O'Really?

April 19, 2013

Will Academic Education ever meet the skills needs of the IT Profession? #BCSDebate

“This house believes that Academic Education will never meet the skills needs of the IT Profession” via #BCSDebate

“This house believes that Academic Education will never meet the skills needs of the IT Profession” via #BCSDebate

Here’s an interesting upcoming event: a debate on the motion: “This house believes that Academic Education will never meet the skills needs of the IT profession

Universities are failing to educate graduates with the skills we need – this is the oft heard complaint by employers of IT graduates. Does the problem start in school with the dire state of ICT teaching and assessment at GCSE and A Level? [1] Should academia be trying to produce graduates with only ‘employable skills’ that have a shelf life of at best a couple of years? Are employers really expecting universities to produce a mature, rounded professional with 20 years experience straight out of university? Is it reasonable to expect Academia to bridge the skills gap when employers are not prepared to provide a robust career path for IT professionals?

Academia and the IT Profession seem to be out of alignment in a way that other more mature professional career paths are not. Medicine, law, accountancy and the teaching profession provide a clear path from university to the highest levels of those careers – not so in IT. The IT Profession’s skills framework (SFIA) is only a decade old, and IT is neither a regulated or statutory profession – perhaps employers ask and expect too much of Academia, when the IT Profession is still in its infancy.”

This deliberately provocative motion conflates Education with Training as well spreading further confusion about the important differences between Computer Science and Information Technology. There’s already been some debate, including this early response from Ian Sommerville at the University of St Andrews:

“Computing systems are now ubiquitous in all areas of our professional and personal lives – which means that are incredibly diverse from personal apps for your phone to remind you to exercise to safety-critical, world-wide air traffic management systems. The notion that there is a single body of practical skills that is applicable to all of these different types of system is ludicrous as is the expectation that university courses should attempt to cover all aspects of computing practice.”

That’s a view from academia, no doubt employers will probably have a different take on the motion. David Evans and Deborah Trayhurn will be supporting the motion, with opposition from Bill Mitchell and Kevin Jones. Whatever your opinion, the debate takes place on Wednesday 12th June 2013 from 6.30pm – 9.00pm at the Armourers’ Hall, 81 Coleman Street, London, EC2R 5BJ. You can book a place at events.bcs.org/book/577, more info on twitter at #BCSDebate.

September 26, 2012

Fellows of the Wiki Society? The Royal Society in London experiments with Wikipedia

wiki wiki

The wiki-wiki (quick) shuttle bus in Hawaii by xordroyd. Creative Commons licensed picture from Flickr.

Regular readers of this blog might remember that back in June of this year, I suggested that the Royal Society should employ a wikipedian in residence. After emailing, blogging and other ranting, Paul Nurse got in touch with me to say that the Society was sympathetic to the idea and would investigate. His email is reproduced below:

From: Paul.Nurse ate royalsociety.org
Subject: Re: An Open Letter to the Royal Society: Please employ a wikipedian in residence
To: hulld ate cs.man.ac.uk
cc: Aosaf.Afzal ate royalsociety.org

Dear Duncan

I floated your idea about Wikipedia in the Society and it is being looked at to see what might be possible. Thanks for your suggestion.

Best wishes.

Paul

Time passed and the English summer dripped by in it’s typically rainy fashion. Then, earlier this month, Francis Bacon (not that Francis Bacon, but this Francis Bacon) contacted me, to say the Society is organising an edit-a-thon. With help from Uta Frith, the society is going to investigate the possibilities of wikipedia using Women in Science workshop as a pilot project. See Women of Wikipedia edit planned on BBC News.

This is great news and the event was fully booked in less than a day. It’s good to see a venerable society embracing new and disruptive technology in this way.

