Martin Orr's Blog


Posted by Martin Orr on Saturday, 28 January 2006 at 13:08

There has not really been much happening so far this term. My first supervisions (except ones left over from last term) are not until Wednesday of next week. However I do have three on that Wednesday so I now have to start working hard - most of the supervisors wanted to supervise on Wednesdays. I am doing a second-year course, Groups, Rings and Modules, for which my supervisions are also on Wednesdays but on the other week (all the supervisions are once a fortnight).

On Wednesday, we returned from lectures to find several fire engines parked in front of Great Gate and porters directing you to use other entrances to the college. There were many more porters around Great Court directing people away from Great Gate. Someone was told that a suspicious package had been found. It emerged that when the mail was being sorted, acid had leaked from a letter and burned a porter's hand. The Cambridge Student reports that a man is now in custody.

-- Martin

no comments Tags trinity, tripos

The Internet and the Printing Press

Posted by Martin Orr on Wednesday, 25 January 2006 at 15:11

I want to muse about the difference between the Internet and the printing press. These may be compared on the grounds that they each led to a major reduction in the cost of distributing information, and consequently to a massive increase in the spread of information. This is certainly true, but I suggest that they affected the distribution of information in fundamentally different ways. Prior to the development of movable type in Europe in the 15th century, all written documents were in the form of manuscripts. Production and use of these was of course restricted to those who could read and write, but other than that anyone who possesed a manuscript could create a new copy at the same cost.

The dominance of printing changed this completely: copying a document required ownership of a press and skill in typesetting. This created the publisher, who possessed this equipment and was able to cheaply mass produce copies of a document. In addition, each copy of a document was not enough to create a new copy: you had to create a master block of type to print from.

The use of electronic media on the other hand flattens the cost of copying. Any electronic copy of a document is equivalent, in that it can be used as the basis of a new copy without any alteration in quality, and the equipment for copying is readily available and in many cases the same as the equipment for using the document (literacy in the manuscript era; a computer today).

In conclusion, the rise of digital media and the Internet removes the need for the publisher; or perhaps it would be better to say that it turns everyone into a publisher. Of course publishers have not in fact disappeared from the Internet; this may be because we have not yet fully adjusted, or there may be other reasons for their continued existence.

-- Martin

no comments Tags internet, ipr, printingpress

Back in Cambridge

Posted by Martin Orr on Thursday, 19 January 2006 at 08:26

Well I'm now back in Cambridge. Lectures start again today, and I have my first supervision (left over from last term). Between leaving Belfast on Wednesday and getting to Cambridge on Saturday, I spent several days staying with my aunt in Hove (near Brighton). During this time I rode up and down the south coast by railway, and visited Stonehenge, Salisbury, Chichester, Bosham, Portsmouth, Brighton and Fishbourne. A few photos are at

On Monday I went to visit our IOI guide, Beata. She and her friend Marzena are working in a cafe in Bracknell. They are both enjoying living in England and clearly it is financially worth coming here: the minimum wage is five times what it is in Poland, rent costs four times as much, food up to twice as much and other things are of comparable price. Marcin, a friend in college with Polish parents, reckons that the difference in prices is greater than that but that it would still be possible to save considerably more in the UK than in Poland.

Full Term started on Tuesday with a college test on last term's work. I came top out of the people who did the test, although one of the three Maths Directors of Studies did not get his students to take the test; and by an alphabetical coincidence that includes five of the seven former IMO team members (four UK, one Ireland, one Greece and one Vietnam) in the year.

-- Martin

no comments Tags england, holiday, ioi, tripos