Death by laser pointer

It seems that people have now been using Powerpoint for sufficiently long that “Death by Powerpoint” is a rare event at conferences these days. Alas, this morning I felt the life being sucked from me by misuse of a laser pointer.

The two most obvious problems that inflict laser pointing users are that:

  1. it causes the speaker to turn their back to his/her audience so they can point at the screen;
  2. a bright spot whizzing around the screen in a random manner is very distracting.

I think a more fundamental problem is that the ability to point at one’s slides also encourages the speaker to talk to the slides rather than using them as a visual aid supporting one’s talk.

Thesis Submission!

I actually finished binding the third copy of my thesis at 15:55 yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, this being Cambridge, the Board of Graduate studies closes at 4pm so I had to wait until this morning to actually submit my thesis… but now it’s DONE! :-) I shall have to prepare for the viva at some point, but for the moment I am looking forward to a bit of a rest and preparing for my trip to Australia.

The final word count was 42,776. Many thanks to everyone who proof-read chapters for me!

Searching the ACM Guide to Computing Literature

Tracking down references for my background chapter recently, the ACM Guide to Computing Literature has been very useful. Unfortunately its search feature is frustratingly useless. For example, searching for Access Control Policies XPath returns no hits, whereas googling for the same terms and restricting the search to acm.org returns the paper I was looking for as the first hit.

Given the simplicity of the the query (four keywords from the title of a paper published in an ACM proceedings), I really don’t understand why the search engine is so bad. My current workaround is to use Firefox’s bookmark keyword feature to search Google instead. Just create a bookmark to:
http://www.google.com/search?&q=site:acm.org%20%s
set the keyword to be something easy to type like “acm”, and then typing “acm <keyword (s)>” in the location bar executes your search.

Thesis Titles

Apparently the title of my thesis has to be fixed in advance of my submitting the dissertation itself. Unfortunately choosing exactly the right title is proving harder than writing the thing!

Possibilities are:

  • Trust and Risk in Access Control for Global Computing
  • Trust and Risk in Access Control for a Global Computing Infrastructure
  • Using Trust and Risk for Access Control in Global Computing
  • Trust- and Risk-Based Access Control: Access Control for the Global Computing Infrastructure
  • Trust/Risk-Based Access Control: Access Control for Global Computing

I doubt this will make much sense to anyone reading this but comments always welcome. :)

Boy Band filter — Coming to a computer near you soon?

Christophe Rhodes’ interesting JCSS talk on detecting musical structure has suggested that there is hope that one day computers may be able to automatically detect and filter out boy band music — yay!

More relevantly for my own research, one of Christophe’s motivations is the poor quality of musical meta-data from collaboratively assembled databases such as freedb.org. A trust-based system would allow a user to favour entries submitted by authors they have previously to provide consistently formatted and accurate data.

Thesis Update

Today, my last work day before Christmas, I gave a draft of chapters 3, 4 and 5 of my thesis to my supervisor! :) This was pretty much what I was aiming for, so I’m quite happy and feel I can let myself have a week or so off now to relax and psych myself up for writing the rest.

The thesis graph is proving a rather useful tool for self-motivation — and gives me something to talk about when people invariably ask how it’s going! :)

Merry Christmas.

ACM Guide to Computing Literature

I recently blogged about Google Scholar. While this is a great tool for finding interesting papers, I also seem to spend a lot of time trying to find the relevant meta-data for a paper someone has sent or given me, or I’ve just had lieing around for a few months and forgotten from where I got it.

Enter the ACM Guide to Computing Literature which has one feature which makes it singularly more useful than any digital library and Google Scholar — BibTeX data!

It’s not entirely clear what The Guide indexes besides ACM and IEEE publications, but since this covers a large proportion of my reading list, it’s still very useful.

Write-Up and Thesis

So, two particularly good things happened to me this week:

  1. I was offered a job! :-) It’s at a large investment bank based in Canary Wharf, and since I really liked the company, and the people I met when I went to interview there, I think I shall probably accept.
  2. I started writing my thesis.

So… plans for next year are taking shape. If I can make some good progress on the thesis between now and Christmas (I intend to be in Cambridge until Christmas eve to make sure this happens!), then a trip “down under” seems very likely. It’s all very exciting. :)

Symposium On Usable Privacy and Security (SOUPS) 2005

I’ve felt for sometime that the biggest obstacle to securing computer systems that have to be used by ordinary users is the human-computer interface, and this was one of the key aspects of our paper Trust for transparent, ubiquitous collaboration. Security is often in direct conflict with usability as by definition “security” means denying a class of people the ability to perform some action. Microsoft Windows is the most common source of examples of this — Microsoft’s aim to make their OS as usable as possible has lead to it being highly vulnerable in its default configuration.

