purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

This is me as Mrs Muddle in the OULES Christmas pantomime of, I think, 1992. OULES spent most of its time touring old peoples' homes in the Oxfordshire area and singing medlies of songs, but at Christmas we would produce a pantomime which we took around local primary schools, childrens' homes and childrens' wards in hospitals. This was not the pantomime for which we got the immortal review "the acting veers from the timidly embarrassed to the outrageously ham somehow managing to miss basic competence in the middle" but I suspect the standard was similar. I have a feeling my performance was at the "outrageously ham" end of the scale.

Should anyone be in Manchester tommorrow evening and anywhere near [twitter.com profile] EagleInnSalford then you can judge if my acting has improved since for (aided and abetted by [twitter.com profile] CiaranHodgers) I'll be performing a piece about Ethics and Autonomous Systems as part of Experimental Words, a series of team-ups between poets and scientists laid on by Manchester Science Festival.

NB. Attempts by certain parties to make me break into the Pizzazz the Garden Gnome song at this juncture will not succeed. You know who you are!
purplecat: (books)
Reading: Red Seas under Red Skies - I'd been avoiding this book because I loved its predecessor, The Lies of Locke Lamorra and had been told the sequel wasn't as good. I told my sister this when she gave me this book for Christmas and she said something to the effect of "yes, but it's still a good book". So far, yeah, it's good but not as good as lies. And, note, I've now caught up in my to read pile with books I was given last Christmas and it's not even this Christmas yet!.

Listening: I tried out a bunch of new podcasts of which the only one that has stuck is Stuff you Missed in History. This one's current status is "I'll listen to a couple more episodes and see". It's quirky and interesting but a lot more obviously commercial and slick than most of the podcasts I listen to, and I'm not sure how high my tolerance is for what seem to be, essentially, random historical anecdotes.

Watching: The Space Pirates for the Randomizer. So far this is proving more watchable than anticipated.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)
Claws of Axos is practicality the essence of UNIT era Doctor Who. It has the Master in league with alien invaders, an incompetent government official, plenty of soldiers running about the place and a Nuclear Power station (sorry a Power Complex housing a Particle Accelerator that just happens to look like Dungeness). I was surprised, therefore, that it felt unusual maybe because I've watched relatively little Jon Pertwee, in comparison to other Doctors. In particular I was struck by the dominating presence of the military in the first episode. It's possible this was intended as a deliberate contrast by the production team, since these are the regular military, as opposed to UNIT, but I suspect that there may actually be fewer Pertwee episodes than one might think which actually try to feature troop movements at any scale. There is also quite a lot of outdoor filming here, rendered more obvious by the switch between film and video when the action moves between outdoor locations and an indoor set. Somehow the story feels much larger in scope than it actually is.

Beyond that I found the tale fun but rather muddled. The opposition between UNIT and the UK forces seems, ultimately, unnecessary to the tale and both arises and is overcome far too easily to really justify its presence in the story. This is neither the first nor the last time Doctor Who decides to play with our tendency to assume beauty implies good intentions and, as is often the case, the moral is clumsy in its delivery - in particular the story comes close to implying that the true ugly form of the Axons is indicative of their genuine nature. The last episode feels rather surplus to requirements, the Axon nutrition cycle having been stopped in its first few minutes and the world alerted to the threat - everything after that point feels a bit like padding.

All that said, the combination of the Doctor, Jo, the Brigadier and the Master are very watchable. The story itself isn't bad, per se, its just a lot more of a runaround sequence of, if not capture-escape at least peril-escape moments than I was expecting. The psychedelia of the Axon ship is fun from a 1970s style perspective and the production and effects in general stand up pretty well.

I feel this is the sort of story that works well viewed as its separate episodes in a mind set of simply enjoying the ride. There is nothing wrong with that in and of itself, but one feels that there is a lot of Doctor Who out there with more going for it.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
I tend to assume that everyone I know who spends any amount of time on the Internet is aware of xkcd but then every so often I will bump into someone who doesn't know it, so I'm mentioning it here on the off chance...

xkcd is a web comic with a minimalistic style and exceptionally wide-ranging content. Its comics tend to be just a few panels with a gag built in, and often with a computer, science or nerdy theme (and sometimes they are really obscure, I'd be surprised if there was anyone out there who has "got" every xkcd joke without some googling) however there are many many exceptions to that format from comics where the gag is only apparent from the "alt text" that pops up when you hover your mouse over the comic image to comics that are stories, games or serious infographics.

