Those of you who are regular blog readers will know that I've promised to wear a lightsaber to my doctoral graduation, and possibly that I'm making the hilt for my first art class assignment.

Here's the basic idea: just as assembling one's lightsaber was an important culminating milestone in a Padawan's apprenticeship, drawing on his or her past learning, my doctoral lightsaber hilt will represent the various phases of my prior education, and I will be building the blade bit by bit with the work I do over grad school -- hanging over my desk, serving as a visual reminder of how far I've come and how far I've yet to go.

By looking at schematics and a few famous sabers -- Obi Wan Kenobi, Qui-Gon Jinn, and so forth -- I've found that lightsaber hilts break into three main sections of roughly equal length: power cell, crystal, and adjustment mechanisms. These will correspond to high school, college, and my early career, respectively. (Elementary and middle school will comprise the pommel cap below the power cell, and my family will be worked into the ring clipping the hilt to my belt.) Quotes below are from Wookieepedia.

High levels of energy generated by a high-output Diatium power cell was unleashed through a series of focusing lenses and energizers that converted the energy into plasma.

I spent my three years of high school at IMSA (Illinois Mathematics & Science Academy), a residential public magnet school for gifted kids from all over the state. I devoured calculus, number theory, physics, literature, writing, learned to swing dance, started blogging, got my first computer and was introduced to open source and programming, surrounded by brilliant teachers and (for the first time) lots and lots and lots of kids smarter than I was who regularly challenged me to step up my game. High school was where my geekiness was unleashed and allowed to run full-out for the first time, and where I earned the reputation of being tireless -- high levels of energy generated, indeed. A power cell seems quite appropriate.

The plasma was projected through a set of focusing crystals that lent
the blade its properties and allowed for the adjustment of blade length
and power output. The ideal number of crystals was three, though only
one was required.

Boundless energy has plenty of potential, but you've got to turn that into something. Focusing crystals turn plasma into a blade; my four years at Olin College turned me from an overenthusiastic child into an engineer. (Okay, an overenthusiastic engineer.) I learned metacognition, introspection, and powerful ways of thinking -- problem solving, design thinking, ridiculous amounts of collaboration, and audacity. I learned how to regulate myself a little better -- learned about burnout, learned about the importance of balance (though not yet how to balance life). Most importantly, I did find my focus, in a way -- it was Olin that got me on the track of engineering education, which is the field I'm pursuing my PhD in today.

Once focused by the crystals, the plasma was sent through a
series of field energizers and modulation circuitry within the emitter
matrix that further focused it, making it into a coherent beam of energy
that was projected from the emitter.

I've since spent time in the open source world with too many awesome projects and teams to list. If IMSA gave me power and Olin turned me into an engineer, the open source world gave me an arena and a paradigm to play in with my hyperactive problem-solving sense. It shaped the questions I'm asking as a budding researcher and the tools with which I search.

What I'm trying to figure out is what data to use to form each of these. One thought was grades, which would give me a high base across high school, tapering off towards the end of college (when it wasn't, er, quite clear that I would graduate), then... I have no idea what I'd do for post-college. Also, grades are not everything. Another thought was writing -- I have blog posts dating back a decade, and I could make the diameter of the saber proportional to the number of posts I wrote in any given month. High school would be anemic, college less so, post-college dramatically fluctuating. Or by travel, which would make the hilt widen dramatically as time goes by (okay, maybe that's not such a great idea). Or open source programs used/worked-on, which would put the start date back with Red Hat Linux... 5? 6? when I was 14, along with a slew of programs (became a vim user, alpine, etc) closely followed by Debian (and even more applications!) a year later.

"Data" is used loosely in this assignment, though -- I'm thinking first of quantitative, countable -- but it could also be word clouds, looking at pictures I've taken, places I've been, people I've worked with, any of that. C'mon, Mel. Brainstorm. Think like an artist! Whatever I end up basing the hilt on, I'd like to do the blade in some similar manner -- if it's writing, then I'll add little slices of blade according to word-count, and so forth.

Secondarily, I'm still trying to figure out how to get CNC lathe access at Purdue. I've found the laser cutter, vacuum formers, hot wire cutters, table saw, bandsaw, grinders... there's a little CNC mill in the industrial design shop and I now know the guy to ask about it. There are some 3D printers (powder) I haven't seen yet but I now know who to ask. But CNC lathe? Not yet. Still hunting.