Category Archives: Dissertation

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

Pause for thought

Hello again! My heart is still beating, and I have lots of news you might be interested to hear, but first an explanation.

Since I last wrote here almost 2 months (wow, I’m ashamed of myself), I have been very busy. Busy, you say? What on earth could be more important than writing in your favourite place on the internet? You better have a damn good excuse. Well…


I’ve been going to a local piano bar quite a lot with the ginger one in this photo. It’s a very civilised place with live music and cocktails.

banana and choc ice milkshake

Experimenting with banana and choc ice milkshakes.


Doing some terrible singing at the aforementioned piano bar.


Covering our kitchen in highlighter fluid and UV ink. The reason behind this will become clear… you just have to be patient.


Been on a treasure hunt around Weymouth.

go ape

Gone Ape!

So that’s what I’ve been up to! When I haven’t been doing all of those fun things I’ve been working on coursework and my final project – which I finished today! Hence the post :)

So coursework in and final report written, now is a good time to note that there’s only precious few weeks left of my university life before heading out into the world of work… or is it?

I have kind of been keeping some big news from you since the last post 2 months ago, and it’s kind of what the last post was about. When I wrote the last post I was deep in thought about what to do once I graduate, because I’d been given a choice: Work for Sony, or be sponsored by Sony to do a PhD. And I changed my mind. I’ll never know if it was the right choice, but I’m so happy that I’ve decided to do a PhD.

I don’t want to dwell on what the PhD is on right now, that will come in a future post, but needless to say that it is really exciting and I can’t wait to start! My PhD course is 3.5 years long and it’s at the University of Surrey still, starting in October. I’m being sponsored and getting paid tax-free, so it’s not going to get me into any more debt! I do want to go into depth about why I decided to do a PhD, because I found it a hard decision and I want to be able to help other people who might have to make that decision in the future.

This isn’t the end of my links with Sony, in fact it’s only just the beginning. Sony have a big input in my research during the PhD, but I’m also working there over the summer with the team I was in last year. Hopefully the ties can continue because they are amazing people!

So… life turned on it’s head and I don’t really know what to say. This blog will be getting a major overhaul in the late half of this year, to capture more of my personal and professional life as it develops… hopefully!

I feel like my life is going from strength to strength, just got to get through these exams first and then I have a long summer of work, America and a new home to look forward to! I’ll reveal all, just bear with me! And thanks for sticking round this far! As a thank you here’s the link to the rest of the Pound for Food videos I produced with my housemates recently, they are seriously funny:

  • Happiness. 7 out of 10
  • Tiredness. 1 out of 5
  • Workload. 5 out of 10 (revision time!)
  • Last Meal. Spaghetti Bolognaise
  • Song of the day. Jason Mraz – Everything is Sound
  • Thought for the day. Dissertation done! Boom! 
  • What I’m Doing Now. Sleep! Then starting revision tomorrow… All will be over in only 5.5 weeks!!!


Only 4 weeks until Easter, when I’ll be writing my final project report and revising for my last exams.

Only 9 weeks until my final project is due, the most important document I will have ever written.

Only 14 weeks until the end of university, after which I’ll have finished the road of education and start my road to finding the meaning of life.

Only 19 weeks until America, another adventure of a lifetime :)

Only one chance to make the right choices in life. Be who you have always wanted to be. Inspire your dreams and make a difference.

  • Happiness. 7 out of 10
  • Tiredness. 1 out of 5
  • Workload. 7 out of 10 (come on motivation, i know there’s some of you left)
  • Last Meal. Lots of chicken
  • Song of the day. Earth, Wind and Fire – September
  • Thought for the day. It’s no big deal. Just the future of humanity.
  • What I’m Doing Now. Breathing.

