Cinema 2012 - the review

February 6, 2013

At the beginning of the year I embarked upon a challenge: watch 100 movies in the cinema in 1 year. I thought it would be fun, but difficult.

It was fun.

It was difficult.

This is a not very brief account of that year, starting with the best movies that were released this year and that I saw in the cinema. In no particular order, I think the best movies released this year that I saw in the cinema were:

  • Moonrise Kingdom

  • Beasts of the Southern Wild

  • End of Watch

  • The Hunt

  • Rust and Bone

  • Sightseers

  • The Artist

  • Argo

  • Killer Joe

The Artist was really fun and original in a non-original way, showing us nothing that hadn't already been done before, but doing it in a fashion that nobody is used to, and that many people will never have seen. No, it didn't deserve the plaudits later awarded to it by the Academy et. al, but it was certainly one of the better movies this year. Moonrise Kingdom was beautifully Wes Anderson, full of wonderful visuals, subtle humour and outlandish scenarios, all wrapped around a strong and affecting emotional core. The acting performances from the two young leads were really good, and as usual the soundtrack was fantastic. I laughed a lot, and still chuckle now on recalling much of the film. No, it's not as good as The Royal Tenenbaums, but then what is? Killer Joe was strongly disturbing, a brilliant showcase for Matthew McConaughey. I'd never really thought he was much cop before, but his performance in this movie was amazing, as were many of the performances by the rest of the cast that made this brutal and depressing tale far more watchable than it should have been. Argo surprised me; I'd had high hopes but was waiting for them to be destroyed upon watching. How pleased I was to see that Ben Affleck had pulled it off, crafting an involving and suspenseful film that was massively entertaining. On the whole I was amazed at how well the movie managed to keep the suspense going in a movie where the outcome was already known to me. Sightseers was hilarious and yet brutal, a great mix. The characters were perfectly formed, the type of people you could find in any local midlands pub, but with a far darker edge than most (I hope!). The movie whipped along at a great pace, leading to the inevitable final scene that still surprised. I wasn't expecting to be as affected by Rust and Bone as I actually was, but I found Marion Cotillard's performance completely amazing. The depth of emotion she was able to put into the character was outstanding, and I found the film to be quite moving. A similarly brilliant character performance came from Mads Mikkelsen in The Hunt, a powerful film showing just how badly lives can be affected by rumour and false accusations. Again I was impressed with the acting on show, and the final few moments of the film left me with a deep feeling of unease.  In contrast, Beasts of the Southern Wild was just a delightful movie, I loved the semi-real dreamlike feel to the movie and was astounded again by the acting on show, particularly from the young main character. The strange parable of the wild beasts fit perfectly throughout the movie, and as an offbeat coming of age story it works amazingly well. Finally, End of Watch surprised me with the level of quality and realism. A `buddy cop' movie where the cops actually talk and act like real buddies was a refreshing take on the genre. Yes, the half 'found footage' half 'normal movie' style grated for a while, but upon consideration I'm giving the movie a pass because the characters were so well done and the story so well presented that it deserves it.

There were plenty of other great movies, honourable mentions are required for **Young Adult, Carnage, Headhunters, Chronicle **and Searching for Sugarman, plus probably others that I've forgotten. It was also a good year for more mainstream blockbuster fare, with Hunger Games, The Avengers, Looper and The Dark Knight Rises all impressing over the course of the year.

Unfortunately, having to see so many movies in a year also meant that I watched some unspeakable shit. Anyone involved in these movies needs to have a word with themselves, so, anyone laying claim to anything to do with Man on a LedgeThe Cold Light of DayLockoutMIB3Red LightsLay the FavouriteExpendables 2Taken 2Room 237Gambit, or Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, consider yourself chastised. I'm not even going to grace these poor excuses for movies with reviews, but mostly they were formulaic, poorly written and poorly acted shit. Except for Room 237, which was just a terrible documentary full of utter tripe and conspiracy nuts.

CINEMA - RE-RELEASES

I also watched a number of re-releases that I'd either missed first time around or that were getting special showings. Of these, a few really stand out and had they been released this year would probably be pushing for my best of 2012 list. In no particular order, I found Tyrannosaur, The Skin I Live In, and **Chariots of Fire **to be the best of the movies I saw for the first time as a re-release, while the special showings of both Jaws, and Manhattan, deserve mentions as they are both excellent movies that I could watch over and over again, and have, but that upon re-watching on the big screen gained something new.

HOME VIEWING

Then there's a bunch of movies I watched at home this year that are worth remarking upon, mostly as I was watching them for the first time and found them to be completely brilliant. Network, Drive, Animal Kingdom, Dr Strangelove, Blue Valentine, Brick, We Need to Talk about Kevin, Shame, Bronson, Barton Fink, and **Moon **are all well worth checking out if you haven't already.

