by Steve Schneider

I’ve just returned from a visit to Melbourne, Australia, where I attended a workshop on e-voting run by the Australian Electoral Commission. This workshop was attended by senior Electoral Commission representatives from the federal and most of the state Electoral Commissions of Australia (and also New Zealand), and their top IT people who implement the systems they currently use. There were also several Australian computer scientists and political scientists, as well as myself and Chris Culnane from Surrey. This was an excellent mix of backgrounds and it was very valuable to develop a good understanding of where the other stakeholders are coming from, and the practical and legal constraints that they are operating under. The workshop was focused on the principles and practical aspects of e-voting in Australia, and the issues around security and integrity when electronic systems are introduced into elections.

We were there because we are working with the Victorian Electoral Commission (VEC) to develop vVote: a verifiable e-voting system for use in State elections. The core design is built on top of the Prêt à Voter system we have been developing for some time, but then there are many practical challenges that make it a lot harder.  Verifiability was one of the key themes of the workshop.

Australian elections pose a unique set of challenges which motivate the introduction of electronic systems for capturing and processing votes, and which vVote addresses. Firstly, voters can vote from anywhere, not just their registered district. This has previously been managed using paper ballots, but this introduces delays in returning the ballots promptly, particularly from overseas. Secondly, the complexity of ballot forms and casting a vote means that a percentage of voters inadvertently spoil their ballots (this is estimated to be around 2%), which would be mitigated by electronic assistance for completing the ballot form. Thirdly, disabled voters (blind, visually impaired, and mobility impaired) must be given equal opportunities to vote secretly and independently. Fourthly, voters who do not speak English must also be catered for.

However, electronic voting introduces new risks to the security and integrity of elections, and the VEC were concerned that existing e-voting systems did not properly address these.  The novelty of the Prêt à Voter approach is that it has universal Verifiability built into it, which enables all parts of the processing of the votes to be verified, either by the voter or by independent auditors, while maintaining ballot secrecy by use of cryptography.  This is at the heart of the VEC’s vVote system. VEC decided that a verifiable system was required, and identified that Prêt à Voter was flexible enough to handle preferential voting on a large scale while maintaining usability for the voters.

It was great to actually cast a vote on the prototype of vVote that VEC have developed, it brings our work to life. It’s very exciting to be involved with the VEC in developing a verifiable voting system to be used in the running of the Victorian State election. They are aiming for the November 2014 election, so we’ll be kept busy for some time yet.

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By Ghulam Qadir

From 3rd to 4th July I attended IPR 2012, a conference organised by IET in London. This international two-day event gathered image processing researchers from all across the world. The conference was chaired by Prof Sergio A. Velastin of the Kingston University, UK. Although the event encompassed Image Processing as a whole, the main focus was on digital security, image compression and medical imaging. There were two papers from our multimedia security and forensics group, one presented by me titled “Surrey University Library for Forensic Analysis (SULFA)”, appeared in the “Applications” Session and the other by my colleague Syamsul Yahya in the “Processing and Analysis” Session.

The paper on SULFA was co-authored by me along with Syamsul Yahya and Prof Anthony TS Ho. This paper is about a new video forensics library for the digital forensics community by providing freely available original and forged videos for researchers to benchmark their forensic algorithms.

The second paper presented by Syamsul Yahya is about video camera identification using a statistical method based on conditional probabilities. The co-authors of this paper include Prof Anthony TS Ho and Dr Ainuddin Wahab.

The event was broadcasted live on the IET website under virtual events so they called it a hybrid event. Where conference attendees were not only the people in the room but were joined by many across the globe.

Below please find some photos from the event.

Ghulam Qadir Presenting at IET IPR 2012

Syamsul Yahya Presenting at IET IPR 2012

Prof Anthony TS Ho chairing session at IPR 2012


 


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By Zhao Gao, BSc Computer Science, Level P student 2011-2012

Surrey CS Student Meets Googlers at Google Scholar Retreat in Zurich

As a finalist of the Google Anita Borg Memorial Scholarship this year, I was invited to visit Google’s Engineering Centre in Zurich for the Google Scholars’ Retreat. During the three-day-event, I had a chance to meet many Googlers, listen to Google’s product talks and communicate with lots of talent.

