Friday, April 27, 2007

Animal mug mugs

thorsten van elten manufactures furniture, lighting and home accessories ranging from quirky and affordable to overpriced and pretentious.

At £10 each, these animal-faced mugs fit in the former category.

(Also available in 'pig' and 'rabbit'.)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

16th Century Multi-Tool

The Watchismo Times reports: [edited]

Portable watches had only been around a few decades when this [10.8cm diameter] multi-function timepiece was built in southern Germany circa 1590.

Consisting of a round powder flask made of rosewood with inlaid and engraved rosette-shaped ornaments of brass and bone.

A small clock with 1-12 hours twice situated on the outer ring. The small funnel of bone is closed with a springy lid made of brass.

Below the center under the engraved lid with a transversally placed hinge, there is a horizontal sundial with indication of the hours from six o'clock in the morning to six o'clock in the evening.

A small compass with north-south indication but without correction for the magnetic pole.

The string gnomon [that's the bit of the sundial that casts a shadow, ed] is stretched by opening the lid and is only valid for one latitude.

On the side of the flask, there is an opening to a funnel-shaped small pipe which is placed in the socket and allows for filling up the powder flask.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Sony, Microsoft - All your base are belong to Wii

CNN Money reports: [edited]

A year ago it looked like game over for Nintendo's console business. The Kyoto-based gamemaker - whose Nintendo Entertainment System ushered in the modern age of videogames - was bleeding market share to newer, more powerful systems from Sony and Microsoft.

Even as the videogame business grew into a $30 billion global industry, Nintendo saw its U.S. hardware sales shrink to almost half of what they had been nearly 20 years earlier.

Today, as anybody within shouting distance of a teenager knows, Nintendo is the comeback kid of the gaming world. Instead of joining Sony and Microsoft in the arms race to pack their consoles with ever-higher-performance graphics chips (to better attract sophisticated gamers), Nintendo built the Wii - a cuddly, low-priced, motion-controlled machine that broke the market wide open by appealing to everyone from grade-schoolers to grandmas.

Unorthodox? Maybe. Effective? You bet.

The Wii is a pop culture smash of such dimensions that Nintendo still can't make consoles fast enough. Even so, it's outselling Sony's PlayStation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360. And while its competitors lose money on every console they build, expecting to make it back selling high-margin games, the Wii was designed to sell for a profit from the get-go...

[The rest of the article is a good analysis of how/why Nintendo has succeeded. ed]

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Flying motorcycle

Larry Neal, has received a U.S. patent for a “fly-drive vehicle” with a folding rotor shaft and a transmission to power either the drive propeller or wheels.

“The problem with flying cars in the past was what to do with the wings once you were on the ground,” said Neal. “With a “fly-drive” gyroplane, just fold the rotor blades and drive on down the road.”

“Using rotor blades for the wings of a flying car makes the fly-drive Super Sky Cycle a new kind of vehicle.” Neal said. “There’s nothing else like it, a gyroplane that can fly at freeway speeds, land in 20 feet, be driven home as a motorcycle, and fit in your garage.”

For more information click here

[Personally, I can't decide if this is a genius idea, or just plain barking. However, for those of us old enough to remember reading Look & Learn, it might be the nearest thing we ever get to commuting using a rocket pack.]

Monday, April 23, 2007

Computer models confirm 'flying V' is best

New Scientist reports: [edited]

For human pilots, formation flying takes years to master, but migratory birds have it down to a fine art. Yet the reason why geese, for example, fly in a V-shape has long been something of a mystery.

Now a computer model has combined two competing theories. The first suggests that the formation has an aerodynamic advantage - each bird creates an upwash behind its wing tips, giving those following it an extra lift. The second holds that flying in a slightly skewed position relative to the bird in front allows for unimpaired vision.

Valmir Barbosa and Andre Nathan at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, created computer models of flocks of between 15 and 35 birds, taking both theories into account. Each bird was allowed to seek out the one nearest to it, and to position itself so that its view was not blocked. It could then adjust its position to take advantage of any improved aerodynamics.

The results showed that both theories hold true. Previous computer models that did not take both into account were unable to reproduce V-formations, says Barbosa, "but we have found that these formations occur regardless of how the birds are positioned initially". The artificial birds also settled into other patterns seen in nature, such as W-formations. "This is an appealing instance of how complexity emerges from simple rules."

