Bruce once told me a story from when he was working at an agency, sometime just before I finished school I think.

He was working on ideas for a client with a junior creative team. They were both young, probably first “real job”, and the copywriter was a bit obnoxious.

At one point during their brainstorming session, when Bruce had come up with a succession of good angles, the young copywriter turned to him and said, “wow, you’re really good at this!”

I don’t know whether Bruce pointed out that he’d been doing it a long time, or just thought it.

Today I got the corrections for a couple of chapters of my thesis dissertation back from my advisor.

He’d taken what I’d spent a week or so writing, pulled it to pieces and put it back together again in a much clearer, more elegant way. I imagine it took him an hour.

I have to remind myself that he has also been doing this for a long time.

Experience does have it’s advantages.

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On the brink of disaster

Yesterday I had one of those moments that’s probably the worst nightmare of any PhD student who’s writing their thesis dissertation, and doubly so in mathematics.

Reading through a proof I’d first written some three years ago, I found an error.

What at first seemed to be a small issue, when investigated, turned out to be major.


Mathematical proofs are like towers, each proof sits on top of others, which rest on others and so on, all the way down to axioms that define the basis of everything else.

Well, my entire thesis is sitting on top of a couple of theorems, and it was in the proof of one of those that I found the error.

To put this in perspective, if this theorem turned out not to be true, over 40 pages of mathematical proofs and my entire thesis would be worthless, sitting on a base that wasn’t even there.

Of course, I never really expected that to be the case, but writing a proof can be a tricky thing, and it’s often hard to tell how long it will take to finish one.

Anyway, a day and a half later and while I don’t have it all written out, I’ve got the structure of a new proof sorted out and am confident that I’ve covered everything this time.

As an added bonus, it looks like I can prove something that’s a bit stronger than the original theorem and if that’s the case, it will make the last chapter I have to write a bit more straight forward.

It’s the silver lining that’s important after all.

Note: The xkcd comic is a tenuous link at best, but how could I resist sticking a proof based comic here?

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Keep calm and


I’m not normally one for jumping on internet memes, but when a fellow damned and suffering soul, I mean another PhD student currently in the process of writing her thesis dissertation, sent this, I felt I had to stick it up here.

If you’ve never heard of the Keep Calm and Cary On posters, have a look at the Wikipedia page and then come back and laugh with me.

Perhaps I’ll print one of these out and stick it up in my office.

This post can also serve as a sign that I’m still alive, just a bit busy writing and running example computations to write much more here at the moment.

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Working holiday visas

Screen Shot 2014-06-30 at 12.22.03

I saw on Twitter today that Spain and Australia are in advanced talks to finally agree on a working holiday visa programme between the two countries. This came from the account of the Spanish embassy in Australia, so I imagine it’s fairly legitimate, although I haven’t been able to find any recent news about it elsewhere.

Here’s my translation:

We are confident that an agreement with Australia on Work and Holiday visas can be signed by the end of the year!

I think this is great. There is precious little relationship between Australia and Spain and it would be great to see more possibilities open up in this area. It certainly would have been a nice option to have when I first moved to Barcelona.

I’ve never understood why there was no agreement for working holidays visas between Spain and Australia, but today I read something that makes sense, although we’re moving into hearsay and rumour territory now.

Apparently it’s all got to do with Christopher Skase. The Australian businessman who declared bankruptcy and then fled to Mallorca. Somehow (read: bribes with lots of other peoples’ money) he managed to have his extradition from Spain denied based on health issues – even after he was obviously better – and Australia wasn’t happy about this.

So, the reason that there were no working holiday visas is that Australia has been in a tiff about corrupt spanish officials letting Skase off the hook, and more than 10 years after he died (and 20 years after the fact), they’re only just getting over it now.

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Thesis progress

Screen Shot 2014-06-05 at 12.19.20

While working on my thesis dissertation, I regularly commit changes to a code repository. This gives me peace of mind – I push the repository to a couple of different servers – and allows me to easily go back and recover things that I’ve deleted.

