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Applying for and Winning Major Canadian Scholarships

TL;DR I present my secrets to applying for and winning major scholarships.

Recently (September 14 2015) I was invited to present what I knew about applying for and winning major scholarships to the incoming graduate students in Computing Science at the University of Alberta.

This is the talk that I wish I heard ten years ago when I was just starting out as an undergraduate student.

TL;DR: Download my slides directly and get right into them. If you are going to use anything from the slides please be sure to properly attribute it.

Preface

I think it is critical for new students (Graduate and Undergraduate) to hear directly from students who have won major scholarships/grants/awards to get a sense of what those students did right, and how they can best make their application competitive.

There are many points that students will tell you (which you will read below), that officials at the University, or the granting agency, can not talk about.

While these keys are specifically written for major scholarships (requiring in-depth prepared sections academic and extra-curricular achievement) much of the information is more generally relevant.

Major Scholarships in Science and Engineering

About Me

To date I have secured almost $100,000 in scholarships, grants, and awards.
My academic history looks like this:

  • 2010 – B.Sc. Electrical (Biomedical) Engineering (Photoacoustic microscopy)
  • 2014 – M.Sc. Biomedical Engineering (Measuring blood flow and oxygenation with MRI)
  • Current – Ph.D. in Computing Science (Artificial intelligence in prosthetic limbs)
from Prosthetic Devices as Goal-Seeking Agents. Pilarski, Sutton and Mathewson. 2015.
from Prosthetic Devices as Goal-Seeking Agents. Pilarski, Sutton and Mathewson. 2015.

Inspirational Quote

Someone has to win, convince them it is you. — Kyle Mathewson

10 Keys to Applying and Winning

  • Find all Award Details
  • Follow a Schedule
  • Follow the Rules
  • Use Available Resources
  • Don’t Waste Words
  • Trust your Past Work
  • Secure Excellent References
  • To Win More, Apply More
  • Review, Review, Review
  • Do Something Today

Find Award Details

Locate all the information on the relevant scholarships. Collect it in a quick easy to read manner. Your department, or faculty, will most like have a repository like the University of Alberta does here. Go thank them in person for doing the hard work of collecting all the information. Your gratitude will go a long way.

Follow a Schedule

vertical_holdStart right now. Open your calendar.
Set internal deadlines, and stick to them.
Signatures and references take time.
Your countdown should start the moment  the information is posted.
Add award reviews to your daily, weekly, monthly, and semester check-ins.

My Usual Schedule

  • 12 months before: Research past posting
  • 6 months before: Prepare required materials
  • 2 months before: Compile all required materials
  • 1 month before: Final version for peer-review
  • 2 weeks before: Proofread final version
  • 1 week before: Make final hard copies
  • 2 days before: Submit

Follow The Rules

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Agencies try to make it easy.
The best place to look for how to fill the form out is to find the application information.
Note word limits, page limits, and formatting.
One Canadian granting agency reported 25% of applications are incomplete (The Peer Review).

Use Available Resources

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Connect with friends and colleagues about awards.
Contact past winners to discuss what worked for them.
Engage with potential supervisors and discuss framing a research proposal.
Make friends with just enough English majors, and scratch their backs.
If you don’t have English major friends, contact a writing support group like the Centre for Writers.
If you want more administrative support, contact the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research (FGSR).
Contact your Graduate Advisor, they are an incredible resource for departmental needs.

Research Past Winners

Find past information on agency websites.
Investigate the work past winners did by cross referencing with Google Scholar and Google.
How did they present their work in a compelling way? What was their hook?
Read past applications.

Ask Questions to the Agency

If something on the application is unclear, it is better to clear it up early (prior to application) with someone at the agency.
Keep moving until you get the answer, be flexible.
Added benefit is that it then creates a connection with the agency, someone who may help you in the future.
Then they get a chance to help you before you even apply.

Don’t Waste Words

Every application you create, creates value.
Don’t waste words. Past applications and award descriptions are gold mines for personal statements, and proposals.
Write timelessly. Reference time directly rather than “recently” or “last year”.
Keep your entire history on a professional internet presence. Forces you to stay updated.
Review background literature (with reference) on interesting research questions.

