Distributed Mentor Project 2004

Chelsea Robertson

Research Journal

Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10

Week 1 May 24 - May 29

Frances Searle



My first week at Northwestern began by meeting everyone in the lab. Marc Flury is the main IT person in the lab and writes most of the code for both projects. Yolanda Rankin is a Ph.D. student who is working on the Sam research project. Paul Tepper is also a Ph.D. student, but he is working on the NUMACK project. Stefan Kopp is a post-doc working on NUMACK with Paul. I met with Professor Justine Cassell, and she introduced me to some people in the Department of Communication Studies.

There are two main projects being developed in the lab, Sam and NUMACK. Sam is an interactive storytelling peer that can share toys across the real and virtual worlds through the attic of his playhouse. Sam is designed to help children learn language and develop their literacy skills through storytelling. NUMACK is also an embodied conversation agent. He is a robot that can answer questions and give directions about the Northwestern campus. NUMACK communicates through speech, gestures, and a map of the campus.

Both projects were explained to me and some of my project options were discussed. I spent some time learning how to use CVS, a version control system, and familiarizing myself with C# and Visual Studio. I also attended a coding workshop by Paul and Stefan to learn how to code the words and gestures on videotapes of people giving directions.

Week 2 May 30 - June 05

I started to get sick over the weekend and I am only feeling worse. As a result, I spent most of the week sick in bed.

For some reason, I went in to the lab on Tuesday. I began working on the eyebrow synchronization of Sam. I looked at the code Marc had written for Sam's lips, to prevent them from flapping when he isn't talking. This is similar to that, in determining when Sam should raise his eyebrows. I started just based on the volume of his voice, but in order to make it more life-like the pitch of his voice will probably be used.

I also did some work on the NUMACK project. I took apart his body, in order to map it onto a skeleton that Stefan made. This will allow NUMACK's movements to appear more natural and human-like.

Week 3 June 06 - June 12

 I am still very sick with pneumonia, so I haven't been into the lab. See Life in Evanston to find out more.

Week 4 June 13 - June 19

Amanda's website

Amanda arrived this week. She is also working with Justine this summer through the DMP program. You can check out her website from the link to the left.

This week I started out doing some more work on the eyebrow sychronization for Sam. I combined the code for the lip synchronization and the eyebrow synchronization, so that it generates one script.

More importantly, Stefan, Marc, Amanda, and I talked about some of the possible projects that each of us could work on, and then decided what we wanted to do. I wrote up a project proposal for Justine and met with her to discuss my remaining time here at Northwestern. There are a few things she wants me to expand on, so I will be rewriting the proposal this weekend. I will continue to rewrite and update the proposal so that it develops into my final paper.

I am going to be working on the map for the NUMACK project. It will be a 2D map of the Evanston campus, that will draw a route given as input. To read more about my project, see my Project Description page. Amanda is working on a similar project. She is designing the route planner for NUMACK, so when asked how to get from A to B, he responds with an appropriate route from A to B. Since our projects are somewhat related, we will be doing some of the prelimiary research together.

On Friday, we went to a Women in Computer Science lunch with Justine. It was really interesting, and Amanda and I both learned a lot about graduate school.

Week 5 June 20 - June 26

I worked on editing my project proposal and doing a lot of research for the paper. I also installed Open Inventor onto the computer I use in the lab. Open Inventor is an object oriented 3D toolkit for graphics programming. I will be using this software to draw and animate the map. I also looked through The Inventor Mentor and at the example programs.

Paul and Stefan ran an experiment to help gather information for NUMACK, such as speech, gestures, routes, etc. There were 28 sets of people, one familiar with campus and one unfamiliar with campus. The person familiar with Northwestern was asked to give directions to three different locations on campus, with the intention of the unfamiliar person to then follow these directions to see if they could get to the locations. This was all recorded by four videocameras so the data could later be analyzed. Amanda and I decided that the best way for us to determine routes and landmarks would be to watch these tapes. We watched these tapes for about two and a half days this week and managed to get through about half of them. We started out writing all the directions and landmarks, but quickly decided this was too difficult and time consuming. So instead we decided to have a campus map for each person, and hightlight the route and take notes about all of the landmarks. This seems to be much easier to do and follow. We hope that from this data we will be able to not only decide what landmarks to use for our projects, but also that we will be able to predict landmarks for any route.

We both met with Justine to talk about our proposals and get feedback about what to add and change. Then the three of us met to discuss an article she wanted us to read called,"Do Women Lack Ambition?".

Wednesday afternoon we had our first official ArticuLab meeting. At these meetings, everyone gives an update about what they are doing. We also decided that each week someone will give a 10 minute talk about their work.

