Stories tagged computer

It's Friday, so let's get a new Science Friday video up. Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday
"Bubbles can do computations, says Stanford professor Manu Prakash. Just like electrons running through wires in your computer, Prakash and Neil Gershenfeld, of MIT, directed bubbles through tiny etched tubes and showed basic computations were possible. Because the presence of a bubble can influence the behavior of another bubble, Prakash was able to build "and," "or" and "not" gates. Bubbles are bigger and slower than electrons, but they can carry things--meaning you could create as you compute, Prakash says."

Today marks the 60th anniversary of LEO (Lyons Electronic Office), the world’s first business computer, which was created by J. Lyons & Company, an organization known for operation of tea shops in Great Britain, as well as being a biscuit manufacturer and founder of the Wimpy burger chain.

After World War II ended, the increase in office costs made Lyons realize that some form of automation was needed to bring these costs under control. Before World War II, Lyons had developed a reputation for factory and office efficiency. Lyons' policy was to control their own service departments (legal, shipping, laundries, box making, food laboratories, tea estates, wine cellars, etc.), so they tackled the ambitious task of building an electronic computer, even though they had no history of electronics. Nothing was available to them at this time to meet their needs, so they set about designing and building one themselves.

LEO's first task, and the world’s first business Close-Up of LEO/1 Control Desk
Close-Up of LEO/1 Control DeskCourtesy LEO Computers Society

computing application, was to calculate the costs of Lyons’ weekly bakery distribution run. Previously, this task had been carried out by hand by accounts clerks. At first, LEO was unreliable, but improvements were made on a weekly basis. Two years later, in December 1953, LEO was given the important job of calculating Lyons’ payroll. A milestone was reached on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1953, when the task of calculating a employees pay took LEO only 1.5 seconds, whereas before it took an experienced clerk a total of 8 minutes.

News Article: How a chain of tea shops kickstarted the computer age

Website for LEO Computers Society:

According to a recent article in Popular Science, Wearable Computers for Pitchers Could Come to Major League Pitchers. Seriously? Yes. At $200 a pop, the wired compression shirt is out of my budget, but for the million dollar salaried players and the franchises that hire them, it might be worth the cost -- pitching injuries cost the league upwards of $54 million a year! Craziness.


Flash memory: Today's content king.
Flash memory: Today's content king.Courtesy Nrbelex


MRAM (magnetoresistive random access memory) flips the magnetisation of a region 180 degrees relative to another permanently magnetised region to store a 0 or a 1. MRAM is nanosecond fast but if made too small and close together will "cross talk".


FeRAM (ferroelectric random access memory) use small external electric fields to polarize ferroelectric crystals. FeRAMs low energy requirement and speed advantage is offset by the requirement that every memory bit requires a space hogging capacitor.


PCRAM (phase-change random access memory) use laser light or current to change a materials structure. If the current pulse is long, the material orders itself into its crystalline state (a conductor). If the pulse is short, the material cools abruptly into the amorphous state (an insulator). These memory regions can be made quite small, but the downside is that the melting requires lots of energy.


RRAM (resistive random access memory) use high voltages to drive off or reabsorb oxygen bound within molecules like titanium oxide. When the oxygen leaves, it leaves behind holes in the crystal and excess electrons that are available for conduction. This process requires almost no electrical current, making them very energy efficient. Another exciting property is that RRAMs can represent more than a 0 or 1. They are able to adopt any number of values for their resistance (memristors) which could make them models for the analogue computational elements (synapses) inside the human brain.

Racetrack memory

Racetrack memory moves tiny domains of magnetism along wires. The domains are moved along the wire by a current and written or read when they pass sensor heads. If the wires can be coiled into 3 D, the memory per volume will increase several hundred times.

Source: New Scientist


At The Science Museum, we should have Stuff About Science Fiction and where we came from.
There is a game Called Spore, Here read about it (Read about Spore Here) and the game is about evolution from a cell - creature - tribe runner - civilization owner - space explorer. It is really fun.
Google Link here.
There is Spore, Then Spore Creepy and Cute, Then Spore Galactic Adventures for Computer.

75 words, cannot change
my email is [email protected]
OK, I like Windows and Windows 7.
Buzz is Awesome.
If the science museum accepts that, email me above.

