All posts by Crefeda Rodrigues

Hi, I’m Crefeda Rodrigues from Goa, India. I was inspired to take computer science during my undergraduate course where I studied the subject Neural Networks. It intrigued me that an idea as simple as a neuron could spark a whole new research field in science. Hence, I decided to my Master’s in Advanced Computer Science – Artificial Intelligence from The University of Manchester last year. I have now transitioned into a PhD program in Computer Science under the supervision of Graham Riley from the Advanced Processor Technology (APT) Group. Apart from my role as a student, I work part-time as a Teaching Assistant, I engage in volunteer activities involving education and charity with different societies. My interests include dance, books, food and traveling.

Lisbon Machine Learning Summer School (LxMLS -Summer 2017)

Olá,

We have reached the end of another year and another summer school has gone by. Summer schools combine two of my favourite activities- learning and travelling! As you know I have been learning Portuguese for some time and I am happy that I could put some of my Portuguese lingo to the test while experiencing some great the Portuguese culture . In July, I had a pleasant stay in the beautiful city of Lisbon where I attended the 7th Lisbon Machine Learning Summer School hosted by Instituto Superior Técnico (IST). I was looking forward to this summer school on machine learning as I felt it was perfectly themed for anyone with an interest in machine learning for natural language processing. Having worked at the intersection of computer architecture and machine learning for understanding images, I was keen to be exposed to the world of language processing which includes language translation, speech recognition, speech synthesis and image-to-text applications. I know all of this sounds like technical jargon, but these applications have become part of our daily lives now. For example, you may have used Google translate to take a picture of text that you wanted translated or used a voice command feature on your phone or even a personal assistant for your phone such as Siri or Cortana. All of these cool apps are being powered by the latest machine learning techniques.

The structure of the summer school consisted of lectures in the morning, practical lab sessions in the afternoon and a talk in the evening. Overall, I felt that it had a progressive build-up of topics each day, ranging from basics on the first day like probability and linear algebra to more advanced topics on the last day, such as deep learning algorithms.

Key highlights from the school:

Lectures
The first day kick started with an introductory lecture on probability theory and basics of Python programming. This was fairly simple as it covered the necessary background material required for forthcoming lectures and labs. It was also complementary to the material in the handbook that was provided in advance to all the attendees. The second day was essentially a crash course of the material covered in a postgraduate course I had taken during my Masters, “The Foundations of Machine learning”. The following days we covered techniques geared towards algorithms to deal with understanding language in written form such as Hidden Markov models and Viterbi algorithms. Finally, the summer school ended with an introduction into state-of-the-art deep learning techniques.

Labs
The lab sessions in the afternoon gave us the opportunity to work on various exercises based on the lectures in the morning. It exposed us to the toolkit used in the university with the necessary starter code to help us progress through the exercises. The lab monitors did an excellent job in providing suggestions and explaining concepts that might have been unclear during the lectures. Moreover, if you find yourself comfortable with the material covered in this summer school then you can apply to be a monitor for the next summer school which is great!

Talks
The day ended off with talks from experts from the field to fast-track us to the cutting-edge techniques being explored in the field. The initial panel discussion on “Thinking like machines” was fairly interesting as it tried to debunk some of the AI propaganda that we keep hearing about in the news. These included clarifications of future AI systems and its impact on job security.

Demo day 
Here is a clip of the demo day. This was a one-day event for students and companies to showcase their latest projects as well inform us about opportunities within the company. It was a well organised networking event as I met people working on building translation systems (Unbabel, Priberam) to recommender systems for apps (Aptoide) and for gaming (Mini-clip).  Some cool robots from Institute for Systems and Robotics (ISR Lisboa) that could interact with users through visual/voice signals also added to the fun!

LxMLS 2017

Exploring the city
I explored most of the city of Lisbon by foot but had to take a train to nearby places like Sintra and Cascais. Lisbon is known as the city of seven hills, which I can definitely vouch for, thanks to all the time spent walking up and down the steep slopes!  All of the walking really contributed towards a good workout along with a big appetite for some exquisite local cuisine. Some of the dishes that I tried included Octopus, sardine pizza (this was definitely my favourite), tartare (from France) and Francesinha (which is a Portuguese sandwich from Porto). To tingle my taste buds, I tried a local drink called Ginginha from a tiny chocolate cup! I was even able to try some of my own Goan cuisine which made me a bit nostalgic! Finally, no experience is complete without the taste of traditional Pasteis De Nata, Port wine and some mouth-watering ice-creams at Santini!

Some local cuisine

Some of the places I enjoyed visiting included Bairro Alto, where I walked through narrow lanes between residential buildings whose walls were adored with beautiful colours, making it vibrant and charming. As I walked through the city, I would sometimes find myself enchanted by the sweet melancholy of some traditional Fado music. Other places I visited in Lisbon include the São Jorge Castle, the Pantheon, Belém Tower, Rossio Square, Vasco da Gama Bridge and 25 de Abril bridge.
If walking is not your style, then you could board the electric trams snaking very slowly around the corner. I took a ride in one of these to cross-off the next item on my “To do list for Portugal”.
Finally, I had a great time at the beach in Cascais before I headed back to Manchester.

