Friday, 19 March 2010


Ive just been one of the lucky 20 to get a shiny ticket to BarCamb3 in the first batch of tickets released. WooHoo! Just hope now that my wife is better so that I can go.

More tickets are to be released next week, and the following week.

I went to the first 2 BarCambs, which where hosted by Matt Wood at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute. They were very interesting events, and I spoke at the 2nd one with a presentation called 'It's Too Much Information For Me', which came to me when I was 5 minutes away from the event in the car, thinking about a Duran Duran song and even the group hadn't been played on the radio.

That's the great thing about BarCamps. They are unconferences, so pretty much anything goes. You turn up on the day, with or without anything to talk about. Mill around having coffee, and put your name up to speak with a topic, or don't, or join some others.

The website for BarCamb is

and the sponsors this year are Red Gate Software, Paypal and Taylor Vinters Solicitors.

I don't yet know what to talk about/discuss yet. Perhaps it will again come to me in the car. Also, I don't know how 2 days will be filled up, but whatever happens, it is bound to be interesting, and I'm hoping Simon turns up with Mbed again. (I want to play this year please!)


signup banner

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Artificial Intelligence vs the human brain

Here is a plea to all people working on Artificial Intelligence.

Please think about what you are doing, and try to avoid loose wiring.

My wife has suffered from Post-Natal depression ever since the birth of our son 4 and half years ago. Yesterday, I took her into hospital again to ensure that she is safe (she is plagued by voices at the moment) whilst the new medication ramps up to a level which is therapeutic for her.

This, as you may expect, is quite distressing for all of us. We have support systems in place though, and my work are being frankly fantastic about it all.

It gets me thinking though. I can program computers to get them to behave in particular ways, but how do you rewrite the programming in a brain.

I recently read 'Pragmatic Thinking and Learning - Refactor your Wetware' by Andy Hunt (

This is great for yourself, or even trying to suggest to others. I have found some easy to apply tips and some which I need to get round to trying, but one thing it shows is that we have set ways of doing things. Our Logic/Linear-mode (L-mode) tends to be dominant, and seems to have the most influence, unless, as the book suggests, we deliberately try to get information from our Rich-mode (R-mode).

The key thing with this though is that we control the flow of information, we determine if we will do it. We seem to have a controlling Sensible-mode (S-mode).

And this is what I like about Computer Programming. A computer really only sources from L-mode, and it allows the L-mode to control it. So I can write a program that is logical, instructs the computer, and it doesn't get anything else influencing it (well, assuming I have taken care of external running factors such as OS, file locations...)

My wife though, is not controlling her own thoughts. What is, we don't know, but not her. Her S-mode seems to lose it's control. Whether the thoughts are L-mode or R-mode based (traditionally, it would look like those things are "Right-brain" thought processes, although when she explains her thoughts, you could argue the Logic-mode is having a say).

Luckily, this time, my wife's S-mode seems to be working enough to stop her finishing the act, but she is getting somewhere close to it (popping enough pills out of a blister pack, but at the last minute, throwing them in the bin instead of taking them).

So where am I going with this.

My opening request is to think about AI, and not introduce loose wiring. Truly Artificial Intelligence should be able to think both in L-mode and have R-mode, but with an overriding S-mode to control all the thoughts.

I like programming because what I produce only has to act logically. I am in turmoil because my wife has some 'loose wires' which are not allowing her to act completely rationally, and I can't fix the bug in the program to correct it.

If AI is a true goal of the computer technology industry, then lets hope that the coding which goes into it won't allow for the loose wires which screw up the controller, or else we might just have a lot of depressive machines which need careful looking after whilst we feed them lots of pill programs to try to make them better.

Here's hoping that the pills my wife is now taking soon start to sort out her programming. I'm glad I never became a psychiatrist.

signup banner

Thursday, 4 March 2010

crontab or daemon

So here is an interesting choice I need to make.

I have just rewritten a bit of code to email interested parties when a run with their data on it reaches 2 points. One when it reaches run complete (i.e. the instrument has done all it's processing) and then again when the data has been post-processed and qc'd and deposited in the central archive space for them to obtain.

I'm quite pleased with the code. It is more robust than the previous hack which we had never intended to be all encompassing, and actually mails the parties that should be interested (rather than some 'user' which may or may not be the right person).

It is, of course, also written using Moose.

However, now I have to decide, which do I choose, a cronjob, or a daemon process.


Pros - very quick. Just decide how often to launch it, and run the script.
Cons - need to remember which node the cronjob is running, need to do something with the outputs (logs, etc), need to ensure that jobs don't relaunch on top of each other


Pros - Use a monitor to keep us informed it is still running, cyclical so won't launch over each other, write to a log file easy
Cons - Need to write a daemon controller script

I'm sure that there are others, I'm mostly babbling and writing this down as I think. Certainly, for the first release of this, I will start it as a cronjob, but down the line, I think I will move this to a Daemon, once the script has been in a production environment for a while. (i.e. we know it is working correctly!)