Software and research: the Institute's Blog

In the know about MICROSNOW

There's no business like snow business.By Dr Melody Sandells, Senior Research Fellow, Department of Meteorology, University of Reading.

Snow is cold, beautiful and incredibly important. More than a billion people need it for their water supply, and it also impacts lives elsewhere through its effect on weather patterns, transport. Its key recognisable feature – that it’s white - governs how much of the sun’s energy is absorbed by our planet.

So a pertinent question is how much has the snow cover changed with the changing climate, or if it has changed at all? We don’t yet know how much snow we have, let alone whether it has changed in volume, but we do have the potential to know.

Measurements of naturally emitted radiation at microwave frequencies have been made since the 70s. Scattering of this radiation depends on how much snow is on the ground, so a reduced signal means more snow. However, it is also sensitive to the size of the snow crystals - the small-scale structure of snow - and we are working towards an understanding of how to incorporate the physics of snow into our microwave models to make better satellite measurements of snow mass. Once we have all this figured out, we can apply the technique to the long-term dataset and see whether the snow distribution has changed.

Software Carpentry bootcamp in Pisa

By Aleksandra Pawlik, Training Leader.

This month, Software Carpentry didn’t quite support the leaning tower of Pisa, but it did the next best thing by helping students at the University of Pisa’s Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare become better coders. Running a bootcamp early June in Tuscany does have its perks. The memories of gelati and focaccine di ceci are still vivid. How could you not love being a Software Carpentry instructor?

The bootcamp kicked off with an introductory session and a lecture titled "Track trigger and applications beside particle physics." Then, in the afternoon, the students could review their computer settings with the instructors. This work, which took place before the bootcamp began helped make sure that everyone had the correct software installed, which saved us a lot of time over the next two days.

The Pisa bootcamp was not restricted to University of Pisa students, there were many others including one attendee who came all the way from Turin. Regardless of where they came from, all our participants had a good grasp of programming concepts and many had coded in more than one language.

International Women's Day and Engineering - A Great Mix!

By Devasena Inupakutika, Software Consultant.

This article is one of the articles in our series Women in Software, in which we hear perspectives on a range of issues related to women who study and work with computers and software.

“Using technology is cool, but I found out today that making it is simply awesome”  - these were the words of a 10 year old girl after she took part in the International Women's Day Robotics workshop, and followed a day of experimentation, learning and fun.

The event took place on March 7th at the University of Southampton’s School of Electronics and Computer Science, and was organised by Dr Reena Pau as part of our celebrations for International Women’s Day. The event was attended by 70 girls and young women from five schools, namely Park High (London), Testwood School (Southampton), St-Edmonds (Salisbury), ALNS (Portsmouth) and Sturnminster (Dorset).

The day started with welcome talks by Professor Michael Butler, and also Professor Dame Wendy Hall, who shared her experiences as a woman working in the computing field. Michael’s talk echoed Professor Karen Spark Jones’ maxim that “technology is too important to be left to men”.

Collaborations Workshop 2014 - outcomes and analysis

This year’s Collaborations Workshop was a great success, with a rich variety of outcomes and a great many things discussed around software in research and, in particular, reproducible research. 

CW14 took place at the Oxford e-Research Centre in March, with three days of events including talks, workshops, discussion sessions and keynotes from Institute co-investigator Carole Goble, Microsoft’s Kenji Takeda and Github’s Arfon Smith.

The final day was dedicated to a special CW Hackday where competing teams tried to develop their own software in a short space of time, and ended with prizes being given to the best coders.

#AskRobotics – the future of robots and us

By Dr Matthew Howard, Lecturer in Informatics at King’s College, London

Will the rise of machines threaten the human race? Are they truly capable of emotional intelligence? Will they put us all out of work? And more importantly, can they do the washing up?

