Posts Tagged ‘computer’

Terry Pratchett’s Hydraulic Computer Wasn’t A Joke After All

November 30, 2014
In Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novel Making Money which is a satirical story of the creation of a fractional reserve banking system on the Discworld, the Wizards of the Unseen University* help to develop a water driven computer to model the economy of the city state of Ankh Morpork and predict future trends.

MONIAC – the water computer, now a museum piece (source)

 The computer is no more successful that the modern, digital supercomputers used by banks and governments but the book is very funny, it’s central character has the irresistible name of Moist Von Lipwig and while providing plenty of laughs it makes some very sound points about the flaws in the global financial system.

Now since reading the book I have thought the hydraulic computer was a creation of Terry Pratchett’s abundant imagination. I was wrong it seems, there was once, not all that long ago, a hydraulic financial modelling computer named MONIAC – Monetary National Income Analogue Computer. And it was no less successful (i.e. they’re all totally hopeless) at predicting economic trends than the supercomputers used by banks, government agencies and universities that failed to predict the 2008 financial crisis. I’ve linked an article from Zero Hedge below.

Water clocks are a kind of computer of course and have been around from pre Roman times. The earliest documented by contemporary witness accounts was the one in Alexandria, Egypt, in the reign of Nero (1st Cetury AD). There are several examples of medieval water clocks still telling the time in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and The Czech Republic.

*you have to be sharp to pick up all Pratchett’s jokes, did you know for instance that Britain’s foremost scientific association, The Royal Society, was in former times nicknamed The Unseen College for the way it steered research.
from Zero Hedge

Presenting The 70 Year Old Hydraulic Computer Used By Central Planners To Visualize Economy

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Scientists Predict Robot Brains to Match Humans in 25 Years

November 11, 2014

The scientists have been wrong about robots with better-than-human intelligence before of course but this time they are sure they have it right (just as sure as they were all the other times when they got it hopelessly wrong).
Not long after the first modern computers evolved from bead boards via medieval water clocks in the 1940s, the science-is-God brigade started predicting that in just a few years / decades machines would be as smart as humans or more likely smarter than humans. Every year someone comes along and says the same but the prediction gets pushed back another year. The consensus now, according to a survey, is that it’s going to happen in … you guessed it, just a few more decades.

There may be more reason to believe the predictions today. After research that’s produced everything from self-driving cars (well not quite cars and not quite self driving) to Jeopardy!-winning supercomputers, scientists have a much better understanding of what they’re up against. And, perhaps, what we’re up against.

Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, laid out the best predictions of the artificial intelligence (AI) research community in his new book, “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.” Here are the combined results of four surveys of AI researchers, including a poll of the most-cited scientists in the field, totalling 170 respondents who were asked:

So if Human-level machine intelligence is defined as “a machine that can carry out most human professions at least as well as a typical human,” then the only answer to the question ‘when will human level machine intelligence be availabe’ is “haven’t a clue, probably never”. Unless of course we were to redefine what we mean as intelligence, equating it to an ability to parse vast amounts of digital information amazingly quickly and match defined binary strings.

If however we were to ask “When will computers be as clever as scientists,” the answer is “In evolutionary terms, computers are already a couple of million years ahead. A computer would never committ the folly of trying to design an intelligent scientist.”

Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Virus (beat the Ransomware scam)

November 16, 2013

There’s a new ransomware internet virus doing the rounds. DON’T PANIC A bit of background first then I’ll tell you how to deal with it and protect your computer (and you don’t have to pay me a penny :DD ).

These ransom scams first appeared two or three years ago and hijacked computers whose owners then would get a phone call demanding a payment to clear the virus (the virus was merely annoying, how the scammers obtained people’s phone numbers is what we should be concerned about.

The warnings were dire. “If you do not pay the virus will wipe you hard drive”, “the virus will obtain your bank details and empty your account”, the virus will bill your credit card up to your limit”.

Several people, friends of family, friends of friends, brought their computers to me, they could not afford the ransom (good thing they didn’t pay it, the scammers just demanded more) and found the computer shops wanted only a little less to clean the computer.

Cleaning the first one took about an hour and a half. Subsequent ones were much quicker. And I ended up a couple of bottles of good whisky and half a dozen bottles of my favourite Burgundy better off.

Then an even more unpleasant version came out, I actually caught this one myself through sheer carelessness. The message on screen was “From Los Angeles Police Department.You have been looking at we sites with illegal content (child pornography). Your computer will be frozen until you pay us $1000. If you do not pay you will be arrested and thrown into jail,” (something like that anyway, it was a particularly inept attempt to intimidate me, I hadn’t been looking at any porn sites, LAPD have no jurisdiction in the UK and no police department in the free world would be so stupid as to provide an electronic record of a bribe solicitation.

The virus used by that scam was kids stuff, a piece of cake. Took ten minutes to kill it.

People are so intimidated by technology however, some fall for these tricks.

Here’s how the new ransomware is reported in The Daily Telegraph

” Internet fraudsters are targetting tens of millions of British customers with a virus which locks computers until the victim pays a £500 ransom to be released, the National Crime Agency warned today.

The spammers are particularly aiming the virus – known as ransomware – at small and medium size businesses. It is disguised as an email alert about suspicious payments or invoices.

Once opened the virus ‘freezes’ the computer and the local network and demands two Bitcoins of internet currency – approximately £536 – to unlock the machine.

The NCA described the ‘mass spamming’ event as a ‘significant risk’.

A NCA spokesman said: “The emails may be sent out to tens of millions of UK customers, but they appear to be targeting small and medium businesses in particular. ”

Now one of my beefs about the way technology has been going is the constant push to convince us the machines are smarter than we are. Leave the thinking to the machine goes the corporate propaganda. DON’T fall for it, do not open suspecious emails, do not open email attachments even from people you know, unless you are expecting them.

