Confessions of a researchaholic

October 26, 2015

Autocomplete hand-drawn animations

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 9:00 pm
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[This post is for answering press inquiries about our SIGGRAPH Asia 2015 paper titled “autocomplete hand-drawn animations”.]

On August 2014, Koji Yatani (at the University of Tokyo) asked me (on Facebook!) to recommend students for a MSR Asia internship under Takaaki Shiratori with topics in animation and sketch UI. I recommended my HKU PhD student Jun Xing, who just got a paper in SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 titled “autocomplete painting repetitions”.
(Both Koji and I were with MSR. That is how we got to know each other even though we have no overlap.)

Our initial goal was to help users create animated emoji in instant messaging. I wanted to make sure the project is significant enough (e.g. for SIGGRAPH) while leveraging our collective expertise as much as possible. Thus, I proposed to extend the aforementioned SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 paper, which can autocomplete only single-frame drawings, for multi-frame animations. The main goal for both projects is to help ordinary users draw as easily and effectively as possible.
(My dad is an artist, but I have yet to learn how to draw. So as any decent computer scientist would do, I ask algorithms for help.)

Jun designed most of the user interface and algorithms, and implemented the entire system. He is definitely one of the best students I have worked with.

We plan to ship prototypes of the system to gather user opinions for further research and improvements, starting with mobile apps followed by desktop versions.

Contrary to what some press reported, this is NOT a Microsoft technology or product (at least not at this moment of writing). None of the authors were with Microsoft during the key stages of the project development. In particular, the core ideas were conceived before the start of the internship, and Jun had to come back to HKU to finish the project after Takaaki left Microsoft about 1 month before the paper deadline.

July 20, 2015


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:47 am

I have heard enough saying that SIGGRAPH Asia simply accepts papers rejected by SIGGRAPH, and thus is of lower quality.

This is not my business and in any case I do not care an iota what others think. But any scientifically questionable statement deserves to be rebuked.

Both SIGGRAPH and SIGGRAPH Asia have similar acceptance rates, and are hold at the same review standard in my personal experiences (as authors, reviewers, and committee members).
If you have ever reviewed a SIGGRAPH Asia submission you probably have received instructions from the paper chairs about holding the same quality bar as SIGGRAPH.

In my personal record (up until SIGGRAPH 2015), I have 4 papers rejected by SIGGRAPH Asia and accepted by the next SIGGRAPH, and 4 the other way around. So it is about the same.

The real difference lies not in the quality bar but the (geographic) venue.
As a presenter I do prefer SIGGRAPH due to the usually larger audience.
But I also know others who prefer SIGGRAPH Asia due to visa and travel issues.

December 11, 2014

Street credit

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:55 pm
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Coauthors revealed a secret in a recent paper that gave us all street credits.
(It is in plain sight for anyone to see, so I won’t tell.)

October 13, 2014

How to make a SIGGRAPH paper

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 11:08 pm
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There is a course in the upcoming SIGGRAPH Asia 2014 conference on how to make a SIGGRAPH paper.

The content has not been completed decided. If there is anything particular you like to hear about, feel free to leave a comment below within the next 13 days. You can do so with anonymous or real identity.

Please also help spread and share this.

December 23, 2013

Dear Asian students

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 6:10 pm
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Not having to observe Western holidays is your competitive advantage. Don’t squander it.

July 26, 2013

Laptop-less in Anaheim

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:30 pm
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I did not bring my laptop to SIGGRAPH this year to discourage myself from working inside the convention center or the hotel room.

Experimental results indicated that this motivated me to spend more time hanging out with people, which is supposed to be the main goal for a conference. I can easily schedule all events and meetings via my smart phone and tablet. (Even the tablet is probably not necessary, if I can address a few technical issues of my phone.)

I probably would have had to bring my laptop if I had to give any talks. None of the Android apps I know of can adequately author talk slides. If such apps eventually show up (and I expect they will), I would happily travel with only my phone in the future.

Eventually though, the phones will likely become powerful enough for me to work inside the hotel rooms (again).

July 18, 2013

Managing paper committee meeting

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 3:38 pm
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Most paper committees I have served have purely electronic review processes. These are relatively easy. Those with in-person meetings (e.g. SIGGRAPH) are more challenging as they involve live human interactions in real-time.
Below are some of my personal experiences to make the process more fun and effective.


The most important and yet difficult task is to remain neutral, no matter what happens. It could be quite some experience to see your paper getting rejected and immediately you have to discuss a paper you reviewed.

I have a very simple strategy that works superbly well for me so far: I just assume all my papers are (or will be) rejected, even if they have very high ratings. (Anything could happen, and has happened before.) By assuming the worst case scenario, I can never be disappointed. I also do my best NOT to track my papers; I did not even look at the status on the spreadsheet when I am outside the room. Then it is easier for me to remain cool.

It also helps if you naturally care less.
One possibility is to not have any submission, but this is not common for people who are still productive.
Another possibility is to have enough prior papers so that you care less.
The paper chairs like to recruit more senior people not only for experiences but also for this “care less” factor.

Other things being equal, it is usually better to be positive than negative. My rule of thumb is to accept if unsure. This is better for humanity; a good paper wrongly rejected will not be read by anyone, while a bad paper wrongly accepted will likely be ignored by future research anyway. This is also better for myself; I do not want to leave a reputation for being a paper killer.