Week 6 June 27 - July 03

On Tuesday I had to turn in an updated project proposal, so I spent Monday working on that. For Thursday I had to give Justine a "progress so far" paper detailing what I have accomplished thus far. So Tuesday and Wednesday were very busy. I started to write some code; I played around with different shapes and curves. I also watched most of the remaining videotapes. After I wrote my progress paper, I finished watching the rest of the videos. I also began working on the first version of the map.

Week 7 July 04 - July 10


This week I spent most of my time working on developing the first version of the map. This will include only a small part of campus, based on the routes given for Frances Searle to the Allen Center. I developed a toolkit of shapes that I will use on the map. Then I began arranging the shapes to represent this part of campus. I had some problems along the way, but it's going well for the most part.

On Wednesday, we went to the Realism Lab to see the graphics demos. There were four different projects presented. The first was a temporally adaptive display that improves realism by adjusting the frame rate. The second project automatically generated a realistic city primarily to be used in games. The third project was an interactive visualization for monitoring high-volume text, from sources such as the newspaper or email. The last project was a visualization for summarizing complex data by viewing many graphs simultaneously. I didn't get a chance to see the last project, but I really liked the other three.

Amanda and I were asked to create a spreadsheet with the landmarks included on the path from Frances Searle to Allen Center. This data will be very useful in determining what to include on the map because I will have some actual numbers for how often specific landmarks are used. We decided to rewatch the videos to make sure we had written down everything that was mentioned in the videos. Then we typed up a spreadsheet including the different routes, how often they were used, the landmarks mentioned for each route, and how many times they were mentioned. You can check out the spreadsheet to the left.

Also, another Ph.D. student, Andrea Tartaro, has joined Justine's lab for the summer. She is working on creating new flash animations for Sam.

Week 8 July 11 - July 17


In the beginning of the week, I finished the first version of the map. Then towards the end, I started to work on the animation of the map. I read a couple more chapters in The Inventor Mentor about animation, and I made a little bit of progress. :)

On Thursday, Amanda and I attended a talk by Dave Luebke from the department of Computer Science at the University of Virginia. His research is focusing on achieving more realistic lighting and surface reflection in interactive graphics. The technique he talked about was based on pre-computed light transport and separable bidirectional reflectance distribution function (BRDF) approximations for interactive rendering of non-diffuse objects under all-frequency environment illumination. At run-time, a sparse light vector is multiplied by the sparse transport matrix at each vertex, and the results are further combined with texture lookups of the view direction into the BRDF view maps to produce view-dependent color (taken from the abstract). It sounds really confusing, but it made sense when he was explaining it.

By attending the talk, we were also able to talk to some of the professors and grad students studying graphics. They were very helpful with what grad schools have a strong graphics program. I also talked to another professor about different schools and what to do and think about when applying for grad school. It was very informative, and I feel a little better about the whole application process since it is approaching quickly.

Week 9 July 18 - July 24


Tuesday morning I went with Yolanda to the REBA Early Learning Center. She is trying to study the effects of a multicultural Sam, so we went there to collect African American stories from the kids. We had two kids play in a room with the wooden castle that is used with Sam. They took turns telling stories while they played with the castle and people. The stories will eventually be coded into Sam so that he tells similar stories. It was very fun and interesting. I realized how hard it is to work with kids and try to get them to cooperate with your research. A lot of them just did pretend play instead of telling stories.

I also met with Marc to discuss my project and the rest of my time here. I was unsure of how to do the animation part, and he was very helpful. So I spent some time this week working on that.

Amanda and I also created a spreadsheet for the rest of routes and landmarks from the video data. After looking at it, we came to some conclusions about how people chose landmarks and routes.

Justine asked me to give her another updated draft of my paper. So I spent a lot of time this weekend working on it. This will be the last version I write, except for the feedback I get. Even though I am adding to my original paper, there is still a lot to write about what I actually did.

Week 10 July 25 - July 30


Last week was my turn to give a presentation at the lab meeting, but almost everyone was gone on vacation or at a conference. Paul and Stefan went to the AAMAS conference to present a paper, and Amanda also went to attend the conference. Justine was also gone, and she won't be back until after I leave. :( We decided to hold off on the meeting, so I gave my presentation this week. I spent some time Monday and Tuesday working on my power point slides and talk. They had cake and ice cream during the meeting because I am leaving on Friday, and also gave me, Amanda and Stefan coffee mugs with a picture of NUMACK on one side and "Go to the arch" and ArticuLab Summer '04 on the other side. It was so nice of Justine! I wish she was coming back before I leave.

This week Marc and Yolanda are both on vacation. So the lab is still pretty quiet. I've been working on my final paper some more and on the animation. Although, I haven't made any new progress on the animation. :(