Thursday, December 18, 2014

Harvard Researchers Build $10 Robot

There's been a lot of attention in the last year about various initiatives to encourage children to learn how to code; with new programming languages and of course the inexpensive and increasingly popular Raspberry Pi computer. To this we can now add a robot developed by Harvard University researchers that will cost just $10. The "Affordable Education Robot is a low-cost robot designed to introduce students of all ages to the fundamentals of programming and control of robots, with the hope of inspiring them to further pursue studies in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)." Learn more about this robot here.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Internet Arcade

If you're of a certain age you will remember when video games were stand alone machines that you had to put coins in to play. Some of you reading this will I'm sure have spent hours (and a small fortune) playing your favourite game trying to get the "top score."
Well you can now replay your favourite games thanks to the wonderful Internet Archive's new project the Internet Arcade: "a web-based library of arcade (coin-operated) video games from the 1970s through to the 1990s ... Containing hundreds of games ranging through many different genres and styles, the Arcade provides research, comparison, and entertainment in the realm of the Video Game Arcade. The game collection ranges from early "bronze-age" video games, with black and white screens and simple sounds, through to large-scale games containing digitized voices, images and music."
 - have fun!

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

How the World's First Computer Was Rescued From the Scrap Heap

An ENIAC technician changes a valve
Wired recently published an article on how Ross Perot decided to rescue ENIAC "one" of the world's first computers (they're not strictly speaking correct to call ENIAC "the first" computer). Read about this fascinating story here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

An Unprecedented Look at Stuxnet, the World’s First Digital Weapon

My recent book, The Universal Machine, opens its chapter on hacking with the deployment of the Stuxnet computer virus. Allegedly created by Israel and US intelligence services to target Iran's nuclear bomb programme it was the world's first state against state digital weapon. With North Korea now being accused of hacking Sony perhaps it's time to revisit this story. Wired has recently published an excerpt from a new book on Stuxnet - recommended reading.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Where were the world's first computer animations produced?

With the final instalment of the Hobbit about to be released, and Frozen still charming the littlies, computer animation has never been more prominent. You'll be surprised though to discover where computer animation started. This blog post by Brian Clegg (who's blog I recommend) will inform you of the start of computer animation in a science lab.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bogus Journal Accepts Profanity-Laced Anti-Spam Paper

My colleague Mark Wilson brought this to my attention. Like all academics my inbox always receives conference and journal calls for papers, some of which are bogus and are just a way of scamming naive researchers from some money. You can read one academic's response to this practice in this blog article.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Robot Servants Are Going to Make Your Life Easy...

...Then They’ll Ruin It.

Well that's the opinion of Evan Selinger in a recent article for Wired. JIBO, the "world's first family robot" is heralding an age where robots or digital personal assistants anticipate our needs and perhaps even start making decisions for us. That's where Selinger believes the danger lies. Watch the JIBO promotional video below and make up your mind.

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Imitation Game

It's not often that Hollywood makes a movie about the "Father of Computer Science;" but, on November 14th, The Imitation Game about British Mathematician Alan Turing, opens in the US and Europe.  Starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley the film has already won awards at seven film festivals and is tipped for next year's Oscars. Watch the official trailer below. Sadly, the movie doesn't open in New Zealand until January 2015.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Do you remember Teletext?

Do you remember Teletext? Do you still remember some of the page numbers of your favourite information. If so then you'll be interested in this Guardian Witness project: Teletext memories: your stories and experiences. Some of this blog's younger readers probably don't even know what Teletext is. Think of it like the Web on your TV before the Web existed. 
Ceefax (in the UK) succumbed to the digital switchover nearly two years ago, but the world’s first teletext service is still remembered fondly by the slightly older TV generation. For 38 years it provided vital information to passionate current affairs readers and sports fans alike. 
TVNZ's teletext service closed at midday on April 2nd 2013.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Techvana - the New Zealand Computer Museum is now open!

