Milan: Creature of the night

Telephone in Claire's flat

One seeming property of the end of term is that I am becoming properly, vampirically nocturnal. My mean sleeping time is pushing onwards and onwards towards dawn, as my mean waking time descends past noon and into the afternoon. I hope the powers will follow the lifestyle, if not the thirst for blood. At some point, it’s a trend that will need to be beaten back. For now, it feels like a fairly appropriate extension of my personality and general state in the world.

Unfortunately, it seems that I won’t be seeing my mother in March, on her way to Iran. According to a message she sent me today, she was denied a visa on the grounds that she has American citizenship, worked for the American government, and is a feminist. I don’t know how the Iranian screening process would have identified the last item, or why they would be particularly concerned about it for a tourist, but it must be highly disappointing for her. I hope her appeal will be successful.

In an inspired piece of bureaucratic nonsense, I got yet another letter from NatWest today. This one says that, after receiving my fax, two sets of written instructions, and going to my home branch so they could record and verify my signature, they need to send banking details to my permanent address, in Canada. This is so that I can use their web banking and actually know how much I need to pay off for my credit card. They say they can only send the precious access code to a permanent address, for security purposes. Even though I won’t be there and it will surely be opened by someone else who will send it to me by email, this is obviously an intelligent security step. Their concern is that they think the code will expire before I am able to get it: perhaps because they are planning to send it by elite-trained homing pigeon. Given the fact that Britain is a major exporter of financial services, you would think they might have the slightest smattering of sense about such things.

Claire’s party tonight, at Wellington Square, was good fun. Somehow, the people present, the decor, and the overall character of the experience were all reminiscent of parties in Kits, such as the one where I met Meaghan Beattie, during my UBC years. In particular, the much-enjoyed and somewhat infamous ‘Dirty House’ parties. That’s not a pejorative description, in any sense, but a reflection of a kind of academic-bohemian fusion upon which good parties are often predicated. I ended up talking about Pink Floyd and biofuels with several individuals. I also got involved in a passionate and protracted argument about the plausibility of string theory, and the likelihood that evidence for it will be found at CERN. Ah, Oxford. My thanks to Claire for the invitation.

Now, I should get to sleep.

  • Nick has some very nice photos from India on his blog.
  • My brother Mica is looking for comments on his videos. If you leave them here or send them to me, I can pass them on. See if you can spot my brother Sasha in this one (it’s not hard).
  • Here are links to my Oxford Facebook photos, for non-members.
  • The third book of the five part trilogy called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fell out of an eddy in the space-time continuum and onto my hard drive. I have been enjoying it.

Further commentary from Mr. Bitters

Whatever compelled my fellow Wadham students to mark the end of term with an off-key, drunken sing-along lasting until well after 3:00am, I cannot understand. I can, however, be justifiably irked about it – particularly since it happened in the room with which I share a wall.

There aren’t even any quiet hour regulations or residence advisors to report them to here.

[Edited to add:] On an unrelated note, people should consider taking action against Sony for intentionally deploying malware against their own paying customers, lying about it, releasing patches that make it worse, and never showing any contrition or concern about illegally sabotaging people’s computers:Image hosted by

Queer Bop Update 10:30pm

Queer Bop Tent

The Queer Bop is now in full swing and several aspects of it are quite shocking to me. Firstly, whoever bought guest tickets wasted their money. There is no access control whatsoever and anyone who would want to can wander right in. Secondly, there are no college staff present at all, except for three frantic men working the bar. Given the sub-zero temperatures, the scanty standard of dress, and the excessive consumption of alcohol, all this strikes me as quite irresponsible. Outside the JCR Bar, I saw three goosebump-covered young women vomiting on the ground beside one another. I don’t think you could get away with this sort of thing on North America’s litigious shores.


[Edited at 11:30] There are security people now and things are a bit calmer. Still far too cold and noisy for me – brand me a spoilsport.

Queer Bop Costumes

Statistics ER: A play in one act

Dramatis Personae:

Dr. Von Spatz: Haggard and unshaven, Dr. Spatz carries a clipboard and coffee cup. Bleary eyed, he has the tendency to rave very slightly at times.

Nurse Wilhelm: Beautiful, but shrill, Nurse Wilhelm wears a freshly pressed, very white nurse’s uniform and fiddles with various medical instruments and sensors.


Patient: Convulsing and comatose, in alternating fashion.

NURSE WILHELM, clearly in a state of considerable agitation, stands beside a gurney in the crowded ER, frantically looking at a chart, then at the clock, and back to the chart again. 

Through the double doors, SPATZ enters, cup of coffee in hand.

