Tuesday, 15 December 2009

F# and accelerator

My colleague, Satnam, has just set up a blog and posted a neat article about using v2 of Accelerator with F#.

Friday, 11 December 2009


Here's an email I wouldn't have expected to see.

Thursday, 10 December 2009


Reading some fluff about what the "Xbox 720" might look like reminded me that I've resurrected the great-great-...-great-grandfather of the DS recently. When I was last at my mother's house I found my old Pocket Scramble handheld in a cupboard. Finally I got round to getting hold of some LR44 batteries and, hey presto, it's working again:Many happy memories associated with this game. I remember I also used it as my alarm clock:-)

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Trip Report #3

One of things everyone does when visiting the mothership is go to the Company Store. On top of copies of software and books, there's also various Microsoft branded merchandise. (My manager has the Microsoft "Brain in a Petri Dish" in his office:-))

Most exciting for me was the opportunity to play with a Zune HD. I was completely blown away. It is a fantastic device. Clearly it's up against the iPod Touch, but for me it is a clear winner. Its UI is nicer (in fact more than this, I think it's a revolution in UI design), the screen is vastly superior, and it's wonderful to play with a Windows device with a multi-touch screen!

There's only one question: Why can't I buy it in Europe? I wish I had an answer to this:-(


There was a lot of TV coverage of the Tiger Woods "story" when I was in the States last week. None of them were as good as this from Taiwan.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Trip report #2

I'm just wrapping up another wonderful visit to the mothership. In the spirit of the recent Thanksgiving, I have to say that I'm very privileged to have Mads and Erik as colleagues. We really thrashed out lots of details of our paper, so now what remains is the writing around the details. It's going to be tough but I'm optimistic.

Moreover, we have lots of new ideas to push on. Much of 2010 is now sorted I suspect :-)

23 June 2010

..is clearly going to be a difficult day in our house. (here)

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Trip report #1

So far I'm having a great visit. The fact that I missed a day seems to be balanced by the fact that I'm currently awake by 5am every morning :-(

Yesterday, I think (hope) we made the finishing touches to the technical detail of our C# 4.0 paper. Now we have a big rush to write all the surrounding text. I anticipate a lot of typing on the flight home!

I went to a talk by Manuel on Code Contracts, which is the coolest stuff. If you are a C# developer you should download this package and play. It allows you to write pre- and post-conditions in your code and use them to generate runtime tests, do compile-time verification, and generate documentation. It's very nice. Moreover, this extension is through a library, so it really is the C# compiler that you know and love. Totally awesome. (Although I have some ideas to discuss with Matt when I get back about how to make it even better!)

Last night, I had a great meal with Nik at Trellis in Kirkland. I had the steak which was spectacularly good, although I would have served some potatoes amongst the other root vegetables. But the meat was divine.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Hello Seattle

You'll be pleased to hear that I managed to catch today's flight :-) So I'm now in the Hyatt in Bellevue attempting to stay awake.

I arrived to heavy rain and stationary traffic on the I-405. It's good to be back!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

M is for Missed

In spite of checking in on perfect time, I managed to lose track of time in Wagamama in Terminal 5 and miss my flight to Seattle :-( Doh!

I was cheered though by a call to my mate Richard whose first reaction was "at least you'll get to watch Match of the Day 2." What a philosophy:-)

Luckily I got a seat on tomorrow's flight - let's hope I manage not to screw up again!

Mahler 8

Last night, I sat in the splendor of Ely Cathedral and heard Mahler's wonderful 8th Symphony. It's known as the symphony of a thousand voices given the vast numbers of performers. Mateja was in one of the choirs. It was a sensational concert - the combination of the music and a perfect view up the octagonal tower was breath-taking!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009


Last week I went to a very nice meeting in the beautiful city of Belgrade, Serbia. Sinergija is a huge IT conference for this region, that typically attracts 1,500 delegates - although with the current economic downturn this year's attendance is a bit lower. Sinergija started on Wednesday, but the day before was a special meeting for the "Influencers" from the CEE region. I gave the keynote at the meeting and spoke about Microsoft Research in general and the Cambridge lab in particular. I spoke about Georges's fantastic work on formalizing the four colour theorem using Coq; as well as Byron's work on termination analysis. Samin kindly installed Terminator on my laptop, so I was able to demo it spotting the Zune Leap Year bug! I switched gears (from all that proof!) to show Nic's work on Dragonfly (we watched a video showing Nic build a simple MP3 player in about 1 minute!).

Anyway, the talk seemed to go down well - I certainly had fun giving it. I did get collared by one delegate who wanted to productize some piece of MSR software but was prevented by the standard MSR download agreement, and hadn't been able to get hold of anyone to see about licensing the software. (He wasn't very happy.) It made me realize that some of the recent moves in MSR to license IP to third parties when its not appropriate to use in a MS product is probably a good move although presumably coming with considerable overhead.

In the morning before the Influencers meeting, Rane, Jose and I went on a rapid tour of downtown Belgrade. We started at the Kalemegdan fort; here's me, Jose and Rane at the top of the tower:

and here's the view from the top:

We then walked through the park into the centre of town. Having reached the revolution square, we then wandered around soaking up the atmosphere and the sun (Belgrade was unusually warm at the moment - it was 18C when we got back to the hotel at 11am!).

At one point we came across a huge queue of people. We followed the queue for a while, but soon realized that there were at least 1000 people in the queue. I stopped someone to ask what it was. It turned out that the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Pavle, died on 15 November and was lying in state. The queue was to see the body. It was quite moving to see. Interestingly, sitting in the airport waiting for my plane I was passed by lots of priests from the Orthodox church arriving for the funeral.

On my last night, the local host Zlatko took us to a very nice restaurant called Zaplet. We had a jolly meal; I ate an exceptional pumpkin soup and a huge plate of good cevapi (although I still think my mother-in-law's are the best!) with ajvar, washed down by a very good Serbian wine (Carigrad). Here we all are:

When I booked my flights, I thought I would be helpful and fly on the national airline, JAT, instead of BA. I'm not too sure this was a great idea - the JAT planes are very old and in poor condition, the tickets are NOT cheap, the service is poor (I was served the worst cheese sandwich in the world on the way out; the second worst being the one I had on the return flight!); and the flight was delayed in both directions (as far as I could tell, we were delayed leaving Belgrade because they couldn't find the pilots - it certainly wasn't because the airport was busy!).

