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Downtime: ATMs, virtual gorillas, supercomputers

Computer Weekly Staff

Seals celebrate ATM's 40th with salmon banquet

Raise a glass or better yet a paying-in slip - the cash machine has turned 40.

The world's first ATM was invented by John Shepherd-Baron, who in an Archimedes-style moment came up with the idea while pondering how he could get money out of any bank in the world, with minimum staff involvement and without the need for a balaclava.

With the cash card yet to be invented, users of the first ATM accessed their cash by inserting cheques laced with a mild radioactive substance and a Pin to authorise a withdrawal.

Using radiation in any type of public appliance these days would earn you a prime spot on Panorama, but Shepherd-Baron had researched any possible adverse health effects beforehand.

"I worked out you would have to eat 136,000 such cheques for it to have any effect on you," he told a BBC reporter.

Since inventing the ATM, Shepherd-Baron has come up with a device for scaring away the seals that are presently raiding his salmon farm to steal his fish.

The device, which plays whale music, has unfortunately failed and has resulted in an increased number of seals being drawn to his farm, possibly attracted by the siren song of the whale.

Perhaps Shepherd-Baron should go back to his roots and persuade his fish to nibble on a few thousand of those radioactive cheques. Let's see how the seals like that.

First Tamagotchis, now virtual gorillas as pets

Technology is thriving. A train journey will never be enjoyable again thanks to the fine institutions of the mobile phone and the iPod. And while all this goes on, nature seems to be heading quite the other way. With this in mind, Downtime can only welcome the latest innovation from London Zoo.

The pioneering zoo has launched a "virtual gorilla" desktop game. Developers have worked closely with keepers at ZSL London Zoo, the world's oldest scientific zoo, to recreate the behaviours and feeding pattern of real gorillas.

Virtual keepers who download an interactive primate will have three weeks to rear a baby gorilla to full silverback, skyscraper-climbing health.

Finally a fool-proof solution to the problem of population depletion in the animal kingdom. Who needs real animals when you can have virtual animals?

Downtime is concerned for the fate of gorillas once users grow tired of picking the virtual fleas from the virtual fur, especially since there is a high demand for virtual living room rugs in Second Life at the moment.

US stops monkey business with IBM's supercomputer

If new technology is to continue delivering on the promises of tomorrow with virtual gorillas and the like, computers need to beef up. But this will not be a fight between two comedians acting out a Mac versus PC debate oh no.

IBM has entered the stage with its Blue Gene/P supercomputer, which is 100,000 times more powerful than any PC.

According to reports, the supercomputer - which comes with a red cape as an optional extra - will be installed at the US Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois.

During normal operation, the supercomputer will be used to ensure that the US nuclear weapons stockpile is safe and reliable.

Downtime suggested that the US might consider hiring a virtual gorilla to further beef up their security, but was informed that they already had a monkey in charge.

IBM's engineers had dreamed of a system that could handle the ultimate memory-intensive application out there, but felt that running Vista on Blue Gene/P would be like trying to make it run before it could walk.


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