Shortlog - a log of everyday things



Matt Might, an assistant professor at University of Utah, writes on successful PhD students. I found this posting (and others) particularly interesting, so I'm going to do my best to avoid reposting the entire page and just quote the particularly noteworthy paragraphs:

"Smart" qualities like brilliance and quick-thinking are irrelevant in Ph.D. school. Students that have made it through so far on brilliance and quick-thinking alone wash out of Ph.D. programs with nagging predictability. Let there be no doubt: brilliance and quick-thinking are valuable in other pursuits. But, they're neither sufficient nor necessary in science.

(aside: I need to come up with some CSS and support in my blog engine for indented blocks, so it's clear what's original and what's quoted.)

This matches everything I've heard so far, and it remains scary to me, because I have gotten this far on brilliance and quick-thinking. The questions I have for myself are:

Second quote from the article:

For students that excelled as undergraduates, the sudden and constant barrage of rejection and failure is jarring. If you have an ego problem, Ph.D. school will fix it. With a vengeance. (Some egos seem to recover afterward.)

Hehehehe, I've mostly learned how to not have such an ego that I put others off, but inside I'm still probably a bit on the cocky side. Thus, any future frustration I express here can possibly be attributed to my ego being deflated. I do appreciate the relevant practice certain people have given me over the past few years - I'm getting better, really!

Final quote from the article (emphasis mine, and apologies for quoting four paragraphs without having indent block functionality (I really need to implement that, I see)):

"Generally, grad students don't arrive with the ability to communicate well. This is a skill that they forge in grad school. The sooner acquired, the better.
Unfortunately, the only way to get better at writing is to do a lot of it. 10,000 hours is the magical number folks throw around to become an expert at something. You'll never even get close to 10,000 hours of writing by writing papers.
Assuming negligible practice writing for public consumption before graduate school, if you take six years to get through grad school, you can hit 10,000 hours by writing about 5 hours a day. (Toward the end of a Ph.D., it's not uncommon to break 12 hours of writing in a day.)
That's why I recommend that new students start a blog. Even if no one else reads it, start one. You don't even have to write about your research. Practicing the act of writing is all that matters."

Another excellent reason for me to continue writing (and at possibly greater length) in my blog. Even better - now my blogging can be described in terms of benefit to the larger goal of my PhD and communication in general; thus, blogging is no longer procrastination. Messing around writing code to support it might be, but now I have an (if only in hindsight) adequate rationale for continuing to spend time writing.

That's it for my musings of the day, so now I'll briefly mention a couple events:

Ordering food for lab lunch: this is a rant. I wanted to order food for 15-20 people from Viet Nam Village. I called a day in advance, trying to explain what I was after and place the order in advance, so they'd have time to fill it. I was asked to "call back tomorrow." I thought this odd, but thought "hey, they probably know what they're doing," so at 9am this morning I dutifully called back. No one answered. I continued to call back at 30 minute intervals until 10:30, when a man who sounded like the same man I'd talked to the night before picked up. As I tried to place the order, he informed me that it was "too much!" I explained that, expecting this, I had tried to call last night, and had been told to call back in the morning. He apologized, but there was nothing more he could do. So, note to self: don't try to order lunch for the lab from Viet Nam Village. In a state of mild panic, I SMSed Luke, who is also half-responsible for lab lunch, and he came through with the suggestion of La Val's pizza, which delivered and was delicious. Second note to self: don't bother ordering plain cheese pizza; just get another BBQ chicken.

Microsoft Tech Fest: MS set up five booths for tech talks in the Woz lounge, got burritos, and brought cupcakes frosted in the red, green, yellow, and blue hues that match their windows branding (I need to implement photos for my blog too, it seems). I enjoyed talking to the Kinect guy in particular. It seems that it's still probably a bit early to try using the Kinect skeleton-capture as a video input for my research - currently, the SDK only supports running on the Xbox360, and the PR2 is strictly x86, so it's not likely that I could share a codebase, which is important to me. Further, the resolution is only 320x240, which may not be precise enough for tracking fine movements. I guess I could run some back-of-the-envelope calculations to guess at precision, but I doubt it's anywhere near the millimeter accuracy I'm going to get with the motion capture system that I now have access to.

OH YEAH. I HAVE ACCESS TO A MOTION CAPTURE RIG. Apparently there's one in my building, in the Teleimmersion lab. It's almost directly above the lab I sit in. Björn got permission for me to use it. It tracks up to 32 points at millimeter accuracy in 3D at 480Hz. That is quite impressive, for those of you not familiar with motion capture. I'm excited.

BONUS: From the PhaseSpace (the vendor of the motion capture system I'll be using) website: "PhaseSpace also includes a full C++ and Python API to allow you to write your own custom software. All of our software runs on both LINUX and WINDOWS." Also cool: their appliance that does the processing also runs Linux. I can't wait.