Friday, April 20, 2007

Travelling alarm clock

Nanda is selling: [edited]

Clocky gives you one chance to get up. But if you snooze, Clocky will jump off of your nightstand and wheel around your room looking for a place to hide.

- Set your snooze time, 0-9 min
- Choose 0 and he runs right away
- Can jump from up to 3 feet
- Moves on wood and carpet
- Press snooze to view time at night
- Screen flashes when beeping/running
- Alarm beeps in random pattern
- 5.25" x 3.5" x 3.5"

Available in almond white, aqua and mint and soon in mustard orange.

Thanks to Sora for the link.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Domo: Robot for the confused and bewildered

Technology Review reports: [edited]

For more than a decade, roboticists have worked on systems for the elderly, hoping to extend the amount of time that seniors can live at home and improve their quality of life. Now MIT researchers have built a humanoid robot with a special motion-tracking system and spring-loaded actuators that make it better equipped to deal with household chores. The robot, named Domo, can size up an object by shaking it in its hand and then put it away in a cupboard.

But developing a multipurpose robot for the elderly hasn't been easy because the home environment is so unpredictable. Industrial robots, which are widely used in manufacturing, work with parts that come in standard shapes and sizes. Food, however, does not. So a simple task such as putting away groceries can become quite complicated.

Domo takes that variability into account. Instead of preprogramming the robot so that it only knows how to deal with cans and boxes with certain dimensions, Edsinger has Domo size up each item - one at a time - before deciding how it should be stored.

The shelving process begins when a human puts an item in one of the robot's hands. The robot then determines the object's dimensions based on grip and video analysis. First, the robot wiggles the object in its hand while video cameras in the robot's head record the movement. The robot knows how much force it applied with the wiggle, so it knows how much the object it's holding should move. Using special motion-capture software, Domo finds the object in the video that moves as predicted and assumes it is the item in its hand.

Now that the robot has identified the item to be shelved, Domo must determine its shape and size. If it's a small object that fits in the robot's hand, it can determine the object's size based on its grip. For long objects, the robot must perform more video analysis.

Knowing that the tip of a long object will wiggle quicker than the rest, the software isolates the part of the object moving the fastest and considers it to be the point farthest away from the robot's hand. Once the robot knows the object's dimensions, it can determine how best to place it in the cupboard. "If it's a pack of spaghetti, it will lay it on its side instead of trying to stand it upright," Edsinger says.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Underwater robots map sea floor

Wired reports: [edited]

In March, scientists at Carnegie Mellon University tested DEPTHX, (DEep Phreatic THermal eXplorer) in a series of Mexican sinkholes [simultaneously plumbing the depths of the ocean, and the art of acronym creation, ed].

DEPTHX creates its own 3-D maps of previously unexplored spaces and takes biological and geological samples. With its complex sonar system and navigation software, the bot then finds its own way home. The vehicle measures 8 feet in diameter and weighs 2,860 pounds, and its squashed sphere shape eases its navigation.

In the next few years the team that built the robot wants to use it to explore beneath Antarctica's ice sheet. The long term goal of the NASA-funded project is to use DEPTHX technologies to map and search for life on Europa, one of Jupiter’s icy satellites.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The eagle has landed

New Scientist reports: [edited]

Jumbo jets do it, pterosaurs used to do it - and now we know that eagles do it too. As they come in to land, planes, prehistoric reptiles and steppe eagles deploy a flap on the front edge of the wing.

Using a high-speed video camera, Anna Carruthers and her colleagues from the University of Oxford filmed a male steppe eagle as it touched down on its handler's arm. The 500-frames-per-second camera caught the wing-flap movement as a feathery "travelling wave" that spread from the wrist of the wing to the shoulder. Previous footage had been too slow to catch this movement.

Carruthers says that the wave appears to be initiated automatically when aerodynamic conditions change as the bird slows down to land, probably to act as a stabiliser or to maintain lift at low speed. She says the finding could help develop bird-sized surveillance aircraft known as micro air vehicles.

