Wednesday, July 31

That's a relief. I don't actually need a NZ work visa before I get there; I can enter the country as a tourist, and that gives me 3 months to either upgrade to a work visa or leave. One less thing to worry about for now.
posted @ 7:39 AM -
Now that I am actually making my plans concrete, I'm acting at high speed. I've just booked my GRE, and now I'm sorting out my work visa for NZ. In the process I was very pleased by what I found written on the homepage of the New Zealand Immigration Service:

Haere mai raa, e te manuhiri tuuaarangi.
Welcome to the guest from afar.

'He manga wai koia kia kore e whitikia'
'Make light of difficulties and they will disappear'

I presume the first line of each pair is the same as the second, in Maori. I wish immigration services of more countries projected an image like that....
posted @ 6:13 AM -

Monday, July 29

The FCO has recently downgraded its warning about travel to Afghanistan. It's still a pretty strong discouragement against going on anything other than essential business, but the fact that it says anything other than abandon hope all ye who enter here (which is a reasonable paraphrase of the previous warning) is a positive sign about the country's stabilisation. A long road ahead, but at least this is a sign of progress....
posted @ 3:36 PM -
Now that I've started actually making plans for September - January I'm getting excited about it. Over the weekend Peter & I (he'll be with me for the first part of my journey, and he was in Dartmoor with us) sketched roughly what we'll do for September, and yesterday I started to flesh out October. It's all becoming real, and looking like I might actually make it.

A surprising number of people (considering that I'm ending up doing roughly what I had in mind 18 months ago, even though I entertained and then rejected various other ideas in between) are surprised when I tell them that I'm going on more than a long holiday. I guess part of the reason is that most of my off-line friends never read this page, seeming to consider it somehow beneath them (it's not like I cry myself to sleep over this, but it does annoy me a little, especially when they then express surprise at what I've been up to), but even so I think I'll take this opportunity to outline my plans here.

The most important thing, which I have told everyone close to me again and again but everyone without exception seems to forget occasionally is that I am not going on a trip away with a planned return date to the UK. I am leaving the UK, and I may never live in Europe again. If I do come back to the UK, the earliest will be autumn 2003, and that is pretty unlikely. There's a good chance I'll move back to familiar territory when I have my PhD, but that means 4 - 7 years from now. That alone should explain why I've been planning this in my mind for so long, and why it's so important to me at this late stage to get the planning right.

I had at various stages entertained plans that were never executed, and which I told some people about and never got around to mentioning others. I was considering going to Sierra Leone to teach ICT to former child soldiers. The group who were organising this don't seem to have got their act together, but the main reason I didn't follow this through was fear for my safety. I still think it would be a very good thing to do, but it seems to involve too high a risk of ending up as the hostage of some rebel group with more guns than sense; otherwise I would have pursued this idea and made it happen, even if I had to spend a few months in Britain or Norway first. My other big idea was to crew boats and see if I could wend my way to New Zealand via Panama and the Pacific islands. I still romantically like that idea, but I think the solitude of the open water would become monotonous after a few weeks, and it seems like a missed opportunity to see many cultures and ways of life.

What I am actually doing is travelling overland as far as Singapore, and then getting to New Zealand via Sydney. I intend to spend September in Eastern Europe (specifically some or all of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Lithuania & Latvia - I suspect I won't see all of those places in the time I have), October travelling across Russia and Mongolia (Moscow - Beijing via Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Ulaan Uday & Ulaan Baatar), November travelling across China (itinerary still very vague, but to include Xian, Shanghai & Hong Kong if at all possible - I'd like to see the Takla Makan as well, but I think I'll leave Western China until Afghanistan is more stable, at which point I'd like to visit the Turkic republics of central Asia and incorporate Xinjiang in that trip), and December in some out of Vietnam, Lao, Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia & Australia. I want to be in a non-christian country for Christmas (just because Christmas Day would be mighty dull and somewhat depressing in any place that shuts down as much for it as Britain), but in Sydney by the New Year, partly because it looks pretty spectacular, and partly to meet up with my Québecoise friend in a third continent. It looks at the moment like I'll be flying from Jakarta to Sydney towards the end of December.

Then, early in January, I want to get to New Zealand, and stay with my friends there until I can find a job, at which point I'll move to whichever city I can find a tolerable but not too demanding job in. I want to have weekends free so I can actually travel within the country, and this is meant to be a break between the intellectual challenge and intense workload I'm experience now, and a similar challenge on a PhD later in 2003. I just need to earn enough money to be able to afford to stay in New Zealand indefinitely; if I can save some up so much the better, but NZ is not the place to go with that objective - I've been warned that pay won't match UK levels, though the cost of living is apparently very low.

In September or October 2003 I want to be starting my PhD, because while I'm in no great hurry I don't want to procrastinate forever. There's a better than evens chance I'll find myself in the USA - either New England or California - and failing that I'm still unlikely to study in the UK. Hence why if I do live in the UK again it's unlikely to be within 4 years - that's a year of not studying, followed by a minimum of 3 years on a PhD, up to 6 if I'm in the States.

I still have a lot to do to make this a reality, but the last few days have seen major parts fall into place, and it's a great feeling. August is not going to be a fun month for me (6 day weeks, long hours, and evenings spent applying for PhDs), but I think this anticipation will keep me going.
posted @ 3:33 PM -

Sunday, July 28

it's too hot to sleep
posted @ 5:33 PM -

An announcement

I've just gone through my inbox deleting emails that I might have one day acted on, based on the realisation that I must ditch as many non-essential tasks as possible if I'm to stand a chance of leaving the country in September, let alone on the 9th as intended. My Inbox has shrunk from 210 messages to 48, many of which are things like peoples' addresses that I just need to file. Hopefully this should give you some sort of idea of how hard I'm trying to cut down my commitments.

