Archive for the ‘Me’ Category

Top Five Film Trilogies

I’ve been catching up on Filmspotting over the last few weeks (more alone driving – it actually works out well to be a bit behind, because it takes longer for many films to be released here, and many films I only get around to seeing once they hit DVD (and Fatso) anyway).  In #324 the top 5 list was trilogies, and I found I could come up with a list myself.

I have more stringent rules than Adam/Matty: the trilogy must tell a continuous story in all three films – it’s ideal if each film can stand alone as well, but there must be an overarching storyline that connects the three.  This means that a pair of sequels doesn’t count (e.g. Toy Story, Die Hard (before #4), Mission Impossible (before #4)), and it can’t be a ‘triple-feature’ (i.e. three films that are just connected in some way).  Like Filmspotting, all three films had to be good (e.g. no Matrix or Back to the Future).  This actually narrows it down a lot (most sets of three are movie+sequel+sequel or triple-features).

My top five:

  1. The Bourne Trilogy (The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy, The Bourne Ultimatum).  #3 on the Filmspotting (joint) top 5.  I guessed they’d pick this, and it’s well deserved.
  2. Star Trek 2-4 (The Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home).  Not normally considered a trilogy (but I’m certainly not the first to think that), but it is really – there’s a continuous story that runs through all three (clearest in the first two), although they stand especially well alone (better than the Star Wars films do), and if Episodes IV-VI can be considered a trilogy, then these ought to be able to as well.  These are clearly the best three of all the Star Trek films (including the 2009 one), and it’s often hard to rank them against each other  – i.e. the films in the trilogy are (for the most part) equally good, which is not common.
  3. Star Wars IV-VI (A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi).  Not considered for the Filmspotting lists because Star Wars (IV: A New Hope) is in the “pantheon”.  It’s pretty clear why these are great films (especially for the time), and they stand reasonably well on their own (much better than LotR), but definitely tell a continuous story.  Placed low because they are really #4, #5, and #6 in a series of six films (but they qualify because of the amount of time between the release of the first ones, and because they were released in this order, not #1, #,2, #3, (long gap), #4, #5, #6).
  4. The Lord of the Rings (Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, The Return of the King, all extended editions).  These are not great adaptations (the worst bits are all additions, and many parts are just badly done), but if you forget about the source material, then they are a really good set of films.  Placed low because (a) if you do consider the source material they are considerably worse, and (b) they don’t stand on their own very well at all.
  5. X-Men (X-Men, X2, The Last Stand).  I really struggled to come up with a number five (it was the Star Wars prequels for a long time, but having all six on the list is too much of  a cheat).  These films aren’t great, but they are ok, and there is something of an overall story, although they mostly stand alone.
Since writing this, I finally got around to seeing the Millennium Trilogy, and I’d put those at #2, bumping everything else down (sorry X-Men!).  The films are pretty dark, and I’m don’t usually watch many subtitled films, but they were very good, and clearly a trilogy, and of approximately equal quality (the first being the best, and oddly the third being the weakest).
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Possible gmail break-in

When I logged into gmail this morning, I saw the message that I dread the most – detection of an unusual access.  There was a connection (two days ago) from a server in Malaysia, although it’s actually an AWS server (Amazon web services).

There are two possibilities: the good one is that this is something that I’ve previously given access to my account, accessing it via an alternate method (e.g. Backupify can access my mail to back it up, and they use AWS) so that it showed up an unusual.  The bad one is that someone was using AWS to bulk-attack accounts and got in.

In favour of the good one, as far as I can tell, no email was sent – I can’t see anything amiss at all.  The email account is the central lockbox for everything, of course, so it’s possible that it was just used to break into other things, or the email content was retrieved.  My password (changed now, of course) was a random 8-character string of lower-case alphanumeric characters, so not particularly simple to break (although not difficult either, given sufficient resources).  I never give out the password to anything that I do not completely trust, and nor do I give out access via other methods (e.g. oauth, openid) unless I trust those services too.

