I'm travelling today; got to Birmingham airport rather too early. Had the traditional bucket of coffee and slightly stale croissant from Costa coffee (forgot to ask for a small coffee; where do you get a stale croissant from at 6 in the morning?). As soon as I got through security, they decided to evacuate us from the depature lounge, and then let us back in again before we were out of the door.

Still, I managed to add to my Silly Ideas wiki for the first time in ages, so all is not lost.


Pan's Labyrinth

Been a long time since I have written anything here. I have been out since October, but I guess I've just been busy.

Pan's Labyrinth is a remarkable film, with the only negative point that I suspect the rest of the Christmas fayre will be downhill from here.

The story manages to mix a fairytale with the real world story of life under fascism. The two stories intertwine in a way which is a benefit to both. The imagery of the fantasy part are deft and visually stunning. The violence, pain and bravery of the real-world wonderfully acted and moving. Topped of with a beautiful score, the film couldn't have been bettered.


Vista and Picasa

Trying to help my dad out with his computer. I've come to the conclusion that Vista is a pig. It's slow as treacle, unless you turn off all the 3D nonsense which frankly doesn't do much anyway. It's not very stable. Norton anti-virus refused to identify itself to uninstall; when I finally worked it out, the uninstall took for ever. Eventually I had to reboot; it turned out to be because it was waiting for input from me from a dialog underneath the "uninstalling" progress bar. And I could not get it sharing files despite my best attempts. The only nice thing — it knew the name of my router and opened up a browser to automatically.

Picasa is also a pig. The UI is slow, the scrolling uncontrollable. I want to add captions and place into an export folder but, unaccountablly, this takes about 20 clicks. Urrgh.


Christmas Parties

Amasingly I have nearly got to Christmas with no parties. I've missed everyone, two to being away at the FuGE workshop, or in Nancy. The last I missed because I have spent the last few days culturing bacteria in my throat, a traditional occupation at this time of year.



Just got a new Plantronics Discovery 510 — this is a bluetooth earpiece that I thought would be good for travelling; no wires to get broken and tangled up in my bag. This is the third device I recieved from Plantronics. The first two, Discovery 340 I think, were both broken. I think it was a systemic fault in the manufacture as they both failed in exactly the same way, during pairing. The 510 is a nicer device (sold at three times the price so that's not surprising). The main advantage, however, is that it actually works which is a relief. The sound quality is not that great though. I guess most people are using this over a mobile where you wouldn't notice, while the drop from normal skype quality is clear. Still, it will be useful, so long as it doesn't break.

Meanwhile, my new Virgin Broadband sufffered it's first outage. Around 18 hours, no connection, no DHCP, no DNS. Pathetic. Their authomated phone support service said "Some people may be having issues, and our engineers are working on it. Turn your modem off and on may fix it". Gods, talk about lack of specifics.



In Manchester for a FuGE workshop. It's a bit surprising actually, but half of Newcastle seems to have decamped down here. So far the discussions have been deep and intense; we established early on that it's pronounced "fugue". Everyone has ignored this and carried on pronouncing it how they started off. Personally I am fond of "fug-ee".

The University is a building site; I did see a patch of grass on the way from the station, but a guy with a theodolite was eyeing it up. The hideous maths tower is now a distant memory to be replaced by the scan building. This has been lovingly architected to evoke images of a gasometer. It's hideous.

Manchester seems much the same as before with a few shops gone, a few more appeared. Next to the stationary shop in the precinct, they have a Brazillian eyebrow plucking emporium; I think I may pop in tomorrow.

For food, we went to "No 4 Dine and Wine" in Didsbury; despite the silly name, it's nice. Quite homey and comfortable, the food was well-prepared and straight-forward enough, except for a tendency to balance the meat on top of the vegetables. The veggie options were okay; the roast vegetable soup was particularly good, although too hot; I ended up flushing burnt bits of the roof of my mouth down the sink at half time.

Surely the roof of your mouth should really be called the ceiling of your mouth?

Travel there and back was a pain. On the way, we couldn't get a taxi for love nor money (actually, we only tried money). In the end, we took the bus. On the way back, the taxi arrived okay, but he bought us back via Liverpool. "This is Oxford Road" he announced just north of Rusholme. Yes, I know. That would be the road we started off on. Eventually we got back to the Business School which has a 101 integrated hotel and sauna rooms.

My laptop fan is starting to make pained noises as the machine overheats. Time to sleep.


Flip side of the Coin

Well, now the flip side of the coin. Eurostar is late; first their excuse was mechanical failure, then security issues. Standard sort of nonsense that travel companies give. The last train for Newcastle leaves in 1 hour and I'm still in France. So, looks like a night in London, and guess the hotel is going to come out of my budget. I was kind of hoping to sleep in my own bed tonight as well.


Got it in the end, by about 1 minute. The run almost killed me though.


Social Events

Last night we had the conference social, which involved a trip to the museum. I grabbed a croissant and apple turnover on the way which was fortunate; I was very hungry by the end.

The Musee Lorraine is not huge, but well kept with a nice garden the middle. There were two tours on offer: the permanent collection and a temporary exhibition on glass. The tour guide was using English for the first time on a tour; she lost some words, accented others and was occasionally confusing, but was so enthusiastic, excited and expressive she more than made up for it. The exhibition was small, but good, showing the changes in glass from Roman times to the last century and, in parallel, some of the processes involved in glass manufacture.

