two thirds of century…

Today I’m 66 and 2/3, two thirds of the way to a century (not that I expect at all to live to 100). May has been a difficult month, with three deaths: my son’s fiancé’s mother and grandmother, and now my mother-in-law. Two of them were over 90 (98 in my mother-in-law’s case) but death is still sad, whatever age it occurs at.

I was thinking back to when I was 33 and third, half the age I am now. That would be Jan 3, 1986.

I was living in Blackford, Perthshire, with why daughter Eleanor, in a rather strange house on Moray Street. I had met Brigitte who would become my wife (but not till 1987), and we were having a romance by letter and the occasional (expensive!) phone call. I was hoping it would go further…

I was a young(ish) lecturer at Stirling University, very excited by being a member of the newly formed Stirling University Vision Group, with Francis Pratt, Bill Phillips, and the late Alistair Watson. Myself (a computer scientist/mathematician), an artist, a psychologist, and a physicist turned environmental scientist. We were an interdisciplinary grouping, trying to understand aspects of perception, particularly visual perception.

By the January, we had read papers by Hopfield on what became known as Hopfield Networks, by Hinton on Boltzmann machines, and (I think) a technical report on Back-propagation. No wonder we were excited!

How much has changed? Lots and little. We knew about encoder networks, and linear and non-linear projections. The machines we had were not powerful, and that limited what we could do. Still…

Teaching was in Pascal (I think…) and I introduced the communications and networks module to Stirling (I’d taught it previously at Glasgow).

People smoked in their offices. Rooms still had some lighting missing, reflecting the closeness to financial disaster that Stirling had come to in the early 1980’s.

All this seems a long time ago (it was a long time ago). I’ve married, brought up two boys, both now independent. And Eleanor has had her own wee flat in Stirling for more than a decade…And I’m now an emeritus Professor.


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