Category Archives: Work

Christian at work in Boston

Christian at MIT Lincoln LabsChristian has been to work for three days and it looks like he is getting his arms around things in the lab. He really likes the area where he lives although he says the culture is a little more direct. Actually, he did not exactly say “direct,” but you get the idea. He hopes to look around a little in Boston this weekend, maybe get in a workout and see the art museum across the street.

On another note, we got a call today from our builder, Mark P. He said the granite guy called him and wants to install the granite in the kitchen tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM. Lorena was very happy with that. The appliances were supposed to go in this week and the granite next week, but it looks like it will be the other way around. We should have some pictures to put up tomorrow.

The only things we have left after the appliances are the backsplash, painting and a few odds and ends. It will be nice to be able to cook on a stove and in an oven instead of on an apartment balcony grill.

Vancouver and the new job

Vancouver Hilton near my new jobI drove up to Vancouver, BC last night to stay at a Hilton close to where the brand new corporate offices of my new company are located. It is a beautiful drive up from Centralia and the border crossing is not too bad. Every time I come up here I think, “I don’t remember it being this beautiful.” It is truly an amazing place with snow-capped mountains, lots of beautiful stretches of water and a huge, cosmopolitan city. I am looking forward to being here now and then and my company says it is fine for me to bring Lorena.

Christian goes to Boston for the summer

Christian's hotel room in Boston (Lincoln Labs internship)Christian flew from Tempe to Boston yesterday to start an internship at MIT’s Lincoln Labs. He moves moved into a dorm at Northeastern University close to (or in) downtown Boston sometime today yesterday and will be shuttled over to the labs every day during his stay. This is another milestone in his march toward his degree. It seems to be a long, long way from laying on the floor learning arithmetic facts during his homeschool days.

He is a one or two years away from finishing his PhD and starting to think about what he wants to do next. He has made his own way economically and in the running of his household since he left home after his Bachelors degree. My level of participation in his education has stood at absolute zero since then, too. It is not that I wouldn’t like to help, I just do not have the skills or knowledge. I know his work at Arizona State and at Lincoln Labs is very demanding both in the hours he spends on it and the complexity of the work. He will be glad to finish.

Update: Amazingly, this is the view from Christian’s dorm room for the summer. He told me he got into the room last night. My understanding is he can see the Boston Museum of Fine Arts right out his window.

Cheap cameras used for unintended purposes

Cheapy USB camerasI will have one more work week in Texas after today. I enjoy my job and the people where I work a lot and it was agonizing to turn in my notice. Part of the job I love the most is the requirement to create sophisticated machine vision and video analytics applications with cheap USB cameras and ARM embedded computers that run embedded Linux, usually Debian. We prototype a lot of the stuff on Raspberry Pi’s which is great because there is such a big user community it is easy to quickly get answers about just about anything. There are four cameras in the article accompanying this post that range in value between $20 and $50.

All of the cameras work just fine right out of the box for the purpose for which they were design–that is generally streaming video with camera controlling the capture gain and offset. Conversely, it reduces the repeatability and precision of most machine vision application if the offset, gain and lighting controls are not managed by the application. So, it has been part of my job to dive into the driver code far enough to figure out how to set the registers that need to be set to control cheap cameras well enough to work in accord with the stringent requirements of many machine vision applications. That takes a lot of patience and, although it is not exactly rocket science, it is very rewarding when the last piece of minutiae is chased down and the stuffs starts working.

One thing I have learned is that this “big data” thing is here to stay, at least in my world of machine vision, embedded computing and video analytics. There are tons of things you can almost do deterministically that become tractable when enough data and machine learning are thrown at them. I am loving working with Weka and R and the machine learning functionality in the OpenCV library because they open up new vistas, not to mention I can more frequently say, “I think I can do that” and not squint my eyes and wonder whether I am lying.

