Yesterday after lunch, we chose our “Deeper Dives,” small projects where we learn in more depth about one topic. The three options were 3D printing, immersive unity projects, and shaders (programs that say how objects are rendered, for example, to make them shiny). I was really hoping to be in the shaders group, because I’ve been fascinated by materials on 3D objects since I first started working with Maya, but only ever at the level of playing with the many options availible in the UI, rather than writing my own shaders. We all wrote our first through third choices on paper, and then handed it in so the staff could count up the preferences and decide who was in what group. In an incredible stroke of luck, everyone got their first choice: exactly four people wanted each of the three options.
After deciding our groups, we started an intro to the topic. In my group, we discussed the basics of what rendering is, from vertexes to geometry to surfaces to rasterization to color. We did an overview of the capabilities and options of the Unity basic shader, with which you can make most materials, and had time to experiment with how changing values or adding normal maps changed the appearance of objects.
After work I didn’t do much, just ate leftovers, cleaned the kitchen, played games, and went to bed early. This morning, I got up early to pick up milk at the community center because I’d run out.
When we got in to work, we had a seminar on interviews with Denise Vrchota. The session was informative, but even discussing the interview process makes me extremely anxious and unhappy. I’m not very good at almost any of the skills you need to do well in an interview (eye contact, body language, talking about myself, etc.) and thinking about/practicing an event where much of my future depends on those things makes me feel really bad. I’m still feeling anxious right now, and it’s not clear if that’s a direct response or something else, but anxiety is really unfun. After that, we had lunch here, and I went to the library to get coffee, which was nice because it’s beautiful outside today. This afternoon we’ll have our weekly meeting with our professor, so after this I will prepare for that.
Yesterday, we (almost) finished out lit review! While it still needs some editing, I think all of the necessary content is there and in paragraph form, which is great, because it means that we won’t have to write again for a little while.
After work yesterday, we met to design our t shirt. I knew that past groups had group t shirts, but didn’t know that each group designed their own. If you’ve never designed a t shirt by consensus with 11 other people, which, if you’re not currently in this program, I assume you haven’t: it is an intense experience. It took 40 minutes to pick the color of the shirt and of the font, complete with poling, argument, and a weird voting system where everyone got a single “yes” vote and “no” vote, so each person could essentially put a positive point into the color they liked and a negative into the one they disliked. If a color had more “no”s than “yes”s, it had a negative score. It’s was kind of funny because before going into it, I think most of us didn’t really care about the t shirt, but during the discussion we suddenly cared very much. Thankfully, Kira had made a really nice design that we all liked, so at least we didn’t have to argue about that.
I went home and had leftovers for dinner, then continued reading the Circle of Magic books by Tamora Pierce, which continue to be good.
This morning, we had another class on unity, and talked more about scripting and UI. I made a scene where clicking a button labeled “purple mode” made the sky color fade into a purple tinted version of the sky. After that I looked at some Maya tutorials – this school has access to the site Lynda, so I’m able to see some extensive courses on stuff that’s hard to find in non-paywalled sites.
For lunch, I went to the library cafe to get my usual of coffee, a bagel, and dessert, but they were tragically out of bagels, so I frantically looked up a map of dining on campus to figure out where to get food. I found a place called the Courtyard Cafe, which was one of the closest options, which has pastries and coffee like the library, but also made-to-order sandwiches and hot food. The special today was garam masala chicken, and I’d been in the mood for Indian food, so I got that, and it was pretty good! Because I hadn’t planned for going as far as I did for lunch, I had to rush back, but it was fine.
I just realized that I have never posted a picture of the place where we spend most of our time, and I don’t think that anyone else has either. So for future reference, here is the workstations we have in VRAC:
Yesterday we spent more time in Unity after lunch, during which we learned about scripts. I improved the visual coherence of my scene by adjusting lighting, materials, and most importantly, by setting distant objects to appear faded, a concept known as aerial perspective, which is evident in real life when, for example, distant mountains appear in increasingly paler shades of blue. It can also be used to give the impression of fog or low visibility, like you might see in a snowstorm. It makes the sky and the rocks feel much more connected/part of the same scene. Here’s the before/after on my scene:
When we got home, I had leftovers for dinner, as planned because I made enough food for the week during the weekend. I decided to reread one of my favorite books from when I was a kid, Tamora Pierce’s Circle of Magic. It’s definitely written for a younger audience, but despite that it was still really great. Reading a book with a cup of chamomile tea was really nice.