Places I visited- Portugal

The writing process: My experience

Hello everyone,

A friend of mine, once told me and I quote “Writing a paper is like drawing. You start by defining sections you need and describing what you need in each section and adding detail until you’ve got your text”.

“The art of writing”

So, for today’s blog I thought about sharing my experience of writing a paper for a conference. We all know what it is like to write a report or an essay and for most of us, it is a big ordeal. However, as a PhD student I have really begun to realise the importance of writing.  A key skill to being a good researcher, is being able to convey your work in the best possible light and in the most articulate form. While you may think that the main part of research are the results, conveying the process of arriving at the results in a concise manner and expressing why we think the results are important and different is key. Unlike a talk or presentation, our writing has to be engaging enough to keep the reader of the paper interested.
A good portion of my time is spent writing yearly short reports, papers for conferences and journals, so I thought I would write about what I have learnt from the process while sharing some funny moments along the way.

  •  Reality versus Expectations on the time to complete
    When I first started writing the paper in January of this year, I kept an optimistic estimate of two months to write everything up. In fact it is already June and I am still refining my paper with new experiments and results! For now, I have just submitted my final draft to the conference, and have to wait for the review. Depending on the outcome of the review, one of three things could happen:

    1. A highly unlikely scenario: the paper was so great it brought tears to every one reading it and there are no major corrections
    2. The paper gets accepted but the comments and suggestions have to be worked upon to make it ready for the final version
    3. The paper gets rejected and I spend the initial days contemplating on my life choices and then I pick myself up and work towards the next conference. Throughout the year “prospective” conferences deadlines appear every few months or so and there are plenty of opportunities to re-send my paper to any of these if it gets rejected.
  •  Missing the occasional good weather
    I am not sure, but I have always felt that we have warm sunny days when either I’m having exams or working towards a deadline! Manchester was fortunate enough to have some sunny days this year and I remember being inside the lab formulating a million reasons in my mind to be outside but unfortunately I could not. Sure, I could take my laptop and write outside, but then where is the fun in that?
  • Writer’s block
    I never knew what this meant until I decided to write the introduction section of my paper. There were days that the backspace button of my key board received so much attention it was feeling overwhelmed. It was in times like these, I decided that a friendly chat with friends or supervisors would help me get much needed inspiration.

                                                

  • Writing a related work section: The key to differentiating your work from others is to be able to place your work in the context of what has already been done. So the “related work” section of the paper is my least favourite to write because I have to go through the pain of reminding myself about all the past papers that I have read. I have to critically analyse each paper for producing just two to three sentences per paper. I used tools like Evernote to try to maintain online notes of the papers I have read. On a side note, I have around 150 notes in my account. I don’t know if that is a good enough number to boost my confidence!
  • Trying to reach the page limit
    Typically conference papers are 10-15 pages long. Some are single column format papers while others are double column. It is important to not exceed the page limit despite the wealth of information you may have. It is equally necessary that you express data in a form which is easy to comprehend and devoid of long heady sentences. In such cases,  graphs are your best friends! For my paper, I had a plan of what each section was supposed to convey to the reader and I made a rough outline of its contents.
  •  Feelings of procrastination and pessimism
    Thoughts such as “Is my paper any good?” or “Will it even be accepted?” or “I don’t feel like writing today” were definitely popping up in my head every now and then, but as my supervisor says, “Sending your paper to a conference is like getting a lottery ticket. You get the ticket and wait till you know the results. If you lose, you buy another ticket”  🙂
    In moments like these, I decided to take a short break from writing and take a walk to clear up my thoughts.
  • Chocolate bars versus Apple pies
    I find the most interesting part of the paper is creating pictorial representations. It is basically like artwork for your paper. Having good graphs (bar vs. pie charts) help with the first impression of the paper. So picking the right chart type to express ideas/results, showcase the amount of effort and thought you have put to make the paper interesting for the reader. I found Python’s matplotlib to be quite handy to make graphs. But there other options like inkscape, pgfplots that have been suggested by others.
  •  Asking people to review
    The final bit of my paper writing exercise was getting my content peer-reviewed. Usually, students get their PhD thesis chapters reviewed by colleagues in the lab.  This is quite helpful because I got inputs on my writing style, the structure of my paper and the occasional grammatical errors.

Finally, I have submitted my paper and I will keep my fingers crossed that it will get accepted. Until then, see you in my next blog!

Cheers,
Crefeda

2 weeks in Cambridge @ ARM Research

Hello everyone,

I ended my last blog saying that I would be prepared for all the writing that is to come. Well, little did I anticipate that the first two months of the new year, would be spent writing and re-writing a paper for a conference. Phew! Now that I am done with that I have finally found some time to write my new blog post for 2017.  Apart from being engulfed with my writing work, I was able to spend the Chinese New Year making dumplings, which was fun! I have also started my second phase of Portuguese language lessons and finally, I have moved up to the ‘improvers’ level for my dance sessions.

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Random Picture from one of the dance sessions.
Learning some Foxtrot- Manchester University Ballroom and Latin Society

I recently spent two weeks in Cambridge at the ARM research office. This was an interesting experience because apart from being a different work environment as compared to an academic setting, I was able to be part of research in a company that could potentially end up as viable products in the future.  This is particularly difficult for machine learning research or computer science in general as it grows at a very fast pace with new developments happening in terms of new algorithms,  application targets and  hardware targets and it’s quite easy to get lost in all the madness that comes with this rapidly changing landscape.  I was fortunate enough to have this sort of exposure or check-point if you will, early-on, to allow me to talk to people from industry and showcase the work I have done so far and as well, help me decide on the next big question that I would like to tackle.

