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Saturday, January 19, 2008

First America's Army, Now The Right Stuff?

NASA has reportedly put out a Request for Information (RFI) for organizations interested in developing a platform for a Massively Multi player Online Game (MMO) aimed at students and would "simulate real Nasa engineering and science missions". According to the document "The MMO will foster career exploration opportunities in a much deeper way than reading alone would permit and at a fraction of the time and cost of an internship program." This is not the first time that a US agency has turned to such tactics, the US armed forces has produced and has maintained a first person shooter "America's Army" for a number of years as a recruiting tool and it is said to be "the most popular computer games in the world", of course it is a free download and of exceptional quality for a freebie. For NASA the MMO would not be it's first foray into virtual worlds as they maintain an Island in Second Life "where individuals and groups with an interest in the space programme can meet, share ideas and conduct experiments." The BBC has More here.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Facebook Asked to Remove Scrabulous

From the "I can't believe it's taken them this long" department comes the news that Hasbro and Mattel have reportedly asked Facebook to remove Scrabulous, an obvious rip-off of the popular boardgame, from its application directory. Scrabulous has a large following and, in true Facebook fashion, "Save Scrabulous"Facebook groups have been established in a effort to save the game. The largest having more than 30,000 members! According to Cnet, both sides of the debate are being tight lipped, so you can be sure that the lawyers are being kept busy. Why don't Hasbro / Mattel just buy out the company and take the half million users? I suppose that might set an ugly precedent...

Robot Art

This may be a little late, or a whole lot early, but it's fun to watch just the same. BoingBoing found this YouTube video of a robot performing a Nativity Play and I think it's worth passing along, even if the holidays are a fading memory now...

Thursday, January 17, 2008

ISP Plans Trial of Pay-Per-Use High Speed Internet

Time Warner Cable Inc. announced yesterday that they were planning a trial to bill their High Speed Internet subscribers based on their amount of usage rather than the typical flat monthly fee. According to a Globe and Mail article, 5% of Time Warner's subscribers account for over 50% of network bandwidth usage and the pay-per-use model should only affect those users. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds; perhaps I'm over simplifying this but wouldn't the other 95% of the current subscribers expect to see their rates stay the same or decrease? I wonder how many Time Warner Cable subscribers will start jumping ship? It seems to me that whenever a company changes their revenue model it does not bode well for the consumer... their attempt at curbing the appetite of the 5% that are heavy users may come at the expense of their average subscriber. You can be sure that if they get away with this, others will be quick to follow.

Monkey Controls Robot With Mind

Researchers at Duke University in North Carolina and at the Computational Brain Project of the Japan Science and Technology have collaborated on a project that hopes to develop prosthetic limbs which people with disabilities might one day be able to control mentally. The folks at Duke have "attached electrodes to one of two rhesus monkeys to monitor their brain activities, recording the brain cell responses as the monkey walked on a treadmill at various speeds while simultaneously sensors on the monkey's legs tracked the movements." The signals are sent to a 1.55-metre-tall robot in a laboratory in Kyoto and as the monkey walked, so, too, did the robot. Sounds very promising! In fact the monkey was able to control the robot even after the treadmill they were walking on was stopped, using only visual queues of the robot. The CBC has the complete story.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Ron Paul's New Hampshire Recall Foiled by PayPal

TechCrunch has posted an interesting story about US Presidential hopeful Ron Paul's supporters being unable to post the necessary funds to invoke a recount in New Hampshire because their PayPal account was mysteriously frozen at the last minute. A group of supporters called The Granny Warriors successfully raised the $55,600 required to be lodged with the New Hampshire Secretary of State yesterday but the suspension of their account by PayPal caused them to miss the governments deadline. Let the conspiracy theories begin!

Follow the story here as it develops.

Software Trained to Determine Meaning of Dogs Bark

Hungarian researcher Csaba Molnár from Eötvös Loránd University has developed software in an attempt to determine what a dog's bark means. According to "The software has learned the nuances of woofs, howls, yaps, snarls and growls in various situations and is now able to classify dog barks with reasonable accuracy, along with the identity of the animals themselves." Molnár says "If we could find the acoustic characteristics of barks which reflect to certain emotional states of dogs we could gain information about the dogs' "well-being" which would have several applications on the animal welfare field." but don't get too excited, the accuracy is only 43% in detecting six different states: 'stranger', 'fight', 'walk', 'alone', 'ball' and 'play' and the research has only been conducted on one breed. No word on when they'll try to figure out cats!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

New MacBook and Backup Drive Introduced at Macworld

A slim new notebook computer and a wireless hard drive are the big products being introduced at this years Macworld. While not the big announcement of last year's iPhone, the MacBook Air is touted as the "world’s thinnest notebook." “We’ve built the world’s thinnest notebook—without sacrificing a full-size keyboard or a full-size 13-inch display,” Steve Jobs is quoted as saying in an Apple news release. “When you first see MacBook Air, it’s hard to believe it’s a high-performance notebook with a full-size keyboard and display. But it is.”

