John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

Well, now that my exams are over, the lectures have commenced. I'm a bit busier this term, primarily because I'm doing 6 modules rather than the usual 4 (since I blagged my way onto the other 2 AI related courses). The upshot of this is that I have classes every day, including a 10am start 3 times a week - most uncivilised, I say! It's basically been intros this week, so nothing too complicated, but the subjects certainly sound more interesting than last term's, i.e. a bit more advanced. One interesting thing yesterday in the "random algorithms" class - there are only 6 of us registered for it, and we all said that we were finding the pace too slow. The lecturer (who's new to Kings) recommended one particular textbook, saying that it's very good, but quite hard. Apparently he was originally planning to teach out of it, but then the department told him "don't you dare!" - dumbing down in action. But since we're all happy to move faster, he may revert to that plan by next week.

I'm thinking of changing one of my options - dropping "network optimisation" (which seems to have a lot of overlap with last term's "graph theory" module) in favour of cryptography. I read "Cryptonomicon" (Neal Stephenson) last term, which was interesting, and as a result of that I bought two thick books (about 1000 pages each) on the subject. One of these is a recommended textbook for the course, so I figure that if I'm going to read it anyway, then it would be good strategy to do it as study for the exam. This is a subject that interests me, but I chose not to do it (when I filled out the forms last term) on the grounds that I couldn't really justify it - I needed to do subjects that were as close to AI as possible (for the PhD plan). But now that I'm doing the two extra modules, I'm sorted there, and I can probably sneak into the NOP class after I drop it (quite high numbers).

So, speaking of the new courses, I had the first one today - NLP (Natural Language Processing). This is another fairly small class (about a dozen of us), and it's taught by Prof Lappin (my project supervisor). He was pleased to see me when I arrived, and at the end of the class he asked me whether I still wanted to do the project (I said yes), which pleased him even more. So, this all bodes well for our future working relationship. The impression I get from lots of lecturers at Kings is that they like enthusiasm - they're pleasantly surprised whenever a student shows signs of actually being awake :) On the subject of enthusiasm, I'm really keen on this course. I was reading a book that the prof (I'm not sure whether I'm allowed to call him Shalom (his first name) yet) lent me, which is also on this subject, and I had the same reaction to both things (book and class) - this is what I came back to university for. The basic idea of the reading he's giving me is to get me up to speed on the latest theories/development in this area (anaphora resolution), and after that I certainly won't be rehashing old stuff. I'll actually be "on the frontier", pushing back the boundaries of human knowledge and all that. Pretty cool :) So, now I just need to start learing Prolog...

Aside from textbooks, I now have enough time on my hands (post-exams) to read novels again. So, I borrowed Lorna's copy of "Night Watch", which I enjoyed. Without going into spoilers, there was a nice acknowledgement of the changes that have taken place at Unseen University since "The Colour of Magic". I've also been attempting to read "Dragonflight" (Anne McCaffrey) - I tried reading one of her dragon books when I was at school, but gave up on it. Various people in ICSF have branded me a heretic for this, so I'm having another go, but I'm not very impressed so far. My main issue is that she keeps introducing terms without explaining what they mean. For instance, on page 17 two people are discussing security arrangements (defences) for the castle, and one of them says "I must ask that of your harper. You do keep a trained harper in your Hold?" Now, my immediate thought is that a harper is someone who plays a harp. But maybe there's another meaning that I'm unaware of, so I looked it up in an online dictionary, which said exactly the same thing. So, either the minstrel is in charge of supervising the defences, or this term has another meaning. It seems like any second meaning is either one that the writer made up (like several other terms she doesn't explain), or sufficiently obscure that neither I nor the dictionary have encountered it. So, this strikes me as being needlessly cryptic - a cheap trick to "impress the rubes". I'm sure that all will be explained in due course, but I'm only sticking with it because it's been so highly recommended. It's a bit like the cable TV syndrome - there are hundreds of novels that I could be reading at the moment, so why should I waste my time on this one if the author is just going to arse about? I suspect this counts as ambience or style or something, which may explain why I read mostly SF rather than fantasy :)

In other news, had a phone call earlier from a loans company who I recently paid off a loan too, asking if I wanted to borrow more money. Second time that's happened in the last few weeks... It does make me smile, considering that 10 years ago I couldn't even get a store card! Ah well, hopefully my credit rating will hold up for a while, despite the "zero income" business - I'm sure it will come in useful later.
Tags: books, debt, postgrad
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