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All the world’s a stage

April 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Giving a lecture involves a performance before an audience.  Therefore, we thought it useful to have an expert in public performances – a theatre director – to give us some training in the physical aspects of performance.  These include features such as voice projection, breathing, posture, stance, and movement.   We have just had two very exciting and successful training sessions led by actor and director, Mr Marcus Bazley.    The participants found these sessions great fun.  As well as being useful and effective, they were a welcome change from our usual daily activities.    We even did some exercises used by actors at the Royal Shakespeare Company, although I doubt any of us will be giving up our day jobs.

hackchallenge 2014

March 10, 2014 Leave a comment

IMG_9957

Hackathons are emerging as one of the key ways students develop hands-on skills, develop exciting products, and work with tech companies.  London is at the centre of the 21st century tech revolution, with London hackathons organised by companies such as Facebook; and KCL Tech‘s own internationally attended event, hackkings.

Buoyed by the success of this, first-year informatics student Fares Alaboud wanted to create a hackathon for his classmates.  The premise was simple: take the essence of a hackathon experience (teamwork, hacking code, free pizza, prizes); make sure it’s accessible to first years by giving them some code to help them get started; then stand back and watch the magic happen.  With the assistance of Mark Ormesher, Mustafa Al-Bassam, Alex Iurov and Sanyia Saidova, and the kind support of King’s Student Opportunity Fund, and King’s College London Teaching Fund, thus was born…

hackchallenge 2014

At the crack of noon, the hackathon began – the students, in teams of three, had eight hours to make an automated trading system based on trading shares of kickstarter projects, using a trading platform developed by Piotr Galar as part of Steffen Zschaler’s ‘Challenge2Code’ project.   The system gives a novel slant on classical trading – their system has to use the same sort of intelligent algorithmic techniques to choose when to buy and sell shares, based on the market conditions.  At the end of the day, the students’ systems competed against each other, with a range of prizes up for grabs:

  • For the first-placed team, £30 each of Amazon vouchers
  • For the second-placed team, £15 each of iTunes vouchers
  • For the third-placed team, £10 each of Pizza Hut vouchers

Students were also entered into an hourly random draw to win a one-month premium Spotify subscription.

Results

The day was a great success.  Fares’s own words sum it up well: “It was everything I hoped it would be and more! They enjoyed the event and, most importantly, the atmosphere. They were really excited and active throughout the whole eight hours. They never gave up and always put a lot of effort into coding, knowing they didn’t have to win but at least to accomplish something. They understood that it was all about the learning experience, more than the one of winning. And that’s how they became winners.”

First place – The Exceptions

IMG_9977From left to right: organiser Fares Alaboud; and team members Anuar Aitimov, Ainur Makhmet and Kristin Kasavetova

Second place – Scarpinici

IMG_9973From left to right: team members Codrin Gîdei and George-Cristian Raduta; organiser Mark Ormesher

Third place – Team Rocket

IMG_9970From left to right: team members Amrinder Rai and Jan Jeras; and organiser Alex Iurov.  Not shown: team member Harrison Perry

For more photos from the day, see the hackchallenge 2014 photo set on flickr.  To keep up to date with student tech activities across UK, sign up for hackcampus.io.

HackKings: London Hackathon

February 1, 2014 Leave a comment

pizza

The King’s College London Tech Society is a new student-led society for people interested in technology.   They are organizing the first 24-hour Hackathon at a London university, for Saturday-Sunday 22-23 February 2014, and this will be the largest student-run hackathon in Britain.    Already major sponsors such as Facebook and CodeAcademy are offering prizes for participants.

To prepare participants, the Tech Society is also running Teach-Me-X sessions, Monday evening lectures on relevant skills.  The first session was last Monday 27 January on Ruby-on-Rails, led by Tech Society co-founder, Niklas Begley.   As good programmers know, the quality of the code depends crucially on the quantity of pizza available.   So the Department of Informatics at KCL was delighted to support this initiative by providing pizza for the session!

Verifying Cloud Services

October 14, 2013 Leave a comment

What is needed to verify cloud services? How do we know whether the service we are using works as expected?

These questions are discussed in the recent article “Verifying cloud services: present and future”, by Sara Bouchenak, Gregory Chockler, Hana Chockler, Gabriela Gheorghe, Nuno Santos, and Alexander Shraer, published in the highly visible Operating Systems Review (OSR) journal (Hana Chockler is a Lecturer in the Department of Informatics of King’s College).

