Tag Archives: robot

Things 114: Kern Test, Robot Bird, Social Graph, Too Soon To Say

Puzzle
This week, try testing your ability to kern.

If you liked that, try the splines.

Video
It’s easy to get overexcited about human progress, when in the grand scheme of things we’re still pretty small fry. I would periodically remind myself of this by considering that for all our ingenuity, we still couldn’t make a robot the size of a bird that could fly like a bird. Thanks to the determined efforts of Festo, I’m going to need to come up with something else.

Link
I’ve seen this link crop up in a few places now, but for good reason – I think this is some really important stuff that we are collectively getting wrong on a large scale right now: “The Social Graph is Neither” by maciej.

Cutting large swathes of great text for concision, here’s my favourite part of the  argument:

[…] declaring relationships explicitly is a social act […] Social graph proponents seem uninterested in th[is] signaling problem. […] [and] how does cutting ties actually work socially? […]  In real life, all relationships fade naturally if you don’t maintain them, but right now social networks preserve ties in amber until we explicitly break them […] Can I unfollow my ex now, or is that going to make her think I’m still hung up on her?

[…] You might almost think that the whole scheme had been cooked up by a bunch of hyperintelligent but hopelessly socially naive people, and you would not be wrong.

However, after a lot of good stuff, it ends with something of a shrug:

It’s just a matter of waiting things out, and leaving ourselves enough freedom to find some interesting, organic, and human ways to bring our social lives online.

I’m not sure that’s quite the right way to put it. I don’t think it’s about bringing our social lives online. Its more about augmenting our social lives with online functionality that goes with the grain of human nature.

That said, leaving ourselves enough freedom is critical. Quite how we do that is a topic for another day.

Quote
In the early 1970’s, Richard Nixon asked Zhou Enlai what he thought of the French Revolution. Zhou notoriously responded:

It is too soon to say.

Which everyone thought was quite wonderfully representative of Chinese sagacity.

This year it emerged that the whole thing was a misunderstanding too delicious to invite correction, as Zhou thought Nixon was referring to the much more recent student riots in Paris.

But this doesn’t matter, because the misread quote still stands as a useful reminder that we should err towards taking a longer-term view when evaluating the benefits of things. On a similar note, Ben Hecht says:

Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.

Last Week’s Question
Last week I asked: when someone says “next Thursday” on a Monday, which Thursday do they mean?

Richard’s response was the same as mine – always clarify. However, where I was aware of two interpretations, he identified three [This part added thanks to Richard’s clarification – T.M. 25/11/11]:

I have come across three possible scenarios:

|

(a) this = first occurrence, next = second occurrence
(b) this = occurrence in the week you’re in, next = occurrence in the following week
(c) this = occurrence in the week you’re in, next = first occurrence

|

I don’t think anyone actually uses (a).
Personally I use (b).
I have met people who use (c).

|

To give some examples, on a Tuesday, referring to “This Monday”
and “Next Monday”.

|

(a) This Monday = 6 days times, Next Monday = 13 days time
(b) This Monday = -1 days time, Next Monday = 6 days time
(c) This Monday = -1 days time, Next Monday = 6 days time

|

I can’t think of anyone who would use (a).  (b) and (c) agree.

|

Another example, on a Tuesday, referring to “This Friday” and
“Next Friday”.

|

(a) This Friday = 3 days times, Next Friday = 10 days time
(b) This Friday = 3 days time, Next Friday = 10 days time
(c) This Friday = 3 days time, Next Friday = 3 days time

|

(a) is indistinguishable from (b), hence somewhere who is a (c)
might assume upon hearing (b) that their algorithm is actually
(a).  I would use (b).  I have met people who use (c).

However, I now wonder if this is paranoia – how divided are we really on this issue? Do the vast majority of people use one of these interpretations? My plan is to start to collect instances of people using this form of date referral, noting on which weekday it was said, and which day they were intending to refer to. I’ll report the results here when I have enough data, which may take a few years.

Things 56: Robot Hand, Earth and Moon, Magical Ground Squirrel Puzzle

(Originally sent August 2009)

Quote

“Most problems are side effects of solutions to other problems.” – Eskil Steenberg

Video
Once you have built a machine or robot that can do something, the really cool part is you can then see how fast it can do that thing. In the case of this astoundingly dextrous robot hand, the answer is: alarmingly fast.

