Georgia? Corrupt? Naw... no one here's doing anything so ironic as to merit....
A tobacco industry lobbyist bought food and drinks for the governor, his wife and chief of staff John Watson during the recent session of the Legislature while Perdue was asking lawmakers to approve a $50 limit on individual gifts from lobbyists. The meal cost about $100 for three people, according to lobbyist disclosure reports.
... never mind, I forgot that this state, home of the NAACP, just enacted a voter ID law.
Ahh, the power of Protools: The Party Party has remixed George Bush a little, creating a very well done remix of The Beatles' "Imagine" and Lou Reed/The Velvet Underground's "Walk On The Wild Side". MP3 low stream, hi stream.
From Engadget comes this leap forward in robotic sentience. Seems that someone's gotten a set of robots to do distributed decision making. Yep, the robots are ready to group together and elect a leader. I refuse to make any electronic voting jokes: it's too easy.
The Robotic Open Control (ROC) software essentially operates by allowing the robots to elect a leader to make critical decisions at crunch times.
OK, I lied. I can't resist.
If Diebold gets a hold of the software, the robots will vote, then a random number will be assigned, and whichever robot matches that total will win the election. All further elections will be held after the rest of the robots drive off a cliff and the leader decides he's wrong.
This will of course become the new system for Atlanta's light rail train MARTA, which will be expounded on by Georgia's Secretary of State Cathy Cox as "perfect" and "the wave of the future", despite the fact all of the trains will elect to secede from Atlanta and create "Marta Springs", only take 50 dollar bills as tokens, and refuse to go inside the perimeter.
Andy Ihnatko participated in 24 Hour Comics Day with his usual panache, style and wit: in other words, he cheated. Oh well, the result was still pretty good, resulting in a 24-plus-a-few-hour audiobook of the oft-mentioned but never-seen Jeeves and the Object Class. For a 24 hour audio book, it's actually not too bad, and it's free for download (20MB). Having listened to it, I can say that his writing is excellent, his British accent is good, if not great, and his plot devices are stunningly adept. In other words, if Hitchhiker's Guide isn't doing it for you this weekend, pick this up and be amused.
It's always amazed me how generous the comic book industry is. Often, you'll find free advice, people trying to get people interested, and just a passle of good people being friendly. Free Comic Book Day is one example. To find a store near you giving out free comic books on May 7th, check out the Free Comic Book Day Store Finder. Atlanta appears to have several, including Oxford Comics and Criminal Records, two of my favorites.
Cartoon Brew is fast becoming a fun read for me; although I can't say it makes me happy -- I mean, watching a ton of other people draw for a living makes me nearly apoplectic -- but it always makes me want to draw more.
A little fun off of Backup Brain:
One of the most common complaints I hear from parents whose kids are in public school is that the kids aren't being taught useful, real-world skills. Sean just showed me one of his homework assignments to be done this weekend, "Write an email as if to a co-worker about your boss, using the following vocabulary words":Yep, I used these same words in a letter to a former boss. The following week, I was treated to a high-level executive meeting with Human Resources, my boss, and a letter informing me of some options I had involving penance or door invitations.didactic, fickle, gullible, insipid, petty, incorrigible, officious, pompous, inane, willful, tedious, wanton
I might add a few: slipshod, cantankerous, addlepated, and lickspittle.
I'm almost positive I've seen this before, but I don't remember posting it. Either way, it's a page that's making the rounds on developing a robotic head for $600. Now, considering Sony's ASIMO cost in the hundreds of millions, this is a relative bargain. But it's pretty simplified, so no mouth movement, limited head movement, and such. But, considering you get eye, eyelid, and gross head movement (the head rotates on a fixed base), it's very cool. Also includes software to hook up to Windows machines to the robot head, for control purposes.
Engadget is right: this does look like an aged, pudgy, and stoned version of Jen the Gelfling. Sadly, it's not; this is “Baizhixing” (”smart star”), a Chinese addition to the gambit to use robotics as a development toy (...after Teddy Ruxpin and Furbies. Yes, I consider both Ruxpin and Furbies were development toys; Ruxpin played audio tapes with cues, which were gee-golly-whiz moralistic stories, and Furbies tended to relate to you as you acted to them.) This one's a lot more technologically advanced, and is intended to help develop body language recognition in children -- because hanging around people doesn't help.