The team of experts addresses the challenges in verification of cloud services – from functional correctness to service availability and reliability, to performance and security guarantees. As cloud-based services become more and more popular, there is a real and growing need in tools for verifying these services. As the authors of the article argue, currently there is no adequate technology for verification of the cloud. They discuss recent research results that can help in bridging the gaps between what is needed and what currently exists in this area and suggest novel solutions.

The article, as it turns out, strikes a chord with the cloud users and service providers.  It recently featured in ZDNet (http://www.zdnet.com/do-you-believe-in-cloud-7000020607/ ), Forbes (http://www.forbes.com/sites/joemckendrick/2013/09/17/cloud-customers-are-not-getting-what-they-pay-for-study-says/), CloudTech ( http://www.cloudcomputing-news.net/news/2013/sep/18/new-paper-questions-whether-cloud-consumers-get-what-they-pay/ ), StorageMojo (http://storagemojo.com/2013/09/05/verifying-cloud-services/ ), and, most recently, BCloudReady.com (http://www.bcloudready.com/cloud-buyers-beware-make-sure-youre-getting-what-you-pay-for/ ), starting interesting and lively discussions about availability and reliability of a cloud.

Do you believe in cloud?” – asks ZDNet, listing specific areas, where, according to the OSR article, more tools and information are needed:

  • trusted software and service identity;
  • functional correctness;
  • performance and dependability;
  • security.

The Forbes blog entry starts with an eye-catching title “Cloud Customers Are Not Getting What They Pay For”, summarizing the takeaway from the article as “Cloud customers expect a certain level of service when they sign on to agreements. But a lot of the time, cloud services aren’t delivered as expected, and there isn’t even a way to verify that cloud services are performing as they should.

This paper is sobering because it shows how primitive current tools for verifying cloud services are – if they exist at all” – says StorageMojo, adding: “It isn’t even clear that cloud providers themselves have the tools to know the answers to questions that corporate users should and will have.”

BCloudReady .com recommends reading the full article: “… wading through the 14 page no nonsense report is worth the read. Compiled with contributions from six of the leading cloud experts worldwide it covers everything from verifying a strong service identity to protecting yourself from a “Byzantine Provider”. Well written and clear in both its methodology and conclusions it can serve as an excellent basis for evaluating your current cloud service provider(s) or as a guide to developing your strategy for utilizing cloud services.

For more information, see “Verifying cloud services: present and future “, by Sara Bouchenak, Gregory Chockler, Hana Chockler, Gabriela Gheorghe, Nuno Santos, and Alexander Shraer. Operating Systems Review, 47(2):6-19 (2013).

Big social data repository opened to everybody – Partnership between Department of Informatics at King’s College London and Affectv

Nowadays, we read more and more about big data and how they can be used by companies to their “business advantage”. For the last few years, companies gathered large datasets about their customers, employees, partners, etc. The challenge now is to analyze those data in a way that enables us to discover underlying patterns and trends, and from the business perspective to turn this knowledge into measurable profit.

It is not easy to mine meaningful information from an endless number of bits gathered in our computer systems. Things get even more complicated when we consider data that describes people and their activities as in such a case we have not only information about individuals but also their interactions with others. This means that we have to dig into a large graph that represents this web of connections.

Social targeting company Affectv is one of the businesses that understands the urgent need to look closer at the assets they have. Yes, data is an asset, a very valuable one. Thus, they decided to open up its aggregated social data for a limited period. The Open Graph Initiative kicks off with the Department of Informatics at King’s College London and will roll out to Edinburgh University and Indian Institute of Technology with the aim of sparking innovation within the social media interaction industry.

This partnership aims to help to uncover insights and trends in how social interaction across media platforms affects certain outcomes, for example:
• Can you identify interests based on someone’s social graph?
• Can you infer brand favourability through analysis of a person’s social graph?
• Can you predict purchase intent from social endorsement?
• What social signals reveal the strength of a social connection?

The Open Graph Initiative is organized in a form of challenge that is open to everybody who wants to be involved. It will consist of two open challenges per quarter. Each quarter, Affectv will release the results on its website. Credit will be cited for the relevant parties that uncover the most interesting insights on human behaviour on the social web and will receive press coverage.