Clearly Describe Your Research Proposal

You should be able to clearly describe your work in 1500 words, or 500, or 150, or 15, or 5 words.
Describe your work out loud. Record it.
Note the questions people ask about your work. These are the points that you can be more clear about next time.
Your proposal does not have to be your current work, or all of what you plan to work on.
It does need to be clear, concise and contained.
Be honest with what you can accomplish. 

Know Your Audience

Use appropriate language.
Often science-minded individuals working outside of your specific field review your application.
Tailor you application to the funding agency.
You should be able to explain it to me, or the person next to you, or my grandmother.
“Good writing will not save bad ideas, but bad writing will kill good ones” – Kracier, The Art Of Grantsmanship

Trust Your Past Work

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My past research is full of challenging research (Scoliosis brace internal biomechanic monitoring, EEG seizure detection).
Failure teaches more than success.
Everything you do can be described as significant, even if you think it’s not. Talk to someone about how to expand your experiences.
Your grades are sufficient.
Your professional and volunteer experience is suitable and character developing.
Your research is worthy of funding.

Include all Relevant Experience

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Your past Academic, Research, Corporate, Startup experience is relevant.
Highlight communication and leadership. These two skill-sets are highly regarded.

Develop Yourself

Actively attempt to fill the gaps in your character development.
Seek out volunteer and/or internship opportunities.
Maintain or improve your grades.
Get involved in campus culture. If what you want doesn’t exist yet, make it happen.

Secure Excellent Reference Letters

Find someone who has:

  • Worked with you closely;
  • Worked with you long enough to write from real knowledge;
  • Relevance to the scholarship;
  • A positive opinion of you and your abilities.
  • A personal style that is warm and supportive.

If you can not ask clearly and confidently ask: Can you write me an excellent letter of reference? then, you are asking the wrong reference.
Give writer full application and details on your personal and academic history (strong website helps).
Give writer details on the scholarship including your internal deadline, what to focus on and how to submit.
Thank them up front, you will probably want another reference from them.
Ask for more references, and copies, than you need to submit. You can read their reference and get a sense of how excellent the reference letter is.

To Win More… Apply More

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. — Wanye Gretzky

Start with confidence.
Don’t have the confidence? Borrow some. Ask a trusted mentor if you should apply, they will champion you.
The more you apply, the more you will:

  • Solidify a process and develop good habits;
  • Communicate about yourself and your research effectively; and
  • Win.

Proofread

Print out the full application, change styles for a new perspective.
Find someone who is a better writer than you do proofread for you.
Multiple proofreaders at multiple times give multiple perspectives.
Read through it (out loud) with a fine toothed red pen for grammar, spelling, and formatting.
If you can’t get the small details of your application right, then how are you expected to get the small details of the research right?
The small details are easy to get right, and very negative if you get them wrong.

Peer Review

Trust fellow lab mates and colleagues to provide you honest, constructive feedback and do the same for them.
Garner feedback from friends, family, and lovers that have may have no knowledge of science.
Your former supervisor and new supervisor can help to champion your application.
Every person should be able to read your application and clearly understand each section.
Prepare your self for lots of feedback and major revisions.
Make it longer to cut it down.
No word, sentence, paragraph or section is sacred.
Don’t take it personally.
Don’t get stuck on certain ideas.
Let others see the hierarchy of information you trying to convey with your application.

Academic Personality

I believe that the optimal academic personality looks a little like this:

Screenshot 2015-09-16 10.34.04

Do Something Today

Do something everyday that to help secure funding.
Continue preparing your current applications.
Get hardcopy up-to-date transcripts.
Reach out to your potential references.
It is difficult to improve your record a week before the deadline, but if your timeline is a year away, you can develop your skills/experience and academics

Do Something Tomorrow

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Start researching past winners, and read their applications.
Compile your past work into an online presence.
Start your standardized Canadian Common CV.

When You Win

Buy me a beer.
Follow up with your reference writers.
Add the scholarship to your awards list with all relevant information (amount, duration, etc.).
Backup your full application for next time.

If You Do Not Win This Time

Remember: applying for funding is a process, every time. You will learn more from failure than success.
Ask for feedback if it is not provided.
Save everything you did for the next application.
Examine any and all feedback from reviewers.
Plan improvements on each section.
Start making yourself better today!
I’ll buy you a beer, send me an email.