Why is it anytime someone makes robotic alien-types, they're either killer mechanical robots or cutsie little things? Doesn't anyone think they could just be different than us, but not really cute or not cute?
I'm not sure I even care if this is true; it had me in a side-holding, rollicking laugh, making it as good as true. Someone pretending to be "leet" and ticking off of an entire IRC channel finally gets some back, with a little not-so-friendly advice from the people he's attacking on what IP address to attack: localhost.
Perusing around for information on Symbian Series 60 Python information, I came across a post on Alasdair Allan's The Daily ACK. Seems like while no one was looking, a port of Perl to the Symbian Series 60 platform started. This was something that had been shown off but not actually seen on the net, so this is good news. It's in Alpha now, but knowing how fast people tend to port Perl to everything, I'm suspecting it will be jumping very soon.
Fun article on some simple
bash shell tricks. If you haven't seen them before, it's a good read (I knew a couple, but not all of them.) My favorite was using !$ for the last word in the last command. How many times have you had to look into a folder, then needed to get something out of the last command?
Reading this, the phrase "there's someone home but the lights are out" comes to mind. First, the Republicans change the rules so that the Ethics Committee can only open an investigation with a majority. Then, the Republicans start running into problems with some outrageous behavior with one of their own, and the Ethics Committee won't do anything about it -- which gets plastered all over the news. Now, Dennis Hastert claims the Democrats are blocking the committee from meeting not because they oppose the rules change, but because they're avoiding charges on their own people.
That last charge is what has me so disgusted. Hastert clearly has no basis for saying this: if the Democrats want the charges to die in committee, they just have to use the rules Republicans have set up. Instead, the Democrats want to roll back the changes. This would mean a split vote would start an investigation, making it *more* likely that if there's any allegations against Democrats, the charges will become an investigation.
But what really ticks me off is that this is the ETHICS Committee, the one in charge of ethical behavior and, on occasion, correction of unethical behavior. A more cautious approach to ethical breeches would be better, rather than a less cautious approach; so why the changes? Purely a power play on the Republican's side: the Ethics Committee has been pretty scrupulously non-partisan until now, as it should be. The change is either because they can, or because they're protecting Tom Delay. I'd rather it's the latter -- that's at least a lapse in judgment over one person. But I really doubt it.
You'll note that this site tends not to do a lot of advertising and cross-linking, by laziness more than by design. But I've put up a link to Individual-I, a new site put up by Bruce Schneier to promote individual rights.
Sometimes I mock other people's beliefs on this site. Sometimes I mock my own. But this is one I truly believe in -- the right to know what the government can and can't do to me. In any society, with that knowledge comes stability: "I can trust that the boundaries are thus and thus, so I can then do what I want on this side of the boundaries, without fear."
So this is what the I stands for:
It represents the right to privacy and anonymity in the information age. It represents the rights to an open government, due process, and equal protection under the law. It represents the right to live surveillance free, and not to be marked as "suspicious" for wanting these other rights. It recognizes that a free society is a safe society, and that freedom is founded upon individual rights.
Have a look, and post on your site as well.
Xeni rocks so hard, it makes me wonder if anyone else should try while she's rocking. Just distracts from her work. And this time, Xeni went to a Survival Research Labratories performance. Everything I've seen of them has been by tape and by web (coming to Atlanta doesn't seem likely anytime soon, sadly). The little I've seen of them make me want to see more, a lot more. I'd replicate Xeni's links, but that would be just wasteful of bits. Go see the article, along with the NPR audio of it.
Article over on wired on a robotic sculptor, who's group Amorphic Robot Works has built in the last 15 years a series of robotic and electronic sculptures. They sound neat:
Visitors didn't appear concerned about how the robots were operated, but rather focused on what the machines were doing. Children shouted and clapped at sound-reactive YoYo Berimbau, provoking robotic drum slaps and violin-like bowing in response. Across the floor, others watched in awe as rope-climbing robot Rope Climber slowly clicked and shimmied skyward.
Definitely sounds like a neat thing.
Not that the above link really has much to do with anything, but I picked up this line from the end of the article:
Conservatives during the last Congress accused Democrats of being anti-minority for blocking Brown, who is black; anti-women for blocking Owen, and anti-Catholic for blocking Pryor.
