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Monday, March 29, 2004

Beware of Nerds Bearing Gifts
Hmmmm. Bill Gates says that technology will change the face of advertising. Service Pack 2 for Windows XP will enable Internet Explorer to block pop-up ads, and the new version of IE may do so by default by default. Meanwhile, Steve Balmer says that Microsoft spends 12% of it's advertising budget in online advertising - a segment he aims to "saturate" above all others. Since Balmer also says that he doesn't want a user to be online "without hitting a Microsoft ad", my guess is that in the coming years we're going to pine for the days when online ads were only as obnoxious as pop-ups.
posted by Doug Roberts @ 2:06 PM

A Smart Way of Packing Complex Objects in Containers
Some of you probably remember this article from Science about how M&Ms candies are more efficiently packed than spheres. But many more objects, larger than chocolate candies, also need to be optimally packed before being shipped in order to minimize costs.

A team of computer scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing (SCAI) has just developed Contpack, a 3D software to solve this problem and to maximize the volume utilization of containers.

More details and references are available in this overview, including a pretty nice screenshot of the Contpack software, showing a computer-generated packing of loudspeakers into a container.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 12:05 PM

Saturday, March 27, 2004

The Slowest (And Fastest) Train In The Universe
The Mobile Transporter is a rail line about 100 meters long located outside the International Space Station (ISS. The train on it carries equipment at a top speed of 300 meters per hour, surely making it the slowest in our universe. The catch is that, being attached to the ISS, it also traveled at a higher speed of 28,000 kilometers per hour, which certainly qualifies it as a top speed performer.

RedNova tells us the story of this train, which weighs more than 13 tons, and can be operated by the astronauts aboard the ISS or from Mission Control on the ground. More details and references are available in this overview.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 12:58 PM

Friday, March 26, 2004

Enryu, the Rescue Dragon Robot
Three weeks ago, I talked about Banryu, a robot to guard your home and designed to look like a dragon. Today, in "Japanese firm unveils large robot for disaster rescue work," the Agence France-Presse says that the Japanese company behind Banryu, Tmsuk, has built another dragon robot.

This robot is intended to help rescue workers after a disaster, such as an earthquake or a volcanic eruption. But this robot doesn't play in the same league. The T-52 Enryu is 3.5 meters high and weighs 5 tons.

This short overview contains more details. It also includes a diagram of the robot and a photograph of a man standing close to Enryu. Pretty scary to think about this big robot in the streets!!

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 12:46 PM

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Howard Rheingold on the Internet and its use in Politics
The latest issue of BusinessWeek Magazine, dated March 29, 2004, contains a special report, "Click The Vote," which states that "in the age of Internet politics, the Web can make or break a candidate."

The online version of this report includes an interview of Howard Rheingold, "A Major Change in the Political Equation." The interview carries this subtitle: "Howard Rheingold predicted the rise of online advocacy groups. Now, he talks about how they're affecting Election 2004."

This overview contains selected excerpts about what is the essential impact of the Internet on politics today or what are the benefits to using the Internet in politics.

Finally, if you want to discover the universe of Smart Mobs, be sure to visit regularly the Smart Mobs collective weblog.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 1:38 PM

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

The digital revolution hasn't happened yet
Scientific American has an interview with Leonardo Chiariglione, "the father of MP3", who describes his disappointment in the pirate reputation of MP3 and the coming potential of the real digital revolution. He also cheers peer-to-peer, jeers on-line music stores and laments the lack of imagination the record industry has shown in the face of new technology.
posted by Doug Roberts @ 8:40 PM

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Esther Dyson Joins CNET
CNET Networks has bought Esther Dyson's EDventure Holdings for an undiscloded amount of cash and stock, reports Forbes.com. Dyson will also join CNET as Editor at Large. via Jason Calacanis
posted by Donald Melanson @ 5:42 PM

Friday, March 19, 2004

Meet Lucy, The Orang-Utan Robot
Lucy is not an ordinary robot, driven by software. She's a pure product of artificial intelligence (AI). And after a three-year long training, she's now able to make a difference between an apple and a banana, which is quite handy for an orang-utan, even if she doesn't eat them. Her five microcontroller chips wouldn't like this... In "A Grand plan for brainy robots," BBC News Online tells us that Lucy is the brainchild of Steve Grand, an honorary research fellow at Cardiff University's School of Psychology.