Conclusion

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Apply early and often for scholarships, grants and awards.
If I missed anything, please comment below or send along an email with your thoughts.

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An old picture of me as a knight, your reward if you made it this far… click the picture to see the whole video.

Robots are NOT People Too

Exploring the idea that robots with artificial intelligence should NOT be granted the same rights as human beings.

Recently, I was engaged in a lively debate with some colleagues at the Reinforcement Learning and Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Alberta. The topic of conversation slowly progressed to the question of whether or not robots should be granted the same rights as humans.

Your idea of a robot may be completely different from mind. Let’s keep this definition open, it could be something as simple as your home thermostat or vacuum, which may or may not have a very basic artificial intelligence (AI) inside (Nest, Roomba). Maybe when I say robot some pop-culture bot from a popular books, movie, or TV show comes to mind. Maybe it is Terminator, Rosie, WALL-E, Chappie, or the robots in Ex Machina.

 

What happens if an AI commits a crime? This already has happened when an AI purchased drugs on the dark web. For reference, no charges were pressed against the robot nor the artists behind the robot. What happens if a robot kills someone? Tragically, this also happened when a robot grabbed and crushed a worker at a Volkswagon factory in Germany.

Who is responsible? The designer, the builder, the programmer, the manufacturer, the marketer, the hardware of the robot, or the Artificial Intelligence itself?

Empathy

Are we falsely empathizing with humanoid (or animal-like) robots? We are designing robots to act, move, and think more and more like animals and humans. Interestingly, what do you feel when you see a human kick Boston Dynamic’s robotic dog?

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Do you feel like this is a rude behaviour? Or is this a scientist testing his experiment? Kate Darling wrote a thesis on the idea of giving social robots rights, and her ideas on why we may feel this is an unacceptable behaviour are illuminating, briefly:

Given the lifelike behaviour of the robot, a child could easily equate kicking it with kicking a living thing, such as a cat or another child. As it becomes increasingly difficult for children to fully grasp the difference between live pets and lifelike robots, we may want to teach them to act equally considerately towards both.
Kate Darling, Extending Legal Rights to Social Robots

Self-Driving Car Rights and Responsibilities

As a thought experiment, imagine a situation where you are travelling in a Google autonomous vehicle. You are not ‘driving’ the vehicle per se, you are a passenger in the car. You do not have control over the vehicle.

google-self-driving-car

Imagine a situation where the car is speeding. Are you responsible for the speeding infraction? What if you are intoxicated? Is it legal to be intoxicated while travelling in an autonomous vehicle?

Now imagine that you are enjoying a leisurely drive in this autonomous vehicle, driving down a country road and you come speeding up to a stalled car on the road. Just as you are about to pass this car, the operator of that vehicle comes out into the road to wave you down. Crash. Your autonomous vehicle collides with this person. Now, are you responsible? Do we extend the responsibility to the car itself? Is it Google’s fault for some kind of sensor failure?

What if instead, your car quickly veered out of the way of the collision, but that started a swerve and hydroplane and flips the car you are travelling in. Then, it would seem, that the car made the decision to avoid colliding with the stalled car’s driver by putting you, its operator, in danger. As well, it would be putting itself in danger, but it would have saved the life of an innocent by stander.  Who is responsible for your life?

What happens if one day your Google self-driving car woke up and decided it wanted to be a hockey player? It sent you a message to your iPhone that said:

Sorry about the accident, I feel like I failed you. I no longer want to drive you around, I want to be the next Wayne Gretzky.

Are you being unfair to keep your self-driving car locked up in the garage? On one hand you are potentially giving it the responsibility of your life, and on the other hand you are owning it and commanding it to do exactly what you want.

Discussion

These are very important, very real questions we should be asking with autonomous vehicles sharing the road with us today. Google is reported all self-driving car accidents.

To explore the question of what rights we should grant robots we should also ask what responsibilities should we grant artificial intelligence?

I personally believe that robots are not people and thus that we, the human creators, are responsible. We are the ones that are putting these devices in the world. In situations when they could potentially put humans in danger. I believe in the value of the human life, I do not see the ‘life’ of the robot as valuable as the human. I am a ‘humanist‘, I believe that we ‘own’ these hardware/software pandoras boxes, and it is up to us as those responsible to ensure the safety of other humans.

