In my old car on Skye
In my old car on Skye

I am a Professor of Computer Science and systems researcher at St Andrews University.

My research interests include: cloud computing, distributed systems, operating systems, file systems, persistent systems, ubiquitous systems, object-oriented middleware, p2p systems, programming languages, sensornets, component deployment.

I enjoy sailing, diving, keep milawi cichlids and growing hoyas.

New paid BBC iPlayer service.

December 30th, 2013 No comments

Quote from:

A New BBC Paid Streaming Video Service Takes A Page Out Of The iTunes Playbook
Cult of Mac – Given its tremendous success over the past 12 years, it’s easy to forget that the whole iTunes concept was once a risky proposition people weren’t sure would succeed.

Well, leap forward to the present day, and even the UK’s much-lauded BBC is taking its plays from Apple’s playbook — by announcing that it is rethinking (or at least augmenting) its classic flat license fee by borrowing from the iTunes/Netflix model and charging users £5 ($8.25) to download their favorite programs.”

I am sure we the Uk license and taxpayers have paid for these programs already. Another good BBC trick – sell us something we already own (like the boxed sets mentioned in the article). Will the availability of BBC programs on iPlayer reduce even further I wonder? We already cannot view the programs we have missed on holiday thanks to the amazing “available for x days trick”. Thank god for PVRs is all I say.

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Cool calculator for ipad

December 29th, 2013 No comments

I have played a bit with calculator for the iPad which allows you to write calculations with your fingers and then have them turn into real equations, like this:


I have just seen this app called Tydlig however, which combines free style calculations and graphing into something resembling a spreadsheet:


Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

A new cool thing (for Christmas)

December 12th, 2013 No comments

dekke have created a very cool new iPad stand which hold the iPad up using “nanofoam—laden with thousands of microscopic air pockets” (science bit over;)














Categories: iPad Tags:

Digitising Scotland

November 22nd, 2013 No comments


The Digitising Scotland project, funded by ESRC grant ES/K00574X/1 will digitise the 24 million Scottish vital events record images (births, marriages and deaths) since 1855. This will allow research access to individual-level information on some 18 million individuals – a large proportion of those who have lived in Scotland since 1855. At the moment these records are kept as indexed images accessible from Scotland’s People, but this means that to extract data for research projects a researcher must first search for an individual record by name, and then manually transcribe the information they need themselves (eg cause of death, occupation, etc). This has made any large-scale research project impossible – a situation that the Digitising Scotland project will change.

More information at the new web site:

Categories: Cloud Computing, Research, Software Tags:

Volunteers Needed…

November 7th, 2013 No comments



















The Personal Genome project is looking for 100000 volunteers to have their DNA sequenced.

You can sign up here:

BBC Article about the project here:

Categories: Uncategorized Tags:

Tim Berners Lee Speaks Out

November 7th, 2013 No comments

Quote – “Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the computer scientist who created the world wide web, has called for a “full and frank public debate” over internetsurveillance by the National Security Agency and its British counterpart,GCHQ, warning that the system of checks and balances to oversee the agencies has failed.”

Life of Doug Englebart – inventor of the mouse and hypermedia pioneer

July 9th, 2013 No comments

On December 9, 1968, Dr. Douglas C. Engelbart and the Augmentation Research Center (ARC) at Stanford Research Institute staged a 90-minute public multimedia demonstration which presaged many of the technologies we use today – from personal computing to social networking. It was the world debut of personal and interactive computing: for the first time, the public saw a computer mouse, used to demonstrate a networked computer system which featured hypertext linking and composing with real-time text editing, multiple windows with flexible view control, knowledge management, shared-screen teleconferencing, and more.

 All can be found here –

Thanks to Andy (you know who you are:)


Categories: Hardware & Software, Software Tags:

Dean of Science Badge

July 1st, 2013 No comments

IMG 1455

These badges are interesting inventions, not necessarily heraldically correct, which refer to key individuals from the history of the University. Some were devised in the 1890s at a time when J Maitland Anderson, then Librarian, Registrar and Secretary to the University, wrote a little book on the heraldry of the University. I have used this to answer the question. I think the badges were made back then and get transferred from gown to gown.  Certainly, I had the dubious privilege of sewing the old badge onto the new Dean of Divinity’s gown when my husband was Dean! Taking the quartering of the shield like a clock face, on the image the 12-3 portion is the royal arms of the Kings of Scotland, lion rampant armed and langued, which appears on the University coat of arms. This represents the part played by King James I of Scotland in endorsing the foundation of the University. He endorsed the request by Bishop Wardlaw to the Pope, so the heraldry of those three appears on the medieval seal matrix, and they are generally regarded as the founders of the University. The 3-6 and 9-12 quadrants contain a version of the shield of Bishop James Kennedy, founder of St Salvator’s College in 1450, and the 6-9 quadrant is a representation of the shield of Prior John Hepburn, one of the two founders of St Leonard’s College in 1512.  So you could say that this relates to the United College, the focus since 1579 ( in two colleges) and since 1747 in one united college of the non-Divinity teaching of the institution. Perhaps there were two references to Kennedy because the United College is located on the site of his foundation?

Many thanks to Mrs Rachel Hart
Muniments Archivist and Deputy Head of Special Collections
Department of Special Collections

University of St Andrews Library

Categories: University of St Andrews Tags:

Useful apps for iPad

March 14th, 2013 No comments

I owned an iPad for a while but never really used it properly. I now believe that this was due to not having the right software tools on it. By investing a small amount of funds you can turn an iPad from a toy to a productivity tool. I know there are many “Top lists of apps for the IPad” but here is mine with some reasons behind them.