WILHELM: Thank God you’re here, doctor! He’s been heteroskedastic for the last twenty minutes!

SPATZ: (wearily) What’s your confidence level, nurse? Don’t think that your frantic and increasingly standard deviations from close medical practice are going unnoticed.

WILHELM: The p-value is .08 and rising, doctor! He’s regressing!

SPATZ: (more alarmed) Multivariate? Have you checked the concavity?

WILHELM: His r-squared has been falling ever since we took the log of the dependent variable.

SPATZ: Adjusted r-squared?

WILHELM: Also falling! Now at 0.13!

SPATZ: (whistles softly) Houston, we have an endogeneity problem.

WILHELM: Shall I induce multicollinearity, doctor? The data are increasingly dyadic.

SPATZ: Nurse, drop the outliers and set his IQR to red. STATA!

WILHELM: It’s no good, doctor, I can’t reject the null hypothesis! His t-test scores are neither unimodal nor symmetric.

INTERN enters and begins watching with a shocked expression. Noticing him, SPATZ turns to address him.

SPATZ: There’s not much we can do when we get them in this late, I’m afraid. It’s a standard error of people to wait until the variance is far too large, before bringing it to our attention.

Looks down into his coffee cup.

SPATZ: Some nights, it breaks my heart. Makes me think life’s nothing more than one big scatter plot for us to try and put a best-fit line through. Every time you think you’ve minimized the square of the residuals, some new outlier crops up to throw the whole thing off again. Sometimes… I wonder why I even bother.

INTERN: Because you’re a doctor, dammit, Spatz! Or have you forgotten your own causation? I remember when you used to run DFBETA tests all the time; now, you just throw away the outliers like yesterday’s newspaper.

SPATZ: Maybe you’re right… Maybe you’re right… Nurse, I am straightening up my game. Our relationship has been spurious all along, it’s only your close correlation with Nurse Whimpleton that has made it seem significant.

WILHELM: (gasps)

SPATZ: As for this poor fellow, make sure to check the interaction terms earlier next time.

Stats update and adventures in New College

Formal Hall, New College

Today’s statistics lab was a big improvement over the previous ones. Mark Pickup was absent, due to illness, but Robert Trager began the class by responding directly to our letter. He was understanding and sympathetic and both this week’s lab and this week’s assignment reflect a welcome change in methods and focus. We spent only half the lab working on STATA, with the rest devoted to discussing the statistical methodology behind an actual paper published in a major political science journal. For next week, we have been given another, as well as some responses to it, to look over and analyze. This feels far more relevant, and it is also an affirmation of the willingness of those running the program to change tack in response to our concerns. Professor Sir Adam Roberts, Director of Graduate Studies in International Relations , also issued an official statement today. Aside from all else, it is nice to be listened to.

After the lab, I went to G and D’s with Claire Leigh. She is taking a photography course, so we talked shop for a while before walking through the Christ Church meadows and then back up into Oxford. Like Roham and Emily, Claire formerly worked in banking. To be honest, words like ‘banking’ and ‘consulting’ have almost no substantive content for me. I understand what it means to clean an apartment building, or feed sloughs, or sell computers, but I don’t really understand what these positions involve, or if I could ever do them. That said, a few more pounds in the new NatWest account would do much to reduce my anxiety about paying for next year.

The dinner at New College tonight was very nice. I sat with Madjdy, Roham, and two more of Madjdy’s friends. The conversation, at times, was quite impassioned, but it was wonderful to pass a few hours of the evening engaged in heated debate with interesting people. After dinner, I had a bit of a wander around the New College cloisters with an employee of the Oxford career services, who also claims that she can get me a good summer job. Happily, she provided the two pounds by which unlimited drinks would be furnished to me in the New College MCR. I haven’t really the energy to get into details of tonight here and now. Indeed, there is a lot of night remaining.

Milan (Prazak) Ilnyckyj: definitive guide to pronunciation

Part I: Ilnyckyj

While it looks fearsome, this part of the name is quite easy. It is pronounced: ill-knit-ski, as in sick-crochet-snowboard.

Part II: Milan

For starters, how do you know if you are pronouncing it wrong?

If you pronounce the first syllable ‘mah’, as in “Mah name is Slim, what’s y’urs?” you are pronouncing it wrong. If you pronounce it ‘my’, as in “My blasted quadruped has scampered,” you are also pronouncing it wrong.

The first syllable is ‘mill’ as in: “Let’s head down to the Old Mill, where I hear John Stewart Mill has cooked up his famous cider.”

