[IUCC Symposium]

[University of Warwick]

About 300 people from over 70 different British Universities and Polytechnics attended this year's IUCC Symposium at the University of Warwick. OUCS was represented by FAS (this years chairman), LH, SL and LB (who contributed a paper on IDMS). As at most such gatherings, there was ample opportunity to exchange important gossip, horror stories and absurd boasts with colleagues from other computing centres, quite apart from the scheduled sessions. There were five of these, on micro-computers, distributed and large scale computing, databases and graphics. Each session consisted of a keynote address by an invited speaker, and four or five shorter presentations of varying quality. Of the invited speakers, Dr Jim Alty (Liverpool) was probably the most impressive. He described in some detail the range and quality of support offered to micro users at Liverpool. Liverpool run quick practical courses for Intel 8080, 8085, Motorola, TI 9900 and the ubiquitous PET machines, programming in BASIC and PASCAL. Applications include data capture (often in inhospitable regions such as the Sahara), control systems, communications and data processing. Dr Alty mentioned in passing that only one tenth of the £2 m allocated to the DES for micro-supported research was used last year. Other papers in this session included one by D.Holdsworth (Leeds) describing a new Pascal interpreter, which occupies 1K on the 6800, and one by S.Jameson (Aston) on the programming of an.intelligent terminal to interface with a standard commercial (i.e. unintelligent) information retrieval system. The session on distributed computing was opened by C. Whitby-Strevens (INMOS) who, quoting extensively from Jensen, urged us to forget everything we already knew about computing, stressed that conventional algorithmic languages (except maybe ADA) and souped-up sequential algorithms were more hindrance than help, and generally annoyed everyone. Of the other speakers in this session only J.C.Boarder (Oxford Poly) appeared to agree; he described a language, LZ, with some novel parallel features based on work by Dijkstra. I The session on large scale computing was opened by Dr G.R.Field (UMRCC) who, after a brief political history of university computing, asked several questions (are 60 micros in a ring worth 2/3 of a CRAY-1? how many Atlases do you need to lay end to end in order to make a Cyber 203? is it a meaningful exercise anyway? and above all Is it worth the money?) but provided no answers. In the same session, P.Gray (European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts) gave an interesting account of experience with the CRAY-1. Mean time between faults is it was revealed over 60 hours, which happens to be crucial for the Weathermen, one of whose applications runs for over 6 hours. To some extent confirming Whitby-Strevens, he stressed that to get the best out of the machine, some re-design of the algorithms employed was necessary - doing more arithmetic could actually reduce processor time. The database session was opened by Dr M.Atkinson (Aberdeen) substituting at very short notice for a speaker from Grenoble, with the heretical propositions that 'databases are for programmers' and that a fully generalised Database Management System was impossible. His main interest was in Computer Aided Design systems, for which existing dbms are undeniably cumbersome. He described a system currently being designed which included a component called the Data Curator to control data security and integrity and handle transmission of it to and from various CAD micros on a ring. Other speakers at this session included H.Robinson (Hatfield Poly) on data modelling techniques; M.Newton and A.Gawronski (Open) on a new relational system to be used in the new (& highly recommended) OU database course; and L.Burnard (Oxford) who, asserting that IDMS is after all only a package, attempted to describe how to set up a database in 10 minutes and was suitably penalised by being cut off in mid-example. The session on graphics was opened by K.Brodlie (Leicester) with a comprehensive survey of the various systems available. He pointed out that standard general purpose software tended inevitably to lag behind the capabilities of new hardware and also gave a flavour of the new NAG graphics chapter promised for Mark 8. This final session also included another screening for a rather fine piece of computer animation made using GHOST in 1965, and accounts of two;interesting applications. One (Owen & Earnshaw, Leeds) uses an interactive graphic display as a means of rapidly inputting musical scores in any of the various internal foirmats commonly used. These can then be displayed or printed on conventional staves. The other (Best, Aston) uses a composite eliptical graph to display the interaction of eight pathological parameters as an aid in diagnosis. The system is used experimentally at the patients bedside. Full details and abstracts of the papers given at the event are available on request ,