The only reason I bring this up, is the simple and solitary reason that this just ticks me off. Democrats clearly -- and let me say, clearly -- had no reason for blocking a minority, woman, or Catholic, unless they found the person to not fit with their ideals; which is what they should be looking at. Any accusation of racism, sexism, and... what, secularism? is ridiculous, primarily because the core base of the Democrats is... hang on... minorities and women. Occasionally a few Catholics go Democratic, sure, but even then, Democrats would rather let a bad one through than piss off the few Catholics who they do have. So, the charge is false.
I would, in fact, reverse the charge.
Look, I've known a number of "minorities" in my lifetime, but I'm not one. I've known a number of women in my lifetime, but again, I'm not one. I'm not even Catholic. So, I've got no basis to be claiming bias. But it's my opinion that any racism, sexism, and whatever-ism you've got stems from noticing a difference where little exists. Yeah, black people have black skin. So? They got a brain? They fun to hang with? After that, it's all good. Same goes for women, Catholics, and everyone else.
I also know a number of people who are black, and who are clearly assholes. I mean, royal, gigantic assholes. There's a lot of women I know who are assholes as well, and several Catholics I know who need a good swift kick in the ass because... you guessed it... they're assholes.
That's got nothing to do with their skin, sex or religion: they just happen to be jerks. The day I figured out that everyone can be an asshole, I knew I wasn't going to let little things like physicality or personal beliefs get in the way of telling people that they're assholes.
The Democrats might have voted these guys down for reasons not related to their abilities. But let's face it: chances are likely they were voted down because they're assholes, or were brought forward by assholes. And how much more egalitarian can you get than that?
A little bit of retro love with Mac OS X, Python and Core Graphics. MacDevCenter did a piece on how to access CoreGraphics on Mac OS X with Python -- a very cool feature which could allow me to do some happiness with Python programming, sans doing Cocoa counter counting -- not that it seems to bug anyone but me. Good read, worth checking out.
Well, if you haven't heard, Adobe's buying Macromedia. Brings a little twitch to my left eye every time I hear it. Any time any large company buys out it's direct competitor, it's not good for the consumer. Less choice basically means less choice; if you don't like something company A does, there's no B to fall back to. Also, it usually means some products which formally were available, won't be "cost effective", so they'll be gone.
The rumors are already flying, with "What's going to happen to <INSERT FAVORITE PROGRAM HERE>?" being the big rumors. No one knows, I doubt that anyone's going to know for months. So relax, and don't worry yet.
But, if you must guess, here's my thoughts on the subject. First, Freehand users are hearing the death toll for their favorite program. I suspect that they're right to worry; Illustrator and Freehand are twins, and the new company won't keep both. But, on the good side, the two programs did compete quite handily with one another, and because of that, both have much the same feature set. So whichever wins, chances are likely the winner will have it all. After that, without the competition between Freehand and Illustrator, I'd guess that it will slowly lose relevance and become the new company's Fontographer.
Flash is also a big question: it's arguably the biggest Macromedia asset, and the least like everything else Adobe has. I'm betting Adobe bought Macromedia *because* it's web design portfolio was weak, and saw buying Macromedia as a solution to getting a better hold on web design. It's not really about WYSIWYG HTML programs, either (Pagemill was a great program, and Adobe could build a great WYSIWYG tool without buying a company, no matter what GoLive says about Adobe). While there's nothing wrong with Dreamweaver, it's just not a factor. The majority of what I've seen is that web page designers either design in Photoshop/Fireworks/Illustrator, and then code pages using text editors or IDEs, or designers work with Flash, and that's the end of that.
Despite Tim Bray's opinion that people using Flash should move to DHTML/AJAX -- which I'd like to see, even if it's not going to happen -- the opposite is happening. Two reasons: first, once designers found out they could design with animations, it was all over; they're not going to go back. Second, the most current development is now in richer applications, not individual applications. You'll note Tim Bray talked about AJAX, as well he should. AJAX is a great tool for building fast *applications*, not web pages. Project which are appearing are all about web apps, and not web pages. One way to go is AJAX; but a number are also going towards Flash, because Flash can build fast, effective front ends which do much of what AJAX is promising (XML data transfers as needed, rather than stateless, constantly reloading web pages.) As tools which bridge the gap between SWF and Java/PHP/Perl/what have you, become more common, I expect *more* Flash stuff, not less.
