Archive for the ‘Fun’ Category

DustBot: R2D2 cleans up

December 9, 2008


Talking of robots I came across the following whilst touring the exhibition hall at last month’s conference. The DustBot project aims to improve urban hygiene by developing a network of autonomous, but co-operating, cleaning robots. There are two types: the cleaning robot is equipped with things like a vacuum cleaner whilst the dustcart robot (see photo) is an ‘on-demand’ service that lets you drop a full bin liner into its holder and then carries it away.

Apart from investigating general aspects of robotics it turns out that there is also a pressing need for a system that can handle rubbish collection from the really old, touristy parts of European cities. In places like these there’s often no space for bins and the dustcarts just can’t fit down the narrow streets.

There are going to be five demonstrators set up in cities in Italy, Spain and Sweden, but I’m toying with the idea of requesting a sixth, in Nottingham, to be tested in an ‘industrial’ environment. I reckon it’s just what we need in the office. I can sit here, finishing off a packet or two of sandwiches, and then call up DustBot for a spot of post-prandial waste disposal. Who knows, I might even get a bit of light dusting into the bargain.


Laugh? I nearly (didn’t) get cited

October 29, 2008

Two Israeli academics have found that the use of humour in the title of a scientific paper can be seriously detrimental to the number of citations received. Since academics increasingly live or die by the number of citations their work receives this news could seriously affect the levels of humour in the science and technology worlds.

Itay Sagi and Eldad Yechiam looked at a range of papers published over a number of years in two leading psychology journals. They had small teams of judges who reviewed paper titles and rated them for amusement levels. The citations of papers were then compared and the team found that the use of an exceptionally amusing title was “associated with a substantiate ‘penalty’ of around 33% of the total number of citations”. This was after other possible variable factors had been eliminated. Their full paper appears in the Journal of Information Science’s October edition.

Reviewing the results, the two academics postulate various reasons for this, including the obvious one that people might think humorous pieces are somehow less professional or worthy than other titles. But they also mention that a humorous title is less likely to include the professional keywords that make searching for an article online or in a database just that bit easier. I thought this was interesting given a piece that was published in yesterday’s Guardian Education about the increasing role of online journals. In this article it was noted that academic papers now have a tendency to have more tedious titles which attempt to cram in as many all-important professional keywords as possible.

Given that this blog hopes to inject the occasional burst of humour into the world of technology, this probably means that my days are numbered.

So, farewell then Bill Gates

June 27, 2008

Throughout my entire career in the computer industry Bill Gates has been an omnipresence as Microsoft bent the industry around it like a giant star bends gravity. He retires today. These days that star is arguably beginning to fade as the post-PC era takes shape and so perhaps he is bowing out at the right time.

There is so much that could be said about Gates and his work, and no doubt there will be acres of coverage in the print and online media this weekend. However, in the best and slightly irreverent traditions of this blog (and because it’s Friday), here are three things you perhaps didn’t know about Bill Gates and probably won’t read this weekend:

  • His favourite subject at school was geography
  • He was once sent by his parents to see a psychiatrist because they thought he was an underachiever
  • He enjoys butter pecan ice cream

Star Wars: the road movie

April 29, 2008

Every self-respecting computer geek of my generation can tell you precisely where they were at the moment it happened. Sitting in the dark, blinking at the screen, when suddenly the enormous bulk of a Galactic Empire battle ship thunders across the empty night sky of a galaxy far, far away…

It’s the opening scene of the original Star Wars film of 1977 of course, and I was 13 and sitting in the long-gone Odeon cinema, Birmingham. The scene quite literally took my breath away.

It’s a pleasant memory of a time when a film fired the imagination of my teenage mind, but my interest pales into some kind of interstellar insignificance compared to that of one Ernie Cline of Austin, Texas. A self-confessed complete Star Wars nut, he has written and directed “Fanboys”, a comedy, road-movie-meets-geek film in which a group of hard-core Star Wars fans travel across America in a pizza van, converted to look like the Millennium Falcon, on a mission to break into George Lucas’s famous SkyWalker Range in order to steal early rushes of the next Star Wars film.

