Posted by: technofutures | February 20, 2009

Cambridge Lent Weeks 2-5

Dear me… I’m not very good at this blogging thing am I… 4 weeks without a post? Anyway… this one should make up for time lost… including all the exciting things that happened (Visit of Prince Philip, Presentations, Events…)

It’s that time of term when exhaustion is settling in. I can almost see the end of the tunnel though… a little scary really that in 2,5 weeks time, I will be having my last lecture here in Cambridge and the bulk of my fourth year project will have to be complete. Still lots to do before then though, two courseworks, a guest presentation I’ve organised, focus groups, meetings, more talks…

Anyway… a selection of highlights from my term so far…

Varsity 100

It’s a controversial list, but I was very pleased to see that I had been nominated for and included in the Varsity 100 list (Varsity being one of the two major Cambridge Student newspapers) which according to the article is “an attempt to list one hundred of the most talented, influential and hard-working students at Cambridge.”.

The full list can be found here (I’m on page 5)…


As they say, the line-up “is never objective but it does at least go some way towards recognising a few of the people who make the most of their time at Cambridge, and perhaps even change it for the better.” Those who know me, know that I would never be so conceited as to not clearly recognise that there are many many talented people here that are not on the list, yet deserve to be there. And that first sentence really is a little over the top…!

Nevertheless … I was very happy to be included : ) And a special thank you to the secret friend/peers/lecturers/others who nominated me for such a mention.

Snow! 2/2/2009

P2020057 Beautiful Cambridge was of course graced with snow just like most of the country. What a fabulous time I had walking around town snapping up lots of pictures, which you can find here. Shame it didn’t stay longer 😦

Advancing by Degrees – 2/2/2009

While at the University Library taking pictures of the snow from the top floor, I took the chance to go and visit the 800th Anniversary exhibition which was being held there called ‘Advancing by Degrees’, which has lots of historical university-related exhibits. I think my favourites was the book with Darwin’s attendance at botany practicals and JJ Thompson’s logbook on the discovery of the electron…

Rock Guitar in 11 Dimensions – 4/2/2009


As a break from intense project work, I decided to go to a presentation by Dr Mark Lewney with the university Physics Society (which I finally became a life member of… It’s not as sad as it sounds…) on ‘Rock Guitar in 11 Dimensions’.

Marketed as a chance to relate rock music, vibrations and Superstring theory I was naturally (…) rather excited, but the lecture turned out not to be very interesting, I thought. It was more of a popular science talk which would have been a perfect motivational presentation for secondary school students. 

Perhaps me arriving 1 hour early for the talk by mistake was ‘a sign’ from above that I might not enjoy it……

Why Study Insulators – 11/2/2009

Another Physics society talk, this time with Professor Jim Scott lecturing, who is the father of ferroelectric systems such as ferroelectric memory FRAM (i.e. what many of us have in our computers). Few people came (surprisingly) for such a good speaker, although admittedly I did struggle to stay awake in the last ten minutes of the talk… what else can happen after three lectures and a meeting with my project supervisor… Anyway, to my great surprise, my new Solid State Device lecturer on the Friday after started covering a new topic… ‘Ferro-electric memory’! What a coincidence!

Prince Philip Visits the Engineering Department 12/2/2009

What an honour it was to have been selected as one of a couple of students who would have the privilege of sharing lunch with Prince Philip, Chancellor of the university and Professor Richards, Vice-chancellor, during Prince Philip’s visit to Cambridge on 12th February. This was such a special event that I will relate it in a separate blog post, when I get the photos on Monday. In the mean-time, you can find the official department account here.

Image Processing Talk 18/2/2009

Yesterday was such a busy day. The past few days had been filled with late night work until 4:30am on my project, and when Wednesday came I was shattered. The day started off on the wrong foot when I opened my eyes in the morning only to realise that I had 10 minutes to get dressed etc… and run to the department… which normally takes me 15 minutes… The lectures were interesting though: Image Processing (Harr Transforms) followed by more ferro-electric memories in my Solid State Devices class with a nice, silently humorous, Chinese lecturer who made me smile when he started the lecture early in order to make sure people arrived a little early for our next lecture with him in order to cover more material. He’s a very good lecturer though so luckily the hour passes quite quickly : )

These lectures were followed by a quick break during which I organised posters for a presentation I have organised for next week (I’ve arranged for Infusion Technologies (and Microsoft) to give a talk on multi-touch technologies and bring in a Microsoft Surface for us to play with ! Should be exceptionally fun).