We have a new computer museum! The  project to create the Techvana  computer museum in Auckland is making good progress. The museum has occupied its premises at 105 Cook Street, Auckland and for the near future is open from 12 to 5 on weekends. Visitors are most welcome.
The museum is built around the collection of Mark and Katie Barlow – much of their collection is on display. Many of the computers and game-machines are in working order and may be tried-out.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon

Well that's what Tesla chief executive Elon Musk has just warned us of in a lengthy talk to MIT Aeronautics and Astronautics department’s Centennial Symposium. Here's a quote: "I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out."
   By coincidence yesterday whilst watching a doco called Los Angeles Plays Itself I noted a comment in the film: "Robots won't be sexy and dangerous, they'll be boring and efficient - and take our jobs" that rather chimes with Musk's thoughts.
You can watch his entire talk below.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Unveiling of Display on “Computer Graphics in 1984”

You may have missed this and have you haven't visited our Computer History Displays recently then perhaps you should return. On 25th August our Computer Science Department inaugurated the latest addition to its Computer History Displays - the new display in the 5th-floor lobby being devoted to computers & graphics. The main items in the new display are Computer Aided Design machines preserved by our Engineering Faculty, - a Tektronix 40xx terminal, an IBM 5080 CAD display and its replacement, an IBM RS6000, and a large plotter. The display was unveiled by Professor Gordon Mallinson from the Department of Mechanical Engineering. 
   Although most of the equipment is for CAD, the display panel draws on the fact that the 5080 was installed in 1984 to highlight that year as being a turning point in computing history, as it saw the introduction of graphical computer interfaces with the Apple Macintosh. This was the first time that a WIMPs system (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointer) was available to the general public, although “clunky” by today’s standards. This was also the beginning of user-defined fonts, leading to the plethora of brilliant designs available today, such as the font McCahon by Luke Wood of Canterbury University:

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The rise of the Bots: Robots, Surgeons and Disruptive Technology

If you're in Auckland next Wednesday evening (22nd Ocotober) you might be interested in attending a free public lecture by Dr Catherine Mohr titled "The rise of the Bots: Robots, Surgeons and Disruptive Technology." Surgery has been changing rapidly in the last 10 years with the advent of surgical robots and the increase in minimally invasive surgical techniques. Dr Catherine Mohr will talk about these changes in surgical practice, the technologies that underlie them, and what we might see in the future as new technologies such as earlier diagnostics, advanced imaging and regenerative medicine bring disruptive changes to healthcare around the world.
Dr Mohr is Vice President of Medical Research at Intuitive Surgical, where she evaluates new technologies for incorporation into the next generation of surgical robots. She also is a consulting Assistant Professor in the department of Surgery at Stanford School of Medicine and on the Medicine and Robotics Faculty at Singularity University. A frequent speaker on the topics of surgical robotics, innovation and the importance of science,at national and international conferences, she is also the author of numerous scientific publications and the recipient of multiple awards. You can get a ticket for the lecture here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

In praise of... noise cancelling headphones

I've just come back from a trip to Europe involving two 24 hour plus air flights from and back to New Zealand. I recently treated myself to a pair of Bose QuietComfort 20i Acoustic Noise Cancelling Headphones. I don't usually promote products on this blog but I have to say I can't praise these headphones highly enough. Bose came up with the idea for noise cancelling headphones and they are issued to pilots and as standard in business class on many airlines. I would recommend that if you fly often you must invest in a pair. I finished each 24 hour flight (yes New Zealand is a long way from the rest of the world) feeling much more relaxed because I never heard that constant engine roar. I just heard the movies, my music or near silence. I really believe I left each flight much more rested than previously. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The blog is back - with IDEAS

The blogger lecturing in Scotland
I'm back from three weeks in Europe: attending a conference in Cork and visiting several Scottish universities (Napier, Robert Gordon, and Abertay). I was hosted in Scotland by Prof. Susan Craw of the IDEAS Research Institute. In paprticular they have some very interesting research projects in Smart Information Systems, which would translate well into New Zealand. Whist in Aberdeen I also gave a public lecture on Alan Turing and the Artificial Brain that was very well attended.

Friday, September 19, 2014

On Vacation

Well not strictly speaking a holiday, but I'm flying to the UK this evening and after spending a few days with family I'm going to Cork in Ireland for the 22nd International Conference on Case-Based Reasoning and then spending some time in Scotland visiting Edinburgh University, Napier University, Robert Gordon University and Abertay University funded by a visiting fellowship from The Scottish Informatics and Computer Science Alliance. As a consequence of travelling this blog will be having a bit of a holiday. Please check back mid October - Kia Ora.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What % of STEM Should Be Computer Science?