Well, here goes to why human beings should look before they judge themselves. I hit up Metroblogging above, and found out that FIRST, Dean Kamen's robotics for highschoolers challenge, was holding a Vex Robots championship. My first thought was "Wow -- I guess I'm getting behind the times already. Despite the fact that I just found out about Vex Robotics at Radio Shack, there's a competition already."
Turns out amidst their sarcasm, they kind of skipped the details. First is holding their Championships for the FIRST Robotics Competition, the FIRST LEGO League, and the FIRST Vex Challenge all in the same three days at the Georiga Dome. The FIRST Robotics Competition is more of a free-form, engineer a robotics solution. FIRST LEGO League focuses, natch, on the LEGO Mindstorms platform. And FIRST is trying out a pilot league using Vex Robotics, which is sponsored by Radio Shack.
It's at the Georgia Dome, looks to be open to the public and free, and will have several hundred robots being shown off. And despite the good-humored sarcasm from Metroblogging (I mean, come on -- "Red Hottt Nerd on Nerd Action in the ATL"? That's the best you can do? Not even some "Torquing Off While Getting Your Gear On", or "Master and Servo?" Geez...), it should be pretty neat.
Walking robots are one of the harder robotic technical problems around, so this really is pretty impressive. The human walk is little more than a controlled fall forward, from one foot to the other. To walk, we imbalance ourselves forward, and then push our center of gravity up, forward, and left or right, using our legs. Forward is the direction we want to go in, up is countered by gravity, but in order to stop from falling on our side, we humans have to counter the left-right movement by using the opposite leg. If you recorded a human's center of gravity as he walked, and saw it from above, it would appear somewhere between a wave and a zigzag; and it's accomplished because we humans can detect center of gravity without extra sensors.
Robots have to have center of gravity pre-balanced, or have some mechanism to balance it. This greatly increases the complexity of a robot. Most robots get around it by not dealing with it, but because so much of our society is based on the concept of two-legged creatures, designing this is an interesting accomplishment.
God, it's hard being liberal in Georgia. We keep getting these goofballs who run for governor, like, as you can see, Cathy Cox. Oh, you don't know her? Ah. Let me explain.
Cathy Cox was Georgia's Secretary of State; she's the one who bought thousands of Diebold voting machines and foisted them off on the state, then wouldn't respond when it was brought to light that there were voting irregularities and the machines could be hacked by a chimp. Literally. Because the back-end was a Microsoft Access database, known for being riddled with holes. Of course, it wasn't password protected either. Turns out that Ms. Cox was pretty much ignoring any problems with the system. Oh, she also still denys any problems with the system (signin required, sorry.).
Governor, indeed. At least the current moron leaves paper trails.
I still think that Python on Series 60 phones is one of the cooler things I can think of. And now O'Reilly's got a nice article going over some of the details of this. One of the more interesting links off of this is The Python For Series 60 Wiki, which has a ton of links on how to program in Python on the series 60, and contains very cool information on getting information out of the series 60 databases as well.
Whenever I read something like this, I'm reminded of my childhood.
OK, I had a strange childhood.
Look, it reminds me of childhood, because I lived in a town with a group of people who were determined to save the children from rack and ruin. Specifically, from the ungodly parts of our educational system; like forcing the school system to not show any movies rated more than PG, cutting funding from the school system, and, in one episode making the local papers, stealing a student's copy of a weekly alternative and then showing the evidence at a school board meeting.
But my favorite was the counting of the number of "f-words" and "the M-F-word" in a little movie called The Breakfast Club. I never remember if it was as part of a social experiment, or if it was just something the teacher did as a treat, but a teacher showed this movie in class. It's an excellent movie in that it explores kids talking honestly about their lives and seeing that they're not so far from one another. It's a good film, especially for teenagers. I can completely understand where the teacher was coming from.
At some point, naturally, an objection came from these holy rollers. What got me was the factual evidence that they presented. Evidentally, The Breakfast Club contains 57 "fuck"s and 1 "motherfucker" -- something I found too trivial to ever care about. It's like watching Casablanca and counting the number of times Rick says "money", trivial to the point of the movie.
