Informatics Newsletter September 2022
Issue 61 of our School newsletter for students and staff.
A Message from the Head of School
It has been an eventful month: the passing of the Queen marks the end of an era – she has been the Head of State for the whole of our lifetime for many of us, and has exemplified a life of service and duty, and so it is with sadness that we think of her passing.
The Queen's funeral last week was an appropriately sombre and stately affair but in the rest of the world, violence has erupted in ways that are very hard to make sense of. I was particularly shocked and saddened to hear the news from Iran about the brutal killing of Mahsa Amini by the morality police, and the subsequent deterioration of the situation there. I know that we have many Iranian staff and students who are deeply anxious about their friends and family, as well as frustrated at the situation in their country. Meanwhile, the situation in Ukraine continues and President Putin has pushed things to a new level this week. Again I know that there are many in our community who are personally affected by this situation and our thoughts and sympathy go out to them.
These world events and the uncertainties of a new semester can leave many of us feeling more stressed than usual. I would remind staff of the Staff Health and Wellbeing Hub, that provides a variety of resources to help positive mental health.
There are similar pages for students. Support in crisis is also available.
Luckily there has been some positive news recently:
- The Times published their Good University Guide last weekend and Informatics moved up 12 places in the ranking and we are now in 7th place.
- The Guardian published their Best UK Universities 2023 Rankings this weekend and Informatics maintained our position as 5th in the UK for computer science and related courses.
- Chris Lu’s work with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service on an enhanced helmet that supports firefighters in low visibility settings has generated a lot of positive publicity — look out for him on a news programme this week. Congratulations Chris!
- The new student support system based on assigned student advisors and cohort leads has launched smoothly. We hope that this new system will help create a stronger sense of belonging, especially for our first-year students. If you’re a student, you can find information about the support available for you below.
With best wishes,
- Xinhuan Shu started as a Visualisation Developer in ILCC on 28/08/2022
- Henry Gouk started as a Research Fellow in IPAB on 1/9/2022
- Maxime France Pillois started as a Research Associate in ICSA on 1/9/2022
- Louis Mahon started as a Research Associate in ILCC on 1/9/2022
- Akira Takahashi started as a Research Associate in ICSA on 1/9/2022
- Jia Li started as a Research Associate in LFCS on 1/9/2022
- Youssef Al Hariri started as a Research Associate in ILCC on 1/9/2022
- Julian Parsert started as a Research Associate in ICSA on 1/9/2022
- Joe Harris started as a Research Assistant in LFCS on 5/9/2022
- Paola Galdi started as a Research Associate in AIAI on 5/9/2022
- Alejandro Blaco Pizzaro started as a Research Associate in ICSA on 6/9/2022
- Peter MacGregor started as a Research Associate in LFCS on 12/9/2022
- Markus Schneider started as a Research Associate in LFCS on 15/09/2022
- Molham Khoja started as a Research Assistant in ICSA on 20/09/2022
- Rachiyta Jain as a Research Associate in ILCC on 22/09/2022
- Christian Lange started as a Research Assistant in ANC on 26/09/2022
- Aris Filos-Ratsikas started as a Lecturer in Algorithms and Complexity on 1/9/2022
- Yuvraj Patel started as a Lecturer in Computer Systems on 7/9/2022
- Pasquale Minervini started as a Lecturer in NLP on 15/09/2022
- Changjian Li started as a Lecturer in Graphics, Simulation and Visual Computing on 20/09/2022
Professional Services Staff
- Jessica Mak started as a Senior Finance Analyst on 29/08/2022
- Suzanna Xu started as a Marketing and Recruitment Coordinator (maternity cover) on 5/9/2022
- Heather McCartney started as an Institute Admin Assistant on 5/9/2022
- Jodie Cameron started as an Institute Admin Assistant on 5/9/2022
- Veronica Silvestre started as a Student Engagement Officer on 8/9/2022
- Sophie Mills started as a Student Experience Officer on 12/9/2022
- Orlando Florio started as a Staffing Support Administrator on 12/9/2022
- Ulrich Germann started as a Senior Computing Officer (Research) on 16/9/22
- Heather Carson started as a Staffing Support Officer on 26/9/2022
To view current job opportunities within the School of Informatics, please click on the link below.
Free bus travel for under-22s
Anyone under 22 years of age and living in Scotland can access free bus travel. In Edinburgh, this means you can use any public bus service or the Tram completely FREE! You will also be able to access public bus services throughout Scotland. To access the scheme you'll need to have a new or replacement National Entitlement Card (NEC) or Young Scot National Entitlement Card (Young Scot NEC). Find out if you are eligible and how you can apply at the link below.
Protect yourself from scams
The University of Edinburgh are aware of a number of scams circulating, including scammers contacting students asking for bank details. Be wary of unexpected calls or emails and never give out personal or financial information.
