Birdman, 2014

Birdman, 2014, by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu

Story of love, ego, desire to be loved and admired. Story of achieving something in the past, and moving on. Story of being a father to a daughter, and husband. Story of accomplishing something  important.

Lots of symbols and metaphors. References to other movies. Ending open for interpretations. Examples: He dies in the theatre, the ending is just death-dream hallucinations. He survives the suicide attempt on the premiere, but jumps out and commits suicide in the hospital. He survives. In all of the cases he achieves the admiration of the public, of the critics, and of his daughter.

Interesting tension and interactions between Riggan and his daughter. Social media playing central role in her world-view, and the struggle to make something meaningful that is validated by the social peers. Opening a Twitter account and having 80k followers within few hours validates to her the worth of her own father.

Complex and multilayered presentation of modern artist/creator and the world around.

Original ending with Jonny Depp rewritten to the current ending. I sort of liked the self-referential, “Being John Malcovitch” style of the original concept for the ending and the exposition of the layers of play and drama.


Polish British Workshop

2nd International Student Workshop

14th Polish-British Workshop

Day 1

9:00

  • Traveling salesman problem, Justyna Kaszałka, Wroclaw TIN. Testing various methods for a variation of the problem taking the time to achieve certain points which are open at predefined limit timeslots. Results for up to 14 points with exact methods and some tests with heuristics.
  • 3D printing path optimisation, Mateusz Wójcik, Wroclaw, AIC-1. Interesting problem of fixing the head movement to minimize the transition shifts of the head within a single 2D print image. Additional challenges with 3D layers and shifting from one layer to the next.
  • Multi-agent path finding with congestion information, Mariusz Hudziak, Wroclaw, AIC-3. Interesting problem of re-planning paths in spaces with obstacles and multiple agents moving through space. Crowds slow down the flow and agents have to re-plan. Congestion information available in a form of a graph (with sub-tiled congestion information).
  • Invited talk: The right to be forgotten, Maciej Piec, Vienna University of Technology, Vienna, Austria. The case of google, and new “delete the link about me” service. 12,000 requests in the first 24 hours. The example of snapchat: sharing resources that are available only within a certain time-limit that is enforced by the service provider.

11:00

  • Inverted Spherical Pendulum control atop a spherical drive system: sensory filtering and control theory, Matthew Evans, Leicester DMU. Trying to balance robot on top of a ball. Data Fusion, combining gyro and accelerometer, magnetic compass. No external reference. Mahony and Madgwick filter (instead of Kalman). Quaternions. Switching to matrix based rotation calculations and Kalman filter.
  • Modular Exponentiation for Big Numbers, Tomasz Baginski, AIC-1, RSA cryptosystem, Montgomery algorithm comparison to the traditional modular exponents algorithm.
  • Artificial Bee Colony Algorithm for Route Optimization of Drill Machine, Adrian Cyga, Wroclaw – AIC-1.
  • Invited talk: Ewa Osekowska, Blekinge Institute of Technology, Karlskrona, Sweden. STRAND System for Anomaly Detection in Maritime Traffic. EAS system. Potential Field Charge based battle field analysis. (check the slides) Local charge (accumulates), field decay, potential distribution.

15:00

  • Justyna Kulińska, Detection of Fuzzy Patterns in Multidimensional Feature Space in Problem of Body Gesture Recognition.  3D gesture recognition, algorithm design, implementation and statement. The gesture == the pose. Clustering algorithm.
  • Pyroeis Asbjorn Sporaland and Magnus Vik http://bit.ly/pyroeis
  • Invited talk: Dr. Garimella Rama Murthy IIIT — Hyderabad, Towards a resolution of P=NP conjecture.

 

Day 2

11:00

  • Anna Strzelecka, Leicester – DMU, An Approach to optimize utility-service provision for sustainable households
  • Pawel Ksieniewicz, Wroclaw, Hyperspectral image visualization
  • Roza Goscien, Wroclaw, A simple cost analysis in elastic optical networks
  • Invited talk: Anna Zakrzewska, Bell Labs Alcatel-Lucent, Dublin, Ireland (check the prize competition deadline, 15th of July).

