Life imitates art


Augmented reality, that real-time meshing between the physical real-world environment and virtual, computer-generated imagery, used to be stuff of sci-fi.

But with internet-linked, GPS-embedded cell phones, it isn’t so anymore. Here is a little taste of what is about to arrive, but has arrived already:

Among the other augmented reality programs that recently have hit Apple’s App Store is Robotvision. If you hold your phone parallel to the ground, Robotvision displays a map of your surroundings. Hold the phone up, however, and it goes into augmented-reality mode, highlighting places like coffee shops and bars. Robotvision also can search for other kinds of businesses with Microsoft’s Bing search engine. You can view pictures that people took nearby and posted to Flickr with a “geotag” of the shot’s physical location.

Dropping stones

“I had always wanted to see if there was a way to test what the crow did in Aesop’s fable,” explains Nathan Emery, University of London.

As the 2000-year-old story goes, the crow filled the bucket of water with stones until the level became high enough for him to quench his thirst.

A number of corvids have been found to use tools in the wild, and New Caledonian crows appear to understand the functional properties of tools and solve complex physical problems via causal and analogical reasoning. A 1980s study tells how a rook plugged a hole in its aviary to allow a pool of water to form.

Emery’s experiment includes four captive rooks, presenting them with clear tubes partly filled with water with a bug floating on top, and piles of stones. The tube contained the larvae of a wax moth–the birds’ favorite food–floating near the bottom, just beyond the reach of the rooks’ beaks.

The researchers then placed a small pile of stones next to the tube; in some of the experiments, these varied in size, so the birds had a choice of using either large or small stones. The amount of water in the tube also varied, requiring that the birds drop between one and seven rocks in order to get the prized worm.

Video footage is astonishing: it shows the rook first assessing the water level by peering at the tube from above and from the side, before picking up and dropping the stones into the water. Within a couple of trials the birds had figured out how many stones they needed to bring the bug within reach.

The experiment is a further demonstration of convergent cognitive evolution between the primate and corvid lineages, with both groups having a generalized understanding of the physical world. The rooks are “clearly combining some sort of understanding of the task with an understanding of the tool and are able to solve the task so quickly.” At the very least, adds Emery, the experiments demonstrate the rooks’ talent for “innovation, because they are adapting their previous experience with stones and tubes [in other experiments] to a new problem.”

An expedition team on a carbon emission-free trip to Greenland, relying solely on sail, solar and man power to promote climate change awareness, has been rescued by an oil tanker.

Eight police officers two civilian staff serving with Strathclyde Police, Scotland’s largest force, listed their official religion as Jedi in voluntary diversity forms.

Jane’s Police Review editor Chris Herbert, who requested the information, made fun of the situation:

The Force appears to be strong in Strathclyde Police with their Jedi police officers and staff. Far from living a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, some members of the noble Jedi order have now chosen Glasgow and its surrounding streets as their home.

About 390,000 people listed their religion as Jedi in the 2001 Census for England and Wales. In Scotland the figure was a reported 14,000. With these numbers surrounding him, the funny editor shouldn’t grow too proud of this technological terror he has constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.

Do, or do not. There is no try.

Do, or do not. There is no try.

Classic Star Wars sleeping bag simulates the warmth of a Tauntaun carcass

"Classic Star Wars sleeping bag simulates the warmth of a Tauntaun carcass"

At ThingGeek.com. Enough said.

An attempt of a different kind of bail-out was thwarted late last year. On October 29, 2008, a senior Unix enginner for Fannie Mae found a bomb supposedly planted by a contractor who had been fired a few days earlier. The “bomb” was a script set to activate on January 31, 2009, when it would wipe out all of Fannie Mae’s 4,000 servers.

Rajendrasinh Makwana, the fired contractor, pleaded not guilty today. Makwana was fired early on the afternoon of Oct. 24; an affidavit states he was fired for, two weeks earlier, erroneously writing instructions that changed server settings.

Then, before surrendering his Fannie Mae badge at the end of his last day, Makwana “intentionally and without authorization caused and attempted to cause damage to Fannie Mae’s computer network by entering malicious code”. According to the logs, Makwana worked on his script from around 2:30pm all the way to 4:30pm, returning his badge at 4:45pm.

According to an FBI affidavit, a Fannie Mae engineer discovered the malicious instructions by chance: “the malicious script was at the bottom of the legitimate script, separated by approximately one page of blank lines, apparently in an effort to hide the malicious script within the legitimate script”.

Anyone that logged into the Fannie Mae network on Jan. 31 would have seen a message “Server Graveyard”. ZD Net has copies of indictements and affidavits.

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That’s one way of dealing with toxic assets. The other seems to be a 4-trillion-dollar “bad bank“. Not sure which one is more expensive.

Richard Wiseman brings us the Amazing Color Changing Card Trick:

Reminds me of the famous video of kids bouncing balls, and nobody notices the gorilla walking on the background…

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