Reflection of Fall ’13


It’s been awhile since I have been home for the holidays for more than a week. To be exact, I’m be home for 2.5 weeks. I had plans to go on a trip to Japan and South Korea, but my friend bailed on me due to lack of funds. We then planned to do a Montreal trip, but that doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen either since my mom lined me up for a bunch of appointments. My eyesight has been particularly unstable in these past few weeks (sometimes I feel like I can’t ever get Lasik because I work in front of a laptop 24/7).

I’ve spent most of my break so far catching up with high school friends (our annual Secret Santa), watching movies and dramas, and cleaning/organizing my belongings at home. You really end up with a ton of clutter after living on and off every 4 months. You can’t bring everything with you when you move far away, and you always end up bringing more when you come back. I also started doing this thing where I keep all my receipts or significant cool pamphlets I get every term in separate folders. These folders were getting really unorganized in the past couple terms due to lack of time (because when I do have the time, I’d rather be doing other things).

More specifically, I’ve accumulated a huge wardrobe. I’m not even high on the shopaholic standards. I just buy clothing when I feel like I need it, based on my current wardrobe. The problem with this is that I only have a partial wardrobe at all times (when I’m living off campus or renting a place for co-op). This makes it difficult for me to remember whether I already had a ton of white tops, for example. Now it isn’t as bad for school terms, but it really sucks for co-op terms in the States. I am way, way more limited in the partial wardrobe I can bring. I’m still trying to figure out how I’m going to fit all the clothing I want to bring for next term.

Speaking of next term – I’ll be in SF again, work term #5 at Rdio. I had a tough time deciding where to go because (if you didn’t read my last blog post) I really wanted to return to FB (or specifically Instagram). I originally decided that I would be happier to return for the Fall (of 2014) instead of the Winter as there will be potentially more returning interns (or new grads) that I already know. I also didn’t really want to be in the Peninsula again for Winter as I prefer SF, and I didn’t want to do a long commute either (FB gives housing to interns or a stipend if you want to live in SF). I almost slightly regret choosing Rdio even now, simply because I really miss my coworkers back at IG. They were extremely hard-working, fun people to be with 8 hours a day. I wasn’t able to properly appreciate and thank them due to a family member passing away around the end of my internship. Thinking back, I really appreciated the experience and the opportunity to meet awesomely talented people. Continue reading

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First Impressions of the Canon Elph 330 HS


Final exams are over, and I’ve been mainly relaxing at home, sleeping more, and shopping for my 4th co-op term. The weather is also having its ups and downs. Yesterday it was a beautiful, sunny ~21 degrees. Today, is a muggy, rainy ~16 degrees. So in recent events, I lost my digital camera. :( I’ve had this camera since Dec 2008 – the Canon PowerShot SD880 IS (Elph series). It was a pretty good digital camera for its time – 10MP, 4x zoom, a large variety of color/lighting/scene settings. Throughout the years, I’ve dropped it on the ground multiple times. It’s also survived being completely soaked in water. In the past month or so, the lens cover would get stuck when I turn on the camera, and I would have to manually open it (probably due to me dropping it while it was still turned on). This is when my friends started noting that I should upgrade, but I didn’t want to part with it yet. So yes, I lost it, after ~4 years of extensive use. Not happy that I lost it, but I really was due for an upgrade.

The Search for a Replacement.
I was considering a DSLR. But thinking more about it, I didn’t see myself carrying around such a huge camera everywhere. I don’t aim for extremely HQ photos shot at perfect angles. I aim for quick shots on a day of exploring or a night out. Photos of humans, rather than scenery. So yes, I stuck with the point-and-shoot realm. I also stuck with Canon because I am accustomed to the button arrangements and screen interface. I really can’t go wrong.

Now, which series?
I never really paid attention in the past, but there are 3 major digital camera series for Canon. The A-series, the Elph series, and the SX series. The SX series is a little more expensive because it’s an in between of digital camera and DSLR. The optical zoom is usually pretty high. The A-series is more for performance, and many of them allow AA(A?) batteries for power, which I find quite unnecessary for me. Also, I discovered that the Elph series has a lot more customization on colour and scene settings than the other series, so I decided to stick with it. I find that the colour settings allow my images to appear better when using flash. This is especially important when taking photos of humans. Many people have told me my photos have a very particular look, and yes, that’s because of Canon’s colour settings that I can apply to every photo.

So yes, the Elph series. It was between the 110, 130, 320, 520, and 330. The 320 and 520 were both complete touch screen cameras, so that was out of the question. The 110 and 130 are older models. It was really between the 130 (16MP, 8x zoom) and the 330 (12MP, 10x zoom), both wifi models. I chose the 330 (in black) because it apparently has a better processor and I prefer zoom over megapixels. The 330 also records 1080p video, while the 130 can only record at 720p. The price difference is about $30. Best Buy USA has it on sale for $200 (online only I think) but I decided to buy it here in Canada for $239 to save the hassle.

