What ALAN CREAK wants to tell you.

Alan's motto :

"Now that the first flush of youth is just beginning to recede a little ..."

This introduction is neither witty ( though sometime I make the attempt ) nor pictorial ( I don't even try ), nor moving ( in any sense of the word ). It is written in words, an old-fashioned means of communication, now largely forgotten, but effective in its way. I like words.

I hope the material herein is informative. I believe that none of it, nor any other material under my control which is accessible from here, is false; if you find any false statement, please tell me about it.


"Change and decay in all around I see", and web sites are not exceptions. While one would prefer to emphasise the change over the decay, time moves on, and the focus of one's interest develops. This philosophical digression is a clumsy way of preparing you for the shock of discovering that this web site is, slowly but perceptibly, on the move. Bit by bit - or, perhaps, considering that this is a computing environment, morsel by morsel - stuff is going to my other web site.

I shall try to manage the move in a civilised way, but evidence so far suggests that I shall fail. Some links will undoubtedly end up pointing to an old version which will become fossilised as time passes; others might point to nothing at all. If you feel strongly about it, let me know.

Contents ( in part ) :

Specials - for people who just want information about something else.



Alan, in person -

Alan, the computist -

Alan, on the higher plane -

  • Link to the CHAPLAINCY NETWORK MEETINGS information ( WARNING : God is mentioned on some of these pages );
  • Some obsessions - or perhaps just opinions;
  • Really Alan ( WARNING : God is not actually mentioned on the page you get to eventually, but is strongly implied );
  • Alan counts some of his blessings ( WARNING : God is mentioned on this page too ).
NOTE on God : The several warnings which appear above are included for any readers of tender sensibilities, such as those in whose interests one of the Auckland Children's Hospitals with silly names refused to allow a group to present a play in which God appeared as a character. Their "excuse" was that there had been no warning that such a terrible thing might happen.

Finding me.

My postal address is : Alan Creak,
Computer Science Department,
Auckland University,
Private Bag 92019,
New Zealand.
My electronic addresses are : Telephone : 64 9 3737 599 ext 87265

Facsimile : 64 9 3737 453

Electronic mail : alan@cs.auckland.ac.nz

My real physical base location when I'm at the university is : Room 303.371,
Computer Science Department,
on the university's city campus.
( If you can't find me there, ask at the Computer Science Department Office. They might not know either, but they'll sympathise. )

My nature and occupations, professionally speaking.

I am an honorary research fellow in the
Computer Science department at Auckland University ( New Zealand ), where I have been since 1984. ( This is an anomaly, because I don't believe in computer science, but there's nowhere else to go. )

My research interests are centred on Rehabilitation Computing. A brief definition : looking for ways in which people with disabilities can use computers to reduce their difficulties.

Apart from rehabilitation computing, I have difficulty in disengaging my interest in several other topics. ( WARNING : having a wide, and shifting, range of interests is lots of fun but no longer a good strategy for an academic. If you wish to achieve academic prominence, you should be very careful not to waste time thinking of anything outside your chosen field, which you should keep as small as possible. ) There's a list of some such topics which might or might not be up to date; several of the links below go to the same list rather more specifically, but in case you'd like to look at the whole lot, there it is.

The emphasis on favoured research topics might change a bit. I am pretty sure that rehabilitation will continue to top the list, but it is clear so far that having nothing to do mysteriously ensures that you have even less time to do it than you had before, so I haven't really got round to rehabilitation yet. Should I ever get that far, and, further, convince myself that I'm making some progress, two or three of the other long-standing topics might resurface, because there is unfinished business there. If you're interested in any topic, ask me. You'll probably find me quite easy to persuade. ( That is not unconnected with the phenomenon of the vanishing time. )


Anyone interested in pursuing anything more or less vaguely connected with the topics above ( or practically anything, for that matter ) is very welcome to get in touch and discuss possibilities, whether for cooperation or just general interest.

Research students.

Anyone - student or otherwise - who wants to talk to me about his research is more than welcome to do so. I won't claim to give advice, but my opinions are free and often abundant.

Apart from that, a summary of what follows is "Sorry". While I am able in principle to supervise research students, I have finally, and with considerable regret, decided to do so no longer, unless there are very pressing arguments to the contrary.

