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And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic

Randy Shilts


It's hard to sum-up this book: part history, part in-depth analysis of gay society in the 1980's, part polemic against the Reagan administration. Randy Shilts lived through it (and eventually succumbed himself), and he wonderfully captures the frustration, the fear, and the final sense of creeping inevitability as more and more in the core social circle fall away.

It's also a fascinating study of how governments listen (or not) to their own scientists, as well as of the political in-fighting between science groups and the ways in which reality is so often shaped by the perceptions of those reviewing the evidence: obvious in hindsight, perhaps excusably resisted at least in the early stages. There are plenty of examples of more recent "epidemics" that actually were not as devastating as they were at first warned to be (SARS and nvCJD spring to mind) – which isn't to excuse the quite despicable inaction later when things became clear. There's a lot here to be learned about how to respond to news of impending devastation.

One advantage of writing this review late is that I can include recent events: the exoneration of one of the main villains of the piece, Gaetan Dugas, who was reviled as "patient zero", deliberately spreading the epidemic more rapidly and widely. It turns out that, whatever Dugas' actions, they didn't give rise to as much secondary infection as was thought when Shilts wrote his book, and just goes to show how science is always a provisional activity.

5/5. Finished 04 August 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery

Henry Marsh


A deeply felt and insightful – if sometimes over-personalised – view of medicine, neurosurgery, and working within the UK NHS. It's at times terrifying: some cancers are benign, some are malignant, but anything that recurs will basically kill you no matter how well you treated it the first time. It also doesn't reassure to think that neurosurgeons hone their skills by operating, and by failing – and this by definition leaves damaged patients behind. But it's also comforting to see the professionalism and skills on display, and to learn the surprising variety of perfectly treatable conditions from which one might suffer. Not for the fainthearted, though.

4/5. Finished 23 July 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Darkness at Noon

Darkness at Noon

Arthur Koestler


A classic of "fictional history", focusing on the Stalinist counter-revolution of the 1930's. The protagonist, Rubashov, struggles to understand what's happening to him as he is imprisoned, set up for a show trial, and eventually executed.

Koestler brilliantly captures something that often seems inexplicable in the history of the period: why did so many of the main characters collude in their own destruction? He makes a convincing case that they were captured by their own revolutionary logic: having professed the supremacy of the revolution, the creative use of obviously unjust violence, and the subordination of the individual, they found themselves unable to argue or act in their own defence, and even found solace in performing one last act that aided the revolution even as it consumed them. Still inexplicable, but also somehow admirable that individuals could become so devoted to a cause, no matter what one thinks of it.

4/5. Finished 20 July 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Mary Beard


A distinguished historian's swan song, a history of Rome that focuses on many of the neglected aspects of the period – and on why they are neglected. The experience of slaves, or women of the poor – of which we know next to nothing – are contrasted against the experience of Cicero, the first person in history we can "know" in a modern, biographical, sense. On the way Beard explores what it meant to be Roman, and so what it meant to be a part of the Empire from the perspective of the ordinary and elite peoples far from Italy.

For me the most radical observation that Beard makes is in identifying what counts as "important" Roman history. She essentially discounts the empire and the emperors as being a footnote, something that occurred after all vibrancy and creativity had passed. For her, the Republic and the characters around it – the Gracchi, Cicero himself, Pompei and Caesar – are the elements that gave us the important things we have taken from Rome. It's an unusual argument, compellingly made.

5/5. Finished 19 July 2016.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

CfP: Collective adaptive systems

A special track of the 32nd ACM Symposium on Applied Computing (SAC'17) looking for contributions.


Special Track of the 32nd ACM Symposium on Applied Computing (SAC'17) April 3 - 7, 2017 Marrakech, Morocco Nowadays, most aspects of our daily life are affected by pervasive technology, consisting of massive numbers of heterogeneous units/nodes (computers, devices, software applications, smart objects, etc.), complex interactions, and humans-in-the-loop. The distributed and open nature of these systems and their large scale make sensing, decision-making, planning and acting possibly highly dispersed: this may cause on the one hand the emergence of unexpected phenomena, but on the other hand it can be the key to support inherent adaptation and resilience. These complex systems are typically referred to as Collective Adaptive Systems (CAS). They have to be equipped with dynamic and autonomous adaptation capabilities, to deal with changes in their working environments and within themselves. CAS involve huge collections of cooperating components, trading off individual tasks, properties, objectives and actions, with overall system goals. To properly engineer and exploit CAS, a deep scientific understanding of the principles underpinning their operation is required. The development of CAS is closely related to other contemporary (software) engineering approaches, such as component-based systems and middleware platforms, as well as other Computer Science areas, such as Distributed Artificial Intelligence, Formal Methods, Agent-based Programming, Pervasive Computing, Internet of Things, and Autonomic Computing. This track aims at providing a common forum for discussing the various different viewpoints over CAS, attracting relevant and consistent contributions from different research communities, with the ultimate goal of filling the gap between theory and practice, hence paving the way towards implementation of relevant applications. The Special Track on Collective Adaptive Systems takes deliberately a broad view of what CAS are and how they should be designed, analysed, built and deployed. In particular, the track's interest is both in the foundational view (e.g., theories, methods, formalisms, models) and the practical aspects (e.g., development methodologies, programming languages, middleware, development and runtime environments, tools). Moreover, also applications of CAS solutions to real-world case studies are welcomed. Major topics of interest this year will include the following:
  • Novel models, languages, programming and implementation techniques for CAS
  • CAS technologies and infrastructures
  • CAS applications
  • Scenarios, case studies and experience reports of CAS
  • Formal aspects (semantics, reasoning, verification) in CAS development
  • Business Processes in CAS - Self-* and emerging properties of CAS
  • Security and privacy in CAS - Policy-based coordination and self-adaptation in CAS
  • Middleware platforms for CAS
  • Software architectures and engineering methodologies for CAS

