Friday, August 31, 2012

Napier's bones

I'm leaving Edinburgh tomorrow - it's a wonderful city, not just beautiful but with a long history of achievement in the sciences and arts. One of Edinburgh's most famous sons was John Napier who in 1617 published a work called Rabdologiæ, that made use of multiplication tables embedded in "bones." Using Napier's bones multiplication can be reduced to addition operations and division to subtractions. More advanced use of the bones can even extract square roots. Napier's bones are not the same as logarithms, with which Napier's name is also associated. Napier University in Edinburgh is named in his honour.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Completely Automated Public #Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart

Have you ever wondered if you're the only person who sometimes finds it difficult to correctly decipher those CAPTCHA forms? An article in Forbes Magazine called "Artificial Intelligence Will Defeat CAPTCHA -- How Will We Prove We're Human Then?" reveals that 20% of people will leave a web site without successfully completing a CAPTCHA form. This interesting article goes on to discuss how AI is trying to solve CAPTCHAs and how new, easier, and better ways are being developed to discriminate between humans and bots. Next time you struggle to complete a CAPTCHA don't feel so bad - you're not alone!

Monday, August 27, 2012

A bird in the hand...

Here's some interesting footage of a flying robotic bird that can land and perch on someone's hand.
There are several video clips here plus other links to background information about the project from the Aerospace Robotics and Control Research Lab at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

In praise of... Neil #Armstrong

When NASA landed the Curiosity rover on Mars I blogged in praise of NASA; commenting that NASA and the space programme were probably largely responsible for me becoming a scientist. I was obviously therefore sad to hear that Neil Armstrong had died.
He was a "reluctant hero" and often said "he was just doing his job." In an age where people with no obvious talent or achievements crave fame and celebrity his modesty is a lesson to us all. He may have "just been doing his job" - but what a job!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The #Turing Festival Edinburgh

in case you're wondering why the number, but hopefully not the quality, of posts has recently declined it's because I'm at the Turing Festival in Edinburgh. The first day I attended a fascinating program of talks by current and ex CERN employees. It really brought home how vital computers are in their work. The amount of data they capture from the LHC is staggering.
In the afternoon Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder, gave an excellent keynote. At dinner I gave the after dinner speech and proposed the toast: "To Alan Turing." My speech seemed well received.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Crypted - a play about #Turing

This afternoon I went to see a play called Crypted by Freddy Syborn at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The play opens with Turing explaining the Liar's Paradox, introducing the audience to the notion that something may be true but unprovable. A very promising start. Ranging across all Turing's life from school, through Bletchley Park, to his tragic death, the play deals with the issue of truth in mathematics, life and crucially for Turing sexuality.
What may surprise is that Turing is played by a young woman - Harriet Green. She does an excellent job and although another reviewer found this distracting I thought it worked well. It brought home the fact that Turing was struggling to be true to himself. I recommend the play which runs until Sunday.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In praise of... Digital Literacy

The Guardian newspaper is running a Digital Literacy campaign, with lots of articles and resources. I've blogged on this before - it's a reflection that ICT teaching has failed and that children need to know how to program, not just how to use software apps.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The #Turing Festival Edinburgh

Expect fewer blog posts over the next few days as I'm travelling to Edinburgh Scotland to talk about Alan Turing's legacy at The Turing Festival. Steve Wozniak is giving the keynote but there's lots of other fascinating looking talks and events taking place, from talks by National Geographic Explorers, to a full day Music Hack. All of this of course is surrounded by the Edinburgh International Festival and the Comedy and Fringe Festivals.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

#Woz on net neutrality, Kim Dotcom and WikiLeaks - video

Here's an interesting interview in which Steve Wozniak, the Apple co-founder,  gives his opinions on net neutrality, the Kim Dotcom case, Wikileaks and a range of other topical issues. If you want to hear him speak in more detail Woz is giving the keynote at The Turing Festival in Edinburgh, where I will be next week.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What language is Curiosity programmed in?

What language is Curiosity programmed in? If you're a computer scientist that's what you want know! Well the answer according to Brian Roemmele on Quora is: "A majority of the programming on the rover compute element (RCE) is written in C.  With highly multi-threaded code (over 130 threads).  Some support code is in Java with Python used for some analysis processing in ground based Mac OS and Linux computers. 
    The RCE is actually two units for redundancy.  The RCE is a RAD750 CPU capable of about 400 MIPS. Each computer's memory has 256 KB of EEPROM with 256 MB of DRAM also 2 GB of flash memory for temporary sensor and image storage.  
    The RAD750 CPU is essentially a radiation hardened version of the PowerPC 750 originally developed by Motorola.  It was introduced in 1997 replacing the PowerPC 603e.  This was the same PowerPC microprocessor that was in use in the Power Mac G3.  
    The RAD750 CPU is manufactured by BAE Systems Electronic Solutions and costs about $200,000 per mil-spec grade unit.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Gauss - the virus that spys on banks

