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Category Archives: academia

Ascension to Doctorhood


research complete

research complete, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Well, okay, I’m not Dr Brochu just yet. There’s a list of minor revisions and some paperwork ahead of me. But on Friday, November 26, 2010, I successfully defended my thesis and passed my doctoral exam, so the days of gut-churning anxiety are finally over.

It’s disturbing how similar this feeling is to what I felt when I finally beat Nethack. (And I thank former fellow Kommunist and Nethacker Eddy for the title of this post.)

Page, count!


thesis page count, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

Holy crap. It’s 2:13AM on a Friday night, I’ve got Mogwai playing on the stereo, and I think I might actually kind of be done writing my thesis. I feel… odd.

(Well, done until Nando and my committee read it and tell me to go revise it all, but still.)

[Brochu, Brochu and de Freitas, 2010]


I’m a little late in posting this, but I managed to get accepted to the 2010 Symposium on Computer Animation with my paper, “A Bayesian Interactive Optimization Approach to Procedural Animation Design”! I’ve added the pre-print PDF to my publications page, and there’s even a video, which explains the whole thing in under five minutes (with no math). So lest anyone question what a Machine Learning person is doing trying to get into a computer animation conference, behold!

I’m pretty happy about getting this accepted for a couple of reasons. First, it’s a big part of my thesis, so getting it accepted to a good venue is a major step toward finally graduating. And second, it means a free trip to Madrid to present it! Hopefully I’ll be mostly finished writing my thesis by that time (early July), so I’ve already booked a bit of an extended tour that takes me to Paris for a few days before the conference and lets me stay in Madrid for a couple of days afterward. My brother-slash-coauthor Tyson gets to go, too, so that should be fun. Especially as he actually speaks French, so he can deal with any potentially snotty Parisians for me.

After that, it’s off to Australia to visit Janelle. I’ll be flying in and out of Brisbane, which is cool, but we’ll also be spending a good chunk of time in Melbourne, which I’m stoked about. From all accounts it’s a really cool city. I’m imagining it as kind of a mix of the best aspects of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Will I be disappointed? Don’t worry, I’ll let you know.

I’m also hoping to talk to people in Melbourne in the research community (for start-ups in particular, but in general, too), so if you happen to know anybody, or know anybody who knows anybody, or you Uto are that anybody, you know what to do.

a return


phantasy of phinishng a phd, originally uploaded by Mister Wind-Up Bird.

So for those keeping track at home, I took leave of my position at Worio last month to go back to work on my PhD full-time. I’d been either a non-student or part-time for the last two years, which seemed kind of incredible to me. How the hell did a six-month leave turn into two years? I guess by extending it and then getting sponsored to be a research intern, is how, but that answer seems too literal and lacking the existential resonance I was hoping for. So I’ll just say that the PhD is simultaneously the best and worst thing I’ve ever done. I’m glad to be back and gladder that the end is finally in sight.

But for now, I’m fully immersed in the full-time grad student lifestyle again. It all came back easily, as I immediately had to dive into submitting a paper to a fairly high-profile conference. Which means the past month has been the tick-tock of an approaching paper deadline with far more to be done than time to do it. Days with the sickening feeling of knowing you’re procrastinating and feeling powerless to stop it. Other days enjoyably lost in elaborate code, listening to Four Tet and Aphex Twin. The sudden happy click when a once-obscure paper starts to give up its secrets and make sense, or the rush of getting a really clever idea for solving a problem. And then biking home from the lab, exhausted, in the early morning hours, and passing through Kitsilano, which is still and quiet and smells like flowers and marijuana and the ocean.

All that, and I kind of think the paper I submitted was not-so-good. The code stayed buggy, the experiments unconvincing and the writing something less than a model of clarity. Oh, well, the “good” news is, there’s always another conference deadline coming up soon!

Until I’m finally done, and then there isn’t.

thesis status = begun


So I’ve officially started writing my PhD thesis. I’ve downloaded the latex template and written an outline and everything.

My typical thesis-writing day goes like this:

9 AM Bike to the lab.
10 AM Procrastinate.
11 AM Procrastinate.
12 PM Stress out about procrastinating. Man, that was a long bike ride into school. I’ll be able to work better when I’m not so hungry.
1 PM Lunch.
2 PM Procrastinate.
3 PM Procrastinate.
4 PM Stress out about procrastinating.
5 PM Really stress out about procrastinating.
6 PM Really, Mawlaik really stress out about procrastinating.
7 PM Jesus, I have to go home soon, and I’ve done nothing all day! Why am I so lazy and stupid!? Aaargh! At this rate, I’ll never graduate! Time to really buckle down, no matter how long it’s going to take!
7:10 PM Cut and paste two pages from a paper written two years ago. It’s going to have to go in, anyway. The notation doesn’t match, but I can fix that later. Maybe I should make a file to put all my macros in? It’ll make it easier to keep everything consistent.
7:20 PM Recompile thesis file. Hey, with the title page and table of contents and table of figures and chapter headings and bibliography, it’s already 8 pages!
7:30 PM Well, no point forcing myself to stay all night, that’s just masochistic, and a masochist I am not. And anyway, I’m hungry. Head home.
8 PM Eat dinner. Watch about 6 episodes of buy neurontin cod Peep Show. I’ve earned it.
12 AM Oh, God, I was at school all day and got nothing done! Nothing! I’ll never graduate! Tomorrow, no excuses, I am going to work.