I had intended to turn on two-factor identification, but hadn’t got to it yet.  I’ve done that now, for the main account at least.  My password is now over 30 characters long, including upper and lower case and punctuation – I probably should have changed this a while ago too.

For now, I’m leaning towards the good possibility, so I won’t be completely resetting everything that can send a password reminder to my gmail account.  I’ll be keeping an eye on things as closely as I can in the next week or so, though.  If you see anything suspicious come from me, please let me know.

An odd message

I received this rather odd message the other day (Facebook is a truly strange system).

I’m not really sure what to make of it.  There are quite a few oddities:

  • The message comes from a “Jason Reeves”, who I do not recall (but my memory isn’t great, and it was 14 years ago).  A quick Google only turns up a Jason Reeves who works for a radio station in NZ (and wikipedia indicates that isn’t the same one).
  • The Facebook account is under the name “Jason Smith” (this name is also unfamiliar, although I think I would be more likely to remember the name “Reeves” than the name “Smith”).
  • I can’t find anything about the “NZER” organisation mentioned twice via Google.  It’s pretty odd for a modern company to be nowhere in the first few pages of Google results.  “NZER” is a bad name (because it clashes with “NZer”, as in “I am a NZer”), but even still it ought to have some sort of pagerank. (nzer.co.nz and nzer.org.nz and nzer.com do not seem relevant here).
  • I was indeed a Kamo High School student in 1996, and knew both Andrew and Simon (IIRC Andrew was only at KHS for a year or two).  I haven’t heard from/about either since.
  • What possible use could my opinion of people I knew 14 years ago be?  Even if there wasn’t such a gap in time, why would I as a peer be an appropriate person to make an academic evaluation?  Surely a teacher would be a more appropriate choice.

I replied – basically just asking for more information – so we’ll see what happens now.

What happened to the 2009 IPy Notes?

Around this time last year, I started posting weekly reports on the IronPython classes I was teaching at Northtec, including copies of the material that I was giving the students.  These stopped abruptly around the middle of the course.  The course did complete (and was fairly successful – I think the change to IronPython was definitely for the better), and I did continue making notes as I taught.  However, I didn’t manage to get them online.

On the 10th of October 2009, my father passed away (very unexpectedly, of a heart attack the day before).  As a result, I didn’t have as much extra time as I had anticipated, and I didn’t really have the energy/motivation to post the notes.  (The classes continued, except the week of the funeral, where the hours were halved).

The course began again last week (21st July 2010), and I’m going to try this again.  As I go, I’ll complete the 2009 notes as well (some/all of the links in the 2009 ones are broken, which I’ll fix, and when I get to where the notes stopped, I’ll post the notes that I took last year, although these will be less exhaustive than if I had done them at the time).

No promises, but I expect that I’ll be able to post throughout the entire course this year, and I’ll again make the material that I use available (you may use it under a Creative Commons license if you wish, although much of the material is references to IronPython in Action).

I had planned to present a short summary of the experience of using IronPython in this way at PyCon NZ, but I’m again unable to make it this year (for happier reasons – a close friend is getting married that day); perhaps next year!  I’m still interested in hearing from anyone else that’s using IronPython in the classroom.

Dr? No.

I finally withdrew from my PhD today (probably many people thought that this had happened some time ago).

In the beginning…

The story really starts in 1999.  I started working consistently while studying, and also got rather bored with the study that I was doing.  I also got involved in the Students’ Association – first lightly, then pretty heavily.  As a result, at the end of 2000, I was about 1.5 papers short of finishing my BSc and BBS.  I needed to do half a semester of work, and so I decided to go those at the same time as a Postgraduate Diploma in Science (these went along with running for ASA President).  The ASA job didn’t work out, but I did finish the last undergrad stuff I needed to do, and rather unexpectedly found that I really enjoyed the postgrad study.

I was able to do all the papers for the postgrad diploma along with the undergrad work, except for the double-paper research project, in that year.  That meant that the next year started off with finishing off the research project – normally half of a semester’s load, but since I didn’t have anything else to be doing, I poured in a whole semester’s effort into it.  That left me at the middle of the year with everything complete.

