Category Archives: MIT SDM

Just a little bit longer..

Only a few more days and the summer semester will be over. And I have to say that I'll be pretty glad. Have spent a fair bit of time over the past few days looking at and trying to finish up the presentation my team is giving in Systems Engineering. I need to get back to really spending some time on the System Dynamics assignment.

Otherwise, the end of my week was pretty jam-packed with various meetings. It seems to often be that way when I go into the office, but Friday seemed even more so than usual. Then, last night, got home and then went and had dinner with Kara after which we spent some time just wandering and looking at books in Barnes and Noble.

This morning, I woke up and headed out on the Quad Ride. I tried to take it sort of easy since I'm planning to race tomorrow and succeeded better than I usually do. Only did about 40 miles. Felt good to have a day that wasn't just pouring rain, though, especially after the past few days. And the sun even came out for a bit!

Tonight, I'm going to spend a little bit more time on System Dynamics and then I think Kara and I are going to watch Harold and Kumar 2 as something light and fun.

Tomorrow, I'm headed to Wells Ave to ride in circles for a little bit. Should be a good time.

Last week flew by

So yeah, last week kind of flew past me and I didn't do a good job of keeping up with posting. Lots of it was building live images for the Fedora 10 alpha (coming to a mirror near you tomorrow), testing said images, building new images, and doing over and over again. Also a whole ton of mail on various fronts. Today was more of the same, although also a lot of time trying to track down what was going on in a weird livecd-creator bug that has been popping up from time to time forever. Finally figured out the root cause so hopefully we'll get to the bottom of it real soon now.

On the school side, it was the usual level of madness for summer classes. Spent a good chunk of time Tuesday after class finishing up the System Dynamics assignment and then home to work and have dinner. Only a tiny bit longer of that and then I get a few weeks off before fall classes begin. And Kara and I have booked a short trip for in that time period as we have some overlap this time around.

And then to keep things even more busy last week, we had a pretty busy social schedule. Wednesday had a group of the Quad racers getting together at Redbones and so I wandered down there as, hey, why miss a good chance of eating at Redbones. Thursday was then the monthly “Cafe Quad” social, although I really only briefly popped my head in before going home due to the tiring week. Friday night, Kara and I ended up going out with Kate and Jon to drink to a better August, as Kate's July kind of sucked. Saturday was probably the slowest day — Quad ride in the morning, spending a little bit of time between work and looking at school stuff in the afternoon, and then dinner and watching Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story which was no better or worse than I expected it to be. It was just the sort of light comedy that I was needing at that point.

And I think that mostly catches up to the present… this week might be a little bit less insane on some fronts, but I'm sure it will make up for it on others.

Jay Forrester on System Dynamics

Last Tuesday in System Dynamics (yeah, I'm behind on my blogging… it happens sometimes), we had a guest lecture given by Jay Forrester. Jay, aged 90, founded the field of System Dynamics as a professor at MIT about 50 years ago. So it was pretty cool (IMHO) to get to see him speak in the small environment that our class provides[1].

The first portion of the talk he gave covered some of the work he did a little over thirty years ago looking at the dynamics behind world growth. This includes things like population, economics, sustainability, pollution, etc. The interesting and somewhat scary thing is how much the growth of the past thirty years has matched what the predictions based on the models were. Especially as one of the big messages of the model was that continued and unfettered growth is completely and entirely unsustainable. One figure that sticks out in my mind even a week later was that if population growth continues on its current trajectory then at some point (I forget the time horizon sadly), we end up needing to expand into space at a constant speed of a quarter of the speed of light to continue to fit 1 person/1 sq ft of land. The solution that he and the Club of Rome (whom he was working with) were recommending as a path was to actually make changes to help curtail growth in a natural fashion rather than having it occur as the system corrects itself, leading to a downturn in many different quantities which all directly relate to quality of life. If you want more details on this, take a look at the books World Dynamics and Limits of Growth. Or, we're continuing to build out the models in class, so I may actually do another post on that later this week.

The second part of his talk was on something that he's been working on more recently which is working towards the teaching of system dynamics thinking in K-12 education. This was pretty interesting too and raises some good points — I can easily see how it'd be easier to learn some of the dynamics way of thinking before you have as many preconceived notions that have been drilled into your head by other education. Also, one of my classmates raised the great point of how his kids love playing SimCity and games like that which are all about system dynamics modeling.

