O'Really?

October 23, 2014

Two big challenges facing the technology & digital industries (IMHO)

Digital Turing

Alan Turing Binary code, Shoreditch High Street, London by Chris Beckett on Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND license)

Over at democracy corner, Manchester Digital is interviewing all of its elected council members. Somehow, I got volunteered to be first interviewee. Here’s my two pence on one of the questions asked: “What do you think is biggest challenge we face as an industry?” (with some extra links)

  • Firstly, coding and “computational thinking” [1], needs to be understood as something that isn’t just for developers, geeks, coders, techies, boffins or “whizz kids” – as the Manchester Evening News likes to call them. Computational thinking, the ability to understand problems and provide innovative solutions in software and hardware, is a fundamental skill that everyone can learn, starting in primary school. As well as being fun to learn and practice, it is a crucial skill in a wide range of organisations in digital and beyond. Thankfully, the new computing curriculum in UK schools has recognised and addressed this, but it remains to be seen what the long-term impact of the changes in primary & secondary education will be on employers.
  • Secondly, as an industry, both the digital and technology sectors are seriously hindered by gender imbalance. If only 10-20% of employees are female, then large numbers of talented people are being excluded from the sector – bad news for everyone.

Is that reasonable –  or have I missed the point? Are there more pressing issues facing the technology sector? Either way, you can read the rest of the interview at manchesterdigital.com/democracy-corner which will be supplemented with more interviews of council members every week over the next few months.

References

  1. Wing, J. (2008). Computational thinking and thinking about computing Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366 (1881), 3717-3725 DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2008.0118

July 29, 2014

A simple and useable classification of software by Aral Balkan via Wuthering Bytes

Three kinds of Software: Enthusiast, Enterprise & Consumer by Aral Balkan

Three kinds of Software: Enthusiast, Enterprise & Consumer by Aral Balkan

It’s getting pretty hard to do anything these days that doesn’t involve software. Our governments, businesses, laboratories, personal lives and entertainment would look very different without the software that makes them tick. How can we classify all this software to make sense of it all? The likes of this huge list of software categories on wikipedia are pretty bewildering, and projects such as the Software Ontology (SWO) [1] are attempting to make sense of swathes of software too. There’s lots of software out there.

Aral Balkan, one of the people behind the Indie Phone, has proposed a simpler classification which will appeal to many people. In his classification, there are three kinds of software (see picture top right), as follows:

  1. Enthusiast software: like a classic car. We tinker with enthusiast software, in the same way motoring enthusiasts tinker with their classic cars. To the enthusiast, it is a joy when the software breaks, because that’s part of the fun, fixing it and getting it back on the road. However, you wouldn’t drive your classic car during your day job, or commute to work. Like a classic car, enthusiast software, is largely for weekends and evenings only. Raspberry Pi software is a classic example of enthusiast software made in garages by hobbyists.
  2. Enterprise software: like a juggernaut truck. We use enterprise software, because our employers mandate that we do so. It might not be fun to drive, or work particularly quickly, but enterprise software is often a necessary evil to get work done on an industrial scale. Cynics will tell you enterprisey software is slow because the engineers have:

    “…added a delay of 3 seconds to every action and now users are feeling it’s enterprisey”.

    Cynics will also tell you, enterprise software has been made by architecture astronauts, purchased by clueless decision-makers who don’t have actually have to use the software themselves, but have been hoodwinked in notorious“vendor meetings” which could explain the unpopularity of some enterprise software. But that’s another story…

  3. Consumer software: like a family saloon car. We rely on consumer software to get the job done, it is purely functional, does the job in a reliable (and boring) way on a daily basis, just like the vehicle you commute in. Consumer software can be found on your mobile phone and most consumer software is Application Software aka “Apps”.

I came across Aral’s classification at Wuthering Bytes last summer, a small and friendly festival of technology in the Pennines. Wuthering Bytes is running again next month, August 15th -17th and is well worth attending if you’re in the North of England and fancy having your bytes wuthered [2]. It’s a great mix of talks by the likes of Sophie Wilson and many others combined with hands-on activities in beautiful Happy-Hippy-Hacky Hebden Bridge for a bargain £10 per day. It’s software (and hardware) for enthusiasts (not enterprises or consumers). What’s not to like?

