Informatics Newsletter January 2021
Issue 42 of our School newsletter for students and staff.
A Message from the Head of School
Personally I will be glad to see the back of January. It has felt like a long, dark, difficult month. Of course, this year that feeling is exacerbated by the pandemic, tightening restrictions from the Scottish Government and, in my case, ongoing problems with my boiler meaning that my house has become fridge-like. But when I look back on it, January often feels this way.
It is always a bit of a shock to the system to return to work after the long period of relaxation over Christmas and New Year, especially when it means battling to work in difficult weather. At least most of us are spared the difficult weather this year, and can work more cosily at home. Whether we have formed resolutions or not, I think we all enter each new year hoping for better. At the moment all sense of “better” seems postponed. But as the poet Seamus Heaney says "If we can Winter this out, we can Summer anywhere”.
So it is time to grit our teeth and persevere, and take comfort where we can. This might come from a job well done; the electronic companionship of colleagues and friends; or the small signs of spring that are starting to emerge from the snow. When I went for a walk this morning it was gratifying to see the first spikes of snowdrops sticking up through the soil, and the beginning of buds on the trees. Just as nature can suffer the austerities of winter to blossom again each spring, so it will be for us.
There are plenty of examples of staff and students doing their work well despite the difficulties and I commend you all for it. The exams before Christmas passed without major problems, and from what I hear (yet to be ratified by the Board of Examiners next week) the results look good. The new courses for this semester have started, and although it is disappointing that restrictions mean that all lectures will be online, the clarity of the situation allows us to proceed and plan accordingly.
As we enter February we have the consolation that the days are getting longer, people are being vaccinated and this difficult period will pass. In the meantime, please continue to be kind to yourself and to others.
With best wishes,
Professor John Vines started as Chair in Design Informatics and Co-Director to the Institute for Design Informatics on 1st January 2021
Rodrigo Rocha started as a research associate in the Institute for Computing Systems Architecture on 1st November 2020
Djob Mvondo Thystere started as a research associate with the Institute for Computing Systems Architecture on 16th November 2020
Graeme Nail started as a research assosciate with the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 23rd November 2020
Gordon Winton started as Programme and Account Manager at the Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science on 1st December 2020
Muhammad Usama started as a research associate with the Institute for Computing Systems Architecture on 1st December 2020
Tianqi Wei started as a research associate with the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour on 1st December 2020
Christopher Burns started as a research associate with the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 7th December 2020
Alkaterini-Panagiota Stouka started as a research associate with the Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science on 10th December 2020
Luca Arniboldi started as a research associate with the Laboratory for Foundations of Computer Science on 14th December 2020
Chimna Eke started as a research associate with the Artificial Intelligence and its Applications Institute on 14th December 2020
Qianqian Zhu started as a research associate with the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 15th December 2020
Robin Vogel started as a research associate with the Institute of Perception, Action and Behaviour on 28th December 2020
Electra Wallington started as a research assistant with the Institute for Language, Cognition and Computation on 5th January 2021
New DICE Ubuntu Environment in Informatics
The Computing team is very pleased to announce that the Informatics managed Linux desktop environment (DICE) has been ported to Ubuntu 20.04 (Focal Fossa). After 5 years of service the Scientific Linux 7 (SL7) based desktop environment is showing its age. In particular, this has begun to make it difficult to provide the latest versions of software for teaching and research. SL7 is based on Redhat Enterprise Linux 7 which has now moved into a maintenance phase. This means that Redhat will now only be providing important security updates. At this stage the team are primarily targeting Ubuntu to their desktop environment, plans to upgrade servers are still being formulated and they will continue to provide support for SL7.
Winter round of Student Experience Grants - 28th January
The winter round of Student Experience Grants will open for applications on Thursday 28th January, closing two weeks later on Thursday 11th February. Student Experience Grants are one-off contributions of up to £5,000 to support innovative projects and initiatives that will enhance students’ social, academic, sporting or cultural development. If you have an idea for a project that will enhance the student experience and offer new opportunities for students, apply to Student Experience Grants for support making your idea a reality.
