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21 September

My university, McGill, has instituted a campus wide wireless access policy for students. I think this is a good idea and quite consistent with what is happening in many schools, universities and even cities (for example San Francisco is going to have free ubiquitous wireless in the entire downtown).

The bizarre part of the plan is that the wireless access is not free for faculty or staff of the university. I think this is frankly ridicululous. Presumably the wireless service helps with productivity, convenience or has other benefits. (more below)

Failing to offer this to employees, presumably in order to gain a couple of dollars per month access fee, appears stingy as well as mean spirited. It may be that they expect some professors to pay for it from their research funds, and in truth it isn't much money in that context, but that doesn't justify the irritation to everybody else. Furthermore, the key sources of federal research funds specifically prohibit researchers from paying for infrastructure costs, which are the responsibility of the university (and hence the provincial government). As such, it is probably illegal for professors to pay for this fee from their most ubiquitous research funds anyhow.

Most of all, a policy like this just breeds bad will, cynicism and frustration. It certainly annoys me and I'd rather not have the access in that case. In guess in class, I'll just have to ask my student to look things up if I need web access in real time during a lecture.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
30 January

Today I had lunch with the president of NSERC and a table full of illustrious researchers and administrators from McGill. NSERC is the federal body that funds most academic scientific and engineering research in Canada. Suzanne Fortier began as president of NSERC at the start of 2005 and she had the good grace to visit McGill. give a talk and meet with various people.

She asked us to provide comments of NSERC funding policies and make suggestions for improvement.
Many of the researchers simultaneously praised NSERC's mechanisms for providing funding, but also lamented the the lack of sufficient funds in the Canadian system. Specifically in comparison with other G8 countries, the sizes of the grants available and the diversity of funding opportunities in Canada is too small. This is a particular problem is areas like robotics, where the core infrastructure costs are not moderated lower costs found in Canada (for example the very low cost of tuition doesn't help pay for equipment or off-campus testing). Fortier was very sympathetic regarding the problems faced by researchers in Canada, and was surprising open to suggestions and enthiastic about hearing about our particular research interests.

A hot topic of conversation was the "success rate" of NSERC (National Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada) applicants. At NSERC, as opposed to the NSF (National Science Foundation) in the United States, a very large fraction of grant applications get at least some funding. This allows more people to get research money but, since budgets are fixed, means that the total amount per funding project is smaller. An open question is whether NSERC should be more selective and in so doing, it would have more money for those whom is actually chooses to fund. This would be a controversial policy, but one which I think would be good so long as it doesn't go too far. I am aware of a few projects that NSERC funds that don't really lead to significant publications that anybody would read, and hence the funds are not very productive. On the other hand, funding some of these smaller projects has some pedagogical value, but that probably isn't the job of NSERC.

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (1) or Leave a comment |    
17 February

Nicholas was part of the St. George's School team participating in the CRC Robotics competition called Archemedia 2007. They teams built robots that have to haul 1 foot diameter rings around an arena and stack them up. Their team came in second place overall, as well as doing well in several sub-categories. This includes having a kiosk (booth) that placed in the top 6, for which I believe Nicholas was in charge. This kiosk featured a huge metal dragon (the school emblem) on a pneumatic cylinder that allowed it to go from floor level to about 30 feet in the air. The dragon blew smoke too. The background of the kiosk featured pictures of the team members and biographical information. In addition to a kiosk and a robot, the teams also prepared a journal documenting their activities, a video and a web site.

Nicholas in their booth
(click to enlarge)

One of the striking things about the competition is that is has the hype of a college football game. This includes large stands with screaming spectators and plenty of jumping around. Many other schools were involved including a technical school for adults, an assortment of private schools, CEGEPs (junior colleges) and some huge public high schools. Other notable features were a kiosk built by ECS School in which the students dress as mermaids, including having costumes with a single lag, an impressive robot from Laval that could pick up many rings at once (see below), and a kiosm constructed from water bottles. In this latter case, the audience was challenged to guess how many bottles the kiosk was constructed from. [ I guessed 3782, was within 14 of the right answer, and it won me a huge pile of candy. ]

Overall this kind of event is great promotion for science and engineering.

Laval Robot (a competing team)

By Gregory Dudek at | Read (2) or Leave a comment |    
07 March

The Computer and Robot Vision (CRV) 2007 will take place in Montreal this summer and the reviewing has just finished. Greg Mori and Richard Vaughn, the co-chairs, did a great job. The acceptance rate for orally presented papers was 25%. and the paper quality seems to be high. It will be combined with 3 other conferences: The Precarn Conference (Robotics, Intelliegnce Systems and ICT), Graphics Interface (Computer Graphics and HCI) and Artificial Intelligence. Tal Arbel from McGill is the general chair of the whole thing, working with Gary Gudbranson of Precarn. They have done a lot of work to make the entire combined project very appealing. The invited speakers for CRV are Michael Black (Brown U), Larry Matthies (JPL), and Martial Hebert (CMU) each of which is a real expert in an impressive domain that combines basic science with a cool appliction -- directly connecting to the human brain, controlling robotics on other planets and using vision in autonomous vehicles.

