Firstly, a small rant (a rantlet, if you will). The first step in this project is to select which project to do. In theory, the way this works is that the supervisors post a list (on Friday) of the projects they're offering. We then submit our choices by the end of January, and get assigned one (not necessarily our first choice, depending on how many people want to do it). So, I would like to approach this in a calm, reasoned, manner, by looking at all the available projects, discussing the ones that interest me with the relevant supervisors, and then submitting my choices after careful consideration. In practice, it's more like an Ebay auction, complete with sniping. The list of projects started appearing last week, and by Wednesday new ones were popping up every few hours. More to the point, some were also being booked within a couple of hours of appearing.
For instance, one project is to write a clone of MSN Messenger. This doesn't really have any relevance to my long term plans, but I think it's something that I could do well. So, I swapped emails with the supervisor on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning. At 10am on Thursday, he advised me to look at an open-source version of Messenger on the web, to see whether I could understand the code. Fair enough - I figured that I could start that in the evening when I got home from work. By 2pm that day, the project had been booked to someone else. Meh.
So, it's a balancing act of "do I pick this project now, or wait for a better one to come along?" The added complication is that there are projects like these, where the supervisor says "I will only discuss these on the 6th Jan". My compromise was to wait until Friday, so that I could get the full list, but I won't wait until January to hear presentations.
I've decided to put the semantic web stuff to one side for the moment. It's something that I may come back to later (e.g. for a PhD), but for now I think I'm better off picking a project that a supervisor has defined, rather than suggesting my own. That way, they'll have a better idea than I do of what's suitable, and I can hopefully get experience of a successful project, which I can use to come up with my own topic later.
Anyway, I'm currently leaning towards an Artificial Life project - one of the first two on this page. I bought a copy of "The Blind Watchmaker" on Friday (I've previously read "The Selfish Gene", also by Richard Dawkins), so I'll start reading that later today. One slight concern I have is that I'm not a biologist, so I know very little about hyenas etc. So, I may be better off going for non-existent creatures such as the biomorphs. On the other hand, the ant colony idea could be interesting. I might also talk to the supervisor about modelling bees, having read Clan Apis a while back, since that would have similar themes, such as pheremones.
I'm also a bit more comfortable thinking of insects as mindless automatons, whereas I like to think of animals as sentient. Mind you, there was an interesting idea in "Godel, Escher, and Bach" (by Douglas Hofstadter), where he suggested that an ant-hill could be sentient, even though the individual ants are not (they are the equivalent of neurons in the human brain). The concept here is emergent intelligence. I really ought to get round to finishing that book some time, since I bought it about 10 years ago, and the furthest I've got is half-way through...
One thing I remember from the project book I read a while back is the idea that there shouldn't be any bad results. In other words, rather than relying on one particular outcome, I should plan it so that any result is useful (even if it is "in this scenario, everyone winds up dead"). So, I'll try to bear that in mind.
Anyway, on the plus side, I've felt a lot more energised over the last few days, since project stuff started happening. I'm taking a week off work over Christmas/New Year, so assuming that I've picked a project by then, this should give me a good opportunity to start by background reading.
On a side note, I also liked Jay Hosler's science cartoons, e.g. "Darwin saves the world!" And Killer Bee is effectively a trailer for "Clan Apis".
On the social front, I went off to a Christmas party in Putney on Wednesday, which was a pleasant evening. Then we had a gathering here yesterday, which went well.
This afternoon, I went off to watch Freaky Friday at the cinema. I felt slightly embarrassed about being the only adult there without an accompanying child, but I enjoyed the film. It's not intended to be one of the great all-time classics, but I think it achieves what it sets out to do; it's a fun way to spend a couple of hours. The cast do a good job, and I particularly liked the well-timed rugby tackles.