Undergraduate Student Billy Byiringiro is the First Rwandan to be Awarded Prestigious Rhodes Scholarship
Billy Byiringiro has been selected as this year's Rhodes scholar for the East Africa region, the first Rwandan to win the coveted award. Billy is a fourth-year Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science student and a Mastercard Foundation Scholar. Supported by the Rhodes Scholarship programme, once completing his degree at Edinburgh Billy will go on to postgraduate study at the University of Oxford, embarking on a Masters in Computer Science followed by a PhD in Autonomous Intelligent Machines and Systems. In addition to excelling in his studies, Billy holds many significant student roles including leading the University's intramural basketball team and co-founding BuniTek, a student-led social enterprise that enables young people in Africa to access new technology through interactive activities. He has previously won the Microsoft and EaRs Internet of Things (IoT) hackathons.
Edinburgh Ranked First in the World for NLP by CSRankings.org
The University of Edinburgh is ranked first in the world for Natural Language Processing by CSRankings, a metrics-based ranking of top computer science institutions globally. The ranking is designed to identify institutions and faculty actively engaged in research across a number of areas of computer science, based on the number of publications by faculty that have appeared as the most selective conferences in each area of computer science.
Teaching a Robot Dog New Tricks with Dr. Alex Li
In collaboration with Zhejiang University, Alex Li and team have created a quick-thinking quadruped that has the ability to use pre-learned skills to respond and adapt to previously unseen situations. The research group, which comprises researchers from Zhejiang University, China and the School of Informatics, aims to ensure the resilience of autonomous robots by developing a new learning architecture that enables robots to create new functions from a group of taught, representative skills. Their latest paper, in which they propose a multi-expert learning architecture (MELA), has been published in and chosen as the cover paper of the December issue of Science Robotics. The work marks a milestone in robotics research as it offers a vision for fully independent robots, where humans would not have to intercede when the robot is presented with a new or unexpected obstacle.
There is no way to predict or simulate every scenario a robot could encounter while fulfilling a task, so it must be equipped with adaptive skills that can be applied effectively in unexpected situations. The solution developed by the project is a new learning process, whereby deep neural networks (DNNs) are combined to produce a new kind of adaptive ability. In combining several DNNs the researchers found the resulting system to be more than the sum of its parts; it was actually able to learn new skills, skills which none of the DNNs possessed individually. This new system is termed multi-expert learning architecture (MELA).
Alex's research has been featured in The Independent, The Daily Mail and Wired.
Prewired, co-founded by Informatics' Ewan Klein, secures funding to take Coding Club online
Prewired have obtained funding from Creative Informatics to take one of Scotland’s longest running coding clubs for young people online. Prewired was founded in 2013 in partnership with the School of Informatics, University of Edinburgh, and since then has taught coding and digital skills to over 350 under-19s. The Scottish charity was established with the aim of addressing an educational gap in access to digital skills education, according to its founders. Another motivation for Prewired is the ongoing digital skills shortage in Scotland, despite statistics showing rapid growth in the global technology industry. This contrast was referenced in Mark Logan’s Scottish Government-commissioned Scottish technology ecosystem review. Before the pandemic Prewired delivered computer programming sessions at CodeBase in Edinburgh, however now the charity must make the transition to online learning in order to continue to engage and educate young people. The social enterprise will begin online learning with students in Edinburgh, but hope to extend nationwide throughout Scotland in future.
Research Data Management
The Researchfish submission window is approaching. This year, the window for submission is 1 February to 11 March, with a hard deadline of 4pm on 11 March. Staff and eligible students in receipt of UKRI funding will be required to make a return by this deadline. Sam Bishop from the RDM team will contact all relevant PIs and students in February to offer further details and support.
New Edinburgh Research Explorer
The launch new Edinburgh Research Explorer (ERE) has been delayed further. We will send more information about this once the launch is confirmed. As a reminder, ERE is the public display of Pure and is being upgraded to a new version that has a much improved layout and visually attractive features.
Please continue to update your Pure profile to ensure that the most up-to-date information about you and your research is displayed on the new ERE.