To be Dr T…

At this point, I was offered a $20k scholarship to do a PhD at Massey.  A lot of thought went into this at the time – including a lot of talking with Olyvia (this was not that long before we got engaged).  It was clearly going to be financially terrible for three years, but money has never been my focus.  On the positive side, I was assured (and believed) that there was quite a lot of demand for lecturers, and I had found that I really enjoyed teaching, research, and administration, which are basically the three components of a (NZ) lecturing position.  It seemed at the time like it was a good career choice (especially the flexibility that it offered), and so I took up the choice.

I chose to continue on with the work that I’d done for my research project (what I ended up calling synthetic actors).  There were a lot of reasons that this was a good choice – it was AI, which I particularly enjoyed, it involved theatre, which I was spending a lot of time doing, and it was a very clear field (i.e. few other researchers in the area).

Early errors…

In retrospect, both of these were poor choices.  I should never have enrolled with Massey to do a PhD.  The Computer Science department at Albany is just a poor relation of the strong Maths/Statistics department, and so it’s not really a good choice, even though at the time (and possibly now) they had some really good staff.  I should have gone somewhere where Computer Science was a department with real funding and support, and where I could potentially have got some work once I was done.

Although synthetic actors were fascinating and I got the work done (other than a bit of writing) in the end, it was a bad choice.  For a start, a topic like this, which bridges disciplines, needs to be done somewhere where there is more history of cross-discipline study.  To do a topic like this I should also have been somewhere that had a strong theatrical department (i.e. I really needed to be in Wellington).  It’s really very important to pick a topic that matches the institution (or an institution that matches the topic).

The other problem with the topic, exacerbated by doing it at Massey, where there’s no history of this type of research, is that it is really hard to measure.  Computer science is really a lot like mathematics and statistics in that what you’re typically after is something that you can do and collect numbers and then have some sort of graph that shows that things are improved.  A semi-art topic like synthetic actors doesn’t suit that well at all.  I ended up finding things to measure, but that did mean that a lot of the effort that the project needed (e.g. putting on the two productions) wasn’t central to the real research.

Somewhat ironically, a much more suitable topic was at hand a little later.  I started working on SpamBayes, and a computer science/statistics project would have been a great fit with Massey and also very measurable.  It would also have been much more translatable into work (in fact, my work on the project, outside of the PhD work, has contributed much more).

Good times…

Despite these two things, everything went pretty well for the first 2.5 years.  Money, as expected, was pretty tight – $20k is not a lot, especially with a wedding and living a ‘grown up’ life (i.e. not poor student flatting or living at home with parents).  In fact, our rent was about $20k at this time.  This meant that I had to work a lot as well as study full time, but even though I had little spare time, I was enjoying both, so it seemed ok.  The English department at Massey was hugely helpful here, because they paid me decent wages to teach a paper each semester (whereas in Computer Science you got less than working at a service station).

Towards the end of the three-year period, everything was basically on track.  I had about a third to a half of my thesis complete (about half of this was later rewritten from scratch) with about 6 months to go.  My plan was that I would spend a reasonable amount of time time looking for (lecturing) work to move into as I finished up the thesis – I even gave up the lucrative English teaching in order to do this.

Stalling…

This is where everything stalled.  I vastly underestimated how difficult finding lecturing work would be (and how unhelpful and insulting Massey would be).  With a couple of months of stipend to go, I disparately needed to find work (Olyvia wasn’t working at this time either, so the need was particularly urgent).  Although there wasn’t any lecturing work to be found (or at least, anyone interested in me), there was a lot of other work.

In particular, SpamExperts approached me about doing a short project (nearly 5 years later, I’m still working for them!), Lifeway College approached me about teaching a module (in Business Modelling with Spreadsheets, of all things), and Northtec (indirectly) approached me about filling in for a few weeks (I’m still doing this – and another paper – too) for a programming paper.

