Oct 31, 2007

Revolutionizing Marketing: The Business Case for XRI/XDI

Dear Marketing: An Open Letter From Your Customer
by Chris Maher of Fosforus


Over the years, I have had an uneasy relationship with you. I’ve not cared one bit for being your prospect. And, as it seems that being your customer is just an extension of a permanent, unrelenting and ever-more-intrusive marketing campaign, I’m not nuts about being your customer, either.

He quotes David Glen Mick from a paper Searching for Byzantium: A Personal Journey into Spiritual Questions that Marketing Researchers Rarely Ask

Another set of spiritual questions we seldom ask ourselves concerns the effects of marketing and consumption on human character. By character I do not mean human values, but rather our psychological temperament as we go about our daily activities. What kind of person does marketing and consumption encourage or discourage?

Mick’s answers include examples of qualities of temperament that are, in his opinion, encouraged by marketing and consumption: impatience, incivility, judgmentalism and distrust.

He continues to articulate the problems with marketing and gets to the heart of the matter by offering a new model.

What I’m recommending is the creation of (what I will call) a “custnomer”: a data alias or new “name” for that me that gets profiled by your computer systems.

At a minimum, this will mean that my customer records and data won’t have my real name appended to them. There are too many thieves and scammers out there who are seeking to use my good name and the records attached to it. Grab your nearest CIO and Chief Privacy Officer (and maybe the Chief Security Officer, though that person is probably on Zoloft at present) by their lapels and strongly encourage them to begin in-depth research into the promising work on Extensible Resource Identifiers (XRI) and XRI Data Interchange (XDI).

The Daddy of XRI, Drummond Reed, is someone I consider a friend …is, without question, the darned nicest and most patient technology visionary that you will ever come across. There isn’t an ounce of ego in his dealings with us woefully common folk.

Warning: XRI/XDI is not some obscure, trivial “tech thing” that will only be meaningful to those who mumble to themselves and spend half their lifetimes slaughtering innocents and evil-doers… virtually, that is. XRI/XDI has encoded within it is a simple, powerful idea that will come true over time and will change your business: “My private data is mine.”

He goes on to highlight data anonymity and the work of Latanya Sweeney, Assistant Professor, Institute for Software Research International at Carnegie-Mellon University.

Robot Boats Hunt High-Tech Pirates

This past summer, Florida-based Marine Robotic Vessels International (MRVI) unveiled a USV that emphasizes reconnaissance over firepower. The 21-ft.-long Interceptor can travel at up to 55 mph, and is designed to be piloted both remotely and autonomously.

For a patrol boat, autonomous control would be a huge advantage, allowing it to traverse huge stretches of open sea, instead of having to remain within radio range of a given vessel. While the Interceptor could be fitted with a water cannon or other non-lethal offensive system, its primary mission is to serve as a sentry.

According to MRVI President Dan Murphy, the Interceptor is available now. But the USV market is just getting started: Two months ago, British defense firm Qinetiq debuted its own robotic vessel, the jetski-size Sentry. Among its potential duties is intruder investigation, which could include scouting out unidentified boats, along the lines of the raft that detonated alongside the USS Cole in Yemen, as well as offering a first look at a possible pirate-controlled vessel. The Sentry, however, can only operate for up to six hours at a time, severely limiting its ability to operate at sea.

Although the Protector is currently deployed by the Israeli and Singaporean Navies, the U.S. Navy has yet to field a full-production USV, much less a pirate-hunting one. But if piracy continues to escalate around the world, it may only a matter of time before the private sector gets fed up and buys a few unmanned boats to act as scouts. After all, one of the best things a robot can do is get blown to pieces ... so you don’t have to.

Robots versus pirates

it’s not as stupid, or unlikely, as it sounds. Piracy has exploded in the waters near Somalia, where this past week United States warships have fired on two pirate skiffs, and are currently in pursuit of a hijacked Japanese-owned vessel. At least four other ships in the region remain under pirate control, and the problem appears to be going global: The International Maritime Bureau is tracking a 14-percent increase in worldwide pirate attacks this year.

And although modern-day pirates enjoy collecting their fare share of booty—they have a soft spot for communications gear—they’re just as likely to ransom an entire ship. In one particularly sobering case, hijackers killed one crew member of a Taiwan-owned vessel each month until their demands were met.

For years now, law enforcement agencies across the high seas have proposed robotic boats, or unmanned surface vessels (USVs), as a way to help deal with 21st-Century techno Black Beards. The Navy has tested at least two small, armed USV demonstrators designed to patrol harbors and defend vessels. And both the Navy and the Coast Guard have expressed interest in the Protector, a 30-ft.-long USV built by BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin and Israeli defense firm RAFAEL.

The Protector, which comes mounted with a 7.62mm machine gun, wasn’t originally intended for anti-piracy operations. But according to BAE Systems spokesperson Stephanie Moncada, the robot could easily fill that role. “Down the line, it could potentially be modified for commercial use as well,” she says. Instead of being deployed by a warship to intercept and possibly fire on an incoming vessel, a non-lethal variant of the Protector could be used to simply investigate a potential threat.

A favorite tactic of modern-day pirates is to put out a distress call, then ambush any ships that respond. The unmanned Protector could be remote-operated from around 10 miles away, with enough on-board sensors, speakers and microphones to make contact with a vessel before it’s too late. “Even without the machine gun, it could alert the crew, give them some time to escape,” Moncada says.

People Are Human-Bacteria Hybrid

Most of the cells in your body are not your own, nor are they even human. They are bacterial. From the invisible strands of fungi waiting to sprout between our toes, to the kilogram of bacterial matter in our guts, we are best viewed as walking "superorganisms," highly complex conglomerations of human cells, bacteria, fungi and viruses.

That's the view of scientists at Imperial College London who published a paper in Nature Biotechnology Oct. 6 describing how these microbes interact with the body. Understanding the workings of the superorganism, they say, is crucial to the development of personalized medicine and health care in the future because individuals can have very different responses to drugs, depending on their microbial fauna.

The scientists concentrated on bacteria. More than 500 different species of bacteria exist in our bodies, making up more than 100 trillion cells. Because our bodies are made of only some several trillion human cells, we are somewhat outnumbered by the aliens. It follows that most of the genes in our bodies are from bacteria, too.

Luckily for us, the bacteria are on the whole commensal, sharing our food but doing no real harm. (The word derives from the Latin meaning to share a table for dinner.) In fact, they are often beneficial: Our commensal bacteria protect us from potentially dangerous infections. They do this through close interaction with our immune systems.

"We have known for some time that many diseases are influenced by a variety of factors, including both genetics and environment, but the concept of this superorganism could have a huge impact on our understanding of disease processes," said Jeremy Nicholson, a professor of biological chemistry at Imperial College and leader of the study. He believes the approach could apply to research on insulin-resistance, heart disease, some cancers and perhaps even some neurological diseases.

Following the sequencing of the human genome, scientists quickly saw that the next step would be to show how human genes interact with environmental factors to influence the risk of developing disease, the aging process and drug action. But because environmental factors include the gene products of trillions of bacteria in the gut, they get very complex indeed. The information in the human genome itself, 3 billion base pairs long, does not help reduce the complexity.

"The human genome provides only scant information. The discovery of how microbes in the gut can influence the body's responses to disease means that we now need more research into this area," said Nicholson. "Understanding these interactions will extend human biology and medicine well beyond the human genome and help elucidate novel types of gene-environment interactions, with this knowledge ultimately leading to new approaches to the treatment of disease."

Nicholson's colleague, professor Ian Wilson from Astra Zeneca, believes the "human super-organism" concept "could have a huge impact on how we develop drugs, as individuals can have very different responses to drug metabolism and toxicity."

There's a sucker born every day

FORMER adviser to the late head of state of Nigeria needs your help to move $US45,000,000 out of his country. All he needs now is an "honest partner". Sound familiar?

The scam known as the "Nigerian letter fraud" and others like it (which repeatedly defer large rewards and instead demand information or small payments) have haunted the internet for years, yet last year reports of this class of fraud in Australia more than doubled.

This is one of the surprises in the annual report of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), the government regulator charged with tracking money associated with crime, for the year to June 30.

The growth has been even more pronounced since the 2004-05 annual report, when only about a tenth as many suspicious transactions associated with Nigerian letter-type frauds, known as "advance fee" frauds, were reported.

Experts say the phenomenon demonstrates at least two lessons: first, that fraudsters are still outsmarting their prey; and second, that information on fraud is inherently imperfect.

"In many areas, the reporting hasn't been all it could have been in the past," said Deloitte partner Chris Cass.

"Before, you could draw the bow that perhaps it was not all being reported. You could also draw the line that, for whatever reason, in the financial services activity there's more awareness of this type of fraud … It begs the question 'were previous years fully reported?' "

KPMG forensic expert Gary Gill said part of the problem could be the growth of internet users. That equation was multiplied by the multiple email addresses it had become common for many users to adopt.

"The way these guys harvest email addresses, there certainly are millions and millions more of these (scam) emails," Mr Gill said. "There's always a small minority of people that respond."