Day arrived

I arrived in the beautiful Four Points by Sheraton Sihlcity Hotel arranged by Google Zurich. After the greetings by the Retreat Organisers at 7pm, all finalists and scholarship recipients met each other and shared a drink. It was so nice to talk with other talent students from different countries and backgrounds.

 Day one

The event started with the Welcome Talk addressed by Dr Corinna Cortes, the Head of Google Research, NY, and after that Dr Peter Dickman (one of the Google Zurich Engineer Managers) gave us an overview talk of Engineering at Google which covers the history of Google, rules of designing search engine, new applications developed and security issues around Google products. Then, we were split into different groups to attend  the Product Workshop Session, in which we had a chance to practice product design skills with brainstorm and teamwork.

After the delicious lunch at Milliways, a restaurant inside the Google Zurich Office, we attended two Product Talks on Gmail and Google+, which was followed by a Poster Showcase by finalists and scholarship recipients. From the Gmail talk we learned that Google made lots of effort in implementing a new version of Gmail to make it more user-friendly, personalizable and multi-featured. The Google+ talk explained  how Google+ differs from Facebook and how to use content IDs to protect users’ copyrights. In the poster showcase part, we presented our research work to each other and discussed our work in a question-and-answer session.

The day ended with welcome drinks and a wonderful dinner at the beautiful Lakeside Restaurant. Googlers and attendees of the event communicated and shared interests on the lakeshore of the imposing Lake Zurich.

Day two

On the second day we had talks with more advanced topic contents. The first session I joined was about Natural Language Processing. To be more exact, it is about how to make use of YouTube comments in video categorization. Then, there was a talk regarding how Google’s database design can reduce the main memory footprint and to increase the efficiency in processing typical user queries. After that, Google software engineers delivered product talks about Google Transit and Google Search, including algorithms used in the two applications.

In the afternoon, a workshop on how to write good CVs and a panel discussion on career plan  gave us lots of tips on working in industry.

A big surprise of the day was the Office tour as we didn’t expect that Google Zurich Office has so many themes with creative designs which turn a workplace into a very fun place.

I enjoyed the closing talk of the day, Following the Footsteps of Alan Turing, for the brilliant tips such as trying your best to work with smart people, being a sceptical learner and engaging yourself more with the real world.

We left Google Zurich Office with a big group photo and an unforgettable memories.

Day three

Google arranged a nice tram tour around the City of Zurich on the last day for us to experience the culture and scenery. After that, we exchanged our contact details with each other and some of us grouped to visit places of interests.

Finally the event ended, but what we learned during the retreat and our passion in IT will last forever. I believe everyone who attended the event will remember the remarkable experience we had at Zoogle (Google Zurich) in this wonderful summer!

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By Alan Woodward

Recently an old colleague, Dr Andrew Rogoyski, came to lecture to our MSc students on how government deals with cyber security. Dr Rogoyski has studied the interactions between government and industry and his talk led to a key question for which there was a surprising range of views. The question? When and how should government get involved in cyber security?

The UK has the most Internet-centric economy in the G20 group of industrialised nations according to research by the Boston Consulting Group released in March 2012. It estimates that the UK’s internet economy was worth £121bn in 2010, more than £2,000 per person. Couple this with the knowledge that approximately 20 threats per second are discovered on the Internet, and it’s not surprising that UK government lists cyber security as a “Tier 1 Threat”, alongside terrorism. However, recognising the threat is slightly different from actually doing something about it.

Governments now recognise that there is a strong economic advantage in having a secure digital infrastructure. In order to attract businesses to your economy increasingly you need to demonstrate that your country is a safe place to conduct Internet-based business. Booz-Allen reports on this aspect of a countries with its cyber hub index.

Interestingly the UK and the US are seen as the safest places for Internet based business. This has resulted in several large corporations quietly reversing the recent trend to relocate business to the developing world to reduce costs. Ensuring security has become as important, if not more important, a business driver for governments as cost. When a country loses its AAA credit score for a ratings agency, it makes headlines. I predict it will not be long before similar importance is attached to measures such as the Booz Allen cyber hub index.

