January, 2011

now browsing by month


Mac & Linux Helicopter Visualizer

Thanks to Joydeep and Pras, Plinth now actually works under Mac & Linux (both x86 and x64). It turns out it was just some minor library and compilation issues that needed to be resolved. This means that that the helicopter visualizer now works on all three major platforms. Luckily, the MATLAB interface is cross-platform by using Java sockets. So go get some helicopter goodness.

Sick, cold, bleck

Well I got a cold with the stuffed up nose, sore throat, and whole enchilada. It’s like it’s winter or something. Oh wait! It is winter. What was my first clue? Maybe the fact it is 7 F outside and there is this blindingly white stuff everywhere. On the plus side, this has made it much easier to prevent my phone from overheating. And yes, when acting as a 3G wifi hotspot and charging the battery, my phone will overheat and do an odd LED blinky dance of death, refusing the charge and generally acting really really slowly. That’s when I put it outside between the window and the screen in the nice Pittsburgh winter weather for a while to cool off. It works really well actually.

Anyhow, this has messed with my sleep schedule massively. I was in bed by 11 pm last night, but after an hour of not being able to sleep, I cracked open my laptop and figured I’d do work until sleep overwhelmed me. Alas that didn’t happen until 6 am so now things are all wonky. Maybe I’ll just invert my schedule. If I wake up at 4 pm, I can just drive my car to campus instead of having to take the bus. How handy would that be? Of course, finding food in the middle of the night in Pittsburgh can be a bit tough.

What Makes a Good Reviewer?

I have to review a couple of papers in the robotics field and was asking myself today: “What makes a good reviewer?” Let’s see. Ultimately, a reviewer serves two purposes: a judge and confidant. As a judge, a reviewer should objectively look at a body of research documented in a paper and check a number of important criteria:

  • Does the research fit with the topic and tone of the place it is being published? Many research papers are good, but would be more appropriate if submitted to a different venue.
  • Does the research meet the quality standards of the place it is being published? Is the research thorough and are the results representative of what you would expect?
  • Does the paper present the research well? Is it clearly document the steps taken such that the results can be duplicated?

Of course, you could come up with many additional criteria by which to judge papers, and that is all well and good.

However, it is the second aspect to reviewing papers that I feel many people miss out on. A reviewer should be more than just an imperialist judge. In my opinion, what makes your ye-old standard reviewer into a good reviewer is the ability to act as a confidant. A confidant is somebody who you can share something important with and expect frank, but kindly advice. Your father, sibling, close friend. Somebody who will listen to you without condescension, frustration, or the ilk and really wish the best while advising you. Similarly, a researcher submitting their work for review is them sharing with you their not-yet published research. Just as a confident is somebody who is outside the situation and can offer advice, a reviewer should offer candid, yet kindly suggestions on how to make the research better. I have seen some reviewers who view their job as judge, jury, and executor in one, shredding good work and nitpicking small ideological issues. This is not to say that a reviewer shouldn’t be completely candid – sometimes the job of a confidant is to deliver unpleasant truth. They can note missing references, bring attention to errors, point out inconsistencies, indicate parts of the paper are unclear, make editorial corrections, etc. However, they should also offer insights that the authors might benefit from, suggest new avenues of future research, list more appropriate venues to publish, detail improvements that could be made, etc. And often it is not what you say, but how you say it.

The line between acting judge and confidant is hard to decide and act upon sometimes, but for the poor researcher slaving away at difficult problems for months and years on end, it is the least you can do. Put more than a quick scan and a few sentences into your reviews, and aim to be a good reviewer.

Dessert Burritos

After making prison loaf (e.g. a nutritionally complete bread similar to meatloaf but made out of vegetables for prison inmates that really quite honestly tastes like nothing), we decided that perhaps maybe a better idea was to combine lots of different delicious desserty things. Somehow this morphed into dessert burritos. Yeah don’t look at me – I don’t from which bush that idea sprang behind from and tackled us, but it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time. Maybe it was the horrid taste of nothingness left behind from the insipid prison loaf that persists for months regardless of how often you try to scrub the memory from your mind. Or maybe not. Anyhow, thus began the trip to¬† buy goodies and make brownies and prepare for something possibly great. Recipes for dessert burritos were a bit hard to come by (OK, I lie – I didn’t even check) so I just decided to wing it. Here is the recipe to our culinary masterpiece:

1) Start with one soft taco burrito thingie from the store.

2) Place on brownie square in the middle of the burrito.

3) Spread Nutella on the burrito. If you can somehow make it not look like a mud pie, do so.

4) Scoop one vanilla and one chocolate ice cream ball onto the burrito.

5) Liberally sprinkle strawberries and blueberries or other fantastic fruit on your burrito.

6) No dessert is complete without drizzled chocolate syrup, so go hog wild.

7) Fold your burrito, making sure to fold the bottom in so it doesn’t leak too too much. Notice my ultra-classy paper plate.

8 ) Eat your dessert burrito! Please don’t look as scared as I am at the prospect.

So yeah there you have it. Dessert burritos. I’ve got to admit, the burrito was a bit saltier than I was expecting, so if you can procure non-salted ones, it would be in your best interest. I think I might just recommend a regular old sundae unless you are looking for something particularly unique.