A representative sample:

Duty Calls:

Probably my favourite straight gag comic

Movie Narrative Charts:

An infographic showing the interactions of groups of people over time in several popular blockbuster movies

Time - Time was an animated story that updated slowly over nearly 6 months. I'm fairly sure when this first appeared I saw only the first frame, assumed it was an xkcd joke I didn't get and moved on, only to discover later that it was telling a story. The link her goes not to xkcd (which now only displays the final few frames of the animation) but to a separate site which lets you play the animation at the speed of your choice.

Hoverboard: Hoverboard appears to be a fairly simple, collect the coins game. By the time this appeared I was fairly wise to some of the tricks xkcd plays and so realised it was possible to escape from the initial simple space into a much larger world. It must be said I explored it a little and then moved on, but G. saw me doing it and she explored the whole game thoroughly managing to collect all but one of the coins.
purplecat: (roleplaying)
Via [livejournal.com profile] philmophlegm. Very bizarre, am I very, very certain that I'm not an Elf. I definitely put "Very Short" when it asked me my height.

I Am A: Lawful Good Elf Wizard/Sorcerer (3rd/3rd Level)

Ability Scores:







Lawful Good A lawful good character acts as a good person is expected or required to act. He combines a commitment to oppose evil with the discipline to fight relentlessly. He tells the truth, keeps his word, helps those in need, and speaks out against injustice. A lawful good character hates to see the guilty go unpunished. Lawful good is the best alignment you can be because it combines honor and compassion. However, lawful good can be a dangerous alignment when it restricts freedom and criminalizes self-interest.

Elves are known for their poetry, song, and magical arts, but when danger threatens they show great skill with weapons and strategy. Elves can live to be over 700 years old and, by human standards, are slow to make friends and enemies, and even slower to forget them. Elves are slim and stand 4.5 to 5.5 feet tall. They have no facial or body hair, prefer comfortable clothes, and possess unearthly grace. Many others races find them hauntingly beautiful.

Primary Class:
Wizards are arcane spellcasters who depend on intensive study to create their magic. To wizards, magic is not a talent but a difficult, rewarding art. When they are prepared for battle, wizards can use their spells to devastating effect. When caught by surprise, they are vulnerable. The wizard's strength is her spells, everything else is secondary. She learns new spells as she experiments and grows in experience, and she can also learn them from other wizards. In addition, over time a wizard learns to manipulate her spells so they go farther, work better, or are improved in some other way. A wizard can call a familiar- a small, magical, animal companion that serves her. With a high Intelligence, wizards are capable of casting very high levels of spells.

Secondary Class:
Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)

The cover of Doctor Who Monthly number 64 (EDIT: 62!). The first issue I bought. It was subsequently raided for pictures to cut out and stick onto things so I no longer appear to have the actual cover myself.
purplecat: (lego robots)
Alan is one of the Principal Investigators on the Verifiable Autonomy project (which employs me for half my time). He has a long standing interest in the various aspects of ethics and robotics, both how a robot might be programmed to behave ethically and the ethical issues surrounding the use of robots in homes, workplaces and other places. He is also involved in a number of committees involving robotics. He blogs about his work at Alan Winfield's Web Log, both reporting on current research in an accessible fashion, and discussing various activities he has been involved with. It's not a high volume blog, but worth checking out if you are interested in these kinds of issues. He's also active on twitter ([twitter.com profile] alan_winfield) and, I get the impression, very much enjoys discussing his work, ethics and robotics with people.
purplecat: (roleplaying)
I have found some more Edinburgh LARP photos and these ones even (*gasp at the new fangled-ness of it all*) have an accompanying CD with them all on.

I think these must be NPCS (it would be difficult to get a party all to wear matching tartan shoulder sashes). Note youthful looking B. on the far left.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Reading: The Universal Computer: The Road from Leibniz to Turing - an oddly frustrating book since it is concentrating on the history primarily of the ideas being mathematical logic which I more-or-less knew, though I hadn't seen it set out in order like this before. However, I spend a lot of time skimming over the mathematical explanations because I'm so familiar with the maths, but feel slightly frustrated that I'm not getting more history to sink my teeth into.

Listening: Frustratingly, just as I started listening to the Two Minute Time Lord podcasts they stopped. However there are 419 episodes so I decided to tackle the backlog - or at least the backlog going back to episode 271 which is the first my podcast app deigns to provide me with. I'm currently listening to an interview with Toby Hadoke (which is taking considerably longer than the two minutes advertised! - it's described as a "Time Dilation" episode).