Tuesday, 24 November 2009


I've often wondered about the US obsession with cinnamon when I'm over there - in particular, my teeth ache just walking past a Cinnabon. It seems I'm not alone in thinking this.

A good day...

You know it's going to be a great day when you're woken up by your daughter shouting: "Daddy, I dropped the dolly in the toilet. It's floating...":-)

Friday, 20 November 2009

Slovenia in the world cup!

On Wednesday, the mighty Slovenia overturned a 2-1 deficit against the mighty Russia by winning 1-0 at Maribor and thereby qualifying for the 2010 World Cup!! Woo-hoo! It was a very exciting game: luckily Jure had told me which forums to read to find the "magic" URLs that were streaming SLO-2 on the internet, so I could watch the game.

Hopefully Slovenia won't meet England in the tournament proper:-)

Friday, 13 November 2009

Outlook goodies

I'm a big fan of Outlook; it's one of our best apps. I just came across this wonderful whitepaper entitled "Best practices for Microsoft Outlook 2007". I got a lot out of reading it, and have implemented some of the tips already. Maybe you'd find it interesting too; even if you don't run Outlook?!

Monday, 9 November 2009


I was feeling a little low today for some reason. Some of the observations here cheered me:-) [For example, #864]

Thursday, 5 November 2009

5 Megapixel office

I've just been lucky enough to get hold of a third screen for my office. So I now have 3600*1600= 5,760,000 pixels to fill! It looks like this:

It really is very nice, and as one would expect it takes a little getting used to. Unlike with two screens, I'm now able to have my main focus always in the central screen, and use the other two for more peripheral activities. As you can see above, the central screen has a big emacs buffer (with OCaml code in it!) and the side screens have command prompts and outlook, along with misc other things. You can also see in the bottom right of the right-most screen that I'm running the webcam app so I can see who's at my door *before* turning round. (what a geek!)

Monday, 2 November 2009

Real Jo Tunmer

I forgot a link to Jo's website in an earlier post. Oops! Here it is.

We love Jo's art, so check it out!

Little Boots

Our household is very keen on Little Boots. We love her album Hands. The girls do very impressive versions of Meddle and Earthquake - normally singing along to my phone whilst we're waiting for the bath to fill! So, we were very excited to hear a few months ago that she was going to be playing the Junction in Cambridge.

We went last week. I'm happy to say that she's even better live than recorded. It was a fantastic gig - she's enormously talented and her songs work very well in a live context. It was essentially a huge disco! Victoria also wore some kicking outfits!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Lightspeed Pascal

Claudio and I were talking the other day about "coding in the old days". I mentioned my happy memories of developing the IC Hope interpreter using Lightspeed Pascal on a Mac.

It was a very nice experience - a nice IDE with very fancy (for the time) debugging support, including what one would call edit-and-continue nowadays. I found
this review in the MacTech archives. Looking at the screenshots left me with a nice warm feeling :-) I like the concluding statement:

I personally think these products will
revolutionize how software is done on the Mac.

Clearly true, but not just for the Mac!

House porn

Finally, I've found a house in a part of London I like. Looks like I'll be saving for a bit longer!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Lily from the ashes

A long time ago now, I worked on an EPSRC grant that I co-authored with Andy Pitts. I was first an RA, but then I got a lectureship at Warwick, so I became a co-PI and we had the amazing good fortune of finding Claudio Russo, who took over as the RA. (Claudio and I are now colleagues at MSRC.)

The grant was on a linear lambda calculus (actually more like a linear PCF) that we dubbed Lily. We did quite a lot of work on Lily, but for one reason and another we never really published much - just a single workshop paper. (There's an A4 ring binder on the shelf above my head full of unpublished calculations of one sort or another.) Interestingly, this paper has had some impact and a number of people, including Alex Simpson and Lars Birkedal, have done some cool work following on from it.

Claudio actually implemented Lily - but we never released the code. In fact, I don't think we even documented the fact that we had implemented it!

Anyhow, I'm happy to report that Lily has risen from the ashes! Claudio and I have translated the code from Moscow ML to F#, and late yesterday afternoon, the familiar Lily REPL had returned:

Watch this space. Hopefully in a couple of months, I'll be able to explain why we're playing with Lily again. Either way - even if our experiments fail - I promise to release the bits!

Non-dynamic update

One of my research interests is dynamic software updating: the ability to update code whilst it is still running. (Finally, an end to those "please shut down this application whilst update is applied" messages!) Clearly desirable, but it's hard to support (although IMHO our UpgradeJ proposal is wonderfully elegant :-))

Anyhow, we have a nice Panasonic LCD TV at home - it won lots of awards at the time. On September 30, the freeview service in the UK (digital TV over the air) was upgraded. Actually what happened was that some of the channels were moved around in preparation for Freeview HD. Unfortunately, after retuning my TV, we could no longer receive a couple of channels. Even worse, one of these was CBeebies - the BBC's digital channel for some children. You can imagine how happy the girls were.

After much digging around on the interweb, I found a number of grumpy Panasonic TV owners. It turned out that the retune had revealed a bug in the TV's software. So we needed an update. Unfortunately, to get this update you needed to email customer services, who would put you on a waiting list. Eventually a PCMCIA card arrived in the post:

You then plug the card into a recessed port at the back of the telly.

Oops - quite a lot of dust there :-) Then you switch on the TV and get a wonderfully 80s-like screen:

At the end you wonder at the new-found Cbeebies channel, before putting the card into another jiffy bag and sending it back to Panasonic so they can post it to the next person on the list.

Another phrase used for DSU is "hot swapping". I guess this process could be called "cold swapping".

