Monday, January 30, 2006

30 January 2006: Marathon

Worth taking a quick break from marking the Adventure Games and setting the lab sessions for next semester to quickly talk about the London Marathon.

As mentioned a few times recently on this blog, Kevin and myself have both been given confirmed places to run this year's event. Kevin's running for the Rose Road Association, and I'm raising money for the Children@Risk campaign being run by Steve Chalke's Oasis Trust. The event takes place on 23 April and should be a laugh. (For the first half hour, anyway.)

We're also awaiting confirmation that we'll be running the Hastings Half Marathon (rather hillier than the London event) on March 12, which should be a useful training tool as well as a good test of our mountaineering skills. Meantime, the training continues and the excitement grows.

Now, here's my ulterior motive for talking about the marathon: how would you like to help me raise the £2000 Oasis have asked me to raise? Have a look at the link to their website and the Children @ Risk project, see what you think. Then go to my fund-raising website and donate online: it's that easy. I only set the page up this morning (so currently there is no money in there!) but please take the time to have a look and donate a tenner to a worthwhile cause.

I mean, it's going to be worthwhile just to see the state of me after running 26.2 miles, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

25 January 2006: Analysis

Selected comments on blogging from the AKT conference:

  • "50 million blogs and nothing on." (Nick)
  • "They're mostly trash." (Tom)
  • "Who cares?" (Nigel)
  • "Full of words, and I find that a bit of a turn off." (Steve)
  • "Can I have some coffee please?" (Hugh)

Six AKT folks admit to having blogs. Perhaps I'm the only one who includes AKT in the blog title. And what does my blog have to do with AKT? Very little.

To prove it: Plymouth Argyle beat Leicester one-nil last night and thus went above Saints. And isn't that more interesting than discussing the semanticity or otherwise of blogging? As if to prove my point, the discussion has now turned to Kropotkin and differing views of anarchism. If a room full of computer scientists would talk more enthusiastically about extreme left-wing political philosophy, then there must be something going on.

Blogging and the semantic web don't mix. I'd better close before I get lynched.

Spelling footnote: Blogger's spellcheck continues to not recognise 'blog', 'blogger' or any such words. It suggests replacing 'blogging' with 'flogging', profound statement with which most AKTors would seem to agree. The web should be about what we can sell (three words, Steve?) not what boring people say.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

22 January 2006: Swing

So much to report on - the whale, the JCDL submission, the decision to teach Javascript rather than Java to the new students next semester as their first language. However, we're about to get a taxi to the airport, then a plane to Aberdeen for the AKT workshop.

But I do have to report one thing: a new chant heard at St Mary's yesterday.

To the tune of 'Swing low, sweet chariot':

Swing Lowe,
Swing Rupert Lowe,
Swing him off the Itchen Bridge!

Made me laugh, anyway. Right - off to Aberdeen.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the singing Saints fans and do not necessarily reflect the views of AKT or the author of this blog.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

17 January 2006: Pandemic

Just lost a rather large but well-packed blog due to Internet Explorer crashing (thanks due to the website of the World Health Organisation) and both the clipboard and the 'Recover Post' functionality of Blogger failing me. It was very interesting and all about how bird flu is a threat, but asking why it is a threat right now, and not ten years ago when H5N1 first emerged in Hong Kong. And are the media reporting everything they should? I can't be bothered to re-type it all (I have work to do and a class to teach), but here are some salient points to point you to:
  • The world is afraid of a bird flu pandemic, specifically a soon-to-appear mutation of the H5N1 virus currently rampaging among chickens in Hong Kong and turkeys in Turkey.
  • H5N1 covers quite a range of flu viruses (mainly bird flu) which can be traced back to Scotland in 1959 but which appeared on a large scale in Hong Kong in 1996/97.
  • The name H5N1 refers to the subtypes of surface antigens present on the virus: hemagglutinin type 5 and neuraminidase type 1. (Thanks to the trustworthy Wikipedia.)
  • It was suppressed by mass cull, but re-emerged in the same place in 2002, leading to suggestions of a SARS-style cover-up by the Chinese government about the extent of H5N1 in Guangdong province.
  • It re-emerged as a fast-moving, deadly genotype called 'Z'. This demonstrated almost 100% lethality and led to deaths among humans coming into contact with the birds.
  • There now appear to be two forms of the virus in Vietnam: one which still kills 100% quite quickly, another which demonstrates only 10%-20% lethality, which is good news if you want to live but bad news if you don't want the disease to spread: sick yet living birds are going to have more transmission opportunities than dead birds, and the same would be true among a human pandemic.
  • Passing note: the word 'pandemic' can only be applied to humans. Among animals the correct word is 'panzootic'. Which sounds to me like a third-rate 70's Space Rock band.
  • Both the World Health Organization (no I'm not giving a link after last time, look it up yourself) and Recombinomics (who they?) recognise the established cases of human-to-human transmission.
  • The media like a story when it's not a major election year.

