Category: Geek

First electric car victory at Pikes Peak hillclimb

2nd place overall also was under electric power.

The chuckle at the end is when Millen discusses his scant new record and reveals that he did the second half of the route on half-power.

Never can tell what you’ll find — beachcombing in Tijuana

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A motorized surfboard loaded with $100,000 worth of crystal methamphetamine was found washed up on a Tijuana beach…

Police said the surfboard, powered by a turbine connected to eight batteries, was found Tuesday night by beach-goers in the borough of Playas de Tijuana.

Investigators said the surfboard was found to be hollowed out and filled with 20 pounds of meth, worth an estimated $100,000.

The surfboard, believed to be a means of smuggling drugs into the United States, suffered an apparent mechanical failure when water entered the electrical compartment…

Breaking bad on the beach doesn’t refer to surf – I guess.

How do toddlers use tablets? — a limited survey

Can babies use iPads?

If you’ve ever viewed YouTube videos of infants and toddlers using iPads, then you know the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

But how are they using them?

To answer that question and others, a team of University of Iowa researchers set out to study more than 200 YouTube videos. Their paper is published in the proceedings of the CHI 2015 conference, the most prestigious in the field of human-computer interaction.

In the paper they write that their goal was to “provide a window into how these children are using tablets through an analysis of relevant YouTube videos.”

What they found was information that supports “opportunities for research and starting points for design.”

“By age two, 90 percent of the children in the videos had a moderate ability to use a tablet,” says Juan Pablo Hourcade, associate professor of computer science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study. “Just over 50 percent of 12-to-17-month-old children in the videos had a moderate ability…”

He says that to his knowledge, other researchers have conducted surveys of the prevalence of tablet use by young children, however, the UI study is the first to study how infants and toddlers are actually using the devices…

Hourcade acknowledged the drawbacks of using unsolicited YouTube videos, such as not knowing the exact ages of the children pictured and that the children pictured were selected by their caregivers and may not be representative of the larger society. However, he says the researchers were able to estimate the ages of the children (two-thirds of the videos included the age) and observe a clear progression of successful performance linked to age that is consistent with developmental milestones

He says he hopes that the study and others that follow will influence the development of apps that encourage interactive education for infants and toddlers. The apps he envisions might be similar to the social and interactive-like children’s programs currently found on public television.

Interesting stuff. I almost always end up supporting any sort of investigation that encourages early education.

My parents taught both my sister and me to read by the time we each were 4 years old. And we had plenty of reading material available for the following age group – and beyond. Speaking subjectively, it was a great advantage throughout school for each of us.

Ketchup bottle QR code brings you to a porn site

A German man who tested out the QR code on a bottle of Heinz ketchup offering a defunct promotion says the code now leads to a porn site.

Daniel Korell wrote to the ketchup firm on Facebook, saying the Heinz Hot Ketchup “is probably not for minors” after he scanned the QR code on his bottle expecting to be taken to a label design contest website and was instead taken to a porn site.

Korell wrote he tried the code with “several phones” and tried manually entering the web address, but he received the same result each time.

Heinz apologized to Korell, saying the company’s ownership of the website expired after the 2012-2014 contest came to a close.

“Even if the bottle was a leftover, it’s still in lots of households,” Korell said in a comment. “It’s incomprehensible that you didn’t reserve the domain for one or two years…”

The chuckle from my side is how many “modern” corporations still haven’t a clue about life on the Web.

The Autoplay Arms Race


Click to enlarge

I find autoplay video or audio commercials so offensive my automatic response is to click away from the page. It is the advertising dross-du-jour. Not only Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are devouring their young with the tech, WordPress has leaped with both feet into this disaster.

I have complained to the powers-that-be, here at WordPress, and my eventual choice appears to be a request for no advertising at all on my personal blog.

Thanks to re/code

Micro-tentacles created for tiny robots to handle delicate objects


A micro-tentacle spirals around an antPhoto/Jaeyoun (Jay) Kim/Iowa State University

“Most robots use two fingers and to pick things up they have to squeeze,” said Jaeyoun (Jay) Kim, an Iowa State University associate professor of electrical and computer engineering and an associate of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Ames Laboratory. “But these tentacles wrap around very gently.”

And that makes them perfect hands and fingers for small robots designed to safely handle delicate objects.