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Lemon tea – a shot in the ARM for a productive day 😛

The first few days, I spent my time learning about the general structure of the research team into groups based on the topic area like memory systems, HPC and others. I was part of the machine learning research team that is focussed on machine learning based applications running on ARM based devices. Through my exploration, I found  that considerable efforts are being spent on assessing academic and industry research work as well as highlighting potential opportunities that are not yet targeted and risks from competitors. Trying to draw parallelism to what I have been doing as a research student, I found this work similar to the risk assessment work in my first year, but on a much smaller scale. Obviously, being part of research, it is highly unlikely for just one person to be working on a particular topic and therefore there could be students perhaps in your own department or a different department within the university or a different university or even industry that could be working on something similar. Understanding this landscape is necessary, as you are aiming to contribute to new knowledge in your field and there is a possibility of being overtaken!

I also experienced working as a team towards a unified goal; where even though each person worked on an independent task, it would fit like  pieces of a jig-saw puzzle. The role of my academic supervisor was replaced by my line manager. He initially gave me a task (an equivalent of a research problem) that was quite open-ended in the beginning but after a couple of days of picking up a marker, visualizing problems on the whiteboard and pitching ideas across, I was able to better understand the scope of the problem that was given and be able to break it down into smaller more solvable ones.  Similar to the meetings we have had here with our research group every month, I was able to attend meetings with other research groups in ARM as well as have a weekly conference call with other team members from the machine learning team in other locations. I had the opportunity to present at one of these meetings, which felt a bit daunting at first but after receiving the feedback and questions pertaining to what I had done, I felt it was a good way to assess  my work.  I also found that this experience would be beneficial for my viva preparation, where I could have someone who may not be closely related to  my research field, deliberating over my work and I would have to convince them the importance of my work!

Finally, I also took some time during the weekend to explore what Cambridge had to offer. I was particularly impressed by the botanical garden that had a greenhouse with plants from areas like India, Africa and even Australia. The Museum of Fitzwilliam and Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology were interesting as well, housing a large number of antiquities, paintings and artifacts.

Pictures from Cambridge (Botanical gardens, Fitzwilliam Museums)
Pictures from Cambridge (Botanical gardens, Fitzwilliam Museum)

Overall, I am glad I got to make this trip and experience a little bit of industry research along with some fun time during the weekend!

See you until my next post!

Crefeda

A typical week of a PhD student

Hello everyone,

Winter has dawned upon us here at Manchester and Christmas is around the corner. With frost covered leaves to chilly winds, it’s the time of the year where we cocoon ourselves in warm jumpers, scarves and long overcoats.

I have devoted a few blogs to my first experiences as a PhD student attending summer schools and conferences, which is interesting by itself of course. I thought, as these sorts of things happen more intermittently during a PhD,  you might ask what happens in the daily life as a PhD student? Do we ponder over research papers and engulf ourselves in our research work all day? Are we bound by our desks burning the midnight oil? It may seem that is what we do or we have to do and quite rightly so, because getting a PhD is hard work! However, even though it may seem challenging to devote so much time to one piece of work,  I have come to experience the thrills of some of the roller-coaster moments entailed in doing research!

I have spent more than a year now and I thought I would give you a flavour of my week along with some of my colleagues in the APT lab.

How do we start our day?

A typical day could start well during the day or night; I say that because some students like to be early birds while some like to be night owls. Depending on your preference, students work with different schedules during a PhD. Personally, I am more of the early bird category as it helps me make the most of working alongside some of my colleagues during the day.

Meetings with supervisor or checkpoints

Usually in a week, I meet my supervisor for an hour to go over my progress for the week and discuss tasks for the next week. These can be considered as checkpoints in your PhD, which helps to ensure you are on top of everything. It can be as  simple as discussing the result of an experiment to deliberating over a research paper.

Interacting with the group

We have usually two meetings with everyone in the APT group. One is the monthly group meeting to discuss the progress everyone has been making, problems we have encountered or achievements , (for example, a new publication). A research group will usually consist of people with varying levels of expertise and in different domains and these meetings are organized to make each one aware of the expertise that flows in the group, in case you find the need to tap into it at some point.

The other meeting we have is a reading group meeting. Here, we pick an interesting paper for the month in any computer architecture topic and we discuss the paper as a group. This helps realize different viewpoints of everyone on a common topic.

Burning calories a.k.a finding distractions from research

Each of us have different regimes to keep ourselves fit. In the APT group, we have  activities arranged every week at the Sudgen sports centre; Football on Wednesdays and Badminton on Fridays. Apart from that we also have the occasional table tennis and basketball. The adventurous lot among us also prefer climbing! This is a good time to escape from work, relax our minds and bond with everyone in the lab. I usually like to play badminton, cycle to university and every Sunday I attend ballroom dance classes organized by University of Manchester Ballroom and Latin Society.

