Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 13 – MACAU!

We decided to add some interesting activities on the Wednesdays, to provide a break from the course, and Wednesday the 23rd saw us going to Macau (or Macao), another Special Administrative Region and a former Portuguese colony bordering on China. I picked up the students at the University train station and we headed down to Sheung Wan on Central for the ferry. It turns out that Hong Kong’s MTR system is busy during rush hour:

I'm slightly addicted to Panorama, yes, but wow, look at that station.

I’m slightly addicted to Panorama, yes, but wow, look at that station.

We went on the TurboJet to get a good ride across to Macau, sitting upstairs for sight-seeing and for a better ride. The students quickly got into the correct mode.


Why, yes, I would like to discuss that issue with you.

Why, yes, I would like to discuss that issue with you.

No pictures, please.

No pictures, please.

Landing in Macau itself, which is another country after all, we went through immigration and then outside the ferry terminal. where I had to constantly deflect the attentions of the touts who were all trying to get us onto a bus or a tour or something. One of the reasons to go to Macau was to show the students more of the region, the ecosystem of a casino-driven economy like Macau and the ways that cultures integrate differently, even with a similar group mixing in.

I wanted to start the students off at St Pauls, ruins in the heart of Macau island itself, so this required three cabs … and three languages. The first cab required me to dust off my terrible Mandarin (Qing day wo men qu da san ba pai fang?), the second pretended to understand my Sportuguese (Ruinas de Sao Paulo, por favor?), although it turned out that he tried to take the students for a ‘ride’ so they got out and walked the rest of the way, and the last one listened to my awful linguistics and said “St Paul’s” and away we went.

We (finally) all managed to meet up and, boy , was it hot! While being slightly less humid than Hong Kong, the Macau sun is a killer. I gave the team a potted history of Macau, pointed out some things, exhorted them to eat Macanese egg tarts (one of the finest desserts in the world) and then sent them off to explore, asking them to be back at the Ferry Terminal at 4:30 for a 5pm departure.

The group in front of St Paul's.

The group in front of St Paul’s.

The group split up into pairs and fours. Some went off to the Bungee Platform, and had a fantastic time I hear. Others drifted off to look at the glitz and glamour of Macau. All managed to get right into the movement, lane ways, food and egg tarts of a different culture, right on the doorstep of where they’d been living for the past three weeks.

I drifted off to remind myself of some of the more languid Macau experiences, having lunch at a nice Chinese place and taking pictures of the Macanese obsession with Neon. (Hong Kong and Macau take neon to new heights.)

This is a fairly restrained shopfront. You should see it at night!

This is a fairly restrained shopfront. You should see it at night!

I headed back to the ferry terminal early to get some work done (I am actually working on this trip so have to fit marking, planning and course coordination in amongst all of the intensive teaching and events). Come 4:30 we had most of the group back and I put them on to the ferry, while the last two screamed up in a taxi and we got on the boat just in time for a relaxing trip back to Hong Kong. (Pro tip: catching taxis in Macau is harder than it looks but your group leader will probably be understanding if the delay was caused by egg tarts.)

11 of us left for a fun side trip and all of us got back. I called that a success and left the group to make their own way back to the University while I made a side trip of my own up to the Ozone bar at the top of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in West Kowloon. You can’t go to Hong Kong and not visit the highest bar in the world, now, can you?

The Ozone bar's design was 'organically inspired' but, fortunately, not in a Gigeresque manner.

The Ozone bar’s design was ‘organically inspired’ but, fortunately, not in a Gigeresque manner.

Another great day, finished, and only two days left to go in the course!

Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 12

After another busy Monday, we had a discussion of all of the material that had featured in the podcasts and the podcasts themselves. It was quite obvious that the students had picked up the concepts involved and had a good working and application-level understanding of what was going on. (It turned out later that the students had in fact formed a study group for some of the podcast material, watching as a group for discussion. Nice to see that can happen without prompting!) This Tuesday was an important day because it was the last day of formal ‘coursework’ in the sense of new material being discussed in the course.

We covered network security, which is one of my many areas of interest, and went through all of the many ways that horrible things can happen to nice people. I had original wanted to extend this part of the course beyond the base course content but it had quickly become apparent that jamming more into this course wasn’t going to help anyone so I covered some of the material but not in as great a depth.