Anyway, the good news is that a new Symposium On Usable Privacy and Security has just been announced, taking place in Pittsburgh, USA in July 2005 to address these problems. It’s sure to be an interesting interdisciplinary event.

Upcoming Seminars

I’ve grown rather sceptical about attending seminars lately as often about half way through I find myself thinking that the time might be better spent reading the associated paper instead! However I am rather tempted to attend the following:

September

From join-the-dots:

One of the lesser-known facts about academia is that the summer is far more conducive to research than any other time of year.

Related to this seems to be the fact that there are an awful lot of conference paper submission deadlines around September time. In my field of interest, PerCom and TRECK are this week, and ICDCS, where I am hoping to submit a paper, is the end of the month. I’m not sure if this is cause or effect, but aiming for one of these conferences has certainly been good motivation for me to do lots of work in the last few months!

What’s really worrying me is that it is September already!! Like Hanna, my summer so far has been fairly productive, but I still haven’t achieved as much as I would have liked and with the new term, and my self-imposed “start writing-up” deadline, only a month away, it seems unlikely I will have time to explore all the areas I really want to. :-( Such is life though, I guess…

PS: Hanna — I’d love to hear more about your research in your blog, maybe it will even inspire me to get my own done a little bit faster! :-)

Spam, spam, spam…

No, this isn’t a rant about the vast amounts of unsolicited junk I receive on a daily basis, it’s about two research papers I have recently written on anti-spam tools.

Last week I learnt that a paper I had written based on the work of one of my part II project students had been accepted for publication in ACM Crossroads magazine. The topic was using a peer-to-peer network to distribute spam “fingerprints” to allow the detection of junk e-mail — like Vipul’s Razor but using a DHT for distributing the information, and a reputation system based on SECURE.

The editors made some very helpful comments that I think really helped to improve the final version which was good, and while producing the requested XHTML mark-up for submission was an absolute pain compared to LaTeX, it does mean I have a pretty good idea of how the online version will look. The next step is the dreaded copy-editing… It probably won’t be too bad as I know the quality of my writing isn’t great, but the last two articles I’ve been involved with have had quite subtle but serious changes made to them by copy-editors and you have to be very sharp to make sure they don’t change the meaning of something.

The second article I worked on last week was a collaboration with Jm from TCD on raising the level of trust in legacy plain-text e-mail addresses. The techniques we use are quite interesting, and I think fairly novel, although there is an awful lot of literature on spam out there at the moment so it’s hard to keep on top of it all. We submitted to the Privacy, Security and Trust conference in New Brunswick, Canada, so fingers crossed for that one.

Anyway, after all this, I’m quite bored of spam now! Alas, there’s a project deliverable deadline coming up and since the consortium have chosen spam as one of our key applications, I guess my respite will be short lived… :-(

Distributed Systems Online

Earlier this week I attended the Editorial Board meeting of the IEEE’s first online-only magazine, DS Online.

This is the third year I have attended this annual meeting of editors and volunteers and as ever they were a fun and interesting group of people who are very committed to making this bleeding edge project a success for the IEEE Computer Society. As in my first two years, one of the most fascinating aspects is delving into the inner-workings of the IEEE and the IEEE-CS. Unfortunately as with any large organisation, achieving change, particularly technical change, seems to be something like a black art and it seems odd that something like an online-only magazine so bleeding edge for a computer society. Of course the part of the project that is really bleeding edge is the business model, not the technology, and as a result the technology that runs the site now seems a bit dated compared to the facilities offered by content management systems, and even blogging tools such as wordpress.

Overall, the editorial board were very enthusiastic about my ideas for the site, which included creating some RSS feeds for some of the content and allowing registered users to personalise their view of the site. The plan for discussion boards and allowing slashdot-style comments on stories seems to have disappeared though — people were much more worried about the need for moderating inappropriate (i.e. political) comments than I remember from previous meetings. I’ve never been convinced of the demand for these sorts of services from the IEEE anyway — the sort of content it publishes just doesn’t endear the same sort of debate as the typical slashdot story!

Anyway, how successful I can be at driving major technical change at an organisation as monolithic and remote as the IEEE-CS remains to be seen, but wish me luck!!