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Weekly badminton  by the APT

Learn something new and not research related

From what I have seen so far, depending on your interests and time, you can also learn something new. For me its Beginners Portuguese class every Tuesday evening organized by the International Society. I have no knowledge of any of the Latin Languages; I am still trying to wrap my head around the concept of assigning a gender to everything .  This makes these classes all the more challenging as well as  interesting for me.

Brain food

The APT group organizes a yearly tradition of Welcome meals and Christmas Meals.  The Welcome meal is organized for the new PhD students in the group and to go through the interesting and fun process of being introduced to everyone in the group, learning about what everyone is up to or even better, discussing the latest news tidbits  – presidential elections in US. Now, that Christmas is near, we have our Christmas meal approaching!

Welcome Meal at TOPS restaurant, 2015

In addition, for those that return from a trip (either vacation or conference related), we have the joy of consuming confectioneries from around the world. There is an e-mail that is usually sent to everyone in the group indicating the arrival of tasty treats at the usual desk!  😀

Celebrations when someone passes their viva

Handing in the PhD thesis marks one of the final steps to achieving a PhD. This is usually followed by a viva by external examiners.  So, every year we have a bunch of students in the final stages of their research, intensely working to complete everything on time. So, when someone does complete the final viva successfully, it calls for a celebration for all their hard work! This includes a lot of junk food and drinks. Moreover, the students who are approaching their deadlines in the near future get to learn from their experience.

Preparing myself for all the writing that is yet to come!

Finally, every month (kind of) I try to immerse myself in writing a blog!  I don’t plan what I want to write. I just wake up one day and decide to binge write. This is exactly what happened with this blog.  In the era where youtube vlogging is the new rage, I find these blogs similar, like a record of my experience during my time here and I hope that once I do complete my PhD I can look back at these and have a good chuckle 😀

Speak to you again in the New Year!

Crefeda

 

 

A memoir of my journey to Manchester

It’s the time of year where new students brimming with enthusiasm have joined The University of Manchester to begin a new journey in their lives. I remember when I started this journey two years ago to pursue my Master’s degree here, I arrived around this time, just like all of you, anticipating new adventures along the way. As I got off the plane, I was quite sceptic about the weather so I packed a jumper and a raincoat in my hand luggage just in case but to my surprise the weather was quite pleasant when I arrived.

We were greeted by happy ambassadors at the airport who directed all the bewildered new students towards the coaches to take us to our respective University accommodations.  I remember the tag that I received to put on my bag to identify us at the airport.

My UoM Bag Tag

The journey from Goa to Manchester took a gruelling 12 hours including three flights and a stop and I was quite exhausted when I arrived at the Fallowfield campus. At that point, I just wanted to sleep. After dealing with the administrative procedures at the Fallowfield reception which was quick, they handed me the keys to a little cottage with three bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a hall. For anyone who enjoys quiet evenings after a busy day at the University, you will definitely enjoy living here. Also, a little tip, during the spring you can find black berries growing outside!

Cottage- Fallowfield Campus
The Cottage- Fallowfield Campus

My first day at University was filled with anticipation, I had so much to deal with such as student registration, purchasing a new sim card, opening a bank account and more. The University provided the students with all the necessary steps to accomplish this with the least hassle as possible.

I felt the welcome week helped me really understand how to deal with all these tasks as well as giving me a flavour of what the University has to offer. So I hope everyone was able to attend the Welcome Fair.  To help students prepare for the week, a trip to ASDA was organised by the University which was quite useful as I was able to purchase essential supplies for accommodation and classes.  Apart from that, the trip to John Ryland’s library was a head turner for me as I was in awe of the architecture and its amazing collections. To top it off we received free tickets from the school of computer science to visit the Manchester United stadium and its museum.

John Ryland's Library
John Ryland’s Library
Manchester United Stadium
Manchester United Stadium

So yes, the first week was amazing and you should make most of it. After that, reality sets in and you will be consumed in learning new things, assignments, projects and before you know it, you will be attending your graduation ceremony and remembering these moments

PS: or you could be like me who decided to stick around a little longer and write a blog about it.  😉

 

A really “hot” Summer School (ACACES -July 2016)

Ciao,

It’s been around two weeks since I got back from my summer school (Advanced Computer Architecture and Compilation for High-Performance and Embedded Systems -ACACES) in Italy and I am still reminiscing about some of my memorable experiences there.  I was preparing for the trip weeks ahead and I was both excited to see a new place and nervous about meeting new people at the summer school.

I planned the trip with my fellow colleagues from the APT group so that  we got to see a bit of Rome before we headed off to Fiuggi, where the summer school was held.  The temperatures in Rome were quite hot, around 30 degrees, so it was reassuring to know that I would return back to the cool weather of Manchester. (Clearly though, I was completely wrong about that, since I made it back for a “week long heatwave” in the UK! Nevertheless, I hope everyone enjoyed the great weather here!)

In Rome, we first spent a day visiting the Vatican – the museum, St-Peter’s Square, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. There is usually a long queue to enter the museum, so we pre-booked our tickets.  The Vatican Museum has a LOT to offer to the large number of visiting tourists, it has a substantial number of artefacts to look round.  It was quite  crowded for my liking but overall it was a pleasant experience.  I spent the remaining two days “trying” to cover as much as I could of Rome.  I was able to see the usual touristy spots which included the Colosseum, Trevi Fountains, Palantine Hills, Altare della Patria and the Arch of Constantine.

