DLS: Distributed Systems and Sensing by Prof. Julie McCann


Semester 1


Distributed Systems and Sensing


Julie McCann


7th November 2016

Lower and Upper College Halls



By Professor Simon Dobson

School of Computer Science

University of St Andrews

The first of this academic year’s distinguished lectures will be given by Professor Julie McCann, Imperial College, London on Monday 7th November 2016 at Lower and Upper College Halls.



Chirping, self-organising, adaptive and intelligent tiny computers are beginning to enter both the market and people’s homes, performing various monitoring and control duties. From Google’s self-drive cars to the walls of modern office blocks, these simple devices are talking to each other in highly intelligent ways, mimicking the collective behaviour of insect colonies, for example, to overcome individual failures or changes in the local environment.




Prof Julie A. McCann is a Professor of Computer Systems in Imperial College London (IC), where she leads the Adaptive Embedded Systems Engineering Research Group, she is Director for the Imperial wide Centre for Smart Connected Futures, Co-Director of the Intel Collaborative Research Institute for Sustainable Cities and she is CI for the NEC Smart Water Systems Lab and many other substantive projects with industry and academia with a focus on networking and sensing infrastructures to support environments such as smart cities, water and gas networks etc. She is CI on the EPSRC energy/water/food nexus WefWebs project where her focus is on precision farming and wine making.

Likewise, her NERC FUSE project designed and deployed a now patented sensing infrastructure for floodplain monitoring in Oxfordshire. Her research centres on highly decentralized and self-organizing scalable embedded frugal computing systems where one avoids a single point of failure to produce truly scalable solutions. She is a Fellow of the British Computer Society and is the Associate Editor for ACM Transactions on Adaptive Autonomic Systems (TAAS), has been General and Technical chair for the IEEE International Conference on Self-Adaptive and Self-Organising systems (SASO) and IEEE SECON 2016, SMARTCOMP 2017 and has been on the programme committee for IEEE INFOCOM, ACM UBICOMP and many more. Julie has presented her work in A* conferences and keynoted at the Indian Science Conclave Congregation of Nobel Prize Winners, for the encouragement of disadvantaged kids into science and computing in 2008.




Programme:   Monday 7th November 2016


09:15 – 09:30



  By Professor Simon Dobson  

09:30 – 10:30


Lecture 1:

  Professor Julie McCann will initially talk through how Wireless Sensor Networks are being used today and what other sciences will impact this subject leading to the ability to have Programmable Matter.  

10:30 – 11:00


Coffee Break

    Refreshments served

11:00 – 12:00


Lecture 2:

  In her second talk she will come very much down to earth and discuss how such systems are programmed today in terms of the hardware stack that composes them and the protocols that allow them to collaborate.  

12:00 – 14:00


Lunch Break

  Free time  

14:00 – 15:00


Lecture 3:

  Prof McCann will introduce some of the challenges that still remain, such as scaling this technology to larger dimensions but to also make them more resilient as well as secure etc. and the challenges that control adds to the system.  

15:00 – 15:30



Q & A Session:


  Open forum





Event details

  • When: 7th November 2016 09:15 - 16:00
  • Where: Lower College Hall
  • Series: Distinguished Lectures Series
  • Format: Distinguished lecture

Multi-modal Indoor Positioning: Trends and Challenges by Prof. Niki Trigoni, Oxford University


GPS has enabled a number of location based services outdoors, but the problem of localisation remains open in GPS-denied environments, such as indoors and underground. In this talk, I will discuss the key challenges to accurate and robust position estimation, and will describe a variety of sensor modalities and algorithms developed at Oxford to address this problem.

The talk will cover inertial, radio-based and vision-based localisation approaches and their advantages and disadvantages in different settings.


Short Bio:

Niki Trigoni is a Professor at the Oxford University Department of Computer Science and a fellow of Kellogg College. She obtained her PhD at the University of Cambridge (2001), became a postdoctoral researcher at Cornell University (2002-2004), and a Lecturer at Birkbeck College (2004-2007). Since she moved to Oxford in 2007, she established the Sensor Networks Group, and has conducted research in communication, localization and in-network processing algorithms for sensor networks. Her recent and ongoing projects span a wide variety of sensor networks applications, including indoor/underground localization, wildlife sensing, road traffic monitoring, autonomous (aerial and ground) vehicles, and sensor networks for industrial processes.

Event details

  • When: 8th November 2016 14:00 - 15:00
  • Where: Cole 1.33
  • Series: School Seminar Series
  • Format: Seminar, Talk

Quicker Sort by Dietmar Kühl, Bloomberg L.P.



