Category Archives: PhD

My first publication!

The rule of thumb is that when you’re doing a PhD you should have at least one publication under your belt by the end of your first year. After 18 months I was a bit late to the party, but on May 21st I finally got accepted to a conference – and on my first try!

Dear Mr. Charles Gray:
Congratulations! We are pleased to inform you that your manuscript ‘A Particle Filtering Approach to Salient Video Object Localization’ has been accepted for presentation at ICIP 2014

The conference is the International Conference on Image Processing, which this October is being held in Paris. It’s a huge conference, but the prospect of presenting my work is actually far more exciting than daunting. As a PhD student I rarely get the opportunity to talk about my work with other people, so I’m quite excited about finally getting that opportunity and feedback.

Courtesy of www.icip2014.org

So what is the actual thing I got published? It’s a paper which describes a new method for identifying and tracking objects such as cars, people and animals in a video. While there are plenty of approaches for solving this problem already, my method has the advantage of giving motion details for the object too, such as it’s movement and rotation.

I’m excited about getting my first paper published, it’s quite a weight off my shoulders. Now I need to work towards the next publication… the fun never ends!

Wakeboarding in Surrey

Back in June I went wakeboarding with my PhD supervisor and my officemate. Having never been wakeboarding before in my life, I should probably have been less excited and blindly optimistic than I was, but it was such a gloriously sunny day, and I’d just had ice cream.

JB Ski – who run the wakeboarding centre we went to just next to Thorpe Park – operate a rectangular cable line circuit that hangs above the lake. It’s this cable line that the wakeboarding handles are attached to that pull you along (wakeboarding handles is probably not the technical name, but you get the idea…) Since they anticipate beginners having some problems being able to wakeboard straight away, they started us out on kneeboards. These are essentially the same as wakeboards, but shorter and padded – designed to be knelt on rather than stood on like a wakeboard.

After getting kitted up in a wetsuit and forced to watch the typical cheesy health and safety video I’ve come to expect before any activity run in the UK, we headed to the starting dock with our kneeboards. I knew my chances of getting over 10 metres on my first try were pretty slim, and after watching a few of the more experienced guys make a good getaway I started to realise how much of a fool I was about to look. But nevertheless, I still walked forward and took my pathetic beginners pose on my kneeboard.

This was it. I was on my kneeboard at the starting dock with the handle gripped in my hands. I knew I had about 5 seconds before the handle would hook into the cable and I’d be sent wizzing off on the water. And all that was going through my head was the possibility of stacking it straight away. If I could at least get 10 metres I’d be happy. And then it happened. The handle clicked into the cable and I was tugged violently forwards. Before I knew it, I was off! Rushing along the water at a considerable speed, bumping into small waves and trying to keep my balance. I’d done it! Wooosh went the bouys as I flew past, still trying to get to grips with why on earth I wasn’t neck deep in water yet. Approaching the first corner I knew I had to get out wide, so I carefully glided the board into position and then… SPLASH!

There we go. That’s more like it I thought as I popped my head up from the water. Thankfully the weather was so good that the water was more refreshing than freezing. At least I stacked it away from the crowds. For a first attempt that wasn’t bad, it could have certainly gone a lot worse. And my god that was fun! Time for take 2!

I got back to the jetty, keen to give it another shot. I just needed to get further out on the corner and I’d have nailed it. It was some consolation that my officemate hadn’t made it round the first corner either, but not that our supervisor was already waving at us as he went past the dock for his second lap!

Attempts two and three saw me fall to a similar fate as the first try – failing to make the first corner – despite my sheer determination to claw, white knuckled, onto the handle even after the kneeboard had long since left my knees.

Attempt four however I was getting the hang of it. Having spoken to the instructor I figured that if I treated each corner like a new start by going back into the starting position then I would probably have the balance to stay on. And I did! I’d nailed it!

With my new knowledge I managed the full full three laps of the circuit successfully, and it felt amazing! The water rushing past so close and the bobbing from the waves was just such a great feeling!

Now I’d conquered the kneeboard it was time to put on my big boy pants and try wakeboarding.

I put on the board and hobbled to the start. Attempt one: I stacked it after 10 centimetres. Attempt two: I stacked it at 5 metres. Attempt three: I stacked it at 10 metres.

After the third attempt we’d run out of time. I need to go back and get more tries under my belt, those wakeboarders look like they are having the time of their lives!

Wakeboarding
(left to right) Me, John and Stuart – still alive after two hours of intense wakeboarding

until next week,

x

Building a Postgraduate Community at Surrey

For the last year I’ve been President of the Postgraduate Society at the University of Surrey. It’s been an incredible year and something I’ll remember for a long time, but it started with a very simple idea…

Back when I started my PhD a year and a half ago, there was a Postgraduate Society on campus, but it was very small and didn’t seem to hold many events. It certainly wasn’t the heart of the postgraduate community.

I thought this was a real shame, because although postgraduates are encouraged to join other Societies and take part in Union events, it does seem that when you do, you are encroaching on the undergraduate activities slightly.

