Last days in Rome

Five weeks in Rome seemed like a long time, but with a week mainly in Milan and Trento and the coming week in India, in fact just three full weeks and they have flown by.

I had imagined long evenings reading philosophy of the physical world, and weekend afternoons under the shade of a tree on the Palatine Hill, but it didn’t quite work out like that.

Of the ‘work’ books I brought to Rome (and borrowed here), I have only read Gibson’s “The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception“, Goodman’s “Languages of Art” and Noe’s “Action in Perception“; and of the ‘fun’ books only Tamara Pierce’s¬† The Healing in the Vine. I have flights back and forth to India next week, so may manage a bit more then, but mainly overnight, so I fear most of my bookshelf will return to the UK unread ūüôĀ

One of the reasons is evident on a table in my office. Normally at home when I finish something the paper from it ‘goes away’ somewhere, but here as I have read something or finished with printouts I have been laying them out on an empty table in case I wanted to refer to them again. So the table is now covered, smothered, in the results of three weeks normal academic work. I am amazed, if not aghast, at the volume. The entire table between 50 and 500 sheets thick in paper, I’d guess somewhere between one and two thousand sheets of paper printed, read and to be discarded. I mentioned climate change in last post and, boy, it looks like one academic can wipe out most of the Amazon and drown the South Pacific single-handed.

I have printed out a bit more than I normally would as I knew I couldn’t print things during the evenings at the apartment and so tended to do so ‘just in case’ before heading out of the office.¬† So normally some of this would have been dealt with purely electronically, but nevertheless, the volume is frightening. And I don’t think this was a particularly unusual three weeks in terms of volume.

So what is here?

On the one side there is input: there is a PhD thesis, twenty of or so papers reviewed or meta-reviewed during the period, several papers given to me by people to read while here, one EPSRC grant proposal I reviewed, and a few piles of papers I was referring to in things I was producing during the period. On the output side during the three weeks two grant proposals have been submitted, one other needed extra work and a STREP is in process of preparation for the autumn, two journal papers, a book chapter, an article for Interfaces, some work on other papers, and a few internal reports for discussions about future work. Other things never saw paper: a couple of long blog posts (5000 words between them), three job references, innumerable emails, and the preparation for 33 hours of masters and PhD teaching and two other talks.

Although I often feel busy seeing all that paper makes it tangible and does shock me somewhat. But I know this is relatively normal; Aaron Quigley‘s twitter feed is exhausting just to read!

So, did I see much of Rome …

Well on one Sunday, with Manuela, Francesco and his daughter I visited the annual open-air art exhibition of the 100 painters in Via Margutta (between Piazza di Spagna and Piazza del Popolo). One of the artists was, Paul Van den Nieuwenhof, a friend of Manuela and Francesco from whom they had recently bought a still life (apples). Paul’s real passion is more avant-garde installations, but the still lives are mainly focused on the Italian market where modern art is not so popular. Looking at his more traditional paintings I was impressed again by the way an expert oil painter creates light from pigment: shapes and solids seem more the medium and the pure light the message.

Another Sunday I took lunch in a pizzeria on the Trastevere (my favourite place for both pizza and bread), and took a meandering path there nearly as far as St Angelo and sauntering along the Tiber … but mainly because I took the wrong road out of Largo di Torre Argentina. In the middle of Argentina is a large exposed ruin, and I was told (but by whom I have forgotten!) that this was where Julius Caesar was assassinated.

Incidentally, while in Milan (which I will write about separately sometime) I learnt that in Julius Caesar’s time it would have been pronounced Kaiser as in German today, the softer ‘c’ came later.

Apart from that I am ashamed to say no art galleries or exhibitions, and my main view of Rome has been the area between Termini station, the Department, and my appartment, ‘Al Colosseo’, a lovely location within sight (just) of the Collosseum (see below).

However, most mornings I have taken a run down past the Colloseum as far as Circo Massimo and one or more laps of that. It is a popular spot for morning runners, although I prefer it best when I get there a little earlier. Not to avoid the others, but because from about 7am when the sun starts to rise it gets so hot. The most interesting end of Circo Massimo is currently boarded off as they do works there and in the last 2 weeks the far end has turned into a mini-stadium for Beach Soccer, I assume to coincide with the UEFA football next week.

Tonight it will be another pizza evening and I am promised it will be at a place that specialises in Roman-style pizzas and those lovely deep fried vegetables. Italy is about sun and ruins, about design and expensive cars and the Vatican and bureaucracy, … but above all it is about food and friends.

Sinking beneath the waves

Thanks to Pete Bagnall @ surfaceeffect for pointing out an article in George Monbiot’s Environment blog in the Guardian “Climate change displacement has begun – but hardly anyone has noticed“.¬† Evidently the whole population of the Carteret Islands (Google map, Wikipedia) near Papua New Guinea have had to abandon the islands due to rising sea levels.

The inundation beguns.