Quicksort is a well-known sorting algorithm used to implement sort functionality in many libraries. The presentation isn’t really about the algorithm itself but rather about how to actually create an efficient implementation of the algorithm: a text-book implementation of the algorithm actually is not that quick (even if the pivot is chosen cleverly). It takes paying some attention to detail to improve the implementation significantly. This presentation starts with a simple implementation and makes incremental improvements to eventually yield a proper generic and fast sorting function. All code will be in C++ but it should be possible to follow the majority of the reasoning with knowledge of another programming language.


Short Bio:

Dietmar Kühl is a senior software developer at Bloomberg L.P. working on the data distribution environment used both internally and by enterprise installations at clients. Before joining Bloomberg he has done mainly consulting for software projects in the finance area. He is a regular attendee of the ANSI/ISO C++ standards committee, presents at conferences, and he used to be a moderator of the newsgroup comp.lang.c++.moderated. He frequently answers questions on Stackoverflow.

Event details

  • When: 25th October 2016 14:30 - 15:30
  • Where: Cole 1.33
  • Series: School Seminar Series
  • Format: Seminar, Talk

Running Before We have Evolved Legs: The Gap Between Theory and Practice in Evolutionary Algorithms by Prof. John McCall


Evolutionary algorithms (EA) has developed as an academic discipline since the 1960s. The subject has spawned major subfields such as swarm intelligence and genetic programming and is applied to a wide variety of practical real world problems in science medicine and engineering. EAs are often the only practical method of solving large combinatorial optimisation problems and have achieved best-known results on a variety of benchmark problems. The global academic EA community is highly active, supporting several large international conferences and high-quality international journals. Despite this activity, sustained over decades, the community has struggled to make significant progress on developing a satisfactory theory of EAs. At the same time, substantial progress has been made on developing more sophisticated EAs that are ever more powerful but ever less amenable to theoretical study. In this talk I will outline some of the main approaches to a theory of EAs and illustrate the gap between those EAs that can be theoretically analysed by those approaches and EAs that are being used in practice. I will conclude with some interesting current developments and key open questions.


Short Bio:

John McCall is a Professor of Computing Science at Robert Gordon University.  He works in the Computational Intelligence research group, which he founded in 2003. He has over twenty years research experience in naturally-inspired computing.  His research focuses on the study and analysis of a range of naturally-inspired optimization algorithms (genetic algorithms, particle swarm optimisation, ant colony optimisation, estimation of distribution algorithms etc.) and their application to difficult learning and optimisation problems, particularly real-world problems arising in complex engineering and medical / biological systems. Application areas of this research include medical decision support, data modeling of drilling operations, analysis of biological sequences, staff rostering and scheduling, industrial process optimization and bio-control. He has over 90 publications in books, journals and conferences. He has successfully supervised 13 PhD students and has examined over 15 PhD theses.

Event details

  • When: 11th October 2016 14:00 - 15:00
  • Where: Cole 1.33
  • Series: School Seminar Series
  • Format: Seminar

School Seminar ‘Closure Experiences in Digital Product Design’ by Joe Macleod

“Closure Experiences in Digital Product Design. The loss of the resolution in the shop of abundance”


Most experiences in life are punctuated by a closure experience. In the past these were profound; however, over generations we have distanced ourselves from meaningful closure experiences thanks to our lifestyles increasing in comfort, the church weakening and medicine advancing. This has seemingly freed us from the shackles of the ultimate closure experience – death – and sanctioning our personal pursuit of heaven on earth in the form of consumption. We are now encouraged to drunkenly stumble from purchase to purchase, with any sense of longevity and responsibility removed. Long term side effects of this are exampled in the Product, Service and Digital landscapes that we frequent. The consequences of our behaviour results in a changing climate, industries fined billions for mis-selling and individuals casually eroding their personal online reputations. Many of us are active in the creation of services, products or digital products; making them attractive, engaging and usable for consumers, but we often overlook concluding these experiences for the user in a responsible way. Closure Experiences offers a model to frame this change.

Joe Macleod has been working in the mobile design space since 1998 and has been involved in a pretty diverse range of projects. At Nokia he helped develop some of the most streamlined packaging in the world, he created a hack team to disrupt the corporate drone of powerpoint, produced mobile services for pregnant women in Africa and pioneered lighting behavior for millions of phones. For the last four years he has been key to establishing ustwo as the UKs best digital product studio, with 180 people globally in London, New York, Sydney and Sweden, while also successfully building education initiatives, curriculums and courses on the back of the IncludeDesign campaign which launched in 2013. He now works independently on projects and has recently established established Closure Experiences, a new business looking at issues around consumption, consumerism and designing the end of things.

