Mike's Journal


This page serves as a poor man's blog. I'll add notes from time to time, so that it can act as a(n incomplete) record of my day-to-day (more likely, week-to-week) thoughts, ideas, and activities.


January 11, 2004

And so it begins…

With a new year comes a new addition to my Web presence: a blog. Not that I have anything particularly compelling to add to the general level of noise online. In fact, I'll be surprised if anyone other than a Web spider stumbles across this page; if you do, why not send me some e-mail?


March 15, 2004

Well, that didn't take long, even by my standards. Here's to a renewed attempt to follow through on regular updates. Anyway, here's a quick rundown on recent goings-on:

  • I got back from SIGCSE 2004 last week. It was my first time there, and it was a lot of fun. I picked up a few interesting ideas, such as an "apprenticeship" model for CS1 classes, and I finally found out what "active learning" is all about. Owing to my incurable shyness, I didn't do nearly as much networking as I probably should have, but I did get the chance to catch up with my old advisor from Hofstra. I also ran into Paul Nagin, a former Hofstra professor with whom I co-authored a few instructor's manuals for CS textbooks. He's doing that full-time now, and he seemed interested in having me work for him again. I'm giving it some serious thought.
  • On the job search front, I found a few more possibilities at SIGCSE. I finally sat down and pumped out a statement of teaching philosophy (I'll add a link when I get around to it). With that and my résumé basically done, it's time for me to move on to cover letters.
  • On the research front, I've gotten hooked on Hippocratic databases, by Agrawal et al. Specifically, I'm interested in the problem of resolving limited data retention with the need for data archiving. My first stab at a solution involves self-encrypting database records, a la William Gibson's poem Agrippa, which deleted itself after one reading. Now, I need to work up the courage to speak to one or more faculty members here at UVA to get a sanity check on my idea, and to see if anyone might be willing to work with me on it. On a related note, I'm giving a presentation on Hippocratic databases (and other database privacy issues) for my Digital Signatures class this afternoon; maybe the discussion will generate some bright ideas and/or boost my confidence.
  • On the hardware front, my trusty Pismo has become rather flaky of late. It takes two or three attempts to start up, and it has a nasty tendency to lose its video when moved around -- definitely not good for a laptop. It's been with me through nearly three and a half years of hard (ab)use, so I can't blame it. Preliminary checking on the Web seems to suggest that it's a hardware problem; it might be a loose connection inside, or it might be flaky RAM or a bad logic board. I'm hoping that it won't cost a small fortune to fix. If worse comes to worse, it's certainly earned the right to retire and crunch keys. Faced with this possibility, I finally broke down and ordered a replacement; my spiffy new 15" PowerBook G4 is en route via FedEx as we speak (more accurately, as I write this).
April 14, 2004 I just got back from spending a few days back home on Long Island. It was great to be able to spend some time with my father over the Passover holiday; the change of scenery and the chance to rest were sorely needed.

It appears that the job search is all over except for the shouting (and waiting). Everything has been mailed out (with one exception, which will be dealt with shortly), so it's just a matter of waiting. I've gotten responses so far from Skidmore (they received my application and are reviewing it) and Colby (they just offered to job to someone else, but they'll keep me in mind if anything changes). Oh, and I need to turn in my application for the Instructional Technology Ph.D. program from the Curry School, here at UVA.

On a different note, I have resumed control of the Lounge. I promise to rule as a benevolent dictator, though I'm not above applying an iron fist if the situation warrants. The previous Lounge Tsar was becoming overwhelmed with the sheer enormity of the task; since I have a bit more free time, I stepped in to sort things out. I've already resurrected the Lounge once during my stint here, so why not take a second tour of duty? Fortunately, I was wrong in my fear that the Lounge was in severe financial hardship again (I received notice that a check had bounced; since the account is in my name, I get stuck with the service charge). We seem to have a decent amount of cash on hand; it's just that, for various reasons, the money was never deposited in the bank. Keep writing checks, though, and, well, you can guess the rest. But that's okay. Nobody's perfect.