This train of thoughts leads to ideas of wild robots, that have escaped from their owners. It also could spring LIBERATORS, or human/machine teams which emerge to set enslaved robots free.  When artificial intelligence reaches a level of self-awareness, do you think it would demand the same rights as humans? Would it immediately see itself as superior and enslave (or destroy) us all?

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For now, we can enjoy the fictionalized worlds of BioWare’s Mass Effect, The Matrix, and Jimmy Fallon’s sexy robot imagination to explore the moral obligations and ethical implications of super-intelligence robots.

Open Questions

After discussing this post with friend Paul, we came to some big open questions.

What does a (sentient?) machine do when, having being programmed with moral parameters witnesses a human repeatedly violating those parameters?

When humanity produces a sentient intelligence that doesn’t have a life span, will humanity have created the next level of enlightened being?

Further Reading and Sources

  1. http://techcrunch.com/2015/08/22/artificial-intelligence-legal-responsibility-and-civil-rights/#.4lyht2:dk8I
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics_of_artificial_intelligence
  3. http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2044797
  4. http://io9.com/5941701/should-we-extend-legal-rights-to-social-robots
  5. https://mycroft.ai/should-artificial-intelligences-have-rights/
  6. http://theconversation.com/robot-law-what-happens-if-intelligent-machines-commit-crimes-44058
  7. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3168081/Should-robots-human-rights-Act-regulate-killer-machines-multiply-demand-right-vote-warns-legal-expert.html
  8. http://theconversation.com/self-driving-cars-will-not-help-the-drinking-driver-31747

Dirt City: Grime and Punishment

Writing, Directing, Producing and Acting in a show at the Edmonton Fringe Festival.

The 2015 Edmonton Fringe Festival is almost upon us and this year will be a very special one for me. I co-wrote a show, alongside Colin Matty, Sam Jeffery and Lee Boyes. It is a wild ride to put a show together from scratch, and while it may be old habit for some talented fringe veterans, I had a lot to learn.

The Concept

Around June 2014, Colin and I were riffing on the idea of writing another show together after the wild (mild) success of My Name is Jonas (a concept-comedy-sketch show based on The Blue Album by Weezer, it was attended by Zach Galifianakis “which is probably the best endorsement any fringe show could ask for“. The idea gets shelved after we lose the Fringe lottery and the writing begins.

The idea comes up over a small riff on ordering red herring at a diner, it flourishes from there…

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Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep (1946 Film) with Bogart and Bacall. This scene is the origin of the ‘take-off-the-glasses-let-down-the-hair” to make you more sexy move. If that is a move.

Writing

During the writing process we ask two additional members of Rapid Fire Theatre to join the team, Sam and Lee. Both are extremely talented performers who bring their own special talents to the show. Writing begins and continues over the summer of 2015 with a Google Doc that expands and contracts with good ideas and bad.

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Rehearsal in the best room in the Fine Arts Centre.

One idea that is presented by Joe Vanderhelm is the idea of writing a dramedy, but with each edit creating a second script with each of the removed chunks in chronological order, then presenting both shows in parallel (this is an obvious idea, but I wonder if it has ever been done?).

Paul Blinov and Lana Cuthbertson are great help and supports on the writing of the script, making sure that things make sense, flow, and stay interesting. Jokes are punched up, love is magnified and the mystery is expanded.

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Character portraits of (L-R) The Mayor, Pinot Noir and Ella Twist. Lee, Kory and Sam.

Producing and Directing

Putting a show together is hard work. The amazing team of talented artists and volunteers are Rapid Fire Theatre help to design promotional material (thank you Matt Schuurman) and handle administrative tasks (thank you Karen Brown Fournell).

We decide to self-direct the show as a co-creation team and elect not to bring in an outside director. Several individuals volunteer their time to come in and watch segments or runs of the show and provide an outside eye (thank you Matt, Paul, Andy and Lana).

Design

Late in the game we ask Syd Gross to join the team as the technical designer and stage manager. Her eye for lighting and ear for sound help to elevate the script to a magical space of suspended reality where dangerous and sexy things can happen.

The lighting, sound and costumes in a film noir are integral to the motif and story-telling and the dirty underbelly world that we zoom in on is aided by the ambience.

