Wraithlike in Oxford black

Oleh Ilnyckyj and Milan Ilnyckyj

In an hour, my father and I are attending the high table dinner in Wadham. This has been my first occasion to wear the Scholar’s Gown that Alex and Bryony gave me – and which I am entitled to wear instead of the normal graduate student gown because of being a Wadham College Senior Scholar. Between the longer and fuller bottom section and the broad sleeves, I felt distinctly wraith-like, walking around on this chilly night at the end of November. I will readily admit that wearing sub fusc is rather better when you feel ghoulish as a result than when you merely feel self-conscious.

Either tomorrow or Saturday, my father and I will head off to London, on our way to Istanbul. Hopefully, we will have the chance to see Sarah W, while we are there.

[Update: 10:00pm] Sorry to have not been writing more interesting things lately. I have been utterly sapped of energy for days now, partly on account of a still wildly erratic sleep pattern. The last time I can recall feeling genuinely energetic and sharp in thinking was back on the 21st or 22nd. Hopefully, that will change before I get to Istanbul.

Many thanks to Robert Shilliam, my college advisor, with helping so much in the arrangement of the high table dinner for my father and I tonight.

The coming break

Mentally glancing over the tasks I have set for myself over the winter break, I am a bit daunted:

  1. See Turkey (4-16 December)
  2. Complete and submit papers for developing world seminar
  3. Complete a very considerable amount of thesis reading
  4. Write a draft of the first three thesis chapters: Introduction, Literature Review, and Background to Case Studies
  5. Substantially advance the process of finding a job for next year
  6. Complete tasks that have been in my “important but not urgent” pile for weeks of months – for example, reading some papers people have sent and reconfiguring part of the OUSSG webpage
  7. Find something to do for Christmas?

That said, there are six entire weeks to work with. If I can cajole my brain into a productive mode and keep it there (through the application of coffee and tasty stir-fries), the above list should be manageable.

Going into the next term with half the thesis written will certainly reduce the depth to which I descend into madness as that April 22nd deadline approaches.

New interface for comedic news

Comedy Central has rolled out a new interface for showing Daily Show and Colbert Report clips. The player seems to be rather more stable than the previous version, with no errors discernible in Firefox 2.0 and Mac OS X. The videos themselves are a bit bigger and seem to load faster. Perhaps the biggest improvement is that clip videos now play in sequence, in the order in which the bits were included in the actual episode.

The two biggest new problems are that the window in which the videos now play is very large and cluttered, and that video advertisements are now shown before the first clip you watch and sometimes in between them. For me, this is an acceptable price to pay for an improved viewing experience. It was very annoying to have to go through them one by one before, especially given how about one in three would encounter an error that prevented it from loading.

It would be better to just have it all on YouTube, but I can understand that Comedy Central needs to extract advertising dollars from we web-viewers. Of course, I won’t be de-activating my AdBlock extension or the Filterset G updater for it anytime soon. After a few weeks of using it, the web seems truly garish when viewed in a normal web browser. You need never be troubled by annoying banners again. Flashblock is also a godsend, since almost all the flash on the web is either advertising or potentially malicious.

Touring south Oxford

Iason Gabriel, Claire Leigh, Milan Ilnyckyj, Bryony Lau, Alex Stummvoll, and Emily Paddon

Most of today was spent giving my father a fairly comprehensive tour of Oxford: south of Wadham College. Starting at Wadham, we went up Hollywell Street to New College where we saw the walls, mound, and cloisters. Then we carried on to Manor Road and the Department of Politics and International Relations. Down Longwall Street, we came to the High Street and headed up to Carfax. On the way, we ducked into Queen’s College, University College, and All Souls. We also picked up the Scholar’s Gown that Alex and Bryony so thoughtfully gave me for my birthday.

On the way to lunch at the Vault and Gardens, we had the good fortune to run into Claire, Emily, Iason, Alex, and Bryony. It would have been hard to arrange so fortuitous an encounter. From there, we took a bit of a detour to see Nuffield College and the Oxford Castle. After a lunch involving excellent marinated tofu (I asked the staff how it was prepared), we went up St. Aldates Street, past Christ Church, to the Folly Bridge. Before reaching the bridge, we ducked into the magistrates court, at my father’s request, and watched a few minutes of a trial.

We then walked along the Isis to see the Greylag Geese. I have never seen the river so swollen with rainwater. The bank is almost completely submerged and the River Cherwell (normally a tranquil spot for punting) had an aggressive rate of flow. Walking along it, near Magdalen College, I saw that a number of sports fields have been flooded.

After heading back up the High Street to Carfax, we got some coffee and then went to have a look at Blackwell’s. All told, we were walking for about five and a half hours. I am now left with the time between now and dinner (with Claire and my father) to work on readings for tomorrow’s seminar. Even when you are very tired, it can be rather satisfying and fun to just crash along.

Fraud via disappearing ink

A particularly cunning sort of fraud is occurring in the UK right now: someone comes to your door and convinces you to donate to worthy charity X. You agree, and bring out your chequebook. The fraudster hands you their pen, to fill out the cheque. The ink of of a vanishing sort and, after the transaction, the fraudster traces your signature from the groove in the paper, (generally) re-writes the original amount for the cheque, then puts their own name as the payee. Since most people only check amounts (and banks check nothing at all, unless the customer asserts that fraud has taken place) the fraudster makes off with however many charitable donations.

My personal inclination is to see this as one more among many reasons why cheques are no longer a decent form of payment.

