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A Computer Built For Mars August 11, 2012

Posted by tkcollier in In The News, Science & Technology.
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The PowerPC RAD750 chip at the heart of the Curiosity Mars rover’s central computer can withstand temperature extremes and massive doses of space radiation without the dreaded ‘blue screen of death.’

“First, you have to develop the radiation hardening techniques and actually implement them in the design,” said Scott Doyle, a BAE systems engineer for satellite electronics. “The next step is you have to qualify each of those individual components and that qualification is normally a year, a year-and-a-half, just to do that.””Then they get integrated on the board, and that board has to go through qualification activity to prove out the board. Then once that board gets integrated into the satellite at the system level, there’s several years worth of qualification testing that goes in at the satellite level. You add all that up, you’re talking five to eight years of qualification work.”

The resulting computers can cost anywhere from $200,000 to a half-million dollars. While all that might seem like overkill to an outsider, space-based computers simply have to work. “There’s no repairman in space,” Doyle said.

But given the unavoidable limitations in processing speed and memory, Curiosity’s programmers face a daunting task when it comes to writing software. “What’s hard about this, my phone has a processor that’s 10 times as fast as the processor that’s on Curiosity and it has 16 times as much storage as Curiosity has and my phone doesn’t have to land anything on Mars,” Cichy said. “All my phone has to do is follow (a friend’s) Twitter feed.”

via Slow, but rugged, Curiosity’s computer was built for Mars | Cutting Edge – CNET News.

The Invention of Ctrl+Alt+Delete June 20, 2011

Posted by tkcollier in Humor, Technology.
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At this rate, even with 12 of the country’s best engineers working round-the-clock, IBM was never going to deliver its first computer prototype to Microsoft in a matter of four months. The parts were all new. The software. The hardware. Even the names “software” and “hardware.” They were treading new ground. There had never been a “PC,” a personal computer, until this group of programmers built the first one in that lab.

So, as you can imagine, there was a lot of frustrating rebooting going on as Dave Bradley tried to get the CPU – the central processing unit, which they named – to talk to a printer or a monitor for the first time, code he had spent months writing.

He needed a quicker way to restart, to refresh, to escape from a computer quagmire than just switching the computer off and waiting for it to reboot. So he wrote nine lines of code, a “10-minute job,” Bradley remembers. He wanted to make sure it wasn’t something you could just press by accident and wipe out your work. He wrote it so that with his left hand, he held down the keys Ctrl+Alt. With his right hand, he pressed Del.

The screen went black, came back to life and voilà: A cultural icon was created and some great one-liners from the creator, such as “I got to meet Bill Gates when he was only worth millions” .

Actually, about that meeting – At a panel discussion with Gates for the 20-year anniversary of the PC, Bradley was asked about how he created the keystroke. Google Dave Bradley and Bill Gates to see video of Bradley quipping, “I may have invented it, but I think Bill made it famous.” The crowd rolls with laughter. Bill Gates, frozen in a smile-shaped grimace, is not amused.

Read more at  Palm Beach Post : In flash of keystrokes, Dave Bradley changed computer history..

Click more to see the video (more…)

Why You Can’t Help Your Kids With Math March 6, 2011

Posted by tkcollier in Lifestyle.
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“That’s largely to reflect the different needs of society,” he says. “No one ever in their real life anymore needs to — and in most cases never does — do the calculations themselves.”

Computers do arithmetic for us, Devlin says, but making computers do the things we want them to do requires algebraic thinking. For instance, take a computer spreadsheet. The computer does all the calculations for you automatically. But you have to write the macros that tell it what calculations to do — and that is algebraic thinking.

“You cannot become good at algebra without a mastery of arithmetic,” Devlin says, “but arithmetic itself is no longer the ultimate goal.” Thus the emphasis in teaching mathematics today is on getting people to be sophisticated, algebraic thinkers.

That doesn’t mean that kids can skip learning their multiplications tables. “But the way it’s taught now is you get to the multiplication tables by understanding the number system and understanding what numbers mean,” Devlin says.

via The Way You Learned Math Is So Old School : NPR.

Lawyers Replaced by Computers March 6, 2011

Posted by tkcollier in Economy & Business, Lifestyle.
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Computers are getting better at mimicking human reasoning — as viewers of “Jeopardy!” found out when they saw Watson beat its human opponents — and they are claiming work once done by people in high-paying professions. The number of computer chip designers, for example, has largely stagnated because powerful software programs replace the work once done by legions of logic designers and draftsmen.

Software is also making its way into tasks that were the exclusive province of human decision makers, like loan and mortgage officers and tax accountants.

Quantifying the employment impact of these new technologies is difficult. Mike Lynch, the founder of Autonomy, is convinced that “legal is a sector that will likely employ fewer, not more, people in the U.S. in the future.” He estimated that the shift from manual document discovery to e-discovery would lead to a manpower reduction in which one lawyer would suffice for work that once required 500 and that the newest generation of software, which can detect duplicates and find clusters of important documents on a particular topic, could cut the head count by another 50 percent.

The computers seem to be good at their new jobs. Mr. Herr, the former chemical company lawyer, used e-discovery software to reanalyze work his company’s lawyers did in the 1980s and ’90s. His human colleagues had been only 60 percent accurate, he found.

“Think about how much money had been spent to be slightly better than a coin toss,” he said.

via Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software – NYTimes.com.

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