Thursday, August 26

no second chances

I will probably be taking the qual again in December. If I fail it this time I'm out—out of Case and out of the country—and I have no backup plan, because frankly that possibility is too depressing to think about. So I'm throwing everything I can into getting it right second time.

This term I have two courses instead of the three I have done each of the past two terms. I am also doing some more involved teaching (I'm a recitation leader for ENGR 131, for those to whom that means something; oh, and I'm not working for Melinda, because the course is divided into several sections and I'm working for a different lecturer), but this should still leave me with a little more time in my schedule to devote to my own projects. The intention was to press on with research, but the qual is more important, so that's probably going to take the majority of my non-coursework time.

I'm also shutting this blog down until after the exam. It's just too tempting a distraction when I should be doing freeform, long-deadline work, so I need to ban myself from it. I'm going to have to be quite disciplined with keeping to a routine, making time for qual-related work every week, and constraining both work and play so neither interferes with the other. I also can't see myself leaving town between the conference in a few weeks and after the qual, when at least I should (depending on exactly what date the qual is) be able to make up for that with a nice Christmas/New Year round trip. I'm also going to have to not take any visitors till then, which is particularly annoying—that any of my friends at all made it out over the past year made me very happy, and there were a few people talking about coming over soonish—but there's a longer-term goal at stake here, and as long as I pass there will be plenty more time for people to come up and see me.

You'll hear from me in December. Till then you might want to look at the RSS feeds or mailing list (right-hand column), if you want to be told when I start up again without having to bother checking here in between.

Wish me luck. I will certainly need it.
posted @ 8:58 PM -

Wednesday, August 25


When writing to a former colleague, with whom one has not spoken since working together on a project, about said project, what is the correct way to write the email? Is it better to make a little small-talk, because that seems nicer than just getting straight to the point, or is the falseness of that sufficiently blatant that one should just keep the email short and get to the point?
posted @ 8:52 AM -

will post... later

I got back from Britain last week. Term has now started. At some point I'll write a sort of '1 year review', a post about why this term should be better than the previous two, another about the saga of getting my bike working, and some thoughts about the teaching I'm doing (I get to actually talk to students this time! And they're paying me!), but for now I'm too busy. I'm also trying to not spend quite as much of my non-work time in front of a computer, which may well cut into my blogging.
posted @ 8:40 AM -

Wednesday, August 11

Request For Comments

I'm doing some work on Jose's picpages. If you have time, please take a look at the test album and tell me how it looks to you. If it looks bad, please also tell me what browser you're using and on what species of computer, operating system and so on (the more information the better).

In case you're interested, what I've done is to remove all the HTML formatting and replace it with a simple CSS stylesheet that looks almost the same, so that other users can customise it more easily to the look they want.

Eventually I'll write my own stylesheet for it that actually makes it fit this site, so I can use it for all my photo albums and keep a consistent look. I'm also planning on making a one-page version that would automatically generate things like my older photo albums, so that with almost no work I can create multi-page and single-page versions of every album, and give you a choice of how to view them.
posted @ 3:13 AM -

Sunday, August 8

man I had a dreadful flight

Quick summary of the past week, because otherwise I'll never get around to writing this:

Sunday: went to a Klezmer gig in Cain Park with Melinda. I had never associated harmonicas with klezmer before, but it rocked. Extra cuteness points when one of the singers announced that she was the harmonica virtuoso's mother, and that the tromboner was his fiancée.

Monday: fixed irritating bug that had been giving me small errors in the data I was gathering, which I couldn't be sure were unimportant. Ended up with graphs that bear a worrying resemblance to Rohrschach tests.

Tuesday: went out for drinks with people in Cleveland who I now won't be seeing for a couple of weeks.

Wednesday: went to Curiosa with Melinda for her birthday. Missed Mogwai, to my considerable disappointment. The sound was iffy and the organisation of the event left a little to be desired. Muse and Thursday were dire. It was all made worthwhile by Interpol and the Cure, who were excellent even through the muddy sound. The Cure played a surprising amount of their really dark kids, this is why you shouldn't touch heroin stuff from the first half of the 80s, which made me very happy.

Thursday: longest, most constructive lab meeting in some time, because all 4 of us had some significant progress to report as well as questions, which was great except that I had a plane to catch.

Got to the airport in time, managed to wangle myself a seat with the neighbouring one free, but stopped feeling so smug when I discovered that my boarding pass was marked for special TSA attention. Cue irritating waste of time, though at least the search itself was respectfully and efficiently done (the TSA when they are actually trying to do their job are worlds apart from Shoreditch Police when they're out to harrass ravers). I need to find out why I was searched though. At the time I was indignant, but now I'm wondering if it was just a random search, in which case it's a good thing that they were doing. One of the airline staff I asked suggested that it might be that my name matches someone on a watch list. If I ever get my hands on that Abu Goldenberg I'll wring his neck for sullying my name. Or was it Eldan the Jackal?

Had a very annoying flight. Couldn't sleep due to the combination of lights staying on for half the flight, mewling brats, turbulence, and loud announcements of ladies and gentlemen we are experiencing turbulence. AS IF WE COULDN'T TELL, IDIOTS. Got to Gatwick rather grumpy, only to see a passport control queue that rivals the bullshit at LAX, even for EU passports (which reminds me: someone needs to inform Continental Airlines that it's a long time since there has been an organisation actually called the European Community, and that there are a lot more countries in the EU (and therefore not requiring landing cards) now than there were 6 months ago). Still, unlike LAX they actually did something about it, opened all the possible desks, and processed us all within about 15 minutes.

