The Later Period - Computer Science
In my experience there is a fundamental difference between
the Particle-Physics (PP) and Computer-Science (CS) research
as I have explained in Appendix C.
However, in CS, my focus of research activity was the
Data and Knowledge Engineering (DAKE) area, which includes
databases, distributed databases, and coopering knowledge
bases systems, latter as extension of distributed database
technology in the field of agents, using what is called the
Engineering Paradigm (or the database approach) as against
the AI paradigm. This has applications in distributed
information systems, internet-based supply-chain management
and agent-based manufacturing systems.
I have applied the idea of the agent paradigm in peer
to peer data and knowledge sharing systems (P2P/DAKS), with
a particular interest in automatic and dynamic integration
of peer ontologies.
As for publications, I have published over 100 substantial
research papers, and have also written many books in
Computer Science [see the Appendix G on the Publication
list]. Here below are my research and associated activities
presented in three subsections:
Activities in the Database Area
Activities in Cooperating Knowledge Based Systems
Followed by the Appendices
Activities in the Database Area
My major national contributions to databases fall into four
Promotion of database teaching in UK universities
Writing the first undergraduate text book on databases in
Creation of a database research community in the UK
My personal contribution to database research
Promotion of Database Teaching in the UK
I used to run annually Systems Analysis Teachers Conferences
for the Scottish Universities and former Polytechnics (now
Universities), in which local industries requiring systems
analysts also participated. Later I turned it into UK
Database Teachers Conferences, in which most major
Universities (including Imperial College, London School of
Economics and the University of Manchester) participated,
the conference being held in different institutions in
different years. At that time, most Universities (and
Polytechnics) did not have any undergraduate degree course
on databases. Therefore these conferences were very useful,
not only in motivating the teachers, but also providing them
with likely course contents (syllabus), exam questions, text
books, case studies, etc.
2, Writing the First Undergraduate Text Book
In 1975, I gave in the UK, the first full-length
undergraduate degree course on databases based on some notes
that I had produced from bits of material that I could
gather, as there were no text books on databases at that
time. Later when I showed those notes to Macmillans, they
offered me a contract to write a book based on those notes.
It took me several years to gather enough material to
produce a reasonable manuscript.
Macmillans took two years to publish it in 1980, by
which time Chris Date of IBM (later a close friend)
published his book in the USA. Thus my book became the first
in the UK, but second in the world.
I used to get embarrassed when some people (who knew
of Chris Date’s book) would praise my book in his presence
at conference dinners.
However, my book was translated into many languages,
including Chinese, Spanish, Dutch and Italian.
The Chinese translation was illegal as it was done
without my permission. I was told about it by Chinese
students when I visited China in 1984 as a World-Bank Fellow
(mentioned earlier), and also later by Chinese students who
came to study under my supervision at Keele.
So instead of me getting any royalty, the University
of Keele got postgraduate fees from Chinese students who
came to Keele because they read my book in Chinese.
3. Creation of a Database Research Community in the UK
I created a database research group at Aberdeen in 1977 (see
below), but I soon realised that my solo research group
would not survive without the support of a flourishing
database research community in the UK.
So, in order to stimulate database research in the
UK, I decided, following the success of my earlier database
teachers conferences, to hold an international conference in
Aberdeen on database research. Despite local and non-local
opposition from some vested interests, I was unexpectedly
successful, as every major database figures in the USA and
Europe I wrote to consented to attend. The conference,
called International Conference on Databases (ICOD), was
highly successful and hugely oversubscribed. Originally planned for 60 delegates, it was later
extended to 120 delegates (the seating capacity for the
conference dinner in the Drumtochty Castle
in Scotland – the
home of the King of Norway during the Second World War), and
then further extended to 160 delegates, with an additional
dinner venue. We turned down many delegates, who were upset.
I particularly refused to allow two white persons from South
Africa (SA) to register, even after I was requested to admit
them by the ICL, a sponsor of the conference, and the
largest computer manufacturer in the UK at that time and an
investor in SA.
If I could not share the same hotel with them in SA, I was
not going to permit them to appear in my conference
was my line of thought at that time.
In addition, there was an important database user
(not researcher) in another Department in my University,
whom I originally invited to be a member of the Organising
Committee. Not only he declined my invitation to be a
member, but instead he demanded that he should be the
Chairman in place of me and that I should work under him.
When I dismissed his preposterous demand, he complained to
the University that I would be bringing shame to the good
name of Aberdeen University by holding this conference and
therefore I should be stopped. But by then, unknown to him,
I already got permission from the Dean of Science who was
very enthusiastic about the conference. After my great
success, his boss telephoned me to accept him as my invited
guest in place of the boss in the big reception.
I refused and told the boss that he could attend the
conference and hence the reception as a delegate (but not as
my invited guest) by paying the reduced fee that I had laid
out for the Aberdeen University employees.
As I expected he did
not take up the offer.
I would have invited him if he had apologised to me
for his abominable conduct, but he did not.
Instead he was, as
far as I was aware, still trying to find faults with the
conference. Perhaps it was what one might call a case of
racialism. However, these days in my old age, I sometimes
wonder if he had ever reflected upon and regretted his
The North-Holland (the publisher) sent me all their
publications (books and journals) on databases and
distributed databases (a considerable collection at the
time) for me to display them at the conference and later to
keep them. We had no such books at Aberdeen University. I
read them all before the conference and became very
knowledgeable in many areas of database research and
therefore I could speak on database research at the
conference with some confidence.
