Category Archives: MIT SDM

Design Challenge 2

And just like that, DC2 is done. Or at least, mostly so. Our presentation was this afternoon and we stayed a while last night to do some trials and ensure everyone was on the same proverbial page. I'm pretty happy with how itsturned out, too. I think that as far as a solution goes, we came to something which is reasonable and makes for a nice “system” (which was a big part of the exercise). And then there was a part which is waaaaaaaayyyyyyyyy out there, but it did fit into the system 🙂

One thing about DC2 that I'm very happy about is that our presentation wasn't the typical powerpoint death by bullets. The more I sit through them (… and there are some professors that do them), the more I dislike them. It really is a terrible way to convey information and it ensures that people in your audience just sit and read rather than listening. Convincing my group of this took a little bit of work, but I managed in the end and I think I might have even sold some of them on the philosophy in general.

Then tonight, we had a get-together at Character's to celebrate the end of DC2. Pretty much everyone went which was good for chances to talk to people. I really do like everyone in my cohort and it was nice to be able to talk to them without an assignment being due. Well, that's not entirely true. There is still a bit to be done (have to finish up the DC2 paper, one more big paper, one small memo and a homework assignement), but it's a lot more managable.

And once that's all out of the way, January will be over. The time has flown, but it's been really good to get back into the mindset for classes. And it's been good to be able to get to know a number of my classmates. The January session is definitely a very valuable and important part of the program — I'm sure that it's going to help me out over the coming months in a variety of ways. One downside of January being over is that about half the class will head back to wherever they are from and be distance students as opposed to being around on-campus. But, I'm used to working with people over the 'net, so it shouldn't be too bad. IM/jabber and maybe even we'll see some IRC usage pop up 🙂

But now, it's time for bed so that I can get up in the morning for the Creativity Workshop in System Architecture.

Another week of January gone

Another week of the January session is over and with it is the end of the first of our classes, Probability and Statistics. I thought that the class was well done for a 15 hour (five 3-hour classes) refresher over all of the big pictures of probability and statistics and it got a few neurons firing which hadn't done so in a while. It's hard to believe that at this point, I'm a little over halfway done with this part of the program. It'll be nice to start a more “normal” class schedule, though.

Once all of the required bits of the day were done, I headed over to the Muddy for some of the celebration for the 13-month SDM '07'ers (and 24 month SDM '06'ers, although I know fewer of them) who finished up their theses today and are thus ready for graduation. After some talking and sitting around, a group of us headed off towards Bertucci's to grab some dinner which was good.

Then, I headed off and hit up J5 and clarkbw's housewarming party. Got to see some folks from work as well as meet some new people which was good.

Then, headed home and now I think that I'm about to head off to get a good night's sleep. On the agenda for this weekend is maybe some biking as well as definitely getting a fair bit more work done on various bits of classwork and DC2. Might also try to squeeze in a little bit of bug fixing just to keep from getting too rusty with bugzilla 😉

16 January 2007

While the robotics competition is over, there's still been plenty to do as part of IAP. We've had a pretty steady stream of homework for both Statistics and System Architecture. And the assignments for both of these have definitely had some time commitment behind them. As I look at the statistics longer, it's coming back to me quicker, which is good at least. But System Architecture is pretty time-consuming.

In addition, we've really been spinning up our work on solving global warming. This has involved quite a bit of reading and research. It's been pretty interesting to read, especially some of the counter-opinions. But But it's a pretty overwhelming amount of stuff to wade through.

FUDCon sounds like it was a bit of fun and that a lot of good stuff got accomplished. I'm sorry to have missed it, but at this point, there's definitely no way I could have gotten out of class stuff to make that happen. I am at least back to looking at mail a little more, though, and so am feeling a little bit more caught up with what's going on. And I look forward to the real semester starting and being able to sink my teeth back into some Fedora stuff while continuing the classwork.

Robo-Olympics Wrap Up

The Robo-Olympics took place yesterday basically all day. It was quite a bit of fun to see what decisions everyone had made on the various areas of their robot. While everyone started with the same basic stuff, there ended up being quite a bit of variation in the robots. Also, some of the creative aspects for the opening ceremony and the synchronized dancing were great. There definitely were groups who were more creative than ours 🙂

From a technical perspective, our robot did pretty well — things mostly worked. The archery was hitting the distance consistently, but the tendency to go to the right hurt our ability to hit targets. The relay pieces were unfortunately hit a bit by some of the obstacles being difficult for our robot to navigate. The true surprise of the day, though, was our robot taking the Tug of War competition. I really have no clue how it happened, but it was pretty cool anyway 🙂

Overall, our team came in third out of the ten teams which I'm quite pleased with. Then, we had a bit of a celebration and then it was on to homework for System Architecture and starting to think on Design Challenge 2….

