Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gaming as a path to longer life?

I recently listened to a TED talk by Jane McGonigal entitled "The game that can give you 10 extra years of life".  She is also the author of Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. In her TED talk she talks about all the benefits of Playing Games.
I really have mixed feelings about this topic. I really do like playing games, once I have moved up the learning curve a bit. I do find that it is easy for me to spend lots of time playing, like when Lode Runner came out on MacIntosh (sp?) when I was in college, and I played all through the night. Even a few years ago, I would spend so long playing Civilization on the PC that my neck would freeze up in the position that I was holding it.

I have seen much recently in the business writing about the concept of gamification (not sure it is really a word yet). Basically we can take the concepts that draw people to games, and apply in the workplace, like having a leader board for a sales organization

Right now, I am just taking a break from my game addiction, Minecraft, and using it as a reward for completing some tedious Cub Scout rechartering.

 How do games make a difference in your life?

Thanks to those that click through to Amazon and buy anything there. I appreciate your support of my blog.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A domestic fox as a pet!!!

Years ago I had read an article in Smithsonian Magazine about a research project in Russia where they raised foxes, and selectively bred them to bring out the friendliest characteristics. In each round they would take the kits that are most compatible with humans and mate them together to bring out those characteristics.

It was interesting that those foxes soon took on the characteristics we associate with domesticated dogs, such as being fertile only at certain times of the year, instead of all the time, like the dogs' wolf forebears were. 

I just found at www.domesticfox.com  that you can now adopt these foxes to the U.S. (probably from the same research facility). And they are soo cute!

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Augmented Reality

I saw this video on TED about augmented reality app that run on your smart phone.


I find this fascinating because of the possibilities to enhance the capabilities of the cell phone. They demonstrate that you can aim your camera at a painting in a museum, and it can replace the painting with a video that can explain the painting's history. I think that this can make for a very fun scavenger hunt experience. They also show where you can layer video over a live background. I wonder if the video is created using a Green Screen. They call it Aurasma.


I know that Qualcomm does something in this space called Vuforia. This is something I want to investigate more.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The top 1% and what they do

I find this interactive graphic from the New York Times, though not new, to be very interesting.


It shows where the top 1% are occupied. It is interesting because the 1% is really spread out a lot. Of course if you are a lawyer or doctor or work with financial securities, you stand a good chance of being rich.

I find that discussion of income and taxes to be oddly affected by individual's perceptions about the rich. Either we have a strong feeling about it, because we feel that some people are earning more than is fair, or maybe we are against some policy, such as the estate tax, because we think that that tax will impact us personally, even though we are not likely to be in that category. I think that I flip flop in my own thinking about this often.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

A self driving car

The Google Blog just issued an update about their self driving car program. Their computer controlled cars have logged over 300,000 miles without an accident. Now members of the team are going to use the cars to do some limited commuting, with only a single human within the vehicle. Previously the humans were in two person teams. This is very remarkable for a number of reasons.

1. Image recognition is very hard, and so I guess video recognition is also hard. That said, there is probably a reasonable subset of features that are critical for the computer to recognize, for example. A person can easily tell the difference between a horse, or a cow, or a deer is in the road, which the computer will find difficult. However to avoid a collision, we do not care what the large obstacle is, we just need to know that it is in our way, or on a path to be in our way. The computer is probably much faster than a human in responding to an identified obstacle.

2. This is a very bold move by Google. They started out as a search engine company, and now they do so many things. I try to avoid hyperbole, but they are probably the most innovative company around. Now it might be that they are just the best at buying other companies of interest, but this foray into big hardware is significant. For Google this is a high level of diversification.

The idea of boldly going after an innovation is inspiring. Now I do not know about the self driving car niche, so I do not know how much of the techniques and algorithms are borrowed from academia etc., but Google is most certainly picking up patents by the basketful as they are figuring out how to make this work. There is a lot to be learned by putting yourself out there and making the effort. At some point you have to stop talking and thinking and start making something. I would love to see the full story about the prototypes and simulations and failed tests that went into this effort.

Also, given human nature, I wonder when people or the regulators will feel safe about people giving control over to the driving computer in even larger numbers. At what point do we determine that it is safer than a human driver? I am certain that we could achieve that pretty easily, but it still might have its flaws, and would we require it to be perfect? It is certainly an interesting question.

Monday, August 06, 2012

I'm starting classes at the University of Michigan!

Well, not exactly AT the University of Michigan. I am taking Social Network Analysis through Coursera.org. Right now Free virtual classes are all the rage. Online courses in general are nothing new. U. C. Irvine, for example has several computer science classes available online, but they are about the same price as the in-classroom version of the same material.

What Coursera (as well as a few similar businesses ) offers is free on-line courses from top universities. There is a good introduction to some of the offerings in the TED Blog.