Compare and contrast the Royal Society with the Wiki Society

It is informative (and entertaining) to compare and contrast the Royal Society with wikipedia as the two organisiastions share some aims but are very different beasts:

wikipedia.org royalsociety.org
Purpose A place where every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge. To recognise, promote, and support excellence in science and to encourage the development and use of science for the benefit of humanity
Funding The Wikimedia foundation is a non-profit organisation that relies on donations to keep it going A registered charity in the UK, funding comes in the form of gifts and legacies from a range individuals and organisations
How to Join Egalitarian: any idiot one can click on the edit button to become a fellow of the wiki-society (FWS), also known as a wikipedian Elitist: Each year over 700 candidates are proposed by the existing Fellowship. From this pool, 44 Fellows, 8 Foreign Members and up to 1 Honorary Fellow are elected by a rigorous process. You have to do some pretty remarkable science or engineering to become an FRS
Age Only 11 years old in 2012, not even a troublesome teenager (yet). Has wisdom beyond its years. Over 350 years old, some of it’s members invented the modern world and continue to shape it today
Location Virtually the wiki-society is anywhere there is an internet connection. Physically, the head quarters are in San Francisco Based just off The Mall in London, many members cluster in the supposed Golden Triangle of London, Oxford and Cambridge. Other fellows are scattered around the provinces with expats and Foreign Members dispersed around the globe.
Who’s a member 35 million editors, not all of whom are active. About 1500 living fellows including Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Harry Kroto, Tim Berners-Lee, Paul Nurse, David Attenborough and over 80 Nobel prize winners. Thousands more deceased members including Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Robert Boyle etc
Profile Ordinary: Most wikipedians are ordinary and reasonable people, but internet trolls, spammers, snake oil sellers, lunatics, bigots, pedants, global village idiots, OCD sufferers other interesting characters are quite common on wikipedia Extraordinary: Most Fellows are extraordinary but reasonable people, some may also be Mad Scientists [citation needed]
Praised for Many things, see praise for the wikipedia and wikimedia projects. Funding excellent scientists and their Science. Engaging the public and young people in science through various events.
Criticised for The worlds biggest database of half-truths and white lies, see criticism of Wikipedia. Patrolled by annoying or partial editors and administrators. It can be frustratingly difficult to verify sources and wikipedia often lacks scientific credibility [1]. Being a nepotistic old boy network with an absence of women and very little in the way of youth. Ouch. Too many members have or currently work in, Oxbridge and London, possible geographic bias.
Origin The name wikipedia comes from the Hawai’in word for quick Wiki, see picture top right. The Royal Society is named after the British Monarchy, set up with help from Charles I. The name is a bit of a misnomer as you don’t need to be a royalist to join – republicans are welcome. In Middle English, the word Royal means s-l-o-w, traditional and painfully conservative [citation needed].

So there you have it, the Wiki Society and the Royal Society are unlike each other in many ways but they share a common goal of spreading knowledge. Perhaps the scientific content of wikipedia will be greatly improved through edit-a-thons and other events like this. Hopefully, the days where wikipedia will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about David Beckham but (at the time of writing) has absolutely nothing to say about leading scientists like John Aggleton, Garret FitzGerald and Margaret Robinson are numbered.

Thanks to Paul Nurse, Francis Bacon, Aosaf Afzal and Uta Frith for making it happen. If you can’t attend the edit-a-thon, watch this wiki-space via the twitter hashtag #WomenSciWP: interesting wiki-things might wiki-happen.

References

  1. Wodak, S.J., Mietchen, D., Collings, A.M., Russell, R.B. & Bourne, P.E. (2012). Topic Pages: PLoS Computational Biology Meets Wikipedia, PLoS Computational Biology, 8 (3) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1002446

July 27, 2012

Olympic Science: The Long Jump to Conclusions

Snohomish Long Jumper by Philo Nordlund

Long jumper for Snohomish. Creative Commons licensed picture by by Philo Nordlund on Flickr

If Science were an Olympic sport, which events would scientists excel at?

During the Beijing Olympics in 2008, I wondered what Olympic activities scientists would be good at, with a list of events. This satirical post was kindly re-published [1] by the learned American Physical Society (thanks guys!) in their newsletter, though some of the proposed events look a little dated now.

