Monday, October 28, 2013

Blocked lines

I was supposed to be giving a paper at the ICS seminar today on 'The bloom of youth'.  (That might sound deceptively interesting.  In fact, I go on for quite a long time about Aristotle, NE 10.4 1174b31–3.)  Unfortunately, I couldn't make it.  Although the weather here in Cambridge has been quite nice -- at least it has been since about 9.30 this morning -- there have been no trains from Cambridge either to King's Cross or to Liverpool Street.  I suppose that the lines have been blocked by trees and other debris from the 'St Jude storm'.  With luck, I will be able to reschedule the paper.  So, I instead got an afternoon in my office trying to catch up on the annoying admin that I would rather have left undone so I could go to London and meet some friends and talk about some ancient philosophy.  Drat.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Keeling Colloquium 2013

This is going to be good.  I'm afraid I won't make it myself because of teaching commitments in Cambridge, but it looks like a very good line-up.  You can find more details if you click on the poster.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Can you hear me? Can you see me?

Yesterday, I spent from 2-10.30pm in the Faculty in a video-conference with Columbia and Göttingen.  (It was for a volume on the sections of Diogenes Laertius book 9 devoted to Pyrrhonism.)  It didn't start well: the Faculty's Computer Officer and I had set up a (very) new Skype-enabled Smart TV in one of the Faculty's lecture rooms but it turned out that my electronic key would not let me in to that particular room on a Saturday.  Fortunately, that could be sorted out remotely after a quick phone call.

The Smart TV...

But then, when the call came in from Columbia, we found out that this TV, although it has a Skype application built-in, won't do video conference calls.  Conference calls are OK; video calls are OK but not video conference calls.  Drat.  Another phone call and the Computer Officer rushes in to let us into another room and set up a camera and mic for a computer attached to a video projector.  Now we could in principle do what was needed.  (The TV will be fine, I think, for one-to-one Skype-ing.  We have to do that a lot more now for e.g. interviews for graduate admissions.  And it must be better not to have a couple of us peering down a tiny laptop webcam at a poor student.)

So, at last we had a functioning system.  But then we discovered that Skype-ing like this is fine in principle but difficult in practice.  Over the course of the afternoon and early evening, the service became more patchy.  Perhaps as more people get up at the weekend and turn on their computers, the bandwidth gets clogged; perhaps if one of the participants is on WiFi rather than an Ethernet connection, things are delayed; perhaps the computers just get clogged up with long video calls.  Anyway, there was a regular need to ask people to repeat points or questions, the picture froze every so often, and we ended up having to reboot all the systems every hour or so.

Fortunately, things got better later on.  By 10.30pm, just when I was flagging, the connection seemed to improve.

What did I learn?  When it works smoothly, this is an excellent means of talking to people around the world and not much worse than being in a room together.  But it is not yet reliable or, at least, the connection it requires is not yet fast enough and reliable enough to make long conferences hassle-free.  I did, all the same, enjoy the experiment and I am glad I'm not rushing back from NYC today to teach on Monday.  I did, by the same token, miss out on a trip to NYC, but that's also rather better for my carbon footprint.

Give this a couple of years and I reckon it will be much better.  You might think it a shame if it cuts down on global academic travel, but it will also mean we talk much more to more people in more places.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Polite applause: update

Just a quickie.  After last week's ripple of applause after the first of my lectures to the 1A classicists, after the first of my lectures to the 1A philosophers, some of them banged the desks instead.  (I think this was meant to be a sign of appreciation.)  I hadn't come across this much before.  Is it a disciplinary thing?  (Philosophers bang; Classicists clap?)  A quick google suggests that table-banging is a parliamentary thing.  Or a Germanic thing.  Any other suggestions?

Friday, October 11, 2013

Responsibility and determinism

I was discussing Strawson and Frankfurt with the 1A philosophers this morning. This seems relevant, yeah?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Polite applause

I was on sabbatical last year so didn't do any lecturing.  And this year I get to give the first year Classics 'Introduction to Ancient Philosophy' lectures in the Michaelmas term.  As the timetabling worked out, that meant that this morning at 10am I gave what was for most of the students in the room their first lecture in Cambridge.  *(In this city, weeks begin on a Thursday.  Oh yes.)  Tough gig.  I might have put them off the whole business already.  'Is this what we've gone into life-long debt for?'

There are two weird things about lecturing this early in the term to students who have just started their courses.  First of all, most of them turn up.  There were 90-odd of them there today: not a big crowd compared with what they get in Law or in the Natural Sciences, but about as big as a standard lecture audience in Classics gets.  Second, at the end of the hour, they clapped.  They weren't sure whether they should but once a few decided to clap the others joined in.  Not for long and not without any great enthusiasm, but politely enough.  It was the kind you get at the end of a slightly ropey school assembly performance.  Sort of like this, except it didn't last as long.

I wonder when they will decide not to bother any more?

Monday, October 07, 2013

More death

I received today my author's copy of a new collection of essays from OUP edited by James Stacey Taylor.  It has this on the cover.  An appropriate image for the beginning of term.

I haven't read any of the other essays yet, but they look very interesting.  And, as hardbacks from OUP go, this isn't too expensive.