Amir Chaudhry

thoughts, comments & general ramblings

Long overdue catchup post

aka ‘highlights of the last few months’

It’s been quite a while since I posted anything and it’s time I did. The last few months have been pretty busy so I thought I’d write some notes about the main items in one post and then we can pretend that I’m current again. I’m well aware that the sheer size of this post means it’s unlikely to be read fully by most people. There are some pics so perhaps that might be enough to hold your interest :)

Later this week, I’ll write a separate post about the things I’m working on now and I’ll try to keep more up to date from then onwards.

All of the following covers October to December.

Silicon Valley comes to the UK

SVc2UK was a 5/6 day conference with events taking place in Cambridge and London. The aim is to introduce students from universities to high-profile folks from the Valley and inspire the students to consider startups as a career path (either by founding or joining them). I was involved in this conference back in 2009 and decided to join the the new team for the 2011 events. This year the conference was preceded by a several ‘Appathons’ (read: hackathons), which took place at 6 Universities, including Cambridge. You can find out more about the Appathon and the conference via but here are some short notes and some pics.

– Cambridge Appathon –

The hackathons were 2-day events aimed at students and the theme was open government data. I ran the Cambridge event on behalf of Cambridge University Entrepreneurs and we had about 80 people taking part over the course of the weekend. Representatives from Google, Facebook, Apple and the Technology Strategy Board were present to advise the student teams and folks from the local tech community also got involved. At the end of the weekend, we awarded Amazon Kindles to three winning teams (as decided by audience vote) and everyone was encouraged to enter the national competition too. One of the Cambridge teams also won the national prize (a trip to SV). Yeay!

Given the sheer amount of brain-ache involved, I could (should?) write a separate post on how to run a hackathon. Maybe I’ll get around to it at some point but in the meantime, here’s the team that actually pulled this together: Matko, Alistair and Andy, Ben, Ivan, Simona, Saar, Roger. I’m also especially grateful to the sponsors/supporters of the event: Red Gate Software, Cocoa Controls, Nick (at Google), SVc2UK and the Cambridge Computer Laboratory (who hosted us for a weekend). Below are some pictures of the event itself and the national awards ceremony at Downing Street.

– SVc2C Conference –

This was the main part of the conference and the guests from the Valley were in Cambridge for two days. In that time, they took part in a pretty large number of events and hopefully met a lot of interesting students. If you’re interested in the list of guests, you can check them out via the link on the conference website (

You can find videos of this year’s sessions on the Vimeo account.

Stanford online courses

I did all three of the inaugural classes. Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and Databases … and I enjoyed them in that order. The following is a short summary/review of each.

ML-Class was fantastic since you had to write actual scripts and I really looked forward to both the videos and exercises every week. At times, the exercises felt a bit contrived (one line of code in a file) but there were occasions where I had to really think properly to get that one line. Once you got the hang of matrix multiplication the exercises got easier. The scores don’t really mean anything since you could repeat the questions until you got a perfect score. At some point, I’ll go back over the iTunes U content from the profs 2008 class. It has more theory/maths and covers reinforcement learning, which the applied course didn’t. You can find my ‘programming’ exercises on GitHub.

AI-Class was a very different course and it didn’t seem as ‘slick’ as the ML class but I learnt way more maths, specifically about probability. Since I was terrible at probability at school, I really wanted to get a better handle on it and this class really made me work. I have pages and pages of calculations for some of the in-class questions and I hope I can retain what I’ve learnt. At times there was only a cursory overview of a topic before moving on but I should have expected that from an “Intro to…” course. This was the only class with both graded homeworks and exams. Overall, I was in the ‘top 25%’ according the statement I got (overall mark was 95%).

DB-Class was the one I least understood but the one I originally thought I was going to stick with. Within the first few lectures, I knew I was going to find it tough. Relational Algebra made no sense to me and the videos seemed to cover each example once and move on to something else. Since I didn’t have enough time to find additional resources, I ended up barely following along and basically flunked the course. There was a mid-term and final exam and the homeworks could be repeated until you got a perfect score (but I ended up not bothering). No idea what score I got but you needed >50% to get a statement and I didn’t get one :)

In general, I was very impressed by the dedication and effort the profs and the teams working with them put into the courses. Although the profs were the folks centre stage, there were a group of largely unsung heroes who kept things running, put together exercises and enabled everything to happen. This method of learning is really going to take off and if people can figure out how to deal with proper certification, then it might even challenge the notion of going to University. There have been a slew of new courses available and I think I’ll try two more if I can fit them in (i.e. Probabilistic Graphical Models and Model Thinking).

Learning to code

I’ve also been trying to keep up with learning Python via LPtHW (see GitHub repo for progress). I’d describe myself as chugging along and I’m glad that I’m not finding anything too difficult.

The trickiest part is finding ways to actually fit some coding into things I need done. Since I finished analysing my PhD data, I’ve not had the need to write scripts or manipulate data in any substantive way and I don’t fancy re-writing any of my old stuff (NB I also tried to collate all of that and added it to GitHub too). I’m sure I can find something worth doing and I suspect it might involve Django sooner than I thought.

I also signed up to Code Academy’s ‘Code Year’ but I’ve not opened any of their emails yet (and I suspect I won’t have time).


Events and occasional startup stuff

As always there have been a bunch of events and startup-related items in the last few months. Normally I wouldn’t bother mentioning these but I’m in a list-y mood.

Pics of Visit to Olympic Park (in May)

… and finally

I managed to get this done in October. Took a while.

PhD Thesis