We keep hearing in the media how many job vacancies there are for computer scientists and how the critical shortage is restricting the growth of many companies. Every one is agreed that we need more people with computing skills. This article from provides an interesting insight into this skills shortage and offers some solutions.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Ever wondered how Amazon makes money

Amazon often seems to sell things so cheaply that we often wonder how they can possibly make on profit on that. Is it just because of the massive volume of sales. This article on the Andreessen Horowitz blog drills down into some detail precisely how Amazon's business model actually works - it's complicated. This article was brought to my attention by my colleague Mark Wilson.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Plan to Build a Massive Online Brain for All the World’s Robots

This is a clever idea (in fact I thought of it a few years ago as well). Now with excellent WiFi and 4G connectivity there is no need for an individual robot to carry all its processing power onboard. Instead they can delegate some decisions to the cloud. Wired recently reported on a project to do just this - to build a massive robot brain in the cloud. Indeed I believe that Google's driverless cars can also use the cloud to aid their decision making. I can't find a link for this so would be grateful if a reader who knows a relevant URl could comment.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Tate Britain Is Offering Everyone Remote Tours, Using Robots

One of my favourite art galleries recently offered remote tours of its exhibitions by robot after hours. Wired reports that "Since at least the 1960s, we’ve romanticized night time visits to art museums. In From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, published in 1967, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is a 12-year-old runaway’s chosen hideout destination." I really wish I'd been able to take a tour and I hope other museums take up this idea. In the meantime this video will have to suffice.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Email Is Still the Best Thing on the Internet

We keep being told that email is unproductive and there are better ways to communicate productively. For example Justin Rosenstein , the co-founder of Asana a productivity software startup says: "Email has become a counter-productivity tool.” However, an interesting article in the Atlantic Monthly puts all these sales pitches in their place. Email is a great tool, possible the best thing about the Internet!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Forget Turing, the Lovelace Test Has a Better Shot at Spotting AI

I recently blogged about a chatbot, called Eugene Goostman, that was claimed to have passed Alan Turing’s famous measure of machine intelligence in June by posing as a Ukrainian teenager with questionable language skills. Motherboard notices that "the world went nuts for about an hour before realizing that the bot, far from having achieved human-level intelligence, was actually pretty dumb." This article proposes the Lovelace test for AI that demands an act of creativity from an AI rather than automated conversational skills - it's an interesting idea and would be a good way of honouring Ada Lovelace.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Claude Shannon's Ultimate Machine

Claude Shannon is best know for inventing digital logic, proving that boolean logic and binary arithmetic can be implemented with just AND, OR and NOT (or indeed just NAND or NOR). Not content with that discovery he went on to found the science of information theory. But perhaps his crowning achievement is the invention of the "ultimate machine" a device of cunning digital simplicity.

Monday, August 11, 2014

These robots cheer for absent fans at South Korean baseball games

File this one under "weird." The South Korean baseball team, The Eagles, haven't won the championship in 15 years; they're commonly know as The Chickens! But still their loyal fans come to watch and cheer their side on. So of course, being South Korea, it was natural for them to create robots who could cheer for absent fans. An unusual use of the concept of telepresence. Watch the video below to see how it's done. This story was brought to my attention by my colleague Mark.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Syria's children learn to code with the Raspberry Pi

Three years ago, when I was looking for an example of social unrest to highlight the use of social media as a communication tool for protestors in my book, I chose the then new uprising in Syria. I'm horrified the conflict still continues. However, I just came across a surprisingly good piece of news from that awful conflict; the use of the Raspberry Pi to teach Syrian refugees in Lebanon to code. Read the full article in the Guardian to learn more.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Imitation Game

The official trailer for the movie about Alan Turing called "The Imitation Game", starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing and Keira Knightley as close friend and fellow code-breaker Joan Clarke. is now available on YouTube. This movie seems to be sticking much closer to the facts, unlike the previous movie Enigma, which totally wrote Turing out of the WWII story, replacing him with a traditional heterosexual male lead alongside Kate Winslet. The imitation Game is scheduled for release November 14.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Computational Complexity: The Burden of Large CS Enrollments

The Computational Complexity blog recently posted a piece on The Burden of Large Enrollments in CS departments. It seems that this trend is global but interestingly they point out that if you average out the growth over the booms and bust in CS enrolment since they 1970s, the growth rate is a steady 10%. 
Thanks to my colleague Mark for bringing this to my attention.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Microsoft Challenges Google’s Artificial Brain With ‘Project Adam’

Despite just announcing its biggest ever job cuts, at around 18,000 employees, Microsoft is planning to challenge Google’s Artificial Brain with its own Project Adam. Wired reports that: "Like similar deep learning systems, Adam runs across an array of standard computer servers, in this case machines offered up by Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing service. Deep learning aims to more closely mimic the way the brain works by creating neural networks—systems that behave, at least in some respects, like the networks of neurons in your brain—and typically, these neural nets require a large number of servers.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

