Life is a Rabbit Pellet

Ramblings of a Zimbrindian's travels, life, and research.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Wooshing sounds

Trollwatch: Michael Idov has a fine whine about why you should never run a coffee shop. It ends with the line "The marriage [between the writer and his co-owner wife] appears to have been saved by a well-timed bankruptcy".

He also makes some interesting noises about markups on coffee and the economics of a coffee shop ("Rent should take up no more than 25 percent of your revenue, another 25 percent should go toward payroll, and 35 percent should go toward the product. The remaining 15 percent is what you take home.")

Enough surfing - now to get back to blogging about what's important, namely me.

I'm surfing too much. I gave up hope of getting something to meet the December 31 Speech Prosody deadline as a first author - and I may have given up too early. Oh well, it's sure too late now.

FL did send me a paper to read (I'd helped write some code for it) where I'm second author (FL is nice) - after 10 hours of being awake, I hadnt read it, and sent off an email saying I'd comment in another 90 minutes. Then I began reading it... and sending off comments as I read the four-page paper... and send off the sixth and final set of comments just now. And guess what! Amazingly enough, exactly 90 minutes had passed! Or maybe between 90 and 105 minutes; Google Mail said it was 90 minutes then, and now says it was 2 hours. I'm not sure how it rounds things off... all I can say now is that was under 109 minutes. With my penchant for tardiness and deadline underestimation, that's pretty good.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Wrote a couple of Matlab scripts yesterday that convert Praat TextGrid files to Phrase-Word-Syllable objects - today it'll be time to go through 20 files to manually align about ten minutes of Mandarin news broadcasts.

Wish it would take ten minutes.

Oh, and I put up a tone recognition page.

And updated Sciengineer.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

My friend's edited a book!

My Hague-based pal Murat Arsel (Phd Cambridge) has his first co-edited book coming out!

book cover

Ashgate, the publishers, have more info on this [link]

The blurbs, which I can personally say were not coerced from the blurbers by threat or bribery, include the note that this is "highly recommended not only for those with an interest in Turkey, but also for students of environmental movements and environmental policy everywhere".

Christmas ... happened

It was an interesting mishmash of people and food that turned up at J's potluck, and we had a good time (surprising, given that it was a very Sit Down Party!) and only left at midnight. We got there around 1930. There were a few moments

(May I add, by the way, that I've been involved in that much of an eye-to-eye conversation for a looong time. Unfortunately, I don't speak Eye so I'm not sure what the exwonk was saying.)

Going back to food, Geronimo and I had a good time making Stuff (TM) out of packets of Stuff (TM) from Devon - Chicago's wee bit of South Asia - it takes 90 minutes to get to it by bus - one-way. We made some kulfa (Hector - see the picture below for what the packet looks like), faluda, and pakoras. Good stuff - easy to make, good instructions, tasted good. (People ate, and kept the leftovers.) All made in Pakistan, too :) We'd also made some gulab jamuns, but as these ended up looking like crystallized blackberries, we left them at home and are still eating them.

And we're still eating RL's leftovers (when RL cooks, he really cooks. A lot. Bless him...) and will be for the next few days. G & I went to his place on Boxing Day for a "Finish Leftovers" attack disguised (very well) as a sumptuous four course meal, and it ended with the women in front of the telly watching Monday Night Football and the guys in the kitchen discussing where to go with Cosmus. Well, not quite. I was mostly in front of the telly too, making snide comments about how rugby was more interesting than American Handball any day.

I'm getting quite good at making snide comments now.

Moving on to other things...

Pratchett's Thud! and Going Postal have been read over the past few days. Most enjoyable.

Guardian Readers have been voting for the best and worst films of 2005. Funnily enough, Sin City turns up on both lists.

Sunday, December 25, 2005


It's two hours into Christmas, and I'm halfway through Pratchett's Thud! at the moment. I've just got to the bit where three female coppers have agreed to meet up for drinks with a friendly female dancer (the kind who works in a place where a long demure skirt would be labelled a wardrobe malfunction) ... the coppers are a dwarf, a vampire, and a werewolf (and the last two have a soft spot for a male dwarf who's actually a human).