Progress is progress…

So since my little excursion to Greenwich, life has been dribbling along very nicely indeed. I’ve got some plans for updating some websites which I currently run, namely moving the site over to a php server running WordPress… I’m doing it to get more experience running my own server, and writing php; but also because I wrote the code for this website before I came to university and since then I’ve learnt some better techniques for dynamic website building than I used back then. It’ll be a challenge, but something I’m looking forward to digging my teeth into once this whole university thing is over.

My final project is coming along, it now shows a lot more information and I’m in the process of building a test rig that can assess the accuracy and performance of the system so far for benchmarking and to get some pretty graphs to go into my write up :)

And I got my results last week for my exams in January, I did really well! I got a first in all my modules and I’m averaging 82% for my degree :) Only 30% of my degree left! The end is in sight, finally!

And for those of you who are interested, the next video about my stupid housemates who are living off £1 for food for a month is up:

I didn’t think my voice could go that high for “Top tip of the week”… turns out I was wrong.
  • Happiness. 8 out of 10
  • Tiredness. 1 out of 5
  • Workload. 5 out of 10 (but it’s all interesting stuff…)
  • Last Meal. Fish and chips
  • Song of the day. Red Hot Chilli Peppers – Scar Tissue
  • Thought for the day. Don’t know whether giving my housemates a beta version of my app was a good idea… :p
  • What I’m Doing Now. About to do some more work… after lunch….

The final semester begins…

My last semester of lectures started last week and because of my cunning plan to front load my module choices for final year I only have two modules and my project work to do. While I regretted that decision in January, having to sit 4 exams, coursework and write a report for my project it all seems worth it now.

I’ve got a couple of marks back for coursework already, and they are both firsts, so with any luck I should still be on track. I’ll get my exam results before the end of the month and that will be a really good indicator of how I’m doing since I’ve now completed over 70% of my degree…

My new timetable is only 7 hours a week! 3 hours on Tuesday, 3 hours on Thursday and an hour on Friday. This gives me loads of time to work on my project witch is going really well (thanks for asking :P)

My project, ELROND, can now do lots of the things I explained in this diagram a while ago, and there’s still plenty of time for refinements and improvements which should give me lots to talk about in my final report. This makes me happy :)

At the moment my housemates Will and Mike are attempting to eat for a month on only £1 of food a day. I’m helping make a weekly video diary for MADTV:

That’s my voice in the intro :P

What else has been going on? Well I’m starting to think more seriously about life after uni, what to do, where to live, whether to go travelling for a while before starting work and so on… So far I’m planning a couple of weeks in California with Charlotte before starting work for the rest of my life. I’d also like to go on holiday with my housemates, but that’s just an idea at the moment.

It’s all exciting times, and Charlotte and I are off to London this weekend to see Mr Scruff play at Koko. I went last year with Julie and it was AMAZING! I’m really looking forward to round 2!

  • Happiness. 8 out of 10
  • Tiredness. 1 out of 5
  • Workload. 3 out of 10
  • Last Meal. Kung Pao Chicken!
  • Song of the day. Ed Sheeran’s Plus Album, it’s all good :)
  • Thought for the day. I was there when this happened!
  • What I’m Doing Now. Thinking about buying a Linode

ELROND #2: The Pipeline…

The second post about my final year Electronic Engineering project to identify landmarks using photographs taken from a mobile phone in seconds.

Imagine you are walking around London and you come across a building that you want to know more about. You whip out your mobile phone and open up the ELROND app. By taking a picture of the building you want to know more about, ELROND returns relevant information in just a few seconds. The name and purpose of the facility, weather it is open to the public, the opening times, the phone number of reception, a history, appropriate web links… wouldn’t that be useful? Well that’s just one potential application of my project.

It could equally be used to display information about portraits in a gallery just by holding your smartphone in front of a painting, with relevant information overlayed on the screen in real-time…

Or just as an alternative to GPS to locate you when GPS is not available… such as indoors…

My project, titled Elrond, aims to provide the backbone or infrastructure to enable such apps to be written much quicker. But how does it work? how does that picture of a building turn into information?

