(See the Exercises)

From a single section of a single chapter of an actual textbook:

... it can easily be shown that the boundary of the specularity is defined by (see exercises)  1 - \epsilon = \mathbf{V} \cdot \mathbf{P} .

Okay, fair enough.

It is easily shown (see exercises) that the normal to a parametric surface ...

Easy, my ass.

There are two obvious possibilities. We explore the consequences of these models in the exercises.

I obviously knew you were going to say that.

We explore the minimization problem in the exercises.

Are you guys bored writing this chapter?

... (you can convince yourself of this with the aid of a spoon).

Definitely bored.

The recovered surface does not depend on the choice of curve (exercises).

Okay, now you're just getting lazy.

... (it is complicated, but not difficult, to build more elaborate models).

Complicated, but not difficult... complicated... not difficult... until just now, I thought those two words were the same thing.

By the way, here's a couple of typical exercises:

2.10. Read the book Colour and Light in Nature, by Lynch and Livingstone, published by Cambridge University Press, 1995.

2.12. Make a world of black objects and another of white objects (paper, glue, and spraypaint are useful here) and observe the effects of interreflections.

New Grad Student Insights

Grad students love “pourovers.” No, that’s not some French Canadian word… see here. (Personally, I don’t know what’s so difficult about using a French press.)

College is still worth it. A post-secondary education is still a worthwhile investment, if we are safe in making certain assumptions. (This data is from my home country, so it might not even be applicable here in Canada.)

This concrete 'E' gets graffitied about once a week.

Nerds can tag, too.

The major sources of funding in Canada are: The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR); the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC); and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

  • If you’re in medicine or biology, you’re probably funded by CIHR.
  • If you’re in other sciences, you hope to have NSERC money coming your way.
  • If you’re in the humanities, you look toward SSHRC.

Calhoun’s internet tickets don’t expire. If you don’t use the internet when you’re there, your ticket will still be valid the next time you visit. I used a week-old ticket today. (Calhoun’s is a 24-hour café/bakery where an endless torrent of UBC students come to study.)

Featuring: Canadian Tuxedo!

Tater tot eating contest! (Huh?)

Being a(n adjunct) professor can kill you. Literally.

Blackboard is still just as crappy as it was 7 years ago. (Yes, the last time I was in school was almost 7 years ago.)

The 99 B-Line is really loud... at 1 a.m. on a Saturday on the way back to UBC, that is!

Computer science professors at UBC prefer the term “computational intelligence” to “artificial intelligence.” Because after all, when does it cease to be artificial? What is artificial? Whoa, that's deep...

The Stanford Prison Experiment is not all that remarkable. It seems like every pop psychology article I read cites the famous Stanford Prison Experiment in one way or another, as an example of the inherent brokenness of justice systems, or something like that. But now that I’ve actually been forced to read about it as part of research ethics training,1 it’s clear to me that the experiment was designed to produce draconian behavior from the get-go! We cannot safely conclude anything from this study.2

UBC campus is an ecosystem. There are skunks and raccoons and giant seagulls everywhere! And these are my coonfriends. These guys aren't the least bit phased by humans.

There are amazing free apps to manage libraries of PDF documents. Though I have far from explored the space yet, the main ones seem to be:

These are objectively awesome. I have even started to use them for note-taking in class, instead of paper. I might write a more detailed blog post about this in the future, depending on how well it works out.

It’s hard for students to ask questions in class. Some instructors get annoyed when students get lost in class and don’t ask for help. But now that I’m a student again, I can see that it’s nearly impossible to ask good questions. I’m not going to say any more about this now; I’ll write a full post on this later.

Finally, don’t feed the grad students.

A peek into the Computer Science Grad Student Bullpen.


  1. Look out for this if you’re a new grad, too. You must take one of these if you are going to be involved in any kind of human or animal trials! Ask your advisor if you need it.
  2. There was no clear experimental design, no independent variable, no controls: just an environment designed to produce maximum psychological effect. There is next to nothing to be learned from the Stanford Prison Experiment; at best, it is an anecdote, not an experiment. And here we have entire theories of social psychology and humanity built upon it. In fact, the only really interesting observation to be made is how out of 50 outside observers of the experiment, only a single person ever objected to what was being done. Disturbing, indeed, but not conclusive of anything in particular.

Getting Octave to Just Goddamn Work Already on OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion

The So-Help-Me-God Edition

If you are in the fortunate position to be a lucky owner of a spiffy new Macbook, I salute you! In my humble opinion there could not be a finer breed of computer. Savor it, my friend!