So, how was the year overall? Well, I watched a number of shit movies that I probably wouldn't have bothered with previously. I saw a number of great movies that I also perhaps wouldn't have seen if I wasn't doing this challenge. I missed a number of movies that I really wanted to see, but just couldn't fit in or was too fatigued to get to before they left the cinema. On the whole though, I'd say it was a positive thing. So much so, that this year, I'm upping the challenge. 150 movies in the cinema in one year. BRING IT ON.

LaTeX notes and links

February 1, 2013

During the `LaTeX for Beginners' UGC course on Friday 1st February I promised that I would upload the source code for my presentations along with some useful links:

Some useful links for people new to LaTeX:

LaTeX beamer handouts (with frames and borders)

January 29, 2013

I'm working on some notes for a beginners LaTeX course that I'm giving for the University Graduate College this week. In a temporary fit of insanity I decided it would be nice to write all the slides in LaTeX, so that I can distribute the source to the students so they get some real world LaTeX examples to go along with the course notes.

I was attempting to make handouts for the students using the great handoutWithNotes package. However, as my slides are white, they looked a bit odd on a page without a frame around them:

I wanted to add a border to make the handouts look better, but there were no suggestions at the site I got the package from as to how to add a frame, and I'm too lazy to go digging in CTAN to see if there's any documentation.

Instead, a little bit of googling (thank you tex.stackexchange!) revealed the answer:

\pgfpageslogicalpageoptions{1}{border code=\pgfusepath{stroke}}
\pgfpageslogicalpageoptions{2}{border code=\pgfusepath{stroke}}
\pgfpageslogicalpageoptions{3}{border code=\pgfusepath{stroke}}

You'll need one command for each slide on a page, and you get simple frames around the slides:

Easy!

Foursquare Personality Experiment

November 20, 2012

Today we are finally starting to promote our latest experiment. It's been online for about a month, but we haven't told anyone about it while we've been finishing up the Year 2 deliverables for Recognition (the review is in a couple of weeks - fingers crossed!) Now however I can start publicly talking about it and encouraging people to take part and get involved!

We're calling it the Foursquare Personality Experiment, and it's available on the School of Computer Science & Informatics' website here:

http://www.cs.cf.ac.uk/recognition/foursqexp

It's basically looking at comparing people's five-factor OCEAN personality profiles to the places that they check in to on Foursquare. So, you go along to the site, sign in with your Foursquare account and take a really short 44-question personality test. While you're doing that, we retrieve the list of places you've been to from Foursquare. When it's all done, we show you your personality, and how it compares to the average personality of people in your area (average personality comes from the mypersonality.org data, thanks guys!). All the venues you've checked into on Foursquare are simultaneously displayed on a map, and selecting one of them will show you the average personality profile for that venue. This allows you to compare yourself to all the other people who go to the same places as you.

Meanwhile, we get a bunch of (anonymised) personality profiles that are linked to venues, so we can see if there are any correlations between places/categories of places and personality profiles. For instance, one of the things we may find is that the average personality profiles of "non-places" (those places frequented by everybody: the supermarket, the train station etc.) are different from the average personality profiles of "places" (the places visited by a subset of people: independent coffee shops, your local pub etc). We may also expect people with different visiting patterns to have different personalities. For instance, maybe I mainly check-in to pubs and bars on Foursquare, while someone else mainly checks in to shops. Is there a difference between the personality profiles of people who check into more pubs and people who mainly check in to shops?

Obviously we've only just started collecting data, but hopefully we'll start to see some answers to some of these questions soon.

PhD Post-mortem - The Summary

November 16, 2012

I originally wrote a whole bunch of posts (6!) about my PhD, what went wrong, how I felt about it,  and so on. Then I read it all back and it was a bunch of hugely self-indulgent poorly written bollocks (what's new?), so I decided not to publish it. Maybe sometime later I'll get round to it, but for now, the tl-dr; is:

My viva was a car crash, my examiners hated my work, I got too depressed over the result to engage with the corrections process, had another viva, it was terrible but not as bad, I pulled it together and corrected it all in the end, thanks to some excellent support from everyone else.

This summary that I'd also written might be useful to others in the same or similar position however, so I figure it's worth putting online.

So, what have we learned from the car crash that was my PhD?

