Wednesday, 25 July 2012


No - not this one - the United States of America. I was recently at GECCO (the genetic and evolutionary computation conference) in Philadelphia, so was away from home for a week. The conference is one of the two big ones in my field; both usually attract around 300-400 researchers from all round the world; both conferences are good and though in my opinion there is perhaps a more diverse crowd at the other conference, GECCO is a bit harder to get published at so the papers tend to be slightly higher quality. This year I had one full paper to present (and one rejected - boo to that) and if such things interest or even excite you, you can find a technical report which covers most of the findings here (the full paper will cost you a fair bit, and isn't available yet anyway, apparently).

Coupled with the conference, I also made use of the trip to visit my good friend Rick Conrad, a pastor in Pennsylvania that Jay and I knew quite well when he and his family were part of Oldmachar Church, while Rick was studying in Aberdeen. I'd hoped that Jay and Naomi could come too (we did much the same for a great trip in 2008) but it turns out that airfares have gone up a tad since then so we ruled it out. As it turns out, the timing of the trip was somewhat God-driven: Rick's son Grant died unexpectedly two weeks before my travel and I was privileged to be able to provide a break from the aftermath of that. I spent some time with Rick and his other son Ben, playing some fun card games and pretty much just hanging out.

Here's the view from Rick's house - I quite like how "American" it looks, especially the shed in the middle of the picture.

Rick took me for a visit to Cabela's - an outdoor store on a rather different scale to Tiso's in Aberdeen. This one is the local store for New York, Philadelphia and many of the other cities in the same vicinity. It's big enough that they have dedicated bus parking for the tours of people that come just for the experience! Also, being in America, it sells Matrix-level numbers of guns - quite an experience for someone from the UK - we counted something like 1000 just on display.

This is downtown Philadelphia as Rick took me to the conference...

and here is the city hall, right in the centre (or rather center) of their street grid. They know how to do "big".

Here's my room. I lucked out with a corner room which was a bit on the large side!

Here's the view from my hotel window. It was on the 7th floor, and though the hotel went up to about 25 floors, you could only see out by going into one of the rooms, so this was the best that I could see...

 And the view from the hotel restaurant - I try to go out for most meals but all my breakfasts were here.

Take a close look here and you'll see that my hotel was on the charmingly named Locust Street. Super.

Americans sure know how to do breakfast. At the hotel, I had on offer a buffet cooked breakfast, a "continental" breakfast, or one of the following. How could anyone turn down pancakes or waffles like these?
I don't really have any pictures of the conference to share, except some research posters that I found interesting. My talk went pretty well - at least no eggs were thrown! It was pretty much a work-in-progress so I've got good motivation to continue with that line of research. I met a number of interesting people who I now need to get in touch with to talk about things some more, particularly some who should be able to help with my project at Loughborough; and I got a few more ideas about the evolutionary music stuff I've been thinking about. All in all quite a worthwhile experience.

On the last day, the conference finished at 3pm, but my plane didn't leave until 10pm. Happily. Rick and Ben were able to join me for this time, so we went to see one of the big attractions in Philly, Independence Hall, where the American declaration of independence was signed. I also had the obligatory Philly Cheese Stake before heading to the airport for a lengthy journey back home.
The tower on Independence Hall where the liberty bell used to hang
The courtroom (liberty hall used to be the Pennsylvania colony's congress and courthouse)

Rick and myself in the room where the declaration was signed

Independence Hall itself
The trip back was fairly uneventful as long journeys go. I'm no good at sleeping on transport so I was considerably tired when I got in to Heathrow at 10am (5am Philly time) without having really slept. I was lucky to have two empty seats next to me at the back of the plane so at least I stretched out for a bit. I had a pleasant drive back up from London, and was greeted by a 10-minute long hug from Naomi, one of the tightest she's ever given me. I feel warm inside just now still thinking about it.

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