Faculty candidate talks in Cornell InfoSci

Last and this academic year, Cornell Information Science Department has been trying to find a faculty candidate for a tenured-tracked position in Policy subfield. In general, Policy is not my interest, and I was rather lukewarm about going to the talks and participating in the discussions. Recently, I became more active in going to these talks and joining the discussions as I became interested in learning the hiring process in an academic institute. Currently, two candidates have been invited: Katie Shilton and Laura DeNardis. It was very interesting to attend these two talks as I always appreciate good female presenters. I also learned a lot about interviewing techniques from them even though their topics have nothing to do with what I do. Interestingly, they were strong in different ways. Laura had numerous books that she’s written, variety of research contacts. Katie had an admirable presentation skill. I especially learned a lot from her question answering skills. While I do not remember details of Katie’s talk other than the general topic and some snippets of my personal interest, I took notes on Laura’s talk, which made me reflect about her research topics and candidate talks in general.

The title of Laura’s talk was “Arrangement of technical architecture is an arrangement of political influence and power”. Laura started her talk by giving us a general picture of what “Internet Governance” (Protocols, Critical Internet Resources, Communication Rights, Intellectual Property Rights, Internet Security & Infrastructure management) is. I really appreciated how she started her talk. She gave the audience a very nice reference frame to understand the rest of her talk. This made me realize that in my current presentation deck (for my will-it-happen? interview), I do not have any slide that gives an overview of my field (HCI) or subfield (devices and interaction techniques) to the general audience.

Then she narrowed down to the first topic, protocols, and gave out three protocol examples: ODF, IPv6, MAC addresses. While talking about these examples, issues such as open source licenses, commercial versus non-commercial standards, socio-economic constraints to participation (thx Karin), was raised. She spent a lot of her time talking about IPv6 versus IPv4. She argued that it is a moral imperative for US to quickly upgrade to IPv6 to maintain dominance in global internet market. It was very evident that she knew her topic and her field very well. Comparatively, I still strive to show such confidence in giving out talks and I struggle.

It is always debatable whether an academic should also pursue popularity. This is the question that I raised for the rest of the day. Laura’s main example, political power play in transition between IPv4 and IPv6, is not as hot these days as Katie’s main topic, personal privacy in designing sensor networks. P raised a question that made me think about this issue even longer. When Laura talked about MAC addresses invading privacy issues, he asked why we should care about MAC addresses when our cell phone is more intrusive. In my personal opinion, privacy implications of MAC addresses and that of sensors (e.g., GPS) are orthogonal topics. Hence, when this question was raised, I personally felt that the popularity of the topic (IPv6 vs Sensors in a mobile phone) was more in question than anything else. This was actually a sad realization because my research topic is also considered a fading star. Market size of the digital pens has shrunk so much thanks to Apple and Steve Jobs. When people from industry ask me questions, they ask “We do not have any plan to support styluses, if so, how do you plan to make your research useful to us?”.

Lastly, attending these policy topic talks are really new experiences for me because I find it very difficult to internalize the basic premises of these work. I am a strong believer in “regulations make things slow”. The entire time Katie was advocating how we should impose security concerns to the designers, I sincerely wanted to ask, “Did you observe any scenarios where the security concerns limited how much cellular network applications can innovate?”. Thankfully I didn’t really have to raise these “I don’t believe your research” questions because someone else always did. It was a sincerely fruitful experience to see how the speakers respond to these questions. Some candidates become very defensive and try to convince the opponent, which usually does more harm to the speaker than anything else. Some candidates politically avoid the touchy topic and beat around the bushes and show that “maybe you and I can agree that we disagree?”. From the observations, the former seemed to make the speaker more satisfied. The latter seemed to make the rest of the crowd happier.

Cornell Hockey Games

This month, I attended two hockey games against other IVY league school, Dartmouth and Princeton.