Aurora Constantin receives Order of "Cultural Merit" award
Aurora Constantin has been awarded the Order of "Cultural Merit" in the rank of Knight, Category H – "Scientific Research" by the President of Romania in appreciation for her contribution to the promotion of Romania’s image, research, and culture in the United Kingdom.
Aurora is a University Teacher and a researcher at the School of Informatics. She used to work as a high school Physics teacher before dedicating her career to the design of educational and assistive technologies. This career change was inspired by her teaching experience of using computer-based educational applications that were not always easy to use by students and teachers with various needs. She completed and MSc in IT at the University of Glasgow and a PhD at the University of Edinburgh.
Aurora's main research interests are in: Human-Computer Interaction, Educational Technology, Digital Learning, Multimodal Interaction, Assistive Technologies, and Technology for Autism.
She contributed to the design, development and evaluation of a free app (SOFA) which built on her PhD research work.
Meet our Professional Services
Informatics Human Resources team (InfHR)
As we are going through some restructuring at the moment, and with our buildings occupied once again as part of hybrid working, we thought this would be an ideal opportunity to reintroduce you to the Professional Services teams within the School of Informatics.
Our next post is brought to you by Sam Inch, our Staffing Support Manager, telling us all about the Informatics Human Resources team (InfHR).
Stay tuned for an introduction to a different professional services team with each newsletter.
We have had a few staff members recently discover that they have used up to many annual leave days, as they have been looking at their annual leave allowance using the balance of ‘Current date’. This actually doesn’t include any future holidays booked after the current date you are viewing the record. Instead please change this box to read ‘last calculation date’ which will work out your balance at the end of the annual leave period (31st December 2022).
Please ensure that the Christmas closure (public holiday and required annual leave to cover building closure) is included in your record, InfHR will be doing a manual check of everyone’s record near the end of the year and will add this in to any record required. As per University policy, you may carry over 5 days/35 hours over to 2023, the system will do this automatically and will not carry anything above this total.
Research Data Management Update
The Research Services team is pleased to announce that Victoria Lindström returned from maternity leave this month and has resumed her role as Research Data Manager within the RDM team. Feel free to get in touch to welcome her back.
In a further staffing development Sam Bishop will be leaving the RDM team and the School at the end of September to take up a new role in Research Information Systems over at Information Services.
As always, queries concerning Open Access or publications should be made to the RDM general email account and do please continue to send details of any new papers as soon as possible after receiving notification of acceptance to the RDM team.
Ethics office hours
The Informatics ethics committee will continue to hold an office hour every first Monday of the month, 4pm-5pm (3 October, 7 November, 5 December). These sessions are attended by one member of the ethics committee. Staff and students are welcome to join the office hour via the Teams link below and to discuss questions around ethics and ethics applications.
Please take the time to review the information available on our pages before attending, including the FAQs.
Students should discuss specific ethics questions with their supervisor before attending the office hour (open to both students and supervisors).
Aden Haussmann develops app to support Tshembo Africa Foundation
Aden Haussmann, a third-year Computer Science student developed a web app to support a wild-life conservation charity in South Africa.
Tshembo Africa Foundation is a wildlife conservation non-profit based in Aden’s hometown (Hoedspruit, Limpopo, South Africa). Each year they run an international fitness challenge to raise funds and awareness to support underprivileged anti-poaching staff. This year the challenge is for participants to raise money by cumulatively circumventing the world 5 times by non-powered means.
As of 21st September, 400 participants have logged 33,763km and raised 104,000 ZAR.
Aden has developed a web app to allow participants to register, log in, log out, submit their activities, view the distance progress and donate. The challenge kicked off on the 1st of September.
I believe in using the skills I'm learning at University for good, and this project means that even though I'm thousands of miles away from my home, I can still use what I do to support conservation and have an impact which I find fulfilling.
Informatics students at Heidelberg Laureate Forum
Lukas Shafer and Samuel Garcin from the Autonomous Agents Research Group attended the Heidelberg Laureate Forum that took place between the 18th and 23rd September
The Heidelberg Laureate Forum (HLF) is a networking conference where 200 carefully selected young researchers in mathematics and computer science spend a week interacting with the laureates of the disciplines: recipients of the Abel Prize, ACM A.M. Turing Award, ACM Prize in Computing, Fields Medal, IMU Abacus Medal and Nevanlinna Prize. Established in 2013, the HLF is annually organized by the Heidelberg Laureate Forum Foundation (HLFF).
Samuel and Lukas had a chance to meet and chat with one of the Fathers of the Internet, Vint Cerf. They chatted about the foundations of Human intelligence, Cybernetics, the Interplanetary Internet, NASA Artemis among other things. They also discussed training intelligent agents with Yann LeCun, Alexei Efros and Yossi Gandelsman.
