Moving out

Several things have happened recently to make me feel very uneasy where I am now.

I was assured by the Head of School that I could keep my office while I was teaching Mathematical Structures. Now it seems that this meant actual teaching and did not include setting or marking the exam or answering students’ questions in the run-up to the exam; I have been ordered to leave at the end of this month. So I propose a sort of “fire sale” for Friday 6 December. If you are in London that day, and you show up at my office in the afternoon, there will be a pile of books and journals which will have to be got rid of; I will be happy for you to help yourself, and if you wish to make a small donation to charity, that will be fine by me. What doesn’t go will be bundled into the skip.

Now it seems that, completely unexpectedly, I have exceeded my quota on the network as well, and have been ordered to delete electronic files too. I can’t give them away, so they simply get trashed.

As part of this, Dropbox is broken. I was relying on it to get course material for Mathematical Structures to tutors. I can still do this from my own laptop, but it is a little odd to be forced to do this.

To add to the impression, my P45 arrived last week, saying I am no longer employed to teach Mathematical Structures as from the end of this month. So the last two weeks of term I will be teaching without a proper employment contract too.

Later: I was quite upset when I wrote the above. Later in the day, perhaps I should add something, just to show that I have no hard feelings for the IT people (who are not after all responsible for the disaster that centralisation of IT is becoming, but have to deal with the consequences).

It was true that the computer wouldn’t work because I was over quota. So let’s have some facts.

  • I had been warned that I was over quota, by an automatic email this morning. Of course, if an email comes from IT support saying “You have exceeded your quota”, it is 99.9% sure that it is phishing, and you should ignore it (and preferably delete it in case there is anything harmful in it).
  • My quota was 10GB. Let’s put that in perspective.
    • When I arrived at Queen Mary more than 27 years ago, my quota was 200KB “soft” and 1500KB “hard”. So, when I wrote a book, I could compile it and print it out, but had to immediately delete the dvi file. Fairly soon afterwards, they decided that quotas were stupid and abolished them. At some point they brought them back.
    • If you go into a shop like Maplins, you can buy a 500GB hard disk for 50 quid. So the cost of my quota is one pound, even at retail prices! If the department is so hard up, I am quite happy to donate a pound for them to get me an extra 10GB of storage.
  • There seem to be two reasons why my usually modest usage of disk space has increased recently. One is that they introduced a new mail system made by Microsoft, and when I was unable to use it, told me that I should be running Windows Explorer. Because I can’t do that, but have managed to set up mutt to work with this system (with help from IT support and from commentators on this blog, notably Dima – thanks, Dima!) my saved mail is kept locally rather than in some cloud somewhere. The other is that, in order to circulate the course material for Mathematical Structures (notes, problems and solutions) to the tutors, I have been using Dropbox, but this is undiscriminating and downloads all my other Dropbox folders onto the system.

So on top of throwing me out of my office because answering students’ questions before the exam doesn’t count as “teaching” (to say nothing of examining!), and sending me my P45 saying my employment terminates at the end of this week, they are now telling me that the innovations I tried to make in running the course cannot be supported by our computer system.

I think I was quite justified in getting a bit upset.


About Peter Cameron

I count all the things that need to be counted.
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14 Responses to Moving out

  1. Jon Awbrey says:

    I don’t know what the world is coming to, or going to …

    Aside from papers and conference talks, you can also upload teaching materials to

  2. Dima says:

    In all fairness, your quoted 10Gb is backed up, I presume. This means it doesn’t come that cheap (and by the way, nowadays it’s electricity bill that makes data expensive, not the hardware it is kept on).
    I have seem people getting hit by installing Dropbox into their home directories, and making systems hang this way… Dropbox should be given a non-quoted not backed up space on a local disk, instead.

    By the way, can host pdf files for you (from the menu you can choose New, then Media, instead of the usual Post), so your lecture notes at least can go there.

    • I think I was hoping that someone like you, Dima, would tell me how to use WordPress folders selectively, so that different folders are synchronized on different machines; Ubuntu One seems to have some such facility, though I haven’t tried it out.