Managed to get some work done with some of the Mandarin tone recognition stuff, and helped Geronimo make some gulab jamuns (in other words, I burnt some). And listened to a few shows of the 99p Challenge.

Two Christmas meals to attend tomorrow. (Yay!)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Insomnia Cures R Us

Rejoined the public library today, and got the two latest Pratchetts (yay), namely Thud! and Going Postal. Now I can enjoy my Christmas brekkie. On an unrelated note, we found that you didnt need a social security number to get a library card, so Geronimo joined. And now he can use his library card as a third "ID" to open a bank account. (This isn't a loophole. If it was a loophole, I wouldnt be blogging it. I'm blogging it, so it isn't a loophole. So there.)

Decided to bring something interesting to the Christmas potluck - Indian sweets. So I hopped on the 151, and 90 minutes later (we're not talking a short journey here) had arrived in Chicago's tiny version of India. This is my third visit to Devon in my five years here, and the first time I wasn't dragged. Got a couple of packets of each of ... wait for it... gulab jamuns, kheer (looked like payasam to me), funnyname1, and funnyname2. I don't have them in front of me right now, but the directions to make them seem clear enough. Not to worry, we'll find a way of mucking them up.

Been processing my old Mandarin data, and wondering why my results are suddenly a lot worse. I might have to redo all the pitch tracking with Praat instead of ESPS. (Insert "Sheise!" here.)

Returning was a chore. I had taken the 151 to get to Devon (that's way up there in North Chicago) from downtown and figured I'd take it back down again. First though, I had to get on the 155 ... and that took 30 minutes to arrive. I then stayed on it a short while before getting off at a stop that served both the 155 and 151. After tn minutes the 151 was still nowhere in sight, and then someone said that the 155 went further on to the Red Line (the subway), so when a 155 turned up in five minutes, I hopped on it, and took the train downtown. In other words, I should have just stayed on the 155 in the first place. Anyway... I could have got off at Garfield but didn't want to freeze my (currently expanding) butt off waiting for another bus, so I hopped off downtown and paid another two quid to catch the next Metra instead. Another 20 minute wait, but it was indoors. Warm. Good.

If you didn't make the connection, Warm = Good. Speaking of which, today is a actually very warm day. It's been at most -10 the last few days, and we've been begging our atheist gods to make it merely freezing again ... and Lo! It was 3 degrees celsius today! Truly, this is paradise.

On returning (with GR giving me nasty "yeah so whos making them there sweets?" looks), I got a call from Arsenal in Holland. He's just got his PhD! Much celebration followed. (Details of this are not suitable for blogs other than Wonkette.) All you have to know is that (1) men gossip too (hey, we haven't talked in six months!) and (2) he called at 2am his time because of insomnia, and (3) I did my part and had him yawning after twenty minutes. I should start my own consulting company - "Insomnia Cures R Us"...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Harry returned from the West Coast a coupla days ago, and we decided to renew our tradition of watching near-B movies. In this case we chose to watch a movie with two famous African-born actresses - Theron and Okenedo - who have hopefully got themselves new agents by now. The director of Aeon Flux made them act in a manner that displayed a large variety of emotions, such as oak, balsa, pine, and teak. The underlying plot, well, the less said the better. This kind of movie gives scifi a bad name. Even if the costume designer's taste in underwear is revealing. Make that Especially, not Even...

I had a good time. I'm so stressed right now that I needed a break.

And that was Sunday night. Monday night, we went out again, this time with a couple of friends. One was AH - we introduced ourselves to each other before figuring out that we had already done so three months ago. Oh well, memory is short... we picked up another ex-Cambridgite (although this one spoke Akkadian instead of signal processing) and went to watch a delightful film by Peter Jackson.

