Why Bristol Depressed Me, and Other Stories…

So.

It’s not that I feel that Bristol is an intrinsically bad or depressing place. My attitude to it was coloured by the fact that I was a little tired of travelling, tired in general and didn’t entirely want to be there. Also, and this is the key fact, I’d just got back from Iceland. I liked Iceland a lot, despite the twelve hour days I felt almost no stress the entire I was there. There’s something very chilled about the place, and there was almost no traffic congestion, even considering that we drove through the middle of Reykjavik every morning during hush hour. But there’s something else.

I talk quite a bit about how safe I feel in Edinburgh. I’ll walk the length of the city at 3am, no problem. Not that this place is perfect. On my very first night we had to take a diversion on the way back from a night club to avoid a murder scene. But… the last time I tried to walking home after a few drinks back in Maltby a gang of around fifteen guys tried to start a fight with us, and then we had to hide out at a friend’s house and get a lift home in case they were waiting for us further down the road. This wasn’t even in a bad part of town, this was on High Street. Our actions weren’t out of the ordinary, we were just following the drill. Do you get the picture?

It’s not something I generally feel I have to worry about in Edinburgh, sasanack as I may be. In Reykjavik, though, we managed to… hhhmmm… how to phrase this without making myself and my colleague look like complete retards… nope… don’t think it’s possible… leave our belongings unguarded, unwatched and open to theft in an area of town, which, though out of the way, was frequented by the boy racer crowd. Nothing was stolen or even touched. The response we received to our astonishment regarding this: “Well, no… of course it wasn’t.” I didn’t see a single person I would describe as a Ned or a Chav the entire time I was there. Apparently they’re closing prisons down. It was nice.

Then I arrived in Bristol and found my self literally sounded by signs saying “Warning: bag snatchers operate in this area.”, “Pickpockets operate in this area.” and “Remove all valuables from your car.”

That’s what depressed me.

Enough of this talk, though! Here’s some more Jonathon Coulton for you:

I really wish I had a girlfriend right now, ideally one who was also a programmer, so I could giver her these. I’d probably get my arse kicked for it, but damn it would make me laugh…

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Being Yvan Petillot

So.

There I was, sitting across from a senior manager from Thales and two Professors, one each from Cambridge and Robert Gordon’s Universities, discussing the precise definition of the term “emergent behaviour”…

Wait.

No.

Rewind.

Thanks to my current uncharacteristically basy schedule, I arrived late to the Forum on Unmanned Systems and Artificial Intelligence, an event designed to facilitate a high level discussion of these areas, and create the beginnings of a coherent plan for their future. In order to do this it brought together the foremost expects in the relevant fields, from both industry and academia.

And me.

Ah. No. See, there’s a serious failure in continuity and a complete lack of explanation here. I am a terrible narrator (and worse still, I’m stealing Shane Black’s material). Rewind again.

Actually invited to this forum were exhibits A, B and C. Namely: Doctors Yvan Petillot (Head of the Vision and Robotics course at Heriot-Watt University and SeeByte Chief Technical Officer) and Jonathon Evans (Former Head of Research a the Ocean Systems Laboratory and SeeByte Head of Engineering), and Professor David Lane (Head of Ocean Systems Laboratory and SeeByte Chief Executive Officer and Board Chairman).

Enter stage left: Exhibit D, yon plucky PhD student and sometime SeeByte “Development Engineer”, myself. Exhibits A, B and C were unable to attend for various reasons, and so Exhibit A (that’s Dr Petillot for those of you not keeping track) asked me to attend in his stead, get a feel for what was going on, and fly the respective SeeByte and OSL flags. This suggestion was redoubled by Exhibit B, but never actually discussed with Exhibit C, who’s inclusion in the program suggests the organisers were in some doubt regarding his attendance, or the lack thereof. This is not unusual.

And so, a mere 12 hours after arriving back in my beloved Edinburgh, fresh from my jaunt to Iceland (which I will write about in due course, once I can trust myself not to gush too unabashedly), I caught a plane to Bristol (it has a very impressive bridge, you know) and subsequently found myself in a room surrounded by people considerably more qualified and important than I. I’ll leave it to you to make a judgement as to where on the scale between “high opinion of me” and “low opinion of this forum” the exact mark which led to this eventuality lies.

But what of it? I strongly suspect that I shouldn’t go into much (or indeed any) detail yet, and the detail might in fact be supremely boring to the vast majority of readers. Suffice to say that it was an interesting experience, if frustrating reminiscent of the episode of The Simpsons in which the MENSA members take control of Springfield for much of its second day.

I found Bristol quite depressing, but for the reasoning behind that you’ll have to wait until I’ve talked about Iceland some. For context, you see.