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A tale of Ice and Fire

Snowies! It finally snowed here! Snow makes everything so pretty... and also reverts me to a mental age of 9 or so, when everybody would rush to the windows whenever somebody said the magic word and watch the swirling flakes with awe. I was actually jumping up and down in the lab this afternoon. Fortunately, the lab was empty, so nobody knows my deeply embarrassing secret.

Sadly, the snowfall only lasted about 20 minutes, and began to melt immediately. I went food shopping 3 hours later, and the snow was almost all gone -- replaced with ice. It melted, but then froze. There was a fairly substantial amount of black ice around... not the most I've ever seen, but definitely noticeable. Especially in my running shoes, which turned out to be quite flat. I hadn't noticed it before, but they're really not intended for slippery conditions.

On the heat front, it's still working. But the (deliberate) heating times are inconvenient to say the least -- the residence only turns on the heat for one hour in the morning, and from 18:30 to 23:30 at night. If you come home at 17:00, you'd better be prepared to leave your jacket on!

At first I thought the "heating times" were a quaint British custom (like high prices and football violence), but when I mentioned it to a labmate he was shocked. Apparently it's just one more instance of the university accommodation sucking.

Real work was delayed for another week: I've gotten involved in the programming for the bow sensor project. This is real EE&E programming -- it's on a PIC microcontroller (smaller than any of my fingernails). We need to pore over the datasheet, figure out that if we put 0x50 into register TXRDYSND.H and 0x01 into TXRDYSND.L, then we can put the value we want to send into the TXTRMT.H / TXTRMT.L register pair. Different registers have different functions depending on what you've put into other registers previously. Fun!

I'm really enjoy this stuff. This microcontroller in particular is collecting data from 4 or 5 different sensors, then sending it all over a bluetooth chip. We have another bluetooth chip on the other end, hooked up to a RS-232 port. The undergraduate is quite good at hardware, and it's all his own design. So we do a combination of programming, looking at the output on a scope, and sometimes even sticking a multimeter on the wires or copper to check if any of the etched tracings are accidentally touching. We think that happened once; after he carefully scraped away a few places that were suspicious, the output looked much better.

In case you're wondering, the bow sensor is a long-term project in the lab (somebody's going to have to work on it in the future, and having somebody with a passing knowledge of the system is will definitely make that easier), and I checked with my supervisor before getting involved. The guy's project is almost entirely the hardware, and in industry they'd have a hardware+software guy working on it, so my involvement isn't going to be a problem for his grade.

Apparently it's Christmas soon. Feels like early Nov to me, but oh well... I bought a pair of slippers for the lab. No, they're not the wonderfully girly fuzzy slippers I got for home; there are "manly house-wear", as the undergraduate put it. Dark blue, not fuzzy, etc. I change into them as soon as I get to university.

I also finally bought a violin shoulder rest, and started practicing Bach. No, I'm not going to say something horrible like "it eases my loneliless". Nor am I going to say something even more horrible like "playing Bach makes me realize that we're all together in a cosmic sense". No, I'm practicing Bach (the second solo violin sonata or partita, whichever was easier. It's the one that's all fairly easy, until the last movement which is impossible) because it's an appropriate level for me, and I need to get better before I can start playing in public with other people. If I'd started earlier, then I'd be seriously looking at joining an orchestra in the new year, but I doubt that I'll be good enough. Also, having a £50 violin doesn't precisely help. Not that I'm complaining -- a poor craftsman blames his tools. A good musician should sound decent on any instrument; a poor tone quality doesn't exist bad intonation or lack of bow control!

Buying that shoulder rest has caused me to re-evaluate my research direction. The current plan was to a year really nailing the rhythms -- how do musicians perceive them, how can a computer grade like that, analyzing music to automatically create meaningful rhythmic patterns, etc. I still think that's not a bad idea.

However, there's nothing for me personally in it. Oh, I'm really looking forward to doing the rhythmic analysis and whatnot... but I don't need to practice rhythms. Violin intonation, on the other hand, I really do need to practice. But in my original plan, I wouldn't even start that for another year.

Now, I'm not thinking about abandoning rhythms -- I'm just musing with the idea of banging out a quickie. Slap together a python application for testing violin scales. Nothing fancy... no finger patterns, no arpegios (although those wouldn't be hard to add), no grading mechanism supported by extensive surveys of muscians, and no fancy graphics or animations. Just an objective listener that gives me a score. Something that stops me from blasting through stuff and saying "meh, close enough".

It should only take a day or two... hey, that would make a nice Christmas present for myself. "Merry Christmas, now start practicing your scales seriously".

Last night (Saturday), I tried to do laundry three times, but there were no free washers at 21:30, 22:30, and 23:45. This morning (Sunday), I went there at 11:00 -- completely empty. I'm sure there's a joke in there somewhere.