Anyway, was a great experience and I really enjoyed watching him speak. If you have the opportunity and have the least bit of interest in such subjects, it'd be worth making the effort to see it as well.

[1] At this point, our System Dynamics class is down to about 20 people in the classroom and 5-ish distance students I think. There were a couple originally in the course that have dropped it due to work load and a lot of the “usual suspects” that would be taking it who are full-time students are doing internships this summer.

Leaden legs, weekend, etc

Last week was again a (relatively) light riding week between the storms that were rolling through the area as well as wanting to take part in the various SDM business trip activities. So I was pretty glad that the weather for the weekend looked pretty good. So woke up on Saturday morning and went out on the Quad ride. Although I was hanging just fine, my legs felt somewhat leaden. Figured it was mostly an effect of a light few weeks of riding and made it more of a point to spin rather than hammer in the big gear. Then, Kara and I headed down to her parents' as her dad's birthday was last week — ended up running a couple of errands and also having dinner before heading back home.

Yesterday, woke up and again headed out on the Quad ride. A group was planning to do Westford and Groton, so went out with them. Luckily, legs were feeling quite a bit better and so the longer ride felt less strenuous. Definitely think that things are “back” and so I'm looking forward to doing a race this weekend, although I need to decide if I'm going to head up to New Hampshire for the Bow Road Race or just do Wells Ave. Each has their upsides. Oh well, as long as I figure it out by the end of the week, I'm good. Then, I spent some time tidying up the house and just lazing about playing video games before settling in and trying to knock out the majority of the Systems Engineering homework which is due in the morning. Mostly succeeded, although I need to go over it and make sure it looks okay this evening.

Today is an in the office day and I biked in. Legs started out a little sluggish, but warmed up pretty quick. I think that the sluggishness might just have even been the whole “being on the heavy bike” after riding the nice bike all weekend and also adding to that, carrying in a bit more than I usually do in the pannier.

The day has been fairly productive, although some things haven't been where I've wanted them to be. But one by one getting some of the things taken care of for the Fedora 10 Alpha. For various reasons, the whole non-blocking freeze seems to not work so well. But so it goes. Also fixed up some kernel things for rawhide and have also been trying to make things work a bit nicer on a new piece of hardware. But more on that later.

SDM Business Trip, Summer ’08

This semester's business trip seems to have a better turn out than the one from the spring. It's been good to see the distance folks again but given the classes I chose to take and people doing internships, there are a lot of people around I haven't seen much of.

Yesterday as a speaker we had Nitzan Shaer. And while he was an interesting speaker he seemed somewhat unwilling to generalize based upon his experience and instead just recounted a lot about Skype. He had a couple of specific comments about the mobile space more generally but it really wasn't his focus. The amount of interest in mobile though is phenomenal and quite possibly higher than it should be. But it's hard to ignore a market of 3.5 billion phones 🙂

Last night was then dinner at the Summer Shack. Was good to go around and talk with folks and also got to catch up with Alyson a bit on her new job. And ended up having a couple of conversations with people about the iPhone. Unfortunately due to class, Kara couldn't make it.

Today was a light day with lunch and then nothing really until dinner time. For that we had a mixer with the LFMs which was good. And for a change we managed to go through the entire budget for the event.

Tomorrow is class in the morning and then the SDM town hall. Then i'll hopefully get some good work done before heading to the alumni event which Yoav helped to put together.

And then on tap for the weekend – rest. Between Seacoast over the weekend and this week, I'm looking forward to it.

Another busy day

Another busy day today. Started out with Systems Engineering in the morning and Professor Dan Frey talking about the Design of Experiments. Another session where I can easily see where in a physical engineering field, it would have a lot of relevance and could be easily applied. Software, still, not so much. Maybe if you're doing human factors/user interface you could take advantage of some pieces of it but I'm not entirely convinced. And if you're doing things at a lower-level, then almost certainly not. When you're designing a software system at that level, you don't really have knobs and levers to adjust and then see how they change some sort of outcome — instead, your design is focused on functional requirements and just meeting those requirements. And then adjusting as the requirements inevitably change.

Later in the day, I had my final-for-now FESCo meeting. As some may have noticed, I have decided not to run for FESCo this time around. There are a variety of reasons why this is the case and it's really not worth going into all of them. One thing that will be nice will be having one less meeting a week to need to attend. Although I'll probably still chime in frequently enough from the cheap seats.

