Wednesday, December 26, 2012

In praise of... Oscar Niemeyer


Back in March I wrote a blog post about the architect Mies van der Rohe - this blog is (mostly) about computing, yet that post is the 4th most viewed post on this blog. I really don't know why, perhaps geeks like modern architecture. So I figured I'd give another giant of modernist architecture some praise - Oscar Niemeyer
    A few years ago I was invited to lecture in Brazil and as part of the trip went to the capital Brasilia - their purpose built capital city, in the middle of nowhere, designed by Oscar Niemeyer. The entire city was designed to look like a plane from the air; with Parliament where the cockpit is, government ministries down the fuselage and residential areas in the wings. Although much of the original design ethos has been lost to infill development the set piece buildings in the heart of the city are wonderful examples of modernist architecture. It was thrilling to see so many beautiful buildings in one space. Oscar Niemeyer passed away in June aged 104.



from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Monday, December 24, 2012

NORAD tracks #Santa (RAF shoots him down)

Since 1955 the North American Aerospace Defence Command NORAD has been tracking Santa as he, his sled and reindeer, deliver presents to all the good children in the world on the night of Christmas Eve.

Britain however, is not a member of NORAD and does not track Santa...

BBC Breaking News: RAF Says "Sorry, We Shot Down Santa" 06:15 25/12/12

A Senior RAF spokesperson has just made this announcement: Air Commodore Jack Ripper said, "It is with deep regret that I must inform the nation that at 02:15 hours we confirmed that the RAF had shot down Father Christmas as he crossed the Scottish border."
   he continued  "Two Tornado F3s of No. 111 Squadron were scrambled from RAF Leuchars in Fife Scotland to intercept the unidentified intruder but were too slow. Satellite data indicated the intruder had originated from somewhere in the  Arctic Polar Sea, actually from near the North Pole. It was concluded that it was likely an intercontinental ballistic missile launched from a nuclear submarine. The intruder was subsequently shot down by a surface to air missile. We can confirm there are no survivors, though Blitzen is unaccounted for."
   A Ministry of Defense spokesperson has confirmed the incident and added that, "The Army will ensure that every child in the UK receives a toy this Christmas. Though for logistical reasons children will have to visit regional distribution centres to collect their toy." So far the Prime Minister has been unavailable for comment.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Universal Machine Kindle Edition - a perfect Christmas gift

Buy on Amazon

The Kindle edition of the Universal Machine is out in time for Christmas. It would make the perfect Christmas gift for that relative whom you never know what to buy. Anyone with any interest in computers will love to receive this - honest. Don't just take my word for it, here are what some reviewers have said:
    The Universal Machine is a great way to get a real feel for where the machines that are at the centre of so many of our lives came from. 4 stars - PopularScience.co.uk
    There is something in here for anyone who has the vaguest interest in a history of computers including the internet, some of the major pioneers and some of the companies that have risen (and in some cases, fallen) along the way.  8/10 - British Computer Society
     It's accessible and readable even to non-geeky types, written as it is in an easy-going and engaging style. At the same time, it's also an enjoyable read for hard-core techies: you'll almost certainly keep running into computers and engineers you haven't heard of before - a fascinating history of computers and computer scientists - NakedSecurity
  I really enjoyed this book. It's very informative, well written and very easy to read. I look at my computer now in a whole new light. 5 stars - Amazon review

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

IBM predict computers will have all 5 senses in 5 years

IBM has made a prediction that in just 5 years cognitive computers will be able to see, hear, taste, touch and smell. Bernard Meyerson, Chief Innovation Officer at IBM says, "This year, we focused the IBM Next 5 in 5, our 2012 forecast of inventions that will change your world in the next five years, on how computers will mimic the senses:
Touch:        You will be able to reach out and touch through your phone
Sight:          A pixel will be worth a thousand words
Hearing:     Computers will hear what matters
Taste:          Digital taste buds will help you to eat healthier
Smell:          Computers will have a sense of smell"
   It's all described in this video below.

Incidentally, I've always been puzzled by the "5 senses" as I've always thought I have 6 senses - motion being the 6th. The awareness of being up or down, accelerating or decelerating  moving forwards, left or right. To me that's a "sense," distinct from the other 5, but just as useful.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Big Data for small business

Big Data has been the IT buzz word for 2012 and I've blogged about it before. It would be easy to think that Big Data was the sole preserve of mega companies like Google and Amazon, but an article in the Washington Post called How Main Street will fight big business with 'big data' shows how small local businesses, by sgharing their data, can gain significant benefits.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Saturday, December 15, 2012

Stephen Hawking supports pardon for Alan #Turing

The Alan Turing Year brought this to my attention last night - a group of senior British establishment figures, including Professor Hawking, have written a letter to the Telegraph newspaper in support of a pardon for Alan Turing. I can't find the letter online so here is a full transcript:

Pardon for Alan Turing
SIR - We write in support of a posthumous pardon for Alan Turing, one of the most brilliant mathematicians of the modern era. He led the team of Enigma codebreakers at Bletchley Park, which most historians agree shortened the Second World War. Yet successive governments seem incapable of forgiving his conviction for the then crime of being homosexual, which led to his suicide, aged 41.
    We urge the British Prime Minister to forgive this British hero, to whom we owe so much as a nation, and whose pioneering contribution to computer sciences remains relevant even to this day. To those who seek to block attempts to secure a pardon with the argument that this would set a precedent, we would answer that Turing's achievements are sui generis. It is time his reputation was unblemished.