Doesn’t time fly? Here we are four years later and London 2012 is already upon us. The Boris Johnson Olympic Stadium is finally complete. Oscar winner Danny Boyle has the eagerly anticipated opening ceremony all planned out. Sculptor Anish Kapoor’s spectacular Orbit Olympic observation tower looks out over the Olympic Park. Teams of athletes from all over the world have gathered in the capital to see how years of training will pay off.

Meanwhile Team Science [2] also play their part in supporting the Olympics, through sports science, drug testing and other services. Some are sparring for their bouts of impact factor boxing but may need a soothing ego massage afterwards to recover from the particularly painful peer-reviewed punches. Others are limbering up for the long jump to conclusions an event at which some scientists (and many policitians) are strong medal contenders. There are lots of other events proposed for the future too, some of them quite controversial [3,4,5], they might need genetically enhanced security guards, with superhuman abilities (sponsored by G4S)?

Readers of this blog will probably have much better ideas than the rather ropey suggestions I cobbled together. If that’s you, please post them below in the comments section or tweet them with the hashtag #OlympicScience.

Scientists and athletes have much in common, many are naturally obsessed [6] with their eyes firmly fixed on the prize and will often bend the rules to win Gold [7]. So wherever you are, whichever prizes you admire, enjoy the superb sporting spectacle that is the London 2012 Summer Olympics.

References

  1. Yours Truly (2008). If Science Were an Olympic Sport Zero Gravity: The Lighter Side of Science, American Physical Society (APS) Physics
  2. Daniel Cressey & Ewen Callaway (2012). Science at the Olympics: Team Science, Nature, 487 (7407) 292. DOI: 10.1038/487290a
  3. Helen Thompson (2012). Performance enhancement: Superhuman athletes, Nature, 487 (7407) 289. DOI: 10.1038/487287a
  4. Timothy Noakes & Michael Spedding (2012). Olympics: Run for your life, Nature, 487 (7407) 296. DOI: 10.1038/487295a
  5. Juan Enriquez & Steve Gullans (2012). Olympics: Genetically enhanced Olympics are coming, Nature, 487 (7407) 297. DOI: 10.1038/487297a
  6. Mariano Loza-Coll (2012). Piled too high, Nature, 486 (7403) 431. DOI: 10.1038/nj7403-431a
  7. Michael Brooks (2011). Free Radicals: The Secret Anarchy of Science ISBN:1846684056

Update: The real games started on a scientific and technical note with help from Tim Berners-Lee

#OlympicScience didn’t really take off, but #Nerdlympics (Olympics for Nerds) did much better – a selection below. 

June 18, 2012

An Open Letter to David Rutley MP on the Geek Manifesto

The Geek Manifesto by Mark Henderson

Mr David Rutley MP
House of Commons
London
SW1A 0AA

Dear David,

The “Geek Manifesto” and the importance of science in politics

Please find enclosed a copy of a new book by Mark Henderson, titled “The Geek Manifesto: Why Science Matters”. I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did.

According to the Financial Times:

The Geek Manifesto is the most compelling, engaging and entertaining account I’ve read of the relationship between science and politics. ” –James Wilsdon

The book laments the undervalued role of science in politics on pressing issues such as the global economy, healthcare, education, justice and the environment. For many politicians, science is a tool to be exploited when it supports an existing policy position, and an inconvenience to be discarded when it does not. As Henderson puts it, the cynical quest for policy-based evidence has trumped the desperate need for evidence-based policy. This is not surprising since only 1 in 650 British MPs has a Science qualification and his name is Julian Huppert. Your conservative colleague Adam Afriyie is proposing compulsory science literacy lessons for MPs in order to tackle this serious problem, but there is still a long way to go before science becomes integral to political decision making.

As well as the serious issues the book raises, it is also very positive and inspiring. The state of affairs it describes can not be blamed politicians alone. It is also the fault of people who value science and evidence based decision making – the “geeks”. We geeks must engage in the political process, not stand on the sidelines and moan – this is the geek manifesto.