Ernst & Young partner and fraud expert Owain Stone said that advance fee scams had also become more sophisticated. One such scam even claims to represent a fund raising money to help victims of the original Nigerian letter scam.

New federal laws introduced last year gave AUSTRAC greater powers to fight fraud and put more businesses into its hunting grounds. Banks and other financial services companies, along with gold bullion dealers, betting houses and casinos, are the first to come under the law's ambit.

By December 12, they must be able to show they have an anti-money laundering regime in place, including measures to identify potentially criminal activities of their clients.

Dr Thomas Stuttaford,: Fitness and age in Ehud Olmert's favour

There are several factors in Ehud Olmert’s favour. At 62, he is relatively young for a diagnosis of prostate cancer. He is physically fit, a keen runner who takes daily exercise, and has even been described as an exercise fanatic.

We can also reasonably assume that he received an early diagnosis. Israeli medicine is good and thorough, and it is likely that he has had regular PSA (prostate specific antigen) testing - a simple blood test that can show whether further tests such as an ultrasound and biopsy are needed.

Politicians tend to be optimists and it may well be that Mr Olmert will have no further trouble once he has had radical surgery or irradiation. However, it would be an unusually benign tumour for a patient’s chances to be as good as that of a 95 per cent complete cure.

The prognosis in prostate cancer depends on the size of the gland, the PSA score — which should be less than ten for the best results — and the Gleeson score. This is the measure of the malignancy of the tumour, and is graded from two to ten. Patients with a Gleeson score of two, three or four need be in no great hurry for treatment as they, other factors being equal, tend to do well.
Related Links

* Israeli PM announces he has prostate cancer

* Genetic test breakthrough for prostate cancer

* Dr Thomas Stuttaford answers your questions on prostate cancer

Those with a score of five, six or seven need early radical treatment by surgery or irradiation, but usually have a good chance of doing well. A patient with a Gleeson score of eight, nine or ten needs immediate attention and possibly additional therapy. They are likely to do less well.

Another factor is whether the tumour is in both lobes of the prostate gland or confined to one side. Those in which the cancer is in both lobes do less well, as do those in whom the rest of the prostate tissue shows signs of pre-malignant change.

Patients with prostate cancer in the least malignant group can be treated initially, should the patient want it, by active surveillance, regular checks every three months and no immediate active therapy.

Surgery is still the treatment of choice for most people. The best form is arguably robotic surgery, in which the high magnification that the endoscope gives the surgeon as well as the increased intra-abdominal pressure provided by the anaesthetist reduces the bleeding that used to complicate standard prostatic surgery.

The two other surgical possibilities are the standard radical surgery under direct vision and endoscopic keyhole surgery without a robot.

Irradiation was only palliative until a few years ago but is now so increased in efficiency and can be so well directed at the tumour that it is possible to use computer-controlled external beams to give much larger and therefore efficient doses of irradiation. These doses are now big enough to destroy the cancer cells without irretrievably damaging the surrounding tissue.

Another sort of radical therapy is brachytherapy. This is the implantation of radioactive material into the prostate gland. It is claimed that this gives comparable results to radical surgery without having such a drastic effect.

The high death rate from cancer of the prostate will be controlled only when annual screening for men, as recommended by the American Cancer Society, is introduced for all men at 50 and for those of increased risk at 40. The PSA can now be supplemented not only by transrectal ultrasound and biopsy, an expensive procedure, but by genetic testing for prostate cancer with a non invasive test, the PCA3.

For cases of prostate cancer diagnosed late, chemotherapy and hormone therapy have improved beyond recognition within the past ten years.

Oct 30, 2007

Lost in space by Dave Barry

think I might know where the missile launcher is.

I'm referring here to the $1 million missile launcher that our armed forces apparently misplaced, according to a recent audit of the U.S. government (motto: ''We Do Have a Motto, But We Don't Know Where It Is''). You might have missed the news stories about this audit, which didn't get a whole lot of media attention.

Way back in 1994, Congress decided that there should be a complete audit of the entire federal government. This seemed like a good idea, since the U.S. government -- which is the fourth-largest financial entity in the world behind Bill Gates and your electrician -- had not been audited for (this is the truth) more than 200 years. The reason Congress did not get around to ordering an audit any sooner is that it has been extremely busy with its primary functions, which are 1) spending money; 2) declaring National Cottage Cheese Appreciation Week; and 3) authorizing the IRS to hammer taxpayers for inadequate record-keeping.

As you can imagine, the federal audit was a huge job. The auditors spent thousands and thousands of hours at the U.S. Government Records Facility, which is a 1,400-foot-long shoebox containing an estimated 139 billion receipts and what are believed to be George Washington's original teeth. When the auditors were finally finished, they released a report that contained a number of alarming findings, including these:

--It turns out that both ''Lewis'' and ''Clark'' were actually the same person, and he never got farther west than New Jersey.

--Although, according to the U.S. Constitution, there are supposed to be nine members of the Supreme Court, a detailed search of the premises, including under all the desks, turned up only five.

--In one three-month period, the Task Force on Reinventing the Government spent, without any formal authorization or supporting documentation, $141 million on party hats.

--North Dakota is missing. ''We think Canada took it,'' stated the auditors, ''but every time we called up there to ask about it, they just laughed and hung up the phone.''

Now I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is, I made up the preceding audit findings. The bad news is, the real audit findings are worse. I am NOT referring to the finding that the government has no idea what happened to billions and billions of dollars.

That is totally understandable. When you're sucking in and spewing out money as fast as the federal government, you have to expect that here and there a billion dollars is going to fall between the cracks. I bet if federal employees took just a few minutes out of their work schedules to look around, they would quickly find a lot of this so-called ''lost'' money.

FIRST FEDERAL EMPLOYEE: OK, I'll just check behind the cushions of this federal employee's lounge sofa here and ... Hey, here's some! Looks like a total of, let me see, two ... three ... four ... Wow! It's $17 million!

SECOND FEDERAL EMPLOYEE: So THAT'S what happened to it!

So I'm confident that the money is around somewhere. What has me concerned is the auditors' finding that the federal government apparently also has lost track of some fairly large items, including -- and I am not making these missing items up -- a $1 million Army missile launcher, two $4 million Navy engines for fighter aircraft, two large Navy tugboats costing $875,000 each and a $460,000 floating crane.

Now, in any organization you're going to have people stealing pens, paper clips, etc. But security has to be pretty darned lax for somebody to walk off with a tugboat.

GUARD: Hey, what's that gigantic bulge under your overcoat with a smokestack sticking out?

THIEF: This? Nothing.

GUARD: OK, then.

What concerns me is, what if we have a defense emergency, and we need these missing items? Are we going to scare the enemy if our fighter pilots have to sit on the runway in engineless planes and make fighter-plane noises with their mouths? Also, if the government doesn't know where its crane is, what ELSE doesn't it know? For example, I was in Washington, D.C., recently, and I walked past a huge building that said ''Department of the Interior''; then a short while later, I walked past ANOTHER huge building that said ''Department of the Interior.'' This has to be a mistake. Why would we need TWO Departments of the Interior? We only have one Interior! Unless we've lost THAT, too.

So I think the government should stop whatever else it's doing until it finds all this missing property. I think a good place to start looking would be my garage. There's a LOT of stuff in there, and I have no idea what most of it is; it would not surprise me one bit if there was a missile launcher in there somewhere. So I say to the government: Come and get it! And while you're here, please take these Supreme Court justices, because they're starting to smell.

Fiasco exposes Labor weakness

OPPOSITION environment spokesman Peter Garrett yesterday sold out Australia’s position, influence and national interest in the post-2012 Kyoto system - but changed his mind before sunset.

Garrett’s performance suggests either an incomprehension about global climate change negotiations or a Kyoto ideological fixation that makes him a serious risk as environment minister.

The Labor Party is exposed by this Garrett fiasco. Its endless manipulation of climate change for political spin conceals a core policy weakness.

Consider this reversal. Within 12 hours Garrett went from declaring a post-2012 emissions regime without new developing world obligations was no “deal-breaker” for a Rudd government to saying that it was an “essential prerequisite”.

Welcome to Labor’s climate change policy chaos. While John Howard can be attacked for not ratifying Kyoto, he does more importantly have a post-2012 policy that is sensible and his minister, Malcolm Turnbull, does know what it is.

Labor has now embraced the Howard position post-2012. That’s right, Labor is following Howard on climate change.

Garrett, having endlessly attacked Howard for not ratifying Kyoto, is exposed as a policy risk. This issue, by the way, is the central policy debate in current negotiations for a post-2012 Kyoto system.

Garrett said yesterday in interviews in The Australian Financial Review and on the ABC’s AM program that any refusal by developing nations to make commitments for the post-2012 system would not be a “deal-breaker” for a Rudd government and that what counted was being “part of the process” and “delivering on the original Kyoto consensus”.

It was an ideological defence of the failed Kyoto status quo.

It was also a dramatic shift in Australian policy. It would have undermined the strong global campaign to include the developing world in a viable post-2012 system. It would have weakened Australia’s influence.