Open Access requirements
Open Access policies remain unchanged throughout the current COVID-19 situation, and the expectation is that accepted manuscripts are deposited in Pure within three months of the date of acceptance. If there are concerns about meeting Open Access deadlines, please contact Victoria and Sam on firstname.lastname@example.org and they will be happy to advise.
As always, please continue to send details of recently accepted papers and open access questions, and Victoria or Sam will respond to your query.
City bus firm’s app upgrade helps keep ticket fraud in check
Data experts including Paul Patras and MInf student Jorge Sanz Moroto are helping to boost the security of a ticketing app used by a leading UK public transport company. The team are working with the creators of Lothian Buses’ m-tickets system to make its software and the server systems that process and store data more robust. Improving the app will stop people producing valid tickets without paying and reactivating expired ones. The upgrade will also make it harder for hackers to access users’ personal data. Researchers identified parts of the app’s source code that were vulnerable to cyber-attacks and developed technical solutions in response. Mobile tech firm Corethree, which created the system, is now developing a more secure version of the app, based on the experts’ recommendations. The researchers hope their insights can create a blueprint that will help improve the security of other travel apps. Their findings have been accepted for publication at the Information Security Conference (ISC) 2020, and will be presented between 16 and 20 December.
Undergraduate student's website tracking the spread of Covid-19 now includes vaccine tracker
During the first wave of Covid-19 in the UK second-year student George Karabassis created Covid19livespread, a website that presents detailed Covid-19 data and statistics from around the world in one clear, user-friendly place. Now George has responded to the latest developments in vaccination against Covid-19 by adding a vaccine tracker to his site. George says of his vaccine tracker, "While developing a vaccine tracker was never in my plans, while I was researching for a complete vaccine tracker, I realised I couldn't find one. So, I decided to change my plans to create my own to which I will be constantly adding more countries/areas as more data become more available."
Pervasive Parallelism students receive Honorable Mention in the IEEE Micro Top Picks 2020
Congratulations are in order for Pervasive Parallelism students Antonis Katsarakis, Vasilis Gavrielatos, former affiliate student Arpit Joshi and supervisors Borish Grot and Vijay Nagarajan for receiving an Honorable Mention in the IEEE Micro Top Picks list for 2020. Their paper, entitled 'Hermes: Fast, Fault-Tolerant and Linearizable Data Replication', was submitted to the 25th International Conference on Architectural Support for Programming Languages and Operating Systems (ASPLOS) 2020. IEEE Micro Top Picks recognises the significant, insightful papers that have the potential to influence the work of computer architects for years to come. Any computer architecture paper published in the top conferences of 2020 was eligible.
HYPED and Formula Student societies awarded Student Experience Grants
Student-led societies HYPED and Formula Student are among the beneficiaries of the latest round of Student Experience Grants. Each society will receive approximately £5,000 from the scheme, which supports innovative projects and initiatives that enhancethe social, academic, entrepreneurial, sporting or sultural development of students. HYPED will put their grant towards European Hyperloop Week, a Hyperloop Event and Pod competition that the team are organising in collaboration with three other European University Hyperloop teams. Formula Student will use their grant to help them transition from an internal combustion powertrain to an electric powertrain on their formular student car; the money will pay for the safety equipment needed to make the change.
Fiona McNeill awarded Principal’s Medal for helping students adapt to hybrid teaching
Reader in Computer Science Education Fiona McNeill has been named one of the recipients of the Principal’s Medal for her course helping first-year students connect with each other and adapt to hybrid teaching. Fiona developed the Informatics Connect programme for first-year Informatics students as a way for them to get to know one another and improve their soft skills, helping them to achieve in their academic careers even under the new hybrid teaching model. With students physically distanced due to Covid-19, the course provided a welcome space for them to build relationships with their classmates and share their experiences of starting their degree. In addition to facilitating discussion between students, Informatics Connect encourages dialogue with teaching staff, which allowed students to provide feedback and take an active role in improving the School’s approach to hybrid teaching. Fiona and the other course organisers conducted polls and surveys to gauge how students were feeling about remote delivery of teaching, which could be shared with teaching staff throughout the School.