The game against Dartmouth (6th) was with Adam and Hronn. Adam made an effort to come to Ithaca after his submission to WWW. Originally Hronn managed to get two hockey tickets from a CS faculty member. As the Gilmores have three season tickets, I was hoping that Adam get to come along even if we have to sit in different section. On the day of the Hockey game, Jim proposed a brilliant idea of exchanging 2 tickets with the 3 tickets that they have so that our couple and Hronn can enjoy the game at their seat and two Gilmores watching the game at the CS faculty seats. Between 1st and 2nd period, Rhonda came over to our seat telling us how impressed she was with Jim’s “intellectual girth” of the day. =)

The game against Dartmouth was relatively relaxing. I already researched before the game that they are ranked the lowest among IVY league teams. Not to my surprise, we won with 5-to-1. Because it was obvious that we will win, I was able to pay attention other aspect of the game. Before, I was occupied in keep track of which player it was that crashed against the wall and where the puck went. (Visually following the puck requires quite a concentration. It feels almost like one of those magic tricks where you have to visually track which one of the three cups are hiding a ball.) I noticed that some hand signs that the referees made for some penalty was not self-explanatory. One time, Cornell pulled out our goalie even when our score was already 4 points or so. One of the Cornell players were knocked out on the ice for about 5 minutes after tripping over another Dartmouth player but I couldn’t figure out what kind of penalty the Dartmouth player got. That night, Adam and I sat across each other on my living room sofa with out legs braided one after another looking up penalty rules on Youtube. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penalty_%28ice_hockey%29).

This week, Hronn rushed to my office shouting “I have tickets for the hockey game!”. It was against Princeton which I had very bad feelings against. Last spring, they beat us to 1-to-2 on my very first hockey game experience. It was quite a tragic how we lost. On the very last 1 minute on the last period, they pulled out the goalie to fight with 6 offensive players and scored a goal on the 38 seconds before the end of the game. The game went overtime for sudden death and the result wasn’t pretty. Bottom line, I was very excited to be in the ice rink to see the game hoping to see a revenge.

When Hronn showed me the tickets for the Princeton game, I was slightly puzzled. One was on row 14 and the other was in row 2 of section B. She replied, “We will be fine, it’s in the student section and it’s going to be crazy anyways. We will be able to swap seats or squeeze you in to row 2.” And yes, she was right with both points. We were both able to enjoy the game in row 2 which was spectacular. At the same time, the entire section was totally out of control.

Student section cheers during the ENTIRE game. Everybody screams their lungs out that I often saw droplets of spittle clash against the plastic wall in front of us. One guy behind us was eating pop corn. From time to time, the pop corn will fly and hit against the plastic wall too. Hronn and I felt like being baptized by the Cornell undergrads’ spitting from behind. We told each other that next time we will remember to wear a cap and laundry clothes. Furthermore, some undergrads were clearly drinking alcohol during the game. When the student section shouted “Let’s go Red”, the smell of alcohol fumes from behind made us quite dizzy.

Nevertheless, I learned so many cheers (http://www.elynah.com/?cheers), some of which were very funny, some of which were very brutal and atrocious. Whenever our player scores a goal, the entire student section said “Sieve, Sieve, Sieve, Sieve, You SUCK!” and then it will be followed by “It’s all your fault~, It’s all your fault”. When the other team goalie manage to block a puck, the students shout “Lucky sieve, Lucky sieve~”. This was all cute and funny. However, whenever a period ended and the Princeton coach was leaving the bench, the entire student shouted “Bald, Bald, Bald x10” which I thought was too insulting.

When 2 minutes were left, Hronn and I both remembered to pull out our key chain and jingle. I told Hronn, “Thank you for sharing your ticket with me~!”. Hronn replied, “Thanks to you that this time, I know that key chain jingle in the third period means it’s the end of the game!”

Craig Mundie visit

As part of one week IVY league tour, cheif research and science officer at Microsoft research, Craig Mundie, came to Cornell to give out a talk, meet students and faculties. Since Nick drove all the way from College Park only to meet with this so called “the god of Microsoft”, I was really curious what he would talk about.

To make the long story short, it was well rehearsed talk for Microsoft public relations without sounding too much like advertising. While covering four project demos and seven questions from the audience, he cleverly omitted the business viewpoint of past, current and future of microsoft products. Instead, described them in the light of “vision of the future, contribution to the science community”.

