Sunday, October 3, 2010

Research Results

As I explained in a previous post, we get funding from somewhere and conduct research. Like any other kind of work, research too produces results. In this post, I will explain the main types of research results.

First, some of the more obvious results for different fields of research:

1. Computer science: large sales of coffee and computers.

2. Bio-science: Piles of dirty lab-coats.

3. Humanities: Books that can be used for weightlifting.

Now, the less obvious but more important results.

1. Products:
Someone said "research is the design of products that are used in the future." But only a few researches directly end up in products. That is because research outcomes are not always good enough to be used as products. Let's take an example.

Suppose researchers developed a device to automatically destroy terrorists. The device will have a camera that will take photos of people. Then a computer will analyze the photos in a few milliseconds and determine if the people are terrorists or not. If it determines that a person is a terrorist, it will shoot him/her with the gun attached to it.

The researchers will run a long experiment and show that it will detect 80% of terrorists that are known and let the other 20% go (but then, this is probably 8 times better than allied forces in Iraq and Afghanistan). It will also kill about 25% of the innocent people that its camera sees (that is already 4 times better than Israeli forces in Palestine, I assume). Finally, terrorists will soon find that a flashlight will completely crash the thing. So much for products :-p


2. Patents:
Researchers do create lots of patents. Some workplaces measure their performance by the number of patents filed per year. Some patents generate a lot of money some time later. But most of the patents contain things like "I found that if a middle aged fat guy stands on a manhole cover that is in front of a gasoline stand, he will get a mild headache." Very useful, isn't it? But then, patents also help us a lot by filling pages of our resumes and getting us through the yearly performance appraisals.

3. Startup companies:
Sometimes, a research result looks promising but big companies do not want to use it. Some of the more brave researchers try starting companies using such results. Google is one successful example. The failures just disappear in less than two years. But we admire those who fail for trying to do some real work.

4. Cool exhibits:
I guess these are more common to Japan than other countries. Some research companies develop things like cute robots to show the latest results of their research. "Aibo"from Sony, "Asimo" from Honda, and the trumpet-playing robot from Toyota are examples.

5. Publications
When researchers get reasonable results from their work, they write "research papers" about those results using long passive-voice sentences. They then submit the papers to conferences or journals. After evaluation by who are called "reviewers", a limited amount of papers are published. People who are interested in long passive voice sentences can read them, if they want to.
I admit that it sounds much less entertaining and useful than the previous types. But then, number of publications is the main performance metric for researchers. So, some of them do crazy things to make this number higher. I will write about them later, for your entertainment :-p.

New Record for the Longest Sentence in a Paper!

The new record for the longest sentence in a research paper now belongs to an undergraduate student from India. The sentence is 53 words long!

I will not quote the sentence here because:

1. The student (and/or his supervisor) might get mad and hire one of those miracle-performers (with names like Sri Something Baabaa) to kill me

2. You might never come back to this blog after reading a sentence that long.

If anybody has read a longer sentence, please let me know.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Funding (feed me :-p)

Researchers talk a lot about funding. If we get a dollar every time any researcher says the word "funding", we will be very rich within a year. We will be able to retire from writing long passive voice sentences, and do more important things such as playing "Super Mario Bros" on Nintendo Wii. Anyways.

We all need money, so the importance of funding is obvious. What we want to tell you, is that research funding is a bit weird (many things about us researchers are, so not a big deal :-p).

Research funding is funding that is needed for doing research, that is, doing our job. Suppose you are a doctor in a hospital, and your work gets funded the same way research does. Here is how it will work:

1. When you get your job as a doctor, you will have a stethoscope, a chair, and a monthly salary.

2. You ask for a table, and are told "due to financial restrictions, you have to apply for funding to get a table."

3. You write a proposal about using a table to treat the patients. Your proposal includes:

(a) A survey that tells you how Hypocrites used a table a long time ago, and medicine today is much better thanks to that table.

(b) A list of things that you are going to do, with your new table (okay, if you get one). You have to make sure to omit that you might put a cup of tea on it once in a while. That is misappropriation of research grants.

(c) A list of expenses that incur in buying a table. You have to get the numbers right; not too cheap, not too expensive.

