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I haven't a clue what to do with this page, so I'll say what I might do in wikpedia and provide a short bio for anyone who has nothing better to do than read it.

Wikipedia and me[edit]

I will contribute to both the English and the Scottish Gaelic versions of Wikipedia. I don't expect to break any records, or get into the top 1000 editors, but I'll try to be useful. A lot of my contributions to date were before I decided to acquire an username anyway, and half the time I forget to log in anyway.

My main interest is in Gaelic (and to a lesser extent Irish) literature, especially poetry, and song. Generally I'm lazy, so may use talk pages to point to problems in articles instead of editing them myself. Of course there's a lot of poetry missing that should be in an encyclopedia and isn't in wikipedia, so maybe I'll contribute some new articles. And of course I'm interested in the articles on Scottish Gaelic language, but now that Akerbeltz is actively attacking some of them they probably won't need anything from me. I'm also interested in mathematics, and have edited a few articles on maths topics; I'll probably continue to do that.


When I was young my main interest was languages - I liked seeing how they work, how grammars differ, how idioms can be startlingly different and sometimes positivly bizarre (like the way English uses the present perfect), how sometimes languages share words, and (when I was a little older) how people of different cultures have different was of looking at the world. Languages were fun.

But then I changed course, and instead of pursuing languages I turned to mathematics. Mathematics was fun too. Things like calculus and projective geometry were cool! So off I went to do a degree in mathematics, and discovered group theory and other bits of algebra like ideals and valuations, and applied maths like potential theory and relativity and mechanics, and really pure maths like set theory and logic. And the logic was so much fun, that the next step had to be a research degree in mathematical logic.

Between degrees I spent a couple of months at RHEL to learn a bit about physics and earn a few pennies and they had me trying to programme some nasty stuff and that was my first encounter with computers. It got me interested, so while carrying on with maths research I spent some time playing with the university's computers (not the ones used for admin of course, the ones available to researchers like me). Computers were fun too! So when I finished that degree (actually a few months before I finished writing my thesis) I looked for a job in computing.

Learning that it isn't all easy going[edit]

I found what appeared to be the ideal job: a big company wanted someone to do research on computer languages, and thought that anyone who had worked on the semantics of set theories would be a good fit. That was the start of my 42 years in computing, and it would have been an ideal job if only the big company hadn't been taken over a year or so later by a new owner who decided that all research should be closed down.

I was offered a job in an associated company, but decided I wanted to do research so found myself an academic job. It paid about 25% less than the job in the associated company, but foolishly I thought that wouldn't matter. It was a mixed workload: some service programming for various university departments (not much). Some lecturing. Mostly research. It was quite pleasant. But at that time junior academics in the UK were payed peanuts, and after a year I decided that I didn't want the lifestyle that earning peanuts entailed.

So I found a job working for a small computer manfacturer. Once again, it was close to an ideal job (and the pay was much better than university pay) and once again, after something over a year, it was over - a boardroom putsch ensured that just 6 months after they promoted me and gave me a massive pay rise I was out (as was my boss).

In those days I manage to spend time in France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Jugoslavia (it was still one country, and I spent time in Slovenia, Bosnia, and Srbia), Hungary, and Rumania - all just for fun except the last too, which were just by accident - nothing to do with work. Most of the time was off the tourist routes, in places where no-one spolke Englisdh, so I learnt a lot about how knowing even a tiny bit about some languages helps when you don't know others: a lot of Russian words seemed to work in Srbia, for example - but mostly I had to use German or Italian there (I didn't really speak Italian, but I had tried speaking Latin in Northern Italy with what I thought was an Italian twist and it sort of worked and taught me some Italian words, which then worked further east where Italian was a useful foreign language).

Real work[edit]

So now I looked for something that might last a bit longer. I stayed with the next company for almost 25 years, working on an amazing range of stuff: learnt some more mathematics, because I had to become an expert on queuing theory, some more maths and some physics because I had to understand data communications, relational theory, formal methods, functional languages, logic languages, much international travel to cooperate on research with people in industry and academe in various countries. There were take-overs - and I survived three of them! Eventually didn't survive the ongoing downsizing of the company, but it didn't matter - I had spent more than 24 years learning new things and having fun and being well paid for it. I could go and find a new job that would have me doing something I hadn't done before, and learn new stuff again, couldn't I.

By now I had enough contacts to find jobs easily. Over the next thirteen years I had three proper jobs and also did some short term contracts for the CEC (taking unpaid leave from my main employer to do them). One of those three was pretty short-lived - an internet bubble start-up where the size of the challenge had been grossly underestimated (the founder had thought he could do with a desktop computer something that would require 10s of terabytes of storage and computing power to match), the value of the product grossly overestimated, and the duration of usefulness of the product overestimated - and the company was founded a little more than a year before the bubble burst. It was interesting, and for a while it looked as if we might make it, but the venture capitalists got cold feet (I don't blame them; I wouldn't have given it an even chance of ever breaking even). In one of the other two jobs I spent a lot of time in various parts of the USA; in the others I spent a lot of time working in India and some in Beirut, and a tiny bit in Barbados, plus a lot of time liaising with people in the UAE and a bit with people in Egypt.


In 1997 I decided that I would have to start cutting back on my work and spend more time with my wife - she suffers badly from arthritis, and a few years before we had bought a place in the Canaries where she could live during the winter, with me joining her when I could. I organised things so that I could spend some time working from Spain (the internet is very useful that way) but it wasn't really enough and commuting weekly to London (and living in there during the week) when I was in the UK was beginning to be a bore. Finally in 1999 our Beirut company was clearly capable of taking over all my team's work except for support of UK and Caribean customers so we stopped doing R&D and support of Asian and African customers in the UK; and I walked away with a nice severance payment. Since then I've spent most of my time here with my wife, and the rest of the time we've been together elsewhere. The plan is to spend no more than 4 months a year in the UK, becuase the weather there isn't good enough.

This is all very different from what I intended 10 years ago, when I thought that I would go back into local politics when I retired (I got out then because I was working in southern england and that made it impossible to function as a local councillor where I lived). But I'm glad I didn't make any commitments to anyone to go back into politics - I wouldn't want to do it now.

I don't know whether I will work again or not - I suppose it depends on how bored I get not working; but I have resolved not to work more than 16 weeks in any year, even if I do get bored not working. But between ensuring that I keep up with the state of the art in some areas of computing that interest me, and learning Spanish properly, and maybe tackling Old Irish, and maybe picking up some of the languages that I haven't used for so long that I've forgotten them, and maybe bringing my Italian up to scratch, and maybe learning Czech so that I can communicate with my daughter-in-law's parents, I'm not sure I'll have time to be bored any time soon. Anyway, I could always amuse my self by writing critical letters to authors of popular maths books about their sloppiness (that sloppiness irritates me: things like Alex Bellos's treatment of Buffon's theorem in his new book are a disgrace - not only does he not state that the formula he quotes applies only when the needle is short enough, he also illustrates it with a diagram which clearly shows a needle which is too long for the formula to apply). And I shall probably write stuff on database theory (if anyone will publish it), because (a) I find myself struggling to understand it, and those struggles may be worth recording and (b) my former colleagues regard me as an expert on it and want me to pass the ideas on.