Device arrived for my project (not my day job)

Case for for medical diagnostic deviceThis ruggedized case and computer came in the mail yesterday. If is for the project to drive cost out of the diagnosis of blood pathologies that often occur in certain developing parts of the world. This is just a prototype, but for a prototype, it is very impressive. I am looking forward to firing the thing up. I am at least a week or two from being able to do that because of everything else on our plates. My hope is to eventually be able to replace the laptop computer with an embedded computer like a Raspberry Pi or one of its more industrial strength cousins.

Too many things vying for focus

Mount Rainier from the house in CentraliaSometimes all the stars align to make life more interesting than the long periods of doing the same thing day after day that seems to be normal. When I was younger, those long periods of the mundane seemed boring. Now they just seem restful. Last night, it dawned on me that, with two days before we are supposed to close on your our new (old) house, I have not made all the arrangements for all the utilities to be switched over to us. At the same time, the sickle cell disease project on which I am working is scheduled to deliver its first device for testing in Africa at the end of April which means I need to complete a boat load of finishing touches. All the while, I have to decide whether I want to stay in my current job and travel to Texas once per month or switch jobs and travel to Vancouver, BC fairly frequently with intermittent trips to China and other far away places (currently leaning toward BC).

In the mean time, we have to make a plan to get all our stuff from Texas and North Carolina to Washington state. The Texas part we have handled, but for the North Carolina part we do not know whether to do it ourselves (fly out there and drive back over a week), hire a couple of college kids to fly out there and drive the truck back for us, or just bite the bullet and get a moving company today. All of these items with their fun and interesting cash flow challenges. And none of this mentions that we start a full-blown remodel of the kitchen and a partial reconstruction of the roof on the new (old) house. Whenever I get too stressed, I look at the picture of the view we hope to have out the back of the house when we are now fogged in or clouded over or both. That helps some. What will help more is to have all this behind us with a cup of coffee in my hand sitting on the porch for a few weeks in a row.

Cool job: Linux, Yeti cups and thermal cameras

I love my job. That is not an unusual thing. I think I have written here on this blog about how Grandpa Milo’s frequently reminded us we might as well love our jobs because we have to go do it whether we love it or not anyway and its corollary with food that we were going to eat it and we were going to like it whether we liked it or not. My current job, however, is not one that is hard to love. Yesterday, one of the VP’s walked into my office (an office with a door!!!) and saw I had one of the old stainless steel cups with the company logo (the one on the left in the photo with the blue top).

He said, “Man, you don’t have a YETI cup yet.”

I did not realize that YETI products were a thing, but I really like the new cup he gave me (the one on the right with the YETI logo at the top). I have to admit I was pretty happy with my original blue-topped cup, but now I am doubly happy.

xubuntu logoAt the bottom of the picture, there is a camouflage thing that looks a lot like a cellphone. That is a Seek thermal camera. It is interesting, fun anddebian logo I get to work with it to do cool stuff in my day to day job. I have not run a Windows computer at my work since I started as everything I develop is for use on a Debian embedded system. I am doing some Windows develop as part of my contribution to the CWRU sickle cell disease diagnosis project, but I do all my development for that project just like I do for my day job, on a Xubuntu box. The sickle cell stuff will eventually go onto a Raspberry Pi so I am doing the development cross platform and building installers for both Windows computers and Ubuntu/Debian computers.

It is truly a gift to love your job and my current job is not like pulling green chain at the mill, I do not have to force myself to do it.

Living vicariously through our children

Christian's lab at ASU (Feb. 2017)Kelly and I had an interesting discussion last night about her work. Her work is very similar to mine in many ways. The work Christian does has similarities to mine, but they are superficial (see his office in the picture to the left). Some have assumed I pushed Christian toward the kind of work I do to live vicariously through his superior training and skills. Over all the years of homeschool, I fought against that, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much. In the end, though Christian went off into an area for which I am admittedly a fan-boy, but that is so deep in the bowels of the theoretical math associated with network information theory, I have no clue about how even to talk about it with him.

