What skills will we need to live in future smart cities?

Last week, I co-authored a piece with Theo Tryfonas, a colleague from the University of Bristol’s Faculty of Engineering, on the Government Office for Science’s Future of Cities blog, looking at digital skills and competencies in the context of future smart cities.

A summary of the post is below, with the full report available to read online.

Today, the idea that data can play a key role in the design and management of cities is widely recognised. Architects, planners and engineers are already considering how data can improve the planning and operational aspects of cities. However, we believe it’s now time to consider the skills that people will need to live in these smart cities.

The increasing digitisation of information, coupled with the impact of innovations such as the Internet of Things, will have a profound effect on all aspects of city life. This will include anything, from transport planning and energy use reduction, to care provision and assisted living. But it will also include new ways of social innovation, new ways of organising communities, and increased access to political processes. So, familiarity, if not proficiency, in `digital era’ skills will be an essential part of future citizenship.

This doesn’t only mean people should have the necessary digital consumption skills to help them make full use of emerging technologies. They should also have digital creation skills such as design, technology awareness, computational thinking and programming skills, as well as a risk-informed perception of data privacy and security. The challenges of delivering such a skillset are many, from designing a 21st century curriculum for schools and universities, to ensuring fair access to digital technology for everyone.

We believe that taking the time to consider these skills issues now is just as important as resolving the design and operational issues of the emerging technologies themselves.


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Call for nominations for BCS Distinguished Fellowships

From time to time, BCS considers the award of a Distinguished Fellowship to members of the computing profession who have made an outstanding contribution to the advancement of computing.

The Award was first approved in 1969 and the first election was made in 1971 (Edsger Dijkstra); see the full roll of BCS Distinguished Fellows. I currently sit on the BCS Distinguished Fellowship Committee and we wish to open the call for nominations as wide as possible. The relevant regulations specify that the Award may be made even if the individual in question is not already a member of BCS and may not be eligible for any other class of membership. Any candidate for Distinguished Fellowship should be considered against the following criteria:

  • The contribution to computing should be seen in terms of major importance to the overall development of computing, with substantial personal recognition through peer review over a substantial and sustained career.
  • There is no restriction on nomination on the grounds of nationality or of existing membership of BCS and nominations from business, industrial, research or academic backgrounds are equally acceptable and work of either a practical or theoretical nature may be equally valid.
  • At any time, both the work and the stature of the individual nominated should be commensurate with the standards set by previous recipients.

Nominations for BCS Distinguished Fellowships are made online and close at noon (GMT) on 18 September 2015.

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Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop on Artifact Evaluation for Publications

I’m pleased to have been invited to a Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop in November on “Artifact Evaluation for Publications”, in recognition of my work (with colleagues) on computational reproducibility and software sustainability.

Schloss Dagstuhl, Leibniz-Zentrum für Informatik GmbH (Schloss Dagstuhl, Leibniz Center for Informatics) is the world’s premier venue for informatics; the center promotes fundamental and applied research, continuing and advanced academic education, and the transfer of knowledge between those involved in the research side and application side of informatics. The aim of their Seminar and Perspectives Workshop series is to bring together internationally renowned leading scientists for the purpose of exploring a cutting-edge informatics topic; in this case how we can define a roadmap for artifact evaluation in computer systems research (with application more widely across computational science and engineering), defining an actionable research roadmap for increased accountability, rethinking how we evaluate research outputs (particularly software) and document research processes and associated e-infrastructure, as well as how best to change culture and behaviour — and perhaps more importantly, incentivisation structures — for researchers, institutions and governments:

The computer systems research (CSR) community has developed numerous artifacts that encompass a rich and diverse collection of compilers, simulators, analyzers, benchmarks, data sets and other software and data. These artifacts are used to implement research innovations, evaluate trade-offs and analyze implications. Unfortunately, the evaluation methods used for computing systems innovation can be at odds with sound science and engineering practice. In particular, ever-increasing competitiveness and expediency to publish more results poses an impediment to accountability, which is key to the scientific and engineering process. Experimental results are not typically distributed with enough information for repeatability and/or reproducibility to enable comparisons and building on the innovation. Efforts in programming languages/compilers and software engineering, computer architecture, and high-performance computing are underway to address this challenge.

This Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop brings together leaders of these efforts and senior stakeholders of CSR sub-communities to determine synergies and to identify the promising directions and mechanisms to move the broader community toward accountability. The workshop assesses current efforts, shares what does and doesn’t work, identifies additional processes, incentives and mechanisms, and determines how to coordinate and sustain the efforts. The workshop’s outcome is a roadmap of actionable strategies and steps to improving accountability, leveraging investment of multiple groups, educating the community on accountability, and sharing artifacts and experiments.

Organised by Bruce R. Childers (University of Pittsburgh, USA), Grigori Fursin (cTuning, France), Shriram Krishnamurthi (Brown University, USA) and Andreas Zeller (Universität des Saarlandes, Germany), Dagstuhl Perspectives Workshop 15452 takes place from 1-4 November 2015 (see the full list of invited attendees); looking forward to reporting back in November.

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Come and work with me: KTP Associate in Big Social Data Analytics

Fancy working with me on a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) project in collaboration with Coup Media (funded by Innovate UK with support from the Welsh Government)?

A KTP Associate position is available to develop an adaptable social media analytics engine and associated framework for the film and media industry to capture consumer insight, marketing perceptions, sentiments, trends and rankings using big social media datasets. With the explosion of social networking, there is a clear correlation between box office takings and sentiments, opinions and perceptions expressed in the public domain on social media platforms. This project aims to leverage this by developing an extensible and adaptable social media sentiment engine using big social datasets (initially targeting Twitter) to rank movies by opinion, informing industry marketing decisions and providing commercially valuable insight into the public’s emerging movie tastes and selections.

This is an 11 month position, with a pro-rata salary of £21,000. For informal enquiries, please drop me an email: tcrick@cardiffmet.ac.uk; further information and how to apply can be found on jobs.ac.uk and the Cardiff Met website.

Deadline for applications: Friday 19 June.

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Mathematical Relationships


I don’t think solving this problem will do much for Angela and Brian.

(see more excellent examples of the world’s finest academic writing at Thanks, Textbooks)

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New paper: “Top Tips to Make Your Research Irreproducible”

It is an unfortunate convention of science that research should pretend to be reproducible; we have noticed (and contributed to) a number of manifestos, guides and top tips on how to make research reproducible, but we have seen very little published on how to make research irreproducible.

Irreproducibility is the default setting for all of science, and irreproducible research is particularly common across the computational sciences (for example, here and here). The study of making your work irreproducible without reviewers complaining is a much neglected area; we feel therefore that by encapsulating our top tips on irreproducibility, we will be filling a much-needed gap in the domain literature. By following our tips, you can ensure that if your work is wrong, nobody will be able to check it; if it is correct, you can make everyone else do disproportionately more work than you to build upon it. Our top tips will also help you salve the conscience of certain reviewers still bound by the fussy conventionality of reproducibility, enabling them to enthusiastically recommend acceptance of your irreproducible work. In either case you are the beneficiary.

  1. Think “Big Picture”. People are interested in the science, not the experimental setup, so don’t describe it.
  2. Be abstract. Pseudo-code is a great way of communicating ideas quickly and clearly while giving readers no chance to understand the subtle implementation details that actually make it work.
  3. Short and sweet. Any limitations of your methods or proofs will be obvious to the careful reader, so there is no need to waste space on making them explicit.
  4. The deficit model. You’re the expert in the domain, only you can define what algorithms and data to run experiments with.
  5. Don’t share. Doing so only makes it easier for other people to scoop your research ideas, understand how your code actually works instead of why you say it does, or worst of all to understand that your code doesn’t work at all.

Read the full version of our high-impact paper on arXiv.