"The potential of the high-speed camera approach is enormous," says Matthew Wilkinson, an animal flight researcher at the University of Cambridge. "It's given us an unprecedented insight into the workings of an eagle wing." Other large birds are also thought to use front-edge wing flaps.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Good versus Evil Table Football

notcot features: [edited]

When it becomes good versus evil - which side of the table are YOU on?

On the team of Evil XI we have: Pot, Lucifer, Calgula, Ripper (as in Jack), Impaler (as in Vlad the), Hitler, Macbeth (as in Lady), Hyde, Klebb (as in Rosa), Amin, Catcher (as in the Child).

Playing for Good XI we have: Claus (as in Santa), More (as in Sir Thomas), Moore (as in Bobby), Gordon (as in Flash), Robin (as in Christopher), God, Assisi, Jekyll, Poppins, Teresa, M.K. Gandhi.

This is a limited edition “opus football table” by Eleven Forty for the super exclusive 20LTD. It retails for £14,500.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Humpback whales migrate the furthest

New Scientist reports: [edited]

It’s a long way to go for a warm bath. Each winter, humpback whales travel from the Antarctic to the northern tropics to find warm water in which to raise their young. The migration is the longest for any mammal ever recorded.

Kristin Rasmussen at Cascadia Research Collective in Olympia, Washington, US, and colleagues photographed the tails of humpbacks wintering off the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. From their individual tail patterns they identified seven of the same animals after they had returned to the Antarctic. One mother and calf made the 8300-kilometre (5160-mile) trip in 161 days.

Using satellite data, the team also recorded sea-surface temperatures for the sites where humpbacks spent the winter. “Wintering areas occur where waters with temperatures between 21°C and 28°C are found,” says Rasmussen. This supports the idea that the long migration saves the whales overall.

Some researchers claim that the grey whale holds the record for longest mammalian migration – from Mexico to the Arctic, estimated at about 7600 km. “However, no individual grey whale has been documented travelling the full extent of their migratory range, and it's possible that no grey whales actually make the entire migration,” says Rasmussen. Only humpbacks have been documented making the full trip.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Classical busker

The Washington Post reports: [edited]

No one knew it, but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.

His performance was arranged by The Washington Post as an experiment in context, perception and priorities - as well as an unblinking assessment of public taste: In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?

The final haul for his 43 minutes of playing was $32.17. Some people gave pennies.

"Actually," Bell said with a laugh, "that's not so bad, considering. That's 40 bucks an hour. I could make an okay living doing this, and I wouldn't have to pay an agent."

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Robocop one step nearer

Wired reports: [edited]

The lab is climate-controlled to 104 degrees Fahrenheit and 66 percent humidity. Sitting inside the cramped room, even for a few minutes, is an unpleasantly moist experience. I’ve spent the last 40 minutes on a treadmill angled at a 9 percent grade. My face is chili-red, my shirt soaked with sweat. My breath is coming in short, unsatisfactory gasps.

Then Dennis Grahn, a Stanford University biologist and former minor-league hockey player, walks into the room. He nods in my direction and smiles at a technician. “Looks like he’s ready,” Grahn says.

Grahn takes my hand and slips it into a clear, coffeepot-looking contraption he calls the Glove. Inside is a hemisphere of metal, cool to the touch. He tightens a seal around my wrist; a vacuum begins pulling blood to the surface of my hand, and the cold metal chills my blood before it travels through my veins back to my core. After five minutes, I feel rejuvenated. I keep going for another half hour.

[The glove challenges] conventional scientific wisdom on fatigue. Muscles don’t wear out because they use up stored sugars. Instead, muscles tire because they get too hot, and sweating is just a backup cooling system for the lattices of blood vessels in the hands and feet. The Glove, in other words, overclocks the heat exchange system.

Stanford are developing a new version of the Glove: one that fits less like a coffeepot and more like a glove. And it’ll have some added functionality. Those assemblies of radiator veins in our extremities don’t just release heat — they can collect it, too, and use it to warm the rest of the body.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

1001 Journals Project

The 1001 Journals Project reports: [edited]

I've always been fascinated by what people scrawl on bathroom walls and in public spaces. I had been taking photographs of this writing for years, and wanted to put together a book. It seemed appropriate to encourage readers to become contributors, and join the conversation by writing in the actual book. From there, I decided that a blank book might be more fun... especially one that traveled around, to gather a variety of thoughts and opinions. And then, why not 1000 of them? It's such an absurd number.