It is a lot of work to review 20-something papers. You will look bad if you do not seem to know what each paper is about, especially during the plenary sessions or breakout discussions. So make sure you put in enough efforts.

I also keep enough dark chocolate around to maintain my brain function at the end of the (long) day. (OK this is probably some lame excuses; I overdose cocoa no matter what.)

I am probably lucky (or maybe I am good at requesting papers; dunno yet) in that I usually get good assignments (high quality submission fitting my interests and expertise well), so I usually know each paper well. For those few that are outside my expertise, I just admit it to other committee members and reviewers. Nobody knows everything, so honesty is often the best policy.
Plus, I guess many of you have seen reviewers who clearly have no idea what the f*** they are talking about, so try not to be such jerks.


For those of you who think the committee members have some edges in getting their papers in, you might be disappointed; as far as I can tell, no such advantages exist, and the system has been well designed so that it is very difficult to game.

However, the committee members do have advantages in organizing the paper sessions, which is also the most fun part of the committee service in my opinion. You can influence where and when papers (including yours) go and which sessions you chair. People who do not show up might find papers (they authored or reviewed) going to a strangely titled session with a motley collection of seemingly unrelated papers, or find themselves chairing sessions that are too early for many people to wake up or too late in the last day for many people to remain behind.

June 2, 2013

How to do a paper fast-forward

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 12:39 am
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Giving a good paper presentation is already hard, but at least you have 20 minutes’ worth of wiggle room. Giving a good paper fast-forward is even harder, because you have only 40 seconds. Even one tiny mistake can ruin you.


The most common mistake is trying to explain too much (I like to call it “geek’s asymmetry”). Trust me; almost nobody will care, and certainly nobody will understand, within 40 seconds and among 100+ presentations.

The fast-forward is pure advertisement with one main goal: get people read your paper and attend your talk.
On top of that, if you are really good, show what a cool and interesting guy you are. But do not even try unless you are absolute sure. (A good rule of thumb is this: are you already cool and interesting?)


Write down the script first, so that you know what you want to talk about and you can comfortably utter the sentences within the limited time frame. Practice and rehearse a sufficient number of times, especially if you lack verbal proficiency. Only design your slides after the script is in a stable condition. This is extremely important. If you do it the other way around, and I know this is what most people would do, you are making a grave mistake, because (just like what movie critics would say) you are letting the effects get in the way of the substance.

Do not force people read your slides. Use pictures and animations instead of texts to explain your points.


After having both the script and the slides, practice, until you can do it perfectly during sleep.

March 15, 2013


Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 4:22 pm
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A recent PhD graduate whom I know well, who has been doing quite well in graphics research, just took a non-research job in a non-graphics position, among several postdoc offers from top research institutions.

The reasons he cited are numerous, but the 2 main ones are:

. He likes graphics research, but he is getting bored and tired of the SIGGRAPH game, including deadline crunch and dealing with reviewers.

. He would like to learn something new and try a different life style.

In a nutshell, I think he is burned out. I hope I have done my best to help him achieve work-life balance (I did that quite well myself, even when I was a grad student), but I guess it is just too hard for normal people to be much disciplined.

Then I realized that I probably also had some kind of burnout around my graduation. I took a non-research position as the first job, even though it was in a graphics company (NVIDIA). I also wanted to try learning new things (hardware architecture) and living a different style (engineer).

So I guess it is probably OK. People are not meant to be doing the same thing all the time. This is also why I like to try different job sectors and geographical locations.

There are two things to watch out, though, all based on my personal experiences: passion, and rust.


I have a very simple rule to choose jobs: do what you really like, and be very good at it.

Sometimes, when people get burned out, they might temporarily settle for something that they neither really like nor really be good at. But eventually, you will know if the job is not for you. I did not realize how much I like doing research until after I was not been able to spend enough time on it for about 3.5 years after my graduation.

The important thing is to get out there as quickly as possible. Otherwise, you will eventually become one of these people who are not really happy or good at their jobs but also cannot quit.


People tend to get rusty for skills that they have not practiced for a while. This is particularly so for advanced skills, like research.

So, make sure you do whatever you can to be active in research during your non-research job. Otherwise, you might not be able to come back, even if you want.

I have been trying my best to be engaged in research during my NVIDIA days. I even managed to publish a single authored graphics hardware paper. But it still took me about 2 to 3 years to get back in shape for SIGGRAPH after joining MSR. The difference between SIGGRAPH and other graphics venue is like the difference between playing professional sports and working out in a gym.
I guess SIGGRAPH is probably an extreme case, but I hope you get what I mean.

January 7, 2013

Sharing source code and data

Filed under: Real — liyiwei @ 1:08 am
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It is usually a very good idea to share the code and data along with your published papers. This will make it easier for others to reproduce and compare against your methods, which in turn can make you more popular and your papers more widely cited.

As a corollary, it could also a good idea to submit your code and data along with your paper for peer review. Reviewers tend to like your paper more if they can reproduce your results. However, there are a few things to watch for. The first, and the obvious one, is to make sure your code actually works as advertised. Another is author anonymity; for venues that mandate it you will want to make sure your code and data (just like your paper) do not contain any information that can identify the authors. If you have doubts on this, one possibility is to submit your code and data as non-anonymous materials, if the particular venues allow this (e.g. SIGGRAPH). This can reduce the risk of breaching anonymity and yet allows the committee members to back you if the need arises.

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