This morning, we had a seminar on the Craft of Research on literature reviews. It’s interesting timing, seeing as our team lit review is due this afternoon. We had some time to work on that before a lunch lecture on graphical realism and hyperreality. It was an interesting concept: it’s not every day that you get a presentation that includes both Call of Duty screenshots and Baudrillard. The research itself was more down to earth, having to do with the rate at which people can distinguish fabricated/altered images, which is, according to two studies with small sample sizes, depressingly low. To be fair, we also struggled to recognize altered/fabricated images during the presentation. During the question period, I got overly caught up in questions of photojournalism standards for what counts as an “unedited” image and how people decide to draw lines on such a blurry subject. It may seem straightforward, but taking a picture is full of decisions that could be thought of as editing, like adjusting the shutter speed to allow more light. Interestingly, adjusting shutter speed is usually seen as fine, but brightening an image on a computer is not, and it’s interesting to me to learn about the justifications for this.
This afternoon we’ll finish our lit review and then talk about it with our grad student. I’m sure it will need editing and changing as we go forward, but I can’t wait to be basically done with it.
Fun fact: I had to google how to spell “twelfth.” Anyways, Friday afternoon we worked with Maya more, and I spent most of my time trying to make a reasonable water shader. I kinda wanted something that worked with my low poly aesthetic, but also had properties like the right index of refraction. I was inspired by this image but couldn’t figure out how to do it. Unfortunately, I never got to something I was actually happy with, but maybe I’ll do some more on that later. Here are two images of the pond-in-progress.
This weekend I basically did nothing and slept a lot, which I’m fine with. I had nothing to do, and no social energy, and it was a heat wave so going outside wasn’t fun, so I mostly slept, played some games, and cooked. I made enough food to last me the week so I won’t have to cook after work. I made stir fried broccoli and vegetable egg fried rice (inspired by indo-chinese fusion). I also made homemade baked macaroni and cheese.
This morning, we started to work with Unity. I’ve used Unity in a limited capacity before, and am happy to get to work with it more. We talked through the basics and made a scene with a snowman. Terrain is really difficult to make not look terrible. Here’s an image of the project in the editor and in the scene view. Excited to work on it more!
Yesterday afternoon we continued to review the papers we’d found, and, after much stress and anxiety, we finally started writing. It’s an interesting experience to be in a group where the other two seem to despise writing as much as I do.
After work, me and my roommates took a bus to walmart to go shopping. I bought mostly vegetables and spices, and actually regret not getting more of those things (especially ginger. Why didn’t I get ginger.) When I got home, I realized I’d forgotten to get the mac and cheese part of the mac and cheese recipe we were going to make, so my roommates made their mac and cheese recipes, and I decided to do something else. I was really in the mood for Indian food, and decided to try to make some sort of tomato based curry. However, I couldn’t find a recipe I had all the ingredients for (most involved chicken, plain yogurt, or cashews, and all involved ginger), so I decided to splice a few recipes together to make basically chicken tikka masala/chicken makhani sauce, with chickpeas instead of chicken, which I marinaded with cream and lime because I didn’t have yogurt and lemon. I cooked spices, onions, and tomato puree before adding the cream+chickpeas. Despite replacing probably half the ingredients with other, similar ingredients, it still came out really well! Key strategy: just a lot of spices (especially cardamom).
Between going shopping and cooking, I ended up eating really late, like 9 PM, so I went to bed pretty soon after.
This morning we had another section on Maya, where I learned about some interesting tools I hadn’t known of, like a tool that distorts a mesh along a sine wave. After that, we continued to work on our house scene, so I made the actual house part, in addition to a rock, flowers, and a bush. I really like working with Maya, and I’m sad that we only have 2 days of it. I’d love to get to the level of “actually competent,” as opposed to where I am now, which is “watched a few tutorials can do basic things very slowly.” Anyways, here’s my scene currently!
On Wednesday afternoon, we worked with Maya. I have limited experience with Maya, but enough to understand how to navigate the interface and use basic tools, so I started making things pretty much immediately. The mini-task for the lesson was to make a small scene of a house on some land, probably because that can easily be done with rectangles. I decided I wanted to make a tree to go with that, but uh, got overly focused on the tree and didn’t make the house part. I went for a low-poly style because I am still very slow at modelling and that requires much less detail. I ended up losing track of time and was surprised when it was 5 pm, because I get really immersed in doing things in Maya. Here’s a pic of my tree in the editor!
At home, I finished off some leftovers for dinner, and played a little of the game Hollow Knight, a really beautiful 2D platformer. It has really cool paralaxing effects that make the hand drawn spaces feel like the have volume.
This morning I was woken up not by my alarm, but by thunder. I usually sleep with the window open – during the night it’s cool, and therefore the best time to get fresh air – so I heard the thunder at full, rattling volume. It was raining really hard, with some hail, and I was worried about getting in to work. It also was the kind of weather that makes you just want to stay in bed forever, but I managed to get up. Thankfully, the rain let up before we had to leave, so my shoes weren’t soaked, but it was unusually dark out for the morning. We got several flood alert warnings throughout the day. I took these pictures of a (usually dry) construction site with a newly formed pond.