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Fake Jo Tunmer

Yesterday, I was just leaving the drop-off area at Stansted when I took a call from my friend Luke. Unfortunately his wife was ill and he invited me to take her ticket for a concert that evening at the Corn Exchange. In fact, he didn't even know what the concert was! (It turned out to be Newton Faulkner.)

It was only when Luke knocked at the door, that I realized that this was a group outing that Jo had organized. So I had to be Jo for the evening: vivacious, curvaceous, aristic, and everyone's favourite girl from Essex! Quite a job for a skinny, computer geek from Berkshire! However, I like a challenge.

It was a fun concert: Newton is amazingly (depressingly) talented - playing virtuoso guitar, singing, playing foot keyboard and triggering samples, all at the same time. It was very impressive, and given that he's by himself, he really got the whole crowd going.

We ended the evening with Vicky's favourite: a jug of Long Island Iced Tea at the Maypole. A nice evening.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Windows 7

I've now completed the upgrading of my machines to Windows 7 and have been using it for a couple of weeks. Overall, I am very impressed. Both my desktop and laptop seem faster, start-up times are much shorter, and the graphics seem slicker. I like the "make this window half the screen" feature on my laptop, but it doesn't work so well on my multiple-screen desktop machine. I'm getting used to the new style taskbar - I started not liking it, but after a week or so I warmed to it; so it's probably just one of those things you learn. (I'm still puzzled by why the notification area icons are all white though!)

But I think the Windows team have done a great job. Go 7!

Wednesday, 14 October 2009


I just upgraded my desktop to Windows 7. It's really very nice - my machine is much more responsive now. I think this OS will make people happy (compared to the last one!).

As part of the upgrade, my instance of F# got upgraded to I then went to recompile some code and it failed. It turns out that if you use FsLex/FsYacc in your project (a wonderful feature IMO) then there's a slight glitch in this version of F#. You need to do two things to get it to work again:

  1. Copy c:\Program Files\FSharp-\bin\gac\FSharp.PowerPack.Build.Tasks.dll to C:\Program Files\MSBuild\FSharp\1.0\FSharp.PowerPack.Build.Tasks.dll
  2. Close and restart Visual Studio [this last step is vital]

If you do this, then Lex and Yacc will work from VS as before. Hurrah! I'm now a happy F# developer again!

Monday, 5 October 2009

Bat for lashes

I went with my friend Luke to see Bat for Lashes at the Corn Exchange last night. It was a fantastic concert - Natasha is not only a brilliant vocalist, but she has real stage presence. A very different gig from when I was last at the Corn Exchange, but she really moved the audience. She's very well supported by an incredibly tight band, including Sarah Jones, from NYPC, who's the best drummer IN THE WORLD as far as I'm concerned. Charlotte Hatherley was playing a particularly nice guitar which I couldn't quite identify - lots of dry ice! - will have to surf to find that out.

The gig could have only been improved with kids on BMXs on stage for What's a Girl To Do?!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Miss Aniela

Thanks to Tim for pointing me at the work of Miss Aniela.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Cosmetic Neurology

There was an interesting article in Sunday's paper (here). It's about the increasing use of drugs like Adderall, Provigil and Ritalin by healthy people as cognitive enhancers. In some senses this isn't that surprising - after all we all drink coffee to stave off tiredness - but there does appear to be a growing trend for so-called neuro-enhancement. Surprisingly (or not) there's not a lot of scientific study of what these drugs do to healthy people, and whether they really enhance cognitive function. However, there's lots of these drugs around, so it's not hard to get hold of it.

Interestingly, the users are not just college students who need something to keep awake as they're late on an essay assignment because they've been partying. (Nothing new here!) But rather, there is a growing trend of young professional users, who feel under increasing pressure to be more productive (both absolutely and relatively to all those 20 year-old whizz-kids in Mumbai). This cultural perspective seems to me almost as interesting - it's certainly not clear that cosmetic neurology is philosophically any different to cosmetic surgery.

Anyhow, take a look at the article - it's a little long, but I found it fascinating.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Microsoft everywhere

On the way to work this morning, I stopped at the bank to get some cash. (The Country Fayre at Parker's Piece having cleared me out! [Grr...£4 a turn on the bungie-trampolines...]) Imagine my surprise when I was faced with an XP-Pro screen saver!

Better than a blue screen I guess :-)

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Conference search

Anyone know of a decent conference in South Africa next summer?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Monday, 7 September 2009

Two cultures

It had to happen. This weekend our harmonious, two-cultures family was momentarily divided (well, for ninety minutes...). Yep, for the first time in history, Slovenia played England at football :-) We watched it on the hi-definition TV at Jure and Petra's place, so I was heavily outnumbered by Slovenes (me and the two halves of our two girls against three adults, one teenager, two and two-halves kids and one baby). I'd like to think that I set the early pace with a stirring rendition of God Save The Queen, which blew away the frankly weak singing of Preseren's Zdravljica!

In spite of my and Richard's confidence in a 5-1 scoreline; the game was actually pretty good. Slovenia played really rather well - nice flowing movement, which showed up some alarming holes in our defence. In the end, England were 2-1 winners. England had plenty of chances of score (and should have really scored 4) but Slovenia possibly deserved another goal. Moreover, England's first goal was a terrible refereeing mistake - there was no foul; not even the England players claimed it. That said, I still don't buy Jure's assertion that Slovenia morally won the game!

Anyway, game over and harmony restored in our household. (I was particularly impressed by Hana, who when asked at the start of the game who she supported, looked at me, looked at Mateja and then said "I don't know" and then ran off to play with her friends. A diplomat in the making!)

Friday, 28 August 2009

LG watchphone

I'm strangely attracted to the new LG watchphone.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Short film in powerpoint

There's something appealingly retro about this short film created entirely within Powerpoint.

Monday, 24 August 2009

James in The New York Times

There's a nice piece in Saturday's New York Times that features an interview with James.


On Saturday we went to see the last performance of Hamlet, which brings to a close the year-long residency of the Donmar at the Wyndhams (Donmar West End).

We *really* enjoyed this show. Jude Law is staggeringly good as Hamlet. I've not been overwhelmed with some of his film work; but it's clear that he's an outstandingly good actor. Interestingly I read his interview with Michael Grandage where he mentioned his love of ballet. I have to say that this really comes across in his performance. It's full of graceful movement - especially with his arms and hands. He's a physical actor!

