They promised us…

The Guardian newspaper has been running a series of articles under the banner “They promised us…” The articles explore why we don’t have flying cars, ray guns, hoverboards, teleportation (like in Star Trek), jetpacks and several other things SciFi has promised to deliver. So if you’re disappointed in our lack of progress read these articles to find out why.

from The Universal Machine


So, modern programmers, you think that you have it tough

Garry Tee, who has long been associated with University of Auckland Mathematics and Computer Science Department is going to fully retire this August, aged 86. Garry topped the NZ scholarship exams in 1948 and graduated from the University of Auckland with a First class Masters degree in Mathematics. Among his many adventures, he worked for English Electric at Whetstone, Leicestershire in the UK from 1958 to 1964 as a Mathematician/programmer using the DEUCE computers. These were direct descendants of Turing’s 1946 designs for the ACE.

To start with, Garry programmed the DEUCE in binary machine language as a sequence of 32-bit words. Working programs were published as research reports and, luckily, Garry has preserved some of these. Below is an extract from one of his programs. The instruction code words were expressed as 4 decimal fields, with the card punch operators converting them mentally to binary, in passing. Turing predicted in 1945 that programming would be done by Mathematicians. That was certainly a skill needed for the DEUCE!

from The Universal Machine

AI Is Making Hardware Sexy Again

Another hardware post, although this time a bit more general than a new supercomputer. Almost 20 years ago at an AI  conference in Austin, Texas, I remember a discussion revolving around how great it would be if we AI people had the processing power that game designers insisted on for their games to run. If gamers could insist that their computers had powerful game cards, why couldn’t AI insist on dedicated AI cards? We never got the AI cards and so we learned to use GPU’s to enable our algorithms to run in reasonable time. However, now things are changing and increasingly hardware is being tailored to AI’s needs as this article in Forbes makes clear.

from The Universal Machine

A new supercomputer

MIT’s Technology Report has introduced the world’s most powerful supercomputer as “tailor-made for the AI era” Since 2013, Chinese machines have occupied the number one slot in rankings of the world’s most powerful supercomputers. Now America is back on top again. The computer, called Summit, occupies an area the size of two tennis courts and carries 4,000 gallons of water a minute through its cooling system to carry away about 13 megawatts of heat. It performs at 200 petaflops — 200 million billion calculations a second!

from The Universal Machine

iPad or Kindle Fire

iPad & Kindle Fire

I don’t often do product reviews or comparisons but I recently bought a Kindle Fire HD 8. That will surprise people who know me as I’m a huge Apple fan. Between my wife and I, we have 9 Apple devices at home. However, I’ve also always been aware that the Kindle is an excellent e-book reader (my wife and father-in-law have them). The Kindle is light, has excellent battery life (weeks) and its e-ink screen is great in bright conditions. But, the Kindle Fire is different to previous Kindle’s; it’s not just an e-book reader, instead, it’s a fully functional tablet, just like the iPad.
I decided to buy a Kindle Fire to compare it to my iPad partly because it’s so cheap. The Kindle is $59.99 (USD) compared to an iPad for $329 (USD). In other words, the iPad is 5.5 times more expensive than the Kindle! In fact, you can buy a Kindle for less than the iPad’s optional cover! So how does the Kindle compare? Well, the Kindle isn’t as fast as the iPad, the touchscreen isn’t quite as responsive and its backlight isn’t quite as bright. The battery life is fine easily lasting a day of use.
Amazon has its own app store for the Kindle, but it doesn’t stock all of the apps that the Apple app store or Google Play for Android devices stock. However, Amazon doesn’t advertise this, but since the Kindle is running Android as its OS you can quite easily (5 mins) install Google Play on your Kindle (just Google it) and then you have access to all Android apps. This means you can install all the productivity apps and games you are familiar with.
Finally, although the Kindle has less built-in memory than the iPad, 32GB max vs. 128GB (add $100 to the iPad’s price for this) you can easily upgrade the Kindle’s storage by using a micro SD card ($38.20 for a 128GB card). In conclusion, the Kindle Fire is a perfectly usable tablet. If work was paying for my new tablet I’d insist on the iPad, but if I was paying myself I’d buy the Kindle Fire and spend the $269 I’d save on something else.

from The Universal Machine

Tips to improve your online privacy

Since the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal a few months ago online privacy has become a popular topic. The New Zealand Herald recently published some very practical tips you can use to improve the privacy of some popular apps. Read about the tips here.

from The Universal Machine

Yet another GDPR email

You may have noticed that in the last week your inbox has been flooded with emails from almost every company you’ve ever interacted with online. All of them wanting to update their terms of use and privacy policy. Many companies have been resorting to humour to try and get us to open these emails. However, as The Guardian has pointed out… legal experts have argued that many of these emails are unnecessary, and may even be illegal under the new data protection laws.” If you don’t know what has caused this burst of email activity it’s due to a new EU law – the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is the most important change in data privacy regulation in 20 years.

from The Universal Machine