Friday: went out for a lovely dim sum dinner with my parents, my brother and his girlfriend.

Saturday: had a barbecue with a motely crew of old friends. Discovered that the two sets of people I know from Cardiff actually know each other, at least vaguely. Met two of my friends' children for the first time; they were extremely cute, but I seem to be immune to the broodiness that other people seem to get when they meet friends' children. I think I still value the option of giving them back at the end of the day.

Sunday: woke up so late thanks to jetlag that I could only spend a short time with the people who had stayed over before they had to get back. Then spent most of the rest of the day on my own, because trains let down the people I was supposed to meet, and by the time they could let me know (some people actually don't have mobile phones, you know) it was too late to do anything else. Frustrating, because I only have a very short time here, and didn't want to waste any of it. On the other hand, I suppose it's not a real back in Blighty experience if I don't get shafted by unreliable public transport at some point.
posted @ 2:04 PM -

is spelling compelling?

I think my American friends may find this amusing, because it's old hat over there, but the BBC is about to launch Britain's first attempt at a national spelling bee. I can't really imagine it being an audience hit, but good luck to them, and I hope it does catch on. God knows we need an antidote to txtmsgitis.
posted @ 6:39 AM -

Tuesday, August 3

Happy birthday Melinda

posted @ 9:10 PM -

Monday, August 2

Happy airport experiences

In the interest of balance, both to that last entry and to my general griping about airports, I ought to mention that my last 5 airport departures (CLE-NYC-CLE-LAX-SFO-CLE) have been quite pleasant. Even to the point that I get the feeling US airport security is finally getting its act together.

Cleveland Hopkins, in particular, has changed noticeably. My previous few flights from there were very irritating experiences, with absurdly long queues for a security check that in the end gave me no confidence at all that it achieved anything. I found it particularly annoying that every passenger was being asked to remove their shoes, and jackets had to go through the x-ray machines, and that laptops had to be removed from cases. The shoes requirement is the only one of those that is silly (it's a case of assuming that lightning will strike the same place twice), but the net result is that I had more items to juggle, after dumping my main luggage at the check-in, than I could possibly manage. All of which I could accept if it really enhanced my safety, but at the actual check-point there was such absurd disorganisation (partly because there wasn't enough space for the passengers to re-shoe, re-clothe, and re-pack) that it wouldn't exactly have taken a ninja to creep past.

Recently, my experience has been quite the opposite. The shoe rule has been withdrawn (I think this is US-wide), but security at all the airports I've been to recently has had a feel of being more awake; more reliant on applying intelligence than simply following rules by the letter. I've tripped a few metal detectors (shoes once, belt another time) and each time the cause was found quickly, the offending item put through the X-ray, and I was checked well enough that I felt like I would have been caught if I had anything I shouldn't have, without molestation or the wasting of much time. At the same time, the overall organisation of the queues and the supply of scanners has been smooth enough that I don't think I've waited more than 5 minutes to reach a checkpoint, even though two of my flights (to and from LAX) were on Sunday mornings, when the airports were at their busiest, and the crowds so large that I expected to wait ages.

Of course, these were all domestic flights. Over the next few weeks I'll see if the experience of flying between the US and other countries has also improved. I'm not expecting much, but at least the experiences I've been having with security lately are encouraging.
posted @ 7:52 PM -

stupid security

I have just stumbled across a specialist blog that follows one of my pet obsessions: Stupid Security. I particularly like the sentiment expressed in their FAQ, to the effect that the site isn't just for sneering behind peoples' backs, but that the ideal would be if reporting a piece of particularly stupid security led to it being changed. I must admit when I mouth off about stupid airport security it is more for the purpose of venting than anything else—my readership is too small and too dominated by people who I know in the real world for anything I write here to really make a difference—but their approach is more constructive.
posted @ 7:46 PM -


I've started using del.icio.us to organise my bookmarks. I don't know if I'm going to bother doing anything clever with them, and for the time being it's a very small subset of pages (basically what I've viewed in the last few days), but I like the idea of detaching my bookmarks from any particular computer, so I'll see if this is useful.
posted @ 7:01 PM -

more X Prize goodness

I just read about another group shooting for the X Prize. This group seem to be a few more steps away from actually launching an attempt than Rutan's crew, but it's still good news. The main reason I'm excited about non-government efforts getting into space is the hope that we'll end up with competition, with the usual effects of reducing costs, increasing availability, and speeding up development. This second approach not only represents some competition, but also a radically different approach from anything I've seen before, so it seems to be paying off. I have no way of evaluating how likely it is to succeed, but if it does it will be monumental, if only because it's so much cheaper than even SpaceShipOne, and if it fails I'm sure there will still be much to learn from the attempt.
posted @ 8:08 AM -

Sunday, August 1

what's wrong with Schmetterling?
posted @ 12:28 PM -

License plates

US car license plates are issued by individual states. They look different in different states, the number is issued in a different format, and there are some difference in rules, like whether cars need one or two. They also have catchy slogans advertising the state they are from. For instance, Massachusetts plates sport the words the first state, Ohio ones have the very dubious first flight (I think North Carolina, France and New Zealand might all have a bone to pick with that for different reasons), and so on. Some states have better slogans than others, partly because some states just have more to show off about than others. Coming up with such slogans is a lot easier for, say, Florida than North Dakota.

So guess what Idaho plates say?
posted @ 10:30 AM -
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