Saturday, April 29, 2006

Putting the Windows down with balloons in your car isn't a great idea...

Heh. I bought a helium filled Happy BDAY balloon (thankfully only $3) for Dani's B-DAY party today.

Well, as I was driving home from A&P, I rolled the windows down (it was so damn nice out, force of habit!). 2 seconds later I'm like "OH SHIT!", and gone was the balloon.


Thursday, April 27, 2006

Online predators

Dateline Link

Me and Dani watched this fourth installment of Dateline's online predators special. I didn't realize it was such a problem; I couldn't believe the statistic that 1 in every 5 young girls (<15) are solicited for sex online. After watching this program, however, I can believe it. In 3 stings, they busted 90 men, from all walks of life (including a 6th grade teacher...). These guys were dropping like flies...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mysterious Booms


Just goes to show strange phenomena happens all the time that we don't really have much of a clue as to what is causing it.

“My garage door is double steel and it weighs about 500 lbs. It was rattling back and forth like a leaf in the wind for about 3 or 4 seconds.”

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Caught in an existential funk

/start mini rant

Hrmm, sometimes I wish I had really given it more thought over whether going to grad school in the first place. I'm really starting to think it's not for me (at least in the subject I'm in). Don't get me wrong, I've thoroughly enjoyed my time in grad school so far-- maybe that's the problem.

My supervisor tells me that most grad students (at least in engineering) at most universities have no life at all, dedicating most of their time to study (though this isn't neccessarily true at the UofW). I just don't have that kind of motivation to study advanced theoretical concepts anymore. I still love to learn, but it's gotta be the right stuff.

This past Friday I finally had a casual conversation with my supervisor. Since my progress has been slow, he thinks perhaps his approach to put a lot of pressure on me was a mistake on his part, and has relieved said pressure a great deal. He told me the ball is in my park now, so to speak. I either have to work hard, complete my degree, or not. I finally expressed my frustrations to him.

Apparently over the past 7-8 months I've been focusing on the wrong stuff really. Sure, I've read tons of papers, planned out how to use existing equipement for a hardware simluation, taken a few courses, GA'd, but toward my thesis work I've gotten nowhere really. Considering I intially planned to finish in 1 year, and need to finish in 1 1/2 years, that's not a particularily great thing.

So I've been trying to read this "essentials of robust control" grad type textbook that I was supposed to read last semester but never got around to. It's about as exciting as watching grass grow. I enjoyed classic control systems in undergrad, and enjoyed my capstone project (it was very theory light though) . The more advanced control engineering is extremely, extremely theoretical math heavy. This is one of the main reasons there still exists a large gap between what is known in theory and what is actually applied in industry.

The thing is, I really have to understand this stuff for my thesis work, in order to be able to answer questions during a defense and such, but my brain just doesn't seem to work at digesting it. Learning all this math on my own is overwhelming for me-- I've always been taught math stuff, not learned it all on my own. I can learn a lot of stuff on my own, but this theory heavy stuff, I'm really struggling with. I do well with structured learning like undergrad, I do fine with learning many, simpler concepts as in the places I've worked at, but this completey non-structured learning is vexing me: I'm having much difficulty making the transition from undergrad to grad school.

My decisions in life seem to have been, in retrospect, somewhat logical. I chose engineering because it's a good mix of creativity / mathematics. I decided to go to Grad school because I had the marks, and many of my fellow classmates, and some previous supervisors, told me I would be well suited for it, and I obtained a NSERC scholarship. However, I wish I had made a more active decision on what to do with my life instead of being so damn passive; in the end, it's caught up to me and bit me in the ass, so to speak.

Doing something you enjoy is very important. Well, I have to learn to enjoy this stuff I'm doing again, I think. Yet, some days I feel like giving up and finding a engineering job instead.

In conclusion, my frustrations stem from:
- the feeling of not getting anywhere in research work
- the work I have to do, I seem to be no good at.