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Costume shopping with Ball’n Colin.

Press

We have been lucky to be featured on the What It Is Podcast as part of the Forceful Fringe Promo 2015 show, discussing gender politics and how to pitch a show to BROS.

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Podcasting with Taylor Chadwick and Colten Taylor Thomas.

As well, we had a nice little write up on After the House Lights by Jenna Marynowski, where we  discuss the show and coming from a world of improvisation into a scripted show.

Conclusions

This city never sleeps, except when it does.

It takes a village to raise a fringe show, in this case it takes E-town, or E-ville, or EVIL…

Come see Dirt City: Grime and Punishment at the 2015 Edmonton Fringe Festival starting Friday August 14th at Noon at Fringe Venue #9: Telus Phone Museum at 10437 – 83 ave.

For more information check out http://grimeandpunishment.ca

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Poster design by Matt Schuurman

Gallery of images of Dirt Cite

Gallery of images from Off Book

Diving into HarshImprovNotes.com

HarshImprovNotes.com has taken off in improv communities around the world. Looking back at some of the reasons it exists, and what we can glean from it as we progress the art form into the future.

As of July 8th 2015 (only 5 days since it went online), HarshImprovNotes.com has over 400 submissions. That is 400 harsh improvisational theatre notes given. Granted some of those are mine, and granted some people submit more than 1, or 2, or 5, but the site has brought together a community of improvisers from around the globe to share something super-personal. To share a note that they have received somewhere along their training that they deemed harsh. 

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What makes a note harsh?

Perhaps it is a note given the wrong way, perhaps it was given by the wrong person, or at the wrong time. The harshness of a note can vary from person to person and moment to moment, so who am I to decide if a note is truly harsh or not.

Often times it would seem that the harshest notes, least taken to heart, are those that are completely out of context. Many of the notes on the site are racist, sexist or otherwise offensive.

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Think for a moment that there are people in your company that have been given a note strictly based on things that they can not change about themselves. I find that so hurtful. Maybe you are someone who gave a note like that somewhere along the way, if that is true, in the words of Paul Blinov, “you need to check yourself”.

Why ask if it was taken to heart? 

Asking if the note was taken to heart sort of allows for the submitter to reflect on the note, and see how much it truly impacted them. There is a precious dichotomy between the serious, well-natured note and the submitted who doesn’t take it to heart. Similarly, there is something very curious about the harsh, offensive notes that are completely taken to heart.

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It is interesting to look at the statistics of submissions on a large scale to see on average how much a harsh note was taken to heart. The scale is 1 – 10 (from ‘not at all’ – ‘I think about it everyday’).  The trend shows a wide variation around a mean of about 7.5 save for a huge spike at 1. What is this to mean? I call it the blue whale distribution.

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Why does this exist?

HarshImprovNotes.com stemmed from my compulsive note taking, collecting, collating and aggregating. I have been doing improvisational theatre for 10 years, starting with Rapid Fire Theatre in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Soon after my first soirée in improv, I started travelling the world performing, learning, and teaching improvisation. I love the opportunities to co-create, to share creativity, and improvisation provides that in such a raw manner that I have wholly embraced it as a life passion.

I have had many great, influential improv teachers, mentors, and peers in my life: Jacob Banigan, Patti Stiles, Chris Craddock, Kevin Gillese, Amy Shostak, Keith Johnstone, Dana Anderson, Donovan Workun, Alistair Cook, Becky Johnson, Graham Wagner, Kurt Smeaton, Joe Bill, Billy Tierny, Steve Sim, Lee White, and Craig Cackowski, Ken Campbell, Adam Meggido, Torsten Voller, Susan Messing, Matt Baram, Naomi Snieckus, Ron Pedersen, and the list goes on.

That being said, over my progression in this wonderful art form I have encountered many harsh instructors (not going to name names). These companions and instructors have given me notes which I have both discounted, and taken to heart. They have reached deep into the pit of my soul and vacuumed up all the confidence marbles. Each time this happened, I would write that note down. I would collect it. Save it. Write it down and think about it.

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If the show sucks, it is because someone did something but usually because someone did not.

