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.

Tagged , ,

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.

Tagged , ,

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.

Tagged ,

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)

Tagged , , ,

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.

Tagged , ,

/^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)

Tagged , ,

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.

Tagged , ,

Alan Turing: mathematician, computer pioneer and code breaker

turingplaque

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

Tagged ,

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)

Tagged , , , ,

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).

Tagged , , , ,

Wales Blog Awards 2014

Wales Blog Awards

Computing: The Science of Nearly Everything has been shortlisted for Best Technology Blog in the 2014 Wales Blog Awards, organised by Media Wales and Warwick Emanuel PR. Over 300 entries were received for the competition from across the country this year (after a break in 2013), whittled down to a shortlist of 32 blogs. My blog was also shortlisted back in 2012, so thank you to everyone who has been reading and commenting on my blog for the past three years; if you want a taste of what I have been writing about here, have a look at its first birthday, as well as the best of 2012 and 2013.

All shortlisted blogs are also in the running for the People’s Choice Award, to let the public decide on their favourite blog; the judges will announce the winners of the eleven categories at Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff on Thursday 15 May.

You can cast your vote here; voting for the People’s Choice Award will close at 5pm on Wednesday 30 April.

Tagged , ,

The undersea cables wiring the Earth

US telecoms research firm TeleGeography has published its annual Submarine Cable Map, giving an excellent overview of international connectivity. Over 99% of international communications are delivered by undersea cables; while satellites are used for broadcasting, and are useful for rural communities and very remote places, satellite capacity is limited and expensive.

As you can see below, there is significant connectivity between the major hubs of the world, for both resilience and performance: different paths are used to avoid undersea fault zones, to land in different countries and to avoid certain countries. We have wired the ends of the Earth, almost; what’s left are generally remote island communities. In Europe, the US and Asia, people don’t have to think about what happens if the Internet goes down and they can’t send an important email.

europe-close-submarine-cable-map-2014

Undersea cables are actually more vulnerable than you might think; during the 2011 tsunami in Japan about half of their cables had outages, but the operators were able to reroute capacity to other routes. Last spring, there was damage in Mediterranean cables that linked East Africa to Europe, but it has been many years since there was a complete blackout.

Looking at previous versions of the map (see 2013 and 2012), you can see the developments: in the past year, numerous cables were built to the east coast of Africa, where it was previously all satellite; a new cable linking the US with Mexico and other Latin American countries should be ready this year; another connecting India and Malaysia; with one recently announced connecting the UK and Japan set for the first quarter of 2016.

From a UK backbone perspective, take a look at JANET (which celebrates its 30th birthday today!) and the JANET6 network infrastructure, as well as how it connects into GÉANT, the pan-European research and education network.

Tagged , , ,

Inquiry into STEM skills in Wales

The National Assembly for Wales’ Enterprise and Business Committee is undertaking a follow-up Inquiry into STEM skills, after the publication of a report on the STEM agenda in Wales in January 2011. The terms of reference for this consultation are as follows:

  • What impact has the Welsh Government’s strategy Science for Wales and Delivery Plan had on STEM skills in Wales?
  • What progress has been made in addressing the issues identified in the Enterprise and Learning Committee’s 2011 inquiry into the STEM agenda, including:
    • The adequacy of provision of STEM skills in schools, further education colleges, higher education and work-based learning (including apprenticeships);
    • Value for money from the additional funding to support and promote STEM skills and whether the current supply of STEM skills is meeting the needs of the Welsh labour market;
    • The supply of education professionals able to teach STEM subjects and the impact of Initial Teacher Training Grants and the Graduate Teacher Programme on recruiting STEM teachers and education professionals;
    • The effectiveness of education and business links between education institutions and STEM employers.
  • Whether any progress has been made on addressing negative perceptions and gender stereotypes of STEM and promoting good practice to encourage women to acquire STEM skills and to follow STEM related careers.
  • What progress has been made on learning STEM skills through Welsh medium education and training?

See the full consultation; the Committee welcomes responses from both individuals and organisations, with a deadline of Friday 25 April 2014.

Tagged , ,

2013 ACM Turing Award: Lesley Lamport

Today, the 2013 ACM Turing Award has been awarded to Leslie Lamport, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research:

For fundamental contributions to the theory and practice of distributed and concurrent systems, notably the invention of concepts such as causality and logical clocks, safety and liveness, replicated state machines, and sequential consistency.

 
Lamport has not only advanced the reliability and consistency of computing systems that work as intended (for example, temporal logic of actions (TLA) and Byzantine fault tolerance), but also created LaTeX!

Read the full award citation.

lamport

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

Tagged , , ,

Embrace logic

Let him who is not come to logic be plagued with continuous and everlasting filth.

Metalogicon II (1159)
John of Salisbury (1120-1180)

Tagged , , ,

2014 IET South Wales Annual Lecture

On Thursday 20th March I will be giving the 2014 IET South Wales Annual Lecture at Swansea University:

Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales

Digital technology (and thus computation) is an indispensable and crucial component of our lives, society and environment. In a world increasingly dominated by technology, we now need to be more than just digitally literate. Across science and engineering, computing has moved on from assisting researchers in doing science, to transforming both how science is done and what science is done. In the context of (Welsh and UK) Government science, technology and innovation policy, computer scientists (of all flavours) have a significant role to play. Tom will ground this hypothesis by describing his research interests at the hardware/software interface, his broader work in education and science policy, and then finishing by presenting a vision for a “Digital Wales” underpinned by science and technology innovation.

 
This talk is free, with registration online.

Tagged , , ,

Eye of the Tiger

This old 24-pin dot matrix printer has been converted into a MIDI compatible sound generator using an ATmega8 and a Xilinx FPGA. Up to 21 notes can be played simultaneously (16 MIDI channels with individual volume and pitch). The original printing frequency was approximately 1kHz with a pulse width of 300μs — pins hit the paper at a maximum of 1000 times per second during printing. The MIDI electronics increases this from a few Hz up to 2kHz. When the pulse width is reduced the sound gets quieter because the pin hits the paper with less force; see the full technical details.

(also see what can be done by manipulating floppy disk drives, especially for Super Mario)

Tagged , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 351 other followers