But in order to ensure a safe environment, where does government responsibility end and business responsibility begin? In November 2011, the UK government hosted the first intra-governmental conference on the cyber threat, at which time they issued a revised cyber-security strategy. As well as discussing the usual topics of the threat from cybercrime, espionage and warfare, the conference saw the debate begin at governmental level as to where responsibility lies for protecting key assets on the Internet. When the national interest is threatened, responsibility for protection lies primarily with the state, but many governments are powerless in the case of the cyber threat, for a variety of reasons.

 

A significant difficulty in protecting critical national assets is that the Internet is primarily run by private companies or non-governmental organisations. That’s true even in the case of  critical national infrastructure such as utilities, which are vulnerable to attack via the Internet. Most of the infrastructure and services that underpin national digital infrastructures are run by private companies such as HP, Fujitsu, IBM, Verizon, BT and others. Even the key technologies employed to sit on top of the infrastructure are developed by private companies ranging from Google, to Microsoft, to Apple plus a raft of much smaller start-ups, some of whom you will never have heard. The level of investment produced by these companies dwarfs those made by governments.

For example, the UK’s National Cyber Security Programme is making available a total of GBP650 million (USD1.01 billion) over four years. This money is intended to be part of a programme whereby government works with businesses, as well as protecting governmental assets. But this money is lost when you think, for example, of cyber security company Symantec spending USD862 million in 2011 alone on research and development. Similarly, Microsoft spent USD8.7 billion in 2010 and Google USD3.7 billion. The disparity between individual government spend, and that they are used to procuring systems over many years rather than at the speed at which Internet technologies change, means that governments find it very difficult to engage with private businesses.

So what have governments done in response to this situation? Well, they have acted in remarkably different ways.

For example, you might imagine the all-out attack on Estonia in 2007 would have led to an aggressive response. Instead it led to the formation of the Co-operative Cyber Defence Centre of Excellence (CCD COE). The purpose of CCD COE is to understand the cyber threat as it develops and thence to prevent those attacks. This is an approach which has received the full backing of NATO. Meanwhile, the EU has created the European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA) to act as a hub for the exchange of information, best practices and knowledge in the field of information security.

Other governments have adopted a more militaristic approach. In May 2010, the United States Cyber Command, part of the US Strategic Command, became operational. Cyber Command is not just there for the operations and defence of specified Department of Defense information networks but also to carry out “full spectrum military cyberspace operations”. Similarly, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced in May 2011 that the country would set up a cyber-defence task force to defend Israel’s vital infrastructure from cyber-attacks.

Regardless of style of approach one common theme has emerged: the key to effective defence against the rapidly evolving threat is shared intelligence. The studies conducted by Dr Rogoyski showed that what business wants most from government is Information Sharing and Awareness Raising. And, intelligence is one thing that governments do have.

They are now looking for ways of sharing sensitive information, that they might otherwise be unhappy to share as it might reveal the source of the information, with those who are directly affected by it. In the US in 2011, the Department of Defense launched a new pilot programme, the Defense Industrial Base Cyber-Pilot, in which it shares classified threat intelligence with around 20 defence contractors or their commercial internet service providers. Although the initial scope of Defense Industrial Cyber-Pilot was to help protect government network, it doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see how this can become a two way process, especially in areas such as power, transportation and energy. The success of this scheme resulted in it being extended in September 2011 to include more private organisation. It has, however, highlighted in the public consciousness that the military are involved in protecting the Internet, and the debate continues as to whether it should be the Department for Homeland Security of the DoD that has such a responsibility. Either way, the positive aspect is that it is happening.

 

In the UK, the private sector is not necessarily waiting for government direction. For example, a financial services virtual task force has been formed by several large banks. This task force co-operates with the Metropolitan Police and exchanges information on threats and attacks as rapidly as possible. This has proved to be a very effective approach and has led to a number of successful prosecutions. Another information exchange is being set up by Intellect and ADS, UK hi-tech trade associations.

The emergence in 2011 of the infamous Stuxnet virus has highlighted how vulnerable critical national infrastructure is, and this has given a jolt to all those thinking about Internet security from a governmental perspective. Even if it were just a commercial issue, cyber security (and certainly the perception of it) can dramatically affect a nation’s fortune in the modern world. The fact that someone can potentially turn off the water, lights and stop the trains makes people think quite differently about what is a “stable” country, and will certainly influence anyone trying to decide whether to base their business in a country.

