, and some sort of conspiracy between my compiler and the communications protocol on one of the computer clusters, I am running some code for real now.  (Not just in debug mode!)

To celebrate, I am going to sleep as soon as I’m done with this post.  I sure now how to live it up, don’t I?

(Official notice: spelling and grammatical errors have not been approved by this poster but will likely show up anyway.  Especially wierd ones.)

Another one bites the dust April 30, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers.
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I’m typing my first post from my new laptop.  Ordinarily, getting a new computer as an occasion for great happiness…except when it’s not.  While I got a nice new computer, I have to admit that I’m disappointed.  Some of you may remember that a few months ago, my macbook hard drive bit the dust.  I replaced it with another and things have been cruising along rather nicely.  That is, until Saturday morning when I left the computer unplugged and it went through a hard shut down.  When I booted it back up…well, it didn’t boot.  And it looks like I lost the hard drive completely.

On the up side, I have a backup that’s only a month old, so I certainly didn’t lose as much as I could’ve.

And the whole time, this song has been running through my head:

Stupid computer tricks March 29, 2012

Posted by mareserinitatis in computers, research.
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I swear I’d be a help-desk person’s worst nightmare.

I’ve been struggling to get an application up and running, and when I requested some help, I was sent a bashrc file that was supposed to fix some path problems.  I installed this on Tuesday night, but things still didn’t seem to be working right.  I asked my husband for help (given he’s a lot more Unix literate than I am), and he couldn’t figure out what was going on, either.  Even after logging out and back in and then running the initialization again, it still couldn’t find the application I was trying to use.  It was like I’d never installed the file.  After spending well over an hour on this, we gave up.

Then next day, I was trying to show the problems to the person who sent me the file.  Except that when I showed hir, everything worked just as it was supposed to.

I’m glad it works now, but I sure wish the timing wasn’t perfect to make me look like an idiot.


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