The diagram below gives an overview of the process.


  1. Once the Android application has extracted the features from the image of the building using a feature detection algorithm (more on that in a later post) the extracted information is packaged into an XML format and transmitted over a data network (3G or Wi-Fi) to a Linux web server.
  2. The web server then parses the XML file into a format it can understand.
  3. Each extracted feature is then compared to all known features by Elrond, hence gathering a shortlist of which buildings this is most likely to be a picture of. Because the number of known features is likely to be in the order of millions, a neat way of searching the set needs to be used, called a KD-Tree.
  4. The searching returns a shortlist of images that most probably match the query image. The items at the top of the shortlist are the most likely, so the top 100 results are looked into in more detail. Elrond will look at all the features in both images, find ones that match, and store their locations. Then a homograph is calculated to see if there is a way to map the features from the query image to the stored image. A homograph is a matrix that describes the best way to map two sets of points to each other. If the homograph can map lots of points between the images, then that image is given a high match score.
  5. After all the homographs have been calculated, the best matching image can be determined; or no match is found, in which case Elrond cannot return any information. Assuming a reasonable match was found, Elrond now knows what the building is! Relevant information about that building is maintained on a database, and so it can be fetched.
  6. The database information is packaged into another XML file and sent to the mobile device.
  7. The mobile device interprets the XML and graphically displays the information on the screen. Voilà!

I know that some people are reading this gormless, but for those that are interested to know more I want to write more posts about how specific parts of the application work and perform. So if you have any thoughts and suggestions let me know.

The next post will be about less techy things…

ELROND #1: Feature Detection in Computer Vision

The first post about my final year Electronic Engineering project. I introduce you to the topic of feature detection and what my project is about.
Feature detection is an important problem in computer vision. Computer Vision is the study of extracting information from the real world and somehow use it as an input to computer programs. A simple example of Computer Vision would be how Gollum was created for the Lord of the Rings films…

The creation of Gollum used motion capture from real world camera shots to digitally create the character.

Feature detection is the process of computer algorithms detecting interesting, or “perceptually interesting” locations of an image. Early feature detection worked by detecting edges within an image, but there were several problems with this approach.
Edge Detection
^ from Wikipedia
One of the biggest uses of feature detection is a process known as Image Registration, where a computer can find similar images and determine that they are actually of the same building/object/face/landscape/tree/etc. And this is the basis for my project.
everyday object recognition
^ originally from (now removed)
The premise of my project, titled Scalable Landmark Recognition on Mobile Devices, is to allow anyone with a mobile phone to take a photograph of a landmark and be told what it is, where it is and some interesting facts about it. For example, you could take a picture of the Eiffel Tower and phone app would recognise the landmark and return information about when it was built, how tall it is, how much ticket prices are today, opening times etc.

^ from
This will be a downloadable mobile app for Android phones, and it will use feature detection to find similar images in it’s database and return information about the closest match. The app will require internet access to communicate with a server that will run the query and holds the database.
The project was dubbed “ELROND” by Anne, who I lived with in second year, because it’s close to SLROMD (which is what the actual abbreviation would be) and it also has Lord of the Rings references, which I’m all for!
So far I’ve got most of the feature detection working, and it should be quick enough to identify a match from 1000’s of images in under a second… but only time will tell. I’ll explain more about how my current solution works in a later post, but for now here’s a screenshot of it working on my computer…

13 usingfile

  • On the top-right you can see the query image, this would be the image taken on the phone.
  • Below it is the image matched to it from the database.
  • The white lines are lines between features matched between the query and database image (using a process called FLANN matching).
  • The green box shows where the query image would fit onto the database image if you were to stitch them together in a panorama (called a homography).
  • The top-middle window (with the red circles) shows the features found in the query image. The features are found using the SURF algorithm.
  • The left of the image shows the code output, showing the progress of the database search and how the query image matched to the other images in the database.