U.S. should put higher priority on NSF funding

The NSF’s FY 2015 Budget Summary Brochure is out, and it shows that the agency’s request for the next fiscal year is $7.3 billion. I’m disappointed that the number is this small. Consider the following:

NSF FY 2015 budget request $7.3 billion
2013 NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL player salaries >$10 billion
2013 Fedex sales: US overnight mail $8.2 billion
2014 Facebook purchase of WhatsApp $19 billion

In other words, we as a nation spend the same on NSF’s crucial research [1], as on professional player salaries [2, 3, 4, 5, 6], as well as on overnight mail (actually this is Fedex only, not all overnight mail) [7]. At the same time, a corporate giant spends more than twice as much on a single product, than the entire annual budget of the NSF. I have no problem with player salaries (who else can entertain us like they can?), on overnight package costs (I’m looking forward to delivery by drones too), or with corporate decision-making (no expertise on that one). I’m only mentioning these numbers to put into perspective how little we as a nation, with a $16 trillion economy [8], spend on NSF’s research programs.

References (accessed 3/6/14)

[1] FY 2015 Budget Summary Brochure (pdf)
[2] 2013 NBA salaries: http://hoopshype.com/salaries.htm
[3] 2013 NHL salaries: http://www.capgeek.com/payrolls/
[4] 2013 NFL salaries: http://www.besttickets.com/blog/unofficial-2013-nfl-census/
[5] 2013 MLB salaries: http://www.cbssports.com/mlb/salaries
[6] 2013 NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL salaries: http://sportslistoftheday.com/2013/04/02/mlb-nfl-nba-and-nhl-2013-team-payrolls/
[7] Fedex Annual Report 2013 (pdf)
[8] US GDP estimate from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States

Is study abroad for you? A conversation with BME freshmen.

Today I discussed the benefits of studying abroad with freshmen at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics (VIK) of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME). VIK is my home during my Fulbright scholarship in Hungary.

My host was Gergely Suba, VIK PhD student. Gergely runs a course that helps freshmen acclimate to university life. In the roughly 90 minutes at our disposal, I made two main points to the 13 students in attendance. First, studying abroad allows students to gain the “human experience” that Steve Jobs mentioned in his interview with Wired:

“A lot of people in our industry haven’t had very diverse experiences. They don’t have enough dots to connect, and they end up with very linear solutions, without a broad perspective on the problem. The broader one’s understanding of the human experience, the better designs we will have.”
~Steve Jobs in Wired, February, 1996

My second point was that we all need to carefully plan how we use our time. Time is a perishable, non-renewable resource. If Gergely’s students wish to study abroad, it’s best to start planning early.

You can see Gergely’s photos from the event on Flickr.

2014 Visit to Prezi

Prezi is a new presentation tool developed in Hungary. One of the distinguishing features of the tool is the use of zooming animation to engage the viewer. Yesterday, I visited the company to discuss a  collaboration exploring how people consume Prezis. My hosts were Prezi’s Lead UX Researcher László Laufer and his colleague Eszter Józsa.

László gave me a tour of the Prezi facility, which is truly impressive. I really liked the bright, open area in the picture above, where much of the development work is done. See more of my pictures of Prezi on Flickr.

My collaboration with Prezi is made possible by my Fulbright scholarship in Hungary. I will post updates on our progress in the coming months.

2014 Visit to University of Szeged

The home of the Research Group on Artificial Intelligence

Yesterday I visited the University of Szeged. I was there at the invitation of fellow Fulbrighter Mark Jelasity. Mark is a member of the Research Group on Artificial Intelligence. He and I met at a recent event organized by Fulbright Hungary, where Hungarian Fulbright scholars reported on their experiences in the USA.

The primary purpose of my visit was to give a talk at the Institute of Informatics; thanks to Peter Szabó for including my talk in the Institute’s seminar series. I was really excited, as this was the first time in my career that I gave a talk in Hungarian. For fun, here are the Hungarian title and abstract:

Szemkövetők használata autóvezetéses szimulációs kisérletekben

Absztrakt: A University of New Hampshire kutatói több mint egy évtizede foglalkoznak a járműveken belüli ember-gép interfészekkel. Ez az előadás először egy rövid áttekintést nyújt a rendőr járművekre tervezett Project54 rendszer fejlesztéséről és telepítéséről. A rendszer különböző modalitású felhasználói felületeket biztosít, beleértve a beszéd modalitást. A továbbiakban az előadás beszámol közelmúltban végzett autóvezetés-szimulációs kísérletekről, amelyekben a szimulátor és egy szemkövető adatai alapján becsültük a vezető kognitív terhelését, vezetési teljesítményét, és vizuális figyelmét a külső világra.

