Data and reading

Some thinking on whats changed since completing my research on brachiopodia and computer graphics in 1995. On the computing side:

  1. The Internet
  2. open source
  3. Programming languages, the rise and demise of heavyweight Java

On the palaeontology side of things I’m guess a lot less has changed, but worth doing some reading around and research. I do need to go back through the amount of paperwork in my house looking for data, in particular serial sections of brachiopods. However this data in hindsight isn’t brilliant for a couple of reasons:

  1. the are no reference marks on each slide (slice or peel based on the method of recording it)
  2. the slices are done at a thickness which can be used to interpret the inner structure, or lophophore, a word I do remember, rather than at the least possible needed to make reconstruction easier.

Some searching of the web to look for sections taken since 1995 when my thesis was published.


Managed to find a copy of Living and Fossil Brachiopods, by MJS Rudwick (1970) which is probably a book I should have read in 1991. Whilst I understood all specimens to be laid out the same way and that there is bi-lateral symmetry, I didn’t realised that this was the case of the lophophore also. These feeding mechanisms inside the shell were what I was trying to reconstruct and they are pretty complex in shape, and the algorithms in my thesis didn’t take into account this symmetry really, and would have potentially been an important factor.

I’ll be reading the rest of the book this time.

Reconstructing the past

I have, for some strange reason, been drawn back to my PhD work from the early 90’s. Academia has long passed me by and my brain and attitude long since softened and hardened by the fleshpots of the commercial software industry. However, something is drawing me back, in particular the notion of how much easier it might be now to do the work I did between 1991 and 1991. As far as I know, none of my coding, data or floppy disk material survives (well I’ve not found it) so I’m left with two printed copies of my thesis (including a nice bound one) and various published papers.

The most recent paper was published as late as 2001 (written in 1998) in Computing and Geosciences. The excitingly titled “Contour correspondence for serial section reconstruction: complex scenarios in palaeontology” is available on the Cardiff University website, where Chris Jones, my supervisor works now [1]. So to kick things off with this renaissance thought I’d do some initial research, firstly to find my published works. Maybe later, I’ll what else might have been done with the reconstruction of the internal feeding mechanisms of some small invertebrate fossils.

In terms of published papers available online (and remember my work was pre-Internet, something we forget now); all research done without Google (and even the earlier Altavista).

  • My thesis is available from the British Library : I don’t have a digital copy myself and I probably don’t have the rights to it anyway
  • Three-dimensional reconstruction of geoscientific objects from serial sections is available to order (for 42 euros) and I may still have a copy of the original journal from 1995. It has been cited 11 times, most recently in 2014.
  • There is a chapter in this book which I’d completely forgotten about, p93 – 126 and it’s probably a bit dated now. Good title though. Numerical Palaeobiology: Computer-based Modelling and Analysis of Fossils and their Distributions [2]

The Visual Computer paper was the main one published, but there is also an article presented at the 13th Eurograhpics in Barcelona in 1996, which I’ve found cited and now lost.

Not exactly a stunning return but I did do a short talk at ACM Siggrah in New Orleans, US, around 1993-4 I think, but need to check this. Also some other conference papers done including a meeting at the University of Kent and also a NATO meeting in Lucca, Italy where I met John Tipper my external examiner.

[1] I have met him on the train a couple of times in the last few years and he lives not too far away from my in South Wales.
[2] And I’ve just found a copy on Amazon which I’ve ordered. £40

Ferry time

24 hours on a ferry (from Santander to Portsmouth) can be a rewarding experience. Plenty of time to think and read especially when the Internet access is virtually non existent.

Roger mention the idea of ships being havens of escapism (the 70s ship, a pirate vessel for example); a more practical Westworld of the high seas. It might be the oceans might be the only escape point from modern society. Along with seaside towns in Essex.

The Pont Aven does unfortunately have TV which enabled us to watch France beat Wales in the 98th minute of the rugby, but also does still have old school entertainment last seen at the end of each Phoenix Nights episodes.  There is a detachment from day to day living as time goes slow and an alternative universe aboard ship plays out. French ship somewhere between Spain and the UK does make for an interesting experience. The people travelling (in March) are also an interesting bunch which also adds to the mix. From lorry drivers to returning, Mercedes driving expats there is a heady mix. 

Down in steerage with a heavy sea overnight you are not just detached from people on land you are also detached from the everyone else on the ship. The bunk and your part of the cabin is your world and the sound of the ship and waves as well as the movement provide a unique experience. After getting down a big dinner manage to sleep well with some reading and though did wake up with a stiff shoulder. 

