The Buzz


Jul 14, 2009

Ponder This

By Tami Deedrick

Every night, my 70-something mother does the crossword puzzle in the newspaper. She started doing it because someone told her puzzles help keep the mind sharp. The funny thing is, she calls me for the answers. I mostly help her out with the pop-culture references she wouldn’t have a clue about (like a couch-jumping scientologist=Cruise).

If you’re the type who likes puzzles or just the bragging rights that come with solving a problem, you might want to try matching wits with some IBM researchers. Every month, IBM Research—and puzzlemaster Oded Margalit—offers a new challenge on the IBM Web site. The “Ponder this” challenge tests your math and logic skills, and solvers are in good company with some of the best brains.

This month’s challenge is:

What is the probability that the last move in a backgammon game will be a double? To make things easier, we assume that all the 15 checkers of each player are at their 1-point (just ready to bear-off); so each player, in its turn, removes (bear-off) two checkers for every non-double throw and four checkers for every double.

The “Ponder this” site lists the people who solve it correctly and eventually—after about a month or so—posts the answers.

So if, like my mother, want to keep your mind sharp, give the IBM Research challenge a try and let me know if you get a prestigious solver listing. Just a warning: I’ll be of no help whatsoever with these puzzles. Better call your own kid.

Jun 29, 2009

Tapping Into the Force

By Natalie Boike

I recently stumbled across the Web site for NeuroSky,a biosensor company that makes brain-computer interface technologies. Their primary product, the MindSet, “measures brainwaves to identify specific mental states and communicates these states as commands.”

Currently, this tool’s primary application is for video games and research devices. For example, a Force Trainer game is planned for release yet this summer. Plugging into the large fan-base of the Star Wars franchise, users employ the MindSet technology to move a training sphere up and down a tower: the ultimate test of a Jedi’s level of the “The Force.”

The buck doesn’t stop there. Those interested in applying this technology and creating a game or application can do so for free. NeuroSky offers a set of development tools you can download today. Languages directly supported include C/C++, C#, Java and J2ME. If you create an application the company deems appropriate, they’ll host and sell your program on their site, and return an undisclosed percentage of the sales back to you.

While it seems like the NeuroSky’s current focus is in the commercial arena, it seems there are multiple applications that could be quite pragmatic in the medical field and beyond. I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on this technology as it evolves.