However, it is clear that unlike many historical threats to national wellbeing, this threat can only be checked by the closest collaboration possible between government and business. Business must be focussed on ensuring that this happens, and government must be more willing to share what it knows than it has been previously.

With news only this week that the Duqu virus (evil son of Stuxnet) has been found in the wild in a new variant, we can see that the threats are becoming more advanced and more persistent, and perhaps most worry of all, more targeted. Governments and business have a relatively small window in time to put in place the necessary mechanisms to share information such that it can be acted upon quickly enough to prevent damage. For those countries that don’t do this, they will rapidly realise that whilst in the past people “voted with their feet”, these days people “vote with their mouse” and it takes a lot less time lose trust in the Internet age than ever it did before.

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Every year in the month of March, the Computing Department puts together a PhD Conference in which the works of its PhD students are celebrated through presentations and posters. The event acts as a training ground where the Department’s Postgraduate Research Students (PGRs) can test drive presenting their contributions to computer science, giving participating students a feel for external conferences. This year’s event, the 9th Conference, was littered with outstanding moments, the most prominent one being the overwhelming support and attendance by the Computing Department staff and PGRs: a fact that was noted and appreciated by the Vice Chancellor, Professor Sir Christopher Snowden, who gave the opening address. His address was followed by an amazing motivational speech by Dr Alastair MacWilson, Global Managing Director of Accenture Technology Consulting, who emphasized on the importance of seizing every opportunity available and encouraged all attendees to be more than the sum of their skills set; to be flexible, responsible, trustworthy and always be willing to take up opportunities as a progression of their dreams.

9th Annual Computing Department PhD Conference, University of Surrey

A second motivational speech was given by Professor Dave Robertson, the Head of School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh, who enthused the crowd by offering a highly captivating overview of current research trends in computer science and concluded his talk by encouraging our research community not to shy away from the option of being self employed, as a vehicle for trail blazing new trends and schools of thought with regards to computing. This philosophy seemed to complement Professor Chris France’s foreword for the Conference’s programme.

The 9th Annual Computing Department PhD Conference culminated with the giving of prizes and below is the list of categories and winners.

Best Paper

Mr Panagiotis Ioannou, for his paper ‘Effect of Spiking Network Parameters on Polychronization’. He received an Amazon gift voucher for £60, sponsored by BCS and awarded by Dr Roger Peel.

Best Paper Presentation (1)

Mr Wissam Albukhanajer, for his presentation of the paper ‘Image Identification Using Evolutionary Trace Transform for Copyright Protection’. He received an Amazon gift voucher for £40, sponsored by the Computing Department.

Best Paper Presentation (2)

Miss Kendi Muchungi, for her presentation of the paper ‘Computation Simulation of Light Adaptation Incorporating Rod-Cone Coupling’.  She received a Kindle, provided by IBM UK’s, Mr Steve Legg.

Best Paper Review

Mr Matthew Karlsen, who received a £20 Amazon gift voucher sponsored by the Computing Department.

Best Poster

Mrs Areej Alfraih, for her poster entitled ‘Chromatic Aberration Estimation for Image Splicing Detection’.  She received an Amazon gift voucher for £40, sponsored by BCS and awarded by Dr Roger Peel.

Best Research Potential

Mr Brian Gardner, for his poster entitled ‘Neurocomputational Model of Foraging Behaviour based on Reinforcement Learning’.  He received an Amazon gift voucher for £20, sponsored by the Computing Department.

As is the case with any event, its realisation is only as good as its facilitation and for this event, a debt of gratitude is owed to Mr Nick Ryman-Tubb, who ensured proceedings run smoothly and on time. A natural outcome was therefore that the event was a resounding success, not in the least because of the overwhelming show of support from both industry and academia.