IBM spends $3 billion to push the far future of computer chips

IBM has announced that it is investing $3 billion over the next five years to develop processors with much smaller, more tightly packed electronics than today's chips, and to sustain computing progress even after today's manufacturing technology runs out of steam. The problem is we are just physically finding it impossible to miniaturise silicon chips any more (no pun intended). Read this Cnet article to learn more.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Computer Dating in the 1960s

I was in the car the other day listening to the radio and someone was describing a computer dating service that operated in the US in the 1960s. That's right - the 1960s! It was surprisingly simple. You filled out a detailed questionnaire (on paper) about yourself and your preferences and you mailed it (in an envelope with a stamp) to a business called JOPA and they entered your details onto punch cards, which were then processed by an IBM mainframe. Some weeks later your received, in the post, a list of prospective partners who matched your profile, along with addresses and phone numbers. You can read more about the service in this article in the Atlantic or view an original article from the 60s in Life magazine. Seems like there's nothing new under the sun.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

A Farewell to Orkut

You've probably never heard of Orkut (unless you're Brazilian) and I didn't even recall having an account with them, but yesterday I received an email from Google telling me they were closing the service down. Orkut was Google's version of Facebook; launched in 2004 it became one of India and Brazil's most popular websites. However, Facebook eclipsed it in the rest of the Western World and if you live in the West (outside of Brazil) then you've probably never heard of it. Google say that the growth in YouTube and Google+ means that Orkut is no longer needed. It lasted longer than Google Buzz though, which barely lasted a year.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The exploding demand for computer science degrees

The graph above shows the trend in applications for science and engineering degrees at the University of Washington in Seattle over the last few years. As you can clearly see interest in doing computer science is sky rocketing. An excellent article in Geek Wire analyses this trend across a number of universities and compares it to other booms in computer science in the 80s and 90s.  The article goes on to explain that this boom may not be a bubble, like the dot com fuelled boom of the 90s was, since it reflects a growing need for computer science graduates across all sectors. The challenge is how academic institutions satisfy this growing demand.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Going iPad-only: How to do it with the right apps and accessories

We all like to travel light, well I know I do. I never check luggage and recently spent a whole month in Europe with less than 7 kgs of luggage. The iPad is quite a powerful computer with a reasonable sized screen so it's not unreasonable to consider using one as your main computer particularly if you're travelling. You're going to need a bluetooth keyboard and carefully choose which productivity apps you'll need. A recent article in Asian Efficiency gives some sensible advice on the options available to you. If you have been thinking about of going iPad-only or making your iPad your main computer you should read this.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Meet Hopscotch, the iOS app teaching kids how to program

I've blogged before about the growing movement to teach young children how to program. Hopscotch is a new iPad app that lets kids drag and drop blocks of code to create their own programs. Kids can make games, stories, animations, interactive art, apps...if they can imagine it, they can build it with Hopscotch. But the important thing about teaching kids to code is not just that they'll have fun but they'll learn problem solving, critical thinking, and the fundamentals of computer programming. Check Hopscotch out it's free and you don't have to be a kid to use it.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why We Need to Tame Our Algorithms Like Dogs

Algorithms control our daily lives, wether we're aware of it or not. Algorithms run riot in financial markes; they predict the weather and electricity demand; they price insurance and decide how many doctors to schedule to the emergency room on any given night. They even decide what groceries to stock in your local supermarket. Given algorithms' (hidden) importance it therefore makes sense that they work for  us. An interesting article in Wired makes the point that our algorithms need to evolve alongside us, much as dogs have, to become useful servants.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Watson in your pocket

No relation to me -  IBM's Watson, the cognitive computer that can be an expert in any subject, is moving to the cloud, and will soon be accessible via smartphone app An article in the New Scientist says that Watson is moving into the cloud and will soon be accessible via smartphone. If you could quiz Watson, IBM's all-knowing supercomputer, from an app on your phone, what would you ask it? In February this year IBM invited potential app developers to pitch them their ideas. IBM whittled 100s of ideas down to 3 Grand Finalists. You can get more information on them here.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

