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Young Irish Scientists Win Award for Linux Project 66

Trevor Johnston writes "Last week, three Irish students used a Linux box together with an old Basic programming language running on an Amiga emulator to display graphically the output of their own computer learning program. For their troubles they were awarded 'Best Use of Information Technology' at Ireland's Young Scientist Exhibition."
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Young Irish Scientists Awarded for Linux Project

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  • It is just delightful to see this, graphics done in Amiga Blitz Basic, emulated under linux. What will they think of next? Alekzandr
  • Amiga is definatly alive... my school uses Amiga boxes as a "Video Toaster", or in layman's terms, it is what pops up all the cool graphics onto the TV programs such as names and captions for news shows. I've reprogrammed them a few times, actually, and they're good little machines!
  • The award they were given has almost nothing to do with the tech. they presented. From their description, the whole contest sounds somewhat bland and menial.

    The only interesting thing is the fact that they wrote it for Amiga, though they really didnt have to use it. They said that the only reason Amiga was used was because the programmer had experience in that area, not because Amiga was much better for what they were doing.

    Also, the Linux program was written using C++.
  • Ofcourse, one must consider the fact that it's probably a greater achievment if they actually DID do it drunk. Hell, I don't think I could get past "Hello World!" after 6 beers!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    To save a lot of /. readers the trouble, I'll now post a summary of the the next 42 messages:

    I was doing that with linux before I was 4 years old! (See related story [])
  • by crlf (131465) on Monday January 24, 2000 @08:38PM (#1339893)

    As a teen myself, I have been to these kinds of Science Compititions (Timmins, my hometown, hosted the Canadian wide science compitition for high-school students last year). I find it disgusting when some kids actually fool their way up to the top by actually using other people's innovations. I once seen this kid that used a 3d modeller in windows, and recreated his hometown, claiming it to be some sort of "Virtual Map", that's about it. Nothing new there, sure, it looks cool, and the judges will gawk and of course they win the prize, ech, disgraceful to the informed community at large.

    Anyhow, I really like the fact that these kids actually took their time and interest to develop something that although may seem a little redundant, they actually learn something useful and bring some perticular incite to others.

    Keep it Up! :)

  • It seems like they based their choice of OS on the fact that one guy used it, and they had a free C++ compiler for it. So what? There are free C++ compilers for Windows, DOS, OS/2, pretty much anything, even if it is just a GCC port.

    And what's the deal with the Amiga emulator? Why not learn how to use GTK? It's not that hard, and is much more impressive, not to mention easier, than hacking a bunch of Amiga and Linux programs together.

    I really can't see how this was posted. Great for the kids and all, but really content-light.

  • So these students have developed a rudimentary adaptive processing algorithm ... great! As a participant in science fairs all through middle and high school, I can say two things about them right away -- on the whole, little original actually gets done, but the mere experience of performing experimental research in what passes for a peer-review environment has produced quite a few outstanding student (and later, professional) scientists. Moreover, at each science fair, I invariably made an assortment of contacts that later proved important to my future career as a student and researcher.

    So, anyway, don't knock them for reproducing ancient and well-studied algorithms. Instead, encourage them for trying to develop something at all, and hope they continue to do so.

  • Damnit, I really wish I had moderator points. That was funny as hell.
  • by gargle (97883) on Monday January 24, 2000 @09:03PM (#1339908) Homepage
    It has two methods with which to complete the task and by running a certain amount of games, the computer can work out which is the better method to use.

    This is actually the 2 armed bandit problem: you have a 2 armed jack pot machine, and everytime you pull an arm, it gives a certain payoff, but the payoff is probalistic. So do you keep pulling the arm that has the higher average payoff? Or do you try the other arm? It's a tradeoff between exploitation and exploration, and the solution is surprisingly mathematically involved (see Gasoml [] by Goldberg).

    John Holland showed in the 70s that the genetic algorithm is a near optimal solution to this problem. So in a simple way, these students have rediscovered the essential issues of genetic algorithms.
  • I code on Jack Daniels all the time. Maybe sometime I'll learn to write a program that works. Gee, if I use their software I'd learn faster that my method sucks.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    What Slashdot failed to mention (And this is a BIG surprise) is that these Irish kiddiez ARE NOT IN FACT IRISH!

    A quick look at the "Trevor Johnston" [] reveals that he is, in fact, a RECENT CUBAN IMMIGRANT. What does this mean? I think we all know that you can't immigrate from Cuba. So, you ask yourself, what does that mean? Well, it means, fair reader, that he was sent to Ireland by the CUBAN GOVERNMENT.

    And, why, pray tell, would Castro want people in Ireland? Upon reflection, even the biggest simpleton will find the truth (though it apparently eludes emmett, whose left-wing leanings are well-known): that the commies are hatching a plot to DOMINATE SCIENCE FAIRS AROUND THE GLOBE!

