l4dThe map of Dundee University’s Queen Mother Building (QMB) is legend among attendees of The School of Computing houses in the same building.  Unfortunately, people have a bad habit of losing it so I’m posting it here to download.  The map is believed to have been made by Rory Gianni a.k.a. @digitalWestie

Click to download theqmb.vpk

Enjoy.

miiJob at miiCard

9th May 2012

Ah a post about the illusive job mentioned in the last post!

So I’m moving to Edinburgh, perhaps as soon as tomorrow.  In fact, I have actually been working in Edinburgh since Monday and thus far have spend £84 in just three days travel thanks to Britain’s extortionate train fares but let’s get into what you’re interested in, miiCard.

I woke up a couple of months ago to a rather terrifying email in my university inbox which in my student life was at the crack of dawn (so about 10AM) and certainly woke me up.  It featured some poor soul desperately trying to break free from the clutches of a zombie horde and underneath this was written, “break free from coding hell.”

Break free from coding hell

Allow me to clarify, at this time of year, we receive dozens of job adverts at the School of Computing every week, some of them of interest, none of them exciting.  I normally glazed over them hoping that perhaps one of them would do something special like whisk me off to New York (don’t ask why, it’s my dream not yours).  This one, got my attention.  If you take a look at my CV on this site, you can see that I’m not the most formal of people.  What you see is exactly what you get when I’m applying for a job, complete with that fine Andy Barratt branding down the left hand side (hell, that’s even on my business cards!).  I don’t do dull, I just can’t be arsed.

And as this was evidently not a company to always do things formally, I decided I wanted to find out who they were, after a quick scroll through their website, I sent a rather unconventional email, in the way that I do, and a copy of my CV as a PDF because what I saw on the site impressed me, miiCard is actually something exciting!

Well come on then, tell us what miiCard is!

miiCard is a personal security company… now doesn’t that sound dull?  Keep reading.  What miiCard does is create an online version of a passport.  They give you an online ID card and they check it against your online banking to prove, to money laundering standards, that you are who you say you are.  Why?  So that you can prove it faster to everyone else!

What if I told you that 70% of bank applications online fail.  Can you hazard a guess why? Well you apply for a bank account but then the final step is “please come into your branch and show us your proof of address and your proof of ID.”  Well so much for that, I’m a lazy bastard like the rest of the world and I just can’t be bothered to walk to the bank.  I’ll survive with my current bank account.

Oh but imagine this, you apply online and it says, “do you have a miiCard?  No?  Sign up for one in 5 minutes and then we’ll give you your bank account.”  Well then, thank you very much, I can spend the rest of my day watching NetFlix!

How about this one?  You’re looking for a flat to rent (can’t imagine how I got this one in my head), and you find one online, you take a virtual tour and it’s awesome, only, you have to travel far across the land to make an application and prove who you are before you can even sign the lease many days later!  How tiresome!  I may as well just commute for the first wee while.  Oh but wait!  I can apply for this flat with my miiCard and allow the letting agent to do the rest!  Awesome!

How about dating online?  How often have you heard of grotty little people preying on the vulnerable in dating sites?  They chat, they get on fine, he says he’s the same age and she loves his sense of humour, he has a Facebook with loads of photos so she knows he looks cute.  So how come now she’s standing by a pier and a creepy guy who’s 20 years older than her and he is not taking no for an answer?!  If the dating site had people register with miiCard, people would know that who they’re talking to is who they say they are!

Why has no one done this before?!  Identity theft is one of the biggest threats to our security online and being able to prove who you are is not always so easy, to be able to do it so quickly like this is brilliant.  I was hooked in and the day after my initial email, I got an email from CEO James Varga inviting me for an interview, which I of course attended the next day and was offered the job less than a week later.  Because of my dazzling looks I do not doubt…

I remember that the vacancy as advertised online described the position as “being part of something big” and thinking how much I agreed with that statement.  If miiCard takes off, I think the term miiCard will be as well known as the name PayPal.  Almost everyday I think of a new reason why a miiCard would come in handy.