The spiraling microrobotic tentacles are described in a research paper recently published in the journal Scientific Reports. Kim is the lead author. Co-authors are In-Ho Cho, an Iowa State assistant professor of civil, construction and environmental engineering; and Jungwook Paek, who recently earned his Iowa State doctorate in electrical and computer engineering and is moving to post-doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia…

The paper describes how the engineers fabricated microtubes just 8 millimeters long and less than a hundredth of an inch wide. They’re made from PDMS, a transparent elastomer that can be a liquid or a soft, rubbery solid…The paper also describes how the researchers sealed one end of the tube and pumped air in and out. The air pressure and the microtube’s asymmetrical wall thickness created a circular bend. They further describe how they added a small lump of PDMS to the base of the tube to amplify the bend and create a two-turn spiraling, coiling action…

Kim said the resulting microrobotic tentacle is “S-cubed — soft, safe and small.” He said that makes it ideal for medical applications because the microrobotic tentacles can’t damage tissues or even blood vessels.

I like Professor Kim’s synthesis of trends in robotics: “There’s microrobotics, where people want to make robots smaller and smaller. And there’s soft robotics, where people don’t want to make robots out of iron and steel. This project is an overlap of both of those fields…”

Deep Learning Machine surpasses humans in IQ test


University of Science and Technology China, Hefei

Just over 100 years ago, the German psychologist William Stern introduced the intelligence quotient test as a way of evaluating human intelligence. Since then, IQ tests have become a standard feature of modern life and are used to determine children’s suitability for schools and adults’ ability to perform jobs.

These tests usually contain three categories of questions: logic questions such as patterns in sequences of images, mathematical questions such as finding patterns in sequences of numbers and verbal reasoning questions, which are based around analogies, classifications, as well as synonyms and antonyms.

It is this last category that has interested Huazheng Wang and pals at the University of Science and Technology of China and Bin Gao and buddies at Microsoft Research in Beijing. Computers have never been good at these. Pose a verbal reasoning question to a natural language processing machine and its performance will be poor, much worse than the average human ability.

Today, that changes thanks to Huazheng and pals who have built a deep learning machine that outperforms the average human ability to answer verbal reasoning questions for the first time…

Huazheng and buddies devised an algorithm for solving natural language verbal questions using standard vector methods but also the multi-sense upgrade they’ve developed.

They compare this deep learning technique with other algorithmic approaches to verbal reasoning tests and also with the ability of humans to do it. For this, they posed the questions to 200 humans gathered via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing facility along with basic information about their ages and educational background.

And the results are impressive. “To our surprise, the average performance of human beings is a little lower than that of our proposed method,” they say.

Human performance on these tests tends to correlate with educational background. So people with a high school education tend to do least well, while those with a bachelor’s degree do better and those with a doctorate perform best. “Our model can reach the intelligence level between the people with the bachelor degrees and those with the master degrees,” say Huazheng and co…

Deep learning techniques are currently sweeping through computer science like wildfire and the revolution they are creating is still in its early stages. There’s no telling where this revolution will take us but one thing is for sure: William Stern would be amazed.

Every chucklehead writing articles that conclude artificial intelligence, computational analysis and reasoning will never pass a Turing test is shuttered from reality. Much less useful. The best minds already predict the opposite even if it takes the usual road to scientific success – recognition one death at a time. As the old farts or those who think like old farts die off, reality moves progress beyond the ennui of culture.

RTFA for the reasoning employed by Huazheng in development of their deep learning machine.

Apple, tech companies warn Obama, again, against violating privacy


“Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data”

In a letter delivered to President Barack Obama on Monday, two trade groups comprised of some of the largest tech companies in the U.S. asked the White House to reject government policies designed to undermine encryption systems built to keep consumer data private.

Both the Information Technology Industry Council and the Software and Information Industry Association were signatories of the letter…The groups represent a number of companies including Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft and IBM, among others.

“We are opposed to any policy actions or measures that would undermine encryption as an available and effective tool,” the letter reads…

Law enforcement officials, looking for access to data that could potentially help in criminal investigations, have repeatedly called on private sector firms to install backdoors into their existing security infrastructure. They argue technology companies like Apple are blocking access to information deemed vital to criminal investigations. Further, Apple is advertising the fact that iOS users are “above the law,” officials said…

For its part, industry representatives argue encryption is not merely a perk, but a necessity for many consumers. Some attribute the modern data privacy movement to revelations concerning the existence of government surveillance programs, as leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The general public has since become hyper-sensitive to prying eyes, especially those attached to government bodies.

“Consumer trust in digital products and services is an essential component…” I’ll second that. For all the crapology from so-called constitutional scholars like the president, security presented as taking precedence over privacy is nothing more than sophistry. The sort of argument our original revolutionary forebears rose up against.

There is no less a need, today.