The project officially launched in August of 2000, with the release of the first 100 journals in San Francisco. I gave them to friends, and left them at bars, cafes, and on park benches. Shortly thereafter, people began emailing me, asking if they could participate. So I started sending journals to folks, allowing them to share with friends, or strangers. It's been a roller coaster ever since.

Friday, April 06, 2007

The Sacrifice

from The Temple by George Herbert (1633)

Oh all ye, who passe by, whose eyes and minde
To worldly things are sharp, but to me blinde;
To me, who took eyes that I might you finde:
Was ever grief like mine?

The Princes of my people make a head
Against their Maker: they do wish me dead,
Who cannot wish, except I give them bread;
Was ever grief like mine?

Without me each one, who doth now me brave,
Had to this day been an Egyptian slave.
They use that power against me, which I gave:
Was ever grief like mine?

Mine own Apostle, who the bag did beare,
Though he had all I had, did not forbeare
To sell me also, and to put me there:
Was ever grief like mine?

For thirtie pence he did my death devise,
Who at three hundred did the ointment prize,
Not half so sweet as my sweet sacrifice:
Was ever grief like mine?

Therefore my soul melts, and my hearts deare treasure
Drops bloud (the onely beads) my words to measure:
O let this cup passe, if it be thy pleasure:
Was ever grief like mine?

These drops being temper’d with sinners tears
A Balsome are for both the Hemispheres:
Curing all wounds, but mine; all, but my fears:
Was ever grief like mine?

Yet my Disciples sleep; I cannot gain
One houre of watching; but their drowsie brain
Comforts not me, and doth my doctrine stain:
Was ever grief like mine?

Arise, arise, they come. Look how they runne!
Alas! what haste they make to be undone!
How with their lanterns do they seek the sunne!
Was ever grief like mine?

With clubs and staves they seek me, as a thief,
Who am the Way and Truth, the true relief;
Most true to those, who are my greatest grief:
Was ever grief like mine?

Judas, dost thou betray me with a kisse?
Canst thou finde hell about my lips? and misse
Of life, just at the gates of life and blisse?
Was ever grief like mine?

See, they lay hold on me, not with the hands
Of faith, but furie: yet at their commands
I suffer binding, who have loos’d their bands
Was ever grief like mine?

All my Disciples flie; fear puts a barre
Betwixt my friends and me. They leave the starre,
That brought the wise men of the East from farre.
Was ever grief like mine?

Then from one ruler to another bound
They leade me; urging, that it was not sound
What I taught: Comments would the test confound.
Was ever grief like mine?

The Priest and rulers all false witnesse seek
’Gainst him, who seeks not life, but is the meek
And readie Paschal Lambe of this great week:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then they accuse me of great blasphemie,
That I did thrust into the Deitie,
Who never thought that any robberie:
Was ever grief like mine?

Some said, that I the Temple to the floore
In three dayes raz’d, and raised as before.
Why, he that built the world can do much more:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then they condemne me all with that same breath,
Which I do give them daily, unto death.
Thus Adam my first breathing rendereth:
Was ever grief like mine?

They binde, and leade me unto Herod: he
Sends me to Pilate. This makes them agree;
But yet their friendship is my enmitie:
Was ever grief like mine?

Herod and all his bands do set me light,
Who teach all hands to warre, fingers to fight,
And onely am the Lord of Hosts and might:
Was ever grief like mine?

Herod in judgement sits, while I do stand;
Examines me with a censorious hand:
I him obey, who all things else command:
Was ever grief like mine?

The Jews accuse me with dispitefulnesse;
And vying malice with my gentlenesse,
Pick quarrels with their onely happinesse:
Was ever grief like mine?

I answer nothing, but with patience prove
If stonie hearts will melt with gentle love.
But who does hawk at eagles with a dove?
Was ever grief like mine?

My silence rather doth augment their crie;
My dove doth back into my bosome flie,
Because the raging waters still are high:
Was ever grief like mine?

Heark how they crie aloud still, Crucifie:
It is not fit he live a day, they crie,
Who cannot live lesse then eternally:
Was ever grief like mine?

