computing

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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by Michael Hough

Surrey CompSoc is the Computing Society at Surrey. It exists to develop on what is learned in lectures to have fun with computers. We work with both the department and the Students’ Union to provide guest lectures, trips, events and projects.

Anyone with even the remotest interest in computing is welcome. We’re investigating other regions of the industry to what is covered in the Computing course, and some programming knowledge could come in useful if you’d like to take a role in coding for us, but other aspects of our work don’t have that requirement.

As for what we do, we’ve got a number of activities running or in development at the moment, including:

Mindstorms Robot construction: The Computing department have been kind enough to allow us to use a pair of Lego Mindstorms robots, which we’re using to build and program machines. We’re using both Lego’s flowchart-based software and the Java-based LeJOS platform to do this, so programming knowledge isn’t essential.

Android App Development: The Android SDK is a free download from Google’s website, and we’re working on producing a number of apps for Android phones. What’s great news for us is that Android development is done mainly in Java, which is taught by lecturers in the Computing department, so we don’t have to learn a new language. We’re going right from the bottom rungs of making a “hello world” app to fully fledged applications for the Android Market.

Web Development: We’re in touch with Surrey Entrepreneurs, who are giving us web development projects to create. These are real websites for real clients, and can be a great addition to any portfolio.

Guest Lecturers: We’re contacting big names in the industry to get talks in from staff about what the company is doing in the industry. So far, we’ve had a talk from Lionhead, who previewed an upcoming game, and one from Google is scheduled.

Trips: We’re going out to places, both to witness a bit of Computing history and to participate in competitions. We’ve got a trip to Bletchley Park in the works, where the WW2 codebreaking effort was based, and which now includes a Computing museum.  And we’re looking at competitions to participate in, both within the University and beyond.

So, in short, we’re looking to learn more about Computing, and get some great stuff for the future, but to have fun while we’re at it. We’d love to see more people taking part!

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By Philip Bateman, PhD Student, Multimedia Security and Forensics Group

From October 23-26, the 10th International Workshop on Digital-forensics and Watermarking (IWDW’11) was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey in the USA. Myself and fellow Ph.D student Hui Wang joined our supervisor, Prof. Anthony T. S. Ho, to attend the conference where we were presenting our two papers on Digital Image Forensics and Digital Watermarking, respectively. The venue was Hilton Hotel and Casino Resort, which had great views of the Atlantic Ocean, and was located along the famous Boardwalk – a collection of shops, restaurants, and more casino’s that runs parallel to the beach.

The conference was well organised, and well attended by many like-minded researchers who were all very friendly and welcomed many open discussions on pretty much any security-related topic. Thankfully, when the topic of conversation was switched to my own research within Image Forensics, the interest continued – always a good boost for self-confidence!

As a Ph.D. student, it can be very easy to focus so much on your specific research problem that you overlook what is happening just outside your bubble. Conferences are a great way of reflecting on your work in the context of the bigger picture, and this was no exception to the rule.

Personally, I was excited to meet both Keynote speakers to this conference, Prof. Jessica Fridrich (SUNY Binghamton, New York) and Prof. Nasir Memon (Poytechnic Institute of New York University). Both are extremely distinguished researchers and pioneers in my field. To my pleasure, I learned at this conference that they are also very kind and humble – they were even happy to talk at length to me about my work, offer great words of encouragement, and even offer possible future work that I hadn’t thought of!

The Keynote presentations themselves were very enlightening. Prof. Fridrich highlighted some key challenges in Steganalysis, and the cat-and-mouse battle between detection and concealment. Prof. Memon gave an engaging insight into the key aspects of Digital Forensics – from rebuilding fragmented images from memory, to identifying the source of the image.

Of course, with every good conference comes a good social programme.  The Monday evening saw us enjoy a short (warm) walk to P.F Changs, for some amazing Chinese food – Sweet and Sour Chicken with Egg Rice is my recommendation to anyone travelling to America soon. The formal Banquet was held on Tuesday evening at the Hilton Casino Resort, where it was also announced that the next IWDW conference will be held in Shanghai, China.

Thanks to all the organisers of the IWDW’11 for a great experience.

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10
Nov
2011

Scott Davies current Level 3 student.

I started the LED cube to mix my interest of electronics and computing into a small, fun and educational project that has incorporated the knowledge learnt at Surrey through both the programming and digital electronics modules.

Take a look on the following website to find out more:

http://www.zendevapps.com/blog/projects/led-cubes/

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The RuleML Initiative brings together delegates from Academia and Industry who have a shared interest in Web rules. This is a wide-ranging initiative, and is a natural forum for the Digital Ecosystems Group’s work on business modelling for the Web using the OMG’s Semantics of Business Vocabulary and Business Rules (SBVR). Last week, Alexandros Marinos travelled to the 2011 RuleML symposium to present his latest work with Prof. Paul Krause and Pagan Gazzard.

This work generated a high level of excitement, with Alexandros’ presentation on and associated demonstration of a syntax directed editor for SBVR winning the RuleML Challenge; the second successive year in which we have done this. It was also featured in the closing talk as one of the seven highlights of the Symposium. The award is voted on by the audience, and although the field was stronger this year, the response from the audience was better too. This fully featured editor solves a usability issue that has been impacting on the uptake of SBVR. But Alexandros stole the show with an “and one last thing” moment reminiscent of the late Steve Jobs – as he was closing his demonstration, he said, “Oh, and you can use this right now, within your browser”. This was immediately followed by a clatter of keystrokes from the audience as they all logged into the website and started building example models in SBVR. Although a simple thing to say, being fully web-based and requiring no installation was technically one of the toughest challenges, and its success is a strong reflection of Pagan’s programming skills.

Key researchers from IBM and Stanford were keen to find out more about the tool, and there were also approaches from Red Hat and Vulcan Inc to explore the possibility of integrating our tool with their work. Talking to Benjamin Grosof from Vulcan was particularly interesting to us, as Vulcan’s SILK is a meeting point for logic programming tools, one of which is Cyc, the latest manifestation of Doug Lenat’s big vision of capturing Large Knowledge in a way that facilitates mechanical inference. Working with SILK means our editor could become an interface for Cyc. Exciting times indeed!

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By Paul Krause

Along with many, my first “real” programming started with reading “K & R”, the book on the C programming language that Dennis Ritchie co-authored with Brian Kernighan. This “quirky but successful” language was the invention of Ritchie and is the foundation upon which most of the currently used programming languages, C++, Java and more recently, C#, Python and Ruby, have been built. In the early days of C (“K & R” was published in 1978 and remains in print), it was closely linked with the Unix operating system that Ritchie co-authored with Ken Thompson. Ritchie’s background in theoretical computer science meant that Unix had a strong theoretical foundation, leading to it becoming the foundation of choice for Steve Job’s revisionary OS X and Linus Torvalds’ Linux. Thus, although his is not a household name, Ritchie’s work is foundational to the world of e-commerce and social computing that we are in today. Dennis Ritchie died at his home in New Jersey on 8th October following a battle with prostate cancer and heart disease. Throughout his life he retained unchanging values of modesty, friendship and collegiality. His was truly a great mind.

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