Wednesday, May 23, 2007

23 May 2007: Final AKT

It's time to dispel some rumours.

  • There will be no immediate takeover of Southampton Football Club. Yes, they're in a bid situation, but nothing is imminent and it may be that missing out on promotion means Saints are much more likely to be the next Leeds rather than the next Chelsea.
  • My head operation went well and I am alive and healthy, despite the frighteningly massive gash and stitches currently on display to anyone slightly taller than me. The surgery took a little over thirty minutes, the first twenty of which were spent trying to stop the bleeding that took place after the initial incision. Conversation (local anaesthetic, you see) went as follows:
    Doctor Armstrong: You've got a very healthy heart.
    Me: Why do you say that?
    Doctor Armstrong: You're bleeding heavily.
    Stitches come out next Tuesday.
  • Virgin births are possible among sharks, although any babies will only ever have mummy DNA and thus will be girls. Raising the interesting if theologically unsound notion that Jesus could, just possibly, have been a female shark.
  • This blog is not actually about AKT, nor has it ever been. Proof of this will be evidenced by the next blog entry after this one, because today is the final day of AKT, ever.

To give a little background to the uninitiated (which, frankly, is most of the world, including a number of people in my research group), AKT stands for Advanced Knowledge Technologies and has been a six-year five-university research project aimed at inter-disciplinary research. Admittedly, it would be fairer to label it inter-sub-disciplinary since almost everyone involved is a Computer Scientist in some way (even me), but still it's been all about promoting smart computing which, almost since the start, has meant 'Semantic Web'.

The Semantic Web, of course, may in time turn out to be another myth to be dispelled, but for now it's Sir Tim's vision of a web where URIs are used to represent things with some degree of consistency, RDF is used to describe the relationships between these things, and SPARQL is a query language where you can ask about such relationships. Of course, there's a lot more to it than that (rdf:seeAlso ontology), and there's something about owls in there too, but essentially that's the vision. And since 2001, AKT has been pursuing this with a fair degree of effort.

And today it ends. Some people from the Research Council are in town, along with a few other important folks, to review the project, look at some posters and have a spot of lunch. Us AKTors are gathered for the final time, hawking our wares (and indeed wearing our hawks) and generally showing off. From my perspective it's a little weird to be wearing a collar and tie and yet also have a huge gash in my head, but it's worth it for a project that has not only funded my PhD but helped me learn a lot about the semantic web, citation analysis and supervisors with too much on their plate (not necessarily in that order). I just hope they don't notice the scar and start asking about that instead of my work.

On the other hand, maybe I'll just tell them that now AKT has finished, they've let me take the implant out.

Be afraid...

Friday, May 18, 2007

18 May 2007: Imminent

The rumour mill is in overdrive. Sounds like there's an imminent bid for Southampton Football Club coming from person or persons unknown, but who might very well actually be Paul Allen from Microsoft.

The club's shares have been in 'bid condition' for a couple of weeks now, and now the playoff circus is out of the way, things seem to be actually on the move. In some ways it might just be rumours, of course, but these rumours smell a lot like the ones that had Harry coming to Saints late in 2004 and Harry scurrying off back down the M27 to fishtown last year. Sources seem to be reliable, and varied, so who knows what the summer holds for the Saints?

Can't say for sure just yet, but let's see what happens on the Stock Exchange... if anything...

Edit: As Becky points out, it's not yet July, as I previously stated in the title of this entry. Rumours have died down a little, although some sources predict an announcement as soon as Monday morning. If nothing happens by 18 July I'll be pretty disappointed. By the way, Nottingham Forest 2 - 5 Yeovil Town: what's that all about?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

17 May 2007: Number Four

Got some strange looks walking through the level four lab this morning.

Simple enough reason: been to Mauro's again. And this time the radical haircut is nothing to do with Italy losing at football/rugby/World War II (delete as applicable) but instead I actually went in there and asked for "four on the top, two on the sides". The reason for this near-shaven buzz-cut is not that I've decided to audition for Ewan McGregor's role in 'Trainspotting', but instead I'm in for some brief head surgery on Monday where a local doctor will take a rusty scalpel and attempt to remove a sebaceous cyst from the top of my dome. A nice short haircut now means that it'll all grow back roughly together after the event... at least that's the theory.

But what it reminded me of, and devotees of previous incarnations of this missive (such as the Street Level Reports of 1997/98) will know about this, was the barber shop I used to go to when I first moved to London. Back in those days, a fresh-faced graduate from Southampton University's Department of Politics, I had relatively lengthy hair, which I didn't worry about getting cut until I'd been in London some two months. Eventually, however, the hair-in-the-eyes syndrome necessitated either something to tie it all back with, or a haircut, and I went with the chop option.

Of course it was one thing deciding to get a haircut, another entirely trying to find the right place. Hoxton, a small highly diverse corner of Hackney, featured roughly three such establishments. One had constantly-closed red curtains in the window, which scared me witless; the second, down by Old Street station, seemed to be shut most of the time. So on a dark Thursday evening in November, at about 6.30pm, I wandered into 'Dad's Unisex Hair Salon' on Hoxton Street, sat down and awaited my turn.

