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June 8th, 2017

08:05 pm: Nature red in tooth and claw...
This morning, on my way to work via the polling station, I saw a herring gull catch a pigeon and savagely execute it. As I watched it stripping off the features, I couldn't help thinking of it as a rather appropriate omen...


June 7th, 2017

09:17 pm: Typesetting woes...
Spent my evening sweating over an attempt to reform my paper for publication. What should have been a simple task — swapping out the IEEE template and replacing it with the Wiley one — took far long than it should have done to smooth out.

After fixing the bibliography to get it to work with amsrefs, I then spent some time trying to debug the final end-of-document page which contained nothing but an empty ruled box. After much examination both of the template and of the example document, I found a bit of code that inserts the contents of \jnlcitation on the last page; but because I'd omitted my self-citation, the template had added an empty box on a blank page.

With these problems resolved, I now need to set the \articletype property — I've emailed the editors for suggestions — and I should be done. Rather annoyingly, I haven't been able to do any of this at work because our version of LaTeX is so old, the majority of the supporting packages needed by the template are either missing or cough up an endless stream of errors when involved. MacTex, on the other hand, works flawlessly straight out of the box.


June 6th, 2017

08:25 pm: Mopping up after PBS and ALPS
Just as I was thinking about going home, my phone rang. Foolishly, I answered. As a result, I spent a good hour and a half trying to sort out a series of errors caused by an out-of-memory event on one of the cray_login nodes.

Fortunately, the circumstances of the problem were relatively clear and I was able to make a note of the affected jobs prior to purging them from the system. This meant that I was able to target the stale ALPS reservations left dangling by the job failures and immediately remove them with apmgr cancel. This wasn't entirely successful: around 40 ALPS reservations went into a pendCancel state and refused to clean up despite restarts of various daemons and an apmgr resync

Eventually, I concluded that discretion was the better part of valour and simple placed all the affected nodes into admindown to prevent them from being used. When I resumed the work, things started to run without encountering the any of the dreaded transient MPP errors we normally see when ALPS and PBS drift out of alignment, and I was finally able to go home, a couple of hours later than planned.


June 3rd, 2017

12:00 pm: Seventy-first parkrun
A good one this morning: despite a gentle start, I stormed home in 20:05 and finished 19th — a sure sign that the university term has finished. E ran at Killerton for the first time in a month or two and managed to come within 30 seconds of her PB — a very solid result...

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May 27th, 2017

11:52 am: Seventieth parkun
Up and out for a very humid run this morning — despite the forecast predicting a modest chance of rain this morning, we had nothing, with most of the moisture well and truly stuck in the atmosphere. Despite wearing my sleeveless top for the first time this year — I always have to aclimatise myself to the way my ponytail slaps me on the shoulders when the sleaves go — I was still so sweltering I had to take off my sunglasses partway through.

Once again, with the course more constricted and constrained than usual, I started slow and cranked up the pace to finish in an adequate 20:32. The course was slightly longer than normal — the marshals respsonsible for the field section had been extremely diligent and marked it out so that it went right into the very corners, erroring on the side of too long rather than too short; a decision I very much agree with!

Despite it being my 70th run, I can't feel too smug: there was someone there celebrating their 400th run! An amazing achievement. Looking at their recent runs, it looks like they're doing a grand tour, running at a different place every weekened, with Exeter happening to coincide with one of their big numbers. And rather charmingly, they'd brought along cake to celebrate!

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May 24th, 2017

08:46 pm: Who are you again?
I can definitely identify with today's XKCD. I know someone who's forever dropping names like this:

My solution is simply to act completely baffled until they come up with a second name and a job title, regardless of whether I know the person involved or not. Mind you there have been occasions when I've responded like this only to discover they were talking about someone who sits at the next desk over from me; unfortunate, but I think formidable reputation for not being a people person allowed me to get away with it...


May 23rd, 2017

09:00 pm: Book hangovers
Via a recent-ish Tea and Jeapardy podcast — the one with Jen Williams — I've discovered a name for a frequent malaise: the book hangover. It usually occurs after you've ripped through something intense and wonderful, making it hard to commit to a new book that you're sure you're not going to like as much...


