Examples and Considerations of Big Data Information Systems harnessing Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence

A coursework / assignment that I’ve set for university students studying computing is to write a report that discusses the need for Information Systems in the modern world. The theme in question being: Big Data Information Systems harnessing Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence.

The report should provide some background / context to the topic, explore the various components and architecture of the Information System, the associated Software Life cycle, the Tools / Technologies / Methodologies to hand and on through to Deployment.

The following is a list of some areas / systems they could consider. Do you have any other interesting examples that you could add in the comments section of a Big Data Information System that makes use of ML & AI tools / techniques?

Formula 1 Real-time Telemetry Data AnalysisMRI Image Analysis
NASA James Webb Space TelescopeEarthquake Early Warning Systems
BOINCHuman Genome Project
Search for Extra Terrestrial IntelligenceLive Face Identification System
Amazon AlexaUncovering the Past with LIDAR
Google AssistantSmart City, Real-time Traffic Analysis
Weather ForecastingMedical Diagnosis
Movie Recommendation SystemsSurface and Subsurface Analysis of Hydrocarbon Potential in the Oil & Gas Industry
Music Recommendation SystemsSentiment Analysis in Social Media
Self Driving VehiclesAutomated Warehouse
Crime PredictionSmart IoT Enabled Retail Shop
Smart Patient Monitoring & Analysis with Bio-medical SensorsCERN Large Hadron Collider
Humanoid Robot (Boston Dynamics)Humanoid Robot (Tesla)

Some of topic areas above may benefit from consideration towards Ethics, Data Protection / GDPR, would such elements also be useful / key things that could/should be given all due consideration in a report exploring Big Data Information Systems. Many interesting considerations can be found in the ACM Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct (poster) (booklet). Do add your thoughts in the comments section.

Do you have any interesting thoughts on the realm of High Performance Computing (HPC) in the form of C / Fortran MPI operations vs the world of Cloud Computing Services, Graphical Processing Unit (GPU), Tensor Processing Unit (TPC) or Quantum Computing? Again would be interesting to hear your thoughts in the comments section.  

Would Explainable AI be of particular importance, particularly with areas such as Medical Diagnosis? Once again comment below on your insights with regard to the need for Explainable AI?


Quadcopter Flying Around Campus – Video

We had a number of very nice days last week, blue skies and sunshine all day long, hence as part of a module I have with 1st year computing students I took the class outside to experiment with some quadcopter flying. We had two DJI Phantom quadcopters in operation with Go Pro’s attached to capture the scene. One can see some still image captures at the following post.

In the first video above we were all arranged in a circle the radius being calculated by the average width of a student x the number of students / Pi / 2 / 2. This amounted to a radius of a little over 16 feet or roughly 33 feet in diameter. The reason for this was to attempt a “Bullet-time” capture of a quad-copter hovering in the centre of the circle, with the students taking photographs on all their phones. If you look closely at roughly the mid point of the video above you will see the second quadcopter taking off and flying around a little bit.

The flights took place towards the west end of campus next door to the Scott Sutherland Building and the Round Tower, see the map below.

Awards Dinner at the National Museum of Scotland

Yesterday Thursday 29th August 2013 I attended the Young Software Engineer of the Year Awards held at the National Museum of Scotland. One of my honours project students received an award for the work of his honours project titled “Procedural Shader Driven Rendering on Modern Hardware” (more info). The prize consisted of a certificate, a glass trophy (seen below) and a really generous cash prize.

The days events lasted well over 12 hours with a reception, networking session and a series of talks starting things off at the Sheraton Grand Hotel. The keynote speaker Dr Vint Cerf gave a really entertaining talk covering the birth of the Internet right the way through to present day and into the future with a vision of the net reaching out into the solar system and beyond to our closest neighbouring star 4.3 light years away.

In the evening we moved to the National Museum for the awards dinner (attended by over 600 people). It was a stunning location for the dinner and all those I chatted to who hadn’t seen it before were really amazed. Only a small section of it was open (as seen in the images below) for the dinner, but it certainly gave appetite to visit again and spend a day visiting all the exhibits it has to offer.

