Rudeness to robots

July 18th, 2015

Ben Hammersley, on sharing a house with AIs with differing personalities:

It's a little wrinkle in what is really a miraculous device, but it's a serious thing: The Amazon Echo differs from Siri in that it's a communally available service. Interactions with Alexa are available to, and obvious to, everyone in the house, and my inability to be polite with her has a knock-on effect. My daughter is too young to speak yet, but she does see and hear all of our interactions with Alexa. I worry what sort of precedent we are setting for her, in terms of her own future interactions with bots and AIs as well as with people, if she hears me being forced into impolite conversations because of the limitations of her household AI's interface. It's the computing equivalent of being rude to waitresses. We shouldn't allow it, and certainly not by lack of design. Worries about toddler screen time are nothing, compared to future worries about not inadvertently teaching your child to be rude to robots.

[Via Extenuating Circumstances]

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The Cloud in your home

June 20th, 2015

Free heating, if you have fibre Internet:

To be eligible for the eRadiator, your home has to have a "fibre-optic connection" and "an external wall." The fibre link is necessary to connect the eRadiator to Nerdalize's core network, and the external wall is needed for venting (if you "turn off" the eRadiator, the servers don't actually turn off; the heat is just pushed outside).

In exchange for free heating (after the €400-500 setup cost), Nerdalize uses the network of eRadiators to provide a cloud computing service. Because the company doesn't run a centralised data centre, operating costs are much lower, which means the "cost-per-job [to the customer] is up to 55% lower." The quality-of-service will be be lower than centralised cloud compute, too – Nerdalize won't have any control over the access network (what if the home owner decides to do some torrenting?) – but there are plenty of use cases where cost is more important than latency.

I wonder just how much of your home internet connection's bandwidth one of these would take up.1

[Via Interconnected]

  1. And how long it'd be after you started hosting this service before your ISP/cable company politely reminded you of that clause in their contract about the internet connectivity service they provide being for domestic use only. Or is that not a thing nowadays?

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Rings

May 25th, 2015

Emily Lakdawalla's dive into the latest batch of images from the Cassini probe inspired her to generate a magnificent panorama across Saturn's rings (scroll down to the foot of the article.)

Saturn's rings (excerpt)

(For the record, this preview of one tiny segment doesn't begin to capture the scale or impact of the full image. Click on the preview if you doubt me…)

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Listen to Wikipedia

April 26th, 2015

Listening to Wikipedia is oddly soothing.

[Via Memex 1.1]

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This American Lear

July 28th, 2014

In the wake of This American Life host Ira Glass commenting that he found Shakespeare's plays difficult to relate to, loisbeckett brings us This American Lear:

Bravo! Author! More! More!

[Via kottke.org]

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Do not look for the sense in it.

July 2nd, 2014

Craig Mod answers the question – especially relevant in the light of yesterday's postHow are apps made?

stoke fire

The first pass should be ugly, the ugliest. Any brain cycle spent on pretty is self deception. If pretty is the point then please stop. Do not, I repeat, do not spent three months on the radial menu, impressive as it may be. It will not save your company. There is a time for that. That time is not now. Instead, make grand gestures. General gestures. Most importantly, innumerate the unknowns. Make a list. Making known the unknowns you now know will surface the other unknowns, the important unknowns, the truly devastating unknowns  –  you can't scrape our content! you can't monkey park here! a tiny antennae is not for rent! You want to unearth answers as quickly as possible. Nothing else matters if your question marks irrecoverably break you. Do not procrastinate in their excavation.

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Edge of Darkness

June 30th, 2014

A quick note for UK-based readers: BBC4 are starting a repeat run for Edge of Darkness later tonight at 10pm 11pm.1 Not the Mel Gibson remake: the original miniseries with Bob Peck (never better), lashings of paranoia, a bit of fringe environmentalism, and more than a dash of of sheer weirdness. Quite possibly the best miniseries produced by British television in the 1980s, rivalled only by Boys from the Blackstuff and The Beiderbecke Affair (if you don't disqualify the latter from the category of miniseries for having two followup series.)

I haven't seen Edge of Darkness since the original broadcast, and I'm curious as to how it'll look almost 30 years on. I have a horrible feeling that the answer will be "prescient."

[Via The Guardian]

  1. Sorry!

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MJT

June 3rd, 2014

This excerpt1 2 from Mike Judge's Silicon Valley is a beautiful illustration of what can happen when a bunch of geeks take an idea and run with it.

[Via More Words, Deeper Hole]

  1. Embedding not allowed, unfortunately – you'll have to follow the link to YouTube to see it.
  2. Dialogue and subject matter are probably NSFW.

