You know you are really interested in something when you wake up even before the alarm goes.  October 1, 2008 was one of those special days. It was when TechVista, the annual MSR (Microsoft Research India) was organised in Chennai. Sure, I would have loved to be at other events, but those will have to wait for another time ;).

India Heritage Project demo
Dr.P.Anandan kicked off the event with his speech introducing the other guests. One of the much talked about projects for the event was the demo of “India Digital Heritage Project”. The demo was a silverlight app with photosynth used to show the history and heritage of Srivilliputhur Andal temple.  But it would have been a good demo for those who haven’t seen photosynth in action before. The demo was mentioned as unpolished explicitly before and after the demo. As an application it was very good and is good at its intended purpose of using technology to show the richness of a heritage site. I just had a feeling that there wasn’t any research involved in this project. That aside it was a good demo of capabilities of Photosynth, HDview and silverlight ;), with a local flavour if I might add. 

Morning sessions
The first session was by legendry Prof. John Hopcroft titled “Computer Science in the Future”. The talk was on effectively using all the information available online and how it will improve over next few years. What was really interesting :) was chat the students had with him before the start of the session. One of the questions was when he started writing his famous book. To which he replied that the book initially was just notes he prepared for his classes during the early 1960s.

Next walked inDr.Rick Szeliskifor his talk titled “Weaving the World’s Photos”. His talk was interesting for it is his team that released Photosynth, HDview and quite few other important software. Some the future goals mentioned at the end of the talk were support for using these tools in large scale scenes, supporting the lighting, time of day and weather changes. A typical example being a monument being covered in snow during winter. Ability to capture these events and time would be a great improvement. Another interesting link provided as part of his talk was geograph.co.uk whose aim according to their website is “to collect geographically representative photographs and information for every square kilometre of Great Britain and Ireland“. Further detailing of his talk would amount to reproduction of his talk ;) so let me stop here for now.

The third and final talk of the morning session was by Prof. Shafi Goldwasser titled “Program Obfuscation and One-Time Programs”. This was one of the sessions I was eagerly waiting for after reading some articles in openrce.org and rootkit.com. The talk was proposing use of a hardware key she called “Read Once Key” to support execution of any program a predefined number of times only. Now after working in a Smartcard environment for more than 2 years my first question during the Q&A session was her reason to not consider smartcards. Although I am aware of limitations of contactless smartcards I am yet to come across a limitation of the good old contact ( sim based cards for those unfamiliar with smartcards) based smartcards. Even though I did ask a couple of other questions during the lunch break I failed to understand the logic behind advantage of the proposed device over a smartcard. One limitation regarding smartcards I can accept is the possibility of “Side channel attacks“. May be later if and when I get to meet her I must have another discussion on the advantages of ROK.

Lunch
After a good Q&A session I walked out of the hall to realize the HUGE number of students present in the event. The Chennai student partners seem to have done a very good job of pushing the event to all colleges in Chennai. The side effect being me struggling to get anything to eat during the lunch. After a small discussion with Ravi, Rajesh, Krishna on upcoming events in CNUG I had time to checkout just one small project being displayed. Another highlight of the event was “PhD Posters”, exhibit of projects done by students from different leading institutions.

Afternoon Session: 
Dr. Rick Rashid, talked about the contributions of Microsoft Research and about the important projects done at MSR over these 17 years. Some of the projects mentioned were sensecam, photosynth, and surface. One project that was mentioned on the sidelines was mylifebits. I loved the project when it was first demoed at channel9. Just the storage information of various forms of data was extracted for the slides. He also talked about a project being worked on that will help kids learn to program similar to the one Randy paush mentioned in his last lecture.But overall was good presentation, a demonstration of all the achievements of MSR. Like all events someone has to handle the first session after lunch and here this session happened to be that :).

Then walked in Prof. Shree Nayar for his talk titled “Computational Cameras: Redefining the Image”. There wasn’t any expectation for me for this session but the way he handled the session and the demos he showed simply kept me mesmerised at the projects he has worked on. Starting from the convex lens before camera for making conference cams to the project that extracts images from people’s iris in normal photos to project that separates direct light and general light in normal photos. If there was any time during the day I thought about taking up research it was during this session :D. I am sure the sessions were recorded and this session is a must watch for all those interested in photography/ image analysis/ computer vision. This section will be updated once I get a link to the recording of this session.

The final session of the day was by Dr. Vijay Chandru , Chairman, Co-Founder & Chief Executive Officer, Strand Life Sciences. He talk was titled “Computational Biology and Vice Versa”. He was talking on the biotechnology, its advances over time. He spoke more on it except that that was all I understood. 

Friends Meet
Dhawal and his friend Subhamoy Mandal came to the city for attending the event. It was good time I personally had and I am sure aswin too would feel the same too. We were chatting on a number of topics that included Subhamoy repairing his cell phone :) , Subhamoy trying to bring Dhawal into research and Dhawal trying to bring Subhamoy into corporate environment. We had a mini-Geek meet :) with just four of us discussing on a number of technical things. Finally like all good things I had to say good night for these guys booked ticket back to Bangalore that very night :). It was a great day learning a lot and meeting a number of very good people. 

Well that was a long blog, longer than I want it to be but it is ok I think since there has been none for a long time as well :) 

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