This thinking led me to join a campaign for people to buy a copy of this book and send it to every MP in the UK set up by Dave Watts. The book you now have is a direct result of this campaign, which you and 649 other members of parliament now have a copy of. Despite the recession and challenging economic circumstances, over 300 ordinary voters like me have spent their own time and money in order to send you these books.

Please take the time to read your copy of the book. If politicians can learn from geeks, and geeks can learn from politicians, we will all get wiser and decision making can only improve. I would be especially interested to hear if and how this book has changed your decision making and will post any of your replies here on my blog.

Yours Sincerely

Dr. Duncan Hull

School of Computer Science
University of Manchester

P.S. A copy of this letter has been sent by post accompanied by a hardback copy of the Geek Manifesto. Another copy of this letter has been emailed to david.rutley.mp@parliament.uk. Some of the content of this post has been adapted from letters authored by Dave Watts and Chris Chambers.

Update, David Rutley sent a written reply (below) dated the 22nd June 2012, which didn’t reach me until the middle of July:


Dear Dr. Hull

Re: The Geek Manifesto

Thank you for your email of 18th June and letter enclosing a copy of the Geek Manifesto.

It was very thoughtful of you to think of me and I appreciate you sending me a copy of the book.

Like you, I believe it is important that science subjects are well represented in the House of Commons and society as a whole. It is important that young people are encouraged to study STEM subjects, so that the UK can compete on the international stage and our universities can continue to be world leaders in scientific research.

I will be sure to bear the views put forward in the Geek Manifesto in mind during my work in the House of Commons and in my conversations with Ministers.

Thank you once again for taking the time to send me a copy of the Geek Manifesto. I look forward to reading my copy.

With best wishes,

David Rutley MP

May 23, 2012

Who is the World’s Largest Advertising Agency?

Massive Golf Sale!

The British Monarchy are preparing to exploit new advertising opportunities and boost royal revenue during the 2012 Olympics in London. Photo credit: gokart.co.uk.

Advertising agencies are everywhere, there is no escaping them. But who’s the daddy of the advertising world? The mother of all ad agencies?

According to wikipedia, WPP is the “world’s largest advertising group by revenues”. This is hogwash. Some of the world’s largest ad agences are technology companies. For example, in descending order of revenue:

So Google Inc. is currently the world’s largest advertising agency by revenues, followed by WPP then possibly Facebook. It will be interesting to see if the “best minds” [1,2] on Planet Facebook can catch up with WPP and Google by encouraging it’s user’s to click on ads more and buy more stuff in their store.

“The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click on ads. That sucks.” — Jeff Hammerbacher [1]

References

  1. Ashlee Vance (2011) This Tech Bubble Is Different Bloomberg Business Week
  2. Bruce Robinson (1989) How to Get Ahead in Advertising Handmade Films

* Revenue figures from wikipedia. Can’t really vouch for their accuracy but they look reasonable.

April 25, 2012

Bicycle sharing with a twist: Brompton Dock launches at UK railway stations

Brompton, Brompton, Straight Outta Brompton. New Brompton dock launches in in Manchester.

Bicycle sharing is becoming increasingly popular in cities around the world. London has Boris Bikes, Paris has Vélo Liberté: Vélib’ and New York should soon have thousands of new Bixi-bikes this summer. There are scores of public cycle hire schemes in other cities. With the health benefits of cycling well documented [1] and with the potential reduction of traffic congestion which blight many of our cities, it’s not difficult to see why sharing schemes are gaining popularity.

