Trains of Thought
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XXVI. 04/02/18-18/02/18; cut and carve

I get up early. An email woke me. I had forgotten to switch my phone to airplane mode. Airplane security has wrought itself into some of the daily operating systems of our earth-bound lives. Why should it be called “airplane” mode? Why not “offline” or “free” mode?

To paraphrase Herb Simon, problems are more complex than our brains can handle, so we oversimplify and ignore parts of the problem statement, or fill in the unknown with our mental models of the way we think it should be, sometimes with dramatic effects on the results. Creating a useful problem statement is therefore a balancing act, a matter of providing enough solution-neutral information to capture important needs, without providing extraneous or misleading information.
System Architecture, Global Edition

Because the safety switch must be recognizable to strong-willed stewards in the economy classes of intercontinental flight services.

An oversight like keeping your phone wired to the beating throb of cyberspace might change your life. You get up and have three or four hours more time to think or write or play.

Leaving the house at 8:00 after being awake for four or five hours is very different to leaving at 7:00 after less than an hour of transition time. Perhaps this buffer is the key for the preservation of one’s self. Let the hours of the night unwind for a little longer; expand the cushion zone. But there are not enough hours in a day to do it all.

Which do you prefer: a connecting flight scheduled with a time-buffer, or a tight fit to maximise efficiency? Do you trust the system to make it work when the fit is tight and your in-coming is delayed?

There should be no rush. How many of the constraints we give ourselves are necessary or helpful?

Opposite me a lady is proof-reading a paper of some sort. I write lady like I’d write gentleman. She isn’t old as the word might imply. Her setup is tidy. her coat is hung on the hook by the window. She asked her neighbour to excuse her so she could stand up. Now she is back again. Her AMT coffee cup says: “Merry Christmas” and “win a trip to Paris.” The pen she uses is slender and black. Her earrings are shaped like over-sized drops, they are silver with a brown stone or wood inlay. She wears a thick, coarse dress over a full sleeve brown shirt. The dress is coarsely woven: black, white and brown threads. Her scarf is tied so that it hides her neck. The scarf’s colour doesn’t match the dress: it has green and orange in it. But the overall effect resolves into an impression: a shell, an armor, a habit. It is the exterior character of a knight or monk. Her hair is chestnut brown and short and parted to the side. Her skin is dry and irritated. She flicks pieces of dry skin picked from around her lips towards the window.

The young man next to me wears Sony headphones and his head is horizontal, parallel to the table as he sleeps. On my other side across the aisle a man with fleshy lips reads small font on his phone, scrolling slowly but with intention. He holds a kindle in his left hand, the font there is about 20x the size. The title of his portrait would be Interruption.

People share their screens in public places. We can follow the creation of a presentation for a company called Tractable with a blue triangle as its logo:

Diagonally in front of me a man with a large screen MacBook Pro. He has a lumberjack beard and wears jeans and leather half-boots. I can only see his side. He moves between developing the presentation and deploying instant messages through his phone. Snapshots of meaning: Deploying to the real world – challenges. Naive approach: deploy each model to a dedicated GPU. Pro of CPU: Initial overhead minimal, 3.5 k per month. No orchestration layer. Cons: low throughput. Still computationally wasteful. Use CPU for inference… “Naive GPU” he writes and deletes that again. Now he has opened Adobe or a similar drawing programme. Back to the slide, he is segmenting the space. Where to put the text box? He is in the sketching phase. He fills a new rectangle shape he has put in with placeholders: “Blah” at the top, “As” in the middle, “as” at the bottom. He creates another rectangle on the right of the first.

There is frost on the ground, the horizon is pale pink and the grass is pale green. Next to me across the aisle is a tall man who occupies that spot there habitually. He sits ramrod straight and he is thin and always has earphones in, looking forward. Sometimes he sleeps for a bit, his neck muscles keep control, he doesn’t bob around.

The other guy is still playing with formatting options on his PowerPoint. Looks like he has run out of things to say about CPU vs GPU. He has made three boxes now, one green, one blue one red. The green one says “images batch.” The blue one says “tensorflow framework.” The red one is hard to read. He has stacked them neatly on top of each other. All this has taken about 5 minutes. “GPU memory usage of TF Python process,” added in a random text box. Now he goes back to the placeholders: Naive packing – run several python process on the same GPU. Constraint – need to … He flicks to a black screen with code in very small font. It seems unprofessional to make the font so small. He highlights a block in blue.

Out through the window at King’s Cross, white sheets hide construction work. The sheets ripple with air and sunlight glances off it.

McLaren Construction has been awarded a cut and carve refurbishment and extension contract with investor and developer Crosstree to transform the iconic Camden Town Hall Annexe into a 270 bedroomed boutique hotel.



Situated directly opposite St Pancras Station the iconic, brutalist building was built in the 1970s by Camden’s own architects and engineers. It was designed as an office to house the council’s staff and was used until 2014 when they moved to a new purpose built office in the new Kings Cross development.


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