Category Archives: Algorithms

The GRAIL Project

In 1964 the RAND corporation unveiled the GRAIL Project. GRAIL was an early example of a GUI, and (the first?) example of a tablet.

The system used a programming language called GrailLanguage, which was a high-level flowchart-based programming language. All programs were written graphically and with a pen, using character recognition for statements and shape recognition for flow control.

Watch this video and tell me that the best new talent is working on Groupon for Babies or a better way to share photos.

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Breaking Full-Disk Encryption Using FireWire

There have been a number of proof-of-concept hacks using IEEE1394 devices’ DMA to elevate privileges on a host machine.
The most useful application of this technique is breaking into machines that use full-disk encryption. Now there is a tool that will run from any Unix-Like host (Linux, OSX) and can unlock Windows XP,Vista,7,8,OSX 10.6,10.7,10.8, Ubuntu on both x86 and x64 hosts.

Inception is a FireWire physical memory manipulation and hacking tool exploiting IEEE 1394 SBP-2 DMA. The tool can unlock (any password accepted) and escalate privileges to Administrator/root on almost any machine you have physical access to.

It is primarily intended to do its magic against computers that utilize full disk encryption such as BitLocker, FileVault, TrueCrypt or Pointsec. There are plenty of other (and better) ways to hack a machine that doesn’t pack encryption. Inception is also useful for incident response teams and digital forensics experts when faced with live machines.


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The Value of Immediate Feedback

You may have heard of Bret Victor from his “Kill Math” project and the beautiful differential equation playground that he has created with his Interactive Exploration of a Dynamical System.
It caused quite a stir a while ago and since then we have seen Apple take on some of those ideas in its new eBook push. Even if you’ve seen it before it is definitely worth a refresher viewing:

Since then, Bret has apparently been quite busy building some proof-of-concept tools for designers and weaving together some of his ideas into an amazing talk.
The talk showcases UI concepts that allow programmers and designers to interact with their creation directly instead of through symbol based abstraction, the idea being that such symbol based abstractions are better suited for paper than the digital canvas and create a barrier between the creator and their creation.
In a few short demos Bret shows how powerful developer/designer tooling can truly be. These livecoding demos really showed me how valuable immediate feedback can be.
I have often ‘played’ with an algorithm in a dynamic/exploratory environment such as MATLAB when trying to solve a problem, and then when I have a handle on how the data feels re-implement the algorithm into another language to integrate with the rest of the system. After seeing this video I’ve decided that kind of workflow can be improved. Visualisation should not be an afterthought. It should be implemented first.

This video is well worth your time:

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Algorithm Measures Human Pecking Order

The MIT Technology Review has covered a fascinating paper that concludes : “The way people copy each other’s linguistic style reveals their pecking order.”
Worth a read.


The original paper is here on the Arxiv.

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AI Challenge Post Mortem Article

The winner of the AI Challenge 2011 has posted a detailed description of their code.
It’s worth a quick read and spells out the algorithms clearly, with example code in Java.


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Patenting the impossible

Jean-loup Gailly (author of gzip!) dissects US Patent 5,533,051 on ‘compression of random data’.
The title immediately raises suspicion as it’s impossible to compress truly random data.
Anyone with a background in mathematics or information theory is probably familiar with the relevant proofs already, but the article does a great job of explaining the arguments and addressing each patent claim so I recommend checking it out.


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Microsoft Research shows Augmented Projectors

Some really great work out of MSR.
Combination Depth Camera/Projector/IMU allows for some really novel interactions.

Worth a look.

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Side Channel Attacks

An interesting read on side channel attacks:

“The second story was about USB devices. Basically, they plugged a very precise voltmeter into an USB port and started recording the very small variations between 4.999V and 5V. With the same assembly-test-program-pattern-matching approach, they broke RSA again.” Link.

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How Google’s Self Driving Car Works

IEEE Spectrum have an article describing some details of the Google autonomous vehicle project, much of the information is public for the first time.
The article is here, but by far the best bit is the video that I’ve embedded below.

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