#Turing Test hasn't been passed

Sorry to confuse you, since my previous blog post claimed the Turing Test had been passed. On closer inspection scientists are now not so sure that the chat bot "Eugene Goostman", a computer programme developed to simulate a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, actually passed Turing's Imitation Game. Let's look at the evidence. First, Eugene only managed to convince 33% of the judges that it was human, therefore the majority of thought it wasn't human. Second, Eugene's developers are clearly gaming the game; by creating a persona who is a child and speaks English as a second language they're lowering the judges' expectations as to its ability to understand questions and give sensible answers. Transcripts of the conversations from the latest Royal Society test are not yet available but here's and excerpt from a transcript from a previous event at Bletchley Park on 23 June 2012, with the same program.
[15:02:56] Judge: I come from Manchester. Did you see the jubilee?
[15:03:02] Eugene: Could you invite me to Manchester? I would be so grateful. 
[15:03:17] Judge: Did you see the jubliee?
[15:03:27] Eugene: Try to guess! Actually, I don't understand why you are interested. I know you are supposed to trick me.
[15:03:35] Judge: Not really
[15:03:40] Eugene: Not really? Why? What are any interesting site-seeings in Manchester?
[15:03:59] Judge: Lots of nice things. Do you like football?
[15:04:04] Eugene: Does anyone hate it? Some another topic?
[15:04:18] Judge: Will you be watching the football on Sunday?

[15:04:23] Eugene: I play sports sometimes. On computer. But I prefer racing.

Let's analyse it. First, Eugene doesn't know what the Jubilee was - perhaps it didn't make the news in Ukraine, that's understandable. But then something odd happens; Manchester and football are mentioned and Eugene tries to change the topic. I'm sorry but there isn't a 13 year old boy on the planet who wouldn't then have mention Manchester United! FAIL. You can make up your own mind by talking with Eugene here (hint: try the Manchester and football trick, Eugene falls for it every time, and yes football is a big sport in Ukraine).

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Computer fools scientists, passes intelligence test

A computer program, called Eugene Goostman, that simulates a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, has passed the Turing test at an event organised by the University of Reading. The test investigates whether people can discriminate between a computer or a human in a conversation. The experiment is based on Alan Turing's test for machine intelligence, called the Turing Test, which he called The Imitation Game. This story has been very widely reported in the media by, for example The BBC and even The New Zealand Herald. Thanks to my colleague Mark Wilson, and others, for bringing this story to my attention.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Free eMagazines from Auckland City Library

Auckland City Library has just announced that it is making hundreds of magazines available to members for free as eMagazines that you can read on your computer, tablet or smartphone. Joining the library is free and so there has never been a better reason for getting a library card. Click here for information on had to access the magazines.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

A ballet about automata - Coppélia

At the weekend I went to see The Royal New Zealand Ballet perform Coppélia. What can that possibly have to do with a blog about computing? Well, the story of Coppélia involves a love-struck young couple who find themselves in the house of a Dr. Coppélius, who makes automata. The young couple fool him into believing that his greatest creation, a beautiful female automata called Coppélia, has come to life. So this is a ballet from 1870 about an AI. The music was lovely, the sets beautiful and the dancing amazing. Highly recommended. You can read reviews of the show here.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Microsoft announces release of "universal translator"

The Guardian reports that Microsoft is to release a near real time voice translator as Skype Translator by the end of this year. The service will first appear on Windows 8 but is expected to be rolled out to other platforms quickly. In a demo at the Code conference Skype Translator translated English to German and vice versa nearly perfectly. The video below explains how this works.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The life of a software engineer

As programmers we'll all recognise this feeling. How many times have you felt like this? This cartoon was posted in the blog on

Monday, May 19, 2014

Free Lecture: The Psychology of Computer Insecurity

This Thursday Dr Peter Gutmann, an honorary research associate of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Auckland, will give a free public lecture titled: The Psychology of Computer Insecurity. His research is on the design and analysis of cryptographic security architectures and security usability. He helped write the popular PGP encryption package and has authored a number of papers and RFCs on security and encryption. He is the author of the open source cryptlib security toolkit "Cryptographic Security Architecture: Design and Verification" (Springer, 2003), and also has an upcoming book "Engineering Security". In his spare time he pokes holes in whatever security systems and mechanisms catch his attention and grumbles about the lack of consideration of human factors in designing security systems.

Synopsis: A fairly standard response with computer security failures is to blame the user. The real culprit, though, is the way in which the human mind works. Millennia of evolutionary conditioning and the environment in which users operate cause them to act, and react, in predictable ways to given stimuli and situations. This talk looks at the (often surprising) ways in which the human mind deals with computer security issues, and why apparent “bugs in the wetware” are something that not only cannot be patched but are often critical to our functioning as humans.

When: 6pm for free refreshments for a 6.30pm start, Thursday 22nd May, 2014
Where: Owen G Glenn Building, Room OGGB3/260-092 University of Auckland
Note that there is public parking in the basement of the Owen G Glenn Building at 12 Grafton Road.

