August 26, 2005

Last week was NIWeek 2005. It was my first time attending, and I had a blast :-) I love seeing all the new things NI is doing. The product demonstrations at the keynotes were especially interesting. My favorites were the table saw demo and the ball bearings demo. You can see them both by watching the keynote speeches. Also, because I'm an audio nerd, Alain's presentation on CompactRIO audio algorithms was fun to watch (and listen to). And then of course there's the Virginia Tech presentation on their DARPA vehicle. There was just so much to see and do.
I also want to comment on an article I found on Slashdot a couple days ago. As an Interdisciplinary Studies (IDST) graduate myself (from Virginia Tech, no less), I'm really happy to see the field getting some attention in the press.

One of the more pertinent quotes from the article is "If you have only technical knowledge, you are vulnerable." Because I haven't been in the "real world" for too long (oh, two years is plenty!) I can't say for sure how true this quote is. I do know it's true in my line of work, and I've heard many other people, such as engineers and evelopers, talk about the need to attack problems from many different angles. All I know is, IDST certainly helped me get this job and continues to help me do my job well. IDST focuses on creative thinking, information analysis, and problem solving, both of which can be more crucial to a job than straightforward technical knowledge. For example, as a technical writer, I'm not expected to know much of anything about control design or simulation. I am, however, expected to be able to learn enough about these fields to write well about the products. This expectation involves plenty of facets of the IDST major, from synthesizing information to making cross-disciplinary connections. Perhaps my main challenge at work, or at least the most common challenge, is translating what the engineers/developers tell me into plain English. The IDST major certainly helps with that aspect of my job.

To that end, I would have liked to see some commentary on the combination of computer science/IT and english, which is pretty much the way I went. Those are more disparate disciplines than IT/CS & business. But, like I said, I'm happy to see IDST getting some press.


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  2. Everyone is finally found and in a safe place, refugees are coming to local shelters in a slow trickle now, and they have more "stuff" than they need, by far. I went through some of your linked demos from NI Week. Unfortunately, I got hooked and edited the URLs to view all demos - starting at #1 (and continuing even now). I am finding it entertaining to watch the camera follow some of these engineers and programmers. They don't get out much, do they? They dance around on the stage and it can be dizzying to watch the screen as the camera moves back-and-forth, following them. Each demo is VERY informative and I would suggest that anyone interested in the technology produced at NI browse them.

    My favorite demo is the ball bearings demo. A musical program on PBS used similar technology to create an artistic ballet of animatronic musical instruments and machines. My husband believed it was CGI, but it looked incredibly real. Now, I'm sure that it was. I also enjoyed the DARPA vehicle demo. I love to keep up-to-date on new ideas.

    I agree with the quote, "If you have only technical knowledge, you are vulnerable." I was always told in computer science that one should always program for two types of people: idiots and deviants. Idiots (never held a mouse or think they know everything about computers - and don't) are the people who know nothing about computers, and risk "breaking" the system with the ignorant click of a mouse button. Deviants (hackers, that guy who personalizes the university computer lab computer with a pink bunny background, even though policy prohibits changes) are the people who know everything about computers, and pose security risks to the system, program, other users work, and the network. You need "real world" experience to foresee the actions of these types of people. Just an example, but one you can probably relate to.

    Your degree program sounds similar to mine. Though I have a degree in English with concentration in Technical Writing, it is really a combination of computer science, information systems, graphic design, and engineering. It was an enjoyable major and always offered something new each quarter so I understand your love of IDST. Louisiana Tech didn't seem to think that technical writing is important, so we we're left to make our own way, following very loose guidelines. Plus, it helps to be a little anal retentive when it comes to editing. I like things done right, consistently, and I hate the do-it-and-get-it-over-with attitude of so many of my peers. I need to work with people who care, you know? Work ethic, work ethic, work ethic.... :D

    Glad you enjoyed NI Week and I appreciated hearing from you after the hurricane. It gets bad around here sometimes, but I know things will get better as the storm in New Orleans settles. It's sad.

    I've been meaning to ask you about the music you listen to, seeing as you are a self-proclaimed "audio nerd." I know you mentioned trance or techno. Who/What/When/Where/Why/etc. :)

  3. Glad to hear that you are doing better in Shreveport! The NIWeek demos are indeed pretty cool. You can get to them all from here instead of changing the URL numbers for the individual demos. As far as the engineers, I think most of them did a good job pretending like they weren't acting ;-) Sometimes it got a little forced, but hopefully the audience understands we are not Julliard :-) We even had a tech writer onstage this year, which is a first!

    It's good to hear that other schools offer programs similar to IDST. I'd never heard about it before I joined the major, and that's indicative of a PR problem. So the more people who advocate interdisciplinary backgrounds, the better.

    The best part about that program at Virginia Tech was the ability to combine two minors into one minor. I almost did CS and Communications, but we were going through a round of budget cuts and Tech was offering the necessary classes only to CS majors. So I chose Professional Writing instead, and it all worked out fine :-)

    Audio nerd ... yes I did mention that, as well as techno :-) I spin techno records as a hobby; you know, two turntables and a mixer. I'm also getting into actually creating/producing songs myself. It's a fun hobby, and one that fits very well with my job, because the digital audio industry is almost all virtual now, just like NI is doing to industries in which we compete. Also, Austin is a great place to be into music; there's plenty of opportunities around here (although mostly for house music and not techno). So yeah ... that's what I mean. I have a mini-studio in my apartment all dedicated to electronic music.