Saturday, December 30, 2006

IEEE Spectrum - December 2006

Notes on December 2006 edition of IEEE Spectrum:

Engineers and autism:
Simon Baron-Cohen, of Cambridge university, has proposed a theory concerning the link between engineers (and, others systemizers - such as mathematicians) and autism spectrum disorders. According to this theory, in the past, these people did not meet people like themselves. However, at the present time, because professions tend to organise people by their psychological types, the probability that two such people marry and bear children greatly increases. This situation has then led to a 'concentration' of the genes responsible for systemizing behaviour, which in turn has led to the increased chances of a child with extreme instances of such traits; i.e. autism. He uses some striking statistics which appear to support his theory: engineers are twice as likely to have autistic children, and the relatives of autistics display higher than average levels of systemizing. Despite being seemingly bleak news, these 'autistic traits' may not necessarily be all bad. There is no doubting the severe disability that autistics suffer, however, taking the example of Asperger's syndrome. Whereas people with this condition often leads to isolation, it is often accompanied by by very positive mental capacities, sometimes even cited as genius (Einstein and Newton are two widely quoted possible examples).
From IEEE Spectrum, December 2006 issue, p6

Robot waiters:
A restaurant in Hong Kong has attempted to dispense with human waiters and replace them with automated robots. Built by Cyber Robotics Technology (and costing US$5000 each), they were designed to seat customers, take orders (via touchscreen), avoid customers, deliver the food, and even respond to single word commands. A great idea one would think. However, in reality, they needed direct human supervision, thereby defeating their practical purpose - leaving them as novelty items. I think this story is fairly indicative (from my limited experience anyway) of other supposedly autonomous robots - requiring the helping hand of human control to be able to operate to specification.
From IEEE Spectrum, December 2006 issue, p17

Other stories:
- The emergence of the London Stock exchange as the location of choice for technology start-up companies, over the more traditional NASDAQ - p10
- India's space aspirations, including their own GPS-style system and rocket systems - p12
- The possible disappearance of traditional film-cameras? The ever increasing forays of electronics companies into the realm of photography - p13
- Smart, wireless parking systems - p14
- A review of Sony's PS3 system and its 'monster' 8-core processor, the cell - p18
- Social entrepreneurship: Benetech and the human rights project - p25
- The story of Jack Morton: the brilliant man who pioneered the transistor at Bell Labs, but who never appreciated its potential for microchips, which ultimately led to the falling behind of AT&T in the microchip race - p31
- The present and potential of the digital cinema setup and experience, with an insert on the past and future of 3D cinema - p37
- A short exposee on taking risks with your career - p44
- The benefits, and drawbacks, of virtual private networks: a case study of Relakks ( - p45
- The Faraday cage wallet, designed to protect personal information from RFID bearing identity thieves (especially with the new proposed RFID passports fast becoming a reality) - p46
- The 'unobvious' rule in patent applications: put to the test in the US court of appeals. I think this one has the potential to change the way in which research is commercialised, depending on the outcome of the challenge - p47
- The Wiki world: the rise of the wiki, and the way it's changing the world, especially the language - p52

Monday, December 11, 2006

An uncanny resemblance... (a bit of fun)

Apologies for the lack of posting over the last few weeks - I blame illness (probably the dreaded man-'flu) and a lot of other stuff to do.

Trawling through past issues of the Piled Higher and Deeper cartoon archive in my spare time, I came across one which described my working environment with uncanny accuracy... This cartoon describes (tongue-in-cheek) the environment that a 'typical' PhD student has to work in. The first three pictures are an almost exact replication of the room I work in and even my desk! I was wondering if this really is a 'universal constant' of postgrad research, or whether I am fitting myself into a well accepted stereotype?