It would have undermined completely Australia’s leadership of the umbrella group of industrial nations (including Japan, Canada and Russia), whose negotiating strategy is to maximise leverage on the developing countries to make pledges for the next Kyoto period.

Oct 29, 2007

Robot Sweeps Through Tokyo Apartment to Increase Productivity

Starting a part-time job at 65 wasn't easy for Yasuo Fukamachi. It got harder when a yellow cylinder on wheels trundled past on his first day in a Tokyo apartment building and began vacuuming the floor.

Fukamachi, who wipes windows and railings for 800 yen ($6.90) an hour in the high rise, had stumbled across the winner of Japan's first Robot of the Year award. Developed by Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd., the machine is at the forefront of a government drive to offset a dwindling workforce with technology.

``I got scared after seeing the robot,'' Fukamachi said. ``I got this cleaning job because my family-owned company couldn't pay much, even to me. Now I think robots might overtake me.''

Japan, the first developed country to register more annual deaths than births, is promoting robots to help increase productivity by 50 percent in the next five years. Japanese service workers currently produce 30 percent less per hour than their U.S. counterparts, the government estimates.

``Japan faces a stark choice: raise productivity or see living standards fall,'' said Robert Feldman, chief economist in Tokyo at Morgan Stanley's Japanese unit. ``Robots could be a part of the solution.''

The machines aren't a panacea. Industries need to invest in information technology, consolidate through mergers and acquisitions, and better allocate their capital to become more productive, Feldman said.

Rodney Brooks, director of the computer science and artificial intelligence laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said he is always ``amazed'' by the number of workers in Japan's service industries during his regular visits.

10+ Windows XP keyboard shortcuts to speed everyday tasks

How expansive is your repertoire of Windows XP keyboard shortcuts? A lot of users learn a handful of shortcuts but turn their backs on a host of other ones that could come in handy. Check out the selection of shortcuts below and see if there aren’t a couple you didn’t know about that could be saving you some real time.

You can also download a PDF that lists 50+ Windows XP shortcuts.
The shortcuts
Keystroke Function
Alt + Tab Switches between open programs
Alt + F4 (in a program) Closes the program
Alt + F4 (from the desktop) Opens the Windows Shutdown/Restart dialog box
Alt + Enter Opens the Properties page of a selected item
Alt + Esc Cycles between open programs in the order they were opened
Alt + Spacebar In the active window, this brings up the corner dialog box for Move, Size, Minimize, Maximize, or Close
Shift + Insert a CD/DVD Inserts a CD/DVD without triggering Autoplay or Autorun
Shift + Delete Permanently deletes an item (rather than sending it to the Recycle Bin)
Ctrl + Shift + Esc Opens the Windows Task Manager
Ctrl + drag an icon Copies that item
Ctrl + Shift + drag an icon Creates a shortcut for the item
Right-click + drag an icon Brings up a menu to copy, move, or create a shortcut for the item
F1 Opens Windows XP Help
F2 Highlights the label of a selected item for renaming
F3 Opens Windows search for files and folders
F5 (or Ctrl + R) Refreshes an Internet Explorer page or other window
F6 Cycles through the elements that can be selected in a screen or window
F10 Selects the menu bar in the active program (usually the File menu) so that you can use the arrow keys to navigate through the menus and the Enter key to display one
Shift + F10 Displays a shortcut menu for an item (like right-clicking with the mouse)
Ctrl + Esc Opens the Start menu
Roll your own shortcut

You can also create custom Windows XP shortcuts. Just right-click on the icon of a program or program shortcut, choose Properties, click the Shortcut tab, and enter a keystroke combination in the Shortcut Key field. Windows will let you assign only key combos that aren’t already taken.

Snakes nabbed in raid

VICTORIAN Government officers have seized three deadly snakes that were illegally kept on a property in Melbourne's northwest. A death adder, an olive python and a boa constrictor were found on the Dalahey property about 8am (AEDT) today. Department of Sustainability and Environment senior investigator Drew Wilson said all three snakes would be put down because the boa constrictor, native to South America, had a contagious disease.

The boa constrictor has inclusion body disease (IBD). "As a precaution against the spread of disease, we now have to euthanise two native Australian snakes," Mr Wilson said. "They cannot be released back into their natural habitats because this disease would have devastating effects on the wild populations."... Olive pythons are found in Australia's tropics and boa constrictors are banned in Australia.

Merrill Lynch meet to name O'Neal's successor

The six-year reign of E. Stanley O'Neal at Merrill Lynch has been one of contradictions. O'Neal, the chairman and chief executive, was a loner in an industry that places a premium on relationships. And he pushed Merrill into risky investments despite his experience as chief financial officer, where managing risk was one of his responsibilities. Now after an $8.4 billion charge and a failed merger approach with a rival bank, Wachovia, O'Neal has lost the confidence of his board.

Having decided O'Neal should leave, Merrill Lynch directors met throughout the weekend to figure out who should succeed him. One possible course being considered is that Laurence Fink, the head of the asset management firm BlackRock, which is 49 percent owned by Merrill Lynch, would become chief executive with Robert McCann, the head of the brokerage unit, and Gregory Fleming, the current president, as co-presidents. O'Neal's fall has been stunning in its speed and ferocity, and it underscores that on Wall Street, even the highest paid chief executives with handpicked boards are not immune to the combined furies of investors and employees. O'Neal's case is also a reminder of how dangerous it is to tinker with a company's culture.

His ascent - through hard work and the cultivation of crucial relationships - was unique for its remarkable speed, as well as an extraordinary ability he had to be at the center of major financial disruptions without taking on significant blame. He was a senior banker in the junk bond division when Merrill incurred a $470 million write-down; he was a co-head of Merrill's institutional business in 1997, a few months before the Asian financial crisis roiled the markets; and he was chief financial officer in 1998 when the firm suffered a quarterly loss because of losses trading bonds and exposure to the troubled hedge fund, Long Term Capital Management.

How to Stop a Rampaging Robot Car

How do you stop a rampaging robot car? With these babies.

These kill switches, shown here in the rather lived in-looking trunk of a DARPA judge, are stationed throughout the Urban Challenge course here in Victorville, CA.

In testing yesterday, the judges determined that each of the competing robot cars can be either "paused," that is momentarily paralyzed, or brought to a sudden stop and completely shut down with the flip of a switch.

A chase car for each robocar will also carry a kill switch for that car. The drivers of those chase cars aren't taking any chances, either. They're out on the course now sitting in roll cages and wearing crash helmets.

Today, the cars are driving out of sight of their creators for the first time, leaving them behind chain link fences and concrete barriers while they try to negotiate simple stops and turns in the bombed-out-looking neighborhoods that used to house officers and their families here at this former Air Force base.

Today's maneuvers are simple for a human, maybe, but not for a robot. "Right now we're scared shitless," said one team member as he watched his labor of love drive off without him. "We've never done this before."

It's all in preparation for the main event on November 3, during which the bots who pass this week's tests will compete with each other through these same streets for $3.5 million in prizes. Stay tuned....

Oct 28, 2007

Microsoft muscles in on low-cost laptops

Microsoft is making stringent efforts to head-off Linux's early dominance of low-cost laptops by converting Windows XP to work on the low-powered machines.

Last week, Asus announced that its low-cost Eee PC will come bundled with Windows XP. Now, the world's largest software company is working to adapt a basic version of XP so that it is compatible with the nonprofit One Laptop per Child (OLPC) Foundation's small green-and-white XO laptop.

"We're spending a non-trivial amount of money on it," says Microsoft Corporate vice president, Will Poole. "We remain hopeful with our progress to date, we still have significant work ahead to finalise our analysis and testing processes. At the end of the day, there are no guarantees."

The OLPC Foundation, a spin-off from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, plans to start producing the $188 machines in China next month and eventually manufacture millions a year for elementary school children in developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

The foundation is also selling the machines in the US and Canada for $400 apiece through a fund-raising campaign.

Oct 27, 2007

Great Robot Exhibition

No place is quite as mad about robots as Japan, and you can really feel the love at the country's frequent robot exhibitions. The Japanese have been holding robot shows since 1928, when Gakutensoku, the first modern Japanese robot, blew minds in Kyoto. If you don't know your Mazinger Z from your Gundam or can't tell a Paro from a Toyota Partner Robot, then run, don't walk, to the Great Robot Exhibition: Karakuri, Anime and the Latest Robots running through Jan. 27 at Tokyo's National Museum of Nature and Science.

The retrospective shows dozens of robots, with a special hall for Honda's Asimo, the world's premier humanoid. Thematically divided into karakuri (clockwork dolls), imagination (anime, manga and toys) and real machines, the show depicts robot development in Japan as a grand procession from medieval automatons to sci-fi fantasies to actual mechatronic men. There's more than a touch of national pride in robotic prowess here, even though the perfect plastic partner has yet to be made. But dreaming is part of the fun.

Cancer-Killing Virus Modified to Deliver a One-Two Punch

Scientists hacking a smallpox-like virus into doing battle with cancer have given a new weapon to their microscopic warrior.