On this planet but well away from reality. 

Fine Line

There’s a fine line between love and hate and there is a fine line between good and bad. I don’t speak to a large audience on a regular basis but it’s easy to miss the mood and needs of the audience. 

For a technology conference internal or external you normally have a pretty dry subject so getting people to listen is difficult  (they are on their phones reading or communicating or writing blogs, like this one). 

Too many slides aren’t good. Slides themselves are fundamentally bad as you can’t change track during the session if it’s not going well. You can simply stop using the slides but the safety net isn’t there and you can argue you shouldn’t have used slides in the first place. 

Watching other presenters should be a good way of becoming a good presenter either learning what works and what doesn’t. However many people just repeat the same mistakes when they get on stage. Blinded by the lights maybe but more likely unable to break the normal low level of expectations 

When you have to sit through 4 days of this style of presentation you think that people would learn. If you are in a sales organisation you think that presenters would be good a selling. That they sometimes aren’t says as much about the sales process as the presenter 

Day 1 Done. 

The annual sales kickoff  (SKO) is something to be cherish. An assault course of the senses it can be brutal with the hedonism of many and a frustration of a few. From awards for doing your job which can be painful when you watch sales people lauding it up (though the small reward for the team for best staff retention was good and appreciated for change), through to brown-nosing as Olympic sport, there are plenty of ways to fry your brain. 

Spending money to get people to the event isn’t cheap so there is a tendency to make sure everyone is busy and in meetings all the time. As mentioned in the previous post, the best reward comes from the unexpected, the meeting of minds and the satisfaction of self discovery. More self discovery is good. 

However you need to be self aware. If you want to choose your own path then you also need to allow people to choose theirs in the same. 

From the open road to the closed room

Driving across Northern Spain from Santander to Lleida (so far) has been a revelation. Scenery excellent and with light traffic on excellent roads. Weather has been crisp but kind and got to 22 C at one point this afternoon (according to the device on the Transalp). 

“What goes through your mind whilst riding the bike ?” asked Roger at today’s lunch stop in Jaca. Good question as it’s not easy to drift off given the concentration needed to ride safely, which is more than is needed for driving a car. The sense you get is though is one of freedom and it’s easy to understand why for many men a midlife crisis usually involves a trip to the bike dealers. 

As for motivation, freeing my mind on the road is going to always be better for me than listening to speakers in conference rooms. Riding a bike is just you. In control and not discussing or explaining what you are doing or the decisions made to do stuff. You do it. A conference room is directive, with someone telling you what they want you to do (and occasionally why they are asking you to do it). 

If you stood up at a conference and in first the first part of the talk you asked people to spend the next 45 minutes doing something they would get the most value from, you would probably get a lot questions and requests for clarification.  

Some enlightened souls would get up and leave the room, probably on the premises of having a “valuable” conversation with a colleague. Some might see the best thing they could do is catch up on email but for sure the best thing they could do is sit down with themselves for a bit. Think what’s important and what motivates you. If it’s me talking at you for 45 minutes then there’s something very very wrong. 

So tomorrow sees the temporary transition from open road to closed room and from being with myself a lot (and one other person a little) to being with a lot more people a lot. Appealing it isn’t. 

7.38am Argomaniz

All quiet in the Paradore in Argomaniz after a short ride yesterday brought us from Santander. Withnail is now without after with brilliant assistance from Jorge we has both emergency repair kit delivered as we got off the ferry as well as a trip to a tyre workshop where it was patched professionally while we watched all for 5 euros. This involved lots of conversation and about 5 guys discussion the concerns of tyre balance and vulcanization. All very quickly. 

A trip of a nearby bar and a catch up with Jorge. If there .is anything that this highlights it is treating people right and always respecting them will always payback. You may need them one day. I am and have been guilty of abusing both friendships and people directly through my words and actions. This isn’t uncommon for many people and comes through competitiveness and a lack of empathy for the motivations and feelings of people. We see ourselves better than others and to preserve this view even if we aren’t better than friends and colleagues we have to maintain that impression.  

