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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Batting Robot Video

It's a baseball weekend in the geek household as my youngest son is playing in a tournament. In honor of the West Royalty Royals AA baseball team... here is a neat video that I found on Youtube. While the machine seems to have a decent batting average, it certainly doesn't hit for power! I'm sure our boys could take him! Enjoy.

Did you get your Pownce invite?

If you are an avid social networker then you are either enjoying your new favorite site, or you are chomping at the bit waiting for your own Pownce invite! I registered my e-mail address the moment I heard the new service was taking names, and Friday I was rewarded with an invite. Pownce has been the talk of the blogosphere and podosphere for some time now, and I'm finally in! The site is the latest from creator Kevin Rose and friends Leah Culver, and Daniel Burka (from Charlottetown, where I now reside). Pownce is reminiscent of Twitter except you can also trade links, files, and publish events either privately to friends or publicly. It's slick, very web 2.0, and like the g-mail launch it's a hot ticket, only those who receive invites can get in at the moment. The biggest problem I'm having with the site is that they've only given me 6 invites to give away and I'm having a hard time deciding who should get them. According to this NY Times article, they are showing up on eBay for $10 an invite...

Get by with a little help from complete strangers

New York based online charity, Modest Needs, is seeking charity status in Canada in order to make it easier to help Canadian applicants in their own currency, and to be able to issue tax receipts to Canadian donors. The concept is quite simple, applicants describe their short-term financial emergency (under $1000) and the group assesses their situations, if accepted Modest Needs pays creditors or suppliers, the applicant doesn't receive any money directly. I really like this model, it facilitates a communal approach to charitable donating, allowing a large number of small donors to make a big difference in someones live. Like micro loans, these small donations really highlight the power and reach of the Internet. I think most of us would love to help out in some way but often think we don't have the means to really make a difference. Globe and Mail story.

Woz amoung backers of upstart video compression company

Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Corp., has signed on with a small Internet startup which it's 21 year old founder predicts "... going to be a-billion-dollar company." started from graduate research into digital "compression" technology that its founders say they can make digital camera movie clips look like high-definition television on the Web. With backers like Clear Channel's Red McCombs and Wozniak, the kids just might have a chance "With their compression technology, they are able to drastically shorten the upload time-frame, which is critical." It will be interesting to see how develops. The Globe and Mail story here.

Friday, July 27, 2007

A to B, not enough... we want the details too

With GPS technology becoming more and more prevalent it seems that we are no longer satisfied by directions alone, we want more accurate and up-to-date data on hotels, gas stations, restaurants, theme parks, etc.. and the race to get us this info is really heating up. The Globe and Mail has the story of Navteq Corp. and rival Tele Atlas NV in their quests to dominate the mapping game. Big bucks are in play and it's no longer just about getting from point A to point B, you can be sure that both sides know their way to the nearest bank without any difficulty.

Giant Homer annoys neighbours

ABC News has a great story of pop culture meets tradition, and the trouble it can cause. It seems that it's okay to have a giant chalk outline of an aroused, club-wielding man carved into your countryside, as long as it's been there for a very long time... but a 180 ft Homer in his underwear has caused quite a stir! The giant Homer, obviously created to promote The Simpsons Movie, has appeared on a hill in the English countryside, right next to the famed Cerne Abbas Giant, a well-known British landmark. Locals didn't take kindly to Homer even though he's made of biodegradable paint, which will eventually wash away, some are even calling it disrespectful. ** Warning don't open the link if you are offended by giant erect cavemen etched in stone, or overweight donut wielding cartoon characters in their underwear **

Thursday, July 26, 2007

What's a brain cloud?

Human Brain Cloud is a massively multiplayer word association game that has a strangely addictive quality to it... and apparently it's a busy little site, as I just received this message while playing along: "This Account Has Exceeded Its CPU Quota". The site displays a word or words and you type the first word that comes to your mind when you see it, the other players do the same and the site builds a word map that links all of the responses. If you are interested in accolades they keep track of who has submitted the most words and who is "most in tune with humanity". It's interesting to see the maps that are generated, and it reminds me of the Alicebot approach to pattern matching. I think that the two should get together...

Putting your house plants on a do not call list?