And that’s how I shall leave you, with this question and the video after it, how many ideas pop into your head where proving your identity instantly online would save you time?

Kony 2012, Cover the Night

21st April 2012

Kony 2012 Posters at the housing complex I live at.

This morning on my three minute walk from my flat to the lab on campus, I saw Kony 2012 posters, I counted probably three dozen of the red sheets of paper aiming to make everybody know the name Joseph Kony so that everyone will be aware of his crimes against humanity.

I was also out last night putting up posters and updating my Agile Board website, My Agility Board to get Kony into the heads of everybody, though this morning, I find that several of the poster my brother and I hung, have been torn down by those who criticise the campaign and the charity that started it, Invisible Children.

I’m not going to write a large article on why you should support Kony, I am simply going to state why after reading the criticism of Invisible Children, I still support this campaign.

The main point that has been put to me is how Invisible Children invest the money donated to them and paid to them for poster packs for last night’s “cover the night” event.  Many people feel that Invisible Children don’t invest enough money in direct aid for the people affected by Kony’s actions in abducting thousands of children and forcing the boys to be child soldiers and the girls into being sex slaves.

I have to confess, I was late in watching the video that started this campaign and had only read the reports and I too was critical of the entire idea.  Eventually though, I decided I should watch the video and find out just what it was that Invisible Children claimed they would be doing with the money they receive and it was at that point that I realised that all the complaints about direct aid were unfounded.

Invisible Children is a charitable public relations organisation, its soul aim of this campaign was to make everybody know the name Joseph Kony, because things would not be done to arrest him while the world didn’t know that he even existed.  I, like most people, had never heard of Kony before this campaign but now I do and now, I think everybody can agree that this man needs to be arrested.

I see a lot of people saying, they’d rather donate money to charities that give direct aid but don’t you see, that is the point of this campaign, people who are both for and against the Kony 2012 poster campaign are taking action to see something done about Kony, to see that he is arrested and that people are helped and the fact remains, they would never have taken any action if they did not know who Kony was.

This is what invisible children does, their video never claimed to be giving direct aid, they told us that they were starting a campaign to make sure everybody on Earth knew who he was and allow them to take their own action.  The Kony 2012 campaign has been a success, whether you tear down posters or not, you know who Kony 2012 is, you know that he needs to be arrested and you are already suggesting ways in which you believe action should be taken, I can tell you something now, you would never have been arguing about the better strategies of sorting out the Kony issue if it wasn’t for this campaign, like it or not, this campaign is working!

April on Campus

3rd April 2012

Remember that photo I shared with you last week?  That ever so summery March on Campus?  Well here’s the exact same photograph but taken today, exactly one week later.

Once again, this was taken with fifteen exposures on a Canon 550D.  The nature of the shots meant that the snow that was falling at the time was not captured so I have simulated to as close an accuracy as I can get using Photoshop, the falling snow that was present at the time of taking the shots.

Can you see?

I’m not going to be so nice this time around but there is a very major problem with this photo, can you spot it?  Hint:  Remember that this photo was taken using several shots.

March on Campus

27th March 2012

This image is 78.33 Mega Pixels in size, all I can say is, try zooming in. The photo is taken using fifteen exposures on a Canon 550D.

Can you see?

Where’s Wally?

Some took use of the University’s Wifi? Can you see this laptop?

Legs Galore!

The Premiere Shop is making a killing this week but can you spot this six pack?

Have you ever actually seen anyone on this bridge before?

Can you see the second perspective of this photo?

The DJ was out to entertain us.

And let’s not forget the barbecue if any of us got peckish.

What else can you spot?