And done

And it's done. Or at least, as done as it's going to be. In the morning, we just need to install new batteries and do a quick check to ensure that everything is still running well and that nothing spontaneously combusted overnight. Then, the competition will tell the tale.

On a perhaps interesting (and only vaguely related) note, the difference in traffic on the streets between say midnight and 3 am is striking. I think I passed a total of ten cars biking home. The lights all worked in my favor, too. This made it one of my fastest trips home yet.

Now, for sleep.

T Minus 8 Hours

Classes started on Monday. For IAP (January), we have three classes in addition to the design challenges and various orientation and cohort-building type bits. They are a Statistics and Probability refresher, the first chunk of System Architecture and The Human Side of Leading Technology.

Statistics and Probability is, somewhat surprisingly, stuff that I largely remember the concepts and just having the equations at hand is enough to get me through it. For once, I guess that my having most of a math degree is going to help me 🙂 The professor at least keeps class fairly interesting. The problem sets are somewhat time-consuming, though, with the first one to take about three hours.

We've only had one session of System Architecture, so far, so I'll reserve judgement. Previous students have made their own opinions clear, but I'm trying to keep an open mind. The challenge for the course, I think, will be making it apply more to software as opposed to just the more traditional “physical” engineering disciplines. Luckily, a good chunk of our class are software people, so there should be a fair bit of interest in that.

The Human Side of Leading Technology is an awesome class. The professor is very engaging and has a variety of good examples from all kinds of industries. His book also looks pretty good from the little bit of reading that we've done so far and I suspect I'm going to end up reading all of the case studies in it even though we don't have to for classes. There are also a whole lot of things which are relevant in the class.

As for the design challenge, our robot is coming along pretty well. I'm very happy with what we've got for three of the five events. One of them just isn't something that matches the core competency for our robot design. And the final one just fell off from a time perspective (both ours and the team we're working with). But there's only so much you can do — tradeoffs have to be made and you have to just do the best you can at your core competencies. Someone said (and I can't remember who at this point, so unfortunately I can't properly attribute them) that one of the things the January program is supposed to do is teach you the art of triage. And at this point, I think triage includes the fact that our synchronized dancing just isn't going to be the best.

Now to go do some final testing and then head home to get at least a few hours of sleep before heading back in the morning for the competition to begin…

January session underway….

The January session for SDM is at this point well underway. We started on Thursday. Given that the high for the day was expected to be around 7 (Fahrenheit), I decided that biking in was not the best idea. So I took the T, got in and picked up my T pass. Then, headed over and we started out with an introduction both to the program and to all of the rest of the members of my cohort. It's a pretty impressive group of about sixty people with a variety of backgrounds and experience. There are a number of IT and software folks as well as some more “physical” engineers.

Just before dinner on Thursday, we got our first design challenge and our teams. The design challenge is to build a robot to take part in the Robot Olympics using LEGO Mindstorms. There are five parts to the challenge. The first is to have the robot come in for the “opening ceremonies”, the second is a relay competition where we have to race with another robot through an obstacle course following a line path on the ground, the third is an archery competition where have to hit a target with a ball, the fourth is a tug of war and the final part is a synchronized dancing routine with another robot.

I immediately had to find a way of programming the NXT brick from Linux rather than using the provided Labview based Windows software. It turns out that there's actually a pretty nice little compiler called NXC and also a perl script that can be used for uploading to the brick. Realisically, I find this a lot easier to visualize, think about and work with than the graphical stuff. One of the other software guys on my team is more comfortable with the graphical stuff, though, so we've split the work and are doing some with each 🙂

The robot has been a lot of work so far as none of the tasks are trivial and details continue to be revealed making things a little bit more difficult. After a full day's work today, though, I feel like we're really on a good track for finishing things up in time for the competition on Thursday morning. But, my entire weekend has been spent down in E40 at MIT.

Friday, in addition to some time for working on our robots, we did a variety of team building exercises with some people from the Thoreau Center. Overall, I thought that they were pretty good little exercises, but things went on a little bit longer than perhaps they had to. It was a good chance to spend some time with the members of my team, though, and thus, was pretty valuable IMHO. As I said, the weekend has just been all robot, all the time. Thus, no time really for riding or much else. On the plus side, it's warmed up since Thursday and so I rode into Cambridge yesterday and today. It's actually a pretty nice ride and the time is virtually the same as taking the T, so I look forward to doing so more over the next few months. Plus, it'll give me some good riding time even when I don't have time to get out with the Quaddies every day of every weekend.

And now, I think it's time to head up and try to get some sleep. Tomorrow, we start to have classes (in addition to the design challenge) and I already know that there are a few hours worth of statistics homework to accompany the lecture.