Day 1 of playing with the camera:
I love it. The only thing I miss about my old camera is the ability to scroll continuously and quickly through my photos via the circular dial. None of the newer Elph models have it (none of the old ones really had it, either, actually). I was worried that I wouldn’t be used to the tiny buttons.. I’m still getting used to them. They are placing priority on a larger display screen, so I guess it’s worth it. The lithium battery is also slightly smaller than my old camera’s, making the camera very light when carrying around. I love the texture and form factor; it’s easy to hold firmly and I don’t think I’ll have to worry about fingerprints at all.

The Wifi functionality isn’t too difficult to set up (despite the negative online reviews), but I haven’t gotten web services to work yet. Canon seems to have lack of support for Mac. I did get to try out CameraWindow, transferring my pictures to my Android device (can also do it on an iOS device). This is definitely convenient. My main purpose of taking photos is to share them onto some kind of social networking service. It’s a hassle having to take out my SD card, copy the photos somewhere (either manually or through iPhoto), and uploading it through the web. iPhoto is always giving me problems now, too, so I refrain from using it. I have never actually used Canon’s image transferring tools (don’t plan to), so I cannot comment on that. There is also this extremely convenient option that allows you to resize the images to 1600×1200 or 640×480 when using CameraWindow for quick and easy uploads via mobile.

So far I am very happy with my new 330, and will update this post with some sample shots after a few weeks of usage.

 

How I Feel about LinkedIn


I finally have time for a new blog post. So classes finished up this Monday and it’s time to procrastinate on studying for finals (just kidding, I spent the whole day studying since it was a rainy day). Many many things have happened in the past 4 months and I guess I finally had time to sit around and reminisce. I met a ton of amazing people this term outside of my program. I went out a lot, building on the work-hard play-hard philosophy. No regrets for sure.

Despite the rumours that 3A is the toughest term for Software Engineers at Waterloo, I found it quite manageable. I guess this was affected by our exceptional round of professors this term (with the exception of one..) It was tough in the sense that we never got a break; it was 1 assignment after another. But this term was a lot of fun in terms of the stuff I got to learn and do. User Interfaces (CS 349) being a favourite. Fun assignments (although tedious) with a fun prof. Take a look over at my Github if you’re interested (I just pushed the repos today).

So I actually have a topic to talk about today: LinkedIn.

The whole concept of LinkedIn is kind of iffy to me. I was recently surprised to learn that not a lot of university students know of it (since their peers don’t use it, or they have never had a professional job before). It’s quite interesting from a UW student perspective because once you are immersed into the co-op program, you are obliged to have a LinkedIn profile and connect with all your friends and coworkers … and people you might not even know who happen to go to your school.

So what exactly is it in comparison to Facebook? It’s like social networking, except you get notified when someone stalks you. Oh, and there’s a newsfeed for updates on your Connections and the Companies and Groups you’re following. Does it really matter if you never update your LinkedIn though? For full-time people, you probably update once a year or whenever you switch jobs. You connect with people so you can have access to their network, to expand the possibility of recruiters coming to your profile. For students, it’s a nice replacement for a “website” or “portfolio” (but you should probably move away from that once you get your own blog or website).

So is LinkedIn just a recruiting tool then? Yes. In many senses it is, because recruiters/HR people need to find talented people suited for the job. LinkedIn is a nice way to do it without having to flip through resumes. Usually you have a 1-liner under each job instead of the long detailed descriptions you see in resumes (..at least based on the Canadian resumes I’ve seen).

What does this imply?  That you should have a beautified profile, with maxed out endorsements on your Skills (more on this later). No matter, HR will still want to do a phone screen of some sort before transferring you to the manager or engineer or whoever you’d be working under. So it’s not like the hiring happens through LinkedIn messaging.

So back to maxing out your skillz.. The act of endorsing. I find this very silly. I discovered it one day when I received an email notification saying my friend has “endorsed” me for Git and Java and perhaps some other skills I had on my profile. This person is a classmate of mine so we take similar courses and everything.. but how could he know if I was proficient in Java or Git? We never worked together.

Fast forward a couple of months, and I’m starting to get Endorsement requests from my friends. It’s amusing, it really is, this strange feature.

Other strange features: Introductions. Quoted from the Help Center page: “An introduction lets you contact members who are in your 2nd degree network or 3rd degree network. If a member is within your extended network, you can contact them through connections you have in common.” So basically you message your connection in common to request to be connected to their connection. It’s very silly and kind of a foreign concept to those who have used group messaging on any IM client or simply, Facebook. What if your common connection never checks LinkedIn? Then you just wasted an Invitation, because you only get 5. After that, you need to pay.