But what I will never understand is that someone had to *sit* through the movie and count those words. Sit there and *count* while these kids on screen talk about their pain and agony; and then turn around and use that count to provide evidence to a group who would inflict a little more pain and agony on other kids in the name of decency.
Twenty years and I still can't get my mind around it.
I'd discount this as paranoia, but these days, it's getting harder and harder to discount stuff like this. According to Ross Mayfield, he was told by a TSA employee that current policy is that you can only carry 4 books onto a plane, and soon it will be two.
There's a lot of things that a passenger could carry on a plane, that I would just assume they did not: guns, knives, little children, an alcoholic stupor. And while I'm still a big supporter of banning people from reading material too stupid to possibly be entertaining -- say, the Davinci Code -- I'm unclear as to what the benefits of this new policy would be.
Perhaps the government is worried that we are straining ourselves on airplane flights. "You work too hard", the government is saying, "and don't take enough time off. We want you to put that book down, enjoy the freshly recycled air, smell the artifical roses and the perfume of that woman in 10C. It's good for you."
"But isn't that my choice?" I ask the government.
"Oh, sure. You can read those two measly books you have left. I mean, we wouldn't force you to partake of the in-flight movie (although, you did see it was Pauley Shore and Hillary Duff in a remake of To Kill A Mockingbird, right? That Pauley... he's such a cut-up. 'Bud-deeee'. Hehe!) if you *really* just wanted to read. We just want you to relax and enjoy your flight. Without extra books. Because you read too much."
"But I go through books pretty fast; like, 10 books a week. So these two on a 14 hour flight is really..."
"Well, sure. For a few *freaks* like you, it's a 'burden'. But you geeks just need to get used to the fact that real people don't read. Reading kills brain cells, don't you know? And that's how you got so *freakish*, by reading. So stop it. Just sit on the plane, smell the perfume, watch Pauley, and shut up."
"You want on the plane? You want on *any* plane, ever? Then stop complaining, hand over the books, and shut up."
Yep, it's going to be a fun summer.
More fun with Google's new Sattelite Maps. Turns out that if you photograph the world, you sometimes get pictures of more than just geography. Things like getting volcanoes, firefights in Iraq, pictures of planes landing and taking off, and pictures of people leaving love notes in corn fields.
Well, it was bound to happen: at Computers, Freedom and Privacy 2005, a group of people followed Steve Mann, the pioneer in wearable computing, as he, and they, went to various local stores and filmed the cameras that they'd installed. Several objected, some citing their policy was to have no photography in their store, and some claiming that the photography would disturb their customers.
Less humorous, but more interesting, was Mann's newer inventions; specifically, an ID holder that allows someone to view minimal information until another ID is swiped through it's card reader.
Mann's points on privacy -- summarized by the concept that being watched while not being able to watch others is not a democratic/civilized/good way to have a society. Not a bad point. How many times are you filmed a day? How many times will those people filming you, allow you to film them?
I have *no* idea why, but every time I see something large, huge and rusting, I want to get a closer look at it. It must be a geek thing. Either way, it's one of the coolest, neatest things I've seen in a while... and agree with the artist who created this, it should be in an art museum. The only thing -- does that thing in the middle of the head a gun, or just a series of eyes on a rotating cylendar?
A professor at St. Bonaventure University talks about her new book on robotics and philosophy/theology. It's a fascinating topic: what would make something other than human, human. I'm reminded of a Spider Robinson short story from his Callahan's series. In this story, a species called the Krundai have manipulated humanity for thousands of years. The representative Krundai claims that humans are not worth saving, because we lack a certain quality that they can't describe -- we are "less-than-Krundai". I wonder if similarly, talking about robots and what it would take to make them sentient would be a similar discussion; current human thought is that they would lack a human quality, but we can't describe it. So, would robots be less-than-human, or would they be different than humans in such a way as to make them inaccessible to human minds, but not lesser? Are they less-than-human, more-than-human, or just different-than-human? Is Data a toaster, or a living being that is different from us?