Language and Action (2): from observation to communication

Years ago I wrote a short CHI paper with Roberta Mancini and Stefano Levialdi “communication, action and history” all about the differences between language and action, but for the second time in a few weeks I am writing about the links. But of course there are both similarities and differences.

In my recent post about “language and action: sequential associative parsing“, I compared the role of semantics in the parsing of language with the similar role semantics plays in linking disparate events in our interpretation of the world and most significantly the actions of others. The two differ however in that language is deliberative, intentionally communicative, and hence has a structure, a rule-iness resulting from conventions; it is chosen to make it easier for the recipient to interpret. In contrast, the events of the world have structure inherent in their physical nature, but do not structure themselves in order that we may interpret them, their rule-iness is inherent not intentional. However, the actions of other people and animals often fall between the two.

In this post I will focus in on individual actions of creatures in the world and the way that observing others tells us about their current activities and even their intended actions, and thus how these observations becomes a resource for planning our own actions. However, our own actions are also the subject of observation and hence available to others. We may deliberately hide or obfuscate our intentions and actions if we do not wish others to ‘read’ what we are doing; however, we may also exaggerate them, making them more obvious when we are collaborating. That is, we shape our actions in the light of their potential observation by others so that they become an explicit communication to them.

This exaggeration is evident in computer environments and the physical world, and may even be the roots of iconic gesture and hence language itself.

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Language and Action: sequential associative parsing

In explaining how to make sentences more readable (I know I am one to talk!), I frequently explain to students that language understanding is a combination of a schema-based syntactic structure with more sequential associative reading.  Only recently I realised this was also the way we had been addressing the issue of task sequence inference in the TIM project. and is related also to the way we interpret action in the real world.

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bookshelf in Rome

I posted a few weeks ago about books I had got to bring to Rome.  Since then I got another small collection because I had done some reviewing for Routledge.

Mostly philosophy of the mind and materiality … the latter to help as we work on the DEPtH book on Physicality, TouchIT

  • Shaun Gallagher, Dan Zahavi. The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science, Routledge, 2007.
  • John Lechte. Fifty Key Contemporary Thinkers: From Structuralism to Post-Humanism, 2nd Edition, Routledge, 2007.
  • Jean-Paul Sartre.¬† Being and Nothingnes: An Essay on Phenomenological Ontology, 1943.¬† Routledge Classics, , 2nd Edition, 2003.
  • Jay Friedenberg. Artificial Psychology, Routledge , 2008.
  • Max Velmans.¬† Understanding Consciousness, Routledge, 2009.
  • Peter Carruthers. The Nature of the Mind, Routledge, 2003.

In fact, with these and the previous  set I had far too many even for a month of evenings, and below you can see the books I actually brought.

As well as a selection from the academic books also some fiction/leisure reading, some old favourites and some new ones:

  • How Green was My Valley,¬†Richard Llewellyn – a Welshman has to read this :-/
  • The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger – a classic I’ve never read
  • More of the Good Life – the TV series was formative for me as a child, but 40 seemed so far away
  • Lark Rise to Candleford,¬†Flora Thompson – some years since I’ve read it last, and have been loving the TV series, but I don’t think it has stayed very close to the book!
  • Nella Last’s War – this is the book that was the basis for the TV drama Housewife 49 and part of the Mass Observation that collected diaries from ordinary people across Britain during the Second World War.
  • Ruth, Elizabeth Gaskill – another classic that I’ve not read yet!
  • As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning.¬† Laurie Lee’s account of travelling in Spain in the run up to the Civel War.¬† I read it in school for O’level.
  • Swallowdale,¬†Arthur Ransome – Couldn’t find Swallow’s an Amazons, I think one of the girls might have it on their shelves!
  • The Shining Company, Rosemary Sutcliff – we have loads of her histroical novels for children.¬† I find that good children’s writing is so much better than most adult books, which often feel they need to be incomprehensible to be good.
  • The Growing Summer,¬†Noel Streatfield – lovely story, children visiting a quirky old lady in west coast of Ireland.
  • Hovel in the Hills, Elizabeth West¬† – another book I’ve read many times, but not for many years.¬† True story about a couple who buy an old house on a Welsh hillside.

In addition, but missing from the picture, is one I borrowed from my daughter, Tamara Pierce’s¬† The Healing in the Vine, and one I’ve borrowed from Tiziana Catarci during my visit the Languages of Art.

So, two weeks in and how far have I got …

Well, been a little busy, two journal papers, a book chapter, an interfaces article, two 3 hour lectures to the masters students here, a seminar, reading thesis chapters and helping with two grant proposals … so not got very far through the bookshelf.

In fact, to be brutally honest, so far only finished the Tamora Pierce and nearly finished Gibson (just conclusions to go):

As you can see LOTS of notes on Gibson, I will write a very long blog sometime about this, but several others in line first!

But next week several train journeys, so may get through a few more books ūüôā