In the past, I have had a lot of enjoyment, a lot of fun, and a lot of learning out of research supervision. Some, at least, of my students have been kind enough to say they thought I'd done it well from their point of view too. But that was in the old days, when academics were deemed to be honest, capable, and honourable people, and their students were similarly regarded as sensible, mature, and intelligent. Occasionally some of these assumptions might have been a bit shaky, but on the whole they worked pretty well, and we had ways of dealing with the exceptions.

Times have changed. We are now guilty until proved innocent, and the task of supervision is hedged with forms and regulations. None of these, perhaps, is excessively onerous in itself, but I don't want to do them, and I don't feel obliged to do so any longer. I should add in the interests of clarity that this isn't the students' fault; I've had some pretty odd students, but I can't remember any I didn't like, and they've all been enthusiastic about the research.

There are some other contributory reasons too. One of considerable weight is that over the years I have found that rather few students are really interested in my pet topics. As supervising students was part of the job, and with indefatigably high hopes, I have therefore taken on many students with interests which I could convince myself, rather too easily, were connected with things I wanted to do. While this has given me a lot of fun and experience in areas into which I would otherwise never have ventured, it just hasn't worked as a way of getting my research done, and has instead consumed vast amounts of time which I would have preferred to spend on my own work. ( One "very pressing argument" would be a desire to work on one of my preferred topics for its own sake, not because it happened to include something else that you wanted to do. )

I preserve for general interest a few pages of advice, comment, and reflection which I originally wrote for my research students. Occasional E-mail communications suggest that other people have found them helpful.

Other technical preoccupations.

The title for this part was originally "Other technical interests", but I thought I should be honest. An even better title might be "Unfinished business ( technical )", but there is such a lot which comes under that heading and has vanishingly small probability of ever being seriously thought of again, let alone finished, that I compromised with "preoccupations" - which is true enough.

The most serious of these preoccupations is operating systems, on which I lectured from 1985 to 1998, with two years off while on leave and the more than able collaboration of Robert Sheehan from 1989 on. Operating systems was never one of my interests, but someone had to do it, and that was me. I was profoundly unhappy with the conventional treatment of operating systems, which seems to me to have an intellectual content comparable to that of stamp collecting ( no, not philately ! ), so put a great deal of work into inventing an alternative. ( There is a report and a paper about the alternative treatment. ) This became the backbone of our course from about 1990, and the continuing preoccupation is an attempt to write a book on the subject following our new approach. This is going very slowly.

I had - and, I suppose, still have - a text-formatting programme called Regal ( because it's about rulers ). It's a mark-up system, rather like LaTeX, but far more versatile. ( Yes, I've read the LaTeX book, but Regal started long before then. Apart from that, "Regal" spelt backwards is "lager", which sounds more fun than "xetal". ) The method is based on analogies between formatting text streams and multiprogramming operating systems. I've been doing it as a secret hobby for some time, and I'd like to get it completed. The past tense appeared above because my experience of Regal has convinced me that there's a better way. Therefore, some day I intend to have a text-formatting programme called Imperial ( because it sounds better than Regal ). Almost the only visible evidence of Imperial is a working note, but it's a start.

Me, previously, at work.

I graduated ( B.A. and Ph.D. ) as a chemist, before there were such things as undergraduate computing courses, and switched to computing in 1969 after practising as a chemist for several years.

My first computing interests ( apart from learning the trade ) were in artificial intelligence and programming languages. ( Most active involvement in these lines of research was squeezed out long ago by the demands of lecture courses in other topics, but if you've read this far from the top of the page, then ( a ) congratulations !, and ( b ) you'll have noticed that they are making a strong bid for reelection. ) I came to Auckland in 1973, when I took up a lectureship in the university's computer centre - this department had not been established at that time. Those obsessed with nitpicky historical detail can find a little more here - and there's a note on the university's old computers here ( someone asked for recollections, and I couldn't bear to throw it away ).

I moved from the computer centre to the Computer Science department in 1984, and I've been here ever since. In that sentence, "here" is to be interpreted loosely, for there have been two periods during which I've been elsewhere :

Anyone who cares can look at yet more gory details of my past - it's not so much a curriculum vitae, more a list of responses to sudden changes in circumstances. But it's all I have. Here's a list of several students whose research work I have supervised in the past. And here is my meagre list of publications. "Why meagre ?", you might ask. I usually say it's because I'm a perfectionist.


What's new ? -


Reference : Ecclesiastes 1.9.

Me, not at work.

If you really want to, you can find out ( just a little ) about the real Alan Creak - but don't forget that you asked for it. There are no pictures there either.

Alan Creak,
2007 December.