My pleasant surprise with Kelly was revealed when we talked about something she does at work. She developed and ran a survey for use in creating a marketing strategy for her company. She is in the process of figuring out what the data mean. Kelly at Starbucks in Canby, OR (Jan. 2017)One of her first steps was to find where and how different sets of features (answers to survey questions) cluster with respect to the characteristics of the customers who took the survey. Crazily, she is using precisely the same algorithms I use every day to find clusters of motion pixels in video images that indicate someone is about to fall out of a bed in a hospital. She predominately uses the R statistical programming language, but also Python which she is in the process of learning. The clustering algorithms she is trying are k-means clustering, mean-shift filtering, density based spatial clustering, support vector machines, etc.

For my part, my undergraduate degree is in marketing. I implement all of the same algorithms with C++, python and am learning R, but to perform image segmentation. She LOVES that stuff. I LOVE that stuff. I actually think she has the perfect job for her. It is exciting to her the same way my work is exciting to me, both on a technical level and for her love of engaging with customers and fellow employees. I did not plan it this way, but I am getting a little bit of a vicarious thrill from watching her in her new job.

Another whirlwind trip to Washington

Lorena at McDonaldsLorena took me to McDonald’s early this morning then dropped me off at the airport. If all goes well, I will have a look at our (hopefully) new house along with my real estate agent and my builder (thank you Mark P. for driving up from Oregon). Then I will get on a plane at midnight and arrive back in Dallas just in time to go to work on Tuesday morning when we are going to make the first major new installation of some machine vision/machine learning/video analytics software.

In the mean time, the working I am doing on finding low cost new methods to diagnose sickle cell disease in developing countries is getting to a critical juncture. I need to put some finishing touches on the work I am doing on that project so they can start real tests. I will have to work on that on the airplane ride to Seattle and in the hotel room so I can deliver it to the team that needs it at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Thankfully, that is something that can be done by email and dropbox.

A great video on one of the great sadnesses of our times

I saw the video below that a friend posted this video on Facebook last night about challenges for millennials in the workplace. I think it says some important things that has caused me to think I need to work on some of my own behaviors.  He talks about addiction to social media–on cell phones in particular and the dopamine high that is triggered. He talks about what a great disservice it was to tell children they were great when they were not great. He talks about the idea of delayed gratification that seems to be completely missing in an entire generation of young people. He talks about the increase in suicide and accidental drug overdose in that generation that is most probably a result of this. I think he is exactly right on all that. The video is truly a worth 15 minutes of your time.

It was kind of depressing though that in about the last third of the video he espouses the idea that the corporations need to take responsibility for fixing this. That is a completely different subject, but he is objectively wrong on that. The corporations might need to address the issues associated with this large problem because it prevents them from finding good, long term employees that facilitate them meeting achieving their purpose–to make money. Corporations should not be tasked with social engineering. They should, like government, achieve their purposes without meddling in peoples’ in areas where they are so patently unqualified. They really, really have competing interests with respect to what is good for individuals and that is not necessarily a bad thing. The individuals themselves, their families and, most importantly, God and their spiritual communities are the only ones who have the truly worthwhile answers to these kinds of challenges. Disinterested third parties whether they are government school teachers, coaches, bureaucrats, academics and even bad parents are the ones who trained them in this wrong thinking in the first place.

Link to video on Millenials in the workplace

The house hunt inches forward

10.6 of 60

I went backwards about a pound and a half on my exercise/diet program, but other than that, life is pretty good. I am beating my buddy Lyle W. like a drum on the number of steps on our Fitbit’s, but that is mostly because he has been sick. I still counting it while I can because I am sure it won’t last. The house is still in Washington state is still up in the air, but we have our fingers crossed. I have a ticket out there in a week and a half to meet my other buddy, Mark P. to do the final inspection if we get our latest offer accepted. It is all good. I also have two work-from-home jobs (one requires domestic travel, the other requires domestic and international travel) from which I need to choose within the next couple of months. Now, though, we are on hold to see whether or not we have a house.