As for this conference, the famous paper of Pat
Selinger (of IBM San Jose) often quoted as the seminal work
on distributed databases was presented at this conference,
among many other great papers.
As Selinger was
incapacitated, her paper was delivered by Jim Gray, the
future ACM Touring Award winner and the Vice President of
Microsoft. Don Chamberlin presented his seminal paper on
SQL, Charles Bachman (the father of Databases) introduced
his new ideas, in what he called Role Model, and so on.
Chris Date was there too, along with top European Database
of them became good friends of mine later.
Two years later,
through Chris Date, I also became a friend of Dr E. F. Codd
[usually called Ted Codd], the father of the Relational
Model, when we spent some days together in Mexico City.
The conference dinner at the Drumtochty Castle went down
supremely well. The guests were welcomed with full Scottish
honour by a bagpipe band, and entertained by the scary
Drumtochty ghost during and after the dinner. I warned the
guests beforehand that like any self-respecting ancient
castle worth its name, the Drumtochty also had its own
resident ghost, and in its case a very potent one, which was
known to grab and hide away guests who strayed too far away
at late evenings. I further warned that if anyone of them
was thus grabbed, he/she would certainly miss the last coach
to Aberdeen. This led to many after dinner hilarious
ghost-hunting parties into the dungeon and other remote
parts of the Castle to encounter the ghost, where they faced
many ghostly tricks, including some laser ones, as carefully
arranged in advance with the Drumtochty staff.
unsurprisingly the two nations on the extreme
French having too many ancient castles, and the Americans
having none – made the most out of the ghost-hunting.
It was a great fun.
At the concluding session of the conference, delegates after
delegates rose to speak praising all aspects of the
conference, from the fabulous dinner at the Castle, to the
great quality of the papers presented and the follow-up
discussions, including of course the planning and
organisations of the sessions. They congratulated me
ecstatically with a long applause. On the way to the
Drumtochty Castle, our three coaches had to stop in heavy
rain on a tricky hill top which delayed our arrival at the
Castle by half-an hour, just the time needed by the Castle
as the dinner arrangements were running late.
The last one to speak at this concluding session was
a US delegate who stood up and said: “I am an ex-army man. I
would say that every aspect of this conference was
well-planned, well-organised and well-delivered. And hence I
cannot believe that the stoppage at hill-top on the way to
the Castle was not meticulously planned, by Dr Deen just to
give us a view of the Scottish Highland in rain”. At this,
everyone burst out clapping, and then he added: “Thank you
for giving us such a wonderful conference”.
That was the end,
after which everyone said goodbye to everyone else.
However the important
point was that everyone was happy.
By the way that US speaker was a major sponsor of this
conference [from the US Army Funds for Conferences], and he
continued to contribute generously to my later conferences.
I should perhaps mention here that I never attended, let
alone got involved in the organisation of, any conferences
studied published conference proceedings of other
conferences which gave me some ideas of what to do.
After this conference, I became well-known as the Dr Deen of
Aberdeen, or simply the Deen of Aberdeen, a name that stuck
with me for some time even after I joined Keele. I used to
ask many questions in database conferences that I attended
subsequently. I did not realise for a long time that people
appreciated my questions as being very pertinent, until some
people told me so. I remember I was once in a research
centre (CRAI) in south Italy for two weeks, where they had a
conference. For some reasons I could not attend one session,
but after the session, several of the presenters told me
that they missed my presence during their presentations,
adding that a session was not quite a session until I had
asked some questions. Baffled I said why so? Then they
explained “you ask very deep questions which are very
helpful in understanding the core issues both by the
presenters and the audience”. I was surprised, but
subsequently some other people also told me similar things,
and sometimes thanked me for my questions. If you are
confused as to why a presenter would welcome critical
questions, here is the reason.
A purpose of presenting a paper in a research
conference is to seek critical comments so that the paper
can be improved and eventually published in a reputable
journal. As for
my own comments, here is the truth.
I am slow in
understanding things, particularly complex things, during
the presentation of a paper. I understand better only later
when I have read a paper several times.
So during a
presentation, I used to concentrate on ascertaining and
understanding the core issues (and their significance) in
the research paper presented, ignoring the fluff such as the
mathematics and other elaborations. Therefore my questions
usually struck home on those core issues. I remember in 1991
in Kyoto and in 1999 in Kokura (Japan) I became very famous
because I had asked what they called very interesting
questions, to very famous key speakers in those
international conferences, full of American and European
delegates. This was
an odd experience for me, as I did not like the idea of
becoming famous by asking questions to important people.
However, the truth remains that I have a slow mind, but the
lesson is that sometimes even a slow mind can become a
[A personal comment,
some years later I saw Charles Bachman on a plane on the way
to a database conference at Charleston, South Carolina. I
spent a lot of time chatting with him, not only on the plane
but also later at the conference itself. At that time the
Relational model rose to its great height, eclipsing
Bachman’s model completely. So he was no longer an active
force and was treated at this conference like an old
burnt-out oak tree, nobody cared to go near him. I do not
know how he felt, but I was very sad to see how this old
giant was treated. In South Asia, where I come from, he
would always be revered as a great pioneer, but not in the
utility-driven cut-throat West].
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