Come and do a (fully-funded) PhD with me

Fancy doing a PhD with me at Cardiff Metropolitan University? I have a fully-funded studentship (for UK/EU students) starting in September, in collaboration with HP in Bristol:

Scaling Superoptimisation for Enterprise Applications

Our world is increasingly dependent on the effectiveness and performance of software. Tools and methodologies for creating useful software artefacts have been around for many years, but the scalability of these systems for solving challenging real world problems are — in many important cases — poor. While there are numerous socio-technical issues associated with developing large software systems, there is a significant opportunity to address the optimisation of software in a strategic, adaptable and platform-independent way.

Superoptimisation is an approach to optimising code by aiming for optimality from the outset, rather than as the aggregation of heuristics that are neither intended nor guaranteed to give provable optimality. Building on previous work by Crick et al., this research project will further develop the theoretical foundations of superoptimisation, as well as developing a scalable toolchain for superoptimising enterprise-level industrial software applications. This research project is a collaboration between Cardiff Metropolitan University and Hewlett-Packard (HP) in Bristol; HP is a leading technology company that operates in more than 170 countries around the world, providing infrastructure and business offerings that span from handheld devices to some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers.

Applicants must have an excellent first degree in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Electronics or a related discipline, with interests/experience in compilers, optimisation, logic programming, satisfiability modulo theories and mathematical foundations.

 
For informal enquiries, send me an email: tcrick@cardiffmet.ac.uk (but please apply via FindAPhD or here).

Deadline for applications: Friday 22 August.

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Paper submitted to WSSSPE2: “Can I Implement Your Algorithm?”: A Model for Reproducible Research Software

Yesterday, me, Ben Hall and Samin Ishtiaq (both Microsoft Research Cambridge) submitted a paper to WSSSPE2, the 2nd Workshop on Sustainable Software for Science: Practice and Experiences to be held in conjunction with SC14 in New Orleans in November. As per the aims of the workshop: progress in scientific research is dependent on the quality and accessibility of software at all levels and it is critical to address challenges related to the development, deployment and maintenance of reusable software as well as education around software practices. We feel this multitude of research software engineering problems are not just manifest in computer science, but also across the computational science and engineering domains (particularly with regards to benchmarking and availability of code). We propose a number of recommendations to address these issues, as well as proposing a new open platform for scientific software development. You can download our arXiv pre-print; the abstract is as follows:

The reproduction and replication of novel scientific results has become a major issue for a number of disciplines. In computer science and related disciplines such as systems biology, the issues closely revolve around the ability to implement novel algorithms and approaches. Taking an approach from the literature and applying it in a new codebase frequently requires local knowledge missing from the published manuscripts and project websites. Alongside this issue, benchmarking, and the development of fair, and widely available benchmark sets present another barrier. In this paper, we outline several suggestions to address these issues, driven by specific examples from a range of scientific domains. Finally, based on these suggestions, we propose a new open platform for scientific software development which effectively isolates specific dependencies from the individual researcher and their workstation and allows faster, more powerful sharing of the results of scientific software engineering.

 
(see GitHub repo)

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Paper in ACM TOCE: “Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools”

Further to the previous CAS papers, Neil Brown (University of Kent), Sue Sentance (formerly Anglia Ruskin University, now CAS), Simon Humphreys (CAS/BCS) and I have had a paper accepted into ACM Transactions on Computing Education: Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools, part of a Special Issue on Computing Education in (K-12) Schools.

The paper will soon be available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service (or you can download our pre-print); the abstract is as follows:

Computer science in UK schools is undergoing a remarkable transformation. While the changes are not consistent across each of the four devolved nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), there are developments in each that are moving the subject to become mandatory for all pupils from age 5 onwards. In this article, we detail how computer science declined in the UK, and the developments that led to its revitalisation: a mixture of industry and interest group lobbying, with a particular focus on the value of the subject to all school pupils, not just those who would study it at degree level. This rapid growth in the subject is not without issues, however: there remain significant forthcoming challenges with its delivery, especially surrounding the issue of training sufficient numbers of teachers. We describe a national network of teaching excellence which is being set up to combat this problem, and look at the other challenges that lie ahead.

 
(see Publications)

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Paper at HCII 2014: “Changing Faces: Identifying Complex Behavioural Profiles”

In June, my colleague Giles Oatley presented a joint paper entitled: Changing Faces: Identifying Complex Behavioural Profiles at HCII 2014, the 16th International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction in Crete.

