Monday, August 27, 2007

Friends of the Earth

Yesterday we went on walk over Bristley Ridge in Snowdonia, very impressive. Today Greg and family returned from side trip to friend in Durham.

While doing some work in front garden, I am visited by two canvassers from Friends of the Earth, who want me to join up to show support for some campaign to force companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. They are both about 20, wearing matching FoE T-shirts. While they were telling me about the campaign, I also saw 2 other similar activists working the other side of the street. I did not join up on the spot, but my main thought is, thank goodness there are still some people their age who are into this kind of stuff.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Greg and his family come to visit for a few days. I am now "on holiday", trying not to think about work.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I spoke too soon

In a previous post, I mentioned the demolition of a nearby building that was in progress, and assumed that it was being completely demolished. This turns out to be partly true; they left behind the lower levels, and - this seems unusual - started rebuilding the upper levels.

I tend to suspect the new building will look almost as bad as the one it replaces. At least, I don't like the look of the overhanging section at the right.

The last picture shows progress on a new building of Liverpool John Moores University, across the street. Incidentally, in order to move these pictures around to the right places in the post, it seems necessary to cut and paste the relevant bits of HTML code.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Path to Confusion

Right, I'm taking a brief ill-deserved break from writing up reviews of WINE submissions to write this down.

When you take a hike on unfamiliar territory with the aid of a map, and you get lost, this is not something that happens suddenly. Uncertainty creeps in concerning one's geographical location, the facts are twisted to support an ailing theory, maybe the visibility worsens, and one is reluctant ever to backtrack. At some stage, one is reduced to a very crude strategy like "go uphill whenever possible" in the hope of finding a landmark.

Reading a badly-written paper is similar. The problem papers are not weak papers that one can reject with reasonable confidence, they are papers that may be significant, but can't be understood. And it starts out all innocently - a symbol is introduced whose meaning is not specified precisely, so you form a hypothesis about its meaning and try to continue. Terminology may be used in a non-standard way - you think you know what is being said, but something else entirely is intended. This is a problem in particular when the authors are not really in one's own community, authors who usually write papers for conferences you have not attended. Another problem is the usage of a technique that is attributed to a pre-existing paper, for which various properties or performance guarantees are being claimed. How seriously can I take these claims? At some stage, you realise you have no understanding what you are reading. The time has come to go right back to the very first point where the meaning was not made 100% clear, and write up a query on that as part of the review. Then try to do the same at the second point of uncertainty, although that second query would ideally be informed by the answer to the first query.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Change to email

A colleague announces that we will shortly close down the departmental email service and start using the university one. Probably that spells the end of my practice of routinely using pine to read my email (when doing it remotely, I ssh to our department machines, type "TERM=vt200" and read using this purely text-based interface. I switched to pine from Berkeley mail as a result of the usage of attachments becoming commonplace; pine can just about cope with those. Web mail, or programs like Outlook or Thunderbird, don't really add more functionality (colours and fonts don't count as functionality) and are much slower (those colours, fonts and graphics take time to re-display every time you delete an email or move to a new page). I guess I'll just have to get used to it.

Monday, August 06, 2007


I phone John Lewis to reschedule a furniture delivery. I am only partially successful. I log on to the Elsevier website to fill in a "journal publication agreement" related to a recently-accepted paper. I try to find Thelma to hand in a delivery note that came with some software I ordered, and ask her about how to pay for an air ticket for a research visitor. She is not in her office, but the light's on. Should I move on to the next item that's suggested by the headers in my in-box? (There's something from Vladimir about PhD admissions.) Trouble is, if I read that, I'll forget about the air ticket question. Therein lies the key problem with the "inbox zero" concept that Christoph told me about - you can't complete these tasks in order and then delete the associated emails. While I'm pondering this, I take a look at some rubbish article on the BBC news website, which somehow reminds me that I am supposed to be finding out about go-karting for when Greg and his family visit. Hmm, probably the "inbox zero" idea assumes you maintain a to-do list other than your inbox. I peep cautiously at my inbox through half-closed eyes. Someone has sent me a review of a WINE submission that I had asked them for — We must be thankful for small mercies. That reminds me, it's time to pester two other reviewers for their reviews, before it gets too late...

Sunday, August 05, 2007


Our friend Jamie Andrews visits (yesterday and today), before heading down to London for a meeting of the program committee of some conference. For that conference not only does the PC have to meet physically, but each paper is assigned a "lead discussant" from amongst the members of the PC.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

new web page(?)

I spend most of the day working on some notes on computing approximate Nash equilibria, and what is known about this topic. These notes are in html, the idea being that they can later be put up as a sort of public information web site. I reckon that if this is done well, it could attract quite a lot of readers; it may have potential to be developed into an online textbook of sorts. I like the idea of being able to make every usage of a symbol link to the point where that symbol was introduced (how many times have I wished that some textbook could do that!)