A vast amount of the stuff that we cover in security is actually really well summarised at XKCD, here’s an example:

XKCD 936 – It’s ok to stop using NVdisdf&Y3 as your password.

The end of the day was a briefing session, as we were off to Macau the next day for, well, getting a sense of the culture around here and seeing how another SAR functions in its new relationship with China. I also reminded the students that passports were required and, armed with excellent local knowledge from Louis Wong at the OAL, we prepared for a Macanese adventure.

Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 11

I think the third week crept up on us a bit. I asked my students about it later and they said that it had really started to fly – although everyone was feeling the pressure towards the end of week 2. On the Monday morning we met late to have the short exam and then I gave the students an hour for lunch before we headed off to tour the labs that are found around CUHK itself. Another OAL host, Cora Chan, picked us up from one of the many food outlets (it’s Hong Kong, food is very serious business here) and took us to visit the Virtual Reality, Visualisation and Imaging Centre, where our students got to see research and industrial application mixing together. We saw 3D imaging displays and a really interesting example of a training device to help medical professional develop their expertise at carrying out biopsies of tumours, using computerised measurement to give a quantified indication of accuracy. Usually, a human observes you to assess your technique. In this case, computerised measurement can tell you exactly where your probe went in relation to the ultrasound and the ‘tumour’ – actually a special sponge. Had you told me that my students would be carrying out biopsy practice on this trip, I wouldn’t have believed you. We’re all learning!

Dr Kelvin, your 3:00 is ready.

Dr Kelvin, your 3:00 is ready.

We then moved on to the Radio-frequency Radiation Research Laboratory, where the team look at interesting ways to send and receive communications-band radiation, while also carrying out formal assessment work of the possible effects on humans. To do this, they have one of the most amazing looking labs in the world…

Come into the lab...

Come into the lab…

Thats the door to an anechoic chamber, designed to completely isolate anyone inside from outside electromagnetic radiation – and it’s also eerily silent because it absorbs all noise. Of course, all of us had to step inside – it’s 7m tall, which makes it one of the biggest labs of this type that there is.

That's not actually a Star Gate in the background.

That’s not actually a Star Gate in the background.

It is eerily quiet in there and that giant ring, studded with sensors, is the detector array. Here’s a vertical panorama that tries to capture what the whole chamber looks like. I have included an ISO Standard Tullie for scale.

It really is massive.

It really is massive.

With this apparatus, and a range of things including human substitutes and replay-able mobile emissions, the team can check that an antenna is putting where it should be and not cooking anyone. Always good! The last lab on the tour was the Networked Sensors and Robotics Laboratory, where we started the tour by looking at robots designed to assist in surgery. In the picture below, the small robot to the front takes the role of a human and stabilises the patient’s internal organs for a 90-120 minute operation, where a human would typically tire. This is classic assistive robotics – they do something that we potentially have neither the strength nor patience to be able to achieve with high reliability.



In the background, yo0u can see a device that helps a surgeon stabilise the tools required for keyhole surgery – an assistant who never shakes and never tires, no matter how long it goes on. Right now these all have to be manually positioned, which still needs human involvement, but the team go to their cadaver trials very shortly and would hope to have devices like the organ assistant robot deployed into surgical theatres by 2015-2016. Good thing to keep in mind when you’re visiting hospital! We then went to see some more work being done by the students in the group on robot autonomy and position determination – taking robots to the point where, instead of careering around the room like a deranged Roomba, they learn paths properly and can follow them, on land and or on water, but without ground assisted guidance. Overall, a fantastic day for seeing research in action and, as one of the students noted, he now knew more about research at CUHK than he did about what we did back home. Hmm. Good point, we’re going to have to fix that! Thanks again to Cora and all the teams who helped us out today.

Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 10

Friday the 18th was a quieter day after such a busy week but I’m very glad to say that the students had not only looked at the podcasts but they had done the pre-quiz prior to attending! So we were able to go through two or three topics and discuss them in lectures, getting students to frame the ideas and then explore how correct they were, combining mental priming and good ol’ Vygotsky to drive understanding. Still, everyone was looking a little frazzled by the end of it and I was glad that we had rearranged the timetable a bit.