The best way to explore these places is by taking a walk around the streets, at every corner I found that there was something new to see. From a sweet melody playing in the background to someone dressed up as a Roman Warrior! The city has an incredible amount to offer in terms of its rich history, where the ancient ruins have become a part of the day-to-day lives of the people of modern Rome. It is like being caught in  two different eras at the same time.

On my little excursion, I found that a panoramic  view of Rome can be found by climbing the Altare della Patria (which I later found out is also known as the wedding cake!).

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Some places I saw in Rome and Vatican

No experience of Italy is complete without a taste of Italian pizza. Some places in Italy are known for their thin crust pizzas (Neapolitan Pizza) while others do thick crust (Sicilian pizza). When I was in Rome, I got the chance to sit at a local pizzeria and savour every bite of a thin crust four cheese pizza.

Four Cheese Pizza
Four Cheese Pizza

ACACES Summer School

The summer school was just like attending a normal school but with lots of extra perks! On the first day, we were welcomed with a box of traditional Amaretti biscuits and we had an opening talk by Edward A Lee from UC Berkely, which set the scene for the rest of the summer school. The major theme that was focused upon in the talk was the lack of a definite model for emerging technologies for the future internet of things.

As for the daily routine, every morning began with an all you can eat breakfast meal, which was followed by two lectures in the morning and two lectures in the afternoon.  In addition, we were given free tickets every day to let our hair down and relax at the hotel spa. Finally, we ended each day with a 7 course meal that included some very mouth-watering pasta, risotto, spaghetti, soups and more. Pasta was always the main dish and each day the pasta was flavoured differently, from tomato to lemon.  To my surprise , sometimes the pasta was cooked a little differently, with the centre left just a little bit tender, to give it a certain texture. I must say I was impressed by their precision!  And If you think this wasn’t enough, there were other surprises such as  “spaghetti with squid ink”.

The most enjoyable experience at the summer school for me was sitting around the big dinner table, savouring every dish, sipping some really good wine and having friendly conversations with the people around me, who came in from all different parts of the world.

At dinner
At dinner

Some of the courses I attended were:

I was completely new to all the courses, so I learnt quite a lot in that one week. In general, all of them were pretty interesting and informative about the field, current issues and future research directions. I would say that I enjoyed the lectures on operating systems and superscalar the most.

Apart from lectures, we had a poster session to have one-on-one conversations with other PhD students and researchers who were working on different topics, such as computer architecture to applications that are built on top of parallel computing platforms.

Obviously, no poster session is complete without a picture of a poster from The University of Manchester:

Poster from Richard Neill, The University of Manchester
Poster from Richard Neill, APT group, The University of Manchester

The summer school ended off with a dance party with all of us at one point grooving to some Bollywood and Bhangra music (the epic moment when I got to bust out my ‘bollywood, a.k.a desi’ moves).

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Grooving to ”Chammak Challo”

See you until next time!

Crefeda

Thanks to all the people I met.
Thanks to HiPEAC and all the people I met

 

My checklist for a conference

Hello everyone,

It’s been a while since my last blog but I really had quite a lazy last month. The only thing interesting happening in my life is the new season of Game of thrones 🙂 .   I also decided to head back to Goa in May, and get some much awaited vacation time with family and friends. Though the weather was really hot and humid back home, overall it was a good trip. Plus, I got some quality time on sandy beaches of Goa.

Boomerang, Goa

When I got back, I was quite pleased to see a LOT of sunshine in Manchester as well. The weather was so pleasant that I got to put my dusty old sunglasses to some use.  However, now it’s back to the rainy Manchester. I also discovered some free hula classes outside Whitworth art gallery, every Sunday from 2 to 4 pm.

Hula outside Whitworth Art Gallery

Meanwhile, in lab I received my Jetson TX1; It’s a development board from NVIDIA that is targeted for the embedded platform. Now, I can start to do some fun experimental work with it.

 

Jetson TX1

As per my last month’s blog post on my conference trip, I wanted to devote another blog describing how I prepared for my trip. I think that it would be a useful guide in general as well as for myself, since I have decided to register for a summer school next month.

I have listed a series of steps below which you may find useful:

Step 1: Select a conference well in advance.

Well, this step is key as I had to choose a conference that was closest to my field. I chose the GPU technology Conference (GTC) as it featured posters, talks and hands-on-labs from both academia and industry in the field of deep learning. The hands-on-labs were particularly useful for me because I got to learn a lot about the Jetson TX1, even before I received my own board.

Step 2: Check about the hotels and flights

The website for this conference had a link to the hotels that were closest to the venue of the event. But by the time I decided to reserve the hotel (as I waited to get my visa first), most of the places were filled up and I had to split my stay between two hotels. So, don’t wait too long to do the booking as you can cancel it later, if things don’t go as planned. Also, for my travel to the US, the journey was around 18 hours +, as I had to make two stops; one in Amsterdam and then Seattle. I later found out there are shorter flights if I had traveled from London, Heathrow.  Apart from that, it was a jet lag nightmare for me.  I was visiting US for a week and I took about a week to recover from  jet lag just in time  to head back to Manchester and spend another week trying to adjust back again. 🙁

Step 3: Check if you need a visa.