If you do not have institutional access to SpringerLink, especially the Lecture Notes in Computer Science series, you can download our pre-print. The abstract is as follows:

There has been significant interest in the identification and profiling of insider threats, attracting high-profile policy focus and strategic research funding from governments and funding bodies. Recent examples attracting worldwide attention include the cases of Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden and the US authorities. The challenges with profiling an individual across a range of activities is that their data footprint will legitimately vary significantly based on time and/or location. The insider threat problem is thus a specific instance of the more general problem of profiling complex behaviours. In this paper, we discuss our preliminary research models relating to profiling complex behaviours and present a set of experiments related to changing roles as viewed through large scale social network datasets, such as Twitter. We employ psycholinguistic metrics in this work, considering changing roles from the standpoint of a trait-based personality theory. We also present further representations, including an alternative psychological theory (not trait-based), and established techniques for crime modelling, spatio-temporal and graph/network, to investigate within a wider reasoning framework.

 
(see Publications)

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Guardian University Guide 2015: Computer Science and Information Systems

I’ve been blogging about the various university league tables for computer science for over two years now…and I’m not entirely sure whether this is actually useful beyond collecting them in one place. There are a multitude of UK and international university rankings, each of which have varying methodologies and weightings. It remains to be seen what they each contribute or how they differ, or what analysis you could make that could not be done by looking at raw HEFCE/UCAS data. From here onwards I will most likely continue to publish the three main UK league tables top 10 for computer science, as well as the rankings for Welsh institutions, but with minimal commentary.

So, today saw the publication of the Guardian University Guide 2015; check out the top 10 of the (renamed) Computer Science and Information Systems category (see all 2014 tables):

Ranking 2014
1. University of St Andrews (24th)
2. Imperial College London (3rd)
3. University of Oxford (-)
4. University of Bristol (5th)
5. University of Cambridge (8th)
6. University of Edinburgh (22nd)
7. UCL (9th)
8. University of Southampton (5th)
9. University of Surrey (17th)
10. University of Bristol (4th)
(full table,methodology)

And the rankings for Welsh institutions:

Ranking 2014
27. Cardiff University (28th)
54. Swansea University (29th)
74. Aberystwyth University (58th)
84. Glyndŵr University (99th)
89. University of South Wales (-)
92. Cardiff Metropolitan University (88th)
94. Bangor University (73rd)

 
(N.B. no data was available for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David)

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Review of Assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales

On 12 March 2014, Huw Lewis, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills, announced the appointment of Professor Graham Donaldson to lead a wide ranging review of assessment and curriculum arrangements in Wales. Since his appointment in March, he has been engaged in initial, one-to-one discussions with stakeholders (including me as one of the chairs of the ICT Steering Group) and has visited a wide range of schools across Wales.

On 16 May 2014, Professor Donaldson launched a call for evidence through which he seeks to generate debate and gather information that will form a key part of the evidence base for his review’s recommendations:

We all understand the importance of education for the future of our children and young people, and for Wales both socially and economically. Schools provide the fundamental building blocks of that future and it is therefore essential that the education they provide is as relevant, challenging and rewarding as possible. There is much to be proud of in Welsh education and we must build on these strengths. At the same time, we must also identify and address areas which can and should be improved. That is why the Minister for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis, has asked me to carry out a fundamental review of the national curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales.

It is vital that I’m informed by the views of as many people in Wales as possible: teachers, academics, parents/carers, businesses, the wider community and, vitally, young people themselves. Everyone has a stake in the future and I want to be sure that all of your views are taken into account as I form my recommendations.

I therefore urge you to share your views with me and to encourage as many others as possible to do the same.

 
This is an crucial opportunity to shape the future of education in Wales; while government consultations often receive a paltry number of responses, a review of this magnitude deserves a significant response from all stakeholders. This is also an opportunity to reaffirm the recommendations of last September’s ICT review.

I thus urge all interested parties in Wales to submit a response to this consultation; the deadline for responses to the call for evidence is 30 June 16 July 2014.

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The personal cost of applying for research grants

For many academics, this article is a no-brainer. Research grant proposals take huge amounts of time to put together, with low success rates (e.g. EPSRC). It’s a huge cost:

The pressure to win high-status funding means that researchers go to extraordinary lengths to prepare their proposals, often sacrificing family time and personal relationships. During our research into the stressful process of applying for research grants, one researcher, typical of many, said, “My family hates my profession. Not just my partner and children, but my parents and siblings. The insecurity despite the crushing hours is a soul-destroying combination that is not sustainable.”

 

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Send us your reckons

After moaning about the use of uninformed vox pops on this morning’s BBC Breakfast on banning the use of calculators in maths tests in England, I was reminded of this excellent That Mitchell and Webb Look sketch:

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The Complete University Guide 2015: Computer Science

Today saw the publication of The Complete University Guide 2015, signalling the start of the UK university ranking season.

