“By all these lovely tokens September days are here, With summer’s best of weather And autumn’s best of cheer.” —Helen Hunt Jackson
The timing of this post could not be better, as I have a special topics discussion that is worthy of being the six-hundredth post. After some two months of hardcore procrastination, and then a day’s struggle, I finally finished the pages corresponding to the two blogging awards this here blog was nominated for back during June 2015 and January 2014. The two awards were both offered by Ninetybeats of Ninety’s Blog: both (The ABC Award and Sunshine Award) can be accessed at their respective pages. Now that I’ve completed these, I can at last check two more things off the list of things I needed to do before the summer formally concluded. This summer has been quite the adventure on all fronts. After my first year of graduate studies closed off, I entered the summer with a mission: to completely port my simulator from Unity into Unreal, then capitalise on the powers of the Unreal Engine to build a standalone model. Through the course of the summer, the key differences between Unity and Unreal were learnt, and while the Unreal Engine is superior for almost everything, Unity does seem to have better support for virtual reality implements (such as the Oculus Rift headset and the CAVE) for the present. Thus, leaving the summer, I have a functional simulation in Unreal that is capable of illustrating how biological processes can be represented by similar functions and rearranged in different fashions to yield different pathways, as well as a Unity version of the project to visualise the system in VR environments (but lacking the implementation for the biological behaviours). Looking beyond the summer, I’ll have to consider user studies, publications and begin writing the thesis paper itself, but looking back, it’s been an Unreal learning experience: besides the game engines, I also picked up both Autodesk Maya and Adobe Photoshop to construct different aspects for my project.
- Unlike last year, where I tied a summer’s end reflection with Infinite Stratos, this year’s talk is a little shorter. Besides enjoying some epic ribs and chili-cheese fries in May, I was still learning the ins and outs of the Unreal Engine. The engine’s nuances meant I was often getting stuck, so I took frequent strolls around campus to clear my head. By around mid-May, the cherry trees on campus come into bloom, and although it’s not as spectacular as the cherry blossoms of Washington D.C. or Vancouver, it is nonetheless quite pleasant to be able to partake in hanami (sans Sakura Mochi) on campus.
- June saw numerous evenings out, to Pie Cloud for a steak pie and to Kensington Pub for their Reuben sandwich, while July was poutine and Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich month (the latter of which I drove out to a mountain town for), thereby fulfilling one of my summer goals of trying such a sandwich. In conversation with some friends, they suggested that graduate studies is a time where one must consciously make an effort to find time and relax, whereas with undergraduate studies, free time seems more available. While graduate school does seem less hectic compared to undergrad, free time eventually fills itself with activities such grading assignments and literature search even when one is on “break”.
- Consequently, over the past year, I’ve learnt to enjoy the simpler things in life, whether it’s a poutine enjoyed under the summer sun at a bustling inner city mall, seeing a morning rainbow by sunrise before leaving for work or glimpsing a super-moon peek from behind a mountain by nightfall. It’s been ten years since the Alberta 2005 Centennial, and things have come quite a long way since then: ten years ago, I helped my parents build new furniture and was driven for a trip to the mountains. Ten years later, I’m building furniture for them and drive them out for a day in the mountains.
- I still have the commemorative medallion awarded to students back during 2005, and still recall the fireworks that marked the celebration of our province’s 100th birthday. Today, a decade later, I tested my project within the CAVE and found the configuration that allows my project to work with a wireless gamepad. It’s quite exciting (and terrifying) to consider what the next ten years will entail, but for the present, my focus will be to finish this degree and begin my career. Regular programming resumes tomorrow, where I publish a talk about Non Non Biyori after nine.
Beyond my graduate thesis and research, Summer 2015 has felt like an amalgamation of every summer that’s come before this one, culminating with a day trip to the Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park last Saturday. Smoke from forest fires in Washington had blanketed the area, but a shift in the weather meant the skies were clear on Saturday when we set out. The drive up along the Icefields Parkway was quite relaxing (despite my getting stuck behind a pair of RVs), and we’d reach the Icefields Center by noon, just in time for lunch. The weather in the Icefields is understandably unstable: after lunch had ended, the skies were clear as we took in the sights around the Athabasca Glacier, but in the short span of an hour, rain clouds had rolled in. By the time we boarded a bus taking us to the Skywalk, there was a light drizzle. Thankfully, this did not dampen things too much, and the Skywalk turned out to be quite spectacular: opened just last year, the Skywalk is built along a cliff face that ends in a glass-floored walkway above a 280-meter drop. Under moody, grey skies, the atmosphere at the Skywalk evoked memories of Taroko National Park in Hualien, Taiwan. We spent a good ninety minutes at the Skywalk, and returned to the Icefields Centre in time for the last screening of Through Ice and Time, a local production. Unfortunately, the weather’s patience ended here, and thus began a downpour of gargantuan proportion that made the initial portion of the drive back to Banff a fair challenge. By the time we’d arrived at Banff, the weather relented, and the decision was reached to have dinner at Melissa’s Missteak. This is one of Banff’s oldest steak houses, and has traditional décor that was very welcoming. I ordered the rib-eye steak with a garden salad, seasonal vegetables and a baked potato; grilled to a medium rare, this steak was flavourful and juicy. An evening stroll down Banff Avenue followed, and before leaving, we noticed a super moon rising above the mountains over the mountain town. Here, Summer 2015 draws to a close: the days begin shortening now, and my second year of graduate school will begin in less than a week: it’s time to buckle down and work hard.