Screen Addiction

Posted: 15th January 2013 by admin in Technology
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I recently read an article about 65-year old Sir Ray Avery who is a pharmaceutical scientist, inventor, and social entrepreneur from New Zealand. His peculiar obsession with counting down his last days made me stop and think about how much of our waking life is spent in front of screens when we could be living life. 

“When you’re born, you’re born with 30,000 days. That’s it. The best strategic planning I can give to you is to think about that.”

It was a good time of year to contemplate such questions because the tech world has been releasing all sorts of scary statistics about our online behavior. I decided to put together my first infographic to summarize what I discovered about our screen addictions.

 

While countries such as Japan and Europe are focusing their robotics effort on civilian tasks such as assisting the elderly, America's focus is clearly on the military, and they have a significant lead in this specialized field. Public relations teams have tried to put a civilian spin on their motivation however the funding speaks louder than words.

Boston Dynamics is the company that seems to win most of the contracts and they are heavily funded by:

  • DARPA
  • US Army
  • US Marine Corps

The robots being developed by Boston Dynamics are at the extreme end of the cool scale, and their capabilities provoke imaginative superhero likenesses.

Leap tall buildings in a single bound like Superman

Sand Flea is an 11-lb robot with one trick up its sleeve: Normally it drives like an RC car, but when it needs to it can jump 30 feet into the air. An onboard stabilization system keeps it oriented during flight to improve the view from the video uplink and to control landings.

Run like The Flash

Cheetah Robot is a fast-running quadruped. It just blazed past its previous speed record, getting up to 28.3 mph, about 0.5 mph faster than Usain Bolt's fastest 20 meter split.

Climb any surface like Spiderman

A climbing robot that grasps the micro-texture of the surface using special feet and special motions.

Agile like The Black Panther

When fully developed the system will carry 400 lbs of payload on 20-mile missions in rough terrain. AlphaDog will draw power from an internal combustion engine, which we designed to be 10x quieter than BigDog. The field version of AlphaDog will have a sensor head packed with terrain sensors.

The culmination of this research has been humanoid robots with enough physical stength, dexterity and reflexes to rescue a dasmal in distress. If things progress according to plan, then we will see the first superhero robot in 2014 when DARPA host the Robotic Challenge with a $2,000,000 prize.

The trials for this competition will begin in December 2013 with a series of physical challenges modeled around disaster response scenarios. Events may include:

  • Drive a utility vehicle at the site
  • Travel dismounted across rubble
  • Remove debris blocking an entryway
  • Open a door and enter a building
  • Climb an industrial ladder and traverse an industrial walkway
  • Use a power tool to break through a barrier
  • Locate and close a valve near a leaking pipe
  • Attach a connector such as a wire harness or fire hose

Having such life saving robots in civilian hands is a great idea but we all know the military funding means they will initially be used on the battlefield. Like Atlas's namesake in the Astro Boy anime, an "Omega Factor" may one day be installed to allow the robots to think beyond their programming and then they could take over the world. Imagine having something like this patrolling your neighborhood.

Atlas is an anthropomorphic robot developed by Boston Dynamics with funding from DARPA. AtlasProto, shown here, is a testbed for developing control systems and software for rough terrain. Several Atlas robots will participate in the DARPA Robotics Challenge next year. The video shows AtlasProto using its legs and arms to climb onto a platform, jump down, cross the 'snake pit', and climb steep stairs.

Does this robotic progress freak you out as much as it has me?

Is PHP A Programming Language?

Posted: 4th December 2012 by admin in Programming
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As a senior analyst / programmer for a large government owned electricity distributor, I develop and support a variety of applications and languages. These started off in the 90's with Microsoft Access, Visual Basic, JavaScript and ASP. These days we support all the languages under the .NET framework, JavaScript, and some other vendor specialized languages also.
 
These languages cover all the applications we support under the IT departments service level agreement. However there has been a growing number of non IT staff teaching themselves PHP and incorporating their code into business processes. We refer to such code as skunk works.
 
The designation "skunk works", or "skunkworks", is widely used in business, engineering, and technical fields to describe a group within an organization given a high degree of autonomy and unhampered by bureaucracy, tasked with working on advanced or secret projects.
 
This is because we have historical precedents where such non supported code is written by non IT professionals and then thrown over to us, stinky bugs and all, with an expectation we will accept and support it.
 
