Monday, 17 March 2014

Anyone for Wiff-Waf

It's the rise of the machines!

If you didn't know, Wiff-Waff was the original name for table tennis, and is, surprise surprise, another sport invented by Great Britain as far back as the 1880's. Made popular as Ping-Pong, table tennis requires incredible hand eye co-ordination, tremendously fast reflexes, the ability to predict where the ball will be from a millisecond's worth of seeing where the ball is in relation to the table, fantastic athleticism and flexibility to be able to stretch and reach for those apparently impossible to reach for balls, and finally unbelievable sense of touch, knowing when to hit the ball hard or change the pace by hitting it softly so it just falls over the net.  In short not something you would associate with robots.  But you'd be wrong!

The video shows an epic match between Timo Boll, the best player in Germany, and a Kuka robot. Apparently the fastest robot around. While Timo is pretty good - I'm sure you could all give him a good game - what the robot does is amazing.  It must have motion detectors (cameras) to give it vision, incredibly fast processing power to handle all the calculations necessary to predict where the ball will be, fantastically quick motors to get the bat into the right position in time and sensitive touch sensors to be able to control the ball.

While Timo wins, just, what sport or activity do you think you can do better than robots? Chess, Snooker perhaps.  When do you think robots will take over the world?

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

One Direction Stripped Naked

Ssshh! Don't tell anyone, but rumour has it, today's music stars can't play music and even worse, can't sing: that what we hear on shows like the X factor bears no relationship to how contestants really sound.  Stories have apparently been circulating that what you hear is the result of auto tune. Auto-tune is piece of clever software that takes sound waves from the microphone and transforms them to sounds that are in tune no matter how badly out of tune the singer is.

For the first time we now have evidence.  During a recent One Direction concert, the computer running the auto-tune program crashed. Being a live show they had to continue: as they say, the show must go on. So if you are feeling brave enough, watch the video to see how Harry Styles and the others really sound.

Thanks for Sam Rick who managed to get hold of this rare footage.

So, now you know the truth, what do you think? Who else do you think uses auto-tune to sound good or perhaps do you know of band who would be improved by auto-tune: Justin Bieber perhaps?

Remember, the truth is out there.  Keep watching  the skies!

Friday, 31 January 2014

Loads of Wonga

I've always admired people who could play musical instruments.  As my father said to me, if you can play the guitar, you'll always be invited to parties. Unfortunately, I started to play the violin and not, it has to be admitted, terribly well. Nevertheless, I clearly remember being in the Student's Union bar.  A Music student played the piano and he had the ability to play by ear.  With a few hummed notes he could reproduce any tune requested by the remains of  a late night audience.  To this day, I remain impressed by the casual confidence with which he did something truly well.

I was reminded of this recently by one of the Wonga adverts, featuring a highly talented guitarist - Ben Lapps - playing against a CGI  (computer generated imagery) old man character. Initially, I was struck by the musical talent on display and especially by the apparent lack of effort it took to produce such a bravura performance.  Later on reflection, it was the quality of the CGI and the skill taken to reproduce the old man playing the guitar that surpasses the musical ability on display.

It was computer science that made it all possible and it was with the support of  computer technology that helped CGI artists to produce such a misleadingly simple advert.  I mean, how would you go about producing such a high quality CGI character that apparently plays a real guitar with such skill?

So there are plenty of creative as well as technical jobs in computing, but what skills do you admire and what would you like to do really well?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Man, Machine in Perfect Harmony

Forget 'One Direction', forget the latest X factor favourite, Justin Bieber or any other talentless wannabee.  Do yourself a favour and watch the movie below.

It may seem humdrum at first, but watch how it develops.  It shows true creativity and technology in action.  All you need is coupla' of robots, cameras, a computer, fancy software, shed loads of talent, together with that extra something that makes all the difference: Imagination.

So don't bother with ridiculous haircuts, throw away those Voi Jeans - they're so last year -, dump the Ugg boots, if you want to be sub-zero COOL, grab yourself a computer, embrace your inner nerd and start creatin'.

What you you make?

Monday, 2 September 2013

I've got nothing to wear!

It's been a long time since the last post.  Time's arrow has moved on with the passing of  the summer holidays and now it's the beginning of a new academic year.  So welcome back to school.

Hey! Good lookin'
It seems that the latest hot thing in gadget land is wearable tech: computerised technology that you can wear.
The latest craze seems to have begun with Google Glass: specs that include a video camera and a voice controlled computer  that responds to voice commands.  It also includes a small mouse control button in one of the arms to save you the embarrassment of having to shout OK GLASS in noisy situation while everyone wonders why you are talking to yourself.