As part of the visit I had a chance to talk to Mark about his research (see Mark’s Google Scholar profile). Mark’s interest is in distributed learning, which might have fascinating applications in the automotive domain.

Szeged fish soup

My visit was also exciting on a personal level, as I was born in Szeged, and my family often travelled there during my childhood. I walked around the town a bit to reminisce, and Mark treated me to an excellent lunch of fish soup.

See pictures from my trip on Flickr.

Eitan Globerson discusses piano and brain at BME

Yesterday I attended a talk by Eitan Globerson at BME. Professor Globerson is a conductor, pianist, and a brain scientist. His talk explored the brain mechanisms involved in playing the piano. A key mechanism is automaticity, which allows pianists to produce the complex musical sequences at very high tempo. I really enjoyed this talk, with its mix of performing music and discussing brain imaging.

Professon Globerson was hosted by BME professor Bertalan Forstner. Thanks Luca Szegletes for inviting me. See more pictures from the talk on Flickr.

Fulbright Hungary orientation – February 2014

Last week I attended the orientation for the 2014 spring group of American Fulbright grantees in Hungary. I am grateful to the Fulbright Hungary staff for making the American grantees’ transition into life and work in Hungary smooth. I especially want to thank Annamária Sas, who is the Program Officer in charge of the American grantees. Annamária knows what needs to be done, and she accomplishes everything with seeming ease and with enthusiasm. I also want to thank Csanád Nagypál for his work on our financial arrangments. Finally, I want to thank Dr. Huba Bückner, Director Emeritus, as well as Dr. Károly Jókay, Diretor of Fulbright Hungary, for their leadership of Fulbright Hungary. Their strong engagement is evident in the work of the organization.

The orientation covered three areas:

  • Life in Hungary: history, language, customs, art, and current affairs.
  • Work in Hungary: organization of higher education, suggestions for success in teaching and research, and engaging the citizens of Hungary.
  • Practical issues: working with Fulbright Hungary, and with the US Embassy in Budapest.

In retrospect, it’s amazing how much we learned about these areas in just four days. Below is a brief overview.

History. Hungarians feel a strong connection to their history. We were treated to a stellar history lesson (covering over 1,000 years of Hungarian history, starting in 896) by Prof. Dr. Tibor Frank. We also participated in a guided tour of the city, learning many tidbits from our guide. And in our visit to the Hungarian Academy of Sciences we saw, and sometimes even touched, items such as a 16th century Hungarian codex, and artifacts collected by the founder of tibetologySándor Csoma de Kőrös.

Gábor Tóth of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences showed us this codex.

Language and customs. Over the centuries Hungarians have worked successfully to maintain their language. The Fulbrighters who do not speak Hungarian were introduced to basic words and expressions by a passionate teacher, Mária Sánthané Gedeon. Mária also spent time exploring the differences in culture and customs between Hungary and the US. One of the differences: Americans are more likely to be assertive than Hungarians. Donald Morse, who has lived in Hungary for many years, also discussed customs, from what to bring to dinner parties (flowers, wine), to who pays for lunch (the person issuing the invitation). Professor Morse also recounted personal experiences of Hungary’s recent communist history.

Music. Hungary’s rich contribution to the world of music was discussed by Dr. Veronika Kusz, a musicologist at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Veronika provided a brief overview of the works of the most influential Hungarian composers over the centuries. I was delighted to discover the 16th century lutenist, Bálint Bakfark. Following Veronika’s presentation we attended  a spectacular ballet performance of Onegin at the Hungarian State Opera.

Dr. Huba Bückner, Director Emeritus, introduces Dr. Veronika Kusz

Current affairs. We explored current affairs with two people who are shaping the future of Hungary: Katalin Ertsey, Member of the National Assembly, and TV host Dr. Levente Boros Bánk. The discussion was animated, especially since Hungarian parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 2014.

