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Cambridge, Our Cambridge

Cambridge, Our Cambridge

I’m writing this blog post at Heathrow airport having accidentally gotten here 3 hours early. Eating a bag of Walkers with a roll of Digestives in my backpack, it seems like as good a time as any to reflect on my time in Cambridge this summer.

When I first got to Cambridge, it was one of my goals to finish a book called 111 Places in Cambridge That You Shouldn’t Miss. While I technically failed tremendously in this goal (I probably didn’t even get halfway through), I succeeded in a different goal that I didn’t even know I had: fall in love with Cambridge.

A random picture of me hanging with a friendly local

I know how cheesy that sounds, I cringed while writing it, but it’s entirely true. So instead of talking about the 111 places the book told me to visit, I’m going to tell you about the top 10 places that made me fall in love with Cambridge.

10. The Cam River

It feels almost impossible to think of Cambridge without thinking of its iconic river and the culture behind it. Whether it’s punting, listening to the King’s choir, or just enjoying the view; the Cam river will play a role in any trip to Cambridge. One only has to look at my camera roll to see why it’s in my personal top 10 places in Cambridge. It was my favorite view every morning on my walk to class, usually crossing it twice.

The Cam as can be seen behind King’s College

9. The Cows

“Cows, Colleges, and Contentment” – am I talking about Northfield or Cambridge? I’m talking about both! Another staple of my daily walk to class was the beautiful and friendly cows that roamed freely across a large field bordered by two outcrops of the Cam. In fact, if you’re lucky you can get both a cow and the Cam in one picture!

A very good boi hanging on the banks of the Cam

8. The Market

I would be surprised if I went a single day in Cambridge without visiting the market. The stalls change regularly and there’s one for almost anything a person could need. Sitting here in the airport; I can see a ring and a necklace I bought there, I can feel the spicy pork dumplings from the dim sum stall in my stomach, and I can hear the sounds of bikes being fixed. While you don’t always find what you were looking for (i.e. the three days I went in a row just to try and find a specific stall that was only up once a week), you’re definitely going to find something new and interesting.

The Market (notice the colorful awnings!)

7. The Corpus Clock

I honestly wasn’t sure if I should put this one on the list. After all, I really only visited it once and it was usually more of a hassle to me than anything else due to all of the tourists blocking the street to get a look. However, I’ve put it on the list because of what about Cambridge it represents to me. The passing of time has never been so inconsistent for me than when I was in Cambridge. A day was both a week and an hour and this clock is almost never on time. I don’t think there’s anywhere else in the world where time has worked this way for me and there’s something special about that. For that reason, the Corpus Clock is on this list. It’s how my heart measured time this summer.

Corpus Clock which never knows what time it is (relatable)

6. The Flower Trail

One of the more confusing, but definitely cutest details of Cambridge. Even more so than the river, these flowers embedded into the sidewalks of Cambridge. When I first saw them I had no idea where they led or even where they were coming from – I always seemed to find them in the middle of their path. While I never followed the path in its entirety, following it partially was a great way to explore the city when I first got there. For the rest of the trip, whenever I found myself staring at my feet while walking, the flowers were always good company. One day, when I come back to Cambridge, I’m determined to fully follow the flower trail.

The Flower Trail ft. my sneakers

5. Cambridge Cheese Company

Extremely self-explanatory and delicious. A cute little cheese shop in an easy to miss alleyway with a focus on sustainability. There’s really not much else to say about this one, the cheese is delicious and it’s a great location in the center of town. They even have their own cheese that’s exclusive to them called the Cambridge Blue.

The adorable alleyway storefront of the Cambridge Cheese Company

4. Thirsty and Hungry

Thirsty and Hungry easily made this list, no problem! An adorable coffee shop in the day and a cozy wine bar at night. The people are incredibly friendly (see you soon Rory and Ollie!) and the wine and coffee are some of the best in Cambridge. Couple the talkative and helpful people with great music and tons of plants and you’ve got a chill spot to hang out and grab a cheese plate with friends after class.

One of the incredibly interesting art walls at Thirsty & Hungry. It’s so fun to just chill out here and pick out as many details on these walls as you can.

3. Fitzbillies

Fittzbillies is an extremely popular coffee shop with two locations – I like to think of it as one of the only places to get a good cold brew in Cambridge. However, they’re most well known for their Chelsea buns (delicious, but oh so sweet! Probably best with a black coffee). While I’m not quite as passionate about Fitzbillies as other coffee places, it’s a great place to get some actual breakfast food rather than just pastries and a great coffee on the way to class.

The famous Fitzbillies Chelsea bun!