Picture
A simple idea – a picture representing the earth, the moon, and the distance between them, in the correct proportion.

(Click for description and links to bigger versions):

Last Week’s puzzle
Why are ~10% of people left-handed?

Implicitly, the question is really why 10% instead of 50% or 100%, either of which would be intuitively more obvious (although you’d still wonder why it was one out of those two).

A frequently given answer is that in combat there is an advantage to having a handedness that most others don’t have, since you will be practiced at fighting opposite-handers whereas most of the competition will be practiced against fighting same-handers. An increased number of left-handed players succeeding in adversarial sports such as tennis is cited as evidence.

What’s fascinating about this argument is that it manages to sound convincing but it cannot possibly be the whole answer. If there was an advantage to being in the minority, and if that trait is genetic, then we would expect that over evolutionary time-scales a 50/50 split would emerge. (If fewer are left-handed and have a survival advantage by this argument, then more of the next generation will be left-handed, and so on until no advantage remains).

For the theory to work, there would need to be an evolutionary pressure that goes the opposite way, making left-handedness disadvantageous in some way, with the net effect of the two pressures to be a 10% incidence rate.

As it turns out, it seems we don’t have a definitive answer, but surveying the various theories and research presented in this wikipedia article below it seems to be connected to asymmetry in brain development (a deeper question in itself), with cultural effects (such as fighting) giving an additional skew in the short term.

This Week’s puzzle
There’s a very nice puzzle in quantum information theory. This is my attempt to set the same puzzle in less specialist terminology, and although it ends up being quite long, it does involve a magical ground squirrel.

There is an island in the centre of a large lake.

On the island is the entrance to a tunnel that goes deep underground to the imp underground city.

To the North and South of the lake are two evil imp warrior training centres.

To the East and West of the lake are two good imp warrior training centres.

There has recently been an imp general election, and they will either have elected a good leader or an evil one. 1,000 imp warriors will now be allocated a training centre, with exactly 500 allocated to each one. So, if an evil leader has been elected, 500 imp warriors will be assigned to the North training centre, and 500 the South training centre. If a good leader has been elected, 500 imp warriors will be assigned to the West training centre, and 500 to the East training centre.

You are a magical ground squirrel that lives on the island.

A pair of bridges connect the island to the lake shore in opposite directions.

Your magical power is exactly this: you can rotate the pair of bridges so they lie in any direction from the island, so long as they remain directly opposite one another. So you could choose to have one bridge head directly North and one directly South, or one directly North-West and the other directly South-East, and so on. However, you must never use your magic when an imp is on the island or a bridge, as they will notice and put you in their magical animal zoo.

The 1,000 imp warriors are about to be sent out, one each hour, to go to their respective training centres. Imps are highly random creatures, and they also have a pretty amazing sense of direction. They will be coming out in a random order, and they will head along the bridge that most closely matches the direction of their training centre. If the bridges seem to be perpendicular to the direction they want to go (for example, if the bridges lie East and West and the imp wants to go North) then the imp will pick a bridge at random.

Using only your magical ground squirrel powers, what is the best way to work out whether the imps have elected a good or evil leader?

(Note: this is not intended as a lateral thinking puzzle! You just have to decide how to rotate the bridges and interpret the resulting imp behaviour. But I suppose you could try solving it laterally as well. P.S. Imps can cross a bridge in under half an hour).

Things 47: Flying Robot Penguins, Hamster Wheel Projection, Space Stick

(Originally sent May 2009)

Film
I saw Wolverine. I found it to be acceptable. I was particularly impressed that they held almost all shots of the enjoyably over-the-top climactic battle back from the trailer.

Video
In this video there are giant flying robot penguins, after the small swimming robot penguins, after the pre-roll ad, after the video loads. But worth the wait.

Link
Since the media make it very difficult to tell if a manageable disease outbreak has grown into a rampant society-threatening pandemic of doom, here’s a map that collects data on the progress of Swine Flue cases.

Semiotically speaking, the size of the circles when zoomed out subconsciously suggests a more severe situation than is actually the case, but zooming in quickly brings things into perspective.

