Computer Laboratory

Robin Message

Headshot of Robin in a kitchen wearing an apron.

About Me

I am a PhD student in the Cambridge Programming Research Group at the Computer Laboratory of the University of Cambridge. I am a senior scholar of Robinson College, where I completed my undergraduate studies. My supervisor is Alan Mycroft.

My thesis topic is Tools for end-user database programming. I am trying to address some of the problems associated with personal and commercial data being stored in an unstructured form in programs like Excel or even flat files. My research focuses on two solutions to these problems. Firstly, by creating a novel type inference technique for unstructured and semi-structured data, based on statistical inference, which will aid migration away from existing tools. Secondly, by designing an online tool for creating databases and applications based upon them, which will provide a more suitable environment for storing, processing and managing data.

Contact details

Email: rhm31@cam.ac.uk

Tel.: +44 (0)1223 763628

Office: FC12
University of Cambridge
Computer Laboratory
15 JJ Thomson Avenue
Cambridge, CB3 0FD

Publications

Robin Message and Alan Mycroft. Controlling control flow in web applications. In Proceedings of the 3rd Int'l Workshop on Automated Specification and Verification of Web Systems (WWV 2007), published as Electronic Notes in Theoretical Computer Science Volume 200 Issue 3, May, 2008.

Control flow is often key problem in current web applications. For example, using the back button gives a POSTDATA error, using multiple windows books the wrong hotel, and sending a link to a friend does not work. Previous solutions used continuations as a model for user interaction. However continuations are insufficient as a model of all web interactions. We believe the protocol and browsers themselves are insufficiently powerful to represent the control flow desired in a web application. Our solution is to extend the protocol and browser sufficiently that these problems can be avoided. We seek to be agnostic about how web applications are written and instead recognise that many of the problems stem from underlying weaknesses in the protocol. As an example, the application ought to be able to inform the browser that pressing back on a payment confirmation page is not allowed. Instead, the cached page can be displayed in a read-only, archive fashion to the user, or a new page can be shown instead which is consistent with the global state. We discuss how some of these ideas may be implemented within the existing HTTP/1.1 protocol; and what modest extensions to the protocol would enable full implementation. We also discuss the interaction with Web 2.0 and the security and privacy implications of our extensions.

Robin Message and Alastair Beresford. VisualWebFlows: Programming for people. Unpublished.

Computers now collect vast amounts of information which can be readily stored, processed and shared, and many more people now use computers than just a generation ago. Despite this progress, most people are unable to write even simple data processing routines, since almost all programming languages are designed by, and for, the expert, not the advanced user. In this paper we describe VisualWebFlows, a web-based development environment for creating web applications which are able to store and process user data in a flexible way. It has a visual language, flows, which is designed for advanced users rather than experts, yet maintains a degree of flexibility only usually found in traditional web-development frameworks. We reveal the potential of the system by demonstrating how a user can combine the simple, reusable, elements of the flows language to build a simple web blog. While the core parts of the VisualWebFlows system are complete, the design raises many interesting questions and areas of further work which we also discuss in detail.

Personal

I have various other profiles online, including:

I generally go by Robin Message, and I seem to be the only one online!