Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category
The BCS Young Professionals Group (YPG) is the largest membership group within BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, with over 20,000 members across the UK and internationally. Is it dedicated to representing, supporting and developing those in the foundation years of their technology and computing career, with the aim of developing the future leaders of the IT profession. It is a passionate and motivated group of volunteers who work collectively on a variety of initiatives across the UK, such as talks, workshops, education and networking events — all of which aim to develop and connect the wider IT community. I have been Chair of YPG since November 2011 and have represented the YPG constituency across a number of boards and committees, as well as more recently as a Council-elected Trustee of the BCS.
The 2013 BCS Young Professionals Group Annual General Meeting will take place on Wednesday 9th October 2013 at BCS London. To continue the success of the past couple of years, BCS YPG is looking for nominations from highly motivated individuals to join its Executive Committee to help the BCS best represent and engage with the student and young professional community in the UK and internationally. Further information on available positions and how to stand can be found on the AGM announcement, or on the BCS Volunteer Portal. I would urge you to stand (or to get involved with YPG activities in your region through your local BCS branch) — it is a fantastic opportunity to shape the wider student and young professional agenda within the BCS, as well as engaging with your peers from across the IT profession.
I am standing for a full three-year term as Chair of YPG: please see my nomination statement. As your Chair I would like to drive forward the student and young professional agenda within the BCS, as well as ensuring that the BCS are representative as a leading modern chartered society for IT and computing professionals, both in the UK and internationally. Please feel free to contact me!
A useless machine is a device that performs a mostly useless task, such as switching itself off, performing no other practical function. In its modern form, the useless machine appears to have been invented by AI pioneer Marvin Minsky at Bell Labs in the 1950s, which he named the “ultimate machine” (Minsky also invented a “gravity machine” that would ring a bell if the gravitational constant were to change, a theoretical possibility that is not expected to occur in the foreseeable future). The device has also been called the “Leave Me Alone Box“.
Minsky’s mentor at Bell Labs, information theory pioneer Claude Shannon, made his own versions of the machine (similar to this one). He kept one on his desk, where science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke saw it, later writing:
There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing — absolutely nothing — except switch itself off.
(see also: the Trammel of Archimedes a.k.a. the “do-nothing grinder”)
There are plenty of ARM-powered development boards out there, so it’s sometimes hard to see what a new one can bring to the table. But the open hardware MC HCK (pronounced “McHack”) is meant for quickly building projects on a small budget. The motivation for the project is on being a small, cheap and versatile microcontroller platform that supports USB for easy programming, and can be built at home for $5. It is not a product designed to make money — the MC HCK is a quick hack toy from geeks, for geeks.
As per the quick spec, the board is based on a Freescale ARM Cortex-M4 microcontroller (which includes DSP, but no FPU) and can be plugged directly into a computer via USB. As a Direct Firmware Update (DFU) bootloader is present on the microcontroller, there is no need for external programming equipment. The board also has unpopulated footprints (as long as you are not afraid of soldering the odd component onto a board…) that allow users to add other functionality: for example, a Real Time Clock (RTC), a Lithium Polymer (LiPo) charger IC or a SPI flash IC for external storage. Or add a $2 2.4GHz RF module, and you have the first node of a sensor network.
“MC” is short for microcontroller, but it also makes it sound like a Scottish surname, and Scots are stereotypically cheap. We like cheap. And “HCK” stands for “hacking”, “hackers”, “hackspaces”, but shorter, smaller. Like the MC HCK board itself. And MC/HCK is a pun on TCP’s SYN/ACK, meaning “ready to go”, even a step ahead.
We know that Google has all kinds of clever search commands (as well as a rich set of developer features, for example Google Charts), but here’s another useful one: you can set a countdown by typing “set timer X min” into Google, with an alarm when it expires.
(if a countdown doesn’t do it for you, then you can also use the command “set timer X time“)
Next week I will be speaking at Digital 2013, a headline Welsh Government event highlighting the importance of the ICT sector in Wales. In preparation for the event, I was interviewed to discuss the “Digital 2013 Opportunity“, especially with the ongoing ICT review in Wales, as well as broader science, technology and innovation policy:
What is a NANDputer? It’s obviously a computer built entirely out of NAND gates. NAND logic (along with NOR) is functionally complete, so it is possible to construct all other logic gates using just NAND gates. But why? Well, like any good hardware hack: to see if it could be done.
Taking Kevin Horton nearly two months to design and make, every part of the build apart from the peripheral board is based on NAND gates (hence why the point-to-point wiring is…crazy). The basic architecture of the computer is fairly conventional, with an accumulator, a full ALU, 8 bit registers, separate RAM/ROM areas (Harvard architecture), instruction skipping for decision making, bit set/clearing, a three-level stack and even an interrupt.
It takes 96 clock cycles to run a single instruction, giving just over 100kIPS (thousands of instructions per second) with the clock running at 10MHz. Not great (roughly 2-3x slower than a Commodore 64 at 250-300kIPS), but not bad considering the hardware engineering. For example, it’s faster than a TMS1000!
(N.B. If you’re still curious about how a NAND-based computer works, then try this online course.)
Watch Barack Obama’s recent Google+ Hangout, in which he discusses the importance of computer science in preparing the USA’s future workforce, in association with the ACM (following on from a successful CSEdWeek in December).
A very clear message about teaching computer science and programming at high school, to develop creators and not just consumers of technology:
(N.B. Obama seems fairly comfortable with computer science, as this interview with Eric Schmidt from 2008 highlights…)
A great clip from Tomorrow’s World, first broadcast in 1969, of Nellie: “a computer set to revolutionise the classroom“. In this clip, the boys of Forest Grammar School in Berkshire demonstrate how Nellie can be programmed to solve mathematical equations and play music, as well as the importance of computer maintenance…
At present, only 30% of computing jobs are filled by women and when it comes to the number of female speakers at computer conferences, the figure is much, much smaller. In an attempt to address this problem, men are now signing an online pledge to boycott conferences where there are no women on the panel. But just how effective can this tactic be? Should men be doing more to get women and girls into computing? And does the problem really lie with conference organisers or in the fact that just not enough girls are taking computer studies at school? Jenni talks to Aral Balkan, a web designer, who has signed the pledge, to 13 year old Amy who loves computer programming and to Dr Tom Crick, Chair of Computing At School in Wales.
On Friday, I was a guest on BBC Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour, discussing females in IT, along with Aral Balkan and 13 year old Amy Mathers. As you can see above from the somewhat incongruous screenshot, the original focus of the programme had been on “male geeks rising up for women” (something with which I was not particularly comfortable), but I felt I had been invited on to discuss the educational aspects of the problem. As I’m sure you’ll agree, Amy was the stand-out star of the show, displaying an impressive understanding of computer science and the value of learning how to program.
Unfortunately, there has been an orchestrated social media backlash due to the choice of two male guests, which got picked up by the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail the following day. Without wanting to add to the furore, there appears to have been a lot of noise made with very little fact-checking, detracting from the focus on the underlying problem; I suggest you read Aral’s excellent blog post, as well as the response from the editor of Woman’s Hour.