Sunday, April 26, 2009

Microsoft Surface

A small handful of Fridays ago, myself and my other half (she's taken to calling me 'other half' on her blog) took a trip through to Edinbrugh for part of this years Science Festival at the University of Edinburgh.  Of the two talks which were booked to take place at the intiguingly named department/building Informatics, the first was intended to be the future of computing, but a change in the programme meant the talk was about how the web works.

Most of the subject covered was familiar to me, though the presentation was brightly coloured, fun and definitely for the kids: most lectures on public key cryptography dont, I think, blow up a balloon full of hydrogen to demonstate a one-way function!  But I enjoyed myself and got to be a smartarse a number of times by guessing what was going to happen next.

Possibly the highlight, though not until much later when I'd mulled it over, was a practical demonstration of the weirdness of quantum phenomenon.  A laser was shone through a set of polarising filters.  The weird part is that the light which gets to the other end is brighter going through three filters than it is with two!  (An admittedly crude summary.)

As a sort of apology for not being the talk we expected, though not stated that way, the presenter - Chris Bishop of Microsoft Research - had one of the new Surfaces.  It's essentially a real world version of the computer display used by Ripley and the rest of the Marines in Aliens, where you can move objects and generally interact with it by touch.  (And as seen in countless movies since.)

I managed to get a quick play with it after the talk, jabbing it and making the demonstation picture ripple like water wherever I touched it.  Not quite the thrill of pressing down on a schematic of an atmosphere processing facility and declaring that the aliens are getting through the access ducts here, here and here, but pretty cool regardless.

Not that I'll be after one anytime soon, at apparently £7,000.  I wonder if they'd loan me one for use as a prop...