And afterwards, having enjoyed ourselves greatly, we compared notes on which parts of it were the most over-the-top. The swinging allosauri + giant gorilla + Ms Watts scene scored high marks, followed by the brontosaurus pileup. Next came the giant worms - AH provided a thought provoking analysis of how invertebrate breathing systems couldnt scale, while R provided another thought provoking comment about how you could have giant insects if the atmospheric oxygen level was higher - as it had been millions of years ago.

In both cases, the thought provoked was "Man it's cold out here!" (AH & R, if you read this, I'm just kidding...)

Some interesting developments happening on the "What will I do after graduating" front.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

what a week...

Mostly working on HMSVM stuff. I found some big bugs, so that's good. Then YA told me a few more tricks, and they've improved results. But... I'm still unable to beat baseline, though at least I can now sometimes match it. Admittedly, it's a darn high baseline.

Been plotting what to do with K dough, if it comes through. MS and I had a nice dreaming session.

Got paid something for the show too. That's nice. I knead the dough. (Sorry.)

Big news: Gmail's extremely low-bandwidth mobile interface is great! Works good on my cell... link

Proofread GL's paper before she submitted it. Nice stuff.

Words of wisdom (and not) heard today :
GL : It could be very interesting or completely pointless. (Referring to the nice stuff mentioned above.)
DS : Some things are both. (Referring to Sunday's show.)
GL : True enough.

Phoned my sister. My nephew's seven, for chrissake... sweet jesus, I thought he was six. How kiddies grow... how tempus fugits...

My first interview didn't go too badly. Actually, it was fun. By interest in the employers increased greatly during it. There's a second interview next week, let's see what happens.

Found an interesting blog by a UC undergrad... link

Reading SP's equations on YX's Penta model... nice stuff. I'd never have worked them out myself. Though I just offered them some suggestions on how to improve it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Show's over (success!)

Thanks to MS covering for us last night, and an excellent working session today, the show at Adler went off very well. JF and SS are great banterers.

This weekend's the first time I've ever been convinced that seeing stuff on a planetarium dome actually shows you more of the data. And yes, it is nice to see stuff we've made go up on a dome. And yes, I got to control it, which was fun. The navigational system SkySkan's Digital Sky has more degrees of freedom than Partiview has, which is very nice, but I took a while to learn that I had to press both mouse buttons (instead of just the left one) to stop motion.

Everyone seems to think this is quite a big deal. There were lots of congratulations and back-slapping going around afterwards. And, given the audience (some milionaires, at least one billionaire, the University president, the Adler president, etc) I suppose it is, but I'm so jaded and fed up with infovis and with myself (I should know OpenGL/VRML/VTK/Swing/Director by now, but know nota) that it doesn't feel like much. Just like another show. And tomorrow I've got an interview with a company for machine learning stuff - let's see how that goes.

Just thinking - if I had to stay in academia, I'd like two years to concentrate on Information Visualization. I would like to build a system for visualizing SVMs and kernel methods, including semisupervised and active learning. And I'd like to build a system to create 3d models of data using Partiview to begin with.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Spent Friday with YX talking about further quantifications his student had made to his target approximation model. Good stuff. Nice ice cream too - thanks, FL!

MS and RL managed to pull off Mission Impossible with their show at the Schramm thing - they had to deal with some incompetent company who supplied their equipment since our own equipment wasn't powerful enough. (Although if they'd just had a different location...)

Spent Saturday with the SkySkanners - had a great time seeing our stuff on the Adler dome. And maybe I should move to Australia - if even a fraction of Aussies can banter as good as the ones we were with today, then I'm moving. Funny how the bantering mode transferred to other people too. Teasing RL about being a paparazzi and a mobile sponge (someone who says he doesnt need a cellphone coz his pals always have one - "no I can't give you my cellphone number since I don't have one, but I'll be with so-and-so today so here's his number"...) - ah, people are so much fun.

Unfortunately, the "don't wanna do anything" demon takes over when I'm alone, so I listened to my favorite BBC shows instead. Someone on the News Quiz commented that German national Khaled el-Masri [Guardian, WaPo] went on a CIA package tour - where he has taken somewhere on holiday and returned as a package.