The entire package of 4 conferences will be a nice combination with a low registration cost, and Montreal in the summer tiem is really attractive. This combines a lot of cool science, amazing applications and some business networking. CRV is sponsored by the Canadian Image Processing and Pattern Recognition Society (CIPPRS) which is the Canadian branch of the International Pattern Recognition Society (I am the president, so I am not totally impartial, but all the above comments are still true).

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
25 March


Checking in

Checking in

Natasha is taking part in a physics contest and has won a trip to Israel to participate in the finals. She left today along with the other members of the team from the school.

The Shalheveth Freier Physics Tournament is organized by the Weizmann Institute of Science and is based on having students compete in teams to build the most effective physics-based impregnable safe. The idea is that the locking mechanism for the safe needs to be based on basic physics, but that it be at once both simple and yet obscure, so that the safe cannot easily be opened by those who don't know the trick.

In addition working on the design and construction, she ended up being in charge of packing the safe, which sat on our dining room table for a week as she planned how to pack it.

A previous entry, for example, involved the use of tuning forks that had to generate specific notes, and a computer inside the safe that computed Fourier transforms to identify the selected notes.

I can't explain the principle behind the St George's safe at this time, just in case one of the competing teams stumbles on this web page. A detailed example of a prior winning entry follows.

Safe locking mechanism from De-Shalit High School, Rehovot – Winners of the 2001 tournament.
This Safe locking mechanism is based on items found within a student’s typical pencil
1. Radiation emitted by electric charge: When a charged particle is accelerated
– an electromagnetic radiation is emitted. If this acceleration is periodic, the
radiation has the same frequency. In a typical calculator electrons are accelerated
at the frequency of its clock all through its electric circuits, giving rise to RF
2. Change of polarization by reflection: The polarization of light is defined as
the direction of its electric field vector. One may always define two orthogonal
polarization directions in the plane perpendicular to the light direction. When light
is reflected from a surface, the two polarization components typically are reflected
with different efficiency. For some angles the reflected light is predominantly
made of one component only, hence it becomes polarized.
3. LCD display: LCD displays, such as that of a calculator, are made of a pixel
matrix. Each pixel is made of liquid crystal, which changes the polarization
according to the strength of the applied electric field. To display the desired
monochromatic image the display is illuminated by polarized light and an electric
field is applied to the appropriate pixels. The polarization plane of the light
reflected from these pixels turns. The light is then reflected back through a
polarizer transparent only to the unperturbed component. Hence, pixels subject to
an electric field remain dark, thus generating the desired image.
To open the safe one should follow three steps using objects found in a typical highschool
student pencil box (all are provided with – but outside of – the safe).
1. Close the electric circuit by a pencil. For this purpose one has to sharpen both
ends of the pencil and place it in the gap between both contacts (cf. figure). Its
central part is made of carbon, which is known to be a good conductor.
2. Using the calculator one may generate EM waves by hitting some keys. Placing
the calculator outside the transparent door next to the receiver, the received
radiation is amplified and the generated current opens an electromagnetic switch.
3. The polarizer of the calculator within the safe has been removed. Hence the
number on its display cannot be seen directly. This number is the code for the
mechanical lock attached to the door of the safe. To read the display one should
use the plastic ruler. Placing it (outside the transparent door) at the appropriate
angle, the reflected image of the display is polarized and the number can readily be

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
01 April

I am teaching a computer software development course. So far the students are working on a web server development project with some very advanced features. While on a research trip to the US last week, I managed to swing a deal with a major ISP to purchase all of the working assignments from those students who are willing, for a whopping $440,000 USD plus royalties. The exact revenue to be returned per person is hard to predict since our university will probably keep about 95% according to their IP policy, but that should still leave an interesting revenue per person.

The students need to vote on the proposal, get a 85% majority, and provide their source code. Then a team of team get to accompany me to Orlando at their own expense to provide the needed deployment team get get everything running and integrated into the ISP's web site. The amazing part is that the deployment team gets a bonus of 200 pounds of coffee beans and deodorant to allow them to get the job done on a very accelerated schedule.

The whole package was finalized today, April 1st.

By Gregory Dudek at | Leave a comment |    
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