Friday, August 30

Finished. It's REALLY finished

13,500 words. 32 citations. 28 figures. 2300 lines of code. 78 pages. 2 copies.

All bound and waiting to be handed in.

That proverbial fat lady is clearing her throat. She won't really be singing until I had the damn thing in on Monday, but now there really is very little that can still go wrong.

If you were thinking that some beer might possibly be consumed this evening in celebration, you were right.
posted @ 9:28 AM -

Thursday, August 29

Finished. It's nearly finished

I've just printed out the first copy of my MSc dissertation, in final form. I haven't quite finished, because I have all of the source code to print out, and I'm still faffing around commenting that, but I know that if I had to I could print out the code in its current form. It is a good feeling, but I'm actually strangely nervous, just because this is so final. The impression this makes will be the final determinant of the mark I get for a course into which I've thrown two years of hard graft, and even though this reported has been thoroughly edited, proofread across several drafts by my 3 supervisors, 2 with considerable attention to detail, and I've just had a last read through, it still feels like there must be more to do.
posted @ 9:52 AM -

Wednesday, August 28

editing, editing,editing....
posted @ 11:02 AM -
A paper that Sam sent me prompted this search - sonic hedgehog protein - but it still hasn't answered my question: Why the *!?* is there a protein called sonic hedgehog, which appears to have nothing (directly at least) to do with sound, hedgehogs or the ability to play computer games?
posted @ 6:04 AM -
My last grammar question, I promise: How should one decline the verb "to fit". Specifically, which of these phrases is correct:

they must be fit into the available space
they must be fitted into the available space

This one is particularly frustrating to me, because if I were only writing in French I'd have a handy reference book I could look it up in, but because I was never really taught English grammar in as formal a way as for French & German, I have no such resource to hand.
posted @ 3:22 AM -

Tuesday, August 27

I have been extremely sceptical about this environment/development/general right-on stuff conference that's going down in SA at the moment, but it does look like at least one actual agreement has been reached that might have a beneficial impact: a world-wide fisheries management policy. Things like fisheries management are completely futile on a unilateral scale, but this might, just, work. I won't hold my breath.
posted @ 11:42 AM -
Now this is downright insulting.
posted @ 8:47 AM -

with apologies to Marvin Gaye

and by way of apology to people who have found me difficult to talk to, or simply hard to pin down lately, I present to you a cringeingly awful piece of plagiarism:

I ain't got time to think about money
Or what it can buy
And I ain't got time to sit down and wonder
What makes a birdie fly

And I don't have the time to think about
What makes a flower grow
And I've never given a second thought
To where the rivers flow

I'm too busy thinking about my thesis
And I ain't got time for nothing else

Said, I ain't got time to discuss the weather
How long it's gonna last
And I ain't got time to eat drink or sleep
Once I get out of class
Tellin ya I'm just a fellow
Said I got a one track mind
And when it comes to thinking about anything but my thesis
I just don't have the time....

I am truly sorry for putting you through that.
posted @ 5:06 AM -

Monday, August 26


I have just finished writing my MSc dissertation. There's actually still some work to do, because this is a draft and will need editing, and there are the boring tasks like the bibliography, but I still feel like the worst of the pressure has been lifted off my shoulders, and it feels good.
posted @ 5:48 PM -
I can't help but think that this spoof article about NIMBYism actually sums up the entire opposition to Brighton & Hove Albion's attempts at building a decent stadium (and many, many other things, but it's the only local planning story that I really follow with much interest). Lots of people have jumped on the bandwagon of opposing the development for extremely bad reasons, like the students, most of whom have never set foot in Falmer Village, wailing about how it will spoil the peace of a quiet rural village. Like a 2-lane bypass cut right through the middle (seriously - half of Falmer is divided from the other half by an enormous cutting with a main road in it) and two University campuses with a total of about 15,000 students haven't already done that....
posted @ 5:44 AM -
Oh dear. The Tory Party think that they can get young people to vote for them by sending them an 18th birthday welcome pack. I suppose it is good that at least they are trying to get their message across to a group who tend to just not care about politics at all, but do they really not understand that it's the substance as opposed to the presentation of their policies that is putting voters off?
posted @ 3:26 AM -

Saturday, August 24

It seems the subscribe-to-my-site service is working again. This is probably a side-effect of the major overhaul of Blogger that's been promised for a while. It's also not a moment too soon - the original reason I signed up for this service was with my upcoming travels in mind, because that's when I expect to update irregularly, once or twice a week, but as long as people know when to look at the page it should be a useful way for me to keep in touch with lots of people at once.