May 21st, 2017

09:08 pm: Sleeping Giants
As already mentioned, I was in the departure lounge at Heathrow when I suddenly decided to buy a proper, dead tree book in order to save the battery on my iPad for the journey. Looking around the little outlet for something decent, I saw Sylvain Neuvel's Waking Giants and seized it with both hands.

We begins with the events of Rose Franklin's eleventh birthday. Out late, riding her new bike, she heard a noise and woke up hours later in a pit surrounded by walls covered in glowing glyphs and lying in the palm of a giant metal hand. Seventeen years later, after previous attempts to understand the hand and its associated glyphs have come to nothing, Dr Rose Franklin is in charge of the team tasked with cracking the mystery of the hand.

The story unfolds through a series of conversations between an unnamed official and the various different members of the research team. Firstly we have Rose, who claims to have drifted into her position through chance; she had demonstrated a talent for science before the events of her birthday and ascribes her academic success to a desire to impress her father. Nonetheless, Rose is responsible for the breakthrough that allows the team to locate the giant's remaining body parts.

Secondly we have Kara Resnick, brilliant helicopter pilot and dysfunctional human being, who gets seconded by the backer to fly the missions needed to recover the body parts. Thirdly, because every pilot needs a good co-pilot, Kara's colleague Ryan Mitchell, a straight up guy with a terrible crush on his team mate, is recruited to fly with her. Fourthly, because no-one has yet to crack the mystery of the glyphs, we have Vincent Couture, a brilliant young Canadian linguist with a vast ego and unshakable sense of self-belief.

And ultimately, masterminding it all, we have the official, the backer, the person who remains so anonymous that I'm not sure we even get a gender. The most we ever learn about them is that they were an English literature major — a fact they, perhaps jokingly, claim that not even the president knows. Always a full five steps ahead of everyone else, the backer has plans within plans within plans, always seeming to know precisely what stimulus, what promise, what threat, is required to get the answer they need from their current interlocutor.

Sleeping Giants starts as an intriguing first contact story moving through something a bit more like a political thriller — albeit one where the stakes are deeply personal to the people involved — and ends up with something that wouldn't be out of place in Pacific Rim. But what really makes it work, I think, is the inscrutability of the backer: they manage something close to omnipotence through the clever deployment of soft power; and while we have the advantage of seeing the limits to their knowlege at a couple of points, the other characters frequently see them as close to omniscient.

Ultimately, though, Sleeping Giants did everything I asked of it: it greatly eased my time at Heathrow and smoothed me through the first part of my flight, preventing me from having to resource to the horrors of the entertainment system. I'm already looking forward to the sequel...

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May 20th, 2017

10:55 am: Sixty-nineth parkrun
According to my calculations, since this time last year — when I recovered from an ITB problem that had been plaguing me for a couple of months — I've only missed three parkruns: two in October 2016 when I was in Greece and one last weekend when I was in Seattle. But other that, I've run every week. Not wanting to tempt fate too badly, I reckon that puts me on course for my hundreth at around the end of December or possibly very early January 2018. Go me!

With that on the record, its time to get back to today's run. Having had a couple of weeks of heavy duty running and with yet more flood defence work limiting the width of the path, I wasn't expecting much from today's run. I started very slowly but after catching up with D at the bridge, I cranked the pace and finished in a respectable 20:23.

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May 17th, 2017

08:38 pm: Catching up: Hurley on healthcare
Catching up with the backlog from my time away, I found Kameron Hurley's excellent piece Cultivating Compassion When We’re All Tired, which completely skewers the notion of healthcare insurance as currently conceived in the United States:

Working under this weight has been really hard. I have a health insurance plan right now with a $5k deductible, which means I paid $1500 for meds last month. Under the new plan, I could be charged like $20,000 a year just in premiums. I could have a $50,000 deductible on top of that, even on an employer plan, because all those regulations that the ACA made to keep insurance companies honest are very likely to go away, because they want people like me to "pay their share."

Newsflash, folks: the whole point of health insurance is to have it cover you in case something horrible happens.

Something horrible happened to me.

The rhetoric coming out of this bullshit regime is like saying that the house insurance you bought isn’t going to cover damage from a fire because you should pay your share. Ummm… like… that’s not how insurance works. It’s literally hedging one’s bets against disaster. My disaster happened already.

The whole essays is required reading. Hurley is characteristically open about her struggle to balance work alongside the problems that life, health, and a disfunctional system, have dished out...


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