School begins….

Tomorrow is the start of school for me. One thing about the SDM program is that it starts out with what is affectionately referred to as boot camp in the month of January. That is full days every day with more to do than there really is time for. So you can expect me to drop back in visibility some over the next month although I'm hoping both to keep up with email and be pretty active blogging about the program. We'll see in a month how well I've done on both counts. But now, I think I'm going to sit back and relax for the rest of the evening.

Oh the weather outside is frightful

Overall, having a pretty good weekend. Friday evening, headed down towards Fenway to have dinner and hang out with some SDM folks. Met another person in my cohort who had just moved to the area from Lebanon to start SDM. Also present were some of the by now I guess “usual suspects”. Had a good time at dinner and we then migrated over to play some pool for a bit. A good time was had and we eventually headed home.

Yesterday, the morning ride was cancelled due to poor road conditions. Instead, I shoveled a path for my car and took it up to the dealer to turn it in. My lease is up soon and between the shuttle to the office from Alewife, public transit to Cambridge and biking around town for errands, I no longer had a need for a car. Kara still has her car for when we need to go somewhere via car, but this way will let us save a bit and also just seems like the “right” thing to do. After that, we took care of some Christmas shopping. Also while we were out, I looked a bit for some more suitable shoes for the snow, etc… unfortunately, everyone else has now had that idea also and so things were pretty picked over and I didn't have much luck.

Today, we were supposed to be getting together for a friend's birthday but the accumulation of snow and ice thus far might make that more challenging. Especially if the management company doesn't show up soon to start clearing walkways, etc. And with my aforementioned lack of boots.

SDM Alumni Conference, Day 1

On Thursday, I spent the day at MIT for the SDM Alumni Conference. Very well put together and the location (the Broad Institute at MIT) was quite nice.

The day started off with a talk by Paul Carlisle on “Address the Challenges of Distributed Innovation”. And the first sort of case being discussed actually ended up being open source development. It was interesting to sit and listen to how an observer perceives the open source community. And the perception tended to be very positive — to the point of saying how some of the things done in open source could apply to other areas. One of which was research into finding ways to repair the damage of MS. This was incredibly interesting — basically, there has been some improved work here by having researchers share all of their research, the successes as well as the failures, as it happens. And this is pretty similar to how the bugfixing process occurs in open source. One of the big things taken away here is that opening up to more participation in processes helps to foster increased innovation. It's how science has (traditionally) worked, it's how open source works, … Good stuff

The second session of the day was Michael Davies doing an overview of the Technology Strategy class that he teaches each year. This session was really broken down into two pieces. The first was some ideas on how to improve decisison making. Some good bits there. The second part of the session was a quick runthrough of a number of hot topics in technology and strategy. Open source again made an appearance. It's no wonder that all of the students in the program that I've talked with have known about Red Hat and open source and had a reasonable understanding of it. The other hot topics discussed were aesthetics and usability, portfolio management and (again) decision making in R&D. The course already looked interesting, but now I'm really looking forward to taking it this spring.

The last session of the morning was Dan Frey doing an overview of the Systems Engineering course. Sadly, not the most interesting of the presentations. While I think there are some nuggets of usefulness here, they're going to take more time to fully digest and really get to the bottom of. Also, a lot of the material is better suited to more “traditional” engineering disciplines than software.

After lunch, we came back for a pair of talks on “The Internet and the Human Network”. This led off with a talk by Sir Tim Berners-Lee. He started out somewhat with a review of how some things on the web have evolved and continue to evolve. One of the important points there was that the rapid feedback cycle has led to a much better experience than is sometimes seen. He then went through some of the challenges facing the web right now — User Interface, Information Policy, Resilience, Collective Quality Assessment, New Devices and Collective Creativity. The final bits were some on the Semantic Web, as most of his presentations seem to be these days (based on looking at the w3c site). While interesting, I don't know that I buy it fully. But, time will tell.

The final session of the day was a guy from Cisco talking a bit about how they use Web 2.0 technologies within Cisco. Not much interesting or different there to those active in open source — wikis, get ideas from anywhere, use emerging social-networking types of sites to build up things further. Interesting tidbits I took away were that search for wikis, internal sites, etc are a problem for everyone and that everyone has too much email to deal with. These are actually specific cases of the more general problem of “information overload” that I think we're having to deal with a lot. I'm not sure what the answer is there, but I suspect it's something I may spend some more time thinking about over the next little bit.

The day finished up with a dinner and reception at the Hyatt overlooking the Charles. Was a good time — got to talk some more with some of the people in my cohort as well as current students and alumni. Also, (more) good food. It's good to see that I'm unlikely to go hungry while in school 🙂