One thing to take note of though: Bloglet, who provide the subscription service, now allow me to see subscribers' email addresses. I assure you I will only use this information to satisfy my curiosity, but if this bothers you you do have a choice. From the Edit Profile page in Bloglet you can tick a box to make your address private. That way you show up in my total subscribers count but I won't be able to identify you individually or see your email address anywhere.

As of tomorrow (I want this message to go out in full to all subscribers to explain why they're suddenly receiving email again) I'll switch the system to abstract mode. Instead of sending the whole post it will send you the first 100 characters or so, so your inbox won't be swamped on the days when I spend an hour in an internet cafe, but you'll always be able to come to this URL and read the whole lot.

If you want to know any more about the service in general, the Bloglet FAQ has lots of information.
posted @ 2:47 AM -

Friday, August 23

Two items that struck me in the news today:

BT have had a lawsuit thrown out of court, in which they claimed they were owed a royalty for every use of hyperlinks. Even stupider than the Davezilla allegedly infringing Godzilla's trademark story....

And the BBC are carrying a nice, reasoned commentary on how wrong the UK is to be so hung up about Oxbridge
posted @ 5:01 PM -
things are gradually getting better for me.

I had various pieces of good news at work:
  • the feedback on my draft so far indicates much editing to do, but is mostly positive
  • I now have plenty of good results, and although some of the things I tried didn't work it was clearly the most ambitious bits, so I still have a story to tell that runs along the lines of this was mostly a success, but not everything we tried worked, here is a discussion of why
  • and I can't actually give out more detail than that right now, because a patent will be filed next week of what we have invented.
Until the patent is filed I do have to be very cagey about what I discuss. This has the unfortunate side-effect that I can't show my draft to a couple of friends who kindly offered to proofread it, but it's worthwhile for me. And an edited version of my report, co-authored with my supervisor, will be going out as an HP Labs Technical Report. And it's looking fairly likely now that this project will continue after I leave - something of no direct benefit to me, but it is nice to know. In a few years' time there might even be commercial software with an algorithm I developed at its core....

Work is still dominating my life, but considering I have a week to go that's hardly surprising. It's no longer the mixture panic and despair that I was going through 4 or 5 days ago, just an awareness that for the remaining 6 days I will have to work steadily. I'll be able to work from home over this weekend though, and even have a lie-in tomorrow (which I desperately need), and I shouldn't have to do any more crazily long days.

I actually feel a bit too relieved now, as though I've finished, when all that's happened is I'm under less pressure than a week ago. Oh well. I can let myself enjoy this for a little while, but after lunch tomrorrow I have to get focussed on work again.
posted @ 4:51 PM -

Thursday, August 22

[update on Friday: you will be able to hear the item here for the coming week]

Until tomorrow afternoon (at least, and possibly for the coming week), you'll be able to hear an interview with Dave Cliff, who runs my department at HP Labs, talk about ongoing work looking at AI trading agents and marketplace design via the Radio 4 website. At various points he alludes to work being done by others here; that includes one of the other student projects, being written up right now by Vibhu Walia.

You can catch it here until 1630 (BST) tomorrow, and then hopefully for the coming week it will be available from this page under the title AI and the Stockmarket.
posted @ 10:40 AM -

Wednesday, August 21

light at the end of the tunnel?

The last few days have been extremely difficult. This is the first time I've made it home before sundown in a little while, and I've been putting the hours in for a reason. Having caught up slightly from my panic about writing the report (half of it is in second draft form, and about half of the rest in first draft now, so I still have work to do but less reason for panic), there was the small matter of a bug in my code. Small in that I only really needed to change two lines. Absolutely terrifyingly massive in that it made all of my results nonsense for a large class of input data (all the realistic sets basically, as opposed to the sets that are made up of convenient regular patterns), and took a long time and a lot of blood sweat and tears (OK, so not strictly blood, but it's the thought that counts) to fix.