YSE 2013

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Automated Compact Shelving at RGU Library

The following are some videos experimenting with the automated compact shelving that is to be found on levels six to eight at the new Library of Robert Gordon University. One can see a selection of photographs showing the views to be seen from my previous post.

RGU Library 2nd June 2013

RGU Library 2nd June 2013


RGU Garthdee New Build – Photo Update 14 May 2013

Its been a while since my last photo update showing the progress of the New Build at the Garthdee campus of Robert Gordon University. As you can see the main entrance and plaza is almost complete, and the final stages of tidying things up are well underway at the south side of the library tower.

Sunrise Timelapse RGU Garthdee Campus

Yesterdays post contained some photographs taken from the roof of the Round Tower at the Garthdee Campus of Robert Gordon University. This post as the title says includes a number of timelapse videos taken around 06:30 in the morning just as the sun was rising.

A few images of the Round Tower may also be seen below, giving some idea of the location from where the videos were recorded & yesterdays photos were taken.

Experimenting with Photography

The following videos demonstrate some interesting setups where as always light plays a hugely important role. The first example below is that of creating the Bokeh Effect. This is achieved using a long lens to set the background out of focus. The background has a dark card / velum lit from behind with a number of holes punched in it to allow light to stream through. Capturing an image of an object good and sharp in the foreground with the Bokeh Effect in the background can create some interesting effects. The addition of gels or coloured acetate sheets can add that extra dimension. Perhaps experimenting with a number of coloured acetates could generate a really nice effect. The addition of a reflective surface adds some really nice reflections into the mix both from the foreground object and the light streaming into the scene from the background.

Another interesting effect can be created with a zoom lens with a slow shutter of a few seconds. Varying the zoom over the time of the exposure to the imaging sensor generates an interesting blurring. You will see that the scene is initially composed with just one side on light, though the resulting exposure is a little dark, hence the addition of some additional lighting to the front of the subject solves this.

A fairly recent previous post looked at light painting, mainly from the perspective of a person creating shapes using a torch or a mobile. The video below is a different view on light painting where objects are illuminated with light. Varying the placement of the light, from back, front or even just from the top down creates quite an array of different shots.

Given that one can use black card in the production of the Bokeh Effect from the first video above another nice composition to try out is to photograph a wine glass making use of a few black cards to control the lighting / reflections of the scene.

If you are perhaps doing a good deal of product photography then you may find something like a Lastolite Cubelite to be of use, so that you can have nicely controlled soft lighting of the product you wish to capture.

Folding up one of these Cubelites can require a bit of practice.

Lights Camera Action & the Silver Screen

In the previous semester I had a group of students for a module on Audio & Video Production. In the past days a new YouTube Channel was created and a selection of videos were uploaded. A week or so prior to this I had organised a screening of the videos at a Cinema located just a few minutes away from where we’re based. It was really great to spend some time in the projection room and see both a film and digital projection system.

The videos below should give you a sense of what the students produced, I hope you enjoy them. Have written another blog post giving a little more info on this.

Capturing an Instant in Time – Students Making a Splash

In the previous week with my class of about 100 first year computing students we looked at the process of panoramic photography and light-painting, hence were making use of long shutter durations. This week I thought it would be interesting to go in the opposite direction and capture moments in time of just hundreds or even thousands of a second. I had seen quite a few videos in the past, about capturing such imagery, using both flash and continuous based lighting, hence I gathered together a number of these videos and made a recent blog post about them.

This first image seen above is a composite of images taken from two of the three setups that were used. Firstly the stage was set for the capturing of soap bubbles gently floating down to earth. Next the students had a chance to drop some fruit and vegetables into an Aquarium. The final option was to pour some water into a wine glass and capture the some of the detail and beauty of flowing water that we overlook on a daily basis.

