mrry (Happy New Year)
Blog Fievel Goes East 18/Dec/2005

Wargh. As predicted, the last fortnight has been a bit of a session. In the past, I've gone blow-by-blow through each of the exams as they happened, blogging the minutiae of each question. Since of the twenty people to whom that could possibly be of interest, I don't think a single person reads this, I've decided to spare the other two of you.

No, the reason I write is that we've recently had a third flatmate take up residence in our bijou Edinburgh apartment. Don't tell our letting agents, though, or they'll use it as an excuse to bump the price up by £300…. I'm afraid I'll have to turn in my air of smug sanitary superiority, because there is a mouse loose about this house.

It comes as a relief that our friend vindicates the media's imagery of Mickey, Jerry and—um—The Brain: he's quite a cute little blighter. In fact, as he ran from the kitchen into his surprisingly obvious semi-circular mousehole, I'm sure he gave an infectious laugh and a twinkle in his eye.

I'm almost willing to overlook the fact that he's shitting all over the carpet, and the probable consequences for application of the five-second rule.

So, for that reason, I invite your suggestions for how we deal with him. In the comments. The more ludicrous the better.



Blog Personal Grooming Takes A Holiday 7/Dec/2005

Now, I realise that, at long last, most of you have left behind the world of formal written examinations. In many cases you've left it behind for a world of nine-to-five working, performance reviews and annual bonuses that could feed a small African family for a year. Well not I.

Tomorrow marks the first of three exams in the "festive" diet. It's times like this that I'm glad I made a checklist for, well, times like this. The lucky pen and indomitable Thomas the Tank Engine ruler are packed and ready for action. The frankly regrettable exam beard is already underway, though without the old DCS camaraderie, I expect people will just think I'm being a scruffy bastard. The lucky exam trousers disintegrated shortly after the end of finals, so I shall be donning their spiritual airs, which is probably a good thing, because otherwise people would be getting rather too good a look at the lucky underwear. That last gave me something of a heart-flutter earlier today, when they came out the dryer in a state that can only be described as "moist". Faced with the choice between sitting in discomfort tomorrow afternoon or forgoing literally years of tradition, I think my decision to contribute a little bit more to global warming and our electricity bill was entirely merited.

So, to any Edinburgh students who might be reading this and actually have any exams to do, good luck!



Blog If proof were needed 5/Dec/2005

Many people have commented to me that it seems like I've done no work since moving to Edinburgh. In fact, it sounds just like it's been eleven straight weeks of leisurely strolls, cultural events and discount shopping.

I can't deny that that has hitherto been the case, but I'm now embroiled in a byzantine schedule of exams and assessment deadlines (four of which conspire to be on the same day: the last day of term). Don't believe me? Then perhaps the following sentence from my Message-Passing Programming report will convince you otherwise:

The result of this does not depend on the shape of the image, and so could lead to the creation of sub-optimal cartesian topologies, especially in the case of particularly oblong images.

Now, you can hardly suggest that I would fake that. Even though "oblong" is an Inherently Funny Word, that must be the single most dull sentence ever written. So you might understand why I felt the need to vent. Onwards!



Blog Google Mind Control 30/Nov/2005

Okay, so excuse the melodramatic title. I've been using the Google Desktop Sidebar for some time now, and I'm becoming increasingly certain that it's reading my mind.

In the bottom left-hand corner of my screen, the sidebar displays a random picture, drawn from the digital photographs on my computer, and from the web (quiet there, in the back). Occasionally, a bad photograph comes up, and I can remove it, safe in the knowledge that it will never again be selected. However, sometimes a photo will appear and I will want to view it full-screen, which is made possible by double-clicking on the thumbnail.

The thing is, I've noticed that some photos appear more often than others, namely the ones which I've chosen to view full-screen. The net effect? I'm more-regularly confronted with the images that I've chosen to view, which, you'd think, would have a positive effect on my state of mind. Maybe that's taking it a bit far.

However, I would be interested in contributions from other Sidebar users on this question. Is what I'm seeing:

  • selection bias, due to me only noticing images that I have noticed in the past anyway, or
  • a nifty, unobtrusive use of artifical intelligence and probabilistic methods to make my life better?



Blog Movable Feast 24/Nov/2005

As an atheist who happily celebrates the Christian festivals of Christmas, Easter and Pancake Day, it seems no less appropriate as a Scotsman to celebrate that most quintessentially American of holidays: Thanksgiving. Those of you raised on a diet of Friends on British TV might be surprised to learn that Thanksgiving falls today, the fourth Thursday in November, and not at some point in mid-March when we would finally get to see the new episodes on Channel 4.

It wasn't always this way, however, as I learned on Wikipedia this morning. In 1939, FDR moved Thanksgiving from the last to the penultimate Thursday in November, in order that shops would begin selling Christmas goods one week earlier, and hence stimulate the moribund Great Depression economy. Two years later, it was moved to the fourth Thursday in a compromise between those in favour of and opposed to the change. I have to admire FDR's chutzpah in this move, and I reckon that, if I ever become Prime Minister, I would be all in favour of moving Christmas should I have forgotten to pick up presents for my wife and kids.

Apparently, Thanksgiving gives you licence to be a bit more schmaltzy than usual. This is a bonus, since the only other opportunity I get to do this is at New Year. And Graduation. And the end of term. And, frankly, countless other times, when, if you take the time to see through the sardonic air, you'll find that I'm just one big pot of sentimentality. There I go again….

So I'm supposed to give thanks, and there's no shortage of things for which I should be grateful. Especially if you consider that I haven't ever recognised this holiday, and consequently have a whole lifetime's worth of gratitude; but particularly in the past year, which has been one of my best on record. A large part of that has been academic, and I suppose I should be thankful for receiving my degree from Glasgow (though it was hardly a gift), as well as thankful to EPSRC for enabling me to move Edinburgh and make my first steps out into the real world.

It is, however, (and not just because they are far more likely to be reading this than the head of a research council) to my friends that I want to give the most thanks. To my old friends in Glasgow, without whom it would have been impossible to endure the trials of a final year at university. And to my new friends in Edinburgh, who have helped make these last three months some of the best times in my life, and reinforced my conviction that moving here was one of the best decisions that I have ever made.

So how will I be marking this occasion, over and above this rather gushy blog post? There will be a traditional, home-cooked, meal for one of the food of my forefathers—chilli con carne—followed by a short parade to Teviot where I will taste some wood-finished whiskies in good company. And if things carry on into the night as they are apt to do, I thoroughly expect to be having a Black Friday.





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