A later conversation  (and it was later as dinner in Spain is late) with Roger we got to talking about the pressure that people have at work. One of the ways we judge people and express opinion is on how good they are at there job. Recently via text one colleague had expressed concerns about Roger taking on a role I had asked him to do. Whilst in some aspects he was right that his leadership and ability to sell himself among the wider team might not be strong he had not thought about the wider issues around dealing with people, getting concensus on issues and having the motivation for doing a good job. No one is perfect for any role as such as whilst the role tends to be shaped by the person doing the job it is in the most part successful even if it is different to what you have seen in the role when it was specified in the job description.

Accepting that people essentially do the best they can in any job is of course fundamental. Accepting that this may not meet your own expectations on the job isn’t so easy. Accepting that their work and interpretation of the job might be better than your own is even harder. My own view is that it’s always good to accept that people are better than you except in cases of monumental fuckups or incompetence. The barrier to this is understanding their motivation and abilities.

People like Jorge, Roger and others who I have worked with have amazing skills and knowledge. They do things differently to me but it’s easy to accept that because of what they achieve. For others it is more challenging.  

There is another post here about the banal and bland, sometimes sycophantic conversations that take place at work where people don’t really challenge others about what they do or so. Not because they think they are great but because they dont want to be challenged themselves. Seeing the good in everyone however small is good but developing it with them a bit harder. 

Withnail and I

Roger has a nail in the rear tyre of his 955i Daytona Triumph. He is therefore Withnail. I am therefore I. 

We have known each other for 15 years give or take a few days, from when he started at the old Red Hat Guildford office. Over the years we’ve shared both work and social memories most involving lots of laughter. A recent day in the Farnborough office was just simply very funny for a number of reasons including someone posting instructions on how to draw an owl. (See below).  Like any good friendship it has high and low points and lots of changes since we met. Between us we’ve got married, divorced, had kids,  had kids leave home and generally had a lot of life.  Lost contact a bit during Rogers wilderness years in the porn industry but he came back to Red Hat in 2008. 

There are lots of stories from getting our bacon stolen by otters whilst camping on the island of Harris through to having to watch a Cisco engineer with a massive hairy crack for a day.  

You never appreciate what you have until you don’t have it and friendships are things you need you nuture and appreciate as you go not just reflecting.

Roger is known for his inventions, which are noteable as they’ve usually been invented by someone else before.  Google glasses for example:-) 
The nail in his tyre will involve some faff in Santander for sure but it’s always worth it in the long run and you will always get back more than you put it. 

Zurich 7am

I travel a lot, but still when you when you wake up sometimes you feel disconnected from reality. Usually after waking up at some point in the night (in this case 3am) and then falling back to sleep, you subsequently wake with the alarm. 

Though awake isn’t quite the right work. It’s a mixed state somewhere between awake and asleep where drowsiness covers the mind and soul. You are thinking slowly and thoughtfully. Usually if you have a non routine day (office and tram route not taken before, new customer) then you might plan these through. But you also are able to thing deeply and your minds eye is able to image things you want in a way that you might actually feel you are touching them. 

This isn’t a pre brekkie ereccie as such (though I always wondered what the cause of that it is) but it is something sensual which drags you in. It doesn’t happen often though first morning in Lier is a time when I can find it.

Sometimes when I do eventually drag myself out of bed I am disappointed than I’m not in Lier and that Sophie is not here either.
If you start the day with level of feeling and inner soul enabled you find yourself with it all day. Even during a meeting or when working on a document you are still yearning for that feeling of half concious and thinking about you inside. 

Selfish indulgence yes, but why not. It doesn’t cost anything. Inward reflection is good to establish who you are which is in itself and important factor in self belief and self determination. 

Whether you are travelling for business or pleasure. 

According to Eurostar you cannot do both. Travelling for work can be a pleasure usually based on the conversations and observations you make. This is much truer for train travel rather than air travel, where making it a pleasure is far more difficult. 

I’ve mentioned observation before so should focus on conversation. A couple of weeks ago it involved discussions on pharmokenetics and the quality of science which made the 2 hour journey go by pretty quickly. This week it’s a couple of words with The Man in Seat 31 but that’s also fine. Gives me time to write this. The website looks at the best seat on the Eurostar based on the fact you don’t need to talk to anyone rather actually interact. 

You need conversation and stimulation to talk about things and then time to think and write up. Maybe I am ready like George Orwell to up sticks to Jura to write based on the observations and conversations I have had on the world at large.  For last year’s Cambrian Way maybe I did too much walking rather than enough thinking  (and maybe that’s why I need to do it again). 

Thinking and writing is always a pleasure you can always have when travelling for business. Taking your mind there from time to time is a good thing.