For some reason, this made me laugh too - Satan saying "Lifestyle is what rich people have instead of a life" on Old Harry's Game. Oh, Andy Hamilton is such a fricking genius. Though this, by his usual standards, was definitely one of the fluffier episodes. Even Thomas comes through.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Snow falls, gloves gone

Network's been up the last two days. Yay.

I understand Gibbs sampling better now.

HMSVM works, but I hope there's still a subtle bug in my implementation of it as it should be doing better.

It snowed buckets in Chicago today.

ZX (!= XZ) told me it took him three hours to drive to Midway. This normally takes 30 minutes. Speaking of which, a plane trying to land there landed on the street next door. It had skidded off the runway. Last I heard, a six year old had been killed.

Chicago Tribune link

Moving on...

Helped Mark sort out stuff for the Schramm show tomorrow.

Was reminded at 11pm about one change we should have made earlier - sorting the speck files by picture typed. Fixed this in an hour. The hour began at 3am. (The intervening 4 hours were spent on... other activities.)

(Potboiler practice: It seems to take about 90 minutes to write 1000 words.)

Finally made that Indonesian stew stuff that Brna gave me. Failed to notice that it the packet had four servings. Thought it had one. I don't think it was meant to taste as spicy as it did. Brna will have a good laugh. Nat will shake her head and ask me to sign legal documents promising never to cook for her. I will reply that I still finished the entire lot.

Read one of YX's students papers with YX on quantifying the tone target approximation model. Nice, but I need more equations. (I wouldn't need them if I understood signal processing, but seeing as I don't, I need them.) He's in town, so hopefully we'll meet up soon.

My two days of getting up in the morning appear to have been just that. Two days. It's the third day, and nearing 5am, and I've not gone to bed yet. Sheise.

Oh, and this is a good one - I had my gloves nicked by a winner of one of the following prizes (a) Pullitzer (b) Nobel (c) IgNobel (d) Congressional Medal of Freedom (You know, that thing Tenet got). I can't say which one because if I did, some readers of this blog might figure out who I'm referring to. Let's just say that (1) I saw him take them while I was making tea in the ... but didn't want to comment as it was too good a story to pass up the opportunity of retelling three million times, and (2) He didn't know he was taking them - he must have thought they were his (in which case I ought to go nick his gloves), and (3) He's very nice.

Hmm. Maybe I shouldn't have said (3). Some readers might already guess who I'm talking about.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Another notwork

Just when I was settling down to get some work done... the network went down again. I had zipped and gmailed to myself the files I needed to work with, but then I'd made some changes and wanted to get the latest version... and the network refused to come back up. It killed the entire day, really.

GL sent some new test data for Putonghua syllables, and I think I've worked out which parameters need to change to reduce the training error of the HMSVM.

Starting to get into potboiler mode - a new chapter in three days! Not bad. Of course, I'd rather have had the network up and be able to work.

Some other interesting things happened today, but I can't write about them.

The temperature was -15 degrees celsius as I walked home today. This time I missed the bus by 20 seconds. I still refuse, on principle, to run for a bus that refuses to be late. (Even worse, sometimes it leaves early.)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Notwork (noun) a non-working network

I got most of the main bugs out of my HMSVM implementation, and managed to test it on some real Dialog Act Classification data. There's good news and bad news.

The good news is that the code runs very fast.

The bad news is that it doesn't produce very good results - 27% success rate compared to 57% with our old results. Sheise.

I told this to XZ as he was walking around (he'd been coding for a while too, and needed to stretch) and passed my cubicle. He commiserated, and pointed out that the reverse would have been preferable. C'est vrai, c'est vrai...

This kinda makes redundant the talk I'd just had with GL about how we would meet the upcoming deadlines. Not much use if this code (and I hope it's not the algorithm) is working in dummcomf mode.

I was just about to start running some other processes, when the network became a notwork. This must be Lucy's way of telling me to read some papers instead of programming today.

Listened to some 99p Challenge early episodes in the morning, when Sue Perkins was a panelist instead of the host. She's a better host than the one she replaced, that's for sure.