The quick quiz had 10 questions in it, versus the 5 from the previous one. As it turns, later feedback indicated that this was preferred by some students because you could be a bit wrong and not lose so many marks – it’s easy to forget that 2 marks out of 5 can be high stakes to some people so this was a pertinent reminder.

We finished up with the quiz and then I briefed all the students on their requirements for the next week. Rather than have a traditional lecture set on the MOnday, they would do the podcasts and quizzes over the weekend, as they finished their assignments and we would then go through that material in class as a tutorial/socratic dialogue on the Tuesday. This gave them time to step back, work on their assignments, revise for Monday’s short-answer exam and also gave us time for more visits on Monday!

That was it for week 2! Come back soon for what happened in Week 3!

Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 9

Day 9, Thursday the 17th, we were back in the classroom again but with a 10am start to let the students get a bit of rest after the night out. We had a busy afternoon planned with a visit to the Hong Kong science park so we focused on issues in networking such as Software Defined Networking, network management and then did the tutorial in class as a group discussion activity. (I love having the flexibility to move things around in the classroom like this!) On completing that, I assigned the students some work to be done before the next day, which was going through 5 of the podcasts in the next section and doing the quiz before they showed up. However, as we will see, I adjusted that because of the afternoon activities!

The local Office of Academic Links has been a great help in setting up visits and they had also arranged a visit to the Science Park to look at what was being done by their amazing body and we also had an arranged visit to Huawei’s Noah’s Ark Lab. Our host from the OAL was Daniel Chan, who wrangled us with great expertise and also assisted us in correctly observing local customs for visits – thanks a million, Daniel!

Only mildly posed, we wait for the info session to start.

Only mildly posed, we wait for the info session to start.

At the Science Park we attended a briefing on the Science Park’s role, in conjunction with a number of universities including CUHK, to provide support to the R&D infrastructure in Hong Kong, led off by a great talk by local entrepreneur Kenneth Chau, a graduate of the Science Park’s Innovation and Entrepreneurship program. Hong Kong is hungry for innovation and it was never clearer than when the local manager outlined their program for innovation support, which included giving opportunities to foreign nationals as well as locals, as it would be of local benefit in driving industry and innovation. The idea of being able to apply for a program which gives you free space, access to investors and mentors, and it being this well supported was excellent (and a little surprising from our current climate) to see.

We then went for a tour of Green 18, the Science Park’s green building, where a lot of technologies have been developed and tested that will be used in the next phase of the Science Park’s development. We were able to get up on top of the building and get some great views of Hong Kong, as well as appreciating its energy efficiency!

How Green is it? Very green!

How Green is it? Very green!

It's a long way up to the thermal chimney!

It’s a long way up to the thermal chimney!

Here’s a panorama that shows you the view from the top.

The View from the Top

The View from the Top

There’s some amazing stuff on the campus. Here is one of the most distinctive lecture halls that I think I’ve ever seen.

Go long!

Go long!

We were then very lucky to be able to visit Huawei’s Noah’s Ark Lab. Huawei are a very serious player in the world of networking and they have a great deal of interest in how they can use software defined networking for a wide range of reasons, fortunately I had covered this in a lecture today! Their big data analytics are also very advanced and there’s a lot of cross over with what we’re doing in student analytics – but not at the same scale. Professor Qiang Yang hosted us and he and his team shared a lot of good project progress with us. From a teaching standpoint, this is great, because I can talk about things in the classroom but visits like this bring it to life!

Professor Yang in mid-discussion.

Professor Yang in mid-discussion.

Just to prove that we were there.

Just to prove that we were there.

At the end of the day, I reviewed things with the students and, after two social events and a really busy week (teaching wise), I adjusted the schedule. I dropped the amount of work required for the next day and moved the short answer exam from Friday to Monday. With assignments due, two very complex conceptual areas, and everything else, I was worried that the students would be plodding through rather than actually enjoying and getting the most out of the trip.

Work delayed, after all, is still work but rearranging it gave my students a little more time to make up for all of the other interesting things we were doing.

Overall, a great day, and thank you so much to everyone involved – we really got a lot out of it.

Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 8

Sorry about the delay in filing these but we got seriously busy with the whole “learning and teaching” thing so I’ve had to wait until today to catch up.