Well, being an international student, I had to apply for my US visa. So, this involved a two day trip to London for my interview at the US embassy. I had yet again to book train tickets as well a place to stay for one night in Marble Arch, since I had my interview early morning the next day. This comic strip best describes the interview process and I was in fact asked just one question “What’s your PhD about ?” :P. All I can say is that I tried really hard to be concise. 😀

 

phd062308s

Step 4: Meeting the finance department for the first time.

For all of the above steps, right from getting the visa to booking the stay, getting familiar with financial procedures is necessary. I never even knew where the finance department was during my Masters; well I did not really need to know back then. Anyways, it involved a  whole lot of mundane tasks of request forms and emails, which in hindsight was very important. Also, once I got back from my trip,  I could fill up my expense claim form on My Manchester account and hand it in to the finance department.

Step 5: I got myself an Uber account

This was quite useful when travelling to and fro from the airport.

Step 6: Travel Money card (optional)

I decided to get a travel money card as the debit cards would incur some transactional charges for every purchase I made abroad. Even though my trip is being paid for (perks of being a PhD… 🙂 ), I decided it would be a better idea to get some travel money in dollars to avoid all the extra cost.  Also, something to take care of with a travel card, is that Uber doesn’t accept travel money card and the card should not be used for paying the deposit in hotels. More information is available on the website linked above.

I got my card from the post office at Hathersage Rd within a day.

Step 7: Get a Universal adapter

Step 8: Business Cards

card
I think I have enough cards stocked up for the next three years..

My final step was to decide whether to make business cards or not. Since ,  I was travelling to my first conference, I thought that I would definitely  meet new people and it would be nice make contacts. From experience, I say that getting business cards printed was the best decision I made. So, after a lot of searching I found few places that can make business cards.

I did not really opt for this one at the time, but it is a good place to get started if you are thinking of getting one. I think there is an option of designing the cards yourself and then getting them printed as well.

Another option was suggested by one of my PhD colleagues was Manchesterprinters.com for printing the cards.

Well, that brings me to the end of this blog. I hope that this information was useful and serves as a useful guide if you are thinking of going for any academic trips.

 

 

 

My First Conference #GTC’16 and Google Visit

Last month I got to experience my first conference as a PhD student.  Some of the highlights of the trip were,  my unexpected encounter with the CEO of NVIDIA and visiting Google headquarters. So, read ahead to know more…

The GPU technology conference in the heart of Silicon Valley, is an industrial level conference that focuses on the research carried both by academia and industry. The central theme was to showcase the power of GPU computing in fields like Artificial Intelligence, Virtual reality and Self driving cars.  Since, the conference schedule is quite overwhelming, as it featured more than 500 sessions with speakers from Audi, Baidu, Boeing, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Oracle, Samsung and Twitter, among many others; it was not possible for me to attend everything. So, prior to my arrival I planned out the important ones I wanted to attend like the keynotes, posters, presentations and exhibits.

The journey..

conference

On the contrary, the journey to San Jose for me was quite exciting as it was the first time I was travelling to the US. I got to see some amazing landscapes. In particular , I passed by a huge mountain which I later found out was an active volcano known as Mt. Rainier, in Seattle.

 

Pictures
Some landscapes … Mt Rainer seen in the second picture

At the conference…

Keynotes

The keynotes are one of the most important things in a conference and I am glad I did not miss them. The keynotes are delivered by top experts in the field and are quite different from the remaining events as they showcase the main trends in research and industry, some fun live demos as well as give a flavour of the exciting events of the conference.

IMG_20160405_085114

The opening keynote was delivered by the CEO of NVIDIA, Jen-Hsun Huang.  I remembered when I entered the room, it had an aura of a rock music concert with  music, lighting, a massive stage and the emerald-green NVIDIA  logo, flashing on the screen behind. The atmosphere really built my anticipation and I can say that it did not disappoint.  😛

His talk was enjoyable, as he was very charismatic and brought in a lot of humour into the talk.  The most memorable joke of the day was when he asked Steve Woznaik, to be the first person to have a one-way ticket to experience the MARS 2030 VR demo, and Steve exclaimed, “wow! I’m getting dizzy! I’m gonna fall out of this chair.” And to this he replied “Well, Woz, that was not a helpful comment”.

steve

Jen unveiled the exciting new releases by NVIDIA in deep learning, virtual reality and self-driving cars.  In particular, NVIDIA unveiled five important releases which included the  world’s first supercomputer in a box ; DGX-1,  NVIDIA SDK for the new PASCAL architecture, NVIDIA Tesla P100 GPU, NVIDIA Iray VR and Drive PX.  Along with this, NVIDIA announced its first autonomous race car:

Pictures1
(Left) NVIDIA’s autonomous car ; (Right) NVIDIA’s DGX-1

The second key note was delivered by Rob High CTO of IBM Watson, His talk was centred on Cognitive Computing and featured their very humanoid IBM Watson powered NAO robot. Not only is its  ability to understand languages  unreal but I think it could challenge me to  a dance- off as I saw the little guy bust some of its moves to Oppa Gangam style. And yes, I have a video of that ! 😀

 

With IBM watson
With IBM watson

Finally, Gill Pratt CEO of Toyota Research Institute, talked about ROBOTS, CARS and SUPERCOMPUTERS and I was thinking.. “Am I getting a Transformer-vibe?”

