Category Archives: University

The Original World Wide Web

Over the last 4 years, cloud computing has gone from been something used by very few to something used by very many.  With the advent of products like Dropbox and iCloud, and mobile apps such as Facebook and Evernote, the Internet is growing at a rate the World Wide Web cannot match.  If that means we are seeing the transition from a more traditional World Wide Web to something that’s more of a content provider for Web Applications, the Internet must have changed dramatically in the past also.  It is therefore of the upmost importance that we must protect a record of what it was, in the same manner as we would a historical artifact.

‘The World-Wide Web’ by Berners-Lee et al. is a vitally important classic paper for Computer Scientists because it does just that.  In it, the authors (including Berners-Lee, no-doubt one of the men who has most shaped humanity) explain what their invention is and what sets it apart from other network information projects from the

It is important to think about what we take for granted now, and what was cutting edge at the time.  Having read the paper, the thing that stands out most is Hypertext – text that when clicked takes you to another file.  Without this crucial feature of the web, our interaction with it would never have been the same – we would have had to load web pages as we load documents from our computer – via a directory system.

Even though this paper was published fairly recently (1994), it was written for a world that has changed unimaginably in the last 19 years.  So much of it’s content is still relevant, which is incredible bearing in mind the circumstances.  Surely, it has passed the test of time.


Can You Still Be Ethical Whilst Not Following Ethical Guidelines?

For people outside team Nygaard: The article we had to read about involved an employment agency that wanted a piece of database software built that would place men above women, and whites above blacks.

The first thing that needs to be looked at here is whether there is any legitimate reason to list white males above black females in a piece of database software by default.

Although there are numerous jobs where sex discrimination is not applicable (e.g. in the theatre or film business), these make up small proportion of the number of jobs available at any kind of employment agency.  The law says that if this is not the case an employer is illegally discriminating if he, “on the ground of her sex he treats her less favorably than he treats or would treat a man…” [1]. This would imply that in most cases there is no legitimate reason to use the fore-mentioned data in order to make a decision about employability.

The database software would clearly breach ethical guidelines, however does this mean that’s it is unethical to use it?  When we fill out application forms we are often asked demographic information such as our age and ethnicity.  I would argue that as long as the users of this database software do not use this information to discriminate against individual candidates, there’s no harm in it being there. However, it is unlikely that this will always be the case.  It might be there to make it quick to see how many people from each ethnic group have a) applied for a job and b) been given a job, which is one of the reasons the NHS collect this information [2].  One paper I looked at by Scholes summaries similarly:

“The paper concludes that it is not necessarily unfair for employers to use statistical discrimination in hiring, despite its potential unfairness for some applicants.” [3]

Someone might argue that this is just a particularly sensitive way to sort data – why not sort applicants by an attribute less likely to cause disagreement, such as qualifications?  A simple answer is that then you are discriminating against those with different qualifications, which is especially important in jobs where qualifications such as A-Levels and degrees may not be relevant.

To summarise whether constructing the program is unethical (i.e. whether you can not follow ethical guidelines and still be ethical), I shall quote the United States Equal Opportunity Employment Commission from when they were investigating a possible act of discrimination in a chain of coffee shops:

It is a classic example of a practice that isn’t itself unethical, but that makes other unethical conduct so much easier and more likely that it has to be treated as if it is unethical too” [4] [5]

Here, we read that a system that assists unethical behavior must in itself be regarded as unethical.  This can be applied to the situation in question, allowing us to conclude that the construction of such a piece of software would be unethical.

So many people accredit a large proportion of the end of racism in America to Martin Luther King, Jr that I feel the guidelines set by him should keep us from behaving unethically.  In his ‘I Have a Dream” speech, he says the following, and I think it sums up how we should think about this problem.

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” [6]



(1975) UK Legistlation. [Online].


Maria Crosbie. (2012, June) Ashford and St. Peters Hospitals. [Online].


Vanessa Scholes. [Online].


Unknown. (2012, May) Ethics Alarms. [Online].


Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, South Shore, 2012.


Martin Luther King, Jr. (1963, August) I Have a Dream.


Maintaining a Population of People in the Science Community is Vitally Important. What are the Problems and Solutions to Communicating Breakthroughs Effectively with a Non-Academic Audience?

If we hope to maintain the current rate of advancements in science or even increase it, we need to engage an audience such that we can ‘get them hooked’.  So writing this article is a great opportunity to increase interest in technological sciences and so it’s important to get it right.

As we are all quickly learning (especially from HACS), the view of science that one might have before entering the community is very different to that of one after doing so.  The resultant problem is that a journalist (who is in the community) will not be in agreement with his/her editor about whether a story is appropriate to an audience [1].  The problem is further amplified when trying to communicate research in an everyday publication such as a common newspaper, where there are many alternative news sources for the reader.  In this case, the editor wants only to publish articles that will engage a large proportion of reads and so is more likely to choose a piece with a ‘wow’ factor – something very unexpected by the reader.  Dubas and Martel (1973) researched this area and their results are not promising for the communication of science in common news sources – they found that editors from city news papers were not interested in science articles and instead favored those that looked at conflict stories and those that would instantly engage readers [2].

Similar problems occur in televised science communication.  It is common knowledge that the increased involvement we feel during conversation results in better retention of facts than when we are been lectured.  Transmitting science in this format is difficult though.  Whilst researching this, I came across an article by Rich McManus [3] which discusses how Actor Alan Alda is now working on methods of communicating science.  Alda says one of the problems is that you cannot turn scientists into actors, so it’s difficult to get them to communicate what they know in an interesting way.

Alda does have an alternative idea though, which he used when attempting to promote science himself.  Rather than the traditional lecture/documentary style he interviewed scientists on their area, under the belief that ‘when people are relating, you can’t take your eyes off of them’ and that ‘we instinctively want to understand the connection’.  He says he would ‘…ask and listen until I understood’[3].

Whilst writing this article, Professor Brian Cox (‘The Celebrity Scientist”) keeps coming to mind as a counter-argument to everything I’ve written here.  Cox’s method is to take the City News Editors’ approach – to only create shows that will amaze people and generate a captive audience.  I thought quite deeply about this and concluded it was a result of the content. Similarities can be drawn between what his shows and, say, Brainiac. Both are designed to increase a public interest in science, not to pass on the latest discoveries.


[1] The science writing inner club: A communication link between science and the lay public.  Science, Technology, & Human Values 5:14-22.

[2] Secondary Reference – Weigold, M. F. (2001). Communicating Science A Review of the Literature.Science Communication23(2), 164-193.

[3] Rich McManus. (2011, Apr.) nih record. [Online].


To-Do Lists – An Incredibly Useful Cross-Platform App

My time management skills are practically non-existent, and so I picked up an awful lot from Randy Pausch’s lecture.  Nothing more so though than the benefits of a ‘To Do’ list.

I knew that I needed to find a really good service that would sync between all my devices and was super easy to use.  Over the last week, I’ve tried quite a few and read many reviews, and I think I have found the best one for the job.

Wunderlist is a free service by ’6wunderkinder’, and is managed by a 10-strong team in Berlin.  Their software syncs ‘To Do’ lists between iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and OS X, which covers pretty much everything.  In addition, when you open the app you are taken straight to the view showing your current list of jobs and at the top is the box to enter a new job.  Could it be any simpler?

You can download it for iPhone here,
iPad here,
Android here,
Windows here
and OS X here.

I hope you find it as useful as I have!