I signed up for Social Network Analysis because I have an interest in social networks, and in data visualization, which it seems would be part of the class. I've heard that some courses allow you to pay at the end for a completion certificate of some sort. I am just happy to get the information.

The TED blog lists a variety of courses that include ones available through ITunes, and YouTube.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Biological Black Matter

Nathan Wolfe has an interesting TED Talk about the uncharted worlds of exploration within our own bodies. I find it interesting how the organisms that live within our bodies affect our health and well being. When Wolfe cataloged the DNA captured in a human nose for example, there was a significant amount of DNA that was not associated with known organisms! It was like a UFO in your nose (and elsewhere).

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Favorite Web Site for Readers

I do not know about you, but I loved the Reader's Digest. They brought together the latest in interesting articles and repackaged them for easy consumption. I also like the jokes, which came in three or four flavors (humor in uniform, etc.). It was funny that my reaction to their condensed books is just the opposite.

Whenever I come across one of their condensed books at a garage sale, I will pull back in horror. I appreciate how they will abbreviate non fiction material, so that I can get the important core of it easily, but in reading novels, I really want the original words of the author, just like I am disappointed with the editing that changes a book into a movie.

I came across their web site and found that there you can get many of the articles that you enjoy in the print edition. Of course you do have to subscribe to get everything, like the vocabulary column, which I always enjoy. Also, it is much easier to create gold painted 3-D Christmas trees from the print edition.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The World's Funniest Joke (and more)

I recall hearing the following joke on NPR (My most listened to station) as the winner in the scientific search for the worlds most funny joke.

  • Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner and a
    bottle of wine, they retire for the night, and go to sleep.
    Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. "Watson,
    look up at the sky and tell me what you see."
    "I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes" replies Watson.
    "And what do you deduce from that?"
    Watson ponders for a minute.
    "Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially
    billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I
    deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I
    suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that
    God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the
    universe... What does it tell you, Holmes?"
    Holmes is silent for a moment. "Watson, you idiot!" he says. "Someone has
    stolen our tent!" 
 What I did not know at the time, is that it was a preliminary result, and the final report came out in October 2002 with much less fanfare. (I did not hear about it). Well it is available here: http://richardwiseman.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/ll-final-report.pdf and is chock full of interesting and funny facts. such as..

What type of humor is the most popular in the US or Canada?
What part of the brain is responsible for our humor?
What is the top Joke in Wales?
How did Dave Barry try to sway the results with gnawing weasels?

It is easy reading (only 14 or so pages long)

The Laugh Lab web site which has more resources is: http://laughlab.co.uk
Oh, and here is the final winner:
  • A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them
    falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled
    back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the
    emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What
    can I do?” The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: “Just take it easy. I
    can help. First, let's make sure he's dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is
    heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?”
Have a fun day! Any good jokes you would want to share?

Monday, June 25, 2012

In Book Heaven in Anaheim

I had fun this morning at the exhibit hall of the American Library Association Annual Convention in Anaheim. I picked up a few pre-publication preview books, and  lots of publisher information. I read more non-fiction than fiction, and most books I saw were Young Adult, which I do enjoy, and children's books. At the end of the conference, and maybe during the conference (I am not sure since I just dropped by on the last day) they sell display books at 50% and then most go down to as low as $5 for a hardbound and $2 for a paperback. I was on a tight budget today, so I only picked up free stuff. Here is a picture of the haul for the day:

 I was able to find a parking spot on a side street around the corner from the convention center, and I chose to forgo the $8 hot dogs in the convention center. I was really torn as to whether I should spend the time at the convention but I did enjoy it, and it was pretty painless. Next time, I would pack some crackers, because I was hungry when I got back home at 2:00pm.

I was fortunate to have a friend forward me a complimentary exhibit pass, but they are normally only $25 for an exhibit-only pass. I always keep an eye open for trade shows that have an inexpensive exhibit pass option. I noted that when the craft association came to San Diego, they made it very difficult for a member of the general public to get in. You had to prove that you were registered with the state as a craft retailer.

I want to do a shout out to Dave Kellett, artist and author of Sheldon and Drive, the SciFi comic. I had met him at ComicCon  two years ago, and I am a kickstarter backer of his movie STRIPPED: The Comics Documentary. He is a really nice guy. Despite my not buying any of his stuff today, he made me a personal drawing. I should have taken a picture of him drawing it, but I was not thinking clearly. I also met the # 2 guy at Wondermark, another of my favorites!

Since I do not have tickets to ComicCon this year, this was a nice treat.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jackpot! of a sort.

