Category Archives: BEDA

BEDA: Extreme Gay Tendencies

Blog Every Day in April. Challenge Accepted.

Sometimes in life you just have to do something you know is stupid, just because it’s harmless fun. And that’s what happened today. My housemate Will and I launched an advice podcast called “Extreme Gay Tendencies“.

After a particular occasion when Will and I had been doing a spot of DIY in a cupboard together, we were at the pub telling our mates about the adventure. The story, involving two shirtless, handsome, men screwing a pole together in a small cupboard on a hot day got the impression across to our friends that we might not be letting on the whole truth. In fairness to our compadres, this wasn’t the first story of this nature that had been told – it was more like the latest in a long list. When the accusations came that Will and I were hiding (badly) a strong physical connection between us we mearly stated that neither of us are gay, but that we had extreme gay tendencies that, to the observer, could be easily confused with the kindlings of a civil partnership.

The podcast is an idea that has been floating around for a while now, and it is largely an excuse for us to have cocktails with our friends. We are under no allusions that it’s a good idea, but we don’t care, since it’s such a laugh to make. The podcast has supposedly got a framework:

  1. Our pathetic lives. In which Will, I and our special guest (different in every episode) update each other on general goings on in life.
  2. Cocktail. Will shows off his cocktail-making skills by making a different cocktail every episode. This is the only way we would ever get guests to come on the show.
  3. 50 Shades Generator. We challenge our guest to read an except from the very explicit fifty shades generator, a website that automatically generates erotic fiction at the click of a button.
  4. Topics. The part of the show where we attempt to think of anything that might have happened in the news.
  5. Advice. The point of the podcast if ever there was one. Listeners ask us questions and we attempt to answer them. If you have a question you want to ask then you can send an email to extremegaytendencies@gmail.com, or post to Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.

If you don’t mind having your ears harassed for 25 minutes then our first episode is on YouTube now, called Pinging Simon’s Pants. We’re hoping to get episode two out in a couple of weeks. Sorry in advance if you do choose to listen to it.

BEDA: de-jargoning my PhD

If you missed it, I am blogging every day in April now.

My PhD title is “Online video annotation and metadata browsing.” The first thing you need to understand when you start a PhD is that no-one really knows what you’re doing or trying to achieve. That title is a research direction, a topic you might get at the top of a GCSE Religious Studies exam followed by the word “…Discuss.” Except I’m going to be “discussing” it for the next three and a half years of my life. Let’s break the title down word-for-word:

“online” – This means that my research needs to use machine learning techniques to learn and improve as it is used over time. Think of something like predictive text that “learns” the words and phrases you type on your phone most often, and over time it will be able to suggest more personalized word results based on what it thinks you are trying to type or will type next. How this applies to video will become clear in a moment. I hope.

“video” – Now this isn’t referring to camera phone video, or videos you see on YouTube, it’s talking about broadcast video. My PhD work is being part-funded by Sony Research in Basingstoke, a department that work on researching new concepts to help professional film-makers/broadcasters and anyone else who uses Sony’s professional camera equipment for their work. In this case “video” refers to the stuff a cameraman records with their Sony camera. The difference between this stuff and the videos you think about on YouTube is the quality, both in terms of the picture’s HD resolution, but also the shot composition, lighting, etc.

“annotation” – Information about what the video is showing, or its relevance to the production. Think about the way commentators annotate a football match with circles and arrows to show what the player was doing. You might be interested in whether the camera is on a tripod or not, or if it’s panning/zooming. You might want to know what objects (people, cars, buildings, trees, etc) are in the frame, and if there on the left or right of the screen, and if they’re moving or not, if they’re the focus of the shot or if they’re just background noise. You might want to know who was talking, and what they were saying. Maybe you want to know the GPS co-ordinates of where it was shot, or if it was indoors or outdoors, day or night, the scene in the script it refers to. You get the idea.