There wasn’t much on the schedule today – just a lunch lecture – so we work ed on our project. We spent much of the morning trying to make sure that our research question hadn’t been done before and looking for anything even remotely related to incorporate. This afternoon we plan to start the actual writing part. If you know me, you know I have some issues with writing, so I’m feeling anxious and not looking forward to that, but I’ll do my best. Hopefully working with a team will make it more manageable. I’ll tell you how that goes tomorrow!
Excuses first: the schedule was different on Tuesday so I didn’t do this during the normal block of time for a blog. Anyways, on Monday afternoon, we did some more solidworks, by which point I had a reasonable grasp on the interface and was able to build several objects that they gave us plans for. We went home, and I watched more E3 videos. I made a pseudo-ratatouille(no eggplant, more sauce) to go with some leftover pasta for dinner.
I had decided that I needed to get some eggs, milk, etc., but I didn’t want to make a whole trip to a grocery store, and the community center near us closes at 2pm. So I decided to get up early and go shopping at 7am. I got a breakfast sandwich while I was there.
In the morning there was nothing scheduled, so we worked on our project. There was a lunch lecture about using graphic design to improve outreach to marginalized communities, which was interesting. After that, there was a Craft of Research session where we talked about citations, a necessary but uninteresting thing. Soon after, we met with our grad student to talk about the project, and then floundered for a while, extremely unclear as to how to proceed. At some point Elliot called us all into the conference room to talk about how the program was going generally. As soon as that ended, we went over to another building, where we were meeting Michael(our professor) to talk about the plan for our project before he goes away to Russia for the next 3 weeks. Stephen (Gilbert) was also there, because he’ll be guiding the project in Michael’s absence. I think the impending deadline of Michael leaving pushed us to actually clarify what we’re doing here, and at long last, we have a more concrete plan. I walked home because it was nice out, and Victoria and I ordered Chinese takeout, which was delicious.
Today we had another session on solidworks, where we focused on assembling the parts we’d been creating. For lunch, I got a burrito from a food truck, but it was a weirdly ~artisinal~ burrito, with like, kale in it. It was good, but not what you expect from a food truck burrito. I walked over to the lake, which took a while due to construction detours, and ate by the water, which was relaxing. This afternoon we’ll start looking at Maya, which I’m very excited for, because I’ve used Maya before, but it’s been a pretty long time and I was never amazing, so I’m looking forward to some time to relearn some of that.
On Friday afternoon we finished the C++ module. I felt a little disappointing – it was a Very brief/introductory thing, which absolutely makes sense within the time restrictions of the program, but nevertheless I wish we’d covered more. It’s also very difficult when the experience in the room varies from multiple C++ courses to no programming at all.
That afternoon I went home and didn’t do much. We got takeout from panera bread for dinner, but did nothing interesting after that.
The next morning we had a field trip to a ropes course. I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy it – I’m not particularly active, nor interested in team building. However, the program was well run, and managed to make the team building exercises not only not obnoxious, but sometimes actually fun. There was also an activity where you are in a harness and they lift you up and then have you swing around. Someone probably posted a video. The other thing was a large tower which you can climb, with difficulty varying from rope ladders to swinging poles with rock climbing handholds. When climbing, you were in a harness and had a person handling the harness to make sure the tension was right. I climbed it, which was fun, but it kinda scared me when I was high up and some of the rockclimbing grips were loose, even though I was on a harness.
When we came home I was even more tired than usual. We decided to make “inside out” chicken tacos for dinner but accidentally set off the smoke alarm while heating the oil, which worsened my growing headache. The dinner was good but by the time we finished eating I was feeling pretty terrible. I loaded up a game I’d got a few days ago, having no idea what it was or if it was good. It turned out to be great – I haven’t finished it yet but what I’ve seen is very cool. It’s called Subserial Network, and it’s basically an interactive text adventure where you play by browsing a version of the internet created by robots after humanity was exterminated in the singularity. It’s heavily inspired by early 2000s internet culture and the author’s experiences as a trans woman, and its really good? I tend not to love interactive fiction because there’s so much reading that it sometimes feels like it would be better as a book, but the fact that you interact with it like you would the internet and that it’s really well written make it great.
I can’t describe Sunday morning, because I slept through it. I slept until 4 PM, totaling 15 hours of sleep, which is not terribly surprising given I’d had to wake up early for the last 6 days. I ate breakfast/dinner and watched silly video game press conferences. I did laundry and made caramel french toast bread pudding for the morning.
