Archive for January, 2015

January 27th, 2015

Linear Algebra – Foundations to Frontiers (or LAFF to its friends) is a popular, high quality and free MOOC that, as the title suggests, teaches aspects of linear algebra in a way that takes the student from the very basics through to some cutting edge techniques. I worked through much of it last year and thoroughly enjoyed the approach it took — focusing on programming aspects from the very beginning. The course authors are also among the developers of the FLAME project, a high performance linear algebra library, and one of the interesting aspects of the LAFF course (for me at least) was that it taught linear algebra in a way that also allowed you to understand the approaches used in the algorithms behind FLAME.

Last year, all of the programming assignments in LAFF were done in Python, making use of the IPython notebook. This year, the software stack will be different and will be based on MATLAB. I understand that everyone who signs up to LAFF will be able to get a free MATLAB license from Mathworks for the duration of the course. Understandably, this caused quite a bit of discussion between the LAFF team and software/language geeks like me. In a recent Facebook thread, I asked about the switch and received the reply

‘MATLAB will be free during the course. There are open source equivalents, but Mathworks staff is supporting the use of MATLAB (staff for us). There were some who never got the IPython notebooks to work properly. We are really excited at the opportunity to innovate again and perhaps clear up snags in the programming issues we had. It was complicated to support IPython on all of the operating systems and machines that participants use. MATLAB promises to be easier and will allow us again to concentrate on the Linear Algebra’ – LAFF UTx

I’m sufficiently interested in this change from IPython to MATLAB that I’ll be signing up for the course again this year and I encourage you to do the same — I believe that the programming-centric teaching approach taken by LAFF is extremely well done and your time would be well-spent working through the course.

The course starts on 28th January 2015 so sign up now!

Here’s the trailer for last year’s course.

January 15th, 2015

I recently had the good fortune to be involved in the creation of a European H2020 grant proposal called OpenDreamKit along with an international team from 15 institutions. My own contributions to this proposal were extremely modest and it was my first ever experience of being directly involved in an academic grant proposal. It’s the very first thing I’ve been involved with as part of my new appointment at The University of Sheffield.

Quoting from the proposal:

OpenDreamKit will deliver a flexible toolkit enabling research groups to set up Virtual Research Environments, customised to meet the varied needs of research projects in pure mathematics and applications and supporting the full research life-cycle from exploration, through proof and publication, to archival and sharing of data and code.

One of the many things that’s so great about this proposal is how it was written. Co-ordinated by Nicolas Thiéry, 33 contributors wrote it in LaTeX with version control provided by git and github. The video below, produced using gource,  is a visualation of the github repo over time and shows how we all danced around and with each other. My new manager, Neil Lawrence, who was much more deeply involved than I has good things to say about the process too.

The proposal was submitted yesterday after a lot of hard work and, as Nicholas Thiery commented in one of his emails to the group, is “Open from start to end :-)”

The Sage Facebook page summed up my thoughts about this project perfectly: “See the collaboration behind the *proposal*, and imagine the collaboration in the software!”