Practice makes perfect. Watch Austin!

This is Austin Nabor, who can stack and unstack cups very quickly. Why don’t you have a try? You could video it & upload it below in a comment below!

I just posted this because I found it fascinating – I was going to say it’s nothing to do with coding. But, now I think about it, he must have an algorithm in his head for the order in which he moves the cups? What do you think?

Police Super-Recognisers

super recognisers

(Ellie asked me to re-post this from last year, for the new members to enjoy! If you want to know more about knitting needle computers then comment below and Tim will bring them along after half term)

We have been making knitting needle computers to help us identify suspects. Miss Hughes told me about an interesting news article she watched last night about Police Super-Recognisers. I have copied bits of the report below. You can take the test here to see if you could be one of them! I only scored 9/14 but Miss Hughes scored 10, which means that the police think she could be a super-recogniser! Miss Hughes would like to speak to you if you also score 10 or more..

Here’s an extract of the BBC article:

“Police officers with the ability to remember the faces of almost everyone they have ever seen are helping to crack down on crime. Meet the “super-recognisers”, whose unusual abilities are being deployed in a bid to keep the streets of London safe.

They are the people who quite literally never forget a face, in possession of an extraordinary ability to recognise men, women and children they barely know.

When put to the test “super-recognisers”, as they are known in the Metropolitan Police, can recall up to 95% of the faces seen compared to the average person, who remembers just 20%.

For this reason New Scotland Yard deploys an elite team of 140 officers across London to try to capture the most wanted criminals.

Super-recogniser looking at a screen

Image caption The specialist team can recognise people from images just by seeing one or two features

PC Gary Collins is the Met’s top super-recogniser and has identified more than 800 suspects from photographs, CCTV and his time policing the streets.

His beat is Hackney, one of the capital’s worst areas for crime.

“Whenever an incident happens they’ll call me in and show me the footage straight away.

“I’ll look [at it] and say, ‘Yeah I know that person, I know him from this area or I stopped him on this occasion,’ and it’s just putting a name to the face.”

CCTV roomImage copyright Thinkstock

Image caption Super-recognition is seen as one of the Met’s most powerful tools

Their talent is thought to be a gift of nature, giving them the tools to identify someone they may have only once fleetingly glimpsed.

Even more impressive is they do not need to see the whole face to make a positive identification.

Could you be a super-recogniser? Take the test

“Quite a lot of people I have identified just from their various facial parts, some by their eyes, one guy I’ve identified by his nose,” said PC Collins.

“He had a scarf [covering] the bottom half of his face [and] a hood covering the top half, which was hanging over his eyes.

“He pleaded guilty in court, he said yes, that’s me in the footage. [We] got it right, which was quite pleasing.”

Notting Hill carnivalImage copyrightThinkstock

Image caption The features of people in crowds are quickly scanned by super-recognisers looking for criminals

Dr Josh Davis, a forensic facial identification expert from the University of Greenwich, is conducting a study into super-recognisers and their abilities.

He spoke to BBC Inside Out London about his research after putting officers to the test.

“We have tested them on passport images taken 10 years [ago] and they are still able to recognise where they’ve seen faces before,” he said.

“We think super-recognition is nature, rather than nurture, but I can’t say 100%. People tend to emerge in their 20s and 30s, we’re not really finding any super-recognisers in their teens so far.”

Incredible as the skills of a super-recogniser are on the face of it, there are limitations. Research shows they struggle to identify people outside their own race.

Faces on a screen

Image captionSuper-recognisers could recall 95% of the faces they saw when tested by Dr Josh Davis
Computer screen showing CCTV
Image captionThe Met believes facial recognition will soon be as crucial as fingerprints and DNA

Mr Neville wants to more than triple the number of super-recognisers in his team and said there should be 500 working for the Met.

He believes facial recognition will soon be as crucial as fingerprints and DNA in creating a mosaic of a suspect’s crime history. His team employs a technique called “face net”, where super-recognisers identify the same person committing several offences, for which they can be charged and face heavier penalties.