Event details

  • When: 29th March 2016 14:00 - 15:00
  • Where: Cole 1.33
  • Series: School Seminar Series
  • Format: Seminar, Talk

School Seminar ‘Paraphrase Generation from Latent-Variable PCFGs for Semantic Parsing’ by Shashi Narayan


One of the limitations of semantic parsing approaches to open-domain question answering is the lexicosyntactic gap between natural language questions and knowledge base entries — there are many ways to ask a question, all with the same answer. In this paper we propose to bridge this gap by generating paraphrases to the input question with the goal that at least one of them will be correctly mapped to a correct knowledge-base query. We introduce a novel grammar model for paraphrase generation that does not require any sentence-aligned paraphrase corpus. Our key idea is to leverage the flexibility and scalability of latent-variable probabilistic context-free grammars to sample paraphrases. We do an extrinsic evaluation of our paraphrases by plugging them into a semantic parser for Freebase. Our evaluation experiments on WebQuestions benchmark dataset show that the performance of the semantic parser significantly improves over strong


Shashi Narayan is a research associate at School of Informatics at the University of Edinburgh. He is currently working with Shay Cohen onthe problems of spectral methods for parsing and generation. Before,he earned his doctoral degree in 2014 from Université de Lorraine,under the supervision of Claire Gardent. He received Erasmus MundusMasters scholarship (2009-2011) in Language and CommunicationTechnology (EM-LCT). He did his major in Computer Science and Engineeringfrom Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur India. He is interested in the application of syntax and semantics to solvevarious NLP problems, in particular, natural language generation,parsing, sentence simplification, paraphrase generation and questionanswering.

Event details

  • When: 26th January 2016 14:00 - 15:00
  • Where: Cole 1.33
  • Series: School Seminar Series
  • Format: Seminar, Talk

Seminar: “Data Exploration on Smart watches” by Dr Rachel Menzies

rachel menzies


For many of us, interacting with data on mobile devices such as phones and tablets is commonplace in our lives, e.g. phone call data, TV guide, maps, fitness and wearable data. With the introduction of smart watches, the screen size of mobile devices has dramatically decreased. This reduction in screen real estate provides challenges for the design of interfaces, including the presentation and exploration of data visualisations. Using bar charts as an example, this presentation will explore the shortcomings of current zooming techniques on very small screens and consider proposed guidelines for the development of simple data exploration applications. Key design features such as the need for overview and context will be considered in respect to a simple and effective data exploration task.



Rachel Menzies is a lecturer and Head of Undergraduate Studies (Computing) at the School of Science and Engineering at the University of Dundee. Her research interests include user centred design with marginalised user groups, such as users with disabilities, as well as exploring novel interfaces, data visualisation and CS education. Rachel is an Accessibility and Usability Consultant with the Human Centred Computing Consultancy, run by the University of Dundee, and has worked for many large international clients as well as providing bespoke training sessions to small companies.

Event details

  • When: 23rd February 2016 14:00 - 15:00
  • Where: Cole 1.33
  • Series: School Seminar Series
  • Format: Seminar, Talk

Seminar: “Interaction, Embodiment and Technologies in Early Learning” by Dr Andrew Manches




Most of us might agree that ‘hands-on learning’ is good for children in the early years. But why? Is it simply more fun and sociable, or are there any more direct cognitive benefits? And what determines definitions of ‘hands-on’? Can we include iPads? This talk will draw upon an ESRC-funded project to examine the educational implications of recent theoretical arguments about the embodied nature of cognition. Video data from the project will be used to illustrate the methodological significance of the way children gesture when describing mathematical concepts and evaluate a hypothesis that numerical development is grounded upon two particular embodied metaphors. If correct, this presents a serious challenge to traditional approaches to the types of learning materials we offer children. The talk then demonstrates two embodied technologies to consider the potential of new forms of digital interaction to further our understanding of embodied cognition as well as support early learning.




Dr Andrew Manches is a Chancellor’s Fellow in the School of Education and leads the Children and Technology group at the University of Edinburgh.  He has 20 years experience working with children, first as a teacher, then as an academic. His recent research, funded by an ESRC Future Research Leader grant, focuses on the role of interaction in thinking, and the implications this has for early learning and new forms of technology.  When not being an academic, Andrew is a parent of two young children and directs an early learning technology start-up that was awarded a SMART grant this year to build an early years maths tangible technology.