Comparing against the 2014 university league tables — especially last year’s Guide — there has been some movement, with two new entrants in the top 10 UK institutions for Computer Science:

Ranking 2014
1. University of Cambridge (1st)
2. Imperial College London (2nd)
3. University of Oxford (3rd)
4. University of St Andrews (15th)
5. Durham University (14th)
6. University College London (8th)
7. University of Birmingham (16th)
8. University of Bristol (5th)
9. University of Exeter (6th)
10. University of Glasgow (4th)
(full table)

 

As always, the rankings for Welsh institutions in Computer Science were of particular interest to me; Cardiff University retained the top spot, with a broadly similar performance to last year (albeit with some movement down the table for the top three):

Ranking 2014
31. Cardiff University (27th)
39. Swansea University (32nd)
46. Aberystwyth University (35th)
64. Glyndŵr University (93rd)
67. University of South Wales (-)
70. Bangor University (58th)
89. Cardiff Metropolitan University (89th)

 
N.B. no data was available for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

The Complete University Guide’s methodology for the subject league tables are based on four measures: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. To qualify for inclusion in a subject table, a university has to have data for at least two of the four measures; a blank in the Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects columns is not a zero score but rather denotes that no valid data were available.

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Simon Peyton Jones on Teaching Creative Computer Science

An excellent TEDx talk by Simon Peyton Jones, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge and Chair of Computing At School, on why we should teach computer science at school.

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Relics of Technology

© Jim Golden 2014

© Jim Golden 2014

The seeds for the Relics of Technology project started when I found a brick cell phone at a thrift store in rural Oregon. Since finding it, similar bits and pieces of old technology and media kept grabbing my attention. The fascination was equal parts nostalgia for the forms, and curiosity as to what had become of them. One thing led to another and I was on the hunt for groups of media and key pieces of technology, most of which have now been downsized to fit in the palm of our hand. These photos are reminders that progress has a price and our efforts have an expiration date.

Jim Golden

 
Check out Jim’s Relics of Technology project; you can also purchase prints of his work.

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The Economic Significance of the UK Science Base

A new independent report for the Campaign for Science & Engineering (CaSE) published today shows that investing public money in science and engineering is good for the economy. The Economic Significance of the UK Science Base examines the economic impact of public investment in the UK science base.

uksciencebasecover

The report looks in detail at the relationship between public funding of science and engineering and three levels of economic activity: total factor productivity growth in industries; ability of universities to attract external income; and interaction between individual researchers and the wider economy.

The report shows that, at the level of industries, universities and individual researchers, public investment in science and engineering leads to economic growth. CaSE is thus calling for current and future governments to recognise that public spending on science and engineering is an investment with significant benefits for the economy and society.

The report was written by Professor Jonathan Haskel (Imperial College Business School), Professor Alan Hughes and Dr Elif Bascavusoglu-Moreau (both University of Cambridge). It was funded by a consortium of six CaSE members: British Pharmacological Society, The Geological Society, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry and Society of Biology.

Read the full report or the key messages from the two page briefing note.

(N.B. I sit on the board of directors of CaSE)

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Arkell v Pressdram [1971]

In April 1971, Private Eye carried the story of how James Arkell, a retail credit manager, had dispensed with the services of two bailiffs who were on bail on charges of conspiracy to create a public mischief — despite the fact that he had for the previous year been in receipt of a monthly kickback from their company for putting debt-collecting work their way. It was not an especially spectacular story, but the subsequent letter from Mr Arkell’s solicitors Goodman Derrick and the Eye’s response set an important “legal” precedent which is often cited as Arkell v Pressdram:

Dear Sir,

We act for Mr Arkell who is Retail Credit Manager of Granada TV Rental Ltd. His attention has been drawn to an article appearing in the issues of Private Eye dated 9th April 1971 on page 4. The statements made about Mr Arkell are entirely untrue and clearly highly defamatory. We are therefore instructed to require from you immediately your proposals for dealing with the matter.

Mr Arkell’s first concern is that there should be a full retraction at the earliest possible date in Private Eye and he will also want his costs paid. His attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of your reply.

Yours etc.

 
The Eye’s response:

Dear Sirs,

We acknowledge your letter of 29th April referring to Mr J. Arkell.

We note that Mr Arkell’s attitude to damages will be governed by the nature of our reply and would therefore be grateful if you could inform us what his attitude to damages would be, were he to learn that the nature of our reply is as follows: fuck off.

Yours etc.

