Saturday, 31 December 2011

War on General Purpose Computing

Final post of the year probably and one to think about over the final hours of 2011 and wonder what will happen in 2012...

The Coming War on General Purpose Computation

At least in the mobile arena we've already seen a move from the "general purpose" web browser to paid applications which effectively act as front-ends to (often) freely available content.

Now as the presentation above points out this is partly because of a new revenue model not working in the customers' best interests but also because of the controls being placed upon consumers and users of content and devices. An extremely worrying trend where the distributors have final say over what YOU can read and consume - and at the same time monitoring your behaviour as part of the deal for you to consume that media and information.

Information which used to be free in the availability sense (and not necessarily in terms of price).

I used to joke that Apple said "There's an app for that" - one which already did the job of your perfectly good web browser but for a cost, while Nokia should have said, "You don't need an app for that" due to the presence of a web browser.

The advantage for Apple here is that you had to pay for both the application (to read your free content) but also submit yourself to behavioural data collection and provide numerous personal details for the priviage.

Happy 2012....

Thursday, 22 December 2011


Here's my recipe for stuffing...I have no idea of the amounts per se so you'll have to use your judgement...

  • Breadcrumbs from, 6 or 7 (or more, or less) slices of Finnish dark, rye bread.
  • 1 onion
  • x cloves of garlic,    1 < x < n, where n is probably greater than 4 or 5 - let's say x = 3
  • 2-4 mushrooms - brown
  • horse chestnuts (See this recipe for preparing the chestnuts)
  • herbs, eg: sage, parseley, whatever you fancy
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 egg
  1. Prepare some horse chestnuts, chop finely.
  2. Chop the onion roughly, same for the garlic and mushrooms
  3. Place everything (breadcrumbs, onion, garlic, herbs, chestnuts) into a bowl and mix
  4. Salt and pepper to taste
  5. Add the egg to bind, mix

Texture should be sticky so that you can make balls of stuffing. Too dry, add an egg or butter, too wet, add some more breadcrumbs.

Split the mixture in half and use one half in the goose/duck/turkey/chicken and the other place on a baking tray and roast with the meat - no idea exactly how long this takes to cook or the best point to put it in the oven; I guess everytime :-)    You could try adding a little goose fat to the mixture as well....

Enjoy :-)

Friday, 16 December 2011

Towards an Ontology of Coffee Drinks

An interesting post appeared on Google+ [1] about the various forms of coffee drinks, eg: cappuccino, latte etc, and this was expressed using a Venn diagram. The semantics of the actual diagramatic notation were loose - as is to be expected - but importantly the meaning of what the diagram was trying to convey was clear. There's quite an interesting discussion about what actually constitutes a cappuccino vs a latte vs espresso etc - all good stuff to put in an ontology of coffee.

As a start and as an exercise in diagrammatic notation [2] of such things here's my concept/Euler diagram of the same:

NB: I'm no expert on the various types of coffee drink so I'm not sure if the actual coffee drink types are strictly correct, I took them from the original article on Google+. If I do drink coffee then an espresso or something "normal", ie: coffee (dark roast) brewed in hot water + milk + sugar ... sorry Robert's Coffee and Starbucks I'm probably not a target customer in that respect....I'm a tea drinker.

So that gets me to a slightly more interesting example - that of a Chai Latte, which to my taste should satify the following specification (using the same notation): (Aside: I think these diagrams are really quite beautiful....)

Now we can argue that I should have included other types of tea and blends etc, maybe different types of milk (fullfat, goat etc), but I think the point is clear.

A few notes on these: while the diagrams have pretty well defined semantics, the statement the diagrams are making about the "real world" may not be so easily definable (see the discussion about coffee drink types as an example). My specification of a chai latte might not be yours, however we now have a formal framework in order to have a sensible and meaningful discussion without invoking the nastier parts of Wadler's Law, ie: we can concentrate on the problem at hand and not discuss whether the shade of green for the relationships is the correct shade of green...

[1] Rohan Aurora, A Simple Venn Diagram to Understand Coffee, 7 Dec 2011
[2] Visual langauges an ontologies...earlier blog posting of mine to be found here: Visual Modelling and Ontologies and a link to the Visual Modelling Group at Brighton who have been working on this.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Ontology Conference

This looks quite a good place to submit something:

FOIS 2012: 7th International Conference on Formal Ontology in Information Systems

Two ideas then:
  1. Ontologies for Privacy
  2. Notions of "object" wrt: DL expressiveness
Need to get writing!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


A wonderful moment in physics:

We may have glimpsed the Higgs boson, say Cern scientists

Physicists have seen strong hints the Higgs boson exists, but a firm discovery may not come before the end of 2012

Scientists could have caught their first glimpse of the Higgs boson, the curious particle thought to underpin the subatomic workings of nature.

Hundreds of physicists crowded into a seminar room at Cern, the European particle physics laboratory near Geneva on Tuesday, breaking into applauseas Fabiola Gianotti and Guido Tonelli, who lead separate teams at Cern's Large Hadron Collider (LHC), revealed evidence for the particle amid the debris of hundreds of trillions of proton collisions at the machine.

Monday, 12 December 2011


Found this on NPR's website:

Scary Geology: Mountains In Motion

Here's the thing about mountains: You can, if you are totally insane, jump off them. Or, under the right circumstances, they — the mountains — can jump off you.

and a link to the video which is best viewed in HD and full screen...

SENSE OF FLYING from Goovinn on Vimeo.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Mission to Europa have an article about NASA sending a lander to Europa, or at least a proposal thereof:

Jupiter's Moon Europa Is Target for Possible NASA Lander
by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
Date: 09 December 2011 Time: 03:22 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO — NASA is considering dropping two robotic landers on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, a body that many scientists regard as the solar system's best bet for harboring life beyond Earth.

Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., are developing a concept mission that could launch in 2020 and deliver the landers to Europa about six years later. The chief goal would be to investigate whether life could ever have existed on the huge moon, which likely hosts an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell.