Apple's Time Capsule is an 802.11 n WiFi enabled base station / hard drive that is available in either 500 GB or 1 TB models. According to the Apple website "Time Capsule is a revolutionary backup device that works wirelessly with Time Machine in Mac OS X Leopard. It automatically backs up everything..."

In addition Jobs has announced that there are some new software updates coming for the iPhone.

Photographer Allowed Into Worlds Not Viewed by Many

I've rediscovered my love for photography with the recent purchase of a Canon S5 IS. With this renewed affection, I find myself spending a lot of time on Flickr gazing at shots of all sorts of things and finding beauty in the strangest of subjects. I am definitely taking more pictures than ever before, and my photo abilities are benefiting from the practice and study of the works of others. Perhaps this is why I find this Wired article about photographer Taryn Simon so fascinating? Simon convinced authorities to grant her access to some very secretive research facilities and government offices usually hidden from the public and set about to photograph her exploits. There are some interesting pictures even though some of the subjects are disturbing.

MySpace and States Agree on Safety Guidelines

According to the Globe and Mail, and many other sources, MySpace and 49 state Attorney's have agreed on a broad set of guidelines to help protect youth online. "MySpace, ..., agreed to take further steps to ensure safety, including developing an e-mail registry that would allow parents to prohibit their children from creating an online profile for the network, according to the attorneys general." With 110 million global users and much popularity with the younger set, MySpace was a natural target for the states. “This is an industry-wide challenge and we must all work together to create a safer Internet,” MySpace Chief Security Officer Hemanshu Nigam said in a statement. Texas was the only holdout state.

Monday, January 14, 2008

No iPhone for Chinese Market

G4's The Feed blog is reporting that talks between Apple and China's largest cellphone provider China Mobile have broken off with no explanation. Apple had been hoping to tap into the 350 million user market but it doesn't look good! Perhaps the revenue sharing model is not as appealing to China Mobile as it was to AT&T?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gizmodo Punks CES - Reaction Mixed

In this post, Gizmodo comes clean on pranking CES and provide a video as proof. Apparently armed with a TV-B-Gone remote control device, they ran amok turning screens off through out the show. The really interesting thing is the reaction they received in the comments to their post. I'm along with the group who laughed a bit but think they crossed the line in messing with the Motorola presentation. I'm constantly telling my children that a joke is only funny the first time or two, and gets really annoying after that. Interfering with someones presentation is, in my mind, taking things too far! We used to have a saying when I worked in the mining industry... "don't mess with any one's paycheck or their lunch" and in this case some body's paycheck could very well be on the line. To quote SNEAKY from the comments "Have fun getting press passes to another trade show."

I Love Lego Mindstorms!

While I was in Florida I had a chance to visit the Lego Store at Downtown Disney. To my dismay they did not stock the Mindstorms NXT, I'd probably be building robots and not blogging otherwise. I could have spent hours there, but it was busy and we had plenty more to see. Here is a great Mindstorms project that showed up on YouTube:

and here is a picture I shot at the Lego Store:

Canon S5 IS

I've posted some pics from our vacation at Disney World in Orlando to my Flickr site, more to come but just wanted to say that I'm really loving my Canon S5 IS. Many of the shots in the set that I've uploaded where taken during the Safari at Animal Kingdom. If you've ever been on the Safari you'll know that the vehicles never stop... so these shots were taken while in motion! I'm very pleased with the results.

King of beasts

Stealthy Windows Virus Looks For Bank Info

The BBC Is reporting that security experts are worried about a particularly stealthy new virus that seems to be after bank account info. The Mebroot virus as it has been dubbed is a rootkit virus that hides itself deep in the Master Boot Record and later downloads other malicious programs such as key loggers in an attempt to hijack banking information. It is suspected that a Russian hacking group is behind the virus which was detected on about 5,000 machines in December, mostly in Europe. The virus installs itself via booby-trapped websites that use vulnerabilities in Internet Explorer. Yet again another reason to use Firefox!