None of which is to say we shouldn't be afraid. The problem seems to be not that H5N1 exists, nor that 'Z' is so amazingly deadly, nor that the bird migratory patterns are currently distributing H5N1 all over the world. The problem seems to be a combination of all the above, along with lesser-reported facts such as the accepted fact of human-to-human transmission of H5N1 (in limited cases) and the emergence of the not-so-lethal strain in north Vietnam. Put it all together, add a healthy dose of fear, a few comments about the cosmopolitan nature of the world, the example of SARS and suddenly you have a good story. The reluctance of the Chinese government to rid Guangdong of H5N1 between 1997 and 2002 certainly didn't help.

History tells us the flu pandemic will come. On the other hand, H5N1 was around ten years ago and it hasn't got us yet. What seems most likely is a non-100% lethal strain will emerge and cause a lot of hassle, but won't kill the millions predicted.

The problem of course remains that, as Patrick Moore so often says, we just don't know.

Postcript: unsurprisingly, Blogger's spellcheck doesn't recognise 'panzootic'. Perhaps more surprisingly, Blogger's spellcheck doesn't recognise 'Blogger'.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

12 January 2006: Bung

Well, the computer is busy translating the entire ACM metadata set from XML to MySQL and RDF, so that should give me ten minutes to give a quick mention of the continued rumours abounding in the football world.

Seriously, it never ceases to amaze me how many conspiracy theories are around, particularly during the transfer window. Theo Walcott due to move here there and everywhere for a fee that varies from a million pounds (if he goes before signing a pro contract when he turns seventeen in March) to fifteen million (Chelsea, in case you couldn't guess), Mike Newell on Radio Five Live this morning talking about bungs and saying he's prepared to name names of agents who've offered him money - and interestingly making the point that "isn't it interesting how many players who have the same agent always seem to end up at the same club." I wonder if anything will come of this, or, like the darts scandal earlier this week, the powers-that-be will decide that a quietly corrupt sport is better than a sport with proven scandals, and bury it under the carpet.

Good old Harry Redknapp was never too far away from such allegations, especially during his days at West Ham (oh, why was it he left there? Hm, can't remember...), and beyond the betting anomalies noted last month when he returned to Pompey and made some people very rich indeed, the whisper this morning from Mauro and Deano at the haircut shop was that Harry knew about incoming Russian businessman Alexandre Gaydamak and his investment that has allowed Harry to spend (at time of writing this) £12 million on players in the last two weeks. No wonder he was happy to put his past problems with Milan Mandaric behind him.

Mauro, incidentally, was concerned that the game is getting too much about money, but that may be because business was very slow at the barber shop and he was getting bored. Deano (a Pompey fan, but a nice one) was just happy to be supporting a club that seems to be buying all of Tottenham's players, and thankfully I was sitting in his chair for my mop-chop this morning. I'll never forget the fierce head-shave Mauro gave me after the Italians were beaten in the last Euro championships.

So where does this leave us? Bungs are rife in football, insider knowledge and dealing is rife in football, Saints have a rugby coach as director of football and Theo Walcott (whom I first saw as a fifteen year old in a pre-season match against Eastleigh, and who even then looked astounding) will go to a big club for not much money in the next few weeks. Meantime I have shorter hair, lots of ACM data and a confirmed place on the London Marathon. And next weekend we're all off to Aberdeen for the AKT workshop. Aberdeen in January... I can hardly wait.

Monday, January 09, 2006

9 January 2006: Kidnapped

No blogs for a month? And the last one I wrote was about my Grand Unified Conspiracy Theory? Surely I must have spent the last few weeks kidnapped by government agents and held in a secret prison that Condoleezza Rice knows nothing about (honestly) and tortured until I squealed everything I knew.

No, actually it wasn't that. It was Christmas break, which this year didn't involve going to Texas, but instead bringing a little of Texas over here as Gloria and I spent the festive period with my family. A good time, although tinged with a little sadness as Gloria is flying back to DFW tomorrow morning to prepare for the wedding, and I won't see her again until the end of March.

Still, not like there's nothing to do in the meantime. This AKTing lark enters its final calendar year - both for myself and for AKT - and I'm getting busy with final experiments, thesis structures and spinning out a few papers before it all finishes. Add on to the that OPSI stuff, the AKT DTA conference and teaching Java to highly intelligent undergrads (have to be polite, some of them read this stuff), and it's going to be busy. Not to mention running the marathon.

On which note, incidentally, I can confirm I'll be running for the Oasis Trust this year. Kevin somehow managed to get two confirmed places in the race, so he passed one of them on to me, and it seems Oasis are quite happy with that as long as I raise a good bit of dosh for them. The race itself is on Sunday 23rd April (hurrah for St George!), just three days after flying back from honeymoon so hopefully I won't be too out of shape. Training so far has been ok but the challenge of stretching the running from one to four hours is where it gets tough.

Finally, it was sad to hear about the death over the weekend of Tony Banks. Sorry, Lord Stratford. (He was the most un-Lord-like person I've ever seen). A proud, principled Labour man whose roots went back to the GLC and who backed Benn over Kinnock in the early 80's, he was a surprise appointment to the front bench post of Sports Minister in New Labour's 1997 government. He campaigned vigorously against Margaret Thatcher and fox hunting, eventually seeing the end of both. He was only 62 - still with a lot to offer, and somehow it seems quite sad that he never got to see the Olympics played out in his beloved East End, a place where the people genuinely loved him and by whom he'll be sorely missed.