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Siggraph Post-mortem, part 1

January 19, 2011
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Yesterday was ACM Siggraph‘s deadline for technical papers. Since mid-november I’ve been working on two research projects here at the MIT Media Lab‘s Camera Culture group, eventually expecting to write papers about them during this period, known to us as “Siggraph Season”. One of the projects eventually took off and we were able to finish a nice paper in time, which we hope will be accepted and well received by the community.

Although I still can’t comment on the subject our research, here are some highlights about the process, and the eventual submission of a paper for Siggraph:

  • Good ideas need a lot of time to mature. The best projects, those that eventually get submitted as a paper, normally stay around for some years before getting in shape, some are even revisited ideas.
  • Research doesn’t come out of nothing. We need to put a LOT of effort into reading, understanding and addressing previous work, developing the new idea (from idea to concept, from concept to model, from model to working prototypes), and finally rendering a paper and supplementary material.
  • It’s also a teamwork. There is no way one can do it all alone. First, there’s simply too many things to be done. Second, people have different preferences. In this type of process, every skill can become handful, such as knowing how to use a soldering iron, design a new circuit board, create good audio recordings, etc.
  • It seems odd to spend the last two months working 12 to 14 hours every day (including weekends, christmas, new year’s eve and any other holiday) and end up with a simple prototype, 6 to 8 pages of dense text, a 4 to 5 minutes video and some representative images.
  • At the same time, it’s remarkable how much knowledge and information you can gather, process and absorb in two months, even if you’re applying your skills in new field, one that you’re not very familiar with.

Things that worked for us:

  • Teamwork. We got along quite well and there were no hustles inside the team. Each one had his own rhythm and also preferences, and the process of task assignment occurred naturally at most times.
  • File-sharing. We’ve used both version control (svn and git), and Dropbox, for different purposes and at different moments. For most of the basic work, Dropbox is quite handy, because of its ease of use and ubiquiitousity.
  • Shared writing and pair reviewing. We shared the writing responsibility among three team members, and, in the end, all sections that we initially planned for the paper were written. The reviewing tasks at the polishing stage was done in pairs, sometimes in trios. This was very successful, and I personally think the quality of the final text greatly benefit from this.
  • Early writing and external reviews. We started to write the papers (we didn’t know at the beginning which ones would make it) very early. Invited reviewers that read the early drafts and other collaborators that knew about the project provided valuable comments.

In the next post I’ll talk about what didn’t work quite so well.

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