There were four barber chairs in the place, and three barbers working. I was fourth in line, so figured it wouldn't take too long to get me in and out. At one point, a small boy (maybe six years old) shouted at one of the barbers, "I'm next, innit?" and said barber instead pointed around the room, saying "It's 'im, then 'im, then 'im, then 'im, then you." My place in line was secure.

Two hours later I got to sit in the chair. I don't know why it took so long, but the sign on the wall saying "Barbers need a break too" seemed to be a statement of policy rather than a two-minute breather every so often. That said, the atmosphere in the place was fantastic. The humour was ongoing, and I was included in it even though I'd never been there before, and the older gentleman proprietor ("dads" was what they all called him) reminded me sufficiently of Norman Beaton to make me wonder if, despite being outside Peckham, the comedy show 'Desmond's' might actually be partly based on this place.

But I digress. I sat in the seat nearest the window and Andy set to work on my hair. Now, what I haven't mentioned so far, unless you picked it up from the Desmond's comment, was that this was something of a not-very-racially-integrated shop. In fact, I was the only white person there. Which was fine with me, and with them, but it meant one thing: Andy was not very confident when it came to cutting my lengthy, lifeless locks. His first comment, as I sat in the chair and he picked up a handful to begin the process was: "How am I supposed to cut this?" "Wiv' scissors," grinned Keith, working at the next seat along. "Man," replied Andy, "It's like cuttin' the grass, innit?"

Fully an hour later I emerged from the shop with a haircut akin to the one I sport today. Andy never actually did use scissors, but buzzed his way over my head several times until he was happy. Took forever, it seemed, but it was an experience I'll never forget. Over the months that followed I went back many times, usually during the day when it was less busy, and usually had a different barber each time. (How many of them worked there? I'll never know.) The one constant was the haircut: no matter what I asked for, however I asked for it, I would always get the buzz-cut, usually grade four on top and two on the sides. 'Dads' would occasionally play around with scissors before giving up and going to the buzzing machine, the others just got straight on with it.

After about three years of this, a gentleman from the flat upstairs informed me that the barber near Old Street station actually was pretty good and if you went at 8am he'd be open and willing. I tried it, got a normal haircut for a change, and never went back to Dad's. Mauro seems to be the Southampton equivalent of George, the barber from Old Street, except from Italy rather than Cyprus, and so I've been happily going there since moving back to the south coast.

Today, however, reminded me of those happy, bizarre days at Dad's when no matter what you asked for, you knew what you were going to get.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

16 May 2007: Championship

Saints Clinch Championship Berth

Yes, it's true! Saints have confirmed their place in the Coca Cola Championship for next season!

In an exciting second leg of their playoff game against Derby last night, the match swung back and forth several times, Derby frequently threatening to snatch away Saints' Championship status by cleverly letting players like Viafara and Rasiak score against them. However Leon Worst showed his true Championship ambition by not only scoring an own goal to cancel out Viafara's second of the night, but also later on by cunningly missing the first penalty in the shoot-out, thus ensuring Saints' Championship survival for next year.

"It was hard work," said Worst, son of former Northern Iceland and Manchepstow United star George Worst. "It took a lot of guts and at times I had to lead by example out there."

Saints' place in the Championship was confirmed by Basque International Inido Idiotez, who blasted his penalty confidently and firmly into Row Z, thus saving Derby the prospect of having to take their fifth penalty.

"I've watched The Weakest Link several times," he told reporters while wearing a red nose and a lot of make-up. "So I knew the format. Miss the fourth, they don't have to take the fifth. I'm ecstatic about the result," he added as he drove off in his little car with bouncing seats and doors that fell off.

Saints now face a nice easy season against the likes of Scunthorpe and other northern teams whose players you don't know. Derby, meanwhile, will be daunted by potentially having to face the likes of the Liverpool Reds and the Chelsea Pensioners, although they do have one last chance to cement a Championship place in the play-off finals against some midlands rubbish at the end of the month.

Postscript: Wonder if Microsoft Man will still want to buy Saints after this?

Saturday, May 12, 2007

12 May 2007: Ticket

Went down to St Mary's at 8.15 this morning.

There was a rumour floating yesterday around the internet that the Saints - Derby playoff game was sold out. Then at lunchtime the ticket office announced that Derby had returned a bunch of tickets and thus there were more for sale. Poo, thought I, as I sat as my desk attempting to wrestle something useful out of UIMA while simultaneously attempting to find time to visit a Notary Public to authorise a copy of my passport (and that's a whole other story: I have to apply for a US tax number despite the fact I don't live there, I never have lived there, I have no income from there and the only connection with there is my wife, who also lives and works exclusively in the UK). So no chance of getting a ticket - indeed no thought even of trying to get a ticket.