Andy Gordon and Gordon Plotkin Appointed Fellows of ACM
Andy Gordon and Gordon Plotkin have been awarded Fellowship of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the leading educational and scientific computing society in the world. Andy and Gordon are two of 95 new ACM Fellows announced earlier this month, an honour that recognises work underpinning the computing innovations of today. Both Andy and Gordon were chosen for their contributions to programming languages; Andy for his focus on their principles, logic, usability and trustworthiness, and Gordon for their operational and denotational semantics. ACM Fellows are responsible for wide-ranging and fundamental contributions to computing, including (but not limited to) artificial intelligence, cloud computing, computer graphics, computational biology, data science, human-computer interaction, software engineering, theoretical computer science and virtual reality. Andy and Gordon are not the first School of Informatics staff members to be honoured with a Fellowship of the ACM; they join colleagues Alan Bundy, Peter Buneman, Wenfei Fan, Leonid Libkin and Phil Wadler.
IoT Education Kit compiled by Paul Patras now available via Arm University Program
Paul Patras has designed and compiled an education kit introducing students to key concepts in the area of Internet of Things (IoT), which is available through the Arm University Program. The IoT Education Kit was launched in July 2020 and is part of the Arm University Program, a scheme to give students all over the world access to the latest technology from Arm through materials prepared by academic experts. The Arm University Program combines Computer Science theory with practical applications in the real world, and the Kits include lecture slides and interactive materials such as quizzes. Paul’s Education Kit explores the transformative ways in which the internet, mobile and sensor technology come together to make the Internet of Things, and teaches the skills needed to be a part of IoT development.
Maria Wolters supports digital hub that offers support to the homeless community
Maria Wolters provides advice and guidance on the eHealth and service design aspects of Street Support Edinburgh, an online service to improve support for people currently experiencing homelessness in Edinburgh. The website and app provides advice, support and resources for vulnerable people, people experiencing homelessness, the Edinburgh community and emergency services personnel. Organisers hope it will help reduce the number of people sleeping rough on the city’s streets. The hub is the result of a collaborative effort, and is part of a project led by University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Homeless Inclusion and Health (CHIH) and the Manchester-based Street Support Network. Organisers say the resource provides a vital service to vulnerable people and the community by providing accessible information in one easy-to-use location.
School of Informatics, University of Michigan, DARPA and Arm work together on Software Defined Hardware Program
Informatics researchers led by Michael O'Boyle provide software expertise on the Software Defined Hardware (SDH) Program, which aims to develop a transmuter, or reconfigurable computer, that can radically adapt its internal structures to suit different applications. Previously, programmability has come at the cost of performance, but the transmuter should still allow data-intensive workloads to run at near- ASIC efficiency. Target workloads included graph and stream processing with application in big data analytics and neural network processing for accelerated AI algorithms. The program is funded by the USA's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the University of Michigan's Division of Computer Science and Engineering provides hardware expertise, and Informatics research bring their extensive knowledge of software. Mike O'Boyle describes Informatics involvement, "he DARPA program offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for us to do something really big, working with a world-class team to build a software stack for a new piece of hardware that would be better than anything currently out there. And to do so in a three-year timeframe. This would really bring that real-world focus to our research and make us see things in a different way. DARPA also offers the kind of funding we would never normally get access to. It can be challenging to secure funding for a project of such scale, where you are developing test chips and getting everything going."
Subramanian Ramamoorthy discusses the future of robotics and AI on the Change I M Possible podcast
Professor Subramanian Ramamoorthy was recently a guest on the Change I M Possible podcast from Change Transform India. Ram discussed the future of robotics and AI and sorted the fact from the fiction when it comes to Hollywood portrayals of robots and intelligent systems. The Change I M Possible podcast is the first of its kind, exploring emerging, frontier, exponential and future technologies from India.
PwnEd CTF organised by SigInt
On the 27th and 28th February SigInt, the University's Cyber Security society, will host their annual Capture the Flag (CTF) competition pwnEd. This will mark the second iteraton of the cybersecurity event for university students. Running over 2 days, the competition will run as a jeopardy style CTF with a large variety of challenges covering most categories. There will also be great opportunities for networking and socialising with students and industry experts from around the UK. This year's event will take place online via Discord, and teams of up to six UK-based students can compete.
