Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Giving Successful Presentations

I'm going to defend my Masters Research on X-By-Wireless (based on Drive-By-Wire -> X-By-Wire) tomorrow afternoon, and I'm making the last minute changes to my presentation. It's actually pretty drastic changes. My professor asked how many slides I had for the 45 minute presentation. I said I had 60, and he said I should try to cut it roughly in half. He also said that for the "outline" slide, do not read the outline, but rather talk straightforwardly for two minutes about what I did. From these two pieces of advice and a little insight of my own, I've figured out what is probably the best way to give presentations:

Never read what is on the slide. For every slide, have something else to talk about.

Giving a presentation is about hearing the presenter speak. If the audience is merely reading along with the presenter, it quickly becomes uninteresting. The purpose of the slides, therefore, is to give the audience something to listen to while you speak. If they lose track of what you're saying, the slides should help bring them back on track. The slides should support the presenter, and not the other way around.

This also has the added benefit of increasing eye contact, because the presenter isn't constantly reading off the screen, and it gives the impression of a more confident speaker.

As for my presentation tomorrow, I'm finding it relatively easy to cut the presentation in half...for every two slides, I pick one to display while the other is conveyed verbally without being displayed.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Online OCR

I've tried doing some OCR stuff and lately it all seems lower quality than what I would expect. Maybe I'm thinking too highly of the status quo, but it seems like it would be possible to add more intelligence to OCR tools. For example, it would be nice if they could automatically determine that the black area surrounding a page is not text. Basically, I'd like a top-down approach to scanning. If I can make sense of it, I'd like the computer to make sense of it. Start by straightening the page and defining "areas", maybe the border here, the crease down the middle of a book there, some text over here, and an image there. The user can then confirm that these are correct, or change/redraw areas. Once they are sectioned off, then begin the actual OCR. Not just any OCR, but perhaps OWR (object word recognition) or OPR (object prase recognition). If it looks like a certain letter could be a "c" or an "e", then see which makes sense as far as spelling goes, and if necessary, see which makes sense in terms of word context. This should help eliminate the mindless choices that some OCR software requires. It's one of those things that I *know* is possible because it comes standard in office software. Easy to implement...that's another question entirely. I'd also like it to have the capability of actually converting documents into rich text (or OASIS formats) instead of just plain text.

Granted, I've only been using cheap/free tools, and higher quality tools are available. However, I'm not willing to spend cash on them. What I would prefer is that when/if I scan documents in, it's free to me, except maybe some AdSense based on the scanned text. This inplies that the OCR tool would likely be an online service. That's fine, because a server somewhere else would probably have more resources (in terms of memory, processing power, character sets) to do the job right.

I actually applied to Google to be on OCR engineer there (one of the few positions that allowed for an electrical engineering degree) but was unfortunately turned down. I know they've got a vested interest in scanning with their library/book search project, but I wonder if they might also have something in the works for public-use OCR....

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Cat Toys

I don't know why people insist on spending money on cat toys, like wands with feathers or cat condos. Our cat seems to have a penchant for de-feathering wands and treating our regular furniture as a makeshift kitty condo.

It's the cheap stuff that works best. Indeed, I found that our cat likes 24 AWG wire. I have a long length of it (8 feet, perhaps), and she goes crazy over it. Clearly, she finds electrical engineering fascinating. I should have suspected it when she started out on twist-ties....