However, checking the official website again before beddy-byes last night, and they said there were 800 tickets left for the home leg, available for open sale from 9am at the ticket office. Go for it, said Mrs McRae-Spencer, and that was enough for me. Up at 7, out the door at 8 and cycled down to the stadium by 8.15 to find a queue already in place including a man sitting on a fold-away chair and about eight people who looked like they'd been there all night. After a kind gentleman separated those queueing to buy tickets and those queueing just to pick up tickets they'd paid for, I found myself twenty-first in the line, meaning that unless everyone in front of me bought 40 tickets I'd be able to get my seat. (Isn't it odd, by the way, the things you think of at times like this?)

Phoned Leaside Way to see if Kev was around and wanted to come on a spur-of-the-moment decision but sadly the chess club seems to have won his affections over the Saints at present, as he had already left. Then up rolled the ticket window covers, and as everyone moved to the different positions I found myself second - second - in line. And sure enough, three minutes later, there I was with my ticket for the noon kick off playoff first leg, Saints' biggest match since Man Ure sent us down a couple of years ago.

The thing that confuses me a little is this: these tickets became available, according to the official website and ticket office, because Derby returned some of their unwanted ones. So how, dear blogophile, do we explain the fact that not only am I in a Saints supporter section, but I'm actually on the diametrically opposite corner of the ground from the Derby fans? Yup, I'm in the Chapel End, notorious for being the 'library' of St Mary's where any shout is greeted by glances from neighbouring (and generally older) fans who give you a look like you just shouted 'AYYY- men' in the middle of the Archbishop of Canterbury's easter sermon. (Which, incidentally, we didn't, in fact the acoustics were so bad we could barely hear him despite sitting almost directly underneath the pulpit, and that's another story again).

So anyway, forty minutes from now I'll head off down Portswood Road, through Bevois Valley and back to St Mary's for my first and last game of the season. Just drinking Wittards lemon-and-lime tea right now to get my voice-box in order (don't want to sound like LaKisha on this week's American Idol... that last note was the nail in her Idol coffin) and see if I can remember the songs...

'When I was just a little boy...'

Postscript: The match itself does not merit another blog entry. Saints lost 2-1, after taking an early lead, largely due to the usual very dubious refereeing, Saints hitting the bar twice, Pele giving away a truly dumb penalty and Kenwyne Jones missing some really quite simple chances. Both Saints and Derby have been greatly inconsistent this season, and so it showed through the game. Now highly unlikely for Saints to get through, but still, roll on next Tuesday and the away leg... two clear goals or penalties...

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

9 May 2007: Demolition

former house

This AKTing lark is somewhat slowed today by the action taking place outside. When we moved into the new 'Building-To-Be-Named-Later' (now EEEEEE) back at the turn of the year, I was very excited because (1) I was getting a window seat (more than Northwest Airlines have ever given me) and (2) said window had a nice eastish-facing view of some trees, Stoneham tower and the hills beyond. Better than looking at Steve Harris all day (no offence).

However, coming back from a rather sick week, I found to my astonishment that the houses across the road were no more. Or at least bits of them were no more. Being in many ways still four years old, I found the big digger and quickly-vanishing row of semi-detached dwellings to be quite fascinating. Dong, who sits across from me when he's not going to conference in Hawaii (I clearly need to write different types of papers), has been quite unenthusiastic to my constant screams of "Wow!", "How about that?" and "Sheesh, there goes the roof!", so I instead offer it up for you, humble blogophile, to share in my excitement.

Thus, in came the webcam this afternoon, and out came the following vid (340kbps, so don't bother if you're on dial-up):

See the window come down...

Aah, the wonder of it all. Now, if only I can get them to take the same approach to our sickly, good-for-nothing Citeseer server...

Postscript: If, as I hope is the case, you occasionally follow the links I carefully pick out for this blog, you'll thoroughly enjoy the official response to the question 'what is happening to Stoneham' that informs us that the University is "setting aside money for the Stoneham JCR to use should any students be placed in the Tower." So that's what they do with students who talk in lectures...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

6 May 2007: Playoffs

How about that, Saints are in the playoffs!

Holding off the might of Preston and Stoke to claim sixth place in the Championship and the final play-off berth, the final scale of the 4-1 home victory over relegated Southend actually belies the fact that the playoffs were looking shaky until the third and then fourth goals went in right at the end. Still, it's encouraging that they were able to do it, Leon Best proving that you don't actually need names like Rasiak and Skacel on the team sheet in order to score a bunch of goals.

It was interesting to listen to the game on Solent, who had reporters at all the other relevant games, butting in 'France Football'-style as required when anything happened. Partly because of the 'live' aspect it brought to the game, but also because of the unfeasibly high number of ex-Saints strikers playing in the other games: Brett Ormerod, Kevin Phillips (Bong), Ricardo Fuller and Dexter Blackstock all featured, to a greater or lesser extent, in the key games. Beattie and Crouch didn't, they're waiting upstairs in the Prem for when Saints return.

So roll on playoff semi-final first leg against Derby next Saturday. Anyone got a spare ticket or two?