Pandemic Diary #71 – reflections on graduate school (20 Nov 2021)

all the ways grad school let me down (or i let myself down?)

  • no five years of stability in income and health insurance
    (which would have been way worth the pay downgrade to me — if i wanted my life to be so unstable, i could have just done contract work…)
  • no traveling and eating on other people’s dime
  • no making cool robotics friends around the world
  • no being excited about teaching undergrads and inspiring them about robotics and making sure none of them fall through the cracks

good things to come of the last 5 years

  • i’m no longer scared of equations, and i can understand why the precision is needed. bring on the set notation
  • i learned what proofs are
  • i got an A in a serious grad class & finished a cool controls project, no one can take that away from me
  • i published a first-author paper! for a long time felt like it’d never happen. so, professors can’t just dismiss me outright
  • i got a robot arm to throw a knife
  • i met and talked to so many cool people ! so many people’s doors are open to me if only i have it in me to ask
  • i got to present a paper, and people told me the presentation was really good πŸ™‚

it’s weird that now as a “senior” grad student, in grad school i almost entirely hang out with people younger than me (and way more accomplished). i remember when i felt like i was turning a new leaf and maybe there was a chance to do well for myself

and all the while i’ve yet to review any papers etc.

if i was here two years ago – before the pandemic feels like it took over 1/3 of my grad time — i would be pretty excited actually to start this field (ai for social good). now i just feel in a rush to leave… but that leads to poor work. (i’ve never felt like i’ve had the time and stability to do good work, to really show what i’m capable of — but isn’t that true for everyone). in some sense i could still aim high, i know at least one person who published just one paper in five years, it was a really good paper and went on to postdoc at a good school. but i feel so tired

things i want to do within the next 1 year:

  • newport bermuda or newport halifax races — do long ocean passages & learn safety at sea. maybe an all-female BVI or Mediterranean charter
  • pass my quals, graduate ! (just make something up when profs ask you how this fits into overall field, like you did for your fellowships!)
  • publish two first-author papers in AI for social good
  • finish at least 4 of my side projects

next 2 years

  • get a nice cushy job that isn’t too stressful
  • make it to six figures in nominal savings (three fund portfolio) (i estimate this should be a year of industry-competitive salary) or live abroad for 3 months
  • sail across the atlantic ocean
  • idk do the life thing
a stray made friends with me at tal mixta cave in gozo

i was just sitting on the floor of the cave resting due to my ankle and it walked up to me and started kneading my dress. could’ve sat there and enjoyed the view for hours. pretty grateful to semi-stranger (met at conference) for totally unplanned touristing, this cat will probably be the highlight of my trip. i feel accepted and appreciated now

Pandemic Diary #70 – solo injured travel internationally T^T (20 Nov 2021)

so i sorta set my mind for a workcation / solo travel / living abroad

then two days in i sprained my ankle T__T first time spraining it. at least it’s not such a bad sprain, i can put weight on it without hurting. my foot is definitely swollen though even now three days later

this caused a strange set of events, like getting pushed on a luggage trolley by a world renowned robotics prof in order to catch the tour ferry, getting piggy back rides from people i met three days ago, and getting accosted by like every other person on the street asking if i need help

i’m not certain if i’m overplaying it, i move like snail speed right now. i think i can probably trust my foot more but i’m scared to since i remember that pain

hopping around and also hobbling around on a cane is so much effort

mostly i’m a bit sad i can’t do work and then take a walk around the seaside ! and i’ve been so exhausted just from every day things that i haven’t been able to get much work done πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™ πŸ™ and motivation is low when sitting is tiring since i’m trying to keep my foot elevated, and the chair at the airbnb is totally the wrong height.

still, so far so good in terms of travelling logistics. smartphones and the internet make it sooo easy. i set up google fi (which did require chatting with the agent once in malta to fix my connection issues T__T) and so i could comfortably book airbnbs, and also scooter and cab rides through my phone (they required text verification so another +1 for google fi, free texting)

Malta is surprisingly like LA, 90% the signs are all in english, and almost everyone I’ve encountered also speaks almost perfect english

ths ankle sprain really drove home how much simpler in some ways it is to travel as a two-person group. of course there’s more possibilities of drama esp. if not on the same wavelength, and logistically can be time-consuming to agree on schedules etc. But it would have been really nice to have someone be able to handle luggage and get groceries and things. Still, everyone i’ve met has been so nice…

I feel quite silly babying my ankle so much, and attracting so much attention, when it doesn’t even really hurt most of the time. (more like growing pains than anything acute). but also like i really want it to heal in two weeks and not two months. and, since i got the injury from rushing (legit some stranger on the street told me to take it easy, and i was like eh i’m okay… SUCH KARMA), i figure it’s not a bad idea to take it slow.

compression socks are so expensive bought in a random pharmacies! and also they have sizes >__>; a pharmacist was insistent i was size small, later i measured, def. medium, and probably not good to over-compress my foot lol. and, people here don’t say canes, they say “walking stick”. the first pharmacy didn’t have one and suggested i look in a tourist shop for a wooden one LOL fortunately the one two doors down had a cane

at first being injured made me feel quite far from home and a little lonely even. still, overall i am feeling pretty okay

i have been sleeping a lot. this new room is on the 5th floor but the sun is filtered through a canopy and a terrace so it feels a bit like a basement room.