For such a long and brilliant play, there are so many great moments but let me mention my three favourite:
  1. The "To be or not to be" scene. This was the best I have ever seen. Visually it was breathtaking: Hamlet flattened against a huge brick wall, framed by two collosal doors, behind a film of gently falling snow, and intensely lit echoing the introspection of the words. Moreover, I loved Jude's restrained delivery, which really made you listen to the words carefully (a good thing for such a well-known speech).
  2. The "play within the play" scene. Again, visually superb: the players were in all-white, standing on a white carpet, and bathed in intense white light. This really helped to pull you into the scene, to watch for the King's reaction and to observe Hamlet's emotion and provocation from the side.
  3. The "king's confession" scene. The simplest of scenes: the King kneeling on an empty stage, hands together, praying for forgiveness; but one of the most powerful. I thought Kevin McNally as Claudius was superb.

Now the play transfers to the actual Elsinor Castle in Denmark for a brief run (how cool is that?!), and then on to Broadway. If you have a chance to see it, you should as I think this is a sensational production.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Bye to the Hicks family!

A sad day today: I just got back from Mike and Kim's place having helped them do the last bit of ferrying around of stuff as they prepare to leave Cambridge tomorrow (and fly back to the US on Sunday). I took Mike for a last beer at The Empress and we had a last curry from the Kismet.

We've really enjoyed having Mike, Kim and the kids here in Cambridge over the past year; it's been great fun. Certainly Hana and Lina will really miss them. Hopefully we'll be able to go to see them in the US :-) Have a safe flight, guys!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Zune HD

Check out this video of the new Zune HD UI. Wow - that's really cool!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Typed coercions

I've just uploaded to my web page my latest paper, with Mike Hicks and Nik Swamy entitled "A theory of typed coercions and applications", which is accepted to appear at ICFP in Edinburgh next month. If you're there, make sure you check out Nik's presentation!

The abstract is as follows:

A number of important program rewriting scenarios can be recast as type-directed coercion insertion. These range from more theoretical applications such as coercive subtyping and supporting overloading in type theories, to more practical applications such as integrating static and dynamically typed code using gradual typing, and inlining code to enforce security policies such as access control and provenance tracking. In this paper we give a general theory of type-directed coercion insertion. We specifically explore the inherent tradeoff between expressiveness and ambiguity—the more powerful the strategy for generating coercions, the greater the possibility of several, semantically distinct rewritings for a given program. We consider increasingly powerful coercion generation strategies, work out example applications supported by the increased power (including those mentioned above), and identify the inherent ambiguity problems of each setting, along with various techniques to tame the ambiguities.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Race for Life

I'm very proud of Hana, who this morning ran the Race for Life 5k run with Mateja. She ran the course without stopping in the totally brilliant time of 30:19! Well done, Hana and Mateja who raised £142.00 for Cancer Research!! [This page is still open for donations!]

A Dolls House

[Unfortunately, I have been busy so there are a few posts queued up...]

Last Saturday, we managed to catch the Donmar production of A Doll's House. We really enjoyed it. It seems that this version has divided some of the critics, but as someone who didn't know the play at all, the setting of 1900's British politics seemed to fit the play rather well. (It was perhaps unfortunate that some of the dubious political motives had such obvious current parallels.)

Particularly impressive were the performances - everyone was very strong; there was not a weak spot anywhere. For me though, the star was Christopher Ecclestone. He has real presence. He oozed anger and jealousy. He and Tara Fitzgerald turned the notoriously tricky third scene into an intense and entirely believable show of emotion. Fantastic.

Leah Davies, making her West End debut as Emmy, is a star in the making.

Friday, 10 July 2009

F# for C# programmers

Here's an interesting article to help C# programmers get used to F#.


The tanks are on the lawn. (here)

Novelty note: Whilst we're on the topic of a browser as a multi-principal OS, let me mention my colleagues' work on Gazelle.

Thursday, 9 July 2009

Spending 1p

One of the "features" at Glastonbury are the female urinals. If you're scratching your head at the idea, here's a picture to help you:

Wednesday, 8 July 2009


Respect to my buddy, Matt, as he was clever enough to book a couple of tickets ages ago to see Kasabian, who were playing at the Cambridge Corn Exchange last night. Wow! It was a really great gig. We caught a few tracks from them at Glastonbury, but it was fantastic to see them in a smaller (and much sweatier!) venue. They really are very tight live - reminded me of seeing Oasis at Earls Court with my brother in 1995. Tom is, I think, a modern-day Mick Jagger. Sergio plays a very nice Rickenbacker 481.

You should check out their new album (spotify link).

Thursday, 2 July 2009


About two weeks ago I got a phone call from The Guardian. In a moment of vanity, I wondered what they wanted a comment on! In fact they were calling to tell me that I had won a pair of tickets to Glastonbury!! Hurrah!! It took Mateja and me a little while to do some research to decide to go, but after a reassuring tutorial from Matt "Mr Glastonbury", we decided to go for it.

Thanks to the generosity of Jo and Luke, and Andrew and Lisa, we were able to cobble together enough equipment for the family to go last weekend.

We had a fantastic time! We set off late morning on Friday (luckily Hana's school was closed for a teacher training day) and arrived an hour later than expected at Glastonbury. Unfortunately everyone else had already arrived, so we didn't get into the car park we had a pass for, nor the next, or the next and so on. In the end we were about a mile and a half away from pedestrian entrance D :-( Moreover, it was a mile and a half through fields. In fact, a mile and a half through very muddy fields. After a long and painful hauling of the gear we got in, and managed - against all predictions - to get a great pitch in the family camping area by the entrance.

Although we were a little apprehensive to start with - we all had a wonderful time. We spent most of our weekend in The Kidz Field - which is a huge area full of children's activities. The girls had a ball. This was pretty much their dream location - rides, slides, music, craft activities, all-day entertainment on the stage (including Andy from CBeebies!). Mateja and I could relax and let the girls enjoy themselves.

