Thursday, May 31, 2007

Finally, a date for the defense!

Finally, after lots of unexpected twists and turns, my MS thesis defense and PhD qualifier has arrived.

The acknowledgments (and abstract and vita) taken from the frontmatter of the document are available on-line. Details of the actual defense are available below. Of course, the public is welcome.

When: Tuesday, June 5, 2007, at 2:30pm

Where: Dreese Labs Room 260

Title: Optimal Foraging Theory Revisited

Abstract: Optimal foraging theory explains adaptation via natural selection through quantitative models. Behaviors that are most likely to be favored by natural selection can be predicted by maximizing functions representing Darwinian fitness. Optimization has natural applications in engineering, and so this approach can also be used to design behaviors of engineered agents. In this thesis, we generalize ideas from optimal foraging theory to allow for its easy application to engineering design. By extending standard models and suggesting new value functions of interest, we enhance the analytical efficacy of optimal foraging theory and suggest possible optimality reasons for previously unexplained behaviors observed in nature. Finally, we develop a procedure for maximizing a class of optimization functions relevant to our general model. As designing strategies to maximize returns in a stochastic environment is effectively an optimal portfolio problem, our methods are influenced by results from modern and post-modern portfolio theory. We suggest that optimal foraging theory could benefit by injecting updated concepts from these economic areas.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Reflections on Senility

A few things occurred to me after producing the latest poetic post.

At the moment, I am sitting next to two people who I haven't seen much in the last 12 years. As far as I know, they work together in putting together theatrical productions in Columbus. Whereas theatre is not part of my life anymore, it still remains strong in theirs. This is not uncommon. The potential for success in theatre is certainly not negatively correlated with age until a very old age. In fact, it may be positively correlated for most people, especially those who do not seek fame and fortune.

Similarly, I enjoyed writing that little poem. I also enjoyed writing my thesis and tracing the improvements I have made in my writing and presentation over the past few years. However, I have not enjoyed the pressure on me to be extremely productive before I turn 30 (or even 28). In many technical fields, real progress is expected at young ages. For whatever reason, progress at "old" ages is not possible or simply not favored.

This brings me to think about one of the older professors in my department. I have never had a class with this professor, so I know nothing about his methods of technical discourse. However, I do know that he paints, writes poetry, and is working on a fictional novel at the moment. I imagine that he has been working on that novel for a long time, and may never finish; however, he seems to me to be the proudest of that work compared to the other things he does now or even has done. He's not an emeritus professor, but he certainly is the age of some of the emeritus professors in the department.

I also think about the May 26 show of A Prairie Home Companion, which featured Billy Collins [1, 2], the two-term US poet laureate. The show also touched on age and writing professionally.

As I get older, either through experience or neurological development, my ability to understand things, retain them, and write matures. Because of this, I'm becoming more interested in the art of writing than I am my technical field of expertise. I think this is the reason why researchers in technical fields enjoy the idea of becoming a writer respected simply for the ability to write. For, while their ability to make technical progress might be impaired by their age, if they can become great writers, their ability to do that can only increase with age.

So that's a great thing. I'm excited about it. But in the meanwhile, I really must get back to work.

Balsamic Brain Waves and Primate Grooming

It's hard not to eavesdrop
when sitting at a crowded coffee shop.
Unavoidably, you notice all the sounds,
of people making their discussion rounds.
Amazing is the trash you hear
as vocal hominadae primates groom the ear.

"Avoid Panera's tomatoes," says one.
"For diets, balsamic vineagar is no fun!"
Questionable is this advice,
for balsamic vinegar to one's health is quite nice.
Nevertheless, her nodding partner in this chat
continues to sip from her soda pop scat.

"I have been listening to this study groove
which, to my alpha waves, are said to improve,"
says another, who stands quite tall,
and shows that he knows nothing about medicine at all;
earlier, he described the work for his PhD
which seems to involve sociology.

It just goes to show
that regardless of what a man or woman does know,
words are chosen not to be appropriate
but rather as a way to procrastinate.
After all, instead of writing this poetic observation,
I should be getting ready for my thesis examination.

powerdot clock fix

UPDATE: Soon after the posting of this, Hendri posted this patch (by Heiko Oberdiek) which is nothing but a more compact refactoring of the code below.

As of May 2007, the clock feature of the powerdot presentation class for LaTeX has not been working. I think that I have a good patch. I have sent this patch to Hendri Adriaens, powerdot's author of record, who has added verification of it to his todo list.

First, update to the latest versions of hyperref, oberdiek, and xcolor. These packages have been updated very recently, and so you must not take for granted that you have the latest versions.

Next, if you have the
[2005/12/06 v1.3 powerdot presentation class (HA,CE)]
version of powerdot, you can simply replace your powerdot.cls file with this one, which is linked here for easy viewing.

Alternatively (this may work with newer versions of powerdot too), patch your version of powerdot with this patch which is shown below.
--- powerdot.orig/powerdot.cls 2007-05-28 00:38:50.000000000 -0400
+++ powerdot/powerdot.cls 2007-05-28 10:24:52.000000000 -0400
@@ -65,7 +65,7 @@
- \def\pd@clockrot{] /R 90\@gobble}%
+ \def\pd@clockrot{90}%
@@ -579,7 +579,8 @@
- \TextField[name=pdclock.time,bordercolor=\pd@clockrot,%
+ \TextField[name=pdclock.time,%
+ bordercolor=,rotation=\pd@clockrot,%
If you use this patch method, invoking
patch -p1 < powerdot-clockfix.patch
in the directory that holds powerdot.cls should be sufficient, assuming that the patch file is also in that directory.