A First – CodeFirst:Girls courses recognised on academic transcript at the University of St Andrews

CodeFirst:Girls is an organisation which runs free coding courses for young women, with partner universities and companies across the UK. The University of St Andrews, School of Computer Science has been a keen supporter of CodeFirst:Girls for the past 5 years. We run their community courses in our premises with our students and staff volunteering as instructors, course ambassadors and presentation judges. Since partnering with CodeFirst:Girls in 2014, we have taught over 700 young women to code within St Andrews alone, contributing to the organisation’s vision of training 20,000 young women across the UK by the year 2020. The coding courses are very popular among the female students of St Andrews and receive a staggering 140 applications on average per semester.

This year, we further strengthened this collaboration between St Andrews and CodeFirst:Girls by recognising the training programmes on the students’ academic transcripts. St Andrews students who successfully complete a CodeFirst:Girls training programme (either the beginners HTML course, or advanced Python course) by fulfilling the attendance and assessment requirements, can have this listed in their academic transcript under “Prizes and Achievements”, thereby obtaining official recognition for the invaluable coding skills they gained through this training.
This idea was innovated by St Andrews student and CodeFirst:Girls course ambassador Nicola Sobieraj (MSc Research Methods in Psychology 2019); Bonnie Hacking (Enterprise Adviser, Careers Centre); and Shyam Reyal (Associate Lecturer in Computer Science).

In her own words, Nicola mentioned that “It was a privilege being an ambassador and to propose this idea to acknowledge the courses on the academic transcript. I have truly enjoyed being involved in the process and collaborating with inspiring people from CF:G and St Andrews. I’d love to see this idea in universities across the country and would definitely support this process”. Bonnie added “I’m delighted we are now able to recognise our student’s achievements through CodeFirst:Girls officially. I’ve been judging the presentations of their projects for several years and am always impressed by what they achieve.”

Ewa Magiera, Head of Communities of CodeFirst:Girls, expressed her contentment with this collaboration as “a milestone in our cooperation with St Andrews, a great way for students to receive recognition for their efforts, and an important step forward in our cooperation with academic institutions which host our courses”.

This definitely marks an important milestone for both St Andrews and CodeFirst:Girls – for St Andrews students’ to have this skill development programme added to the degree transcripts – and for CodeFirst:Girls, to be validated by Scotland’s oldest and highest ranked university for Computer Science. We believe this will immensely boost the student’s CV and portfolio, as their achievements and skills are validated and recognized by the university, thus increasing their employability.

Further information and key milestones in the St Andrews and CodeFirst:Girls collaboration journey can be found here.

Virtual Reconstruction of Medieval Home of the Lords of the Isles

The School of Computer Science’s Open Virtual Worlds team has created a digital reconstruction of the medieval home of the Lords of the Isles at Finlaggan on Islay. The new reconstruction will form part of a virtual reality exhibit at the Finlaggan Trust Visitor Centre. A preview can be seen on Vimeo.

Today, Finlaggan seems a peaceful backwater. Yet, in the Middle Ages it was a major power base. The two islands of Eilean Mor (or Large Isle) and Eilean na Comhairle (or Council Isle) on Loch Finlaggan were once the ceremonial and political heart of the Lordship of the Isles – which covered the Hebrides and parts of mainland Scotland and Ulster.

Traditionally the Lordship was held by the MacDonald family. However, following disputes in the fifteenth century the Scottish kings sought to curtail the MacDonalds’ influence, and in the 1490s James IV sent a military expedition to sack Finlaggan. Many of the buildings at Finlaggan were destroyed at this time, and over the centuries that followed the site sank into relative obscurity.

The reconstruction by the Open Virtual Worlds team (and its spin-out company Smart History) shows Finlaggan as it may have appeared in the fifteenth century. It is based on discoveries made by the Finlaggan Archaeological Project, led by archaeologist Dr David Caldwell (formerly of the National Museum of Scotland), who provided advice to the St Andrews researchers.

The digital project was led by Dr Alan Miller of the School of Computer Science, while digital modelling was undertaken by Sarah Kennedy of the School of Computer Science, with additional historical research by Dr Bess Rhodes of the School of History and the School of Computer Science. Drone footage of the site and photogrammetry of historic artefacts were also undertaken by the project team, including work by Computer Science’s Dr CJ Davies, Dr Iain Oliver, and Catherine Anne Cassidy. A short video about the project can be viewed here.

