Monday, November 10, 2008

The Great Knuth Read

I've started a companion blog called "The Great Knuth Read". It concerns a multi-part monograph written by Donald Knuth entitled The Art of Computer Programming which describes a range of computer algorithms. It is considered the most important collection of books in the field of computer sceince, and the most comprehensive treatment of algorithms. The blog will document my reading of these mongraphs, and what points I think are most important.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Plagiarism talk 2008

As Final Year Project Co-ordinator for one of the School of Computing's undergraduate degrees - DT228, BSc in Computer Science, I am constantly trying to send the message to the students that plagiarism is wrong and will not benefit them at all. This week I gave the students a PowerPoint presentation followed by clips from a Father Ted episode.

In the PowerPoint presentation I included actual responses people have given me as to why they copied their entire projects, including;

  • They said it so much better. Shouldn't I use their words?
  • I meant to include citations, but I forgot/ran out of time.
  • I showed this work to my supervisor before I submitted it and s/he didn't comment on it.
  • We were doing a group project.
  • I didn't realise I was doing it.
  • I didn't think I would get caught.

After each of these suggestions I discussed reasons why they don't work, and that the main person responsible for the project is the student themselves. It is their chance to show off their skills, and do something they really enjoy, why waste it?

Also, based on the success last year's screening of clips of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip concerning plagiarism, this year I decided to show them clips from the Father Ted episode A Song for Europe. It concerns the main characters attempt to enter the Eurovision Song Contest, and when they fail to write any music, they copy the music from a little known Norwegian Eurosong entry from the 1970s.

The episode had three scenes in it that I think are particularly significant to the topic at hand;

  • In one scene when Ted and Dougal first think about copying the music, they both know it is wrong, but Ted slowly convinces Dougal it's alright to copy (I was hoping the students would look at that and see how easy it is to convince yourself it's alright to copy, if you let youself, so you have to resist temptation).

  • In another scene just before Ted and Dougal are about to perform the copied song, they realise it is much more well-known than they thought, Ted is in sheer panic "WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO? WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?" (I looked around as this scene was being played and am fairly convinced that the students were picturing themselves in that situation, if they had copied and were about to do the final demo of their projects, and realising that they would be caught, it would be utterly terrifying, and thus worth avoiding).

  • The closing credits of the episode shows that people who copy get no reward. Nil Point!

I'm hoping that this will have the desired outcome, mixing a comedy with a serious point to remind them not to steal.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Bletchley Park saved, whew !

Bletchley Park (aka Station X), which was the single most important code-breaking site during the Second World War, has been saved, thankfully. It was in a state of serious disrepair, and in danger of falling down, but thankfully English Heritage has stepped into the breach and has committed £330,000 to repairing the buildings, and are in talks to donate another £600,000 to get the rest of the repairs done over the next three years.

Bletchley Park is the birthplace of modern computer science, not only is it where Alan Turing developed the Turing-Welchman bombe, and the banburismus and turingismus algorithms in Hut 8, but it is also the home of Colossus - the world's first programmable digital electronic computer, which included the first use of shift registers and systolic arrays.

This intervention may have been partially in response to the fact that in July approximately 100 of the UK's top computer scientists wrote a letter to The Times identifying that Bletchley Park is of extraordinary historical significance and "in a terrible state of disrepair". Just look at the list of names below, these are some of the real giants of Computing.

Sir, The work undertaken at Bletchley Park during the Second World War in breaking German wartime codes played a significant part in winning that war and securing our future. The work included the decryption of messages enciphered on the German Enigma machines and the breaking of the German “Fish” High Command teleprinter ciphers. Bletchley Park also played a significant role 65 years ago in the design and development of Colossus, one of the world’s first programmable electronic computers. It is therefore fitting that the world’s first purpose-built computer centre should be home to the National Museum of Computing.

Over the years, Bletchley Park has survived building redevelopment (1938), an air raid (1940), the destruction of sensitive material and information (post-1945) and more recently (1991), a second attempt at demolition and redevelopment. That Bletchley Park has survived to the present day is due to the foresight of Milton Keynes Borough Council, which declared the park a conservation area in February 1992, and the formation of the Bletchley Park Trust just three days later.

The trust currently runs this gem charitably, receiving no external funding. Although there has recently been some progress in generating income, without fundamental support Bletchley Park is still under threat, this time from the ravages of age and a lack of investment. Many of the huts where the codebreaking occurred are in a terrible state of disrepair.

As a nation, we cannot allow this crucial and unique piece of both British and world heritage to be neglected in this way. The future of the site, buildings, resources and equipment at Bletchley Park must be preserved for future generations by providing secure long-term financial backing. Is it too much to ask that Bletchley Park be provided with the same financial stability as some of our other great museums such as the Imperial War Museum, the Science Museum and the Natural History Museum?

Professor Keith van Rijsbergen
Chair, 2008 Research Assessment Exercise, Computer Science & Informatics sub-panel
Professor Bill Roscoe
Director of Oxford University Computing Laboratory
Professor Jean Bacon
University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory
Professor Lawrence Paulson
University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory
Professor Ian Sommerville
Professor of Software Engineering, University of St Andrews
Professor Robert Churchouse
Emeritus Professor, Cardiff University, formerly at GCHQ 1952-1963
Tom Anderson
Richard Anthony
Jim Austin
Liz Bacon
John Barnden
Peter Barnes
David Barron
Sue Black
Cornelia Boldyreff
Richard Bornat
Roger D. Boyle
David Brailsford
Stephen Brewster
Rodney Brunt
Antony Bryant
Alan Bundy
Edmund Burke
David W. Bustard
Muffy Calder
Paul Chung
John A. Clark
Dave Cliff
Bernie Cohen
Tony Cohn
David Corne
Peter Cowling
Stephen Cox
Susan Craw
James Davenport
Alice Diggory
Alan Dix
Martin Escardo
John ffitch
Nick Fiddian
Frederic Fol Leymarie
John Glauert
Christopher Grey
Vic Grout
Martin Henson
Jill Hewitt
Jane Hillston
Patrik O'Brian Holt
Roland Ibbett
Tim Ibell
Mike Jackson
Anne James
Peter Jimack
Richard Jones
Steve King
Ann Latham
Bev Littlewood
Wayne Luk
Rob Macredie
Olenka Marczyk
Chris Mellish
Majdid Merabti
John L. Nealon
Julian Newman
Bashar Nuseibeh
Yakup Paker
Mike Pitteway
Lynette Pye
Awais Rashid
Bernard Richards
Geoffrey Sampson
N. Stan Scott
Alex Shafarenko
John Shawe-Taylor
Jawed Siddiqi
Peer-Olaf Siebers
Derek Sleeman
Alan Slomson
Nigel Smart
Peter Smith
Linda Spencer
Susan Stepney
Andrew Sturdy
Tony Sudbery
Austin Tate
Simon Thompson
John Tucker
John Turner
Tony Valsamidis
Vito Veneziano
Steve Vickers
Tom Vickers
Peter Welch
Geraint A. Wiggins
Philip Willis
Jeremy Wyatt

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

ex-Lecturer wins US elections

University of Chicago Law School on Barack Obama;

"From 1992 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Barack Obama served as a professor in the Law School. He was a Lecturer from 1992 to 1996. He was a Senior Lecturer from 1996 to 2004, during which time he taught three courses per year."

I have to say, I'll thrilled that an Academic-American has won the elections, being a lecturer opens your mind to alternative views and alternative solutions, it's got to be a good thing for the world.