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?