Bringing my life up to date

Quite a bit has happened over the past week and a bit, so bear with me.

A quiet weekend in Bath

and came down to Bath to visit and I the weekend before last, which was v. pleasant, especially as Claire and Kenton (WANOLJ) also dropped in on the Saturday. , Kenton and I headed off into Bath so that I could take them both to the good pubs that I didn’t want to get thrown out of at ‘s stag weekend (to wit: the Old Green Tree, the Coeur de Lion and the Bell). Good fun, and plenty of geekery about SF and RPGs (Doctor Who and Kenton’s and my joint obsession, Traveller, in particular). Meanwhile, the girls were off in Cribbs Causeway shopping for fabric for a dress that is making for to wear to a wedding in Las Vegas. As one does. was originally going to head back to London on the Sunday, but the trains conspired against him, so he turned up on our doorstop again at about 9pm that evening (which beats waiting for trains any day of the week). Really good to have them both up for the whole weekend, especially since they’re not going on the group holiday in Lincolnshire next week with the rest of us.

Off to Nottingham

Headed off on Monday to Nottingham and made the train by seconds (despite the efforts of the person in front of me in the ticket queue who was trying to change £10 in assorted silver coins for a note). The plan for this week was to attend the hypertext conference and stay with and Ric (WINOLJ, I believe). Four hours later, arrived in Nottingham (and four and a half hours later arrived at their house in Beeston, having had to mapread for the taxi driver when he got lost).

Their house was lovely, and and Ric were (as ever) as fine and hospitable a pair of hosts as one could wish for. It was really good to see them both, since Ric hadn’t been able to come to our wedding last year, and since I’ve managed to fall out of touch with a bit over the past few years. Note to self: talk to friends more often. Also in the house was Beth (about whom I will say more below) and their two cats (Cleo and Leo), who provided a welcome counterpoint to the antics of our own feline (who currently seems to be convinced that I’m the antichrist, since she legs it out of the house at full tilt whenever I enter. But I digress).

During the course of the week, I managed to get introduced to several of ‘s friends, and in doing so go a step closer to collapsing my relationship graph into one large connected component. When I first saw Beth (who was mid-house buying, and staying in the house until her purchase completed), I had a terrible sense of deja vu, but put it down to the fact that she looks vaguely like the German friend and ex-housemate of a friend from my Warwick days. Not so. It turns out that she was at Cambridge from 1995-1999, and that she was briefly a member of CUSFS in her first year, which is squarely within the period when I lived in Cambridge. I think that I may have met her at an Aefmaelisdagr, now I come to think of it…

The other six-degrees moment came while out walking with and Matt on Beacon Hill around dusk on Thursday. I was trying to bring up to date with the alarums and excursions that have been happening to various Warwick folk since I last saw her, and mentioned something about my best man, Chris Lloyd (WINOLJ). “Chris Lloyd?”, he said. “Did he have any brothers or sisters?”. I’m bad with names at the best of time, but could at least remember that he had a sister (slightly younger) and a brother (much younger). “They’re not called Kerry and Alex, are they?” Well, blow me if Matt hadn’t grown up living opposite the Lloyds when they lived in Basingstoke (and been introduced to D&D by Chris, moreover). Small, small world.

Hypertext 2003

And now to the meat of the week. The reason I was in Nottingham was because I was attending the hypertext conference, and the reason I was attending was because I was giving a full-day tutorial on the Semantic Web on the first day of the conference, but also because I was coauthor of a paper in a workshop on the Saturday. I was getting paid a small amount – £160 – for the tutorial (and was given a free conference registration), but since the conference accommodation prices were little short of ridiculous (£90 per night), I decided to stay with and Ric and blow the money on a slap-up feed, as it was probably termed during my Dandy- and Beano-reading younger days.

The tutorial went well, although I’m now suffering from Powerpoint poisoning a bit (6.5 hours = 390 minutes = about 200 slides). I think that I’m going to have to revise the section on RDF a bit before I next give this tutorial, but I’m fairly happy with the rest.

The conference was, like most conferences, a bit of a curate’s egg. Ted Nelson’s keynote, in all its hand-written-notes-hastily-scribbled-in-his-filofax-the-projected-on-a-big-screen glory, was exactly what I expected. There’s a man that really needs Xanadu. Some good papers in the conference (one on creating discourse structures from ontological descriptions being a particular highpoint), some not so good. Seem to have earned myself a degree of notoriety by asking an Awkward Question about one particular paper, a critical review of the Semantic Web. Well, this is my speciality, and I maintain that the paper was inadequately researched and poorly argued, even if I do agree with many of the issues that it raises. From conversations with various members of the programme committee, there had been some discussion as to whether it should be admitted, but in the end their hand was forced because a copy leaked out and got cited without having been published, and they felt it better to publish it than not. What’s galling is that, poor paper as it is, it seems likely to attract plenty of citations. So much for the use of citations as a measure of research quality.

Other fun moments included the obligatory physical link-making panel (with wool), in which I managed to ask a sensible question involving the word trope, and a reception thrown by the Sheriff of Nottingham (who alas looks more like John Prescott than Alan Rickman).

The location for the conference was the Jubilee campus of the university (v. swish, which is what you’d expect when you’re being charged £90 per night for bed, breakfast and evening meal), which featured a groovy inverted cone/spiral library in the middle of a lake. Yes, the floors really do spiral up the building, much in the manner of Frank Lloyd-Wright’s Guggenheim (or, as Ted put it, “that Manhattan teacup”). I didn’t manage to get inside and check how they labelled shelves, but I suspect they use Library of Congress shelfmarks, and not radians in the range 0-9π. Spoilsports.

Job progress

All of this leads on to the lectureship in Bath that I’ve applied for. On the Wednesday of the conference, Wendy (my ex-PhD supervisor, and now head of department) grabbed me and said “We need to talk about Bath”, which was a bit of a surprise since a) I hadn’t told her that I was applying, nor that I was going to use her for a referee and b) I wasn’t expecting her to have been asked for references before the job interview. Turns out that this is not how things are done when applying for academic posts, where it is customary to ask for references before the interview. You live and learn.

Spent most of the time since then worrying about the reaction from Glorious Leader, since the interviews (spread over two days, one for presentations, the other for formal interviews) are in the middle of the mid-term review for the project I’m on. In retrospect, I needn’t have worried, since he’s been very good about this (had a meeting with him this afternoon). One less problem to worry about. Now all I’ve got to do is put together the materials for the review before I go off on holiday…

Random paperness

Finally, a bit of unexpectedly good news. Several months ago, my long-suffering officemate Steve and myself put together a paper describing some software that we’d written (an RDF store and inference engine, designed by us both and mostly written by him). We submitted it to a workshop at the International Semantic Web Conference this year, mostly on the off-chance that it would get accepted (we’ve not had much luck on submissions recently, considering that our key paper got bounced from the main conference). Which it did, and with some of the best reviews I’ve yet had for a paper (despite the reviewers spotting a few minor errors in the fiddly bits). Looks like I will be going to Sanibel Island this autumn after all…

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