Videos taken in New York City during the Republican convention show that most of the arrests of protesters -- literally 90% -- were being thrown out as bad arrests, with video and pictures taken by individuals and media playing a heavy role as "impartial witnesses". The strange and absurd arrests included lots of innocent people, which was well-known at the time; stories were being filed with news agencies and blogs alike by hundreds of people who were just standing around watching, got arrested, and then thrown in jail. For that matter, the arrests were originally set up to stop people from protesting legitimately and peacefully; so how many of the rest of the arrests charges incidental to the arrest?
We're a democracy; the constitution specifically states that people have a right to assemble and to free speech, while the Declaration of Independence says that we have an inalienable right to ask our government for redress. Mass arrests -- about which the police *lied* to the press, the courts, and the world -- don't exactly jibe with this.
Abu Dhabi: Child jockeys are banned and light-weight jockeys are hard to come by. No problem. Now, robot jockeys will solve all the troubles on the race tracks.I was fine until I saw the picture of the robot camel jockey. I mean, "robot camel jockey" sounds practically obscene, but you can ignore it because it's an interesting use of robots for doing things humans are not allowed to do. But when the picture of the robot camel jockey looks like a blow-up doll...
As Jeremy from Barry Ween would say, "ROBOT! CAMEL! JOCKEYS!"
Weighing in at 8.9 grams, Sekio Epson introduced a minature robot helicopter, complete with four actuators, which drive two rotors and two stablizers -- although the battery was externalized. The controls are remote, though. Impressive engineering; now add that battery.
So, it turns out that weird popping noise I heard last night from the direction of the kitchen was the can of Pepsi I'd put in the freezer exploding. And now the inside of the freezer has cola-colored ice sprayed all over; it looks like a yeti projectile-vomited in there or something. Sometimes I don't feel ready to be an adult.
Ah, so... just for fun, I'll put up my own exploding can of soda story. Freshman year at college. Just gotten a mini-fridge for the dorm room that afternoon, and I proudly had filled it up with some soda. (Proudly, because I'd been hemming and hawing, and then finally realized that it was going to be cheaper to get the soda in quantity, considering my soda consumption habits even then. I tend to hem and haw about spending money on comforts a lot. "It's a midwestern thing, oh, I couldn't really say if you'd understand it or not.")
Later in the day, Crystal, one of my dorm's residential advisors came by, and told me she had some form of free food. Naturally, I ran out of my room towards the food. As we residents were dividing up the grub, my R.A. mentioned something about soda. I ran back to my new refrigerator, grabbed a soda, and presented her with a cold soda. Then I realized I'd forgot to get one for myself... so I ran back to my fridge to get another can of soda. As I took another soda out of the fridge, I noticed the can's top had bulged outward. Not fully comprehending what was going on, I grabbed the can, walked back to the common room, and had started to call out to Crystal, "Hey Crystal, I think you might want to be careful of..."
Naturally, that's when the can decided to explode. Fountained straight up, showering Crystal with the liquid, unfrozen parts of the can.
"... that can of soda," I finished, as the fountain subsided.
Macworld's doing a series of articles on road travelling with your Mac. I find these fascinating, primarily because the articles show little tips that people find useful. Large, single-way articles just drive me insane; it's like giving a set of commands rather than trying to help someone out. Tips let you select the ones you like and need, and these are some of the best.
Despite the rounds this is making on the net as a poster child of prior restraint chilling effects, this is a really handy site. It basically shows you independent coffee houses near your zip code, which is a wonderful idea. But... it's got a problem.
Instead of relying on an address check, it's looking for zip codes which are numerically near by. This doesn't work, at least, in Atlanta. I was getting results for Alpharetta, GA (30022) in Duluth, GA (30030), nearly 30 miles away. For future reference, zip codes are added to areas as they grow larger, and don't necessarily indicate proximity. In fact, in large metro areas, zip codes almost never are close together. I'd say that's a bigger problem than any chilling effect.
It's been all over, but you have to admire anyone who stands up and says, "This is what makes me happy, and damn the sense of it all." A bunch of line-waiters for Star Wars III found out that the movie won't be opening up at Grauman's Chinese Theater, which is where they're waiting. They'll continue to wait anyway.
"The telling thing is -- for me, at least -- if the film is not playing at the Chinese ... I have zero desire to see it at all," a fan who calls himself Obi Geewhyen posted on the message board at Liningup.net. "I'm in it for the lineup only and don't give a darn about the conclusion of this lackluster, so-called 'Star Wars' series."