Researchers at Stanford University and Jennerex Biotherapeutics have tweaked the cancer-killing vaccinia virus JX-963 so that it also stimulates the body to generate cancer-fighting white blood cells. The company intends to take the virus into clinical trials based on a promising animal study.

"This is a very powerful and potent approach," said Dr. Antonio Chiocca, a professor at Ohio State University and a specialist in oncological neurosurgery, who was not involved in the study. "You can think of each of these viruses as a new drug."

Cancer-fighting viruses are the latest attempt to harness viruses' infectious powers for therapeutic treatments. Modified viruses have been used in experimental gene therapies to "fix" faulty inherited genetic code. Gene therapy has generated much hype but little clinical success. Scientists claim to have made recent progress targeting cancer cells with modded cold, herpes and smallpox viruses. These viruses infect and kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone. A different Jennerex virus, JX-594, is already entering Phase II clinical trials for the treatment of liver tumors.

In a study appearing Thursday in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, the researchers report that the new JX-963 treatment resulted in the suppression of colon tumors in the rabbits on which it was tested.

Oct 25, 2007

Ubuntu's New 'Gutsy Gibbon"

The familiar old script that Linux is only for geeks has been largely rewritten recently with the arrival of Ubuntu, a version of Linux for the average user. In its three years on the scene, Ubuntu has quickly gained a reputation for being easy to configure and use.

On Thursday, Canonical, the London-based company which acts as Ubuntu's commercial sponsor, released version 7.10 of the software. This latest release, dubbed "Gutsy Gibbon," proves that Ubuntu Linux can compete with and, in some cases, trump Windows as an everyday desktop system when it comes to pure usability.

Gamers and hardcore media hounds may still feel left out -- DVDs were a little bit tricky, and the lack of support for popular games, a long-time Linux gripe, is still evident here -- but we found playing music and watching movies in the new Ubuntu to be every bit as pleasant as it is under OS X or Windows.

Gutsy Gibbon is certainly easier to install and set up than Windows Vista, and it's very close to matching Mac OS X when it comes to making things "just work" out of the box. Wi-Fi, printing, my digital camera and even my iPod all worked immediately after installation -- no drivers or other software required.

As with previous versions, Gutsy Gibbon ships as a "live CD," which means you can boot from your DVD drive and test Ubuntu without touching your existing system. If you like what you see, committing to Ubuntu is just a matter of clicking "Install." From there, Ubuntu will lead you through the process of installing the OS.

Oct 24, 2007

Honda's Robot ASIMO Thrills Melbourne Crowds

The world's most advanced humanoid robot, Honda's ASIMO, won over Melbourne last week enthralling hundreds of children and adults alike as he kicked off his Alive & Unplugged Australian Tour with a series of spectacular shows at Chadstone Shopping Centre. ASIMO, whose name stands for Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility, wowed the Melbourne crowds during five days of sell-out shows with his life-like ability to run, walk, dance, talk, recognise people, hold hands, carry objects and even play soccer.

He is now on his way to Bendigo for the next stage of his nine-week 'Alive & Unplugged' Australian tour, which is presented by ASIMO's creator Honda, a world leader in robotics and mobility. ASIMO is the result of nearly 21 years of research and development by Honda which, although better known for cars and motorcycles, currently has engineering teams in Japan, Thailand, Europe and the US dedicated to this extraordinary robot's ongoing development as he continues to become more humanlike with each new technological advancement.

According to Honda Australia Senior Director Lindsay Smalley, ASIMO is the most advanced in a series of humanoid robots created by Honda engineers since 1986 with the aim of someday helping people in need. "Honda's concept is to create a robot that can help around the house, or assist the elderly or someone confined to a wheelchair or bed," he said.

"That's why ASIMO is just 1.3 metres high so he can communicate eye-to-eye with someone seated in a chair, while still being able to operate light switches and door knobs, and work at tables and work benches. In future, ASIMO might also perform tasks that are dangerous to humans, such as fighting fires or cleaning up toxic spills."

ASIMO has been designed to duplicate the complexities of human perception and motion. In addition to walking at 2.7 kph and running at 6 kph, he uses eye cameras to recognise his surrounding environment, register stationary objects and avoid moving obstacles as he moves around. Force (kinesthetic) sensors in his wrists allow him to push carts and give and receive objects, such as a tray of drinks, while an IC Communication card means he can interact with people relatively autonomously.

Today's ASIMO is more mobile than his predecessors with extra hip, knee and foot joints, which in robots are referred to as "degrees of freedom" (DOF), and calculated by measuring human movement. ASIMO has 34 DOF spread over different parts of his body to allow him to move freely.

Mr Smalley added that Honda can apply many of ASIMO's technological achievements to other areas such as automotive safety. "For instance, what we have learned from ASIMO about human movement has helped us design a more effective crash-test dummy and develop some of the world's safest cars for pedestrians; while the radar ASIMO uses to move around is being adapted for use in Honda cars as Night Vision, and for detecting and avoiding pedestrians while driving," he said.

Now ASIMO is enjoying meeting the Australian public through his 124-show ASIMO 'Alive and Unplugged' Show tour which will take him around Victoria, South Australia, NSW and Queensland. The Tour will give the public an insight into ASIMO's unique technological capabilities and cheeky personality, and also give humans of all ages a glimpse into the not-too-distant future when humanoid robots like ASIMO will help them in their homes.

How to Breach the Great Firewall of China

I didn't know I was a surveillance target until the day I walked into a hotel in China's Fujian province. I was pushing past half a dozen workmen changing lightbulbs in the glum but busy lobby when a uniformed man stepped in front of me. Blue jacket, creased trousers, braided epaulets, peaked cap: government security officer. Politely, he asked whether I would mind answering a few questions. He stood erect, with the manicured swagger of a corporate CEO. Next to him, a gangly plainclothes colleague gave me a so-you-thought-we-wouldn't-catch-you look.

How had they known I would be here? The only people who had my itinerary were my editors in London. A few days earlier, I had sent them an email outlining my trip, and I'd been updating them daily by phone. I could only assume that the authorities had been monitoring my email and calls. I had been chasing down leads on the whereabouts of Lai Changxing, China's most-wanted man. Lai had cheated the government out of $3.6 billion by smuggling oil, cars, and cigarettes. Embarrassed, Beijing wanted to hinder any reporting of his case.

The P2P freeware uses 256-bit encryption for phone calls, staying below government radar. Use the international version (not the Chinese one) to avoid spyware.

The two officers in the hotel demanded to see my passport and asked what I knew about Lai. Then they withdrew to a corner of the lobby to confer. Eventually, they took me to a police car, drove me to the airport, and put me on a plane to Beijing.

It was, in short, impressive evidence of the government's ability to monitor and control electronic communication. And my experience only hinted at the Chinese government's appetite for control.

Scramble messages
Use encryption for email. Top software tools include Hushmail and Cryptomail, which take advantage of so-called pretty good privacy — PGP — encryption.

Post on the down low
Avoid online discussion groups for obviously controversial subjects. Post sensitive messages in lifestyle or sports Web sites, which are rarely monitored.

Search overseas
Try the international version of a Web site rather than the China-based one. Google's US-based search engine (in Chinese) isn't blocked, for example.

Watch your language
Avoid controversial terms (e.g., "democracy," "Dalai Lama"), or at least don't put them in the title of your blog post. Body text is much less likely to be monitored.

Oct 23, 2007

Samsung Techwin SGR-A1

Intelligent Surveillance & Security Guard Robot, which is indigenously developed by Samsung Techwin and being funded by the Korean government, has the purpose of protecting the major military base and national strategic site.
The system is designed to replace a human-oriented guards, overcoming their limitation of discontinuous guarding mission due to its severe weather condition or fatigue, so that the perfect guarding operation is guaranteed.

Robot Weddings will be boring

It's not just me . . . a lot of people are thinking about robots these days. There was this article from the New York Times magazine about humans accidentally assigning emotions to robots who really have none. Jon Gordon talked about Roomba owners who are becoming emotionally attached to their little floor sucker in a recent episode of Future Tense.

And the icing on the cake . . . *ahem* . . . the wedding cake: this article from MSNBC about sex and love robot style. In it, one researcher gives us about 40 years before our relationships with robots become so intense that we not only take them to the sack . . . we drag them to the alter as well. Okay, so somewhere out there in our collective unconscious we are all thinking the same thing. But is it really inevitable that we'll be forging human-robot relationships in the next 40 years?

I have my doubts. First, there is a little thing robot aficionados know as the Uncanny Valley. It's a well studied theory that says the closer a robot comes to looking and behaving like a human, the more we like it . . . until a point. When it crosses that point, still seeming real but not quite natural, we are greatly repelled by it. Think of the Frankenstein monster for some context. Also, even the highly specialized social robots have a long way to go before they can tap into some of the most basic aspects of human relationships, like recognizing moods and understanding someone else's perspective.