The CBC has a great story about four students at New York University's interactive telecommunications program, who have created a system of moisture sensors that are linked to a decision tree, excuse the pun, and pre-recorded phone messages. The system allows plants to let the students know via telephone when they require watering, and "There are set thresholds, unique to each plant, for minimum and maximum soil moisture." There are currently 5 messages possible, from I need water to You've over watered me. The students say they are working on a system for home users and one that will allow plants within a room to talk to each other. My mother always claimed that talking to plants was good for them, I just didn't think they'd ever talk back!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Keith and the patent agency

Keith Malley, New York based podcaster of "Keith and the Girl" podcast, has been ordered by the World Intellectual Property Organization to hand over to Twentieth Century Fox, the owners of the Simpsons trademark. The WIPO ruling said that Malley had registered the domain name to divert business to linked sites promoting and selling merchandise associated with his podcast. Malley apparently offered no defence. The Globe and Mail has the story here.

Checkers may have fallen but poker still elusive

Polaris a poker playing computer program developed at the University of Alberta, was close but not as successful as its checkers playing colleague Chinook. Two world class poker players won 2 of the 4 matches, with Polaris taking the third and the forth declared a draw in a contest of man vs. machine. The contest held in front of the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, was anxiously observed by 1000 attendees. Jonathan Schaeffer from the University of Alberta is one of the brains behind Polaris, he also headed the Chinook project that officially conquered checkers last week. CBC story here.

Smack destiny in the face

If you are a Saturday Night Live fan you are likely familiar with Andy Samberg. This summer Andy stars in Hot Rod, the story of a self-proclaimed stuntman Rod Kimble (Samberg) and his quest to raise $50,000 for his ailing, but abusive, step-father's life saving heart surgery. Without giving too much away, Rod's half-brother Kevin helps in the cause by filming Rod and creating a web site to drum up stunt business. The website as it turns out is part of the viral marketing efforts to promote the movie, visit to see the site that Kevin Powell (Jorma Taccone) creates, during the movie, to help Rod raise the money for their dad, Frank (Ian McShane).

Rod Kimble's 7 Dangerous Sins!

Sony reveals new social networking camera

Sony Canada has announced that it "is responding to the rise of user-generated content on the Internet with a new, pocket-sized Net-sharing CAM, designed for social networkers and video bloggers who frequently upload video and images to the web." Weighing in at about 5 oz. the NCS-GC1 is said to "seamlessly uploads short video clips to the web, and snaps print-quality, 5-megapixel digital still photos." Movie quality ranges from QVGA/15 frames per second to VGA/30 frames per second, and a 2GB media card will store about 5 hours of video, depending on the format chosen. The Net-sharing CAM comes with PMB software that Sony says is "the ultimate in ease of upload, the PMB Portable pre-loaded software has pre-programmed menu buttons for direct publishing to web sharing sites, such as Crackle™. The built-in software can also be programmed for the web sites of choice or even for a personal blog or “vlog.”" and the device allows for on board tagging of videos and still pictures. The camera will be available in September for an anticipated retail price of $299.00 CA. It certainly is a sleek looking little device!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Facebook's big challenge

Three former Harvard school mates of Mark Zuckerberg are alleging, in court, that Zuckerberg stole their ideas and created Facebook before they were able to launch their own competing site, ConnectU. Zuckerberg is being accused of fraud, copyright infringement and misappropriation of trade secrets. The 3 ConnectU founders claim that they asked Zuckerberg to create code for their site and that he promised to be working on the code when in fact he was creating Facebook. The lawsuit seeks to shut down the rival site, claiming that Facebook was able to be first to market and gain the advantage. Facebook lawyers say ConnectU has no evidence for "broad-brush allegations" against Zuckerberg. Globe and Mail story here.