Work. We spent a considerable amount of time discussing work life, and how to leverage our time in Hungary to our benefit, and to the benefit of our hosts. Dr. Huba Bückner, Director Emeritus, as well as Dr. Károly Jókay, Diretor of Fulbright Hungary, urged us to be ourselves, so that our Hungarian students and colleagues can gain experience dealing with the US model of education and research.  Prof. Dr. Zoltán Abády-Nagy gave us an overview of the Hungarian higher education system, from organization, to historical perspectives, to faculty career paths. And current student grantee Jamie Hoversen warned us plan ahead, because there is so much to do and never enough time to do it all.

Engaging citizens of Hungary. Karyn Posner-Mullen and Dmitri Tarakhovsky, both with the US Embassy in Budapest, discussed ways in which we can engage the citizens of Hungary, from participating in the work of American Corners, to attending events organized by the embassy, to making our own professional and personal connections. Erika Sólyom, the director of the Budapest American Corner, discussed specific types of programs we should consider participating in.

Practical issues. Finally, we discussed a number of practical issues, from the ever important financial issues, to the reports required by Fulbright Hungary, to taking advantage of US Embassy resources. I was also glad to hear that there’s a Hungarian Fulbright Alumni Association, which is headed by Dr. Katalin Nagy.

Last, but not least, I’m very happy to have met the new American Fulbright grantees in Hungary: Stephen HartkeJanet Holmes, Amy Forss, Andrea Mitnick, Leslie Muray, Nicholas Rubashkin, and Peter Szende. I’m looking forward to following their efforts.

You can see more pictures from the orientation on Flickr.

With my wife Jennifer at the Hungarian State Opera presentation of Onegin.

Impressions from the USA: Hungarian Fulbrighters report

Dr. Károly Jókay, Executive Director of Fulbright Hungary, opens the meeting.

Yesterday I attended a meeting organized by the Hungarian Fulbright Commission, in which the 2012-2013 cohort of Hungarian Fulbright recipients reported on their experiences in the USA. Here are some of my impressions from this meeting:

Americans are kind, and America is a beautiful and exiting country.
All of the presentations I attended included words of praise for Americans as welcoming, supportive and open. Presenters also shared photographs of the US, from nature, to monuments, to street corners, to small town soccer teams. The Hungarian Fulbrighters took it all in and enjoyed the experience.

US data infrastructure is a game-changer.
Hungarians visiting the USA felt that our infrastructure, and primarily our ability to access and process large amounts of data, is a tremendous strength. This came across especially vividly in the presentation of András Pethő, editor at the origo.hu Hungarian news portal. 

Of personal interest: Hungarian-Americans retain cultural heritage.
Since their birth, I’ve been teaching my two kids to speak Hungarian, which is one of the two languages I grew up with. One of the presenters, history PhD student Tímea Oláh, explored Hungarian-Americans in New Brunswick, NJ. It was interesting to hear that the New Brunswick Hungarians have a viable community where the Hungarian language and customs are thriving.

You can see my pictures from the meeting on Flickr.

Fulbright 2014

I’m spending the spring 2014 semester at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. The university’s Hungarian name is Budapesti Műszaki és Gazdaságtudományi Egyetem, or BME for short.

My stay at BME is funded by a Fulbright Scholarship. My hosts in Hungary are the Hungarian Fulbright Commission, and BME professor Bálint Kiss. Bálint and I are planning to explore the effects of different user interface characteristics, and different assistive control algorithms, on the cognitive load of users of an assistive technology. My educational efforts will include classroom teaching (focusing on the field of ubiquitous computing), advising student projects, and research talks.

Duncan Brumby visit to UNH

In December 2013 Duncan Brumby visited UNH ECE. Duncan is a senior lecturer (assistant professor) at University College London (UCL). His research includes the exploration of how people interact with mobile devices. As part of this work Duncan is interested in in-vehicle interactions, which are also of interest to me.

Duncan gave a talk to my ECE 900 class, in which he discussed a number of studies that explored “interactions on the move.” I really liked the fact that Duncan not only presented results, but also addressed nuts-and-bolts issues of interest to graduate students, from how to find a research topic, to how to handle reviewer comments.

See more photos from the visit on Flickr.

2013 Volpe visit

Today I visited Volpe, The National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, MA. My host was Mary Stearns, Chief of Surface Transportation Human Factors at Volpe.

During my visit I had a chance to experience two very interesting simulators. The first one was a train engine simulator, the second a Boeing 737 simulator – see pictures below.

As part of the visit I also gave a presentation about our work at UNH on Project54 and on exploring in-vehicle HMI.

See more pictures on Flickr.

 

Associate Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of New Hampshire