An interesting new cycle sharing scheme launched in the UK last month, Brompton Dock, which hires out Brompton folding bicycles from railway stations around the UK. By the end of 2012 there will be 17 of these docks around the country. The twist (or fold) with Brompton Dock is that these bikes neatly fold away into secure lockers and also under your office desk or in a cupboard at home. Here are some quick thoughts from a trial spin earlier this month:

Brompton Dock Pros Brompton Dock Cons
They are beautifully designed and built bicycles, folding is very simple and ingenious (once you’ve worked it out). The bikes have high quality components (hub dynamo), shimano gears etc Quality comes at a price and Brompton bikes aren’t cheap. Although hiring is cheap (see below), you’re liable to a ~£700 replacement charge if it gets stolen. Ouch!
You can take this bike anywhere (train, office, cupboard, boot of your car etc). Handy if you live in a flat with no outdoor cycle storage. No lock provided to secure the bike. You can just fold it away but this isn’t handy if you’re just popping into the shop. It’s probably not a great idea to lock it up for long because these expensive bikes will be a target for theft.
Bromptons have a pretty sturdy construction, which is just as well because hire bikes have to take a fair amount of abuse. Bromptons are quite heavy, weighing around 12 kilos. You’ll notice the weight when you try to carry the bike with one hand onto a train. On the road, they’re not as zippy as a lighter machine and the small wheels give a different handling to larger wheeled bikes.
Brompton dock is a nation-wide scheme which allows you to hire from one city and drop off in a completely different one, something you can’t do with Boris Bikes. Most cities have only one or just a small handful of these docks so city-wide hop-on, hop-off is more limited than other cycle sharing schemes
No luggage carrying equipment comes as standard, there is no pannier rack to put things on.
Secure lockers mean that vandalism will be less of an issue than with other schemes. The lockers have a very nifty keyless system where you send a text message and receive a unique code to release a bike (once you’ve registered)
Comes with a pump, neatly tucked away on the frame. A minor point, but I found the pump can fall off easily and be tricky to get back on.
A great way of “try-before-you-buy” a Brompton of your own. Prices look reasonable to me and there are a wide range of pricing options starting from just one week hire and membership for a mere ten quid. You might be reluctant to return it to the dock, and may even want to buy one of your own!

Personally I think Brompton Dock is a great idea and it will be interesting to see how successful it is. If Brompton Dock, and  other bicycle sharing schemes, get more people out of cars and onto bicycles and trains then it can only be a good thing. Try for yourself, you can hire one from a UK station near you in 2012.

(Disclaimer, I’m not being paid by Brompton Dock or Brompton Bicycles to write this review, but they did give me a free T-shirt for being their first (!) customer).

References

  1. Kremers, S., de Bruijn, G., Visscher, T., Deeg, D., Thomése, G., Visser, M., van Mechelen, W., & Brug, J. (2012). Associations between Safety from Crime, Cycling, and Obesity in a Dutch Elderly Population: Results from the Longitudinal Aging Study Amsterdam Journal of Environmental and Public Health, 2012, 1-6 DOI: 10.1155/2012/127857

April 2, 2012

Open Data Manchester: Twenty Four Hour Data People

Sean Ryder at the Hacienda by Tangerine Dream on flickr

Sean Ryder, the original twenty-four hour Manchester party person of the Happy Mondays, spins the discs at the Wickerman festival in 2008. Creative commons licensed image via Tangerine Dream on flickr.com

According to Francis Maude, Open Data is the raw material for “next industrial revolution”. Now you should obviously take everything politicians say with a large pinch of salt (especially Maude) but despite the political hyperbole, when it comes to data he is onto something.

According to wikipedia, which is considerably more reliable than politicians, Open Data is:

“the idea that certain data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or other mechanisms of control.”

Open Data is slowly having an impact in the world of science [1] and also in wider society. Initiatives like data.gov in the U.S. and data.gov.uk in England, also known as e-government or government 2.0, have put huge amounts of data in the public domain and there is plenty more data in the pipeline. All of this data makes novel applications possible, like cycling injury maps showing accident black spots, and many others just like it.

To discuss the current status of Open Data in Greater Manchester there were two events last week:

  1. The Open Data Manchester meetup “24 hour data people” [2] at the the Manchester Digital Laboratory (“madlab”), which recently made BBC headlines with the DIY bio project
  2. The Discover Open Data event at the Cornerhouse cinema
Here is a brief and incomplete summary of what went on at these events:

(more…)

July 26, 2010

Please Sir, I want some more Science!