Riots in London, August 2011Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Super-recognisers helped identify people involved in the London riots in August 2011

To date, the biggest test for the Met’s super recognisers has been the summer riots in 2011.

PC Collins was able to identify heavily disguised rioter Stephen Prince.

More recently, super-recognisers helped make more than 200 arrests at the annual Notting Hill carnival, using their skills to scan the crowds for wanted criminals and troublemakers.

With successes such as these, it is clear why super-recognition is increasingly being seen as one of the most vital tools in the Met’s fight against crime.

Man or machine?

An eye being scanned
Image caption Can computers outperform people?

Super-recognisers are not the only tool open to the authorities when chasing a face.

The ever-expanding field of facial recognition software offers the mechanical alternative to human talent, the science against the art.

But which offers the best chance of catching the criminal, now and in the future?

The technology presents extraordinarily diverse options, from unlocking phones to feeding the right cat, but it is in the area of law-enforcement it provokes the strongest reactions.

While the principle is simple, taking measurements of prominent features and comparing it with a database of photos, the practice is fiendishly complex.

CCTV cameras in ShoreditchImage copyright Thinkstock
Image caption CCTV cannot always provide the best pictures

Prof Raouf Hamzaoui from the Faculty of Technology at De Montfort University, said: “In ideal conditions, computers can outperform people, going through millions of possibilities in seconds.

“But with low quality pictures, typical of CCTV, where there is darkness, facial coverings, blurring and so on, the software struggles and the human does better.

“And this is with average people, rather than super-recognisers.”

On top of this concerns about computer processing power, the reliability of databases and ever-present fears over civil liberties, have dogged the concept.

However, as with much technology, the potential of the system is only starting to be realised.

Prof Hamzaoui said: “The algorithms will be refined but for the time being, it looks like the human element will continue to win – after all it took millions of years of evolution to develop.

“The key is to match the right tool with the right situation.”  “

Algorithms used to work out prison sentences for criminals



In court, a criminal in America was sentenced to six years in prison – and they used maths to decide this sentence. In deciding to lock him up, the court noted that he had been identified as an “individual who is at high risk to the community” by something called a Compas (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions) assessment. This is an algorithm.

Julia Angwin  a journalist) says “Compas is basically a questionnaire that is given to criminals when they’re arrested,” she says. “And they ask a bunch of questions and come up with an assessment of whether you’re likely to commit a future crime. And that assessment is given in a score of one to 10.”  A risk score might be used to decide if someone can be given bail, if they should be sent to prison or given some other kind of sentence, or – once they’re in prison – if they should be given parole.

The questions include things like: “Your criminal history, and whether anyone in your family has ever been arrested; whether you live in a crime-ridden neighbourhood; if you have friends who are in a gang; what your work history is; your school history. And then some questions about what is called criminal thinking, so if you agree or disagree with statements like ‘it’s okay for a hungry person to steal’.”

Compas and software like it is used across the US. The thinking is that if you use an algorithm that draws on lots of information about the criminal it will help make decisions less subjective – less liable to human error and bias or racism. For example, the questionnaire doesn’t ask about the defendant’s race, so that in theory means no decisions influenced by racism.

But how the algorithm gets from the answers to the score out of 10 is kept secret. “It’s a trade secret. The company doesn’t share it.”

  • Do you think it’s a good idea to use data like this to decide if someone should go to prison or not? Why?
  • Do you think it’s right that the company’s algorithm should be kept a secret from the people whose future is determined by it? What would YOU want to know about the algorithm?

This is based on an article by Simon Maybin on

Washing Gadget

So, this is what I’d like, please:

Some sort of device that notifies me inside the house when it rains, so I can get my washing in quickly (& it mustn’t wake me up in the night!).

Please let me know what equipment I’d need, how it could be linked up, and what the programming would be (if This, Then That, Else This…). You can write it, draw it or flowchart it. Any ideas most welcome!

Benjy, we’re particularly looking forward to seeing the plans for your amazing invention..