Friday, May 16, 2014

British Pathé newsreals online

British Pathé was a producer of newsreels, cinemagazines, and documentaries from 1910 until 1970 in the United Kingdom. Over 90,000 clips are now available online from the Pathé website. So this isn't a strictly off-topic post. If you enter "computer" as a search term you'll see a collection of clips dating back as far as 1949 (an electronic machine that plays noughts and crosses). If you have an interest in history I'm sure you'll find this site fascinating - try using your home town as a search term, you may be surprised by the breadth of Pathé's coverage.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Public Key Cryptography: Computation, Cash and John Nash

This Thursday Associate Professor Steven Galbraith, a leading researcher in computational number theory and the mathematics of public key cryptography, will give a free public lecture at the University of Auckland. Steven has published over 50 papers in this area, written one book, and edited three conference proceedings. He has a Bachelors degree from the University of Waikato, a Masters from Georgia Tech in Atlanta, and he completed his PhD at Oxford University in 1996. He has had post-doc or visiting researcher positions at Royal Holloway University of London (UK), British Telecom Research (Ipswich, UK), University of Waterloo (Canada), Institute for Experimental Mathematics (Essen, Germany), University of Bristol (UK) and Hewlett-Packard Research Labs (Bristol, UK). He has been at the University of Auckland since 2009.
The lecture titled "Public Key Cryptography: Computation, Cash and John Nash" will explain how security can be enhanced by the use of hard computational problems from Mathematics. This was the basis for the creation of public key cryptography in the 1970s. Public key cryptography has many applications in information security, such as secure internet shopping, digital signatures and secure automatic software updates. We will see how digital signatures have now become a crucial component of the electronic currency bitcoin. Cryptography is, of course, of great interest to national security. Recently (only declassified in 2012) it has been revealed that John Nash (subject of the film A Beautiful Mind) sent a letter to the United States National Security Agency in 1955. His letter outlined new concepts that anticipated by decades fundamental notions in computational complexity and modern cryptography.
When: 6pm (free refreshments) for 6.30pm start, Thursday 15th May, 2014
Where: Owen G Glenn Building, Room OGGB3/260-092

Note that there is public parking in the basement of the Owen G Glenn Building at 12 Grafton Road.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Classic album covers in Google Street View

We're seeing some increasingly creative ideas for using Google Street View and The Guardian has recently shown us another one - Classic album covers in Street View. This features the album cover superimposed over it's location; from the obvious Beatles' Abbey Road to more modern covers, this is another creative use of Street View.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Gibbons Lecture Series: Security in Mobile Devices

This Thursday evening Dr Giovanni Russello of Department of Computer Science of The University of Auckland will give a free public lecture on Security in Mobile Devices Giovanni Russello is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at The University of Auckland. He joined the department in 2012 from CREATE-NET in Trento, Italy, where he was the leader of the Security Group after completing a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Imperial College London. Dr. Russello holds a PhD from Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and an MSc from the University of Catania in Italy. His research expertise is in the fast-evolving field of system security for both mobile and cloud platforms. He has authored or co-authored well over 50 research papers and books, and holds four provisional patents. His recent research has concentrated on developing novel security solutions to address vulnerabilities of mobile devices. The fruits of this research have now reached the commercialisation stage. Giovanni is the founder and CEO of Active Mobile Security, a start-up company funded by Uniservices, the university’s commercial arm.

When: 6pm for 6.30pm start, Thursday 8th May, 2014
Where: Owen G Glenn Building, Room OGGB3/260-092
Note that there is public parking in the basement of the Owen G Glenn Building at 12 Grafton Road.

Synopsis: Mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets have become exceedingly successful computing devices, exceeding personal computers in numbers of sales. Smartphones equipped with the Android operating system represent 82% of this very competitive world wide market. However, Android has become the top target for malicious code because the Android standard security mechanism has unique vulnerabilities. This lecture will discuss the special nature of security with mobile devices. In particular it will discuss problems with the Android security model and local research intended to help solve these issues.