13:00

  • Lukasz Gadek, Coventry CTAC, The computation of pole-placement and root locus methods for an appealing class of bilinear systems.
  • Bartlomiej Superson, Love Songs Recognition System
  • Matelusz Borowski, Computer experimentation system for finding an optimal route considering fuel combustion traffic jams and delivery time

 


On ethics, and the use of art.

The blog post about driving and texting (“This is not going to work” by Seth Godin) argues that the use of art will fail to change the culture. He argues the use of regulatory mechanisms and force, to prevent people from driving and texting. His argument goes along the lines of: “Art will not work. We have to use force to prevent people from texting. Let us turn it into a technology problem.” Yes, we can turn this from a moral choice to a technology problem, but it will not solve the bigger issue. What is the bigger issue? How we, as a society deal with human choices that might result in tragedy. In general.

Let us take driving. In general, driving a car might results in a tragedy. And it does. On regular basis. Yet, we do not ban driving. Why? Because the benefit of people driving “outweighs” the costs. What is the cost? The cost is in people injured or killed in car accidents (on average in 2011, 89 people were killed on the roadways of the U.S. each day). How can you measure the benefit and the cost? What is the cost of a human life? How can you make the decision? When would the cost outweigh the benefit? How you measure the benefit?

Utilitarian morality and ethics rely on this type of calculations. We say: “let us ban texting while a phone is moving because the costs, the accidental deaths caused by people texting and driving are not worth the benefits”.  His perspective is not an isolated one. When discussing this topic with students the majority of them hold somewhat utilitarian perspective of what is fair, what is just, and how morality and ethics should work. Many consider the use of utilitarianism when making decisions.

The underlying assumption for utilitarian morality is the maxim of “always picking the lesser evil”, and many people agree that state and the legal system should enforce such a model. Is this the only valid perspective? Is it the one that will maximize the happiness in our societies in the long run? (*)

The story of Reggie Shaw and Megan O’Dell is so powerful not only because it is about a family, and about irrational and tragic death caused by 19-year old careless teenager driving and texting. It is so powerful because it is about remorse, about doing the right thing after making a mistake with such enormous consequences, it is about forgiveness and it is also about bond, that we have, as human being with one another. The story of hatred, transformation and friendship between Reggie and Megan is a big deal here. This story is powerful and it can transform lives of people eaten by regret and hatred. There is no utility measure that can deal with that.

Texting and driving is the wrong behaviour, and none should do it. No exception. But the use of force, the limitation of liberties is a wrong thing to advocate. Telling the story, discussing it with your kids, with students and friends, is a powerful mechanism that can, and it will make the difference.

Never text while driving. 

 

(*) I think life without choices would not be worth living. I think utilitarian perspective is flawed, and dangerous, leads to potential abuse, and should be avoided. Deontological ethics is a school of thought closer to my heart. Rules that are setup and agreed by a society as a whole, work better in a long run.




Notes on doing world-class research

These few notes are taken (verbatim) from a transcribed lecture by Richard W. Hamming. I have used the transcription published here: http://www.cs.virginia.edu/~robins/YouAndYourResearch.html

The original article is excellent and well worth reading in its entirety. But, it is rather long. These are just few main points isolated from the lecture. A quick reference.

Pasteur: Luck favors the prepared mind.

Over on the other side of the dining hall was a chemistry table. I had worked with one of the fellows, Dave McCall; furthermore he was courting our secretary at the time. I went over and said, “Do you mind if I join you?” They can’t say no, so I started eating with them for a while. And I started asking, “What are the important problems of your field?” And after a week or so, “What important problems are you working on?” And after some more time I came in one day and said, “If what you are doing is not important, and if you don’t think it is going to lead to something important, why are you at Bell Labs working on it?” I wasn’t welcomed after that; I had to find somebody else to eat with!

Newton: If I have seen further than others, it is because I’ve stood on the shoulders of giants.

Hamming: You should do your job in such a fashion that others can build on top of it, so they will indeed say, “Yes, I’ve stood on so and so’s shoulders and I saw further.” The essence of science is cumulative. By changing a problem slightly you can often do great work rather than merely good work. Instead of attacking isolated problems, I made the resolution that I would never again solve an isolated problem except as characteristic of a class.

Unknown: It is a poor workman who blames his tools – the good man gets on with the job, given what he’s got, and gets the best answer he can.