Pulling the trigger for a big change

Possible house in WashingtonI signed and returned the acceptance letter for a job offer yesterday. The company’s headquarters are in Vancouver, BC, but I will work from home somewhere in Washington State. This change is quite a big adventure for us. We should be close enough to Grandpa Milo to be able to drive him to church on a semi-regular basis. We will be closer to our kids and be able to see them more often–it is a short drive or train ride to see Kelly or for her to visit us. The job is with a good group of people with whom I have worked as one of their customers for 5-6 years. It is challenging, interesting and will require some travel (Asia, USA and Europe), but not too much after the first round to get to know customers and colleagues.

The adventure part of the whole affair, if we can make it work, is that Lorena wants to find a house to remodel close to a city center. We loved living in downtown Wilsonville when we were last in Oregon with the ability to walk to stores and restaurants. We want to try to duplicate that. We have a real estate agent who says he thinks he can find us something that fills the bill within our budget. He sent us links to places that look great. It might not work out exactly like that, but we are going to give it the old college try and see what happens. Lorena has a plane ticket to fly to Seattle on Tuesday morning to, hopefully, find us “the” house somewhere on the I-5 corridor between Vancouver, WA and Tacoma. We expect to stay in Texas until the second week of January and get back to the Pacific Northwest with our truck full of worldly goods in time to attend Grandma Sarah’s funeral on MLK day in the Portland area.

Moving back out west

I have worked as a Machine Vision engineer for over thirty years. Grandma Sarah actually found an ad for a technical writing/industrial training position with a robot/vision company in Corvallis named Intelledex back in 1983 shortly after I returned from a three month stint at University of Guadalajara to learn Spanish. The industry was very young at the time, but both the hardware and software to do useful work with cameras hooked up to computers was starting to make economic sense to solve a few classes of problems in the semiconductor, defense and electronics industries.

From then until now, there were a good number of people who focused on writing algorithms to do useful things with images. There seemed to be fewer people who dedicated themselves to cobbling those algorithms together with statistical, database and robot and equipment control algorithms to measure stuff, guide robots and perform solve “on the factory floor” problems. From the very beginning, I was one of those guys. It seemed then (and it seems like it has not changed much over the years) that most of the capable vision engineers wanted to write individual, low level algorithms while only a few of us were dedicated specifically to algorithms. The funny deal is that after ten years or so of application development it dawned on me that low level algorithm development was easier and more powerful when it was informed by knowledge of a broad application domain.

To make a long story shorter, after about fifteen years in the industry, I started to follow a career path solely devoted to solving especially difficult machine vision problems (inspecting chip capacitors for defects at 35 parts per second, finding retinal features in very noisy OCT images at high rates of speed, measuring 3d surface defects in U235 pellets as the bounced and rotated down counter rotating roles, performing pupil/gaze angle tracking at 400 frames per second, etc.). So the last fifteen years or so, I have gone from position to position to find hard problems, solve them and move on to the next thing. It is work I love.

I said all that to say that I have just about finished the work I came to do in Texas (performing video analytics to determine, in real time, whether someone in a hospital is about to fall out of bed so a care giver can be signaled to go to the aid of the patient). I have been offered a position out west to work on 3d imaging problems, not to write low level algorithms although there will be some of that, but to use these 3d cameras to create solutions to families of industrial problems around the world. Lorena and I have decided I should accept the position.

The other upside to this new position is, hopefully, I will be able to stay there until I retire. There are so many opportunities to solve hard problems with the new and improving 3d cameras and scanning systems, that I will likely have gainful employment as long as I am able to do the work. In addition, we will be closer to Kelly, Christian and Grandpa Milo and should be able to see them more often. There will be more about our move (when/where) as soon as I find out where we will move (it is a work from home job).

Kelly shopping for glasses

Kelly shopping for glassesThis may not sound like such a big deal, but when Kelly sent us pictures of the new glasses she tried on today, it dawned on me that she will get her new prescription and her new glasses with her own insurance that she earns at work at her new job. She starts on Monday. They have all the normal, new employee meetings and paperwork as the obligatory, take the new employee to lunch trip. I love the first day of a new job and this is Kelly’s first, not in internship, not at school job where she plans to be there for a number of years at the very least. How cool is that.