After that, it was off for a trip to the dentist. Biked there, got there right on time and then got to wait half an hour for the dentist. *sigh* Eventually got things taken care of and was on my way, if a bit later than I had intended.

Then, this evening, we had another SDM Connect event. I tried to organize it more in the fashion that Alyson had started things off in last year — very informal and low-key. And so I asked the inimitable Yoav Shapira to come and talk about his startup/entrepreneur experience and what helped (and didn't help) from his time at SDM. As usual, he gave lots of good information and insight and it was good to see him again. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and I think that the format kind of “clicked” with people to some extent. Or so I'm hoping. A few people had some ideas about future speakers and I told them to let me know and hopefully we can get SDM Connect to happen again on a more regular basis.

Then, home and now it's time to head to bed. Tomorrow, I'm getting FIOS installed… hopefully they've figured out cable cards (as I'm still quite happy with the Series3 Tivo) by this point and it'll be painless. But, I'm going into it expecting basically the worst given that it's a telecom company. We'll see how it goes.

Quick update

Lots of things to update on, so it's probably just easiest to do a list-style update ala my good friend SPAM

  • System dynamics continues to be a great class. I can actually see myself using it some to try to justify my intuition on what the outcome of changes will be and then maybe have more effective arguments against (or for) various things. Also the Beer Game was a lot of fun last week. To be fair, some of it is supply chain-y, but that just seems like it's because it's the easy examples, not because of any inherent flaw in the modeling approach.
  • SDM business trip is next week. Will be good to see folks again. Will likely be a busy week though. I should actually look at what is planned
  • Kara's sister's wedding was on Saturday so we went down for that. Was nice although I was tired by the end of the evening.
  • Then on Sunday, Kara and I stood in line for iPhones. Line wasn't too bad but we then had extra time due to the first phone they opened for me had a bad screen. And they were good about just taking care of right away, no questions asked.
    Yes, by getting an iPhone, I'm somewhat of a sellout. But it's a pretty nice phone. Although i've crashed Safari a couple of times. But having a web browser that's actually sane for, say, browsing the web is good and HSDPA is the upgrade I had hoped over edge. And realistically, it's not like the Blackberry is more open, or Symbian (although it may someday be) and Android is a farce of openness at present. I'll save my Android rant for another day, though.

  • Took last week easy on the bike to let my injuries recover. But everything's feeling pretty good and the healing seems to be coming along pretty well. This weekend is the Seacoast Safari
  • Need to figure out a good vacation for the break between summer classes and the fall semester
  • Err, I had more to say, but I've forgotten it now. Suffice it to say that I'm sure it was interesting and would have been incredibly enlightening.

A productive Sunday

Unlike many Sundays, today was actually pretty productive. I woke up this morning with the intention of getting in a good ride and I succeeded in doing so. I met up with the Quad crowd down at the shop and went out for a good, relatively high intensity ride. Kept it on the shorter side (45-ish miles), though given all of the other things that were on my plate for the day. After the ride, I picked up some Cytomax quickly at the shop and then headed home. Took a quick shower and then popped over next door for the birthday party for our neighbor's one year old. Talked with people and then bowed out so that I could spend some time working on getting the homework that had piled up done.

This was where I expected to need to spend a lot more time today and really, I'm pretty happy with what the time requirement actually ended up being. The biggest problem with the System Dynamics homework was getting VenSim working. Unfortunately, wine seems to not want to work for some reason now and thus I had to fall back to doing a full machine emulation of Windows 98 (I knew I kept that CD around for something :-). But kvm running Windows 98 seems to hit some bad code paths, so eventually, I ended up using just bare qemu. Which mostly worked, although I still had to deal with a litany of Windows being stupid. But eventually I got things up and running enough that I could install VenSim and do the homework set. Seemed pretty straight-forward and I think that thus far, I “get” what we've covered in the class.

The Systems Engineering homework I had started on some over the past couple of days in short little spurts just gathering my thoughts for the questions. So it was only a small matter of putting everything together to finish that up.