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Watch the ray cats

May 14th, 2014

This week's 99% Invisible podcast discussed recent efforts to figure out how to warn our great-to-the-Nth grandchildren about the risks of nuclear waste being stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, given the distinct possibility that language will have drifted over the course of 10,000 years to the point where a sign saying 'DANGER: Radioactive waste!' may not be understood.

The most hands-down 99pi favorite solution, though, didn't come from the WIPP brainstorm – rather, it came out of the Human Interference Task Force, a similar panel that was pulled together in 1981 for the now-defunct Yucca Mountain project. It was proposed by two philosophers, Françoise Bastide and Paolo Fabbri.

Bastide and Fabbri came to the conclusion that the most durable thing that humanity has ever made is culture: religion, folklore, belief systems. They may morph over time, but an essential message can get pulled through over millennia. They proposed that we genetically engineer a species of cat that changes color in the presence of radiation, which would be released into the wild to serve as living Geiger counters. Then, we would create folklore and write songs and tell stories about these "ray cats," the moral being that when you see these cats change colors, run far, far away.

Makes you wonder if there's some bit of puzzling animal behaviour going on all around us right now about which the folklore has failed to be passed down or got distorted. Instead of pointing and laughing at all those Animals Sucking at Jumping as it becomes clear what terrible, long-forgotten threat they were trying to warn us about?

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In Your Eyes, on your PC / tablet / TV

April 30th, 2014

The Joss Whedon-scripted romance In Your Eyes has been getting a bit of attention for having been given a global, online release rather ending up in cinemas. You can argue whether this is because Whedon's production company couldn't find a distributor for a film with no big stars based on a story idea he had back in the 1990s or because Joss Whedon is being paid so much money for Avengers 2 that he can afford to bypass the big screen entirely and indulge his artistic whims.1 Does Whedon see this as the way forward for all his non-Marvel work over the next few years, or just as a way of claiming a bigger slice of the smaller pie when he's not telling stories of superheroes? Beats me.

All that stuff about distribution is fascinating and five or ten years from now we're all going to be able to see that obviously this was [insert phrase according to taste: "the way of the future" or "a folly that only someone whose main job was making US$150 million blockbusters could get away with".] The question that matters right now is, how's the film we're being invited to send Joss Whedon and friends $US5 for?

The answer is, not bad at all. The film wastes no time clueing the audience in about the supernatural (and never explained) twist that our two main characters have never met yet each can experience life through the other's eyes. They can't read one another's mind, so they have to verbalise their thoughts. As the two characters conducted conversations as they shopped or walked along the street or just did their household chores the logical part of my mind2 wondered why they didn't carry round a mobile phone or better yet a Bluetooth handset, since nowadays we're quite used to people carrying on one-sided, sometimes quite animated conversations with other people who aren't really there. The dominant part of my mind didn't care, because Zoe Kazan and Michael Stahl-David sold their delight in the conversation, and in the escape this new relationship brings from their daily cares, so well.

I won't go into detail about how their story develops, but let's just say that this is a romance and once the introduction of their mysterious connection is out of the way the story develops in ways that you might expect. But that's not a problem; the idea isn't to throw us all off the scent with unexpected plot twists every twenty minutes or so, it's to let us get to know a couple of basically likeable, yet very different characters and ride along as their lives are changed by this unusual means of communication.

Which brings me to the one respect in which I thought the film fell short. We get a reasonable sense of the personalities and priorities of our two lead characters, but there's not much time for us to get to know more about some of the peopke in their lives. Above all, Kazan's character's husband is just a sketch of a character, and given that she clearly loves him3 I think it hurts the story that we don't get to see more of his personality and their shared history. I know that he's cast in the thankless romance movie role of an obstacle to the story we're really watching, but given that from an objective angle his worries about his wife's behaviour looked not unreasonable and the actions he takes in response drive so much of the film I'd have liked the film to have been 20 minutes longer to give us some more time to see the shape of Kazan's character's life prior to the events that kick off the main storyline.

Still, my misgivings shouldn't be allowed to distract from the basic point: this is an enjoyable romance with a twist and whilst I wouldn't go as far as Stu and make it one of the five best films I've seen so far this year, I certainly got my money's-worth. I hope we'll see more such experiments from Joss Whedon. I mean, if Marvel will insist upon dumping truckload after truckload of money on his front lawn that man's got to do something to keep himself busy. It might as well be making little, witty novellas like this and making it easy for us to see them.

  1. In Your Eyes is the second release from Whedon's Bellwether Pictures, the first having been last year's adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing.
  2. Or was it the sceptical voice of another person whose presence I haven't acknowledged yet?
  3. Albeit in a somewhat dependent way, as someone who is afraid that she can't be trusted to manager her own life.

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