I am a Senior Research Fellow (permanent position) in the ULTRA (Logic, Types, and Rewriting) group in the Computer Science Department in the School of Mathematical and Computer Sciences at Heriot-Watt University (more info) in Edinburgh (more info), Scotland (more info).
(The members of the Computer Science department formerly
belonged to the now defunct Computing and Electrical Engineering
Department. The domain
cee.hw.ac.uk is now
obsolete; please don't use it anymore.)
I have prepared a number of student project proposals. These proposals can be the basis for student projects from 3 to 9 months in length (e.g., M.Sc. or 4th year CS B.Sc. projects), with appropriate adjustments. If you would like to do something similar to but not the same as one of the projects I have listed, please contact me and we can discuss it.
Some of the student projects that I have supervised have made their results public and they are listed here. All of the software produced by these projects is free (non-enslaved) software, sometimes called "open source" software.
diffprogram) and patching (like the line-oriented
patchprogram) XML documents.
My research interests are in the applications of advanced type systems and rewriting techniques primarily motivated by issues in the design and implementation of convenient, efficient, scalable, secure, and reliable programming language systems.
I have been involved in the following research efforts.
I have made available the following resources related to my research.
I have been involved in the development of research software, including the following.
I have been involved (other than as an ordinary participant) in the following international scientific meetings.
In general, I am happy to review conference and journal submissions in my area of expertise. However, I will not use web interfaces for my reviews unless I am myself on the PC of the conference to which a paper is submitted. I am willing to consider conference subreviewing requests and journal reviewing requests under the following circumstances:
I will not use a web interface, for a vast number of reasons. Just some of the reasons include the following. I am not willing to spend time working around the bugs of a web interface. I am not willing to manage another web account and its password.
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Mathematical and Computer Sciences
Riccarton (more info)
EM 161 (Room 1.61, Earl Mountbatten Building)
(As of 2007-08-15, this is building number 3 on this map and between numbers 1 and 3 on this map. Both maps are linked from this web page with directions. It is also building number 2 on this obsolete older map.)
Most of the Heriot-Watt Riccarton Campus is quite picturesque. There are many exotic trees, and a wide range of wildlife. One of our staff members, Adrian Hurt, has taken a number of pictures of the wildlife on the campus. I like his pictures of a goose, a number of young cygnets, and a family of swans.
One kind of wildlife is particularly common. The Riccarton campus is overrun by rabbits. In the winter, the Riccarton rabbits seem to have an unusual mode of hibernation. Periodically, the swarms of rabbits seem to suddenly disappear. There is some speculation that at these times the rabbits are beset by armed opponents. Photographic evidence obtained by Adrian shows that the rabbits may be preparing their response.
Adrian has also obtained photographs indicating that our school's new Colin Maclaurin building may be concealing some hidden purpose. It is possible that this has something to do with strange transformations that the Riccarton rabbits have undergone near the Colin Maclaurin building. There are also unholy buses in the vicinity, although it is unclear if this is related.
In 1929, John Desmond Bernal wrote a brilliant prophetic essay about the long-term future of humanity: our living environment, our physical nature, and our psychological nature. The breadth of this essay can only be hinted at by the following quotes:
Failing this, a form of space sailing might be developed which used the repulsive effect of the sun's rays instead of wind. A space vessel spreading its large, metallic wings, acres in extent, to the full, might be blown to the limit of Neptune's orbit. Then, to increase its speed, it would tack, close-hauled, down the gravitational field, spreading full sail again as it rushed past the sun.
On earth, even if we should use all the solar energy which we received, we should still be wasting all but one two-billionths of the energy that the sun gives out.
The second law of thermodynamics, as Jeans delights in pointing out to us, will ultimately bring this universe to an inglorious close, may perhaps always remain the final factor. But by intelligent organization the life of the universe could probably be prolonged to many millions of millions of times what it would be without organization.