UPDATE – 25th July 2012 – USE OF THIS PHOTO

Various people within the University of Dundee have contacted me enquiring about use of this photograph.  I’ve had at least three people contact now so I thought I’d make things clear here.  I’m more than happy for this photo to be used within all publications that support the University of Dundee, whether this be publications for possible applicants, as a picture in the Magdalen magazine, in research publications, any thing at all.  I’m more than happy for it to be used by all and anyone at the University.  I’d appreciate a credit, something along the lines of “Photo by former student Andy Barratt” however I recognise that design style may be hindered and so if no credit is given, I don’t mind.  I have a career because of Dundee Uni and this is such a tiny thing in return :)

Let me tell you about my Honours Project, I’ve been working on it for six months now and have just had a proposal for a paper I wrote about it accepted for the ISAAC 2012 Conference in Pittsburgh so it seems silly that I haven’t written a blog post about it yet.

In my final year of University, I find myself working on an honours project that is both rewarding academically but also, through the enormous sense of satisfaction of helping people with Severe Speech and Physical Impairment tell stories where doing so has been frustratingly difficult in the past.

My project is an AAC project.  That stands for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.  AAC devices help those with Severe Speech and Physical Impairment (SSPI) communicate.  People with SSPI vary greatly, while one user may have permanently or temporarily non-functional speech only, others may find themselves with much more physical impairments.  They could be confined to a wheel chair much of their lives, or simply have difficulties with motor control, meaning they find it difficult to operate a mouse or keyboard efficiently.

British Singer Adele temporarily found herself using an AAC app on her phone to speak after surgery.

A recent example of someone who found themselves without functional speech recently would be the British singer Adele who after surgery, was ordered by doctors to rest her voice, she downloaded an app on her phone to speak for her.  However, most regular AAC users are more permanently affected by non functional speech and often posses severe disabilities that hinder their use of a computer.

Adele apparently attempted to download several text to speech apps for her phone and finally settled on one particular app that would allow her to swear.  This is actually something that we share a belief in at Dundee University.  AAC devices are a user’s voice, under no circumstances should we censor them, even if they are designed for children.  You wouldn’t teach a child not to swear by cutting into their brain and removing the ability to do so.  Perhaps in some kind of cross between Orwell and Asimov, this might make an interesting story but unfortunately, many AAC devices do indeed censor their users.

Stephen Hawking is probably the most famous AAC user.

Probably the most famous user of AAC equipment is Professor Stephen Hawking.  Hawking is a perfect example of someone with Severe Speech and Physical Impairment.  With very little motor function, Hawking uses a computer attached to his wheelchair which he operates using a single switch that he presses using his cheek.

As so many AAC users do fall into this category of Severe Speech and Physical Impairment (SSPI), interface design becomes a huge factor as users with SSPI often require interfaces designed specifically for how they use a computer.  For instance, users who, like Hawking, use a switch to select items on a screen will usually require what we call a scanning interface.  This is where the system highlights a selectable element of a screen individually for a moment before then moving on to highlight the next element, after waiting for the desired item to become highlighted on their screen, the user can then hit their switch to select it.  As you can imagine, this can be slow and tedious however, it is of course more accessible than not being able to use the interface at all.  As such, systems need to be designed that respect how the user will be using their device.  Other users may not need a switch interface and while they can not necessarily operate several small buttons, can in fact use a touch screen with large, easily understood buttons to choose from.

Another factor that needs to be remembered is that disabilities are in most cases combined with other disabilities.  For instance, someone with SSPI is very likely to also have learning difficulties such as dyslexia.  One issue that arises regularly in the AAC user community is illiteracy.  As such, basic text to speech is often not the best method for an AAC device as if the user can not read or write, they can not type text to be spoken.

Chronicles – My Honours Project

Chronicles - My Honours Project

For my honours project, I’ve joined the AAC Research Team at Dundee University where I’ve joined in the development of a new project called Chronicles, a narrative telling system for adults with SSPI.