If you are one of the few people who reads this page and knows me in the real world, please bear this in mind: there is no point asking me to do anything unselfish at all any more. If anyone asks me to give up any of my time for anything that does not help me towards my three goals of handing in a damn good MSc thesis, travelling extensively straight afterwards, and getting myself a place on a worthwhile PhD programme with a good supervisor in a place where I'd like to live, the answer is 'no'. I just don't have the time.

I can't remember the last night (except in Montréal, but that's another story) when I actually slept enough. I can't remember the last night (anywhere) when I actually went to bed at the hour I set out to. This needs to change, urgently.
posted @ 3:42 PM -
time has run out on another day. I need several more hours in every day between now and the end of August than I have. I am getting very concerned about how I can possibly arrange my trip for the end of the year and apply for PhDs and hand in a decent project. For now, smaller things are having to slip. Another trip's photos are on my hard drive but not online....
posted @ 3:04 PM -
Dartmoor was lots of fun. More later (hopefully with pictures)
posted @ 12:26 PM -

Thursday, July 25

I'm off to Dartmoor for the weekend (I'll be going straight from work tomorrow), so if you see nothing new here it's just because I'm off walking on a hill somewhere with more wild horses than internet cafes.
posted @ 3:59 PM -
as you may have noticed, I haven't actually had the time to process my photos from Montréal or write about the trip yet. This always seems to happen - I take a load of pictures, and then living life gets in the way of documenting it, so I never get around to tinkering with them to make them look good and small enough to upload (I have more than one CD-ROM full of photos already, so you can probably see why I don't want to upload the hi-res versions). Still, here is one by way of an appetiser:

a pretty house in Montreal

I don't have enough pictures of the pretty houses of Montréal, because there are a great many of them, and this isn't even that typical of the style, but it gives an idea. Bear in mind that Montréal has the high-rise, shiny downtown that I identify with North American cities in general, but also has streets of these old houses scattered farily liberally around. It's a combination that works a whole lot better than I would have expected.
posted @ 3:32 PM -
I'm fed up with having technical problems with my email. I've tried using various service providers, and there is always a problem somehow. Can anyone help me with this:

Do you know of any service that meets my requirements as listed below:
  • has to have a POP mailbox so I can read mail offline from home

  • has to have web access so I can read the same email account when I'm not at home

  • must let me give a different reply-to address from the address I'm signed in with, so I can avoid people getting the proliferation of addresses for me that has happened before

  • must ABSOLUTELY not tamper with my mail, as Yahoo! apparently does

  • must be able to display HTML mail

  • should ideally have some sort of virus filter and junk mail protection

  • should ideally give me >2 Mb storage

  • should ideally not ask me for my star sign, shoe size and favourite crisp flavour when I sign in. (this isn't a must because I usually just lie on those forms - I don't know why the privacy advocates haven't thought of that yet)
posted @ 1:43 PM -

Tuesday, July 23

I'm back from Montréal. It was good, and a badly needed holiday. Work won't be as pressured from now on as over the last few weeks, and I'm actually quite looking forward to going in tomorrow, but it's still going to demand quite a lot of me. I'm aiming to put photos online and write something more meaningful about the trip this evening, but I have to do a couple of things before shops start to close, so it will have to wait a little while.
posted @ 8:46 AM -

Thursday, July 18

just thought I'd mention two services that are making my day's travelling a little bit easier, because they might be useful to others:
  1. As well as UK rail timetables, which most people seem to know about, I've recently discovered that you can get current information about train delays online, which is pretty important given the notoriously bad state of this country's railways. No problems on my line at this point - I'll be leaving in a couple of hours.

  2. If you are flying from or meeting an arrival at a BAA airport you can get text message updates on the status of your flight. This is an absolute godsend if, like me, you live far enough away from the airport that it takes a few hours to get there. Until now I've been aware that you can get this information online or on the telly, but that's little use if I'm already on my way.
posted @ 1:37 AM -

Wednesday, July 17

back next week

well... it's been a monster day at work. I think in the 3 days I've been in this week I've worked as many hours as I'm supposed to in a full week anyway. It was worth it though, because I can go on holiday safe in the knowledge that at any given time between 4 and 10 computers are number crunching for my benefit, and I will actually have a large body of useful data waiting when I get back.

I'll say it one more time, because I do like reminding myself: I'm off to Montréal shortly. I probably won't be posting here while I'm there, so expect this page to be silent until next Tuesday. I need this holiday badly....
posted @ 5:46 PM -

Security or plain racism?

The not very subtle racist undertone of this event upsets me: a domestic flight to New York received a fighter plane escort after passengers complained that they saw 7 passengers 'acting suspiciously'. The suspicious actions: passing notes to each other and changing seats. It can't possibly be a coincidence that the 7 passengers were all Indian.

Outside the US, one has to either be drunk and abusive or act genuinely suspiciously (like Richard Reid's attempts to light his shoe-bombs) in order to get into trouble on a flight. In the US, acting like children is good enough, or even making jokes about the pilot. People are being pulled off aircraft and questioned by security forces in the US for things that my poncy private school used to let us get away with.