For example, I’ve been a casual member of the Climbing club since my first year, but as a postgraduate I do suddenly feel a bit out of place amongst all the freshers talking about going into town for the first time. It’s not that you are excluded, it’s just a bit awkward.

And that’s just me, what about the postgraduates with families, or those who commute into Guildford every day? Societies often don’t consider these factors when organising their own sessions or events so they can often be very difficult to attend for some people.

I also think that this feeling of being overlooked is what makes most postgraduates feel like the Student’s Union isn’t for them.

A Postgraduate Society can change all that.

Postgraduate Society
The Postgraduate Society has the potential to change Postgrad perceptions of the Student’s Union

By considering what is easiest for researchers and masters students, events can be organised at convenient times and places, with the option to leave early if necessary. It might also be good to have less of a focus on alcohol, because we don’t always have the time for a hangover.

The current society seemed like such a missed opportunity to me.

So I ran for President. The election was a democracy, but only 10 people attended the meeting, and I was uncontested. The other newly-elected committee members were just as enthusiastic as I was, and we got to work right away.

(right to left) Chris, Jo and I enjoying a burger at the first Postgrad BBQ
(right to left) Chris, Jo and I enjoying a burger at the first Postgrad BBQ

Our first event was a Games Night, held in the University bar, which is more chilled out than the SU bar. Our idea was a casual evening with giant jenga, pool, darts, cards and board games – allowing people the chance to chat and get to know each other.

I remember just before the event thinking that if just one postgraduate shows up who none of us knew before then it was a success. And sure enough, not one minute after the start time a guy came up to me and asked if he was in the right place for the postgraduate games night. I was chuffed :) And then another postgraduate showed up… and another… and another… until the bar was filled with everyone playing games, drinking and chatting. It was a success!

Postgrad Games Night
So overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up

The committee were all convinced that postgraduates wouldn’t be as interested in alcohol-related events as undergraduates, and would want something different (I didn’t say civilized, just different :P). So we came up with a list of events we could hold that wouldn’t be all about drinking: BBQs, outdoor cinema, quiz night, lunches, bowling, ice skating, Thorpe Park, etc.

We started with the BBQ. Posters went up, emails went out, and we waited. We held the BBQ on the balcony of the bar, and we filled the place.

Postgrad BBQ
Massive turnout for the BBQ

While we had everyone in one place we did some market research and asked them what events they’d attend from our list of ideas (which we’d added Pub Crawl too just for the hell of it), and the results were interesting…

Pub Crawl came out on top! Who’d have thought it! So sure enough, we organised a pub crawl. But with a difference… We called it “Pub Thesis”.

Get published! I'm so punny.
Get published! I’m so punny.

The idea being that at each pub you would ‘write’ another chapter of your thesis. Starting with a title, then taking a photo of a table with something on (a table of contents), then getting a photo with someone you’ve never met before (introduction), and so on. It was meant to be a good laugh. Little did we know…

We started in the first bar, and by the time we left to go to bar two we’d gathered over 130 postgrads! Far too many to do pub thesis, but who cares! Wow, just wow. (It didn’t stop a few people from tweeting though)

We filled Roots Bar.. and then some!
We filled Roots Bar.. and then some!

By this point we’d shown the potential of the society. And we went from strength to strength…

Our second successful pub quiz
Our second successful pub quiz

By the end of the year we had put on 17 events and had over 300 members on our mailing list. The Postgraduate Society was back!

But that’s not all, every year the Student’s Union host the Student Awards – an event where outstanding students and societies are celebrated. To my disbelief, the Postgradute Society had been nominated for TWO awards. Student-Run Service of the Year, and Society Improvement and Development Award.

Societies are nominated by students, so this meant that we must’ve made an impact to some people. It was an incredible feeling to just be nominated.

But then the awards night came, and not only did we win both of the awards we’d been short-listed for, but we also won the most prestigious award any society can achieve – “Society of the Year”.

Postgrad Student Awards
Society of the year?! Flabbergasted.

It was such an amazing evening, and it proves that over the past year we’ve really put Postgraduates on the Student Union map!

We recently had our Annual General Meeting and a whole new committee has been voted in. I know they are going to do a fantastic job and I can’t wait to see what events they come up with! The whole Surrey Postgraduate community has grown closer together this year, and it was great to be a part of that. The pressures of a PhD can wear you down, and it’s really important to have a society like this that fosters a sense of community for encouragement, support and, sometimes, a good drink!

BEDA: My experience with Git and Bitbucket

Every day you say? I guess that includes today then. Warning: today’s post contains 100% geek talk. You have been warned…

<geektalk>

Since the beginning of April I have started using Git as a version control system for my code. And there goes half of my readers…

As some of you can imagine, my PhD involves a hell of a lot of coding, predominantly in C++, using Eclipse, but also occasionally Visual Studio (which I must say is 1000x better than Eclipse, if only I coded in Windows more!) I also dabble in MATLAB, for drawing graphs mainly, and because I am a lab demonstrator for a course that codes exclusively in MATLAB. Recently, the odd bit of PHP (because it’s really good at HTTP and XML stuff), Java for Android app development and MySQL for odd bit of database gubbins.

