Downtime: terminators, rain and moody computers

The wacky side of IT

Wiltshire to play host to MoD's Terminator wars

If you thought the BBC television show Robot Wars was no more than a chance for 90-pound weaklings to act out teenage power fantasies, think again. During the summer of 2008, an army of autonomous robots will march across the Wiltshire countryside to compete in the UK Ministry of Defence Grand Challenge - a competition to find new technology to support ground troops in urban areas.

"Technology plays a huge role in our forces. It often makes the difference between success and failure - and sometimes life and death," Lord Drayson, minister for defence procurement, told BBC reporters.

Downtime hopes the MoD will employ something closer to the Terminator than the bread-bin-with an-axe-strapped-to-it-style robots that populated Robot Wars.

Satellite set to predict that it will probably rain

Meteorologists surely have one of the easier jobs in the world. Predicting it is going to rain tomorrow, and probably the next day, is no job for a supercomputer.

But meteorologists clearly disagree as they are set to launch a new improved satellite into the atmosphere. Jason-2, carrying a new supercomputer to measure sea-levels with greater accuracy, is due to be launched in 2008. It will provide more accurate data on the oceans' depths by mapping topography, which could help improve hurricane path projections and reveal how climate change is affecting ocean currents.

Unfortunately, Jason-2 will probably arrive a little late to save much of low-lying England.

Downtime puts its font in it and loses typeface

Never get a typographer angry they are liable to tell you to font-off in no uncertain terms.

Downtime knows this after receiving a letter from reader Robin Crorie, who writes, "Shame on you! It might well be 50 years since the creation of Helvetica in 1957 (Downtime: 9 July), but it was not a font then, and neither is it now.

"It never has been. Helvetica is, was, and always will be, a typeface. A font is a typeface of a specific size and (sometimes) style eg, Helvetica 16 is a font, and so is Arial Narrow 12."

Downtime can only apologise, and admit that it was struggling to think of a pun for typeface.

Curiosity was a functional process of the cat

Scientists in the Netherlands have built a robotic cat with a set of logical rules for emotions. By introducing emotional variables to the decision-making process, they hope to create more natural human and computer interactions.

"We do not really believe that computers can have emotions, but we see that emotions have a certain function in human practical reasoning," said Mehdi Dastani, an artificial-intelligence researcher at Utrecht University.

As if dealing with end-users were not bad enough, soon IT staff will be faced with grumpy laptops and demotivated PDAs.

Security researcher drives a hard bargain

Earlier this month, a social networking site was propositioned by a security researcher who had uncovered a vulnerability. He offered to sell the company the code that could crash a user's machine.

He asked for £2,500 for his findings, before upping his demand to £5,000. When his offer was refused again, the researcher then posted his code online (for free) to "prevent security issues arising".

While undoubtedly a talented security researcher, Downtime cannot help but feel he might need some work on his negotiating skills.

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