Ryan Russell’s Honors Portfolio


I’ll always be a programmer. There’s some kind of magic in giving instructions to a machine and seeing the results. As you say your incantation, the bits start to twiddle up, down, left, right just as you command. You are the sorceror’s apprentice and the machine will draw water. When the program works, it’s like a dance — each piece perfectly in sync. When it doesn’t, prepare for the flood. In my time at UW, I have spent countless hours on one programming project or another in my free time just to participate in the magic.

When I came to UW, I knew I wanted to study computer science because I love to program. I was fortunate enough to be accepted, but I didn’t realize at the time how fortunate I really was. It seems that at job fairs employers pass out free stickers, T-shirts, and paid internships. Everyone appreciates those who can cause bits to twiddle on command. All over Silicon Valley, startups are saving the world with {bitcoins, selfies, apps}, reaching billion dollar valuations in the process.

It’s easy to be caught up in the hype. It’s easy to think that because so many people are making so much money, programming must be important. The prevailing theory among programmers seems to be that every social problem can be solved with {machine learning, node.js, targetted ads} and a few programmers working in a garage. But fundamentally, programmers are just people who can turn coffee into code. They solve imaginary problems in cyberspace which sometimes resemble real life.

In my time at UW, I spent a lot of time programming in and out of coursework. I stayed in the honors program to try to widen my view. Technology is powerful, but it’s not all-powerful. Outside of the technology bubble, real life is much more complicated than computer code. I will always be a programmer. I’m just a guy that can turn red bits into blue bits and vice-versa. I hope I can put it to good use.

About Me

ADA the Drawing Robot - ’12-’13

ADA is the Advanced Drawing Automaton (or something like that – it’s actually named after Ada Lovelace). ADA uses an Arduino microcontroller and some motors to make drawings. In the Haggett 5-6 lounge, where I lived, I created a few drawings.

The Power of Narrative - Sp ’13

I’ve always been interested in stories. This class explored different types of narratives and how they are fundamental to our thoughts. My final paper for this class was to analyze the narrative of a story. I chose How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu.

Universe 31 is not big enough for a space opera — and anyway not zoned for it.

Science in Context - Au ’13

This course was taught by David Battisti and Stevan Harrell, from the Atmospheric Sciences and Anthropology departments, respectively. We discussed climate change and evolution as they relate to (mostly American) society.

Piracy - Sp ’14

This class covered all aspects of piracy – from Treasure Island to Somali Pirates to thepiratebay.com. I wrote my final essay on piracy and software.

Pilgrimages and Idle Travels - Au ’14

This class was one of the most intense classes I have taken at UW. We wrote several very personal essays, and for the midterm everyone read everyone else’s papers for peer review. I had to dig deep into my self and my writing.

My friend taught me to ride, kind of. When I was about seven or eight, I still rode with training wheels, too afraid to take them off.

Reading Tolkien - Sp ’15

For the final project in this class about the works of J.R.R. Tolkien we had the option of creating a creative project. I am interested in writing systems, so I created a document in an invented language. If you saw me taking notes in class during this quarter, I was most likely doodling letter shapes for my alphabet.

Data Visualization - Sp ’15

This was the first grad-level class that I took. It ties in with my data visualization research. For one of the projects, my partner and I created a visualization of some of the moons of Saturn and the interesting relationship they have with the rings.

Operating Systems - Au ’15

Our main project in this class was to create an x86 operating system. After we finished the required labs, our “Lab X” project was to extend the system in some way. I added a graphics mode and windowing library.

Interactive Data Lab ’14-’16

Starting the summer between sophomore and junior years, I have been working on and off in the UW Interactive Data Lab. I participated in the research for Vega 2.0, and our paper was accepted into InfoVis2015 in Chicago. I took almost a week off of school during autumn quarter of Senior year to go to the conference. Now I am working on a senior thesis with the same project.