Category: Geek

A mother’s tale about her son, autism — and Siri

Just how bad a mother am I? I wondered, as I watched my 13-year-old son deep in conversation with Siri. Gus has autism, and Siri, Apple’s “intelligent personal assistant” on the iPhone, is currently his B.F.F. Obsessed with weather formations, Gus had spent the hour parsing the difference between isolated and scattered thunderstorms — an hour in which, thank God, I didn’t have to discuss them. After a while I heard this:

Gus: “You’re a really nice computer.”

Siri: “It’s nice to be appreciated.”

Gus: “You are always asking if you can help me. Is there anything you want?”

Siri: “Thank you, but I have very few wants.”

Gus: “O.K.! Well, good night!”

Siri: “Ah, it’s 5:06 p.m.”

Gus: “Oh sorry, I mean, goodbye.”

Siri: “See you later!”

That Siri. She doesn’t let my communications-impaired son get away with anything. Indeed, many of us wanted an imaginary friend, and now we have one. Only she’s not entirely imaginary.

This is a love letter to a machine. It’s not quite the love Joaquin Phoenix felt in “Her,” last year’s Spike Jonze film about a lonely man’s romantic relationship with his intelligent operating system (played by the voice of Scarlett Johansson). But it’s close. In a world where the commonly held wisdom is that technology isolates us, it’s worth considering another side of the story.

Read on! Long, informative, interesting.

I’ve always talked to machines. The conversation moved from cars to electronics to computers. Record-keeping has become data-mining. The river of experience has reached a rapidly broadening delta.

Gus: “Goodnight, Siri. Will you sleep well tonight?”

Siri: “I don’t need much sleep, but it’s nice of you to ask.”

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Lessons Jony Ive learned from Steve Jobs


Early days at Apple

“Steve [Jobs] was the most remarkably focused person I ever met in my life,” Apple’s senior vice president of design Jonathan Ive told Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter during the closing event of Vanity Fair’s New Establishment Summit in San Francisco.

“The thing with focus is that it’s not this thing you aspire to, like: ‘Oh, on Monday I’m going to be focused,’” said Ive, who rarely gives interviews. “It’s every single minute: ‘Why are we talking about this when we’re supposed to be talking about this?’”…

In addition to learning from Jobs about the importance of focus and of prioritizing the product over emotions, Ive said he “learned the whereabouts of a lot of rubbish hotels when we traveled…”

The wide-ranging conversation also touched on the size of Apple’s core design team (just 16 people, and they still begin their process with drawings), the new iPhone (Ive said its rounded edges make the bigger screen feel “less wide”) and the new Apple watch, which Ive described as the culmination of hundreds of years of function-first thinking.

“Why a watch and why not a pendant?” asked Carter.

Over the years, Ive replied, people learned that time pieces work best when they’re worn on the wrist. “It’s a really great place to glance quickly, for information,” Ive continued. “When we started working on it, it seemed like a natural, obvious place for the technology to end up…”

Ive said his team was focused on the here and now. “I don’t think we think about designing for a point in time. We hope that if it is truly simple, and we do a good job, then it will endure…”

I guess I’ve cared about design going back to early years as a motorhead. I followed Formula One racing, gran premio, since the early 1950’s – through the transition from pre-war concepts of engineering and aeronatutics into the grace and function of the Mercedes Silver Arrows. The same happened with sports cars in the period starting with Cisitalia and the bodywork of Bertone.

I still own an early aluminum-framed Olivetti portable typewriter. There are other examples. It starts as simply as looking at something made by human design, respecting functionability, understanding the blending of the two as design.

There’s lots of crap masquerading as industrial design. It falls by the wayside over time. Most of what’s discussed in the article stems from the interaction of Ive and Jobs. Some, of course, goes back to school days and beyond. It’s all of interest.

Audi sedan ready for fast laps at German Gran Prix circuit — without a driver

Two years ago, the idea of driverless cars on our roads seemed crazy to many people. Today, the technology is being built into our cars, and a driverless Audi RS7 is set to lap Hockenheim at the same pace as a professional racing driver. The event on October 19 will show just how far driverless cars have come.

Audi has been working on autonomous vehicles for a number of years. In 2009, it tested a driverless Audi TTS on the Bonneville Salt Flats. In 2010 that TTS drove the Pikes Peak mountain race circuit in Colorado, followed by some impressive laps on California’s Thunderhill Raceway in 2012. Back then, the TTS couldn’t quite keep up with the pro drivers, but the RS7 is able to do just that.

Although Audi has received licenses for testing its driverless cars on public roads in Florida and California, the company says that the race track is the most demanding place for testing driverless cars. This, it says, is due to the high levels of precision and entire lack of errors that are required. The RS7 will use “specially corrected GPS signals for orientation on the track” that are accurate to within 1 cm and will receive data via WLAN or high-frequency radio should the need for fallback arise…

The automaker claims that the technologies it is developing for driverless cars will be featuring in vehicles by the end of this decade. These technologies will include cars’ ability to take over steering and acceleration when they’re in a traffic jam and automatic parking maneuvering.

The lap of Audi’s driverless RS7 around Hockenheim will be broadcast on the company’s website on October 19.

Old-timey motorheads like me will be waiting and watching.

Super-centenarian lies about her age because of mediocre Facebook code

Anna Stoehr
Click to enlarge

When silver surfer Anna Stoehr decided to join Facebook on the eve of her 114th birthday, she came across an oversight which Mark Zuckerberg and pals may not have anticipated.

Anna noticed 1900, the year she was born, was not listed as an option when she registered her date of birth to the site – that only stretches as far back as 1905.

So she was forced to do what countless other youngsters do every day to join the site, and lie about her her age…She got around the problem by knocking 15 years off her age and becoming, in the eyes of Facebook at least, a sprightly 99-year-old.