Addendum: after three hours, the network's working again!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Coding, and the 99p Challenge

I am now officially chuffed. The HMSVM code is working (as far as I can tell), and I've added command line options so it can do five different loss functions - Hamming, weighted Hamming, and normalized versions of both. Plus 0-1 loss, of course. I still can't believe what YA said about the simplest (0-1) working the best, not because I don't trust her to know what she's talking about and the experiments she did, but because I'm too dumb to understand them and can't see why that should happen.

Anyway, my code's working reasonably well on my synthetic data, and now I just have to remove a bunch of printf statements and set it going on some real data. With any luck, we'll even have something for Dresden! That deadline's this week. Speaking of which, I told JL about the SVM+Viterbi results, and he was very surprised (because there was no good reason for what I did to have worked), so maybe we're on to something. Plus he gave some pointers to some interesting speedup methods suggested by HD, and that'll be investigated.

Oh, and we had a snowball fight today. A very short one.

Apparently my middle name is now Hejju. That j is pronounced the German (or Spanish or pretty much any language except English) way.

Discovered a treasure trove of archives of my favorite radio show, the 99p Challenge. Have I mentioned that Sue Perkins is
awesome and that she's pretty high on my list of People I Never Want to Mudsling With? Alas, the show is going off-air next week? How will I survive? This man cannot live on the News Quiz and Old Harry's Game alone, y'know...

Actually, Sue's profile on the Mel & Sue website is a nice spoof, even if it's hard to find episodes of "her late-night show "Beat the Panel", an hilarious quiz show about panel beating" on the net. Funny that she was reluctant about being out. Why reluctant? Well, that was 2002. Maybe things weren't so tolerant for lesbians in British showbiz then. I should check with N & B, who I owe an email anyway.

Speaking of which, Britain just allowed civil unions - basically state-registered marriage. Excellent! Well... this is mostly good news. There's still the question of "What took this so long?", but better late than never.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Uhoh, people actually read this....

Apparently humans actually read this. I thought only bots did. I suppose this is where I should say that I better watch what I say, except that if I did, then I wouldn't say it.

No, that didn't make much sense to me either.

Mat and I played our last table tennis game today. Quite the occasion it was, with many tearful memories and speeches. Actually, there were a couple of guys already playing, and they were kind enough to let us play doubles with them.

I hate doubles table tennis. I always play much worse than in singles table tennis. At least that's been my experience since ... oh... 1992? The key thing to remember about doubles is that you and your partner are supposed to take turns hitting the ball, unlike tennis. My control has never been good enough to deal with this - I need the practice that hitting the ball repetitively gives you, otherwise I'm crap.

Until today. Apparently, my control - and Mat's - has improved greatly.

We won. Rather well, to the surprise of both of us. And we were diving for shots, and falling on the floor, and crashing into the bookshelf filled with old bound volumes of Physical Chemistry journals. (And need I say, actually making the shots in the process. And not just by luck, either.) And we missed a bunch of sitters, of course. Fortunately, they missed more than we did. And the net was nice to us, too.

It's funny how one can be a klutz about so many things and still have reasonably wicked control over a little round white (sometimes yellow) plastic sphere. Amazing how after making an impossible shot, actually picking up the ball to get it back in your hand can take several attempts.

How come I wasn't good at this game when I was in high school? Was it because I had to wear shoes? (I always play in socks now.) It would have been nice to have been good in just one sport, not to mention the destruction of my university academic career because I didn't do sports at high school.

That's it - I'm applying for a job with Microsoft China, for the sole purpose of improving my ping pong game.

Hmmm - I wrote that as a joke, but it may not be a bad idea...

Second things first. Find out if there's a Table Tennis club on campus.

Now for the first thing - research.

Didn't get much work done yesterday, or today. The usual downtime. (You don't want to know.) Just an hour or two of coding C. But HLT/NAACL and Speech Prosody deadlines are coming up, next Friday and the week after. Sheise! Got a note that YX is coming to Chicago - great! And he and his student have done the missing piece of work I needed to proceed, so that's even better (Insert evil grin here.)