This I think should be a priority, and should have been the mission flown rather than the relatively boring Juno probe. Europa is extremely interesting from the point of view that it probably, or even more than likely, has life due to its icy surface and liquid water ocean underneath. The only other places that have these possibilities (as we understand at present) are Enceladus and Titan - the latter having been visited by the truely amazing Huygen's lander by ESA.

So this gets me thinking, space probes are extraordinarily expensive as they tend to be one off constructions. However building on mass production techniques would it be possible (almost certainly economically better) to mass produce probes. Make them light-weight with a small RTG, standardised components: visible light cameras, IR cameras, magnetometer, various particle detectors etc.

Make two batches, one orbiter and one lander and take advantage of systems such as SpaceX which provide low cost launching facilities. There needs to be done work on getting the launchers to provide the capabilities to get the things out of Earth orbit.

Now if you built, say, ten or even twenty (NASA's Surveyor programme made seven landers of a standardised design)  you could quite easily send two or more to whatever target, or maybe just one to the "easy" targets and two to the "harder" ones.

So my list:
Just a thought....but might be an interesting method of fiscial stimulus and jobs for tech workers, not to mention the increase in interest for science and exploration this might provoke.


I fear the outcome of this, whether good or bad this is going to be a hell of mess and ultimately much, much worse for the consumer (unless you happen to be a patent lawyer)...

Apple Made A Deal With The Devil (No, Worse: A Patent Troll)

 Over the last two years, Apple has been engaged in vicious legal battles over smartphone patents, many of which are aimed at squelching (or squeezing money out of) manufacturers of devices running Android. And now, for some reason, it has given valuable patents to a patent troll — which is using them to sue many of the top technology companies in the world.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Inspiring Music?

North Korea's news agency KCNA reports on a new composition of music inspring workers:

The song is themed "Let Us Be Responsible for Thousand Years and Guarantee for Ten Thousand Years!" It is a slogan of the solider-builders of the Huichon Power Station.
Encouraged by the song, the DPRK people are performing feats in building edifices symbolic of the Songun (military-first) era under the wise leadership of Kim Jong Il.

I suppose it beats the financial crisis news here - maybe someone should write music for our politicians in some bizarre Juche-inspired, reverse psychology way to inspire them to do some work....

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Science Getaways

Bad Astronomy has a great idea for a more: Science Getaways

Beauty in Mathematics

Sometimes when "doing" mathematics you end up with something that succinctly captures what you mean and presents it in a rather beautiful way. Now while beauty in mathematics has many examples - in particular Euler's Identity and in my opinion the sub-object classifier from category theory (it even has a facebook page) - formal specification is not really one area where this has been seen.

Here's a quick diagram from a paper I've been collaborating on with the Visual Modelling Group in Brighton, I personally think that this very succinctly states the relationship between information entropy and various classifications - at least in the framework we're using...

[0,1] is the 'set' of Reals and the precise definition of infoMeasure not strictly specified but the capturing of the mapping between various IP addresses and their geolocation mapping to various levels of detail of accuracy, and from there to a measurement in terms of entropy is still rather elegant.

Returning back to Euler's Identity...funny how Euler's work has an inherent beauty in it, especially when you consider Euler's Identity was considered the most beautiful mathematical expression and Eulerian circles the basis of the diagrammatic notation used above.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Higgs for Christmas?

Rumours abound of Higgs...maybe as a Christmas present?

A 125-126 GeV Higgs?

Posted on December 2, 2011 by woit
Some more detail on Higgs rumors I’ve been hearing recently. Evidently the latest ATLAS data shows an excess in the gamma-gamma channel around 126 GeV, of the size expected if the Higgs is there, and CMS is also seeing an excess (2 sigma?) around 125 GeV in the same channel.

What would a Higgs at 125 GeV tell us?

The rumours tell us that next week ATLAS and CMS will announce a strong but inconclusive signal for the Higgs boson at about 125 GeV. This may be wrong and even if it is right there may be other candidate signals to think about, and it will take much more data to verify that the signal is indeed correct for the Higgs, but if it is right, what then are the implications of the Higgs at this mass?

Is the Higgs boson real?

Rumours abound that Cern scientists have finally glimpsed the long-sought Higgs boson. We asked physicists to share their thoughts on the elusive entity

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

More privacy stuff

Been lecturing about privacy this week - very interesting as it not only forces you to clearly describe what you already implicitly know but also provides a way for you to expand on your knowledge. I think it was Feynman who said that if you can't explain it simply then you don't understand the subject.

I'm still struggling with this, but we now have a case study which fits within this framework...just need to explain in simple terms the diagram below first:

which should give the intial bits of framework in my "theory of privacy"....the above misses out a few things which I haven't been able to formally explain yet. However just getting this far (even if I don't explain the meanings of O and P here) is quite a leap in conceptualisation of the subject. Clearing out and scoping the concepts leads to a better understanding and now I just need to explain it a few times and I think it might just work....

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Database Privacy

Interesting stuff:

Database Privacy: Overview (Microsoft Research)

The problem of statistical disclosure control—revealing accurate statistics about a population while preserving the privacy of individuals—has a venerable history. An extensive literature spans multiple disciplines: statistics, theoretical computer science, security, and databases.  Nevertheless, despite this extensive literature, «privacy breaches» are common, both in the literature and in practice, even when security and data integrity are not compromised.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Visual Modelling and Ontologies

Just some papers with the Visual Modelling Group in Brighton:

Howse, J., Stapleton, G. and Oliver, I. (2010) Visual reasoning about ontologies In: International Semantic Web Conference, November 2010, China.
We explore a diagrammatic logic suitable for specifying ontologies using a case study. Diagrammatic reasoning is used to establish consequences of the ontology.

