When I started this blog I didn’t write an introductory post because, of course, I had no readers. Lately Google Reader indicates that I have a bit over 100 subscribers so I thought it might be time for a quick introduction.
For a long time I was uninterested in blogging because I thought the only good blogs were highly focused ones, and I wasn’t interested in writing a blog like that. Also, I wasn’t interested in taking on a new long-term time commitment since I already have enough of these. Finally, the nature of my job (and life) means that I’ll likely post in a bursty fashion that would seem annoying to readers.
Obviously I eventually decided to start a blog. The main triggering event was that I became extremely bored with the FSP blog (reading it is like going to a faculty meeting) which used to be perhaps my favorite blog and was the original source of my observation that a good blog should be focused. In other words I decided that posting about random topics was OK and perhaps even interesting. Also, I realized that a blog doesn’t need to a be a long-term commitment: if I get tired of blogging (and I expect this will happen in some number of years) I’ll just drop it until it seems interesting again. The advent of good RSS readers means that bursty posting is not a problem (my view of the web solidified in roughly 1996 so I was effectively the last person to become a user of these readers). Finally, I’m on sabbatical this year and have been taking a bit more time to think about the big picture than I used to. Thinking, for me, usually leads to the desire to write. It’s a common flaw among academics.
Anyway, back to the intro. I’m an associate processor of Computer Science at the University of Utah, coming up on the end of my first sabbatical. The sabbatical arrived at about the right time: the tenure runup left me feeling a little burned out and ready to think about what kind of directions I’d like to take my career in, in the long run. I teach courses in computer systems, such as operating systems, embedded systems, and advanced compilers. I enjoy teaching a lot and it only becomes a drag when students perform poorly or are apathetic. My research is broadly in computer systems and is specifically about compilers and embedded systems. My work is usually centered on software tools, which are based on the idea that we can use software to create better software. It’s a lot of fun and it’s a great thing to be doing from academia since in industry they’re generally very focused on the next product: they don’t take the time to create tools that can add a lot of value in the longer run. I supervise a group that currently has six students. Running a group is fun for multiple reasons. First, it’s neat to watch students change from their early, tentative selves into mature and confident researchers. Second, the students (on a good day) act as amplifiers, getting far more work done than I could ever do alone. Most of the time I have the best job in the world. The thing I like most is that I can choose the problems I work on. If I want to focus for multiple years on something that is of little interest to most people (e.g. compiler bugs), I can do that. If I wish to bounce among projects in a flighty way, I can do that too. It’s liberating.
I’m extremely fortunate to have healthy and inquisitive children, Jonas is 5 and Isaac is 3. It’s hard to imagine life without them. My wife Sarah is also a professor at Utah. She, I think, slacked off on her work a bit when the kids were little (out of necessity — Utah’s parental leave policy only solidified after the boys were born) but lately she has been making up for lost time and is working on tons of projects; her career seems to be progressing well. She’ll be lucky if she can spend another 10-15 years doing good research before (I predict) being roped into some sort of administrative job.
This summer we’ll have lived in Utah for 10 years, and it has been great. Salt Lake City itself is OK, probably not much different from Indianapolis or Kansas City, but the setting is amazing. Mountains can be found in all directions, and in fact the state contains entire mountain ranges that few people have heard of (The Wah Wahs? The Deep Creeks? The Silver Island Range?). Just east of the city, and right outside my front door, is the Wasatch Range, climbing 7000′ above the city. A bit further away are the red rock deserts including the incredible San Rafael Swell which is barely close enough to visit on a day trip, but really much better suited to 3-4 day car camping trips. Utah’s vast West Desert fills around a third of the state, in this area you can camp out for days and drive hundreds of miles on dirt roads without seeing anyone. My list of trips to take in Utah never gets shorter since every time I take a trip, I see a half dozen more places to go. My hiking buddy (and local guidebook author) John Veranth has spent hugely more time outdoors in Utah than I have, and says the same thing is true for him too.
Anyway, to sum up: this blog is probably going to be active for a finite time. Posting will be bursty and on totally random topics :).