 
Never one to miss an opportunity, Private Eye immediately published the exchange, with the case soon falling apart and Arkell withdrew his complaint (“Mr Arkell has now, albeit belatedly, complied with the suggestion made to him at an earlier stage of the proceedings.”). The magazine has since used the dispute as shorthand when responding to threats e.g. “We refer you to the reply given in the case of Arkell v Pressdram”.

N.B. Pressdram Ltd is Private Eye’s publisher. Also, there was no legal “case”, despite the name by which the dispute is now known.

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/^ah{2,62}/ Coca-Cola

As part of The Ahh Effect advertising campaign, The Coca-Cola Company own the domains ahh.com, ahhh.com and every one after that up to, and including, ‘a’ followed by sixty-two ‘h’s.

WHOIS entries:

ahh.com
ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.com

(HT Popbitch)

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Bezos’ Law

The future of cloud computing is the availability of more computing power at a much lower cost; Moore’s law thus gives way to Bezos’ law:

Over the history of cloud, a unit of computing power price is reduced by 50% approximately every three years.

 
The cost of cloud computing should naturally track Moore’s law (as the cost of computing is related to the cost of hardware); however, the cost of utilities such as electricity clearly do not follow the same demand curve. Nevertheless, with Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud, Google Compute Engine and Microsoft Azure increasingly competitive on pricing, cloud, as opposed to building or maintaining a data centre, would appear to be a much better economic delivery approach for many companies.

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Alan Turing: mathematician, computer pioneer and code breaker

turingplaque

Found Turing’s plaque today near King’s College, Cambridge (his alma mater).

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2013 ACM Software System Award: Coq

Today, the 2013 ACM Software System Award has been awarded to Bruno Barras, Yves Bertot, Pierre Castéran, Thierry Coquand, Jean-Christophe Filliâtre, Hugo Herbelin, Gerard P. Huet, Chetan Murthy and Christine Paulin-Mohring:

For the Coq Proof Assistant System that provides interactive software for the development of formal proofs, using a powerful logic known as the Calculus of Inductive Constructions.

 
The Coq Proof Assistant System (full award citation), which has been under continuous development for nearly 30 years, is a formal proof management system that supports a rich higher-order logic with powerful inductive definitions. The programming language incorporates a rich dependent type system, applicable to a range of needs from compilers to models of foundational mathematics. Because it can be used to state mathematical theorems and software specifications alike, Coq is a key enabling technology for certified software and has played an influential role in several disciplines including formal methods, programming languages, program verification and formal mathematics. The system is open source, is supported by a substantial and useful library, and has attracted a large and active user community. Since the project started, more than 40 people have contributed various theoretical, implementational and pedagogical works leading to the Coq system as it is now (see Who did What in Coq?).

Some of the significant results that have been accomplished using Coq are: proofs for the four colour theorem, the development of CompCert (a fully verified compiler for C), the development of RockSalt (software-based fault isolation, as used in Google’s Native Client), and most recent, the fully specified and verified hypervisor OS kernel CertiKOS.

(also see: the 2012 recipients, as well as the full chronological listing of awards)

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New A Levels in Computer Science from 2015

Today, the Department for Education published guidance for schools on GCE AS/A Level subject content, setting out the knowledge, understanding and skills common to all AS and A level specifications for teaching from 2015. This was in response to the consultation on A Level reform that concluded in December 2013, with a series of changes in the coming years, notably linear A Levels and standalone AS qualifications in certain subjects, including computer science.

Having been involved in this process over the past year, it is great to see these changes to the A Level computer science specification; in particular, the following aspirational aims and objectives:

AS and A Level specifications in computer science must encourage students to develop:

  • an understanding of, and the ability to apply, the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science, including abstraction, decomposition, logic, algorithms and data representation;
  • the ability to analyse problems in computational terms through practical experience of solving such problems, including writing programs to do so;
  • the capacity for thinking creatively, innovatively, analytically, logically and critically;
  • the capacity to see relationships between different aspects of computer science;
  • mathematical skills;
  • the ability to articulate the individual (moral), social (ethical), legal and cultural opportunities and risks of digital technology.

 
Note, it clearly expresses the importance of mathematics (“Computer science uses mathematics to express its computational laws and processes”): any accredited specification in computer science must contain a minimum of 10% mathematics. It will be interesting to see the offerings from the different awarding bodies as they appear in the autumn; check out the full computer science subject content specification.

Much of this new specification builds on the knowledge, understanding and skills
established at Key Stage 4 in the exciting new computing programme of study starting in England from September 2014 (purpose of study: “A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.”). It remains to be seen how this will stimulate reform in Wales after an underwhelming response from the Welsh Government to last September’s review of the ICT curriculum (blog post to follow shortly).

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