Confessions of a researchaholic

April 30, 2016

Strength in numbers

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:12 pm

In his PhD application, a student indicated that he is collaborating with a famous professor on a recent SIGGRAPH project.

I asked that professor about the student. He told me that the project has 20 students (most are not co-authors), and the particular student is probably not even a secondary helper.

In comparison, most of my projects so far involve 0 or 1 student, and none over 2 students.

April 20, 2016


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:47 pm
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Nowadays a quick way to filter a job/school application is to see whether and how it says the candidate wants to do machine learning.
(Some neural network probably already existed precisely for this.)

Machine learning by itself is not the problem (quite on the contrary).
The problem is whether you can even form your own independent opinions.

When something (investment, technology, or research field) becomes hot it is already too late to bandwagon.
Those pioneers you see today started (and stuck to) their stuff when it is not yet hot.

Stick with your passion, belief, and opinion might not lead to success, but at least you can have fun, face less competition, and success/fail in your own style.

And if you are smart and creative enough you can have the cake and eat it.

Say your expertise and/or interests are about user interface design. But you also want to do some machine learning like everyone else.

You can switch field, and compete with a lot of smart people who have more passion and knowledge.

Or you can stick with user interfaces, and use machine learning to make them better. You can pick up something new without ditching what you already have.

User interface

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 8:45 pm
Tags: ,

When I was in grad school I thought UI is about tuning widgets and doing user studies (a lot of research did exactly that). I preferred working on algorithms because they seem more interesting and more fundamental.

Later on, I realized how wrong I was. User interface is crucial as long as humans remain biological and machines remain mechanical.
A good UI can save a not so good algorithm, but not vice versa.
And UI research can also be fun and fundamental.

April 17, 2016

Hiring mistakes

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:43 pm
Tags: ,

Hiring PhD students is even harder than hiring employees because younger folks have more potential to grow.
And unlike an industry researcher who can let interns come and go, a university professor sticks with the students.

Two prior PhD applicants to HKU whom I passed on have turned out with outstanding performance.

One of them is still collaborating with me, so I did not regret as much. Actually, if he had not gone to another school we would not have access to some crucial hardware environment for our project, and his adviser might not have warmed back to SIGGRAPH. So I probably still made the right call.

I clearly have a lot to learn, and will have hundreds of cases to practice every year.

April 15, 2016


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:03 pm

April 12, 2016

Research coherence

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 7:31 pm
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One common advice on research is to have a coherent theme among our papers. I heard this from a bigwig around 2003 after getting my PhD.

This is one of these advices that I agree in principle but have violated in practice.

Yes, coherence can help recognition from the community, especially when one enters a new field.

However, I am not sure if this should be intentionally aimed for. Unless you are extremely smart and versatile, you are likely end up doing related stuff without even trying.

There is this implicit force that drags us towards similar, and thus incremental, ideas. We should fight against this force, not follow it.
So, just do whatever you like. You will have more fun and more likely to produce novel stuff which, even if lacks coherence, beats being incremental.

April 9, 2016

How to design talk slides

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:57 pm
Tags: ,

Using slides is a popular way to give presentations. I am not sure if it is the best way, but things can go very badly if done in the wrong way.

Take a look at Jim Blinn’s post about giving presentations.
Below are some quick high level suggestions. (I plan to refine this post later.)

Aim for simplicity and minimalism.

The slides are for conveying information to your audience, not serving as memo for the speaker.

Use intuitive pictures, illustrations, and animations, instead of texts and (worse) equations.

If you find yourself worrying about typography, it is a sign of too much texts.
No sentence should run over one line.

Rid of visual clutters like bullet points.

Gratuitous colors and unnecessary font variations tend to confuse people.

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