But, as Samuel points out what made #HLF22 so special for participants were all the interactions with the other young researchers.
Contact tracing tool supports supplies during pandemic
Aggelos Kiayias contributed to Roslin Institute-led project with collaborators in Uganda to create a digital, open-source system that targets the haulage sector as a key source of Covid-19 infection spread.
A digital contact tracing tool has been developed to help counteract supply chain delays linked to Covid-19 in East Africa. A multidisciplinary team led by the Roslin Institute with colleagues in Uganda consulted with key stakeholders to devise the open-source tool tailored to haulage use in developing countries.
A pilot study of the new digital contact tracing (DCT) protocol is to test its utility among truck drivers. The team’s intervention follows severe delays at Uganda’s ports following the introduction of mandatory Covid tests for drivers, after a majority of cases at the peak of the country’s first Covid-19 wave were linked to the sector.
Although new testing requirements have been implemented to reduce these delays, the situation highlighted the need to develop swift and more effective methods.
Making machine learning reliable for problems with very little data
Henry Gouk from the School of Informatics has received a fellowship from The Royal Academy of Engineering to pursue his research into verifiable and robust meta-learning.
The main idea of the project is this: It usually requires a lot of data to build an artificial intelligence system and make sure it is working as intended before using it in a product or service. The goal of the project is to develop a set of techniques for doing this building and verification of AI systems when one only has a small amount of data available.
One of the more marketable areas where this small data problem pops up is in medicine, where it is notoriously difficult to collect large datasets because of health/ethical/personnel/privacy reasons. Another is in ensuring AI systems, such as speech recognition, still perform well when used by minorities where the small number of individuals makes it difficult to gather a large amount of data.
The Royal Academy of Engineering offers Research Fellowships each year to outstanding early-career researchers to support them to become future research leaders in engineering.
Podcast conversation with Elham Kashefi
The latest episode of The Data Lab's "The Last Question" podcast is a fascinating conversation with Elham Kashefi from the School of Informatics.
Hear about cybersecurity, decoherence, and some common misconceptions about quantum computing.
Leonid Libkin gives a keynote at KR 2022 International Conference
Leonid Libkin gave a keynote at KR 2022: 19th International Conference on Principles of Knowledge Representation and Reasoning, a premiere conference on logical aspects of AI. The talk entitled "Graph Queries: Do We Study What Matters?" resulted from his work on ISO committees standardizing query languages for relational and graph databases. KR this year was held as part of FLoC (Federated Logic Conference).
Graph queries are studied extensively by many communities: data management, AI, Semantic Web. The development of the theoretical models of such queries happened in between the two eras of prominence of graphs: the early network data model (later overridden by relational) and more recent models of RDF and especially property graphs, gaining prominence in the last decade. Classical theory gives us the fundamental notion of Regular Path Queries (RPQ) and its many derivatives: CRPQs, UCRPQs, 2UCRPQs, ECRPQs, RDPQs, GXPath etc. This is still the model that dominates in research literature.
Applications follow a different path however. A number of successful graph query languages including Cypher, PGQL, and GSQL led to the development of a new international standard called GQL (Graph Query Language). The core of GQL is inspired by RPQs in the same way the Hoover dam is inspired by a beaver blocking a local creek: the essence is similar, but the end result is not. However, GQL is still work in progress and even when finished it will come in the shape of hundreds of pages of specs, rather than a simple mathematical definition. The goal of this talk is to give such a definition to the community and issue a call to change the main language of study to reflect graph languages that will dominate the practical landscape for decades to come.
Leonid Libkin is a professor of computer science at the University of Edinburgh.
Sethu Vijayakumar gives insight in new UKIERI Phase Three impact video
Professor Sethu Vijayakumar and the Statistical Learning and Motor Control Group have been collaborating a UKIERI-funded project, looking into how the global growth in e-commerce has been driving the need for competitive warehouse automation solutions and how the next generation of warehouses would employ robots for logistics and handling tasks while working along-side human employees.
The three year project 'Learning Robotic Motor Skills, Visual Control and Perception for Warehouse Automation' (collaboration with Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur), focused on enabling robots to manipulate, receive, stack, pick, and pack goods while dealing with challenging problems involving unstructured environments, clutter, and unexpected object avoidance.
UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) started in April 2006 with the aim of enhancing educational linkages between India and the UK. UKIERI Phase Three (2016-2021) aimed at promoting institutional and individual excellence in educational practices, research, and employability.
In this new video, Prof Sethu Vijayakumar speaks about outcomes and achievements of phase 3 of the initiative.
Outreach and Public Engagement
Interested in outreach in public engagement? Let us know!
As more and more outreach and public engagement opportunities takes place in person, the School gets more and more queries from potential partners. Please get in touch if you are interested in doing this type of work. Requests vary from organising hackathons to visiting local (and so local) schools. Please use the public engagement form below if you'd like more information or are interested in participating.