I'm off to Montréal tomorrow, flying via New York. I must remember that tomorrow will not be an appropriate time to copy Eddie Izzard's joke of answering the Are you or have you ever been a terrorist? question on the landing card with Yes. I'm Carlos the Jackal. I finally admit it. There seems to be more than the ghost of a chance that some stuffed shirt in immigration would take it seriously, and that would be a fine mess to get myself into....
posted @ 12:29 PM -
somewhere for me to visit if I make it to Moscow: the new Museum of Car Theft.
posted @ 10:40 AM -
so far my main program is 64K 'words' long. I remember when I used to have a hard time filling one page with an essay.
posted @ 10:33 AM -

Tuesday, July 16

no time to think, let alone write here. Sorry.

I'm off to Montréal on Thursday, which means that by the time I leave work tomorrow I need my flock of PCs to be cooking. I have a lot of code to write before that will be the case, so I must be a monk until it's done.
posted @ 3:48 PM -

Monday, July 15

Ceci n'est pas un ordinateur

This is my notebook:

a notebook, with arcane scribblings in a spidery hand

I feel it's important to point this out, because I've noticed in a few conversations recently, especially at work, that when I talk about taking my notebook with me on my travels people think I mean a portable computer. I mean a notebook, made from real paper, in which I write with a pen. I want to explain this because I am insanely proud of the various low-tech items I keep about my person, as a kind of counterpoint to the high technology with which I work. The background of the image is a hand-woven Turkish kilim, and the same arm that was holding the new-fangled digital camera to take the picture is adorned by a watch that uses no electricity. Next to my computer, as well as a skinned furby there are some candles, a quill and a galileo thermometer. These things are important to my sense of balance.

Anyway, back to the book. It is in fact an old biology lab report book, from my 4th year at school (age 15 or so), which anyone who knew me at the time will testify was a pretty turbulent time in my life. I wasn't your usual rebellious teenager type, but I did as close as possible to no work at all at school in those days (it was at the start of A levels that I started to take school seriously, because that was when it started to be interesting and to take me seriously). One of my strategies for getting away with this was to 'lose' exercise books regularly. All the teachers knew I was lying, but many of them couldn't be bothered to deal with it. I will never know if it was because they had entirely given up hope on me or because they knew I'd pull through anyway (I did, and I've never had a bad mark in any assessment that actually mattered). The upshot of this is that I have a collection of school exercise books, with my name on the front in handwriting that has changed so much it's not recognisably mine, and a couple of pages removed from each, which was all the schoolwork that made it into them.

I am particularly fond of the science books because they are big (A4) and have a lined page opposite each plain page; ideal for sketching things diagrammatically and annotating them, which is most of what I use them for when I'm programming. The only unfortunate thing about it is that the cover is a rather unpleasant shade of lime green, but how much time do I spend looking at the cover? The contents are written barely legibly, in a shorthand that would make sense to no-one but me, but somehow I like the idea that they are that way. It's only really an aid to my thoughts, not a tool for communication with anyone else, and it suits my purposes that this particular extension of my mental processing is relatively private, in spite of not being actively hidden from anyone.
posted @ 4:36 PM -
Update 1: the journal editor who fired two of her team for the heinous crime of being Israeli has come under intense pressure from UMIST (where she works) to resign or reconsider her actions, and it looks like if she does neither she'll get the sack.

Update 2: I eventually found the bugs that were driving me to pretentious quotation earlier.

Update 3: this is just too bizarre for words (and has a sort of happy ending).
posted @ 11:22 AM -
once more into the [debugging] breach....
posted @ 5:59 AM -

Sunday, July 14

One final thing before I go offline - I received the following question in an email from a real live American (Mr. Saturday Night Template, if you must know):

I was struck by a thought today: What must it be like to go to school in a country with a LOT of history?? I mean, what did your high school history classes cover?? This semester, we will cover the period of time from the druids to the invasion by the Romans. Next semester, the Roman occupation. The following semester, up to the Norman conquest. The next, up to the English conquest of France.... Good lord, man! English history covers a VAST span of time!

I mean, seriously, how on EARTH did they cover it all?? We can't get through American history here in a full YEAR!

I think it was in response to this, but it was very sweet all the same....
posted @ 1:58 PM -
A little interlude of cuteness: Harold's Planet FC. I know I'm a little behind the time with this - it was actually topical when it came out - but here it is
posted @ 1:47 PM -

So, what am I doing when I finish here?

For the last few years I have made a habit of planning one or two steps ahead of me, and having an idea of direction beyond that but no specific plan. In general I think this is a good way to live, but when one step is as short as an MSc or an intermission year, it does have the drawback that I need to do a lot of my planning for the next step while in the most intense and busy part of the current one. I finish my MSc (and my time in Bristol, and my time at HP) on the 2nd of September, so in the next few weeks I have to turn my rough plans for what I do next into detailed ones.

The general idea is to start a PhD in some sort of biologically-informed computing next year. I don't want to go straight into it because I feel like I need a break doing something different before immersing myself that deeply in a narrow sub-field, plus I have a very strong desire to see more of the world, and I think I need to get that out of my system first. I want to spend as little of the intervening year in the UK as possible; not because I have anything against this country, but because I've lived here for a few years now (all but 2 years of my life in fact, and I don't really remember my time in Turkey because they were the first two years) and there's an awful lot more world to see.