This was followed by a fascinating seminar by Dr Anil Kokaram, an alumnus of the department (and a collaborator of his from ‘The Foundry’, a special effects company based in London). Dr Kokaram talked about how he won a technical Oscar for his visual effects software, used in films such as Xmen and the Da Vinci Code (one of my favourite films). A fascinating insight into the post-production industry. This motivational talk was followed by a more technical one which went into more details of the engineering behind the methods (which unfortunately included Bayes…)

Twilight at the Museum 18/2/2009

Sandwiched between the Image Processing Talk and the excitement of exploring Cambridge’s museums by night with a torch, I found an hour to meet my project supervisor in our always-constructive weekly meetings.

twilightposter09v2 ‘Twilight at the Museums’ is an initiative run every year for families to come in to many of the Cambridge museums when darkness has set in, and roam around the exhibits with nothing but a torch. I’ve been meaning to go for the past four years, but never found the time until yesterday…Now, I think ‘families’ was perhaps a correct word to describe the people who were with me visiting the microscopic Scott Polar Museum, with bits and pieces of polar exhibitions. In fact it was more like hoards of 8 year olds roaming around trying to find the answers to the ‘polar quest’ to win some sort of prize… Suffice it to say I was somewhat disappointed by that museum, so decide to trail on to the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge’s largest museum. That was somewhat better, with almost real darkness in the museum rooms, but it was still very busy, and since I’ve been there before it wasn’t particularly interesting (and no… I didn’t break any vases…). I had time for one more museum, so opted for the ‘Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology’. I don’t know why really… But as it turned out, it was fabulous. Not many people were there and I was free to explore the plentiful museum exhibits in pitch black with my (well… Hugo’s) torch. I learnt a lot about loads of things from early civilizations to the history and development of Cambridge. Absolutely fascinating. I did wonder though how a society whose pride was once ancient pottery and stone weapons managed to invent something as awful as probability theory and Bayes’s Theorem 9 millenia later (you may have noticed that I’m not a great fan of probability… I never liked estatistics (not a typo- my good friends from school will understand!)…

Lectures & work

Suffice it to say lots of both around. I’m really enjoying my lectures this term, including the predictive control one which I thought might have been a bit dull/hard. I’m ‘enjoying’ going to an additional module ‘Information Theory, Pattern Recognition and Neural Networks’ with Professor David Mackay for fun (not for credit…). It’s not an easy module but Professsor Mackay ‘wrote the book’ (literally!) on information theory and so he has a very unique perspective on the subject, and his lecturing is engaging (although I usually come out ‘confused’, with a lot to digest from the lectures)… It’s particularly challenging when he sets problems during the lecture and gives you 40 seconds to get an answer……

Machine Learning is as expected horrendously hard but again I’m not doing that module for credit so a little relief there… Nothing much to say about the other modules… I also depressingly got my exam timetable yesterday… but it’s not too bad they are quite spread out except for VLSI design and Non-linear Control on the same day 😦

Two courseworks coming up for me… One in Advanced Telecommunications Networks which involves analysing the advantages of VoIP, and another in VLSI Design which involves some Scanning Electron Microscopy, which should be quite fun! And on the topic of coursework… Got my Technological Innovation coursework back from last term; I’d promised to put up a copy on my blog when it was marked, but as it turns out we’re now looking into getting my analysis work on the optical disc industry published in a scientific Journal, so I’ll wait before publishing it here!

Project is going well. Busy as usual, but in a nutshell, at the moment I’m looking at dividing videos into lots of patches, learning a dictionary of patches that characterise all the images, applying gradient descriptors onto the patches, and experimenting with various comparison techniques to perform accurate object recognition from video. I’m quite pleased with the results so far, though of course I’m trying to do better… but not much time left! An example of what I am doing is shown below!


for videos of 100 objects such as this one:



I was very jealous of my family this week who travelled to Portugal for half-term to oversee and make decisions about building work in our lovely new island house there, while I was stuck here in cold Cambridge. Anyway, I hear the building work is going very well, so I look forward to going there in April for the holidays!

IMG_1239 IMG_1319

Mum and Dad (sea view from the house behind) ~  My Sisters under an orange tree…


That’s all for this week!



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