Wednesday the 17th was pretty much  day off for the students – I took the opportunity to catch up on some course preparation – but in the evening we were heading out to meet the Hong Kong Alumni association for the University of Adelaide. Hong Kong local David Wong, our Alumni Ambassador for Hong Kong and China, here had discussed a meet-up in a conversation with Luke van Trigt from our Alumni Relations and University Engagement section. We all met up at a German restaurant and beer house called Brotzeit, down in East Tsim Sha Tsui. Rather than shepherding the students, I decided to meet them down there and this worked out very well, with all of us getting there pretty much on time.

We had a great evening out, meeting Charles Ng, the President of the local Alumni Association, and Timothy Lok and Belinda Poon, both Directors of the association. It was great to be able to sit around and talk to people about working and living in Hong Kong, with people who were connected to our own institution.

Here are some pictures of the night, to show you that an intensive overseas course isn’t all work. (Although my students will tell you that there’s quite a bit of it in there!)

Thanks for the round, David! A great welcome from the Alumni.

Thanks for the round, David! A great welcome from the Alumni.

We then wandered out for a walk along the Avenue of Stars, which pays tribute to Hong Kong’s amazing film industry. Of course, Hong Kong itself is pretty amazing.

With a backdrop like this, we all look pretty good.

With a backdrop like this, we all look pretty good.

Of course, the Director’s Chair can prove too much of a temptation for some…

Lights! Action! Sahil!

Lights! Action! Sahil!

The whole point of a trip like that is to get out and about, adding to the classroom with some local flavour. Thanks again to the Alumni for setting this up and coming out!

Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 7

I write today’s post over a cup of chamomile tea, as I’m taking a break from preparing for the next stages of the course and also doing some work on an ongoing research project. Like many (most) research-active academics, the contribution to research and the requirement to keep on plugging away never quite stops, wherever I am in the world. What is great, however, is that working with an active small group for teaching is quite energising, although it is intensive teaching, so I’m usually in a very positive mood for the afternoon’s continuing work. (Hooray!)

We went through the introduction to the network layer today and finished up with a small lab on practical use of this knowledge. It’s quite a lot to go through in this short a time (this sequence of lectures would usually take a week and a half) so there are additional materials, including podcasts, that I provide to make this easier. I recorded these some time ago but they have proved very useful as this section of the course “sticks” at different rates for different people.

As it happened, I had a producer working with me, so I narrated the slides and they were fused together post recording. These days I’d just use Camtasia but it’s very interesting to think of the techniques that we are still using up to just a few years ago. Now, between Explain Everything and Camtasia, I basically have a one-man recording studio!

No pictures today but we’re going to meet up with the Hong Kong Alumni of our University tomorrow down in Kowloon, which will be a great opportunity for our students to meet people who, with an Adelaide degree, are making their way in Hong Kong. Lots of great opportunities on this trip for everyone!

(I’ll pop up a picture of the Alumni magazine, The Roar, as I can’t find any HK chapter pictures.)

Image from Adelaide onLion site. © The University of Adelaide, 2014.

Image from Adelaide onLion site. © The University of Adelaide, 2014.

Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 6

Well, this is the 6th day of teaching and the first day of the second week. (I’m not counting weekends.) Some of the students went to Shenzen over the weekend and discovered “an electronics mall the size of Adelaide” which was the big motivator for going. Sadly, I wasn’t able to join them at the World Cup this morning as my flight got in late and I still had marking and work to do, but here’s a picture that one of the students, Sarah, took of the crowd – and they were a very vocal crowd for 3 in the morning!

Let's not talk about the result. © Sarah Belet, 2014

Let’s not talk about the result. © Sarah Belet, 2014

Today we finished off talking about the way that programmers work with the network when they write applications. When someone sends information too fast for a receiver, we need to control the flow of the information, but when there’s just too much information on the network (from possibly many sources) we have to deal with the congestion. Both of these (and the solutions we use) are really important reasons why the Internet works today! We had a lot of discussion, group-based work and I spent a lot of whiteboard time motivating how we could get information out of the network without having to do anything beyond what we already wanted to do, just to use it.

We had started later so students could get some downtime and it certainly paid off because participation was as good as it had been on other days and brains were only slightly slower than usual. It’s the great thing about having the freedom we have here, teaching only one course and leaving time for work and thinking time. I certainly prefer it as a teaching approach!

