Week recap



Well, last Sunday afternoon I heard that I'd gotten the maximum number of abstracts into the main primate meeting in the world, the biannual International Primatological Soociety meeting, which this year will be in Edinburgh.
The most you can get is one talk and one poster, and I got one of each. Unfortunately, the abstract they gave the talk to was really Hagen's, and was based on some preliminary results and he hadn't finished the research in three months. So we had to finish it this week! Also, the abstract they took for a poster they wanted me to correct with a lot more information in a tiny space. I'm still working on that...

So Monday Will was still here and we went to work and I tried to find Hagen to discuss what to do -- of course, he got in quite late since I was looking for him. We decided I would help him write some of the model for further experiments.

Monday night Will and I went to a concert -- the best part was the Altenberg Trio, but generally it was a tad boring because it was meant to be "accessible", so they played the romantic end of a bunch of otherwise interesting composers. There was a great alto though who sang two songs. Then Tuesday morning we got up quite early and flew to Amsterdam together, but then had different planes back to England. I flew into Birmingham and finished writing the code I'd promised to Hagen on the train on the way to Bath. Unfortunately, I forgot I was giving a talk on Wednesday morning and I'd meant to write that!

When I got to Bath I also remembered that one of the couple I'd meant to stay with was in the hospital, and I hadn't finalised anywhere to stay. I also remembered that another friend had bought a 5-bedroom house he was using as a B&B, so I phoned him and he said I could stay. So I phoned my third friend who I'd been negotiating staying with (but they already had a guest but were trying to convince me staying on the couch would be fine) to see whether they'd rather just have dinner, and found out his partner was incredibly ill as well, so I didn't see them at all.

The reason I was in Bath was because on Wednesday I had to interview people for a short-term postdoc promoting cognitive systems in Europe. I'd never interviewed anyone formally before -- I've interviewed potential students, but my postdocs had always been named in grants. Maybe I should have advertised for those too though -- we got great applicants for this one. Anyway, I was meant to meet up with my friend and currently my employee Dylan Evans to talk about the interviews we'd be conducting and also the grant. It's my grant, I'd expected him to do all the work, but he got another job so is only on this one 1.5 days a week, so we needed a full-time postdoc to help out. We arranged to meet in this great pub called The Star, but it turned out it didn't open until 5:30 so I went to another pub, The Bell which had wireless and emailed my code to Hagen and phoned Dylan (thank goodness for mobiles!)

Dylan told me the third person on our interview panel couldn't make it until later, this is John Collomosse, couldn't make it until later. So Dylan and I figured out the interview questions and talked about his new job. Then we met with Mark Wood, my other PhD student, who still lives in Bath and has submitted his dissertation and is waiting for his viva. Then we met up with John Collomosse and another friend of Dylans. John and I went to dinner and I caught him up on Dylan's and my plans and we talked about the vision research at Bath. Then I went back to my friend Julian Sim's house and we talked a little over tea in his kitchen, but still both had to prepare lectures for the next day. So I finished my talk for Wednesday at his house.

Julian's house is up the hill above the royal crescent. It used to have a post office on the ground floor, but it closed for lack of use before he bought it. So he put a cafe there, called Just Coffee and Dessert. Fortunately, it also has tea and breakfast, so we met there for breakfast, then I walked down the hill through town and took the bus to campus. It was a spectacularly beautiful sunny day to walk through such a great part of Bath. But I will say Bath has a lot more drunk people around than Beeston (where Will & I live), even at 9am in the sunshine.


So at 10:15 I gave a talk called "Intelligent Robotics in 30 Minutes" (I'll put the slides on my publications page) to the Bath University Submarine Robots Team, which was about 25 people. It was interesting giving a talk on my approach to robotics to mechanical engineers, so I could make no assumptions about prior knowledge about AI or even about programming. It was great to write the talk really, and it went very well. They asked good questions and we talked about their robot for this year.

One of the people at the talk was Marios Richards, who is doing an MSc in Mathematical Biology and wants to do a PhD with me. So we met for an hour after my talk, then I met up with Dylan for lunch & John eventually, and then we held the interviews. Then I went to see Nicolai Vorobjov give his inaugural lecture -- something people give when they become full professors. It is meant to be for the full university, but sadly Bath has classes until 6:15 so the lecture had to be that late and mostly only people from mathematics and computer science came. Still, it was awesome to hear a talk about an advanced mathematical topic aimed at general academics. I can't believe how little I know about mathematics historically, compared to say physics. He was very entertaining, though in the end he still couldn't really explain the details of his contribution to a lay audience, at least he really explained the area in an entertaining and informative way.

So I ducked out of the talk while the Dean was thanking him (! not very politic, but hopefully the dean will forgive me!) and caught the train to Nottingham. It's a good thing I moved to Vienna, because they have increased how long the Bath/Beeston train takes by 30 minutes to 4 hours with the new schedule. So I got home around midnight.

Thursday Will's boss Cees was teaching a clinic on Measurement Theory, and I learned another important field that really any scientist should know that I'd never even heard of before. It was incredibly relevant to the theory of science underlying my work in AI modelling, which Hagen and I have been working on for the last couple years. Which reminds me, when I was at Bath I picked up a free copy of this awesome book by this awesome woman Hanna Kokko. One of my colleagues Carel van Schaik suggested I look at it and I found it on the web and filled in a form with her publisher saying I was a lecturer who might one day teach out of it, and so they sent me a copy. There are some perks of being an academic! At least if you like geeky books.

On Friday I watched Will cycle off for the second day of the clinic, then caught the train back to Birmingham and then Amsterdam and Vienna. I worked on rewriting my abstract and was quite happy about it, but Will says it is still incomprehensible. Well, at least I've had a lot of good ideas and will turn them into a paper. But now I am back to the drawing board with the abstract.

The reason I had to come back on a Friday was that Dan Sperber was talking at the KLI, so I was obligated by my contract to make the talk if I could. But in fact it was a fantastic talk. Sperber works on modularity, cognition, meaning in language, communication and recently cultural evolution. I guess it's no revelation (since he's a famous academic) but I found him absolutely brilliant and am now trying to quickly read about 10 of his papers before I go back to work on my abstract.

So that's it -- today I will try to fix my abstract, read Sperber's papers, and maybe do some more programming. I also cleaned the bathroom this morning. It is also beautiful and sunny today in Vienna so I walked into a cafe. On the way in I passed an "Easter Market". One end of it was entirely hand-painted eggs, ranging in price from 2 euro to 10 for chicken eggs, more for goose eggs. Well, empty egg shells were 50 cents, pretty rabbits were about 7 euro and the Lord's Prayer was the 10 euro one. There were ones like in this picture, those were about 4 euro. Next week I need to send off the abstracts on Monday and finish the final report to the funding agency for Manu and Hagen's grant, and then Thursday and Friday is a symposium at the KLI on climate change. Will will come next weekend.
4