The research is about exploring Computer Vision methods that can automate the annotation of broadcasting video, and learn from what it’s doing so that it’s better in the future. Sounds vague? That’s the point.

So what about the “metadata browsing” bit? Well that is about what happens after you have a computer system that can annotate all this footage for you, how do you then use those annotations to find what you are looking for. Instead of having a load of video clips in a folder on your computer that have really unhelpful names and useless thumbnails, maybe you can use these annotations to show clips in a more intuitive way to make finding what you want easier.

So, yea. That’s my bread and butter for the next three years. I’d like to show you what I’ve been doing for the last six months, but unfortunately most of it is confidential :(

Until tomorrow, take care x

BEDA: What is a PhD?

BEDA: Blog Every Day in April.

I miss blogging. I find blogging a great way of sorting though the thoughts that I have at a given time. When I started at university I blogged almost every day, and over the years I have blogged less and less. With this new website I wanted the focus to be on my creative output like photos and videos, and tone down the emotional, bloggy, stuff. That’s mainly because I am a lot more confident about myself now, and wanted my creative products to speak for themselves. I also have a much closer network of friends now, which means I don’t need a digital bucket for my tears. It’s also hard to get back into something once you’ve stopped like I did, for a whole summer. I always intended the blog to only be a university thing – hence “Charles’ university blog” – but for one month only I think that posting every day will be a good discipline. Today, I want to give an insight into my choice to do a PhD.

For a start, my PhD is based at the University of Surrey, in the Electronic Engineering department. While that probably gives you an image of my soldering resistors to Printed Circuit Boards, you couldn’t be more wrong. While I was an undergraduate, I worked with John Collomosse on a project about identifying building landmarks using a mobile phone camera. The project worked out really well, and it introduced me to an area of Engineering called Computer Vision, that I found fascinating. Mainly because it bridged the gap for me between the traditional Engineering of solving complex problems, with the media intricacies of creative and visual, content. My project ended up getting 94%, the highest mark in the year. Along with my other results this meant I received four awards at the Graduation Ceremony, meaning a very embarrassing pause before I could collect my certificate as the speaker read out the names of all of them… The longest minute of my life.

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I really enjoyed working on the project, but when asked if I was interested in doing a PhD I initially said no. I didn’t want to be stuck in Guildford forever. And I didn’t much like the idea of getting into more debt. Plus I already had the offer from Sony to work for them. Life is full of decisions, and as they go, this was a big one. And the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t know what to do. So I did what any good engineer would do and made a pro/con list. Which I still have to this day. And it goes something like this:

PhD pros

  • It’s a better qualification, so better jobs could come out of it… in theory
  • Job security for 3.5 years… but on a lower wage, and (arguably) more work
  • Stipend is tax-free, still get student card, no council-tax
  • I know people who will still be at the uni, so lots of socialising
  • I like the sound of the research and it builds on my final project experience… but it is different in a lot of respects too… but that’s exciting… right?
  • It’s in collaboration with Sony BPRL… a reputable research firm who have a lot of faith in my abilities
  • Become a researcher in one of the fastest growing industries in the world
  • From my degree and dissertation results, it looks like I would be good in further research
  • I would probably not get an opportunity like this again

PhD cons

  • Would it make me overqualified?
  • It doesn’t pay as much as a graduate job (in the short term?)
  • There’s no guarantee of a job at the end of it
  • Would I be any good at research?
  • I could always choose to do a PhD later, but it wouldn’t be the same one and I might have more monetary commitments
  • Reserach potentially offers less day-to-day motivation because you can’t always see your ideas working in context like you can on a project
  • A PhD isn’t a golden ticket to a better life
  • Modern employers favor experience over education

I thought I’d post the list because I hope it will help someone out there who is stuck on what to do, God knows I was thinking about it for weeks – and all the possible permutations and reasons went around my head – but I ended up taking the long term road and choosing the PhD. A decision I sometimes question, but never regret. It gives me a lot of creative freedom, and that’s what I love about it.

Until tomorrow, take care, love you all x