The day prior to class I set out to purchase some essentials, I began by getting some PVC tape, jugs, straws and glass scraper to clear the water from the aquarium after the splashes. Having being unsuccessful in finding soap bubbles, I ventured to another shop and was delighted to see they had a good variety, hence I purchased one of each set they had, this amounted to perhaps close to two liters of soap bubbles, so I was quite sure we would have enough for the photo-shoot. The final really large and important task was to find an Aquarium, so I headed in the direction of the beach to seek one out. I looked through quite a few different aquariums, and finally settled on a glass one of dimensions 24″ x 15″ x 12″ capable of holding about 65 liters of water. So with that I carted all this stuff back to the office.

Later that night I paid a visit to yet another shop to pick up some fruit and vegetables that should make a good splash in the aquarium. Also picked up some food colouring both yellow and blue for use with the water pouring into the wine glass setup. To capture any spillage from the glass I also picked up a paint tray! So that was more or less everything.

Given the class size was about 100 a video feed was setup between the green screen room in which the photography was taking place and the computer lab where all the students were working on some Photoshop and Illustrator tasks. That way they could see what was going on as the video feed was displayed on three projectors within the lab, hence they could move between one and the other depending on how busy the photographic session was. I have used this technique in the past on a few occasions and have found it to be very useful. All in all it took about an hour to set everything up for the shoot with the help of three students and the support team for the video feed.

The following photographs should give a sense of what was taking place in the green screen room with all three stages running concurrently. As you will see bubbles were being blown, peppers, strawberries and the like were being dropped into the aquarium & water was being poured into the wine glass. Five lights were used, two for both the aquarium and the bubbles, leaving just one for the wine glass. In total this amounted to the equivalent of 5320 watts of lighting keyed at a temperature of 5200 degrees kelvin.

The following set of images give a sense of what the room was like after a bit of tidying up was done and some things moved around a bit.

The next set of images just give a sense of the materials that were used for the photo-shoot taken around two hours prior to setting up the scenes. The large Nemo sitting happily on the aquarium will probably find a new home back on my desk but inside the aquarium, in which he fits nice and snugly. This of course has the added advantage of keeping him dust free once I find a suitable cover.

The final set of images include some of the water being poured into the wine glass along with the individual shots that were combined together in the first image of the post.

All in all I would guess that a few thousand photographs were taken in the course of a couple of hours. Its probably also safe to say that the students really seemed to enjoy the photo-shoot, especially given the room was such a hive of activity. Having a number of distinct but related tasks seemed to work well, one thing we didn’t do was to capture water drops falling and splashing into a pool of water, so that is perhaps something for next time, as one can use a few techniques for this alone. If you wish to see some of these images if greater detail, then you can take a look at the corresponding Album.

Photography – Light, Composition

One of the key elements to photography is of course light. Without light one would simply have a blank image. If you enjoy landscape photography then the magic hour at sunrise and sunset are really the only times of the day for such photography. The reason being that photography is in essence about two key things composition / framing of the subject and the painting of the scene with light.

Light can be described in four different forms, transmitted, reflected, soft and hard light. The sun on a clear day is a good example of hard light as one can see really strong shadows on a summers day. Soft / diffused light is that which you would find on an overcast day with little to no visible shadows to be seen. In the case of taking a photograph of a sunset for example you also have the ability of taking in transmitted light, in the form of being able to see the light source. Should you be located close to the sea or a lake then you can also make use of the reflected light from the water.

One of the classing photographic assignments is of course Portraiture. Often you may hear that you should always shoot with the light (sun) to your back. However by shooting into the light source you can capture some wonderful colour and highlights. A large aperture lens is also great for portraiture, thus allowing for a shallow depth of field to be created and all the emphases being placed on the subject in question.

If you enjoy landscape photography then some of the videos below may be of interest.

The following video includes a number of examples of some interesting landscape shots to the music of Enya!

Its not just light but also composition that is important to any great image. You can perhaps glean a few tips on the subject of composition from the final video.

Photography Freezing the Motion

The video above details some really fun things one can do by freezing motion varying the exposure between 1/100 to 1/1000 of a second. The camera is of course set to manual, as well as continuous capture to grab several frames in quick succession. Water is being poured into a wine glass that has been mounted at an angle whilst the main light source illuminates from behind a defused background (velum). Adding some food colouring to the water creates that additional level of drama and dimension to the shot.

