Just Act Normalised

Long Story

I’ve just finished my first real college assignment, an analysis of database normalisation!

I know what ‘database normalisation’ means!

Or I think I do. But after having only four hours’ sleep in the last 48, I pretty much think I understand the universe.

Just a little worried that I’ll get it back marked “We said ‘Show your rationale’, not ‘Show you’re irrational’.”

Hello World

Protesting in Frankfurt

It’s something of a tradition that the simplest possible program, and therefore the first one you’ll ever write, is one that prints out “Hello World“. It’s cute and sweet because it makes the computer seem intelligent and aware – if only just.

I know how it feels. So I’m dropping by here to say hello to the world. I haven’t seen much of it, living as I am in a tunnel of projects and meetings and assignments. And yes, programming.

Also, to say that if you’re in Galway now’s your chance to march with the lovely people from Ballyhea in their ongoing protest against giving all our money to reckless and irresponsible bankers. You know, the ones I went to Frankfurt with. And when I say march, to be honest it’s more a saunter. Despite the seriousness of the issue it’s as good-humoured a protest as you’re likely to find. They’re forming up at the station corner of Eyre Square at 10:45. I urge you to join in.

Further details of this and other protest venues on Bondwatch Ireland.

And for the record, my first attempt at a program printed out “Hello Golfcart”.

It’s a little buggy.

Limerick Pictures

Once again, my apologies for being a lousy correspondent. At some point or points I will switch tracks and be able to write to you engagingly about the new world I’m exploring here. But as of now my brain is overloaded. I’ve written my first computer programs, built a database by hand, interviewed people, held project meetings. It’s been a month and a half. I feel like my thumb has been jammed down on the fast forward button. I’d like to tell you about all that I’ve learned, but it seems less like learning and more like being swept out to sea on a tide of knowledge. I don’t think I have the authority to explain any of it yet.

This is a polite way of saying that I have no idea what I’m doing.

So meanwhile, some more pictures from my wonderful visit to Skycon at the University of Limerick. UL is a young university and so has one of the most modern and impressive campuses in the country, though it can’t compete with what we have in NUI Galway of course.

OK… What the freaking freak is that? The department of bizarre architecture? We don’t have one of those.

And I bet these buildings hardly look impressive at all when the sun isn’t shining.

Another shot of that “Living Bridge” over the mighty Shannon. Our campus has a bridge too though. Actually, our campus is crossed by a bridge.

A bit of nature for ye now. It was a lovely day for invisible spiders.

Back in the hotel after, with the gang from NUI Galway’s Computer Society. (The decent hotel where Randall Munroe was put up. We stayed in a Travelodge, a sort of footlocker for people.) What is everyone looking at with such interest – a video perhaps? Cartoons? No. Server logs. They’re using phones to view what’s happening on the club computers.

I know I’m going to like these people.

Randall Munroe in Limerick

They carry him back to their village and worship him as their god

You might expect someone who thinks so much and so deeply about mathematics and science to be socially uncomfortable with the normal humans, but Randall Munroe is an engaging and amusing speaker – both in front of a lecture theatre audience and over dinner later.

This was at Skycon’12, a really good weekend conference put on by the University of Limerick‘s computer society. Other speakers included Mark Shuttleworth, creator of Ubuntu Linux, and…

OK, how many people have I lost already? I need to remember that not everyone is immersed in Geek culture, even now. Randall Munroe is hugely famous; possibly the second most famous person I’ve met. After Colonel Sanders.

But he’s not… TV famous, for want of a better term. Not public property.

I spend much of my social life in a world where everyone but everyone knows who Randall Munroe is. That world is congruent with the other one – you’ll find XKCD fans in every country of every continent – but it is still a shadow world. You’d be forgiven for thinking that Geek culture is mainstream now, what with everyone being on Facebook and all, but really most people just hang around the gateway to the other realm.

And so he can have literally millions of fans – of which I am certainly one – yet still speak at an obscure conference in a small city, and have a quiet dinner after with friendly and only slightly overawed strangers. If you’re going to be famous, I think that may be the way to do it.

Definitely not Frank McCourt’s Limerick.

I Still Deny lt's Autumn

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It’s a little bit of America in the garden, really. Behind, entirely covering a disused shed, we have virginia creeper. In front, a staghorn sumac. I wonder if there’s any reason these two lurid plants should come from the north-eastern Atlantic seaboard. Maple too, come to think of it.

Is there some predator there that can’t see the colour red? Just as it’s getting hungry, all the trees suddenly go invisible. Fiendishly clever.