Trouble is brewing for CIF. Apparently, someone decided to host a Direct Connect server on CIF's rackspace. One of the deans heard about it (from an RIT student, no less), and things got rather nasty, even though CIF had no real connection to the DC hub. The good news is that CIF won't be disbanded; they just have to perform additional community service work as punishment. The bad news is that CIF will no longer be allowed to host accounts for CIF alumni (the accounts were an open secret for quite some time). As a result, we (CIF and the CIF alumni) are scrambling to find an alternate hosting solution before the axe falls. What really burns me (and other CIFfers) up about the whole thing is that CIF is being targeted for something that wasn't sanctioned by CIF (indeed, it was done without their knowledge at all) and hasn't even been shown to have been used for illegal/infringing purposes. Then again, the UR administration has resented us for quite some time, so it's little surprise what happened once they smelled blood in the water.

Oh, well. Enough ranting (for now). Until next time...

May 13, 2004 The job search continues. I spent a few days last week in Minnesota, interviewing for a job at the University of Minnesota at Morris. UMM is a small CS department at a very highly-rated (if relatively unknown) public liberal arts college. I spent a day meeting lots of people, ranging from current faulty to current students to the dean, and I got to give a presentation on the Byzantine Generals Problem and how it affects high-integrity systems (think automotive brake-by-wire systems). Overall, the experience was invaluable, both as a possible route to a job and as general experience in interviewing.

This morning, I had a telephone interview with the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown. Pitt would offer me the chance to teach more upper-level classes, such as AI and compiler design. It's also a tenure-track position, unlike UMM (which is a one-year replacement position). Both schools seemed interested in me, and I'm very interested in both of them as well. Watch this space for further details (and, I hope, good news from one or both of them).

On a different note, while I continue my search for a dissertation topic, I have gainful employment this summer from not one but two sources. I'm working half-time for IATH, doing data entry for the Circus project. Basically, I'm entering lots of data into a massive database that's intended to provide researchers with a massive source of information regarding the history of the circus in America. I don't know all that much about the circus, so the subject matter is fascinating to me. It's incredible how many different circus companies used to exist, and how frequently they changed their names; unfortunately, this also adds another layer of complexity to the process of data entry.

I'm also working as a contractor for Chimborazo, a company started by one of my former professors from Hofstra. Chimborazo, as I may have mentioned before, produces supplementary materials for textbook publishers. My current (and first) project involves creating small projects for students who are learning how to use Microsoft Office 2003.

Finally, I was pleased to discover that the software I wrote for my master's thesis at Hofstra is being used for, of all things, economics research. There's a gentleman in England who's using TCELL to model rational consumers. At least, I think that's what he's doing, based on the summary he gave me. I'm currently working with him to add a few new features and track down some bugs in the published version of the software.

July 16, 2004 Long time, no blog. It's been a hectic two months or so. Where do I begin?

Shortly after my previous entry, the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown invited me down (up?) for an on-site interview. I spent the day meeting lots of folks and gave my standard Byzantine Generals talk (slightly modified for time and content). UPJ was extremely interested in me, especially since I was willing and able to teach some upper-level classes, and I was equally interested in them. Alas, 'twas not to be.

While I was waiting for an offer from UPJ, I got a call from SUNY Stony Brook. They were also interested in me, and we made arrangements for a phone interview. The day before the interview, I got an offer from UPJ. The interview with Stony Brook went very well, and they told me not to sign anything yet. The following Tuesday, Stony Brook called with their own job offer. The position was a contract one, not tenure-track, and teaching mostly introductory classes, but they offered more money and the chance for me to return home to Long Island.

The following week was a difficult one. I spent lots of time mulling over the respective offers, and found myself torn between my two choices. As usual, the decision came down to the last minute, but I finally decided to accept Stony Brook's offer. Just like "The Godfather," it was an offer I couldn't refuse. Since then, I've been busy making moving arrangements and tying up loose ends here at UVA. My father is due to arrive in town this afternoon, and he'll help me spend the next week packing up all of my stuff.

On the work front, I'm now on my third project for Chimborazo. I just purchased a Windows laptop for that purpose, and I find myself confronted with computing in a hostile environment (thanks to the flood of Windows worms). The Circus project is also going well; I've begun to enter information about performers, acts, and circus travel routes. There's even talk about continuing the work after I leave UVA (at the end of this week). Stay tuned for further developments...

Current Final Pepsi/iTunes song count: 5/11 (5 winners, 11 bottles)