The next video looks at capturing the splash of a water droplet. Again like the previous setup this is done without the use of flash photography techniques, though they both make-use of a continuous light source.

Another fun experiment to do is to capture bubbles as they float down to earth. To really freeze the motion exposures on the order of 1/250 of a second allow for some interesting shots to be captured.

One further interesting video fairly similar to the second last one in which the task is to capture a splash, instead of capturing a water drop, this time the task is focused on capturing the splash caused by the dropping of a spanner into a tray of water.

Gavin Howie also has a nice video demonstrating how to capture water splashes. Initially he uses a white sheet of paper as a background. Towards the end of the video he looks at the addition of colour to the image, firstly by changing the white balance, in this particular case he uses tungsten. The alternative option is to use a coloured background that results in some really interesting colouration on the waters surface.

If you happen to have an aquarium floating around then you can have a go at dropping a selection of fruit and vegetables in and capturing the motion of the impact and splash.

Its always of course useful to take a look at the user manual of your camera to be familiar with the settings. In the case of the Canon 600D one can download the user manual from the support page on canon.co.uk. You will see on page 88 of the manual that the Canon 600D is capable of shooting about 3.7 shots per second in continuous mode. One can find details about the Tv setting on page 94 allowing for motion to frozen or blurred.

How to Teach Photography to a Room of 100 Students?

In a recent post I included some videos discussing depth of field and how it can be affected by aperture, focal distance and distance of the object. The question that came to mind however is that of how could I demonstrate elements of photography to a group of about 100 students. Often you may gather a small group of half a dozen crowded around a camera to show them something, however this doesn’t really scale well to a group on the order of 100 or so.

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

To solve this problem I made use of technology to help them see the live interaction I performed with the settings on the camera itself and remotely using Canon’s EOS Utility. The room in which the students were, contained three projectors, one more or less in the middle of the room with the others at either end. To allow them to see the interaction I made use of the EOS Utility in conjunction with Microsoft’s PixelSense (Samsung SUR40) providing a table top interactive surface with which to interact with the settings of the Canon 600D. In front of the camera I placed two tables covered with some green cloth and a number of objects at different distances to focus on. You will also notice from the images below I also included a tape measure running down the length of the table.

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

Located next to the Camera and the PixelSense table I added a HD TV so I could readily see the interactions I was performing. Floating a few feet over the PixelSense SUR40 hung a Sony NX5E video camera suspended in space in a under-slung position with the help of a Libec Swift Jib 50 Kit (comprising the arm, T102B tripod and DL08 dolly).

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

The HDMI video feed from the camera was fed to a splitter box with one input and two outputs. As you can guess one of the HDMI outputs fed directly into the HD TV, the other via the use of a HDMI to VGA adapter went off to feed the three projector screens.

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

All in all I was quite pleased with the overall result especially as all the students could see what I was doing first hand, moreover there was no need to repeat the processes a dozen times or more to a set of small groups all crowded around the camera. After I demoed the variables affecting the depth of field I let the students to come up and have a go with altering the settings such as f-stop and focal length themselves. They all really seemed to enjoy interacting with the Camera through the use of the surface and whats more all the other students could see what they were doing as well. They also had a good bit of fun just playing with the controls of the Jib and operating the REMO30 pan/tilt head. Concurrently after I had demoed the use of the system I got them to do some multiplicity photographs in our green screen room. The others who were waiting of course to get their chance to interact with this equipment and take some photographs were busy working their way through some photoshop tutorials. So that kept them busy with three distinctive tasks to carry out.