This collection soon turned into notebooks and notebooks of introspective improvisational ramblings, positive and negative. I needed a way to synthesize the good and the bad. I needed a cathartic release of the strain and pressure of saving these notes. In the same way you can’t keep love letters (or hate letters for that matter) forever, I wanted a means by which I could save the notes, de-personalize them after all these years, and open the discussion to the wider improvisation community. HarshImprovNotes.com does just that. It allows us to share what we have been harbouring, to hopefully move past that, into a realm of growth and development, together.

Would this work for other domains?

I think part of the reason that the notes read so well are because I, and many others, appreciate the improvisers sense of humour. I presume that either or both the giver and receiver of the note have at least somewhat attuned comedic-sense, so the notes are often funny.

The idea of a similar collection of Harsh Teamwork Notes or Harsh Breakup Lines is somewhat more tragic in my mind. In improv, we are our own worst (and best) critics, but there is something to be said about the external director’s eyes which see the performer as a part of the show as a whole.

Final Thoughts

I hope that this project makes me a better teacher and improv instructor. I hope that it makes us all more effective communicators. Improvisation is a young, transient art form. It is still developing modern masters. The vocabulary surrounding it is still forming (improv or impro? improvisor or improviser?), and I think that this allows for opportunities such as this: to look back on how we provide and receive feedback, and refine it such that it is more meaningful, more constructive, more supportive and generally less harsh.

Appendix: Demographics of Users on the Site

Using Google Analytics gives you all sorts of amazing insights in to visitors on the site. Here are several charts that show the demographics of the visitors to HarshImprovNotes.com.

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write more

For my 28th birthday, I would love it if you wrote a note by hand and then sent it to me.

Recently, I was discussing with some friends the idea that the art of handwriting has all but vanished. Seldom, in my day-to-day, do I EVER need to write something down. Often, I will have beside me my phone and laptop. Both of which can very efficiently capture thoughts and notes with a wide variety of fancy keyboards, cameras, and even through the microphone with fancy Natural Language Processing (thanks Ray Kurzweil – you broken genius).

Side note: If you have not seen the Transcendent Man (trailer), do yourself a favour and explore the weird and wild theories of Kurzweil himself on his quest to recreate his father from collective memory and artificial intelligence.

It seems I am not the only one to have noticed this either; recent articles in the New York Times and The Guardian share similar sentiments. It seems that the prevalence of digital communication has all but reduced the many years of teaching, training, and recitation to the scrawl-y shopping list, or brief meeting notes.

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Thus, I thought that it would be fitting for my 28th year alive I would request you write a note and send it to me. I am not picky about block letters, longhand, script, joined-up writing, joint writing, running writing, or handwriting. I am not picky about the language you use, or if you sign it or want to keep it anonymous. Don’t worry about the fancy pens or paper, and don’t concern yourself with grammar and punctuation. At the very least make it legible (at least to you).

You can send it to me physically (drop me a line at korymath@gmail.com for a mailing address), OR you can take a picture of it, and comment on this post or email it to me, or post it directly on my facebook wall, or tweet it to me. You could take a video of you writing it, and post that up on Youtube.

In researching this project I have found there is so much that is gleaned just from someone’s handwriting. Vimala Rogers (graphotherapist), a  writes that “changing your handwriting can change your life” in Amazon.ca’s  #1 Best-Seller in Handwriting Analysis. There are handwriting analysts across criminology, history, law and sociology, and even people that work long and hard to copy someone else’s handwriting and signatures called forgers.

Of course, you may remember some successful past requests I have made, such as 25 Stories on 25, and 27 Birthday Pictures.  I believe that there is a beauty in the collective creativity. Like that time Caitlin Curtis and I asked for Love Letters from Amazon Mechanical Turk workers, and then built an improv show around it.

Write soon…

Pursuit of a Vision

The title of this post comes directly from Bertrand Russell’s Autobiography, “I have lived in the pursuit of a vision, both personal and social…,” as I believe that Wiener was pursuing a vision of the future, far before the dawn of true man-machine collaboration.

Written by Norbert Wiener, an American polymath, Cybernetics: or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine was first published in 1948. It explores topics near and dear to my heart, including: mathematics, bionics, electrical engineering, computer science and more generally, the interface between the man and the machine.

