Lats night’s gig at The Crook

August 6, 2017

Last night, Angus Scott (Saxophones) and I (piano) played a gig at The Crook Bar, in Bridge of Allan. We played three 50 minute sets, in this very noisy, busy gastro-pub. It was a huge amount of fun – for us anyway – and I think the customers liked it too, though some groups were so noisy that I could hardly hear myself play. As I get towards retirement, I’m looking to play more music (whether jazz, blues, folk or whatever), and this seemed a good way to get going. I’ve been playing with Angus for a while now, mostly just practising (though we did play the Dunblane Hotel’s beer festival last year, and one or two other charity gigs), but now I think we’re ready to get out more! Listen to us on SoundCloud (just 2 tracks right now: been having problems with the USB interface on this old laptop).

We’re hoping to play at The Dunblane’s beer festival again this year. And looking for other gigs (nearby!) too… Contact me if you are interested: lestheprof at gmail dot com.

 

Making perception primary.

July 28, 2017

i’ve spent  long time wondering about the physical basis of perceptual entities. There’s lots of possible types of perceptual entity, visual, auditory, or the perception of time: indeed every possible form of mental activity. I’ve always been thinking about how the physical nature of the brain can perform physical activities theatre then interpreted as mental events. This is a hard problem: how do mental events supervene on physical events. No-one has the answer.

But now I’m wondering if this is the wrong question (and whether that’s why it’s quite so hard). We are very attached to out view of physical reality, whether that’s the physical nature of matter (quarks, electrons, atoms, molecules, or just pieces of stone and wood…), and energy (sound, music, light, and so on), so we look to physical reality to provide a basis for mental events. We know that physical reality is tricky: the physicists tell us that our everyday view of solid matter is not the only reality, that’s largely space. And we know that light is an electromagnetic radiation within a small say of wavelengths.

In fact all that we directly perceive is mental events. Everything else is provided to us as mental events, whether directly through our senses, or less directly through instrumentation that maps something invisible to something sensory, or less directly still through processing signals, or simply reading about it. So lets start at the other end, and make the mental events primary. So let’s start by assuming the reality of the mental events. Let’s not try to explain them away as accidental results of some physical process that’s dong something else.

It’s not that  don’t believe there is some physical correlate of mental events (I do: I can’t accept that the mental event has no physical correlate at all: to do so would be to accept the possibility of disembodied mental systems, which for this scientist seems a step too far right now). What I would suggest is that by making the mental events primal, we start to see just how far our “artificial intelligence” systems are from minds. Yes, we can map vectors to vectors, and learn about the deep structure of visual and auditory information; yes we can build systems that can perform certain types of mathematical reasoning, are create plans. But no, we can’t provide any sort of autonomous volition, not even the coalition that an amoeba has when swimming up a concentration gradient of some nutrient. We might be able to recognise the gradient (maybe – actually, that’s still quite hard), but we wouldn’t know that we wanted to swim up it.

I think we’re a whole lot further from the Singularity than is currently assumed. Yes we can build awfully clever automata, and make them perform some sparkling recognition  tricks, but little more than this.

 

Thoughts from the City of Derry

July 26, 2017

I’m in Derry, visiting the Magee Campus of the University of Ulster, to give a seminar (yesterday), and examine a PhD (today). Both done now, so I have a little time to be a tourist, and perhaps even to think. The picture id the Peace Bridge, a pedestrian bridge that crosses the River Foyle. It is, as you can see, a big river, with the old city (with it walls) on one side, and a rather newer area (which I haven’t yet seen) on the other. I gave a seminar entitled “40 years behind the keyboard, and what next”, and it seemed to go well, and I enjoyed the PhD Oral: a very good and able student. If this were Germany, the PhD would have been summa cum laude, but in the UK, we don’t grade them beyond pass and fail.

This afternoon, I walked from this hotel into the city, and wandered around the old town. While Derry is not quite on its uppers, it was sad to see what looked to have been an independent department store, Austin’s, closed.  Wandering around the walls, the views are excellent, but there’s still signs of the past, from the distant past (the siege of Derry, and the potato famine, when many migrants left from the docks in Derry, to more modern troubles). But the place has a guid conceit of itself, and a lively music scene too. I like it here: it’s very like Scotland in many ways (and not very far away either).

