It’s the time of year when all you get on TV and radio are reviews of the year. A few years ago I got an e-mail from a friend of mine; listing everything she had done in the previous year. As I read it I remember thinking “Well that made my year look dull”. So I decided then and there that dull years were not a good thing. So what has 2005 meant for me? It’s certainly been a strange year, with its ups, and its downs.

I began 2005 dressed as an Arabian prince, riding though the streets of a small Devonshire town on the back of a pantomime horse. It’s the strangest new year I have ever had, and this one doesn’t look like it will be any stranger, so I guess that’s going to stand for now.

The spring was characterised by dance competitions. In February I competed in my first competition, not doing very well, but at least I can say I have competed. I love dancing, and photographing competitions, but actually competing doesn’t give me the same thrill it seems to give some of my friends. So I will leave that to them (for now at least) and stick to the photos. March was the first time that the student dance nationals were held in Blackpool, the dance Mecca. I was there, driving all the tech set up in a small white van up from London, staying up all night rigging the networking, and then on my feet all the next day doing photos. I don’t think I have ever been so tired in my life, and I don’t except I ever will be again; well, not before I do the same thing this year of course.

April was when Bryony and I split up. That kinda hit me hard, though I was expecting it. I went numb for a while, and by the time that passed I had been to Italy, and was in the final stages of my PhD. Apart from another short trip away, this time to Norway, the PhD consumed my summer like a viscous beast. It feels like I can’t remember any of the summer, but when I stop carefully and think, I can remember writing, most days. It just wasn’t interesting enough to stand out.

At the end of September the thesis was submitted, and my life went into a strange limbo, two months of waiting for the viva. Would I pass, would I have more work to do, was it safe to get a job, should I just sleep a decade? In fact I ended up sleeping for about 6 weeks, before preparing for and passing the viva, making me a doctor. In the meantime I did interview for one job, making it to the final two before loosing out to the other applicant.

That pretty much led to December, which was full of PhD corrections, and Christmas preparations. Christmas has now gone, the corrections are started and I can look forward to the New Year.

So what will 2006 bring? I have a quote in my thesis by Bohr: “Prediction is always hard, especially about the future”. Some things I do know though. I will finish my corrections. I will look for and, I certainly hope, find a job, I will spend some time revamping the online community tools for the dance circuit, and today I booked for a 5 week photography course at St Martins – Recommended to me by none other than the girl who first sent me her view of the year. Other than that, I will have to wait to find out

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By |December 31st, 2005|General|0 Comments

Busy doing nothing

It feels like I haven’t been doing much at all, but as I haven’t had time to sit down and update my blog for nearly two weeks I guess I must have been doing stuff. Christmas always seems to take up time, what with buying presents, wrapping presents, buying food etc.

Some things I have been busy with though:

If you like Patrick Stewart, and you like A Christmas Carol  then his one man show  is very good, definitely worth seeing.

If you like chocolate, then Green and Black’s Cookbook has an excellent recipe for chocolate stolen.

My PhD corrections are coming on well, though have slowed down a bit over xmas! (too much wine)

Oh, and iPods are cool, but USB 1 is crap

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By |December 28th, 2005|General|0 Comments

Refactoring and Correcting

Spending a lot of time at the computer has one big benefit: I get a lot done, or at least can do :-)

Last night I spent a few hours while watching TV and chatting to friends refactoring the forum software I have written, which eventually will be used to power the universitydancesport website. Its called paso and is coming on very nicely, though pretty slowly as its very much a side project while I do my PhD corrections. I had bumbled into my first Ruby On Rails project not quite sure how to go about it, and still not feeling very confident with the eXtreem Programming philosophy. I ended up with one big forum controller than did everything, boards, topics, posts, all done in one long file that was getting unwieldy. I realised that putting everything in one big file was a mistake, and that boards, topics and posts should each have their own controller. So I did just that. It was easy (if a bit dull), and thanks to my test suit (which is nearly twice as long as my actual code!) I’m sure everything still works. Cool. The next step will be some form of access control, watch here for details