Science Online London 2010 (soloconf)Science Online London (#solo10 September 3-4, 2010) is an annual gathering of people interested in the use of web technologies for scientific collaboration and communication.  The organisers at Mendeley, Nature Network and The British Library continue to do a great job of hosting this important gathering, now in its third year:

I’ve been the last two years (2008 and 2009), and it has been worth attending because of the mix speakers, delegates and topics covered. This year includes talks from:

See the impressive full programme here. Reading through the speaker list I wondered, where are all the scientists at science online this year? At the time of writing this, 12 of the 13 speakers are politicians, publishers or journalists with scientist Peter Murray-Rust the odd man out. I’ve nothing against politicians, publishers or journalists but it would be great to have a more balanced event this year. The UK is full of high-profile scientists with blogs who would probably jump at the opportunity to speak at this event. So:

Or as the skeptical Sid Rodrigues said “this looks like fun, needs more nerds though“…

August 24, 2009

I bet you think this blog is about you, don’t you?

Science Online London 2009Last Saturday, The Royal Institution of Great Britain (R.I.) hosted a conference called Science Online London (#solo09) co-organised by mendeley.com and network.nature.com. The event centred around the fantastic Faraday Theatre which according to the R.I. is a “beautiful, historic theatre [which] has deeply raked seating that creates an intimate atmosphere, even when full to capacity”. Absolutely. Just like last year, this event attracted delegates and speakers from a wide range of backgrounds in science, publishing and communication from around the world. This post is an approximately alphabetically ordered link-fest of some of the people involved. People are, after all, the most interesting thing about any conference. If you’re not listed here it’s not because I don’t like you (honest!) it’s because we didn’t speak or I didn’t listen or (unlike many people) you’re not vain enough [1] to have a have a blog (yet) :-)

Now I’m told the presentations mentioned above will be on Nature Precedings in due course, which will be good. Thanks to all the organisers, speakers and participants this year that made Science Online London 2009 well worth attending. Hopefully see some more of you again next year!

References

  1. Carly Simon (1972) You’re So Vain
  2. Geoffrey Bilder (2006). In Google We Trust? Journal of Electronic Publishing, 9 (1) DOI: 10.3998/3336451.0009.101
  3. Matt Brown (2008). Venerable institute gets a refit Nature, 453 (7195), 568-569 DOI: 10.1038/453568a
  4. Matt Brown (2008). Reimagining the Royal Institution Nature, 453 (7195), 595-595 DOI: 10.1038/453595a
  5. Duncan Hull (2009). Slides from the author identity session: Authenticating Scientists with OpenID
  6. Jennifer Rohn and Richard P. Grant (2009). Pre-conference video: Live Roof Surfing at Mendeley Fringe Frivolous

June 2, 2009

Blogging For Profit: Costs and Benefits


Business Graph by nDevilTV
The organisers of the Science Online London 2009 conference are asking people to propose their own session ideas (see some examples here), so here is proposal:

Title: Blogging For Profit: Costs and Benefits

What are the costs and benefits of blogging and how can you make sure the latter justifies the former?

This (proposed) session will look at two kinds of profit, and the costs associated with each.

  1. Research profit (in science and academia), building digital reputations on the Web. Can blogging help your next grant proposal for research funding and if so, how? How can blogging be used to increase the visibility and impact of published research via the likes of ResearchBlogging.org, blogs.nature.com and other aggregators?
  2. Financial profit (in business), making blogging pay the bills. What business models (and infrastructure) exist to support blogging? Including, but not limited to: Nature Network, ScienceBlogs, Google AdSense, “20% time“, “free” tools (WordPress, Blogger, OpenWetWare etc). Going solo vs. joining a club – which business models and tools are right for you?

This could be followed by a general discussion on these benefits. When do they justify their costs (and risks) and make for profitable blogging?

If this is a successful proposal, I’ll need some help. Any offers? If you are interested in joining in the fun, details are at scienceonlinelondon.org

[CC-licensed Business Graph picture by nDevilTV]

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