Open Sauce Hackathon - Post Mortem

April 22, 2013

This weekend saw the second 'Open Sauce Hackathon' run by undergraduate students here in the school. Last years was pretty successful, and they improved upon it this year, pulling in many more sponsors and offering more prizes.

Unlike last year, when I turned up having already decided with Jon Quinn what we were doing, I went along this year with no real ideas. I had a desire to do something with a map, as I'm pretty sure building stuff connected to maps is going to play a big part in work over the next couple of months. Other than that though, I was at a bit of a loss. After playing around with some ideas and APIs I finally came up with my app: dionysus.

It's a mobile friendly mapping app that shows you two important things: Where the pubs are (using venue data from Foursquare) and where the gigs are at (using event data from last.fm). If you sign in to either last.fm or Foursquare it will also pull in recommended bars and recommended gigs and highlight these for you.

The mapping is done using leaflet.js, which I found to be nicer and easier to use than Google Maps. The map tiles are based on OpenStreetMap data and come from CloudMade, while the (devastatingly beautiful) icons were rushed together by me over the weekend. The entire app is just client side Javascript and HTML, with HTML5 persistent localStorage used to maintain login authentication between sessions. It's a simple app, but I'm pretty pleased with it. In the end I even won a prize for it (£50), so it can't be too bad.

The app is hosted here, and the source code is available here. Obviously though the code is not very pretty and quite hacky, but it does the job!

Social Media Lecture Experiment

April 22, 2013

I've very recently had the opportunity to be involved in a different kind of lecture here at the School of Computer Science and Informatics. For his final year project one of our third year students (Samuel Boyes) is assessing the use of modern technology, social networking and video conferencing as part of the traditional lecture. As I had already been asked a few weeks ago to give a guest lecture in Matt Williams' module Fundamentals of Computing with Java, on the topic of code maintainability/readability, we were presented with a nice opportunity to test out Sam's theories in an actual lecture.

So, rather than giving a dull, fifty-minutes-of-me-waffling-on-about-things-at-the-front-of-a-lecture-theatre lecture, we changed things around. Instead, I spoke for twenty minutes on the general theory aspects of the topic, and following that we were joined in the lecture by an external speaker, Carey Hiles of Box UK, who joined via a Google+ Hangout to deliver some material about his experiences of the topic in the real world. The students were encouraged to get involved during the lecture, tweeting with a particular hashtag and leaving messages in a dedicated facebook group. We could then wrap the session up by going over the questions posted by the students, putting them to Carey through the video conferencing.

This was very interesting, as it allowed us to include the experiences and knowledge of someone out in the real world within the lecture, adding some extra value to the course and introducing students to ideas that are used in practice. It's the kind of thing that we should be doing more of, and that I'd love to include in more lectures in the future. There are people out there with relevant real world experience and a desire to talk to students and improve the quality of education. Given the availability of tools that allow people to get involved in lectures remotely, it seems like a no-brainer that this kind of thing could and should happen more often.

It's also directly relevant as there seems to be a strong desire to increase the added value of attending lectures and to improve the quality of teaching. The Higher Education sector in the UK is undergoing something of a transformation at the moment. Massive unjustified increases in tuition fees have fundamentally altered the relationship between universities and students, increasing the feeling that students are customers of the the institution. As such, students are now (rightly) demanding much better customer service and value for money from their institution (caution: PDF link!). (We'll leave aside for now how the the universities are having to increase the value for money and customer service without actually having any more money, as that's another argument.)

Seen in a global context, this customer-institution relationship becomes even more important. Massive online open course (MOOC) providers such as Coursera, EdX, Udacity and the UK based FutureLearn (in which my employer, Cardiff University, is involved) are providing large numbers of people with free educational material and courses. It's still not clear how universities will end up continuing to make money from teaching while also giving away all their material for free. Some MOOC providers will charge other institutions licensing fees to use materials, while it seems fairly plausible that instead of charging to access material, universities will instead start to charge for providing credentials and certification once the courses have been completed.

If that really is a large part of the future of higher education, will the traditional lecture continue to exist? Will universities need lecture theatres full of hundreds of students, when they can put their material online and deliver teaching to thousands of students without the physical presence? Will the traditional university institution continue to exist? It's entirely possible that many institutions could stop teaching and focus purely on research. It's more than possible that some institutions will close entirely in the face of competition of 'free' teaching from higher ranked institutions. Is consolidation of teaching delivery between fewer larger institutions a good thing?

Until we discover the answers to these questions over the next few years (decades?), there's still a need to ensure that students feel they are getting value for money. We need to ensure that the institution continues to provide a reason for students to pay to attend lectures where material is delivered that could instead be had online for free. Value added is more important than ever and maybe sessions like the one we had last week could play a part in that.

CUROP Summer Project

March 27, 2013

As in previous years, I (along with Walter as co-supervisor) have managed to score some University funding for a summer project through the CUROP programme.

This years project is titled "How Unique is my City? An online analysis of the UK".

A huge amount of information regarding places is available online. Services such as Foursquare, Yelp, Google Places, TripAdvisor etc. allow users to rate and review locations and venues, creating a ’long-tail’ of content describing peoples feelings and interactions with these places. This project seeks to harness this vast wealth of information to examine the relationship between places and people within the urban environment. Analysis of the distribution of types of venues will allow us to assess the individual characteristics of cities, allowing us to determine what makes a city individual and what makes the city similar to all other cities. Further textual analysis of user interactions with venues may allow a deeper understanding towards ‘sense of place’.

This 8-week funded project can cover topics such as large scale data mining, analysis, visualisation and social network analysis, and will largely be shaped by the interests and skills of the student undertaking it.

Interested students can contact me.

Advanced LaTeX Course

March 15, 2013

Here are the slides and source code for the UGC Advanced LaTeX course, 15th March 2013

Introduction (Beginners Recap, Graphics & Figures) - handouts and source BibTeX and Referencing - handouts & source Custom Commands & Environments, Source Code Listings, Tips & Tricks - handouts & source Exercise Sheets - handouts & source

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.