Oliver, O, Howse, J., Stapleton, G., Nuutlia, E and Torma, S (2009) Visualizing and Specifying Ontologies using Diagrammatic Logics In: Proceedings of the Australasian Ontology Workshop, 1 December 2009, Melbourne, Australia.(Best Paper)
This paper proposes a diagrammatic logic that is suitable for specifying ontologies. We take a case study style approach to presenting the diagrammatic logic, and draw contrast with RDF graphs and description logics. We provide specications of two ontologies and show how to depict instances. Diagrammatic reasoning is used to show that an instance conforms to a specification. We also include examples to show how diagrammatic rules can be used to (a) constrain ontology specifications and (b) define mappings between ontologies. The framework also allows the specification of queries. The positive features of the diagrammatic logic are discussed, supporting a claim that the new logic is intuitive and appropriate for ontology specification. Finally, we discuss the possibilities for developing tools to support the use of the diagrammatic logic, including automated diagram drawing and reasoning procedures.

Howse, J., Schuman, S., Stapleton, G. and Oliver, I. (2009) Diagrammatic Formal Specification of a Configuration Control Platform In: 2009 Refinement Workshop, 3rd November 2009, Eindhoven.
This paper presents a diagrammatic logic framework that is suitable for use in formal specification and for reasoning about and refining formal software models. We take a case study style approach to presenting the framework by developing, in some detail, an abstract model for a transparent configuration control platform. The model is built up by stages, corresponding to separate concerns of configuration control. Each successive level is a refinement of the previous level. We discuss the possibilities for developing tools to support the use of the diagrammatic logic, including automated diagram drawing and reasoning procedures. Our wider goal is to make a formal specification easier for its clients to understand.

S Törmä and E Nuutila are from Aalto University, Finland.

Keywords: Modelling, Modeling, Visual, Diagram, Diagrammatic, Logic, Semantic Web, Ontologies, Reasoning, Ontology, Formal Specification

Erdos Number

Reference to an earlier posting on my Erdos Number being 5, well a co-author of mine* - Ora Lassila - has an Erdos number of 3, therefore mine being at most 4...

*this is the one I am sure about, I think my colleagues from the University of Brighton Visual Modelling group also provide a similar length path to Paul Erdos....

The Axiom of Choice and Mathematical Proof...(humour!)

Probably the most controversial axiom in mathematics, but quite simple XKCD explains :-)

Proof by Intimidation needs to be added to the canonical list of "Proof by..."
Aside: an an undergrad many years ago I read a fascinating paper on reactive systems and after 3 or 4 pages of dense, complicated mathematics there was the statement: Proof left as exercise to gives you some idea of the calibre of the author that he could get away with that (and no, I'm not telling who....)
anyway, a quick search using an popular search engine reveals a list which I'll just put a few choice examples:

Proof Techniques:

Proof by example
The author gives only the case n = 2 and suggests that it contains most of the ideas of the general proof.
Proof by intimidation
``Trivial'' or ``obvious.''
Proof by omission
``The reader may easily supply the details'', ``The other 253 cases are analogous''
Proof by obfuscation
A long plotless sequence of true and/or meaningless syntactically related statements.
Proof by personal communication
``Eight-dimensional colored cycle stripping is NP-complete [Karp, personal communication].''
Proof by reference to talk
``At the special NSA workshop on computer vision, Binford proved that SHGC's could be recognized in polynomial time.''
Proof by reference to inaccessible literature
The author cites a simple corollary of a theorem to be found in a privately circulated memoir of the Icelandic Philological Society, 1883. This works even better if the paper has never been translated from the original Icelandic.
Proof by flashy graphics
A moving sequence of shaded, 3D color models will convince anyone that your object recognition algorithm works. An SGI workstation is helpful here.
Proof by misleading or uninterpretable graphs
Almost any curve can be made to look like the desired result by suitable transformation of the variables and manipulation of the axis scales. Common in experimental work.
Proof by vigorous handwaving
Works well in a classroom, seminar, or workshop setting.
Proof by cumbersome notation
Best done with access to at least four alphabets, special symbols, and the newest release of LaTeX.
Proof by abstract nonsense
A version of proof by intimidation. The author uses terms or theorems from advanced mathematics which look impressive but are only tangentially related to the problem at hand. A few integrals here, a few exact sequences there, and who will know if you really had a proof?
Disproof by ``not invented here''
We have years of experience with this equipment at MIT and we have never observed that effect.
Proof by personal communication I remember as being something like:
"I met Knuth/Scott/Gödel/... in the corridor the other day and he thought it sounded ok"...

Note the the "Proof by Intimidation" above is slightly different to the XKCD example....both work....hmmm, might try this in my talk on the Theory of Privacy next week....did I tell you about that? Later....

I guess we could also add the "Proof by UML" from Software Engineering, this is explained in the excellent Death by UML [1]  paper.

Proof by Abstract Nonsense.....did someone mention category theory? ;-)

[1] Alex E. Bell. 2004. Death by UML Fever. Queue 2, 1 (March 2004), 72-80. DOI=10.1145/984458.984495

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

BBC Research and Development Labs

Very interesting article on The Register about the BBC's R&D Labs and a very good point about industrial-academic research and its value, I quote this paragraph:

Some may question why the BBC puts so much effort into R&D. But with around 50 active projects, and an income of around £16m, including money from the licence fee, commercial licensing – the BBC has over 160 patents – and grants, the R&D team punches well above its weight.

A very salient point: it costs £16m but generates not just patents and their associated licensing income but the technology that drives not only your current TV, Radio and digital media experiences (for a start!) but is defining the future of those. Sixteen million pounts is remarkably cheap for what you're getting which over the course of time is worth many, many times this.

Now with the EPSRC Research Impact Assessments comming up in the UK, this point needs to be hammered home regarding impact and value versus cost.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

EU, Water, Dehydration

The headlines (at least in the UK) screamed: "EU SAYS WATER IS NOT HEALTHY." complete with hysterical, ill-informed, rabid anti-EU comments...

The REAL story behind this however is something very, very different and very serious...I'll let a quotation from a report in The Guardian explain:

Daft hysteria over the EU's ruling on water and dehydration 

Martin Robbins, 18 November 2011

The EU has not said that water isn't healthy, and it's ruling on the vexatious claim that bottled water can prevent dehydration is perfectly sensible

There are two major problems with the claim: drinking water doesn't prevent dehydration, and drinking-water doesn't prevent dehydration. 