Today I started on my corrections. Much of the day was spent making sure all the LaTeX source files still worked, getting the version I submitted checked into CVS and tagged all nicely (which took quite a while, the file system was convinced the files were in CVS, and the CVS system was convinced they were not!). After that I had to get LaTeX working on the new Linux install I set up between submission and the viva. With that all done, and after the minor panic when my thesis shrunk to 11 pages for 5 mins, but its back again now. I then had another go at going though the corrections, and came up with 13 stories, each one a small card with a task to do. When I have done them all then I will have done all the corrections. One of them I might write out as two or more new stories as I cant’ see myself doing it in one day. So if I write that one out as two new stories I will have 14 stories, each of which should take about a day (roughly). That means that in theory I can do the corrections in 2 weeks. Allowing for how any project always takes longer than expected, I might just get it done within the 3 month limit :-)

Oh I did actually do some corrections today as well. I changed the structure of the top levels (chapters etc) to reflect the new structure, and started moving some of the larger blocks of text to their new locations. Tomorrow I will try and complete one of my stories, and get that one step closer to finishing.

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By |December 13th, 2005|Uncategorized|2 Comments

Hat and Thesis

Not the best day ever. I started off by loosing my hat. Was in a coffee shop for lunch after running some errands this morning, and I left without taking my hat with me. When I went back to get it 5 mins later it was gone. Someone just got a new hat for xmas! I went all the way to Canada to get that hat, and I’m going to miss it!

Then, as if that wasn’t bad enough, today I started on my corrections. Not exactly the most enjoyable pastime! Actually they don’t look too bad, some bits of it are going to be a bit complex. but nothing looks too impossible. Mostly its restructuring and clarification, with a few additions.

So here is what I have to do, written as something of a todo list. I’ve not gone into too much details as I have recently started to do various bits of work using the XP mantra of plan as you go. This is a high level plan, and the more low level details will come along as I go.

1) Structure. I need to swap two chapters, and do some merging on the introductory chapters, and even remove one of the later chapters
2) Math. The math needs to be made more precise. A lot of the math is not very clear, but ways to fix this were discussed in the viva
3) Introduction. The introduction is going to have a slightly different structure and emphasis. Ch 1&2 are to be combined, and Ch 3 is to be split into a new Ch2 and Ch3
4) Theory: The relation between my theory and the math presented needs to be explained. Both the new and the existing bits of theory need to be clearly marked
5) Experimental: I need to compare my work to one more piece of existing work, and present my existing results in an additional set of metrics
6) Related work: I have seven things to add
7) Conclusions: Updated to reflect the changes, and re-iterate a clear statement of what’s new.

And of course, various spelling and grammar mistakes :)

I’m going to start on the biggest changes, and then work my way down to the smaller ones. So step one is to do the restructuring, the math (which is most important) followed by the theory (without witch the math is meaningless) Then I will see what seems like the biggest thing in need of attention.

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By |December 12th, 2005|General|0 Comments

Bone crunchingly good fun

Just got back from the osteopath about my knee.

I have had an ache in my knee for almost 18 months now. This spring I went to see a physiotherapist who diagnosed me with patellofemoral pain. She told me to do some leg raising exercises, and over the next few months told me to just keep doing them while I continually reported minor or no improvement.

Today’s visit to the osteopath was much better. For a start within 5 mins of beginning the hour long appointment I already felt she had taken a more detailed and through assessment, and that was before she put me on the table and did all sorts of prodding, poking, pulling and so on.

The final assessment is that the patella is indeed out of track, as with they physio’s diagnosis. This is irritating and inflaming the ligament connecting the tibia to the patella, which causes the ache. However she isn’t convinced by the cause. A long time ago I had some bad shoulder pains, which eventually were traced to a problem with my right hip. Meeta (the Osteopath) thinks that this is what is causing the problem again. My right leg is all every so slightly turned in wards (kind of like a permanent tango position) which is cause the miss-tracking of the patella. However she isn’t sure, partly because the Quad is so tense as a result of the exercises from the physio, that i have to go back in a week after doing a week of stretches on the quad to relax it a bit. If I get a major change before then I’m to put ice on the knee, and report back on what effect that has.