As a matter of urgency I need to decide exactly where I'm going in the coming year, so I can sort out visas and vaccinations (I've recently had boosters for the main things, but I want to make sure I don't end up doing anything stupid like going to a malarial zone without the right tablets), and I need to decide where I'll apply for PhDs, because it makes sense for me to send off my applications before I go abroad, even though the majority of places are unlikely to answer before Spring 2003.

My travel plans are becoming fairly detailed: Eastern Europe in September with a friend from my BA, trans-Siberian Railway (not the Express as such because I want to stop off at many places along the way) in October, starting to head South before it gets too bitterly cold. I'll spend another few days in Beijing, and then gradually head South through China, possibly with another friend (someone I used to live with), hopefully fitting in Xi'an, spending about a week in Shanghai, some time in Hong Kong and some time in Fujian, which is where the kung fu style I learn has its roots. November will be devoted to the more touristy South-East Asian countries, ending up in Singapore (by which time I'm sure I'll have forgotten the Siberian winter), where I will spend a couple of weeks training with the head of my kung fu club, who is based there, like many traditional kung fu teachers (the Cultural Revolution didn't leave much in the way of traditional martial arts in China). Then I want to get to Sydney in time for the New Year, and New Zealand shortly afterwards. Two of the people I've lived with intermittently over the past two years are Kiwis, they will be back there by then, and they'll be getting married next year. I'm hoping I can find work in NZ so I can afford to stay there until I start my PhD, and get to know at least one place better than I could as a tourist.

The most significant unknown in that plan is which trans-Siberian route I take. At Lake Baikal I have a choice between continuing all the way to Vladivostok, and then doubling back to get to Beijing, or crossing Mongolia. Both seem interesting, and I have to decide soon because Russian visa applications require me to state where I'll be each day, the train needs to be booked relatively far in advance, a Mongolian visa might also take a while to sort out, and my Chinese visa may need to state in advance my time & place of entry.

Any advice on all of this is very welcome, especially if anyone can tell me whether Eastern Siberia is interesting, and anyone who lives or has lived anywhere on my route. It would be cool to meet up with people along the way as well.

As for PhDs, I need to find suitable supervisors. I have some ideas of where I want to go, with a bias against the UK (for reasons of familiarity, nothing else), a strong bias against Brighton & London (which actually rules out a number of good places, but I want to go somewhere new and have that starting a new life experience at least one more time), and a bias towards the USA, particularly MIT and Stanford (yes I am aiming high; I also have strong empirical reasons to think my chances of admission are good enough to justify applying). All of this is less important than finding a good supervisor, and I think over the next few weeks I will informally approach various people I'd like to work with and see where it gets me. It's very early to be applying just yet, but hopefully I can convince an interesting Professor that I'd be a good supervisee, and then the formal application process becomes less important. It would also be worth me going to a not-so-interesting place if I can do good work with a good supervisor, and conversely there's no point me going to a place with a good reputation if it doesn't match my interests.

There's a good chance that this plan will take me up to age 30, which would be welcome, because I am looking forward to the next time when I can actually see several years into the future and say with confidence where I'll be, and the start of a PhD is that next time.
posted @ 1:22 PM -

Tai chi skiing

I don't think this is a joke, but I do find it pretty bizarre. I emailed a few of my martial-arts-appreciating friends a link to an article about soulless yoga, and one of them riposted with a link to a Tai Chi Skiing site. I'm sure it looks great, but that's hardly the point....
posted @ 11:51 AM -

Testing, testing

Most interesting... Having turned up at work today but found myself unable to work because of some network trouble (let's play spot the idiot who didn't keep an up-to-date local copy of his source code.... I win!), I've been finally getting down to a detailed look at what I will do for the next 4-6 years (more on this later - 6 years is based on my general plans, not an arbitrary period), so I've been looking at the website of the Educational Testing Service, who administer the GRE, which is the exam that applicants to US postgrad courses (in my field at least) have to take. There were two things that caught my eye.

Firstly a current affairs article titled International Education: The Best Defense Against Terrorism. In a sense it's a cynical use of current affairs to market themselves, rather like every organisation has been trying to do in some way or another (Blather reported a particularly flagrant example last year), but there is more substance to it than most such attempts. I don't really believe that international education will stop every lunatic from wanting to kill people, nor will it alone remove the poverty that clearly helps extremist groups to recruit. However, education is one of the most important parts of any serious attempt at reducing poverty, increasing a country's stability and promoting good government, all of which are laudable goals in themselves and clearly can make some contribution towards reducing peoples' motivation for joining such groups. One of the best things (possibly the best thing) that America has to offer the world is an outstanding university system (I've heard much criticism of US high schools and I'm not in a position to comment on them myself), and it is in the common interest of both the US and the students' countries of origin that access is as open as possible to foreign students. Since last September there have been moves that whether by design or as a side effect are making it harder for foreign students, and particularly students from the Islamic world, to get study visas for America. The end of this report made very pleasant reading - indicating that a majority of Americans oppose reducing the number of foreign students in the US, and agree that American students need to increase their awareness of the rest of the world.

The other interesting development is in a much narrower domain - the design of the GRE itself. The GRE that I took a few years ago consisted of three sections - Verbal, Quantitative and Analytical - all of which were answered with multiple choice questions, in a format that suits me particularly well. From October this year onwards, the GRE will be changing, with the Analytical test being replaced by one that involves writing a short essay and responding to a prose passage. It sounds like it will actually be a better test of reasoning ability than the old one, but it's a shame for me because the old Analytical test was a thing on which I performed far better than I felt I deserved, which obviously would work in my interest.