It's fixed now, and I am starting to feel the pressure reduce from dangerous-to-my-health levels to something I can deal with. I still have a lot to do over the next couple of days, but the experiments run pretty fast and I have 9 machines at my disposal overnight, so it is still just about possible that I'll be able to finish the write-up by Friday. I have one more week after that, but I'm really hoping that all I have to do in that week is edit, knowing that if some disaster stops me from working I will at least have a complete and acceptable-quality report to hand in.

If the next couple of days go really well, I might even be able to take a day off over the weekend. It's a Bank Holiday, but I definitely won't have a 2 or 3 day weekend, because this close to the deadline that's just a poor use of my time, especially when a week after handing in I'll be off on the longest holiday I've ever taken. Oh yes - that's the light I'm seeing dimly in the distance....
posted @ 12:23 PM -

Tuesday, August 20

I'm looking forward to a day when I can get home before the sun goes down.
posted @ 2:27 PM -
Macromedia: what were you thinking creating an installer that when it's finished just shuts the browser down without warning and without asking the user?

I was halfway through writing a post here, with several windows open that I was going to post links to, and it's all gone. No time to re-write it - I have to get to work.

The gist was I've been working insanely late these last few days, but I've almost finished my draft dissertation, so the pressure should reduce slightly from now on.

Oh, and this is very interesting indeed.
posted @ 2:35 AM -

Monday, August 19

oh for *!?*'s sake. Is this going to happen every year? The press have found a promising student who didn't get into Oxford, and decided that this conclusively proves that Oxford admissions are unfair. Do they really not understand how ridiculous this is, or are they (as I suspect) just using a story that they know will get many people whipped up into a frenzy to make some news in August?
posted @ 4:57 AM -

Sunday, August 18

Today I found a logic error in my program. The one I've been working on for the past 10 weeks or so, and must hand in the report about in 2 weeks.

The good news is that actually it comes up with the right answers anyway, just slower than it should (and I was wondering why with certain types of test data it was going so slowly). The bad news is that I still need to fix it, because I'm not willing to hand in source code for a program that doesn't work in the way I say it does, and I could do without having to tinker with code at this late stage. The possibly good news that might just cancel out the bad news is that it ought to be really straightforward to fix.
posted @ 9:39 AM -

Another grammar question

Thanks to everyone who helped me with the that or which question. Now I have another one, which has bothered me since I started my BA, and I've never got around to checking for an authoritative answer to: How do I indicate a possesive of a group of people, who I am referring to as somebody et. al.?

I'm trying to find a way of saying the approach of Cohoon et. al., and I'm not quite sure how to. At the moment I'm writing Cohoon et. al.s' approach, but this looks wrong. Is it?
posted @ 7:33 AM -

Saturday, August 17

Something that I have been saying for years: British schools train pupils to perform in exams, at the expense of giving them a useful education. What the report doesn't add is that this also bores and demoralises pupils, leading many to play truant or drop out altogether. Politicians round here like to pin the blame for truancy on careless parents, but the shortcomings of the education system itself have a lot to do with this....
posted @ 3:51 PM -
Things I learned today: Barry Manilow submitted a sound track for Star Wars. Or possibly not.
posted @ 4:43 AM -

Friday, August 16

...and in other news:

A movement on the fringe of British Islam called a press conference yesterday, but then kept the press out. You what?!?

Some judges evidently do have sense: dog perfumes that parody human perfume brands have been found not to infringe on trademarks. *zilla watchers take note.

Europe's floods are spreading further.

Student debt in Britain is getting worse. I feel like letting rip about this, but I know that once I start I'll be going on for ages, and it's more important that I get some sleep tonight.

And to finish with something positive: implants that let blind people see again. Link via Jerry Kindall.
posted @ 3:02 PM -
In fact, dissertating doesn't quite mean what I thought it did. I took it to mean working on one's dissertation.
posted @ 2:44 PM -
if you are wondering where I've been, I have an explanation. It is a word that I thought Scott invented, until I did a Google search today, and discovered has been used by others too: dissertating.