It has also made it possible for me to create an animated visual representation of my progress.

I submitted the link to Hacker News a couple of days ago and it made it to the front page for a couple of hours. Here’s a screenshot of it at number 11 (which is the highest it got as far as I know):



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Kitesurfing and Ninlil


Yesterday I went for my first Kitesurfing lesson. A present from Andrea for my birthday.

It was absolutely fantastic. The first session was theory, then safety stuff, and then we got onto the beach with some kites and (on a day without really strong wind) I found out just how hard a kite pulls when it’s up in the air.

I was only supposed to have a class for two hours, but I lost track of time and, after getting switched to another group of students, ended up having a 4 hour class.

Today, I was all set for another session, but it had rained on the beach last night and there wasn’t enough wind. I think I’m going to have to start praying to Ninlil, the Mesopotamian goddess of wind, if I want to keep up the kitesurfing.

Andrea took some great shots while she was waiting for me on the beach. Got to make good use of my (still reasonably) new telephoto lens.




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Explain it simply

Given what I’m doing at the moment. Yesterday’s xkcd comic is a perfect fit.

As the quote often attributed to Albert Einstein (I’m not sure whether he said it or not) goes:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.

I don’t have any five year-olds around to test myself on, but I’d be happy if I can explain what I’m doing to anyone.

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The beginning of the end

Thesis git repo

Today I officially started writing my Ph.D. dissertation.

That’s to say, I created a latex document, organised a bit of formatting and the structure for chapters and what-not.

Then I actually starting writing. This was really just re-writing some work I’d already done, which will form the beginning of a chapter. I’ve got a bit of work to do, writing up everything in a more generalised language than I have been working in.

Of course, the end that I’m beginning will be a long and gruelling process in itself. One that I witnessed first hand with Andrea’s thesis dissertation last year. But at least I’ve begun.

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Spanish surnames

This is just a quick post about spanish (or perhaps “latino”) surnames. Following of from yesterday’s My eight surnames.

I’ll call this a spanish thing, but it extends all spanish speaking latin american countries, as well as Portugal and Brazil (although slightly differently).

All spaniards have two surnames. They are also not in the habit of changing their surnames (yes, even after marriage).

Your first surname is (generally) your father’s first surname. Your second surname is your mother’s first surname.

So, let’s say that Marta López Pérez has a child with Juan González Martínez. The family surnames – which will be the child’s surnames – would be González López.

The woman’s surname still gets “lost” after a couple of generations, but I think it’s probably a better situation than the traditional anglo-saxon system of the wife taking her husband’s surname and passing that one surname onto the children.

Also, as someone once said to me, it means that cousins will all share at least one surname, which is nice.

So, back to the eight surnames from yesterday. Your grandparents’ eight surnames are the birth surnames of each of their parents. Which, in the spanish system, would be the two surnames that each grandparent has.

(Postdata: the “ez” ending is common for spanish language surnames. It is roughly the equivalent of “son” in english surnames. González would be “son of Gonzalo”.)

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My eight surnames

Ocho Apellidos Vascos

Yesterday, Andrea and I went to see the new spanish film, Ocho Apellidos Vascos (Eight Basque Surnames). Image source.

An incredibly funny film, but with a lot of references that you need to have grown up here to understand. I got a fair bit of it, but Andrea had to explain some of the finer points.

A point in the film, which Andrea confirmed with one of her workmates today, is that it is considered import in the Basque Country to be able to name all eight of your grandparents’ surnames.

Wait! I hear you saying, who has eight grandparents? For the interested reader – anyone? – I’ll cover this tomorrow.

For today, I’ll leave you with my eight surnames.

  • McSweeney
  • Smith
  • Clune
  • Wilson
  • Lees
  • Duncan
  • Airey
  • Stainsby

Thanks to Thea’s genealogy work, I could quickly look up the ones that I’d forgotten. I suppose I should make a point of not forgetting them again.

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