Anyways, I think it is a long way from robots turning into cars or vice-versa…or is it?

Keynote 3
Keynote by  Gill Pratt, CEO of Toyota Research Institute

His talk focused on robots that were semi-autonomous (Parallel autonomy; that would assist rather than be fully autonomous). He showed live demos where a semi-autonomous robotic arm outperformed a fully autonomous arm in the simple task of picking a cube. He hopes to bring this to the automotive industry by equipping cars with semi-autonomous AI while a person is driving, which would allow safe driving.

Posters and Beers:

The poster presentations is a jammed packed event where I got a chance to have one-on-one chats with the authors and learn about the research they were working on. I was proud to see a poster by my colleague and friend James Clarkson from the APT group at The University of Manchester. I was quite impressed with the work he had done in porting KinectFusion algorithm in CUDA in Java and running it on GPUs.  Java has a large developer base and his work is interesting for anyone interested in accelerating their Java programs using GPUs. He is supervised by Dr. Mikel Lujan from the APT group for anyone who is interested in finding more about this project.

Poster by James Clarkson from APT
Poster by James Clarkson from APT

 

Networking events:

For anyone planning to attend a conference, there are lots of events dedicated to meeting new people such as Dinner with Strangers.  Apart from that there are VIP invites for certain parties/ get-togethers after the event.  Along with James, I was able to attend some of these, and we got the chance to get a picture clicked with Jen (CEO, NVIDIA). Just like his keynote, he was quite joyful and funny  to talk to.  This conference set the bar high for me. Meeting a CEO, will be on my check list for my next conference 😛 . Also, anyone interested in attending this conference can do so for the next GTC which will be held in Europe this September in Amsterdam for the first time (28-29 Sep)

 

Meeting CEO of NVIDIA
Meeting Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of NVIDIA

VR stuff

My first VR experience was at The University of Manchester at events like DigiLab where I got to see some third year Undergraduate projects in VR.

VR at DigiLab
VR at DigiLab

At GTC, the VR village is a must see event, if you are interested in escaping reality and diving into a new world.  Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed about the registration process for the VR village. We had to stand in an extra long queue to register ( psst. boring and slow)! In spite of that I could not register for The MARS 2030 event as it was booked completely for all the days.

VR Bullet Train
VR Bullet Train
  • VR Gaming

However, I was able to register Bullet train with Oculus rift and experience some VR gaming. The game sets off in a bullet train where I had the opportunity to teleport and shoot bad guys. I swear I almost quivered when a bullet virtually zoomed past me. I would like to have VR for watching movies in the future (I think that exists, doesn’t it?). How cool would that be?

  • VR 3D painting

Another exhibit  was a VR 3D painting called Tilt Brush, where I got the opportunity to paint a 3D house and walk around it and splash colours around me. Man, This VR stuff brings out the inner kid in me!

  • VR sight seeing

And finally, an interesting application was by a company called Realities.io that focuses on reconstructing famous monuments/sites around the world so that you can have your next trip in any place of your choice in VR. This one was quite interesting as I got to visit a cathedral in Germany, walk around, teleport to different rooms by picking up a picture of the room. There was a piano in one of the rooms and I ended up teleporting my self on top of the piano. I can tell you it was quite eery and I am with Steve Woznaik on this, It was a bit scary and dizzy at the same time :D.

The Google Visit

Apart from my trip to this Conference, I had a planned visit to Google Headquarters, to meet Pete Warden who is the Technical Lead for  deep learning on mobile systems at Google. If you have read one of my previous blogs, I talked about a blog post by Pete that I came across while researching a topic. He is a Manchester alumni and  so I decided to connect with him via LinkedIn and behold! I got this opportunity to visit Google.  It was quite interesting to share my ideas with him and get invaluable insights of where the research of deep learning for mobile systems is heading. I really never thought I would visit Google but a little curiosity and networking goes a long way. A little tip for anyone interested. 🙂

Meeting Pete Warden at Google
Meeting Pete Warden at Google

Other Random Stuff:

Apart from all the geeky stuff, I thought I might get to see a movie celebrity. I didn’t have the time to visit Los Angeles but I unexpectedly met Groot at GTC.

Groot at GTC
(Left)  A random picture of Groot (Right) Groot at GTC

Apart from this blog I think it would be worthwhile to write another short post on how I prepared for the conference; which includes topics like travel card, flights, hotels and business cards. The reason I find  its  important to share this information is because it was my first experience and I tried to prepare as much as I could before my trip so that I wouldn’t  miss out anything. So, stay tuned for my next post.

Pictures from my trip..

My trip
Drones, cute robots, autonomous vehicles, deep dream and more….

 

Communicating your research

Hello everyone!

I hope you are all doing well and are looking forward to the Easter break. It has been a busy month for all the research students with our first deadline to submit our summary report, approaching. Alongside this, the first year PhDs have started the course Scientific Methods III, where we learn about the importance of academic writing and the best practices to be followed. This got me thinking about writing my next post on how communication of our research is so important and the events and facilities at the university that can help to improve these skills.

When I first started my PhD in September last year, one of my first experiences was the Research Student Symposium which allowed me to explore the kind of research work carried out by the research students in our School. This event occurs around November and involves the second year PhDs from all the research groups showcasing posters presentations of their research work. This is definitely a good place to get a feel for the topics that are being currently explored by students and may help those that are interested in research to pick one that excites them too. It is open to all students and staff enabling everyone to  interact with a lot of people.