So, my struggles about finding things to write for this blog will get even harder because now she is not only out of homeschool, she is out of school altogether. It is all quite exciting.

Coming soon: A semi-momentous anouncement

Some really good stuff is happening, some of which has to do with schooling and some with work. Lorena and I are spending most of the day indoors today, not because we want to be here on a beautiful sunny fall day (not to hot for a change), but because we have to work. I have taken on another project to help with a medical device for developing countries and Lorena is studying for her Statistics class. She has two classes this term, so she is pretty busy. That is all good stuff, but not the subject of this post. I just wanted to put up a marker because some good decisions were made to make a change, but the exact direction is not yet established. I think in a couple of days we can celebrate it and talk about it.

Doing my one trick

It is not much of a joke, but in terms of my work, I describe myself as a one trick pony. I generally hired to fix one hard problem in the domain of machine vision and image processing. I do that one trick and then I am on to the next thing. I can do other stuff in the domain of certain specialized types of programming, but the one thing at which I am really good is that one trick. My single minded focus over the last couple of months has been to do that work in most of my spare time at home as well as at work. I figure I have one or two more months of that kind of work before I have all my volunteer work, contract work and other sundry efforts under control well enough to get back to a more normal life. I really do love it, but it gets in the way of exercise, reading and even eating well, so I need to get it all out of the way. I am writing this because 9/11 is a nice reminder to put some things into perspective. This is fun stuff that pays the rent, but it is still not nearly as important as what comes down to relationships, first with God, then with family, friends and neighbors. I guess it is time to make a plan to really get this stuff out of the way and get on with real life.

Oddly productive, unproductive weekend

Kiwi and I studying hard over the weekend
Lorena and I planned to drive to Wichita last Friday for a working weekend. I turned out that the people with whom we were to work planned to leave after lunch on Saturday so we decided a conference call working session made a lot more sense than twelve hours of driving followed by four hours of work. I have a ton of things to accomplish at my day job and planned to spend the bulk of what time I had left on the weekend for that. I accomplished two things: the conference call (four hours on Saturday morning) and a lot of “contemplation” sessions with Kiwi like the one shown in the image above. Well, there was a little bit more to it than that–Kelly and Christian both called and we talked for long stretches on life and their current paths.

The talks with Kelly and Christian were the most productive parts of the weekend. Christian is at about the halfway point of his PhD program, living through the pain of his third Tempe summer and the bloom of graduate school is definitely off the rose. He is in a good place with his work–he and his professor are performing the final edits on a paper about the research he has performed over the last two years which they will submit in the next week or so. On the other hand, he spends so much time working, there is little time for anything else, so he is looking forward to the day when he can get a regular job where he goes to work in the morning, goes home in the evening and has weekends off–all in a place where the daytime temperature only hits triple digits four or five days per year.

Kelly, on the other hand, is not so enamored with the actual day to day work of her degree. She does not think she wants to do marketing research and/or be an academic, so she is trying to decide whether to finish where she just to have her graduate school complete forever, or switch graduate schools and go back to a degree and field that is a little bit more rigorous–probably in the use of statistics. It is a hard decision, but she has a great opportunity to go either way. The good thing is that she is thinking about it objectively. It might be worth it to just finish out–she is in a good place to do that academically, but if she hates it, she might be better served to step back, reconsider what she wants and move onto something for which she has a passion.

A bigger office!

I have been at my current day job for about four months. My normal stay at a job is usually in the one to three year range because I am usually there to solve a narrow, very specific hard problem that, when it is solved, they have no more need for the likes of me. This time, though, there was a prefect storm. When I first got there, I got put into an office with a door that had a lock because it was over on the business (as opposed to engineering) side of the house. The lock was a pain in the neck because I had to use my key on Thursdays and Mondays to get in after the cleaning people came the night before. Now, the business is doing well, so they hired a new business guy which was timed by one of the technical guys moving on to another job and leaving me a double size office with a beautiful wood desk and a window. Alright, the window is one of those tall narrow ones beside the door that looks out onto the hallway, but it is still a window. Feels good!