Pilate, a stranger, holdeth off; but they,
Mine owne deare people, cry, Away, away,
With noises confused frighting the day:
Was ever grief like mine?

Yet still they shout, and crie, and stop their eares,
Putting my life among their sinnes and fears,
And therefore wish my bloud on them and theirs:
Was ever grief like mine?

See how spite cankers things. These words aright
Used, and wished, are the whole worlds light:
But hony is their gall, brightnesse their night:
Was ever grief like mine?

They choose a murderer, and all agree
In him to do themselves a courtesie:
For it was their own case who killed me:
Was ever grief like mine?

And a seditious murderer he was:
But I the Prince of peace; peace that doth passe
All understanding, more then heav’n doth glasse:
Was ever grief like mine?

Why, Caesar is their onely King, not I:
He clave the stonie rock, when they were drie;
But surely not their hearts, as I well trie:
Was ever grief like mine?

Ah! how they scourge me! yet my tendernesse
Doubles each lash: and yet their bitternesse
Windes up my grief to a mysteriousnesse:
Was ever grief like mine?

They buffet him, and box him as they list,
Who grasps the earth and heaven with his fist,
And never yet, whom he would punish, miss’d:
Was ever grief like mine?

Behold, they spit on me in scornfull wise,
Who by my spittle gave the blinde man eies,
Leaving his blindnesse to my enemies:
Was ever grief like mine?

My face they cover, though it be divine.
As Moses face was vailed, so is mine,
Lest on their double-dark souls either shine:
Was ever grief like mine?

Servants and abjects flout me; they are wittie:
Now prophesie who strikes thee, is their dittie.
So they in me denie themselves all pitie:
Was ever grief like mine?

And now I am deliver’d unto death,
Which each one calls for so with utmost breath,
That he before me well nigh suffereth:
Was ever grief like mine?

Weep not, deare friends, since I for both have wept
When all my tears were bloud, the while you slept:
Your tears for your own fortunes should be kept:
Was ever grief like mine?

The souldiers lead me to the common hall;
There they deride me, they abuse me all:
Yet for twelve heav’nly legions I could call:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then with a scarlet robe they me aray;
Which shews my bloud to be the onely way
And cordiall left to repair mans decay:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then on my head a crown of thorns I wear:
For these are all the grapes Sion doth bear,
Though I my vine planted and watred there:
Was ever grief like mine?

So sits the earths great curse in Adams fall
Upon my head: so I remove it all
From th’ earth unto my brows, and bear the thrall:
Was ever grief like mine?

Then with the reed they gave to me before,
They strike my head, the rock from thence all store
Of heav’nly blessings issue evermore:
Was ever grief like mine?

They bow their knees to me, and cry, Hail king:
What ever scoffes & scornfulnesse can bring,
I am the floore, the sink, where they it fling:
Was ever grief like mine?

Yet since mans scepters are as frail as reeds,
And thorny all their crowns, bloudie their weeds;
I, who am Truth, turn into truth their deeds:
Was ever grief like mine?

The souldiers also spit upon that face,
Which Angels did desire to have the grace,
And Prophets, once to see, but found no place:
Was ever grief like mine?

Thus trimmed, forth they bring me to the rout,
Who Crucifie him, crie with one strong shout.
God holds his peace at man, and man cries out:
Was ever grief like mine?

They leade me in once more, and putting then
Mine own clothes on, they leade me out agen.
Whom devils flie, thus is he toss’d of men:
Was ever grief like mine?

And now wearie of sport, glad to ingrosse
All spite in one, counting my life their losse,
They carrie me to my most bitter crosse:
Was ever grief like mine?

O all ye who passe by, behold and see;
Man stole the fruit, but I must climbe the tree;
The tree of life to all, but onely me:
Was ever grief like mine?

Lo, here I hang, charg’d with a world of sinne,
The greater world o’ th’ two; for that came in
By words, but this by sorrow I must win:
Was ever grief like mine?

Such sorrow as, if sinfull man could feel,
Or feel his part, he would not cease to kneel.
Till all were melted, though he were all steel:
Was ever grief like mine?

But, O my God, my God! why leav’st thou me,
The sonne, in whom thou dost delight to be?
My God, my God ------
Never was grief like mine.