Hack the Burgh VII
For the seventh year in a row CompSoc, the University's Computer Science society and Soctland's largest tech-based society, will host one of the largest student-run hackathons in the UK, Hack the Burgh. The event sees technology enthusiasts come together to be creative, build innovative programming projects, learn new skills, and network with tech companies. Students work in teams of up to 4 people and compete in various challenges, presented by industry sponsors. This year Hack the Burgh will take place on the 6th and 7th of March; register your interest now.
Outreach and Public Engagement
If you have participated in an outreach and public engagement activity in the last six months, please make sure it has been recorded by the comms team in the directory below.
If you need to add an entry, would like to get involved in a public engagement activity or promote an opportunity that you are aware of, please use the webform below.
For latest opportunities please check CSE PE blog for more info.
Call for contributors - Global Science Shows, 12th Feb and 12th Mar
This Twitter-based science engagement platform returns on 12th Feb with a Science / Art special. Between 9am and 9pm posts will be made from contributors across the globe: you could be an experienced science communicator, or this could be your first attempt, everything is considered. Contributors will be allocated a 10-minute timeslot, but you do not need to supply 10 minutes of content! Videos, tweet threads, images, and more, are warmly welcomed.
The following event on 12th Mar is being run in partnership with the STEM Ambassadors Network in Scotland. If you are not signed up as a STEM Ambassador already, this can be done when signing-up to contribute. All participants to the 12th Mar event will be able to attend and information and training session prior to the activities going live.
Call for nominations - Rooke Award, Royal Academy of Engineering, deadline: 26th Feb
This award will be given to a small team or individual based in the UK that has worked to promote engineering to public groups. Nominations will need to include the nominee's details; a 500-word citation; a CV; and two letters of support.
Funding - The Royal Society Partnership grants, stage 1 deadline: 28th Feb
Partnership Grants of up to £3,000 are available to UK schools and colleges to carry out investigative STEM research projects in their classrooms in partnership with a STEM professional from academia or industry. The grants are designed to help schools and colleges purchase equipment to run these projects. The scheme is open to both primary and secondary schools, including sixth form colleges in the UK. Preparation webinars - each covering the same application tips and examples of success - are planned for 26th Jan, 3rd Feb, 15th Feb.
For projects involving pupils with special educational needs and disabilities there are some supportive adjustments to the core funding conditions.
For information - CREST Awards for young people under-represented in STEM
Again for highlighting to teachers you are in touch with, the CREST awards have a funding round for grants that enable schools to run CREST Awards with young people under-represented in STEM. The CREST process is based on student-led STEM investigations in real-world contexts that can be done at primary or secondary school levels; examples are available online. Using this approach, the scheme aims to be flexible and should be suitable to be undertaken in a school or home setting.
The deadline for grant applications is 5th Feb.
For information - Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning
For those with ongoing contact with teachers, you may wish to make them aware of Connecting Classrooms through Global Learning (CCGL). This project is offering free expert support, resources, professional learning and funding to educational settings and educators across Scotland who want to collaborate with other settings - both here in Scotland and overseas - on interdisciplinary projects themed around the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Schools already taking part are using CCGL to enhance learning across Curriculum for Excellence; with activity around digital learning, STEM, Health & Wellbeing and Developing the Young Workforce being particular favourites.
Learning for Sustainability Scotland, housed at Moray House, is one of the delivery partners for the programme in Scotland and they would really appreciate your help in spreading the word to any settings that you think might be interested. It's open to early years settings, primaries, secondaries, additional support needs settings and colleges. Details have already been shared with Education Scotland and Local Authorities, but raising awareness through our teacher collaborators and contacts would definitely be helpful too.
Further information can be found on the Learning for Sustainability Scotland website or by contacting the Connecting Classrooms team.
Update: Scottish Science Festivals list
Our list of science festivals across Scotland - including details about the application processes - has been updated again.
[refresh the page if you don't see the Jan 2021 version of this list]
To summarise some recent changes:
- The Big Bang Fair in Birmingham will be online this year, but the dates are to be determined.
- The Festival of the Sea in Oban is looking to return in May after a few years' break.