Machines can’t think, machines aren’t dumb, they are machines, they do what they are built or programmed to do. The best way to protect yourself from these scammers is to learn a little about your computer.

(1) Learn to start in “Safe Mode”. Use your Windows Help feature to find out how on your system. Safe Mode stats Windows with a very limited set of drivers so viruses and malware cannot run.

(2) Check that your machine has an application named MRT.EXE which should be included in every Windows installation sold since 2009. MRT is the Microsoft Malicious Software Removal Tool. Once you have found it you should open it and run an update. MRT is not virus protection, it is a backstop for machines that are already infected so don’t abandon your usual security package. Also, now you know you have MRT, keep it up to date, about once a month is enough.

If you have a bit of time to spare and feel like running MRT just to find your way around it, set it off and take the dog for a walk or something. It is not a quick process but might root out a few nasties your normal security missed. To run MRT click the Windows START button, choose RUN from the menu and in the dialog box type mrt.exe then hit RETURN.

OK so now you are equipped to get behind that virus and clean your machine.

If you find that the virus merchants have found a way to block MRT even in safe mode, we’re still OK. When you start in safe mode it gives several options, the default will show a very clunky looking Windows front end. Another option with say “Start in command more” or something similar. This takes you to the old DOS command line screen.

from the C:(directory)> prompt, type RUN c:WINDOWSSTSTEM32MRT.EXE and hir RETURN. Simples. The directory shown after the C: will be whatever directory you are working in, usually Documents and SettingsUser

OK, let’s get out there and beat those scammers.

Spread this around freely. A link to this site is always welcome but not necessary.

Apple iPad Will Not Rewrite The Book

January 29, 2010

Amid much hype Steve Jobs the world’s top celebrity CEO launched the latest gadget from Apple. Apple addicts were thrilled to the core but will the new gadget for reading e-books ever replace Johannes Gutenberg’s big idea?

It almost moved me to poetry: Here, in the style of E.J. Thribb is my initial reaction.

And so, Jobs
in an era of no jobs
you have given us the iPod,
a computer without keyboard
or knobs.

Hmm, quite promising that. I might try to finish it sometime.

The iPad is a rather late entry into the e-reader market which is already looking overcrowded. With offerings from Amazon, Sony, BeBook, iRiver, Bookeen, Elonex and a few others (e book readers, reviews) already competing for market share it’s possible there are more e – book readers than there are e books to read on them.

The iPad will sell of course, Apple are the Michael Jackson of technology manufacturers, they make mediocre products that engender a kind of fiercely defensive attitude usually only found among followers of crackpot religious cults. Telling an Apple geek they could have bought a piece of kit that would do much more so much better for half the price is like telling a Scientologist L Ron. Hubbard was a con man.

No matter how many versions of the iPad Apple decide to release, the faithful will buy them all just as Michael Jackson fans used to buy the same album over and over again because it kept being re-released in a different cover.

Beyond the precincts of the Apple cult’s compound however, among those not in thrall to the Pontifex Maximus Jobs, high priest of the God “i” how well received will the iPad be? Will it be the gadget that finally kills Gutenberg’s technology? To be honest we doubt it, the iPad will find a niche within the niche of the gadget addict market occupied by e book readers but would a serious reader want to read a volume of fiction or non fiction or a collection of favourite poems on a device the name of which makes them think of female personal hygiene requisites.

More humour and satire every day from Boggart Blog

Money Fruit – It Grows On Trees

January 21, 2010

Hands up anyone who as a child or teenager was not told by their Dear Old Mum or Dad, “Money doesn’t grow on trees you know.”

One, two… two more over on the right and one at the back ready to make a quick exit if the debt collectors show up. I had no idea so many leading Labour politicians read our blog.

While Lib Dems Invisible Man Clegg and old shiny face Cameron have spent the past couple of weeks explaining why they will have to cut public spending if they get elected and furiously back-pedalling on earlier promises that their parties can reduce the deficit without cutting services Gordon Brown, who was not advised that money does not grow on trees was happily swanning about in his money tree orchard and telling the media how he would be handing out free laptop computers to “the needy” just as soon as he is granted another term in power.

With the nation already effectively bankrupt due to Gordon’s ability to delude himself that the money fruit he harvests from is orchard grows naturally on the branches of his trees rather than being pinned there by us compassionate taxpayers who do not want to traumatise the Prime Minister by stripping him of his delusions.

What Gordon hopes to achieve by using part of his money – fruit harvest to give laptops to the needy is unclear. The needy have more need of some cash to help with their meganormous fuel bills that a free laptop computer they will not be able to use because the electricity has been cut off. Perhaps when he says needy he means destitute.

In our experience there are two types of destitute people, the truly unlucky and the wasters and no – marks. The former could get a lot more benefit from a hot meal and a thick blanket. You can’t eat a laptop computer even if you boil it for a very long time, nor can you wrap it around yourself when huddled up in a doorway on a cold night. Wasters and no-marks on the other hand would be very happy to get a free laptop computer as they could take it down Cash Converters and hock it to get money for booze and drugs.

Gordon Brown is not the first Labour leader to believe money grows on trees however. The entire sub – species seem afflicted with the same problem. Perhaps they are predisposed to financial profligacy by something in their DNA. I know for a fact there is a gene that causes people to spend money they don’t have, my wife and daughter both have it. But even those wonderful people do understand that when you have emptied the bank account and maxed out the credit cards you have to stop. With Labour leaders the silly – spending gene leads to a belief that the only way to cure the problems caused by overspending is more overspending.

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