Here’s Manahil’s alternative device (you see, solutions don’t always have to be high-tech!):

Ada Lovelace Day – Tuesday 11th October


Today we are celebrating the life of Lady Ada Lovelace, who is known as the world’s first computer programmer. She lived from 1815-1852 and was the daughter of the British poet, Lord Byron, whom she never knew. He was described as “Mad, bad and dangerous to know”, so Ada’s mother is thought to have encouraged her daughter to concentrate on mathematics – the “opposite” of poetry, to ensure she was calm and good. (Is it really the opposite of poetry? What do you think?!).

She worked with the British mathematician, Charles Babbage, who invented & built the Difference Engine, which was a machine for performing mathematical calculations – like a calculator but many times bigger than the ones you are used to!  He also invented the Analytical Engine, which was more like a computer because it could be programmed and it was this that Ada wrote the first algorithm for, but this was never built.  As you know, the Victorian Age was a time of great inventions and thinking. Watch the clip below:


Babbage had been given a lot of money by parliament to build his earlier machine (£17,000 – the cost of 2 Royal Navy warships!) and the politicians wouldn’t give him any more. Ada offered to take over the running of the project, in order to get the money to continue, but Babbage said, “No”. So, (cover your ears!) Ada turned to gambling on the horses to try and win the money. Children, the gambling didn’t end well (it never does).

Ada died young, but she left some notes containing what many consider to be the first computer program—that is, an algorithm designed to be carried out by a machine. She also imagined that computers could go beyond mere number-crunching, while others, including Babbage himself, focused only on that. Her mind-set of “poetical science” led her to ask questions about the Analytical Engine, such as that it could be further developed to program music and solve other problems.

She understood that the Analytical Engine could perform more complicated processes than adding and subtracting – it could calculate things that hadn’t been previously calculated by a human first. She also understood that it could do a lot more than produce maths tables – it could create art, music etc if only it was programmed in right way. This was “truly visionary” and a “massive conceptual leap” – in fact it was describing the computers we use today. It was a futuristic idea (think of the film “Back to the Future”!). No-one really understood what she meant. She visited weaving mills in the North of England to copy some of their technology eg punched cards. I like that she applied the technology from one idea to another (My favourite question – “What else could this be used for?” Think of a toaster, an iron, a whirly-gig washing line…).

Watch the clip about Ada below:

ada legacy

There is a computer language named after her, called Ada, and it is still used today – for example in air traffic control. So, the next time you fly, think of Ada!

This week we will be celebrating Ada’s life in Code Club by programming a machine that Ada may have liked (but her mother may not have approved of!) in Scratch.



Sources: BBC Clips, Radio 4 Great Lives, Wikipedia

Robot can keep children occupied for hours without supervision

4032Photograph & article : Julia Carrie Wong for the Guardian

(Link via Scott Turner, University of Northampton)

” ..The iPal, a child-size robot designed to take on distinctly adult responsibilities.

The 3ft tall iPal has wide eyes, working fingers, pastel trimming, and a touchscreen tablet on its chest. It can sing, dance, and play rock paper scissors. It can talk with children, answer questions like “Why is the sun hot?”, and provide surveillance/video chat for absent parents.

“It’s a robot for children,” said Avatar Mind founder Jiping Wang. “It’s mainly for companionship.” The iPal, he boasted, could keep children aged three to eight occupied for “a couple of hours” without adult supervision. It is perfect for the time when children arrive home from school a few hours before their parents get off work, he said.”

4032 (1)

If children are looked after by robots, what are the consequences? What do you think?





Evo Is a Little Robot With a Big Mission: Get Girls to Code


(Link via Scott Turner, University of Northampton)


“WHEN HIS DAUGHTERS were young, Nader Hamda says, they were really into apps and computers. But now that they’re a little older, their interest is waning. And that’s not unusual. “They’re not an exception,” he says. “They’re more of a rule.”

Sadly, this is true. According to numerous studies, young girls are moving away from computer science, not towards it. And Hamda says this is why his company, Ozobot, is now offering an educational robot called Evo. Evo is small and spherical, only about an inch in diameter. It looks kinda like an IBM Selectric type ball. But it’s also designed to be social.

