Supporting the Pavilion Lake Research Project

I am in the middle of a two week-long field work in Pavilion Lake, British Columbia, Canada. This is my first official “NASA” field test trip in a remote site and I am very excited to be here with the xGDS team from Intelligent Robotics Group (Tamar and Dave) to make sure our software helps the scientists operate smoothly as they collect and analyze data about microbialites.

Pavilion Lake, BC, Canada
Pavilion Lake, BC, Canada

Microbialites are rocks that are formed by bacteria. They are most often found in very harsh environments and are often many million or even billion years old. The ones in Pavilion Lake are especially of interest to the scientific community because they grow in fresh water that also support other living species. From what I understand, studying these microbialites provides an understanding of really ancient microbialites that were formed billions of years ago on Earth, and it may provide clues to origin of life on Earth and ultimately clues to life on other planets.

A better / more accurate understanding of microbialites can be found here: pavilionlake.com 😉

Microbialite sample
Microbialite sample

The software my team and I wrote is called Exploration Ground Data Systems (xGDS). It’s a pretty amazing tool that helps scientists plan their flights, take time stamped notes, view and analyze video data, images, and basically whatever data they collected out in the field. They use it to plan, execute, and review the entire research project.

Allyson, a scientist, uses xGDS to take timestamped notes while viewing video and noting the location of the ROV via xGDS tracking system.
Allyson, a scientist, uses xGDS to take timestamped notes while viewing video and noting the location of the ROV via xGDS tracking system.

There are many things I really enjoyed and learned from Pavilion Lake Research Project, and one of them was observing how effectively this tightly-knit group of scientists and engineers were led by Darlene and her team. We operated on a tight, busy schedule that began with a 7am meeting, then a morning flight with divers in the lake with xGDS supporting, then lunch, then an afternoon flight with divers and xGDS support, then dinner, then evening debrief at 8pm (after which  our team would go back to the trailer to code some more). The days were busy and hectic, and I am slightly woozy from lack of sleep my eye and hand are swollen from the mosquito bites. But it was so exciting!! And I learned so much about team work and productive work schedule from her team.

Science team meeting at the end of the day.
Science team meeting at the end of the day.

In the previous years, the underwater data was collected using a manned-underwater vehicle (basically a submarine). During this year’s test, however, we used underwater ROVs’ (remotely operated vehicles) with cameras to collect footages and sensor data underwater. There are three ROVs’ and you can see one below (his name is Seamor).

Seamor is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that goes underwater to collect various data including video and sensor data.
Seamor is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that goes underwater to collect various data including video and sensor data.

Sometimes the weather in Pavilion Lake would  be freezing and windy. But the next day, the weather would flip and we would get nice sunny weather like you see below!

Enjoying the sun after days of rain and cold wind.
Enjoying the sun after days of rain and cold wind.

So checkout pavilionlake.com for information regarding Pavilion Lake Research Project. It’s been a great fun so far, sprinkled with lot of laughter, jokes, and lots and lots of adventure coding 🙂 And I am super excited for this network of scientists I now know. They are the greatest, funnest bunch 🙂

Picking up the brush again…

It’s been about four years since I’ve drawn/painted anything. I think I couldn’t justify the act of drawing/painting – I mean, I wasn’t going to become an artist. My profession is clearly in computer science and everything else seemed like such a waste of time. Recently though, I met someone who convinced me to pick up the brush again and get back to painting. I watched Casino Royale with him and the image of Vesper Lynd stayed with me. It sort of shocked me that a Bond Girl can be witty, brainy, and vulnerable (as well as beautiful – I think you have to be if you are a Bond Girl). Anyway, Here are the paintings:

SIGGRAPH 2012 Recap

SIGGRAPH [Sig-Graph]

Definition: Name of the annual conference on computer graphics (CG) convened by the ACM SIGGRAPH organization. Dozens of research papers are presented each year, and SIGGRAPH is widely considered the most prestigious forum for the publication of computer graphics research.

Our paper, Updated Sparse Cholesky Factors for Co-Rotational Elastodynamic, was presented at SIGGRAPH. Here’s a picture of me and Florian (first author) doing a silly 40-sec advertisement of our session during Tech Papers Fast Forward.

SIGGRAPH Fast ForwardSIGGRAPH ends up being a big re-union of friends since graphics industry/academia is so tightly knit. The left half of us met at PIXAR during the Summer Internship. Lot of us ended up in the visual effects studios including Pixar, Weta, and Bungie and we started our new jobs within few months of each other. The right half are my friends from Berkeley Graphics Lab. Everyone loves technology, art, and being a nerd. I loved spending time with these like-minded people. 