We did get to see some music (although if you really want to hear lots, then you can't really go with children): Lady GaGa; The Ting Tings; Kasabian; Bruce Springsteen; White Lies; Status Quo. Unfortunately we did miss some acts that we were VERY keen to hear: Blur; Lily Allen; Little Boots (the girls' current favourite - we listened to "Meddle" around 10 times on the way down). But all in all, we returned home on Sunday night, tired, dirty but happy.

Here are some snaps:

Time to put the wellies on!

Did we forget anything? :-)

Let's go find the festival!

Waiting for Lady GaGa in the mud!

A tiny fraction of the tents (we had no idea what 140,000 people in tents looks like).

Andy from CBeebies with enthralled children at his feet:

The wonderful Kidz Field:

Making drums:

Making music with the drums:

The pyramid stage (Kasabian):

The coolest girls watching White Lies:

Muffins for breakfast!

There's a lot of rubbish left by the morning!


A perfect day - tutus and balloons:

We made it back to the car!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Blue is the new black

It appears that I am thicker than even I thought. The other night, whilst getting the girls ready for bed, I managed to slip down some stairs, falling into the bathroom and landing with my head on the side of the changing table. It was pretty dramatic - a fair amount of blood, which the girls kindly wiped off me whist I lay on the floor. I expected to start feeling faint and pass out, but nothing much happened, so whilst holding a towel to my head I finished getting the girls ready for bed, read them a story, tidied up the bathroom and went downstairs.

Had I not been alone, I would have probably gone to A&E to have it checked, but Mateja was singing at Southwark Cathedral and didn't get back until 11:30. I could have gone then, but I decided to watch an episode of Grey's Anatomy instead :-)

The next morning, as it was still bleeding a little, I decided to go to the GP surgery. I took Hana to school, picked up my bike from its repair, and then cycled in. The nurse had a look. She called in the doctor. She had a look. She decided that it needed a stitch or two, as even though it's currently covered by hair "...how can I put this delicately? Maybe your hairline won't always stay where it is"!

I was send off for a coffee whilst the doctor cleared some of her list, and I then returned and had two neat stitches put in. This year's colour for stitches is blue; the doctor said "...so we don't miss any when we take them out". Nice. So I'm now a little punky for a week.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Congratulations Viktor!

In November 2007, Peter O'Hearn and I examined Viktor Vafeiadis' PhD thesis. Reading this dissertation closely, I was blown away with quite how brilliant it was. (Peter was similarly impressed.) It is thus particularly pleasing to see that the ACM SIGPLAN have announced it as a winner of its 2008 Doctoral Dissertation Award. [The first, and only, non-US winner!] Congratulations Viktor!

Thursday, 18 June 2009


Microsoft is famous for providing "free soda" for its employees. In Redmond, the soda fridges are huge and carry exciting drinks that you either never or rarely see in the UK. (I'm quite partial to Diet Cherry Coke!) Our fridges in Cambridge are not quite so exciting, and moreover the most popular drink by FAR is bottled water. Unfortunately this large consumption of small bottles of water has quite a big environmental hit. We do have glasses and a drinking water dispenser, but I seemed to be the only person who used this. The environmental hit has been a source of concern for our Green Committee.

This week's Big News is that we are deprecating the water bottles! We have upgraded our drinking water dispensers and staff have been issued with "Wottles". Here's mine:

This is a good thing in my opinion, although I wish the wottles came with a drinking spout rather than a simple lid. You can buy more attractive wottles from amazon.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Dear chairman

Yesterday we had a visit from our chairman - Bill Gates. It was low-key visit; he arrived after lunch, was shown some demos (including one from my colleagues Satnam and Byron), and then he gave the lab a brief talk about what he's up to (ridding the world of malaria) and some thoughts about Microsoft (MSR is very important to the future of Microsoft - hurrah).

In fact it was so low key, I looked up from my screen-ful of F# code and saw in the reception area, Andrew opening the front door for Bill to come in. I managed to pick up my phone and snap Bill meeting our directors and Maggie (the office manager, and real boss of the building!).

Living in the clouds

Here's a problem with cloud computing: atmospherics!

Monday, 8 June 2009

Arizona in an RV

Unfortunately it feels like a long time ago, but we still think often of our wonderful trip around Arizona in an RV. Mateja has now made a more lengthy travel-log, which is here.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Project Natal

Microsoft has recently announced Project Natal, which is an extension to your XBox that provides controller-free control! It's unbelievably cool - take a look. [Basically, you get a Wii-like experience but you don't need to hold any controllers!]

Even better is that Microsoft Research Cambridge has contributed to this project! For the past year, Jamie Shotton and his colleagues have been working hard upstairs on a "Top Secret Project" (most people in the lab didn't know what it was). It turns out it was the vision system at the heart of Natal. Way cool, Jamie.

Given the current climate of researchers being laid off, it's wonderful to see Microsoft demonstrating what having researchers can do for you.

PS: Here's the announcement at E3.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Credit crunch

There's an interesting article in today's Guardian (here). It seems that the credit crunch has even hit the jewellery purchasing habits of rappers! Apparently - shock horror - some of it is fake!

The best quote (from "Birdman"):

Times are hard. Ain't nobody rockin it like that no more.

Couldn't have put it better myself.

Friday, 22 May 2009


My brother and I used to love the series "V", that was shown in the early 80s. It was about "The visitors" - aliens - who came to Earth, allegedly in friendship. As time passes people work out that all is not what it seems. First, the aliens are in fact wearing a disguise - they are not beautiful Californians, but lizards in rubber human suits. Secondly, the visitors are actually here to feed on the humans. [I know - but it was better than it sounds!]