  1. **Make sure you pick the right examiners. **My examiners were heavy-weight examiners, both of whom had a very similar statistical view on things. Let's get it straight up front: they were right about my thesis in the first viva. It was definitely poor to average, and now it's good. But other examiners would probably have passed it first time, or at least not have been quite as negative about the whole situation. The fact that they were both external and both didn't like it basically caused a negative feedback loop, which ended very badly for me. I originally thought that had my supervisor chosen better, I would have passed earlier and that would have been good. But actually, having harsh examiners has done me a favour. Firstly, I've survived this entire process intact, going from crushing disappointment to ultimate success and that's made me a much stronger person. But also, as I've said, they were right about my thesis. My thesis is far better now than it was when it was first submitted, and is something I can now be rightly proud of. It stood up to harsher scrutiny than most theses are subjected to, and came out well in the end. Had you asked me 16 months ago whether we'd picked the right examiners, I would have said 'No'. Ask me now, and I'd probably still say 'No'. But I'd take one of them. A harsher scrutiny leads to a better thesis.

  2. **Progress monitoring does not work. **I passed every single yearly review during my PhD. I attended and participated in every single poster session and research retreat during my PhD (when I wasn't up in Edinburgh). I even won best presentation on two separate occasions. At no point did anyone in the school pick up on the problems that my examiners felt were major enough to prevent me passing. Not one member of my yearly review panel. Not my supervisor. Not any of the audience or staff members I talked to during progress review events. In my case, progress monitoring was useless. Yes, it will catch those people who are failing anyway and clearly haven't done enough work, but my case, the case of the person who is doing the work but has just missed something, can slip through the cracks.

  3. **Get a second opinion. **Would another set of eyes reading my thesis have caught the problems? Possibly. I lost contact with my second supervisor after a couple of years (one of the perils of having a supervisor in a different academic school when the cross-discipline project you're working on falls apart). Had I had another, maybe they would have caught some of the more minor things which the examiners caught. Fewer minor errors or problems may have decreased some of the negativity of the examiners. Interestingly, I did get a couple of friends to read it (just proof reading for typo's etc) and one of them did make a point that was similar to the examiners major problem with the work. If only I'd listened...

  4. **A bad viva outcome is not the end of the world. **It's devastating, but you can get through it. And basically, the easiest way to do it is to do the exact opposite of what I did. Engage with your examiners. Get them to clarify corrections. Send them drafts of things. Communicate with them. Ultimately, they don't want to fail you, it causes too much paperwork. Had I done this, I would have been done far sooner. Ultimately in total I spent about a month and a half working full-time to correct everything, from after the first viva to final acceptance. Had I engaged with the examiners that would have been a month's full-time work. I could have proven them wrong, shown them their decision was wrong, but I ignored it, ran away, and caused myself more problems than I needed to.

  5. **It's totally worth it. **My thesis is now safe in the university digital repository, and I'll get my PhD rubber stamped at the next awards committee. That is amazing. When I got the email about having passed, I was leaving work for a run. I ran down to the bay, out onto the barrage to meet Lisa from work, and sat staring out at the sea. It was over at long last. I worked harder for it, and I suffered more to get there, and that makes it all the sweeter.

7 years, 1 month and 4 days later...

November 5, 2012

This is a post I've been waiting to write for a very long time. A very, very, long time. As I've been waiting so long I'm going to start with the good news: on the 30th October 2012 I finally received confirmation that my examiners had accepted my PhD corrections and I should be approved for my degree. I'm Dr Martin Chorley.

Exactly how long I've been waiting to write this depends on your point of view. I've definitely been waiting eagerly for 1 month and 2 days, pretty certain that this day was coming. I've been waiting pretty expectantly for 3 months and 21 days, fairly sure that the day is coming soon. I've been really desperate to be able to write this for 1 year, 6 months and 10 days, unsure whether I'd ever be able to. But ultimately, I guess as it's been exactly 7 years, 1 month and 4 days since I started my PhD, I've been waiting for this moment for at least that long (even though I wasn't blogging back then, and certainly didn't expect to be writing a bunch of posts like these!).

So, why did it take so long, and why was I waiting for so many different lengths of time? It's a long story, so I'll split it over several posts, but the basic facts are that I did badly, tried to fix it, didn't fix it well enough, so had to fix it again. It's finally done now, and I can move on with all the rest of the stuff I've got to do.

SWN Artist Explorer

October 4, 2012

It's that time of year again: SWN Festival is once more upon us. It's the highlight of the musical year in Cardiff, and probably the one thing I'll miss about the city when (if?) I leave. In fact, I'm pretty certain that even if I left the city I'd make the pilgrimage back once a year for SWN because it's just too much fun to miss.