Important Dates

Sep 15, 2016: Papers and SRC research abstracts submission Nov 10, 2016: Author notification Nov 25, 2016: Camera-ready copies Dec 10, 2016: Author registration

Programme Co-Chairs

Mirko Viroli Alma Mater Studiorum - University of Bologna, Italy email: Francesco Tiezzi University of Camerino, Italy email: francesco.tiezzi@

Program Committee Members

  • Jacob Beal, BBN Technologies, USA
  • Olivier Boissier, Ecole des Mines de Saint-Etienne, France
  • Tomas Bures, Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic
  • Siobhan Clarke, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
  • Daniel Coore, University of the West Indies, Jamaica
  • Ferruccio Damiani, University of Torino, Italy Rocco De Nicola, IMT Institute for Advanced Studies Lucca, Italy
  • Giovanna Di Marzo Serugendo, University of Geneve, Switzerland
  • Simon Dobson, University of St Andrews
  • Schahram Dustdar, TU Wien, Austria
  • Kurt Geihs, Universitaet Kassel, Germany
  • Jane Hillston, University of Edinburgh, UK
  • Christine Julien, University of Texas at Austin, USA
  • Hung La, University of Nevada, Reno, USA
  • Peter Lewis, Aston University, UK
  • Alberto Lluch Lafuente, DTU, Denmark
  • Michele Loreti, University of Firenze, Italy
  • Andrea Omicini, University of Bologna, Italy
  • Carlo Pinciroli, Ecole Polytechnique de Montreal, Canada
  • Rosario Pugliese, University of Firenze, Italy
  • Barbara Re, University of Camerino, Italy
  • Jan-Philipp Steghöfer, Chalmers Technical University, Sweden
  • Martin Wirsing, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen, Germany
  • Franco Zambonelli, University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy


Papers accepted for the Special Track on Collective Adaptive Systems will be published by ACM both in the SAC 2017 proceedings and in the Digital Library. CAS Special Track organisers also plan to invite authors of selected papers for a Special Issue in a high impact journal, such as ACM Transactions on Autonomous and Adaptive Systems or Science of Computer Programming.

Paper submission and format

All papers should represent original and previously unpublished works that currently are not under review in any conference or journal. The author(s) name(s) and address(es) must NOT appear in the body of the paper, and self-reference should be in the third person. This is to facilitate blind review. Only the title should be shown at the first page without the authors' information. Submitted papers must be in the ACM two-column page format (doc template, pdf template, latex template). The length of the papers is 6 pages (included in the registration) plus up to 2 extra pages (at extra charge), i.e. total 8 pages maximum. Paper registration is required, allowing the inclusion of the paper/poster in the conference proceedings. An author or a proxy attending SAC MUST present the paper: This is a requirement for the paper/poster to be included in the ACM/IEEE digital library. No-show of scheduled papers and posters will result in excluding them from the ACM/IEEE digital library. Submission is entirely automated via the STAR Submission System, which is available from:

Poster Sessions

Papers that received high reviews (that is acceptable by reviewer standards) but were not accepted due to space limitation can be invited for the poster session. Poster should be not longer than 3 pages (included in the registration) plus 1 extra page (at extra charge), i.e. total 4 pages maximum. The poster session procedures and details will be posted on SAC 2017 website as soon as they become available.

Student research abstracts competition

Graduate students are invited to submit Student Research Competition (SRC) abstracts (maximum of 2 pages in ACM camera-ready format) following the instructions published at SAC 2017 website. Submission of the same abstract to multiple tracks is not allowed. All research abstract submissions will be reviewed by researchers and practitioners with expertise in the track focus area to which they are submitted. Authors of selected abstracts (up to 20 students) will have the opportunity to give poster and oral presentations of their work and compete for three top-winning places. The winners will receive medals, cash awards, and SIGAPP recognition certificates during the conference banquet. Invited students receive SRC travel support (US$500) and are eligible to apply to the SIGAPP Student Travel Award Program (STAP) for additional travel support.