Firstly, "regular consumption" of water doesn't reduce the risk of dehydration any more than eating a pork pie a day reduces the risk of starvation. If I drink half a pint of bottled water while running through a desert in the blistering sun, I'll still end up dehydrated, and if I drink several bottles today, that won't prevent me from dehydrating tomorrow. The key is to drink enough water when you need it, and you're not going to get that from any bottled water product unless it's mounted on a drip. 

Secondly, dehydration doesn't just mean a lack of water, or 'being thirsty'; electrolytes like sodium are important too. If salt levels fall too far, the body struggles to regulate fluid levels in the first place. That's why hospitals use saline drips to prevent dehydration in patients who can't take fluids orally, and why people with diarhhoea are treated with salt-containing oral rehydration fluids. Presumably the next big investigation at the Express will expose the shocking waste of NHS money on needless quantities of saline solution, when jolly old tap water would work just as well.

and then refer to the EFSA report:

Scientific Opinion on the substantiation of a health claim related to water and reduced risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006

EFSA Journal 2011;9(2):1982 [7 pp.]. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2011.1982

Following an application from Prof. Dr. Moritz Hagenmeyer and Prof. Dr. Andreas Hahn, submitted pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 via the Competent Authority of Germany, the Panel on Dietetic Products, Nutrition and Allergies was asked to deliver an opinion on the scientific substantiation of a health claim related to water and reduced risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance. The scope of the application was proposed to fall under a health claim referring to disease risk reduction. The food, water, which is the subject of the health claim, is sufficiently characterised. The claimed effect is “regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration and of concomitant decrease of performance”. The target population is assumed to be the general population. The Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006 defines reduction of disease risk claims as claims which state that the consumption of a food “significantly reduces a risk factor in the development of a human disease”. Thus, for reduction of disease risk claims, the beneficial physiological effect results from the reduction of a risk factor for the development of a human disease. The Panel notes that dehydration was identified as the disease by the applicant. Dehydration is a condition of body water depletion. The Panel notes that the proposed risk factors, “water loss in tissues” or “reduced water content in tissues”, are measures of water depletion and thus are measures of the disease. The Panel considers that the proposed claim does not comply with the requirements for a disease risk reduction claim pursuant to Article 14 of Regulation (EC) No 1924/2006.

So, once again we read crap in newspapers and find hidden underneath a very serious scientific message... a similar vein, Euromyths contains a vast array of these....well worth reading.

And if you don't like what Europe is doing you might like to consider actually talking to your MEP or even voting for one - at the end of the day, the people of the EU vote for these people in a free and fair democratic process; and, as a citizen of the EU you are entitled to stand as a candidate for the European Parliament

Unintended Consequences in Academia

Found this via a posting on Facebook; a very interesting look at the unintended consequences of trying to measure the output of academics, and just like any other metric the issues that come up on how that particular metric gets misused. Sort of reminds me of the classic software engineering metric leading to bonus payments: bug fixing....

Perverse Incentives in Academia

 In particular I quite like these two:

Researchers rewarded for increased number of citations. Researchers do work that is relevant and influential. H-index obsession; list of references no longer included in page limit at many conferences.

Teachers rewarded for increased student test scores. Improve teacher effectiveness. Teaching to the tests; emphasis on short-term learning.

Of course, one issue here is that you are trying to measure some seriously intelligent people and here's a very good discussion on managing intelligent people by Scott Berkun - I'm not sure he has all the answers but just acknowledging this is a step to proper understanding.

Finally, a nod to that classic tome of unintended consequences (and the economic theory that drives this): Freakonomics by Levitt and Dubner.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Higgs by Christmas?

Maybe Christmas 2011...Nature has an article - Higgs Hunt Enters Endgame - about analysing the final set of data that may, or may not, prove the existance of Higgs:

I'd like to have posted a little of the article, but while (and I applaud this!) Nature allows a small text extract, it does require that I sign up to Rightslink ... so much for citation and reasonable use...

New Physics?

First hints of "the new physics"?  At least these results are becoming more public but still not at the statistical level where they become official, however news of CP violation at this magnitude is extremely interesting. First the BBC's report on this (readable by the layman):

LHC reveals hints of 'new physics' in particle decays
15 November 2011 Last updated at 12:18 GMT
By Jason Palmer Science and technology reporter, BBC News

Large Hadron Collider researchers have shown off what may be the facility's first "new physics" outside our current understanding of the Universe. Particles called D-mesons seem to decay slightly differently from their antiparticles, LHCb physicist Matthew Charles told the HCP 2011 meeting on Monday.  The result may help explain why we see so much more matter than antimatter. The team stresses that further analysis will be needed to shore up the result. At the moment, they are claiming a statistical certainty of "3.5 sigma" - suggesting that there is less than a 0.05% chance that the result they see is down to chance. The team has nearly double the amount of data that they have analysed so far, so time will tell whether the result reaches the "five-sigma" level that qualifies it for a formal discovery

and the report from CERN itself:

Charming surprise
The Bulletin - Issue No. 45-46/2011 - Monday 7 November 2011

The CP violation in charm quarks has always been thought to be extremely small. So, looking at particle decays involving matter and antimatter, the LHCb experiment has recently been surprised to observe that things might be different. Theorists are on the case.

The study of the physics of the charm quark was not in the initial plans of the LHCb experiment, whose letter “b” stands for “beauty quark”. However, already one year ago, the Collaboration decided to look into a wider spectrum of processes that involve charm quarks among other things.