    Think about it: if only communists win science fairs, then only science fair winners will be communists. With every Part member being prize-winning scientists, the risk that the Reds will dominate the world grows far too strong, certainly for my tastes.

    In conclusion, I am deeply saddend to see Slashdot, once a proud Republican news site reduced to printing Commie propaganda. I hope this 'emmett' character will get what he deserves for such un-American activities: forced labor in the salt mines of Utah, with all the other pinkos, like that horrid RobLimo character.
  • A quick google search reveals a little bit of information [] on the "n-armed bandit problem". This general problem is interesting. I wonder what kind of solution these linux programmers found.

    Although I'm not familiar with the n-armed bandit problem, it looks like these kids took a very simple case of the problem: only two strategies to choose from, and the only possible outcome is catch the white square's trail within n moves, or don't catch its trail within n moves. (I may be mistaken here.. it's possible that they simply counted the number of moves each time).

    Also, since they don't seem to switch between strategies during the game, why not run 10000 simulations each way first, store the statistical information (probability of catching, or probability for each number of moves), and then run the AI program on this statistical data?


  • Yes, the problem is here much too simple to be interesting, but you can see them groping towards the idea of genetic programming, which is extremely interesting from a philosophical standpoint, and is also a powerful way of automatically evolving computer programs that solve difficult problems. There's a nice article by Salon here [] on the topic.
  • by technos (73414) on Monday January 24, 2000 @09:54PM (#1339917) Homepage Journal
    I write code piss drunk all the time. (read: I've finished the sixer of stout and I've moved on to rum.) The problem seems to be the next morning, when I have to look at the uncommented lump of spaghetti who's purpose I only half-remember.

    As a whole, 1/8 of the stuff I produce greatly exceeds my sober level; it is perfectly brilliant. 1/4 of it is marginally competent, my norm. The rest of it is not fit for the light of the CRT, and may be only slightly more intellegible than Vogon poetry fed through Babelfish.

    Brilliant or not, I usually just 'rm -rf *' it; I never have the same grasp of it again.
  • Awarded what?
    For their troubles they were awarded 'Best Use of Information Technology' at Ireland's Young Scientist Exhibition."
    One doesn't just award, or even award to. One awards something to someone.
    For their troubles they were awarded 'Best Use of Information Technology' [an award] at Ireland's Young Scientist Exhibition."
  • Open Source software and the Internet (which are dependent upon each other) make self-training like this possible. I think this is one way that Linux acts as an equalizer, making involvement in bigger projects available to younger people all the time.

    Ten years ago, you'd have needed to be in a university to get the resources to tinker with that kind of project. Now it's in high school science projects. That's got to be progress...

    I think this story is a fine example of what a benefit Open Source can be for Computer Science education.

  • Why not learn how to use GTK?

    I take it you've never used Blitz Basic. It really is a wonderful package for doing what the Amigas good at (i.e games with lots of fast moving graphics)

    I'd love to see a verion of Blitz for Linux. Despiter its flaws (Full of arbitrary limits, and actually more cryptic when creating windows than the C interface due to lack of #defines) it really was fun to use.
  • Lemme guess, you did that to increase your hacker purity test score?

    I did, as well. Actually, you get another point for attempting to increase the score.

    Ah, those high school days...
  • Programming is great craic when you're stoned.
    Very slow but very sure.
  • >Lemme guess, you did that to increase your hacker purity test score?

    >I did, as well. Actually, you get another point for attempting to increase the score.

    Gee, I thought the usual procedure for increasing the purity score was to do things like copulating with a domestic animal whilst in a land vehicle of more than 50,000 tons and the like. You pick up multiple points simultaneously this way, much more efficient.
  • In a very early excerpt of 'Cryptonomicon' he addresses the idea of genetic programming. Somebody wanted a program to identify schizophrenic people over the Internet, so they bred programs using their ability to recognize mental disease in conversations. Of course, you can't just hook up patients and have them talk to consoles fast enough, so they also created paranoid programs. It was an interesting excerpt, and he's said it will be in the sequel to Cryptonomicon.

    Of course, The Diamond Age also featured evolutionary design - the nanites, remember?

  • > I find it disgusting when some kids
    > actually fool their way up to the top by
    > actually using other people's innovations

    Too true. I remember my physics teacher and
    some jock types trying to get together an entry
    for the same competition using Fractint. They
    had no intention even of reviewing the
    maths behind it, they were just going to run
    it a few times and get some pretty pictures.
    Thankfully, they didn't make it to the finals.

    Anyway, congrats to the 3 involved with this.
    If nothing else, they've made sure that
    the Young Scientist awards have made it onto
    Slashdot 2 years in a row ^_^

  • Without wanting to brag - I entered that competition 4 times when I was at school and came away with 2 first prizes, 1 third prize, one award from the Irish Computer Society, one from the Irish government, one from the Irish Institute of Physics, not to mention one highly commended.

