30 March 2007

Et alia

I was reminded yesterday (my first evening back since England jumped from GMT to BST) of how lovely Oxford is in the Summertime (this being the eve of my third Oxonian Summer). It was light out until after 7:30, and it's only late March! The weather since I've been back hasn't been as unseasonably warm as it was in Madison (temps in the high twenties are rare even in July) but it's a pleasant Spring-like atmosphere and the magnoliae are blooming.

Since this is a decidedly girly entry I'll conclude by saying that I hope Ireland whip England's arse in the upcoming Cricket World Cup game which Ireland somehow miraculously qualified for.

26 March 2007

Mad City

First few days in Madison have been pretty awesome. The lakes were frozen when I arrived but two days of 70-plus degree weather have thawed them out and brought all the students outside to hang out in the sunshine. Also, Amrys has cooked up some fine food (as per usual) and there's been a decent amount of low-key hanging out to be had.

A nice break before going back to the UK and to work!

21 March 2007

Run, Al, run!

I'm listening to Al Gore testify about global warming in front of Congress and wondering if he'll make a dark-horse bid for President. It's funny to think back to the 2000 election when he seemed to be one of the most boring politicians I'd ever seen. Now he speaks remarkably eloquently about this topic he obviously cares so much about, but also about the United States. He describes the country with a confidence and, well, love that never came across on the campaign trail.

Gore's 2000 campaign manager described him thus: "He would make a great president. His difficulty has always been being a candidate for president." Can Al bottle some of his Inconvenient Truth magic and inject it into a campaign?

14 March 2007

A pair of brown eyes

At the moment I'm kicking it to some tunes by the Pogues, a choice inspired by a random playing of Dirty Old Town in the bar in Colorado last week. At the time we were drunk enough to sing along, including an Irish chap named Enda who had a really awesome voice (he also does good impersonations).

Nothing much else happening here in the Emerald Isle City, but I'm still in high spirits, so I've got that going for me. Need to make some plans for Paddy's day, though.

11 March 2007

Good news, bad news

When I was a kid my mom always used to tell this story about a staid bloke who hears "You've won the lottery!" and replies, "Good news, bad news." Everyone thinks he's unappreciative of his good luck. He buys a new car with his winnings and then finds out that somebody has stolen it. "Good news, bad news" he says. "Oh," says his friend the next day, "turns out that car had bad brakes and the guy who stole it crashed it into a tree. Imagine what would've happened if you had driven it!"

"Good news, bad news." I forget the exact details, but you get the idea.

I was thinking about it recently as I was turned down for a job at the UW, but wasn't particularly broken up about it. The moral of the story, of course, is that life is a complicated place and we can rarely appreciate the consequences of anything we do or anything that happens to us.

And true to form, despite hearing bad news from UW, I'm generally
happier now than I have been in a long time. At the moment I'm chilling
in Seattle, listening to the Pogues, and it feels pretty good. I just
had a really nice week in Colorado — fantastic weather, good scenery,
interesting work and a really cool bunch of people to hang out with —
and I'm about to have two (hopefully!) great weeks here with a whole
crew of visiting people from Oxford. We'll probably do a little skiing,
cook some dinners together in the apartment complex where we're all
staying, work hard during the day, and hopefully some other good stuff
as well.

I think I've found a good network of friends in Oxford (just as I'm
looking for a job elsewhere — how clever of me) and work has been
really rewarding and exciting of late (although evidently the losers at
UW don't think so).2007 is looking good so far.

On TV and games

First of all, a point to MRhé for making me aware of the fact that ABC and NBC let you watch their programming on the internet. I had previously been paying $1.99 per episode of LOST and Studio 60 on iTunes, but now I can just watch it (albeit not fullscreen) for free at the price of a couple minutes worth of ads per episode. I think this model of on-demand TV programming better than the pay-per-episode iTunes setup: I think soon the idea of scheduled programs will be a thing of the past, but I don't think people will be willing to pay for each episode they want to watch. Plus, who really wants to "own" a TV episode? There aren't that many that I'd really want to watch over and over.

Anyway, in the most recent episode of LOST (no real spoilers here) Locke plays chess against a computer and somebody says to him, "Don't bother, it was programmed by three grand masters, and it cheats". There are two pretty stupid mistakes there, one to do with chess and one to do with computers.

First, it is not possible to cheat at chess (for a computer or a person). Cheating in any game requires there to be some hidden information. A player cheats by manipulating the hidden information unbeknownst to the other player in a way that violates the rules of the game. Chess is a game of complete information (one of it's beauties); both players know everything there is to know about the game at all times, so you can't cheat against an opponent who is paying attention.

Second a good chess program wouldn't be programmed by grand masters of chess it would be programmed by clever programmers. Computers don't play chess in the same way that humans do, they explore the possible space of moves much deeper than any human could, whereas chess greats must use some intuition to search a smaller fraction of that space that presumably yields favourable results.

Five demerits to the writers of LOST.

06 March 2007


I'm writing from a laundromat a few blocks from my hotel in Boulder. Is it a sign of the times or just that this is a college town that they have wi-fi here? I've always liked this part of the country: spectacular views, beautiful weather (bright sun and high 50's all week) and attractive women. There's also a sense of Americana that I either really love or find mildly nauseating.

The trip so far has been ups and downs, strikes and gutters. The interview in Seattle and a phone conversation at 7AM Mountain time about another job in the UK have left me feeling totally confused about where my career is going and even what kinds of things matter to me being happy in general. So in that sense I've been kind of dazed and troubled.

On the flip side of the same hand, however, I've managed to relax more than in quite a long time. There's a good crowd of people here and plenty of time outside the course to hang out and decompress, something I've needed for a long while now. Work still looms, but not oppressively. No skiing yet (might not have time in CO) but I hope that there's still snow on the peaks near Seattle.

04 March 2007


In Boulder now, after having finished my interview at UW. I think it went fairly well, but we'll have to see what they say after they make their decision. I took a shuttle bus from Denver International Airport to Boulder and when I got out and said, "Thanks" to the drive he replied, "You can thank me in the way that is traditional if you feel you've been well served."

Shilling for tips? Come on, isn't that a little gauche? Maybe I'm just too much in the UK mindset of not tipping everyone, everywhere. Not sure who else has arrived here yet, so it might be dinner alone tonight.