The LHCb trigger allows a lot of these processes to be selected, and, among them, one has recently shown interesting features. Other experiments at b-factories have already performed the same measurement but this is the first time that it has been possible to achieve such high precision, thanks to the huge amount of data provided by the very high luminosity of the LHC. “We have observed the decay modes of the D0, a particle made up of a charm quark plus a u antiquark”, explains Pierluigi Campana, LHCb Spokesperson. “In particular, we have studied and combined the decay rates of the D0 and its antiparticle. According to the theory of the Standard Model, we should have measured a very small value of a parameter known as Delta ACP that is calculated using these decay rates and is related to the properties of matter and antimatter. We found that Delta ACP is around 0.8% instead of the predicted 1‰ (or less). Although making precise evaluations in processes involving charm quarks is difficult, the Delta ACP parameter appears to be much higher than expected”.

Finally, Ars Technica has an overall write-up on the FTL neutrinos, CP violation and Higgs:

It has been a busy week in the world of particle physics, with attention focused on the home of the LHC: CERN. This year, the LHC generated five inverse femtobarns worth of data—nearly half the amount generated during the entire lifetime of the Tevatron—before shutting down the proton program a few weeks ago. From now until its scheduled winter shutdown, the LHC will be doing lead ion collisions to examine the quark-gluon interactions that dominated the Universe immediately after the Big Bang.

Friday, 18 November 2011


Fishing at Sunset

Wierd Tales

The Guardian has two interesting stories today, one fiction's unsolved mysteries and the other on "wierd" stories. This latter one has its own website complete with various tales...wierd.


Neutrinos are wierd things (see here) ... and the faster-than-light results from last month have been reanalysed and new experiements taken place...with the same results.

Possibly, there are still some questions regarding gravitational effects but this second set of experiements is still showing the same results.

Now, I wonder when Higgs will turn up?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Voyager 2 and LHC

Been a bit slow this month with things to write - actually plenty to write but little time to actually write here. Anyway, two from that bastion of tech literature, El Reg...

 The first is about the current results from the LHC and also an exercise in how to write a science article for the layman:

LHC results may solve riddle of how universe can exist

Antimatter bombshell set to explode physics applecart

Top boffins at the Large Hadron Collider – mightiest particle-punisher and largest machine of any kind ever assembled by humanity – say that they may have uncovered a vital clue explaining one of the greatest mysteries of physics: namely, how is it that matter itself can exist?

Good to see the Standard Model getting a bit of a run for its paragraph spurred a superb retort in the comments:

One of the things the Hadron Collider can do by means of blasting protons into one another head-on at just a gnat's chuff less than light speed is create all sorts of very rare and exotic particles – and the antimatter versions of themselves. Almost anything you might want in the way of crazy particles will appear in the shattered sub-subatomic wreckage spraying out of the proton pileups on the Collider's 27km underground orbital motorway.
and the retort from "a non e mouse":
"Almost anything you might want in the way of crazy particles will appear..."
Except, maybe, the Higgs Boson

However it does look like we might have a lightweight Higgs....maybe....

and then over to the still running Voyager probes and in this case the efforts by NASA to keep Voyager 2 running for another 10 years...(El Reg writes space articles in a similar innuendo filled style as LHC articles...)

Voyager 2 finally agrees to a long hard thrust

Probe takes light-ages to return boffins' calls

Voyager 2 has finally gotten back to NASA to let engineers know that its switch to back-up thrusters was successful.
The space agency sent the signal last week to advise the old explorer to switch to back-up thrusters in order to conserve energy so it can continue its voyage for another decade.
Not bad when you consider Voyager 2 was launched in August 1977 and a touch over 9 billion (9,000,000,000) miles away...

Saturday, 5 November 2011

More Satans Rormokare

Nokia Rocks happened and here's the result....

First public performances of Disaster and RIP.  Starting at 25:00 is my John Entwhistle impression :-)

Monday, 31 October 2011

Dennis Ritchie Day

Dennis Ritchie Day

On 10/30/11 let's remember the contributions of computing pioneer Dennis Ritchie.

by @timoreilly  | +Tim O'Reilly  | Comments: 2526 October 2011
Dennis RitchieSunday, October 16 was declared Steve Jobs Day by California's Governor Brown. I admire Brown for taking a step to recognize Jobs' extraordinary contributions, but I couldn't help be struck by Rob Pike's comments on the death of Dennis Ritchie a few weeks after Steve Jobs. Pike wrote:
I was warmly surprised to see how many people responded to my Google+ post about Dennis Ritchie's untimely passing. His influence on the technical community was vast, and it's gratifying to see it recognized. When Steve Jobs died there was a wide lament — and well-deserved it was — but it's worth noting that the resurgence of Apple depended a great deal on Dennis' work with C and Unix.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing

An upcoming and very interesting conference:

IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing

September 30– October 4, 2012 · Innsbruck, Austria

From the beginning of the computer age, people have sought easier ways to learn, express, and understand computational ideas. Whether this meant moving from punch cards to textual languages, or command lines to graphical UIs, the quest to make computation easier to express, manipulate, and understand by a broader group of people is an ongoing challenge.

The IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC) is the premier international forum for research on this topic. Established in 1984, the mission of the conference is to support the design, theory, application, and evaluation of computing technologies and languages for programming, modeling, and communicating, which are easier to learn, use, and understand by people.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

A Walk in the Park

A couple from a small photographic expedition in Helsinki...

The Copiale Cipher

The Copiale Cipher has been decrypted - the discussion of the work can be found on a website provided by the authors of the paper describing how the process of decrypting the document was made:
The “Copiale Cipher” is a 105 pages manuscript containing all in all around 75 000 characters. Beautifully bound in green and gold brocade paper, written on high quality paper with two different watermarks, the manuscript can be dated back to 1760-1780. Apart from what is obviously an owner's mark (“Philipp 1866”) and a note in the end of the last page (“Copiales 3”), the manuscript is completely encoded. The cipher employed consists of 90 different characters, comprising all from Roman and Greek letters, to diacritics and abstract symbols. Catchwords (preview fragments) of one to three or four characters are written at the bottom of left–hand pages.
Kevin Knight, Beáta Megyesi and Christiane Schaefer (2011), The Copiale Cipher. ACL Workshop on Building and Using Comparable Corpora (BUCC). 

