Monday, August 15, 2011

Impressions of SIGGRAPH 2011

Last week I was in Vancouver for this year's SIGGRAPH conference - not presenting, but as a lab trip.  As the website says, the "conference and exhibition is a five-day interdisciplinary educational experience including a three-day commercial exhibition that attracts hundreds of exhibitors from around the world. SIGGRAPH is widely recognized as the most prestigious forum for the publication of computer graphics research."  These are some of general impressions of my first SIGGRAPH experience.

 Fellow lab member Jamie and I outside the convention center.

Location. Being able to stay in Canada was nice for us (especially since we could use our cell phones and data plans).  Getting from the airport to downtown was a matter of taking one train for just half an hour - very convenient!

The convention center was split into two buildings - east and west - but it was no
problem getting between them for what I wanted to do.

Venue. I thought the convention center was amazing.  The rooms were well equipped, the decor was appropriate, there were plenty of washrooms and water fountains, and the views of the water were wonderful.

Exhibition.  I wasn't a huge fan of the exhibition as I personally found it overwhelming and overly commercial; however, for those that like seeing all the newest products and services, and don't mind the scale, it was probably quite good.  It was obvious that much money was spent on the booths there.

SCVNGR. The Google booth at the exhibition advertised  a SCVNGR opportunity to get some Google swag.  I figured it might include actually looking more carefully at some of the other booths there, but that definitely wasn't the case.  In the end I found it to be unclear (I could only win one prize even though there were two rewards listed in the app for SIGGRAPH), and mostly disconnected from the actual location (some of the challenges were just math puzzles).  It didn't enhance my experience at all.

Animation Festival.  One day when I was too tired to take in any more talks, I spent the afternoon watching animated shorts.  I enjoyed this way more than I anticipated! The quality was spectacular and there was much variety in the animation styles and the stories.

Courses.  I took in a couple of courses throughout the week.  I was a little surprised by how little they resembled actual courses.  Instead, they were pretty much a series of lectures on a particular topic.  Huge audiences, no interaction, and not much practicality (though this may have just been what the ones I attended were like).  I still learned a few things, but feel like I could have learned a lot more if the format was closer to a workshop.

Technical paper presentations.  I actually didn't end up seeing a huge number of paper talks since I figured I could read papers later more easily.  The presentations I did see were like most that occur at conferences: not very good.  The expected standard of talks involve text on PowerPoint slides and presenters who forget that oral communication is a very different thing from written communication.  There was one great presentation that I saw, but I will save writing about that for when I do another post about the game papers.

Emerging Technologies.  This was one of my favorite parts of the conference.  There were so many interesting or just plain fun exhibits.  I particularly enjoyed the pregnancy simulator vest that gave the wearer an idea of what a kicking baby and a growing belly and breasts would feel like.  Being that I'm almost five months pregnant myself, I wish my husband could have tried this out. ;)

While the pregnancy simulator suit grows, you see information on the screen that
explains baby's current status each week of the pregnancy.

Art Gallery. This was with the Emerging Technologies.  Some of it was pretty neat, but some of it I didn't really "get."  Art can be like that.  I was most taken by the remote wind exhibit.  The idea was interesting and the result was relaxing to watch.

These wispy grass-like metal structures moved according to how the wind blows in some remote location.

Overall, I liked SIGGRAPH.  I was regretting going at first because we had to leave for our big east coast vacation only 30 hours after I got home from Vancouver, but I'm glad I got to experience it.  Whether I end up back again to present one day or not, it was well worth experiencing this conference at least once.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Our First Ultrasound (Technology is Awesome!)

I got my first ultrasound on Wednesday.  Baby was 20 weeks old.  I think the grandparents-to-be were more excited about the baby itself; we just might have been more enthralled with the technology that allowed us to see it.

Still images don't really do these machines justice.  They look a lot less clear than the moving images shown on the screen in real time.  It was fun to watch a very active little baby do everything from yawn, kick and punch, and put its hand on its forehead.

It was almost just as fun to watch the technician do her thing; it was amazing how proficient she was at switching views, making measurements, and replaying the cute things baby did right after they happened (we watched the yawn a few times before moving on, for example).

I have to wonder exactly what has changed in the last few decades to make the technology so much more impressive.  Is it a case of better engineering, and signals the machines send and receive are simply more accurate? Or is there some computer science going on to correct the images as they are formed?

Either way, it's thanks to this super awesome technology that we now have our very first picture of baby giving us the finger.  Granted, this one's not all that high quality, but the zoomed in arm and hand make a memory we'll love having for years to come.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Do I Want to Be an Entrepreneur?

Even though it's early, I have been starting to think about what I want to do when I graduate. Teaching is high up there if I can find a good local job doing it, but I have also been toying with the idea of starting something of my own.  But, at this point, I can't quite figure out if I actually want to be an entrepreneur.

Lemonade, anyone?

Pros: I would be able to combine all of my current passions in a creative way: teaching, outreach, and educational games.  There are several areas of opportunity, from consulting to application development.

Cons: Entrepreneurship takes a lot of time! From what I can see you have to be willing to put in many, many hours, and our lifestyle has been more about balance than working much more than a regular work week.  Plus, there's that whole having a baby thing to throw into the mix.

Just for fun I took this Entrepreneurialist Culture Quotient Test that I found through a friend.  I scored somewhere in between being suited for a regular job and entrepreneurialism - perhaps, it suggested, I should consider a partner.  Hmm...

The pros, cons, and good characteristics to have (written by the same person as the test above) don't seem to make the picture any clearer.  There are as many things that excite me as scare me on these lists.

Luckily, I don't have to decide yet.  Over the next little while, I'm trying to make use of some of the great resources friends have shared to learn more and more about the possibilities.  Before I'm done my PhD I'd like to take advantage of a program like Lead to Win, or perhaps a less "actually start a business when you're done" version of it.  Maybe some business idea competitions (like the Nicol Challenge I participated in this year) would be a good place to test the waters.

Anyway, here are some of the resources I have found so far.  If you have any others, or any advice you can give me, please do share in the comments!