Much of the public perception about robots is driven by Hollywood movies and alarmist or poorly informed media claims. People fear robots because they are portrayed with super-human capabilities, or because they worry about losing their jobs. Yet real robots are not like that. Robots are far less capable than humans or indeed many animals or insects, except when it comes to highly specialised tasks, and even then, there is always a human holding a big red emergency stop button.

Cloud computing resources available to help tackle climate change

By Kenji Takeda, Microsoft Research

The effects of climate change are moving from the realm of simulation to stark reality, with the most recent research showing how drier summers may also lead to more flash floods in the UK.

Understanding, managing and mitigating these effects is a critical endeavour for the global research community.

To support this effort, Microsoft Research is offering 40 Azure Awards, each with 180,000 core hours of cloud compute and 20 terabytes of cloud storage to help climate researchers.

Software Carpentry combats imposter syndrome... and out of date witticisms

By Aleksandra Pawlik, Training Leader.

I recently took part in the first face-to-face Software Carpentry instructors training event run by Greg Wilson, the founder of Software Carpentry, and Warren Code from the University of British Columbia. Unlike most of the 40 participants, I had previously completed the online instructors course which Greg Wilson regularly runs. I attended the face-to-face event to learn how we can run similar events in the UK.

Want to know more?

A lot of information from the event is now available online, because a number of attendees wrote about it. Greg Wilson summarised five things that need to be improved next time and collected good and bad points from the participants, Titus Brown, in his usual direct style, said what he liked and what concerned him,Phil Fowler wrote a concise report, andJennie Rose Halperin wrote a guest post for Mozilla Science Lab about her experience.

How many researchers rely on software? Want to know?

By Simon Hettrick, Deputy Director.

At conferences and presentations, we are regularly asked two questions. The first is about how we plan to sustain ourselves (my advice to anyone setting up a new institute is not to include the word sustainability in its title). The second question is far more difficult to answer: how many researchers use software?

We talk of the research software community as the subset of the research community that relies on software for its research. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), in 2012/2013 there were almost 700,000 researchers in the UK (counting staff associated with research and postgraduate students), and we believe that many of them would be unable to conduct their research without software. It’s a big community then… but exactly how big? To our knowledge, no one has determined the size of the research software community – so we’ve decided to be the first. (If you would like to help, see the end of this post.)

Teaching digital culture

By Dr Tim Jordan, Senior Lecturer, Department of Digital Humanities, King's College.

This article is part of our series: a day in the software life, in which we ask researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.

I have often been told that digital technology changes so fast it is impossible to keep up to date, but our team of researchers and teachers at King's College London believe that the cultures that use technology are consistent enough to study.

There has been a significant rise in academic analysis of digital cultures and their use by all kinds of organisations as they come to terms with social media, crowdsourcing and so on. These factors are behind the launch of an undergraduate degree that will teach analysis and management of digital culture. The BA Digital Culture at King's College London is focused on a critical understanding of digital and internet cultures and how they operate. It is not a computer science degree, as there is no requirement to learn programming, but it will offer students opportunities to do 'hands on' work.

The Google Maps of 18th Century London

By Peter Rauxloh, Director of Technology Services at Museum of London Archaeology (MOLA).

This article is part of our series: a day in the software life, in which we ask researchers from all disciplines to discuss the tools that make their research possible.

In 1746, John Roque, a French Huguenot émigré ​and enthusiastic surveyor for hire, published his iconic map of London. It is a valuable representation of London at the time, and is now the focus of a new web resource. Locating London’s Past allows you to search a wide body of digital resources relating to early modern and eighteenth-century London and to map the results.

The map was first published in the form of 24 sheets at a scale of 26 inches to the mile. It is an important document in itself, but even more so when its position in the development of modern surveying technique is considered. Rocque was working at a time when triangulation was being adopted by surveyors​ (triangulation is the practice of making multiple observations of horizontal angles between survey points to build a network of points with an identifiable level of accuracy). Rocque adopted these methods while he carried out his survey after he realised that initial measurements carried out at street level were not accurate enough.