The New York Times has an article:
Published: October 24, 2011
A team of linguists applied statistics-based techniques to translate one of the most stubborn of codes, a German mix of letters and symbols.

While the Copiale Cipher website at Uupsala University's Department of Linguistics and Philology has everything you need to know, here's the direct link to the English language translation (as a PDF).

The contents of the document are particularly interesting, referring as they do to n 18th century secret society known as an "oculist order" - oculist coming from the Greek and referring to's the obligatory link to Wikipedia about ophthalmology.

Ritchie and McCarthy

A sad month for computing after the passing of two of the founder of the science:
RIP to both.

Food Blogs

An advertisement for a friend who is both a chef and a photographer....

From a Cook's Heart
I recommend the roast garlic soup.....

Friday, 21 October 2011

Integration "In The Large" pt.II

While we've been on the subject of data integration, Ora presented our paper on "Integration in the Large" at the W3C Workshop on Data and Services Integration.

The key question asked:

Can we move information systems closer to how humans behave?
  • partial “understanding” between parties, middle ground between complete interoperability and catastrophic failure
  • local spaces, local understanding, partial information interchange?
An links to the material:

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Institutions and Information Flow

Just some references for the future:
This paper uni es and/or generalizes several approaches to
information, including the information flow of Barwise and Seligman, the formal conceptual analysis of Wille, the lattice of theories of Sowa, the categorical general systems theory of Goguen, and the cognitive semantic theories of Fauconnier, Turner, Gardenfors, and others. Its rigorous approach uses category theory to achieve independence from any particular choice of representation, and institutions to achieve independence from any particular choice of logic. Corelations and colimits provide a general formalization of information integration, and Grothendieck constructions extend this to several kinds of heterogeneity. Applications include modular programming, Curry-Howard isomorphism, database semantics, ontology alignment, cognitive semantics, and more.

Now just need to add "privacy" and "entropy" into this and formalise some of the ideas we're thinking about in this paper....

Nokia Rocks

Tuesday, 18 October 2011


A little experiment with the Canon 55-250mm kit lens:  Jupiter with (left to right) three of the Galilean moons: Io, Europa and Ganymede:

Not the greatest photograph but it demonstrates that it is just about possible...the disk of Jupiter is completely saturated while the moons are out of focus blurs. Impossible to focus correctly and it was windy - not a great lens for this sort of work either...

UK Railway Map

Last posting on railways today...a superb railway map of the UK (New Adlestrop Railway Atlas) showing all lines open and closed which together build a fascinating study of UK railway history. Here's a quick extract (which coincidentally corresponds with my postings on the L&TVJR here and here):

The designer (Richard Fairhurst) has a number of other maps available at his map website here.

The are some updates required - at least in Wales - eg: the Ebbw Vale line is now in passenger operation, the occasional passenger train runs on the Swansea District Line between Briton Ferry and Llangennech and the Vale of Glamorgan Line. However this hardly distracts from the quality of the map itself.

NB: the map is copyright Richard Fairhurst!

Llantrisant and Taff Vale on Facebook?

Someone (or something) has copied the Wikipedia articles that I mainly authored on the Llantriant and Taff Vale Junction Railway and made Facebook pages out of them...not quite sure why unless they're trying to get a following for the line and individual stations - not really sure how social networking really helps a disused railway with no chance of reopening (pity!)....

Some links to the Facebook pages:
I don't really mind, it is in the spirit of Wikiedia and the articles are according the creative commons licensing; nice to be sort of famous....anyway the Wikipedia articles are the authorative source along with Chapman's book on the line:
Chapman, C (1996) The Llantrisant Branches of the Taff Vale Railway. The Oakwood Press. ISBN 0 85361 4814
Here's the original blog article from here linking to the Wikipedia articles...

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Steve Pinker on Violence

Steve Pinker is a renowuned psychologist and linguist and in The Guardian newspaper an interview about his new book on the decline of violence in human society - interesting reading.

Steven Pinker: fighting talk from the prophet of peace

John Naughton Saturday 15 October 2011 19.47 BST
Steven Pinker claims in his new book that far from being the bloodiest era in human history, ours is a time when violence has been in steep decline. Here, he explains how mankind turned its back on brutality


This is a big idea if ever I saw one, and it requires a massive tome (700 pages plus footnotes) to deal with it. In the first place, Pinker has to locate, analyse and explain the empirical and other data that support his thesis: that, however you measure it, the past was not just a different country, but also a far more violent one. And then he has to provide some explanations for why the long-term reduction in violence happened. To do that he ranges far beyond his own professional territory – into forensic archaeology, political philosophy, intellectual and social history, population dynamics, statistics and international relations. He identifies a number of forces that were key factors in curbing mankind's capacity for inhumanity: the slow emergence of states capable of playing the role of Hobbes's "Leviathan"; the pacifying impact of commerce and trade on behaviour; the impact of the Enlightenment on the way people thought about others; the evolution of notions of etiquette over the centuries; the way print and literacy expanded the "circle of empathy" beyond people's immediate family; the importance of women in civilising men; and the "long peace" that followed the second world war.

The Better Angels is a long, absorbing and sometimes horrifying book, because in order to establish his case Pinker has to dwell at some length not just on the savagery of the past, but on the way brutality and cruelty was – until relatively recently – taken for granted. If you want to know about medieval forms of torture, or the favourite tools of the Inquisition, or how Tamerlane's troops operated, then you will find ample material here. The ingenuity of human barbarism knows no limits. What's even more salutary, however, is the realisation that it's not all that long ago since people were routinely hung, drawn and quartered in England; or that flogging and keelhauling were routine methods of maintaining discipline in the Royal Navy; or that nobody batted an eye at the flogging of children as late as the 1950s.
and a link to the book for sale on Amazon...

Monday, 10 October 2011

More Category Theory

Seems like MarkCC of the Good Math, Bad Math blog is starting a series on category theory (I guess leading to a discussion on topoi by one of the articles: Leading up to Topoi: Getting Back to Categories ).