Anyway, this leads me on to a couple of decisions I must make regarding the GRE: when do I take it, and should I take a Computer Science subject test?

Everyone has to take a General test (the one I described above), and it can be taken more or less on the day that suits me, providing I go to London for it (which is convenient for me anyway). It would suit me best to take it in the first week of September, between handing in the project that I'm currently working on (on Monday the 2nd) and leaving the country (either on Friday the 6th with my family, or the week after if we [the family] choose to spend our last weekend together in London). This would also mean taking the old-style test, on which I know I excel, but that might be a drawback, because my score would not be directly comparable with the majority of this year's applicants, who I would expect to take the test a month or two later. The trouble is if I take it later I'll either be finding a test centre abroad or flying back to the UK just for this, and I'd be taking a test that is more of an unknown and on which I wouldn't expect to perform quite so well.

As for the subject test, well, I wouldn't expect to do very well on it. Last time round (when I was applying for Masters' programs) I didn't take it because my BA was in a different field altogether, and that made it easy to explain to places why I wasn't taking it, as well as ruling out the places that would expect a high level of subject-specific prior knowledge. The trouble is I am now interested in applying to things that are not marked out as conversion courses, but I still don't have the breadth of Computer Science knowledge that a BSc graduate in the field would have. Ask me about genetic algorithms, mobile robotics simulations, human-computer interaction or the philosophy of cognitive science and I could bore you stupid with details, but the test also asks about compilers and computer architectures and so on, and I might flounder on those. I will take a practice test at home over the next few weeks, and if it turns out I actually do well at it then clearly taking it for real can't do me any harm, but I don't expect to. Plus if I took a subject test I'd have to do it in November, when I want to be in China. I'm sure there are test centres in Beijing, Shanghai & Hong Kong, and I'm sure that's one situation in which I could get by just fine without speaking a local language, but it still wouldn't amount to ideal conditions, nor would it improve the experience of my holiday.

So, what should I do? Advice very welcome, especially from people who have done this before....
posted @ 10:30 AM -
update on the sacking of an Israeli academic: I've actually been rather slow to pick up on this story; Andrea mentioned it on Tuesday, and pointed readers to a rather interesting Independent article on this very subject, and why it is such a bad thing.

I will leave this subject now. Already just because of what I wrote yesterday I received a phone call that completely ruined a good day. That phone call was from someone who agreed with what I had said, but even so feelings run so high on this subject that I just can't handle the fallout when I broach it. It's like the fucking candyman - mention the word and evil is visited on you.

I do feel the need to say one more thing though. There is frequent confusion, both by Jews and by people who disapprove of Israeli policy, of the concepts of disagreeing with Israeli action, being anti-Zionist, and hating Jews. An anti-Semite will naturally be anti-Zionist, and an anti-Zionist will naturally disapprove of any Israeli actions other than disbanding their own state, but this inference is not reversible. A disapprover of Israel can hold that belief for reasons other than anti-Zionism, and an anti-Zionist can hold that belief for reasons other than anti-Semitism. Just because anti-Zionism is often used as a socially acceptable cover for anti-Semitism does not mean that it can never mean anything else. To clarify with an example: I am a Jew, and most certainly not a self-hater, but I am dubious about the value or moral basis of Zionism, and I strongly disagree with many of the Israeli state's recent actions. There is no contradiction there.

Right. Subject closed. It is my prerogative as author, editor, publisher and unelected dictator of this site to stop a thread before it makes me foam at the mouth too much.
posted @ 6:33 AM -

Saturday, July 13

Academic sacked for being an Israeli

For the most part, I am trying to ignore the problems of Israel & Palestine (in my writing at least - don't assume this means I'm not watching with horror), for a number of reasons:
  • emotionally I can't deal with it

  • I am absolutely powerless over the situation; not that that shuts me up on other subjects, but it amplifies the previous point

  • most people I know have opinions so polarised on one side or other of the issue that talking about it just inevitably leads to long, impassioned and futile arguments in which no party stands a chance of convincing any other

  • and I'm not that sure where I stand on the issue anyway, because both sides seem so completely abhorrent, at the same time as deserving some sympathy because their situation is so awful
However, I must break my silence today, because the repercussions have spread outside the region once again, and I am deeply disgusted by this latest piece of news. An academic has been sacked from the board of a translation journal because of her nationality.

There is an academic boycott of Israel in progress, which I neither support nor actively oppose, because I can understand its motivation, and I'm simply too unsure about whether or not it's justified to take a stand. My feeling is that I don't like the idea, but it's not a very reasoned response, so I won't go into it here. What definitely offends and worries me, however, is the sacking of an individual because of her nationality. The great irony is that the woman who has been sacked is a vocal opponent of Israeli policy, and yet she is still being punished for the actions of a government that does not represent her views.

To boycott an institution because of the country where it is based can potentially be legitimate political action. To boycott conferences in that country (which I think is some peoples' interpretation of the scope of the boycott) is easier to justify. But to fire an individual, working outside the country, because of the passport she holds, is simply racist.

I expect government action on this. The journal in question (The Translator) is based in the UK, where we have laws about such actions, and if in September 2001 someone had been fired for being an Afghan I am convinced their employer would have been prosecuted (and rightly so). Now I expect to see the full force of the various Race Relations Acts brought to bear on the editor of The Translator. Any less will start to confirm an uncomfortably growing suspicion that discrimination against some groups of people is more acceptable than against others.