As you can imagine, when a project gets going the complexity of merely managing all these tools across multiple platforms and devices can become quite a job in itself. For which Dropbox comes in very handy. But Dropbox can only really store the latest version of your code, which can be a pain if you break something after a day’s work as is too often the case. This is where version control, and Git in particular for me, comes in.

In essence, version control is a way to keep track of changes to your code as you write them, always allowing you to go back to an old version if need be. Even better, version control systems can handle your code “branching” so their are several active versions being worked on at the same time – like if you want to work on a new feature, but you don’t know how it will affect the rest of the code. Then, once you’re done with a branch and you want to put it back into the main version of your code, the version can do that for you – managing all the pesky differences in the files so you don’t have to worry about any progress being lost from either branch since the split. This isn’t just useful for coding projects, but really any project – websites, books, large collections of documents. And the more people working on a project at once, the more valuable the tool will be for managing progress and making sure nothing gets lost or broken along the way.

Those in the know will know about Git and SVN, and the eternal debate as to which one is better. I ended up choosing Git not because I needed the flexibility of a distributed system, but because it’s the new kid on the block and it’s got a big following since its release. My past experience suggests that the older, and therefore more common, standard is probably going to be superseded by the new kid at some point, and the only reason it’s a slow process is because people have got used to one system, and the hassle (and risk) of migrating their data is just not worth it – after all, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But as I have no allegiance to either side,  I opted for the new kid. If that decision comes back to bite me at some point then so be it.

Next I needed to find a place to store my central repository, for which I was recommended Bitbucket.org. Having used Atlassian‘s bug tracking tool Jira extensively while on placement, I knew I could trust that the interface would be clean, and the product would work very reliably. And I got started. At first it took a while to get a hang of the commands, all a little confusing for a newbie, so I’ll spell it out here:

  • Pull – get’s the files from Bitbucket and puts them in your local repository ready to work on.
  • Commit – The action to save a state to your local repository.
  • Push – update’s Bitbucket with all the changes you’ve made.

All this fetch, check in, checkout, merge, etc. stuff is usually not required (at least that’s what I’ve found). And I’ve found it to work really well!

Capture

That is the view showing my most recent commits. The beauty of Bitbucket, as well as allowing you to do all the version control-y things like reverting back to an older version of your code, is that you can make issues that you intend to fix or a list of features you want to include, and then reference them in your commit message – which then automatically provides a link to that issue so you can see the history. Pretty cool.

There’s also a wiki function so you can make notes about what you are doing, but I haven’t really played around with that yet. I haven’t even created a branch for my code yet, I feel like there’s still a lot of potential to uncover. Even then, this step has already allowed my workflow to be far more structured, as it encourages you to comment on what each commit does – a very helpful way to see how you’re getting on. It’s also effortless to sync my code between my work machine, my laptop and my home desktop just by using Git commands to get the most up-to-date version in minutes. No more syncing issues!

</geektalk>

until tomorrow x

 

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.

no images were found

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

New Beginnings…

I started blogging when I started university on request of my sister, who wanted to know how I was getting on… over the years my blogging habits have gone through many stages: informal, informative, rambling, necessity, diary, reflective…

When I knew I was going to be doing a PhD, I bought this website hoping that at some point I would make something cool that I would want to show the world… weather that thing be as a result of my research, a photograph, a video, a website or something else, this is my new home for sharing my creations.

I still plan on posting my goings on when it’s relevant, but I think this blog needs to suit my new pace of life that cannot keep up with regular posts like I used to back at uni. The 190 days since my last post have been incredible!

  • I have been playing around with WordPress by updating my local church website to something more easily update-able, see St Mary’s website here.
  • Graduated, that was a big one… I actually haven’t uploaded any photos of my graduation to the internet yet so I’ll put those up here in the next week or two
  • I presented MADTV’s last ever newsbite, which you can watch in the previous post
  • I worked for Sony PSE over the summer as a Systems Engineer, involving trips to Switzerland and Paris with more photos to show you
  • Tourist day in London, because it’s a shame you’re never a tourist in your home town…
  • I travelled California for 4 weeks, photography highlights will most definitely be coming soon and include San Francisco, LA, Vegas and the Grand Canyon
  • Went to the British Machine Vision Conference 2012, highly relevant to my PhD and held in Guildford this year!
  • Alton Towers with my sister for Halloween
  • Got chased around London by Zombies, hear me scream like a girl on my YouTube channel
  • Recently, going to Scotland for the annual family Christmas meal, and got some great snaps of Loch Lomond I plan to share with you all

That brings you about 1% up-to-date with what’s been going on, but subscribe to the RSS feed so you don’t miss the next update.