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Author Archive: "David Levy"

Ben Mittman and the Pont Neuf

Yesterday afternoon we went to view the latest exhibition of Ben Mittman's photographs of Paris.

The City of Paris undertook a major project starting in the mid-1990s to totally restore the oldest bridge in Paris, the Pont Neuf. The restoration ended this year, coinciding with the 400th anniversary of the bridge's completion in 1607. During the entire period of the restoration, Ben Mittman documented the work in black and white photography. Below is an image of the Pont Neuf as viewed from above, courtesy of a satellite photo from Google Earth.

There are thirty-four bridges that cross the Seine in Paris. They consist of the usual road and sidewalk variety, as well as five foot bridges, two viaducts for the metro, and two auto-route crossings. In 1988, the City of Paris took over ownership of the bridges from the State, and embarked on a multi-year renovation plan that included the complete restoration of the Pont Neuf — a project that would take almost fifteen years to complete.

The Pont Neuf was in very bad shape, having had its previous major restoration in the mid-19th century. The photo below shows what the blacked and broken stonework looked like in ...


I love Paris in the Springtime, I love Paris in the Fall, I love Paris…

Sacre Coeur

The Eiffel Tower

I feel extremely fortunate to have traveled quite widely and to have visited many wonderful cities, but for me Paris is right near the top of the list. Only in New York, where I have visited more than 85 times, and in London, do I feel more at home. For me Paris has everything, for Christine it has even more. We have our favourite haunts that we go to every time we are in the city: the Musée d'Orsay — a marvelous art museum in what used to be a railway station; the streets, the cafés in the 6th arondissement where Hemingway, Sartre, and countless others of their ilk used to congregate; the cinemas that always seem to be showing the best 1950s films; the architecture; the restaurants; … for us Paris is incomparable in its own way, just as New York is incomparable. If I had to spend the rest of my life in just one city, never moving outside it, my choice would be between these two, and it would be a very difficult one. Probably I would settle ...


Learning to Spell

I will never forget how to spell Wednesday. When I was six my parents decided to emigrate from the UK to New Zealand, my father being certain that a third world war was going to break out and that we would all be annihilated by nuclear bombs. We lived in a suburb (as it then was) of Auckland, called Three Kings, where I immediately started at the local school. On the first day my mother came to collect me at the appointed time but I was not at the school gates — I had been "promoted" to the next higher class, which did not leave until a little later in the afternoon. The following day my mother came at the new time, but again I was not there, having been promoted once more. When I reached the class for ten-year-olds my parents were told that I couldn't be promoted any further, even though I already knew more than my classmates. This was not because I was particularly clever, but because of the level of education of my peers — a consequence of the difference in the levels of primary school education between the two countries ...


Companions

Views of Oxford.

Today I am attending a meeting of the "Governing Council" for a software project called "Companions." These are computer programs that can converse with the user, a branch of artificial intelligence that has interested me for many years. In 1994 I sponsored a project to develop such a program and after three years’ research and development we had a program that won the 1997 Loebner prize competition in New York.

The chief researcher on our team was Yorick Wilks, a larger-than-life computer science professor at Sheffield University who has long been one of the world leaders in natural language processing (conversation, translation, etc.). Yorick is the Project Co-ordinator for the Companions project, which is funded by the European Union, and any event at which he is in charge is very much an uplifting experience — intellectually satisfying and great fun.

Rather than attempt to describe the Companions project myself, here is a link to the Companions web site. Enjoy!


Poker

Sunday Poker

For me Sundays are poker days, and yesterday was a rather good day at the poker table.

Every Sunday when I am in London I sit down at 11am to play an eight hour poker session with a group of friends. There are about ten of us in the poker school, but never more than eight of us playing. This is not Texas Hold-Em, the most popular form of poker nowadays, but a collection of variants that can best be described as bizarre. We only play hi-lo poker, in which half of the money is won by the highest hand and half by the lowest. But it isn't as simple as that. When almost all the betting has finished we have "simultaneous declaration", in which each player puts one, two or three poker chips in his closed fist, and then we open our fists to reveal which way, high or low (or both) we are trying to win. Someone who tries for high can only win the high half of the pot, at best; likewise someone who tries only for low. Anyone who "swings" — attempting to take both halves, must at least equal ...


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