Quotes
Going through my old archive of things-I-heard-people-say-and-wrote-down recently, I found a cluster of baffling utterances all made by the same individual, who shall remain nickless. Er, I mean nameless.

“I’ll take your word for it – but I’m still not convinced.”

“Is it one of those things you can only see when you look at it?”

“I don’t like shopping, it’s really boring. Except when you’re buying something for yourself… or someone else.”

Picture
I’ve come across this three times this week, but feel compelled to add to its viral propagation. Here and There is a “horizonless projection” map of Manhattan, which some have more intuitively described as a “hamster wheel projection”.

Previous Puzzle – The Inconvenient Hobby

Last time I asked for a time-based goal that can easily become part of a routine but sits somewhere between once-a-day and once-a-week. Given some of the answers, it became clear I hadn’t emphasised the ‘easy’ part sufficiently!

One answer was to tie different aspects of the same goal to different days of the week For example, if the goal is to exercise 3 times a week then one could do three activities once a week each, assigning each one to a particular day of the week.

My own answer has been to create a spreadsheet which automatically pops up when I boot up my PC and tells me how many days have elapsed since I last did the six things I’m trying to do with non-trivial frequencies, and whether that exceeds my target number of days to elapse for each one. Or at least, that will be my solution, but I haven’t got around to implementing it yet, which perhaps speaks to a greater problem.

Puzzle – the Space Stick
Information cannot travel faster than the speed of light. If it did, you just need to apply a bit of special relativity (not even general relativity) and you quickly get paradoxes. There’s a deeper argument to be made there, but trust me, if information could travel faster than the speed of light, It Would Be Bad, in the Ghostbustersian sense.

(Side note: that link was an example of something Kevin Kelly has spoken about – bringing the tools we have for literacy (cut and paste, footnoting, referencing) to moving pictures. Unfortunately the audio is very quiet on the YouTube video I linked to so it probably doesn’t quite work, but it’s close. See http://kk.org/ct2/2008/06/tools-for-vizuality.php )

[We now see further problems interfering as the video has been taken down. It linked to the utterance of the phrase “that would be bad” in Ghostbusters. – T.M. 30/4/11]

Unfortunately this important speed limit on information transfer seems to break if you have an extremely long stick.

It’s difficult to state the problem both precisely and concisely, but here we go:

Imagine you are at one point in space and your friend is one light-year away. You are about to have a baby and your friend will want to know if it is a boy or a girl as soon as possible. If you were to send this message at the speed of light, which is incredibly fast, it would still take one year for the message to reach them, since you are one light-year apart.

Anticipating this issue, you have got hold of a Space Stick, which is one light-year long and as rigid and low-mass as a substance can possibly be. With the Space Stick spanning the distance between you and your friend, you arrange for it to sit above a button that activates a buzzer at their end, the idea being that you simply press on your end of the Space Stick and the button is pressed pretty much instantaneously.

With a pre-arranged code (tap for a boy, long press for a girl) it seems as if this could be used to transmit information faster than light. Why could it never work?

Things 47

Film

I saw Wolverine. I found it to be acceptable. I was particularly impressed that they held almost all shots of the enjoyably over-the-top climactic battle back from the trailer.

Video

In this video there are giant flying robot penguins, after the small swimming robot penguins, after the pre-roll ad, after the video loads. But worth the wait.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn16996-bionic-penguins-take-to-the-water–and-the-skies.html

Link

Since the media make it very difficult to tell if a manageable disease outbreak has grown into a rampant society-threatening pandemic of doom, here’s a map that collects data on the progress of Swine Flue cases:

http://flutracker.rhizalabs.com/

Semiotically speaking, the size of the circles when zoomed out subconsciously suggests a more severe situation than is actually the case, but zooming in quickly brings things into perspective.

Quotes

Going through my old archive of things-I-heard-people-say-and-wrote-down recently, I found a cluster of baffling utterances all made by the same individual, who shall remain nickless. Er, I mean nameless.
“I’ll take your word for it – but I’m still not convinced.”

“Is it one of those things you can only see when you look at it?”

“I don’t like shopping, it’s really boring. Except when you’re buying something for yourself… or someone else.”

