IT Philosophy (brace yourself, Mrs Trellis)

Caveat: I’ve had a glass of wine. Consequently, this post may not be as coherent as I would like it to be.

I work for Manchester University. But not in a properly academic way. It’s probably kindest to both if we describe the fact that I work for a Revered Academic Russell Group Institution as… incidental.

Although in another dimension I went ahead and did the PhD I could have done and am now Dr Hayes (aka Mrs Hanlon), in this one I didn’t and the University has the pleasure of employing me in a Support Staff Capacity.

In other words, I don’t want none of that intellectual shit unless it helps ma peeps to do their job better.

Occasionally, though, I get sucked into thinking I could or should attempt to weasel my way into The Kilburn Building and attempt some kind of transfer to the IT Department. In some ways I feel it’s my spiritual home even if no-one there apart from my knitting buddies know who I am. On Wednesday I got a pass out and went to the CDT Group’s launch lecture. It advertised computational logic and fun in the same event – what’s not to love??!?

Let me first say, it was a good lecture. If one didn’t find computational logic theory fun or interesting, it was clear that the speaker did. And what’s more, he finds it fun in a strong Russian accent which adds an excellent dimension of exotica to proceedings, if requiring a little bit more concentration. I had several flashes of deja vu to Tony Cohn’s lectures at Leeds. Clearly a very intelligent guy, but much of his audience are thinking “WTF? Please?”

I had some fairly unpleasant flashbacks which were in no way the speaker’s fault. We got past a certain level of complexity and my (apparently very practical brain) started silently screaming I DON’T CARE! WHAT DOES IT ***DO*** FOR *ACTUAL PEOPLE* TRYING TO *DO STUFF*.

When the numbers of lines of code generated to resolve problems and “this theorem takes up terabytes of data and takes 9 days to run” were quoted phrases like “intellectual pissing contest” started floating through my brain.

Could I just say now that Prof Volokov seems like a top guy, and after Prof Goble he’d be my next preferred employer.

I guess my main problem was the amount of theory that was quoted: it felt like academics talking to academics about stuff done for the benefit of academics. I felt like putting my hand up and just asking “That’s all very lovely but really – what’s the POINT?”. I didn’t, because, as a lecture given by a professor in his own IT department which was advertised to University staff, one could argue that academics addressing academics was exactly the right pitch.

Also, I didn’t put my hand up for two reasons.

One, several people were clearly keen to get to “the dinner” and holding up proceedings further would probably mean cold cabbage.

And two, the answer to my question was partly given in response to the one question that *was* asked. The logic engines, or ones similar to them, are used to schedule sports fixtures – specifically the Spanish Basketball league.

The example of the Premier League was given: scheduling games so that not only the basic round-robin and home/away fixtures are satisfied but that both Manchester teams don’t play in Manchester the same weekend unless they’re playing each other PLUS that two sets of fans going to completely different away matches shouldn’t cross each other’s paths at a random other station on the way or there’ll be trouble.

See? I get that *that* is useful. I could spend 3 years working out an algorithm to do that, or even programming a logic engine to work it out for me. Me being me, I’d want to do it in 3 weeks, but that’s because I’m ridiculously competitive and don’t like to trouble myself with testing.

So out of the two hours, I found about 2 minutes genuinely properly inspiring. And half way along Oxford Road on the way home, it occurred to me that automating the nursing rota could be a bigger challenge than the Premier League. So, what do we say CDT Group – should I apply for funding??!?

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