Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

two thirds of century…

June 3, 2019

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.

Pointless exercises

April 24, 2019

I used to think that writing technical articles for academic journals was a “write-only” exercise: but now I realise that this is nothing in comparison to keeping a blog!

At least with the journal papers, I had a reasonable number of citations, but this blog seems to get read by a few of my immediate family, and that’s all. So I think I might leave it there.

The temptation is to write something so outrageous that I would know if anyone had read it. But for now I’ll resist that temptation.

Meanwhile, here’s a picture of our puppy. She’s a 4 month old Airedale Terrier (Airedale Terror?). That seems to be what’s really popular on the internet these days. Dumbing down? Nostalgia for quieter, more peaceful times?

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?

Quantum physics can help with Brexit and Irish Border problem.

March 6, 2019

The issue of the Irish border is bedevilling Brexit negotiations. But physics can provide a novel solution: the border should be a Schrödinger border.

Let me explain. 

Instead of a Newtonian border (with a clear demarcation of the location of the border) a Schrodinger border would have uncertainty about it: the closer one came to defining where the border was, the more uncertain would the existence of the border become. Similarly, one could be certain of the border’s existence, but then completely unsure about where it was. One would, however, be able to detect which side of the border one was on, but not when one crossed the border. 

Using quantum tunneling, a lorry carrying goods would at one instant be in Northern Ireland, and the next instant in the Republic. Because of the uncertainty about the existence of the border, it could instantly arrive into the Republic, without it being at all clear where it had crossed the border.  Thus, because of the delocalization of the border, there could be no possibility of policing it. 

(I wrote about this originally in : but there’s more mileage in this now that the issue is becoming more urgent.)

Playing the clarinet

March 4, 2019

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_3380Two years ago I finally decided to take up a new instrument, and I chose the clarinet. It was portable (unlike the piano – even the electric piano), and is played in jazz, klezmer and classical music. What more could one wish for?

So I purchased a student clarinet, found a teacher, Gillian Armstrong, and set to. I’d never played a blowing instrument before (apart from an unsuccessful attempt with a fluke quite a long time ago), so it was a bit of a revelation to discover that one had to control breath, fingering and tonguing all at once. This from a piano player who’d never had to contend with those sorts of issues at all.

However, the ability to add so much expression to a melody line, the ability to take a note and crescendo and diminuendo on it, and the way in which the tonguing could alter a phrase was entirely new to me. And practise was critical. I soon discovered that I needed to play every day, or I might as well not try to learn a new instrument at all.

So at last, yesterday evening, I plucked up my courage, and played the tune Carrickfergus at the Dunblane folk club. It went well. Just the one tune: I’ll need to practice some others now!

Winter Solstice 2018.

December 21, 2018

Late night dram on the solstice

hopes of light to come.

Mixtures of music from the piano

major sevenths and ninths

and blue notes from old jazz tunes.

Will there be light again?

Will the darkness be defeated?

Only to come again next time round

next year, if we make it.

But the music will still be there.

Have I joined the dark side?

December 20, 2018

Netflix. Video on demand over the internet. I finally decided that broadcast TV just wan’t enough. We have FreeView: but there never seems to be a programme that I want to see when I want to see it. And while my smart TV (actually, a Mac mini with a USB tuner) can record TV programmes, and while I have iPlayer as well, and can watch programmes that have been shown, it never quite seems to work.

So I decided to try Netflix.

When I was but a young lecturer in Computing, teaching people about X25, and later the Coloured Book Protocols , the idea of Video on Demand was completely over the top. Getting that sort of data rate was quite unimaginable, and besides, it was seen as terribly wasteful of valuable communications resources. But faster networks, much better compression techniques, and virtually free processing cycles have turned all that on its head (even if the protocols and network are still not very well designed for that sort of thing). But here we are, into the 21st century, with videophones, VoD, though not jet-packs or 15 hour working weeks!

So I watched a Star-Trek movie, with a wee glass of whisky in my hand. Downtime. Necessary from time to time.

But will it work? One could spend all one’s time watching the box of delights. What about creative pursuits, like clarinet, piano, or, indeed, artificial intelligence or spike-based low-level audio interpretation…

Watch this space. Will the next blog entries be about music, or science, or reviews of films?

Emeritus at last…

December 15, 2018

At the University Court meeting on Monday last, I was made (I understand) an Emeritus Professor. Hurrah! Now at least I have an official position, again, with my University. Mind you, they kept me an office the whole time, so I can’t really complain.

Dunfermline abbey, west door.

November 9, 2018

Version 2Where do you think this might be? Italy? France? Spain?

In fact, it’s the tympanum of the West door of Dunfermline Abbey, in Scotland. While it’s famous for holding the bones of Robert the Bruce, it is one of the most ancient religious buildings in Scotland.

The tympanum above is (I think) 11th century, much older than the doors of the Cathedral in Dunblane where I live. I’m interested in the designs on the outermost stones – the inner ones seem to primarily have a chevron design on the innermost two, a flower-like pattern on the next one, and chevrons again on the 4th one.   On the outermost ring, some are faces, some interlocked rings, and some other designs that I don’t recognise. I’m sure these have symbolic meanings, but I don’t know what they might be.

I think this tympanum is exceptionally beautiful.


More thoughts on making perception primary

September 6, 2017

I wrote about the idea of making perception primary in July, and I eventually turned it into a paper for a smal meeting in Edinburgh, who rejected it. Nothing wrong with that,as it really didn’t say anything new. But now I think I can see an extension of this idea, perhaps helping to explain the views of those who think that the Universe is a simulation.

Now, I think this viewpoint is nonsensical, because the actual Universe would then have to include the simulator, and this itself might be a simulation, and so on indefinitely. So how can anyone really propose this?

Thinking of the first person experience as primary perhaps enables this viewpoint, because it then makes the rest of the Universe secondary. Like the earth-centered view of the universe, it makes the rest of the Universe secondary. That means that logical flaws in it can more easily be ignored, and ideas in this secondary Universe don’t need to be as clear. This strengthens the hand of those who have strange ideas such as simulation based Universes: such a view would have no effect on the first person experience.

There are flaws in this argument too, unfortunately. Truly simulation based universes would be undetectable if properly built however we looked for them, whether we make the first person world or the physical world primary. But that is the way with truly nonsensical ideas: they can’t be disproven because the logical flaws on which they are based enable country-arguments, rather like logical systems which include a contradiction being able to prove anything.

Maybe I should blame the post-structuralists who seem to suggest that all views can have equal validity. I truly don’t agree with this!