Computing to get slimy?

Were you aware that Bristol’s University of the West of England (UWE) has a Professor of Unconventional Computing?

Professor Andrew Adamatzky (for it is he! Ed.) and a German colleague have recently been engaged in some interesting research according to a UWE press release.

Professor Andrew Adamatzky and Theresa Schubert (Bauhaus-University Weimar, Germany) have constructed logical circuits that exploit networks of interconnected slime mould tubes to process information.

The slime mould involved – Physarum polycephalum – is more likely to be found living somewhere dark and damp rather than in a computer lab. In its vegetative state, the organism spans its environment with a network of nutrient-absorbing tubes. The tubes also allow the organism to respond to light and changing environmental conditions that trigger the release of reproductive spores.

image of slime mould

Slime mould – the future of computing?

In earlier work, the team demonstrated that such a tube network could absorb and transport different coloured dyes. They then fed it edible nutrients – oat flakes – to attract tube growth and common salt to repel them, so that they could grow a network with a particular structure. They then demonstrated how this system could mix two dyes to make a third colour as an “output”.

Using the dyes with magnetic nanoparticles and tiny fluorescent beads allowed them to use the slime mould network as a biological “lab-on-a-chip” device. The work suggests this represents a new way to build micro-fluidic devices for processing environmental or medical samples on the very small scale for testing and diagnostics. The extension to a much larger network of slime mould tubes could process nanoparticles and carry out sophisticated Boolean logic operations of the kind used by computer circuitry. The team has so far demonstrated that a slime mould network can carry out XOR or NOR Boolean operations. Chaining together arrays of such logic gates might allow a slime mould computer to carry out binary operations for computation.

“The slime mould based gates are non-electronic, simple and inexpensive, and several gates can be realized simultaneously at the sites where protoplasmic tubes merge,” conclude Adamatzky and Schubert.

Stewart Bland, Editor of Materials Today (in which Adamatzky’s and Schubert’s research is published. Ed.), believes that “although more traditional electronic materials are here to stay, research such as this is helping to push and blur the boundaries of materials science, computer science and biology, and represents an exciting prospect for the future.”

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Bristol Wireless and Bristol Robotics Lab collaborate

The Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), a joint University of West of England/University of Bristol project, is believed to be the largest robotics laboratory in Europe.

Bristol Wireless has been interested in their work for many years and today we’re pleased to announce that we’re collaborating with them on a project.

You may have read some months ago that BRL scientists have developed a urine-powered fuel cell that produces enough electricity to power a mobile phone. You can watch Dr Ioannis Ieropoulos of BRL explain the workings of the microbial fuel cell (for that is what is! Ed.) in the video below.

What possible interest could Bristol Wireless possibly have in microbial fuel cells, you may be asking. We’re not unknown for our love of cider and beer after a hard day at the lab. In addition we are also passionate about green ICT, i.e. low power, low impact computing and connectivity.

Most of our network is powered by devices that require very little current; most run at approx. 15 V DC, although some require slightly more.

BRL has scaled up its microbial fuel cell from the initial capacity capable of running a mobile phone to cells capable of running Bristol Wireless’ infrastructure and these have been attached to our network – along with facilities for storing the necessary raw material – at our major infrastructure nodes over recent months.

In future, if you see a pie-eyed Bristol Wireless volunteer making his unsteady way with a slightly cross-legged gait into a Bristol tower block, please do not be alarmed, he merely on his way to ensure the wifi network keeps running! :)

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Happy DFD 2014

DFD 2014 logoToday is Document Freedom Day (DFD) 2014. DFD is an annual celebration of and opportunity to promote the use of open formats and standards for digital documents and takes place on the last Wednesday in March each year.

Document freedom means documents that are free can be used in any way that the author intends. They can be read, transmitted, edited, and transformed using a variety of tools.

Open standards are formats which everybody can use free of charge and restriction. They come with compatibility “built-in” – the way they work is shared publicly and any organisation or person can use them in their products and services without asking for permission. Open Standards are the foundation of co-operation and modern society.

Below is a cartoon strip to illustrate the importance of open formats and standards. Click on the image for the full-sized version.

open standards cartoon strip

Here at Bristol Wireless we’re reliant on open standards to function. Open formats are important to us too: we’ve been using ODF as our standard format for sharing documents internally ever since its inception.

Isn’t it about time you ditched closed formats and embraced openness too?

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New round of Gnome OPW internships now accepting applications

The Gnome Outreach Program for Women (OPW) helps women get involved in free and open source software and has just announced the opening of a new round of internship applications. Women can apply for an internship to contribute to an open source project from May to August; and OPW is not just asking for applications from programmers either.