Sponsors: Intellas UK, BCS, IBM, Detica, Memset, Thoughtified

Organising Committee: Dr Lilian Tang, Mrs Maggie Burton, Miss Anna Vartapetiance (PhD Rep), Mr Kostas Eftaxias (PhD Rep), Miss Tameera Rahman (PhD Rep), Mr Aasis Vinayak (PhD Rep), Miss Kendi Muchungi (PhD Rep), Mr Christopher Smith, Mr Spencer Thomas

Academic Reviewers: Dr Matthew Casey, Dr Andre Gruning, Prof Yaochu Jin, Dr Shujun Li, Dr Mark Manulis, Dr Sotiris Moschoyannis, Dr Lilian Tang, Dr Helen Treharne (all University of Surrey)

Judges: Prof Steve Schneider (University of Surrey), Prof Dave Robertson (University of Edinburgh), Mr Steve Legg (IBM UK), Dr John Baxter (University of Surrey), Dr Dawn Duke (University of Surrey),

Photographer/Videographer: Mr Ghulam Qadir

Attendance and Encouragement: Prof Sir Christopher Snowden (Vice Chancellor, University of Surrey), Prof Chris France, Associate Dean of Postgraduate Research Students, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences, Prof Jonathan Seville (Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences), Computing Department Staff and PGRs

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by Pablo Gonzalez Alonso
BSc Computer Science 2010

After graduating at Surrey, I had the chance to start my career as a mobile developer (or mobile monkey as I like to call it). More precisely, I started doing Android and iOS applications. It has given me a deeper view of computing on the go.

Since the beginnings of computing, similarly to other engineer fields, we have excelled ourselves on producing smaller, more powerful and efficient products. Whenever we think we are at the summit, we find that there is still a long and exciting way to go up. This shrinking of hardware size has meant that now it’s possible to carry the power of what used to be a mainframe, occupying entire rooms, inside our pockets or backpacks. Something that my grandfather thinks is pure science fiction, even though he has one of them.

There is no doubt that technology has found a great place in our lives. It’s changing the way we live and interact with each other. Recently, Stephen Hawking said: “The Human Species Has Entered a New Stage of Evolution”. He talked about how, at this point in time, information is created and transferred by humans at very high rates. About 50,000 books are published in English every year. Much of this information may not be useful at all. However, as Hawking mentions, this process mimics the way we instinctually have transferred information through natural selection by the means of DNA. Creating useful and not so useful data that is discriminated if needed to disappear.

The jump of computers, and the Internet, to our pockets means that we are continually producing and consuming information. It could be “tweeting” how nice the tomato sauce is at your favourite italian restaurant or reporting on natural disasters. It can also increase people’s creativity and allows ideas (whether useful or not) to be promoted, shared and kept alive.

I truly agree with Hawking’s statement and believe we are very lucky to live the time we do. I sometimes have a thought that makes me rejoice. I look at all the things we are capable of engineer today. Travel back 100 years in my head, and realize that no one at that time has even a mere speculation of what the future is bringing. Coming back to the present I realize that what is coming up in the future is going to be beyond incredible. Often, I try to get my mind to imagine what future technology will be like.

Generally, it could be say that what is coming is going to be incredible, it’s going to change our lives to even more extents and mobile technology is going to have a leading part in this process.

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by Yatin Vadhia (www.yatin.co.uk)

400PB*.  The storage capacity (we assumed) of Google.

On the 23rd of November 2011, for just under two hours, Google’s Andrew Walker came to the University of Surrey to give an extremely interactive lecture (it felt more like a discussion), titled “Designing a Search Engine”. During the lecture he led us through a series of questions in which we gave answers on how we would build a search engine if it were up to us.

And he started by asking a simple question. How would you design a search engine?

So we began, piece by piece we went through some of the considerations that Google go through on a daily basis. As actual figures were not available to the public, we made assumptions. 1 billion searches a day would mean 12,500 searches a second, and 250TB of data transferred per day (assuming each results page is 200 kb/s). A very interesting fact I wasn’t aware of is that Google actually builds its own hard drives and replaces one on average once every 30 minutes.

We discussed what people want when it comes to a search engine, and also the legal obligations Google has. We also discussed the Bing controversy (when Bing was found to be ‘copying’ Google’s search results) and the various services that are tweaked for local users. For example, there is no Google Image Search in Germany because the person that serves the content (which potentially could be child pornography) is legally liable, and not the poster.

We were also told about the atmosphere at Google, and the activities that occur on a daily basis. As you would expect from a technology company, if you have an idea but not evidence (such as a graph) then the idea will go nowhere.