Discover more about the Finlaggan Trust and how to visit this historic place at: finlaggan.org/

Lao Characters for Pali added to Unicode 12

Congratulations to Vinodh Rajan, Ben Mitchell, Martin Jansche and Sascha Brawer on their successful proposal for additions to the repertoire of ISO/IEC 10646, which will see Pali letters added to Lao in Unicode 12. As a result, it is now possible to write both Pali/Sanskrit in Lao and represent the entire Tripitaka in the Lao script. The proposal (https://bit.ly/2TE2XKJ) submitted in 2017 was finally added to the Unicode standard this year.

Vinodh explained that the proposal allows four things. Firstly, one can now transcribe liturgical Pali (the liturgical language of Theravada Buddhism) texts and by extension the whole Pali Tripitaka (the Theravada Buddhist canon) in the Lao script without any distortion, providing lay people accurate access to these liturgical texts. Previously, the texts had to go through some sort of distortion due to the lack of appropriate characters, which means they had to be approximated. Secondly, it allows people who would want to use etymological orthography for Lao (it currently uses a phonemic orthography) access to the necessary additional characters. Thirdly, there are several books printed (mostly in the 1930’s) using the expanded alphabet that need to be eventually digitized. This will enable their proper digitization by allow plain-text representation of all the Lao characters. Lastly, it will improve the transliteration accuracy between Lao and neighboring scripts like Thai and Khmer.

The expanded Lao alphabet can be found here:
http://aksharamukha.appspot.com/#/describe/LaoPali

Vinodh, a St Andrews Computer Science alumnus completed his PhD in 2016. His thesis, Quantifying scribal behavior : a novel approach to digital paleography was supervised by Dr Mark-Jan Nederhof.

Graduation Reception: December 2018

The School will celebrate more student successes and accomplishments next month, when our MSc and PhD students graduate. We look forward to toasting their success at our graduation reception in the School of Computer Science, on Thursday 6th December, between 1.30 and 3.30. Over the years graduation has involved cakes, fizz, laughter, changeable weather and lots of reminiscing as pictured below. For family and friends who can’t make it to the graduation, the University broadcasts each graduation ceremony live.

Summer and Winter Graduations 2010 – 2014

Celebrations, Kilts and Graduation 2010- 2014

Alumni visit School of Computer Science

A group of alumni who studied in the school over 20 years ago (graduating classes of 1994, 1995 and 1996) organised an informal reunion last month. During their stay in town they organised a visit to the school, where they sampled the school coffee, acquired a coveted CS mug and reminisced around the photo boards. The group were given an overview of the present day Computer Science at St Andrews and proceeded on a tour of the department with current Head of School, Simon Dobson, Professor Emeritus, Ron Morrison and Dave Munro.

DHSI Seminar Series

Event details

  • When: 17th August 2018 12:00 - 14:00
  • Where: Physics Bldg
  • Format: Seminar

The school of Physics & Astronomy (Room 222) are hosting our next Digital Health Seminar

12.00pm – Lunch
12.20pm – Isla Rose & Mary Barnard Ultraviolet Radiation, DNA damage, and sunscreen
12.50pm – Lewis McMillan Monte Carlo radiation transfer model of laser tissue ablation
1.20pm –   Nicole Schanche Planet candidate detection and ranking using MachineLearning
1.50pm –   General discussions

All welcome!

DHSI Flyer – Physics & Astronomy 17.8

IDIR Summer Workshop 2018

The St Andrews Institute for Data-Intensive Research (IDIR) was set up in September 2014 to provide a focus for research and teaching activities across the University driven by access to “big data”.

IDIR does not directly sponsor or manage any research of its own: rather, we help researchers to collaborate within and beyond their home Schools in areas relating to data and computationally-intensive research.

In the past we have hosted the Summer of Vs (Variety, Veracity, Velocity & Volume) and Summer of Data Workshop Series.

This year we are hosting a series of IDIR Summer Workshops tailored by the interests of the researchers in IDIR. The themes that were identified (and the dates on which each workshop is held) are

03.07.2018 Text and/or Image Processing
24.07.2018 Data (Science) Best Practices
16.08.2018 Health and Simulation Data
04.09.2018 Cloud Computing, High Performance Computing, Reproducibility

This year’s programme of events are being organised by Özgür Akgün and Ruth Hoffmann. Get in touch with them if you would like to contribute.

Semantics for probabilistic programming, Dr Chris Heunen

Semantics for probabilistic programming, Dr Chris Heunen

03.10.17, 1pm, Room JCB 1.33B

Abstract: Statistical models in e.g. machine learning are traditionally
expressed in some sort of flow charts. Writing sophisticated models
succintly is much easier in a fully fledged programming language. The
programmer can then rely on generic inference algorithms instead of
having to craft one for each model. Several such higher-order functional
probabilistic programming languages exist, but their semantics, and
hence correctness, are not clear. The problem is that the standard
semantics of probability theory, given by measurable spaces, does not
support function types. I will describe how to get around this.