Watching: Canon review for Yuletide. I doubt my recipient is following here, but it probably doesn't hurt to be a little coy. It's a fun movie, sufficiently fun that B is happily rewatching it with me - though I'm having slightly cold feet because I hadn't quite clocked I'd need to get to grips with a particular city at a particular time in order to do the story justice and its not a time or place with which I have much familiarity. Luckily wikipedia has an extensive page on that precise city in the 45 year period towards the end of which the movie is set, so hopefully it'll be good enough for rock and roll, certainly given the movie is obviously set in a universe slightly to the side of our own.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
US election: what impact do celebrity endorsements really have?
I'd been wondering this and am a little surprised at the conclusion that celebrity endorsements are important, since I'd a feeling that they were the sort of thing that only seemed impressive and compelling to people who were already signed up to a cause.
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'Don't feed the trolls' really is good advice – here's the evidence
It must be said I've always thought "don't feed the trolls" sounded like good advice. But I have seen several think pieces which have asserted that trolls do not go away if ignored. I'm sure this research isn't the end of the story, but it is interesting none the less.
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Post-truth politics and the US election: why the narrative trumps the facts
Interesting analysis of "Post-truth politics" which digs into the issue of construction of narratives.
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purplecat: Programming the Eniac Computer (computing)

Image of a Lego Rover on top of a giant abacus in front of a reproduction of the Manchester Baby (the first stored-program computer).
purplecat: (lego robots)
Sunday: 16k run (thought I might work slowly up to half marathon distance and see how I feel about it). Usual household chores and catching up. Sausage Casserole for supper (may the various packet sauce companies never stop making Sausage Casserole packet sauce!)

Monday: Gave a talk at work (a re-run of my TAROS talk), seemed to go OK. Read project specifications from some of my students.

Tuesday: Wrote up a quick guide to software engineering for my project students in the hopes that their project plans would become more realistic as a result. Had some rather frustrating conversations with them in the afternoon. E.g.

Me: Why did you add all this complicated stuff into your project plan?
Student: Because it says the robot should explore the room in the project description.
Me: I'm sure it doesn't, let's take a look.
* We look at the project description. I read it out to the student. Including the bit about finding and displaying Mars surface data in a 3D simulator *
Student (panicked): But I don't know anything about 3D simulators!
Me: But it says in the project description "student must be familiar with 3D simulators"
Student: I didn't read that bit

Bear in mind that the project description is only 3 paragraphs long, I wasn't expecting him to have read and understood 10 pages of fine print. I've no idea what project he thought he'd chosen. I keep telling myself that, with 8 students, there was always a high chance that one would be at the lower end of the bell curve and I shouldn't invest too much time and energy in trying to rescue him. As B. has pointed out, there's a reason why I was so happy to give up teaching when I stopped being a lecturer. I'm definitely going to have to work on keeping my stress levels down, even with the fairly minimal amount of teaching that comes with the new post.

Wednesday: Went to a briefing meeting for an "Inreach" project in which I will mentor a bunch of undergraduates producing an activity for a University "Science Jamboree". Actually got some work that might pass for research done!

Thursday: Drove to work in order to collect the "robot table" that I use for some events. Problem project student emailed asking for a meeting because he couldn't get his Raspberry Pi onto the university Wifi network. Although I did actually have time I figured I could waste quite a lot of it on a day ear-marked for research doing this for him, so emailed back to say I wasn't available and he should familiarise him with running his Raspberry Pi powered robot directly, rather than over the network (was terribly proud of myself). B's older brother was at home when I arrived, though he left before my sister turned up to stay the night (she was speaking at a conference in Manchester).

Friday: Went out for lunch with B. We tried the new(ish) restaurant at the Whitworth which had been much trumpeted when it opened (indeed last time we tried to go there for lunch we couldn't get in). It was something of a disappointment the starter arrived after the main course (though B. thinks this was because we messed up when ordering) and my burger was burnt (B. tried to persuade me it was artistically char-grilled, but I'm fairly sure it was burnt). Conference call in the afternoon with the IEEE committee that's trying to come up with guidelines on the ethics of artificial intelligence and personal data.

Saturday: Spent the day at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry running a Lego Rover stand as part of International Day of the Girl. The plan was that groups of Brownies and Girl Guides would go around various stands to experience structured activities. Initially this was pretty chaotic with random children turning up and leaving, but by about midday they had sorted themselves out and a small group would, indeed, come to the stand to be lead through what was going on. I also talked to a fair few members of the general public and some people from Computing At School North West who seemed interested in the idea of adopting the Lego Rover activity as something primary schools might use, so all in all a useful (if tiring) day.
purplecat: Texture by simpleandclean (LiveJournal) (Doctor Who)

Given how studiously Doctor Who, the show, has avoided giving us child companions, it is always a little jarring when a piece of spin-off media chooses to do so. Though, in the case of a choose your own adventure book, you can see why it might have been tempting, even if it does make your assumptions about your audience pretty explicit.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
I can't say "Fossil Friday" was really doing it for me so I thought I'd have a go at Follow Friday.