Event details

  • When: 24th November 2015 14:00 - 15:00
  • Where: Cole 1.33a
  • Series: School Seminar Series
  • Format: Seminar, Talk

IEEE talks: JEEVES and the Speculative W@nderverse

In October 2015 we attended two IEEE conferences in the USA. Daniel Rough presented a full paper at the IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing, October 18–22, in Atlanta, Georgia. Uta Hinrichs presented a full paper at the IEEE Information Visualization (InfoVis) conference as part of VizWeek, October 25-30 in Chicago, Illinois. You can find details of these and all our papers on the publications page.

On November 10th, Daniel and Uta will reprise their talks here in St Andrews and everyone is welcome to attend. You can find the details for the two talks below along with links to the papers via the University of St Andrews research portal.

Talk 1 by Daniel Rough
Title: Jeeves – A Visual Programming Environment for Mobile Experience Sampling
Authors: Rough, D and Quigley, A.

Abstract: The Experience Sampling Method (ESM) captures participants’ thoughts and feelings in their everyday environments. Mobile and wearable technologies afford us opportunities to reach people using ESM in varying contexts. However, a lack of programming knowledge often hinders researchers in creating ESM applications. In practice, they rely on specialised tools for app creation. Our initial review of these tools indicates that most are expensive commercial services, and none utilise the full potential of sensors for creating context-aware applications.

We present “Jeeves”, a visual language to facilitate ESM application creation. Inspired by successful visual languages in literature, our block-based notation enables researchers to visually construct ESM study specifications. We demonstrate its applicability by replicating existing ESM studies found in medical and psychology literature. Our preliminary study with 20 participants demonstrates that both non-programmers and programmers are able to successfully utilise Jeeves. We discuss future work in extending Jeeves with alternative mobile technologies.

Paper details from the St Andrews Research Portal: Rough, DJ & Quigley, AJ 2015, ‘ Jeeves – a visual programming environment for mobile experience sampling ‘, IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC), Atlanta, United States


Talk 2 by Uta Hinrichs

Title: Speculative Practices: Utilizing InfoVis to Explore Untapped Literary Collections

Hinrichs, U.,  Forlini, S. ; Moynihan, B.
In this paper we exemplify how information visualization supports speculative thinking, hypotheses testing, and preliminary interpretation processes as part of literary research. While InfoVis has become a buzz topic in the digital humanities, skepticism remains about how effectively it integrates into and expands on traditional humanities research approaches. From an InfoVis perspective, we lack case studies that show the specific design challenges that make literary studies and humanities research at large a unique application area for information visualization. We examine these questions through our case study of the Speculative W@nderverse, a visualization tool that was designed to enable the analysis and exploration of an untapped literary collection consisting of thousands of science fiction short stories. We present the results of two empirical studies that involved general-interest readers and literary scholars who used the evolving visualization prototype as part of their research for over a year. Our findings suggest a design space for visualizing literary collections that is defined by (1) their academic and public relevance, (2) the tension between qualitative vs. quantitative methods of interpretation, (3) result- vs. process-driven approaches to InfoVis, and (4) the unique material and visual qualities of cultural collections. Through the Speculative W@nderverse we demonstrate how visualization can bridge these sometimes contradictory perspectives by cultivating curiosity and providing entry points into literary collections while, at the same time, supporting multiple aspects of humanities research processes.

Published in:
IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics,  (Vol:22, Issue: 1 )  Page(s): 429 – 438
ISSN :  1077-2626
DOI:     10.1109/TVCG.2015.2467452

Paper details from the St Andrews Research Portal:
Hinrichs, U, Forlini, S & Moynihan, B 2015, ‘ Speculative practices: utilizing InfoVis to explore untapped literary collections IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics .

Event details

  • When: 10th November 2015 14:00 - 15:00
  • Where: Cole 1.33a
  • Format: Talk

Dr Roy Dyckhoff, Hon. Senior Lecturer: ‘Coherentisation of first-order logic’

The School of Computer Science is delighted to announce that honorable lecturer Dr Roy Dyckhoff is an invited speaker at the conference on Automated Reasoning with Analytic Tableaux and Related Methods, in Wrocław (Poland) from 20–24 September.


Abstract: This talk explores the relationship between coherent (aka “geometric”) logic and first-order logic (FOL), with special reference to the coherence/geometricity required of accessibility conditions in Negri’s work on modal logic (and our joint work with her on intermediate logic). It has been known to some since the 1970s that every first-order theory has a coherent conservative extension, and weaker versions of this result have been used in association with the automation of coherent logic; but, it is hard to find the result in the literature. We discuss various proofs of the result, and present a coherentisation algorithm with the desirable property of being idempotent.

Please see: http://tableaux2015.ii.uni.wroc.pl/index.html for further details

Event details

  • When: 20th September 2015 10:00 - 24th September 2015 17:00
  • Format: Conference, Talk