Getting Acquainted

I’ve had two days in the new job. As with any new thing, there are a number of administrative things to take care of. At Michigan State University, pretty much the big initial thing is getting one’s “NetID”, the computer service identity for dealing with the campus information systems. Until you get that, you aren’t really a person at MSU. In order to get the NetID, you have to get a PIN number to go with the MSU identification number. (The first four digits of my MSU ID number are the same as the designation of a CMOS LSI quad switch chip, so that makes it easier to recall the remaining four digits.)

I met with Rob Pennock on Monday, and we talked a bit. He got me a key to the Avida-ED lab, where I can have a desk with some space for books and files. Avida-ED, by the way, is a project Rob is working on to provide a version of Avida suitable for use in classrooms to demonstrate evolutionary processes happening in real-time and graphically, a big plus for showing students what evolutionary science is all about. The rest of the day I spent in dealing with administrative stuff, like trying to get my NetID, actually getting my MSU photo ID card, parking permits, and trying to get the CD that the benefits office has for choosing benefits.

I met up with Rob again this morning, and we went to a Devolab (Digital Evolution Laboratory) meeting. The scheduled presenters were not actually present, so I was introduced to the group and then everyone took a turn saying who they were and what progress they were making on projects. There are some cool developments being made using the Avida platform, and in making the Avida software more widely available. A binary version for the Windows platform, for instance, is getting nearer to release. After the meeting, Brian Baer spent a while showing me where my desk in the Devolab is (easy; it’s the only one left, right by the door) and getting me set up to use the Beowulf cluster for running Avida. There are several accounts that have to be set up for new users, so that took some time.

Diane picked me up around lunch time, and we headed around to see some of the possible houses for rent. We filled out an application for a house near Laingsburg that looks promising. It is a 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath place on 2 acres in a rural setting. The landlord didn’t flinch on hearing about the dogs or hawks. There’s another possible house in DeWitt, but that one has more complexity in doing things like adding an outbuilding for the hawks, since it is included in a neighborhood association, and we would have to clear fencing and outbuildings with them as well as the landlord.

There is essentially no way that we can stay solvent in the long term if we only have my income from MSU. Postdoctoral positions are not noted for having high pay, and this one is no exception. We have debt from our graduate studies and from when I was ill in 2004. Diane is also looking for jobs, and we worked this evening on getting an application for her done for a position that is also at MSU. We are in a time crunch to get a rental house set up, since we can only stay where we are now until our friend returns from out-of-state this weekend. So in general, the househunting takes priority this week. However, the job Diane spotted had an application closing date of today, so we just needed to get it done in order for her to be considered.

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Wesley R. Elsberry

Falconer. Interdisciplinary researcher: biology and computer science. Photographer. Husband. Christian. Activist.

3 thoughts on “Getting Acquainted

  • 2007/02/28 at 6:49 pm
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    What is Avida?

  • 2007/02/28 at 8:43 pm
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    Avida is an auto-adaptive genetic system designed primarily for use as a platform in Digital or Artificial Life research. In lay terms, Avida is a digital world in which self-replicating computer programs mutate and evolve.

    Avida allows us to study questions and perform experiments in evolutionalry dynamics and theoretical biology that are intractable in real biological systems.

    MSU Devolab Avida page

    I’m planning to discuss Avida at length as I get acquainted with the system. Within evolutionary computation, Avida appears to incorporate elements of both “artificial life” and “genetic programming” approaches. Probably the most similar earlier effort would be Thomas Ray’s “Tierra” system. Ray’s insight was to utilize the concept of a virtual machine whose instructions were the content of the genetic information in each digital organism. The virtual machine allowed for a non-brittle system, as opposed to the instruction sets of most CISC CPUs.

    Avida as an experimental system has built-in support for extensive logging of information so that one can essentially “replay the tape”, as Stephen Jay Gould used to say, and see what happens with perturbations at particular points in a lineage of digital organisms. This brings up an issue that both Rob and people in the lab have mentioned: running Avida generates data. A lot of data. IIRC, Rob told me that Avida could easily generate a gigabyte a day of data per experiment. Essentially, each person in the lab has the responsibility to backup and store their data in some fashion.

  • 2007/03/03 at 10:10 am
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    Welcome to East Lansing. (Well, I guess I cannot really welcome you since I am not there anymore.)

    If you are into music at all, be sure to check out Elderly Instruments as soon as you can. (1100 N Washington in Lansing, just north of LCC). It is a mecca for musicians and aficionados alike.

    You may want to check out rentals in that neighborhood. I do not know about hawks, but when I lived there the next door neighbors keep chickens. It would be a bit easier commute than Laingsburg. There is a bike trail that goes from there to the edge of campus.

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