I attended the International Computer Music Conference 2008 at Belfast.
This was my first real academic conference -- I was a volunteer at ISMIR
2006, but that was in my own town, and I only attended four talks.
ICMC didn't really feel real. I mean, for the past few weeks I'd been
scrambling to finish my thesis, preparing the defense, giving the
defense, making the thesis corrections, getting packed, surviving the
trip, preparing the slides, giving the conference presentation. I hadn't
had time to really think about flying across the world and visiting
another country. OTOH, this might have been a good thing; I might have
been more freaked out if I'd had longer to think about it.
Or maybe it just didn't seem real because I was sick and jetlagged.
This was the first time I'd left the province (or flown at all) since
2000 or so. And that time, I just tagged along with my family and let
them figure out what to do / where to go. I was traveling with my
supervisor, but we ended up in separate seats -- I went to a self-serve
kiosk at the airport to get my boarding pass, but he insisted on lining
up and seeing a checkin person. He wasn't checking any luggage, though.
Anyway, the ticket guy told him that the flight was very full and he
couldn't change seats. It turned out to be not such a big deal, though
-- he got me through security and whatnot; the flight itself wasn't
What was worrying was Heathrow. There was a bus to take us to the
other terminal, so that was ok... but our path was highly circular and
didn't look at all official-looking. Most of the path looked like normal
corridors, with alternate hallways and escalators blocked off by tape.
We eventually came to an immigration place, and my supervisor went off
to the EU line (with his non-Canadian passport) while I went to the
non-EU line. Which really bugged me, by the way. Here I am, a loyal
servant of Her Majesty the Queen, being treated like an American. :(
... anyway, it turned out that I was in the wrong immigration line.
I went to the big "non-UK / non-EU" lineup to my right; I was supposed
to have gone straight and then branched to my right a bit later, at the
"connecting flights" lineup. Not particularly the mistake I wanted to
make in my first experience with a foreign country's immigration. :(:(
But the immigration officer was quite nice about it (that's probably the
first time you've ever read that phrase :), and directed me to the right
place. I went through that, but of course my supervisor was in another
part of the airport -- he'd gone through the main EU immigration area
instead of the EU connecting flights area. He waited in the baggage
claim area for a while, then gave up and went to the gate.
Meanwhile, I'd gotten ahead of him and found myself in the main
departure lounge (never having seen the baggage claim area, since that
isn't needed for connecting flights). I found the gate, and we met up
Oh, and I have to say that England is a dump from the air. All those
fields are ridiculous. I mean, even the forests fit into geometric
shapes! It looks pathetic. I can't wait for the return flight to see
real forests and mountains in BC. (I loved the beginning of the flight
away from Vancouver, though. Yummy jagged snow-capped mountains. I want
to go hiking again.)
Room / Streets
My room here at the dorm was bigger than my bedroom in Victoria. It was
much nicer than I expected... although the power plugs on the desk
didn't work. They said "30 mA switched" on them, and my laptop charger
says "980 mA", so maybe that's it. This meant that I can choose between
having internet (via ethernet) in my room, or sitting in the floor
lounge with power . My small eee laptop doesn't have a very good
battery, so this was a non-trivial issue.
Also, Queen's University Belfast didn't have a lot of power plugs. I've
been spoiled by the ECS building at UVic, where half the seats in the
lecture halls have power sockets. I only found two audience power plugs
in each of the lecture theatres we were using. :(
The bathrooms have separate hot and cold water taps. When I first saw
this, I thought it was really quaint... but then went I went to wash my
hands, I realized it wasn't so charming. How am I supposed to get warm
water?! The hot tap is hot. I briefly tried swiping my hand under
the hot water and then under the cold water (trying to mix them), but
that didn't really work. I've therefore been using cold water.
Drivers were are insane... the taxi from the airport was almost always
accelerating or braking, and that seems like normal traffic behavior
here. There doesn't appear to be any notion of cruising. And when a
light changes or they turn a corner, they immediately zoom off. We used
to call that Alberta driving in Vancouver, but it's much more so here.
Pretty good haul from this conference:
- conference bag, of course.
- umbrella, "in case you forgot one". I actually did forget one... or
at least, I'd forgotten that umbrellas were useful at all. At UVic, I
just let my hair get wet while I biked, but I had waterproof pants.
The umbrella was useful a few times.
- A4 paper pad, pen
- conference schedule, concert info, etc. So far I've managed to avoid
all the concerts / installations / artsy stuff. (you need tickets for
the lunchtime concerts, and I was in bed around 6pm due to jetlag, so
I missed all the evening concerts)
- assorted touristy maps, brochurs, and voucher booklet.
- a small flat box of peppermints. When I was investigating the bag, I
couldn't figure out what they were, so I joked to my supervisor that
they probably weren't esctacy pills. (those are small and white,
- 2 GB usb key with all the proceedings. Quite nicely laid out, too,
with cross-referenced pdfs.