References

  1. Malone, J., Brown, A., Lister, A., Ison, J., Hull, D., Parkinson, H., & Stevens, R. (2014). The Software Ontology (SWO): a resource for reproducibility in biomedical data analysis, curation and digital preservation Journal of Biomedical Semantics, 5 (1) DOI: 10.1186/2041-1480-5-25
  2. Brontë, Emily (1847) Wuthering Heights

July 3, 2013

Manchester Digital and Higher Education in 2013

xkcd good code

Writing good code is often harder than it looks via Randall Munroe at xkcd.com

Manchester Digital is the independent trade association for the thriving digital sector in the North West of England. Last night they held their AGM and elections for new members of their council. I was encouraged to stand for election, and alongside 19 other candidates, had to give a two-minute  “manifesto” in a hustinglightning-talk format. Here’s roughly what I said, from the perspective of software, hardware and developers, with some added links and a bit more polish:

The success of Manchester’s Digital economy is dependent on educating, recruiting and training a pool of talented developers to work in the region. As identified in the Manchester Digital skills audit, developers are often the hardest roles to fill, as many graduates and potential employees are drawn to other high-tech hubs like London, Silicon Fen and Silicon Valley, California for employment.

Addressing this issue is an important for Manchester Digital and requires closer collaboration between Higher education, Secondary education and employers. As a tutor at the University of Manchester, with responsibility for managing internships for students in Computer Science I am in a strong position to enable more collaboration between educators and employers. As a council member I would do this in four ways:

  1. Encouraging students to consider employment in Manchester as their first job, by promoting internships and graduate vacancies with local organisations alongside traditional graduate programmes at larger multinational companies
  2. Listening to what employers in Manchester want so that students can be better prepared for the workplace, while balancing the competing needs of training and education.
  3. Challenging local employers to raise their game to compete with larger employers and attract graduates to work for their organisations
  4. Inspiring the next generation of scientists and engineers by extending current work with schools and supporting undergraduate students doing outreach work involving Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). For example: through the STEMnet ambassador programme, Code Club, Animation FestivalTeenTech and related work.

These are key activities that will enable the continued success of Manchester’s Digital Economy and I ask Manchester Digital members to vote for me if they agree. Thank you!

Whatever the outcome, the AGM & hustings were great fun and it was good to catchup with old friends and meet some new people too. Hope to see some of you again the Manchester Digital BBQ on 11th July…

January 18, 2013

How to export, delete and move your Mendeley account and library #mendelete

Deleteme

Delete. Creative Commons licensed picture by Vitor Sá – Virgu via Flickr.com

News that Reed Elsevier is in talks to buy Mendeley.com will have many scientists reaching for their “delete account” button. Mendeley has built an impressive user-base of scientists and other academics since they started, but the possibility of an Elsevier takeover has worried some of its users. Elsevier has a strained relationship with some groups in the scientific community [1,2], so it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

If you’ve built a personal library of scientific papers in Mendeley, you won’t just want to delete all the data, you’ll need to export your library first, delete your account and then import it into a different tool.

Disclaimer: I’m not advocating that you delete your mendeley account (aka #mendelete), just that if you do decide to, here’s how to do it, and some alternatives to consider. Update April 2013, it wasn’t just a rumour.

Exporting your Mendeley library

Open up Mendeley Desktop, on the File menu select Export. You have a choice of three export formats:

  1. BibTeX (*.bib)
  2. RIS – Research Information Systems (*.ris)
  3. EndNote XML (*.xml)

It is probably best to create a backup in all three formats just in case as this will give you more options for importing into whatever you replace Mendeley with. Another possibility is to use the Mendeley API to export your data which will give you more control over how and what you export, or trawl through the Mendeley forums for alternatives. [update: see also comments below from William Gunn on exporting via your local SQLite cache]

Deleting your Mendeley account #mendelete

Login to Mendeley.com, click on the My Account button (top right), Select Account details from the drop down menu and scroll down to the bottom of the page and click on the link delete your account. You’ll be see a message We’re sorry you want to go, but if you must… which you can either cancel or select Delete my account and all my data. [update] To completely delete your account you’ll need to send an email to privacy at mendeley dot com. (Thanks P.Chris for pointing this out in the comments below)

