Transit

Sorry for not getting around to blogging earlier this week. The time in Edinburgh was crazy. We did go to our favorite modern art galleries (out along the waters of leith) on the first day, but then we just sat in the cafe and worked a few hours, then had lunch, then went to see the exhibits. Will was incredibly depressed to be back in the UK, not helped by the fact it was raining, but despite how awesome that walk is. But he cheered up when he got to work and then the art was great. Ironically one of the shows was this amazing early photography exhibition from Austria, Hungary, Czech and Poland. They were really playing with the technology to see what could be done with it, expressed, not just taking pictures. The sun came out while we were in the first gallery (as it always seems to there - I don't think I've seen their lawn when it wasn't sunny!) and we walked back into town the short way and made it in in time to see the new Informatics building -- AI, Cog Sci & Computer Science have all been moved in to a huge new building right next to the one I used to be in when I was in McGonigle's lab (with the monkeys.) It isn't that great looking from the outside but the inside was amazing. It seems to me like it has combined and done better the job that they were trying to do at MIT with the Media Lab and the new CSAIL building. I hope they get a huge burst of productivity. There were certainly a lot of PhD students working at 6:30 on a Friday evening which was good to see, as well as professors, and even though there was a going-away party going on for a retiring secretary. She was quite drunk & thought we'd come just to see her go, though of course we hadn't known about the party! We saw Will's PhD supervisor Richard Shillcock and also some other old friends, and then we went out for a beer with Mark Steedman.

Saturday we just worked, though in good cafes (and with a nice lunch!) Will was working on his lectures (he got that paper submitted) and I was working on my talk for the conference, including extending some of the models & reading up on things.

Sunday the conference started -- not till evening, but I spent the afternoon at a workshop about long-tailed macaques and how they are interacting with humans. There are places macaques have lived with people for centuries but suddenly there seems to be less tolerance on both sides, and of course the macaques lose. Also a ton are being sold to China for research. You aren't supposed to buy wild-caught monkeys anymore, but China has all these breeding colonies right on the borders with Cambodia and such places -- sometimes even in them -- and given the huge black market it is never clear if the monkeys were really bred or whether they were smuggled in & then sold out. I was mostly there because I was interested in the shifts in macaque behavior, but you can't help caring about the conservation and social issues (which are inseparable.)

The conference was amazing and I won't try to go into it all here. But it was a lot of work. My colleague that I wrote about in the last posting (but one) was there running around aggressively promoting her theories. I mean, I ask a lot of questions at talks, but I can't quite imagine harranging people after their talks, but she is very successful, so maybe it's a good strategy. Anyway, there was a lot of modelling this time --- two of the biggest groups in primatology have smart people doing models now which they presented. I was most impressed with the one from the Max Plank for Evolutionary Anthropology (unsurprisingly! it is full of smart people.) They had this great ecological model done entirely in terms of social networks rather than a spatial model like I mostly do. (I've had one student do a social-space model, on terrorism, extremism, the media & opinion formation). The work the MPI presented was great, but they talked to me at my poster & so I know they later hit a bit of a ceiling for not having really modelled more of the ecosystem, but I expect they can hack together a solution within their current framework. The other group presenting a modelling talk was from the German Primate Center at Goettinger (where I went to that amazing conference last December). They had a nice cognitively-minimalist spatial model of baboon troop formation. But they said in their talk they have hit the ceiling with that and will have to start putting some more intelligence in to get some of the troop formations they see, though they did get some of the basic dynamics from their minimalist model.

I was also talking to two other women I already knew had modelling projects on but weren't giving talks about them -- their work isn't so far along yet. One of them, Julia Lehmann and I, talked about setting up a network for biological anthropology agent-based modelling, especially to share code. On the one hand it's scary to share your code because you are giving away some of your competitive advantage, but on the other hand it's thrilling because it's kind of like working in a giant group, where anyone might help make the improvements and solve the problems & discover the new knowledge & understanding you want. It's hard to get all the tradeoffs right, but the idea of open software is that you are most valuable for your expertise, so you can afford to be generous with your products. I hope that is true of scientific modelling to! I expect so. Certainly no one has a monopoly on how to run rats through mazes, so I don't see why modellers should be any less open in publishing their methods than ordinary psychologists and biologists. We should actually be able to make the most and fastest progress if we can keep a good culture together, because we can communicate our theories so efficiently and completely.

