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Well, now that my exams are over, the lectures have commenced. I'm a… - John C. Kirk — LiveJournal

Jan. 22nd, 2003

06:02 pm

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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.

Comments:

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From:overconvergent
Date:January 22nd, 2003 11:54 am (UTC)

I can see what you mean, but ...

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have you ever read (say) Dune?

Granted, at the end of Dune there's a mini-encylopedia of useful references to the text.

I'd say that in most books I can think of off the top of my head, they either don't define things at all, or they have a short glossary *at the back*. The exception that comes to mind is Jack Vance's Demon Princes series, where things are defined in footnotes.

Rest assured that the role of the harpers is defined later :)
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 22nd, 2003 02:34 pm (UTC)

Re: I can see what you mean, but ...

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Ah yes, I was meaning to mention that before - Diane Duane has a glossary at the back of some of her wizardry books, to explain terms that are either made-up or just unfamiliar (e.g. "blow-ins", an Irish term referring to Americans who move there). I'm sure I've read books that do use the omniscient narrator to explain things, although I can't name any in particular off the top of my head.

In this context, it just comes across as "The characters know what it means, and I know what it means, but you don't. Neener neener neener! Ixnay on the arper-hay!" which seems a little childish...

Meh :)
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[User Picture]
From:overconvergent
Date:January 22nd, 2003 05:12 pm (UTC)

Re: I can see what you mean, but ...

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I apologise if I came across like that. What I meant was "they do get explained later, but McCaffrey decided that she didn't want to explain them at the beginning".

I think she just wanted to get into the action (swordfight, discovery, etc) rather than taking a timeout to explain stuff ...

:)

Lloyd.
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 23rd, 2003 01:22 am (UTC)

Re: I can see what you mean, but ...

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Ah, no, sorry, I wasn't attributing that (made-up) comment to you - that was my interpretation of the author's attitude.
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 22nd, 2003 02:38 pm (UTC)

Re: I can see what you mean, but ...

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Oh, and in answer to your original question, I haven't read any of the Dune books, or seen any of the films. This is another of those classics that I'm sure I should read at some point, but I haven't got round to it yet :)
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From:dwagon
Date:January 22nd, 2003 01:56 pm (UTC)
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you shold definately persevere with the book, everything does get explained, not in neat definations but more by seeing exactly *what* harpers do and so on...if you do want to know now however...
MINOR SPOILER ABOUT HARPERS






harpers are the teachers of pern, the lawyers and judges along with enertainers...they teach the young , act as arbitrators in discussions, marry people as well as entertaining them in the evenin - the Master haper is a *very* important person...



MORE SPLOILERS ABOUT HOW THE HALLS, HOLDS AND WEYRS INTERACT


the basic social structure of pern is hold, hall and weyr - holds are cave/large stone structures that people live in; halls are guilds basically and autonomous of the holds; while weyrs house the dragons that protect the planet from thread, and are also autonomous. Weyrs are supported by tithes from nearby holds, and ar header up by a weyrleader (in charge of fighting thread) and weyrwoman (in charge of everything else). the first book is very feudal in it's descriptions of the society, but this rapidly changes, along with various other stuff.
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From:johnckirk
Date:January 22nd, 2003 02:35 pm (UTC)
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Ah, thanks for that - I'll stick with it, to give it a fair go, so I'll read the rest of this novel, but I won't commit to the rest of the series just yet.
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From:dwagon
Date:January 23rd, 2003 02:10 am (UTC)
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no charge;)

the tone of the series changes quite a lot as it progresses as well, the later books are more sci-fi-ish in tone that the fantsy or the first book in particular...on the whole, they're good, but not great and make a nice change from typical 'heroic' fantasy...
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 22nd, 2003 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Pern is not this world and while its people use our words their meaning are not always the same. As Dwagon says, the Harpers are much more than just musicians - thinks of them as guardians of culture and morality. Rather like the old concept of the story teller or soothsayer.

Put bluntly, I find books that over explain themselves to be rather shallow and boring - it can often be much more fun to be thrown in the deep end. that way if you do manage to stay afloat you'll have a much better idea of what the author was trying to get at.
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:January 23rd, 2003 06:28 am (UTC)

most decent books wont explain

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the book ive just finished 'altered carbon'. did much the same thing but things became clear as the stroy progressed. books should provoke your thought processes. new words/meaning help this. i find it a great pleasure wheni finally work out what the unexsplained term means
--
bob
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From:kukumavka
Date:January 23rd, 2003 09:57 am (UTC)
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/me has to agree with bob and annon
I find I tend to work definitions out quickly enough and in other cases you are suposed to discover the meaning as you get further into the book as the plot unravels (/me fails to think of example atm)
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From:rileen
Date:January 23rd, 2003 01:02 pm (UTC)

Only a matter of time .......

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Mark my words, things will start 'getting hairy' in Randomized Algoithms pretty fast.
When it comes to probability, things might seem easy while reading; once you try to
actually solve problems, all will get hazy whp (with high proability) :-) !!

Btw, there are actually no more than 5 of us taking the exam - at least one guy is there
only because he's doing his project with Colin !!
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