This is a call to arms

This is what's known in the real world as a cheap attempt to harvest readers who may have fallen off the wagon.

My new blog is up and running (and lovely) at and I'm welcoming you because you haven't been reading it.

If you don't want to leave the happy, cosy confines of LiveJournal without good reason, you can subscribe to dougalstanton which will get you the contents of my new blog in your old blog! Amazing!


Move to new domain (for real)

Ferris wheel

It’s official: I am now moving my blogging activities to my own domain. I will have no-one to blame for outages but myself.

To continue reading, go to because it’s full of excitment and all the fun of the fair.

You can also add an RSS feed if that’s the way you prefer it: If you want me to add a link to your blog or site, let me know.

If I can get it working, I will try to set up an OpenID authentication so you can log in with your LJ accounts. In the mean time, the combination of a low profile and the Akismet spamblocker means I haven’t had much spam hassle yet. So authentication is currently not required.

See you over the other side!


Ah, sarcasm...

On Dumbledore:
What? What?! You're telling us the courtly old British gentleman who never got married and who always dressed in purple and lavender robes was... gay?!

No! No, I refuse to believe it! It simply can't be true!

This is a spiritual awakening, friends.

A friend of mine has decided to set up a religion based upon the teachings of that 80s classic, Top Gun. Think of the quality!

  • The quotability of the KJV. “This is what I call a target-rich environment.”
  • Shares prophets with other religions, just like the Abrahamic faiths. In this case, we share Tom Cruise with Scientology.
  • As many crazy names as the best that polytheistic religion has to offer. Maverick, Goose, Viper, Sundown, Cougar! Slider, Wolfman, Charlie, Hollywood, Iceman!
  • Allows for exciting drinking games beyond the consumption of communion wine (or Ribena).

The first commandment is: never leave thy wingman.


Reducing the barrier to contributing

It just took me three days to commit a couple of patches to [xmonad] ( because

  1. it wasn’t obvious what I should commit. My change was miniscule when it was just a change to the mainline code, but substantiall larger as a “contributed plugin”. There was no mention of when one would be preferred over the other. So I did both.

  2. it wasn’t obvious where I should commit. In the end I had to sign up for the development mailing list in order to forward my patches on.

Surely there’s a better way than this?


Rushed weekend in London for leaving party

We spent the weekend in London, seeing friends from university and family. We know someone who is going away travelling for a couple of years and this was an excuse for everyone to get drunk together first.

The drinking took place in serious style in a Bavarian beerhouse. There were women serving beer and sausages while men in strange outfits sang and played the accordion.

Saturday morning journey to London

We decided to do our bit for the planet and not travel by plane. We got the 7.25 train from Waverley Station. It headed west out of the city because the south-eastern line is closed at the weekend for engineering works. The train was going via Carlisle instead.

We got as far as Slateford, which is about ten minutes walking distance from our flat, before the driver decided that there was something wrong with the train and we were heading back in to the station again. We spent about forty-five minutes on the train and didn’t leave the city limits.

Our train was half booked; the later train we were bundled onto was fully booked and had one missing carriage. So there were people standing in the aisles as soon as we left Edinburgh. I think some people had to stand all the way to London. That’s seven hours.

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Hill-climbing as a search technique

Photograph of hills

If you’ve spent any time hillwalking at all you’ll be familiar with the “false summit effect”. From afar you can tell where the top of the mountain is, but as you get onto the slope itself your view is occluded. You fix your sights on a little hill just in front of you that blocks your view of everything else. But just as you reach this summit, you find that there’s more to come. And in the worst case, you might have to go back down from the mini-summit you’re on to reach the slopes of the higher part of the hill.

That is the false summit.

Searching for things in computer science is often likened to climbing a hill, where the summit represents the goal, and every point on the landscape represents a candidate for this goal. The idea is that, without knowing where the summit is, one can get there by always walking up hill. Assuming an ideal (smooth) landscape one could get to the top of a hill blindfold. (Not recommended.)

The flaw, which I’m sure you’ll have spotted, is the false summit. If we can’t see where we’re going then we can never be totally sure if we’re on a minor summit rather than the very top of the mountain. This is called a local maximum—every direction you walk goes down, but there is a direction which will eventually take you to a taller peak.

The solution is to add a bit of randomness. If you’re at the top and don’t know where to go, spin round in circles until you’re dizzy and then strike out in the direction you end up facing. (I don’t suggest you do this literally either. I’m not going to be responsible for dizzy people hurling themselves off hillsides.) With a bit of randomness added to the search pattern you can break out of the local maxima.

Of course, this is one of those circumstances where you can never be totally sure you’re at the summit. Though if all you’re looking for is a hill high enough then it will fit the bill adequately.

Photograph credit goes to Christof Autengruber on Flickr.


Uri Geller: as crazy as they come

Sometimes the semantic gap between UK and American English provides great comedy. And let’s face it, no-one deserves to be mocked more than Uri Geller.

The spoon-bending fraud has crawled out of the woodwork again with a new TV series in the US, modelled on a similar series he did for Israeli TV. The show is called Phenomenon and aims to find a ‘successor’ to him.

Reality TV World describes the show thus:

NBC has announced Phenomenon, a new reality competition series that will follow mentalist Uri Geller and Criss Angel Mindfreak illusionist Criss Angel as they search for “the next great mentalist,” will premiere on Wednesday, October 24 at 8PM ET/PT.

If you’re still not following me, let Alan Partridge explain:


Dispatches from the fight against the endarkenment

I wrote this post about a month ago but never posted it. It was written just between the broadcast of the first and second episodes of Dawkins’ The Enemies of Reason programme. I have yet to see the second episode, even after all this time.

But I thought I might as well post this; it was either that or delete it. I would also encourage everyone to read Blake Stacey’s blog, Science after Sunclipse, at

I‘m not going to write about Dawkins’ programme The Enemies of Reason just yet. There’s still an episode to go, after all.

But I would like to briefly point to Blake Stacey’s comment on Pharyngula:

The bit with the sociology professor at the end made me want to shake the man and scream, “You think the Internet is opening up new kinds of truth? Which kind of truth makes microchips possible, you bastard!?” But maybe that’s just me; I’m probably not suited for prime time.

While Blake may not be suited for prime time, I felt exactly the same. So I’m not suited for mainstream television either, it would seem. But more should have been done in discussing the postmodernist nonsense at the heart of what he said.