Today we had our first course on Solidworks, which is interesting, but I kept getting frustrated when clicking on things just did not do the thing they said it should do. Most of the time, this was because I had something else selected already, but occasionally no one could figure out what the problem was. This was frustrating because it made me feel stupid for following the instructions and not getting the right results and being unable to determine why. I felt like I was asking for help too often, but eventually got a little more used to it and had a smoother experience. After that I got lunch in the library cafe, which was nice. That’s all for now!
Whoops totally forgot to do my blog post yesterday! So I will simply be covering both days, and therefore both posts, in this one. When we last left off, I was finishing Wednesday’s post. After that, we did some more C++, then went home.
However, there was a huge storm – some of the most intense rain I’ve ever seen, and thunder that you could feel as well as hear. Unlike the rest of the group, who are apparently much smarter than me, I didn’t think to chart a course through various buildings to the bus stop, and instead just walked through the rain. I was wearing shoes that have zero waterproofing, and I really didn’t want to get them wet (they take forever to dry), so I did the clearly logical and obvious thing and took of my shoes, and walked barefoot through intense rain to the bus stop. I huddled under a ledge until the bus came, and met up with everyone on the next stop. Part two of the challenge came when getting off the bus – it’s probably a two minute walk from the apartment, which usually seems like nothing, but in rain like this felt impossibly far. As we got off the bus, it started hailing, so we ran into the community center(about halfway between the bus and the apartment). We stayed for a few minutes, but the rain seemed to be holding steady, and we figured we’d eventually just have to make a run for it. So we did, with me sprinting barefoot across grass, pavement, and rocks. As we neared the apartment, Ahmed, who’s idea this had been in the first place, slipped spectacularly. It was quite an experience. At this point I looked like I’d jumped into a swimming pool, so I changed and put everything in the dryer. We put some tater tots and chicken in the oven, and I sauteed some vegetables.
The next day was less eventful. We started the morning with a talk on the history of HCI, including a very brief history of computers, then a breakdown of the three “waves” of analyzing how humans process and respond to information and interact with computers. We also talked about how the roots of much of what defines the modern technological sphere can be traced back 50+ years, and that the history of most things involving tech is longer than you might think. After that, we had a lunch lecture with Jim Oliver, the director of VRAC. It was mostly about career advice and how grad school works. We then worked more on our “mini-task” of creating visualization and discussed our approach with our professor.
After work, we had a scheduled game night, which I was not looking forward to because I was quite tired. However, as people started a (very large) game of Uno, I noticed the book for a game called Microscope on the table. I’d heard of Microscope – a collaborative storytelling tabletop game – and was interested in playing. I brought it up and Ilan said it was his book, and we convinced a few people to play in another room. We only played for an hour, during which we were able to set up the timeline of the game, and roleplayed one event, involving a wizard named Chad on a marketplace in a moonbase. Clearly, based on that last sentence, Microscope is a very good game. When we came back to the main room, everyone had left, so we walked home and discussed the aesthetics of abandoned places. Also, I spotted two very cute bunnies. (The campus, but especially the area near the apartments, is overrun by surprisingly unafraid bunnies). I didn’t know where the other group had gone, so for dinner I had leftover pasta, but I made a new cream based cheese sauce to go with it.
This morning we did more C++. For lunch, I got food from an Indian food truck and ate by the lake, which was nice. Now I’m writing this absurdly long blog post – definitely the longest one yet, but, to be fair, it does cover two days. That’s all folks!
When we last left off, I was writing yesterday’s post. After that, we had some time to continue working on our lit review, and then met with our grad student and professor. While we’re still having some issues with communication(I think each of the five of us has a different idea of what’s happening), we did successfully talk over the in-progress lit review, and got assigned a “mini task” to practice doing visualization. Following the meeting, several of us went to Freddy’s burgers for dinner, which was quite good. They also serve shakes and malts there, so I got a vanilla+salted caramel malt. We took a wandering route back to the apartments, sort of touring the parts of campus we had yet to go to.
This morning was the first grey sky I’ve seen since over a week ago. The clouds looked really interesting, almost bubble-like. When we arrived we did some more C++, and talked about a structure I haven’t seen yet, called “switch,” which is basically a way to have cases instead of a ridiculous number of if statements. Once the class was over, we started brainstorming for the mini-task. Again we ran into some issues with people having different unspoken ideas of what we were supposed to be doing, which they didn’t speak, even sometimes when asked for details, because they thought it was obvious. I wish people could be…blunter? Be less worried about seeming condescending or whatever and just spell it out all the way? It’s fine now, I think we’re on the same page, but it’s getting pretty frustrating that this kind of thing happens. During lunch break we went to pick up checks, which were far away, then had lunch near Fredrickson Court. I got a sandwich which I didn’t love, but other people had burgers and chicken that looked good. We headed back, and now I’m finishing this blog post! Time to work on the project more before another C++ class.