Having started this rant with a mention of powerlessness, I am now asking myself what I can do about this. There's not a great deal I can, but being involved in academia I have slightly more leverage here than in most political issues. First of all I will be writing to my MP demanding a prosecution; though this is usually futile I know that MPs' secretaries do give them reports on issues that are swelling the mailbags, so it can sometimes achieve something. More significantly, and I urge any academic to do this, I will be writing to the Dean of the Linguistics faculty at my University (who conveniently happens also to be my Dean, and with whom I have quite a good relationship), and to the library there, asking whether they stock this journal and if so, whether they would consider cancelling the subscription as a statement of their abhorrence of nationilist discrimination. I can't imagine a letter from me alone making a difference, but maybe if enough people express concern it might. If just a handful of universities boycott the journal that will hurt it, because not only will its revenue decrease but also the stream of articles submitted for publication will slow down, and that will in turn weaken what it has to offer.

There's not much I can do about this, but it's more than the usual nothing, so I feel I have to try.

Full disclosure: though I have never lived in Israel, and my only relative in Israel moved there from Turkey, I do hold an Israeli passport. Therefore this sort of action is a direct threat to me. This is not actually why I am so upset - being a dual national I could keep my Israeli nationality a secret if that were my concern - but it seemed worth mentioning for honesty's sake.
posted @ 1:58 AM -

Friday, July 12

To sleep, perchance to dream

and maybe if I can get a nice long night's sleep tonight, without the neighbours' bloody puppies waking me up with their whining, I'll feel better tomorrow. Then maybe I'll write more here. For now sleep is all that matters to my [temporarily] feeble little mind.
posted @ 5:14 PM -

Thursday, July 11

I think I've found a stopgap solution to my email problems that at least gives me a way of reading mail while my main system is out of order. My usual address should be working again....
posted @ 1:46 AM -

Wednesday, July 10

today I had to testify in a court case (the unpleasant business in London I was referring to the other day). I don't want to go into much detail somewhere as public as this, but basically it was remarkably stress-free (I am only a witness to this case; the judgement won't directly affect me, but I was still nervous) and quick. It's over (for me), and I get to go back to work tomorrow (a day earlier than expected), all of which means that now I am likely to manage to get enough done this week that I can go to Montréal next week. I'm very relieved, to say the least.
posted @ 8:58 AM -
my email is worse than yesterday. I haven't been able to connect to my server at all today, and I know that certain messages I sent to myself (from work to home) yesterday had not arrived by the time I went to bed last night. If you want to email me and have my work address please use that instead until this is sorted out.
posted @ 8:34 AM -

Tuesday, July 9

I have two entirely seperate email accounts. Excuse the language, but right now they are both fucked. This couldn't have happened at a worse time.

If you have sent me any mail since noon (UK time) today, don't count on it having been received until you get a reply. If you hear about someone going postal in the offices of either Freeserve or UK2 you know why.
posted @ 12:32 PM -
I just got the thing working in time. Must rush now to catch a train, but the relief of having reached this milestone just in time is indescribable
posted @ 11:51 AM -

my brain hurts

I'm tired and I'm stuck with some programming. If I were under less time pressure I'd probably head home now, but I really really need to get this function working so I can leave some tests running while in London. Of course this is exactly the conditions in which programmers work least efficiently, but I have no choice....
posted @ 9:26 AM -

Monday, July 8

how annoying. I'm trying to make a minor update to my template (I don't have time to do the major overhaul it needs just now), and Blogger is, as Scott would put it, goobered up. It will just have to wait.

Update ½ an hour later: I think it's OK now. Scott - if you're still having trouble with yours try using pro1.blogger.com - that seems to have sorted it out for me
posted @ 3:44 PM -
Andrea gave up smoking a month ago. She's still managing to keep off the fags - go and congratulate her.
posted @ 3:21 PM -

work/life imbalance

I'm finding myself rather too absorbed by work at the moment. A week ago I realised that I was a couple of weeks behind my already tight schedule, not the couple of days behind that I thought was the case. Meanwhile I have to be in London for 2 days this week on business that I would rather not deal with, but can't pull out of without disastrous consequences for the people depending on me, and possibly directly for me, and I'm supposed to be going to Montréal on the 18th.

So I am working weekends, and taking work home with me. A very bad state of affairs, and one that I was explicitly hoping to avoid by starting this placement, but it might just be worth it. Underachieving on this project is simply not an option, because too many things in my future may hang on the quality of work I produce over the next 7 weeks, the mark I end up with for my MSc, and the references I can get both from Sussex and from HP Labs. That means that I have a choice between working my arse off while I'm here or giving up my holiday. I'm trying to choose the work hard and then disappear to Canada for a few days option, but it will take another week for me to know whether it's actually worked or not.

Right now I'm not happy at all, in fact the past 7 days have been among the worst times I can remember, but hopefully it will be worth it.
posted @ 3:06 PM -
I have been handed a weighty responsibility. This site has been linked to by an index of Sources for English Usage News and Articles. Whether it's because of my creative neologising, my scrupulous grammaticality, or for no reason at all (I suspect the latter, if only because the other reasons are not strictly true outright fantasy) I must take care to bear this burden well. The world is watching me and I can shape the future of the English language.