Anyway, the meeting ended late Friday with a dinner which Will came to. I got to sit next to this (other, besides Will) complete genius I've read some papers by but never met, he was pretty interesting. Saturday we got up and went to hear a quartet play at Queen's Hall like we used to, and then we had lunch & went around some of the contemporary galleries in town, and then had dinner. Then Will had do leave on a 7am flight on Sunday, so I had a day to do something he doesn't really like to do -- go see the theatre at the festival fringe! Except I went back to sleep & didn't wake up until 9:30am, so I really only had about 12 hours to see hundreds of shows in the end -- and to figure out what to see. The festival has in some sense been a complete fiasco this year due to a computer failure -- neither the computers on site nor the internet stuff is working. Also, the British are in terror over the economy so it was unbelievably uncrowded for a Sunday -- sort of like back in 1992 the first time I was there. I could certainly live in Edinburgh another five years, maybe forever. It's even better when you have a salary than when you are a student.

So Monday I had the 7am flight. I got to Vienna around noon and home around 1:30 and spent the rest of the day catching up on email and doing laundry and cleaning the apartment. I'm still trying to sort out my US taxes this year (I've got an extension until October). I have no filing cabinets or shelving in my flat in Vienna and most of our records are in Nottingham so it's been challenging finding things.

The last three days I've been catching up on obligations like reviews and also doing something I meant to do for years, which is straightening out my computer file systems with my papers in them. It was a mess every since I got my laptop at Bath, because there were copies that started out the same then diverged. But now I just use my laptop as a portable hard disk, so I network to that disk from whatever desktop I can work on. So now that things are finally cleared up (and I found the stuff I was looking for for the paper I need to write) I need to think about getting it into a serious revision control system. But anyway, at least my files are all in one place and backed up. I'm also trying to get this paper submitted before our next trip next week.

Tomorrow is a holiday in Austria -- MariƤ Himmelfahrt, I think based on that well-known Biblical event where Mary ascends to heaven. Last year no one told me so I was wondering where everyone was. This year I told all the new fellows about it, and now anyway I just flew to Ljubljana and am waiting in a restaurant for Will and his students to get here. He is very popular here at the restaurant because he's booked a table for 14. Anyway, it's not a holiday in Slovenia tomorrow (at least not at the European Summer School) so he will be teaching and I can work on my paper, so that's great. But Saturday we will come back into town & do the tourist thing. Apparently it is quite pretty. I'm just in a square now & can't see anything, but at the airport there were really impressive and pretty clumps of mountains here and there surrounded by plains filled with grain --- mostly field corn! I haven't seen any of that in Austria, I guess they just let their animals graze there, though there is some sweet corn around Altenberg. Anyway, it's hard to believe there was such a terrible war here not long ago.

Speaking of wars, the whole flight (only 50 minutes!) I was reading about Georgia in a small edition of the WSJ that they had on the plane. Except for one other article about how China is cracking down on Tibet during the Olympics --- summary executions, torture to death, disappearances. But as terrible as that is, the idea that Russia is going to get to bully the world by monopolizing all the oil and gas from Europe & Central Asia (and have Iran do the same for the middleast) is so unacceptable. Ironic to think about in the airplane, but I though I would way rather give up all the gas and oil (or 3/4ths of it anyway and pay a lot more for what's left) than let people have power to do this kind of crap. Commodities are so passe. Communication, computation & creativity are enough, who needs to drive hunks of metal around the place. I have to admit it is much easier to think this if I get to stay in Vienna than if I have to live somewhere like Nottingham. But even so, it's better than having bombs dropped on civilian buildings and a brilliant new democracy and economy destroyed.

Hope of deliverance from the darkness that surrounds us -- that's a line from a weird late Paul McCartney song, which the Slovenian radio has chosen to play just now.
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