I shared my love of the TED conferences a few months back. They, in general, are informing entertaining and thought-provoking. As a book lover I was intrigued by the fact that an in-person conference attendee (at over $7000) also is part of the TED book club described in this snippet from their web site:

TED Book Club: Enrollment in the TED Book Club, which sends inspired 2-3 book selections four times a year via Amazon Kindle software/hardware or physical books. While we send 12-15 titles per year, the Kindle option includes additional bonus selections (at least 10) available only electronically. Kindle software reader available for iPad, Mac, PC, and iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows 7 smartphones in addition to Kindle itself.

Since attending the conference is currently out of my reach, I really wanted to know what books all these movers and shakers were reading. (I know that being a mover and shaker is considered a good quality, even though it sounds a little odd).

Anyway, I searched a lot for the list of books, but could not find them anywhere, and what I found most peculiar is that few people talk about the list of books on-line.

Well, in yet another flurry of Google effort I hit pay-dirt with this web site.  

About Ideas: TED Talks, Books, Movies and Travel

 The author evidently goes to TED or TEDActive (the less expensive option at a secondary location). More importantly she lets her readers know when her TED Book Club delivery shows up. This new info will add fuel to the pile of books on my nightstand, and my book related web site Books and Big Ideas.  I am so excited!

Friday, June 15, 2012

Thought provoking content, daily

I have enjoyed following Seth Godin's blog for the last several months. He is point of view is refreshing, eye-opening and uplifting. Here is an example of one email update (slightly longer than average) I received that got me thinking. His book Linchpin: Are You Indispensable? is one of my favorites. Follow the link to check out the book, or buy anything you want at amazon. It helps support my blogs, and costs you nothing extra.

How to succeed

You don't need all of these, and some are mutually exclusive (while others are not). And most don't work, don't scale or can't be arranged:
  1. Be very focused on your goal and work on it daily
  2. Go to college with someone who makes it big and then hires you
  3. Be born with significant and unique talent
  4. Practice every day
  5. Network your way to the top by inviting yourself from one lunch to another, trading favors as you go
  6. Quietly do your job day in and day out until someone notices you and gives you the promotion you deserve
  7. Do the emotional labor of working on things that others fear
  8. Notice things, turn them into insights and then relentlessly turn those insights into projects that resonate
  9. Hire a great PR firm and get a lot of publicity
  10. Work the informational interview angle
  11. Perform outrageous acts and say obnoxious things
  12. Inherit
  13. Redefine your version of success as: whatever I have right now
  14. Flit from project to project until you alight on something that works out very quickly and well
  15. Be the best-looking person in the room
  16. Flirt
  17. Tell stories that people care about and spread
  18. Contribute more than is expected
  19. Give credit to others
  20. Take responsibility
  21. Aggrandize, preferably self
  22. Be a jerk and win through intimidation
  23. Be a doormat and refuse to speak up or stand up
  24. Never hesitate to share a kind word when it's deserved
  25. Sue people
  26. Treat every gig as an opportunity to create art
  27. Cut corners
  28. Focus on defeating the competition
  29. When dealing with employees, act like Steve. It worked for him, apparently.
  30. Persist, always surviving to ship something tomorrow
  31. When in doubt, throw a tantrum
  32. Have the ability to work harder and more directly than anyone else when the situation demands it
  33. Don't rock the boat
  34. Rock the boat
  35. Don't rock the boat, baby
  36. Resort to black hat tactics to get more than your share
  37. Work to pay more taxes
  38. Work to evade taxes
  39. Find typos

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

A favorite web comic

I have followed Schlock Mercenary for a number of years now. Even though the creator Howard Tayler would not want you to peruse his earliest drawing attempts, in the following comparison between his first strip and a very recent one, the improvement in drawing skill is noteworthy.

When I wake up each morning I dismiss the alarm on my phone, and go first thing to my email to read my daily dose of Schlock Mercenary. It is published daily with a large comic on Sunday, just like in the regular funny pages.  Even though I also love (and occasionally live) Dilbert, I figure I can catch up on his strip when I am retired. My daily Schlock habit must be supported.

I occasionally read Howard's blog where he does movie reviews. He also appears in a science fiction writing podcast called "Writing Excuses" where he is on a panel with 3 or 4 other authors and give writing tips and advice. I listen to that regularly as well.

Check it out. I am fairly certain you will not be disappointed. Do you have any web favorites that you care to share?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Colossal, an Art and Design Site is Amazing

I just discovered www.thisiscolossal.com

Book Igloo sculpture installation books art

The art is contemporary, and is very top quality. I liked these two projects since I like books so much. There is so much more that the site highlights.  Enjoy!

What are your favorite art sites?


Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Little Bits are Fun!

Just saw a TED talk about these Little Bits, electronic building blocks. Magnet connectors make it easy and fun to safely snap together components. The project is open source so the schematics are available online if you want to make them yourself. I think that it would still be hard to make your own building blocks, what with circuit boards and special plastic pieces, but it seems to me that other people can step up to add more interoperable modules. Not sure the price, but it looks like a blast to experiment with. What do you think?