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.
Research Support Services Conference
Monday 31 October 2022, John McIntyre Conference Centre
The conference is a full day event aimed at research support colleagues. It will provide a fantastic platform for colleagues to share experiences, build networks and hear more about the latest developments in the research environment, from across the University. The conference is open to all colleagues within the University who work within Research Support.
Best of InfGeneral
We've been making great use of inf-general this month. A lot of items changed hands: you could get/buy anything from Covid tests, office chairs, Cards Against Humanity through to a cat tree and Encyclopaedia Britannica (twice!). Flats were sought after and sublets were offered. Lots of sweet leftovers were advertised.
But the most comprehensive advice, including a journal paper, was submitted by Yihe Lu on the topic of access to eye treatment in Scotland. Therefore the best of inf-general this month goes to Yihe and all who shared their knowledge on the topic. Findings are included below.
Should you develop an eye condition in Scotland,
- if it's an emergency, go to A&E;
- if not, go to see an optometrist (NOT a GP!).
Section 1 - based on community advice and Yihe's wife's experience
First and foremost, if you suffer from vision impairment or loss, you should go immediately to A&E at the nearest hospital.
- 'The NHS really shines when it comes to urgent care.' -- Quoted from one reply.
- It is said that, at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, you might have to wait more than 7 hours before being triaged and getting appropriate treatment, because patients are treated on a first-come, first-served basis, unless in a life-threatening situation.
- In non-emergency cases, you should contact a local optometrist (NOT a GP) if you develop an eye condition.
- You might want to call 111, if you do not know what to do (but not in an emergency), particularly when you fail to get hold of your GP or optometrist (e.g., at weekends).
- Yihe's wife's GP was still willing to see her (with eye conditions). However, seeing a GP for eye conditions was 'odd' according to the GP, and she strongly suggested Yihe's wife get an appointment with an optometrist. (A comprehensive explanation of the referral system by Prof Atkinson can be found in Section 2.)
- Although Yihe's wife ended up cancelling the face-to-face appointment with the GP after seeing the optometrist, she managed to get it on the same day. However, it is said that different GP surgeries vary wildly, and one might have to wait days or even weeks before seeing a GP in person. Someone also suggested switching GPs, if your GP does not offer emergency appointments.
- To find a local NHS optician, you can go to NHS inform website and search with your address. The same website can also be used to find local GPs and dentists. Nevertheless, it is possible, but perhaps slightly harder, to get hold of an optometrist in a high-street optician shop, as they may implement a different business model. Similar to GPs, how opticians deal with appointments may vary a lot. You would want to call them or check online, so that you can get an appointment with an optometrist as soon as possible.
- In the unfortunate case your condition gets serious, your optometrist (optician, if we use the term loosely) or GP (if we use the system loosely) would refer you to an ophthalmologist.
- It is said that, in Edinburgh, you are very likely to be referred to Princess Alexandra Eye Pavilion. As of 09/09/2022, its website suggests that A&E does not fall in its capacity. However, one might want to confirm that by calling them.
- It is said that if your condition is considered acute, you may need to wait for 2 to 5 days; if not, weeks or even months.
- You might want to go for private services, rapid but expensive (see Section 3).
- If you have private insurance, don't forget to check whether, what type of services, and how much the insurance covers.
Section 2 - based on Malcolm Atkinson's research
Prof Atkinson has been working on a short project funded by the "build back better" response to the pandemic by the Edinburgh City Initiative, which sets out to understand the important roles of optometrists and ophthalmologists play in Scotland. Quote from his email:
Since 2006 the General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) contract governing primary eyecare in Scotland (different from England) optometrists have a diagnostic primary care and refer patients directly to Hospital Eye Services when necessary; this is no longer done via GPs though it was once. They are trained in diagnostic procedures and many are authorised to prescribe though refractive correction is often critical for their business model. So it may be better to choose a private optometrist business (they are still part of the NHS Scotland primary care system, with NHS-funded services) that is convenient for you rather than a chain, as chain staff (Boots, etc.) may be under more pressure to allocate time to profitable glasses and contact lenses.
More details in a forthcoming journal paper you can request from Malcolm or Yihe.
Section 3 - recommended opticians and private care
You can find your local NHS optician on NHS inform website. But below are 5 opticians recommended due to their decent services (and of course based on personal biases):
- Cameron Optometry
- Rodger & Smalridge
- Lyndsay Brown
- Browns Opticians (Clerk Street)
There are 3 private services mentioned by the community:
- Nuffield Health - The Edinburgh Clinic: ~£100 per consultation
- Spire - Edinburgh Hospitals
- Gibson and Syme: ~£55 per consultation
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 the inf-general who steps in to point out misuses and confirm when the 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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