Lord Currie of Marlyebone
Lord Grade of Yarmouth
Lord Faulkner of Worcester
Lord Rees of Ludlow (Astronomer Royal)
Lord Sharkey
Lord Smith of Finsbury
Baroness Trumington
Sir Timothy Gowers (Rouse Ball Professor of Mathematics Cambridge University)

Dr Douglas Gurr (Chairman, Science Museum Group)
Professor Stephen Hawking
Sir Paul Nurse (President, The Royal Society)

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Worried about the Mayan apocalypse?

NASA isn't. In fact they're so sure that the world will not end on December 21, as some claim was predicted by the ancient Mayans, that they've published, ten days earl,y their December 22nd 2012 ScienceCast video explaining why the world didn't end the day before. Of course if they're wrong they wont have to wipe egg of their face.


from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Google Doodle for Ada Lovelace

Google have honoured Lady Ada Lovelace with a Google Doodle on her 197th birthday. Regular readers of this blog will know that I'm a big fan of this remarkable lady. She was a collaborator of the Victorian mathematician Charles Babbage: translating an Italian paper on his inventions into English (and adding copious notes of her own), and writing the first algorithm for Babbage's Analytical Engine. As a consequence she is often referred to as the "first computer programmer."

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Friday, December 7, 2012

He dreamed of machines - The Pet Shop Boys perform new #Turing work

The Pet Shop Boys on their blog write, "Last night's concert with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra was a wonderful experience for us. The orchestra played with such luxurious power and conviction, conducted by Dominic Wheeler, and the Manchester Chamber Choir brought ethereal beauty to, for instance, "Miracles" and "He dreamed of machines" (from our new piece about Alan Turing)... "He dreamed of machines" had a pale beauty. Many thanks to everyone at the BBC, Parlophone and our management and tour personnel for making it happen."
   The concert was broadcast live on BCC Radio 2 and is available to stream for seven days from BBC Radio 2's website.

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

NZ premiere of Codebreaker - #Turing movie

Just a reminder that tomorrow (Thu Dec 6) is the NZ premiere of Codebreaker, the new drama-documentary movie about Alan Turing. The movie screening is free, with free refreshments before hand.
Venue: OGG B4 (260-073), Owen G Glen Building, University of Auckland (see map below)
Time: screening at 6:00pm, refreshements from 5:30pm
The movie is 81 minutes long and there is public parking in the basement of the Owen G Glen Building.

View Larger Map

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Monday, December 3, 2012

Peter Norvig - has the best job in the word

In a recent interview in the Guardian Peter Norvig, Google's director of research, say he has "the best job in the world." In the interview he talks about the future of Artificial Intelligence, mapping, personal computer, and Google's plans for the future. He's extremely well qualified to talk about AI since he co-authored the standard AI text book. If you've taken an AI course, including mine, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach is the recommended text. 

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Friday, November 30, 2012

Auckland Museum solves mapping mystery

Detail from a 1908 chart showing Sandy Island
in the Coral Sea
There's been a lot of talk about the accuracy of maps recently, particularly with regard to Apple's iOS Maps application. In fact Richard Williamson, the guy in charge of the Apple Maps team, recently lost his job. Perhaps he can take some comfort from the fact that maps always contain errors and that cartography, even in the age of satellites, is not always an exact science.
    Recently a story surfaced (no pun intended) about the mysterious disappearance of Sandy Island in the South Pacific. The 26 km long island in the Coral Sea is clearly shown in charts dating back to the 1700s and is shown on Google Earth as a mysterious black lozenge. This year some Australian scientists set out to visit Sandy Island only to find open ocean.
   Auckland Museum has now solved the mystery by studying its archived charts. One of these shows that Sandy Island was discovered by the ship Velocity in 1876. But there is a note on the chart which warns: "Caution is necessary while navigating among the low lying islands of the Pacific Ocean. The general details have been collated from the voyages of various navigators extending over a long series of years. The relative position of many dangers may therefore not be exactly given."  So it seems that maps always contain errors - perhaps Richard Williamson has a case for unfair dismissal from Apple.




from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Thursday, November 29, 2012

The tech behind the #Hobbit

Yesterday it was rather hard to avoid The Hobbit's premiere in Wellington - but as computer scientists we're much more interested in the technology than in the red carpet. Weta Digital, Peter Jackson's FX company isn't camera shy but I've only been able to find this description of the infrastructure they deploy to make movies like LOTR, King Kong, Avatar and now The Hobbit. Adam Shand, former lead of Weta Digital's infrastructure team describes Weta Digital's data centre using 35,000 CPU cores in its "renderwall" and 3,000TB of storage. The distributed Weta campus buildings are "connected with a minimum of redundant 10Gbps connections with 40Gbps EtherChannel trunks in any situation in which storage and the renderwall needed to talk to each other." A full description including architecture diagrams is provided by Shand in this NetApp blog post. Since this describes the infrastructure used for Avatar I guess Weta Digital will be more powerful today. In the video below Paul Gunn, of Weta Digital, describes their technology.



from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Cambridge Project for Existential Risk

There's been a spate of articles  (like this one) recently about the potential risks and ethics of lethal AIs - drones that can acquire targets autonomously and robots, like the Terminator, hunting down and killing people. Whilst I've blogged about this before I was surprised to suddenly see the web alive with speculation and comment. I think I've tracked down the source; a new Cambridge University research centre called "The Cambridge Project for Existential Risk." 
    The CSER is co-founded by Cambridge philosophy professor Huw Price, astrophysicist professor Martin Rees and Skype's co-founder Jaan Tallinn. Prof Price says, "It seems a reasonable prediction that some time in this or the next century intelligence will escape from the constraints of biology. He adds that as robots and computers become smarter than humans, we could find ourselves at the mercy of "machines that are not malicious, but machines whose interests don't include us".

from The Universal Machine http://universal-machine.blogspot.com/




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