Author Archive

Former WSIL Member in the News

Alumni 2 Comments »

A former WSIL member was photographed recently at the Austin Bikerachi, in an article with a photo. This is an example of how WSIL students, current and former, also have a life outside of engineering.

Backup your data to the server

Reference No Comments »

During the last two weeks, at least two students have lost laptop hard drives. Other students have lost data stored locally on the hard drives on their desktop PCs. Data loss can have a real impact. Imagine losing the last month of revisions on your thesis, or that conference paper the night before the submission deadline, or having to retype your camera ready paper from an old printout.

I want to emphasize that you should make sure that you have a reasonable data backup solution. Local data stored on PCs or laptops is not backed up. This seems obvious but is usually ignored until too late. You need a backup solution that you will use every day.

The most natural solution is to back up your data to your ENGR directory. The ENGR server is backed up frequently, at least daily. Note that you should only backup research related files. Backing up mp3s, jpegs, etc may cause a problem with the college.

Another option is to synchronize multiple PCs, for example your PC at UT and your laptop.

A final option is to use an external hard drive. Be careful though. An external drive can get lost. If the drive is on and a virus attacks you may in any case be out of luck!

If you want to synchronize multiple PCs, or use an external drive you might want to invest in some backup or synchronization software. There are many free software packages available online. I will reimburse you if there is a paid package that you have to have.

For reference, here is my backup procedure with several layers of redundancy:

- Use Interarchy to mirror files between G5 and new laptop. Done at least once daily.

- Use SuperDuper! to backup G5 files to ENGR drive (mapped using Samba). Done every few days.

- Use SuperDuper! to create bootable G5 backup on FireWire external drive. This backup includes my whole hard disk. The disk is turned off most of the time to prevent an attack. Done every few days.

Writing papers in LaTeX, building a BibTeX database

Reference No Comments »

Those of you who are new to research may wonder at first why I insist that we use LaTeX instead of Microsoft Word for writing papers, proposals, term papers, or anything else. The main reasons are the formatting of equations and the automatic referencing. Both make papers easier to read. Many of you purists believe that papers are evaluated solely on their technical merit. Well, I wish that were true. Technical merit is important but a poorly written or poorly formatted paper makes a bad first impression and bad first impressions are everything. A reviewer naturally wonders if you can’t format equations correctly or cite papers correctly if they can trust your derivations or simulation results.

We will always use the LaTeX package for writing papers. Most conferences and journals provide LaTeX templates for this purpose. See for example the IEEE LaTeX style files. There are some great online LaTeX references. See 1, 2, 3 for example. If you ever have to find how to do something specific in LaTeX, your best bet is to use google. You can buy reference texts but you won’t need them.

There are two main ways to get a pdf file out of LaTeX: use pdflatex or use latex, which creates a dvi file, then convert to pdf. I prefer that you use pdflatex because it ensures that type 1 fonts will be embedded. This is required for most electronic publications. It is possible to configure dvi2pdf to do this but I have always had problems with this approach. When you install LaTeX packages such as MikTeX for Windows, teTeX for Unix/Linux/Mac, etc, pdflatex is included. Incidentally, fink’s teTeX is worthwhile if you’ve got a Mac.

It is important to note that when you use graphics packages with LaTeX (e.g. graphics, graphicx) pdflatex and latex handle these differently. I suggest you use the graphicx package if you are using pdflatex and *.pdf figures since it is a very efficient vector format. Using pdf will allow you to use pdflatex to directly create pdf files for your paper. I recommend the graphicx package for including figures. The following matrix shows which image formats can be used with the different packages within the different latex conversion tools.

It is best to use either encapsulated postscript (*.eps) or *.pdf images since they offer the capability of vectorized drawings. If you use rasterized image formats (such as *.png, *.jpg, *.gif, etc) the image perception is degraded when images are scaled to different sizes. Additionally, with vectorized images, it is possible to go back and change line widths, fonts, and other relevant parameters. In my opinion Adobe Illustrator is the best image creation tool. However, a simpler (and more widely available option) is Microsoft Powerpoint. With Powerpoint, you have to ensure the image takes up the whole slide and you are restricted in the image formats available.

You’ll want to choose a good editor for writing your LaTeX files. I am a Mac user so I prefer TeXShop simply because it’s so easy to use. If you are a WinXP user the two best available editors are WinEdt and TeXnicCenter. Probably WinEdt is easier to use and I will reimburse you for a registration to avoid the anoying popup windows. For Unix/Linux I use emacs but there are alternatives such as VIM for which LaTeX add-ons are available.

A nice way of including references in LaTex is to use BibTeX. Essentially with BibTeX you mantain a library of references. After running LaTeX, you run BibTeX to insert references, then run LaTeX again. When using BibTeX an accompanying style file formats the bib entries according to the type of journal you are using. Very elegant. Reviewers of a paper always look carefully at the references in a paper (in particular because they are looking for their own citations but more on that at a later date). Formatting errors in the references also leave a bad impression. So use BibTeX files and remember to enter your data carefully. There are many software packages that will help you manage your bib files (sort, generate keys, etc). I use BibDesk on the Mac. There are programs available for almost any platform. For example there are several add-ons to WinEdt. Or you might try BibTeXMng for WinXP.

As a final note, there is a very cool web application built by Kjell Magne Fauske that helps you convert directly from IEEE Xplore to BibTeX! It’s beautiful. Incidentally, I suggest that you configure BibConverter to use the options IEEEtran.bst macros and first last author format. On the mac, using BibDesk you can even drag these references directly in to your library.

Thanks to Bob Daniels for additional information, especially on formatting.