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

Once they all knuckled down to work, a few 3rd year students dropped by the lab to give me a hand in moving our OptiTrack Flex 13 motion capture system to another room, thereby freeing up our green screen room purely for photographic and video effects work. All it all it was a busy morning, with lots of equipment being moved around. Fortunately I had moved all the equipment you see in the images below into place the night before. You will notice that a shadow is cast by the Sony NX5E video camera and the REMO30 tilt/pan head. I am sure with a bit of shuffling of elements around this can be eliminated for the next time. In the final photograph of the set below, you can see the setup with the projection being displayed on two of the three screens, though the far off screen is quite a distance down the lab. I had hoped to record some video of the system in use, but didn’t get around to it due to the rehousing of the motion capture system, so may give it a go the next time with the elements rearranged is a slightly better manner. I guess the question for the next class is what will I demonstrate next? Some panoramic photography with the use of a Manfrotto QTVR 303Kit was something I had considered as a possibility.

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

Photography with PixelSense, Canon 600D, a Jib, TV, & Projector

Fun Photography Projects – 360 & Cloning. Any Other Ideas?

Recently I received a link to a YouTube video demonstrating how to spin a camera around the CN Tower. The video was posted a little over a month ago (17th December 2012) and has received around 125,000 views so far. One can make use of Google maps and street view to find the positions from which you would need to take a set of photographs in a circle around a tall object of interest. Then with a bit of work in Photoshop and your favorite video editor create a nice 360 – QuickTime Object VR like animation.

More recently (11th Jan 2013) a YouTube video was posted of the Space Needle in Seattle using the same technique as the CN tower video. I visited Seattle a few years ago and would have loved to have given this a go after seeing the results of the video below.

Another fun task is that of Multiplicity or essentially cloning yourself multiple times. A nice demo of one technique that could be used for this is demonstrated in the video below. Towards the end of the video the author mentions that he would give a ‘prize’ for somebody who include a hundred clones within an image. How difficult would it be to create an image with a hundred clones, or perhaps more importantly how long do you think this would take to achieve? The following post on PetaPixel breaks the cloning process down into seven steps.

I am quite tempted to give the hundred+ multiplicity challenge a go, using the setting of a good sized computer lab. Could have 50 or so clones sitting to desktop computers, perhaps another 20/30 sitting along a very wide windowsill (reading an interesting selection of books ranging from photography to C and Java!). Then would need to squeeze in another 20 or so clones in the remaining open areas. A tripod set at perhaps seven to eight feet should provide a good perspective allowing the full depth of the room to be observed and the clones to readily be visible throughout the image. The video below is another nice example of multiplicity.

Multiplicity in the Studio – Breakdown
Ensure the camera is on a good heavy tripod.
Camera settings to try as a starting point.
Manual Mode.
Sutter Speed 200, Aperture F8.
While lens set to Auto Focus, focus on an area where the subject will be, then switch over to Manual Focus so it remains the same throughout the photoshoot.

Should have one or two lights setup to illuminate the background.
Subject should be 6/7 feet away from the background to help avoid shadows being formed.
The subject itself should be lit so another light (Key light) should be used, to help fill in & create softer shadows and additional & less powerful light may be used.

Combining the images in Photoshop
File > Scripts > Load Files into Stack.
Browse for and select the images taken & press OK.
Within the Layers Window, select each image (layer) and press the Layer Mask Button.
Select the top layer, then with a black paint brush paint out the subject, making them disappear. Pressing Ctrl + I will invert the mask, hiding everything else bar the area painted out.
Carry out the masking process for all other layers.

Once finished, one may go to Layer > Flatten Image to flatten all the layers into one.  A better option of course if you ever wanted to edit it further would be to save the file as a PSD to retain all the layer & masking information. To create a flattened image you could simply save the file as a JPEG.

You may also wish to crop the image to a particular size or aspect ratio (Image > Crop).

Are these fun / Interesting Projects to Try?
Do you think some project tasks along the lines above would be interesting for a group of a hundred or so first year computing students doing a module looking at graphics / photography. Do you know of any other fun and interesting examples be they YouTube demos or online tutorial example walkthroughs?