Monday, May 5, 2014

This is how Game of Thrones will end

This is an "off topic" post, but like many I've become addicted to Game of Thrones and have spent some time trying to figure out how it may end and I think I've cracked it. I'm going to share my theory with you. Although it seems that Daenerys Targaryen wants to claim the 7 Kingdoms for herself she has shown that every time she comes across slaves she frees them and she abhors suffering and oppression. Her growing army fights for her as free men because they want to, not because they are her subjects. In the North the Wildlings are free, they bend the knee to no Lord. So Here's what I think will happen (note: I can't be precise on the detail but I'm sure of the general theme). The surviving Starks, led by Bran, with magical Warg powers, will defeat the White Walkers. But to do this they'll need to team up with the Wildlings. I suspect Jon Snow will be instrumental in forming that allegiance. Meanwhile Daenerys and her army will attack the south. Eventually a combination of the two "free" armies will defeat the Lanister, Tyrel, Frey, Baratheon, et al Lords. The point you need to understand here is that this is a revolution. Free people are overturning the corrupt, decadent, self-serving, self-appointed nobility. Instrumental in this will be various characters of common birth who have no allegiance to a Lord, or who have come to believe their Lord's are corrupt: Davos the Onion Knight (a smuggler made good), The Hound (Sandor Clegane), Gendry (the bastard of Robert Baratheon). I also think that Tyrion Lanister and Arya Stark have shown commitment to the oppressed. I don't know if any of these characters will survive but they will all fight for the revolution. The final ending will be at the Iron Throne, just as we think Daenerys Targaryen is about to claim the thrown of the 7 kingdoms she will command that one of her dragons (maybe all three if they still survive) melt it down with dragonfire. She'll then give an uplifting speech on how now all people are free. The End. The Game of Thrones will end with no throne. In support of my theory is the fact that the author George R.R. Martin was a conscientious-objector during the Vietnam War. He doesn't believe people should be forced to fight wars for the rich and powerful.

Friday, May 2, 2014

BASIC is 50 years old

Dartmouth University has announced that: "At 4 a.m. on May 1, 1964, in the basement of College Hall, Professor John Kemeny and a student programmer simultaneously typed RUN on neighboring terminals. When they both got back correct answers to their simple programs, time-sharing and BASIC were born." They created a whole website, BASIC at 50, to support this anniversary and events to support it. If you're a computing purist you probably despise BASIC, but you can't deny its influence - I first programmed using BASIC on a BBC Micro computer. However, one of my older colleagues believes the history of BASIC is not as simple as Dartmouth makes out saying "Dartmouth always had a good press office."

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

What does Privacy Mean to New Zealanders in the Internet Age?

This Thursday is the 1st lecture in the annual Gibbons Memorial lecture series. The first lecture is by Professor Miriam Lips of the School of Government, Victoria University of Wellington, titled: What does Privacy Mean to New Zealanders in the Internet Age?

When: 6pm (refreshments) for 6.30pm lecture start, Thursday 1st May, 2014
Where: Owen G Glenn Building, Room OGGB3/260-092
Note that there is public parking in the basement of the Owen G Glenn Building at 12 Grafton Road.

Miriam Lips is the first Professor of E-Government at Victoria University of Wellington. This chair is sponsored by industry - Datacom System, FX Networks, Microsoft New Zealand – and the NZ government - the State Services Commission and the Department of Internal Affairs.

Professor Lips holds a MSc and a PhD from Erasmus University Rotterdam and an EMPA from Erasmus University, Leiden University and the Hochschule für Verwaltungswissen-schaften, Speyer. She has held academic positions at the University of Oxford and Tilburg University. Her current research includes management of online identity, use of social media for public engagement, the use of e-campaigning and the use of new media in disaster management.

Synopsis: Based on a 2013 survey with a representative sample of the New Zealand population, this talk will explore how, and to what extent, different groups of the New Zealand population are disclosing and protecting their personal information in varying online relationships with the private sector, government, and family and friends through social networking. The meaning of privacy for people from different age groups, ethnicities, educational backgrounds, and income groups will be discussed, and the implications for a population which increasingly exchanges their identity information online, against the backdrop of new privacy challenges and risks emerging from the use of 'Big Data'.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Do you use Internet glue

Do you use Internet glue? Do you know what it is? Basically it's a web service that links two web services together; hence the name Internet glue. For example, actions  you take in your webmail system could to update your ToDo list, or add a calendar reminder. Back in January I blogged about how I use IFTTT (if this then that) to create and disseminate these blog posts. Increasingly though these systems are starting to integrate with our smartphones. IFTTT can use the iPhone's location to trigger actions and can integrate with iOS reminders, contacts and the camera roll.  IFTTT has now launched on Android with a deeper set of integrations with the OS than their iOS offering. This is possible because Android has a "more laissez-faire attitude when it comes to allowing apps to extend their tentacles into core OS functions."
If you haven't started using IFTTT I highly recommend you do. Not only can it smooth your workflow but it can also be fun.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Time travel with Google Street View