Curiosity landed on Mars succesfully on the first day of SIGGRAPH. There was a viewing session set up at the Geek Bar in Los Angeles Convention Center. A fair amount of people came, including my family who snuck in to the geek bar to watch the landing with me. I believe my mom cried during the landing. It was so emotional and I felt so proud to be an engineer.

And I got some quality time with my family and my parents’ not-so-small-anymore pug. It looks just like Frank the Pug from Men in Black. This pug changed our family dynamic from a grouchy family to a loving family. It loves everyone it meets. Here’s me pinching its velvet-pin-cushion cheeks.

One of the best things about SIGGRAPH is the screening of selection from the SIGGRAPH Animation Festival. I got to watch Disney’s new short Paperman, which is screened in front of Wreak it Ralph. The style of it was an interesting blend of 2D and 3D framed in photographic black-and-white. I watched it three times, and during the third one I teared up a bit. It moved me in the best way. Definitely a dreamer and romantic’s pick of the evening.

I also loved the style of Twinings commercial called “Gets You Back To You”. My favorite part is when her feet plunges in to the shallow ocean. Makes me want to walk along the shores of Seal Beach before I head back to Silicon Valley.

During downtime, I wandered into the SIGGRAPH Bookstore. It’s awesome because someone already did the work for you in selecting the books in your interest range. I ended up buying bunch of them:

Herb Sutter, Andrei Alexandrescu
I heard of this book through an amazing coder I programmed with at Berkeley. He was a C++ guru and when I asked him how he picked up C++ (Berkeley doesn’t teach it to you) he mentioned that he read a red C++ book over Summer. I assume it’s this one since it’s one of the more well known red-books on C++.

The DSLR Filmmaker’s Handbook: Real-World Production Techniques

Barry Andersson, Janie L. Geyen
I am considering purchasing a DSLR and shooting videos in my spare time (weekends tend to be open). Reading a book about production usually doesn’t help with the process unless you absolutely have no clue as to where to start. Well, I have zero knowledge and any starting point will probably help.

An Interdisciplinary Introduction to Image Processing: Pixels, Numbers, and Programs

Steven L. Tanimoto
Can’t wait to read this book. It looks at image processing from creative and artistic as well as technical point of view. 
My friend Josh bought this book. I picked it up again at the store and read couple pages and realized that it’s directly related to projects done by my team at NASA. It covers terrain reconstruction among other topics. I can’t wait to read this one and hopefully implement it for planetary bodies. 
More detailed blog on technical talks at SIGGRAPH will be coming soon, including the ones on Mobile GPUs. So stay tuned…

As an Outsider Looking In.

It’s beautiful and tragic to stand against the wall, hearing your friends talk about the most vulnerable stories of their life, their suffering, and their private sorrows. It’s beautiful because it enables you to love that person for sharing a part of themselves so freely. It’s tragic because you are the outsider looking in, wanting the change to happen now so you can obliterate the cause of suffering. But we all know that this is wishful thinking for now.

The stories were about living in the United States as an undocumented student. By now, I feel familiar with these stories and half expected myself to feel a bit blasé. But these stories are somehow endowed with new meaning from each retelling. They present new revelations about life and about your friends. You marvel at the things you didn’t know even after knowing your friends for more than two years.

Stories were read aloud as part of the reception for a new website launch, http://www.thingsillneversay.com.  The purpose of the website is to share the personal stories of immigration, especially from the undocumented students, with the wider audience. Many of the stories on the website are from peers who attended the same summer writing workshop I attended. We gathered in San Francisco and critiqued each other’s stories about our lives as immigrants.

It was a bond forged in sharing the most intimate part of our lives. The darkest periods that we vowed never to think of again and tucked safely underneath our consciousness. I remember how difficult and frustrating it was to bring them to surface again. But we agreed tonight that the experience of writing and reading them aloud healed us in many ways. The broken immigration system in the United States had scarred us in ways that we were not aware of until we reflected and shared. We healed through opening up and acknowledging that there is a community of us who went through the same trials.

The stories are usually about parting with loved ones. Grandfathers and grandmothers whom we left behind, knowing we’ll never see them again. It’s about the everyday objects from our previous lives that seem so precious in our memory now. The sibling who’s left behind without visitation rights. About wanting to apply for scholarships that demand social security numbers. The feeling of being considered an unwanted outsider even when we are not.

My friends ask me what I’m up to these days. I fumble through my answer, feeling tremendous guilt by the fact that I have a job at NASA when my friends are barred from working anywhere. Our only difference is the nine-digit number that grants a work authorization. We all find it silly and confusing that these nine digits can hold so much power. I feel as if I am looking in from the world of opportunity, only nine-digits away from the world that stops dreams midway through their fruition. I’m looking forward to the day when this separation no longer exist; a land where all of us live free of anxiety and fear, a land where everyone is truly equal.