However, if you are in the unfortunate position of needing to implement algorithms and plots in GNU Octave, I pity you. It is your fate to run through the gauntlet of Unix dependency hell that is getting open source software to work on a closed source operating system.

But I have good news! Hopefully, I have now exposed all the booby traps that Mountain Lion has set for you, and I've discovered the secret command-line incantations necessary to avoid them. Yes, much like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, I will now deftly disarm the traps so that you may pass freely into the chamber of the Holy Grail1. Choose wisely.

  1. First, install XQuartz. In the past this came installed on OS X, but as of Mountain Lion it is no longer included. So go fix that.
  2. You will also need the Xcode Command Line Tools if you don't already have them. Both Homebrew and XQuartz need this to work.
  3. Now you are ready to install Octave from Homebrew:2
    $ brew tap homebrew/science
    $ brew install octave

    If you don't know what Homebrew is, then do me a favor and slap yourself a couple times. Install Homebrew now; thank me later.

Wow, Neil, that was easy! That's it, huh?

  1. Octave claims to have native drawing support using FLTK, but I haven't been able to get it working yet. We'll rely on gnuplot instead, which must be installed separately:
    $ brew install gnuplot
  2. Now edit your Octave startup file or create a new one:
    $ vim ~/.octaverc

    and add the line:

    setenv GNUTERM x11

    (btw, to save and exit vim, type ':wq', or to exit without saving, type ':q')

  3. Now for the ultimate fix: reboot your machine! Yep, until you restart your Mac, Octave will be unable to launch XQuartz on its own, and you won't be able to plot anything.
  4. Once you're back in, open the terminal, fire up Octave, and plot a sombrero(). You're all set!


  1. The Holy Grail of Octave? Okay, not the greatest analogy.
  2. If you're having trouble with this step, see: Octave for OS X

Evolving Higher Education

Recently, Udacity announced that it would be offering an Online Master of Science in Computer Science, in collaboration with Georgia Tech and AT&T. Just another stage in the nascent world of the Internet.

When I mentioned it, my mother asked me a question:

Does this dilute the prestige of a Master's in CS if 10,000 people do it, as they say? You do not need to take the GRE? It will cost less than $7,000 total? So you can still work and make money and end up with a Master's from Georgia Tech! Gee!

Here was my response to her (emphasis added).

Ahem... you mean an Online Master of Science from Georgia Tech. That is to say, OMS is different from MS.

Still, degrees are like fiat currency, in that if enough people believe that they mean something, then they mean something. So OMS could come to mean the same thing as MS, in time. And that might mean that an MS becomes cheapened, or it might mean that an OMS becomes stronger, or they meet somewhere in the middle.

We should try to view this with some perspective. As I understand it, MAs and PhDs have been around since medieval times, but they were mostly a license to teach until the last 100 years or so. And they've seen a huge burst in popularity in the past few decades. I could easily imagine a world without them. Not to mention, there are already dozens of different types of Master degrees—just check out the Wikipedia page for "Master's degree." Schools are often inventing new degrees, but since you and I are outside academia we aren't aware of it most of the time. This one just happens to get a bit more publicity because of the format.

I also often forget that there are already a vast number of OMS programs. The only thing that's new here is that this is the first one in MOOC format. So you could equivalently ask, does the fact that someone can get a cheap degree from Phoenix Online or Drexel University dilute my degree from UBC? Do people believe there is any difference between these three programs?

I'd love to discuss this some more the next time we talk. It's very interesting. A professor whose blog I've been following just touched upon some of these issues. You should read that too.

I look forward to seeing how my opinions on the business of pedagogy evolve and deepen throughout the course of my MS/PhD (which is now fast approaching!). I'll certainly be writing more about this in the future.

Sweep the Dojo

I’ve recently begun a (slow, but steady) campaign of personal development, by reading books like The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Outliers, and blogs like Study Hacks and You Are Not So Smart. Believe it or not, I’ve actually begun to learn some things, and develop a philosophy about how to be successful in life.1 As I gain insight I’m going to try to write about it here from time to time, and we’ll see how it goes.

It could be said that there are two major components to becoming successful: (1) being skilled in what you do, and (2) external factors, such as birth date, upbringing, and cultural legacy. There are books like So Good They Can't Ignore You which focus entirely on (1), and at the other extreme books like Outliers which focus on (2). Some of these external factors are pure luck, but others are keys to success which anyone might learn, regardless of their IQ. These are advantages that can be cultivated, but how? My new quest is to discover techniques that will give me these sorts of advantages: both advantages of skill, and advantages of circumstance.