If you pronounce the second syllable ‘lawn’, you are pronouncing it wrong. This is especially bad if you used ‘mah’ as the first syllable, because then the two together sound like you’re saying: “Mah lawn needs watering.” Lynn, as in Lynn Creek or Linseed Oil, is also incorrect for the last syllable.

The right way to pronounce it is ‘lhun’, as in London.

The hardest part of all is properly timing and stressing those two syllables: mill-lhun. The l-sound should be pronounced twice, with a brief pause between them and the first l-sound lasting quite a bit longer than the second. This part takes practice, but frankly I would be rather pleased just to see the errors described above diminish somewhat in their frequent usage among my friends.

Part III: Prazak

My middle name is pronounced prah-Jacques and not pray-zack or prah-zack.

So, there you have it: Milan Ilnyckyj = mill-lhun ill-knit-ski. Perhaps it will help you remember that ILL-KNIT-SKI is like SICK-CROCHET-SNOWBOARD.

Just drifting

Inside the DPIR

After a month in Oxford, you begin to realize the extent to which this is nothing like a unified institution. I don’t have the foggiest idea about who coordinates the departments and the colleges, if anyone. I’ve never had to deal with them. The closest I’ve come is some vague contact with pan-university organizations, such as inter-college mail or the university computer services. Ultimately, this place is a million academic niches; a weird underwater ecosystem where it is equally possible to thrive and be eaten by a barracuda.

This morning, I headed over to the Manor Road Building to work on statistics. I ended up banging off a strongly worded letter to the people at the department responsible for course organization. The extent to which stats is interfering with everything else I am trying to do, while not conferring anything of value upon me, is just not tolerable anymore. I finished the second assignment but, after getting 58% on the first one for failure to use the right sort of graphs and label them as desired, I am not confident. I feel rather better about the paper for Dr. Hurrell, which has now been delivered to a Nuffield pigeon hole.

I finally met my college advisor today. I dropped by the tutorial office to say hello to Joanna – my favourite Wadham employee – and discovered that Dr. Paul Martin was in the room at the time. We’ve now exchanged a few emails. It seems that he will be organizing some kind of tea with his various neglected charges in the days ahead.

Soon, I hope, I will have the chance to head down to London. Getting out of the three kilometre circle that is defining and enclosing my life might be empowering. I don’t particularly have anything to do in London, or any money to do it with, but I am definitely open to suggestion.

On a completely different note, I’ve decided to try taking photographic requests. You post something from Oxford that you want to see, whether specific or more theoretical, and I will see what I can do to capture it on a digital sensor.1 Please keep in mind that this blog is meant to be the kind of thing that bright young eleven year olds who dream of going to Oxford one day can read. Well, almost.

[1] This idea has nothing at all to do with how boring photos of computers and libraries can be.

Public service announcement

Windows users should be aware that several companies are now making music CDs that actively sabotage your computer: both by preventing it from being able to make mp3s and by installing trojan horse software that monitors and manipulates what you can do. Sony Music is among those companies. Luckily, you can get around most of it by disabling the autorun feature in Windows XP.

During the next few years, in all kinds of areas, we need to deal with the issue of intellectual property. We need to decide when countries can violate the patents of drug firms, either due to short term emergencies like an avian flu or long term ones like AIDS, We need to decide what fair use means, with regards to copyrighted materials, in an age where copying and distribution has become so much easier. We need to decide what to do about patents, which have the serious potential to be exploited and hamper both innovation and the public welfare, while confering underserved monopolies on those who hold them.

Whatever the answers to these questions are, and some of them are really very tricky, I don’t think they can legitimately involve the kind of backhanded dealing described in the first paragraph here. I don’t buy music from the iTunes music store, for the simple reason that I have no reason to believe I will still be able to use that music five years from now, or on a different computer or device. The nature of ownership, when it comes to things like software and music, is becoming ephemeral and uncertain – except for those people who have illegal copies that evade these feeble protections anyhow. I remember how, with my legitimately bought copy of Half Life 2, I needed to muck around for hours with registration, web updates, and a little Steam applet that seriously restricts how and when you can use the software which you bought. My friends who downloaded it from one or another peer-to-peer service just played.

Happy Birthday Lana Rupp

Blurry Milan in Green College. Photo by Emily PaddonI had written another omnibus entry for today, all arrayed in neat paragraphs, but after attending the research forum Bilyana invited me to, I think I can do better.

Today, I had my first real pang of intellectual exhaustion. The whole day was like wading through mucky weed-strewn bog: unpleasant, unproductive, and liable to make you question why you are where you are and whether you should set yourself trudging towards the nearest edge of the mire. While I was sitting in the back of the room – peppered with fellows, cheeses, and ports – I decided that if I am going to carry on to a PhD, I absolutely must do something else first. Something in a world far removed from this and hopefully more connected to the world which all this purports to examine.

