Archive for the ‘entirely inconsequential rubbish’ Category

The subway aleph.

April 21, 2019

Imagine that all the subway systems in the cities in the world were connected.

Simul imagine everything is instrumented. No privacy, every tap you open, every track of music you listen to, every key you press, every time you swallow is recorded…

Instead of planes, trains, buses, and long car journeys, you just go to the nearest city with a subway, get on at Buchanan Street Glasgow, and off at 96th Street Manhattan, or Piccadilly London, or Avtozavodskaya …

You think back to a time of analogue technology when in some places listening to the wrong radio station could get you shot.

Perhaps instead there’s randomness. You get on at St George’s Cross Glasgow, intending to go to Kelvin Hall, but suddenly you are passing through Clemenceau in Brussels, or Foggy Bottom or Timiryazevskaya. Disoriented, you get off: find a cafe and drink an espresso or a vodka. Then back to the subway…

Will reading the wrong blog lead you to being unemployable, or reducing your social credit, if not actually getting you shot?

Will you ticket work? Will your card let you into this strange system?

What language do the buskers sing in? Where are the shops that are advertised? Do you dare to talk to your fellow passengers, and will they understand you if you open your mouth? Is everyone affected, or is this purely personal?

Is the Aleph on the subway or in you? Do you dare to investigate?


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).

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.


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!

On LinkedIn

July 1, 2013

The Cabots are now connected to the Lodges, and the Lodges are now connected to God. (with apologies to John Collins Bossidy (1860-1928))

twittering rigor?

March 30, 2013

I joined twitter, because I needed to check that the twitter feed on a site I’m involved in worked. (CARMEN, since you ask: it does work). So now, I’m left wondering about using it. So I looked at the twitter pages of some people I know well. One has never twittered (sorry, tweeted), one tweeted twice in 2010, and one has over 1000 followers…so it’s clear different people use it very differently. But what’s it for? That, I suppose is my difficulty: I can’t seem to justify the time that it would need to use it properly. Already time seems very short (maybe I don’t think as fast as I did. maybe I don’t type that fast, and I only generally use one keyboard at a time), maybe I have other better things to do (writing – I’m late with one article and two reviews; piano – I’m not playing as much as I should: whisky – there’s a nice Ardbeg in the cupboard, and some good Jura Supersition as well, not forgetting the rather good Te Bheag blend that no-one ever seems to have heard of). But twitter? what to say? how to say it in 140 characters or less? The easy way is to say nothing, I suspect, but to return to my much ignored blog. So here I am. Perhaps I’ll get back here more often now. The Human Brain Project is funded, memristors are catching on even outside of the DOD’s Synapse programme, so there’s always more to talk about, if I want to talk about things I know about. And then there’s the idea of MOOCs from the Unseen University of Ankh-Morpork, if funding can be organised. So viel zu tun, so wenig Zeit.

But twitter? I fear it is not for me. I’ll stick to blogging, occasionally, and even then only when I have something, no matter how small, to say

And the title? Twittering rigour is one of a number of strange diseases in Alastair Gray’s wonderful Lanark.

Approaching another birthday

September 17, 2011

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything here on this blog. Partly, I’d written too many blogs that were obituaries, making it difficult to add something inconsequential (like this post), and partly, well, laziness. But here I am, approaching umpty-ump (another prime number, only the second this decade), and, well, the chap with the scythe just has to be accepted).

So what has dragged me back? Well, a new semester is staring here at S******* University; I’ve succumbed to temptation and bought His & Hers iPADs, my boys are both now at University, so the house is quiet, and though there’s always (real!) work to be done, keeping a blog seemed more attractive than working on the projects – even if I’m really very interested in them, there’s times when other things seem more important. I had a lovely few days in Argyll (Cairndow and Kilmartin), with my wife and dog, and came back thinking that perhaps there were other things I’d like to do.
And so I’ve registered with the Goethe Institut locally to improve my German Language (particularly grammar). Still have to do the work, get the papers out, write the grants, but, well, got to have a life as well.