What the time?
Samsung and Apple are thinking about similar head based wear.  But in the meantime they've produced or about to produce wrist based watch/phone/mp3 player type computers.  It is even possible to view movies on these wrist based devices.  Some come with a stylus so you can use them to browse the internet and send messages.

Light up the catwalk with an LED Dress
Wearable tech is finding its way into clothing.  It is possible to get LED dresses to wear.  This is the same technology that goes into flat screen TV's and computer monitors, but flexible.  As a result the dresses can change colour as the wearer moves around. Maybe in the future high quality pictures or adverts can be displayed on the dress.  There is also clothing available, that changes colour according to how hot or cold the person is, adding another meaning to "Your're Hot! Today."

Wearable tech is also making its presence felt in the field of medicine, with clothes available that contain monitors for temperature, heart rate, motion detectors and hydration of whether you need a drink or not. Shoes can even contain step counters measuring force and well as the number of steps.  As you walk the shoes can even generate power for charging other devices.

It's a smart bone cast
Rather than use old plaster casts to set bones, technology has found its way into helping people to recover from broken bones.  Monitors are included that tracks muscle activity and then suggests exercises to keep affected muscles active to speed up recovery.   The down side is of course, you can't get people to write 'get well soon' messages on your cast.  Ho Hum!

One ring to bind them all!
And those smart people at MIT in the states, have developed a ring that works like a credit card.  Instead using chip and pin to pay for things, customers would place a ring against a reader for money to rapidly change hands.  Quick payment for sure, but does it given muggers an incentive to go around chopping off fingers to get their jewelry?

Technology is only skin deep!
So far we've done eye wear, we've done clothes, we've covered health and we've done jewelry. What's left?  Well some people are having their personal information embedded on their skin in tattoo's in the form of a circuit board.  The information in tattoo's can be read by special readers without you even having to into contact with anything.  They can provide name, financial and health information and even your location.  Spooky!

So technology is moving away from the desktop pc, the phone and tablet, into what we wear.  What kinds of devices would you like to see in clothes.  Wi-Fi hot spots embedded in hats possibly?  What about a keyboard printed on your shirt sleeve?  What about clothes that are free but are sponsored by companies who can change their adverts on the front  using wireless technology. How do you feel about tattoos being used to track your movements?  Have your say.

Monday, 22 April 2013

What is it with lego?

With the success of Morgan Spence, there emerges a new star: James Weir in first year.  It appears James has on the quiet been making his own epic films.  Although neither can afford to hire Brad and Angelina, it hasn't stopped them from making great films using that most common and ubiquitous toys, Lego.

James  film style is little different from Morgan's.His  'Princess in Tower' film shows a greater use of narrative commentary in combination with film. Morgan in contrast, aims to complete the entire story in film.  There's nothing wrong with the approach taken by James: many famous directors - George Lucas (Star Wars) - and playwrights, Shakespeare amongst them make use of this technique.

A big advantage in using the narrative technique is that it shortens time and the film.  Long periods of travel, for example can be indicated through captions combined with other techniques.  James for example indicates days and nights of travel by switching between light and dark.  James and his brother in their other film,  'Batman & The Bank Job' adopt the more common approach as used by Morgan Spence.

A couple of stand out moments for me in the film include the transformation of Batman into his costume, how he transfers into the Bat mobile, the handcuffs.  And finally a nice touch is the two part vertical gate in Arkham.  These all show good problem solving skills of how to tell a story through film with limited resources.  Well done James!

What do you think?

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Your teachers are past it?

Everyone who's made it big, did it while they were young.  Richard Branson (Virgin), Albert Einstein (Theory of Relativity - don't be misled by the famous picture of him as an old man), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Bill Gates (Microsoft),  Steves' Wozniak & Jobs (Apple), Hewlett & Packard (guess what they did!), the list goes on and on. Well they've just been joined by one of the newest and youngest internet millionaires, Nick D'Aloisio.

Nick D'Alosio
Young Nick at 17 has just been given more than £20 million by Yahoo for a phone app he developed when he was even younger at 15.  Developed at home, the app he called Summly uses clever programming to produce a daily digest of all the main news stories on a phone, providing users with quick links to more detailed articles.

It was only released in the Apple Store four months ago, but since then its gathered over one million downloads.  Amazing stuff.

Nick's success, again proves that it's the young, the one's closest to new developing trends, that have the coolest ideas: age is not a barrier to success.  And with technology, armed with a simple computer, any one can produce world beating apps in their bedroom.

So what's stopping you?  What ideas have you got for a phone app?  What would you like to see on your phone?

Ignorance is no longer a barrier. You'll find out to develop phone apps  in a new upcoming unit on android programming.  All that's missing is the starting idea, so get your thinking hats on!

How would you spend £20 million smackers?