NCUR 2009 Day 2

Due to a number of unforeseen circumstances (mostly involving lack of a wireless connection) I haven’t been abel to live blog the conference as I had intended to. Here’s a rather delayed roundup of the second day of the conference.

I didn’t actually make it to the conference until lunch. There was one session of presentations and posters in the morning, but I didn’t see anything of interest.  I went to on poster session in the afternoon and I saw a number of interesting posters. There as one study of using Lego Mindstorms to encourage children to study math and the researchers had found it quite effective. I’m currently looking into building a Mindstorms-style interface for my own research project, but I wasn’t quite sure if it was the right thing to use. However, I think that it’s going to be a good bet.

The most interesting poster (and presenter) was Thomas Levine’s poster about how people position their keyboards. The work he had done was interesting, but it was the conversation I had with him that I found more useful. We talked a lot about different types of keyboards, seating positions, keyboard layouts and such things. Since I’m interested in keyboards too, I think I might stay in contact with him in the future.

There were other cool posters, one about how the perception of death changes people’s attitudes towards loyalty, fairness, duty and other such moral qualities. Though I’m not much interested in psychology, I think it’s worth knowing what things my thought processes respond to and how. Coming back to technology there was interesting work on document processing and structuring the extracted information into machine-processable data trees. Natural language processing isn’t one of my areas of interest but it’s an important field with lots of open questions and I’m glad to see thtat there are smart people working on it.

After the poster session it was time for me to make my own presentation. I talked about how we had applied formal grammars to studying how complex systems evolved over time and how they could be controlled. I had to rush my presentation towards the end since I spent a bit too much time on introductory material. But it went of well and judging by the questions I received, it seems like there was a good amount of interest. It helped that the people in the room were very tech-savvy. The presenters following me almost blew me away by the work they were doing. The next presenter, Abdulmajed Dakkak showed how he had used a variety of tools and languages to create a powefulway to geographically track Bittorrent usage by looking at the IPs of people connected to a swarm. He also had a great looking presentation in Flash instead of Powerpoint which I thought was really attractive. What amazed me even more was that he had done all his work off a netbook. I’ve been looking to get my feet wet in networks and parallel programming and I might consider duplicating some of his work, but using my college’s clusters instead of a netbook.

The last presentation was about a tool for authors called Story Signs developed by John Murray. This is an interesting tool that is designed to help authors better structure their stories by adding tag-like information to different parts of a piece of text like what characters are involved, what the scene is about, what sort of a scene and so on. Being interested in writing myself, I thought this was a really interesting tool. I would be interested in seeing the different ways in which this tag data could be used. Some sort of social networking built on top of it might eb interesting (think of it in terms of a literature version of Flickr). Furthermore the user interface was built in Flash and was really good-looking, very different a run-of-the-mill desktop app. I think it might be a good idea to look into Flash for implementing desktop UIs in the near future.  It’s not something I had considered before, but it might be worth thinking about.

That was the last session for the day. I spent the evening at a social event that had been organized for the attendees which actually turned to be a lot of fun. There was one more session on saturday morning, but since we were leaving that morning, I decided to just sleep in. The trip back was uneventful. I tried to get onto wifi at Minneapolis airport but I couldn’t, if I had this post would have been a day ago. I have a lot of school work to catch up with at this moment, but once I’ve caught up a bit, I’ll post about the lessons I learned at NCUR (and which I’ll really try to follow at my next conference).

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Shrutarshi Basu

Programmer, writer and engineer, currently working out of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York.

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