The lineup this year is another cracking one, but as usual with four days of bands spread across so many venues there are a whole bunch of names that I don't recognise. As per usual I've cooked up a Spotify playlist, but even sorting through that takes some time:

I decided this year that it would be nice to have an easy visual way to see what the bands are like, so decided to build myself a little artist explorer. This uses tags from Last.FM and generates word clouds using a nice javascript plugin for d3 written by Jason Davies. Most of the word cloud js was hacked together from Jason's example, with some mangling and modification from me. I downloaded the tags for artists offline and stuck them in a .json file so it doesn't hit the Last.FM servers on every page load. What we end up with is a fairly simple tag cloud example that allows you to see at a glance how Last.FM users have categorised the bands. Selecting a tag in the word cloud will show you the other bands in the lineup that have also had that tag applied to them. Of course it's online here!

Meanwhile, the code is available on github, with no guarantees that any of it actually works.

... and back to Teaching

October 2, 2012

I haven't lectured in any meaningful sense for quite a while; in fact the last time I taught was the 2010/2011 academic year when I was lecturing half of a first year maths module. Since then there have been other things occupying my time, (namely the battle of the thesis) but that's almost over now, so my attention once again turns to getting some more teaching under my belt.

You get the feeling with some academics that teaching is seen as an annoyance - something that has to be done as part of the job but that is at best a distraction. I hate this attitude - if you can't do something with passion then I feel you shouldn't be doing it. Teaching is an opportunity to get people interested in things, to engage with them and make them think. Some people may argue that it's just not possible to be passionate or engaging with their subject, but I would say that if that's not possible, why are they teaching it?

I actively enjoy teaching, especially so when it's on a topic I have a particular interest in. Recently Stu was good enough to ask me to give a guest lecture on Django in his first year Python module, and it was very enjoyable. I've been lucky enough to be asked to do something similar for Omer's masters module this year, talking about Foursquare and its API initially, and then also presenting some things on Django a couple of weeks later. These are nice opportunities and allow me to talk at a semi-interested audience about topics that I like, which is always fun. Along with the guest lectures I've got planned, I'm also teaching LaTex to postgrad students from across the university as part of the University Graduate College, which will be a nice experience to teach a 'programming language' like topic to a bunch of people who probably aren't computer scientists.

At the moment I'm also involved in scoping out some possible new modules for some courses that may (hopefully) happen here in the next year or so. This is the first time I've been able to look at a topic for a module and actually plan in detail what I think is important to teach, or what I would like to teach in such a module. It's far more involved than I've been before, previously all the content and syllabus has been decided beforehand and I've had little scope to make many changes, so this is a novel experience. It requires a lot of thought to make sure that everything being planned is relevant, up to date, necessary and interesting.  Hopefully, I'm succeeding.

SocialCom 2012

September 7, 2012

I've just returned from SocialCom 2012 and figured it was worth a post to round it all up. This is not that post however; that will take a little longer to write as there were quite a few really interesting and relevant talks to round up. I also had some good discussions about the work we've been doing, the work we're planning to do and some of the work that others are doing.

This post is instead just to gather together some of the stuff I've done linked to the conference. I presented the initial results from our Twitter experiment, which was accepted as a short paper "Better the tweeter you know: social signals on Twitter". The slides of my presentation are below, while the paper is available from the publisher). The code for the experiment is on github here, and the data that came from the experiment will be released as soon as we've finished analysis for the journal paper that we're currently working on.

** Tweetcues - Better the tweeter you know: social signals on Twitter ** from Martin Chorley

Talking about research

July 3, 2012

As someone who spends most of their life elbow deep in research, it's sometimes hard to take a step back and view what you're doing from the outside.

I'm pretty happy with my ability to communicate our work to a scientific audience. It's something I've been trained (and have trained myself) to do over the last five or six years and so is something I find quite easy. The thought of having to explain what I do to a conference audience, or to the project partners in a meeting is something that I know I can cope with.

Explaining it to a general audience however is a different prospect. As part of some scheme or other there was a researcher from the BBC visiting the school today to see what we get up to. She stopped by our lab/office for ten minutes and I had to explain what it is we do in general terms. Explaining something like the mobility work that we've done is slightly tricky without having to get into details about the whys and hows of opportunistic/ad-hoc networking and mobility models. It's especially tricky when you haven't thought about what you're going to say at all. Fortunately the more recent work we've been doing focusing on human decision making with regards to twitter is much easier, as is the personality/foursquare work that's currently in the final stages of implementation. This work is easy to understand because it's all about what people do and why they do it - I think a general audience can understand it easily because they have some form of empathy with the experiment participants. But communicating this work still forces you to step outside of the research and look back to see what is interesting not just to you as a researcher in the field, but to the public at large.

I think we're fortunate in the little corner of computer science in which I work as ultimately the closer you get to humans, the more interesting the work is to a general audience, and so the easier it is to talk about and present.