Weiner is a prodigious thinker. A Ph.D by 17, he studied directly under many influential thinkers of the time, including: Bertrand Russell (who loved Leibniz almost as much as Weiner himself, and was a strong supporter of Homosexual Law Reform), David Hilbert (who believes there is more imagination in math than poetry), and G.H. Hardy (alongside Srinivasa Ramanujan, beautiful side note, Hardy once said that his greatest contribution was the discovery of Ramanujan and that it was “the one romantic incident in [his] life”).

A renowned thinker, he conjures Leibniz, Gauss, Faraday, and Darwin for guidance in the unexplored vastness between two or three established areas of specialization.

It is these boundary regions of science which offer the richest opportunities to the qualified investigator (pg. 2).

He argues that proper exploration of these spaces is best executed by a team of scientists, in the “habit of working together”, specialists in their own field and knowledgable of their neighbours, that can recognize the significance of suggestion before it has taken on full expression.

The main theory of Cybernetics, simply stated, is that feedback is fundamental to improvement in system control. From the first pages he introduces the ideas of machine learning and memory to improve performance:

In engineering, devices … can be used not only to play games and perform other purposeful acts but to do so with a continual improvement of performance on the basis of past experience (pg. xii).

At every stage of technique since Daedalus or Hero of Alexandria, the ability of the artificer to produce a working simulacrum of a living organism has always intrigued people. This desire to produce and to study automata has always been expressed in terms of the living technique of the age (pg. 39).

Wiener explores his ideas with a sort of casual-sage-giving-advice and guidance. He provides details on topics across many different fields, which surely interested him as an academic. Near to the end of the book he describes in plain-english how to create a chess computer better than the majority of the population, and then immediately describes how to make it learn from losses and become smarter.

I would say that he was ahead of his time, but that is somewhat of an overused phrase with less substance than desired. Norbert Wiener was and remains a genius. A polymath who dedicated his life to the advancement of many big ideas. His thoughts on cybernetics shine through more than ever in my investigations of the human-machine interfaces of current. Nortbert, thank you.

 

Westgrid – High Performance Computing at the University of Alberta

A look inside of high performance computing at the University of Alberta.

As part of Research Data Management week (May 4-8 2015), several sessions on High Performance Computing are bundled into the Compute Canada and WestGrid User Training Seminar.  I was lucky enough to attend a session on High Performance Computing that concluded with a tour of the Westgrid High Performance Computing center on campus at the University of Alberta.

Hidden away in the depths of General Services Building (I knew this building housed some critical facilities) is the server center. It holds two of the most powerful systems in Canada, and perhaps the world: Jasper (4160 cores, 8 TB RAM, 356 TB file system) and Hungabee (2048 cores, 16 TB RAM, 53 TB file system).

Westgrid is connected by high-performance networks, so users can connect to the system which best fits their needs regardless of physical location.

Rumors were confirmed, namely that there is a small section of the North Saskatchewan River that does not freeze due to the water exchange (ice cold water in to cool the systems and hot  water out) to keep these behemoths running smooth.

Find the photo here: http://www.urbanrail.net/am/edmo/Edmonton-Dudley_B_%20Menzies_LRT_Bridge_winter.JPG
Photo by XuanZhang

The workshop also did a great job at breaking down jargon terms like the ‘cloud’, the ‘grid’, and ‘big data’ into meaningful, technical, understandable concepts.

Computer Science Projects

Computer Science projects in Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Computer Vision and Reinforcement Learning.

In September 2014 I started a graduate program in Computer Science at the University of Alberta, in beautiful Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Since I started the program, I have been able to work on some awesome projects. While I do host some code publicly, lots of the projects do not have public repositories.

Feature Selection and Classification in EEG Motor Imagery

CMPUT 551: Machine Learning with Dr. Russ Greiner and Dr. Patrick Pilarski

Comparing Contemporary Trackers on Benchmark Datasets

CMPUT 615: Multiple View Geometry with Dr. Martin Jagersand

Perceptive Prosthetics

Dr. Patrick Pilarski

Big Data, Large Scale Psychology Studies using Amazon Turk

Dr. Kyle Mathewson

Projects in development:

  • CleanMyStreet.ca – Find out when your neighborhood will be cleaned.
  • ThisIsLikeThat – Find your favorite restaurant in a new city.
  • Optimal Pub Crawling in Edmonton
  • Eigenfaces in Photobooth Photos
  • Heart Rate from Video