Apple’s education and sales event

December 2, 2010

Today I went to Edinburgh Castle to see a presentation by Apple about it’s educational offerings. They issued each of us with an iPad, and gave us a presentation on using the iPad and SDK for it, and using iTunes U for providing students with more and more capabilities for accessing material and showing us how easy it was to turn presentations into podcasts. What as interesting was the way in which Apple see matters going: more and more towards mobile systems (and away from desktops and even laptops). Now, I’m quite happy to help students by making material accessible – I know that many of them have jobs that take them time, and they want to be able to work when it suits them, and I’m happy with that. Indeed, I often respond to their emails well away from anything resembling office hours. But when people start suggesting that we have to supply material in tiny bite-size elements, I get a bit restive – surely the students have the ability to concentrate for 50 minutes at a time (they seem to manage it on games!). But they made podcasting look so easy that I might even try it.

But apart from the  pedagogical side, the event was really rather a good sales pitch for the iPad.  I recall working in a tailoring shop, where we were told to get the customer the try the jacket on, and it was at least half sold: providing computer-savvy people with an iPad for most of a day has a similar effect. All I need to do  now is find the money!

The event was curtailed because of the heavy snow outside: there seemed to be a worry that Waverley Station would close. I rushed to the station, but actually, it seemed to be working rather well, even with the fresh snow. And now here at home it’s -8.5 C outside, and there’s about 45 cm of snow. The view is glorious (even in the street lights). I note that the iPad costs the same whether I buy it educationally or as an ordinary individual. And my wife wants one as well. Could be an expensive Christmas!

I am a citizen of Europe

July 13, 2010

…or that’s what it feels like. I spent my last two weeks in southern Germany, near Stuttgart, and in Amsterdam, and this week I’m in Madrid. In between, I was home in Scotland, though only briefly. Yet none of these places are really foreign at all to me. I really do feel a citizen of Europe. Yes, it’s about 14 degrees hotter here than in Scotland, yes, the languages are different (I was eating in an Italian restaurant in Amsterdam, and I found myself quite unable to decide which language to address the waiter in). And it was fun to be in Holland when they beat Uruguay (what a night that was – thousands of people streaming out of the Vondelpark all dressed in orange); or to be in Germany when Germany saw England off (that was a good match: but we were quietly talking in German in the bar where we were watching!). And even though I’m in Spain, I was in Scotland for the world cup  final (rather too physical a match for me – thought the referee had a really difficult match to do, and coped well). And now I’m here for another conference, this one here, last one in Sao Luis, Brazil, before that in Lesvos, in Stirling (I ran that one), in Berlin, in Vienna …: there is something to be said for being a Prof in a truly international field: and that’s why I feel a citizen of Europe. But why not of the world? Well, the only other non-european countries I’ve been to are the US and Brazil (discounting a trip to teach in Algeria a long time ago), and I really did feel different there.

So, yes, I’m a citizen of Europe. Now, does that mean I’m supporting an EU passport, or Europe as a nation state?  There’s reasons why the passport mght be a good idea, but I do think the nation state has had its day.

My problem with blogs

January 17, 2010

I started this blog thinking it would be a bit like a diary. Not that I’ve ever successfully kept a diary for more than about a week, but I thought that the technology might encourage me. But the difference is that I can ensure that only the people I want to read a diary – or even that no-one else at all reads it. But a blog? A blog is a public document. Worse, it’s a copiable public document that takes on a life of its own: it’s indelible. Even if I delete the blog – even in WordPress closes permanently, there will still be a record of whatever I write, readable by those who want to. So I can’t write anything I don’t want to make public. And that’s a problem, because all the interesting things that I might want to write are things that I don’t want all and sundry to be able to read. Yes, I know that my name and identity are not directly visible, but I’m quite sure that anyone who really wanted to know who I was would have few problems in tracing me. And there are a few people who already know who I am.

I’m told that on facebook, security can be set on a friend by friend, post by post basis (as is the case on some other portal-based repositories that I work on). And, of course, on facebook, most users hide more or less everything from the casual non-friend visitor. So perhaps I should give up the blog and go on to facebook. But then I’d have to manage my friends, and manage my posts: and that’s even more work.

So? I’ll settle for making bland entries, and attempting a little humour (see: English spelling, implies UK educated).

It was a dark, dark night, and three men were sitting on a log. One of the turned to one of the others, and began:

It was a dark, dark night, and three men were sitting on a log. One of the turned to one of the others, and began:

It was a dark, dark night, and three men were sitting on a log. One of the turned to one of the others, and began:

It was a dark, dark night, and three men were sitting on a log. One of the turned to one of the others, and began:

and so on. Surely I can do better than this?