Advantage Number One

My first post in this vein discusses something which fits into both categories: the necessity of being outgoing. A key component of learning a new skill and getting better at it is to have good feedback on how you're doing. Often this comes in the form of a coach or a mentor who can help guide you and give you opportunities to learn. A coach or a trainer not only gives you immediate feedback, but also guides you toward mastery by giving you challenging tasks. Tasks that push the limit of your ability and immediate feedback are two central components of deliberate practice.2 So one big question is, how do I learn from others? How can I convince someone to be my mentor? This leads us to conclude that to learn from others, you must be sociable.3

So that is how being social can help you develop your skills. But what about those external factors I mentioned? Well, being social is tightly wrapped up in those ideas, too. I'm sure you have already heard people emphasize the importance of networking to career building. "It's not what you know, it's who you know," the saying goes. Most of Gladwell's Outliers focuses on those less tangible factors for success. As he says in the introduction to his book:

... the values of the world we inhabit and the people we surround ourselves with have a profound effect on who we are.

The whole premise of Outliers is that we cannot begin to understand a person's path to success until we start thinking in terms of community—in terms of "the people we surround ourselves with." I believe being a friendly, helpful person can contribute just as much to our career as learning from others. It means you might be able to use your connections to find out about great opportunities and solicit great recommendations. Being friends with kind, thoughtful people has a good influence on myself and my character. Likewise, I believe being friends with successful people predisposes me to success.

The Reluctant Extrovert

A friend of mine recently read Quiet, and was distressed by the value our society places on extroverts and the massive potential of introverts that goes untapped as a result. Chapter 4 in Outliers bears a similar lesson: those who are taught from an early age to speak up and get what they want tend to be more successful.

Quiet seems to posit that this “Extrovert Ideal” has developed or gotten much worse in recent years than ever before, but I am inclined to believe that this has always been the case. Most undiscovered talents probably stay undiscovered. After all, we would never have had A Confederacy of Dunces if John Kennedy Toole's mother wasn't a persuasive woman. How many other great Southern writers have we missed out on? Lewis Terman’s Genetic Studies of Genius has shown us that pure ability does not often lead to success, as Terman himself was forced to conclude that “intellect and achievement are far from perfectly correlated.”

This is tragic, though to some extent it is not unreasonable. The introvert will not have the help of others. He will have to make his way alone. And as it is phrased in Outliers, “no one—not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses—ever makes it alone.” Perhaps someday we will develop systems to help those who cannot help themselves, but for now we will have to learn to become reluctant extroverts. We will have to learn to market ourselves and reach out to others. So how do we begin?

On Scott Young’s blog, Get More From Life, there is a very nice post on networking which implores us to Be High Value and Be Generous as a first step in our networking strategy. To receive help from others, we must first be helpful ourselves. That involves developing skills, and then being generous with those skills.

You may ask, however, how can I develop my skills without someone to help me? And how can I possibly help someone who is leaps and bounds ahead of me? There are many times when it seems that we have nothing of value to offer to our mentors. Isn’t this a chicken-or-egg problem? Well, I recently heard a great piece of advice, a personal motto of sorts...

Sweep the Dojo

What does it mean? It means that if we admire a great master of martial arts, and we wish to learn from them, it is true that we cannot offer to spar with them. We cannot offer to help them teach other martial arts students. But we can always offer to sweep the dojo.

There is always some way for us to help everyone, if we dig deep enough, no matter how small. If there is a professor in another university whose work you are trying to understand, perhaps you can offer to be their copy editor in return for the privilege of gaining early access to their publications. If there is a clever entrepreneur you want as your mentor, maybe you can start by managing some of the tedious details of running a business that they don't have time for.

As you do menial work for them, you can observe them, get to know them, and begin to learn tidbits from them, while studying on your own in your free time. If they are worth having as a mentor, they will recognize your efforts and begin to give you more opportunities to learn.

If they already have a graduate student or a secretary or whatnot to help them in that area, they will at least appreciate the effort and will already be much more open to your communications than they would have otherwise. Who knows, they may agree to help you anyway.


  1. Developing a philosophy and actually living it are two different things, but hey, "a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."
  2. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of deliberate practice, I recommend you start as I did, by reading this blog post, followed by this one.
  3. You must either be sociable, or you must have the money to spend on professional classes. But if you are to be a lifelong learner, you can't just keep paying for classes your whole life. Better to find mentors and partners.