The changes that evolution produces apart from mere growth in size, or diversity of form without change of function, are in the nature of perversions: a part of the fish's gut becomes a swimming bladder, the swimming bladder becomes a lung; a salivary gland and an extra eye are charged with the function of producing hormones. Under the pressure of environment or whatever else is the cause of evolution, nature takes hold of what already had existed for some now superseded activity, and with a minimum of alteration gives it a new function.
We badly need a small sense organ for detecting wireless frequencies, eyes for infra-red, ultra-violet and X-rays, ears for supersonics, detectors of high and low temperatures, of electrical potential and current, and chemical organs of many kinds. We may perhaps be able to train a great number of hot and cold and pain receiving nerves to take over these functions; … [This suggestion is an accurate prophecy which is beginning to be fulfilled, although the first senses to be added in this way are those of direction and altitude, and pressure-sensing nerves are being used rather than nerves for temperature or pain.]
The problem is essentially that of communications to an army in action. After a rapid advance [in the scientific knowledge of humanity, in analogy to the movement of an army in the field] communications become disorganized, and there is a temporary halting until they are again in working order.
We shall have very sane reactionaries at all periods warning us to remain in the natural and primitive state of humanity, which is usually the last stage but one in their cultural history. But the secondary consequences of what men have already done — the reactionaries as much as any — will carry them away then as now.
…; the dangers to the whole structure of humanity and its successors will not decrease as their wisdom increases, because, knowing more and wanting more they will dare more, and in daring will risk their own destruction. But this daring, this experimentation, is really the essential quality of life.
Alan Sokal's marvelously fun hoax article Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity published in 1996 in the “journal” Social Text begins with the following wry (and technically completely accurate) commentary about the relationship between science and culture:
There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook, which can be summarized briefly as follows: that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in “eternal” physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the “objective” procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.
For publishing this paper, the editors of Social Text won the 1996 Ig Nobel Prize for Literature (and winning the Ig Nobel is usually not an honor). The award presentation honored the editors “for eagerly publishing research that they could not understand, that the author said was meaningless, and which claimed that reality did not exist”. The publication of this paper triggered an enormous and wide-ranging debate (with hundreds (probably thousands) of articles) about the deleterious effects of postmodernism (and other movements influenced by postmodernism).
Linus Torvalds has a marvelous rant about how horrible C++ is, where he has this to say:
C++ is a horrible language. It's made more horrible by the fact that a lot of substandard programmers use it, to the point where it's much much easier to generate total and utter crap with it. Quite frankly, even if the choice of C were to do *nothing* but keep the C++ programmers out, that in itself would be a huge reason to use C.
You might enjoy reading P. Z. Myers's review of a recent book by classic crackpot Stuart Pivar. (But please don't even think of buying the book! For your amusement, search the web for the phrase “classic crackpot” to learn more about Pivar.) The best part of the review:
The doodles in this book bear absolutely no relationship to anything that goes on in real organisms, but after staring at them for a while, I realized what this book is actually about.
This book is a description of the development and evolution of balloon animals.
It's that bad. This is a book suitable only for use at clown colleges, and even there, I suspect the clowns would tell us that it is impractical, nonsensical, and has no utility in their craft.
“Joe Wells” is also:
I did not write this, but it seemed worth sharing:
I believe in time,
matter, and energy,
which make up the whole of the world.
I believe in reason, evidence and the human mind,
the only tools we have;
they are the product of natural forces
in a majestic but impersonal universe,
grander and richer than we can imagine,
a source of endless opportunities for discovery.
I believe in the power of doubt;
I do not seek out reassurances,
but embrace the question,
and strive to challenge my own beliefs.
I accept human mortality.
We have but one life,
brief and full of struggle,
leavened with love and community,
learning and exploration,
beauty and the creation of
new life, new art, and new ideas.
I rejoice in this life that I have,
and in the grandeur of a world that preceded me,
and an earth that will abide without me.