Feedback on the quiz and short exam are also positive although there is work to do on making the questions slightly less ambiguous because the terminology of networking often coincides with other uses and there isn’t the same amount of time to get students used to a new reference frame.

After a steamy few days, it seems cooler today and we’re seeing a large amount of blue sky. Here’s what the campus looks like from outside the building I’m teaching in!

HillPic3 HillPic1


Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 5

Well, we had a normal session to start with, which consisted of discussion about the Transport layer (that bit of the network that makes it easier for the people who program your web browser to talk a web server) and some of it was good but some of it – ehhh, I think it got away from me. There are some really complicated diagrams and I’m still thinking about the best way to teach them. I suspect it’s something you go away and do, then discuss, then do again so that’s a note to self.

We broke for lunch and I (coincidentally) ended up at the same place as my students so I joined them. (There is no escaping the Nick.) They’re all doing the right thing and eating everywhere to see what’s good and basically getting into the whole experience. (They may all be addicted to duck’s web now. Sorry, that’s my fault.)

You can't see Tom because he's hiding off to the left, recovering from chilli overload.

You can’t see Tom because he’s hiding off to the left, recovering from chilli overload.

After lunch, it was short quiz and short exam time – the students have weekly quizzes, marked automatically and worth 5% each, and then a short answer exam, which I mark manually and these are worth 10% each. Because of the compressed timescale, I’m trying to scaffold the revision process by requiring the knowledge earlier. From what I’ve seen so far, it appears to be working, although I’m not sure how appreciative the students are. Once I’ve marked everything, I’ll discuss it with them to see what their impressions are. I’m a great believer in working with students to try and build better courses and this is one of the best opportunities I’ll ever have.

I have to head back to Australia for the weekend but I’ll be back Sunday afternoon. Until then I’ve asked my students to work hard, play hard and be safe. I’ve delayed the class on Monday morning from 9am to 1pm, not because I’ll be jet lagged, but because CUHK is putting on a giant screen showing of the world cup with local commentators, starting from 3am. This is exactly the kind of serendipitous cultural moment that we want to capture in these sorts of exchanges so, not only am I shifting the class, I’m planning to go along myself.

Goal! Goal! Goal! (Or possibly Penalty! Penalty! Penalty!)

Goal! Goal! Goal! (Or possibly Penalty! Penalty! Penalty!)

Sorry to my German readers but I have to support Argentina or my friend Guadalupe will kill me. Vamos Argentina! Have a great weekend and I’ll fill you in on Monday in a few days.



Teaching in Hong Kong, Day 4

We were back in the classroom today and the overall plan was to talk about some teaching materials that I’d put on-line already on programming network-based applications. (A lot of work has gone into making it easier for people to write programs that talk across the network and it’s really useful to write these programs for practice because it exposes students to all of the problems that occur when an application spans more than one machine.)

Rather than just walk the students through some slides, I made it pre-reading and then asked them to produce a very small example that sent communication from one machine to another. We had some really interesting results – everyone had been working on it and had something to show, although a couple of people had discovered that trying to add features just before a demo can make a the demo a little less ‘demonstrative’ than it might otherwise have been. The demo code showed a lot of humour and also a high level of the understanding of the problems.

This led into discussion of why certain protocols work the way that they do and, in many cases, it’s because people wrote things that would work for the network of the ’70s and ’80s. These days, with the Web, video streaming and on-line gaming, we have different requirements in many senses and now that the students have written some code and tried some things, they’re ready to start thinking about the “whys” and the “hows” and, most importantly, the “what nexts” of the network.

It wasn’t a long day as the amount of work that had gone into the programs reduced the amount of time I had to spend explaining concepts (funny, that). After a quick design workshop on what the next assignment should look like, where everyone took part in forming ideas as to how we would build it, we broke early to give people more time to work on what they wanted to do.

Goodness – work done early leads to extra time for tasks later? Who thought that would ever work!

I’ve been trying to get a good picture of the Run Run Shaw Science Building, which is far more striking than it ever is in my photos, so here’s one I found on Wikimedia. It gives you some idea of the striking nature of CUHK – buildings nestled among the trees on the hillside.

The glorious colours of the Run Run Shaw Science Building. It dominates the CUHK vista from the MTR station.

The glorious colours of the Run Run Shaw Science Building. It dominates the CUHK vista from the MTR station.