I guess I just don’t see LinkedIn as a company that will grow properly. They have a very strong foundation, but there are many unnecessary and complex features that normal users won’t bother figuring out.

There are other cool recruiting tools out there that are more engineering focused. For example, StackOverflow Careers, which is of course directly connected to all of StackExchange. They have a really cool resume builder, and you can append your top answers to StackOverflow questions. Yes, I think this is cool. Although, I don’t know many people who use it, and I’ve never been contacted through it. The concept of having your profile and being contacted by technical people because they actually look at your contributions is cool – but who really has time to read through your contributions?

That’s the issue with writing paragraphs on your LinkedIn or resume. It can all be a load of crap on paper, and you can even bullshit through your interview. In the end, it’s all about how you work with others and handle conflicts and stress at work. I guess that’s what LinkedIn recommendations are for. Now THOSE are pretty legit. Having the references there are prepared, rather than the generic “References upon request” (which, btw, you really shouldn’t put on your resume… seems like such a 90s thing to do thinking about it now).

I just wanted to get that off my chest, the topic is probably really irrelevant to most of the people reading my blog.

So anyways, good luck to those with final exams, and good luck to prospective students that are still in high school. Feel free to email me or comment below at any time… I am pretty quick at responding.

Start of 2013 Blurbs.


Instead of taking a nap (I’m currently running on 3 hours of sleep) and instead of starting my readings (I have to read 9 chapters for my test this week), I’m going to finally write a new blog post. I actually meant to post one earlier than this, but things have been pretty busy (my birthday celebrations and then catching up on work that I set aside).

I actually had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to write about. Every time I sit down to write something, I would stop after the 2nd or 3rd paragraph because I don’t have a ton to say on the specific topic (please send me suggestions *cough*). So I’m going to write up a bunch of blurbs today (anything and everything that is currently on my mind).

New Phone. New Beginnings.

So I lost my phone earlier last week (my old Windows Phone). Although it was upsetting, I ended up getting a new one the day after. Galaxy S2. The seller said it was BNIB (brand new in box), but it was clearly used (had some scuffs), and he gave me a Blackberry charger (didn’t notice until after). Oh well, I bargained the price down pretty low anyway ;)

It’s been awhile since I’ve used an Android phone.. almost a year. The thing is, I didn’t really take advantage of my data plan last time. Oh, and that phone was still on Gingerbread. The point I want to make is that Android has made so many improvements to allow customization. I had no idea you could use custom launchers w/o a flashing custom rom until recently. I was initially frustrated with the settings and the crappy default apps that Samsung provides (Contact sync is also terrible compared to WP). Things got better once I started installing basically every app created by the GO Launcher Dev Team.

The issue I’ve been facing is really bad battery life.. I barely do anything (have 3/4G turned off all day) and the battery life is <30% by the end of my day. The phone is also extremely laggy (I’m unsure if it’s just the model clashing with the OS, or if my device is a defect..) Either way, it’s annoying. Despite the WP experience on my Focus being waaaay slower than what it is on WP8, it was always pretty smooth (I’ve never faced lag). But then again, WP has automatic app management (you can only have a maximum 5 apps running the background).

Overall though, the phone is an upgrade for me. In a way, it’s good that I lost my phone so I don’t have to deal with WP7/8 fragmentation, lack of allowing default programs for certain file types, lack of good quality apps, etc.

So why not iOS? Easy. No widgets, annoying default things you cannot change (i.e. you need to type in your password whenever you want to download/update apps).. It’s the ICON interface that bothers me. Difficult to find your apps. Overall, it’s much more smooth than Android, though, simply because of the way processes are handled when they crash (hahaha).

Anyways, I feel like I’ve talked about this in a past blog post. : / Sorry for the repetition.

School.

So how’s school? Winter term just started. I just recently handed in a few of my assignments, and wrote my first major test (the reason why I stayed up and had only 3 hours of sleep). Work is piling up, so I’m going to start hermitting in my room (or the library) more. Luckily I only have 5 courses to worry about this term (I haven’t had a 5 course workload since first year).

So my elective is also a ton of fun. It’s called Soundtracks in Film. We analyze the background music in movies. Our weekly assignment is to watch a movie. We get to watch Inception. Awesome right? Great prof, too. Although he assigns a little too much reading for my taste. It’s MUSIC 246 if anyone’s interested.

School/Studying Tips

I was going to make a dedicated post for this, but it might not be very long. We’ll see.

1. Actually read over the notes you took after class everyday. This way, you can ask about anything you missed or are not sure about in the following class. It helps you stay caught up in the course.