While there has been lots of research and development (R&D) in AAC systems, most of these have been in aiding transactional communication.  When we say transactional, we are referring to communication aimed at expressing needs, this could be as simple as “I want coffee” or “I need the toilet.”  However, in terms of narrative systems, there are less systems.  Narratives is an AAC term that really just means stories.  While this may seem like a simple matter, story telling is actually a major part of communication and you may not realise just how many stories you tell every day.

I've joined the AAC Research Team at Dundee University

When you speak to your friends, you may tell them about what you did last night.  You may tell your mother about a hard day at work or you may tell people about a vacation you went on.  With close friends and family, people with SSPI are usually more comfortable telling stories, possibly because those who are close to them have less difficulties understanding gestures or the broken speech that some with SSPI are capable of.  However, when meeting a new person, these stories are more difficult for users to tell and so they come to rely on AAC devices much more.

However, the other main part of communication is conversation.  When you tell a story, you do not just tell the whole story all at once and take questions at the end of it, you say a sentence and you stop as the person you are telling the story to asks a question.

I had a nasty experience at the shops the other day.

Oh yes? What happened?

There was a robbery at the store!

Really?! Tell me more!

When we tell stories, interruptions and questions are a major part of the narrative and so a story telling system has to allow for the story to be told in individual utterances, allowing questions to be asked.  This also allows the user to skip parts or tell the story in a different order to how it was written, allowing the story to be told in a different way each time to different people.

With most AAC systems, the user can enter a narrative in one long block of text that can’t be interrupted or have the sequence changed to allow the user to respond to questions.  As such, users with SSPI often don’t tend to tell stories with AAC devices and would choose to have a communication partner tell the story for them instead.  This may be a close friend or family member or a support worker.  However, when faced with a situation where they wish to tell a story, if the user’s communication partner is not present or indeed, if the communication partner with them does not know the story, many choose simply not to tell the story at all.

Chronicles extends the work of "How Was School Today...?" to adults with SSPI.

Chronicles aims to change this by allowing the user to generate their stories and store them in a system that allows them to be told as part of a conversation naturally and be kept with them on their own AAC device wherever they go.  This extends the work already done here at Dundee University’s by AAC Research Team members Rolf Black and Annalu Waller on a system called “How Was School Today…?” which generated stories for children based on what they had been doing in school, allowing them to tell stories to their parents and friends.

We hope to bring similar functionality found in “How Was School Today…?” to Chronicles, such as Natural Language Generation implementing data to text and text to speech. However, we plan to extend these proven applications of narrative telling to a device that can document all of a users life.  And thus we arrive at the part I’m working on, how do you design an interface for those with Severe Speech and Physical Impairment that allows the user to easily find one story, from what could be hundreds!

Retrieving One Narrative From Hundreds

The work that I’m doing on Chronicles is to investigate how best the narratives we’re collecting/generating are to be stored in a database on the user’s system and most importantly, how the user interface should be designed to allow a person with severe physical impairment, learning difficulties, and possibly illiteracy, to easily retrieve a single narrative from a feasibly very large number.

This has been my challenge for the last six months and through evaluation from my initial prototype designs, it is the challenge that will continue for the final few months of my time at university.

One of the highest held principles at Dundee’s School of Computing is User Centred Design.  For many, this simply means designing a system with the user in mind, for us, it means that the user group you are designing for is involved in the actual design process.  For the AAC Research Group at Dundee University, that means real AAC users with SSPI coming into the lab on a regular basis to give insight and thought into systems that we are designing.  This may seem entirely obvious to you as a reader however the sad truth (tragic even) is that almost all AAC development in the world is done by researchers who have never spoken to a real AAC user in their lives!

At the start of this project, myself and my supervisor had several assumptions as to what kind of system Chronicles would be and more to the point, how its interface would appear and be used, however through speaking to real AAC users, we could see just how much interaction with our user group is invaluable.  It is such an important factor that my supervisor, Dr. Suzanne Prior, wrote her PhD on the subject of user involvement in the development process of AAC systems.