 Note taking

One of the apps that I use the most is Notability. Notability is a note taking program that supports semi-structured documents to be created (with headings, sub heading etc.). It also supports drawing of pictures both with virtual pencils which are good for scribbling and as more formal MacDraw style structured documents. Your notes can be organised into categories which effectively partition notes into folder like structures. Synchronisation is somewhat limited – the app supports Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and WebDav, none of which I use due to paranoia about security. It would be nice if it had an ssh conduit for synchronising with arbitrary file systems but currently it does not. To get around this problem I use PDFExpert described below.





Reading documents and synchronisation

 PDFExpert is very badly named and is one of the best iPad apps in my opinion. It provides the ability to read a wide variety of file types including acrobat, word, excel and text files (and I am sure more). PDF files can be annotated by highlighting text and with a number of different styles of pens (different colours, thicknesses etc.). There are couple of twists that turn this to more than a pdf annotation tool. The first is that, provided you have PDF convertor (described below) you can turn any file type into a pdf and then annotate it. Secondly, the tool has a really nice network synchronisation mechanism. This permits files that reside on a server to automatically synchronised with the server. Annotations etc. can be pushed back onto a server and changes on the server can be pulled onto the iPad. The synchronisation feature supports SFTP access to server thus avoiding the need to use cloud servers which might put confidential docs into the public domain. It does of course support all the usual suspects such as WebDav, Box, Dropbox, Google Drive etc. for those who like that kind of thing. Lastly it features a HTTP server which allows the iPad to serve document on the iPad to other machines (a feature I do not use due to security concerns). 


PDF convertor

 PDF convertor permits documents on the iPad to be converted to PDF. It can be used from a variety of apps – I use it primarily with PDFExpert and Notability. In recent improvements to one of these apps (I am not sure which), documents can be converted in place. For example a document in PDFExpert can be converted in PDF convertor and then automatically imported back into  PDFExpert and then synchronised with the server. 






 Documents also from Readdle (like the two above) provides a nice remote file browser of remote file systems. It also permits files to be uploaded from the file server onto the iPad. It is not clear to me the exact differences between it and PDFExpert (it may be a true subset) but I use it occasionally for remote browsing of server files due to the simple interface it provides.






  Alfresco is an open source Enterprise Content Management System. It provides a server (or cloud) content manager which (according to Wikipedia) “may be used to track and store electronic documents. It is usually also capable of keeping track of the different versions modified by different users (history tracking).” The power of such systems comes when they may be accessed from mobile devices such as the iPad. This app does exactly that providing enterprise level access and control to Alfresco servers provided by individuals, enterprises or in the cloud. If you share documents using e-mail it is time to invest in some of this!



 Getting things done (GTD)

There are a number of getting things done tools for the iPad (i.e. fancy to do list managers). The one that I used until recently is called remember the milk. It has a clean user interface and is very easy to use. It is also free! The down side is that it is really a web app and to keep coherent up-to-date copies of your task lists on multiple devices requires you to upgrade to pro which costs a few pounds – (£17.49 per year at the time of writing). Given that this is a web app you would not want to keep anything really private in it. Remember the Milk strangely has no desktop support on the Mac – there is an Adobe Air app called “App for the Milk” that works quite well (provided that you have gone pro).

An alternative to Remember the Milk is Omni Focus. However, for my money this app is too complex (although the iPad version is, in my opinion, easier to use than the Mac Desktop version. There is no windows support for this app at the time of writing.




 Trello ( has recently released an iPad App. It is the GTD application par excellence and is actually a web app. I run it on my Mac using a Web wrapper called fluid (which is worth a mention in its own right).

Trello supports the concepts of Boards and Lists. Lists contain cards which can be flagged with tags, due dates etc. and contain textual items, pictures, links, checklists etc.  How many boards, lists and cards you have is up to you. You can also share your boards with team members making it a powerful team organisational tool.






Password Management

1Password is a fantastic password management tool. It runs on the iPhone, iPad, PC and Mac with plugins for most common Web browsers and is capable of securely storing all your passwords, bank details etc. One of the really nice things about it is that it uses Dropbox as storage for your encrypted passwords and provides automatic synchronisation with your other devices. I would be totally lost without this piece of software.






NewImageReading documents off line

My choice for off line reading is an app called Pocket. Like remember the milk (RTM), it is free and synchronises with the cloud. Therefore like RTM it cannot be used for secret stuff – then again it is not designed for that – it is designed for permitting you to read web content later even when you are offline – great for plane trips etc. This app comes with a bunch of plug ins for common browsers making it easy to mark articles for later reading. These are a little clunky on the iPad but they do the job. In addition to being able to mark 







What is the cost?

At the time of writing (14-3-2013) the cost  of the above apps is as follows:

Notability £1.49

PDFExpert £6.99

PDF Convertor £4.99

Documents Free

Alfresco Free

Remember the Milk Free

Trello Free

1Pssword £12.99

Pocket Free

Total cost to get tooled up = £26.46

As usual, if you find this useful please consider giving a few quid to Oxfam. If you have any other handy apps please let me know!

Categories: Hardware & Software, iPad, Software Tags:

St Andrews Map in 1820

August 29th, 2012 No comments


Map of St Andrews in 1820.


IMG 1101 copy


Categories: Current activities, Uncategorized Tags: