Snow, ethics and the ability to blag
It has been an interesting week which was initially dominated by the snowfall and the disruption that it caused. There was never any question of putting my feet up and using the abject weather conditions as an excuse – a simple case of far too work to do. As I’d be holding back on a day off from work, I had no problem with getting involved in the snowman construction – Man with shovel, will travel – on the Thursday. But then the weather focused my mind on the job at hand whilst stripping away the distractions. Oddly enough, it was possible to resolve some of the Data Protection Issues that were hovering around my questionnaire on that Thursday. I have resubmitted the questionnaire to the Ethics Committee which included assurances about the security of the data. As I am asking questions that in an extreme instance could identify the person who took the survey and included a question which may be considered sensitive data, it would be necessary to secure the data. Encrypting the data is a minimum to ensure that if the data were lost, it would be near possible to discern the contents.
In the meantime, I have also met with my second examiner. Most ECS students will meet Professor Michael Butler as part of the first year module on formal methods. I have to confess to being somewhat nervous in the approach to the meeting due to a lack of confidence in personal ability to express the concept. I have confidence in the idea, but I’m not well practised in expressing it. This is as valuable a skill in academic circles as it is in industry. This is especially true as academic funding faces a significant reduction – it becomes necessary to convince external parties of the validity and potential of your research and support it. This support can come in direct funding or the loaning of hardware.
Second examiners will be in the same subject field, but not the same research field. There are different expectations. At present, my supervisor has been very happy for me to progress with the research element of my project and thus I have deliberately delayed making some fairly major design decisions on the prototype. The major concern that my second supervisor expressed was the lack of a test application on all of my platform choices. Ideally, this prototype will run on multiple OSes. Initially, I had earmarked a cloud application running on a web browsers to provide something that would work on this. In theory, this would cover the bulk of devices – PCs, Netbooks, Tablets and even Smartphones – but it would not give the best user experience for all those devices and would lead to problems if a connection to the internet could not be maintained. In addition, this would require a server component to be developed and also a server to run it all on. Not impossible, but there was a question of time. (Incidentally, I had already covered the risks in my risk assessment.)
The alternative would be the development of an application for a tablet. As much as I appreciate the effort that has gone into the design of an iPad, its cost to users remains prohibitive. Plus iOS is considered a minority OS and requires applications to be developed in Objective-C, which I am not familiar with. Google’s Android presents a much more developer-friendly environment for me personally. The principle development language is Java and a quick overview of the graphics libraries seems to have most of what I am looking for. Despite the fact that manufacturers have been slow to develop and release tablets which use the Android operating system, they are likely to be within the economic reach of more users – a niche product in a niche market is not what I want to produce. The future direction of this project may well depend on the availability of hardware and my ability to convince a hardware manufacturer or supplier of the validity and potential of my project.