All of this was enough to pay the bills, but combined with still looking for lecturing work, left me no time to actually finish off the thesis.  The two teaching jobs in particular (which I valued a lot because they seemed like good experience for lecturing work) required me to create the courses from scratch (and I had to learn Business Modelling, since I had no prior knowledge).  Several months passed without any thesis work getting done.

This was really my biggest error – underestimating how difficult it would be to get work afterwards.  I should have come up with some plan that wouldn’t have resulting in losing the last (essential) few months of full-time study that I had.  I’m not sure what that plan would have been, but it was what was missing.

Stuck…

The plan around this time was that we’d have our first child during the next year – we didn’t want to be old parents (and if we have two children want to have a break between them), and it seemed like a good time (with me going into the real work force and so on).  Samuel came along very quickly (planning’s fine, but there’s still some luck involved) – I rather naively assumed that finishing the PhD and working would fit into the pregnancy year without any problem (after all, it was Olyvia that was pregnant, not me, right?).

I probably could have managed to get work done during that time.  However, I was enjoying a break of just normal working life, I was working a lot of hours (I had many jobs, but all were – in theory – temporary, so I was scared that they’d end and I’d have nothing, so I needed savings).  Finally, supporting Olyvia during the pregnancy took a lot more time that I expected, with antenatal classes, midwife visits, scans, shopping, and so forth.  I could have skipped this, of course, but they took priority for me over the PhD.

Limbo #1

Once Samuel really arrived (28/8/6), there really was no time to spare.  The first year, in particular, was quite tricky, and I spent all my time parenting and working.  If I had put thesis work into the mix, I would have produced rubbish or would have burnt out.  A year or so later, things did start to quieten down a bit, but I was in an odd limbo where I had had such a long break that I wasn’t sure where I was.

Going back to the work after a long break was difficult, and since I’d used up the 4 years I was meant to have, I wasn’t sure whether the work would be accepted anyway.  Massey was extremely unhelpful here (not my supervisor – he was great), in that I was continually asking for time and never hearing about whether I was granted it or not – the only time I heard from them was the ridiculous requests for 6-monthly reports and queries about when it would be done.

(The reports infuriate me.  In theory, they’re meant to track how people are going.  However, I submitted years of reports saying “I failed to get anything done”, and nothing came of them.  So obviously they are ignored, and are pointless.  I could have spent the time actually getting work done instead).

I had about a year of this limbo.  This was the second big mistake, really.  I could have managed to get the work complete during this time – I was busy with work and parenting, sure, but there was also a bit of time here and there where I could have knuckled down and got the work done without going crazy.  The PhD seemed very distant and less and less important as time progressed and so motivation was very difficult.

Nearly unbelievably, progress again…

About 18 months ago, the limbo finally ended.  I finally got some clear answers (thanks to my supervisor I believe) from Massey about whether I was able to continue working on it or not.  The original plan was to finish the thesis (other than some editing) by the end of 2008.  I made a private plan with my supervisor to get a certain number of words done every week (emailing fresh copies weekly) and if I failed to get that done any week, I’d withdraw.  I worked very hard at this, and although it was tricky, I did manage to meet each deadline.

At the end of the year, I was a little short (about 1.5 chapters and a bit of tidying up), although I’d done more editing than originally planned.  Limbo came back.  Eventually (some time in early 2009) I did hear that I had an official (after years!) extension until 29/11/09.  This was clearly enough time, at least in theory.

Limbo #2

However, the last 12 months have been a disaster for me personally.  2009, without doubt, has been the worst year of my life so far (hopefully, ever).  I had no idea that things could go so badly.  The details don’t really belong here, but I honestly don’t believe that I had any chance to get the work done (to an acceptable standard) this year.  I really needed to get it done the previous year (when in honesty I should have been able to find time) – there was just no way I could work on it this year.

The end

Supposedly Massey have been trying to talk to me about the status recently (I don’t know for how long) and haven’t been able to get hold of me.  I find this difficult to believe considering how easily an email address for me (or even this blog!) can be found via Google.  Olyvia got a message on the phone today querying the status (predictable given that the deadline is 9 days away), and I sent the IIMS HoD a message indicating that I was withdrawing (in reality, there’s no choice – and if I’d known what the year would be like, I would have just done that a year ago).