The four projects that Craig Mundie described were: project Natal, office of the future, the cloud computing and 3D display with new interation techniques. None of them were particularly new to me but I have to admit that I was impressed by how nicely he motivated each techniques with a coherent storyline which was in this talk, global warming and energy sustainability.

Some of the seven question covered the research areas not mentioned in his talk: privacy in personal data, ubiquitous computing, robotics, quantum computing, technologies in the developing world, intellectual property rights. Mundie mostly used these questions to advertise existing SDK or research projects from Microsoft that people should download or find out about. There was one exception. It was the question about software piracy. He talked about the effort that Microsoft made with Chinese government in the past to bring down the piracy ratio of their flagship product, MS Office. In recent years, the piracy rate has decreased from 95% to 85%. He described that software piracy issue cannot be solved by some policy or a law but only by change in the culture. Recently, Chinese people are putting a lot of effort into transforming their country cash cow from manufacture to knowledge industry. Hence, the entire society is trying to change its culture to value intellectual properties. While listening to Craig talking about this software piracy issue, I became curious about two points. First, I actually expected the piracy ratio in China to be much higher, closer to 99%. Second, I wonder if the piracy rate in Korea is higher or lower than that of China.

Despite my cynicism againt the evil Microsoft empire, I have to admit that there are still so many smart people with creative ideas at MSR. I am more and more looking forward to my internship at the head of this evil giant software company. It almost feels like an espionage. 😛

“Capturing the moment”talk by Michael Cohen

Cornell Computer Science department has a weekly colloquium series every Thursday. I look forward to attending these talks as colloquium series held at Information Science department is not as technical. I found myself dozing several times after 15 minutes into the talks.

Two weeks ago, microsoft researcher Michael Cohen came to Cornell to give out a talk on his recent research. As my initial field of interest in my graduate study was computer graphics, I’ve been reading SIGGRAPH proceedings earlier on in my graduate program. While reading those proceedings,  Michael Cohen’s work caught my interest as a lot of his work is computational photography which I have been greatly interested in.

Computational photography is a field that has the most thin boundary between computer graphics and computer vision. The goal of this field is to computationally produce an image that doesn’t exist among captured images. Instead of describing this topic in totally technical terms, just as how I described it, Michael Cohen summarized it philosophically in his talk’s title; “capturing the moment”.

Photograph is an objective visual representation of a point in time and space. Comparatively, moment is a visual representation of the subjective reality at some specific time and place. Photograph is not good at capturing this subjective moment. For example, when taking a group shot, it is very difficult to take a single shot where everybody has their eyes opened. Because photography is imperfect, computational photography proposes several solution to perfect images for capturing the moment that the photographer wants to take.

Using Groupshot, software that is based on Cohen’s 2004 SIGGRAPH publication (Interactive Digital Photomontage), users can stitch together part of photos that people like. By taking pieces of people smiling from different photos and switching them together, users can create a group shot that everyone is satisfied with.

A moment that a person wants to record might be difficult to capture not only because of the human factors but also due to limitations of camera sensors. One example is taking a night shot. When flash is on, the camera sensors capture the image at the grain level that your eyes see but not with the right color. When flash is not on, camera captures an image with the color tone that your eyes see but not with the contrast. Cohen’s solution to this problem is to use joint bilateral filter to take the color information from ‘no-flash’ image and the detail from ‘flash’ image and combine them. When I originally saw this paper from SIGGRAPH 2005 proceeding, I thought that it was a brilliant idea. When I heard him describing it again during the colloquium, I still thought that it was a brilliant idea~!

His more recent work extends what I just described in high depth range images, giga pixel images, videos, google street view images and many more. I can probably write another whole page summarizing his work that I have been following. Maybe if I run out of contents to talk about as part of this attempt to write 365 posts, I might consider writing more. Today, I think I met my requirements for my resolution. ^_^

When the talk was over, one of the audience asked him a very interesting question.
“Given all your techniques in computational photography, can you prove that a photo is real?” My guess is that he might have been involved in crime investigation relating photo forgery. Michael Cohen answered, “That is a very good question. The answer to that question is that using current computer graphics techniques, we can tell if an image has been altered. However, we cannot prove that an image is authentic.”