2. Christ’s Pieces Park

Are you a Christ’s Pieces or Parker’s Piece kind of OCS student? I’m decidedly a Christ’s Pieces kind of OCS student. Christ’s Pieces is a beautiful park located close to the center of town. One reason why this is my preferred park in Cambridge over many other also very beautiful parks is because of the memories there. This was the first place I hung out with a lot of other OCS students socially. Whether it was having a picnic during the day time or getting together to have movie nights on the grass or even just admiring the colorful flowers, it was always a good time at Christ’s Pieces.

A stock photo of Christ’s Pieces because I do not have one

1. Bould Brothers Coffee

This is the place! The coffee shop that I’m most passionate about, the place that I’m the most passionate about. It was here that I chose to spend 10:30am to 1:30pm of my last day in Cambridge just hanging out. There are no mentions of it in the book and despite being in the dead center of Cambridge, never seemed to catch on with the rest of the OCS group. This is Bould Brothers coffee, my favorite coffee and pastry place (and to reiterate favorite place) in Cambridge. What makes this place so special is, of course, the commitment to a good cup of coffee, but also the people who work there (I’m looking at you, Izzy and Marsi!). Every morning I went to this coffee shop and spent the first hour or two of my morning with locals and regulars who often loved Cambridge as much as I do. It was genuinely my favorite part of Cambridge and what I will miss the most now that I’m leaving.

My favorite order: a mocha and a cinnamon twist
with a cute terrarium in the background!

While I’m extremely sad to be leaving Cambridge, I’m glad that I’m sad (if that makes sense) because that means that coming here was the right choice. Whatever stress that was a part of this summer be it applying and not knowing if I got in, difficult academics, navigating a new place; it was all worth it because at the end of the day I wish it wasn’t over.

See you soon Cambridge!

Saying Goodbye to Cambridge

Saying Goodbye to Cambridge

When I came to Carleton I never thought I would have the opportunity to go abroad with a program that so closely fits my interests. As a computer science major pursuing a history minor, I never thought a program would exist that could combine these two subjects and so I feel extremely lucky to have been able to learn abroad with this trip. When I first signed up I was most excited for the museums. I couldn’t wait to see the planes, bunkers, and huge computers of the second world war, but something that caught me off guard was the architecture of the UK. Growing up in Los Angeles I never realized what an impact history could have on the feeling of a city. It was mind blowing to be able to recognize the famous statues and buildings that I had seen in classes back in Minnesota. London was especially fun, I spent hours just walking around Trafalgar Square and along the River Thames.

Just when I thought I was getting used to England, we traveled down to Normandy. While living next to historic buildings was amazing, I found the graveyards to be the most intriguing part of our time in Normandy. I took pictures of dozens of graves in the Bayeux war cemetery, fascinated by the fact that there were Soviet, Polish, Canadian, and even German soldiers buried in an English cemetery in France.

When I returned to France for midterm break I expected to have a similar experience, but Paris was so full of museums and beautiful buildings that I couldn’t have even dreamed to get through all of them in a few short days. I made sure to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower so I could get a good view of the whole city, and it was amazing!

Although I had traveled before this trip, living in places as historic as Cambridge, London and Paris felt right in a way that I can’t hope to explain. I hope to be able to come back someday soon!

Almost home (kind of)

Almost home (kind of)

I’ll explain this picture later

Hello dear readers, I hope you’re having a good time following our blog. I’m sure you will all be crushed to hear that there are only a few more posts left before we all come home. But turn that frown upside-down, dear reader, because I’m here so you’ll be glad they’re ending soon to tell you all what happened this past Wednesday and Thursday (8-21 and 8-22 for those of you reading this further in the future).

I’m Simon Parker, by the way.

Well to start off, Wednesday was presentation day for all of us. These presentations were about past Turing Award winners (The Turing Award is the Nobel Prize equivalent in the computer science world). We each had our own individual or group winners to talk about, and they were, not surprisingly, all given the award for pretty complicated and technical reasons. The only one that I think I could even attempt to explain would be my winner, Edgar Codd (1981 winner). I want to tell you why he won, but if you don’t want to hear a complete technical description of database management, then please skip to after the picture of Codd below. So Codd invented the idea of the “Relational Model” of database management – ok, now that they’re gone, it’s actually not that technical after all. The main idea is treating stored data as tables. That’s it. I could go into more precise detail of exactly what I mean by that, but I’d bore myself writing it, and I’m sure I’d bore you reading it. If you really wanna know check this out. Anyway, Codd:

Edgar F. Codd

I can hear your eager voices all calling out, “what else did you do in class on Wednesday, August 21st?”. Well, that’s a great question. We began diving into RSA cryptography, AKA public key cryptography. The jist of RSA is that there is a way 2 people can communicate completely securely, such that someone listening in on their conversation would have no clue what they are saying, without having traded any secret information (a key) prior to their conversation. It sounds crazy, and, like 80% of the things in modern cryptography, we have no idea whether or not it works. Don’t get me wrong, we (by we I mean people who handle internet security) are pretty sure it works. Practically, it works. Theoretically, no idea. That’s because in order to prove that something like this would work, we would need to prove that it is impossible to efficiently factor extremely huge numbers that are the product of 2 primes. And to prove that, you would need to prove whether or not P vs NP, a huge undecided problem in computer science. I won’t even attempt to give you an explanation, but this video will.