[Watch a video of a previous Research Symposium]

To take it a step further, we have a new competition that I am excited to hear about, called Postgraduate Summer Research Showcase to showcase our research on a University-wide level this June. It includes different forms of presenting our research through a poster, picture, video and 3D models. I am particularly interested in making a short video about my research as I have never done it before and felt it would be challenging.

Another fun way for final year PhDs, is to be able to describe their thesis in three minutes. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to compress three to four years’ worth of work in under three minutes. I was delighted to come across a video from my dear friend from the APT group who took part in this competition to share her work.

Farideh Jalali - Three minute thesis
Farideh Jalali – Three minute thesis

Your personal web page is another platform that you can use to your advantage when trying to showcase yourself and your research. I took some time this month to build my first web page. Some of the few people I drew inspiration from, while building my web page were: Michele Filannino and Andrey Karpathy. I found that their web pages showcased the kind of work they had done during their academic careers with links to projects and publications. One of the main thing you do as a PhD student is search the publications and code demos of your researchers and it is usually convenient to understand and follow their work on their personal /academic web pages.  So, I hope that over the next three years, I will able to build a strong profile for myself and have a consolidated place for my research. I also wish that more of us would try to do this as it just takes a couple of days  to plan out the content and build your page from default templates but is of immense help to anyone who would like to understand the content and depth of your research. Some of my good friends took time to make sure their profiles were up and running this month. You can check out their pages (a current APT PhD student link 1 and a recent Masters graduate –link 2)

Also, the University itself provides you with the ability to host your own web page. The links 1 and 2 describe how you can host your own page and provides information about your domain name.
Apart from this, postgraduate researchers have another facility to make their academic page in the research group they belong to. PGR students in the APT research group can host their APT group web page.

Hopefully, this blog motivates you to find the best way for you to share your ideas with everyone.

See you until next time,

Crefeda

Valentine’s Day, Deep Learning and more!

Hello everyone!

It’s the month of February! Hope everyone is out of the exam fever and looking forward to new activities starting on campus. Well, I am trying to balance my research with some fun activities and, I was thinking of trying out some new SPORTICIPATE activities like women’s yoga and fitness. It is worth having a look at the timetable to see the kind of activities you would like to try out.

In addition, there was a Faculty Welcome event for new PGRs, organized on the 29th of January. I did not have the opportunity to attend this event in September so, I decided to attend this one. I was surprised to see a huge gathering of PhD students from all the schools in Manchester. Even though, I have done my Masters here at Manchester, I find that by attending these events I learn so much more about the University, the facilities and activities available for us. There were talks from PhD students at different stages in their study with tips on how to SURVIVE our PhD, Education officer from the Student Union and Faculty Representatives. It was a warm and welcoming event along with being quite informative on the ways to develop ourselves beyond just doing our PhD.

CZ5QLnoWkAIwyDG
EPS Welcome Event, Renold Building – photo credits @epsgrads

Apart from that I have found new ways to procrastinate, like I read this interesting email from The Career Service which talks about February being the month of “LOVE” and whether we find ourselves falling out of love with our PhD? Well, I think it’s too early to say, since I have just been in a five month relationship with my PhD 😛 and things are in the exciting phase at the moment. 😀

vday

Speaking about exciting things, I am currently looking into Caffe which is a deep learning framework. I have started to work on Convolutional Neural Networks (CNNs) and I am looking into the Basic linear algebra subprograms (BLAS) at the moment which is a library for performing Matrix and vector operations. Basically, the convolution, which is a primary source of computation in CNNs is implemented as a big matrix multiplication in Caffe. So, why am I doing this? Well, it’s the first step to understand what’s happening in the code and try to see if there are ways in which I can do things better.  I also came across a blog by a University of Manchester alumni Pete Warden who wrote a very helpful blog called “Why GEMM is at the heart of deep learning

Last month, I also had a meeting with a group of people in Manchester using deep learning in their research and powering these algorithms with GPUs. I was quite happy to interact with colleagues from Manchester Institute of Biotechnology and the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

 Some of them were working on a variety of problems like using deep learning to do video classification and classifying proteins, if I can recollect correctly. Anyways, I reckon it’s not yet official but we have a new mailer list and we intend to have regular meetings. In a month’s time  we are going to discuss a paper “Practical Recommendations for Gradient-Based Training of Deep Architectures by Yoshua Bengio”

On a more fun note, I am currently in the process of planning to attend my first conference (drum roll….) which is the GPU Technology conference in Silicon Valley during April. 🙂 I am quite excited as it has a lot to offer in terms of deliveries by keynote speakers and talks on deep learning technologies, Internet of Things, Self-driving cars and more. I hope to write a blog post about my experience at this conference.

Finally, classes have started for the Undergraduates and Postgraduates, which means TA work has begun for me. This month I have an undergraduate module, COMP14112: Fundamentals of Artificial Intelligence and it involves knowing about probability and its application in Robot localization. It definitely sounds exciting and I’ll be spending the next week preparing for the lab sessions!

You can catch me on twitter @crefeda

Cheers,

Crefeda