Apart from that, I've been preparing more of my future. I have an arrangement to meet a potential PhD supervisor and talk shop in January, and another to whom I must send a CV. This is good. I also have a dull ache at the top of both arms, because I went back to the clinic for round 2 of vaccinations this morning. This is not so good, but clearly orders of magnitude better than actually contracting the diseases in question.
posted @ 2:42 PM -

Wednesday, August 14

"that" or "which"

Word's grammar checker keeps flagging my text for this issue, but I'm not convinced it's right. When should one use that, and when should one use which?
posted @ 8:05 AM -

Blank paper == Pure blind fear

Although I have written about half of my dissertation, I have as yet to write an introduction that I'm even willing to show my supervisor without a disclaimer along the lines of this is provisional and I'll completely re-write it later. I was planning on doing that last, but it's becoming clear that I need to write it now so I can refer back to it in the middle of the report. It's really frustrating. While large sections from the middle of the report almost write themselves (though actually the bits I've written already need substantial editing), and at my best I can churn them out pretty fast, every sentence of this introduction feels like it has my blood in it. There's just something about having a blank page to fill that fills me with terror, and makes me jam up.
posted @ 8:04 AM -

The ...Zilla Story Continued

or: My lawyer's bigger than yours, part II

There is a theory being put about on the web that the reason Davezilla received a threat of a lawsuit is in an attempt to set a precedent, prior to taking Mozilla to court. The advantage would be that Mozilla are a company, presumably with more money to be sued for than the individual who runs Davezilla (disclaimer: Dave Linabury could be one of the richest men in the world for all I know), and their logo is actually close enough to Godzilla in appearance that it could actually be accused of genuinely trading on Godzilla's fame. Potential problems if this really is their strategy: they are very unlikely to win a case against Davezilla, and if they took Mozilla to court they'd have to answer the objection that they must have known about this infringement for years, and they haven't done anything about it.

Sources: Slashdot and MetaFilter. There's also general information about this type of bullying at Chilling Effects.
posted @ 6:14 AM -

Tuesday, August 13

Gnomes on the run

I feel the tone here needs lowering further. I'll let these two stories speak for themselves.
posted @ 3:22 PM -
A thought occurred to me this evening. Not a very important thought, among many other not very important thoughts, but I'll share it anyway.

That Davezilla story prompted me to look up the word colophon. This in turn made me wonder: does dictionary.com get a rush of look-ups for particular words when a story either using an unusual word or spelling something wrongly is published?
posted @ 3:21 PM -

My lawyer's bigger than yours

So, last week I received a threat of a legal action, from an organisation that shall remain nameless, over something on my webspace. They made one fair point, on which I acted immediately, and many really stupid ones. I didn't mention it at the time, because I wanted to be sure that they were being as ridiculous as I thought, and by the time I was I had become rather bored of the whole business.

To begin at the beginning, the fair point they made was that I claimed to maintain a site which they apparently maintain. I am dubious about whether they in fact do, but certainly I don't. This was a job I had taken on just before getting the place at HP, at which point I dropped all other work that I was doing at the time, so I never did update the site in question. With this in mind, I immediately removed the section about that site (it being one I had done no work on at all, whereas the rest of my portfolio consists of sites I designed or worked on at some point but don't work on any more), and added a preamble to the rest of my portfolio, to the effect of I designed these sites, but I'm no longer responsible for their maintenance. I should really have added that preamble in May.

So far, so reasonable, except that the nameless organisation didn't just ask me to remove an untrue claim. They accused me of besmirching their reputation (I did claim I could work faster than them. That claim is true, and if challenged I just need to point out that the site in question still has information that went out of date last year), and stealing their intellectual property by displaying a thumbnail of the site - displaying our design work without ours or [the client]'s specific permission. Stealing their intellectual property by displaying a shrunken reproduction of something that's available on the public domain?!? By that token, every tourist who snaps St.Paul's is stealing Sir Christopher Wren's IP! Oh yeah, and I linked to the original site, and I made it clear in the blurb that I did not design the site. And I complimented the original site design....

They 'suggested' that I remove all references to the site in question to avoid legal action, and claim that the client (I've had neither a confirmation nor a denial from the client) is outraged at my statements. And as if bringing the client into a dispute wasn't bad enough, they also sent it to my ISP, who have absolutely no reason to care (they would be obliged to act if it ever came to legal action, but until then it's just an attempt to scare me).

The thing that really mystifies me is why they should even care. It looks like they wanted to bully me, so they thought they'd just load on any possible charge they could think of throwing at me, in the hope that I'd just back down. I did back down, but only because of the one thing they were right about, and I wrote them a long reply explaining this. Of course I've had no response to that, but I'm sure it's been read.

Anyway, why am I talking about this now? Something I read today seemed to echo it very strongly: Davezilla has received a similarly absurd threat from the owners of the Godzilla trademark, claiming, among other things, that the site is likely to confuse people who think it is related. The Register sums it up pretty well.

