June, 2010

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Thesis Stats

It’s that time in my PhD program where the scary issue of the “thesis” begins it’s ritualistic haunting. What is your thesis going to be about? Do you have an outline yet? Who is your committee going to consist of? Ahh! Too much! So I do what I do best under stress: take a deep breath and see what other people have done. So I downloaded the past few years of Robotics thesis proposals and dissertations. Then because I love statistics so much I ran some numbers.

The average thesis proposal (in the RI department in the last 3 years, roughly) has a length of 48 pages, with a 17-80 page range and an average of 94 references. The average thesis dissertation has 165 pages, with a 90-364 page range and 89 references. The confusing thing here is thesis proposals have more references than dissertations. I’m not sure how that works except maybe students over cite during the proposal stage to make it look like they did a good job at their background/related works sections.

Anyhow, I know roughly the structure of a thesis proposal/dissertation – now if only I had some idea what to actually put IN my thesis…

Yet Another Swap

WordPressEvery so often I decide for no good reason that I should redesign my website and swap content management systems. I’ve been through a lot, and now I’m trying WordPress, the blog-a-jiggerie thing. Right now I’m testing out the sticky feature to see if my introduction blog post with a purty picture of me will stay at the top of the page or be pushed down by this more recent post (i.e. testing the quality of WordPress programmers). Let’s see. [edit: It works, yay for WordPress so far.]

Actually, I am quite impressed with WordPress. Nearly everything I tried to do was super easy from the admin side. Upgrading, changing permalinks to clean urls, and installing templates could all be done inside the admin GUI without having to go dig through code. This is a welcome change from other wikis/cmses I’ve used before. I did have to modify some CSS and the template code a bit (remove nested pages from showing up as buttons on the top left side of the header bar), but it was all quite painless. Importing text from Word and my old webpages was surprisingly easy. So really within a day, I have most of the relevant stuff from my old webpage and am almost ready to go live with the new site with WordPress as the backend.


Profile PicI am a 5th year PhD student at CMU’s Robotics Institute, living in Pittsburgh, PA. I work on medical robotics, computer vision, and controls. I also haunt the intertubes at YouTube, Flickr, Facebook, Google (Shared Reader Items), and CMU.

Why I love my PPC-6700

Back in summer 2006, I went from no phone to (then) state-of-the-art Sprint PPC-6700 running Windows Mobile 5.0. It was awesome back in the day with it’s Pocket Outlook, IE, Word, and any app you could load on it. With MobiPocket and Microsoft Reader, I could load up on several hundred books for reading anyhwere. I cross-compiled a BASIC interperter and could even run some scripts on it (alas I was not able to get gcc to run on it). However, I discovered the best thing: my $15/mo data plan allowed tethering! I could hook it up to my laptop via USB and get internet – as a bonus it was unlimited and nearly everywhere. Of course, time does what time does best: slowly reduce every electronic gadget to a uselessly outdated mere curiosity. The iPhone, Droid, EVO phones all sport slimmer, sexier, much more capable features than my sad PPC-6700. But as a poor college boy, I have been resisting updating because when I moved to Pittsburgh to attend CMU, I didn’t shell out for cable + internet. Instead, I used my tethered phone as my primary internet in my apartment. I can’t watch SD or HD movies like Hulu or Netflix, but YouTube works pretty well and it lets me read papers, check email, listen to Pandora, and generally surf the Internet.

But the allure of the sexy new phones, especially the EVO with it’s touted tethering capabilities and 4G (which Pittsburgh is getting this year), is so scintillating! So I did some analysis. Below is a graph of my usage of the PPC-6700 data and voice usage over the past year. Data usage is for both tethering and smartphone usage; voice is only daytime minutes.

Smartphone Usage

The amazing thing to note is that I’ve been averaging 4 GB a month of tethered internet with a peak of 6.5 GB. That pretty much rules out the iPhone for me. For the same $15 a month with AT&T, I can get a paltry 200 MB. Their highest data plan for $25 a month caps the data usage at 2GB, which would only cover two months of my past year – which incidentally coincides with my international traveling where I wasn’t using my phone for weeks at a time. So how about EVO? Sprint is still unlimited data, but I have to pay $70 (well technically $69.99, but let’s round stuff off here) for 450 minutes + unlimited data. To tether, it’s another $30. So $100 a month total. That’s a lot of money, more than double what I’m currently paying ($30 for 200 minutes call time + $15 for unlimited tethering). And what I do get? 250 minutes I don’t use anyhow, faster internet speeds, and a much nicer phone with a poorer battery life. The question I ask myself is: Can I justify $100 upgrade fee + 12*$50 = $600 = $700 a year extra on a new phone like the EVO? So far…the answer has been no.