I'm a bit worried that he'll end up taking the same route as many others, et: here's a defintion of a Category, then defintions of Set, Poset, Grp and leaving it at an abstract discussion like many others. Now if he starts with things such as the "category of stacks" and a functor the "category of integers" we might have something really interesting.

Lawvere and Schanuels's Conceptual Mathematics meets Steve Easterbrook* comes to mind...or even this from an earlier blog post of mine...

Maybe I should follow the crowd and write my own tutorial...

*the reference for Prof Easterbrook's presentation is: Easterbrook S (1998). An introduction to category theory for software engineers. Tutorial given at ASE'98.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Data and Computation Interoperability

A paper we have at UBICOMM 2011.

Data and Computation Interoperability in Internet Services
Sergey Boldyrev, Dmitry Kolesnikov, Ora Lassila, Ian Oliver
Nokia Corporation
Espoo, Finland

"Next generation distributed systems should be seamlessly spanned around heterogeneous concepts of the information providers, devices manufacturers and the cloud infrastructures. The enabling components such as Data, Computation, Scalable performance and Privacy aspects should be elaborated and leveraged in order to provide a foundation of such systems."

Sheaf Logic & Philosophical Synthesis

nCategory Cafe has a whole bunch of interesting posts about category theory and then some real outlandish work touching upon philosophy. The posting for October 3rd entitled: Zalamea on Sheaf Logic is one of those really interesting ones. The link is to a presentation by Fernando Zalamea:

Sheaf Logic and Philosophical Synthesis
Thursday 29 September 2011
14h to 17h Auditorium
The point of this seminar is not only to acquaint us with the vibrant landscape of contemporary mathematics – and the field of sheaf logic and category theory, in particular – but to show us how this landscape’s powerful new concepts can be deployed in the fields of philosophy and cultural production. Its aim is nothing less than to ignite a new way of thinking about universality and synthesis in the absence of any absolute foundation or stable, pre-given totality
Our guide in this endeavour will be Fernando ZALAMEA, a Columbian mathematician, philosopher and novelist whose work seeks to explore the life of contemporary mathematics while redeploying its concepts and forces beyond their native domain. In an incessant, pendular motion, he weaves the warp of post-Grothendieckian mathematics through a heterogeneous weft of materials drawn from architecture and fiction, sculpture and myth, poetry and music.
Reference a link to texts:

Fernando ZALAMEA, Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics, trans. Z.L. Fraser, London: Urbanomic/Sequence, 2012. Chapters 3, 8 and 9. Copies of the readings can be downloaded HERE.

His upcoming book (should have been out Sept 2011) - Synthetic Philosophy of Contemporary Mathematics -is here:


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Teletubbies creator attacks firms

Interesting comment printed in The Guardian about parential anxieties, should make some interesting discussion. Some selected quotes:

Teletubbies creator attacks firms

Press Association, Sunday October 2 2011

Teletubbies creator Anne Wood has criticised firms that profit from parents' "anxieties" about how to bring up their children

...[article snipped]...

She said: "There is an awful lot of anxiety being generated which I think is a terrible thing. What I was talking about was just enjoying innocent fun really, having a sing and playing round and round the garden."

She also criticised the Baby Einstein range of educational children's toys, saying: "The idea that there is only one way for a child to be intellectually developed is anathema to me so I hate that and I think that it is again making money out of people's anxieties, which is a shame."

Friday, 30 September 2011

More aurora

AOPD has a picture of the Sept 26th aurora (see my post here) taken further north in Tromsø, Norway, which shows what you can get given better lighing conditions and location. The image contains no EXIF so no idea on the exposure time but I guess it is similar to mine.

Thursday, 29 September 2011


Very surprised to see a posting about Alloy - a small, lightweight (in process terms) and easy to use formal specification language - on the Good Math, Bad Math blog....and in true internet style, here's a link to that posting:

A Taste of Specification with Alloy

Sep 24 2011 Published by under Program Specification, Programming
In my last post (which was, alas, a stupidly long time ago!), I talked a bit about software specification, and promised to talk about my favorite dedicated specification tool, Alloy. Alloy is a very cool system, designed at MIT by Daniel Jackson and his students.
Alloy is a language for specification, along with an environment which allows you to test your specifications. In a lot of ways, it looks like a programming language - but it's not. You can't write programs in Alloy. What you can do is write concise, clear, and specific descriptions of how something else works.
I'm not going to try to really teach you Alloy. All that I'm going to do is give you a quick walk-though, to try to show you why it's worth the trouble of learning. If you want to learn it, the Alloy group's website has a really good the official Alloy tutorial. which you should walk through.

I wrote a couple of papers on our use of Alloy and as there's a link to this blog, I'll at least list the one that details our experiences:

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Integration "In The Large"

Position paper accepted at the W3C Workshop on Data and Services Integration, October 20-21 2011, Bedford, MA, USA

Integration "In The Large"
Ian Oliver, Ora Lassila
September 2011

The original goals of the Semantic Web - and in some degree also those of its younger cousin" Linked Data - are to provide novel solutions for the integration and interoperability of systems, and to move towards a situation where more information work can be automated. These solutions are well understood in the small", as we can relatively easily defi ne and expose the semantics of any system of limited scope, but larger-scale integration still eludes us. This is due to the fact that ultimately reconciling the semantic differences of many individual systems at the level of data is destined to suff er from issues of achieving consistent global agreements (and as such we are dealing not only with technical issues, but also and perhaps more importantly with social and organizational challenges).

Aurora Borealis

Quite a nice show last night (27 Sept) with aurora and a couple of meteors for good measure (note, the white line in the sky is an aircraft inbound to Helsinki-Vantaa airport.

This one has been enhanced a little (additional contrast, darkening the shadows) - exposure was 30s and ISO800, f/4 with Sigma 10-20mm lens (focal length was 10mm).

And an "unadulterated" which includes Ursa Major (just below center of the picture) - ISO1600, f/4, 31sec with Sigma 10-20mm at 10mm.

