Archive for April, 2009

I’ve been anxiously waiting for this assignment to be marked for a couple of weeks now, and I think it’s actually the most worried I’ve ever been about a TMA. But thankfully, I got my assignment back today, so the nervous waiting is finally over! I got 91% for this one, which looks a bit rubbish compared to the scores I’ve had on previous computing courses, but then again, it is a level 3 course, so of course it should be more difficult than M263 or M255, etc.

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Dr Perceptron from Futurama (picture from

Dr Perceptron from Futurama (picture from

Not Dr Perceptron, that is – the perceptrons I’ve been grappling with this week are the ones featured in Block 4 Unit 2 of M366, which I think has been pretty much the toughest part of the course so far. Not boring, just very dense and packed with detail. This was the first unit that still had me scratching my head at the end of my first read-through; it wasn’t until I’d gone through the unit again to make sure I’d covered all the Learning Outcomes that I actually started to feel comfortable with the material.

And one thing that particularly had me scratching my head was a curious glitch in the PDF copy of Block 4, which somehow omitted quite an important element of Figure 2.44, a section of which is pictured below. Can you spot what’s missing?

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I’ve taken a break from studying this week due to a nasty cold which turned me into more of a Mucus Machine than a TMA Machine, but today I’ve been getting back to M366, and in particular getting stuck into Block 4: Neural Networks.

Unit 1 Section 3 is about recognising and classifying patterns, and touches on the human ability to recognise noisy or incomplete patterns. The ability to spot patterns has always impressed me (although it does lead to the bizarre excesses of religious-themed pareidolia), and I was especially interested to read that humans are apparently pretty good at recognising noisy patterns aurally as well as visually.

Humans are great at seeing patterns everywhere. The downside is seeing the Face on Mars or the Virgin Mary in your cheese on toast, but the upside is spotting building-faces like this one.

Humans are great at seeing patterns everywhere. The downside is seeing the "Face on Mars" or the Virgin Mary in your cheese on toast, but the upside is spotting funny building-faces like this one.

Section 3 briefly mentions some experiments done by Richard Warren in 1970, in which test subjects were played a recording of a polysyllabic word, with one syllable obscured by a loud click. Although the test subjects reported that they had heard a click, they could not correctly identify which syllable had been obscured; even odder, they reported hearing the whole word, including the missing syllable. Fascinating!
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I wasn’t expecting to get this assignment back for at least a week, since the cut-off date was only three days ago – my tutor must be very efficient indeed! I almost couldn’t open the envelope, though; I’m enjoying MS221 a lot, and I’m hoping to do a lot more maths in the future, so a low score on this first TMA would have left me feeling really crushed. But thankfully it was a nice 98%, hooray!

My tutor gave me some good, detailed feedback which was along the lines of:

  1. Don’t include so much unnecessary detail.
  2. Check results carefully to avoid silly slips.
  3. Draw diagrams, as they can help with your understanding of the problem.

Point (2) is a very familiar bit of advice, as I seem to make ridiculous slips in most of my courses, but point (1) really surprised me – I’ve always worried about not including enough detail. But it seems that there’s no need to be quite so longwinded about showing my working for MS221, which will certainly save me a lot of time in the other TMAs, and especially in the exam!

Point (3) is advice that I often give to Alex about his courses, but I have trouble actually following the advice myself. I don’t know whether it’s just that I find thinking visually/geometrically difficult, but I’m generally a bit reluctant to draw diagrams, even if it would help clarify the problem. I suppose it will get easier with practice, though.

And speaking of diagrams, I was very pleased to see that I got full marks for my hand-drawn ellipse diagrams – so their wobbly, lemony appearance didn’t really matter after all!

<a href="">Shakey the Robot</a>, star of M366 Block 2. He might be a bit clunky, but I still think he's great.

Shakey the Robot, star of M366 Block 2. He might be a bit clunky, but I still think he's great.

Today I finally worked up the nerve to submit M366 TMA01, after a good few weeks of tinkering and fiddling with it. I think I’m more nervous than usual about it because M366 is a very different kind of course to the ones I’ve done in the past, so I’ve no idea how badly or well I’ll do. I suspect I’ll get somewhere between 60%-80% for this assignment, but I wouldn’t really be surprised if it turned out to be a low Pass 3; I’m not confident at all about my ability to provide the kind of answers the TMA seemed to be asking for, so I’ll be relieved with anything above 40%!

Speaking of M366, my tutor replied to my email about TMA02 this morning, so I should be able to get that wrapped up tomorrow. It looks like I might have gotten the wrong end of the stick about Q4 (a)(ii), the one that requires 400 words when I’ve managed about 80 – the Curse of the Vaguely-Worded Questions seems to have struck M366 again. I’m not sure how much I can actually divulge about the disparity between what I thought the question was asking for and what my tutor has advised me to write about – but in any case, if anyone is finding it hard to write 400 words for this question, I would definitely recommend asking your tutor for guidance, in case you’ve interpreted the question the same way I had.

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I think I might have been a bit too harsh on M366 in my post a couple of weeks ago; I’ve been working through TMA02 this week, and I particularly enjoyed writing about subsumption architecture in the question about McSCOR, the “M366 course Subsumption COntrolled Robot”. I’ve become quite interested in the vertical decomposition way of doing AI systems, but having to write about the drawbacks of the SENSE-ACT cycle in Question 4 certainly stopped me from getting overly smitten with the approach.
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