Stuart Russell on AI – The BBC Reith Lectures

If you’ve got more than a passing interest in Artificial Intelligence, then you’ll probably have heard of Professor Stuart Russell. His textbook with Peter Norvig “Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach” is required reading for many university AI courses.

This year, he is presenting the BBC Reith Lectures, which have a long and distinguished history of presenting a lecture series by significant thinkers.

The first lecture was on “Living with AI”, a good introduction and the second, on Autonomous weapon systems, the one that I will be concentrating on here.

He mentions in the lecture that he was part of a group that produced a short film in 2017 “Slaughterbots” in order to counter the Hollywood idea that all killer robots are large, humanoid, or tanks, and that the more likely development of autonomous weapons was more likely to be somewhat more mundane.

This nightmare then became reality in 2020, when Turkey sold the Kargu (the description on the website has been updated recently to change operation to “Man-in-the-Loop”), an autonomous rotary wing drone equipped with explosive charges to Libya, where they were used to hunt down and engage (euphemism for kill) logistics convoys and retreating forces (

More information about the state of the art, and the attempts to ban these kind of weapons can be found here: If you are an AI researcher, then consider signing up to the pledge to outlaw these weapons in a similar way that Chemical and Biological weapons have already been outlawed.

Yes, for those that have seen the Black Mirror episode S03E06 “Hated in the Nation”, there are some similarities there.

Facit 4070 paper tape punching with Arduino mega

A couple of months ago, I had a request from a friend to produce a paper tape as an RSVP to a wedding invitation that he’d received on floppy disk. I dug out my old Facit 4070 in my collection and set to seeing if I could interface it with something modern. This blog post chronicles the results.

Connection from Facit 4070 to Arduino Mega for code:

Facit 4070 D -> Arduino Mega Pin
1 -> A8
2 -> A9
3 -> A10
4 -> A11
5 -> A12
6 -> A13
7 -> A14
8 -> A15
9 -> D9
10 -> D10
11 -> D11
12 -> D12
25 -> GND

I didn’t actually use pin 12 (Punch Ready) in the end, as it was proving unreliable, so I just used timings – a quick and dirty solution was all that was needed, and eventually it proved robust enough with delays in sending the data.

The code was written to take commands from a menu system to set up the arduino and then punch data.  The menu is as below:

Facit 4070 printer arduino interface
? - show this information
a - punch message in ascii
b - punch message in EIA code
c - clear message
d - display message
e - punch message in ebcdic (no parity)
f - advance tape 10 spaces and punch feed holes
h - punch message human readable
m - enter message
o - toggle odd or even parity
p - turn on/off parity
s - advance tape 10 spaces
v - show version information

To use it, you send an ‘m’ followed by your message.  You then can select if you want parity or not, and odd or even parity if you’re using ascii.  Following that, you can send an ‘a’, ‘b’, ‘e’ or ‘h’ depending on what character encoding you want to use.



Photo gallery of Facit 4070 project

Github repository of Arduino code to drive Facit 4070

Video on Facebook of the punch working

Self driving cars… and open source systems

So I just watched an interview with George Hotz, you can watch it here:

For those that don’t have the time, George jailbroke the iPhone when he was quite young, and jailbroke the PS3, was threatened by Sony and is a proud proponent that once you’ve bought something that you should own it and be able to do what you want with it.

He’s taking it to the next step, and allowing you to add on a self-driving car system to any car (well, he’s aiming for 50% of the cars sold in the USA next year).  They obviously should have fly by wire controls so that his system uses the built in actuators, but as a sensor and processor platform he’s using the mobile phone.

What’s even more fun is that he’s making this completely open source, he’s crowd sourcing his data (download chffr for your phone) by offering a dashcam that then uploads driving data after it gets home.  All his software is available on github under an MIT license, and he thinks that we’ll have a critical mass of self driving cars in 5 years.

Now I’m looking forward to those days, not because I don’t like driving, but because I enjoy driving, but I don’t like repetitive day-to-day commuting driving, or driving to meetings when I’m thinking about the presentation I have to give and so on.  I would love to be able to have the choice to sit down and tell the car to take me home and have a nap on the way – hey, I’m getting old(er), I deserve a nap now and again.

Take a look at Comma Ai, maybe your next car won’t have to have self driving systems built-in, you’ll be able to buy it as an addon.