The words pushing their luck spring to mind.
posted @ 9:20 AM -

Monday, August 12

yuk. The Asian brown cloud
posted @ 12:25 AM -

Sunday, August 11

at some point this evening I'm going to erase everything on my server and re-upload it, to tidy up. If you happen to look here and find nothing, please come back an hour or two later, and all should be restored.
posted @ 12:57 PM -
Having spent my one scheduled day off having fun but certainly not catching up on my sleep, I found myself unable to go into work today. I really mean unable - I got up with the best of intentions, but sat down on my bed and found it impossible to get up. I slept for a few hours this afternoon, and I'm just hoping I feel better tomorrow, because I still feel exhausted now. I shouldn't be too hard on myself - I had worked long hours for 9 days without a break coming up to this weekend - but I can't afford the time off.

It was important to me to see my friends off yesterday, but it had a high cost. From now until I finish my project (only a few weeks away) wild horses will not drag me out of Bristol, because I just can't keep doing this to myself.
posted @ 12:18 PM -
This is interesting: Iran 'handed over al-Qaeda fighters'
posted @ 6:42 AM -

Saturday, August 10

and so to bed, said Zebedee. Eldan must work tomorrow.
posted @ 7:02 PM -

Warming up

I decided today to warm up for my huge train journey across two continents by spending 7 hours on trains. Of course there was a reason for this; the two Kiwis who I used to live with in Brighton are heading back homewards next week, so this was my last chance to see them. In effect, this was the first of the serious goodbyes that I've been worrying about. I think it was done in appropriate style - getting steamingly drunk with a small enough group of people that we actually all managed to have conversations with each other over the course of the afternoon - but it was a bit emotional. Funnily enough I was saying goodbye to them for a shorter time than I will be saying goodbye to my other friends in a few weeks, because I expect to join them in NZ in January, but that's still a while off, and ought to be an especially eventful time for me.

Anyway, the train rides themselves were more of an experience than usual. On the way out this was just because I managed to miss my train (pure incompetence on my part) and the London - Brighton part was extra crowded because it was the Gay Pride carnival in Brighton. On the way back things became more interesting. You see, one of the reasons I love the London - Bristol service is that it has a mobile phone free quiet carriage. I switch my phone off, in exchange for not being disturbed by other peoples', and a large enough proportion of people respect this system for it to be worthwhile. This evening, someone sat near me was using a mobile. Initially, when they were just sending & receiving text messages, I was only slightly annoyed, so I thought it best not to say anything, and just try to sleep anyway. One of the other passengers did complain, and was greeted with a familiar sort of logic-free argument for his pains. Then the mobile phone user started swearing in a stage whisper, and then decided that he was being eyeballed by the plaintiff, so tried rather pathetically to start a fight. Gradually other travellers joined in the argument, all expressing support for the man who initially complained, and it sort of simmered down, and I started drifting off.

Then the recalcitrant knave's phone rang and he answered the call, talking loudly enough that I was woken by his voice. This irritated me far more than anything that had happened before, and collectively the passengers complained. The fool refused to back down, for reasons that I can only assume stem from machismo (it would have taken a whole minute to walk to coach B, which is not designated a quiet zone), and a fight very nearly kicked off between him and one of the more sympathetic fellow travellers. By this point I was far too awake to go back to sleep, and was quite tempted just to throw this arsehole to the floor, which would have been easy enough had I thought it would achieve anything. It would certainly have been amusing....

Still, every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case the pillock left the train at Reading, but the whole incident served as an icebreaker. The person who had originally complained offered me some of his wine, and when he and his friends saw my guidebooks (I had taken the whole stack with me in a rucksack hoping that if I didn't sleep on the train I could plan instead) I was off talking about my current favourite subject: what I'll be doing from September till January. I now have another correspondent; another person to read my travel diary as I write it, and he works for the press too, so if anything really exciting happens to me or I get any particularly good photos, I might just be able to eke a small royalty out of the story.

All of which goes to show that it's always worth being friendly and sociable on trains, even if it can sometimes bring poor rewards. Oh, and this would never have happened if I drove.
posted @ 7:02 PM -

Friday, August 9


I went to be vaccinated against various diseases of the regions I'll be travelling in today. In total I'll be getting 8 jabs, of which 2 were today, and there will be 3 in each of another two sittings.