Would that it were so....
posted @ 2:52 PM -

Saturday, July 6

A new study has found that vitamin supplements are all but useless, confirming what I already suspected. I have always thought that our bodies are systems which can't just have raw materials poured into them in concentrated forms like antifreeze into a car engine, but that we require our fuel in the form that we have adapted to the use of. By that line of reasoning, vitamin supplements should at best be very inefficiently used, compared to the same intake of vitamins in natural (ie fruit) form. There's never been any clear scientific evidence to confirm or contradict my intuition, but now this study provides some indirect evidence - vitamin supplements do not reduce users' risk of suffering from various conditions that they are supposed to help protect from.

I found the industry representatives' responses highly amusing. One says: 46% of households in the UK buys a vitamin supplement and they can't all be wrong, which has to be the most ludicrous argument usable in this context, but also says something about the way people live in this time and place. It seems like too much effort to buy fresh fruit and vegetables and cook them, so people try to cheat. There's almost a moral point here - you can't cheat biology - it's not a system of rules like human laws that you can find loopholes in, and why do people want to try anyway?

an aside: just after posting this I noticed that there's also a grammatical error in the health industry rep's statement. I suppose it's a bit of a sad reflection of how absorbed I am in artificial languages at the moment that I'm picking up on minor inconsistencies in peoples' use of natural language....
posted @ 5:35 AM -

Thursday, July 4


Having heard about the Nigerian money-laundering scam many times over the past few years, I finally had the honour of receiving such a mail today. It is such a work of art that I feel I have to repeat it here (apologies for the great length):

Dear sir,


Firstly, I must solicit your strictest confidentiality in this transaction. This is by virtue of its nature as being utterly CONFIDENTIAL and �TOP SECRET.� Though I know that a transaction of this magnitude will make anyone apprehensive and worried, but I am assuring you that all will be well at the end of the day. We have decided to contact you first by your email due to the urgency of this transaction, as we have been reliably informed that it will take at least two to three weeks for a normal post to reach you. So we decided it is best using the email.

Let me start by first introducing myself properly to you. I am CHIEF. DANIEL OMENE, a senior official in the nigerian national petroluem corporation and I head a Three-man tender board in charge of Contracts Awards and payment Approvals. I came to know of you in my search for a reliable and reputable person to handle a very confidential business transaction which involves the transfer of a huge sum of money to a foreign account requiring maximum confidence. I and my colleagues are top officials of the Federal Government Contract Review Panel. Our duties include evaluation,vetting, approval for payment of contract jobs done for the NNPC, etc. In order to commence this business, we solicit for your assistance to enable us transfer into your account the said funds.

The source of this funds is as follows: During the last military regime here in Nigeria, this committee awarded a contract of US$400,000,000.00 (Four Hundred Million United States Dollars) to five construction firms on behalf of the Petroleum Ministry for the supply, construction and installation of Oil Pipeline from Warri to PortHarcourt. During this process my colleagues and I decided amongst ourselves to deliberately over-inflate the total contract sum to US$431,500,000.00 (Four Hundred and Thirty One Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) with the main intention of sharing the remaining sum of US$31,500,000.00 (Thirty One Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) amongst ourselves. The Federal Government of Nigeria has since approved the sum of US$431,500,000.00 (Four Hundred and Thirty One Million, Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars) for us as the contract sum, and the sum of US$400,000,000.00 (Four Hundred Million United States Dollars) has also been paid to the foreign contractors concerned as contract entitlements for the contract
done, but since each of the companies is entitled to US$80,000,000.00 only, we are now left with US$31,500,000.00 balance in the account which we intend to transfer abroad into a safe and reliable account to be disbursed amongst ourselves, but by virtue of our positions as civil servants and members of this panel, we cannot do this by ourselves, as we are prohibited by the �Code of Conduct Bureau� (Civil Service Laws) from opening / operating foreign accounts in our names, making it impossible for us to acquire the money in our names. I have, therefore, been mandated as a matter of trust by my colleagues in the panel to look for an overseas partner into whose account we would transfer the sum of US$31,500,000.00 (Thirty One Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars), hence we are writing you this letter.

My colleagues and I have agreed that if your company can act as the beneficiary of this funds on our behalf, you or your company will retain 30% of the total amount of US$31,500,000.00 (Thirty One Million Five Hundred Thousand United States Dollars), while 60% will be for us (members of this panel) and the remaining 10% will be used in offsetting all debts/expenses incurred (both local and foreign) in the cause of this transfer. Needless to say, the trust reposed on you at this juncture is enormous. In return we demand your complete honesty and trust. You must however, NOTE that this transaction will be strictly based on the following terms and conditions as we have stated below, as we have heard confirmed cases of business associates running away with funds kept in their custody when it finally arrive their accounts. A very good and recent example is the one of Mr. Peter Hopwood, the President of Mileage Trading and Investment Company at Number 121, West 55th Street, 21st Floor, New York 10022, and former Chairman of OMPADEC (Mr. Patrick Opia), who we were reliably informed that after the agreement between both partners in which he was to take 15% of the money, while the remaining 85% for Nigerian Officials. With all the required documents signed, the money was duly transferred into his account, only to be disappointed on their arrival in New York and were informed that Mr. Peter Hopwood was no longer on that address, while his telephone and fax numbers have been re-allocated to somebody else. This was how they lost US$18.5 Million to Mr. Hopwood. This is a very recent story here in my country and everybody is aware of this, some of the officials decided to cry out and face the law, because they felt they had lost too much to a stranger, while the Chairman of OMPADEC (Mr. Patrick Opia) is hiding in a foreign country. So right now we are taking all precautionary measures to guard against re-occurrence of such act in our case. This is why we have decided that this transaction will be based completely on the following:

(a). Our conviction of your transparent honesty and diligence.