Imagine my excitement when I discover that ABC are planning a remake. There's a trailer here. Looking forward to this coming to the UK :-)

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

DSU in the press

There's an interesting article in the MIT technology review on a new start-up working on dynamic software updating. (here) My colleagues Mike and Iulian are quoted.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Powerpoint comedy

I stumbled across this guy on youtube. He's a stand-up comedian who uses powerpoint as an essential component of his act :-)

Down the pub

I spent a nice afternoon/early evening down The Portland Arms with Mike yesterday. We watched Cambridge United flunk their second play-off in two years live from Wembley:-(

I like The Portland, in particular its shabby chic decor. Mike and I looked around at one point: there were about a dozen people in the pub. The pub has rather nice oak panelling - around a hundred years old. Most people were watching football, but a couple of guys were reading The Observer, and the chap next to us was reading a novel by Ernest Hemingway (IIRC "The Fifth Column and The First 49 Stories"). It's very Cambridge to get beer, live football, Hemingway, current affairs, and oak panelling all in your local pub!

After the game, we went for another Great British Experience: A rather good curry :-)

Friday, 15 May 2009


An interesting article by the reporter who started in motion the investigation into MP's expenses can be found here. [For those not in the UK: the #1 news item here is a "scandal" surrounding the payment of expenses to members of parliament.]

[Update: There are some nice pictures highlighting some of the expenses claims that various MPs have made. Boy, and I thought Microsoft was a good employer - clearly Westminster was the place to get real perks!]

Friday, 8 May 2009

Programming language history

There's a hilarious "brief, incomplete and mostly wrong history of programming languages" posted by James Iry on his blog. (The entries for C# and Haskell are particularly funny.)

[Thanks to Andrew for the pointer.]

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Tony nominations for the Donmar!

Well done to James; the Donmar has been nominated for 7 Tony awards for their Broadway production of Mary Stuart!

The Donmar has also recently announced its 2009-2010 season (here in pdf). It's an amazing list - no wonder James is so busy, he's put together a fantastic programme. The fuss in the press has been about Rachel Weisz but I'm particularly excited by A Dolls House (Scully!) and also the world premiere of "Red" (about Mark Rothko and starring Alfred Molina).

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Susanna Cech Previtali Viva

I'm just back from lovely Zurich having examined Susanna Cech Previtali's PhD entitled "Dynamic updating of object-oriented software systems based on aspects". The key idea in the thesis is that an upgrade is a cross-cutting concern. Susanna has built a tool that takes two builds of an application and, if possible, produces an aspect that captures the change from the old version to the new version. The old version can then be dynamically updated by weaving in the aspect. Susanna has (impressively) built this system, using the PROSE dynamic aspect system. She has also undertaken a systematic empirical study using many builds of eight popular open-source Java applications.

Her thesis work is very impressive, so it wasn't a particularly hard decision for the thesis committee:-) She'll be working on a final version of the dissertation over the next few months, so I'll post a link when it's available.

Well done, Susanna!

Friday, 1 May 2009


I had my eyes tested last week. No change I'm happy to report. My optician now digitally photographs your retina as part of the test. They can even email it to you! I couldn't resist :-)

Left eye:

Right eye:

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Spotify uncensored

[Thanks to Nick for figuring this out.] I was listening to the latest Lily Allen album on spotify today (here). Lily is partial to the odd swearword, and they were being bleeped out, which detracts from the song a little. It turns out that spotify have both versions of the album, here's how to find it.

First, search for Lily Allen, and then click on her name. You now get the overview/top hits/albums page. Top of the album listing is the latest "It's not me, it's you" (but this is the censored version). To the right of the this is a little downarrow symbol. Click on this and you'll get two versions of the album. The second one (here) is the uncensored version (you can see as track 8 is listed as "Fuck You" instead of "F**k You"). I don't know how one would know the difference if none of the track names were deemed offensive.

Anyhow, I repeat that spotify is Way Cool.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Alex Summers' thesis

I blogged a while back about Alex Summers' work that I had the privilege to examine. It took a little longer than I expected, but the final version is now available (here). I encourage you to take a look!

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Well done Lucy!

We went to London today to cheer on our friend Lucy, who was running in the London marathon. We waited for her just beyond Cannon Street Station, and after much anxiety on our part (we didn't want to miss her), she came running up to us looking in fantastic form for a first-time marathon runner after 23 miles:

It was a fantastic day in London, warm and sunny, and very exciting with all the runners and supporters. After high-fives with Lucy we walked to St Paul's Cathedral, which impressed the girls. We sat on the front steps in the sunshine drinking lattes and smoothies. Moments like this are what makes London so great!

We then walked to the Barbican to meet up with Lucy, David and other friends/family/supporters. Lucy looked incredibly relaxed and we all munched on pizzas of varying degrees of well-done-ness and drank champagne before we ran off to catch our train back to the sticks.

Well done Lucy!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Office in a shed

There's an interesting article in today's Guardian. It's about "shedworking" which is, apparently, The Latest Thing (TM). I was particularly taken with the OfficePod; although it would require me persuading the girls to forgo their climbing frame...(never going to happen!)

Tuesday, 21 April 2009


Like everyone else, I'm being wow-ed by the super coolness of Spotify.

Last night, I was re-living my youth and listening to this.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Weapon of mass frustration

Now Obama has closed down Guantanamo and is publishing dossiers detailing the Bush administration's use of torture, he is perhaps in need of new and effective measures to pressurize nasty people. I humbly suggest a simple and cheap device guaranteed to drive any adult into insanity within a short amount of time: Hama beads.

Anyone with a small daughter will know about these things. They are small, hollow plastic cylinders in a variety of colours. You place them on pegboards to form a design and then iron them (not forgetting to cover them first with special ironing paper (unlike my friend Andrew!)). This causes the beads to melt sufficiently to bond to their neighbours and, hey presto, you've made a picture. Take a look:

Hana and I made this beauty just before leaving for the deserts of Arizona. It drove me mad! The beads are tiny - perfect for six year-old fingers but a friggin' nightmare for an adult. Plus there are 29*29=841 pieces in there! No child can do this many, so I was left with hundreds to do whilst Hana lay in bed sleeping. Plus, there's never quite enough space on the peg board, so when you get to the end, inserting one in the middle pops out 20 around the edges, and vice versa...arghh...Which sadist devised this stuff?!!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

RV manhood

I'm now a real man[*]:

Yep, that's me behind the wheel of an RV :-) Here's a picture of the girls just after we collected the RV.