Stopped off for (more) Italian food on the way home; the starter was good (tomato and aubergine bruschetta) and better than the main which was a little uninspired.

On the way home, workmen were putting up Christmas lights in Stanislas place, with a (slightly naff) igloo underneath.



I've just given my laptop a good clean out, in particular removing services I don't use. Killing Zone Alarm and VMWare has together had a massive impact. Previously, the boot took about one and a half minutes, and then after login there was another two minutes before I could actually use the system. The boot is about the same time, but I can use the system in 5 seconds now. Makes a big difference at a conference, where you hibernate and wake a lot.


Political Correctness Gone Mad

I'm all in favour of being nice to foreigners, but I think that it's all gone too far myself. We are now being so nice to people from other countries that we are making life harder for decent, hard-working British people.

For the last few days, every time I go to or, the stupid interface talks to me in French. Just because I am in France. Well, I think that this is just wrong. These websites should be in English everywhere. If the French want to be spoken to in their own language, then they should click a button or set a preference or something.

Anyone know how to stop these and other sites stop being clever and doing the wrong thing while trying to do the right thing?


Nancy by Day

Talk over; it went okay, I think, and I got a reasonable number of questions about some of my more provocative points, which is nice. I think that the talk itself could have done with a more clearly demarcated set of conclusions than it had; it needed a little more work and thought, but I just haven't had the time recently to do it.

Afterwards, I went to the workshop on accessibility. It was interesting, although it reminded a little of the microarray section of ISMB a few years ago; everyone was comparing their system to the gold standard (a system someone else came up with a few years previously). Unfortunately, I was too tired to pay real attention, so I left after the coffee break, and walked a few kilometres back to the hotel, in need of fresh air.

Nancy turns out to be a pleasant place, unrelated to the rain-sodden, weeping moorland that it was last night. Most of the city is tenement blocks; it reminds me of Edinburgh although with surfaced walls, rather than the granite hardness of Edinburgh's stones. The city is currently dripping with lights — testimony to the festival of St. Nicholas that has just gone, rather than Christmas per se. Unlike Newcastle, these are not confined to a few streets in the centre but are everywhere; if someone pulled the plug on main street lights, the whole city would still glow. It's quiet here at night, although perhaps that is just monday.

We reached INRA and the University by tram (actually a trolley-bus, with a guide rail most of the way) reasonably efficiently although they had suffered a breakdown that morning. The campus is strange — the architect clearly has a pathological hatred of right angles, circular buildings surrounded by curving roads.

The food has been, how should I put it, equivocal so far. I knew I was in for a veggie disaster at the restaurant last night, as the waiter uncovered my dish, with a flourish and a "Voila!" to reveal a plate of boiled vegetables. Meat course, without the meat. Lunch today was similar (the lentil salad, sneakily, included beef). Despite this, it's clear that general standard of food has been good; lunch was three courses, with wine; coffee came with a small cake or croissant, was strong, pleasant and in small cups; enough to stimulate without concomitant bladder problems. I won't criticise the cooks for not catering for hippie veggies given that they cook well for others.

Tonight, though, I went for the inevitable Italian meal. "Vegetarian pizza" said the waitress (en Anglais) "with red wine", with just enough of a hint of derision to make me feel warm and in France.


Nancy by Train

Today I am heading of to WebDIM4LS in Nancy, where I am giving a talk. Although I am really looking forward to the conference and the talk, it has been stressing me out a fair bit. I like writing talks, getting slides together, working out a good story—I hope that I have achieved it in this case—but things have been really busy at work, especially with the end of term coming up. I've found myself really pushed to find time to write it. In the end, I finished writing yesterday (that's a saturday!) at 8ish.

I'm travelling to Nancy the whole way to train, using Eurostar. I'd left it all rather late in booking travel, put managed to get tickets the whole way. It's very expensive; >£200, plus Newcastle to London at another $100. I think I could have got it for around 100, if I had booked earlier. As it happens, it was no more expensive than flying, though again that would have been cheaper earlier. Still, I'm quite looking forward to it. The tunnel is a new experience for me.

Out of the last four journeys I have made, I have lost my luggage in Paris, De Gaulle three times (the fourth time I lost my luggage elsewhere), so travelling by train seemed attractive. So far, it's working out well. The train is, well, more civilised than a plane. There's little in the way of through ticketting though; I'm conscious that a delay could mean the entire thing falling over. As we're currently crawling along to overtake a broken down train, this seems distinctly possible.

14:00 GMT

Well, the train was late, but I had enough time for the change over, and am now sitting in the Eurostar. Coming into King's Cross was a big advantage — Paddington or Euston would have been much less convienient. The St Pancras terminal is fine — security and passport control were quick and no hassle (wey, hey, you can take liquids). The waiting area is comfortable and heated. Boarding straightforward (although the coach numbers are hidden away on a LCD screen which really does not stand out). Looking around and judging by the large number of fat men in suits, it would appear that I am in business class, which is a bit of a surprise. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons it was so expensive.

14:15 GMT

The train's now moving. It's very smooth but looking outside, it's pretty clear that the train is tanking along. Definately in first class; just had a drink, and now they are bring around a menu.

I think that the power supply keeps getting cut though — my computer is switching on and off between low and high power mode. Either that or it's about to break.


Page by Phillip Lord
Disclaimer: This is my personal website, and represents my opinion.