Some Possibilities for 360 Animations in Aberdeen

The tall chimney stack

The Big Wheel at the Beach

The Obelisk at Duthie Park

What is Multimedia? A 21st Century Viewpoint

One of the courses / subjects / modules I lecture on focuses on Interactive Multimedia taken by around a hundred or so third year students. Each year the very first slide I present asks the question “What is Multimedia?”. Given that classes for the second semester will commence once again next week I thought of asking this question to all those out their within the blogosphere to see what you regard multimedia to be. The word cloud (created using this generator) below is perhaps one simple example of multimedia in action where by one can provide a list of words resulting in an image being generated based on the frequency of those works. Perhaps if I received a good few comments I could create an updated word cloud that better reflects what “Multimedia” is today!


The classical definition would be something along the lines that multimedia combines a mixture of content such as text, images, video, audio, animation and interactivity. Has the definition for what multimedia is changed? given that we are now living in a world where technology is ubiquitous.

What about Smart Televisions? Televisions used to be very much a passive from of information transmission focused on the visual and auditory senses. Smart Televisions of today can be controlled by gestures, the media that is accessible is no longer just a broadcast that you must tune into, but can now put the user in control with on demand content and online interactive media. If you want you can even control it using your smartphone along with other things such as the lights and heating throughout your home. Its probably safe to say that we are living in the age of “the App” in that for more or less anything you can think of their is an “App” out their in cyberspace just waiting for you to download.

The video below is of the LG booth at CES 2013, featuring built in cameras for gesture control and microphones to enable voice commands. It will also recommend TV shows and movies based on your viewing habits. Many people have full HD televisions at present 1920 x 1080 (2K), but we have seen in recent times 4K resolution TV’s becoming available to the consumer (though they do have a price tag of 20K+). Higher resolution TV’s – such as 8K are also in existence such as the Sharp 8K TV demoed at CES 2013.

Speaking of television / film what about the world of 3D such as Plano-sterioscopic Imaging or even the IMAX experience. My most recent experience of an IMAX screening was seeing The Hobbit at Cineworld Dublin just a few weeks ago. It was great seeing the film for a second time, but even better seeing it on a much larger sized screen than what you would usually find at a cinema. By far the best IMAX experience in my opinion was that of the BFI IMAX just around the corner from Waterloo station in London due to the spherical shaped screen and SPL of the speaker system.

As you all probably know The Hobbit was recorded using 5K Red Epic Cameras mounted in pairs on a set of rigs (to capture the 3D effect for the left & right eye), allowing one to change the interocular and convergence on the fly during the shoot. The recorded frame rate of 48fps has been the standard in IMAX since the format came out (it still of course falls short of the refresh rate of the human eye). One issue of course is that the sets had to be over saturated for the recorded footage to have the correct colour grading. The footage of course was all captured digitally and written on to 128GB Cards.

Our smartphones now make extensive use of touch screen technology as well as voice and facial recognition. The current year will see our mobiles evolve to having flexible screens, ushering in a new era in mobile and content interaction.

Multimedia of course isn’t just limited to something being on a computer screen, what about the blending of lasers such a light harp and midi technology, see the example below of Jean Michel Jarre playing the Second Rendez-Vous.

Is the term Multimedia used too much? especially as so many of our devices allow us to consume various forms of media and interact with same in a myriad of ways. Not too long ago the use of a number of different forms of media was seen to be something new and novel, now however it seems that whether its our TV’s, mobiles, tablets, computers or even our cars we are consuming and interacting in ways which a few decades ago would have been science fiction. Will we all be connected with devices similar to Google Glasses within a few years?

What about Books? Are books those strange typically rectangular objects made from trees that contain words printed double sided nearing the end of their lifespans. eBook readers are becoming ever more popular. If you take a look at this article dated 14th Jan 2013 you will see that libraries are now starting to throw out their “books” and go for an all digital system. Are the days of carrying a school bag to school stuffed with as many books as you could squeeze in numbered? Schools are even getting rid of their books with some purchasing iPads for every student (such as the Essa Academy with 840 pupils).

Has the future already arrived? In the mid to late 1980’s & 90’s we saw PADD’s being extensively used in both Star Trek the Next Generation and Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Is Multimedia still a term that has meaning in this day and age where it seems that more or less every device we use has a number forms of media and means of interaction.