Kaspersky Lab's has reported a new virus they've called Gauss, that can spy on bank transactions and gather account names, passwords and other information. Worringly this virus seems to have been made by the same people who created the Stuxnet worm that infected Iranian nuclear centrifuges. Gauss has infected more than 2,500 personal computers, mostly in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Targets included Lebanon's BlomBank, ByblosBank and Credit Libanais, as well as Citibank and eBay's PayPal online payment system. It's possible that Gauss is being used by Israeli or US agencies to spy on  Lebanese banks to ascertain if they are involved in money laundering for Hezbollah. If true this is a worrying escalation in state sponsored cyberwar.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Unseen 1983 #Apple commercial

We're all familiar with the iconic "1984" Apple TV commercial that only aired once during a break in the Superbowl. Andy Hertzfeld, who worked on the Macintosh team, has posted an unseen Apple promo for the Macintosh from 1983. It shares much in common with some modern Apple ads that feature people like Jonathan Ive eulogizing about their latest product.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The #Turing e-petitions - updates

Thanks to the Alan Turing Year for this update on the status of the Alan Turing e-petitions.
    The "Grant a pardon to Alan Turing" petition is close to 36 thousand, with 35,872 signatures, and about to enter the top ten petitions nationally -
    The "Put Alan Turing on the next 10 pound note" petition has a magnificent 21,142 signatures now:
    CMS who have supported the campaign for 'Turing For The Tenner' have organised an 'Alan Turing Prize Draw' with prizes of a limited edition Turing For The Tenner T-shirt - see:
    The big news in July was the initiative of Lord Sharkey to take the fight for a Turing pardon to a new level - as the BBC News Manchester put it "Alan Turing pardon campaign goes to House of Lords". There is multi-party support for this bill, and many UK Turing supporters have written to their own MPs. There is a timetable for the process of getting Lord Sharkey's bill passed.
    Once again, if you are a British citizen or know anyone who lives in Britain or is a cite=izen please ask them to sign the petitions. Here's a video supporting the Turing For The Tenner campaign

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

In praise of... #NASA

First color photo from Curiosity 
NASA is probably largely responsible for me becoming a scientist. As a small boy I had little interest in dinosaurs or sharks, it was astronauts and rockets that got me excited. My bedroom had maps of the moon and solar system on the walls and models of Saturn 5 rockets and lunar landers. Once again it's great to see NASA successfully landing the Curiosity rover on Mars for what will be I'm sure a valuable mission - and all for the cost of $7 per US citizen. They should try crowd sourcing, I'd happily give NASA $10.
   Visit the official NASA Curiosity mission website (officially called the Mars Space Laboratory) for up to the minute information.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Recursion reaches advertising - video

A wee while ago our department had a member of technical staff who enrolled in our stage 1 programming courses. He found the topic of recursion difficult to understand and posted on the door of his office an image of Rodin’s Thinker pondering “Hmm, recursion”. Another wily member of staff took the image and modified it, using the reducing power of the department photo-copier, to make it more apposite.
    Time passes and difficult concepts become commonplace as the same message is now conveyed in an advertisement for a brand of ice-cream sold in Philadelphia.
[Post by Bob Doran]

Monday, August 6, 2012

Watch the Curiosity Mars rover land live

Well, you can't actually watch it live because of the time it takes for signals to get from Mars to Earth and because there will be a radio blackout during insertion into Mars' atmosphere. However, you can watch a live feed from NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech. You'll have as much current information as anyone in the world.

Video streaming by Ustream

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The Doodson-Légé Tide Predicting Machine

I was watching the BBC show Coast last night, an episode all about the ebb and flow of tides, called Riddle of the Tides. It showcased a beautiful analog computer called the Doodson-Légé Tide Predicting Machine. Dr. Arthur Doodson, got his PhD for perfecting a method of making accurate tidal predictions, a task that is much harder than you may think, involving around 120 variables. His method was used to predict the tides for the Normandy landings on D Day in WWII. A machine was designed to mechanise the process in 1948/9, built by a Liverpool engineering firm, Légé. It remained in use until it was replaced by computers in 1962. The machine can be seen at the Bidston Observatory of the  National Oceanography Centre Liverpool.

Friday, August 3, 2012

How to explain phishing to your Grandma

If, like me, you often find yourself acting as tech support for friends and family, and if you worry that elderly relatives are vulnerable to all sorts of scammers, phishers and malware, then this free publication, by the good people at Sophos, is for you. The Sophos Threatsaurus explains in non technical terms the A-Z of computer security threats.
   Download it (no registration is required) and give it to friends and family.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hactivists to the rescue

Here's a local story (to me) from the New Zealand Herald who report that "Internet avengers track down mean-spirited hacker." It seems that a hacker called @AnonVoldemort took down the website of a charity that provides free school breakfasts to children in New Zealand. It's owner asked via Facebook for help and the infamous hactivist collective Anonymous duly responded and passed him the contact details of a hacker in Spain. The police are now investigating. Hacktivists have a code of ethics, you don't attack charities that help children.
    Inside Child Poverty still has a Facebook page, but it may be awhile before their website is up and running.