A paper by myself has been accepted for the ISAAC 2012 conference in Pittsburgh.

We believed that a category system would be much more useful for finding stories than a timeline interface that would show stories in a line.  We had in fact resigned ourselves to our belief so much that we were quite sure that such a system would not be developed at all.  However, it turned out that when discussing their progress, our user group is often asked to to plot events in their lives on a time line drawn as a long winding road.  This visual aid was actually much easier for them to picture events that have happened in their past and so, Chronicle’s Timemap was born.

Notice that I haven’t just come up with an interface based on what we believed would be a good idea, if I had, the system would look extremely different to what it does and after receiving poor results from evaluation, a prototype would likely have needed scrapped and a new one made up, by involving users in the requirements gathering process right from the start, time is not wasted building systems that just aren’t suitable.

Evaluation of the initial prototypes, as designed based on the expert knowledge of real AAC users, has shown that the system is being received well.  There are elements that through watching members of our own user group interact with, I now know need changes.  Elements that I would not have thought of if I hadn’t involved them in the testing process.

I’m now on to making adjustments based on really useful feedback and in a few weeks time, I will be giving each member of the AAC User Group that I’ve been working with a copy of this software to take home and test in a longitudinal study and with the current search engine that I’m implementing in the system, I’m looking forward to hearing how my efforts have been received.  Even negative feedback is positive to the AAC Research Group as it teaches us more and more on how to design systems for users with Severe Speech and Physical Disability.

Spot that little book button near the top? Wonder what's in there.

While most of us are enjoying the new email system at Dundee Uni hosted by the nice folk at Microsoft’s Office 365, many of us are noticing something else new… the spam!

I may have a theory as to why this spam has suddenly started pushing its way through to us in loads like we have never had before.  Many of us have chosen to syncronise our online Outlook account with Outlook on our PCs, it’s simple to do and it means our emails are available on our computers offline, but it’s not just syncing your emails.

The complete address book of Dundee University.

If you are using Outlook on your PC right now, click the Address Book button on your toolbar, what do you see?

That’s right, the entire address book including emails of students and phone numbers of staff is synced directly onto your computer, not such a big deal right?  Think again.

There are litterally thousands of people who are potentially using Microsoft Outlook to read their Dundee University emails.  What happens when just one of them gets a virus?

One of the major characteristics of a virus is that it spreads itself.  The most common method of doing this is through spam and if you have a virus on your computer, where’s the first place it’s going to look for people to send emails to?  In Outlook’s Address book.

It just takes one person using Outlook to get a virus and thus give away every single email address of Dundee University Students and Staff.  I’m not just saying it’s going to happen, I’m saying it almost certainly has happened and it’s a fair bet that somewhere out there, there’s a complete list of our email address on someone’s server ready to use for whatever they want to send us.

 

Just sign up to get your own free sticky notes board.

One of the most basic techniques of Agile is the use of a board with sticky notes on it to represent things that are to be done, in progress or have been completed.

I wanted something that could represent this Agile Board online, something free and simple, so I’ve created www.myagilityboard.com.

To get your own free sticky notes board online that even works on touch screen devices, just go and register and get going.


Get your FREE Stickies Board

Update:  I’ve added the ability to change note colours and will soon be launching a feature that allows for you make your notes public to the world if you want.

THE UNIVERSITY OF DUNDEE NO LONGER USES THESE SETTINGS, YOU CAN FIND A POST ABOUT THE NEW SETTINGS HERE.

So this post is more for people at Dundee University.

One of the most irritating things about the email system at Dundee University, is setting it up on your own computer.  With a little enquiry you might find out that this can be done using IMAP and by just Google searching for “Dundee IMAP” you’ll find a page with settings on how to do this.

These settings are wrong!

The IMAP settings on the Dundee University website have been incorrect for the entirety of the three and a bit years that I have been here so to save you some pain, here are the correct ones to be able to receive but also send emails on any device (this includes your email enabled smartphone).