We learnt about an idea that once existed at Google, a box that could see what you were watching on TV, as well as listen to the conversations you were having, and then display relevant ads on the screen. This idea was apparently killed off, because it was perceived that people might find it very creepy.

This was rounded off by some information about the advertisements they serve and the rules that they have about adverts (they cannot be offensive etc), as well as a Q&A session.

Overall I would say the event was one of the best I’ve ever been to, and I think many of the other attendees would agree. I would like to thank CompSoc for making the event possible, as well as Andrew for coming to the university.

*(1 petabyte = 1 million gigabytes = 1 thousand terabytes)

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by Daniel He

IBM technology is all around us. From ATMs to Playstations, we cannot escape the fact that one of the largest companies in the world has had an impact on our lives. But what is it like to work for such a company? This year, I applied for a placement as part of my sandwich course and was invited to work here for one year. Whether you’re thinking of applying for a placement, or you’re thinking of getting a job right after graduating, let me tell you why IBM should be your first choice.

Fancy working here for a year? With a placement at IBM, you just might!

Working at a large organisation such as IBM provides many benefits and rewards. With its placement scheme, not only do you get a lot of skills and experience from your day job, but you also have a lot of fantastic opportunities to broaden your skills and really make your CV shine. As an IBM employee, you are given tasks that carry real responsibility, and there are people who will rely on you to get them done. You are able to push yourself, and the more you push, the more you will achieve.

But enough about me rambling on, I’m sure you want to know what I get up to on a typical day. First thing’s first, I pack my bag, which has the most crucial piece of equipment: my laptop. IBM has a wonderful scheme that means that desktops are no longer the norm within the workplace, and that you are as portable as you want to be. You are assigned a desk, but from that point on, you are able to work outside, during a meeting, or even work from home. Once I arrive on site, I plug my laptop into my docking station, and get stuck in, reading and replying to emails, loading up the applications I will be using throughout the day. I also take out my trusty notebook and pen. Call me old-fashioned, but I am a sucker for writing things by hand; it’s extremely convenient when you need a line number from a piece of code, or the name of a method that you are certain will slip your mind sooner or later.

Bright and early, paper at the ready, ready for another day of work

My current role is developing a piece of tooling software called APT. APT is a tool used by various members of the department and plays a crucial role in mirroring information between 2 (now 3) different systems. Unfortunately it has a wonderful habit of breaking (this is a result of many years of different placement students developing the same tool and the end result being spaghetti code), so my job is to fix any coding errors, as well as add any functionality that the department needs. You will be happy to know that it is developed in Java, and I’m also using the very familiar Eclipse IDE, so for those of you who are worried that your skill-set is not suitable for IBM, have no fear! Throughout the morning, I usually continue on a bug I started working on yesterday, as well as making notes as I go along. I also have an occasional chat with my supervisor, Jason, who sits right behind me, to get a quick idea of how I’m progressing with a specific task. Like the student who worked on APT before me says, “It’s usually a good day if Jason hasn’t said to you ‘What have you broken this time!?’”.

By lunchtime, I am satisfied with my current work and I make my code live, but before this, I also submit a copy for Jason to review, who can check to ensure I haven’t made any mistakes. He also makes suggestions on how I can improve the code further, which is a big bonus. For lunch, me and some other placement students head to the canteen, or if it’s a nice day, sit outside Hursley House and take in the fresh air.

After lunch, it’s a quick rest, then straight to see my professional development manager, Cathy, for a half-hour meeting. As a placement student, I am assigned someone who oversees my work, and makes sure that I am happy with what I am tasked with doing. Cathy is also there to help me develop my personal and professional skills, and we try to work out my career paths for the future. These meetings are extremely helpful and give me an insight into what I want to do in the future after graduating.

As you may or may not know, IBM recently turned 100, and as part of their centennial celebrations, they have asked all employees to pledge 8 hours of community work, also known as GiveBack. For my GiveBack, I volunteered to educate non-technical placement students basic Java for around 2 hours each week. Although our class is rather small with just 4 students, I get a strong sense of satisfaction from teaching, and always try my best to make sure lessons are informative, as well as interesting, as we all know that learning any programming language isn’t a walk in the park! You may have also seen me at a recent talk with the computing students where I gave a presentation to encourage current level 2 students to apply for IBM for their placement year. That’s right, it also counts as GiveBack, but more importantly, builds on your communication and presentation skills, which future employers always love to see.

