Thursday, September 26, 2013

Computer science wins the 34th America's Cup

Well it wasn't the result we wanted but today we finally learned what won the America's Cup - it was computer science. No I don't mean Oracle (though of course Oracle Team USA did win). I mean Oracle's Speed Augmentation System (SAS). This is an automated computer controlled fly-by-wire system that adjusts Oracle's hydrofoils automatically. Team New Zealand's hydrofoils are adjusted manually by a crew member. Apparently Boeing helped OTUSA with the technology, which is essentially the same as the fly-by-wire systems that continually adjust the flight surfaces of modern aircraft. This explains the remarkable speed gains that OTUSA have shown in the last 10 days, effectively locking the Kiwi's out of the cup. The SAS just gives OTUSA a more stable foiling platform and stability equals speed. So far other that what the TV commentators have been saying I've been unable to find any details of the system online, but I'll keep looking. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Simpsons - a cartoon for mathletes

The Guardian reports that the popular long-running TV cartoon series the Simpsons is written by and for math geeks. Apparently hidden within many episodes are references to obscure (and not so obscure) mathematical expressions, formulae and facts including: Fermat's last theorem, perfect numbers, a narcissistic number, a Mersenne prime (all shown in the picture to the right), Euler's identity, a googolplex, the mass of the Higgs boson, appearances by the French mathematician Blaise Pascal, numerous jokes about π and of course the all important geometry of doughnuts. And you thought it was just a kids show.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Mitsuku chat bot wins AI's Loebner contest

The BBC has reported that a chat bot called Mitsuku, originally designed for a music website, has won the annual AI Loebner contest. The annual Loebner contest is really a Turing test, where chat bots have to convince human judges that they are human. Briton Steve Worswick, who wrote Mitsuku, won $4,000 meaning the judges found it to be the best chat bot entered. Mitsuku did not win the $100,000 Grand Prize meaning it hadn't convinced the judges it was human. Why not give Mitsuku a try yourself and you can be the judge.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Computer History Timeline Redesigned

[By Bob Doran] The timeline in the corridor into the Computer Science building at the University of Auckland was demolished along with the corridor itself in order to form a new plaza between the Science buildings. It has now been re-installed at the north of the plaza. We took the opportunity to correct and extend the timeline by another decade. It has been completely redesigned as well to fit the new space.
It was difficult to choose the main developments of the last 10 years because there have been so many. We selected “events” concerning, flat screens, flash memories, information on-line, the human genome, electronic commerce, disk and server farms and “the cloud.” For technology we note the arrival of the Terabyte disk and the 1Gbit RAM  chips. Peculiar to New Zealand are the  high-speed research network (KAREN) and NeSI (the New Zealand eScience infrastructure) and as a general time-stamp we note the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
Do drop by and have a look.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

What the web looked like wayback

It's easy to forget now that when the World Wide Web got started some of today's mega-brands were garage startups running on a shoestring. Today startups get millions from venture capital and employ teams of graphic designers, PR consultants and hit the ground all slick and professional. It wasn't always that way (as this article shows). You can use the Internet Archive's Wayback Machine to check out how your favourite website used to look - my favourite is the White House's website, which looks like Chelsea Clinton designed it for a school project back in 2000. Joking aside though, the Wayback Machine by archiving websites is serving a very valuable historical function that will allow future generations to see how things used to look.
[This post was suggested by my colleague Bob Doran]

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The PC boom is over

Back in April 2010 ,when Steve Jobs launched the iPad, he declared that we were now living in a "post-PC era." Many pundits disagreed and didn't see the point of the tablet - too big to be truly mobile, like a smartphone, and too hard to write on, like a netbook or laptop. Well, The Guardian reports research company IDC as finding that the PC market will never regain its 2011 peak and "it says that total shipments will fall by 9.7% compared to 2012, and will continue to drift down at least until 2017." A separate report shows that large screen smartphones, or "phablets," are particularly popular in the Asia/Pacific region exceeding the sales of tablets and laptops combined. It seems that, at least for personal use, Jobs was sort of right.