An here's and article about the sunspot and flare that generated all this:

Monday, 19 September 2011

Ba? Fa!

Two posts on Bad Astronomy today (one of Neptune) and this....

Ba? Fa!

Via MadArtLab comes this amazing optical/aural illusion that you have to see and hear to believe!
Cool, isn’t it? I’ve heard (haha) of this illusion before — it’s called the McGurk effect — but it’s still fun to see it done this way. When the man is shown side-by-side saying it, switch your attention back and forth between them with each syllable. Even knowing it’s an illusion, it’s still overwhelming. I can’t not hear it.

Must admit, Bad Astronomy is a seriously fantastic blog...

Neptune (in infrared)

Skymania has an article on Neptune taken with the Keck 10m telescope in infrared. Given the distance to Neptune the quality of the pictures is incredible especially if compared with the Voyager 2 pictures from 1989.

Stunning snaps of Neptune and Triton

Posted by on September 18th, 2011
Infrared image of Neptune
Infrared image of Neptune (Credit: Mike Brown/CalTech)
Here are a couple of views of Neptune as you have probably never seen the planet before. They were captured earlier today by astronomer Mike Brown using a 10-meter (33 ft) telescope at the W. M. Keck observatory on Hawaii.

This also appeared on the Bad Astronomy blog: Neptune is *really* far away...which also explains something about the distance to Neptune and the difficulties of taking pictures...

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Thursday, 15 September 2011

A Russian Experiment

My Family’s Experiment in Extreme Schooling

Fascinating article in the New York Times about one family's move to Moscow and their experiences in a Russian private school. Apart from the discussions about the linguistic challenges (3 non Russian speaking American children) and the cultural differences, the teaching style employed is extremely interesting as exemplified here:

New Humanitarian had standard subjects, like history and math, and Danya had many hours of homework a week. But Bogin added courses like antimanipulation, which was intended to give children tools to decipher commercial or political messages. He taught a required class called myshleniye, which means “thinking,” as in critical thinking. It was based in part on the work of a dissident Soviet educational philosopher named Georgy Shchedrovitsky, who argued that there were three ways of thinking: abstract, verbal and representational. To comprehend the meaning of something, you had to use all three.

When I asked Bogin to explain Shchedrovitsky, he asked a question. “Does 2 + 2 = 4? No! Because two cats plus two sausages is what? Two cats. Two drops of water plus two drops of water? One drop of water.”

From there, the theories became more complex. In practice, though, the philosophy meant that Bogin delighted in barraging children with word problems and puzzles to force them to think broadly. It was the opposite of the rote memorization of the Soviet system.

At dinnertime, the kids taunted me with riddles. “Ten crows are sitting on a fence,” Arden announced. “A cat pounces and eats one crow. How many are left?” “Umm, nine,” I said, fearing a trap. “No, none!” she gleefully responded. “Do you really think that after one crow is eaten, the others are going to stick around?” 

Philosophy and classes on "thinking" should be mandatory everywhere!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Apollo Landings

Amazing pictures from NASA's LRO Moon orbiter of some of the Apollo landing sites - complete with footsteps, remains of the moon lander and moon buggies....

Media briefing materials associated with this story can be found here.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) captured the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites. Images show the twists and turns of the paths made when the astronauts explored the lunar surface.
For example, Apollo 12's landing site complete with their visit to the Surveyor 3 lander:

and as always, The Register have a report too...

Eyes on the Solar System

This is seriously cool!

"Eyes on the Solar System" is a 3-D environment full of real NASA mission data. Explore the cosmos from your computer. Hop on an asteroid. Fly with NASA's Voyager 2 spacecraft. See the entire solar system moving in real time. It's up to you. You control space and time.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Severn Tunnel, 125 years

Severn Tunnel linking Wales to England is 125 years old

Carwin Jones

The Severn Tunnel rail link which joins south Wales and England, is 125 years old.
About 200 trains pass through this feat of Victorian engineering every day, but given its age, is it still fit for 21st Century use?

Wednesday, 31 August 2011


This Week’s Rumor from Not Even Wrong

A commenter on the previous posting has helpfully given us the abstract of an internal ATLAS note claiming observation of a resonance at 115 GeV. It’s the sort of thing you would expect to see if there were a Higgs at that mass, but the number of events seen is about 30 times more than the standard model would predict. Best guess seems to be that this is either a hoax, or something that will disappear on further analysis. But, since spreading well-sourced rumors is more or less in the mission statement of this blog, I think I’ll promote this to its own posting.

1 Neptunian Year since discovery

Fascinating article by way of The Guardian this morning, tomorrow is 1 year since the discovery of Neptune 167 Earth years ago...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

More Higgs and an explanation...

Excellent explanation of what Higgs is and why it matters (link to PDF slide set):
The Higgs Boson Lecture
Physics and Art Summer Institute 2010
Derek Robbins
August 4, 2010
and a host more interesting lectures and presentations here.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

End of a theory? Sypersymmetry and the LHC

Now this really could change things, as reported via the BBC:

LHC results put supersymmetry theory 'on the spot'
By Pallab Ghosh, Science correspondent, BBC News
Results from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) have all but killed the simplest version of an enticing theory of sub-atomic physics. Researchers failed to find evidence of so-called "supersymmetric" particles, which many physicists had hoped would plug holes in the current theory.

As sympersymmetry (SUSY) or or correctly in this case the Minimal Supersymmetric Standard Model seems not to be true then we're in for some radical changes in particle physics.

Recently, LHC narrowed the range of the mass of Higgs to 115-140GeV which itself is suggesting that the Higgs mechanism might have to have change or that there could be a number of Higgs in there. Some are now even pushing the claim that Higgs might not exist at all which in the light of the M-SUSY results would radically change our understanding of physics.

Trouble is, SUSY and the standard model have a long history, very beautiful mathematics and very good predictive powers...and who said science was boring?

Next in the firing line: string theory ..... ( XKCD