Second Times a Charm?

After what seems like eternity, I have completed my second (and a half?) qualifying exam document at Guelph. For people who know me, or who have read a bit of my blog, you may know that I am on my third advisor for my PhD. The advisor I came to the University for suddenly passed away and the second advisor after that resigned right before my last QE was supposed to happen. So after starting with my third (and hopefully final) advisor, I decided to start my QE fresh so that it was something I was proud of and confident in before I presented it. For those of you who don’t know, a QE document is a sort of research proposal (<= 50 pages) of the work you intend to do for you PhD. It contains the literature review, motivation and sometimes initial results, as well as the planned methodology for the research. So anyway, I have completed the document and after several rounds of edits with my advisor it is ready and off to the committee. Here's hoping I'll make it to the exam stage this time and pass quickly so I can move on with the real work! Stay tuned for some posts that are more technical instead of these boring updates on my progress. Now that things are moving along I think I'll actually have something to post 🙂

Recent Computer Related Events

The last few months have been crazy.

I’ve had a couple of job interviews with tech companies in California, attended a BB10Jam, released a couple of playbook apps, started on some side research projects at school. So this post is all about talking a bit about each of those things.

Job Interviews in Grad School
If you are like me and don’t like to say no to anything, you’ll probably go along with the whole interview process – just to see where it takes you. Also if you are like me and a busy grad student – you probably will not have time to prepare properly for the interviews. This is probably a big mistake (or maybe not). From my perspective, the technical questions in the interviews went pretty well when they were directly in my areas of expertise. As soon as they meandered to peripheral areas, things got a little ugly. Worse still was the coding questions. While I do try to keep up my skills in this area, grad students (particularly PhD) students in comp sci aren’t always well known for being code monkeys. We spend most of our time reading papers, proposing algorithms and mechanisms for solving problems. We then either 1) Hire an undergraduate student for the programming or 2) Make use of as many open source tools as possible and “macgyver” them into suiting our needs. In the extreme case we may code some specialized tool for what we need as well. So as you can guess, my coding skills were rusty. If I were to prepare in the future, I’d focus on this for as much time as I could before starting the interview processes. But since these interviews all contacted me first, that wasn’t an option.

Despite all the doom and gloom in Waterloo these days about RIM, I still like to develop apps for the Playbook for a few reasons. 1) RIM lives where I live. 2) I got a free Playbook at a conference. 3) The AppWorld is not saturated with a million of the same type of app yet.


So after developing a couple of apps I noticed they were having a BB10Jam here in Waterloo and went. The event was really good. The people were friendly and nice, and it was much less stuffy than some of the previous RIM events I have attended. Maybe it is a sign things are starting to reverse. Beyond just that though, the platform looks pretty good. I also got a developer device and am working on some apps for it now. The biggest selling point in developing for them right now for BB10 is the $10,000 reward for any app that can make $1,000 in the first year. Also at the event there were many stats showing increasing numbers of developers and apps in the store which all sounds good. Another interesting bit of info was that BB users are more likely to pay for their apps compared to other platforms. All of this makes it increasingly attractive to develop for the platform. So at the end of the BB10Jam I came away pretty excited to get at it. Just need to find the time now!

BB Playbook Apps
If you have read this blog previously, you may noticed something about one of my apps. The first one I made was a telnet application. I had the intention to also include ssh, but have not had the time to include this bit of code yet. The biggest challenge with that app was developing a console library for displaying the text. At the time Cascades was not available yet, and this type of thing was a bit tricky. There’s more info on it here: The app is available here for free on the appworld:

The second app I created is a web server. The inspiration for this was that I wanted to be able to serve images from the camera onto a website hosted on the playbook. This way you can leave your playbook setup as a sort of security camera. So the first step was creating the web-server to serve the content. Right now it just supports serving static content – no php, perl, python etc, but maybe in the future. The next step will be to hook into the camera and serve up a continuously changing image that is polled from the camera regularly. The app is available here:

Side Research Projects
The last thing is the side research projects I have taken on in the past couple of months. I have been collaborating with researchers in the math department on two projects. First is a cognitive agent project. In this project we are interested in the intelligence required for a creature to cross a busy street. The first creatures are oblivious to the conditions in which danger may exist so they cross the road. As some of them are hit, the creatures which follow can observe the conditions and avoid crossing. Eventually they start to learn when it is safe to cross. The focus of the work is the underlying learning mechanisms for this problem.

The second project I am involved in is a vehicular traffic simulation tool. An existing tool was developed several years ago, however there were some shortcomings in the model. The model is based on the Nagel-Schreckenberg traffic model, however the ramps on the highway were only one cell. Because of this limitation, it becomes difficult to properly simulate certain highway configurations such as clover-leaf ramps. My recent work on this project has extended the model to address this limitation.