Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Conspiracy theory gains momentum

Regular readers (hi Mum) might recall a bit of a rant I posted just prior to my trip to Beijing late last year for a conference. My complaint, in essence, was that my presentations at robotics conferences are always scheduled in the last session of the last day. This has occurred three times previously.

Well, good people of the blogosphere, I present you now with what is surely damming evidence that there is indeed a plot to ensure that I will never present my work to an audience that cares. In the biggest conference of them all, where no less than 700 papers are presented, over three days, in 14 parallel sessions, this early career researcher has yet again earned himself the esteemed time slot on the technical programme, of dead f$%king last!

Yes, that's right. At approximately 6:45pm, Friday April 13 (yes, Friday the 13th!), I will be delivering the most pointless talk of the conference. I am thinking of just renaming my paper "conspiracy theories from a jaded PhD student"

It might sound a bit petty to complain about, but as anyone who attends conferences regularly knows, the best way to meet people at these things is to give a talk. This works really well when your talk is early in the piece (so I've heard), but is next to useless when your talk is last. I can't say I'd be rushing to see a talk in the last session, on the last day of a three day conference.

The only saving grace this time is that at least they have put me in a session with other similar talks. That is a first for me, so I guess I should be happy with that! and, of course, I am not so spoilt a brat as to ignore the fact that the conference is in Rome, and for the first time, I will have Aff to keep me company during the conference. In that light, having the last talk of the conference is a small price to pay .... I just wonder why I am always the one to pay it!


Monday, January 29, 2007

The home stretch .. or perhaps the runway

For whatever reason, I view the long weekend just gone as the official start of the marital/Italy home stretch. It was a fantastic long weekend spent bbq-ing, cricketing, tennis-ing and community radio-ing with friends, including some friends visiting from Melbourne. It was one of those weekends you know you will appreciate in a couple of weeks time, when the almighty todo list begins to dominate your every waking hour.

I am happy to say that Monday morning has seen both Aff and I hit the ground running. First stop was the Italian Embassy, where I began what is likely to be one of the most stressful activities for February - obtaining an Italian Visa. This will be no trivial exercise as the Italians are pretty hung up on a foreigners ability to cover their own expenses. Fair enough I suppose, although it would be nice if I could just sign a piece of paper saying "she'll be right mate!"

Another thing that will start happening from now on in, is the winding up of my involvement in various things. Sunday morning was my last Fuzzy Logic show for the year. I do enjoy my radio contributions, but without adequate time to prepare, my contributions end up being a little less polished than I would like. Hopefully when I return at the end of the year, I will have more time to give it.

The postgrad association is another commitment that will be coming to an end in a couple of weeks time. Unlike the radio, this one will most likely be for good. In truth, I have only stuck around for as long as I have because numbers are so low, and there is very little experience on the council. With some new recruits hopefully on the way, this situation will hopefully ease. PARSA has undoubtedly been a roller coaster ride. In many respects, it has been the most rewarding thing I have done since arriving in Canberra, but by the same token, it has been one of the most draining. When I come back, I do not plan to get involved again. It needs new energy, and new ideas, but most of all, more student support.

So it's a busy time, but also an exciting time. While we will be coming back to Canberra when we return from Italy, it does feel like life as we have known it these last two years is coming to an end. Whether this is really true is not clear, as we will be back here for sometime after, and will probably slip back into Canberra life fairly easily .. who knows.

Life is certainly not dull.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Flag's days must surely be numbered

(posted originally as a comment at Benambra (Rob's blog)

I can't say I agree with the stance the BDO has taken about discouraging the aussie flag at the Sydney festival this Friday, but I do think they have highlighted a very real problem with our flag that I don't think we're going to resolve without some serious change. Surely our national flag's days are numbered . I find it funny that a flag that is supposed to unite us all as one nation, appears to divide us along so many different racial, cultural and political lines. I for one have no affinity with the flag whatsoever, and long for the day when we realise we are a mature nation, and deserve a flag that reflects who we are, not who we were. We need a flag that truly unites us, and perhaps most importantly, one that doesn't get confused with New Zealand's.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Taking the piss

Nothing quite says "productive Monday morning" like handing a urine sample over the desk at the ANU Health clinic as your first act of the day. An awkward interaction with the receptionist was inevitable, as I approached the desk, reached into my back pack to produce my morning's achievement. Thankfully, the reception desk has a nice little blue esky to put it in, so both the receptionist, and myself were saved the ungraceful act of handing one's piss jar over the desk.