I hate needles. I wouldn't say it qualifies as a phobia, but I think it is deeper than the average person's hatred of such things; verging on fear. It was funny observing myself today - I actually felt far worse while the nurse was filling the syringes than I did during or after the injections, which were almost painless. The only trouble is that the rabies shot is sub-dermal, which means it creates a bleb of serum, to be slowly absorbed into the circulatory system, which in turn means that I have a blister on my arm that I must not scratch. The consciousness of being obliged not to touch it makes me far more aware that it's there, so I keep wanting to touch the damn thing. It's under a big plaster, which is helping for now, but it will only take a couple of showers for that to come loose, and I'm supposed to ignore this thing for as long as its there, which could be up to a week.

It's a bit like not thinking of pink elephants.
posted @ 10:19 AM -

Thursday, August 8

is there no organisation that can run a webmail service reliably?
posted @ 12:28 PM -


Come to think of it, getting visas for certain countries is more unpleasant than CV writing. A lot easier, but I get really nervous filling those forms in. It's not that I have anything to hide, or even that any of the questions are actually difficult, but somehow I go into this strange state of convincing myself that the slightest unclarity of handwriting will make them reject the application.

And then it takes so long to hear back from them, even though I know my application is of a routine sort. And it's so expensive. If only everywhere made it as straightforward as Australia. That one took about 5 minutes, and costs a small enough sum of money for me to believe that they really are just covering the cost of running the system, and not using it to fleece tourists.
posted @ 10:56 AM -

Wednesday, August 7

there are few things I hate more than CV writing.
posted @ 12:06 PM -
Yesterday was the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. This fact had entirely passed me by until I read Moorishgirl's post on the subject. Sadly I find myself agreeing with her analysis of how the world has not changed in some important respects.
posted @ 6:21 AM -
It seems crime does pay, at least if you're the victim, and the perpetrator is stupid enough.

I'm working from home today, because the lab is open again, but there's no running water, which means no showers, and I have a 6½ mile bike ride to get there, so apart from being unpleasant for me, it would be downright unfair to Brian, who shares my cube, if I were to show up. I'm glad this happened while I was writing the report, because it means it's not actually too disruptive to me. Programming is somehow much harder to concentrate on at home, I guess at least partly because writing reports and essays is something I've always done at home at every stage of education.
posted @ 3:38 AM -

Tuesday, August 6

oh for *!?%s sake. I had written a nice long day-dreamy post about my travel plans, but because I wrote it while offline, Explorer's decided to lose it for me.

The gist was that I haven't yet planned beyond my arrival in Beijing on the 1st of November, and I won't plan it in detail for a little while yet, because sorting out PhDs is more pressing. I have been thinking about it though, and I'll probably drop my original over land until I run out of land plan, and fly from Shanghai to Bangkok (possibly via Hong Kong). I won't have time to spend as long as I'd like in as many places as I'd like, so I think I'll leave Southern China, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Northern Thailand for another trip.
posted @ 3:34 PM -

Coming up for air

Long post warning. I have much to tell.

Since writing the relatively full statement of my plans last week, I have been surprised by the people who have emerged claiming they knew nothing of this. I thought I had talked so much about it that all my friends were sick of hearing it. Anyway, this caused something of a crisis, with me doing a lot of soul-searching, trying to work out whether I really have been negligent (with some people I probably have, with others I'm convinced I haven't), and trying to convince people that the plans for the next 4-7 years of my life are something I've been mulling over for a long time, not an idea that just popped into my head last week.

It's reinforced my determination to make sure that I manage to say goodbye properly to the people who I'll miss most. That in turn has not been easy. I've already managed to upset some people while trying very hard to do this the right way, because sometimes the best I can do is not good enough. I'm also having to make difficult decisions. It is obvious to me that I won't be able to say an appropriate farewell to the majority of my friends. I'll organise some sort of leaving party in London a few days before I go, but that's not really satisfactory, because at parties I either only speak to a small minority of the guests, or don't have involved conversations with anyone. Yesterday I wrote to a small subset of my friends, promising them something better, and asking in exchange that they book out some time for me in that final week. Choosing the list was difficult, at least among the Brighton people (I've not been in Bristol long enough to have developed that sort of relationship with anyone here, and I've been away from London for long enough that it's become obvious who is important out of my friends there). I am profligate with my affections, and more often than not the compliment seems to be returned.