Picture

I’ve come across this three times this week, but feel compelled to add to its viral propagation. Here and There is a “horizonless projection” map of Manhattan, which some have more intuitively described as a “hamster wheel projection”:

http://schulzeandwebb.com/hat/

Previous Puzzle – The Inconvenient Hobby

Last time I asked for a time-based goal that can easily become part of a routine but sits somewhere between once-a-day and once-a-week. Given some of the answers, it became clear I hadn’t emphasised the ‘easy’ part sufficiently!

One answer was to tie different aspects of the same goal to different days of the week For example, if the goal is to exercise 3 times a week then one could do three activities once a week each, assigning each one to a particular day of the week.

My own answer has been to create a spreadsheet which automatically pops up when I boot up my PC and tells me how many days have elapsed since I last did the six things I’m trying to do with non-trivial frequencies, and whether that exceeds my target number of days to elapse for each one. Or at least, that will be my solution, but I haven’t got around to implementing it yet, which perhaps speaks to a greater problem.

Puzzle – the Space Stick

Information cannot travel faster than the speed of light. If it did, you just need to apply a bit of special relativity (not even general relativity) and you quickly get paradoxes. There’s a deeper argument to be made there, but trust me, if information could travel faster than the speed of light, It Would Be Bad, in the Ghostbustersian sense.

[Side note: that link was an example of something Kevin Kelly has spoken about – bringing the tools we have for literacy (cut and paste, footnoting, referencing) to moving pictures. Unfortunately the audio is very quiet on the YouTube video I linked to so it probably doesn’t quite work, but it’s close. See http://kk.org/ct2/2008/06/tools-for-vizuality.php ]

Unfortunately this important speed limit on information transfer seems to break if you have an extremely long stick.

It’s difficult to state the problem both precisely and concisely, but here we go:

Imagine you are at one point in space and your friend is one light-year away. You are about to have a baby and your friend will want to know if it is a boy or a girl as soon as possible. If you were to send this message at the speed of light, which is incredibly fast, it would still take one year for the message to reach them, since you are one light-year apart.

Anticipating this issue, you have got hold of a Space Stick, which is one light-year long and as rigid and low-mass as a substance can possibly be. With the Space Stick spanning the distance between you and your friend, you arrange for it to sit above a button that activates a buzzer at their end, the idea being that you simply press on your end of the Space Stick and the button is pressed pretty much instantaneously.

With a pre-arranged code (tap for a boy, long press for a girl) it seems as if this could be used to transmit information faster than light. Why could it never work?

Things 40: Big Dog Robot, Movie Marketing, Facebook Principles

(Originally sent February 2009)

For those that are new or may have forgotten, ‘Things’ is intended to be weekly, I’ve just been abnormally busy recently. I’m getting this one done by adding bits in stages throughout the week, but since it has somehow become much longer than usual it has actually taken more than a week for these incremental efforts to add up…

Movies
The movie Push was much better than I had expected, being unusually well thought-out and executed for the genre.

My review:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MnfrIiDwsoo

I’m currently undecided on which I want to see of these two films:

The Unborn – implementing all ‘best practice’ horror cliches
(IMDb 4.8/10! Rotten Tomatoes 13%!)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sc3Cba0qOco

Franklyn – Possibly ‘Bridge to Terabithia’ for adults, but less mature
(IMDb 7.8/10 Rotten Tomatoes N/A)

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=juRFUVTHQJI

(Don’t forget you can switch off YouTube annotations via the icon in the bottom right)
[Much later I did eventually see Franklyn. Unfortunately I don’t recommend it. – T.M. 20/2/11]

Video
‘Big Dog': Once again, technology jumps forward a bit faster than I was expecting, this time in robotic quadrapedal locomotion:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cHJJQ0zNNOM

Link
I found this New Yorker article on the marketing of movies absolutely fascinating.

Warning – long article! Recommend consumption in chunks!

Excerpts:

“Publicity is selling what you have: the film’s stars and sometimes its director. Marketing, very often, is selling what you don’t have; it’s the art of the tease.”

