Video of my talk at ISRR 2019. The YouTube version is here. Courtesy of Masayuki Inaba.

The second conference day proceeded in a similar manner as the first day, with a set of alternating faculty and then paper talks. Some issues that came up were self-driving cars (e.g., in Henrik Christensen’s talk), climate change (with the obligatory criticism of Donald Trump) and faculty taking leaves to work in industry (which has hurt academia). I also enjoyed Frank Park’s talk on model-based physics, which cited some of the domain randomization work that is essential to what I am doing lately.

In a shameless plug, the highlight of the day was me. OK, only joking, only joking.

Like the other paper presenters, I gave a rapid 5 minute presentation on my ISRR 2019 paper about robot bed-making. It’s really hard to discuss anything substantive in 5 minutes but I hope I did a reasonable job. I cut down my humor compared to my UAI 2017 talk, so there was not as much lauging from the audience. In my talk slides, I referenced a few papers by other conference attendees, which hopefully they appreciated. I will keep this strategy in mind for future talks, in case I know who is attending the talk.

The good news is that I have my talk on video, and you can see it at the top of this post. The video is courtesy of Professor Masayuki Inaba of the University of Tokyo. He was sitting next to me in the front row, and I saw that he was recording all the presentations with his phone. He graciously gave me the video of my talk. It is dark, but that’s due to the lighting situation in the room; it was also wreaking havoc on my attempts to get high quality pictures of presenters.

In the rare cases when I have a video of one of my talks, I always get nervous when watching it, because I see countless things that make me feel embarrassed. Fortunately, from looking at the video above, I don’t think I made a fool out of myself. What I like are the following:

  • My talk was five minutes flat, exactly the time limit. No, I am not good enough to normally hit the allotted time limit exactly. (I know the video is 5:04 but if you get rid of the 0.5 seconds at the start and the 3.5 seconds at the end, that’s the span of my actual talk.) Before giving this talk, I performed an estimated 20 practice talks total, about 8 of which involved this exact talk after several improvements and iterations, and my average time was 5:10.

  • I did a reasonably good job looking at the audience, and in addition, I looked at a variety of different directions (and not just to one person, for example). Spending an entire talk looking at one’s laptop is a sure way to make a talk boring and dis-engaging.

  • My speaking volume seems to be at roughly the right level. It is tricky because I was also wearing a microphone, but I don’t think people in the audience missed stuff I was saying.

  • I did not project many “uhm”s or other sounds that are indicative of not knowing what to say.

Here are some things I think I could do better:

  • I am not sure if my body movement is ideal. I normally have so much energy when I’m giving a talk that I can’t help but move around a lot. (I get slightly nervous in the minutes before my talk begins, but I think this is natural.) I think I did a reasonable job not moving side-to-side too much, which is a huge bad habit of mine. But I feel a bit embarrassed by my hand movement, since it seems like I perform an endless sequence of “stop sign like” movements.

  • Finally, I am not sure if this is just the way I talk or due to the microphone or video recording issues, but the automated captions did not perform as well as I would have hoped. True, it was correct in some areas, but I think if I had not given this talk, I would have a hard time understanding what I was saying!

I think that’s how I would assess myself. I will keep this for future reference when giving talks in the future.

Before coming to ISRR, I did not know each paper talk would have an additional minute left over for questions. Hopefully this can be clarified in future ISRR. We had questions after this, and one thing bears comment. I had spoken to the person managing the “robot learning” talks (the one my paper was in) that I was deaf and asked him to come next to me to repeat any questions from the audience. When the first person asked a question, I asked him to repeat it to me. But before he could do that, Ken instead came bursting forward and effectively took his spot, and repeated the question. He would do that for the other two questions. I appreciate Ken’s prompt response. Audience questions are a vanishingly small fraction of my conference experience, but they present the greatest difficulty when there is not an extra person around for assistance.

Later in my session, there was also another paper from Ken Goldberg’s lab about cloud robotics, with Nan Tian as the lead author.

We then had the interactive sessions, and here Ken stuck around by our station, helping to communicate with some of the other people. The first person who came to our station immediately rebuked me and vigorously pointed at my video. He said: That is not a bed! That is a table! That is not a bed! That is a TABLE! True, our “bed” is from a table, so I guess he was technically right?

After the interactive session, we had the banquet. This was in a reasonably nice looking building, with air conditioning machines rather than the fans that are ubiquitous in street restaurants of Hanoi. The conference chair asked that faculty and students try to sit next to each other, rather than split off into faculty-only or student-only groups.

I courageously tried most of the fixed set menu even if the food was not visually appealing to me. The food appeared to be, in order, crab soup (with fish sauce?), Vietnamese pomelo, squids with celery, prawns, and some chicken soup. I was struck by how much more “experienced” some of the other conference attendees were at eating the food. For example, I don’t eat prawns very much, so I was intently watching how others took apart the prawns and removed the meat with their utensils.

The restaurant was near the top of a building with different restaurants on each row, so I was able to take some nice pictures of Hanoi’s evening scene and all the pedestrians and motorcycles moving around. It was beautiful.