The supercentenarian’s interest in technology was piqued when she befriended Joseph Ramireza, a sales rep who had sold a phone to Anna’s 85-year-old son Harlan.

What followed was an unlikely friendship which saw Joseph visit Anna at her residential home in Minnesota, and teach her about the internet…Now a tech-savvy whizz, Anna can be found whiling her time away FaceTiming friends and family from her new iPad and connecting with friends on the social networking site.

With the help of Joseph, she has also drawn the problem to the attention of Mr Zuckerberg, writing a letter to the Facebook founder (on a typewriter) in which she says: ‘I’m still here.’

Seems like a reasonable goal to me. Facetime rocks! Too bad Facebook hasn’t a clue about age.

Thanks, Mike

ComputerCOP: lousy “Internet Safety Software” coppers are giving to families

For years, local law enforcement agencies around the country have told parents that installing ComputerCOP software is the “first step” in protecting their children online…

As official as it looks, ComputerCOP is actually just spyware, generally bought in bulk from a New York company that appears to do nothing but market this software to local government agencies.

The way ComputerCOP works is neither safe nor secure. It isn’t particularly effective either, except for generating positive PR for the law enforcement agencies distributing it. As security software goes, we observed a product with a keystroke-capturing function, also called a “keylogger,” that could place a family’s personal information at extreme risk by transmitting what a user types over the Internet to third-party servers without encryption. That means many versions of ComputerCOP leave children (and their parents, guests, friends, and anyone using the affected computer) exposed to the same predators, identity thieves, and bullies that police claim the software protects against.

Furthermore, by providing a free keylogging program—especially one that operates without even the most basic security safeguards—law enforcement agencies are passing around what amounts to a spying tool that could easily be abused by people who want to snoop on spouses, roommates, or co-workers.

Producers of many versions of this crap software include bald-faced lies about capabilities, safety and legality as FAQs. Often, of course, coppers distributing this crap are disingenuous enough to think they’re providing a real public service.

They ain’t.

This is a long well-researched article about law enforcement being hustled, mostly by outsiders. Misconceptions and incompetence about what is legal and ethical also play a role within policing agencies. RTFA and, perhaps, consider checking out the local heat and updating them – if they’ve been suckered.

Thanks, Mike

Why is this 1939 Dodge pickup so quiet?

One thing you can say about Al Gajda without much fear of contradiction: he has the quietest truck in Lexington, Kentucky.

Some trucks rattle your windows when they pass. Others are so loud that children cower in fear and brave dogs run for cover.

But even newborns sleep in perfect peace when Gajda drives past in his 1939 Dodge pickup. It makes hardly a whisper.

To a casual observer, the Dodge looks like nothing more than just an old truck that runs particularly smoothly. The secret lies underneath.

It’s an electric truck.

Electrical vehicles are catching on in dealer showrooms today as gasoline becomes ever more expensive and environmental concerns grow.

But Gajda, 74, didn’t buy his. He built it.

A mainly self-taught electronics wizard, he spent more than three years replacing the truck’s old six-cylinder flathead engine with a modern all-electric system built around a series wound direct current motor.

He’s driven the truck more than 5,000 miles since completing the work about a year ago.

“It’s my daily driver,” he said. “I take advantage of any excuse to drive it; just banging around town, errands, short runs on the interstate, delivering my granddaughter to school in the morning.”

Lots more about the truck in the article. Even more about Al Gajda. He’s led a heckuva interesting life, engineering and design in the world of technology – without ever getting round to latching onto a degree.

Effects of East Anglian breast screening on climate change

A newly appreciated problem — climate change, for example — can spur people to consider all sorts of possible remedies. This study appears to have been done in that spirit:

The authors, at the University of East Anglia and at Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, explain:

Health services contribute significantly to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and, while services in the UK are beginning to address this, the focus has been on reducing energy consumption rather than road transport, a major component of emissions. We aimed to compare the distances travelled by patients attending mobile breast screening clinics compared to the distance they would need to travel if screening services were centralized….

The availability of mobile breast screening clinics for the 60,675 women who underwent screening over a three-year cycle led to a return journey distance savings of 1,429,908 km. Taking into account the CO2 emissions of the tractor unit used for moving the mobile clinics around, this equates to approximately 75 tonnes of CO2 saved in any one year.

Gotta love unintended consequences when they turn out positive.

Dancing robot cheerleaders

The only thing better than state-of-the-arts robotics is when it’s combined with Force 9 cuteness. Japanese electronics company Murata Manufacturing has given us one example with the unveiling if its robotic Cheerleaders. The squad of ten ball-mounted robots uses advanced ultrasonics, infrared, and group control technology to perform synchronized dance routines with perfect stability.

The Murata Cheerleader stands 36 cm tall. The pom poms of the Murata Cheerleader are part of the balance system.

The Cheerleaders were built in collaboration with Matsuno Lab at Kyoto University and represent Murata’s fourth generation of robots. The design is based on the company’s bicycle-riding Murata Boy and unicycle-riding Murata Boy, though the Cheerleader robots are designed to represent “elementary school students full of energy and curiosity…”

Who says robots can’t be cute en masse?

Nissan unveils LEAF truck prototype

“If necessity is the mother of invention, engineers fuel that fire at Nissan’s Technical Center in Stanfield, Arizona. Here engineers are plentiful. They love to build things, test things and tinker with things. This team thinks a lot about “why not?” Recently they created a one-of-a-kind electric vehicle to haul supplies and people around on the tech center property. This is Sparky as he’s known around the campus. It is a Nissan LEAF crossed with a Nissan Frontier, brought to life by Nissan’s Roland Schellenberg and Arnold Moulinet.”

Lots of still photos over at the article.