Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Syrian hackers attack western media

In 2011 when I was writing The Universal Machine I searched for a topical example of demonstrators using social media to publicise their protests. I chose the Syrian uprising as the latest example of the Arab Spring uprisings, little thinking that two years later this tragic conflict would still be raging. I also wrote about the rise of state-sponsored hacking, using China and North Korea as examples. Now the Guardian reports that Syrian pro-Assad hackers are attacking western targets. The Syrian Electronic Army has hacked the twitter accounts of the BBBC, France 24 TV, National Public Radio and Associated Press in the United States, al-Jazeera, the government of Qatar, and Sepp Blatter, the president of football's governing body Fifa. In one hack they claimed via twitter that a bomb had exploded in the White House and that President Obama had been injured.  It really does seem as the next war will be fought in cyberspace.
  Incidentally Twitter recently announced that it was going to start using two-factor authentication. It seems like they should hurry this up.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Network Geeks

My colleague, Brian Carpenter, has just published a book called "Network Geeks" - "Part history, part memoir and part cultural study, Network Geeks charts the creation of the Internet and the establishment of the Internet Engineering Task Force, from the viewpoint of a self-proclaimed geek who witnessed these developments first-hand." The Internet pioneer Vint Cerf says the book "is a geek page-turner! I learned much about the European side of the Internet's history that I did not know in detail and a lot about Brian himself, too. I don't know how he remembered so much in detail!"
    Network Geeks is available from all your usual book sellers - highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A date for your diary...

The lead lecturer for our Department’s Gibbons Lectures this year is Professor Geoff Wyvill from the University of Otago, who will speak on “A Better Paintbrush.”  Geoff is one of the founders of Computer Graphics animation in New Zealand and is always an entertaining speaker. Way back in the 1980s before computer animation was used in movies Geoff gave our department a showing of short video “The Great Train Rubbery” that explored creating images from intersecting spheres that moved on trajectories – unfortunately, all we have to show now is a still from the movie. Back in Dunedin Geoff was one of the founders of Animation Research Ltd., that has made many memorable videos, including the famous (in New Zealand) “Bluebird Penguins.” [Click here for a video]
   The date for your diary is Thursday 2nd May 6:30pm. If you're not in Auckland the lecture will be streamed online. Full details of the talk, date, time and venue are available here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Would you fund this startup?

Quora recently posed the question "What are some of the most ridiculous startup ideas that eventually became successful?" There list of crazy startup ideas that have actually become huge successes amused me; for example here are their first two:

  • Facebook - the world needs yet another Myspace or Friendster except several years late. We'll only open it up to a few thousand overworked, anti-social, Ivy Leaguers. Everyone else will then join since Harvard students are so cool.
  • Dropbox - we are going to build a file sharing and syncing solution when the market has a dozen of them that no one uses, supported by big companies like Microsoft. It will only do one thing well, and you'll have to move all of your content to use it.
Read the full list on Quora and if you can think of any others add them to the comments below.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

IBM's Watson helps cure cancer

I'd obviously like this story wouldn't I. But, IBM's Watson system certainly isn't named after me or even after Sherlock Holme's sidekick, it's named after a former CEO of IBM. A couple of years ago Watson famously beat the two best Jeopardy! competitors to win $1,000,000 by answering (in real time) Jeopardy! questions. IBM then announced that Watson would be turned to work in healthcare. Archiving and searching the vast, and growing, corpus of medical literature. Clinical Ontology News reports that: "The Watson product in oncology, called Interactive Care Insights for Oncology, provides a Watson-based advisor, accessible through the cloud, that is intended to help identify individualized treatment options for patients with cancer, starting with lung cancer, ... In principle, oncologists anywhere will be able to access detailed treatment options to help them decide how best to care for a patient. To prepare for its work in oncology, Watson has taken in more than 600,000 pieces of medical evidence, and 2 million pages of text from 42 medical journals and clinical trials, ... Watson is able to search through 1.5 million patient records and provide physicians with evidence-based treatment options in seconds."

