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Friday, March 30, 2007

SemEval 2007

Picture: Christmas 2005, Rachel's Aunt Amy's house in northwestern Ohio.
From left: Erin Drum(Rachel's sister), me, Rachel Drum(my fiance), Kevin Drum(Rachel's brother), Pam Drum(Rachel's Mom), Bruce Drum(Rachel's Dad)

I thought you might be interested to hear about a project I've been working on :-)

This semester I'm taking a seminar in which we are competing in a sort of academic task called SemEval 2007. SemEval offers the oppourtunity for participants(mostly teams at universities, like ours) to attempt a variety of tasks related to automated semantic evaluation. The professor who is teaching the course, Roxana Girju, helped to organize one of the tasks, and so of course we are working on that one. It is task 4, "Classification of Semantic Relations between Nominals".

So, what does that entail? Basically, we're given a bunch of sentences with two nouns marked on each sentence, and most of the time the exact meanings of the marked nouns. We must write a computer program that automagically determines whether or not the two marked nouns have a particular semantic relation. There are seven semantic relations that we have to sort out, so it's not too bad. Here's an example of what we get:

001 "The period of [e1]tumor shrinkage[/e1] after [e2]radiation therapy[/e2] is often long and varied (mean months)."
WordNet(e1) = "shrinkage%1:11:00::", WordNet(e2) = "radiation_therapy%1:04:00::", Cause-Effect(e2,e1) = "true", Query = "* after radiation therapy"

The first line is the sentence, which has "tumor shrinkage" and "radiation therapy" marked. The second line is a reference to the exact Wordnet definition, or "sense", of each marked noun. It also displays the relevant semantic relation, Cause-Effect, which in this case is labeled as a true relation between the two nouns. That is, radiation therapy causes tumor shrinkage, which is straightforward enough for anyone to understand, and this is what is meant by Cause-Effect. The Query indicates a Google search that led the task moderators to this sentence, which comes from the web.

So what's the point of doing this task? A primary application is as an aid to question answering computer programs. For example, suppose you're a doctor and you want to know what shrinks tumors. Suppose there's this amazing program where the doctor can just type in a question and out comes the answer: "radiation therapy". In order to get this answer, the program can search the web, find a sentence like the one given above, and somehow figure out that "radiation therapy" is in a Cause-Effect relationship to "tumor shrinkage". To figure out this "somehow" is the goal of this task.

The deadline for submitting our results is Sunday, so I'll let you know how we do!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why Is The Study of Art Important?

My love Rachel is an artist of a particular sort where she is encouraged to pursue her art explicitly and even formally. She works to make her art a truer expression of herself, ever expanding her modes of expression in order to come to a closer understanding of herself and her world around her.

But what is the importance of this pursuit? Why would someone choose art as an intellectual life pursuit, rather than the other two fields of intellectual pursuit: philosophy and science?

All three of these areas are essential to any human's life. You cannot have a healthy pursuit of any of these without the other two. But are they really on equal ground? Our society certainly puts the highest value on science.

I will make the case for art. What is it? Art is the expression that is in harmony with God's creative purpose. The ideal of this expression is to use the full potential of the human mind and body to express the "naturalness" of humanity, in whatever way. We are not perfect, and we do not use our full potential, so we do not possess this ability to its utmost extent, nor can anyone fully attain it.

This is why one must work at artful expression their whole lives in order to gain a proficiency with it. This is also why it is a special thing when someone is recognized for their "artistic abilities". What is really being recognized there? It is the ability of someone to use their human potential of expression.

But what is the purpose of art? It is the same as all other academic pursuit(philosophy and science), when pursued intellectually. The purpose is to find truth, to fill ourselves with knowledge of the world. How does art do this? By expressing ourselves more fully, we uncover the state of the world in profound ways. Things that are unclear to people become clear. We can view how people from different cultures see the world, compared to our own. We can see the human body and mind do something it was not known to do before. By an artist's interaction with the natural world truths about the close connection between certain things in nature may be revealed where scientists and philosophers may have overlooked these things up until now. The beauty of it all reveals a knowledge that God meant for us to be able to reach this potential, even if we ourselves are not able to do what the artist does. Because of this we see God's purpose in creating us, the goodness He has in mind.

The painter, the comedian, the computer programmer, the martial artist, the musician...great people in all these pursuits have shown new horizons of human potential, and have revealed truths of the world that have spurred on the scientists of today.

Would scientists bother to study harmonic physics if it were not for the musicians first expressing the possibilities of creating beautiful sounds?

Would scientists have bothered to consider the possibility of a theory of human evolution without the painters and sculptors first expressing our close relation to other animals in art of most all cultures?

Of course, I don't know for sure, but it seems plausible that in these and many other instances, it is artists that first stumble upon truths about the world, and proceed to inspire philosophers and scientists to make a pursuit of it themselves, in their own ways.

We need artists everywhere in the world.
Artists make us less ignorant of our world.
Artists make the world more peaceful.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Jorge Cham Visits UIUC

This evening I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by the creator of the web comic known as Piled Higher and Deeper. This comic, if you haven't read it, is a very inspiring/depressing/comedic take on the life of a graduate student(that is, my life). What I enjoy about these comics is that I can relate precisely to many of them. Jorge Cham has indeed been through grad school at Stanford, has a PhD in Mechanical Engineering, and understands the plight of the grad student.

The gist of a Jorge Cham talk is to use many comedic devices shown through his various cartoons and a fairly well-reasoned argument why procrastination is healthy for grad students. Supposedly 1 in 200 graduate students makes an attempt at suicide O_O How lovely, indeed. That's what happens when you don't procrastinate! No, really! :-P

A few highlights. In his talk, Jorge brought up that only 4 Hollywood movies about grad students have ever been made. These are: Hulk(2003), A Beautiful Mind(2001), Real Genius(1985), The Seniors(1978). In the question session following his talk, I asked approximately: "Since you brought up the scarcity of movies made about grad students, would you ever consider turning your comic strip into a movie?" His answer was, roughly: "Well, that would be very interesting to try, and since I live in Pasadena, which is right near Hollywood, you pretty much have to be working on a screenplay. So maybe I'll give it a shot." Pretty promising answer I think :-)

An undergraduate Linguistics student I know, Ben Lawitts, found me after the talk and told me he was going to try and get Jorge to go to The Blind Pig and have a drink with the Linguistics grad students who meet there every Thursday night. Jorge wasn't against the idea, but methinks he won't end up there tonight. What was funny is that this Ben Lawitts just got his head shaved, and had Jorge sign his head! Jorge was a bit taken aback at first, but drew a lightbulb and signed Ben's head, giggling the whole time. The director of the Graduate College asked to take a couple pictures of Ben, which I was promised to receive in due course, so you will get to see this. A funny quote from Jorge after agreeing to sign Ben's head: "This doesn't mean you'll be in my comic!"

Lastly, a school newspaper journalist interviewed Ben and me about the talk, and I expect my comments will appear in The Daily Illini tomorrow. ^_^