A little light jazz

July 20, 2017

As I get towards retirement from academia, I’m trying to get more music going on. I’ve now decided to go down to 20% come the end of October 2017, and that’s getting to be soon…

So I’ve taken a little of a recording session Angus Scott (Saxophone) and I (Electronic Piano) did (here, in the garage, single take, no editing!) and put it up on Soundcloud. Have a listen to Rosetta and How High the Moon. The picture on Soundcloud is from a visit to a jazz club in the Cascadas bar in Hamburg a few years ago.

And meanwhile, I’m learning the clarinet – maybe one day I’ll try performing on it as well, but it’s hard!

The new e-bicycle.

April 18, 2017

It’s only about 3 and a half miles from my house to my office, down the main (and rather busy) road. And it’s a bit further, and much hillier going over the Glen Road, a track that was a proper road till parts of it fell into the valley below leaving a track that’s now only for people and bicycles. I use this track now, and have been bicycling it once or twice  week for a few years. But I’d like to use it more often, yet I seem to need a day to recover between cycle runs.

So I finally took the plunge and bought an e-bike at the week-end: a Raleigh Motus Crossbar e-bicycle. I bought it from Easygo bikes in Linlithgow, who had a really big range of e-bikes.

So today I commuted to work on it. It’s got 5 different levels of pedal assist, from none to lots: so far I’ve only used the two lower levels of assist. And it’s like cycling with a following wind: it just takes he pain out of the hills. Back on it tomorrow!

Spring at last!

March 19, 2017

“If I ruled the world, every day would be the first day of spring” (song, which I remember from  Harry Secombe singing it, a long time ago, written by Cyril Ornadel and Leslie Bricusse) seems fitting today. We have a small pond, and for most of this week – and particularly today – the frogs have been cavorting like mad. Now we have some frog spawn too, so we look forward to some tadpoles later in the spring. We dug the pond about 15 years ago, and now it seems very much part of the landscape.

Spring is a little early this year, though there’s a little snow forecast for next week, still. Last week, I planted a tree, a Morello Cherry, and it looks good. The sun is shining now, and it must be 10 degrees C, or even a little more. Better get out in it, and abandon this machine!IMG_1502

Towards retirement (1)

February 4, 2017

Last week, week 3 of the Spring semester here, I finally made up my mind to go to half-time in my post, as from October, when I turn 65. I found it hard to decide: to keep working till I drop (what else is there to do?), to retire entirely (and be an emeritus Prof, and do just those things I want to do), but finally I decided to compromise, and to work half-time. Of course, the  danger is that I’ll actually work full-time for half the salary. What I need to do is to negotiate what half-time actually means for me. My Head of Department reckons a half teaching load, but I’m more interested in continuing to co-chair  SICSA Artificial Intelligence theme, and to keep my work on Neuroinformatics (including the British Neuroscience Association’s first SIG) going as well. So I’d like to be more involved with these than with teaching,  and so do rather less than half a teaching load. In one of this week’s lectures, I was trying to think of an area of mainstream Computing I’d never taught, and I found it hard to find one! So perhaps it’s time to move on.

Interestingly, as part of teaching a slightly more advanced Java course than usual to the 2nd year, I decided to write  a piece of software in Java, rather than my usual MATLAB. This was an interesting adventure, because I hadn’t really written anything serious in Java before (though I had written a substantial program in Objective C). So now I have bits of a spike-based echo state machine , though not yet the readout part. It certainly was useful, both because it helped me teach the class (nothing quite like recent experience!), and because writing the software in an object-oriented language, rather than simply coding a few matrix operations in MATLAB showed me some of the subtleties of ESM’s.

Of course, impending (even if partial) retirement make me ask myself some difficult questions: am I past my best? should I simply stand down? I know I have a bit less energy – I’m quite tired if I have to give two lectures in  a row, like I did last Wednesday and will of again this Wednesday. But for  now, I’m not quite surplus to requirements yet! And perhaps I can gradually take up some of my other interests more, like playing piano, and perhaps even learning a new instrument.

