Last year, I taught my optimization course for the fourth time. The first year I was the TA and involved in designing the course, before becoming the lecturer giving both theory lectures and the exercises. Having fought tooth and nail to be able to use Python (as opposed to Matlab), I switched to Julia in the last year. Time for some reflection in using this language for my course.
My last post was some general advice on staying on top of things. This post is complementing the previous one. It is about how to retain things one is reading, for creating a literature survey for writing a paper or just generally learning. This post is a summary of the excellent book How to Take Smart Notes.
How can I become more successful? Whole forests have been felled to provide the paper to try to answer this question. You might, quite reasonably, be sceptical whether reading a self-improvement book can have any lasting impact on one’s life. Admittingly, most of these books can, at best, be replaced by a blog post or by the author’s TED talk. At worst, better use for some books is as a coffee cup coaster. Many self-help books do contain some nuggets of wisdom, however. I think they can reflect some of our best virtues: the desire to grow and improve as a student, employee, boss or friend. In this short post, I would like to present some of the advice I collected over the years that helped me in my daily life.
In Good Omens, Agnes Nutter, Witch, predicts the Apocalypse with extraordinary accuracy: on a specific date, a little bit after tea time. The end of the world is not only a subject of fiction. Serious (and less serious) scientists, politicians, entrepreneurs, and other contemporary prophets have suggested more potential causes than I would dare to count. It might surprise you that there actually is a formula that can predict how long our civilization, or just about anything, will last, and it hardly requires any expert knowledge or complex calculations! The Doomsday Argument is so simple, so elegant that it seems too good to be true. Yet, it is hotly debated among professional and amateur philosophers who can all not quite agree on why it could not possibly hold. This debate is far-reaching since the Doomsday Argument touches all the big questions are pondering about: will we reach the singularity?, are we living in a simulation?, and where are all the aliens?
In the last four weeks, I taught about convex optimization to my bioinformatics students. Since this topic is of general interest to those working with data and models, I will try to summarize the main points that the ‘casual optimizer’ should know. For a much more comprehensive overview, I refer to the excellent textbook of Boyd and Vandenberghe referenced below.
Since the summer of 2016, I try to frequently make sketchnotes. Sketchnotes are the hipster way of taking notes. The idea is that you document meetings, presentations and the like using a combination of doodles, text and diagrams. That way you end up with a summary that is something a hybrid between a scheme and a comic book page.
Looking back, 2017 was an excellent but busy year, both professionally and personally. Luckily, I still found the time to digest some books.
Algorithms are awesome! While mathematics is mainly involved with proving theorems, which merely state some truth, computer science studies algorithms, which produce truths. A mathematician might be able to tell you that there is a way, a computer scientist will be able to find the way!
This summer, I stumbled upon the optimal transportation problem, an optimization paradigm where the goal is to transform one probability distribution into another with a minimal cost. It is so simple to understand, yet it has a mind-boggling number of applications in probability, computer vision, machine learning, computational fluid dynamics, and computational biology. I recently gave a seminar on this topic, and this post is an overview of the topic. Slides can be found on my SlideShare and some implementations can are shown in a Jupyter notebook in my Github repo. Enjoy!
Do you remember the first time you felt like a scientist or an engineer? Yesterday, I had the pleasure of being one of the more than 300 volunteers of the WeGoSTEM project. Jacotte, Luc and myself showed the children Sint-Vincentius school how to build and program a simple drawing robot.
Whether you like it or not, a large part of a scientist’s job is about communicating. You have to pitch your ideas to collaborators, outline your plans to get grants, educate your students, and report your findings to the scientific community. It is hence a good investment to spend a bit of your precious time honing your soft skills.