Nothing to fear by the way, just a regular check-up (well, by regular I mean, the first of what should from now on be regular check-ups). I was convinced by an unnamed person rather close to me that being 30 years old, I should start getting in the habit of getting check-ups. Fair enough I suppose, but this whole health check thing is quite a process. If I keep it up, hopefully over time, I will master the fine art of providing one's own urine sample.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Dispensing advice can be exhausting

Aff and I attended a dinner last night, hosted by the National Youth Science Forum (NYSF). I scored two tickets to the dinner after presenting a show to some of the kids last week, on insect-inspired robotics and computer vision.

The NYSF is a strange beast. Each year, during the summer holidays, some of Australia's brightest year 12 entrants gather in Canberra for what is essentially a 2 week science boot camp. They get up at 7am, and do all manner of science throughout the day, then participate in various social events each night. It is obviously designed at attracting these kids to science and engineering fields, but also seems to have a large emphasis on building networks. Given Rotary Australia is largely responsible for the selection of the kids who attend this event, the latter is not entirely surprising.

The students are certainly bright and enthusiastic - and not short on confidence either (or in some cases, ego). I don't think I have ever been asked so many deep and philosophical questions about my field, and about science in general, as I was at last night's dinner. Both Aff and I were dispensing career, and university selection advice, like machine gun fire. This can be a slightly daunting prospect because they hang onto every word you say. Some of these kids were working the room like machines, moving from one researcher to the next, introducing themselves, and then proceeding to drill the person with deep questions about the role of science in society, or the difference between instinct and emotion (well answered Aff), and my favourite question of the night, "what do you do when you run out of research ideas?".

After four hours of this, and a three course meal, and a guest speaker (who by coincidence, just so happened to be my supervisor Srini), the night was over. Afterwards, Aff and I headed straight home and flopped on the couch, completely exhausted. I found it hard to sleep last night, trying to recollect all the advice I had dispensed, and whether I had given these very attentive, impressionable kids the right advice. I think I did, but it's hard to know. The fact is, I was not like these kids when I was their age, so I don't know how relevant my advice is. Then again, one of the most important skills to learn in life is to never take advice blindly, so either way, they have probably learnt something from me.

So it was a good night, and a very enlightening one. I do have some reservations about the selection process for this event, and the accessibility of this event for students from less priveledged backgrounds (this is only an observation from last night). Given the rigorous interview process conducted by the Rotaty, I fear that a lot of the brightest students are being missed because they lack the public speaking confidence (and perhaps, the charisma) to make the cut - but I can be a cynical bastard at the best of times. The event itself is a great initiative, and clearly of benefit to the kids that do attend. They were obviously enjoying themselves when I asked them about it last night.

Oh, and just in case you're wondering what I told the student who asked me what I did when I ran out of reseach ideas ...

simple .... I blog.


Thursday, January 04, 2007

"Belco" kitchen goes live

It must surely be a good sign for the year ahead when the very first email I read on January 1, in a hung over state in Carlton, was a message informing me that a paper I submitted back in September, has been accepted for publication and presentation at this years ICRA(International Conference on Robotics and Automation). This conference is the biggest robot geeks gathering of them all, and attracts a fair bit of interest, so I am pretty happy about making the cut.

Apart from the obvious research benefits of getting more runs on the board, this particular achievement is made more significant in that the conference is in Rome this year. Having a paper to present while in Italy is very good for me (and avoids any possibility of my travel funding being suddenly taken away, not that I really feared that would happen). One slightly tricky thing is that the conference is about a week after Aff and I get married, so the honeymoon will happen straight after I give my talk (which will undoubtedly be in the last session of the last day, as per usual).

Another interesting fact about this paper is that this will be the first to feature Aff and my kitchen (referred to in the paper as the "belco" kitchen sequence). While working at home one day, with my fancy wide-angle lens camera, I walked it around our kitchen to construct an image sequence for one of my major results (though I wasn't really thinking I'd use it at the time). As it turns out, our kitchen is perfect for feature and motion detection, which is really just a nice (and slightly geeky) way of saying it's a bit of a mess.