Retrospective thoughts

This is obviously disappointing.  The PhD was the biggest project I’d worked on at the time, and I poured a lot of time, money, and effort into it.  It’s also nearly done – I have tens of thousands of words of a thesis complete.  It’s frustrating quitting something when it’s so close to completion.

I’ve also always been mindful of the support that others gave me, particularly in those first three (productive, active) years.  Olyvia, Mum and Dad, Jacs, Jo, Geoff and the other MADSODS, Chris, Jenny, and so forth.  It always seemed like I owed it to them to complete the damn thing as well.

However, it has been hanging on my neck like the proverbial millstone for years now.  Few days go by without at least one guilty stressful thought about how I haven’t done anything towards it that day.  It will be nice to leave that behind.

In reality, there’s no practical benefit to getting the PhD.  I long since lost any desire to work in academia (thanks, Massey!), and even if I got the PhD, I’ve spent too many years without getting anything published to be a strong candidate for any job (I was a stronger candidate, in many ways, back when I failed to find lecturing work years ago).  In NZ, which is where I want to continue working, there’s little career value to a PhD outside of academia.  I still have plenty of work (although the exchange rate is hurting a lot) and I’m certain that I could find more if I had to (although I’ve clearly been wrong about that before!).

On the other side of the equation, there are things that really are important to me.  In particular, family.  If given the choice between spending more time with Samuel and writing a thesis that’s only of sentimental worth, I’ll pick Samuel without any regrets.

Looking back, I can see where I made mistakes – the poor topic choice, failing to see how difficult finding work would be, not utilising time in 2007/8.  However, I don’t regret any of the decisions I made at the time.  Most of the time, I was choosing things that are still more important to me than the PhD.

To those reading this that did help – thanks.  I really do wholeheartedly appreciate all the support.  Also: my apologies – I’m sorry if I have let you down by not completing everything.  I hope you understand that there are just things that are more important to me (I know some people do, since they’ve said that to me in the past – Dad did this a while ago).

So that’s that.  I’ll probably put the thesis up at some point – maybe another eager kid will want to work with synthetic actors (despite Claudio giving it up and then me giving it up) and will find it useful.  I might have more thoughts then.  For now, I’m going to go back to things that I care more about.

p.s. Yes, I did partly choose the title of this post to counter the Google juice that the James Bond Tony Meyer seems to have.

Massey Weirdness

While looking through links for my previous post, I found this one – which caught my eye in particular because it has my old postal address (also weird – Google maps used to show the house, but now I can’t see it, even though the neighbours are there, and so is the lake.  Has the imagery got older?!). I’m not sure why I’m listed here (pretty much everything else seems to be a business, although I didn’t look thoroughly) – maybe from when I was providing theatrical services to Massey, although I did that under “Underground Services” (the theatre was named the Underground Theatre).

The information at the top seems to always be about veterinary products, but maybe that has something to do with the flashing (good grief!) “test site” at the top of the page.  I would think that Massey would have the skills available, somewhere, to make test sites (and, really, the purchasing system in general) hidden from the public and from Google.

Collective Knowledge

Dad asked me today who my teachers were at Pukepoto Primary School, which I could partially answer, with help (I think: Mrs Travers in J1 and J2, Mr Jones in Standard 1, Mrs Bellingham in Standard 2, and Mr Wilkins in Standard 3 and 4, and apparently someone else as a new-entrant).

This is an example of knowledge that Google simply can’t give you, of course.  Except now it can – or at least will be able to when this page is indexed.  When I remember, I’ll try this query again (161 hits at the moment, none of them with the required information, although in eight of the pages the “Tony Meyer” is me) and see if it works.

We wondered if Wikipedia would have an entry for Pukepoto School, and while it doesn’t, there is a mention in the entry on Pukepoto (a stub – if I had more knowledge I’d expand it, but I don’t really know what substance I could add).