I suggest that by altering the problem, by looking at the thing differently, you can make a great deal of difference in your final productivity because you can either do it in such a fashion that people can indeed build on what you’ve done, or you can do it in such a fashion that the next person has to essentially duplicate again what you’ve done. It isn’t just a matter of the job, it’s the way you write the report, the way you write the paper, the whole attitude. It’s just as easy to do a broad, general job as one very special case. And it’s much more satisfying and rewarding!

“Is the effort to be a great scientist worth it?” […] Yes, doing really first-class work, and knowing it, is as good as wine, women and song put together,” […] And if you look at the bosses, they tend to come back or ask for reports, trying to participate in those moments of discovery. They’re always in the way. So evidently those who have done it, want to do it again. […] I think it is very definitely worth the struggle to try and do first-class work because the truth is, the value is in the struggle more than it is in the result. The struggle to make something of yourself seems to be worthwhile in itself. The success and fame are sort of dividends, in my opinion.

It’s wasted effort! I didn’t say you should conform; I said “The appearance of conforming gets you a long way.” If you chose to assert your ego in any number of ways, “I am going to do it my way,” you pay a small steady price throughout the whole of your professional career. And this, over a whole lifetime, adds up to an enormous amount of needless trouble. […] I am not saying you shouldn’t make gestures of reform. I am saying that my study of able people is that they don’t get themselves committed to that kind of warfare. They play it a little bit and drop it and get on with their work.

On the other hand, we can’t always give in. There are times when a certain amount of rebellion is sensible. I have observed almost all scientists enjoy a certain amount of twitting the system for the sheer love of it. What it comes down to basically is that you cannot be original in one area without having originality in others. Originality is being different. You can’t be an original scientist without having some other original characteristics. But many a scientist has let his quirks in other places make him pay a far higher price than is necessary for the ego satisfaction he or she gets. I’m not against all ego assertion; I’m against some.

Now self-delusion in humans is very, very common. There are enumerable ways of you changing a thing and kidding yourself and making it look some other way. When you ask, “Why didn’t you do such and such,” the person has a thousand alibis. […] Why didn’t you do it right? Don’t try an alibi. Don’t try and kid yourself. You can tell other people all the alibis you want. I don’t mind. But to yourself try to be honest.

When your vision of what you want to do is what you can do single-handedly, then you should pursue it. The day your vision, what you think needs to be done, is bigger than what you can do single-handedly, then you have to move toward management. And the bigger the vision is, the farther in management you have to go. If you have a vision of what the whole laboratory should be, or the whole Bell System, you have to get there to make it happen. You can’t make it happen from the bottom very easily. It depends upon what goals and what desires you have. And as they change in life, you have to be prepared to change. I chose to avoid management because I preferred to do what I could do single-handedly. But that’s the choice that I made, and it is biased. Each person is entitled to their choice. Keep an open mind. But when you do choose a path, for heaven’s sake be aware of what you have done and the choice you have made. Don’t try to do both sides.


Robert Long’s “A Life on Gorge River: NZ’s remotest family”

An official book launch, at the Dunedin public library, Octagon: “A life on Gorge River” New Zealand’s remotest family by Robert Long.

Awesome sceneries of south-west cast, Fiordland, and Jackson’s Bay, Holiford, Pyke river. Awesome story. Almost 30 years in isolation – days walk from road ends, yet, integrated with hunters and fishing community. Even though the place is remote, there are many people visiting the family. Last year around 180 visitors, 150 helicopter landings, 55 trampers visiting next-door DOC hut. Tiny airfield stretch facilitates dropping off supplies, and occasional trips back to civilization.

Robert started his settlement in 1980, initial visit and love at first sight with the place. Long 10 years alone, then with his current wife. Married 9years and 1week ago. 2 children, both born at home in Arrowtown and another farm. Studying at Wanaka Mt.Aspiring Polytech (Leadership in outdoor education) and botany, zoology, ornithology.

From complete drive to nature, bare-foot tramping and love of nature as it is, some trade-offs and compromises with the use of technology. Solar panels, and wind turbine – allows working more and being more productive (bone and punamu carving). Internet allows staying in touch with children, who grew up and study now in Wanaka and Dunedin.

Hunting, fishing, painting, carving, tramping. Taking care of the garden. Small house. Very warm and simple story, of family love, growing up, and being together.