2. Taking Notes (as a visual learner). So this really varies based on the kind of lectures your profs do.

  • Slide based: Annotate directly on the PDF files. Not sure about Windows, but on Mac Preview, you can add the Edit shortcut. This helps you add annotations and such to PDFs. Choose the Text icon to add text annotations (It’s the dotted box with ‘Aa’ inside). Unless the prof draws a lot of extra diagrams, it’s a LOT less effort to type in your extra little notes than writing them in. Plus, you save $$ on ink + paper. 
  • Board Notes: If it’s a math/physics course, I highly recommend pen & paper. If not, use a note taking application like Evernote or OneNote. Evernote is an amazing product that allows you to organize your notes into notebooks, sync them across all your devices, and more. I’ve personally never used OneNote, but I’ve seen some people use this as well. I am highly against Microsoft Word or Google docs as you cannot really get the 2-3 window pane view and extensive organization that Evernote provides.

3. Study by yourself. Working in groups is good for assignments and projects and perhaps understanding concepts taught in class, but it can end up being very distracting. Especially if you have friends who browse Reddit or Youtube every 30 minutes.

4. Bring snacks to school. Stop eating at the crappy school cafeteria or the overpriced nearby restaurants. Make your own lunch, or bring snacks if you have a 3 hour lecture.

5. Take advantage of office hours and ask questions. Don’t leave it til the end, and be assertive. Profs are busy, you are busy, but don’t just let go on the fact that you’re confused about stuff taught in class. Email the prof if anything. There’s also Piazza for online help (discussion forum system) but not all profs use it.

Man.. I should really take my own advice sometimes. I was a lot more keen in first year, but it’s rather impossible to keep on top of your work if you also want a decent social life.

My Blog and Some Cool Stats

So lately I’ve been getting a lot of traffic from prospective students and first years. For those unfamiliar with WordPress, if you click on a WordPress search result from Google, I will get information on what search term you used. I had 2 hits for “waterloo coop elisa lou” yesterday. So. It’s getting kinda creepy/awkward :P I feel very weirded out when my friends bring up that they’ve read my blog. It’s a very awkward thing. It’s not that I am completely different in real life compared to how I talk on this blog (or maybe I am!?) .. but I still very much consider my blog to be a place for me to rant and complain and share my feelings ‘anonymously’ (even though I have my blog URL on most of my online profiles now).

Anyways, I’m happy that this blog has been helpful/inspiring to many people. I hope to continue posting useful content (not sure if this post was very useful :P).

PS. For those interested, I’ve updated my resume! It actually looks a little empty.. I was actually contemplating on writing up a complete new one that’s just a single page, but I haven’t had the time.

Windows Phone App Must Haves


Firstly, Merry Christmas everyone!

So I think it’s time for me to make a legitimate fave apps post for WP. Some background: I’ve been using WP7 since June ’12 ish. My main reason for getting a WP is because I fell in love with the metro UI and I really wanted to try it out. Note that I’ve never been on contract before (I’ve only ever bought unlocked phones), so I wasn’t losing out on anything.

So let’s get started..

1. Baconit – Reddit client. I think I almost like browsing Reddit on my phone more than via my laptop. Awesome use of the metro style. Tons of extra options like background updating, flip view (aka swiping between different topics), comment view, and more. They have a light and dark theme based on whether you are using the white/black system theme (it’d be great if users could choose).

2. Ocell – Twitter client. I recently got into Twitter (as recent as the past 3 months), and I also recently got a data plan. When on my phone, I will use txt for text based tweets (i.e. tweeting to 21212), but when I want to upload a photo, the Pictures hub default uploads to Skydrive (which usually opens the photo in a new window.. depends on the client). The default Twitter client is slow and clunky.. So I started alternating between rowi and Ocell. Both are great. Ocell only allows TwitPic as the upload client, but the nice thing is that it allows scheduled tweets! I haven’t taken advantage of the feature yet but I thought it was pretty cool. I also like that Ocell allows custom backgrounds.

3. 4th and Mayor – Foursquare client. I love it! Follows metro UI very well, very smooth overall. Much better than the default client. My only complaint is that it doesn’t have the option to select an event at the venue you checked into (neither does the default WP client). Is this an API limitation? Too lazy to check.. (It’s enabled on the mobile web version though).

4. Amazing Weather – a weather app. I’ve tried TONS of weather apps, from the default, to HTC’s, to Gismeteo. This one is the best. It grabs data from AccuWeather and displays it very nicely. There’s a Lite and Pro version, but the Lite is pretty good by itself. It has an awesome live tile (out of many options) that allows you to see today’s forecast, and the back tile would show forecasts for tomorrow and the next day. It has the smoothest experience by far. Definitely a keeper.

So the above 4 are the ones I use most often. There are a ton of other wonderful apps that I will note, although I don’t use them as much, so I cannot be the judge of quality. Here goes: Continue reading