“Even as movie attendance has dropped nineteen per cent from its peak of 1.6 billion theatregoers, in 2002, the number of films released each year since then has increased by thirty per cent. A dozen new films—three of them big studio releases—now vie for attention on any given weekend. To cut through the ambient noise, major studios spend an average of thirty-six million dollars to market one of their films.”

(Note that the average is probably the wrong figure to consider – a handful of gargantuan budgets will massively distort it. I would guess the median figure might be around 10 million dollars based on similar power-law distributions)

“the industry-standard multiplier for ultimate box-office—two and a half times the opening weekend’s gross”

Quote
Nat Torkington of O’Reilly Radar, on the trend for applications and data to be run and stored in the ‘cloud’ (the external network, e.g. Google Docs or webmail) rather than your own computer:

“Data in the cloud can be a privacy problem, because you’ve outsourced your privacy, so you’re vulnerable to attack not just from hackers but also from governments, competitors, and incompetence.”

Taken from a very important but annoyingly presented talk you can click through (yes, talk you can click through, that’s why it’s annoying) here:

http://radar.oreilly.com/2008/11/web-meets-world-privacy-and-th.html

Puzzle – previous
Last time I asked what people thought digital cinema projection combined with mobile phone interaction might cause to happen. Here’s some of what came out…

Storytelling used to be interactive with the storyteller flexing the way the story is told depending on audience reaction – this sort of thing becomes possible again. The mood could be flexed (perhaps with the soundtrack – dynamically generating suitable music is something already being used in video games), lines changed, or even the ending. But where does the input come from?

Live ‘what happens next’ competitions with prizes for audience members (!) and for scriptwriters…

Crowd-source optimisation of the presentation – up/down volume, focus, alignment. (I heard some cinemas in the US already do this – a few chairs in the auditorium are equipped for the audience member to give instant feedback on these issues, or it may have just been a single button that means ‘something is wrong’)

Product placement: can be localised (different product appears in same film when shown in different countries, or different locations in those countries), or placed on the screen in real time using some kind of eye-tracking, and optimised using mood-measurement, and cinema temperature control!!

Personally I suspect it will go through a process of hype (a few gimmicky movies where you can choose the ending, a rush of adverts with some kind of audience interaction tacked on), it will rely on sponsorship from a mobile operator (probably Orange), and it may ultimately fail because Cinema is a ‘sit back’ medium, rather than a ‘sit forward’ inherently interactive one like the web. (TV is a ‘sit back’ medium, which is why nobody presses ‘the red button’).

Or maybe I’m wrong – apparently the statistics actually show that 11 million people press that button every week, and a ‘killer app’ that we haven’t thought of could always emerge in interactive cinema and transform the entire medium.

Puzzle – this week
This just in – Facebook are taking what I consider to be an incredibly significant step in that they are now approaching their terms of service in a way similar to the US Constitution:

http://blog.facebook.com/blog.php?post=56566967130

Their proposals for a ‘statement of rights and responsibilities‘ and ‘Facebook Principles‘ are currently up for debate.

There are three parts which I think work very interestingly together:

Principle 1. Freedom to Share and Connect
People should have the freedom to share whatever information they want, in any medium and any format, and have the right to connect online with anyone – any person, organization or service – as long as they both consent to the connection.

Digital technology has blurred the line between ‘information’ and ‘content’. As such, the very first principle sounds as if it endorses p2p file sharing…

R&R 2.3 For content that is covered by intellectual property rights (like photos and videos), you specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use, copy, publicly perform or display, distribute, modify, translate, and create derivative works of (“use”) any content you post on or in connection with Facebook. This license ends when you delete your content or your account.

Facebook need your permission to share your content with those you want to share it with, certainly, but imagining them modifying and then publicly performing it sounds a bit strange (I’m imagining a personal photo being photoshopped in some bizarre way and then paraded around Tokyo on a sandwich board with a strange slogan in order to promote Facebook) – and the idea that they will then stop such a thing as soon as you ‘delete your content’ is also hard to imagine…

R&R 5.1 You will not post content or take any action on Facebook that infringes someone else’s rights or otherwise violates the law.

Does this contradict Principle 1? Does that matter?

A picture
After an unusually intense edition of Things, here’s a nice little story and picture from the surprisingly entertaining Cake Wrecks blog.