We're just back from a really wonderful two-week RV-ing holiday in Arizona (and a little bit of Utah) with our great friends "Long walk" Luke and "Two drinks" Jo, and their two kids Ciaran and Hannah. We had a ball. (I'll blog at length in another post.) Our itinerary was: Phoenix -> Grand Canyon -> Lake Powell -> Monument Valley -> Canyon de Chelley -> Sedona -> Phoenix. All in all, I drove 1102 miles (1773km) in our RV (and around 10 pants-wetting-exciting miles (16km) in a 4x4 jeep).

[*] Byron suggested that a real RV man drives at least 40 foot of RV, tows a 4x4, and carries a concealed weapon, but for a chap from Berkshire I still think I qualify.


I just found out that James Hamilton has left Microsoft. This is a real shame - he's a great guy. Scanning through his blog whilst contemplating this, I noticed that he had written an interesting article a while back arguing for a new server-side implementation language, and proposing Erlang as a possibility. See what you think.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Some pictures from the party

Here's the invite from my party:

Here's the amazing cake that Mateja got for me:

[Note that it's a Dell, and hence running Windows :-)]

And I was so lucky that my mother gave Mateja some very embarassing photos from my childhood, including these:

Photos like these were made into posters and stuck around the walls. Nice.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Dinner at Satnam and Susan's

We went for dinner to Satnam and Susan's house last night. It was a sensational meal, and it was fun to catch up with Austin and Ruth. Satnam is cranking out Michelin-starred meals - you need to get invited! You can see the menu and photos here.


It turns out that my wife is a liar. And keeping things from me. And my friends too.

Last Saturday I turned 28 (in hex). Mateja said that we were going to have a nice family dinner at Cotto to celebrate. But she was lying! Before dinner we went to CB2 for a "quick drink", and in the private room upstairs were forty or so friends waiting to surprise me!!!

I had a wonderful evening! Lots of fun - drinks, Salsa lessons, dancing [thanks to a great "Gavin" playlist by DJ Matt] and an astonishing PC cake.

Thanks to everyone for coming and making a very special evening for me. I'll upload some pictures later. Extra special thanks and love to Mateja who did everything in secret whilst being incredibly busy with lots of other stuff [I wondered why she wasn't coming to bed until 2am some nights...] I'm a lucky hubby :-)

Friday, 20 March 2009


Are you reading this using Internet Explorer 7? If so, then go along to microsoft.com/ie8 and upgrade! I've been playing with the new version for a couple of days and I have to say that it's a significant improvement - faster rendering, better layout, smarter address bar. Lots of goodness here. (I haven't yet got into the accelerators or web-slices, but I can see that they might be helpful.)

PS: Please spare me the "Chrome/Safari/... is a better browser" comments! I'm just saying IE8 is better than IE7; you can use whichever browser you like.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

A day downtown

Following a wonderful week working with Mads and Erik, I had a free day today (why do airlines still require you to stay over Saturday night?). Naturally I spent it in downtown Seattle - a place where I love to hang out.

Luckily, a little while ago we had a mailing list discussion at work about places to eat and drink in Seattle. I followed Anton's suggestion and tried an espresso at Seattle Coffee Works. This is an authentic indy coffee shop that actually roasts its own coffee. The barrista actually tasted the coffee and rejected the first batch, so he brewed another one for me. It really was a wonderful espresso with proper crema.

I also followed up Don's suggestion and had lunch at Maximilien. This is a real find - right in the market but with a spectacular view over the bay. Luckily it had just stopped raining when I arrived, and whilst I sipped a rather nice local draught beer, the sun came out. It was really beautiful setting for a delicious lunch. Rather amazingly, given the location, it wasn't at all busy. A great find.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Credit crunch

Here's an interesting graphic by the Guardian's Dan Roberts trying to explain diagrammatically the global finance system. (The graphics are very similar to a Ponzi scheme! Ouch.)

Hole in the wall

Whilst eating dinner at PF Changs I watched with everyone else this crazy show on Fox. Check it out!

Monday, 9 March 2009

Terminal 5

I'm writing this entry from building 41 at the mothership in Redmond. I flew out yesterday, so am a little tired, but very excited to be here as always. I'm here primarily to talk with Mads about matters C#, and Erik about some other cool stuff that I can't talk about. It might be daylight savings time in the US but believe it or not it's snowing heavily at the moment! Yikes!

My flight over gave me my first experience of the new terminal five at Heathrow. The terminal itself is very nice. The early problems seem to have disappeared. It was amazingly easy to check in - loads to self-service check-in machines; and a number of fast bag-drop stalls, none of which had a queue of more than one person. Very fast. The queue for security was less slick. That probably took 30mins or so, mainly standing in line. I wish these places could be consistent about whether the laptops have to come out of the bag, and whether they want your shoes off or not. There was a big delay because of this.

The woman behind me had a much worse time: she had a baby in a sling, a bag, a laptop, and baby stuff. The staff didn't seem at all interested in helping her or (here's a radical thought) letting here skip the queue. I had to help her, and even then she got flustered and dropped one of the bottles of milk. Poor woman. To be fair to the staff, I did see them be very efficient and helpful to a woman in a wheelchair, but I don't understand why they can't be more proactive with women travelling alone with tiny babies...

The terminal is very nice - lots of glass and very bright inside. There's a rather excessive amount of shops, but that aside it was very pleasant to sit by the glass, drink a capuccino and chat to my friend Richard on the phone.

The less impressive part was boarding. I was assigned an "A" gate, which is in the main section (not involving a shuttle train). I thought that meant we'd be in one of the planes waiting nearby. But no. We got on a bus and then drove for slightly more than five minutes to the plane. The bus stopped and we then had to queue on the stairs to board the plane. The stairs were uncovered, so we all got cold and wet doing so. Quite who thought that this is a 21st Century way to get on to a plane should be given a slap. Seems to me that they forgot this part of the experience. Why aren't there spurs of the terminal to reach the planes, and then covered walkways on to the plane? Doh!

