Niall’s virtual diary archives – Monday 4th October 2010

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Monday 4th October 2010: 3.30pm. A simply stunning five month hiatus later, here's a new entry! It has to be admitted I never thought I'd see the day in the past twelve years that I'd leave more than two months pass between entries, but there you go. Looking back, I don't think it was deliberate per se, more that I just didn't think of it at all until late August - already an unprecedented three month gap - which must mean that the intervening months must have been both busy and boring. Then September passed rather quicker than I thought it would, and suddenly it's already now. My, at this rate I'll be an old man soon!

So, going back five months, well what happened after the last entry was that the user mode page allocator I was writing of course turned out to be far trickier and harder than I had originally estimated. I built in something like a 50% margin for overruns during the quote, but I ended up overrunning by I think it was 115% or something. Either way, I pulled some serious hours towards the end of May and I just scraped home with project delivery three days late unfortunately. Still, better slightly delayed than late.

Such were the impressive benchmarks coming back from the wee beastie though that it seemed a good idea that I ought to write up the method as an academic research paper and submit it for publication. Firstly though during June I packaged up the bitwise tries library which I had developed for the contract and published it as its own library called - unoriginally - nedtries. nedtries provides a traditional C macro interface, but when used as C in C++ it silently uses a C++ implementation instead which is far easier to debug. I also added a nasty STL interfaced nedtries psuedo-container which gives std::unordered_map<> a good run for its money, and in general nedtries kicks red-black trees hard and is little worse than hash tables. nedtries, much to my amazement, has proved very popular with copies flying off the virtual shelf as it were. And, rather more suspiciously, no bug reports or emails of complaint yet.

Moving into July I did lots of various mundane but time consuming things like paperwork and gardening, but beginning the academic research paper from about mid-July onwards. Knowing very little indeed about the literature in computer science, I embarked on a pretty steep learning curve for the next six weeks with much time spent reading academic papers on esoteric compsci theory and after several complete rewrites I ended up with a draft paper I'm fairly pleased with and hopefully should pass peer review muster when the call for papers goes out for the International Symposium on Memory Management 2011. It was also the first time I'd used LaTeX believe it or not, and I was glad to have finally got round to learning - and I'd even say mastering - that.

So, suddenly it was now September, and I knew that in just one month I'd be starting two distance courses. Oh yeah that's right, last time I mentioned any of this it was the case that I might be taking an MRes with the University of London. Well, to that I added a PGCert in Developing Professional Practice in Higher Education with the University of Wales - this being the non-mandatory teaching qualification for third level educators and being very similar to the PGDE which secondary school teachers must obtain before being allowed to teach in Britain and Ireland, so in terms of credits I'd be taking a full time Masters course though thankfully distance education means no boring lectures and being able to avoid having to deal with ignorant muppets who love wasting everyone else's time talking crap in tutorials. Anyway, I wanted to try launching an improvement to the standard malloc(), realloc() and free() et al API in the ISO C language standard, solicit public feedback and submit the proposal to the C1X standards committee before my courses began - this I achieved, and you can find the single-purpose site at http://mallocv2.wordpress.com/.

During September myself and Megan had the wedding of a childhood friend of mine in the South of France - which was lovely, but extremely stressful and expensive and I still haven't healed up my "stress indicator" mouth ulcer which reopened itself at that time. The following weekend we headed to Edinburgh to visit people and I stayed in St. Andrews on the first Sunday night of their Fresher's week. Returning to St. Andrews was an oddly pleasant experience - my prior visit in May 2009 had been while I was in U.C.C., and my hatred of that place had left me cold to any university at that point I think. This time round St. Andrews, and its crazy inhibition-altering perception-bending bubble, felt refreshing and inspiring. The streets thronged with non-Europeans as their non-EU intake has been clearly seen double digit growth, and there were far fewer very young faces which suggests that many more postgraduates attend than before. Where I slept the night used to be undergraduate accommodation while I was there, now it is entirely postgraduate. And judging by the accents and patterns of speech, there were, if it can believed possible, a greater preponderance of the children of the world's ruling elites than even when I studied there - it's just that the children now come from both further to the West and to the East than before.

I certainly enjoyed having conversations with total random strangers and learning things about them - you can do that with ease in the bubble of St. Andrews, and you can't in most of the industrialised world including here in Cork because people are scared of strangers and are too busy to talk anyway. I miss it to be honest. I miss it a lot.

So, for the past week or so as the MRes has got started I have begun to delve into my fourth academic specialisation: Education. So far, there is much to like about the distance Masters in Social Research Methods with the University of London International system. Unlike its equivalent in the Open University, this course does NOT spoon feed you which I very much like. You get the latest edition of the famous textbook by Cohen & Manion for all Research Methods in Education courses rather than the OU's proprietary spoon feeding workbooks and readers, a set of dense detailed notes per unit (which would normally correspond to a lecture) and a couple of DVDs containing videos of lectures given at the UoL's Institute of Education, which is by far the leading place for Educational Research in Britain and is one of the top in Europe. They hold online tutorials via Elluminate which is pretty standard nowadays, and there are a sequence of ungraded group activities held on discussion forums which are intended to set the pacing for the study and provide a certain amount of social networking and interaction. The students are very international - in fact, judging by the distribution of home countries of those in my class it seems to me like the British Empire is still very much in place today. Also, the students are definitely from the professional elites of their home countries - I guess given the cost of fees relative to average developing world income this would be unavoidable.

While my experiences with the IoE have been great so far, what was seriously not good is the Admissions section of the University of London. Not only did they supply me with my stuff ten days late, they also failed to ever answer emails asking what the hell is going on, they failed to provide payment receipts despite being asked on several occasions (and I think it's a legal requirement) and when they did send me my stuff it was missing half its items. I however have come off well compared to some of the other students on the course, and it makes one wonder if we still don't have more students still to arrive who didn't get their login info sent to them but they did get everything else. Given that the course costs a cool £7000, I find such a shoddy level of customer service for a quantity of money with which you could buy a really nice second hand car appalling. In short, the IoE are great but Admissions over there at UoL is incompetent at best and negligent at worst. Once you're in you can generally forget about them, though I shudder to think of when I next have to pay fees or follow up on my missing stuff smiley face.

Next week I'll be starting with the University of Wales. Admissions with them has been an absolute dream ... not only did they speedily process my application despite being several days after the closing date, they have continuously kept me up to date with what has been going on and they have never taken longer than a day to reply to emails. Indeed, just a few hours ago I received a phone call telling me about starting next week - they rang because apparently they didn't have my email on record (despite that I know they definitely have it). But what a difference!

So, all in all so far so good! It has, as I said at the start, been a busy but entirely uneventful five months. And it has been a five months which I very easily summarised almost completely in this relatively short diary entry, so I guess my excuse for not writing an entry sooner kinda holds fast. Anyway, no matter, time to go do other stuff given that it is nearly 5pm now. Be happy!

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