Welcome to my web page. As I am a woman 'of many parts', you will have heard of me through one of many channels. So to keep things simple, I start my autobiographical account at the beginning. Please bear with me: it is not very long and you should soon find the information you are looking for.
I was born and grew up in Reading, Berkshire, England, where I attended Caversham Primary School and Highdown School. After taking 'A' Levels, I spent a year as a sponsored student at the English Electric Valve Company in Chelmsford, Essex, where I learnt a lot about basic engineering practice and high vacuum systems. Then I started studying Engineering at Cambridge University. After two terms it became evident that I was neither happy nor thriving, so I secured a job with a small local manufacturing company and left the university. That job lasted only a few months, after which, finding myself unemployed, I paid a visit to the Cambridge Citizens' Advice Bureau. I was soon helping out on the reception desk there, learning telephony from a former GPO Operator. Armed with my new receptionist/telephonist skills and RSA Stage I typing (without a doubt the most useful thing I learnt at school) I was then able to remain in work through a local temp agency until the following autumn, when I started the Electrical Engineering undergraduate course at Southampton University.
I completed the course at Southampton, graduating with First Class Honours in 1987. My final year project was entitled Development of a Digital Servo Drive under the supervision of Dr Richard Crowder. I remained at Southampton a further three years, producing a doctoral thesis entitled Double-frequency Stator Core Vibration in Large Two-pole Turbogenerators under the supervision of Dr Richard Stoll.
I then moved to Loughborough to join the Fundamental Development Group at Brush Electrical Machines as a Development Engineer. John Catt followed me and we married in March 1991. I left Brush in 1993 when I fell pregnant with my elder daughter Sophie, which gave me some time to develop my interests in Labour Party politics and transport campaigning (focusing mainly on cycling and railway issues through the Loughborough and District Cycle Users' Campaign and the Railway Development Society, now Railfuture). I maintained an interest in the engineering profession by joining the Committee of Professional Group M2, 'Engineering and Society', of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE, now the Institution of Engineering and Technology, IET), on which I served one three-year term. After Sophie's birth I joined the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM), set up a breastfeeding mothers' support group and trained as a Breastfeeding Counsellor.
In 1995 I was elected to Charnwood Borough Council, on which I served one four-year term. For most of this time I chaired Plans Sub-committee 1 (dealing with small but contentious planning applications). Shortly after standing down in 1999, I gave birth to my younger daughter Isobel.
When Isobel started school I joined the ABM Training Team and took responsibility for marking a module entitled Breast and Nipple Problems. I also left the Labour Party at this point. The decision to do so arose from a combination of the ideological and the personal: the Blair Government had abandoned not only the green transport policies on which it had stood at the 1997 general election, but the much weaker ones which it had inherited from the Major Government; and the political career which I had been contemplating during my Borough Council days was looking increasingly unlikely to go ahead.
In 2005 I wrote the novella Automatic Lover, my first significant excursion into fiction since my teens, and published it on a website. It uses a combination of satire and fairytale with a space-age backdrop to examine some issues around robots and artificial intelligence (AI). While I was writing it, Rollo Carpenter's conversational AI 'Jabberwacky' (in the character of 'George') won the Loebner Prize for being 'most human-like' of the entries. I was driven by this coincidence to investigate Jabberwacky, and was thrilled when Rollo asked me to develop a new character, 'Joan', for the 2006 contest. Over the year I gave her 16,000 lines of conversation, so it was great to see her win. She reached the final again in 2007. She is now fronting the website of Icogno, one of Rollo's commercial operations, in avatar form. I continue to work on her very occasionally.
Inspired by my experiences with Joan, I followed Automatic Lover with a novel-length sequel, Automatic Lover – Ten Years On. My intention was to get the two published together in book form ready for launch in conjunction with the 2008 Loebner Prize, which was to be held in Reading where I grew up. After a brief spell trying to interest various publishers and literary agents in my work, I realised that, far from meeting my deadline, I could quite easily waste my entire life in this way; something I had no wish to do. So I proceeded to publish the book myself using author services provider Lulu. Presentation of a copy to Hugh Loebner at his Prize contest in October 2008 marked the official launch, as planned.
In early 2009 I completed a children's novel, Metal Molly, about a little girl robot who goes to school to learn. I wrote it for Isobel, who was still too young to be interested in reading about lovers. I was briefly optimistic that the book could be made available by late 2010 when Isobel offered to illustrate it. Unfortunately, upon starting at secondary school she changed her mind. Happily, in the summer of 2011 I secured the services of talented young art student Laura Buckland. I went straight to Lulu with this one, to save it from rotting in a pile of manuscripts by J.K. Rowling wannabes. It became available in March 2012.
