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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Student Housing, Feature Selection, and the Robotics Toolkit Pyro

Hello, everyone! First a short introduction and then on to discussing day 1 of the conference. I'm a second year Ph.D. student at UMBC, currently working with Marie desJardins and Tim Oates. My research interests center on life-long learning, but I'm also working on a number of clustering projects. This is my first time at AAAI, and am looking forward to it.
Unfortunately, I must start off on a sour note. To say that I am disappointed with the AAAI student housing at Duquesne University is an understatement. Good points first, however. The check-in procedure was very simple and the materials were well-prepared. Also, I was quite pleased that the restrooms are some of the cleanest that I have ever seen at a university. Keep in mind that I’m fishing for good points. Now the downsides: the rooms are sub-par as far as dorm rooms go, lack telephones, and are rather unclean. It would have been nice to be warned that the dorm had only common bathrooms and showers, so as to pack shower shoes, etc. Given the nature of the conference, I expected the university to be ready to provide internet access to its guests, but will have to wait for Monday morning to obtain this. For now, I'm using the conference center's connection, which AAAI has kindly obtained for us.
AAAI began bright and early Saturday morning with an easy check-in process. The tutorial entitled "Downsizing Data for High Performance in Learning - Introduction to Feature Selection Methods" by Huan Liu and Robert Stine picked up pace after a rather slow start with Stine's amusing anecdotal stories. I especially liked his comment that much of the effort in predicting credit problems is based on finding indicators correlated to those which congress has already prohibited companies to use. After an introduction to feature selection, Liu and Stine worked to discuss a different approach to feature selection. It is based first on determining which features are relevant to the task, and then eliminating redundant features. This two stage method seems to generally out-perform other feature selection methods, but the selection of feature selection methods is still specific to the problem domain. I was a bit disappointed that the tutorial did not cover this problem of selecting feature selection methods for specific problem domains, as this was my main hope for the tutorial.
The afternoon tutorial "Pyro: A Tool for Teaching Robotics and AI" by Douglas Blank and Holly Yanco held a lot of promise, with a demo of Pyro looming from the start. The development team did an excellent job on Pyro, and it is especially nice that they developed a bootable CD containing the Pyro software. Pyro is a rich platform for building robot controllers, as it supports development in python, can run with a number of robot simulators, and supports the control of most common actual robots. The hands-on nature of the tutorial captured my attention, but it droned on at times with a mix of well- and half-planned demonstrations. Anyone with an Intel-based laptop (or emulator) was able to boot the CD and run Pyro along with the presenters. An image of the cd, the slides, and plenty of documentation is available on their website: http://www.pyrorobotics.org for anyone interested.
Overall, I was pleased with both tutorials, although the four hour sessions were quite tiring. I'm looking forward to tomorrow's sessions.

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