Fun birthday meal

March is the family month for birthdays - Mateja, Lina, James, Jana and I all have birthdays this month. On Saturday the four of us went to Loch Fynne for lunch. It proved to be a very good place to eat with kids. The girls liked the food (and so they should - it was very fresh, well-cooked fish) and they enjoyed looking at the huge array of shellfish on display. The chefs who prepare the oysters, and seafood platters do so at the front of the restaurant so you can watch them. They were very friendly and enjoyed showing Hana and Lina the different fish. One chef showed Hana how to cut a lobster in half, clean out its brains and prepare it for eating! Yum! We all ate so much we couldn't eat anything else for the rest of the day:-)

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

5 @ MSRC

Yesterday was my fifth anniversary of joining Microsoft Research! (I didn't get much time to think about this yesterday as I was busy with something else.) Microsoft rewards such milestones with an award - currently this is a rather elegant crystal sculpture designed by Hybrid 3. (The blue one is for five years.) Previously, the award used to be a clock - things have definitely improved.

I realized that this is actually the longest I've ever stayed in one job! There are a number of reasons for this, but it is certainly the case that I'm *very* happy at MSRC. It's a fantastic place to work, with great support from management and inspiring colleagues to work with, e.g. I have Sir Tony Hoare in the office next to me, and Luca Cardelli - the author of the very first research paper I read when I was an undergraduate at Imperial - is my manager!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Surface SDK

I just watched an interesting video from the Microsoft Surface team demonstrating the Surface SDK that they are developing. It's really cool - it really takes only a few lines of code to write nice Surface applications! All I need now is a surface for the office:-) [It would be cool to be the first person to get F# code running on a surface!]

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Slovenia: Pust

Just back from a great long weekend in Slovenia. This past weekend, Slovenia celebrates a carnival - "Pust" - where most people dress up in costumes and parade through the town. (See here on Wikipedia.) Hana and Lina dressed up as a bee and a ladybird, and their cousin as a dinosaur. The grown-ups dressed as Dalmations. We had a great time parading through the streets of Mislinja barking at the locals :-) [And we won one of the prizes!]

The Carnival is to invite in the Spring, and to scare away the Winter. In Ptuj there is a special version where the "Kurent" scares away the winter. It seems the origin of Kurent is lost in history, but the costume is really impressive:

I'd love to be in Ptuj for the Carnival. Apparently there were 10,000 people in this year's parade and there were 700 kurenti!

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

More awards for the Donmar

It's not just me gushing about the Donmar Warehouse. They're currently sweeping the awards shows. They just won five whatsonstage.com theatregoers' choice awards (best actor, best director, best play revival, best Shakespearean production and best supporting actor). This is on top of four wins at the Evening Standard Awards, four wins at the Critics Circle Awards and 13 nominations for the Oliviers.

Here's my brother with Michael Grandage and Anne McNulty holding some of their awards :-)

Twelfth Night @ Donmar

We spent Valentine's Night at the Wyndham's Theatre watching the second of the "Donmar in the West End" productions: Twelfth Night. It was a wonderful evening. You still have a few evenings left to go to see it - I recommend it highly!

Twelfth Night is the only Shakespeare play I know back-to-front; as it was the one I did for O level. It's an interesting play - at one level it's an out-and-out comedy with mistaken identity, gender swapping, drunkeness and sex. But at another, everyone is really rather cruel, shallow and opportunistic.

The Donmar production is very spartan: I think I only saw a couple of props (a couch and a wind-breaker). Everything else is left to the physicality of the actors. This is very smart as it emphasizes both the comedy and the cruelty in the play. The set is very organic - rugged wooden floorboards sticking out into the front row, and intense lighting suggesting both the sunlight of a coastal city and (at a higher level) drawing you to the cruelty amongst the comedy.

The direction and acting is first rate: Derek Jacobi is clearly revelling in his interpretation of Malvolio. His reading of the fake letter from Olivia is worth the ticket by itself. Ron Cook and Guy Henry as Toby Belch and Andrew Aguecheek are a great physical comedy team. Indira Varma is wonderfully cast: stunning beautiful and she draws a nice parallel between Olivia and a 20s "flapper".

But for me, the star of the show is Victoria Hamilton as Viola. Hers is the most complex of characters, but she makes it entirely believable. Viola's internal turmoil is beautifully done: clear but not over done. The homo-erotic tension between Viola and Orsino is fantastic. For me, she commanded the stage whenever she was on. Super.

[I also enjoyed talking with James afterwards about the only bit of the play I don't quite understand: the relationship between Sebastian and the Sea Captain. Bisexuality or accident?]

Monday, 16 February 2009

Nearly gone

Our snowman finally melted yesterday evening. Here's what was left at lunchtime.

Somehow this picture seemed apt as I rapidly approach my 40th birthday :-)

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Cognitive surplus

Thanks to Phil Wadler for bringing this 15 minute video to my attention. It's a really interesting meditation on new media by Clay Shirky. He contrasts old media - which has been solely about consumpion; to new media - which is (also) about production and sharing. Old media consumption is pretty huge - two hundred billion hours are spent in the US every year watching TV! This "spare time", Clay calls the "cognitive surplus". Just a small shift towards production and sharing of information, i.e. putting the cognitive surplus to a different use, could yield great things. Clay estimates that 100 million hours have been put into Wikipedia.

Watch it for yourself and see what you think.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Toshiba TG01

Just when I was all geared up to getting a Touch HD in a couple of months when I become eligible for an upgrade, from nowhere Toshiba have announced a very nice looking WinMob 6.1 phone: the TG01. 4.1" screen but under 10mm thick and sporting a snapdragon 1Ghz chip, it looks very nice. They've also customized the Microsoft UI in a nice way too. [There are some details online: here, here and here, for example.]

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Jo in the USA

Congratulations to our artist friend, Jo, whose work is being exhibited at the Agora Gallery in New York next month. (We have one of her more abstract pieces up on our living room wall.)

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


The Heathrow-DC part of my POPL was on Virgin. It was my first time on Virgin for a transatlantic flight (I always fly BA to Seattle). It wasn't that good. However, it wasn't quite this bad.