Fortran punch card: I remember punching out code on hundreds of these cards.
Fortran punch card: I remember punching out code on hundreds of these cards.Courtesy Arnold Reinhold
Oct 15, 1956, John W. Backus published a manual explaining a new way to program computers.

“John Backus and his Fortran project members almost single-handedly invented the ideas of both programming languages and (optimizing) compilers as we know them today." Wired

Instead of compiling complex machine code which tooks weeks, Fortran code could be written in hours and was much easier.
I was even able to learn Fortran back in the late 60's. It even satisfied my foreign language requirement!


Graphene memory is smaller

Graphene transistors: Graphene is an atomic-scale chicken wire made of carbon atoms.
Graphene transistors: Graphene is an atomic-scale chicken wire made of carbon atoms.Courtesy Carbophiliac
Computer memory devices become cheaper, faster, and smaller every year. A team of researchers at Rice University led by James Tour has found a method of creating a new type of memory from a strip of graphite only 10 atoms thick. Individual memory bits smaller than 10 nanometers that have only two terminals will allow super thin sheets of memory to be stacked in layers, multiplying the storage capacity.

Graphene memory is resistant to heat and cold

The graphene memory is able to operate in a very wide temperature range. The researchers have tested the system to minus 75 to over 200 degrees Celsius.

Graphene memory is faster and lasts longer

Researchers say that the new switches are faster than the lab's testing equipment can measure and they promise long life as well.

"We’ve tested it in the lab 20,000 times with no degradation,” said Tour. “Its lifetime is going to be huge, much better than flash memory."

Graphene memory is cheap and easy to produce

"The processes uses graphene deposited on silicon via chemical vapor deposition making for easy construction that can be done in commercial volumes with methods already available," says Tour.

Abstract of Rice University article in Nature

Here, we report that two-terminal devices consisting of discontinuous 5–10 nm thin films of graphitic sheets grown by chemical vapour deposition on either nanowires or atop planar silicon oxide exhibit enormous and sharp room-temperature bistable current–voltage behaviour possessing stable, rewritable, non-volatile and non-destructive read memories with on/off ratios of up to 107 and switching times of up to 1 mus (tested limit). Nature Materials

Source: Rice University News


A computer in a cube land: Image courtesy tigerplish via Flickr.
Working in an office cube-land as I do, I often go home for the night and walk by coworkers cubes and see computers or monitors that are left on overnight. Now, I know why this is in a lot of cases – convenience – but I have also heard the explanation that it takes more power to turn on the computer in the morning than it does to power it overnight, so leaving it on is the “greener” thing to do. I’ve wondered if that is true, and so today I did some digging around on the subject.

According to Evan Mills in the Energy Analysis Department of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory's Environmental Energy Technologies Division,

The small surge of power created when some devices are turned on is vastly smaller than the energy used by running the device when it is not needed. While it used to be the case that cycling appliances and lighting on and off drastically reduced their useful lifetimes, these problems have been largely overcome through better design.

And, turning your computer and monitor on and off is not bad for it. That may have been the case in the past, but today computers are designed to handle 40,000 power cycles before a failure. That’s 100+ years of turning your computer on and off once a year every day. It’ll be an object in a museum long before turning it on and off has any effect on it.

So, it is better to turn your monitor and computer off at night, but that does not address the primary reason why most folks don’t – convenience. Many find it bothersome to wait for the computer to start up after being turned off. (Oh the crosses computer-users must bear!) Well, there’s an energy efficient way around that as well.

If you are a Mac user you can put your computer to “sleep”, while PC users can tell their computers to “hibernate”. The hibernate feature significantly lowers your computer’s energy consumption overnight while at the same time allows for quick restarts in the morning. Monitors should still be turned completely off - and running a screen-saver does not save any energy – in fact it consumes significantly more power than if the computer is turned off or placed in hibernation.

And remember, like many other appliances such as your Playstation, DVR or TV, even when off your computer still uses some power running to either an AC adaptor, to maintain local-area network connectivity or other things. The only time many of our modern electronic devices consume no power is when they are turned off.

Do you turn your computer off at night? Why or why not?

Relevant articles here and here.

IBM computer, Deep Blue defeats chess master Garry Kasparov on May 11, 1997. Read Wired interview with coder here.