Yesterday I would have got more work done, but the conversation that LC and XZ were having in the office - was too interesting to not join. What did we cover in the space of an hour? Let's see...

China's one-child policy (only came into effect around 1978 - I had thought earlier) and its varying degrees of enforcement, about who was in charge in most families ("the women of course, the only difference is whether the men know it or not...")

The South American participant in the conversation (not XZ - you can guess where he's from) protested that we should stop using the word "American" to mean "USA person". Fair enough, but what, I asked him, should we use instead? Gringo. Oh. Are we allowed to use that? Um, do you know what it stands for? "Green Go", he said, explaining it had to do with the propensity for green-uniformed USA armies to march into other countries. Oh. Really. He wasn't sure either, but it was a nice story, if over-simplistic.

Never mind - this was a nice segue into discussing army uniform colors (the Chinese Army wears green uniforms instead of Red)... then wars... then World War Two... then the hypothetical (hopefully) question of who would win if the Chinese and US armies fought in a fair battle... then about Stalin losing initial stages of World War Two because he'd killed off all his best generals... then a comparison of German and Japanese post-WW2 guilt (the former did a better job)... after some time, we were on the Han treatment of minorities in China - XZ said it was pretty good, I wasn't sure but didn't have enough unbiased information to check - various questions about "what is progress" came up.

Then XZ brought up the question of tolerance. Yes, tolerance is good thing. Then the Devil's Advocate (yours truly, although I prefer to dispense with the word Advocate in the title) asked "if a minority culture believes in certain things, such as a low status for women, should this be tolerated?" I said it shouldn't be, and neither XZ or LC could say anything, so that hope for an argument went nowhere. Dunno what the answer is, either - it's all about individual freedom vs a society's freedom. I still think the answer is no, but specific cases are often more complicated than binary questions.

Haven't got over the HP fanfic addiction yet.

Oops, one hour before the Ratner closes. Better hit that treadmill. And post that DVD to Frank tomorrow.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Woohoo! Debuggified!

I was in bed this morning, considering whether to get out or not, when the phone rang. It was D, who wanted some work out of me. We talked a bit, with me throwing in a long silence to mean "No" and then saying "Yes, kinda".

"Are you sick?" she asked.

"Er, no. I haven't gotten vertical yet."


"I haven't got out of bed yet."


At least this had the effect of converting my "Yes, kinda" to a "No, not really", which shoved the burden of work from me to her. (I'm a sod, since this was because I had done something I knew she and M didn't want, namely rendering a movie in fullscreen instead of widescreen format.) It also had the effect of getting me out of bed. Unfortunately, not quickly enough, and I missed a seminar I'd really wanted to attend but had forgotten to set an alarm for. (Not that my success rate with alarms is particularly good.)

So, not the best start to the day.

It got worse.

I had got stuck in my implementation of a HMSVM using SVM Struct, and had emailed the author (TJ) to figure out wtf I was doing wrong. He told me very promptly... and it meant I'd screwed up badly.... this would take a week to fix.

Then I went to SW's Masters thesis defence, and that was good. Then Iri and I took Yaz out for coffee to pick her brain, and got some good ideas.

So, the day was evening out now. (Even though Iri did tell me that I'd missed a great seminar. Rats...)

Fortunately, it then got good.

Remember that thing that TJ told me about that I thought would take a week to fix? It took a lot less - just 2 or 3 hours!

Then it got really good.

I found the bug that ha been killing me for the past several days. I had written a "==" instead of a "!=" in line 943 of a 1981-line C file. Fun fun fun. At least I found it using a relatively systematic method, not simply by accident. And in the process discovered lots of other bugs that I might not have noticed otherwise. Well, not really - I would have found them in time. It would have been good to have found this bug much earlier... but it was such a mundane thing that it was really hard to find.

Overall, the positives outweighed the negatives.

Oh, and I whacked MR in table tennis yesterday, and I'm going to do so again tomorrow. Our last match (sniff!) before he leaves Chi-town...