By late afternoon, I’m working on multiple bugs, creating new versions of APT, getting them checked and making them live. I also have a short meeting with Jason at my desk, and I present to him what I’ve been working on. These meetings are usually the most beneficial to myself, as I can see the progress I am making, as well as being able to get feedback, which in turn allows me to better myself at coding.

By 5.00, I’m feeling the urge to put APT behind me for another day. An email pops up telling me APT has failed trying to process something, but I’ll let the me of tomorrow worry about that.

Such fancy decorations usually means an abundance of cake later on!

So why tasty working? Well, I’ve learnt it’s customary within IBM to bring in cakes to celebrate whatever event happens to be on, whether it’s someone’s birthday, or even when you’ve broken something and you need to befriend your colleagues again after all the grief you’ve caused them. I’m sure I’m overdue for bringing in a cake, but no one has noticed yet! Nevertheless, the joys cake and doughnuts bring ensure everyone is kept happy, hard working, and full of sugar.

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Reblogged from www.profwoodward.org by Prof Alan Woodward

As someone who is a unusual mixture of physicist, engineer, statistician and computer scientist, I have long known the value of being able to visualise your data. As computing power and data storage capacities have increased there has been a tendency to suffer from data overload. Consequently, being able to dynamically manipulate large data sets and use that data to create visual representations, can lead to insights that would simply not result from poring over the raw data.

Florence Nightingale (yes that Florence Nightingale) was one of the first to use graphical representations to demonstrate publicly the poor conditions being suffered in the Crimea by British soldiers. And, we’ve all seen bar charts, spider diagrams and so on. But such simple tools have long since ceased to enable us to visualise the volumes and types of data that modern science needs to analyse. Enter the Allosphere.

The Allopshere was created back in 2008. However, increasing experience of how to use it, and advances in the supercomputers that do the hard work, has meant that the Allopshere is now enabling analysis of physical phenomenon that are truly remarkable, and rather beautiful to watch.

Allosphere

So, what is the Allosphere? The most obvious feature is the huge sphere within which images can be projected. Not surprisingly it can be in 3D, but most importantly you can immerse yourself within your data, your equations or the images you have taken.

It looks like something out of a science fiction movie, and can accommodate upwards of 30 researchers who can stand together, deep within representations of their data, manipulate it using wireless joysticks, and together consider what the data is telling them:

Of course, none of this would be possible without the computing power that lies, unseen, in its air-conditioned hall. The processing power that has been assembled is really impressive. More impressive still is the way in which that has been combined to produce an “supercomputer”. The key is the algorithms and the software to implement them, without which the supercomputer would be a very expensive heating system. Those at the Allopshere have been developing some, frankly, inspired pieces of software. And, they don’t keep it all to themselves. They regularly contribute to Open Source projects, which I would encourage you to go visit. These include:

Gamma – Genetics Synthesis Library
Cosm – extensions to Max/MSP/Jitter for buioding immersive environments
LuaAV – extension to Lua for tight coupling of computation and disaply of data and sound
CSL – the Create Signal Library for sound generation
Device Server – for linking remote devices like wiimotes, joysticks and a lot more
Stereo – for rendering stereo imagery
GLV- a GUI based toolset for developing interfaces to real-time systems

So, what does all of that add up to? Well, it has now reached the point where you can walk through the nano-scale world and view data representing the multimodal quantum mechaincs at work:

I strongly encourage anyone to listen to Professor JoAnn Kuchera-Morin (Director of the Allopshere) in the TED talk she gave two years ago. I, for one, hope she does another very soon.

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by Professor Alan Woodward

Computer hackers have disrupted the water supply in an area of the US in the latest cyber attack on infrastructure services.

Whilst nations have been concentrating on protecting obvious cyber security targets, such as financial institutions, leaving concerted international action to protect our infrastructure until the lights start going out and the water no longer comes out of the tap will be too late.

Iran and Norway have also recently come under cyber attack. Hackers are becoming more interested in the critical infrastructure of nations around the world.

Whether the motive for these attacks is cybercrime, cyber warfare or activism is almost irrelevant as what it highlights is that the vast majority of the world’s critical national infrastructure is vulnerable.

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