(d) If you are asking for funding from a drug(err... I mean medicine; not the other type) company, a short description on how the table can be used to display their products.

4. You submit your proposal, and find that about a 100 more doctors in your hospital have submitted similar proposals. Ouch.

5. A board of officials from the health ministry, or a drug company, assess the proposals.

6. If you are unlucky, you don't get funding for the table. You are bitter for a while, but then things get back to normal and you apply for the next round.

7. If you are lucky (or if your proposal was very convincing), you get the funding.

8. Depending on the situation, you funding comes with conditions such as:

(a) For direct expenses only; that is, you cannot use the money to buy paperweights that look like cartoon characters.

(b) Your prescriptions should have a footer saying something like "this work was supported by a grant from DONKEY(the agency/company who gave you funding)."

(c) You have to write regular reports about how the table has helped you to do the things that you mentioned in your proposal.

Notes:

1. A percentage of the funding will go to the hospital administration.

2. In some private hospitals, you could be fired for not being able to get funding to buy a table.

3. Sometimes, you don't really get enough money to buy a decent table. So, you either buy a stool and manage with it, or buy a broken three-legged table and ask a nurse to keep holding the other side (don't worry if you don't get it; I just made it up :-p).

You might wonder why we have to do all these just to get money to do our work. Well, that's "research funding" for you :o)

Monday, August 30, 2010

People Who Do Research

We present a novel excuse for the relatively ...oops, sorry. Wrong writing style :-p. Let us start again.

Let us first explain why we could not post for some time. We heard a lot of bad news over the last couple of weeks. Quite a few of our friends (who do research) lost their jobs during that time. They say the reason given to them was the lack of money to pay them. With so many of them without jobs, finding a job is even harder. One of our friends, with a PhD, ended up working part time in a gasoline station(we are not making this up).

Having heard all the bad news, we stopped everything else and held tight to our job until our toenails grew very long. Now we are using them to claw on to our job, even as we write this post.

In this post, I will briefly introduce the different types of people you meet in the research community. So, you are going to find out whom we are going to make fun of.

1. The enthusiastic:
Undergrad students who do their first research projects, and interns who come to work in a research lab.

2. The lazy and underpaid:
Graduate students (masters and PhD) fall in to this category. Some of them actually feed a family with a stipend lower than unemployment benefits in their countries (this is true for the USA). There is a lot more to write about them, but for now we will just tell you the one question you should never ask them. Never ask a grad student "when will you graduate?"

PhD Comics (http://www.phdcomics.com) will tell you a lot more about these people.

3. The bitter:
Postdoctoral researchers and junior researchers are here. They are happy for a few months after getting the PhD. But as the glory fades away, they see the reality. They have lower pay than the rest of their age group. They have to publish boring articles in passive voice, at a faster rate, to keep their jobs. And the only people who help them are the lazy ones above. So they work hard and keep feeling bitter until they finally creep in to the next level.

4. The pseudo-gods
senior professors and senior researchers are here. The undergrads, interns and most grad students think their supervisors are like gods. But the real gods (explained later in the post) are actually above the pseudo gods. They just cover up the presence of real gods.

The pseudo-gods are know for weird habits such as forgetting appointments, making several appointments for a given time slot, etc. The most annoying habit, in my opinion, is asking a student or intern to describe something and falling asleep right in the middle of it.

5. The real gods:
The real gods in research are the officials of funding agencies, and administrators of universities. They scare the hell out of the fake gods, and even enjoy doing so. However, the real gods rarely appear in front of the enthusiastic and the underpaid beings, so they might not be aware of the existence of the real gods.

6. The media:
While they are not involved all the time, the media sometimes does work with our community. They occasionally visit research labs, talk with researchers, blow up whatever they could understand, and publish it for the benefit (?) of everyone.

Example: sentence in research paper:

"The probability of abortion among mothers who ate selected Soy Bean products regularly during this study was 1% higher than those who did not"

Title of the news paper article:
"Soy Beans are Evil, And They Are Here to Get You!"

So much for today. In later posts, we will write more details about these people.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Research and Research Topics

First of all, let's answer the question "what is research?"