It bloops and beeps out sounds meant to mimic human emotion—everything from a laugh to an “argh!”—and these sounds are complimented by flashing lights and spinning. If that doesn’t sound emotional, well, think R2D2. This, he believes, is the best way to attract both boys and girls to the wonders of computing, to prepare them for our inevitable robotic future. “The best way to engage is to introduce another way for them to socially interact,” Hamda says.

On sale in November for a mere $99, Evo is Ozobot’s second robot, and it builds on the first, which is already in about 2,000 schools and has reached half a million children in either the classroom or the home, according to Hamda. Unlike the original Ozobot, Evo is completely surrounded by sensors. Thanks to seven light sensors and color sensors, you can program the bot so that it will, say, go when it sees green and stop when it sees red. It also includes four proximity sensors that can recognize when something is in its path—or behind it. Put your hand near the Evo’s rear, and it beeps and wriggles in annoyance that you’re getting too close to it.


The Evo pairs with a mobile app via Bluetooth, and in this way, it can connect to the Internet. Via the app, you can drive Evo from place to place and make online friends with other Evos, and eventually, the company says, multiple Evos could be able to recognize each other and interact. Basic commands are built in to the bot. Out of the box, Evo can act out “Ozoji,” the Ozobot equivalent of emoji. But you can also program your own actions. Programming is handled with Blockly, a visual language designed by Google specifically for kids, but the system can also convert the visual blocks to C++ or Javascript code.

Nate Koenig, chief technology officer of the Open Source Robotics Foundation and a longtime robotics researcher, likes the direction Hamda and company are taking, particularly with its graphical code interface. But he also says there are limits to what it can do. “This is clearly in the toy domain,” he says. But that’s pretty much the state of intelligent robots in general. And, well, future careers often start with toys.”

A Human Heat Sink

Do you remember learning about heat sinks in a computer last year? Well, how about this development from 3 years ago?

“Forget your jumper, this thermoelectric wristband can heat or cool your entire body  by James Vincent Friday 1 November 2013

A wrist-mounted heat-sink reacts to ambient and skin temperatures, pumping out “thermal pulses” to maintain overall body temperature 

Heating and cooling buildings is an expensive business. Recent rises in energy prices in the UK mean that the average cost of keeping our homes warm is around £610 annually (up from £360 in 2008) whilst in the US they have the opposite problem with air conditioning accounting for a massive 16.5 per cent of the country’s entire energy bill.

A team of scientists and engineers from MIT have attempted to tackle this problem by asking one simple and radical question: what if we focus on the temperature of the individual instead of the temperature of the building?

On the face of it this looks awfully similar to Energy Secretary Ed Davey’s recent advice to ‘put on a jumper’ but unsurprisingly the scientists from MIT are taking a slightly more sophisticated approach to the problem than our government is.  

They’ve created a “thermoelectric bracelet” that monitors the body’s temperature and ambient conditions before sending “tailored pulses of hot or cold waveforms to the wrist to help maintain thermal comfort.”

The invention, called Wristify, is based on the fact that heating or cooling parts of the skin can help influence how hot or cold we feel over our entire body. As human beings we are not entirely accurate thermometers and spend a lot of our time simply adapting to our surroundings.

This is why a cool flannel applied to forehead of a flu sufferer can help them feel more comfortable – or why a pair of pocket handwarmers can heat up a cold hiker by themselves. How hot or cold we feel is based as much on our perception as it is on our temperature.

Wristify takes advantage of this, with the technology working via custom copper-alloy heat sink that delivers thermal pulses to the skin, powered for eight hours at a time by a lithium polymer battery.

“What we developed is a wearable, wrist-based technology that leverages human sensitivity, can detect and perfect rates of change, and can maintain overall thermal comfort while reducing the need to heat and cool buildings,” said Sam Shames, a materials science and engineering student and one of Wristify’s inventors.

Last month, in recognition of their invention, the Wristify team took home the first prize at MIT’s annual material-sciences design competition, receiving funding to take the device beyond its current prototype stage.

The team are currently exploring the idea of a commercial product for Wristify, so perhaps we can look forward to a future where instead of cranking up the thermostat on the wall, we just just dial up the heater on our wrist.”