Five questions from

1. You’ve lived in a variety of places including Bath, Soton and Edinburgh. Where would you most like to raise your family and grow old?

A very tough call. I’ll assume that we have the money to afford a house in the place, and that we both could get jobs. I’m still not overly enamoured with Southampton, although it does have its moments and some good pubs. It’s also very easy to get out of.

Edinburgh is a fantastic city, with a rich and varied cultural life. It’s also in Scotland, so the presence of the smoking ban (or rather, the absence of any such ban in England) makes it more attractive than English cities. The Scottish education system is preferable to that south of the border, and the default-left politics in Scotland encompasses much of the moral sense that I’d want my children to have.

However, Bath just gets many things right. It’s a good size for a small city, such that you can walk across the city centre in about fifteen minutes. At the risk of sounding like a dippy new-ager, there’s something very comforting about the space it occupies; it lies nestled in a bowl of surrounding hills, and the elevated skyline makes me feel enclosed and safe. Of course, the downside is that this makes transport difficult (fast trains to London and Bristol only, slow trains to Portsmouth up the Avon Valley, a drive over the hills to get to the M4) and aggravates the pollution. All you need is a temperature inversion in winter, and the smog visibly settles over the city. Living at the University on Claverton Down, we were above this, but the conditions in the city were enough to make my lungs ache.

Bath isn’t particularly cosmopolitan (compared to Bristol, for example), but it has a strong bohemian streak. Walcot Street is a case in point, with a large number of small book and record shops, furniture shops, and artisans. This is probably part of the general boho-ness that the south-west has (the Glastonbury influence, no doubt), It also has a very clear upper-middle class feel (how many towns do you know with three specialist cheesemongers, one by appointment to HRH?), with quite a few boutiques that are likely to remain outside our buying power. That said, there is a trickle down; without the tourists and the more monied residents, Bath couldn’t support a theatre as good as the Theatre Royal, let alone the festivals. The tourists are a double-edged sword. In high summer, the city centre is heaving and most unpleasant. If you know how to get off the beaten track (that is, away from Milsom Street, the Abbey, the Circus and the Royal Crescent), it’s still a good place to be.

So, it’ll have to be overcrowded, polluted, genteel, beautiful Bath.

2. What’s your favourite all-time film?

For a film buff, that question is nigh-impossible to answer. My top ten varies depending on my mood, but the following are common entrants:

  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The Third Man
  • Dr Strangelove
  • If….
  • What’s Up, Doc?
  • Sleeper
  • Brazil
  • Passport to Pimlico
  • Genevieve
  • In Which We Serve

If I had to pick only one of those, I’d probably go for If….

3. For a geek you seem quite good at stuff like mending cars and putting up sheds. Is there a non-intellectual job you could imagine doing for a living with satisfaction?

Whenever thinking novel thoughts for a living seems like too much like hard work, I used to console myself with the thought that I could go off and lay dry stone walls. It isn’t that I’ve ever tried laying dry stone walls (I haven’t), nor that I’d like it per se (I assume that it involves getting wet when it rains), but that I could be content with a job that required me to think with my hands.

For what it’s worth, I’m not that cack-handed a carpenter…

4. Do you think monogamy is viable in a long term relationship?

For most people, yes. It’s working well for us for a start, but as with every other life choice, one size doesn’t necessarily fit all.

(also, do you ask a variant of this question of everyone?)

5. Do you think the Semantic Web is really going to change the shape of society in any definable way?

Yes, but we’re unlikely to be able to see it doing so.

Every talk I’ve given on the subject has had a final slide asking where the Semantic Web will be in ten years’ time, to which my answer is “everywhere, and nowhere”. Are we going to surf the interwebs with our Semantic Browsers? Almost certainly not. Will SW technologies be behind many of our interactions on the old-fashioned Web? Almost certainly yes.

That’s a fairly narrow technologist’s view, though. I think that society is generally pretty resistant to technological change – has the Web really changed society?

Comment if you want to be asked questions…


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