And why did he choose an orang-utan design? "I made Lucy as an orang-utan because, can you imagine how scary it would be if she looked like a human baby?," said Grand. More details and references are available in this overview which also includes the cover of Grand's last book, "Growing Up with Lucy: How to Build an Android in Twenty Easy Steps."

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 3:40 PM

Thursday, March 18, 2004

The ROBOlympics Games
The first International Robot Games, or ROBOlympics, organized by the Robotics Society of America, will take place on March 20th and 21st, 2004 in San Francisco, California. There will be competition for combat and non-combat robots, a World Cup Soccer, and even a robo-triathlon.

More than 400 robots are registered for this robotics competition. And the winners will receive hard cash. Nature tells us the story in "Robolympics contestants shoot for gold."

More details and references are available in this overview which also includes a very nice photo of two robots, the larger one either fixing or rocking the smaller one. And for your information, ROBOlympics is not sold out. So if you are near San Francisco, it's still time to buy tickets. They cost $15 to $25. Entrance is free for children under 7.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 8:48 AM

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Electrical Nanopulses Might Kill Tumors
Killing cells affected by cancer while leaving healthy ones alone is not a new idea (check here or there for example). But, in "Ultra-fast shocks scramble cells," Nature describes a new approach based on electrical nanopulses.

These electric shocks last only a few billionths of a second while reaching during this very short amount of time power levels of terawatts. They also are very intriguing, apparently forcing cancer cells to commit suicide. For this reason, "there is plenty to be worked out before the human body is zapped with nanopulses."

This overview contains more details and references. It also includes images showing how cells are affected by these electric nanopulses.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 1:11 PM

Monday, March 15, 2004

Open source my... Volvo?
My dad's weekly routine was to pick up a tool box and proceed to swear at the car all Saturday afternoon under the auspice of saving money by fixing it himself. My brother and I would help, if only to expand our vocabulary - something that came in handy when I chose IT as a profession. The days of the garage mechanic are passing, as cars become less and less accessible to anyone but the dealers. Volvo has literally welded the hood of the car shut in it's new concept car and the front of the car can be removed only by a Volvo mechanic.

In fact, as cars sound more like computers, the complaints of one Seattle mechanic sound more like the complaints of developers. "If you don't have the code, you lose the job. They have to go to the dealers. It's an illegal monopoly, in my opinion". That sounds familiar. He is also advocating open-sourcing newer cars: "If they freed up the information, it would make things better. It's not a cure-all, but I'd support any legislation aimed at better access to the dealers' trick secrets."

Like computer games, some cars even have easter eggs.

posted by Doug Roberts @ 10:26 PM

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Tracking Disease Outbreaks from Outer Space
Forecasting the emergence of an infectious disease by coupling local data, such as the ecosystem parameters and disease data, with images from satellites is not a new idea, but the technology is here and works, says this article from RedNova. The approach mixes data from high-tech environmental satellites with old-fashioned, "khaki shorts and dusty boots" fieldwork.

NASA is setting up a satellite-based malaria pilot study in the Mewat region of India. The goal is give warnings of high disease risk in a specific area up to a month in advance in order to prepare vaccination programs and save people and animals.

This overview contains a satellite picture from NASA and selected excerpts of the original article about this method and how it works.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 12:07 PM

Thursday, March 11, 2004

In the new issue of Mindjack
Now in Mindjack: Is Nothing Sacred? Digital Music for a Digital Age by Ian Dawe. Antero Alli's Hysteria reviewed on DVD by Jesse Walker.
posted by Donald Melanson @ 3:49 PM

Navy's Therminator Fights Computer Attacks
David Ford, a researcher at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, is using ideas coming from the field of thermodynamics to visualize computer networks and detect security breaches, says Government Computer News (GCN) in "Navy researcher has novel security visualization technique."

Thermodynamics equations have long been used to describe complex environments, so Ford applied them to computer networks. The result is the Therminator software, which helps Navy system administrators to detect and react to network attacks.

More details and references are available in this overview. There are also very interesting screenshots of the Therminator software, including one of the Code Red attack in progress, back in 2001.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 1:56 PM

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

New Robotcop III Set to Fight Crime in Hong Kong
There is a new cop patrolling the streets of Hong Kong and teaching children how to prevent crime. But it's a robot, named Robotcop III, designed and built in Hong Kong, tells us Channel Newsasia.