Initially begun as a labour-of-love amateur film project it’s been picked up by Kevin Spacey and given the full Hollywood support complete with walk-on parts featuring William Shatner and Carrie Fisher. The full story is told in this month’s Wired and there’s more detail at Movie Insider and a trailer on YouTube.

I predict an inter-galactic smash hit.

World’s first computer animation?

April 10, 2008

I was at a computer conference the other day where this YouTube clip was shown. It shows “The Kitte”, a 1967 animation by the Russian, Niklaevich Konstantinov, and is described as the “first animated sequence using a computer”.

What’s interesting is that it is not quite clear how this animation was generated. It was posted by UnFathomable42 who says that as far as he is aware it was entirely generated by computer. However, if you read the comments that follow the video, there are several people who argue that what actually happened is that the computer printed out a series of pictures of the cat onto paper and these were then animated in traditional fashion by taking a film camera shot of each picture to form each frame.

See what you think. It’s not quite Rhubarb and Custard, but the cat walking along is fairly impressive. But is it genuine? I’d love to know more about this clip’s history if anyone has other historical information.

A geek flowchart

March 11, 2008

Continuing the theme of Gary Gygax and Dungeons and Dragons, I see there is also an obituary in the New York Times, which includes a spoof flowchart of the life of the typical geek, beginning with early exposure to D+D.

It seems from the flowchart (bottom left hand corner of the full diagram) that, since I am now blogging about the diagram, I am one short step away from being in a basement, by myself, in the dark.

If only this were true. A bit of peace and quiet wouldn’t go amiss.

So farewell then to the twelve-sided dice

March 10, 2008

I was sadden to hear the news that Gary Gygax, co-inventor of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game, has died. I confess that, like many computer scientists of my generation, I was an active player in my youth and I had one of the first copies of the UK version of the game. Although 1970s Britain may have been a grey and grim place of mass unemployment and stagflation, the game easily transported me to a magical land of dragons, trolls, swords, sorcery and heroes.

These games involved nothing more sophisticated than a group of people, lots of pens, graph paper, bags of imagination and of course the famous multi-sided dice collection. Computer scientists tend to have a reputation of being rather anti-social types who like to hide in cupboards but role-playing games could be intensely social and I’ve been involved in truly raucous games with a dozen or more players.

As far as I can tell D+D (as it was known) is the basis of the vast majority of modern computer games. I was interested to read in Gary’s obituary in the Guardian that although he accepted that computer games were inevitable he wasn’t that enamoured with them, preferring the sociability of the original role playing game. He is quoted as saying: “Your imagination is not there the same way it is when you’re actually together with a group of people”.

Microsoft hitchhikes to the stars

March 3, 2008

Last week I was at a conference of digital geographers. There was much talk of how Google Earth has changed the public’s appreciation of their subject, but now Microsoft seem have gone one better.

The company is to launch a new tool called WorldWide Telescope. This uses computer visualisation techniques to hitch together feeds from a number of different satellites and scientific telescopes to create a navigable image of the universe – stars, solar systems and galaxies. It is described in Microsoft’s pre-launch video as providing “a kind of magic carpet that lets you navigate the universe”.

It’s going to be freely available from Spring 2008. All we need now is a guide with “Don’t Panic” written on the front cover.

Web Mug

December 19, 2007

A while ago I blogged about Pantone mugs. At Web safe mugthe time I cracked a cheesy joke about having a mug that was Web- and dishwasher-safe and, guess what, my dream has come true. Nottingham-based Good for Geeks have waved their magic wand and created a mug with all the Web safe colours on it. To say thank you for giving them the idea they have even given me my own complimentary mug (pictured). If you want one, though, I’m afraid you’ll have to pay for it.

Tech Bubble 2.0 – the anthem

December 5, 2007

Here is a laugh out loud, satirical YouTube video by Richter Scales on the dawning Web 2.0 technology stock bubble that has come via Kara Swisher of the Wall Street Journal.

I suggest that you are not eating lunch or sipping hot coffee from a mug when you hit play. It could get messy!