Wednesday, August 18, 2010

ALIZ-E videos and dancing robot

With my work on the ALIZ-E project, I get to play around (by play, I mean work...) with the Nao humanoid robot (it's a cute little thing). One of things I've been getting it to do recently is dance. Actually, a summer project student did most of the low-level implementation (the time consuming definition of angle joints etc), so I've just been dealing with how to use these behaviours. This video is the first and really simplistic example:

The video is actually pretty poor quality, and I've somehow managed to squash the picture (my first awful attempt at a youtube video...), but it shows the Nao moving around (even if calling it 'dancing' is a bit of a stretch at the moment). I've set up a You-tube channel on which I will put more (and better quality) videos in the future of our Nao robots engaging in interesting behaviours related to the ALIZ-E project.

Monday, August 16, 2010

What is a PhD?

I like this pictorial description of what a PhD is supposed to be. Not a perfect metaphor (the increasingly important training aspect, for U.K. institutions at least, isn't really incorporated), but it's nice nonetheless. Whilst it could be interpreted as a bit bleak, I would say it puts things into a little perspective :-)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Coming to the end of a chapter

I had my PhD viva last week. Happily, it went quite well, and I passed, with minor corrections to complete. Looking back on the viva, it passed relatively quickly (for the four hours it lasted) considering the building anxiety I felt for the couple of weeks or so beforehand. While I've not finished the PhD yet (the aforementioned corrections), and I've been fortunate enough to find a postdoc before this final milestone, I thought this would be a good opportunity to mention a couple of things that helped me through the process. I would of course appreciate any additions or other feedback on this - these are just some very brief notes :-)

The writing-up process was the most tortuous and least enjoyable academic task I have ever had to undertake. Even though I was nominally writing-up for about 9 months, most of the words got written in the final month and a bit. It was a truly horrible process: procrastination well and truly took hold - in fact, there were multiple occasions when my research on procrastination itself seemed so much more important than my thesis. Since my PhD research was essentially an individual effort (I had a supervisor of course, luckily a particularly good one, but he moved to another university while I was writing-up), I didn't have project colleagues working on similar things who I could discuss things with, or bounce ideas off of. I believe that the process would have been less daunting and painful if I had been able to do this. In my last month, there was another PhD student writing his thesis too, but on a completely different topic. This was a great help - for motivation and company: seeing someone else go through the same thing at the same time helped to put it all into perspective.

The second thing that really drove me to complete the writing process was the presence of a hard deadline. Well, actually two hard deadlines. The first was my registration period as a PhD student drawing to a close. I know extensions can usually be acquired, but it's a fairly good deadline to work to :-) More importantly for me though was the promise of a waiting postdoc position. I started the week after I submitted my thesis, and still had to move across the country - so the sooner I submitted the better. It's quite a motivator.

These two things made me finish on time, but the way it turned out probably wasn't the best way of doing it. I didn't leave myself a huge amount of time for proof-reading, even though the thesis said what I wanted it to say. But then hindsight is a wonderful thing... I'm just happy to have gotten this far :-)