Meeting with the Prophet: Richard Stallman in Otago

Richard Stallman gave a seminar today to a Dunedin crowd in Castle 1 lecture theatre, University of Otago. Introduced by local Green Party representative, Richard was called “Bill Gates of the free software” – a somewhat unexpected insult.  The talk started shortly after 19:00 and went on till 20:30. The termintellectual property” has been discussed first, then the talk concentrated on copyright laws and the philosophy behind Free Software Foundation.  There has been the usual advocating of GNU/Linux terminology and GNU software model, the complaints about greed, power, american politics and disappearing democracies (“even Bush is a freedom fighter”), WTO (“very evil organisation”), DRMs, blue-ray and HD-DVD, music industry, arts, etc. Of course, all of it spoken by a real person in front of me, felt differently to reading about it on the web and watching online videos.  Extremely well presented and narrated story with funny, nerdy but serious arguments along the way. Engaging, powerful and empowering. Very motivational.

No compromises. All software should be free. Richard advocates a refusal any form of compromise or integrity violations. All content created in digital form should be free to copy and share non-commercially by anyone. Referring to basic human freedoms. Presenting a media distribution model with voluntarily payments and taxation to promote arts – this might have been a bit weak and not completely thought out through. Labels and distributors are thinking along the same lines. The difference is, that some argue this idea for the labels and publishers. Stallman argues those voluntary payments should go directly to artists (cutting off the middle-men). As with everything – cutting off the middle man is easier said than done – and you be better prepared for a huge fight. 

Same for books and textbooks. Stallman advocates the same mantra as others, eg. Prof. R. Preston McAfee: “What makes us rich as a society is what we know and what we can do. […] Anything that stands in the way of the dissemination of knowledge is a real problem.”

Film industry would probably redefine itself as they would not be able to sustain multi-billion dollar productions  (“still, the majority of Hollywood produced films are crap anyway”). Talking also about the uses of creative content: 1) content used to conduct daily activities or work (all should be free, for the common good); 2) content as an expression of one’s mind, opinion, knowledge (should be free for non-commercial use, limited copyright); 3) content with artistic intent or entertainment (content should be freely shared, with copyright and fees for commercial use). Digital content should be freely distributable. All software should have source code available, and should be legal to be modified and copied/redistributed. People should not give up their freedoms – they should protect their freedoms instead. Stallman puts emphasis on the concept of sharing.

The talk made me feel bad about the MacBook (or liking using my MacBook). I also wonder about BSD licensing and general models for the software industry and workings of the software vendor. Being open source limits the offering to services, giving proprietary software market advantage (not in idealistic world in which people would be able to see through. But as long as people are excited about Apple products and buy iPods, GNU puts vendor house in a disadvantaged market position). Stallman made a good case, that proprietary software creates giant monopolies (for support, expansion, value-added services etc), whereas GNU-like software opens up the markets, and creates entire ecosystems where independent vendors and companies provide services and support. 

Strong message about non-compromise and integrity. Governments and educational sector have no excuse not to promote and advocate GNU software. If you cannot have it your way, just walk away, do not compromise. Do not use proprietary closed-source software – boycott it. Do not buy it. Do not use it. Make your say. Make your code say which side are you on: do you want to share and give the freedom to the user, to the people? Or are you money-driven and greed-driven corporate career seeker? The talk uses many metaphors with lots of references to evil, good, personal choices and general personal life objectives. 

Final concluding remarks and discussion drags the meeting till 21:10. Final question by Andrew Trottman questioning the validity and motivation of the GNU model. Andrew argues that the availability of both, GNU-like and proprietary software offers more than just GNU-like software alone. Richard points out the potential for abuse, and the restrictions on basic freedoms that proprietary software causes. Not advocating any legal or formal restrictions – instead, appealing to the spirit and ethical values of individuals.

Strong message, with clear objectives. Somewhat idealised view on reality and human condition, with some steps and guidance as to how this might be changed. Focusing on government and legal mechanisms, preaching, motivating and educating the public. Perhaps that’s what needs to be done – informing people about it all and letting them to make their own decision. Strong political stance and insights into corporate politics. 


The bitter taste of chocolate.