But people traveling with their Roomba?! Assigning emotions to bots that can barely smile?! I have to admit, there is something going on. I can't help but wonder though, if this isn't a case of wishful thinking. Hearing about all the coverage of Sputnik's big 50 year anniversary, you get the feeling folks back then thought we'd be partying on the moon by 2007. Realistically we are not much closer now than we were then. But in the meantime, we can enjoy the fact that robots are making their way into our lives. The fact that we can have any relationship with them is pretty neat. And maybe I'll be way off the mark on this. Who knows, maybe my robot wife and I will laugh at this post 40 years from now. If so, I'm sorry I was so naive honey, let's not let it ruin our wonderful . . um, "relationship".

Robots get down and dirty

The Gate Worldwide targets "Chief Home Officers" in its first ad campaign for iRobot's Roomba automated vacuum cleaner.

The work from the independent shop in New York is decidedly tongue-in-cheek and introduces a new tagline, "Let a robot do your dirty work." A 30-second TV spot breaking this week shows a mom who says she lives "with a bunch of animals," her family, who are shown making a mess. Luckily, iRobot's Roomba is on hand to put things right. The spot is called "Animal House" (the husband and kids are literally depicted as barnyard denizens.)

"The Chief Home Officer in our spot realizes that cleaning up after her family is a never-ending chore," said David Bernstein, agency ecd. "But at least she can delegate it to a robot."

Robot Warriors In Iraq

The sniper nests and IED-laced roads of Iraq have posed deadly challenges for the U.S. military. The result has been speedy development of soldiers that know nothing about fear or danger: the combat robot. "It's a tremendous capability to put a robot where you do not want to put a man," said Jim Braden, of the Army's Joint Robotics Program. Never before have robots played such a wide role in a ground war, reports CBS News correspondent Russ Mitchell. Five thousand robots are working alongside U.S. forces, finding booby traps or searching for the enemy.

"The real trend right now is the infantry and maneuver forces looking at, 'what can a robot do for me,'" said Braden. That demand has forced technicians to improvise and use parts found on store shelves. Some robot monitors have been purchased at Radio Shack. Certain controllers are from video games. The Pentagon plans to spend nearly $2 billion over the next five years on robots, ranging in size from a multi-ton minesweeper to tiny devices now used by Special Forces.

Manufacturing robot simulation software

CSR manufacturing robot simulation software for the Academic community has been given special pricing by software developer Applied Computing and Engineering (ACandE)

Award-winning, UK simulation software developer Applied Computing and Engineering (ACandE), has announced special price and upgrade bundles for its CSR manufacturing robot simulation software for the Academic community. The CSR robot simulation software is already in use with some of the world's leading manufacturing companies, including, Mercedes, Boeing, Audi, Nissan, EADS and many others.

Lara Sinclair: A spooky start for web ad pioneer

JON Ostler, founder and managing director of internet marketing firm First Rate, has gone from spying on people from the sky at the Joint Air Reconnaissance Intelligence Centre at Britain's Ministry of Defence to helping advertisers locate them on the internet. The computer engineer and self-confessed former "spook", resigned from the British defence forces in 1998 and moved to New Zealand, where he started a web design firm. In 2001 he set up First Rate with $500,000 from angel investor SparkBox, applying some of the data analysis skills he learned in the defence service to create a direct response company specialising in search and email marketing, as well as pay-for-performance advertising.

Mr Ostler, who last week signed a deal to run Yahoo Search Marketing's sponsored search engine text ads across its performance-based advertising network (the Performance Network), is focusing on growing First Rate's Australian operations after selling the business to ASX-listed marketing group Q Limited in December last year for $NZ2.3 million ($1.9 million)in cash, plus a three-year earn-out. The group has set up an office in Melbourne, as well as in Sydney, and has used its links with fellow Q-owned company 3D Interactive to launch the Performance Network in Australia. It has signed up about 40 websites, in addition to 130 in New Zealand, running advertising that is only paid for once a particular action, such as a click or customer sign-up, has been generated. Mr Ostler said the Yahoo deal offered TPN publisher websites "a new advertising revenue stream".

Ben Woodhead: Labor rebate a bonanza for giants

TECHNOLOGY industry experts have warned that the ALP's proposed tax rebate on computers and laptops bought for educational purposes could be open to exploitation. Families are expected to upgrade home PCs far more frequently if the ALP policy becomes law Families are expected to upgrade home computers far more frequently if the ALP policy becomes law, potentially benefiting a range of sellers including Harvey Norman and Apple, which target the home and education sectors.

"It's going to be exploited heavily. The Harvey Normans of the world will be rubbing their hands," S2 Intelligence managing director Bruce McCabe said. Families that already owned desktop and laptop computers were likely to upgrade to new systems more frequently and families without computers and would probably move quickly to take advantage of the tax break, he said. The ALP has estimated that families with about 2.3 million children would be eligible for the concession, which grants a rebate of up to $375 a year for primary school students and $750 a year for those at secondary school.

Hospitals take nurses to court

VICTORIAN hospitals will demand court intervention today to overturn the closure of more than 800 beds amid a worsening dispute with the state's nurses. The nurses' union has flagged its intention to defy the orders of the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to end its work bans despite the threat of $35,000 fines. Victorian Hospitals Industry Association chief executive Alec Djoneff said the union's unwillingness to comply with the orders gave the hospitals no choice but to seek Federal Court action.

"The Australian Nursing Federation is going to defy these orders," Mr Djoneff said. "We will have to seek enforcement orders (and) we are hoping for the matter to be heard tomorrow." While talks between the hospital industry, the health department and the nurses' union have resolved some issues, there was still no agreement on the nurses' 6-per-cent-a-year pay claim and the preservation of existing nurse-to-patient ratios.

Oct 22, 2007

Beer that drives women wild

TO THE men who commissioned it, no doubt, the ad seemed like harmless fun. In a scene set a century ago, a young woman struggles to park her horse and carriage, while two beer-drinking, male bystanders look on, laughing. The action cuts to the present and shows the same woman having trouble parking her car, eventually leaving it jutting into the road.

Again she is watched by two smug men swigging from bottles of Peroni beer, as a voice-over remarks: "Fortunately some things don't change." For Italy's women, however, the joke has fallen flat. A group of female lawyers is making legal history by suing the beer company for being sexist and discriminatory.

Asus intros U1E ultra-portable laptop

We just caught sight of three new Asus laptops, but it looks like that's not all the company has up its sleeve, with its ultra-portable U1E model now also making its first appearance. This one boasts an even smaller form factor than the company's just-announced 12.1-inch, 3.3 pound U6S laptop, in this case shrinking things down to an 11.1-inch WXGA display and a mere 2.2 pound carrying weight (albeit with only a 3 cell battery). Otherwise, you'll get an Intel Core Duo ULV7500 processor, up to 2GB of RAM, a 100GB hard drive, and built-in WiFi and Bluetooth, with an external DVD burner thrown in for good measure. A nine cell battery is also available for those that actually want to get some work done, with it apparently promising upwards of six hours of running time. Look for this one to be available next month, in Italy at least, for €1,999 (or $2,844).

Asus ultra-portable laptop

Last week Asus finally revealed pricing and specs for their much anticipated Eee PC ultra-portable laptop. Anticipated not so much for the specs -- 7-inch LED-backlit LCD, 2 to 8GB of flash storage, up to 1GB memory, WiFi, and webcam -- but for the low, low $199 retail price. Rightly, more than a few of us were dismayed when the entry-level model was revealed to actually cost as much as US$358 in Taiwan and an expected $300 (pre-tax) price when launching Stateside before the month is out. The culprit? Well, according to DigiTimes' Taiwanese component insiders the relatively steep price is in large part due to an unexpectedly high cost for the 7-inch LCD panels. Asus had expected to source the panels for about $15 each but found themselves paying AU Optronics (AUO) and Chi Mei Optoelectronics (CMO) up to twice as much for the hardware. Feel better for knowing? Yeah, didn't think so.

Vending machine disguise may or may not fool criminals

How anyone could think that a cloth vending machine would fool even the stupidest of criminals is beyond us, but we guess if the convertible skirt / vending machine is going to be made somewhere, it might as well be in Japan. The New York Times has the write-up of Aya Tsukioka clothing designs, intended to provide the vulnerable with ways of avoiding thieves and other evil folk: beyond the Coke machine, there's a purse shaped like a manhole, and a child's backpack that looks like a fire hydrant. Here, we just carry guns.

Bluetooth Laser Virtual Keyboard

Remember when you were promised all those amazing future tech innovations? Just around the corner was supposed to be a shining technology utopia with flying cars, personal space travel to distant galaxies, and bio-implantable cell phones. It's almost disappointing enough to make you sit at home and watch old episodes of "Space 1999".

Don't lose hope! An amazing glimpse of this promised future has just arrived at ThinkGeek in the form of the Bluetooth Laser Virtual Keyboard. This tiny device laser-projects a keyboard on any flat surface... you can then type away accompanied by simulated key click sounds. It really is true future magic at its best. You'll be turning heads the moment you pull this baby from your pocket and use it to compose an e-mail on your bluetooth enabled PDA or Cell Phone. With 63 keys and and full size QWERTY layout the Laser Virtual Keyboard can approach typing speeds of a standard keyboard... in a size a little larger than a matchbook.