Six days to Turkey

Back Quad, Wadham College

I am now thoroughly excited about the upcoming trip to Istanbul. Before starting My Name is Red, my general notions about the Mediterranean had me expecting it to be fairly warm, if not as much so as Malta was in March. Now, I am expecting the real possibility of snowfall. Judging by my weather widget, the temperatures there are not incomparable to those in Oxford.

One more seminar and two reasonably short papers to write, largely on the basis of reading that has already been done: it will be quite a relief to have finished all elements of the Developing World seminar, with the exception of the three hour exam at the end of Trinity.

It would be easier to think of things to say if I weren’t so utterly exhausted. Hopefully, a bit of sleep before the OUSSG meeting will make my brain feel less as though there is a sea urchin knocking back and forth between my ears.

PS. Many thanks to Claire, who kindly took me for lunch at St. Cross today. For the uninitiated, it is widely believed to be the best lunch at any college. Quite unexpectedly, eating there also led to my seeing Dennis Danielson – the instructor for my Honours Milton course back at UBC. Of all the instructors I had at UBC, he seems the sort who could most easily cross over into Oxford style academia.

Recommendation for moderately priced digicams

Canon Powershot A510 in mirror

In the last couple of days, three people have asked me for recommendations on point and shoot digital cameras (must be on account of Christmas approaching). In the $250-$350ish range, I don’t think you can beat the Canon Powershot A series. The digital camera that I use is an old Powershot A510 (3.2 megapixel). Nowadays, I would choose one of these:

(Model – Price in C$ – Megapixels – Largest Good Prints)
A530 – $249.99 – 5MP – 6 x 8″ at 300 DPI
A540 – $299.99 – 6MP – 7 x 10″ at 300 DPI
A630 – $399.99 – 8MP – 10 x 14″ at 300 DPI

All are far more than would be required to take photos to put online. If you start uploading images much bigger than 1024×768 pixels (half the maximum resolution on my 3.2MP camera), few people will thank you.

Aside from the number of pixels in the sensor, these cameras are all very similar. The reasons I recommend them are that they have good image quality, decent lenses, and a nice combination of manual and automatic controls. They are easy enough to use if you know nothing about photography, and flexible enough that they can be used quite creatively. Dollar for dollar, my A510 is surely the best camera I have ever owned (a fact that would remain true even if I bought a snazzy digital SLR like the Rebel XTi).

Every photo in the following albums was taken using my A510, though they have been scaled down from the maximum resolution (2048×1546) to just 800 pixels, measured along the longer edge:

Other recent albums include both film and digital shots. Look at the details below, for Photo.net hosted images, to see what equipment was used.

[Update: 30 November 2006] This was the photo previously at the top of this post (thumbnail). It was one of very few photos that I have that include the A510, but it isn’t very good. The photo now atop this post was originally posted here. Because this one page of the blog was getting so much traffic, I decided to make the switch. It helps to not seem photographically inept, when you are trying to give people advice about cameras.

Hearing too many clock tower booms

For non-coincidental reasons, I have been reading about Delayed Sleep Phase Syndrome tonight. The terms used to describe it are certainly most familiar:

People with DSPS tend to be extreme night owls. They feel most alert and say they function best and are most creative in the evening and at night. DSPS patients cannot simply force themselves to sleep early. They may toss and turn for hours in bed.

By the time DSPS patients seek medical help, they usually have tried many times to change their sleeping schedule. Failed tactics to sleep at earlier times may include relaxation techniques, early bedtimes, hypnosis, alcohol, sleeping pills, dull reading, and home remedies. DSPS patients who have tried using sedatives at night often report that the medication makes them feel tired or relaxed, but that it fails to induce sleep. They often have asked family members to help wake them in the morning, or they have used several alarm clocks.

I have certainly tried shifting my sleep schedule through a whole day more times that I care to recollect. Apparently, some doctors even prescribe Modafinil – the most wondrous of the wonder drugs – as a treatment for DSPS. This Calvin and Hobbes strip captures the situation quite well.

At least sleeplessness leaves me with plenty of time to read. I would be willing to venture that a big part of reaching the place I occupy today was played countless nights in elementary school spent reading until the (horribly annoying) sound of birds chirping in the morning became audible. Already, I am more than 1/3 of the way through My Name is Red and making good progress on this week’s Economist.

I am not sure whether it is comforting or not to read that: “Some DSPS-friendly careers include computer programming, work in theatre, the media, freelance writing, and taxi or truck driving.”

PS. As well as contributing to the above, Facebook and instant message programs have taught me a great deal about which of my friends are almost certainly up and looking at a computer screen at 4:00am. Wikipedia says that well under 1% of people in general have DSPS. Among my friends, I would guess that the figure is at least ten to twenty times that.

If you can’t open it, you don’t own it


Make, a community of tinkerers and open-source affectionados, has published a list of gift suggestions. Some of their projects look really cool. Among them:

They are also selling a neat Leatherman warranty voider, in case you know a geek that does not yet have a multi-tool. (I have two: a Swisstool X and a little SOG Crosscut on my keychain). Their philosophy of “If you can’t open it, you don’t own it” is increasingly relevant in a world where manufacturers are allowing fewer and fewer things to be done by those who purchase their products.

I have long been a huge fan of open source software. The blog runs on Redhat Linux, using Apache Server, and both WordPress and MediaWiki are open source projects. All of these pieces of software can be used for free, even more usually, your right to take them apart and rebuild is limited only by your creativity. Wikipedia is probably the best website ever created, and it is all about collective effort and shared information.