From the Windows 95 Tips, Tricks and Tweaks blog.
Last week on the Linux Kernel Mailing List, a minor question was raised about the suitability of certain magic constants in the support code in the Linux kernel for Microsoft’s Hyper-V virtualisation environment. This was widely reported a week later. So how did a hexadecimal string cause so much offence? Well, it turns out that the constant passed through to the hypervisor was 0xB16B00B5, or in English, BIG BOOBS. And this was not an exception: when the code was originally submitted it also contained 0x0B00B135 (BOOBIES). While this looks to be a puerile joke, it could be potentially problematic because Azure (Microsoft’s cloud computing platform) may depend on this constant, so changing it could break things.
Even though the Linux kernel itself contains a fair amount of profanity, Microsoft swiftly apologised: “We thank the community for reporting this issue and apologize for the offensive string. We have submitted a patch to fix this issue and the change will be published in a future release of the kernel.” (in fact, the patch changed the string to its decimal representation: 2976579765). However, as Matthew Garrett notes on his blog, this can be easily attributed to straightforward childish humour (and the use of pseudo-English strings in magic hexadecimal constants is hardly uncommon; you can even generate hex poetry, if you so wish), but sniggering at breasts contributes to the continuing impression that software development is a boys club where girls are not welcome.
On Friday 1st July 2011, Computing At School (CAS) Wales, in partnership with the Technocamps project, hosted their inaugural conference at Swansea University. The aim of this one-day conference, with the tagline Computing at School: Enhancing the STEM Curriculum for a Digital Wales, was to provide teachers, senior management teams, examination boards, higher education academics, industry and education policymakers with a forum to highlight and discuss the important issues surrounding Computer Science education in Wales.
It featured keynotes talks from:
Over 100 attendees participated in a wide range of workshops and policy panels to discuss curriculum and qualifications, as well as sharing best practice for teaching Computer Science. This event was the culmination of nearly a year of discussions on education and science policy, focusing on the strategic importance of Computer Science within the wider STEM agenda [1,2,3,4,5] and was widely reported in the media [1,2,3,4]. A Storify of the event is also available.
This successful event has highlighted the importance of Computer Science, from an educational, scientific and economic perspective, and has laid the foundation for future curriculum and qualifications reform in Wales.
CAS Wales and Technocamps will continue to work together in 2012 to drive forward this agenda.
(N.B. this blog post was moved from its original location, having been first published in August 2011))
On Thursday 24th November, I will be speaking at the 2011 Microsoft UK Partners in Learning Forum, a free one-day conference for teachers and educators at Microsoft HQ, Thames Valley Park in Reading. This year, the workshops and keynotes are all STEM-focused and address the theme of “Teach more, learn more, inspire more“. As with last year’s event held in Manchester, they will also be announcing this year’s Microsoft UK Partners in Learning Teacher Awards.
This year’s keynotes are Ian Livingstone (of Games Workshop and Eidos fame, as well as co-author of the recent NESTA Next Gen. report on the video games and visual effects industry), Alex Bellos (author of the popular science book Alex’s Adventures in Numberland) and Ollie Bray (the National Adviser for Emerging Technologies at Education Scotland).
I am leading one of the featured workshop sessions on how we need to develop and encourage the next generation of technology innovators in the UK. I will be discussing the work of the Computing at School (CAS) working group, as well as highlighting the importance of computing from both an educational and economic perspective. Since many of the other workshops are more hands-on (such as using the Kinect SDK, building gadgets with .NET Gadgeteer and using Skype in the classroom), I intend to stimulate discussion in my session by drawing attention to some of the problems with the current state of ICT education in the UK (and how we can try and resolve them), as well as how computing is a core STEM discipline.
I have just spent an enjoyable week on a research visit at Microsoft Research Cambridge, one of Microsoft’s ten worldwide research labs. It was founded in 1997 and is dedicated to conducting both basic and applied research in computer science and software engineering.
I’ve been working with Andrew Fitzgibbon, a principal researcher in computer vision at MSR (we bumped into each other at an EPSRC event last October). We’ve been looking at applications of a technique known as superoptimisation to problems in machine learning. My PhD research developed a superoptimising framework to generate provably optimal code sequences using Answer Set Programming, a declarative programming language based on the answer set semantics of logic programming. I still think there is a lot of interesting research to be done in superoptimisation.
Some of the potential research ideas that we have been throwing around include using superoptimisation to optimise common machine learning expressions, such as automatic differentiation and symbolic matrix algebra (whilst worrying about auto sparsity, numerical stability and code complexity). Maybe even looking at aspects of auto parallelisation…lots of things to think about!
I would highly recommend motivated computer science PhD students to apply for an internship at MSR; I have colleagues in the Programming Principles and Tools and Machine Learning and Perception research groups, but check out the other groups for intersecting research interests. MSR is a fine place to be, an invigorating research environment; it is also situated in rather illustrious company, on the same site as the University of Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory, Whittle Laboratory and Cavendish Laboratory (where I had an interesting lunch on Friday). I look forward to going back over the next few months.