I now understand the frustrations of undergrad students who were not good at the subject they were taking. :)

In the end, I have to remain positive. Sure, I'm struggling, but most other grad students in my department are too. I don't want this master's degree endevour to be my first major failure because I made the wrong decision to pursue it in the first place. I need to increase my confidence, and get it done. Even if it's not the best work ever, which it may very well be, it's better than quitting.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

An introspective

I sit outside today enjoying a beer and sunshine (wonder weather!) after school, typing with Dani's labtop outside (I apologize in advance for that one, Dani.) Warning, this post is a bit self-reflective, and as such, automatically boring ;)

/start rant

Ah. It seems many people I know at the moment are at cross-roads in their life, and I feel the same way ;)

For me, most things in my life are going great. My relationship with Dani has never been better, stronger, or more fun. Family and friends are great. Movies, video games,reading, and even starting to work out a bit. Life is great.

School? That's where it takes a bit of a downturn.

My first semester was spent being sick of school, admittedly, which I was expecting. Finished a course, read alot of background on my thesis topic, and did some GA work. Enjoyed the weather while reading literature, but enjoying the "view" (warm weather brings quite a bit of eye candy at the University.)

Now this semester is approaching a close. I finished my Image Processing / C++ course, which, admittely, ate atleast 20 hrs or so a week, on average, of my time at school. I refused to do any of it at home; homework is for undergrad, I told myself. Where did the rest of my time go? Not sure. I have a daily planner, and try to get something accomplished every day, but it hasn't seemed to get any good end result as of yet (oh, read yet another obscure paper... bah).

My supervisor is becoming increasingly frustrated (I don't blame him) of my lack of progress in my thesis work. In parallel, I've did most of the planning for a hardware-in-the-loop (HIL) simulation, as well. It's only been a few pieces I've yet to figure out that's holding me off really starting implementing it. Troublshooting is a pain, because the simulation software (OpalRT and Carsim) are hardly what I would call "robust" programs. Any little thing seems to set them off with errors, licensing issues, etc.

Lately, I've been having difficulty focusing on one topic for an extended period of time (though I had no problem in my coursework, for some reason). I've been having mild anxiety attacks due to the fact I don't feel as if I'm progressing in my work, which in turns makes it more difficult to get work done. I seem to have a lack of confidence in myself, with negative thoughts seemingly overpowering my normal, more positive thoughts. It seems to disturb my sleep, if I wake up, I can't seem to get back to sleep, my mind racing with useless nonsense. Now, mind you, most people have probably experienced, or will experience similar issues at some point or multiple points in their lives; for me, I think, the difficulty comes in that I've never experienced them to any degree near this before. Yep, this anxiety is much worse than even the toughest exam; I seemed to get through those okay by just making sure I understood the most important concepts very well, and not worrying about anything else. I'm getting better though (note: I better be, I don't have the money for a shrink , hah! :) )

Well, this passive attitude isn't getting me very far. Nor should it, and active attitude is neccessary for success in most things in life.

My supervisor, in previous meetings, has questioned my ability as a master's student; he can't seem to understand how someone apparently very intelligent (at least from a school standpoint) would be unable to progress in thesis work, or combine concepts to produce a better result. I didn't have any answer for him, and still don't . A possibility is that this research stuff isn't my cup of tea (which, I admittely, I don't think it is. I've come this far though, no sense giving up, just gotta hack at it some more.) He's basically said "get some results or you are out".

In my meeting with my supervisor yesterday, which I handed in a thesis progress report, he basically glanced through it, didn't comment on any of the ideas I had (hrmm) . I think the fundamental problem here is he is more interested in control theory (well, hey, that's what he does) and of how elegant the solution will be ; whereas I just want to get something that works ;) Control systems are neat, don't get me wrong. It's a very broad, multidisciplinary , interesting subject. I enjoyed the 2 courses were had on it (taught by my supervisor) in undergrad. When it gets any more advanced than that undergrad level though, the crazy math just starts pouring out. That's the thing I sincerely don't seem to enjoy about it.

Anyway, he simplifed my problem for me, and basically said "use paper X idea with paper Y structure to produce result Z." Very specific, super, a great place to start a new, but still lots of work to do. Now all I have to do is learn a bunch of abstract mathematical concepts, of which, learning on my own, I seem to be very, very, very bad at. He says that I don't neccessarily have to complete the HIL platform to get my degree; fine, I told him I'd still like to work on it. He then told me that if I finish the above problem,then I can proceed with the HIL platform. I certainly want to atleast partially complete the HIL platform, perhaps for another student to finish, as a good chunk of my time so far has been spent on that very subject. It's disheartening when your supervisor no longer has very much confidence in you, and seemingly wants you out of there as quick as possible, heh. :)

Of course, I understand that his job is not to be easy on me; that's not how the real world works. He's been very upfront with this as well, so it's no surprise.