What's ironic is that Schlosser's book really has less to with drugs per se, but more about how the laws on drugs and pornography came about. Specifically, he points out that the history behind them is one of hysteria, rather than of intelligent thought.
One voice for sanity comes from Dana Parsons in the L.A. Times, who states:
What should be done is to remember that ideas shouldn't scare us. Ideas shouldn't prompt parents or, especially, school officials to be putting even minor heat on public libraries for the speakers they recruit. That notion is 10 times more threatening than anything Schlosser an accomplished writer whom students ought to be exposed to might say in an hour with them.
Darren Barefoot has some interesting points concerning podcasting and why he isn't buying it as the next big thing. I tend to share some of these concerns, and a few more.
In order for an audio broadcast to be any good, you have to have good quality people and quality material to make and produce audio. Audio is a completely different format than blogs, and while some people are excellent writers, they really suck at hearing their voices out loud. There are exceptions like Andy Ihnatko and David Pogue, but those are exceptions, not the rule. Most podcasts are more like Slashdot's Geeks In Space, (which was neat *because* it was so unprofessional, not in spite of it.)
Filling up 20 minutes a day is exhausting. 20 minutes of talking is a lot -- check out how much people like Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, and Al Franken talk, without saying much. Podcasting even once a week with decent content is a lot, unless you're really dedicated or insane. And all the insane people are blogging.
And then audio takes a lot longer to produce -- a *lot* longer. So while I can write a couple of posts a day, I could do at best one audio a week if I did little else. Most people won't put in the time.
I'm not saying it couldn't happen -- but nothing's suddenly popped out as a "must listen" program yet, and unless that happens soon, it's probably going to go the way of the dodo.
Gizmodo and Engadget, those loveable fighting twins of depraved geek fetishism, both have posted a story from Slashdot Japan. Someone seems to have built a Gundam-style robot walker, complete with guns and cockpit. You've got to love the styling, too -- pure Robotech, with the neat photos of them right outside of an apartment window. Only one question: how do you get *in* the stinkin' thing?
O'Reilly Network has a great article on RoboGames 2005, covering not only the more "glamorous" events like robotic combat, but also the firefighting contest and the ribbon-climbing event. It even talks to some of the inventors about their robots and how they were built.
The minature robots seen in the picture I've grabbed from O'Reilly's site (by Jeremy Fitzhardinge) shows two of the ribbon climbers. The challenge is to create a robot which can climb a ribbon -- an amazingly difficult task, despite what you might think. The weight of the robot has to be supported by the ribbon, the robot has to create enough traction on the ribbon to climb while having enough friction to stay on the ribbon:
Indeed, ribbon climbing is a ballet of balances, between weight and power, the friction to hold on against the friction blocking you from climbing, and a host of other artificial restraints that make the contest more complex and, hopefully, more applicable to the real world, including a remote transmission requirement and a five-second pause with automatic restart.
Clay Shirky talks about some of his students avoiding what he's calling the "Web School" mentality. "Web School" mentality, from my impression, means paying too much attention to building a generic, all-purpose application which can withstand the extremes of being a live web application. He notes that his students are instead building web applications that work with and use the specific details of the community they live in. They tend to ignore problems like scaleability, because scaleability isn't necessary, owing to the size of their intended audience.
It's a very interesting piece. This problem resembles something I've encountered in programming as well as art: what is the absolute *least* you can do, and still accomplish what you're trying to do? Often we put more complexity than we have to. Ask a writer, and they'll tell you it's harder to write a good short story than a novel: you have to get to the point with a short story.
Before building something, ask yourself: what would you build, knowing all you had to do was please you and three other people who you knew?
To simulate Mars Rover conditions, it has two built-in complications. First, it's time-shifted: all video feedback is on a five second delay. Second, if the robot gets a command that conflict with it's sensors, it will abort the command and send back for instructions.
Went out tonight to go see Steamboy, the latest from Katsuhiro Otomo, the man who did Akira. Akira was one of the first anime movies I'd ever seen, along with (I believe) Laputa: Castle In The Sky, so I was very anxious to see this movie. Reviews had been mixed, and so I went with a little trepidation, but enough anticipation to make me happy to be going to see it.