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2015 EAPLS Board member elections

EAPLS, the European Association for Programming Languages and Systems, aims to stimulate research in the area of programming languages and systems. Formally inaugurated in 1996, it provides a forum for researchers across the domain, working with related organisations and industry to initiate scientific events and stimulate the exchange of ideas, as well as raising funds, organising conferences and divesting financial support.

I’m standing in the 2015 EAPLS Board elections (current Board members); I believe there is a significant opportunity to rejuvenate the activities of EAPLS and raise its profile: building networks for early career researchers, sponsoring new events/initiatives, engaging with the major conferences and journals in our field, encouraging improved knowledge transfer activities with industry, as well as raising the profile of the wider research areas in both UK and EU funding streams. We can also be more active in the policy space, by highlighting the educational and economic impact of the wider research areas of programming languages and systems.

You can view my full election statement; all EAPLS members (free to join) are eligible to vote, with the election open until 15 April 2015.

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Paper submitted to CAV 2015: “Dear CAV, We Need to Talk About Reproducibility”

Today, me, Ben Hall (Cambridge) and Samin Ishtiaq (Microsoft Research) submitted a paper to CAV 2015, the 27th International Conference on Computer Aided Verification, to be held in San Francisco in July. CAV is dedicated to the advancement of the theory and practice of computer-aided formal analysis methods for hardware and software systems; the conference covers the spectrum from theoretical results to concrete applications, with an emphasis on practical verification tools and the algorithms and techniques that are needed for their implementation.

In this paper we build upon our recent work, highlighting a number of key issues relating to reproducibility and how they impact on the CAV (and wider computer science) research community, proposing a new model and workflow to encourage, enable and enforce reproducibility in future instances of CAV. We applaud the CAV Artifact Evaluation process, but we need to do more. You can download our arXiv pre-print; the abstract is as follows:

How many times have you tried to re-implement a past CAV tool paper, and failed?

Reliably reproducing published scientific discoveries has been acknowledged as a barrier to scientific progress for some time but there remains only a small subset of software available to support the specific needs of the research community (i.e. beyond generic tools such as source code repositories). In this paper we propose an infrastructure for enabling reproducibility in our community, by automating the build, unit testing and benchmarking of research software.

(also see: GitHub repo)

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The Art of Programming

The best programs are written so that computing machines can perform them quickly and so that human beings can understand them clearly. A programmer is ideally an essayist who works with traditional aesthetic and literary forms as well as mathematical concepts, to communicate the way that an algorithm works and to convince a reader that the results will be correct.

Selected Papers on Computer Science (1996)
Donald Knuth


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Solution: Create unhackable systems

Needless to say, this tweet prompted a number of subtle (and not so subtle) responses; it is just vague enough to not be 100% sure he is actually joking (because the software verification problem is trivial, right?).

Did North Korea hack Sony? I doubt it; perhaps it was from an unexpected agent.

N.B. high-profile cosmologists appear to be quite happy to make bold statements to the media on issues well outside of their expertise…

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A set of books to read in 2015


Having been shamed by Stephen Curry’s excellent posts on the books he has read the previous year for the second year on the bounce, I have decided to pick twelve books to read in 2015 that have been sitting unread in piles around my house.

Continue reading

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Best of 2014

Here are the most popular posts of 2014*; as always, a combination of research, CS education, programming, science policy and cathartic moaning. Most of my visitors came from the UK, with the US and Germany not far behind (168 countries in all). The busiest day of the year was 14 January, with lots of traffic to this post from last December.

Top five posts (70 this year, 271 overall):

  1. Five Programming Top Tips (from a seven year old)
  2. Paper submitted to Recomputability 2014: “Share and Enjoy”: Publishing Useful and Usable Scientific Models
  3. New A Levels in Computer Science from 2015
  4. FuckIt.py: The Python Error Steamroller
  5. What Superman III teaches us about programming

The most common search term was once again: “feynman algorithm”; the most bizarre: “big boobs gpg image” (most likely referring to this post from 2012).