Windows gets a 'Mini-Me'

It's rare that anyone at Microsoft talks publicly about Windows 7, the next version of Windows. It's even rarer that anyone provides actual information about what might be inside the operating system, which is still in the planning stages. However, Microsoft has posted a video of a recent university lecture given by Distinguished Engineer Eric Traut in which he talks about, among other things, a new, slimmed down kernel known as MinWin that was created as part of the Windows 7 development process.

The kernel, which lacks Vista's bells and whistles or even a graphics system at all, takes up just 25MB on disk as compared with 4GB that the full Windows Vista takes up. And while people would need far more than MinWin to run even a basic Web server, Traut said it shows that Windows, at its heart, does not have to be a monster resource hog.

"That's kind of proof that there is actually a nice little core inside of Windows," Traut said. "A lot of people think of Windows as this really large, bloated operating system and that's maybe a fair characterization, I have to admit. It is large. It contains a lot of stuff in it, but at its core, the kernel and the components that make up the very core of the operating system actually are pretty streamlined." Traut stressed that MinWin, though it uses the Windows 7 code base, probably won't be used on its own. "This is an internal only (thing)," Traut said in the video. "You won't see us productizing this, but you can imagine this being used as the basis for products in the future.

He did hint at some of the possibilities. "We're definitely going to be using this internally to build all of the products that are based on Windows," he said. "We build a lot of products based on this kernel."

The Most Sexist Beer Commerical Ever Produced?

AdReview does not claim to be fully evolved. For instance
in our recent holiday trip to the Adriatic coast -- where hordes of young Eastern European women sashayed to and fro in overflowing bikinis and high heels, for crying out loud -- we were reduced to a slackjawed cliché of arrested adolescence. We gawked. We leered. We speculated. We were a one-man gland.

So it is not out of self-righteousness, but out of genuine astonishment that we castigate, denounce and generally hold up to ridicule a new ad for the Heineken DraughtKeg that is arguably the most sexist beer commercial ever produced.

That may sound like a preposterous charge regarding an industry that has given us nudie pinups, the Swedish Bikini Team and an '80s spot for an Israeli import called Maccabee in which a sultry sabra masturbated a longneck. But this spot from Berlin Cameron United, New York, finds an unprecedented new way to be a gender offender. We shall explain this presently. First, a misogynistic joke:

The perfect woman: a mute nymphomaniac whose father owns a brewery....

Ray Kurzweil: The Age of Spiritual Machines:

It is now 2009. Individuals primarily use portable computers, which have become dramatically lighter and thinner than the notebook computers of ten years earlier. Personal computers are available in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and are commonly embedded in clothing and jewelry such as wristwatches, rings, earrings, and other body ornaments. Computers with a high-resolution visual interface range from rings and pins and credit cards up to the size of a thin book.

People typically have at least a dozen computers on and around their bodies, which are networked using "body LANs" (local area networks).1 These computers provide communication facilities similar to cellular phones, pagers, and web surfers, monitor body functions, provide automated identity (to conduct financial transactions and allow entry into secure areas), provide directions for navigation, and a variety of other services.

For the most part, these truly personal computers have no moving parts. Memory is completely electronic, and most portable computers do not have keyboards.

Oct 21, 2007

Can you handle robot love?

For all of you who feel hope is lost when it comes to finding your soulmate, don't worry, a technological solution is near. While technology is advancing faster than Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree splits the Texas A&M defense (I'm moving on from this victory, I swear, bring on Missouri), perhaps it's growing too rapidly.

Sure, I love the iPhone, Super Nintendo and the autopilot feature on my Dodge Neon (wait, a buddy of mine drove me home late Saturday night), but what the Dutch have erected is apparently serious. However, I find it amusing, but ungodly (I'm not touching this part of the story, though, for fear I may be blind-sided in the head by a Raider Red doll). According to an article at Fox News' Web site, www.foxnews.com, David Levy, an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, predicts by 2050 Massachusetts will be the first United States colony to legalize marriages with robots.

According to the article, Levy said, "At first, sex with robots might be considered geeky, but once you have a story like 'I had sex with a robot, and it was great!' appear someplace like Cosmo magazine, I'd expect many people to jump on the bandwagon." Wait. So Levy, you're telling me I'll be able to obtain and program the perfect housewife, basically out of desperation?

Sweet, I've always wanted to find someone who will let me sit on the couch watching football all day while she gives me compliments about how great I am while I'm clad in the prototypical white-trash gear comprised of a wife-beater with work-out shorts and holey socks.

Do androids dream of electronic sperm?

I usually skip the Science & Technology articles when I read the newspaper because they’re totally irrelevant to my life. If it doesn’t get me lunch or get me laid, I’m not interested. I endorse this philosophy because it explains the behaviour of males throughout history, and doubles as a good excuse to avoid reading – or at least it did until recently. It turns out that science finally got its act together and started developing new ways for me to have sex. And unlike the old ways, these ones may work on a regular basis.

The bad news is that, according to Henrik Christensen, it will be another five years until science succeeds where Johnnie Walker has failed. Christensen is the founder of the European Robotics Research Network, a position involving predictions about when “people will be having sex with robots.” The only reason you think that’s weird is because you have yet to hear of David Levy. His research involves predicting “that around 2050, the state of Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize marriages with robots.” Sex with robots, it seems, is the way of the future.

But how exactly does one have sex with a robot? Levy says that since “realistic sex dolls” already exist, “it’s just a matter of adding some electronics to them to add some vibration.” Setting the standard for coitus so low doesn’t say much for the sex lives of robotics researchers, but I still like the way Levy thinks. While robots may occasionally go berserk, they don’t throw drinks in people’s faces. Drinks those people paid for, I might add.

Melanie Phillips: The de-moralisation of health care

How in God’s name have we come to this? In three hospitals in Kent, at least 90 patients have died from a superbug infection caused by filthy conditions with unwashed bedpans, staff ‘too busy’ to clean their hands and — most appalling of all — nurses telling patients with diarrhoea to ‘go in their beds’.

This unspeakable situation reveals not just callousness towards suffering and indifference to human dignity but a breakdown of some of our most basic civilised values.

Nor is this an isolated scandal. Last October, an internal memo warned the Government that virtually every NHS trust was reporting superbug infection. The health service, in other words, is institutionally polluted.

The Government’s response? To ignore this crisis, and then belatedly to bring forth Gordon Brown’s pathetic commitment to a sporadic hospital ‘deep clean’.

What has happened to the duty of care in our flagship public service? What has happened, indeed, to our sense of common humanity?

Two things have combined to cause this awful situation. The first is the Government’s Stalinist control of the NHS which directly conflicts with patient care. The Kent hospitals focused on meeting waiting time targets to the exclusion of just about everything else; and the NHS management’s byzantine structure ensures an almost total absence of accountability.

But that is far from the full explanation. Much more important is what has happened to the nursing profession, where there has simply been a collapse of that ethic of caring first promulgated by the inventor of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale.

Of course, it must be said that there are still many dedicated and caring nurses of whom Nightingale would be proud. But in general, her ethic has been all but destroyed.

Nursing is not a job but a vocation. That means it is governed by a sense of moral duty to the patient rather than by the self-interest of the nurse.

That sense of vocation lay at the heart of Nightingale’s vision. It was no accident that in her seminal Notes On Nursing, published in 1860, she wrote that ‘the greater part of nursing consists in preserving cleanliness’.

It was not just that cleanliness was essential for recovery and health. Keeping both hospital and patients clean meant the nurse needed to have the most elevated of motives to put the care and dignity of her patients first.

Obesity epidemic in Britain blamed on society

According to a new report by a government think-tank in Britain the current obesity epidemic is the result of modern life and individuals cannot be blamed for being obese due to overeating and lack of exercise. The report titled 'Foresight' supports the theory that weight gain is a far more passive phenomenon than previously thought. Foresight which was sponsored by the Department of Health, is the result of a two-year study into the causes of obesity involving almost 250 experts and scientists.

It is the largest study ever conducted which examines the phenomenon of obesity in the UK. The report says the British government must wake up to the looming crisis in time and implement specific policies aimed at curbing the rapid spread of the condition.
Sir David King, the government's chief scientific adviser and head of the Foresight programme says because of the availability of energy-dense, cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work, obesity is rapidly becoming a consequence of modern life.

Oct 20, 2007

Japan's cute cars

A Nissan staff drives the Japanese auto maker's ball-shaped electric vehicle Pivo 2 during the "concept" car's demostration in Tokyo Friday, Oct. 5, 2007. Cute, communicative and cubic seem to be the fashion statement as far as offerings from Japan's "Big Three" automakers Toyota, Honda and Nissan, debuting at the Tokyo auto show later this month. (AP Photo)

Robots play football

Remote-controlled humanoid robots play soccer during a robot sports event in Tokyo's Akihabara electronic district October 20, 2007.