Last month we have finished the Monk’s Mind experiment – one of the rules throughout the month was refrain from eating chocolate. As with everything else that I have been deprived during that month, I asked myself lots of questions: why I eat chocolate in the first place, what is chocolate, how it works on my brain, how it is produced, can I go without it, and if so what impact will it have on economy, pollution, etc.

To most people chocolate is just a sweet, good-mood inducing treat, but, behind the seemingly innocent cocoa substance, there is a dark multi-billion dollar industry, with a long history of exploitation, slavery, injustice, greed, and possibly large amount of pollution and byproducts. All, in the name of our sheer pleasure alone. 

One of good reasons to not support production of chocolate is the controversial cocoa manufacturing itself. Ivory Coast the major supplier is causing lots of concern with child abuse and child labour. Even though major industry players agreed in 2001 to take action, after seven years little progress has been made, says Christian Parenti in his article posted early this year. Only few brands embrace the Fair Trade agreements, with majority of industry big guns such as Nestle and Mars  ripping the benefits and good profit margins from cheap slavery labour. Cadbury seems to purchase (most if not all) their supply from Ghana. 

Strong arguments in the debate has been recently (April 2008) published in two books:  “Bitter Chocolate: The Dark Side of the World’s Most Seductive Sweet” (here’s treehuger review) and “The Bittersweet World of Chocolate: Sumptuous recipes using fair trade chocolate“. 

I’ll continue to refrain from eating chocolate. I may have occasional one (one that complies with Fair Trade agreements). Cadbury’s dark ghana chocolate might be a good one to follow up on. Not sure what the ecological footprint of chocolate manufacturing is though – I can live without it relatively easily as I’ve learned last month. 


Randy Pausch

CS prof. Randy Pausch’s famous Last Lecture quickly became widely watched inspiration story, especially for young people and CS students. Simple rules of thumb, worked on and implemented in one’s life can lead to improved quality of life and motivate people to work harder on achieving their targets and dreams. Notes: brick walls, people, enabling dreams of others, “experience is what we get if we do not get what we want”, head-fake learning, fun-orientation, honesty, love.

ABC has organised Randy to play a pro football game in NFL after it was clear that he is terminally ill. It reminded me of Kasia and what the organisation she works with do. Although Randy is not a kid, he had his child’s dream fulfilled because of his terminal illness (Kasia works for non-profit organisation that makes seriously sick children’s dream fulfilled).

Randy talked about everyone of us as terminally ill though. From the ABC News article: “His fate is, is our fate, but it’s just sped up,” said co-author Jeff Zaslow. “He’s, you know, 47, and, and we don’t know when we’re gonna go, but we all have the same fate. We’re all dying, just like Randy is … when we can see him, how he’s, how he’s traveling, it makes us think about how we’re going to travel.”

It is difficult to keep that perspective in mind without having a more or less clear “deadline”. Thinking about “the end” gets in a way of our daily routines and we are used to put things up for later. There is nothing really that unusual, that this “later” is ultimately a really limited resource. Aligning one’s life with this, and keeping one’s priorities sorted out seems obvious and common sense, yet prohibitively difficult to achieve for most people. Again, simple rules of thumb and guidance seem to be the best we can think of. Those and other rules of thumb have been developed 1000s years ago, and seem as valid back then as they are valid now.

Is religion a form of “head fake” to get people into a better place that they could get themselves otherwise? I am getting more convinced that it is indeed the case. Yet people do not see it this way. I think this is quite unfortunate – both religious and non-religious people seem to be missing the point.

The point are the rules of thumb – everything else is a form of fake head play, yet people seem to be focusing on the fake, rather than on the core of the issue. Both extreme positions are missing out what the real core of the issue is. Let’s use Randy’s Alice system as a fake head approach to teach kids Programming. On one hand a constant fight with equivalent of “Alice” is getting in a way of people understanding the equivalent of “Programming” (see Dawkins for examlpe), and on the other hand religious fundamentalists stressing the “Alice” are missing out the core, which is the concept of “programming”. Alice is irrelevant – what is relevant is what that fake head is used for. And in each single religion, it was at its core used to improve the quality of one’s life. An optimistic affirmation of life, of love, of friendships. An inspiration, and a set of simple rules of thumb to follow. Once this was institutionalised, it led to abuse and misuse, but that’s a completely different issue.