- Glasgow Science Festival should be deciding on its approach within the next few weeks and will update us with potential opportunities.
Reminder: Call for nominations - The Royal Society medals and awards, deadline: 15th Feb
The annual call for nominations for a variety of medals and awards from the Royal Society are now open. Of those potentially more applicable to public engagement are:
- For the exemplary communication of scientific ideas in lay terms
- The David Attenborough Award
- For outstanding public engagement with science
- The Rosalind Franklin Award
- For support the promotion of women in STEM
A full list of awards can be found at the Royal Society nominations page. The deadline for nominations is Mon 15th Feb. If you are in the CSE and wish to discuss making a nomination, then feel free to contact Stuart Dunbar.
Reminder: Call for contributors - general Call for Ideas, Edinburgh Science Festival, deadline: 31st Jan
The main deadline for Edinburgh Science Festival proposals has been moved back to 31st Jan. If you have plans for online talks or online discussion panels, then please submit these directly to the festival organisers through the Call for Ideas.
The expectation will be for these contributions to be pre-recorded, but with a formal 'premiere' where the contributor will need to be present for a live chat discussion with 'attendees'. The talk will then remain available on-demand for a period of time afterwards. Videos will need to be professionally produced - i.e. recorded in a studio setup. (There are recording options within the UoE that could support this.)
There are no plans currently to charge attendees a fee for viewing this type of content from universities. However, there is likely to be a programme fee (£350-£1250+VAT), which covers some promotion support and perhaps some support with content development. The precise rate of which will be dependent on how much support the festival organisers will need to provide. If you are able to record everything to match the festival's requirements, then the fee would be to the lower end of the scale.
Reminder: Training - Online Engagement, 28th Jan
Through this Zoom-based event with Jamie Gallagher, discover how to create effective public engagement online and to translate physical events to virtual spaces. Following this half-day event, you should be able to: get the most from your equipment at home; identify the dominant models of online engagement; have an understanding of different platforms and how to make the most of them; understand how to foster meaningful two-way dialogue online; plan appropriate online evaluation for your engagement; and know how to make online events accessible, safe and ethical. The maximum ticket price is £30.
Staff Training Courses
We now have a page listing training courses attended by staff. You can submit your own feedback on a particular training you attended.
Informatics Social Bulletin
Due to popular demand, we bring you a completely new and refreshed version of our Lockdown Bulletin - Informatics Social Bulletin. We have moved all the content that you found useful to our blog, so head there to find out more.
This month we're generally tired of the lockdown, but appreciate a wee distractor of Bernie memes. Head to our blog to read about them and see the ones that we've made. We also encourage you to make memes (any memes) and send to us. We might feature some Informatics memes in next month's blog.
Best of InfGeneral
Inf-general has been a busy mailing list recently... And not centred around one topic only. So, we've had Maria Gorinova discussing a flaw she found in the android version of the Covid app (which has now been fixed but unfortunately we will never know whether it was thanks to Maria's intervention...), a music discussion forum was started by Paul Anderson as a response to his email looking for music aficionados was so overwhelming, in the best inf-general tradition Bob found a joiner and some Teams advice was shared.
However, this month's best of inf-general award goes to Tom Sherborne for wonderfully collating his findings on the screen recording software. We summarise below.
Media Hopper is the official option but haters gonna hate.
Other suggestions (weighted by popularity)
- OBS Studio +10
- Zoom to yourself +2 -1 (Streaming to youtube is disabled on the UoE licence)
- Jitsi recording yourself +1
- Powerpoint with recording +1 (If you are using Mac, there can be memory issues with longer recordings)
- Quicktime +3 (Mac Only)
- Screenflick + Audio Interface + Headphone with Microphone
- Vokoscreen for Linux +1
- Chrome browser plugins +1
Thank you, Tom!
Inf-general is a mailing list used to carry informal discussions, postings, requests to and from staff within Informatics. Not for official purposes. Julian Bradfield is the guardian of inf-general who steps in to point out misuses and confirm when inf-general should most definitely be used. If you’re new to Informatics inf-general emails can be a great source of knowledge for you: ask and you will be informed, but do remember to share the information back with the mailing list users.
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