Shame tears my soul, my bodie many a wound;
Sharp nails pierce this, but sharper that confound;
Reproches, which are free, while I am bound.
Was ever grief like mine?

Now heal thy self, Physician; now come down.
Alas! I did so, when I left my crown
And fathers smile for you, to feel his frown:
Was ever grief like mine?

In healing not my self, there doth consist
All that salvation, which ye now resist;
Your safetie in my sicknesse doth subsist:
Was ever grief like mine?

Betwixt two theeves I spend my utmost breath,
As he that for some robberie suffereth.
Alas! what have I stollen from you? Death.
Was ever grief like mine?

A king my title is, prefixt on high;
Yet by my subjects am condemn’d to die
A servile death in servile companie:
Was ever grief like mine?

They give me vineger mingled with gall,
But more with malice: yet, when they did call,
With Manna, Angels food, I fed them all:
Was ever grief like mine?

They part my garments, and by lot dispose
My coat, the type of love, which once cur’d those
Who sought for help, never malicious foes:
Was ever grief like mine?

Nay, after death their spite shall further go;
For they will pierce my side, I full well know;
That as sinne came, so Sacraments might flow:
Was ever grief like mine?

But now I die; now all is finished.
My wo, mans weal: and now I bow my head.
Onely let others say, when I am dead,
Never was grief like mine.

Riding Westward

John Donne, Good Friday, 1613.

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,

And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.

Hence is't, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.

There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.

Yet dare I'almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?

It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc'd with those holes?

Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag'd, and torne?

If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish'd thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom'd us?

Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They'are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look'st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang'st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.

O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may'st know mee, and I'll turne my face.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ3

Digital Photography Review have uploaded a full review of Panasonic's big zoom compact, featuring:

- 7.2 million effective pixels

- 10x (28-280mm equiv.) optical zoom

- MEGA OIS image stabilization

- Larger sensor for 28mm equiv. angle of view

- Fast Linear autofocus system

- High Resolution (230,000 pixel) 3.0-inch LCD

- Movies up to 840 x 480 pixels @ 30 fps

- 105 x 59.2 x 36.7 mm

- £245

Gets a generally positive review, with its low-light abilities being the major let-down.

Introducing Keepon

New Scientist reports: [edited]

A robot blob that dances "soulfully" to different tunes could pave the way for machines that interact more naturally with human beings, researchers claim.

Marek Michalowski of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, US, and Hideki Kozima of the National Institute of Communications Technology (NICT) in Kyoto, Japan, programmed the squishy, yellow robot, called "Keepon", to pick out the beat in a piece of music and move along in time. It can also track the rhythmic motion of a person or another object and move in time to that.

Inside the hollow robot's silicone body are motors, wires and a mechanical device called a gimbal that tugs it like a reversed marionette. Keepon responds by nodding, bobbing, twisting and shaking in time to audio or visual stimulation. "The robot can dance either to sound or video," says Michalowski. A video produced by the researchers shows the uncannily cute Keepon bopping to a track by US band Spoon.

Michalowski, believes robots could usefully apply a sense of rhythm beyond the dance floor. In particular, during ordinary conversations and other interactions with humans. He hopes this will make robots move more like humans and make them more socially engaging.

"Rhythm and synchrony are the foundations of social interactions," he told New Scientist. "So I think that for us to comfortably interact with a robot, it needs to be capable of that."

Keepon's ability to pick out the beat in a piece of music makes it fundamentally different to the dancing Qrios, which are entirely pre-programmed. "The important thing is that Keepon is capable of detecting rhythm," says Fumihide Tanaka, who heads the Qrio Project at Sony Corporation in Tokyo, Japan.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Spore creator interviewed reports: [massively edited from a 7 page interview]

Although gaming is a multibillion-dollar business rivaling the movie industry, the creative talents behind it slave away in near anonymity. Will Wright is the rare exception, a 47-year-old superstar developer responsible for the creation of millions of virtual cities and people through his best-selling Sim titles (Sim City, The Sims and The Sims 2).

He’s poured seven years into his next project, the ambitious videogame Spore, due to ship this fall, in which players pilot the development of life from a single cell to an intergalactic empire. We joined him for lunch in New York City to chat about his magnum opus, evolution, and why videogames of the future will play us as much as we play them.