If there is one language I never want anything to do with it's PHP. Thankfully, Alex Munroe over at Fuzzy Notepad has written a fantastic article explaining everything that is wrong about PHP. So now all I have to do is point them to this link whenever they complain we won't support this terrible language.
 
How do you handle the skunk works in your IT department?

Auto-Transforming Autobots

Posted: 1st December 2012 by admin in Technology
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As a child of the 80s, my toy box was filled with a healthy variety of Transformers and Machine Men action figures. I remember the mix of frustration and satisfaction whilst learning how to transform each one into the two different modes. As I got older and smarter they became less challenging, and since toy companies know their market, they cleverly introduced the mind blowing triple changers and Voltron like joiners such as the Constructicons.

I recently visited my parents and discovered to my amazement that they still had a small number of Transformers in good working order. I was a little disappointed that they transformed much easier than my child mind remembered. Maybe it was muscle memory, or maybe they were just basic to start with. Only a few weeks later I was at a friends birthday party where the 5 year old boy had received a new triple changer Transformer.

 

Of course I gleefully jumped at the chance to help him transform it.

Of course I thought of myself as an old school pro and didn't need to read the instructions.

Of course I failed miserably.

With my head hung in shame and disappointment I started reviewing the instructions. I felt a little better for myself once I realized that you actually do need an engineering degree to interpret the diagrams and perform the transform. Poor kid.
I cannot remember which transformer bested me, but here is an example of how Optimus Prime has changed from 1984 to 2011.

So just how much more complicated will Transformers get for my grandchildren in the next 30 years? It doesn't matter. They are already transforming themselves!

 

Airplay is Apple’s proprietary protocol but with a few tricks you can easily get Windows Media Player and Android integrated with a wireless Airplay speaker system.

I'm one of those die-hards that have refused to let iTunes into my life and I have always felt more empowered for it. That is until we installed a hot tub in the backyard and wanted to enjoy music while we chillaxed. If you are like me and have all your music on a windows PC liberated from iTunes, and you want to stream your library to the backyard without having to run inside every time you want to skip a song, this article will save your day.

While shopping around for a good portable wireless speaker, I soon realised just how much the hardware manufacturers have embraced Apple's Airplay protocol. Every solution for my situation required me to either have iTunes or an iPhone to access and control my library remotely. It was very frustrating not to see any Windows or Android branding on the packaging for the reassurance my $500 outlay would work on my home network and tablets. My options were also limited by my requirements for the speaker to be weatherproof with a rechargeable battery.

So before shelling out hundreds of dollars on an Airplay speaker, the first thing I did was investigate my options for using AirPlay on Windows and Android. I also wanted to test my wifi range and quality when streaming music over AirPlay to the backyard. You can do all this for no cost as there are trial versions for all the required software available.

Step 1- AirBubble

If you don't have an AirPlay speaker yet, just download AirBubble from the Google Play store for free, and it will turn your Android device into an AirPlay receiver.

AirBubble is a lightweight AirPlay audio receiver. It will appear in AirPlay applications (such as itunes) as a device you can play music to. It works in the background, streaming music to your Android device.


 

Step 2 – Airfoil

This application let's you choose the audio source such as Windows Media Player or browser running Pandora etc, and then what AirPlay devices you want to send the audio to.

Send any audio from your PC to AirPort Express units, Apple TVs, iPhones and iPods Touch, and even other PCs and Macs, all in sync! Use Airfoil with web-based audio like Pandora, music services like Spotify, Rdio, MOG, and WiMP, or any other audio playing on your computer. Airfoil for Windows gives you your audio on AirPlay devices all around the house.


 

Step 3 – Testing

Ensure AirBubble has been started on your Android. Now you can open Airfoil on the PC and select Windows Media Player. Start a track and head outside to test your wifi range.

Step 4 – Media Center Control

Installing this app on your Android device will give you full control of your entire music library on Windows. I had some minor trouble getting it to work with my network configuration, however it only took a couple of quick emails to author Markus Gehlhaar to realise it was my dumb fault in the end. So support was very good and fast.

Have you ever wanted a Windows Media Center/Player remote app? Then Media Center Control is made for you. Remote control everything from your phone, even if your TV/display is switched off.

After proving that this configuration was workable, I went out and purchased my AirPlay speaker and it was all very easy to get going with the real hardware. The speaker I purchased also supports the DLNA protocol, however attempts to configure this just brought on Windows 7 pain so i’m sticking with AirPlay because “it just works”.

Have you had any experience with AirPlay or DLNA for remote listening and controlling your music library outside of Apple’s ecosystem?