Alternatives to Mendeley

Once you have exported your data, you’ll need an alternative to import your data into. Fortunately, there are quite a few to choose from [3], some of which are shown in the list below. This is not a comprehensive list, so please add suggestions below in the comments if I missed any obvious ones. Wikipedia has an extensive article which compares all the different reference management software which is quite handy (if slightly bewildering). Otherwise you might consider trying the following software:

One last alternative, if you are fed up with trying to manage all those clunky pdf files, you could just switch to Google Scholar which is getting better all the time. If you decide that Mendeley isn’t your cup of tea, now might be a good time to investigate some alternatives, there are plenty of good candidates to choose from. But beware, you may run from the arms of one large publisher (Elsevier) into the arms of another (Springer or Macmillan which own Papers and ReadCube respectively).

References

  1. Whitfield, J. (2012). Elsevier boycott gathers pace Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2012.10010
  2. Van Noorden, R. (2013). Mathematicians aim to take publishers out of publishing Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature.2013.12243
  3. Hull, D., Pettifer, S., & Kell, D. (2008). Defrosting the Digital Library: Bibliographic Tools for the Next Generation Web PLoS Computational Biology, 4 (10) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000204
  4. Attwood, T., Kell, D., McDermott, P., Marsh, J., Pettifer, S., & Thorne, D. (2010). Utopia documents: linking scholarly literature with research data Bioinformatics, 26 (18) DOI: 10.1093/bioinformatics/btq383

August 15, 2012

Fancy becoming a Software Fellow?

Filed under: engineering,Science — Duncan Hull @ 3:48 pm
Tags: , , , ,
Airplane by  By Kuster & Wildhaber Photography

Airplane by By Kuster & Wildhaber Photography

The Software Sustainability Institute www.software.ac.uk has launched a Fellowship programme that recognises outstanding UK-based researchers who use software. The Fellowships come with £3000 funding which can be used for travel, collaboration and running events.

Fellows advise the Institute on important software, evangelise software practices and champion the adoption of best-of-breed software. Fellows will contribute to the software blog, and are supported in advertising their own research.

You can apply to become a Fellow online. Keep an eye on the software.ac.uk blog and Twitter account @SoftwareSaved for further information.

Launch event

A Fellowship Launch event will be held at the Digital Research 2012 in Oxford on 10th September 2012. Attendees at the launch event will receive free entry to the conference on 10 September and, if they choose to stay on, a 50% reduced fee for the rest of the conference. Applicants to the Fellowship Programme put themselves in an advantageous position if they have attended the workshop.

Who should apply

The SSI is seeking fifteen outstanding researchers at different  stages in their career, from PhDs to Professors, and from a wide range of research disciplines in science, technology and engineering. Successful Fellows will have a demonstrable knowledge and visibility in their community and have excellent communication skills.

Funding

The £3000 funding is flexible and can be used for travel to conferences, setting up and running workshops, starting new collaborations or hosting/teaching at Software Carpentry training events.

Application details

The Software Sustainability Institute is a national facility that helps researchers and developers to build and use better research software.

The closing date for applications is Thursday 20 September 2012 at 5pm.

Fellowships last eighteen months and are available from the 1st of January 2012 through the 30th of June 2014.

Successful recipients of the Software Sustainability Institute’s Fellowships will be announced in November 2012.

Questions?

If you have any questions, please contact the Institute: info@software.ac.uk.

October 27, 2006

MEDIE: MEDLINE++

Filed under: informatics — Duncan Hull @ 10:21 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

MedieMEDIE is an “intelligent” semantic search engine that retrieves biomedical correlations from over 14 million articles in MEDLINE. You can find abstracts and sentences in MEDLINE by specifying the semantics of correlations; for example, What activates tumour suppressor protein p53? So just how useful is MEDIE and is it at the cutting edge?

At the Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre (MIB) launch yesterday, Professor Jun’ichi Tsujii gave a presentation on Linking text with knowledge – challenges for Text Mining in Biology. As part of this presentation he gave a demonstration of Medie: an intelligent search engine for Medline. This tool looks quite impressive if you experiment with some sample queries. I wonder what nodalpointers, especially hardened text-miners, natural language processing (NLP) nerds and computational linguists, make of Medie?

[This post was originally published on nodalpoint, with comments]

Blog at WordPress.com.