Gnome OPW logoSuccessful applicants can obtain a Gnome Foundation internship from 19th May until 18th August 2014 under the aegis of the OPW. The outreach programme is intended to increase the proportion of women in open source projects and twice a year promotes the contribution of women to projects such as Gnome, Wikimedia and OpenStack. The deadline for applications for the next round is 19th May 2014.

As previously stated, the programme is not restricted to women with programming skills; those with design, documentation or marketing skills can also apply. All participants will be supported by a mentor in the participating organisations. Details on how to apply are on the Gnome Foundation’s dedicated OPW site.

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Pi day for LTSP

It’s Friday, so it’s Pi day! ;)

Bristol Wireless volunteer Michal has currently got a Raspberry Pi – the credit-card-sized single-board computer developed in the UK – up and running as an LTSP thin client.

Raspberry Pi in use as LTSP thin client

Could this be the future of cheap computing devices?

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Drowning in data

Bath University has published its programme of forthcoming public lectures.

Big data imageOf these, one in particular caught our eye. Entitled “Drowning in data: who and what can we trust?“, it’s being given by Professor David Rhind from 17:30-18:45 on Wednesday, 2nd April 2014 in the Chancellors’ Building, Lecture Theatre 1.10.

It has been estimated that in the years 2010 to 2012, as much data and information was collected as in the whole of preceding human history. Fuelled by rapid changes in technology, information is used, modified and re-used and abused with fundamental implications for democracy, government institutions and policies, publishers, libraries, media organisations, personal privacy and much else. The devil is often in the detail – how information is collected, classified, organised, analysed and made available influences what we are told. So how do we know what to believe?

Professor Rhind is Chairman of the Nuffield Foundation and of the Government’s Advisory Panel for Public Sector Information, as well as Deputy Chairman of the UK Statistics Authority.

For full details and booking, see Bath University’s dedicated page.

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We respond to HMG

Cabinet Office logoWith about an hour to go before the shutters came down on Friday afternoon, Bristol Wireless responded to the Cabinet Office’s consultation on file formats for sharing and collaborating on documents with government.

Our response is reproduced below.

Background: we are a volunteer-run IT co-operative which has been active in the west of England for 12 years. We run our operations using free and open source software exclusively.

We welcome this opportunity to comment on the Cabinet Office’s proposals for sharing and collaborating on documents with government.

We fully support the proposals to move away from the use of proprietary formats for the exchange of documents with government.

In the past we have experienced some difficulties with documents in proprietary formats, such as Microsoft’s OOXML (e.g. .docx) formats, which do not always render correctly in our free and open source software, in addition to which Microsoft has not ported its Office suite to the Linux operating system (which we use exclusively), thus making it difficult for us to interact with government as a good corporate citizen.

The move to the proposed open formats – HTML, TXT, ODF and CSV – will enable us to play a fuller role in civic life and present no problems to either us or the software that we use as they are fully supported by the latter.

We trust the Cabinet Office will stick to its principles as outlined above in the consultation and not bow to corporate pressure from powerful vested interests.

Steve Woods
Company Secretary
Bristol Wireless

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Learn how to use Arduino with Bristol Hackspace

Our friends over the road at Bristol Hackspace are having a beginners’ Arduino session tonight, according to their Twitter feed.

According to the manufacturers, the Arduino is an open-source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. It’s intended for artists, designers, hobbyists and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments.

If you’re interested, why not go along?

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A Valentine from Bristol Wireless

Free software, we love you! :)

I love free software banner

Don’t know what free software is? Find out here.

Show your love for free software today by using the #ilovefs hashtag.

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Open data site running on open source: Malta gets it right

Malta’s new open data website is running on open source software, according to Joinup, the EU’s public sector open source news site.

The site, which is run by the Maltese Local Councils Association, uses Centos Linux as its underlying operating system, the MySQL database management system, the Nginx web server and WordPress as its content management system.

At present the site offers a wide number of tourism datasets open for using and reusing, as well as useful and interesting information concerning open data.

Screenshot of Malta's new open data site

Screenshot of Malta’s new open data site

The open data portal has been created as a result of the EU’s HOMER project, harmonising open data in the Mediterranean through better access and reuse of public sector information.

Open Data Malta aims to make available and exploitable Public Sector Information (PSI) related to the tourism sector in order to ensure transparency. By simply opening PSI, citizens can be better informed and participate in the decision making process.

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