academic

Entries tagged with “academic”.


Academic paper titles have a tendency to be a bit staid, cautious and flat. Admittedly, this is a pattern I haven’t yet broken out of myself. Perhaps it’s because many non-English speakers are forced to publish in English (as English is the lingua franca of science). Or perhaps it is just prudent: since other researchers will often only cast a cursory glance over paper titles to decide which papers to read, or which sessions to attend at a conference, it generally pays to write clear titles.

In any case, I’ve been on the lookout for some creatively-named papers. Because they are rare, papers with clever and/or funny titles stand out easily among the deluge of stuffier titles. Here are some of my favourites:

  1. “Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events” By Daniel J. Simons and Christopher Chabris
    In Perception, 1999 volume 28(9) pages 1059–1074.

    Presented the results of the classic experiment in perception and selective attention involving people passing a basketball around (which you may have seen used for a road safety awareness ad). The title is a play on Gorillas in the Mist.

  2. “A Very Modal Model of a Modern, Major, General Type System” By Andrew W. Appel, Paul-Andre Mellies, Christopher D. Richards, and Jerome Vouillon. In POPL 2007, pages 109–122.

    (Say three times fast.) This title is based on a similarly tongue-twisting song from the musical The Pirates of Penzance.

  3. “Secret Ninja Formal Methods” By Joe Kiniry and Dan Zimmerman. In Formal Methods 2008, pages 214–228.

    Joe and Dan report on their experience with trying to make formal methods invisible to students while they learn good programming practices. Extra marks for giving their presentation in full ninja getup.

  4. “The television will be revolutionized: effects of PVRs and filesharing on television watching.” By Barry Brown and Louise Barkhuus. In Proceedings of CHI ’06, pp. 663–666.

    A reversal of the title of Gil Scott-Heron’s poem, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

  5. “HT06, Tagging Paper, Taxonomy, Flickr, Academic Article, ToRead.” By Cameron Marlow, Mor Naaman, danah boyd and Marc Davis.
    In HYPERTEXT ’06, pages 31–40).

    The writers themselves suggest this might be the “least memorable title in ACM history”, but I disagree — this immediately jumped out at me as a sly nod to how people use tags.

I might never reach you
Only want to teach you

A literature review is a standard part of any postgraduate’s endeavours, and usually makes up the majority of your first year or two. A good review sets up the landscape that you’re going to work within, saving you from duplicating effort and allowing you to identify the key players in your field. You don’t necessarily have to reel off a big document summarising your reading, but if you do it’s a fine head start on the first chunk of your thesis.

I had started my lit review last year, but it’s easy to fall into the trap of merely printing and filing papers without having read them. Then, in December at our second annual SRG-fest Joe gave an inspiring talk about structuring a literature review intelligently. Among his suggestions were to choose a handful of key conferences in your area and read every paper published in their proceedings for the last few years. For me, these conferences are places like InfoVis, ICAC, Pervasive and CHI.

Secondly he suggested building up a “mindmap” of the research areas that you’re actively engaging in. This has proven to be a very worthy excercise.

PhD topic mindmapMy (intimidating!) PhD mindmap

When drawn up like this my research interests seem both nicely structured but also worryingly broad. And I left out the stuff I’ll likely need to understand but currently have no interest in, like semantics, embedded systems and parallelism. My reading has been branching out a bit recently too; since I’ve started tracking my bookmarks on del.icio.us I discovered that I’m actually more interested in things like sociology and psychology than I thought.

If you imagine all the possible research that could be done in our field as a pie chart, the area I’m going to explore will end up being a thin sliver in that chart. Aaron always said that his job as my supervisor was to keep me anchored in that segment and not wander too far outside of it. Looks like he’s got his work cut out for him.

No, not the as-yet-unknown-quantity that is the paper I’m trying to put together for AVI 2006. I just got word from one of the editors at O’Reilly that the book I contributed to, PHP Hacks, has been published and is in shops. I should be getting my ‘author copy’ in the post over the next few days. Huzzah! :-)

At this early stage in my PhD, it would be instructive to look ahead and take a wild, naïve guess as to what kind of deliverable simulation I may end up producing at the end. If only to look back and laugh later on. ;-)

First of all; the challenge, as I understand it at this time:

To model an autonomic system, specifically one inside an automotive machine, most likely a car. A modern car will have a wide array of sensors and actuators, and the system designer needs to be able to see how they are performing, in real time.

At the moment I’m envisioning a car, modelled in 3D, driving out onto a classic Tufte-ian grid.

A car pulling out on to the gridA car that I’ll never be able to model.

The best guess at the moment on what kind of 3D I’m going to use would be some modification of the “Source” engine, which powered Half Life 2. The SDK comes with the game and I’ve played around with it. It’s very powerful.

Once the car comes to a stop, the outer paneling flies off, exposing a simplified version of the car’s innards. Thus begins the simulation, with (hopefully live) data being fed into the system and the display showing various activities on the screen.

Statistics like network activity and CPU usage will be on-screen at all times, in the form of pie-graphs and “sparklines” to show trends over time. Atomic events such as sensors being activated and sensors failing will be shown as alerts, possibly through a picture-in-picture system that shows a zoomed-in version of the full model at the point where the incident occurred. Clicking on this PiP box will then focus the main view on this area, through a camera movement. This device was used in the household simulation game, “The Sims”, to announce events like burglaries and housefires.

So, that’s what I’ve got so far. Of course, I’m leaving out all the bits about multiple displays and pulling elements from the main screen down onto a PDA or something crazy. It’s early days yet though, so this could still go in any direction.

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