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:

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 ( 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:

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.

Monads and Lenses – Dr James Cheney

Event details

  • When: 17th July 2017 13:00 - 14:00
  • Where: Cole 1.33a
  • Format: Colloquium, Seminar

Talk Title:  Monads and Lenses


Monads are an abstraction that can be used to mathematically model computational effects (among other things).  Lenses are an abstraction for bidirectional computation, a generalization of the view-update problem.  In this talk I will discuss ways to combine them and why it might be interesting to do so.


This talk is on joint work with Faris Abou-Saleh, Jeremy Gibbons, James McKinna and Perdita Stevens conducted as part of the recently-concluded project “A theory of least change for bidirectional transformations”.