In the meantime, dancing is apparently good for the knee, it disperses the inflammation, which prevents the pain from getting too bad. However, standing in static positions with weight on a bent right knee is bad, and to be avoided. So I now have an excuse to straighten and take weight off my right knee in Tango lessons :)

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By |December 9th, 2005|General|0 Comments

Rails Migration Issues

Ruby on Rails has this wonderful feature, database migration. The idea is great and solves the common problem of how do you manage your data-models when you update an installation of a project. It works like this

You have a number of “migration” files, each continuing some ruby code to change a database (and code to change it back, but I’m not going to talk about that). The application remembers (via a special database table) which files have been processed, so if I want to change the database I just add in a new migration file with the appropriate commands. For example, in the project I’m working on at the moment (which is a forum) i do the following.

Migration 1: Create a table to hold the boards, and populate it with some test data
Migration 2: Create a table to hold the topics, and populate it with some test data
Migration 3: Create a table to hold the posts, and populate it with some test data
Migration 4: Create a table to hold users (part of the LoginEngine), and populate it with some test data
Migration 5: Alter the posts table to include a foreign key for the users table, update the rows in the posts table with sensible foreign key values.

This means i can go forward (or backwards) to any point in the development, and have a working database with a set of test data.

However I see two problems with this, which might have solutions, but if I haven’t yet found them.

First, migration 4 is actually code from an external engine project. Currently I have moved the migration file from the engine project into my migrations directory. However what happens if the engine project later extends or alters its data-model? I can freeze my code to use a specific version of the engine, but that rules me out of future enhancements or bug fixes. I would like my 4th migration to read “perform engine migrations unto version x”. That way I can modify the user tables if I need to, and if the engine later develops, I can work to make my code compatible with it, or if it diverges too much, freeze myself to an old version. I do actually want to modify the data-model they give me, because I want to store richer information about the users than they assume.

Secondly, when I create test data i use the ActiveRecord::Base.create method. This also uses the validation checks built into the rails model. I discovered this problem. At the same time as I created migration 5, I added a validation constraint to the model. Now if I make a new installation of my project, and run the migrations, it barfs at step 3, because the validation command in the model checks for a valid user. I suspect there is a way to turn of validation checks in the migration files, but that opens the door to possible errors. I think a better solution would be for each migration to have two files. One being the schema migrations, and one being the data migrations. That way i could run all the schema modifications, which would create the user_id column in my posts table, then a sensible default would pass the validation checks when I later stuff in my test data.

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By |December 9th, 2005|General|0 Comments

Dr Laurie

A week ago I sat the viva for my PhD. I passed! I’m now a Doctor.

I’m only just starting to find it sinking in. I spent a day or so convinced I was going to get an e-mail from the examiners saying they had changed their mind, then a few days thinking I wouldn’t be able to do the corrections in time. Of course these thoughts probably have more to do with being dragged out drinking by well meaning friends for several days in a row, and then coming down with a cold, which I’m finally recovering from.

A few days ago I got a copy of the corrections that they examiners want. Maybe I should stop for a moment end explain the exam procedure. After I submitted my thesis a copy got sent to both my examiners, who then had to read it (for which I apologize to them). They then came to Imperial for my viva. It lasted four hours, and the spent the time asking me lots of detailed questions about my thesis, which bits they agreed with, some bits were badly written and they couldn’t follow in the format it was in.

They have a number of options they have to choose from. Firstly they had the option of a straight pass, Secondly they could pass me with minor corrections, in which case I have 3 months to do the corrections they ask for. Then they could have specified 18 months of corrections, which I think would have counted as a fail, as I would have had to redo the submission process. There are some worse options available to them, like down-grade the degree from PhD to DPhil, but those are too horrible to consider.

After four hours they asked me to leave the room while they conferred between them what they thought. I spent a few minutes very restlessly. Then they called be back in and told me they were recommending pass with minor corrections. I remember thinking it was strange they use the word “recommending” but I guess that’s because there is a PhD committee who technically do the passing based on the examiners recommendation, or maybe it was just a phrase. Anyway they then outlined the changes they want.

So now I’m off to the bank to get the name on my credit cards changed :-)

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By |December 8th, 2005|Uncategorized|3 Comments