Grasping with Robots: Which Object is in Reach? (Robohub) — This post is part of our ongoing efforts to make the latest papers in robotics accessible to a general audience. … a new approach to build a comprehensive representation of the capabilities of a robot related to reaching and grasping. Very short, very readable, as promised.
App Trains You to See Farther (Popular Mechanics) — UltimEyes exercises the visual cortex, the part of our brain that controls vision. Brain researchers have discovered that the visual cortex breaks down the incoming information from our eyes into fuzzy patterns called Gabor stimuli. The theory behind UltimEyes is that by directly confronting the eyes with Gabor stimuli, you can train your brain to process them more efficiently—which, over time, improves your brain’s ability to create clear vision at farther distances. The app shows you ever fuzzier and fainter Gabor stimuli.
Teaching Web Development in Africa — I used the resources that Pamela Fox helpfully compiled at teaching-materials.org to mentor twelve students who all built their own websites, such as websites for their karate club, fashion club, and traditional dance troupe. One student made a website to teach others about the hardware components of computers, and another website discussing the merits of a common currency in the East African Community. The two most advanced students began programming their own computer game to help others practice touch typing, and it allows players to compete across the network with WebSockets.
Transient Faces (Jeff Howard) — only displaying the unchanging parts of a scene, effectively removing people using computer vision. Disconcerting and elegant. (via Greg Borenstein)
Museum Datasets (Seb Chan) — collections metadata aren’t generally in good quality (often materials are indexed at the “box level”, ie this item number is a BOX and it contains photos of these things), and aren’t all that useful. The story about the Parisian balcony grille is an excellent reminder that the institution’s collections aren’t a be-all and end-all for researchers.
Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine — computer vision to straighten up photographed pages of the notebook, and the app recognizes special stickers placed on the book as highlights and selections. Nifty micro-use of augmented reality.
China Hackers Hit EU Point Man and DC (Bloomberg) — wow. The extent to which EU and US government and business computer systems have been penetrated is astonishing. Stolen information is flowing out of the networks of law firms, investment banks, oil companies, drug makers, and high technology manufacturers in such significant quantities that intelligence officials now say it could cause long-term harm to U.S. and European economies. (via Gady Epstein)
Digestible Microchips (Nature) — The sand-particle sized sensor consists of a minute silicon chip containing trace amounts of magnesium and copper. When swallowed, it generates a slight voltage in response to digestive juices, which conveys a signal to the surface of a person’s skin where a patch then relays the information to a mobile phone belonging to a healthcare-provider. (via Sara Winge)
Quantum Mechanics Make Simple(r) — clever way to avoid the brain pain of quantum mechanics and leap straight to the “oh!”. [N]ature is described not by probabilities (which are always nonnegative), but by numbers called amplitudes that can be positive, negative, or even complex. […] In the usual “hierarchy of sciences”—with biology at the top, then chemistry, then physics, then math—quantum mechanics sits at a level between math and physics that I don’t know a good name for. Basically, quantum mechanics is the operating system that other physical theories run on as application software (with the exception of general relativity, which hasn’t yet been successfully ported to this particular OS). (via Hacker News)
Bank of England Complains About AR Bank Notes — After downloading the free Blippar app on iPhone or Android, customers were able to ‘blipp’ any ten-pound note in circulation by opening the app and holding their phone over the note. An animated Queen, and other members of the Royal Family, then appeared on the screen and voiced opinions on the latest football matters.
Quantified Mind — battery of cognitive tests, so you can track performance over time and measure the effect of interventions (coffee, diet, exercise, whatever). (via Sara Winge)
Jellyfish Made From Rat Cells (Nature) — an artificial jellyfish using silicone and muscle cells from a rat’s heart. The synthetic creature, dubbed a medusoid, looks like a flower with eight petals. When placed in an electric field, it pulses and swims exactly like its living counterpart. Very cool, but the bit that caught my eye was: the team built the medusoid as a way of understanding the “fundamental laws of muscular pumps”. It is an engineer’s approach to basic science: prove that you have identified the right principles by building something with them.
Turing Centenary Speech (Bruce Sterling) — so many thoughtbombs, this repays rereading. We’re okay with certain people who “think different” to the extent of buying Apple iPads. We’re rather hostile toward people who “think so very differently” that their work will make no sense for thirty years — if ever. We’ll test them, and see if we can find some way to get them to generate wealth for us, but we’re not considerate of them as unusual, troubled entities wandering sideways through a world they never made. … Cognition exists, and computation exists, but they’re not the same phenomenon with two different masks on. … Explain to me, as an engineer, why it’s so important to aspire to build systems with “Artificial Intelligence,” and yet you’d scorn to build “Artificial Femininity.” What is that about? … Every day I face all these unstable heaps of creative machinery. How do we judge art created with, by, and or through these devices? What is our proper role with them? […] How do we judge what we’re doing? How do we distribute praise and blame, rewards and demerits, how do to guide it, how do we attribute meaning to it? … oh just read the whole damn piece, it’s the best thing you’ll read this month.
Handsontable — Excel-like grid editing plugin for jQuery (MIT-licensed).
Lumoback (Kickstarter) — smart posture sensor which provides a gentle vibration when you slouch to remind you to sit or stand straight. It is worn on your lower back and designed to be slim, sleek and so comfortable that you barely feel it when you have it on. (via Tim O’Reilly)
AutoCAD Worm Stealing Blueprints — lovely, malware that targets inventions. The worm, known as ACAD/Medre.A, is spreading through infected AutoCAD templates and is sending tens of thousands of stolen documents to email addresses in China. This one has soured, but give the field time … anything that can be stolen digitally, will be. (via Slashdot)
How to Start a Think Tank (Guardian) — The answer to the looming crisis of legitimacy we’re facing is greater openness – not just regarding who met who at what Christmas party, but on the substance of policy. The best way to re-engage people in politics is to change how politics works – in the case of our project, to develop a more direct way for the people who use and provide public and voluntary services to create better social policy. Hear, hear. People seize on the little stuff because you haven’t given them a way to focus something big with you.
Australian NSA Forces National Broadband Network to Dump Huawei — Australia’s government security organization knocked Huawei out of the eligible bidding list. “It’s the exact area where we have been the sole supplier in the United Kingdom for the past six years,” Huawei’s director of corporate and public affairs, Jeremy Mitchell, told the Financial Review. Governments ask themselves how to be assured of information security when routers, firewalls, etc. are made in countries that have fostered attacks against other states and corporations.
How to See Around Corners (Nature) — love the production of the demo video, but interesting to see how computation is becoming integral to vision apps. (via Ed Yong)
Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything? (Chronicle of Higher Ed) — Growing numbers of students are sent to college at increasingly higher costs, but for a large proportion of them the gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and written communication are either exceedingly small or empirically nonexistent. At least 45 percent of students in our sample did not demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in Collegiate Learning Assessment [CLA] performance during the first two years of college. [Further study has indicated that 36 percent of students did not show any significant improvement over four years.] Why your graduate intake feels disappointing: it is. (via Counterpunch)
The Internet of Things That Do What You Tell Them: Cory Doctorow passionately explains how computers are already entwined in our lives, which means laws that support lock-in are much more than inconveniences.