Friday, March 14, 2014

On QuickCoords - A tool for quickly capturing coordinates across a series of images.

I needed an easy way to manually track the positions of features across a series of more than 600 photographs. Loading each individual photo and copying the coordinates of each point one at a time gets very tedious very fast, and none of the programs that I tried really seemed to support a rapid workflow.

That's why I wrote my own. QuickCoords v0.1beta is now available, either from Sylvermyst Technologies or from GitHub.

It's still in beta, so if you have any need for a program like this, try it out. The following features are fully functional:
  • Select a folder, and load images from that folder.
  • Quickly switch between images using a range of keyboard shortcuts.
  • Click anywhere in the image to get the coordinates of that point with sub-pixel accuracy.
  • Select and remove points individually, or in groups.
  • Shift points around if your initial click was a handful of pixels off.
  • Copy a list of points for pasting into most spreadsheet programs.
  • Export the points as a CSV file or plain text.

Any feedback is welcome, and if you encounter any major bugs, please report them (if they haven't been reported already).

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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

On the Elusive Doctor of Philosophy

The number one problem with a PhD is that no one really knows what you need to do to get one. Over the past few years, I've been asked too many questions like "When will you finish?" and "How many pages does your thesis have to be?" The answers are actually surprisingly simple: "When I'm done" and "Enough".

I'll start by telling you about the official Rules and Syllabuses of my faculty. This is a three hundred and something page document that goes into a lot of detail into what you need to get various degrees. For undergraduate courses, it will go into some detail about what courses of specific lengths you need to take, how many credits each course is worth, the minimum number of credits required in each year, and summarises the basic requirements for each course and how they are assessed and examined. When it comes to a PhD, though, the rules are pretty vague. Here's what it says:

Conditions for the award of PhD:

A candidate for the Doctor of Philosophy shall –
  1. present for the approval of the Senate a thesis which must constitute a substantial contribution to the advancement of knowledge in the subject chosen, which thesis must be satisfactory as regards literary presentation.
  2. present himself/herself for such assessment as the Senate may determine.

There's a little more about admission requirements, having an advisor, examiners, something about spending a minimum of two years, and a how many copies of the final thesis need to be handed in (it's five, by the way, not counting the electronic copy), but that covers the gist of it. In summary, I need to do some research and write a thesis on it. Nothing about a page count at all. There's just that one requirement: it "must constitute a substantial contribution to the advancement of knowledge in the subject chosen", whatever that may be.

Naturally though, after a few years of research, one can produce a hell of a lot of rubbish. When writing up a thesis, it's natural to start to wonder how much of that actually needs to go in. How much of it would be considered an acceptable amount of filler material to bulk up the actual content.

My University has been operating for a little under a century, and there's a basement level in one of the libraries that is packed with past theses arranged by subject. You could walk through there to try figure out how long a thesis should be, but there are many there that are five or six hundred pages long, and some that are just a few dozen. However, it's not to difficult to see that theses written under the same advisor often land up being similar lengths.

So, curious as to where I stood (and because I'm sick of endlessly processing results), I went down to the library and pulled down five recent theses in my field that had been written under my advisor. So, instead of plotting the results of my experiments, I plotted a breakdown of each of those theses and compared them to what I have at the moment. The similarities in length and structure are clear.

That's me on the right, just next to the average thesis. My introduction is a couple pages longer than average (with about 2 pages left to write), and my methodology is about 7 pages below average (although I shoved about 20 pages into an appendix, so maybe it's longer than average), and my conclusion is a blank page right now.

It's reassuring to see that my results are the only thing left to type up. And with more than 600 photographs from experiments to process, and 260 GB of data from computer simulations to sift through, I don't think I'm going to have a problem adding the 81 pages that will take me past the average thesis.

I was hoping to finish by the end of this month, but here I am procrastinating again. It looks like I may just need a little bit longer...

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Friday, January 17, 2014

On... a fifth arbitrarily defined solar cycle?

It's hard to believe that the Earth has completed almost five trips around the sun (at least, it will have by 19:44 this evening) since I started this blog, one boring Saturday afternoon in 2009. Although I have been considerably less active over the past year, I still managed to find time for 18 posts. I had just under five thousand visits this year (although Blogger is reporting forty thousand for some reason), mostly from the US, South Africa, Canada and the UK. It's difficult to tell what Google searches bought people here, because Google no gives out that information for users who are signed in. It's mildly disappointing, but I'm actually glad that the world is taking privacy a little more seriously these days.

The most popular posts for the year were, well, from previous years actually. My post about petrol price hikes made it into sixth place, after four posts about Minecraft, and the post from 2011 about our Tullen Shears (which, incidentally, are still going). Other popular posts for the year include Amusing Hat Day (which was a bit of a flop - even I forgot my hat), and the posts about classical music (lots of links to a couple hours worth of music, so go listen if you haven't already), the age of star light, and the theory of relativity. I was disappointed that my first video game was not quite as successful (go download it and try it if you haven't. It's actually more fun than it sounds).

Outside of blogging, 2013 was a very eventful year. On the academic side, I actually made some serious progress toward my PhD (despite both a hard drive and a laptop deciding to retire, removing 700GB of simulations between them), and may actually finish it soon, and I was flown to the other side of the world (the USA) to present a paper at my third academic conference. I bought my first car (instead of just driving a car which technically belonged to my parents), and took out my first insurance policy. I think, somewhere during 2013, I turned into an adult. I'm still not exactly sure what that means, and I don't feel any different, but I'm sure I'll figure it out.

Anyway, hopefully I'll still be able to find some time to post for some years to come.

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