Spring is here and young people's thoughts turn to . . . well, the birds and the bees. True birders get up at dawn to catch the best views, but we can all participate vicariously through live cameras connected to the web.
The image at the right was captured from a camera at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. The video feed includes sound and is available in HD resolution. The lab has several other cameras, as well as links to cameras at other institutions.
Some parents will go to any length to help their chicks get into Harvard. The family at the left built its nest at the Harvard School of Engineering.
And any self-respecting New Yorker wants a home with a view, so NYU's hawk family built its nest on a 12th floor ledge overlooking Washington Square Park.
For those who want to get outside, Boston-area bird watchers often favor Mount Auburn Cemetery, noted as a resting station for migrating birds. Their web site lists recent sightings and they have a series of early-morning walks. Those interested in serious research can visit the web site of the Macaulay Library at Cornell, which contains spectacular photos and videos, plus the world's largest collection of animal sounds.
Finally, I thought I would share one of my own photos of a mother Baltimore Oriole feeding her chicks at Mount Auburn Cemetery.
PIONEERS OF COMPUTING - ADA LOVELACE.
Throughout her life, Lovelace was interested in science and mathematics and pursued a number of projects. Through a mutual colleague, she was introduced to Cambridge professor Charles Babbage, developer of a mechanical computer, the Analytical Engine.
One of her projects was to translate a paper about the Analytical Engine from Italian into English. She added her own notes, which included an algorithm for computing certain formulas. That set of instructions is usually regarded as the first "program." The programming language "Ada" is named in her honor.
You can read more about this amazing woman at --
PIONEERS OF COMPUTING - CHARLES BABBAGE.
Babbage was Lucasian professor at Cambridge University, a position that has also been held by Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking. Recognizing that manually calculated mathematical tables contained many errors, he set out to build machines that could do the math mechanically.
His first creation was the Difference Engine. Its gears were designed to compute specific astronomical and scientific funtions. But like a modern calculator, it could only compute the equations built into it; it could not be programmed to do others.
That's where his Analytical Engine came in. Like a modern computer, it could be programmed; in fact Babbage proposed to use 1950s style punched cards for the input.
Alas, due to funding restirctions and changing designs neither device was completed during Babbage's lifetime. Fully-functional Difference Engines have been built from his plans -- the Computer Museum's copy can be seen in operation on its web site
Babbage produced thousands of drawings for the Analytical Engine, but the design was never finalized. His drawings have been digitized by London's Science Museum and a project is underway to build a working Analytical Engine. NY Times, November 7, 2011.
2000 YEAR-OLD COMPUTER.
The mechanism was found with an ancient shipwreck discovered in 1900 by sponge divers near the Greek island of Antikythera. For decades it was the statues and other artwork found with the wreck that were considered its treasures; no one understood what the small, corroded brass device of dials and gears was supposed to do.
Recent analytical techniques and computer modeling have enabled scientists to recreate the mechanism and its functions. A working model has been built, which you can see on the Wired Magazine web site.
You can learn more about this fascinating device at these web sites --
FIRST COMPUTER BUG CAUGHT AT HARVARD IN 1947.
On September 9, 1947, operators searching for the cause of the problem found that a moth had become stuck in one of the machine's relays. They removed the moth, noted the event in their system log book and taped the moth to the page. Below the bug they wrote: "First actual case of bug being found."
One of the members of the Harvard team was Grace Hopper, a pioneer in early computing. She is said to have referred to the moth's removal as "debugging" the system, and generally is given credit for popularizing the term as it relates to computers.
The log book with the bug attached is now at the Smithsonian Institution and can be seen on their web site.
COMPUTER HELPS BREAK ANCIENT CODE, REVEALING SECRET SOCIETY.
Fast forward 13 years to a conference on computers and language translation. The featured speaker, Kevin Knight, has computers treat language translation as they would code breaking. He invited audience members to share long coded texts with him. Schaefer submitted her book.
Knight's technique uses massive computing power, processing numerous guesses, analyzing which work best, continuously narrowing the results. The machine guessed the book's original language was German. Knight interpreted the results and sent his conclusions to Schaefer.
Then Schaefer and her boss applied their knowledge of European languages and history. Schaefer's boss guessed that one symbol, previously believed to be a lip, represented a human eye. That was the key, leading to the translation of Schaefer's book and others written in the same code.
Thus decoded, the book describes an initiation rite of the Great Enlightened Society of Oculists, eighteenth century pioneers in ophthalmology who performed cataract surgery. But on further analysis, the researchers began to believe that the Oculists was a secret society, involved with Freemasonry, and that ophthalmology was just a cover. The problem is the translated text can be read at many levels, so that its literal translation may not reveal its true meaning. Thus its inner secrets are still preserved, at least for now.
The entire story, including a video interview with Knight and samples of the code, are on the Wired Magazine web site. A shorter account appeared in the New York Times. Knight, Megyesi and Schaefer have created a web site from which you can download source materials.
YOUR SMARTPHONE MAY BE SPYING ON YOU.
In addition, a lawsuit, Pacilli v. Carrier IQ et al., has been filed in Federal court in Delaware against Carrier IQ and various wireless carriers. Businessweek.
BEWARE FAKE iTUNES GIFT CERTIFICATES.
According to a report in Macintouch, the e-mail contains the following message:
ADOBE HALTS DEVELOPMENT OF FLASH FOR MOBILE WEB BROWSERS.
ADOBE TO RESTRUCTURE, LAY OFF 750.
Adobe's web site reports this in a November 8, 2011 press release. More details about the planned realignment are provided in recordings of presentations given by senior Adobe executives at a November 9, 2011 financial analysts' conference.
1830s COMPUTER FINALLY BEING BUILT.
Babbage was Lucasian Professor at Cambridge University, a position also held by Sir Isaac Newton and Stephen Hawking. Babbage designed and began construction of a programmable computing machine called the Analytical Engine. Due to repeated design changes and loss of funding, it was never finished.
An article in the New York Times, It Started Digital Wheels Turning, describes a project being undertaken at London's Science Museum to build the machine. One of the problems is that Babbage did not leave a complete set of final plans. The museum's web site has more information about Babbage and his machines.