Category Archives: Technology

Rosetta’s Philae lander – a real personality

Good news that all is on track for Philae to attempt to land on a comet tomorrow. Even better, it seems to have developed a personality:

For some reason, when the lander is powered up, it switches to the back-up computer briefly before changing to the main one. Accomazzo says that this is just part of the spacecraft’s “personality”.

Sounds like something from the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Musing, Technology

The eight worst predictions in the history of technology

Nice attempt by The Telegraph to pick the top wrong tech predictions – they picked my favourite as the first one:

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers – IBM President Thomas Watson 1943

Of course, given that computers were used for ballistics and code-breaking during wartime, I guess he can be forgiven for missing the home market…

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology

ACCU Meet-up: Lies, Damn lies and Estimates, Seb Rose

Seb Rose gave an excellent presentation on the difficulty of providing estimates in the software industry. He debunked some myths, including the shape of Cone of Uncertainty, and recommended several books on the subject for further reading:

The Leprechauns of Software Engineering 20141021-143907.jpg

A few other points to take away:

  • We are best at estimating small tasks, so split them into 1, 2 or 3 days tasks
  • Express estimates as a range with a confidence level – 90% confident that will take between 2-3 weeks
  • Communication with stakeholders is most important – assess the impact on upstream and downstream systems

I’ve downloaded the Leprechauns eBook – it’s main intention is to persuade the reader that several views that are taken for granted have not been proven in the literature – such as the Cone of Uncertainty as projects progress (the further into a project, the less error in estimates) and the 10X Programmer (some programmers are ten times more productive).

For what it’s worth, my view on the 10X Programmer issue is that, whilst it’s hard to gather the necessary evidence to compare performance across real world projects, there’s little doubt that some developers add much more value to a project than others. This is true of any human activity – queuing in a coffee shop with a handful of baristas serving while the queue barely moves, it’s usually possible to tell the one person who’s actually getting any work done. On holiday, I watched at a cycle hire place while one guy served at least three times as many families as any other.

It may not be 10X productivity in programming, but a star developer will: eliminate swathes of work by adopting a suitable 3rd party library; consistently check-in code that works (unlike his unproductive colleague who always breaks the build and leaves edge cases untested); produce intuitive user interfaces, reducing the hours of support to train new users.

I have Waltzing with Bears on order – PeopleWare by the same authors was excellent, so looking forward to this one.

Leave a comment

Filed under Meetup, Programming, Soft skills, Technology

Heart rhythm-based Password Band

Gigaom reports that Bionym have begun shipping its heart-rhythm-based password band to developers.

A day is nearing where you will be able to open a door or access your laptop based on your unique heart rhythm. Bionym, maker of the Nymi wristband, began shipping units to developers today so they can create applications for the unusual password system. Bionym originally intended to ship the bands to consumers earlier this year, but has been delayed.

There’s a video accompanying the announcement – what really interested me isn’t just the claim that heart-rhythm is individual enough to be used as a secure identifier. It’s also that they see the wrist band being used to interact with devices via gestures – in the video, “Steve” opens his car boot and car door with gestures, and also interacts with the computer in his hotel room via the wrist band:

20141017-191655.jpg

Whilst 3D body gestures are unlikely to have the granularity of a mouse or stylus, it’s interesting to combine identification and interaction in this way.

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology

Apple Watch – the new old watch

Apple have finally announced the Apple Watch. Based on the publicity photographs and rushed reviews that have been published so far, I’m a fan and will probably buy one. But it struck me that the grand new innovation, the Digital Crown, is hardly ground-breaking – my current Tissot watch has had it for ten years!
Tissot classicApple Watch

You see, the functions on my classic Tissot watch are entirely driven by the bezel. As well as the analogue time, it has a stopwatch, timer and digital date/time display.
The bezel acts in several modes:

  • Rotate slowly to change hours
  • Rotate quickly to change minutes
  • Press to start/stop timer or stopwatch
  • Pull out to change the time

What’s really clever is that, when the digital functions are hidden, the watch looks completely analogue. And the bezel reacts according to mode – it only bleeps when you press in stopwatch/timer mode, and ignores the press otherwise.

So whilst the Apple Watch is my next watch, my classic Tissot watch was there first.

1 Comment

Filed under Musing, Technology

Pure silicon for quantum computing

The BBC reports that American physicists have found a way to purify silicon better than ever before.

The good stuff is silicon-28, and physicists in the US have worked out how to produce it with 40 times greater purity than ever before.

Even better, they can do it in the lab instead of relying on samples made ten years ago in a huge, repurposed plutonium plant in St Petersburg.

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology

Brain-Inspired IBM Chip Puts Traditional Computers To Shame

Article from NBC news on IBM’s new computer chip. Apparently it has 5 billion transistors on a single chip.

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology

Intelligent machines making their own decisions

Interesting article on LinkedIn about intelligent machines collaborating and communicating together to make decisions.

For example, sensors on your roof could sense that it’s a sunny day. The roof sensor is connected to the thermostat, and based on the data the thermostat receives, it automatically adjusts the inside temperature on the sunny side of the house and lowers the automatic shades before you do.

Imagine having all of the airplanes flying over every country wirelessly communicating to each other—not to all of the pilots, but the planes themselves communicating to each other real time flying conditions such as temperature, humidity, wind direction, speed, and turbulence. Each plane can then better anticipate potential issues and help the pilots respond before there is a problem.

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology

Google task monitoring plans

The Register reports on Google’s approach to active task monitoring and management:

“Our solution, CPI2, uses cycles-per-instruction (CPI) data obtained by hardware performance counters to identify problems, select the likely perpetrators, and then optionally throttle them so that the victims can return to their expected behavior. It automatically learns normal and anomalous behaviors by aggregating data from multiple tasks in the same job.”

The article talks about the benefits in terms of low-latency guarantees, because hungry batch jobs can be killed. The data might be useful for tracking down performance bottlenecks too – imagine never having to attach a profiler to a running process because you can already attribute the time spent on a job to its individual tasklets.

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology

Algorithm to sharpen grainy photos

This sounds too good to be true – using a huge database of photos to teach an algorithm how to make a photo look more natural.

Unlike other photo enhancement tools, which work on an image-by-image basis, Geisler’s approach—called “image processing with natural scene statistics”—is based on the analysis of thousands of images. Geisler and his team measured the statistical properties of those images and created an algorithm that determines what is or is not “noise” in any given photograph.

Leave a comment

Filed under Technology