This is an abrupt change of subject, but I want to talk about what I did on Thursday. I say ‘I’ here because a good chunk of the class went to London to check out the British Museum and the Barbican. Now, this was an optional trip, and I didn’t really want to go to London to see a museum that I had already been to (I went during midterm break), so I didn’t go. And, as of writing this post, I forgot to ask for pictures of the trip. The trip is a mystery to both you and me, dear reader.

Instead I went to the Centre for Computing History here in Cambridge. And wow, it was pretty cool.

Aside from a bunch of older videogame consoles (all playable), there were quite a few old computers with manuals and activities that helped you learn older languages. I spent a while trying out simple BASIC programs, which were surprisingly easy to write. They also had a similar station with Raspberry Pis and Python. I would definitely recommend it if you ever find yourself in Cambridge, because I am not great at getting across how interesting this place was.

That’s it. I’m out of stuff to say other than I hope you enjoyed my post. Bye!

Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sex

Blood, Toil, Tears, and Sex

Hello, my name is Narun Raman and I am the sole rising Senior on this program (I have been awarded senior citizen status, the perks are worth it, to be honest). After traveling for the past few weeks, we are in Cambridge for the remainder of our stay in England. We are approaching the last couple weeks of our program and it has been really fun!

This week on our program two guest speakers came to talk about the quandaries of artificial intelligence, specifically how it can worsen the social climate for women and underprivileged minorities.

Sex Robots:

Ex Machina

The first speaker, Kathleen Richardson, talked about the effect of sex robots on the objectification of women and their status in society. There was a lot of debate on this topic, discussing the efficacy of research into pedophilia and what the Aristotlean advocacy of slavery in society. As a class, we found her arguments interesting to dissect and debate among our peers. Her talk brought an interesting dimension to the argument of how sex robots may have no effect on prostitution and pedophilia rates. Furthermore, referencing studies to support her claim were helpful to ground her thesis in hard science.

Gendered Virtual Personal Assistants and Pygmalion

Image result for pygmalion ovid
Pygmalion and the Statue, Regnault

The second speaker, Sarah Dillon, talked about the issues surrounding gendered AI. Bringing about the historic topics like the Eliza Effect coined by Douglas Hofstadter based on Joseph Weizenbaum’s chatbot, Dr. Dillon showed how the creation of female-voiced VPA’s serves to reinforce gender norms of female subservience. It was a very interesting talk and the class were engaged in how she approached teaching the nuanced and complex literary analyses of Pygmalion to undergraduate students. She connected George Bernard Shaw’s play to the climate of gender norms and how current VPA’s only serve to reinforce the oppressive issues in our diaspora. The field of Natural Language Processing seems to somewhat come from this original play. Ironically, the play’s emphasis on diction and vernacular serve as an interesting launching point for a programmatic understanding of language. The chatbot built by Joseph Weizenbaum and the effect coined by Douglas Hofstadter reference the titular character in Pygmalion, Eliza Doolittle.

This Off-Campus Studies program has opened me to really interesting and different aspects of computing and history that I had no experience in. Also, Cambridge is one of the most idyllic college towns and spending time here has been awesome.

Reflection

Reflection

King’s College, Cambridge

Last weekend, as you can see in Cole’s post, we took a trip to the city of Manchester. After over two full weeks of traveling around England and France, it seemed fitting that we only had three nights back in Cambridge before hitting the road again for Manchester – and while all the traveling has been wonderful, it is also nice to be back in Cambridge again. I know at least a few of my classmates on this trip agree with me when I say that I have fallen in love with Cambridge over the short time we have spent here, and I have been very excited to be back over the last week.

After all that time spent traveling, it was also natural that our classes have picked back up in full – back to three days a week of classes. Thus, this past week back in Cambridge has not been overly eventful – filled with problem sets, history portfolios, and papers by Alan Turing. Not exactly the most exciting content for a blog post. Which is why I would like to take this opportunity to reflect back on some of the highlights of this trip. As there have been so many great moments on this trip, I am only going to be able to talk about a small portion of them.