(b). That you would treat this transaction with utmost secrecy and confidentiality.

(c). That upon receipt of the funds, you will promptly release our share (60%) on demand after you have removed your 30% and all expenses have been settled.

(d). You must be ready to produce us with enough information about yourself to put our minds at rest.

Please, note that this transaction is 100% legal and risk free and we hope to conclude the business in Seven Bank working days from the date of receipt of the necessary information and requirement from you.

Please, acknowledge the receipt of this letter using my email address. I will bring you into the complete picture of the transaction when I have heard from you.

Your urgent response will be highly appreciated as we are already behind schedule for this financial quarter.

Thank you and God bless.

Yours faithfully,

Chief Daniel Omene

I know which cretinous company shared out my email address, because I use specific variants of it for each thing I sign up for, precisely to catch cretins like this when they share my address with spammers. Err, yes, that is a hint that I'd like a Google bomb as a petty way of getting back at 24fun for sharing my private data with cretinous spammers.

The thing I find really disturbing about all this is that a large number of cretins actually manage to fall for it, according to Jerry Pournelle's report. As I often find myself saying, there's no helping some people....

Later on in the same day I received another beautiful piece of spam; this being one I could more easily imagine people falling for (originally in glorious technicolour, but I really can't be bothered to format it):

0909 965 1983
Someone has a secret crush on you

They asked us to send you this message.
This person is [madly in love] with you and has said:

- You are Charming
- You are Attractive
-You look Sweet
- You seem Intelligent
- You Excite them

If you want to know who this person is, then you must call one of the following numbers:

0909 965 1983

The call is totally anonymous for you.

All the best,

If you wish to unsubscribe, please send an email to: nothankyou@pinoymail.com

The call is charged as a long distance call - For UK the charge is 2.5 Pence/sec

The thing about this one is that (like the original iloveyou worm) it strikes at peoples' loneliness and insecurity, perhaps the only motivation more likely to make people fall for stupid things than pure greed. In the original version there was a long gap before the line about call charges, so I could imagine many people thinking well, it probably isn't real, but I may as well check it out just in case, without noticing the extortionate charges.

There's a sucker born every minute they say.
posted @ 3:50 PM -
Happy Independence Day, to those who would celebrate it. I do mean it, but here's some food for thought as well.
posted @ 3:47 PM -

Wednesday, July 3

Went to see Steve Tilston at the Albert Hole this evening. It was good, but I'm tired, so I'll write about it later.

As for my worries in the last post, well, my supervisor was very encouraging in some respects, while also making it clear that time is running out and I can't afford to waste any.
posted @ 4:54 PM -

Tuesday, July 2

Work work work

I'm half way through my placement at HP, and I'm a little worried. I'm meeting my supervisor today, which will make it clear whether I'm right to be concerned, but basically I feel like I haven't done enough yet. Certainly I could be more efficient while at work, and at the same time I could do with leaving earlier, so from now I am setting myself some rules, which I'm putting here in the hope that it will help me stick to them:
  • get to sleep by midnight every schoolnight

  • be at my desk by 10 every morning

  • no blogging from work

  • no private email before lunch, and no dialogues on private email until I get home in the evening

  • leave work by 6:30 each afternoon, unless I'm really stuck into something that it would take a long time to get back into the next day

The other thing is that I'm just not adjusting very well to having one long deadline as opposed to a succession of close ones. I kind of new this would happen, but I hoped it wouldn't. I think I will suggest to my supervisor that we should have short meetings every couple of days. I feel childish requiring this short of petty short-termist motivation, but I think it will be easier for me to push distractions aside if I can tell myself that I need to have something to report tomorrow, rather than just having the long term goal of needing to have something to hand in on the 2nd of September.
posted @ 11:50 PM -

Ted, just admit it

Right, own up: who has been searching for football nuclear on Google? What were you looking for? Do I really want to know?
posted @ 12:23 AM -

Monday, July 1

So much to do, so little time

On the weekend just past, I began the task of catching up with myself. My music is back in a rational order so I can find things again, my room is tidy enough that I'm neither stepping on CD cases nor wasting time looking for important pieces of paper. I've also acquired more wonderful music, partly from a record fair on the Saturday (where I picked up the following fairly eclectic mix: 2 Motown compilations, a folk compilation, 2 LPs by bands featuring Martin Carthy, 2 Simon & Garfunkel albums (one of which I already had on tape, but I found the real thing for a quid), a Miners' Strike benefit special and a Human League album), and partly by finally getting around to copying some of the pile of other peoples' CDs that I have been hogging for unacceptably long. Musical discovery of the week: Astor Piazzolla's tango nuevo.

I still have much catching up with myself to do. I must decide what I'm doing when I finish at HP (which happens at the end of August) as a matter of extreme urgency, because depending on where I go I may need vaccinations, malaria tablets, visas etc. I must also start looking at places to apply for PhD programs for next year, because I want to send applications off before I leave this country. I must also update my CV because that will be of general usefulness....

The last song on the first album by the Manic Street Preachers ends with the words:
There's nothing I wanna see
There's nowhere I wanna go

It sticks in my mind because it's quite a haunting end to an album, but I couldn't feel less like that just now.
posted @ 4:24 PM -
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