So for your viewing pleasure (sorry Aff), I present ... the "belco" kitchen sequence.

The nitty gritty
The line you see moving around like a compass is actually indicating the estimated direction of forward motion. I use the visual motion of the scene as the camera moves along, to try and estimate which direction I am moving in. This is tricky because you can only extract this sort of information from the visual motion due to the camera's straight line motion, and so I first have to remove any motion due to the camera's rotation. Of course, I have no information other than what I see in these images to work with, so I can't just say "I know I rotated by this much, so deduct that from the visual motion". I have to estimate everything.

The blue and yellow dots around the circle indicate the direction in which the visual motion is going at that point in the image (blue is clock-wise, yellow is anti-clockwise). This information helps me "de-rotate" the visual motion.

Being a world-wide accessible blog, I should make it clear that much of what I have described above is based on some theoretical work that was done in the late eighties by Nelson and Aloimonos. As far as I know, the belco kicthen sequence is the first demonstration of this technique being used in real-time, on real image sequences. I am amazed this technique wasn't taken further a lot earlier than this.

Once I know which direction I am going, and I have removed the rotation, I can then build what are known as depth maps from the remaining visual motion. This is essentially a map showing what space is free and what is obstructed around the camera (which has a 190 degree field of view). I do this by exploiting the fact that things that are closer appear to move faster than things further way (just like bees). This is obviously pretty useful for navigating around unknown environments.

The paper's details:
"Real time biologically-inspired depth maps from spherical flow", by C. McCarthy, N. Barnes and M.V. Srinivasan. To appear in proceedings of IEEE ICRA 2007. Rome, Italy, April 10-13, 2007.

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Wednesday, January 03, 2007

what about Hicks?

From this article about the Americans' release of Saddam to the Iraqis prior to his hanging:

"The Americans said that 'We have no issue in handing him over, but we need everything to be in accordance with the law'," the Iraqi official said, adding that they did not wish to break the law.

It's a shame the Americans cannot afford this same basic right to David Hicks, who unlike Saddam, has killed no one.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

10 Things I won't achieve in 2007

Happy new year to all maccamusings readers.

Just arrived back from a hectic week in Ye Olde Melbourne town. The car sat noticeably lower on our return journey up the Hume , not so much because of the presents we received, or the unexpected return of our cat, but because I managed, somehow, to put on a whopping three kg's in 10 days. I'll admit, I didn't hold back. There was plenty of Christmas Turkey, and copious quantities of beer, wine and Champagne drank throughout the week. All these warm up activities came beautifully together in one final hurrah on New year's Eve - and what better event than a karaoke party at Chateau De Carlton (thanks Lisa and Mikey B!). Needless to say, New year's morning was a bit of a struggle, forcing the delay of Aff and my departure time to the early afternoon. We still arrived back in Canberra in day light (I love day light savings).

Of course, the new year brings with it, that unexplainable need to list off goals for the new year. Quite frankly, I rarely achieve these, and so decided this year that rather than set myself up for an inevitable defeat, I would instead list 10 things I will in no way achieve in 2007 (in no particular order).

So here they are:
  1. I will not complete my PhD
  2. Though try I might, it is entirely unlikely that I will reduce my beer (or coffee) consumption
  3. I will not develop a love for classical music.
  4. I will not ride my bike from Canberra to Melbourne.
  5. I will not progress beyond the snow plough when skiing.
  6. I will not fulfill my life long goal of nudy running over the grassy hill on Parliament House.
  7. I will not vote Liberal.
  8. I won't return from Italy speaking fluent Italian.
  9. I will remain feeling anxious when faced with large social occasions.
  10. And lets be honest ... I probably won't finish the South Coast Tassie hike report.
I'll admit, they are lofty anti-goals, but I have a good feeling about this year.

Oh, OK .. here are a couple of things I will achieve in 2007:
  1. I'll marry the girl I love
  2. I'll spend 6 months swanning around Italy
  3. and yes ... I'll keep posting gratuitously self serving blog posts like this one
Happy new year to all!