This e-mail message will self destruct in 10, 9, 8,...

ars technica has an interesting post about BigString an e-mail service that allows you to send self-destructing e-mail messages. This could be the answer for those unfortunate souls who send e-mails at 4:00 am after the bars have closed or who forgot to spell check before they hit send to that job prospect! Maybe Conrad Black is the behind this little operation... or should have been aware of it! Anyway, I've not yet tried it but according to the site, "BigString allows a user to easily send, recall, erase, self-destruct and modify an email after it has been sent." Further they describe the service as "Our unique “Edit Sent Mail” feature allows you to recall, erase, add or delete attachments and self-destruct your emails after they have been sent." ars technica says that it works by basically storing an image of the e-mail, on BigString's servers, that the receiver gets a link to and the sender can at a preset interval or on a whim have the e-mail recalled, edited and resent, or self-destructed. The service apparently also allows you to track the e-mail as it is opened and forwarded elsewhere. Interesting concept, I'll give it a try and chime back later on what I think.

iPhone's use of Safari makes browser target

Independent Security Evaluators (ISE) of Baltimore has published an iPhone hack that targets the Safari web browser and would allow hackers to take over control of the handset via a Wi-Fi connection. The explanation giving in this article by the CBC sounds a little far reaching but not beyond the realm of possibility. According to the article "the hacker would have to create a network with the same name and encryption method as one the handset already uses", I guess it becomes more likely if the user is accustomed to surfing public Wi-Fis, which we can assume many users will. What makes this interesting is that the Safari browser has gone largely unnoticed by hackers and virus writers as has most Apple devices, now with the hype surrounding the iPhone I suspect we'll hear more of these stories. At least in this case it was researches who discovered the potential exploit and this will hopefully allow Apple to respond before any real damage is done.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Toronto dethrowned as Facebook's top community

We Canadians often joke that Toronto believes it's the center of the Universe and until last week Toronto ruled Facebook's Universe as the largest geographic network on the social networking site, but London has taken over with more than 810,000 users compared to Toronto's 705,000. Facebook officials are not sure why London leaped past Toronto which, they say, is growing at the same rate as the site's worldwide user base. Interestingly enough, Canadian users make up over 10% of the site's user population with more than 11 million logins in June of '07. The Globe and Mail has more.

What's in Red Bull anyway?

July's issue of Wired examines Red Bull and gives us a glimpse into what goes into the trendy little can of pick me up! Personally, I prefer Hype, Full Throttle, or dare I say it, Bawls (spare me the off hand remarks). Regardless of what your choice is, it's interesting the science that goes into the can. I'm interested in finding out a little more about inositol, which according to the article "is turning out to be a wonder drug that significantly reduces depression, panic attacks, agoraphobia, and obsessive- compulsive disorder".

Phishing for answers

Researchers at Indiana University are employing some questionable tactics in an attempt to understand how scammers succeed at duping people out of their personal information and why people are fooled by such scams. The experiment involves phishing for information from random unwilling participants and has raised the eyebrows of others who say the researchers are no better than the scammers themselves. The debate is an interesting one, can you actually get good results from such experiments if the subjects knew they were going to be phished or is there a better, more controlled way of conducting such experiment without duping people into participating? This Globe and Mail article has more.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

online domains still a hot property market

The industry has been around since the bubble days of the late 90's and it's heating up again. Domain names are being bought up and auctioned at a pace that is reminiscent of those glory days, only this time around it's the generic names that have caught all the attention. Back in the wild west days of the world wide web, before companies protected their property online, enterprising entrepreneurs bought up names and held them for ransom until the law got involved and cyber-squating was squashed. Now it's the generic names that are hot, domainers as they are known take advantage of the fact that many people type generic words into their browsers, put a ".com" on the end and hope the results will turn up what they are looking for. The owners fill their pages with context sensitive ads and hope to get paid by the click through or hope the domain gathers enough interest that it can later be sold or auctioned off. This Globe and Mail story discusses the concept in more detail and the numbers can be huge if you own the right property!

Webkinz stolen identities

The NY Times Bits blog is reporting that theft of the popular Webkinz plush toy's identity tags is becoming a real problem for the company who makes the toys and retailers alike. It is such a problem that some retailers are resorting to displaying the toys behind the cashiers in more secure locations. Let's make this clear, the thieves are not taking the stuffed animals, but just the uniquely numbered little paper tags that allow the purchasers access to the Webkinz website where they can play with a virtual replica of their toy. It seems that the online version is perhaps more popular than the toy itself, or at least a lot easier to pilfer.