Overall, it's not bad. Not fantastic, just not bad. The story involves a young boy, his dad, and his grandfather; all are "scientists" -- really, mechanical engineers rather than scientists -- in a steampunk-based London of 1866. And when I say "steampunk", I mean steam as the means of power for everything. It's all over the place; trains, auto-gyros, zepplins, you name it. The grandfather and father are involved in some experiment, which goes partially wrong. The result -- a power source called a "steamball" -- gets mailed to the young boy (Ray Steam), who then is hunted down by several groups, none of which can be called "good guys". One side includes the O'Hara Foundation, owned by -- swear to God -- Miss Scarlett, a prepubescent little moppet who vascilates between caring and downright draconian. From there, the plot gets weirder, so the rest, I'll leave to you.
As I watched, I noticed something odd. First, I didn't really care that much about Ray, per se. Ray's a nice kid, but he's not the focus of the story. Or at least, he may have meant to been the focus, but it's really not there. Nor do you really care for the father, the grandfather, or Miss Scarlett. All of them really seem very unfocused, uninspiring, and really a bit flat; very charactured, really. No one got any focus for very long, and the few that did seemed like schmucks.
Later, I'm coming to another conclusion. The focus is really power: steam-based power, mechanical power, grabs for power and attempts to rip power away from people. Shows of large power and small power. And people insisting they know more about what to do with power than one another.
Part of the problem is this: no one uses it well, including Ray. Ray's attempts to use power are the least egregious, and the closest to good. But they're still downright frustrating, in that Ray just keeps on trying to save those that, by all rights, shouldn't be saved, doing things that aren't really brave or inspiring, but just downright stupid: following what others tell him to do, listening to the last person he talked to, acting in all ways as a 10 year old does not.
The animation is stunning, and for a nearly pure action film done in animation, the feel of 1800s London is well preserved. The science part of the film is also a little loose, but not so loose as to make you want to scream bloody murder (e.g., no one's putting computer viruses into alien operating systems, but it does suppose a lot more mechanical power than 1866 London would probably have). Some of the explanation, especially the use of the release of extremely compressed gas turning things cold as a plot point -- well, the little scientist in me shouted "yippee!".
Overall, not too bad; there's been much worse animation I've seen. But it's definitely not as good in the plot department, nor in the character development as a lot of animation lately (Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away, and Akira especially.) But go anyway -- maybe companies will see people coming over, and make more.
Well, it seems that Google News has gone customizable. Not only can you set which major sections you have available, you can add your own sections based on a set of search terms. Simply done, but very well done. Granted, it's a lot like just doing a search for a term, but why type when you can just click a link?
The problem with all the biometrics systems I've seen so far is that they try and take a unique part of the human body for security... but no one's body is really that secure, is it? Despite the fact you can fool fingerpint readers with gelatin molds, someone's gone even more low-tech than that. Man in Malaysia had his finger chopped off by some car thieves, who then used his fingertip to open his new Mercedes Benz and drive off with it.
This sounds exactly like a bad science fiction movie premise.... Imagine this, done by the traditional movie preview voiceover guy...
"In a world... where one man... holds the key to the ultimate weapon... that man must do everything... to keep that key away from his enemies.... he's got the key... but the key... is him. Arnold Schwartzenegger is... The Finger."
It seems that NASA is coming up with some rather odd, but pretty cool concepts lately. First, they're building a tetrahedon-based robot which, by retracting and expanding it's sides, will be able to move. Then, they plan on building these things as nanobots. And as if this wasn't enough to get your mojo working, the plan is to get these nanobots to co-operate in swarms (NASA call them "autonomous nanotech swarms", and use "ANTS" as an acronym, but I object. Swarms of robots pretty much *have* to be at least partially autonomous. If they have to ask permission of someone every time they reform/combine/act as a collection, it'd be a pretty useless swarm. Or an army, not a swarm.) But still, it's pretty amazing to read about "nanotech swarms" being mentioned in the first place.
As the president stumps for social security -- and seems to fail at convincing anyone that his plan will work -- he's also finding out what happens when you kick people out of public events and have citizens who know more than the Treasury Secretary. But let's face it, the best lesson comes when the president starts talking about getting his revenge for not following his misdeeds....