Added list of academic writing

Just a very quick note to say I've started a list of my academic "publications".  It's pretty anemic at present.  But hopefully that'll change soon!

Summary of "green" features we've added to our house

Our house is a solid-walled house built around 1905.  Being end-of-terrace, it used to be very cold in winter.  We've gradually insulated over the past three years.  In terms of thermal performance, the house should now perform roughly on a par with a new build.  The majority of the work has been insulating the walls.  I did the bedrooms, living room and dining room and we used builders to do the bathroom.  In total, the energy-saving measures now installed include:

  • 65-80mm of rigid-foam insulation on all external walls (mostly DIY; some done by builders during other work)
  • at least 270mm of glass-wool insulation in the loft (DIY)
  • insulated the suspended timber floors in the living room and dining room (DIY)
  • we worked with a local sash window maker to put high performance double glazing units into wooden frames for the front of the house
  • lots of draught proofing and a focus on airtightness during the DIY refurbishment
  • mechanical ventilation with heat recovery in the bathroom (it works very well)
  • fitted wet underfloor heating in the living room (DIY).  UFH is wonderful!
  • solar thermal (evacuated tube) fitted professionally (would have done it DIY if it weren't for the new regs)
  • light pipes to bring natural light into the kitchen and corridor (installed by builders)
  • home-made 450 litre rain water tank in back garden, with piping running under living room floor to bring rain water to front garden
  • thermostatic radiator valves on all radiators; new condensing boiler with walk-about thermostat (which is great)... plan to install room-by-room digital radiator controls

Overall it has been a lot of work and at times it's felt overwhelming.  But we're pretty much finished with the insulation and there's absolutely no question that the house is considerably easier to heat and more comfortable than it was.

Getting LaTeX and Lyx to use ACM SIG class file

Installing the ACM SIG LaTeX class file on Ubuntu using tex-live2011 and using it in Lyx.

First, download the ACM class file and let LaTeX know about it (modified from Ubuntu wiki):

MATLAB notes

Just some random notes about MATLAB.

Summer schools & workshops on smart energy / disaggregation

This is just a stub entry for now... I will flesh it out in coming months.  I aim to list any summer schools, workshops and conferences which are relevant to smart meter disaggregation.

Concrete example of floating point arithmetic behaving in unexpected ways

I've heard lots of people say that it's best to use a floating point number only when you really need to.  During my MSc we learnt about how floating point numbers are encoded and did little pencil-and-paper exercises to demonstrate how decimal fractions are converted into surprisingly odd floating point representations.  I've read about computer arithmetic errors causing the failure of a patriot missile.  But the following little problem that I've just bumped into seems to be a very clean, concrete way to demonstrate that floating point numbers are to be handled with care.   Here's the example... if I subtract 0.8 from 1, the remainder is 0.2, right?  So let's try asking Matlab or C++.  Try evalating the following:

(1 - 0.8) == 0.2

This expression will return a boolean.  It's simply subtracting 0.8 from 1 and then asking if the answer is equal to 0.2.   Rather surprisingly, it returns false.  Why?  Because 0.2 cannot be precisely represented in binary floating point; the significand is 1100 recurring.  0.2 decimal = 3E4CCCCD in 32-bit floating point (hex representation). Now if we convert from binary floating point back to decimal, we get: 3E4CCCCD = 2.0000000298023223876953125E-1   (You can learn more about floating point arithmetic on WikiPedia and to tinker with this nifty floating point converter applet.)  The bottom line is: if the quantity you're trying to represent can easily be represented using integers, then it's probably best to do so.  e.g. if you're trying to represent monetary values in C++, and you know you'll only be interested in values of a specific precision (like 0.1 pence) then you could build a simple Money class which internally represents money as integers.

There's lots of good discussion (and links) of the limitations of floating point here:

Update 18/6/2012

I've just learnt that Python can cope with decimal numbers if you import decimal:

1 - 0.8




import decimal





Update 21/11/2013

This is a good explanation of the "leakyness" of FP: John D. Cook: Floating point numbers are a leaky abstraction.

Stanford's free online Probabilistic Graphical Models course

Just a very quick note to say I'm a week into Stanford's free online Probabilistic Graphical Models course.  It's really, really good and I'm learning loads (although does require a fair amount of work).  The online course covers the same content as Stanford's postgraduate PGM course (it's not watered down like Stanford's free online Machine Learning course) and has interesting programming assignments.  Very juicy stuff and it should substantially improve my ability to refine and implement some of my hand-wavy ideas.

This is the first on-line course I've taken and I'm very impressed.  It seems to be a near-perfect mix of the best bits from "real" lectures and the best bits from studying alone with a text book.  i.e. it's engaging and "human" like a lecture; but you also have the option to pause / rewind (like reading a text book) to think things through.

Ubuntu notes

Just some notes on useful Ubuntu tweaks

Which programming language for my Disaggregation system? Matlab versus Python; Graphical Models.

Over the course of my PhD, I intend to write a smart meter disaggregation system.  Maybe this system will end up as a web service; maybe not.  At the very least, it will need to play nicely with existing web services like Pachube.  I've been wondering which language(s) I should use to build my system.  My current answer to this question is to write a complete prototype of the "backend" in Python, with the front-end written in JavaScript, HTML5 and SVG.  It's likely that parts of the "backend" will run rather slowly in Python; but luckily it's easy to get Python to play well with C++ code, so I'd plan to re-write computationally intensive sections in C++.

My initial plan was to use Matlab.  But after writing several thousand lines of Matlab, I couldn't help but feel uncomfortable with it.  There are some seriously ugly bits of the language; and in general it has a rather "hacked together" feel to it.  It turns out I'm not the only one who feels uncomfortable with Matlab: there's a blog called "Abandon MATLAB" with gems like "[Mathworks] even updated the docs for “getframe” to clarify that you need to turn off the fucking screen saver and walk away from the computer like it’s 1992.".  One especially interesting post in "Abandon MATLAB" links to the results of a survey which compares attitudes to MATLAB to attitudes to Python.  Basically, I feel content that I wasn't completely crazy to abandon Matlab in favor of Python and C++.  I'll admit that I'm struggling a bit to wrap my head around JavaScript but I'm getting there with the help of Douglas Crockford's excellent book "JavaScript: The Good Parts".

Using iPhone photo GPS coordinates in Google Maps

Say you have a photo taken on an iPhone and you want to find out where it was taken.  How can this be done?  Easy:

  1. Open in a photo editor which lets you view the metadata.  For example, gwenview works well on Ubuntu.
  2. Find the following attributes (I'll give specific values to make this example concrete)
    1. GPS Longitude Reference = West
    2. GPS Latitude Reference = North
    3. GPS Longitude = 0deg 3.19000'
    4. GPS Latitude = 51deg 27.72000'
  3. Given the data above, you'd enter 51 27.72', -0 3.19' into Google Maps.  The minus before the latitude is there because the latitude reference is "west" instead of "east".


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