I always knew Google would do this, it was so obvious. Google Street View now has a new feature that lets you go back in time with Street View to see how any location looked right back to when Google's cameras first captured the view. Now when you start Street View you'll see a time stamp on the pop-up Street View window and a time-line with a slider. You can select from any of the points on the slider.
Your street, like mine, probably hasn't changed much. Time magazine has put together a series of time-lapse sequences that show iconic buildings like NYC's One World Trade Center rising out of the ground over the years. This feature will be fascinating to explore in 20 to 30 years time. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Alan #Turing infographic

Steve Ollington and the Manchester Jury's Inn,  have created an online infographic that's a mini-tutorial on Turing's life and work. Steve write, the Jury's Inn: "...recognise his [Alan Turing's] importance as key figure in British History and a national treasure, and they liked the thought of providing a memorial that would engage, teach and honour a great figure, especially one who is such a local hero."
   Their infographic succinctly (and attractively) sums up many of the key points of Turing's story and is a great point of access for those who are just learning about the man and his place in history. It's reproduced below, and you can visit it on the Jury's Inn site here. [This was brought to my attention by the Turing Centenary blog]

Alan Turing of Manchester, by Jurys Inn Manchester Hotel

Alan Turing Infographic by Jurys Inn Hotels

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Keeping Secrets: Privacy and Security in the Information Age

As our wonderful Indian Summer draws to an end it's time to welcome winter, and for me one of its highlights are the annual series of free public Gibbons Lectures. With the Heartbleed Bug recently in the news alongside the US government mass surveillance of us all, as revealed by Edward Snowden, computer security and privacy has never been more topical. As a consequence this years Gibbons Lectures have the theme Keeping Secrets: Privacy and Security in the Information Age. All of the talks are on Thursdays at 6.30pm, with the public invited from 6pm for free refreshments. The venue is room 260-092 on level-0 of the Owen Glenn building at the University of Auckland on Grafton Road (parking is available under the building.) The schedule is:

1st May: What does Privacy Mean to New Zealanders in the Internet Age?
Professor Miriam Lips
School of Government
Victoria University of Wellington

8th May: Security in Mobile Devices
Dr Giovanni Russello
Department of Computer Science
The University of Auckland

15th May: Public Key Cryptography: Computation, Cash and John Nash
Associate Professor Steven Galbraith
Department of Mathematics
The University of Auckland

22nd May: The Psychology of Computer Insecurity
Dr Peter Gutmann
Department of Computer Science

The University of Auckland

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Farewell to Microsoft XP

You probably heard that this week Microsoft ceased supporting their venerable old operating system XP - if you haven't, and you run XP, you need to be aware that your old workhorse may be increasingly vulnerable to hackers. The general advice is to now consider upgrading your PC to a new OS (Win 7 or 8) but this expensive option may not be feasible for some. So if you want to continue using XP here are 10 tips to keep yourself and XP safe.
   Finally, this might amuse you - a review from September 2001, of the then brand new, Microsoft XP by CNet. What's truly shocking now is the price, $118.95 (USD) to upgrade from Win 95 or 98. Not hard to see why Microsoft was so profitable.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Croudfunding for a computer history display - IBM 5080

The Computer Science Department at The University of Auckland maintains displays on the history of computing that are open for public viewing. This is not an activity that a University would normally fund out of its budget, which is for teaching and research. Right now we have the opportunity to mount a display of engineering Computer Aided Design terminals from the 1980s - these were expensive machines that were required before Computer Graphics became commonplace. The new display will show an IBM 5080 work station set up as it was in use - there will also be other terminals in the display. We need to have a cabinet built to display and protect these items but have no funds to spare at present, hence this first attempt at crowdfunding. If you might be interested in supporting this new display please visit our site on

Friday, April 4, 2014

Facebook Introduces ‘Hack,’ the programming language of the future

Facebook engineers Bryan O’Sullivan, Julien Verlaguet, and Alok Menghrajani have spent the last few years building a programming language unlike any other that Facebook uses to create its web-based system. The language is called Hack and the language's website says "Hack is a programming language for HHVM that interoperates seamlessly with PHP. Hack reconciles the fast development cycle of PHP with the discipline provided by static typing, while adding many features commonly found in other modern programming languages. Hack provides instantaneous type checking via a local server that watches the filesystem. It typically runs in less than 200 milliseconds, making it easy to integrate into your development workflow without introducing a noticeable delay." Hack is open source and available for you to use now. You can find out more on the website or in this post by Hacker News.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Compare: How London Looks on Google vs. Paintings From the 1700s

Nothing serious here, but just a delightful series of pictures that superimpose some 18th-century paintings of London streets over their corresponding Google Street View images. In many cases the streets have barely changed although the details have. View the full set of images on Wired.