 

106 days post-Brexit referendum

October 7, 2016

In a previous post, I talked about the hangover post Brexit. Now we’re starting to feel the pain. And we’re nowhere near actually doing any negotiations. The UK Pound is down about 20%, against the Euro and the Dollar, my friends from the EU who work here are worried (and that’s in Scotland, where the Scottish Government went as far as writing each and every one of them a letter telling them they were valued: goodness knows what it’s like in the deepest wilds of rural England where they voted strongly from Brexit: see the Punch cartoon from 1854 – nothing’s changed).

I cannot get over my anger with the Conservatives and the UKIP people, along with the crap peddled by the tabloid press that led the people down this road. Other have suggested that the voters are stupider that they used to be, but that seems unlikely. I’m reminded of the 1924 Zinoviev letter that may have altered the result of an election (and which was undoubtedly a forgery: published in the Daily Mail of the time). But I feel utterly powerless. What can I do about this idiocy? No-one here is admitting to being in favour of Brexit, though obviously, quite a lot were. Down in England, there’s presumably lots of people happy with the turn of events, as they have their country back, G** help them.

Wait till we actually start negotiations, and look at what happens to the UK Pound then: In the mean time, I’m off to invest in cowrie shells! Except that most of my savings are in the form of my pension, and I can’t go and invest it: it’s just been devalued for me.

I’d better stop here.

 

A busy week

September 30, 2016

I realise I haven’t posted for ages, so I thought I’d write about this week. It’s week 3 of semester at Stirling University, but this week wasn’t busy for teaching (at least, not compared to the previous two weeks). Instead, I gave a seminar on spike coding for sound in Edinburgh University on Wednesday in the MusicA series, went to a meeting about Neuroscience Technology (representing the proposed new Neuroinformatics Special Interest Group of the British Neuroscience Association) on Thursday and Friday morning, near Heathrow, and am now sitting on a train back home from Glasgow, having been to a  new theme leaders in SICSA, at Glasgow University. (I’m now co-theme leader in Artificial Intelligence).

So what’s next? I think a nice quiet week-end is called for, but I don’t really expect to get one. But then, as they say here, “you’re a lang time deid!”. And now my train’s nearly at Dunblane, so I’d better sign off from here. I will try to be a more regular blogger!

After the Brexit vote: the hangover

June 24, 2016

Well here we are, 24 June 2016, after a very close vote to leave the EU. And a very different picture here in Scotland where over 60% voted to stay, putting Scotland in the expected company of Northern Ireland, and the unexpected company of London. I am a staunch believer in the EU, so I’m not at all happy about this.

It seems to me that a populist wave is riding high in  politics in many places, from Putin In Russia, to the rise of Trump in the USA, and now this vote. It seems to have been carried primarily by the English (note for non-UK readers: the UK consist of England, with the majority of the population, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), for reasons that seem strange to me, but then I’m biassed. Am I right in thinking it’s  a harking back to halcyon days of yore, with warm beer, skittles in the pub and summer days, or is that too simplistic? It’s hard to see the economic arguments (I can see the car industry shrinking, and the markets for goods made here getting much smaller), and while I can see some arguments (fishing, for example, particularly in Scotland has not been well served but the EU), the arguments about freedom, and unelected representatives leave me cold. Actually, they sound very much like the arguments used in the Scottish referendum a little while ago.

So what now? I suppose we just have to grin (perhaps girn) and bear it. I fear the unintended consequences, like the destabilisation of the Ireland/Norther Ireland situation, like the almost immediately proposed second Scottish referendum, like the uncertainty over who fees and arraignments there may be for EU students coming to UK (and in particular Scottish) Universities. Not forgetting the situation of the very large numbers of expatriate Britons in the EU, and non-British EU nationals in the UK.  I see lots of instability coming up: what a bloody mess, all because the Conservative party was worried about the UK Independence party stealing their clothes. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle…