MonthJuly 2006

siggraph: the arrival

Well SIGGRAPH remains much as I had remembered it, in each of its previous incarnations, scattered across the US but essentially unchanged wherever it wanders. A huge conference center, brimming with people, all smiling and excited about this new-fangled computer graphics stuff. I didn’t get too much accomplished today–mostly picking up my badge sitting around, and practicing my 50 second spiel for “fast forward,” a session where all 90 papers are presented one a minute in a frenetic quest to… well I’m not actually why they do it. Although I couldn’t see from the stage because of the blinding lights they shined on me I’m told that my schtick (okay I’m out of yiddish now) went over quite well. The idea was, since we have the word “dynamic” in our paper’s title to sell it microsoft style with buzzwords and all. I even whipped up a pretend “box-shot” as they call it in the business:

fake product box shot

You’re all in stitches right? I kill me. Fast forward was held in the mighty “Hall C,” capacity >3000. This is significant because it’s also the hall where I’m giving my talk on Wednesday:

siggraph hall image

It’s my fervet hope that the hall will be mostly empty for the actual talk. The night was rounded out at a pub, of which there are many, many, many of in downtown boston. They had Hoegaarden on tap, so I was satisfied. I’m now back at the hotel, early to bed on account of the four hours of sleep I got last night. Hopefully tonight will prove more bountiful.

an explanation for leaving graphics

Apropos my bitching about academic talks is one guy’s explanation for leaving the field of graphics altogether. It would be nice to be able to explain away his complaints as the bitterness of failure, but that wouldn’t be fair–he isn’t a failure and he’s incredibly brave to post his thoughts on the field where speaking your mind on these topics is tantamount to professional suicide. I say bravo.

academic talks: don’t forget to be kind of a dick.

Most of you know that I’ve already generated enough cynicism about the high echelons of academia to last me tidily the three more years I am scheduled to remain ensconced in this ivory tower. But I’m not going to let that keep me from sharing a little bit more–this time it’s about “talks.”

I was lucky (in many ways) to end up this year with a paper in this year’s SIGGRAPH. The reward for such an achievement, besides a little ribbon that hangs from your name tag at the conference, is the chance to give a 20-minute talk presenting your paper to whomever decides to show up, possibly several hundred people. Now, everyone knows how I like to talk, and I do have a geniune affection for the act of teaching, so by all signs the talk promised to be lots of fun. I was very pumped up over the chance to share the work we did, excited about all the cute pictures I would make to explain it all. And indeed, creating the talk has been a blast. What I’m not so crazy about is the way I’ve had to change it to meet the “standards” of the academic community.

The fact of the matter is, maybe 1-5 people sitting at your talk will have already read your paper, and the majority of those people are your coauthors. The rest of the people are there because they do research in a similar field, or just want to see some pretty pictures. My thought was, “if any of these people actually want to use my stuff, they’ll go read the paper. So, let’s go heavy on the pretty pictures, and light on the ugly math.” This is, after all, what I love more than anything about graphics as opposed to other fields. The results aren’t just graphs of results or performance metrics or proofs. They’re basically shiny, pretty pictures. And pictures are something people can appreciate even if they don’t understand where they came from. So, my plan of attack was to just skip the math all together.

Wrong! You see, in academia, if you don’t confuse your audience unnecessarily, it means that you’re too stupid to manage it. The most important goal of your talk isn’t to advertise your method; it’s to advertise yourself. When some academics watch a presentation, and they follow it easily, and the don’t pull any brain muscles in the process, rather than coming to the conclusion that the presentation was a success, they think one of the following:

  • There was no math! That idea must be trivial. Not even a single triple integral or partial differential equation!
  • That presenter must be pretty dumb to not have managed to confuse me even once in his whole presentation! I mean, I’m not even one of the five people in the world working in his area. I should have been completely baffled.
  • I’m one of the five people in the world working in his area. I can’t believe he didn’t derive each equation in his paper! It would only have taken about 15 of the 20 minutes, and I would have understood it perfectly! He’s coddling the audience.

And universally, all of these people would walk away with the impression of the speaker that:

If he were serious about making it in this world, he should have abused his audience more. Why couldn’t he be a bit more of a dick about his intelligence?

Of course, only a handful of people in the audience come to these kind of conclusions (I hope). I like to believe that the rest of the audience might be like me and appreciate the real goals of the talk. In fact, there are many brave presenters who do just exactly what I aspire to do, and despite all the praise I have for them, bad things probably get said behind their backs. I’ve heard it done. For now though, I’m an apprentice. The masters of the academy are doing their work, imparting these nuggets of wisdom. I just thought I’d share this one with you.

the dark pleasures of the windows world…

Io has been living up to her name, stuck running windows pretty much every night for the last week or so. It all started with Doug and George during last weekend’s 24hr-videogameathon. I brought down the new toy, we watched George play Final Fantasy VII (probably the best RPG I’ve ever played) while Doug and I tried to conquer the civilized world in Civilization IV:

civ iv screenshot

The damned game is as addictive as ever–I think we played for about 6 hours straight while sitting there. We lost, tragically, outpaced in the prehistoric land-grab by wiley Abe Lincoln of the Americans (each civilization has one representative leader throughout history; I was Ghandi). We were never really able to recover, since we had sunk all our resources into building space ships instead of caravels in a world filled with islands.

The other part of my windows gaming renaissance has been Half Life 2. Unlike most games that primarily involve running around shooting people with increasingly large guns, this game entertains the heck out of me. It’s set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia where some sort of aliens from another dimension have come to dominate the human race. In the future, you can tell whether someone is evil merely by the presence of a gas mask:

half life 2 screen shot

I also just noticed today that comments have been busted for maybe a month. Now that I’ve fixed it I expect the customary torrent of adulation to resume.

the new toy: io

It took a few weeks to come in, but now my new toy is in my hot little hands:

mac book pro

I named it Io mostly because I thought it was a cool word but also because Io was beautiful, but ended up looking like a cow just like me running Windows on my poor, beautiful mac. It’s been a lot of fun playing with it… I’m still not quite used to the idea of a laptop that’s this fast–a Apple laptop at that. Neat toys besides the ability to run windows include a remote-controlled movie player, a built-in camera with a silly program called Photo Booth that has so far produced such gems as these:

silly pic
silly pic
silly pic

I’m sure it can do useful things too, I’m just not so interested in them yet.

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