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Centenary Slips By

At the Easter meeting for 1913 on 22nd and 24th March the Auckland Jockey Club set operating at their racecourse at Ellerslie in Auckland an automatic totalisator machine. The centenary of this event has slipped by without remark by the media (despite some reminders!) The reason that this was an interesting event is that this was the first such machine, the forerunner of a series of improved machines that were designed and operated up until the 1970s. Nowadays, the work of the totalisator (adding up the number of bets made on each horse) is still performed, but by computer programs.
The first automatic totalisator was designed by George Julius (later Sir) an engineer working out of Sydney. Unlike later totalisators, the first used no electricity and was driven entirely by clockwork. It was a huge machine as can be seen by comparison to one of the mechanics working on its assembly.
The machine is described here in a subset of a general history of totalisatorsOne may wonder why this anniversary has been unobserved? Horse racing used to be a very popular form of entertainment when there was little alternative. In the 1950s crowds of 50,000 people would gather at Ellerslie on race days. Now the races appeal to a much smaller group, because of alternative forms of entertainment and gambling, and the horse races themselves struggle to attract crowds. The races have become high society and fashion events. This seems to be the same the whole world over.
[This post was provided by Bob Doran]

Friday, April 12, 2013

Dom's laptop is in Iran

This story caught my eye today. A young man, called Dom, has his laptop stolen in the UK. He's installed "Hidden" on his Mac which (eventually) reports the Mac's new location as Tehran in Iran! It starts sending home photos of its new "owner" and reporting on what they're using their new laptop for. An interesting and amusing story and a caution to laptop thieves - you never know who's watching.

Monday, April 8, 2013

British Library sets out to archive the web

The NZ Herald reports that the British Library is going to archive the web for future historians. The British Library has always tried to keep a copy of everything published in the UK; that means every book, newspaper, magazine, newsletter, and pamphlet. However, obviously in 2013 possibly the majority of information is published online. The problem is though that webpages are notoriously ephemeral; here today and gone tomorrow. This potentially leaves a gaping void for historians in the future, which the British Library now intends to fill by archiving the web. An automated "web harvester" will scan and record 4.8 million sites ending with the suffix ".uk" at least once a year - a total of 1 billion web pages. Rapidly changing websites, like those of newspapers, will be harvested more frequently, as often as daily.
    The US based Internet Archive has been doing just since 1996 on a slightly ad hoc basis. It's Wayback Machine lets you browse through over 240 billion web pages from 1996 to the present

Friday, April 5, 2013

Block those pesky robocallers

Nobody likes marketers who cold call your phone, right when you're in the middle of doing something more interesting; and let's be honest, anything is more interesting than listening to a telephone marketeer. But, perhaps the most irritating are robocallers, although at least you can hang up without feeling rude. The US Federal Trade Commission announced Tuesday that it was awarding a $50,000 prize to two developers who submitted the best ideas in a contest it announced in October asking for ways to stop robocalls for good. The Washington Post reports that two software developers will each receive $25,000 for their solutions. One simply looks up a black list of numbers to block incoming calls but the other is more inventive. Aaron Foss's solution, called Nomorobo, would use “simultaneous ringing to route incoming calls to a second line. The second line would then be responsible for identifying the bad calls and hanging up on them. The software, he said, identifies robocallers with an algorithm he compared to an e-mail spam filter that looks for specific characteristics of the callers. It will work on both mobile and traditional phones."

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

NZ winners announced for Microsoft Imagine Cup 2013

And the winner is... InfinityTek from the University of Auckland. Daniel Xu, Jacky Zhen, Ming Cheuk and Muthu Chidambaram were the overall winners of $6,000 and will travel to St. Petersburg, Russia to represent NZ in the global Imagine Cup finals. Team InfinityTek’s ‘UVsense’ product uses a custom-developed wristband sensor to monitor UV exposure and wirelessly communicate that data to a Windows 8 smartphone. The goal is to allow people to manage their skin cancer risk – according to the Ministry of Health, the most common form of cancer in New Zealand. Imagine Cup is Microsoft's premier student technology competition and the winners faced stiff competition from 549 other NZ students. Congratulations to our students and here's hoping they can win in Russia.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Guardian Goggles: because life's too short to think for yourself - video

The Guardian newspaper has unveiled its new augmented reality immersive goggles - because life's too short to think for yourself!