Leo Lewis : why vending machines are better than the Japanese civil service

I was recently at a barbecue with a senior vice-president of Coca-Cola Japan called Alberto. A lovely fellow. We roamed through the thorny issue of sugar-free canned-coffee and the difficulty of building a new green-tea brand before ending-up on the ever-popular subject of vending machines.

Real vending machines. Not the ones that feature in every crass shorthand journalistic sketch of Japan produced since the 80s...

Now, most foreigners come to Japan and tend to be rather impressed by the prevalence, variety and general entertainment value of vending machines. Not Alberto. He took the view that, but dispensing their product from a chute at the bottom of the machine, they were taking a astonishing liberty with their customers. "The machine exists to satisfy me," he concluded, his cheeseburger quivering in his hand and veins popping on his forehead, "I pay for the drink and this device forces me - me! - to bend down like a bloody servant!"

I, on the other hand, rather like vending machines. So much, in fact, that I would actually rather THEY were running Japan than the time-rich, ideas-poor poltroons who actually control the show from the caves of Kasumigaseki. So here goes. Four reasons why Japan's 2.6 million beverage-only vending machines deserve a shot at government:

Oct 19, 2007

Cannon "malfunction" : 9 soldiers dead

According to ITWeb, the South African National Defense Force is now investigating the possibility that a software glitch may have been the cause of deadly anti-aircraft cannon "malfunction" that left nine soldiers dead and 14 seriously wounding during an exercise last Friday. The robot cannon in question is an Oerlikon GDF-005 which, as ITWeb points out, was apparently "not designed for fully automatic control," yet that is just how it was operating in this case, although Oerlikon itself reportedly played no role in the upgrades. While Defense Force spokesman Kwena Mangope apparently isn't going any further than to describe the incident as a "mechanical problem," both the police and a Board of Inquiry are now looking to get to the bottom of the matter, although there's no word as to when they expect to report their findings.

Oct 18, 2007

Bill Joy: Why the future doesn't need us

From the moment I became involved in the creation of new technologies, their ethical dimensions have concerned me, but it was only in the autumn of 1998 that I became anxiously aware of how great are the dangers facing us in the 21st century. I can date the onset of my unease to the day I met Ray Kurzweil, the deservedly famous inventor of the first reading machine for the blind and many other amazing things.

Ray and I were both speakers at George Gilder's Telecosm conference, and I encountered him by chance in the bar of the hotel after both our sessions were over. I was sitting with John Searle, a Berkeley philosopher who studies consciousness. While we were talking, Ray approached and a conversation began, the subject of which haunts me to this day.

I had missed Ray's talk and the subsequent panel that Ray and John had been on, and they now picked right up where they'd left off, with Ray saying that the rate of improvement of technology was going to accelerate and that we were going to become robots or fuse with robots or something like that, and John countering that this couldn't happen, because the robots couldn't be conscious.

While I had heard such talk before, I had always felt sentient robots were in the realm of science fiction. But now, from someone I respected, I was hearing a strong argument that they were a near-term possibility. I was taken aback, especially given Ray's proven ability to imagine and create the future. I already knew that new technologies like genetic engineering and nanotechnology were giving us the power to remake the world, but a realistic and imminent scenario for intelligent robots surprised me.

It's easy to get jaded about such breakthroughs. We hear in the news almost every day of some kind of technological or scientific advance. Yet this was no ordinary prediction. In the hotel bar, Ray gave me a partial preprint of his then-forthcoming bookThe Age of Spiritual Machines, which outlined a utopia he foresaw - one in which humans gained near immortality by becoming one with robotic technology. On reading it, my sense of unease only intensified; I felt sure he had to be understating the dangers, understating the probability of a bad outcome along this path.

I found myself most troubled by a passage detailing adystopian scenario...

Fantasy fembots market male products

Technologically better equipped than booth babes, fantasy fembots seem to be popping up everywhere in ad campaigns these days. Alcohol seems to be popular with the fembots -- they're employed in ads from both Heineken and Svedka -- but Philips is utilizing them in a campaign for an electric razor as well.

It's pretty easy to be creeped out by the influx of ready-to-serve robots -- and not just because these fembots could be the beginnings of the Singularity in disguise. (C'mon, what more suitable "smarter-than-human brain-computer-interface" would be better to take over the human race than one that offered kegs and clean shaves as a "gift from the Greeks"? And who better to be behind the downfall of society than advertisers?) Misogynist undertones run rampant throughout all the ads, so it's no shock that feminine cyborgs are used exclusively in advertising targeting young males -- they tap right into stock fantasies of complete feminine subservience.

Svedka kicked things off in 2005 with a humorous "spokesbot" campaign created by Amalgamated. The brand generated a decent amount of buzz -- or at least enough to inspire Heineken and Philips to give the fembots a go. The ads helped establish the Svedka brand in the US, and earlier this year the company was snapped up for $384 million.

Pushing the envelope of good taste a bit further is Heineken's recent "Draughtkeg" commercial, which features a cyborg-like, beer-dispensing, techno-dancing, short-shorts-wearing robotic woman. The ad leaves a bad taste in plenty of viewers' mouths, even while some might salivate at the prospect of owning the ultimate geek girl. With four arms for precise keg tapping technique, the gyrating gynoid dispenses a glass of beer from her body before triplicating herself across the frame. AdAge asked if Heineken had successfully produced "the most sexist beer commercial ever".

The Fembot Mystique

Fembots were a pop-culture staple long before Austin Powers battled them—witness the popularity of The Bionic Woman, The Stepford Wives and Blade Runner. But what is it about curvaceous cyborgs that stirs the imagination? To some, fembots represent the perfect male fantasy: They’re sexy and submissive and have more techie features than the Xbox 360. But they also have a dangerous side that can reduce walls to rubble and make an army retreat. Perhaps the fembot’s allure resides in her ability to walk the line between total obedience and unfathomable power.

Feminist science-fiction writer Amy Thomson, author of robot-comes-of-age novel Virtual Girl, suggests that the fembot myth is attractive to men because it deals with “a woman you create and control.” But tech journalist Daniel Wilson, author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising, argues that fictional fembots have hardly been portrayed as controllable—in fact, he claims, they’re often presented as the most dangerous robots of all, because feelings of attraction to them could leave their victims vulnerable to attack. “A sexy robot that’s aggressive could be a wolf in rubberized skin,” he says.

The world’s first big-screen fembot was introduced in Fritz Lang’s 1927 science-fiction masterpiece Metropolis, a film set in a stylized future world of elite technocrats and oppressed machinists. A mad scientist who wants to destroy the machinists invents a beautiful, sadistic female robot that takes the place of a kidnapped political reformer named Maria. The evil Maria robot advocates war and gives a half-speech, half-striptease that whips the machinist masses into a revolutionary fervor.

Metropolis’s sexy, dangerous cyborg became the template for countless others, though not for several decades. There were few fembots in the mid-20th century, but the desire to connect beautiful women and high-tech machines was manifest in the cheesecake pinups painted on fighter planes and the dramatic curves of 1950s roadsters. Indeed, cars were the fembots of the Cold War era, with voluptuous lines and sparkling fins designed to echo the female form. Robots, on the other hand, were depicted as clumsy automatons like Robby the Robot in Forbidden Planet (1956). Despite Robby’s male name, the sweet, lumpy ’bot acted like a traditional housewife, bustling around, making clothes, and cooking for the other characters.

No sex please, robot, just clean the floor

Although the nightmare vision of a Terminator world controlled by machines may seem fanciful, scientists believe the boundaries for human-robot interaction must be set now — before super-intelligent robots develop beyond our control.

“There are two levels of priority,” said Gianmarco Verruggio, a roboticist at the Institute of Intelligent Systems for Automation in Genoa, northern Italy, and chief architect of the guide, to be published next month. “We have to manage the ethics of the scientists making the robots and the artificial ethics inside the robots.”

Verruggio and his colleagues have identified key areas that include: ensuring human control of robots; preventing illegal use; protecting data acquired by robots; and establishing clear identification and traceability of the machines.

“Scientists must start analysing these kinds of questions and seeing if laws or regulations are needed to protect the citizen,” said Verruggio. “Robots will develop strong intelligence, and in some ways it will be better than human intelligence.

“But it will be alien intelligence; I would prefer to give priority to humans.”

Don’t Get Screwed-Driverless

Our friends over at Toolmonger brought this handy little tool to our attention: Coleman 5.4V Cordless Flashcell Screwdriver. Yes, “flashcell.” Upon further investigation, this “flashcell” technology, which was developed in concert with Team Products International, appears to be based on a capacitor power supply system. As such, Coleman claims that their flashcell screwdriver can be completely recharged in 90 seconds. That’s right; in less time than it takes to read this paragraph you’d have a handful of 220 rpm 5.4 V portable, cordless, rechargeable screwdriver. No word yet on how well this power supply system works, or, how many fasteners it is able to drive between charges.

South Korean robot officiates at marriage

Korean roboticists announced over the weekend that their industry had achieved yet another world first, as a droid officiated at a wedding south of Seoul. "Tiro" the robot priest/master-of-ceremonies joins an illustrious list of Korean machine pioneers, including the SGR-A1 sacrificial DMZ-guarding gun-bot and the new droid chaperones being deployed to curb adolescent lust in Korean schools. Now, South Koreans can be guarded from godless northern hordes, kept pure until marriage by robots and then actually joined in matrimony at the hands of a machine.