To be honest, anyone who checks out my link dumps will know I read The Conversation a lot. It's a news and comment site but the writers are all academics and are either reporting their own work in their own words (with style guidance form a journalist) or are commenting upon the news from the standpoint of relevant academic expertise. That doesn't mean that nonsense is eliminated from their articles, but I'd say there is generally less nonsense than in the more mainstream press, and the research-led viewpoints are often unique and interesting.
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
I'm currently waiting for my sister to turn up from a conference. I'm just putting this here to say that I'm endlessly amazed, in a quiet way, that our total inability to get along when we were children has translated into a relationship now that is considerably better than that many of my peers have with their siblings.

purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Reading Still The Silent Stars go By. I'm enjoying it more than The Story of Martha - it's a good solid Doctor Who tale. Because [livejournal.com profile] deinonychus_1 asked, I'd say it was a good but not spectacular story for Rory. He's separated from the Doctor and Amy and getting to have his own adventure and he's very much in character, but I wouldn't say he's had any punch the air in excitement moments.

Listening: The Doctor Who Book Club Podcast talking to Graeme Burk and Robert Smith about their "Who is the Doctor" episode guide. I'm almost tempted to buy it because it sounds like a more restrained version of the About Time series, even though I feel I probably have enough Doctor Who episode guides in the house.

Watching: Mostly short things, mostly Doctor Who and Lupin III episodes. We've been dabbling with Daredevil and iZombie but haven't yet felt we really need to seriously watch them.

Linky Links

Oct. 4th, 2016 08:15 pm
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
The new puritans: What Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have in common
An interesting discussion of the tension between the need for showmanship and probity. It turns out to have been written by a biographer of Boris Johnson which probably explains his more than usually sympathetic portrayal of Johnson, but in that regard it is interesting since not many sympathetic discussions of Boris Johnson cross my dashboard - least of all from the New Statesman. That said, I am unconvinced by the idea that sometimes you have to lie to reveal a deeper truth. I'm inclined to think one ought to be able to expose the "deeper truth" without resorting to lies and it is the easy reaching for a convenient lie that is part of what is wrong with political discourse.
- - - - -

Donald Trump's polling slump appears to have arrived | The Independent
I have a suspicion that polling in this election is going to be more erratic than is normal in American elections, since the two "sides" are more than normally morally judgemental about each other and that will lead to "shy Tory" effects - though precisely who this will benefit is anyone's guess. In my particular echo chamber you'd be a brave soul to admit to support for Trump, but there may well be large echo chambers in which the reverse is true.
- - - - -
purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)
Sunday: Left Oxford fairly early to be back in Manchester by lunch time and thus able to complete some chores.

Monday: Prepared Journal version of our COIN paper, sent an email with questions to co-authors (none of them have replied!)

Tuesday: EEE have specific lab time timetabled in for their final year project students. Since I don't have a office suitable for meetings I told my students I'd be there with equipment which I duly doled out. I then proceeded to be clueless in the face of questions and forms but I'm feeling fairly unrepentant about this since I've spent a fair amount of time asking EEE for information on how they run projects and not received much in reply. I can see its a bit distressing for the students but, frankly, if they give the department poor feedback as a result that will probably be far more effective than me complaining. Went to a networking event by the Liverpool Women in Science and Engineering organisation after work (partly because they've been very good at publicising my stuff) and was surprised to find it actually useful for networking.

Wednesday: Violin Lesson. Dental Appointment. Got some details of Lego Rover stuff sorted in between.

Thursday: Finally got an email from EEE with details about project deliverables. Spent the morning composing a long email to my students with suggestions for how they should complete the first deliverable and giving them deadlines for getting drafts to me if they want comments. Spent the afternoon grappling with a draft thing (I can't really describe it as a poem) from the poet with which I have been matched for Experimental Words trying to at least inject something into it that is related to what I actually do. Went home and drank more wine than I should have.

Friday: I do not recommend running 10k while hungover. Nevertheless went out for lunch with B. and got a small amount of work done.

Saturday: Went to park run and actually met someone with whom I've only interacted via Strava (he cycled past me once). Cleaned the bathroom. Did miscellaneous admin related to the school (forms for a school trip (including ordering an EHIC card), misc stuff related to Speech Night, made G. sign their honesty policy ("but I signed this last year")). Fixed lights to my bicycle. Cooked Pasta with Roast Vegetable Sauce from Two Fat Vegetarians for supper. Watched Pacific Rim.


purplecat: Hand Drawn picture of a Toy Cat (Default)

October 2016

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