There must be hundreds of thousands of words written already about Spore, but can you describe the game in 50 words or less?

The core of it is, we want the players to create their own worlds, all the way from the microscopic scale up to the galactic. At every level of the game there is a simulation of life, society, civilization, exploration, the player's kind of pushing back against, but as they create each level of this world it's automatically shared with other players, so that the players playing are also creating the game worlds for everybody else.

Going through the Spore demo, it seemed almost like a boxed set of games on a related theme rather than a single game. Do you see it as a series of separate experiences or are they tightly linked together?

I always thought of it kind of almost as a T, where the base of the T is you working your way up the levels, where there are goals from cell to evolution to tribe to civilization. Once you get to space, though, the game opens out - that's the top of the T - where now there are these different metagames, different kinds of metagoals you can pursue, and it becomes more of an open-ended sandbox up at the space level. So it's kind of a combination of directed gameplay at the base of the T working your way up and opening up into a sandbox at the top that's more Grand Theft Auto-like.

But the experience of that initial level where you're building your critters at the cellular level seems very different from what you're doing later in the game.

Each level, in fact, is in some ways a different genre of gameplay. And one of the challenges of Spore is how do we take all these different genres and bring them together with one control scheme, one set of UI, kind of a singular goal that you're always working towards. So it's a blend of genres coming together to create a singular experience. So you can kind of say what are the rules of my genre. but then you can say what is the experience and the overall goal for the player on top.

How do you think the audience for Spore may be different from your other games?

I think we're probably going to be capturing some more hardcore gamers, just because of the scope of the game and the unusual nature of it. I'm looking hopefully at a big overlap with The Sims players, though – I want to make sure the game is not too hard or complex for the average Sims player.

If you can make weird, cool goofy creatures that show emotion and have societies and do dances and stuff, I think if you look at the graphics for Neopets and Pokemon – Neopets especially is actually quite gender balanced. So I think really we're looking at those two groups as probably the first core groups, half Sims players, half hardcore competitive gamers looking for something novel, and maybe a third, people coming from totally outside.

I've had a lot of people, when I've demoed Spore coming up and saying "I've never played a game before, but I want to play this one." And I think those people are attracted by the empowerment of the tools, they would really like the experience of creating a Pixar character and having it come to life.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Words at Play

Words at Play is a project by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich. He has worked primarily with publishing houses in New York, first as Creative Director for Random House and then HarperCollins.

The web site is a good example of how typography can be fun.

No, really.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Don't be fooled, this is a host for mind-controlling parasites

Damn Interesting reports: [edited]

Toxoplasma gondii may be the most prevalent human parasite. As many as 50% of humans worldwide, and up to 80% in urban areas, have been infected with it at some time in their lives. An estimated 60 million people in the US have active cases at any given time. It’s a single-celled parasite whose favored host is cats.

However it can infect and live in a host of other creatures including rats and humans. Most infected people, and most infected rats, show no particular signs of illness when infected. They continue on with their daily life and work completely unaware they’ve been parasitised. But they may not be as unaffected as they seem.

There are some interesting studies showing striking behaviour differences between rats that have been infected with Toxoplasma and those that haven’t. Normal rats are very reactive to the smell of cat urine – an unsurprising survival instinct. If they encounter cat urine in their environment they have an extreme fear reaction, and they will avoid that spot thereafter.

Rats infected with Toxoplasma don’t do this. They have no fear reaction to the smell of cat pee; they don’t avoid the areas where they smell it. In fact some of the studied rats preferentially returned to the sites where they had smelled the urine. It’s hard to see how this could benefit the rat, but easy to see how it could benefit Toxoplasma, which could return to its preferred host to complete its life cycle if the rat gets eaten.

A small minority of people have strong psychological effects from toxoplasmosis, including delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. The majority of the infected however, show no such drastic symptoms. Most people with toxoplasmosis have no idea they’re infected, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unaffected.

At Charles University in Prague, parasitologist Jeroslav Flegr administered psychological tests to people infected with Toxoplasma, and compared them to a control group. He found alterations in the psychology of the infected individuals that seemed to be gender-based.

Infected men appeared more jealous and suspicious. Infected women appeared more warm-hearted and outgoing. Both sexes seemed to be more self-reproachful than the control group.