Thank you all for reading! See you back in 2015.

*also see best of: 2013, 2012, 2011


Christmas computational complexity

While there are alternative explanations for how the naughty/nice list is generated, hashing is important: Santa could be using a Bloom filter, in which false positive matches are possible, but false negatives are not (i.e. a query returns either “possibly in set” or “definitely not in set”, thus it has a 100% recall rate).

And while we’re on this subject, remember Santa’s delivery route represents a nested Travelling Salesman Problem, compounded by the naughty/nice list changing every year…

(Merry Christmas…and watch out!)

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The many Rs of e-Research


The 6 12 many Rs of e-Research…what else could/should we add to this (especially in the context of research objects and supporting reproducible research)?

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Reproducibility-as-a-service: can the cloud make it real?

Kenji Takeda, Solutions Architect and Technical Manager with Microsoft Research, has written a blog post on Recomputability 2014, as well as discussing some of the issues (and potential opportunities) for reproducibility in computational science we have outlined in our joint paper (including a quote from me):

This is an exciting area of research and one that could have a profound impact on the way that computational science is performed. By rethinking how we develop, use, benchmark, and share algorithms, software, and models, alongside the development of integrated and automated e-infrastructure to support recomputability and reproducibility, we will be able to improve the efficiency of scientific exploration as well as promoting open and verifiable scientific research.

Read Kenji’s full post on the Microsoft Research Connections Blog.

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It’s impossible to conduct research without software

No one knows how much software is used in research. Look around any lab and you’ll see software — both standard and bespoke — being used by all disciplines and seniorities of researchers. Software is clearly fundamental to research, but we can’t prove this without evidence. And this lack of evidence is the reason why we ran a survey of researchers at 15 Russell Group universities to find out about their software use and background.

The Software Sustainability Institute‘s recent survey of researchers at research-intensive UK universities is out. Headlines figures:

  • 92% of academics use research software;
  • 69% say that their research would not be practical without it;
  • 56% develop their own software (worryingly, 21% have no training in software development);
  • 70% of male researchers develop their own software, and only 30% of female researchers do.

For the full story, see the SSI blog post; the survey results described there are based on the responses of 417 researchers selected at random from 15 Russell Group universities, with good representation from across the disciplines, genders and career grades. It represents a statistically significant number of responses that can be used to represent, at the very least, the views of people in research-intensive universities in the UK (the data collected from the survey is available for download and is licensed under a Creative Commons by Attribution licence).

(you may also like to sign this petition and join the UK Community of Research Software Engineers)

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Accepted papers and programme for Recomputability 2014

I am co-chairing Recomputability 2014 next week, an affiliated workshop of the 7th IEEE/ACM International Conference on Utility and Cloud Computing (UCC 2014). The final workshop programme is now available and it will take place on Thursday 11 December in the Hobart Room at the Hilton London Paddington hotel.

I will also be presenting our paper on sharing and publishing scientific models (arXiv), as well as chairing a panel session on the next steps for recomputability and reproducibility; I look forward to sharing some of the outcomes of this workshop over the next few weeks.

The workshop Twitter hashtag is #recomp14; you can also follow the workshop co-chairs: @DrTomCrick and @npch, as well as the main UCC account: @UCC2014_London.

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Toys for girls and boys

This week an image has been doing the rounds on Twitter, showing a letter to parents printed on the back of a pamphlet from a LEGO set:


Originally posted on reddit, it unsurprisingly went viral but with many questioning its authenticity. However, it has been confirmed as genuine by LEGO UK:

The text is from 1974 and was a part of a pamphlet showing a variety of Lego doll house products targeted girls aged 4 and up. It remains relevant to this day — our focus has always been, and remains to bring creative play experiences to all children in the world…ultimately enabling children to build and create whatever they can imagine.

Don’t forget, you can use this helpful guide to check to see if a toy is for boys or girls.

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