      In the meantime, since Dropbox no longer runs on my desktop machine, I have been able to delete all the Dropbox stuff, which brings me below quota. But it is a retrograde step, since I have had to go back to carrying a USB stick around with me, and planning ahead to anticipate what files I will need.

      Yes, you are right about backups; I apologise for my intemperate rhetoric, though I still feel that something is wrong somewhere; WordPress, Dropbox, Ubuntu One, Google Docs, etc charge you neither for storage space nor for electricity (up to a point).

      • Dima says:

        At least on Mac OSX one is able to specify the only Dropbox folders to sync on this particular machine (via Advanced/Selected Sync).

        For a fine control of content for the public, I recommend using github or bitbucket. Both also provide meaningful interface to VCS (Version Control Systems). Have you ever used cvs/svn/hg/git ? You’d love hg or git, I am sure…

  3. Michael Giudici says:

    You can choose which files in your dropbox sync to which machines. This way you don’t need to have all the files in your dropbox located on your work machine. See

  4. Aysha Rahman says:

    Hi sir,
    This was actually really upsetting for me to read. I am so sorry that you’re being treated in such a manner and it is completely unfair.

    I am in my second year of uni studying maths now and miss your math structures lectures. Although I shouldn’t be admitting this, I hardly attended any lectures in my first year but yours I really loved. I believe one should only teach something they are passionate about and you did that for me, making your students want to learn it too and feel the same passion. You are partly one of my inspirations for wanting to pursue a career in lecturing.

    I hope things get easier for you.

  5. Kenza says:

    Professor Cameron, this doesn’t help with your dilemma but hopefully it makes you feel better: You were honestly the best lecturer I had last academic year hands down. I loved mathematical structures and I learnt so much from you. A friend and I were even planning to come along and sit in one of your lectures this term purely because we missed your teaching. Having experienced 11 other lecturers, I can confidently say, you are a rare gem. You really are an exquisite teacher. Thank you.

    • Thank you both very much for these comments. I am very moved.
      If you want to hear me lecturing at Queen Mary, you have two weeks left: the lectures are Tuesdays 12-2 and Wednesdays 11-12 in Arts 2 LT, and I would be delighted to see you along.

  6. Peter Barnes says:

    I’m disappointed to hear this. Your reputation is a major reason for me deciding to attend QMUL. I had direct entry to the 2nd year, so have not had the pleasure of being lectured by you.
    I hope you realise you’ve inspired a lot of people. I’m disappointed in qmul.
    Best wishes

  7. Aneesa says:

    During my first year at Queen Mary your Mathematical Structures lectures were the only lectures I enjoyed and actually learnt from. And your online notes were more well written than many books I have tried to learn from in the past. Your lectures was interesting, how I imagined studying maths would be, you actually made me WANT to learn, and want to attend your lectures! Lecturers who love their work are quite rare and it was clear from your style of teaching that you were one of these rare few! The school is making a big mistake getting rid of you, but its their loss. They wont find anyone even remotely as good as you and you will be missed for sure!

  8. Dessi says:

    Dear Professor Cameron,

    It was so upsetting for me to read your post. I am a second-year QMUL Maths student and I truly enjoyed your Mathematical Structures lectures! For me, you remain the best lecturer I have ever had and I will really miss you! I found your notes very easy to read and quite fun, something I thought is impossible in Maths at university level. It hurts me so much that the Maths department are treating you in that way and it is very unfair! Being a course rep this year showed me how much they don’t want to change some of their policies, although they are not fair towards students.

    You are an amazing lecturer and put heart into teaching us! I remember your last Mathematical Structures lecture last year – I felt a bit like crying. I will always remember how you were explaining to us about the natural numbers by using the example where your little kids used to count like ‘1,2 skip a few 99, 100’. I have saved all your notes and every time I am in doubt of something I always refer back to them. It was an honour for me to be one of your students and I hope to read about your future work in some maths journal! Wish you all the very best and hope to see you again some day!

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