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3-year postdoctoral researcher post available

As part of the Science of Sensor Systems Software programme we have a 3-year postdoc post available.

The S4 programme aims to develop a unifying science, across the breadth of mathematics, computer science and engineering, that will let developers engineer for the uncertainty and ensure that their systems and the information they provide is resilient, responsive, reliable, statistically sound and robust. The vision is smarter sensor based systems in which scientists and policy makers can ask deeper questions and be confident in obtaining reliable answers, so the programme will deliver new principles and techniques for the development and deployment of verifiable, reliable, autonomous sensor systems that operate in uncertain, multiple and multi-scale environments.

S4 is funded by EPSRC as a five-year, £5.2M Programme Grant. It brings together four of the UK’s leading research teams in sensor systems, their design, analysis, deployment, and evaluation. Led overall by Prof Muffy Calder at the University of Glasgow, the other academic collaborators are the University of St Andrews (Prof Simon Dobson), the University of Liverpool (Prof Michael Fisher), and Imperial College (Prof Julie McCann). S4 also includes a portfolio of industrial partners ranging from start-up SMEs to multinational companies and State agencies.

St Andrews leads the work on adaptive systems engineering, especially on how systems need to change as time progresses, the system components fail, and goals change. We are looking for someone to join us to work on how to program adaptive sensor systems. A strong track record in sensor systems, programming languages, data analytics, or another related area is essential, as is an ability to work within a larger team using formal methods, advanced statistics, and novel programming languages and approaches

You can find full application details here.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Oliver Sacks

1985


An enjoyable and fascinating collection of grotesqueries, somewhat marred by the self-consciousness of some of the language. There are some wonderful anecdotes and a lot of kind insight into the human condition, especially as experienced by those with unusual neurological function, whether "natural" or caused by brain damage. But some of the language used is simply annoying ("egurgitations"? "vociferating"? – really?), and Sacks falls into something a trap in not being able to decide whether to use – or not use – the medical terminology, with the result that one neither sees enough to make it familiar nor avoids enough to hear about the conditions in commonplace terms.

3/5. Finished 02 May 2017.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Wavewatcher's Companion

Wavewatcher's Companion

Gavin Pretor-Pinney

2010


I wanted to like this book, but it's actually a bit disappointing. I think perhaps that's because it tries too hard. There's a lot of fascinating information about waves in here, and an accessible overview of the physics of the various phenomena. But there's also a lot of stretching to make things waves that really aren't, and certainly aren't in the same category of being watched as ocean waves. A more focused book might have achieved the author's aims more effectively.

2/5. Finished 14 April 2017.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

Neil Postman

1985


If ever a book was timely, this is it. Despite being thirty years old, Postman has nailed both the politics of the modern age and the dangers of "big data".

The current buzz around "Amusing ourselves to death" comes form the recent US election, which seems to have degenerated into a media-driven circus that turned its back on "real" politics. Postman's diagnosis of this – from decades ago, of course – is that attention spans have been systematically destroyed by television which, as the dominant medium of the time, forces all other discourse into its own form. He is icily dismissive of television debates or of any attempts to use it for serious or educational purposes, since there's no scope for measured explanation: he contrasts this with the presidential debates between Lincoln and Douglas that lasted (literally) for hours without benefit of anything but oratory.

One wonders what Postman would have made of the internet. His ire is largely focused on television's image-based format, which discards the deliberation of the printed word and so changes the ways in which information is expected to be presented in other media as well. The internet seems superficially to be the apotheosis of this idea, but I'm not completely convinced: most internet content is textual, after all, especially the blogs and fake news that receive most of the condemnation at the moment. (Brexit, interestingly, was quite TV-driven, and so maybe a better illustration of Postman's thesis.)

As well as the media issues, Postman also prefigures the era of big data with a comment that would be almost throwaway at the time he wrote it, since his readers wouldn't have seen what was coming:

Thus, a central thesis of computer technology – that the principal difficulty we have in solving problems stems from insufficient data – will go unexamined. Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large-scale organisations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved.

That – from before the commercial internet – is a perfect summing-up of the modern problems with privacy and content sharing, familiar from Who Owns the Future?. While I would argue that computers have solved a huge number of problems for ordinary people, and have potentially enabled them to explore the truth of a massive array of propositions of daily importance, I can't deny the accretion of power in the centres of the network. It's amazing that so prescient an analysis was performed so early.

5/5. Finished 28 March 2017.

(Originally published on Goodreads.)