It's funny, yet again, I've discovered more about what I don't want to do than what I actually want to do, so far. That's okay, even if the whole researcher thing isn't for me, there's a multitude of other things to do out there ;) And hey, it's a learning experience, and in no way am I limited in future work based on what I did for my master's work. The most important thing is to make sure I'm still learning something.

My hope is by talking things out with Dani (which I already have, and will continue to, as she's very supportive and can see things where I am seemingly blind) and perhaps a bit of personal reflection and planning more often, that things will fall into place.

I end with a few Homer quotes:

"The lesson is kids, never try"
"Go crazy? Don't mind if I DO!"
"Alcohol. The cause of, and solution to , all of life's problems."

/end rant

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bill Bryson's "A Brief History of Nearly Everything"

Amazon Link

This book was exceptional. Bill Bryson spent 5 years investigating "How we know what we know" in science (physics, chemistry, biology, geology, etc etc). He's a non-technical person, and explains things very well and to the point. You get an idea just how crazy some scientists were (and probably still are.) Each chapter covers a somewhat different topic, but it all flows very well. It's basically a book on this history of science, something we never learned in school whatsoever.

I found his explanations of quantum physics much more enjoyable than Stephen Hawking's ramblings :)

I'd like to see if there exists a similar style book on the history of engineering ;)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Is Canada's legal system way too leniant?

I think so.

It seems almost everyday I read the paper, I hear of sexual predators getting much too light sentences.

Now today, Carmen, is only getting 7 years, as he managed to get put away for manslaughter instead of murder. He enticed a 17 year old guy to meet him in a back alley to buy drugs, but didn't have the drugs, and instead stabbed him twice in the heart and robbed him.

Now, I'm no legal expert, but isn't manslaughter when you accidentally kill someone, but are still partially to blame? His crime sure seems like cold blooded (perhaps even premeditated) murder.

The lighter sentence was given on grounds that Carmen was young when he committed the crime (21) and has a large chance for rehabilitation (they're kidding, right?)

Technology Review and some thoughts

I was reading the paper the other day, and it stuck me that for a small/medium city like Windsor, the fact that the Catholic School Board has 51 employees, in administration, that earn over 100K a year.

I know a 100K a year isn't neccessarily as much as it used to be, but that seems like a lot to me, for a government run seperate school board.

Top Ten Tech Cars
Nothing really revolutionary for cars, but definately evolutionary, with enough useful gadgets to add real value.

On the efficiency front,
-a Ford Reflex that uses a diesel and hybrid-electric propulsion (diesels are more fuel efficient then gasoline vehicles, but most electric motors and diesels produce most of their torque at low speed, and a flatter speed/torque response is desired)
- A vehicle that uses one central gasoline motor and 4 special motors (having a doughnut shaped rotor and inner stator, apparently to reduce the overall intertia) to seperately drive each wheel.

On the autonomous front,
-a Volkswagen sport utility navigated itself through 211 KM of desert in 6 hours,

Safety front,
-automatic headlights
-a system that tells you if you are driving too agressively (somehow I don't think this would be popular in Windsor, at least.)
-self belt pretensionrs ,adaptive cruise control.
-electronic vision to ublock blind spot
-Heads-up-display (not new ofcourse, but definately new to cars) to warn of pedestrians, also night vision

Gadget front,
-The Lexus having automatic parking, realtime traffic updates, 19 point surround sound, individual DVD players for each passenger, climate control based on body of each occupent, anticipates skidding and other vehicle stability problems, headlights that look ahead, and electronic everything (steering, brakes, etc) oh my.

And of course, 1000 HP, 1.2 MILLION, Bugatti Veyron. Produces 987 HP, and 1250 NM of toqruqe. 0-100 km/h in 2.3 seconds, top speed 408 km/h (which ofcourse, to go beyond 375 km/h, the driver must first stop the car, insert a special key, and go through a cheklist, "seatbelts, check, oil, check, last will and testament, check).

Still no production vehicle with Bose's EM suspension, though. :)

Round About Way of Profiling Earth's Atomsphere

An interesting application for GPS (although I'm sure there's lots more).