Well, the answer depends on whom you ask.

Wikipedia: "the search for knowledge, a systematic investigation to establish facts"

Undergraduate student: "what I am going to do, to become rich and famous"

Post doctoral researcher: "what definitely cannot make you rich and famous"

Senior professor: "what everybody thinks that I do while others do that for me"

Like that, research can be defined in many ways. Anyway, let's stick to the Wikipedia answer for now :o)

One more note. We in Computer Science don't count Market Research as research. Most of us think market research is making a report and a slide show to prove your point by collecting only the facts that support it :-p . Market researchers,please forgive us if this is false, for our mistake. Please also forgive us if this is true (for making fun of the truth). In either case, have a good laugh.

So, how we search for new knowledge is by selecting a problem (also called "research topic") that is useful to solve, thinking of new methods to solve it. To test if our methods work, we have to conduct experiments or evaluations of some kind. And we are supposed to publish the results using long passive voice sentences :o)

A research topic cannot be a problem that is too easy to solve and has already been solved. For example, "How to Make a Guy Go Crazy" is not a research topic. This has been solved by many girls, in several ways, and proven it everywhere on the planet under all sorts of conditions. On the other hand, "Keeping a Girl Continuously Happy for 30 Days" is not a recommended research topic. Every guy knows that it is impossible.

Her are some interesting research topics that I found interesting. I am not making these up, you can find them with a Google search:

1. "What do Great Tits Reveal about the Genetics of Personality?"
(well, Great Tits are a type of birds; Sorry if we disappointed you)

2. "Jingle Bells: Solving the Santa Claus Problem in Polyphonic C♯"

3. "Analysis of Breast Motion" (this is how we motivate guys to join grad school, when they can do real jobs and get rich :-p)

4. "Scallop Detection from Sand-Seabed Images for Fishery Investigation" (you tie a webcam to a fishing rod and put it in the sea, then the computer tells you if there are scallops. Just kidding :-p)


Wanna join?

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Writing Style

Researchers do a lot of writing as part of their work. For example, the time a Computer Science researcher spends on writing is almost equal to the time he/she spends watching YouTube videos.

However, researchers have a different writing style from the other professionals who publish regularly. Let me explain:

1. They give long titles to their work, and believe that "{Catchy Phrase}{colon}{Lengthy Boring Phrase}" is the best format for a nice title. For example, a researcher would rephrase the title "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" with "PotStone: a Study on Harry Potter's Experiences Related to the Sorcerer's Rock Specimen."

2. They use passive voice to write most, if not all, of the sentences.

3. When they write in active voice, "We" is used even if there is only one author to a research article. So, if a researcher writes "We sat on the toilet seat," that doesn't mean he has Schizophrenia. It's just the way of writing.

4. They write very long sentences. The longest I have read so far had 52 words. I am a junior researcher, so I guess I will be able to see longer ones in years to come.

5. They use rarely-used, difficult words to describe even the simple things. An example from a paper that I read is:

"It is assumed that the motion of the object follows first order Newtonian dynamics"

Meaning: the object moves along a straight line without changing speed.

6. Their articles start with an "Abstract", which most readers fail to go beyond without a yawn:

---------------------------------------

Abstract
========

A collection of supernatural activities performed by Harry Potter, a wizard-candidate at Hogwartz Institute of Low Probability Phenomena Technology[1] who also seeks a relationship with a female colleague named Hermione, is presented. The candidate...."

----------------------------------------

Because of this writing style, reading a research article requires a real lot of attention, and some times a few cups of coffee. This also explains why graduate student can fall asleep so easily. They read a real lot of research papers. Some researchers even argue that it is alright for research articles to be boring. I am not sure if they are sponsored by coffee traders.

Just one more thing before I finish. I am a researcher too, but I will follow only one of the above traditions. From the next post, I will write "we" instead of "I".

If you are still awake, it's time for coffee now :o)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

To Begin With...

I am a researcher in computer science, particularly multimedia. And I have seen that computer science researchers are kind of funny. So, I thought of having a laugh at ourselves here, when I have some free time for that.

Enjoy!