Robotcop III can walk, dance, move in any direction, display videos and answer questions asked in Cantonese and English. The previous versions of Robotcops, introduced in 1988 and 1995, were imported from the U.S. and taught 800,000 school children how to fight crime. The promoters of Robotcop III hope it will do even better.

More details and references are available in this overview including a photo of Robotcop III patrolling on Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) campus.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 9:32 AM

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Our Brains Cheat During Learning
Researchers have shown that our brains might cheat when learning, switching to 'automatic pilot' mode whenever it's possible. Instead of trying to answer a question by reasoning, our brain explore a catalog of previous answers to similar questions just to save time and avoid thinking.

They also made a fascinating discovery. This cheating mechanism also exists in people suffering from amnesia.

More details and references are available in this overview including a spectacular image of a cut-away view of the brain taken with the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) technology used by the researchers to detect regions where brain activity was reduced when performing repetitive tasks, a concept named 'neural priming.'

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 5:46 PM

Monday, March 08, 2004

Losing the war
E-Week is characterizing the virus war as one that IT Managers are losing. The first defense - the internet gateway - relies on up-to-the second software to block viruses that come out at a startling pace. If the threat gets past the gateway, the only hope is that your users are educated enough not to open attachments. That, as anyone who has ever administered a network knows, is not something you can count on. The solution is to re-think e-mail and stop using it as a file transfer mechanism - a role it was never intended to fill. Ironically, that route would require a massive user re-education unless you can remove the "Attach file" button from Outlook.
posted by Doug Roberts @ 8:19 PM

A New Korean Robot To Compete with Banryu
There is a new robot in town which wants to guard your home. This new security robot, which currently has no name, is designed by the Korean company Mostitech and will be distributed starting in June by Korea's top mobile carrier, SK Telecom. With its price tag of only $850, it will be a serious competitor for Banryu, which costs $18,000.

The unnamed robot is 50 centimeters tall and weighs only 12 kilograms. In case of emergency, such as a fire, its cameras can take snapshots and send them to the owner's cell phone. Likewise, if an unexpected visitor is entering your home, you'll receive his picture on your phone. It also can entertain your kids by reading them a book.

The Korea Times tells us the story while this overview provides somepictures of the cute unnamed robot.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 8:47 AM

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Banryu, Robot or Dragon?
When Yoichi Takamoto, president of the small Japanese company Tmsuk, decided to build a robotic guard for your house, he was not able to use the familiar design of a dog. The idea was already taken by Sony, with its successful Aibo. Instead, he decided to develop the Banryu (or "guard dragon") robots. After all, nobody has ever seen a real dragon. So he was free to design it as he wished.

The result is a scary robot which is 90 centimeters tall, weighs 35 kilograms, has more than 50 built-in sensors and can transmit an alarm to its master's cell phone if someone tries to invade the house. It doesn't come cheap. The price is about $18,000, but you can choose between five colors.

The Asahi Shimbun tells us the story, while this overview includes several pictures of the frightening dragon.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 2:34 PM

Friday, March 05, 2004

Spy On Your Food with this DNA Chip
Do you want to know if the chicken you just bought at the supermarket contains bits of pork or beef? Or would you like to know if the vegetarian meal you just ordered contains some fish or meat? If your answer is yes, you might get some help from a DNA chip which can recognize 32 different species of fishes, birds and mammals, including humans(!!), in a single test. Both Small Times and New Scientist carry a story of this DNA chip, which will likely be used first by food regulators.

The FoodExpert-ID biochip is the first high-throughput gene chip for testing food and animal feed. But it doesn't come cheap. The cost of all the equipment needed to perform the tests is around $250,000, but each test would cost only $350 to $550.

This overview contains more details and references. It also includes illustrations showing how the technology works.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 2:34 PM

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Meet PaPeRo, Personal Robot and Interpreter
Yesterday, Dan Gillmor mentioned in his eJournal a new Japanese cell phone equipped with a very useful GPS system. He wished that the service was translated into other languages and that these phones were available for rent.

A somewhat similar service is just being launched at Narita Airport, where you will be able to rent PDAs which can translate your language into Japanese. The application is based on speech-to-speech technology developed by NEC and implemented in small robots named PaPeRo (Partner-Type Personal Robot), according to BBC News Online.

