Yesterday, Björn and I took a trip to Willow Garage, the company that makes the PR2 robots that I'll be working with. We were hoping to find out more about how demonstration and teleoperation of the robots are currently done, and what deficiencies existed in current options, and where we might come up with new methods that would be more effective.
Willow Garage as a whole is awesome. There was neat hardware EVERYWHERE - numerous PRs, and these 5 foot tall robots called Texai with a screen, webcam, and speakers. People use the Texai to telecommute from all over the place, and it's totally ordinary to see them just driving around the lab. Lunch was amazing as well - quinoa salad, green beans, build-your-own salad with lettuce, strawberries, cheeses, cucumbers, soybeans, pear, and glazed walnuts, brown rice, and these delicious mini sandwiches with mayo, tomato, and portabella mushroom. Lunch was also amazing because we got to sit down and chat with some really brilliant folks about what we were looking to do, and what's been done so far. I love how at Willow Garage, it's practically assumed that you can get access to whatever fancy hardware you want. After lunch, we grabbed coffee (I had a cup of Earl Grey), talked to different folks for another couple whiles, and then Leila (our host) gave us adorable shirts and PR2 chocolate bars with HILARIOUS nutrition facts (example: Warning! May contain nuts. And bolts...). If I had support for images in this blogging engine, I'd embed them here.
Around 2pm, Björn and I said our goodbyes to that awesome lab in order to make it back to SF before the massive traffic hit (which we did successfully). He dropped me off at the BART station, and I rode back to Berkeley. On the way there, two people sat across from me - one was a young black man reading the book of Isaiah from the Bible, and the other was a slightly-older black man reading the Qur'an in Arabic.
Later that evening, Facebook hosted a technical discussion/recruitment session, which was interesting. The speaker went into great detail about the various languages that Facebook uses (basically: whatever you're most comfortable with, we'll do it), their RPC platform (Thrift) that allows them to do so, a decent bit about the ridiculous scale that their system has to run at, a block model of the ads subsystem that Facebook uses, and details on how the People You May Know functionality was first implemented, adapted to scale up, and made smarter with machine learning algorithms to provide good results. It was quite in-depth, ran 10 minutes long, and was a delight to listen to. The speaker was animated and entertaining, which was nice.
Today, I spent a good deal of time reading papers for HCI, learning about WSGI, reading papers not relevant to my field but still interesting like (pdf warning) The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions, and watching The Last Lecture. I think that last item was the most impactful.
For those who are unfamiliar: CMU professor Randy Pausch was diagnosed with untreatable pancreatic cancer and was given four to six months to live. On September 18, 2007, he gave his penultimate last lecture, titled "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams" to a crowd of 400 people.
It's not often that I'm brought to tears by a lecture, so let me simply repost some of the quotes that I found most noteworthy:
While I won't write them down, there are names in my head next to each of these quotes. You know who you are. If you haven't seen it before, go watch The Last Lecture. There are few ways to better spend an hour than being reminded of what's important in your life.
I just baked a batch of brownies. I forgot to set a timer, but I calculated in my head what time they should be done based on when I put them in. When I suddenly smelled the brownies in the midst of my coding, it was precisely that time. Baked goods are awesome because they tell you when they're done.
I have ported the backend of the shortlog to web.py. Everything works great on a machine with somewhat recent python libraries. Note that as this does NOT include our dedi, you, dear reader, are still seeing the old, feature-lacking version. Oh, Debian stable, I love you, but you make me cry.