This puts me in a much better place for tomorrow than I expected as I should be able to head into work and get a good day's worth of work in without having to cut out early to finish things up. There will be some final touches to put on things, but it should be reasonable enough to do them instead when I get home rather than having to do them earlier in the day. Now, on to the folding of laundry…

All things in moderation

The temperatures in the Boston area have returned to a much more normal (and thus, moderate) level which has been kind of nice. The rides into campus in the morning have even almost had a little bit of a chill to them. But not enough to matter once I get moving. It's also been impressive the number of people I've seen commuting via bike. This has been touched on in a couple of the biking blogs that I read, but the effects of the gas prices really does seem to be getting more people out on bikes. Especially in this area, that's a very reasonable thing to do. The weather tends to be pretty reasonable from mid-spring to fall (at least) and there's a pretty good amount of bike lanes as well as dedicated bike paths. And even where there's not either of those, drivers here are somewhat conditioned to be used to people on bikes — I actually think that drivers are more considerate to people on bikes in the Boston area than they are to other cars.

But, that said, it's still worth being careful. Just because you're on a dedicated bike path or in a bike lane doesn't mean that there aren't things to watch out for. On a bike path, watch the crossings of roadways and be sure to observe stop signs and traffic signals. In a bike lane, also watch (and obey) stop signs and traffic signals. And in addition, watch out for people getting out of cars. If you can stay out of the door zone, you're better off, but the bike lane is likely to put you right there. So get used to looking through the rear windows or mirrors of cars to see if someone looks like they're going to get out.


The week has continued to be pretty good. I had System Dynamics yesterday which continued to be interesting and engaging. I picked up the book today and started reading some of it and it does seem like a good text on the subject. Hopefully my opinion will hold, especially given the cost of it. Systems Engineering was this morning and seemed a bit repetitive between the last class and the reading. I should have a pretty good group for the project, though, so that should be good.

I've also managed to get in some riding the past couple of days. Yesterday, I went out with Kate and joined the NEBC folks on their Wednesday night hill ride. And they weren't kidding about the hills. Was fun, though, and I want to try to incorporate some of the route into my routine as getting some more climbing practice can't possibly hurt. Today, I joined the MIT cycling team on the ICIC (Intercollegiate Ice Cream) ride — they go out with some of the Harvard folks to an ice cream store at a very moderate and social pace. Nice people on both rides, drastically different types of rides, though 🙂

Also been trying to clean up some yum bugs and finish getting my way to Bugzilla Zero. Down to one bug, but unfortunately, it's a bit of a doozie. But, will keep trying and hopefully come up with something effective. But now, I think it's time to do some reading and then head to bed.

Summer semester begins and an information night

The summer semester began for me today and the weather very much felt like summer… the temperatures this afternoon were in the upper 90s and even now, it's only just below 80. But while many people around here express their discomfort, especially outside, it's comforting to me as it's pretty much July and August in North Carolina — except lower humidity today 🙂

But in any case, I'm taking two classes for the summer. First up this morning was Systems Engineering. I think that the class has a lot to offer, but I'm not quite clear yet on how it will come together. Especially for software. And the presentation is a bit dry. The readings weren't bad, though, and I'll reserve judgement on the whole for a few classes. The work load for the class looks like it'll be pretty normal — a couple of group presentation/papers, readings and then also two individual homework assignments. I am still a little unclear about the sorts of problems we're going to be looking at for the projects, but that will almost certainly clear itself up.

Then, this afternoon I had System Dynamics with Brad Morrison. This is a class that I'm actually very excited about — the sorts of problems that get looked at in the course are interesting and I do still have a bit of a soft spot for making mathematical models for various phenomena. And as an added bonus, he professor is extremely energetic and enthusiastic about the subject and just comes across very well. The odd thing is that it looks like it's going to be a pretty small class — only about 25 people. Sure it's a fair bit of work, but that's still fewer than I expected. But given that we have a number of the full-timers doing internships this summer, I guess I shouldn't be that surprised.

Tonight, I volunteered to help out with an Information Evening for prospective students. I felt it was somewhat important to do as a year ago, I was on the other side of things. And I am pretty enthusiastic about the program and find myself enjoying talking with people about it. Hopefully a couple of the prospective students will take me up on the suggestion of sitting in on some classes too, as I think that's pretty invaluable to get an idea of what you're getting into. Was also nice to get a chance to briefly see Yoav again as he seems to be the omnipresent SDM alum 😉 Anyway, had a good time meeting with people and apologize that I had to duck out quickly, but such is life.