According to AFP and Hanool Robotics, Tiro and an unspecified number of assistant machines were due to handle the wedding of Hanool engineer Seok Gyeong-jae and his lovely bride in Daejeon - a city 120km south of Seoul. The marriage-bot apparently speaks in a "sweet female voice" and is priced by Hanool at 200m won, or about £109,000.

Japan: Robot Suit Gives Seniors a Helping Hand…Arm and Leg

A professor at Japan’s Tsukuba University may have given older adults the extra boost they needed to stay in their own homes and to help them hold on to physically demanding jobs when their own strength lets them down.

After a decade of research, Yoshiyuki Sankai created Hybrid Assistive Limb (HAL) 5, a robotic suit that more than doubles its wearer’s strength. To operate the suit, the wearer attaches eight sensors to his or her skin. The sensors detect electronic nerve signals transmitted from the brain when the wearer tries to move a limb, and send a message to one of the corresponding eight motors inside the suit. The motors then move the appropriate limb.

Japan's robot industry forecasts strong growth

Japan's robotics industry is expected to show robust growth and remain the world leader thanks to growing exports to emerging economies, an industry group said Thursday.

While Japan has become famous for its cutting-edge humanoid robots, the industry's sales are almost all for industrial robots, particularly those that help manufacture cars, electronics and other products.

Japan in the calendar year 2007 is set to produce a record 760 billion yen (6.5 billion US dollars) worth of robotics, a rise of 4.1 percent from the previous year, the Japan Robot Association said.

The industry is expected to post growth of another 3.9 percent next year, with production seen hitting one trillion yen by 2010.

The growth will be sustained by growing production of flat panel and liquid crystal display televisions, whose sales are rising as competition brings down prices for consumers, the robot association's chairman Kensuke Imura said.

Robots Will Become Part of Daily Life

Caring for an aging population, giving manual-labor jobs to illegal immigrants and keeping production costs down as worker wages rise sound like issues reserved for a political campaign. But panelists at a recent discussion at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge believe robotics will help solve these problems and others faced by society and businesses.

Once relegated to science-fiction movies and automobile assembly lines, robots will handle more complex tasks in various industries, including health care and agriculture, according to those who spoke about the future of robotics.

"People underestimate the long-term effects of robotics on society," said Rod Brooks, cofounder and CTO (chief technology officer) of robotics company iRobot and director of the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence laboratory. "Robots are getting closer to people. We need to see how robots and people interact."

Robots are appearing in hospitals and will handle additional health-care duties as the population ages, he said. The Japanese use robots as companions for the elderly and robots at one U.S. hospital move laundry and deliver patient meals, said Brooks, whose company makes the Roomba vacuuming robots. He cited agricultural harvesting, an industry that uses illegal workers, as an area for robots as immigration enforcement cuts into the labor supply. Brooks also mentioned that the cheap labor provided by foreign nations will diminish as wages rise with manufacturers turning to robots to handle production.

Pythons nabbed in raid

DIAMOND python and carpet python have been seized during a raid on a Darwin home. A 29-year-old woman from Palmerston was today charged with possessing the prohibited reptiles and faces a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail or a $11,000 fine. She was also charged with possessing protected wildlife without a permit, which carries a maximum penalty of up to five years jail or a $55,000 fine.

Parks and Wildlife Service officer Peter Phillips warned snake-lovers that penalties were severe if they broke the law. "(We) regard breaches of this Act as serious matters and we work strongly towards protecting these animals when they cannot protect themselves," he said. "Basically anyone wanting to keep a snake, aside from the children's python, need to apply for a permit, whether it be a permit to keep a prohibited entrant or a permit to keep a protected wildlife."

Python makes my heart race...

A WOMAN said she discovered a python in her toilet as she was washing her hands in her third-floor bathroom one morning, before dawn. Peeking out from the toilet were the eyes of a python, its 2-metre-long body hidden in the pipes, Nadege Brunacci told the Daily News.
"I turned on the light and screamed," she told the Daily News. "It still makes my heart race."

Brunacci slammed down the lid, put a heavy box on top of the toilet and began calling for help, which came from her landlord and firefighters. Plumbers had to tear apart the downstairs neighbour's pipes to capture the snake, she said.

Brunacci says she gave the snake to a friend who keeps it as a pet and named it after her.

Mark Henderson: Breastfeeding chemicals could boost sex drive

Women's sex drive could be boosted by drugs based on chemicals found in the sweat of breast-feeding mothers, a scientist predicted yesterday.

A study in the United States has shown that the female libido can be increased when women are exposed to scent collected from the breasts of nursing mothers, suggesting that extracts may one day be developed into an aphrodisiac drug.

Martha McClintock, Professor of Psychology at the University of Chicago, who led the research, said: “In this study we found that being exposed to these chemicals sustained sexual desire during times in the cycle when it would normally be lower than peak.

“It could be used for the treatment of disorders of desire. A lot of basic research would need to be done to identify the specific compounds involved. For men the major problem is erectile dysfunction, for which there is Viagra, but for women it is a disorder of desire and there isn't anything as effective.” She would not say whether any work was currently being conducted to pinpoint the chemicals involved with a view to developing them as a drug.

Oct 17, 2007

Not Tonight. I Have A Headache. Use Your Robot.

Hey, kids, having trouble with your smooching skills? Finding it hard to locate a mate? Have no fear! Technology is here. At least according to David Levy and his newly minted Ph.D. on human/robot relationships.
At first, sex with robots might be considered geeky, “but once you have a story like ‘I had sex with a robot, and it was great!’ appear someplace like Cosmo magazine, I’d expect many people to jump on the bandwagon,” Levy said.
Jump on the bandwagon? That’s one way to put it. And which state will legalize it first? Dr. Levy predicts it will be none other than the great state of Massachusetts.
Levy predicts Massachusetts will be the first jurisdiction to legalize human-robot marriage. “Massachusetts is more liberal than most other jurisdictions in the United States and has been at the forefront of same-sex mar
riage,” Levy said. “There’s also a lot of high-tech research there at places like MIT.”

What can you say? Another one for the “you can’t make this stuff up” archives.

One last thought. As you’re lying there in romantic bliss with your lastest model X3-2Z7H Bunny model, ask yourself this question: Is Bunny thinking of you or that shiny silver stud she glimpsed on the assembly line

British 'Nurse of the Year' quits the NHS

Britain's star nurse has quit her job with the National Health Service (NHS) only eight months after being named 'Nurse of the Year'. The 37 year old mother of two will leave nursing to take up a teaching job. Justine Whitaker says she has quit because of the pressure constant health reforms place on frontline nursing staff.

Whitaker has called on the Health Secretary Alan Johnson, to stop paying lip service to nurses and "hear what we are saying". Ms Whitaker is a Macmillan specialist clinical nurse with 20 years experience in the treatment of lymphoedema, the swelling of the lymph glands, at East Lancashire Primary Care Trust. She has also invented a pain relief device to help men after prostate surgery, the Whitaker compression pouch is a garment which helps relieve painful swelling suffered by some men with prostate cancer and is used worldwide.

She leaves her job at the end of November to become a senior lecturer in the treatment of the disease at the University of Central Lancashire but will continue to practise as an independent nurse working with lymphoedema patients. She says she is sorry to be leaving nursing but the impact of the constant reforms to the health service is grossly misunderstood by the government.

Can iPhones Make You Sterile?

Who would have guessed those popular white ear buds could reduce the Apple faithful’s gene pool? Greenpeace said in a report Monday that Apple’s iPhone ear bud cords contain chemicals considered harmful to human reproduction. “The phthalates found in the headphone cords are classified in Europe as ‘toxic to reproduction’ because of their long-recognized ability to interfere with sexual development,” Greenpeace scientist David Santillo said in the report.

The environmental group said that while the substances are not prohibited in mobile phones, they have been banned for use in toys sold in Europe and should be removed by Apple. The Mac maker’s popular phone contains a number of substances—internally and externally—at levels prohibited for use in young children’s toys by San Francisco, which has its own environmental standards, and by the European Union, Greenpeace said. “Anything having to do with health should be taken seriously,” Enderle Group analyst Rob Enderle said. “It’s just one more reason to get rid of those crappy Apple ear buds and get something decent.”

The Greenpeace report, pointing out that cell phone giant Nokia has already eliminated such hazardous materials, said there is no reason why Apple’s iPhone couldn’t be made without toxins such as vinyl plastics and brominated flame retardants. Apple CEO Steve Jobs in May 2007 promised in an essay, titled “A Greener Apple,” that the computer maker would phase out those controversial substances by the end of 2008. The iconic computer maker’s chief said that his company would eliminate the use of lead, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, cadmium, arsenic, mercury, as well as the other materials. Mr. Jobs had also touted the computer maker’s recycling efforts, saying the company may be on track to outdo Hewlett-Packard and Dell by 2010.