Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May's Volunteer of the Month


David is a busy guy at the shelter. He's a mentor and a BAD RAP class regular. But we didn't realize how smart he is. I bet he's not taking all the gym classes like I used to do. Thanks for all your hard work at the shelter, David.

What do you do when you're not at the shelter?

I'm a 2nd year PhD student at UC Berkeley in Computer Science. My area is Artificial Intelligence, specializing in Natural Language Processing. Basically, I make computers understand human language. My two main research threads are in syntactic parsing, which involves figuring out the grammatical structure of sentences, and in historical linguistics, which involves the reconstruction of ancient languages using the languages that descend from them.

I also have a research project to make artificial agents to play the video game StarCraft, which is kind of like chess with aliens, except played in real-time (no 'moves') and you can't see your opponent's half of the board.

Why did you initially decide to volunteer at BACS?

My girlfriend and I had been in Berkeley for just a couple of months and we were looking for something to do together. We both love animals, and so the Berkeley Animal Shelter seemed like a perfect choice.

What are your favorite things about volunteering?

The dogs! I love how after maybe one or two walks the dogs start to expect that you'll walk them, even the dogs that didn't really seem all that into you. It's really gratifying to know that they're excited about it too.

Also, the shelter staff is really amazing. They're so kind and patient with everyone. They're an incredibly impressive bunch.

Who are your favorite dogs, past and present?

Past: Bella! (below) I was initially a bit put off by Bella. She was incredibly high energy and usually I saw her tearing at someone else's jeans in BADRAP class or grabbing for the leash. Once I started working with her, it turned out that she was just really smart, and she got bored extremely easily. She just wanted to show off how clever she was, and she was going to make you pay attention. Once you gave her a task, she really was a sweet girl.

Current: I really love Brando (below). He's a striking young guy who always wants you to pet him. Always. When we were trying to teach him sit, he would just immediately flop over and look at you like it was belly rub time, and then he'd look surprised when it was not in fact belly rub time. He's also amazing on a leash even from day one, which is incredible for a dog as young as he is.

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