PaPeRo has a vocabulary of 50,000 Japanese and 25,000 English travel and tourism related words. This overview contains more details about PaPeRo including pictures.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 12:15 PM

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Ozone Depletion Rate Three Times Worse Than Predicted
According to a new study, the shrinking of the ozone layer over the Arctic is much worse than previously believed. In Climate change set to poke holes in ozone, Nature tells us it is a side-effect of global warming, the polar stratospheric clouds absorbing more and more industrial chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).

"I was surprised to see these results," says Drew Shindell, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York. "We never suspected the models were this far out of whack," he says. It remains to be seen if this new model is more accurate than previous ones. However, even if we reduce the emission of CFCs in a near future, another big unknown, the ozone layer will continue to shrink for decades to come.

This overview contains more details and references. It also includes pictures of these polar clouds seen from space and from the ground (the one from space is amazing!).

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 1:43 PM

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Mars Was "Soaking Wet"
NASA - Opportunity Rover Finds Strong Evidence Meridiani Planum Was Wet: "Scientists have concluded the part of Mars NASA's Opportunity rover is exploring was soaking wet in the past. "

Now that's a lead.

posted by Donald Melanson @ 11:04 PM

Let the Gadget Blog Wars Begin!
engadget is a new blog soon to launch in partnership with Jason Calacanis' Weblogs, Inc. Nothing extraordinarily special except that they've scooped up Gizmodo's founding editor Peter Rojas.
posted by Donald Melanson @ 4:46 PM

Meet the Nasalnaut
George Aldrich works at NASA and is not an astronaut. Instead, he's a 'master sniffer.' He tests everything that goes up in space on the shuttle or on the ISS for smelliness, from tennis shoes to teddy bears, and from refrigerators to socks or mascara.

Why? Because things smell different in spacecrafts which experience a full day/night cycle every 90 minutes. And bad odors into a spacecraft can even lead to the abortion of a mission, like it happened to a Russian mission back in 1976. Wired Magazine tells us more about NASA's nasalnaut, a man whose colleagues call "Most Smella Fella" and has performed 771 flawless smelling missions.

This overview contains more details and selected excerpts from a previous interview with Aldrich given to New Scientist. It also includes a picture showing how the NASA's nasalnaut smells things.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 2:01 PM

Take my job, please
Unfortunately, job searching is a subject near and dear to my heart. Although short on sources, this article reflects my own experiences with the job boards. After submitting nearly 200 resumes in the course of a month, in the end I relied on personal referrals or smaller job boards that were more of a community than the major job search sites. Even in that case, the best I got was a place to commiserate and sell my stuff.

Bill Gates is out talking on the subject of high-tech jobs as well (NYT, or the same article via the Interesting People archives), trying to make sure that the tech industry will still have an educated pool to draw from. Mr. Gates claims that "people are way overreacting" to the job losses and off-shoring. This view is shared by David Kirkpatrick of Fortune who felt that off-shoring was not only inevitable, but a good thing. After a deluge of angry emails, Mr. Kirkpatrick followed up that article with another, where, he softened his tone, if not his opinion.

We've seen this in other industries as well - in my Pennsylvania home town, parents make certain that their children don't grow up to be steel workers after living through the collapse of that industry. In the same vein, I'm no longer nudging my daughter toward geekdom. Will the dot-bomb not only take jobs from us now, but also cause a shortfall of nerds in the future as the best and brightest become investment bankers instead of programmers? Would you agree that "it's a terrific time to be a computer scientist"?

posted by Doug Roberts @ 12:30 PM

Monday, March 01, 2004

IBM's WebFountain of Knowledge
There is a world where Google, Yahoo! and Microsoft compete to build better search engines and -- also -- for our money. Then there is a completely different world, the corporate market. And the next big thing in Web search in this other world might be the WebFountain supercomputing project from IBM. It's not your ordinary project. It already took 5 years to 200 IBM engineers and dozens of million of dollars to build it. It also needs lots of hardware resources: several hundreds of powerful processors and 160 terabytes of storage.

This project has an impressive goal: transform the huge amounts of structured and unstructured data available on the Web into business trends. Not the thing that Google does. And not for the same price either. For example, Factiva, an information services company, has licensed WebFountain and plans to offer it to its customers for about $200,000 a year.

This column looks at the goals, the resources and the status of this project as well as its future.

posted by Roland Piquepaille @ 12:24 PM

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