Dundee University IMAP Settings

Incoming

  • Email Address: Your dundee email address, i.e. abexample@dundee.ac.uk
  • Username and Password:  The username and password you use to log into groupwise normally.
    (this is often the same as what you log into uni computers with)
  • IMAP Server: imap.dundee.ac.uk
  • Security Type: SSL
  • Server Port: 993
    (This is usually set automatically by your device)

Outgoing

  • Username and Password: Same as above
  • SMTP Server: smtp.dundee.ac.uk
  • Security Type: TLS (yes, TLS, not SSL)
  • Server Port: 25

This is what works for me, leave a comment below if it doesn’t for you or to tell us about your other Dundee University Email woes, of which I’m sure we all have many.

lulz security logoSome of you may have heard that over the summer I’ve got an Internship with Tayside Police as part of my degree, helping to improve their online presence not just on their website but through Social Networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to better engage with the community. With that said, I’d like to point out that like always, my views expressed here may not necessarily reflect those of any group whether it be corporation, public sector body or educational institute or indeed anyone. These are my personal ramblings as an individual and a computer scientist.

In recent weeks, a small hacking group has come to light known as Lulz Security. They have gained fame in hacking major internet based companies and releasing information to the public with the aim to highlight, what Lulz Security see as, their flawed security systems.

With hacktivist group Anonymous making headlines on a daily basis, Lulz Security’s attacks are not a new phenomenon however, I do believe their motives should not be seen in the same light.

While I have struggled to agree with some of the hacks that Anonymous have performed, I do agree that they are performing attacks based on a moral objective and I have to say, I have found myself agreeing to some of their recent targets. Anonymous have made great attempts to fraught the work of state run operations to censor and remove the human rights of people around the world, like in Tunisia where the people are being oppressed and are calling for freedom.

“We will not forgive corruption, we will not forget injustice, we will not tollerate the denial of our freedoms and we will not be silenced.” Anonymous Press Release

While I may not agree with every single action that Anonymous take, I do very much agree with what they stand for. I can not say the same for Lulz Security.

There are many suggesting that Anonymous has joined hands with Lulz in what they are calling operation AntiSec however I do not believe this to be entirely true. What we must remember is that Anonymous doesn’t have a leader, really, Anonymous could be anybody and everybody so while many who consider themselves to be part of Anonymous may support AntiSec, it is not my belief that the majority of them do.

Lulz Security is not following a moral purpose, they are not fighting organisations that seek to oppress and while they may be seeking to expose companies with poor security, I believe their targets may be poorly chosen.

Yesterday, the website of the Serious Organised Crimes Agency in Britain had to be taken down after receiving a massive Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attack by Lulz Security and government organisation like our police forces have been left worrying about attacks on our own services.

However, while Lulz succeeded in attacking SOCA’s website, what did they really achieve? They achieved the feat of taking down a page that does not hold secure data but rather only offers information to us, the public. If anything, they succeeded in censoring information made available to all of us. Isn’t that the opposite of what Anonymous is aiming for?

Yes Lulz Security showed that this site was susceptible to being overloaded with requests but as someone working on a similar site, I’d be confident in assuming that most public websites of law enforcement agencies are just as susceptible as, in this economic climate in which tax payers money is to be spent sparingly, such protection is afforded only for mission critical systems.

Most websites run by police forces are not on expensive web servers like those of Facebook and Google but in fact, quite ordinary servers, not much different to those used by small businesses as they do not require major processing power to run and they do not hold secure data. They hold data that is online for the general public, to raise awareness of their missions to help the public.

I think Lulz Security, while they may believe what they’re doing is right, has become arrogant and have in recent weeks shifted away from aiming to be a force for good, but have instead moved to only work for fame through their ability to show off as they attack companies, showing “flaws” that are frankly, unimportant when greater issues exist else where in the world and online.