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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IMG_1010 copy

Last Sunday, Andrea and I took a trip to Montserrat. The mountain in central Catalunya that’s so popular that it’s a (very common) girl’s name.

We drove to the base of the mountain and took the cable car up to the main level where the abbey is. There’s a fantastic open space in front of the abbey, which was full of people, even though it’s not really tourist season yet. It really must have been an enormous effort to build such a structure at the top of a mountain, but then the catholic church has never been short on cash.

Unfortunately I managed to leave my (last remaining) memory card for my camera at home. So despite carrying it around all day, I’ve only got my phone’s photos to show for it.


We also managed to lose our return tickets for the cable car after getting to the top. So after doing the normal site seeing, Andrea and I walked back to the cable car dejectedly, having to buy another  single for each of us to get back down to the car. Lo and behold, we found both our tickets, nicely trodden on, on the path on the way back.

After that bit of good luck, we found a great place to have lunch on the road to Monistrol, the closest town. We ate on the terrace with a view of the mountain, before heading back to Barcelona to have a coffee and tea at bar Mirablau (heading up Tibidabo), with some of the best views of the city to be bad.

All in all, a fantastic and relaxing Sunday.


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About talking to mathematicians

This week I read a couple of blog posts relating to mathematicians. The first is How to talk to a mathematician from Math with Bad Drawings (by Ben Orlin), and the second is titled Mathematicians are chronically lost and confused (and that’s how it’s supposed to be) by Jeremy Kun of Mathematicians ∩ Programmers.

They were both interesting, especially as I’m still somewhat of an outsider in the mathematical world. I sent the one from Math with Bad Drawings to the family, and Bruce picked out an especially good quote:

Math isn’t just mentally taxing and packed with jargon. It’s also dizzyingly abstract. At least rocket scientists and neurosurgeons can point to concrete objects that they work with—spaceships! Brains! By contrast, mathematicians work with pure ideas.

There were a couple of bits from the article by Jeremy Kun that made me feel better about my own research, the first describes how I usually feel:

If you’re going to get anywhere in learning mathematics, you need to learn to be comfortable not understanding something.

The second a paraphrased quote from someone else (some I’m second, or third level quoting here):

If I spend an entire day and all I do is understand this one feature of this one object that I didn’t understand before, then that’s a great day.

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A few weeks ago I discovered the game Starbound. It’s a new (as in not finished) platform adventure game by a developer called Chucklefish.

It was released a bit before Christmas as a beta, which is to say that they’re constantly updating the game and there are quite a few things that aren’t complete, or are just filling in until the real bits are finished.

Perhaps because of this, the developers have made modding the game very easy, and there is a thriving community of people creating mods for the game.

Part of this being easy, is that all the data about the items in the game is easily readable. Basically all the content for the game (different from the engine that makes it run) is available in JSON files along with all the images and sounds.

So I started building an online database of all these items, so that I can look up on my phone what “ingredients” I need to make a new item.

It’s been a fun little project, in fact so fun that for the last week I haven’t even played the game. I’ve spent my free time building this site rather than playing the game.

As I said to a friend today, programming can be an incredibly cheap hobby.

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The Silent Partner

Evan’s recent viral success was the final push that he needed to get his new web site off the ground. I am happy to announce that is now live.

I think the site looks great, thanks to design and coding work by Thea and Bruce as well as Ev’s fantastic rocking hat logo (check out the bottom left of each page).

Of special note is Evan’s reel.

The Silent Partner

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