Diesel and Petrol vehicles to be banned from sale from 2040

So this has finally hit the headlines, and suddenly everyone is an expert on electric vehicles. I’ve read so much misinformed rubbish today that I despair. The reality is that by 2040 most of the industry will only be producing electric vehicles anyway, Internal Combustion Engines will be seen the same as steam engines are now, well not quite, but heading that way.
If anyone wants a ride in an electric vehicle to see how quiet, rapid accelerating and comfortable they are, then I’d be happy to oblige. As for people that say they’re not practical – I use mine daily, go camping in the woods, do long journeys for work and pleasure and have very few issues.

I don’t visit petrol stations anymore as I have a fuel station on my drive. The fuel is generated directly from the wind and sun, and doesn’t need vast amounts of energy to refine it before it can be used. Yes the second hand market is a bit difficult as there aren’t many people getting rid of them, but it is there – I bought mine 2nd hand. Running costs are minimal, charging at home on a standard rate (not economy 7 that is much cheaper) I pay about 3p a mile. Servicing is minimal, no fluids to change apart from washer fluid, brake pads last years because you hardly use them, regenerative braking makes power to put back in to the batteries. Batteries are expected to last a long time – and when they “wear out” they are fully recyclable into new batteries. Nissan quoted something like £4,000 in 2014 to replace the battery pack in the £26,000 Leaf with a new one, so not particularly expensive if the body is still good after 10-15 years, whenever the battery range is reduced.

Battery technology is improving all the time, but we do need investment into the charging infrastructure, which is the major stumbling point at the moment – so please don’t buy an electric car yet, as you’ll just be filling up the charging stations when I want to use them – no, they’re rubbish and you should stick to your internal combustion engines.

Equality and Diversity more important than education?

Today I checked my pigeonhole to find a certificate in there to recognize that I had attended an afternoon sitting in a lecture theater being told about Equality and Diversity.  Great, but this thing is nicer than either of the degree certificates that I also received from the same institution, and I didn’t have to sit any exams for this one.

I sincerely hope that the quality of the certificates doesn’t represent the weight that is given to the qualification, oh and the fact that this “course” was a compulsory requirement as an employee makes it even more amusing, surely a simple tick on the staff record would have sufficed, rather than the expense of producing these for all staff when we’re being told to save £11M over the next 2 years!

Goodbye dear friend

For a number of years (more than I can remember, but between 15 and 20) I’ve had my web hosting on a box in my office beside my desk on a machine called  We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, but she became so long in the tooth, and a security scan last week prompted me to do something about it finally.  Today I pulled the plug on her (literally), and have switched over to my new rented server in a different country.

No longer will I hear the rattling of the hard drive when someone looks through a lot of my photos or web crawlers start indexing my site, and it’s just a silent beige box waiting to be thrown out.

All that remains are all the blog posts that I moved over onto this new server, and a CNAME record that redirects all traffic to the new box.  Some links from pcbo will still work, but most will change – this is a new machine with different operating system and web server software, much more modern and up-to-date, which should be able to cope with security patches much better.

It’s really something I should have done years ago, but now it’s less of a worry that I could be an attack vector on the university network.

So long, old girl.  You were old and noisy, and the office is quieter now.

Test post for facebook integration

So if this works, I should be able to post on my new blog site and it should get cross posted to Facebook.

Baby steps, but with the help of the Facebook Auto Publish plug-in for wordpress it might mean that I post to my blog a bit more often.

New Server

So I finally bit the bullet and started renting a hosted server.  Yes, this is long overdue and I can finally turn off the extremely old machine in my office.  What prompted this you ask, well it could have had something to do with the latest security scan on that old machine.  The OS and software was so old that upgrading it was going to be an absolute nightmare, and I really wanted something else up and running before I took the old one down.

Anyhow, I’m renting a server (not a vps) from in Amsterdam an Dedibox SC SATA 2016 for €8.99 a month + Tax, which is not too bad a price for a dedicated box with 4G of RAM, 1T of disk space and a dual core processor, oh yes, and 2.5Gb/s network connectivity.

Anyhow, the migration from the old version of wordpress was slow, but apparently painless – I still need to check that everything came over safely, but on the surface it looks to be ok.  Of course, the new server has a certificate so it’s all https too.

There’s also a new gallery, I’m trying out piwigo after installing and then deleting zenphoto, which had issues with downloading the original sized images, which was a shame as it seemed like quite a nice system.