As I am writing this, reflecting back on the past two months, it is hard for me to believe that there are less than two full weeks left on this trip. It has been such an amazing trip so far, and I do not want it to be over. So, I would like to start by talking about how this trip began – with our arrival in Cambridge. Since most of us had not been to Cambridge before, we spent a few days basically getting oriented in the city after our classes. And since most of us only knew a handful of the other students, we also used this time to get to know each other. The first week or two were full of wonderful new discoveries around Cambridge and the start of many new friendships.

Switching gears to a more academic highlight, our trip to Bletchley Park is something I could not possibly leave out. We got to see the buildings in which Alan Turing, along with thousands of others, were able to break the German Enigma machines. We even got to use a real Enigma machine, and watch how a Bombe, the machine created by Turing to help break Enigma, really worked. After that, we went to the adjacent museum, where we got to see the Colossus, and then write some code in this really old programming language called BASIC. Overall, it was a wonderfully educational trip, which was also a lot of fun.

Enigma machine

The next highlight I want to talk about I will be brief, as it has already appeared in previous posts on this blog – France. Specifically, Normandy. Having never been to France before, I didn’t really know what to expect. What I ended up with was a wonderful time in a beautiful country – we saw spectacular beaches, hills, and fields, without ever straying very far from Normandy. In addition to the beauty of the country, we also got to visit many historical sights relevant to the D-Day invasions at Normandy.

One of the beaches captured by American troops on D-Day
French coastline

This is by no means a complete list of everything I have enjoyed about this trip – I don’t think they would let me write a post that long. Everything about this trip has been so much fun, and I am sad that the end is getting close. So on that note, I am going to end this here, so I can go out and make the most of my last two weeks in this amazing country. Cheers!

Moving on to Manchester

Moving on to Manchester

Welcome, friends of the blog and beyond

It’s been a busy week since the beginning of our midterm break. After returning to Cambridge for a couple of days, the group packed up and prepared for another excursion. The destination this time: Manchester.

The welcome sign for the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry

Our first stop was to the Science and Industry museum where we were able to see several important artifacts from computing history. One of the main attractions was the Manchester Baby: the first electronic stored-program computer built by engineers and scientists at the University of Manchester in 1948. Although we had heard the Baby described as “small and primitive” for its time, the machine appeared to be anything but by modern standards. I was fairly impressed by the hunk of metal, which totes more than 500 vacuum tubes and a cathode ray tube display, one of the first of its time. Still, the Baby had a great influence on the design of experimental and consumer computers in the following decades.

The Manchester Baby in all its glory

The Baby’s predecessor, the Manchester Mark I, was developed with the help of one of computer science’s most famous innovators, Alan Turing. After his pivotal code-breaking work at Bletchley Park during the war, Turing settled in Manchester where he continued to design a number of computer systems and theorize about the capabilities of machine intelligence (which lead to the description of the Turing Test) among other things. Our tour group was lucky enough to meet Johnathan Swintor, author “Alan Turing’s Manchester,” who gave a talk on Turing’s later life and work, including his work in theoretical biology.

Sadly, the story of Alan Turing’s time in Manchester is incomplete without mentioning his conviction for gross indecency that resulted from the discovery of his homosexual relationship with a Manchester man. Following the conviction, Turing was stripped of his government clearance at the British intelligence agency, GCHQ, and subjected to harsh hormone therapy; which lead Turing to take his own life in late 1954. Turing was not pardoned for his harmless “crime” until December 2013, when Turing would have been 101. While it’s remarkable to witness the technological evolution from early computers, it’s also important to acknowledge the lacking developments in gender and sexual inclusivity in computer science.

the manual for the Ferranti I commercial computer with a picture including Alan Turing (far right)

If somehow the Manchester Baby and the works of Alan Turing weren’t applicable enough to the history of computing, Manchester also offers an even older artifact of computer history and design: the Jacquard Loom. The Jacquard Loom could produce textiles based on a series of punch cards, each of which described the combination of interlacing strings in an individual used to produce a larger pattern on the textile. Some of the earliest computer systems adopted the idea of punch card programming. At the Science and Industry Museum, we got to see a Jacquard loom in action as it produced a picture of Museum’s exterior.

The next day we visited a textile mill in Macclesfield, a town just outside of Manchester, where we were able to get even more hands-on with the Jacquard loom. We were able to see the silk textile production process from start to finish, look at jacquard loom punch cards for different designs, and even operate a manual jacquard loom. It was a great practical exercise to apply the ideas of computer programming and early computer history that we touched on in class.

Jacquard loom on display at the Science and Industry Museum
The mill floor at the Paradise Mill in Macclesfeild
Ribbon tags for Doc Martens produced by a Jacquard loom in the Silk Museum

Manchester was a great place to explore some of the artifacts that we’ve explored in our coursework. I look forward to learning more about early computer artifacts like the ones we got to see in Manchester.