The irony of the moment is that graduate work is so much more haphazard and general than the last years at UBC were. Here, we have no choice about what we study. Worse, we are thrown at narrow questions without any real context, without the perspective to judge and speak with authority or relevance. We’re just picking up books and trying to smash through windows with them and, beyond identifying who can handle it and who cannot, we’re not achieving a thing.

I realize that such criticisms themselves lack balance and long-term perspective, but it’s often better to express an idea when it is still unsteady and vital: before the addition of stabilizing girders makes it impotent.

Time with Emily

Radcliffe Camera

I got my jabs this morning and then spent an agonizing few hours trying to deal with the Bank of Monteal, NatWest, and the Domestic Bursary. The last of those is open for exactly three hours a day and the first has all of its computer servers down for maintenance. Meanwhile, NatWest seems to think that it will take as long as 28 days for a wire transfer from Canada to actually clear, even after the Bank of Montreal charges me $120 for it. To just deposit a normal cheque from BMO into NatWest could apparently take twice as long, all while the college is imposing a 26% rate of interest on outstanding fees. This information I passed to the secretary of the Domestic Bursar, who says she will check if I can get an extension. I still haven’t heard anything about paying my tuition fees, which are about three times as large at my battels.

After finally leaving Wadham, around 11:30, I went and bought my first Venti dark roast in England, at a cost of £1.75 (C$3.63). The Starbucks on Cornmarket, near the intersection with the High Street, is quite enormous and extends back from the roadway like a burrow. While there, I learned that Sulawesi here costs £8.80 (C$18.30) a pound. Since drip coffee in cups costs 1.73 times as much here, and ground coffee is only 1.18 times as expensive, the logic of buying a French press becomes plain. I will take a look at Boswell’s after my classes tomorrow.

After a bit of coffee and solo reading, I met Emily on the south side of the Radcliffe Camera and took her into the Codrington Library, where we read for a few hours. The combination of the setting and the company worked very well for me. I finished Avi Shlaim’s book and this week’s Economist. Possibly due to the coffee, I felt that I retained much more of what I read. Afterwards, Emily and I discussed the core seminar topic for tomorrow, walked to Wadham, and then sauntered over to St. Antony’s. Like Nuffield, it is an all-graduate college, focused on the social sciences, and difficult to become a member of. Located northwards, past Rhodes House and Keble College, though not as far off as St. Hugh’s, it is situated at the intersection of Bevington and Woodstock roads. I saw it only extremely briefly, but I would definitely like to return. As the last major IR library where I am not registered to read, I have a particular as well as a general impetus to do so.

I quite like Emily and am delighted that she has invited me for dinner at St. Antony’s this Thursday. With a mother from British Columbia, now living in Vermont, and a father who lives in Oxford, I suppose she would be the ideal liaison between this culture and then one I was embedded in for twenty years previously. Her areas of interest at the moment centre on the role of media in warfare and the issue of humanitarian intervention and the responsibility to protect. Both seem to me like issues likely to provoke long and interesting discussions.

This evening, I have been reading Fromkin’s hefty The Peace to End All Peace, drinking tea, and preparing an outline for the presentation I have a 1/6 chance of being called upon to deliver tomorrow morning. Fromkin’s entire book is directly relevant to this week’s question, though it far exceeds my capability to read the bulk of six hundred dense pages during the evening of a day that has already been well saturated with differing views on the character of post-Ottoman Syndrome. I will also read Michelle’s paper and at least begin to edit Emily’s before I go to sleep. Wisdom in a coffee press, indeed.

With a two page outline written up, I feel fairly well prepared for the eventuality that I will be called upon to present tomorrow. I must make an effort to understand the nature of examinations here and thus what portion of this material I will be required or expected to retain. If I knew for certain that these outlines would at least help me revise, they would seem less like a gamble on an unlikely outcome. Of course, Dr. Hurrell has indicated that he wants an essay on the Middle East peace settlement after WWI at some point. I shall ask him when on Wednesday, when we are to discuss my paper on German and Austrio-Hungarian war guilt. I must also remember to press him about writing me a letter for the Commonwealth Scholarship, as Allen Sens has already done.

Having to develop a comprehensive answer to a specific question definitely requires a lot more reading than simple participation in a seminar would. In the latter scenario, all you need are a few clever observations on topics relevant to the discussion, to be deployed at various points throughout the discussion as testaments to the power of your insight. Having to take a stand on such a huge question leaves you with long and undefended borders to the territory of your knowledge, all of them vulnerable to those who actually have a broad understanding of the theory and history involved.