So if you are interested in mining big social data – start now! Go to http://affectv.co.uk/opengraphinitiative or contact me (katarzyna.musia@kcl.ac.uk)

Related article: http://www.exchangewire.com/blog/2012/10/11/social-media-meets-big-data-affectv-announces-open-graph-rd-partnership-with-leading-universities/

The importance of internships: my experience at CERN

November 7, 2012 Leave a comment

I’m in my final year of an MSci in Computer Science here at King’s and this summer I completed an internship at CERN. CERN is the European Organisation for Nuclear Research – founded in 1954 near Geneva, it’s one of the world’s largest centres for scientific research in fundamental physics. In a nutshell, they’re trying to find out what the Universe is made of and how it works. On the 4 July this year, they announced the discovery of a new particle consistent with the Higgs boson.

I was at CERN for a Technical Internship – which can vary between 4 and 13 months – but there are several different programmes of varying durations that you can apply for (you can find information about them here). I worked on an application to monitor one of their systems related with conferencing facilities. The system had a back-end, consisting of the monitoring open source core and various plugins, and a front-end custom GUI to display the monitoring data. It made use of various applications, programming languages and libraries – from Nagios to Python, PHP, JavaScript, jQuery libraries, Google Maps and Google Charts. It was a very useful hands-on experience that allowed me to put into practice some of the topics learnt during my degree, and also to further my knowledge of various tools and environments.

I would warmheartedly recommend every student to try an internship related to their field of interest, as it can provide a wealth of invaluable experience and equip you with both soft and hard skills – as well as being a good addition to one’s CV and making you stand out among other candidates in future job applications. If you aren’t yet sure of what field is of particular interest to you, internships are a great way to try different options and find out what fields or roles you enjoy most.

It is important to plan ahead, as the application process may take time and there may also be a range of options to choose from – some employer programmes open as early as November of the previous year and may accept suitable candidates ahead of the official deadline!

Advice on how to go about finding an internship can be found on the careers section of the college website: http://www.kcl.ac.uk/campuslife/services/careers/workexp.aspx. It’s also good to do your own search for suitable fields or employing organisations, not forgetting opportunities abroad.

Thinking through diagrams

October 23, 2012 Leave a comment

The theory of geometry developed by the Greek mathematician Euclid about 2300 years ago was notable for two original features:  First, it was what we now call axiomatic.  Euclid started with some explicit assumptions (called axioms) and rules of inference and then he developed the logical consequences of these assumptions and inference rules.    It wasn’t until the 1890s, however, that other mathematicians (initially Mario Pieri and David Hilbert) took this idea and ran with it, presenting formal axiomatic treatments of geometry.    Bertrand Russell and Alfred North Whitehead famously developed an axiomatic treatment for mathematics in general, in their book Principia Mathematica (published 1910-1913).

Second, the rules of inference used by Euclid were essentially diagrammatic — the drawings of circles, triangles and other shapes in the Mediterranean sand were not merely illustrations of mathematical reasoning, but were the means by which this reasoning occurred.  For most of the time since Euclid, mathematics has been done via text and symbols rather than by diagrams.  Only with the rise of Category Theory in the last 60 years have we seen another branch of pure mathematics where reasoning is done explicitly through diagrams, in this case, what are called commutative diagrams.

Why is this relevant to computer science?  Well, computers can reason equally well with symbols as with diagrams, since both are converted (ultimately) to binary digits.    But our western text-oriented culture has mostly favoured the manipulation of textual symbols rather than the manipulation of diagrams or images.    Only in recent years have researchers in computer science, pure mathematics, and theoretical physics begun looking systematically at diagrammatic representations and reasoning.

This post is to introduce our first Informatics Department Colloquium for the 2012 academic year.   This Colloquium will be given on Wednesday 31 October 2012 at 17:00 by Dr Aleks Kissinger of Oxford University on the topic of “String Graph Rewriting and Free Monoidal Categories”.  The location for this talk will be Seminar Room K2.31, Second Floor of the King’s Building at the Strand Campus.  Meanwhile, the abstract for Dr  Kissinger’s talk is here:

String diagrams are a powerful tool for reasoning about physical processes, logic circuits, tensor networks, and many other compositional structures. In 1991, Joyal and Street provided a topological formalisation of string diagrams and used them to construct free monoidal categories.

In this talk, I will show how string diagrams can be represented in a manner amenable to automation using special kinds of typed graphs called string graphs. I’ll then demonstrate the construction of free traced symmetric monoidal categories as well as “diagrammatically presented” categories, i.e., the most general categories admitting a given set of graph rewrite rules. If there’s time, I will also talk about extensions to the diagrammatic language to admit graph patterns, and our implementation in Quantomatic.”

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