Home » 2016 » December

Monthly Archives: December 2016

Artificial Intelligence in the virtual classroom

There have been a number of articles about the AI TA for a class at Georgia Tech.  I find these fascinating because I took this class in the summer 2016 session.

I’ve considered ways to use this approach to facilitate online learning in other environments as well and I’d like to look into it more in the future. Nothing definite now, but I’ve had a few preliminary discussions. Let’s hope they bear fruit.

Stay tuned!


What a long strange trip it’s been!

This is my first post in over a month.  The past five weeks have been eventful – a period upon which I suspect I will look back in the future and remark about how so much change can be packed into such a small amount of time.

My former employer and I parted the ways on November 15.  While not entirely a surprise, the manner in which it was carried out was a surprise.  The week that followed included a trip to the company HQ (in the eastern US), at my own expense, of course, and ultimately finding out that not only had I lost my positions with the company and been locked out of my own offices here but they had also seized control of my shares in the company.

I took stock of my situation and decided that I needed to deal with wrapping things up and planning for the future.

Thus, I briefed my lawyers to the extent possible.  I decided that I would sign up for three classes in the Spring 2017 session for my MSCS program which would put me in a position to graduate at the end of Summer 2017.  This seemed like a terrific idea given that I wouldn’t be working for some period of time!

I also decided that I would push ahead with the PhD applications. On December 4, 2016 I submitted three applications: two to UBC (CS and ECE) and one to Georgia Tech (CS).  I chose ECE at UBC because my professor at Georgia Tech had strongly recommended someone in that program, though I wasn’t convinced they’d be willing to waive the usual thesis requirements (though you’d think that having published two books in the field might count for something.)

The surprise came the next day.  That afternoon I’d received a letter forwarded to me by my legal counsel.  It seemed filled with invective and really had upset me because it painted a picture of me that certainly didn’t square with my vision of myself.  To console myself, I convinced my spouse to meet up for an after-work drink.  As we sat down I looked at my phone and saw an e-mail from a UBC CS professor – in fact, the very person I’d originally identified as being a strong prospective match back in 2013 when I had previously applied.

Imagine my surprise as I read the letter and found he suggested meeting and discussing my “(interesting) application”.  My mood changed – I responded quickly, said I was available and responded.  A few exchanges later, we’d agreed to meet for coffee nearby two days afterwards.  That initial meeting was short (45 minutes) and while it seemed positive, he’d been clear that I’d have to wait until the end of the PhD recruiting process.  He also suggested that I sign up to take the class he is teaching in January, noted there were forms that needed to be completed and left it to me to chase that to ground.  The final suggestion was that I meet with one of his current graduate students.

I went home, found the necesary form, completed it and sent it along to him.  Two hours later I received a signed copy back from him.  He followed up with an e-mail to me and one of his students suggesting we meet soon – like the next day.  So we met the next day, and chatted.  It seemed to go resonably well.  I followed up and the next day (Friday) we exchanged more e-mail and the CS professor suggested another meeting the next Tuesday.

It was at that meeting that it became clear I was “part of the team” (albeit provisionally, for sure).  He told me that he’d hire me as a research assistant until fall 2017 but he was still working out the details with the staff there.  He discussed what they were doing and at the end of the meeting suggested meeting on Friday.  Later, when I looked at the follow-up e-mail invitation I noticed that it was for every Friday, not just the next Friday.

At our first Friday meeting he spent a bit of time going over logistics.  Once again he reiterated that he wouldn’t be able to commit to my acceptance into the program until the “PhD recruiting process is done,” which admittedly was a mixed signal. Today (Friday December 23) was the second standing meeting.  Between the two meetings I spent considerable time running around trying to deal with various details.  Ultimately, nothing was quite resolved because we ran smack into Christmas break, but the ball is certainly rolling.

One challenge was taking his class.  While he signed off on it, and the CS department signed off on it, once it reached the “Enrolment Services” team, they advised CS that I was not eligible to register for the class because I wasn’t an “unclassified student”.  It turns out the deadline for applying for “unregistered student” status  was November 15.  I did find some irony in this, as this was my termination date.

One thing I recall from my own time working at Stanford many years ago is that Universities have rules but they also generally have a mechanism for overriding the rules – it’s mostly a matter of making a persuasive case and convincing someone with authority to grant an exception.  I was successful at doing so.  Further, by the time I received the exception I’d already started the “time consuming” part of the process – namely, getting them original transcripts directly from my undergraduate institution showing that I was granted the degree I claimed.  So, when everyone returns after the first of the year, I should be able to get that situation resolved quickly, register for the class and have student status.

Similarly, they’re also processing the paperwork for my appointment as a research assistant.  Ironic how I’ve come full circle almost 30 years later.  I was also amused to see that my old boss has endowed a chair at UBC.  It’s definitely a small world.

So now I can start focusing on doing research.  In the course of just over a month, I’ve gone from being employed, to terminated, to being a PhD applicant, to getting back into reserarch.  While I’m not accepted into the program yet, my perspective is that it will happen unless I screw up.  Naturally, my goal is to demonstrate my worth.

Exciting times!