In the summer of 2009 I ceased all activity for the ABM. (I had given up running my group after a few years; but more recently, in addition to the marking, I had taken on the role of Mentor Co-ordinator and joined the Central Committee, while the volume of helpline calls coming into my home was mushrooming.) As with the Labour Party, my reasons encompassed the personal and the ideological: I was unhappy with both the direction of the organisation and the increasing demands it was placing on me, given that I no more saw my post-family career in lactation consultancy than in politics.
In 2007 I started attending the conferences of the Specialist Group on Artificial Intelligence (SGAI) of the British Computer Society (BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT), with the aim of broadening my knowledge of AI. The following year I joined the BCS as an Affiliate Member. In 2011 I joined the BCS SGAI Committee and was immediately made Chair of the SGAI Publicity Group and Publicity Officer for the SGAI conference. I have since expanded my role to include talent scouting for SGAI events and liaison with other AI interest groups. It is a unique supporting role within the AI community which, through being voluntary with a large discretionary element, is highly compatible with my current primary domestic role. I have an awful lot of work to do at home: cleaning, food preparation and generally organising my household. On top of that, promoting my books is proving to be a substantial spare-time job!
In the fullness of time my daughters will have both left the nest, so I am optimising my future professional opportunities through membership of professional organisations and interest groups within them. Within the BCS I have also joined my local (Leicester) branch, BCS Women and the Fortran Specialist Group. I used the Fortran programming language in both my postgraduate work and my work at Brush. Updated versions are still the first choice of scientific programmers internationally, so catching up with it seems like a shrewd move.
Although currently my involvement with the BCS is more active, I have certainly not abandoned the organisation with which I am chartered, the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Within it I have joined four Technical and Professional Networks (TPNs), mixing new interests with those from my professional roots: Robotics & Mechatronics, Electromagnetics, Power Generation & Conversion, Power Systems & Equipment. Being additionally a member of its Local Network for the East Midlands of England puts me in touch with a wider range of topics through conveniently local meetings. Finally, the Women's Engineering Society (WES) provides me with a broader base of contacts among others who know first-hand the challenges of being female in the profession.
I like to do my bit to inform youngsters about the joys and potential of careers in engineering. In the summer of 2008 I spent two weeks working for the Engineering Development Trust, looking after sixth form students on university engineering taster ('Headstart') courses. It had been an ambition of mine to help out on one of these courses ever since I was a student on the girls-only version ('Insight') in 1980. Every year between 2008 and 2011 I assisted my friend Teresa Schofield with the Global Marathon, an annual live 24-hour telephone forum for, by and about women in engineering.
I also consider it a privilege to be able to pass on my wider wisdom. In October 2011 I gave a talk entitled Writing Your Way To Recognition at the University of Bradford Informatics Research Institute. I would welcome opportunities to give a similar talk at other venues.
In 2013 I became involved with the STAARs (Safe and Trustworthy Autonomous Assistive Robots) initiative at the University of Bristol. The attraction of being able to make a valued contribution was enhanced by the attraction of seeing Sophie, who is now a mathematics undergraduate at Bristol. I also started planning and researching a new book.
In my leisure time I enjoy nothing better than going out cycling. I have always enjoyed cycling in company, and rode regularly with Cyclists' Touring Club (CTC) groups in Reading, Chelmsford, Cambridge, Southampton and Loughborough before starting my family. I met John in the CTC in Southampton. When our daughters were younger we cycled regularly as a family, but our family cycling became more intermittent as they grew older and acquired their own interests, not to mention large quantities of homework from school! However, 'getting to them young' obviously worked, as Sophie is now a regular rider with the University of Bristol Cycling Club. John, being now retired, also gets to ride quite a lot, sometimes with local social cycling groups. Sadly, for myself at the moment, cycling is only an occasional pleasure, due to my current workload. Isobel enjoys being out on a bike, but similarly has too many other things to do for it to be a regular feature of her life.
I am a life member of the British Humanist Association (BHA) and am active within my local Humanist organisation, the Leicester Secular Society (LSS). For me, Humanism is not synonymous with atheism but a conclusion to be drawn from it: as there is no God looking after us, we have to look after one another; and as there is no afterlife, we have to make this life as pleasant as possible for everyone.
The most important thing I have learnt in life is not to plan the future too tightly. Opportunities drop when they are ripe, and unstructured wishlists of projects have an uncanny ability to slot into place when the time is right, as long as you keep busy but make time for people.
You are very welcome to contact me. I continue to use an @ntlworld.com email address, despite new parent company Virgin Media's exhortations to change to one of theirs, as my long-term plan is to set up a genuine permanent one. Preface it by my first and last names in full, in lower case, separated by a dot. (Sorry, no live email link as I wish to avoid the SPAM this would attract.) My postal address is 32 Bramcote Road, Loughborough, Leicestershire, LE11 2SA. The landline number at this address is 01509-211468. My mobile number can be made available on application. I have profiles on the IET and BCS Member Networks. I tweet on behalf of BCS SGAI @BCS_SGAI. I have no intention whatsoever of joining Facebook.
Updated March 2013