All of this has been weighing heavily on my mind, and the issue with people being surprised by my plans took away my desire to write anything about myself here. It's been a week, but I'm convinced enough that I hadn't done anything wrong that I'm no longer worried about that.

The other thing that's been keeping from writing here is simply that I've been so busy. Work was insanely pressured for a while, but an unexpectedly productive Sunday evening (I was there from 7 pm till 1:30 am, with only a garrulous security guard for company) has taken a lot of the pressure off me. Having set out to write one chapter, I've ended up writing half of the report I need to hand in at the end of the month. It has blank tables in at the moment, which I need to fill with data (a tiny fraction of a lorryload), and there's a load of discussion to write after the results are in, but the important thing is it buys me time for programming. In two days I did an amount of work that I had set aside a week for, plus having that in the bag makes the chance of my last week being a mad rush much smaller.

I am still being a bit of a monk though (I mean the Asian sort who actually take their monking seriously, not the English sort who used to eat pies and brew beer until Henry VIII decided he fancied their land for himself and promptly abolished them), because I'm spending my evenings making plans. It's going well so far. I have:
  • Bought my rail pass for September

  • Booked my trans-Siberian trip: visas for, travel between & accommodation in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Yekaterinburg, Irkutsk, Ulan Ude, Ulaan Baatar and as far as Beijing, accounting for October

  • Arranged to have all the required vaccinations, starting this Friday: a grand total of 13 injections. Hurrah!

  • Written off to various academics who seem to like me to solicit their advice about PhDs

  • Started to construct a serious shortlist, consisting so far (in alphabetical order because I wouldn't want to risk prejudicing any applications by letting a particular tutor know that their institution isn't my first choice) of Brandeis, MIT & UMass, which are conveniently (and coincidentally) all relatively close to each other. Convenient because I'm becoming increasingly convinced that it's worth trying to meet potential supervisors before they make their decisions.

It's been a long and productive dive, but I'm glad I had the chance to surface back here today. Writing this helps me weigh up what I'm doing, and I do feel a lot more in control of my life today.

In fact today has been particularly fun, because we were all sent home from work early. There was a burst watermain, and for safety reasons they had to shut the power to the building down, which of course means that none of us could do any work, because it's all so computer based. It's amazing how even in a place where most people like their jobs this kind of announcement (over ceiling mounted speakers that remind people of a cross between Big Brother and the Principal Skinner from the Simpsons) creates unbridled joy. Everyone was pouring down the stairs with grins like schoolboys on a snowy day.

Anyway, that's why I have had time to write so much here today, but it is about time I went back to being productive and goal-focussed.
posted @ 2:09 PM -

Sunday, August 4

seeing as I'm nitpicking today, I need to check a grammatical point. Is it correct to say data is or data are?
posted @ 12:21 PM -

How big is a datum?

According to BBC News, data is a form of res extensa, requiring a fixed amount of space to store. In an article about an interesting website, they claim that:

The amount of data currently downloaded from the site every month, the centre says, would fill seven 12-metre (40-foot) articulated trucks.

I am having great difficulty with the epistemological implications of this.
posted @ 12:11 PM -

Friday, August 2


Someone is sending email with large (and virus-suspect) attachments, spoofing one of my mailboxes as the From address. First of all, this is not the first I've heard of this practice, and it seems to be spreading: be especially suspicious of any strange looking attachments in mail from anyone. Secondly, I very seldom send large attachments, so if you receive mail from me with any sort of executable file attached, or any attachment larger than about 10K, check that I really sent it, because in all probability I didn't.
posted @ 10:16 AM -

flirt love box and the Nigerians

Many people are finding me on Google searches for flirt love box, and a few by searching for the ubiquitous Nigerian scams. Partly by way of explaining myself, and partly because it might actually be useful to the people who are looking, I ought to point out that there is a good reason for this. About a month ago I received both of scams in my email, and posted the full text of the Nigerian one, because it was a beautiful thing, and an outline of the flirt-love-box one because it made me laugh. Because of the way I've done my archives (I know how to fix this, but I have more pressing things to do), Google takes you to the current page, even if what you searched for matches one of the old pages, so I'll provide a fresh link: if you can be bothered to read it, my original post is here.
posted @ 2:00 AM -
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