Wednesday, December 24, 2014

NORAD tracks santa

Every Christmas eve the US air defence system (NORAD) swings into action to track Santa's progress around the world delivering gifts to children. You can follow Santa's progress on the official NORAD Santa Tracker website. The site also features information about Christmas holiday traditions, music, movies, a shop and games you can play, plus information about how and why NORAD tracks Santa - recommended.

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.



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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!

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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

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

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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.


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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.



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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.



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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.

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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.


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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.



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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.

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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.


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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.


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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:





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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.

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