i guess that i still feel quite weird about international travel, so no pics for now, except for this cat which appeared at the conference

ok just kidding, here are some more pics. halloumi dog — delicious fried cheese

i went grocery shopping while hungry — everything is in english o.o these are quite tasty — a lot less sweet than i’d expect in america, which i really like

accessibility tools: on-demand car services and scooters, via smartphone app

(i paid a sweet $70 for a google fi unlimited plan because I didn’t want to mess around with missing work, and i dislike the mental energy consumed by rationing data. it’s been great for using the scooter, rideshare, whatsapp etc. apps)

i got copies of the book our paper is in! i’m putting them to good use as a laptop stand

on the desktop you can see my timezone reminders — in the bottom right, I used shell clock, which replaces clock with output of a shell command. also google calendar allows you to have two time zones, so i screenshotted and annotated that with the 9-5pm of my work mates.

okay the calendar bubbles are not actually how much i’m working, just rough time blocks so i don’t thrash that hard between my main projects

see where a comment has the command for timezones, and . one-click browser install, so handly. then go to gnome-tweaks and extension settings. i used “””bash -c “echo $(date +’%b %d %H:%M’) \(EST $(TZ=America/New_York date +’%H:%M’)\)”””

(the codes are at


it was so good to hang out with roboticists, i don’t feel like i got to know them that well. i wish that i could go again but i doubt that i’d ever have the spare cash to just throw $1k at a conference registration without including the travel and accomodation fees (this time around it was covered by NSF). it felt really awkward to hang out with people talking about $150 per diem meals and $3k flights while i had paid my way on the cheapest flights i found and staying in airbnbs. but my roommate put a positive spin on it that it was neat that i yeeted myself into another country for a few weeks.

also a bit strange to remember when i was so enthusiastic about this new world of academia i was discovering, and excited to contribute to society and talk about cool things with cool people

hopefully this resolves some of my urge to live abroad? (probably i just made it worse, i was expecting to have much more difficulty getting around — in some ways montreal felt a bit more foreign as there the signs are also in french o.o). and even more hopefully i get enough work done to feel confident about taking my qualifier exams. (it was interesting hearing about how all the different phd systems are set up in different countries ! i guess that’s how people end up applying to postdocs in other countries). then i’d consider it a good trip and good monetary investment (?) regardless of how much i get to trave/not travel (due to my sprained ankle)

i am not sure if these are functional but they are around

the afternoons and evenings of the conference were guided tours of malta, so i did at least get to see the main tourist sites and the different scenic views of malta πŸ™‚ and now, time to work

Pandemic Diary #69 – international travel (17 Nov 2021)

i’ve done it, i’ve broken my red line and eaten indoors with a bunch (30ish) of other unmasked people. they are all vaxxed to enter malta but still yeesh

all it took was feeling grumpy about spending a large amount of money, being surrounded by 30 other people I have spent some time getting to know over the last two days (including some wizened professors) who are willing to do so…

?? well I guess I will get tested again (for the first time!) at some point to enter the US.

but my presentation went well apparently?! and I got the sensor demo working (with lots of help / borrowed equipment)

it was nice to hang out with roboticists again briefly and just think about how cool robots are. it definitely has that feel of “these are my people” that I get a lot less of from pure CS unrelated to robotics. and, the professors here do seem like nice people

maybe i just need to actually talk to some CS-based AI for social good professors outside of my program — I guess that I must first publish a paper to do that

but also, I am running out of my self-allotted time to do so. i am in year 5 ! (jeez I have so much work to do in the next two months — it’s always like this — i should take more time to finish my 10 year backlog of side projects, as that will make me happy, but graduating on time-ish would also make me happy…)

still this is a weird feeling to remember how fun / excited i used to be about research and robots and learning about academia for the first time. i guess that actually this is my first in-person conference where i am presenting my own work, and it’s a really intimate setting (30 ish people, 3 professors who are just having a good time)

malta is surprisingly less foreign, the appearance is really cool, the signs are somehow 90% in english, it’s interesting. maybe it will feel stranger when i get outside of the conference / hanging out with conference people

the airbnb situation is okay, i realized i really like having a private bathroom even if i share the room with a family (which i was a bit concerned about in terms of COVID, but ?? the host keeps saying i can take my mask off inside lol). sadly i have not really had a chance to talk to them as i have been just barely waking up in time for conference until now

the jet lag honestly has not been so bad. mostly the first night i stayed up quite late to finish demo / slides, and then the second night i crashed and then woke up to perform daily ablutions and then was up for a while, and then got bit by mosquitoes and woke up repeatedly lol

but tonight i finally slept well!

sad to think this is the last day. maybe i will take some time in the next ten minutes to try to remember people’s names and topics and schools, i have been so out of it

and google fi was a disaster, but finally i contacted phone support and hopefully it is fixed?

the presentations have been interesting. there are some small details (like small font on axes titles, colors that don’t work well on projector vs screen), it’s nice to have gotten stuff out of way with roommates

still it’s clear that mine is a one-off paper (and that no further work has been done since final submission), perhaps just improving on the possibilities for gelsight designs, which are maybe helpful for robotic manipulation, while other people have much more a sense of how their work fits into a bigger overall picture.

it also forced me to think about my current research vis-a-vis the larger picture. i am getting pigeonholed into HT vs the broader CS community which i dislike. i think the solution is to dig into fairness, but in an applied way (not theoretical), as it’s what i spend a lot of time thinking about.

but i must do the work. in some search really excited to settle in saturday and spend ten days just grinding on research (…with side work on bank stuff = visualization work, and research work = rl agents). i feel like i made a recent restart (was stuck on database design for no reason?!) and am eager to get started