    But enough about me, I would guess that about one in every 5 computer related projects at the competition currently makes use of Linux. I don't see what makes this one so special.


  • There are often some really cool projects at this competition, I myself entered one which was a C toolkit for implementing Neural Networks, and another which was basically a completely new mathematical technique (see my homepage for more info).

    Many of the projects at this competition make use of "non-mainstream" operating systems. I have seen several using FreeBSD, and many use Linux. Personally I did everything on my Atari Falcon which was in vogue at the time.

    The thing is that these guys didn't really do that well, it is quite easy to get "Special Awards", which seems to be what they have won. I myself got several. What counts is the prizes awarded by the judges, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. I myself won 2 Firsts and 1 Third having entered 4 times. If these guys had won the entire competition, then that might have been news.


  • Well it impresses me that they were able to do it... but since everyone else on /. seems to think they could program it with their hands in their ass, I guess I'm just on the lower level of slashdot users. *feels his IQ drop 50%* *and feels his self-confidence drop 75%* :P
  • Is making love in a canoe good or bad? I'm picturing it being good... I shall speak of this to mygirlfriend. (Sorry for the off topic post, but the pictures of Natile Portman that was posted in Chris' wedding are still making me horn-nay) :P hehehehe
  • by Kaufmann (16976) <rnedal.olimpo@com@br> on Tuesday January 25, 2000 @03:41AM (#1339937) Homepage
    I'm surprised that no one else has commented on this yet. Here we go.

    Trying to use Prolog for this would have been a bad, bad idea. Prolog is for logic programming, which is great for theorem provers and any other such problem which depends on logical relations between a bunch of data, but entirely unappropriate for a graphical real-time game. Especially considering that the amount of AI involved in this problem was very small. Especially considering that graphical games require languages appropriate for graphical programming, and Prolog was definitely not designed with graphics in mind.

    Now Lisp, on the other hand, would have been appropriate. There is a good reason why it is the language of choice for AI work, after all: it's easy to model most problems using Lisp. In fact, I'm developing a General Game Data Model (GGDM) for Scheme (on RiceU's DrScheme environment, which provides just about everything you can ask for - easy graphical programming, a simple network model, good multithreading support and a lot more), a simple extensible class library indented to turn all of these kind of problems into a simple matter of defining a few objects with behaviour defined on the fly. Anyone interested can email me.

    As for C++... well, I can only guess what a mess the code wound up looking like. Maybe the boys care to open the source? ;)
  • And why didn't I see this on comp.sys.amiga.announce? And I thought the platform was dead!

    (it's meant to be funny, not flamebait)

  • American beer is like making love in a canoe.

    They're both fucking close to water.

    Fortunately American beers are no longer watered down.

  • I don't think it is fair to say that the whole contest was bland and menial. Many of the projects entered over the years have really been on the cutting edge of whatever field they were investigating. As an example, one year's winner developed a new way to use chaos theory and magnetism to determine whether metal had been stressed, very useful in aircraft repair. For my part, I entered a project on Neural Nets, in 1993 which was a few years before they entered the public conciousness, and they year after I developed a new mathematical technique to map clouds of gas based on a similar principal (I discovered later) to that used to find Pluto.
    Of course, in any contest like this you will get the publicity hounds. I remember a few (some guys one year copied a design for a device which rendered ultrasonic sound audiable out of a physics text book, and then dressed up in Batman costumes claiming it was a "Bat Detector"!).


  • Ohhh... Sorry for being dumb. :) My Yuengling lager never tasted like water tho ;) Oh well... thanks for explaining it. hehe
  • Hacker purity test? It's not one I'm familiar with. (I generally hate such things)

    Know where I could find a copy??
  • To those three young adults, I have nothing but applause. They found a problem, looked at different possible ways to solve it, chose one that played to their strengths, worked it out, and presented it well.

    And now for the brickbats to some of the posters I've seen here:

    • They should've (done it in LISP/run under a different emulator/used Windows). Look, they chose to solve one problem. They didn't need to learn a new language/find a different emulator/utilize an unfamiliar OS.
    • Aww, I was doing that when I was 4 years old! I'm glad you were doing that. Now, remember, that this was their project, not yours!
    • Big deal - how is this News for Nerds? How do you think we get nerds? By encouraging people who take what measures they can to solve problems that they find. As I said above, they looked at alternative solutions and found one that fit what they knew. It's things like this that has made the term "nerd" less of the taunt that it used to be, and more of an honor.

    Again, my hat's off to these people, and I hope to see more from them in the future!

  • Here []

    It's truly funny, yet disturbing (it's all *true*! :-)* ).
  • Cool, they used Blitz Basic in UAE.
    I bought BB2 for my Amiga 500Plus years ago, and I have to say that it's definitely one of my all-time favorite programming languages & environments.
    Super-fast compiled programs, inline assembler, pointers, etc...


"There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them" - Heisenberg