When I saw the usb key, I thought it would only be 1 GB, so I was quite
pleasantly surprised. I've vaguely considered buying a bigger usb key,
so this'll be quite useful once I delete the conference meterials from
I was presenting rhythmic exercise creation -- basically the first half
of chapter 2 of my thesis. This was the least prepared I've ever been
for a talk; I was still working on slides 20 minutes before the actual
presentation, and I'd only ran through it three times.
It went better than I expected. I talked too quickly, and finished in
about ten minutes (I had 15... but the previous group had gone over
time, so the session chair was happy about me). I covered everything I
wanted to cover; if I'd added more material, it would have gone into too
I even included info about my Masters thesis on the final page, saying
"this is out of scope of the paper, but if you were wondering what I'm
actually doing with these exercises...". A few people downloaded the
thesis; we'll see if they have any comments later in the week.
My tiny eee laptop is doing quite well. It auto-detected the full screen
at something like 600x400 instead of Yx480, so my slides were cut off at
the bottom. But I managed to find the xrandr command to change the
resolution of external VGA very quickly, and I wrote a display.sh to
set it appropriately. Some people were very impressed to see me plug in
my laptop, start X11, change the resolution, and type "make show" to
begin the presentation.
The only problem is the battery, which I mentioned earlier. But the
small keyboard and display are no trouble for me, and with the success
of giving a presentation, I feel much more positive about this beauty.
I've heard that lilypond was used more widely in Europe than North
America, but I never quite realized how much. When people mention it in
their presentations, they just say "we used lilypond" and don't feel
compelled to explain what it is. Half a dozen people recognized my name
from the -user list, and when I mentioned that I was one of the main
developers of lilypond, I could feel the atmosphere of the room change.
Actually, during one of the questions of somebody else's
presentation, I chimed in with some info about converting formats to
So maybe all that time wasn't as wasted as I thought it was. I've
certainly regretted not spending more time on Marsyas or chuck or some
of the other big North American projects... if I'd spent half the time
on chuck as I did on lilypond, I'd have gotten much more recognition
at ICMC, given how many Princeton people were there... but maybe all the
lilypond work was useful after all. If I end up going to Europe.
On the final morning, I was so fed up with presentations that I decided
to do the tourist thing and walk around Belfast. (besides, the sessions
weren't at all in my research area)
It was... I think the best term is "underwhelming". I mean, once you've
seen one neighborhood of houses in the UK, you've seen them all. At
least, judging from London, Oxford, and Belfast. How can people stand
those red brick identical houses?! Ditto for shops. At least,
non-city-center shops. Those had some different displays, but still
nothing fancy. Halfway in between the identical-brick-buildings and
stores in a North American city.
Oh, and the parks are a joke here. Fenced off lawns and trees. The whole
point of grass is to be walked on! That's why it grows so short! And the
whole point of trees is to be climbed. Not that I've actually climbed a
tree in the past twenty years... but in Canadian parks, there's always
the option of tree-climbing.
And I can't get over how silly those lawns are... the ones where you can
see the direction they raked them in. Yes, they actually rake their
lawns. I saw somebody doing that at the university on Thurs morning.
If I had paid attention during art history stuff as part of my
compositions classes at SFU, I could probably make some snappy comment
about how this demonstrates the Romantic character of the UK ("the great
man triumphing over nature and bending it to his will" or whatever),
while the Canadian parks demonstrates the Enlightenment character of
Canada ("it is not rational to cut the grass, since the bunnies will eat
it for us. Therefore we should leave nature alone and let the park
forests and grass grow as they want" or whatever). But since I didn't, I
Oh, and I was quite disappointed with the girls in Belfast. I didn't
seen any long-haired blond girls. You know, the ones you always see
playing harps and stuff? Nope. I haven't seen anybody with hair longer
than mine. So much for the "celtic beauty" stuff.
Also in the "sad disillusionment" category are the accents. I've finally
realized that not all European accents are sexy. And some of them are
almost impossible to understand! I really didn't think I'd have this
problem in the UK... I mean, I can understand anybody in Canada (apart
from maybe East Coasters), and Canada covers so much more land than the
UK. OTOH, I guess the UK has far more people than Canada does.
This might sound really weird to European readers, so let me clarify:
until I went to Belfast, my biggest exposure to Euroepan accents came
from James Bond films. Imagine my disappointment when I discovered that
not everybody in Europe sounds like a Bond girl! :(
In Vancouver, we don't have many recent European immigrants. I know a
few people who moved here ten or more years ago, but that's it. The
overwhelming majority of immigrants are Asian... come to think of it,
there were a few Asian Bond girls, but since I heard non-sexy versions
of those accents all the time in high school, I never became fixated on
I did have lunch one day with an Oxfordian. His accent definitely was