Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Speaking of Robots...

Lately there have been a few stories about bad robots.

From the Tesla driver who was killed by running into a semi. The driver was going so fast that when he went through the truck trailer the driver didn't even see him. Certainly, a setback for automated automobiles.

In Russia, an AI robot kept escaping the lab and is now being considered for decommission. Promobot IR77 is designed to be a concierge or sales person and can remember every person it has ever met and help with sales requests, directions, tourism, etc.. At the lab, a technician left a gate open and the white metal robot made a break for it ending up stranded in traffic because its batteries ran out half way across the street. The AI program was scrubbed and replaced, but Promobot made another break for it leading creators to contemplate scraping the escape artist. Maybe it's just too smart for the lab.

And robots may not like small children.

Stanford Shopping Center's 5-foot-tall, 300-pound Knightscope security robot knocked down and ran over a 16-month-old boy at the shopping center. The robot is designed to look out for environmental changes and known criminals, but apparently toddlers aren't on its radar. Thankfully, Knightscope is not weaponized and only reports on suspicious incidents.

The robot comes equipped with "multiple high-definition cameras for 360-degree vision, a thermal camera, a laser rangefinder, a weather sensor, a license-plate recognition camera, four microphones, and person recognition capabilities." But apparently, it needs to work on kid-recognition software.

Are we on our way to some crazy scifi Terminator movie? Everything we own comes with some kind of sensor from our garage door openers to our food-tracking refrigerators, we are surrounded by technology designed to make our lives easier and safer. Should all AI robots be programmed with Asimov's three laws of robotics (1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. 2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law. 3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.)?

While it is great that robots will make our lives easier (hopefully), do you think robots will take over all the minimum wage jobs?  Apparently, they will be our security guards and sales clerks. McDonald's is automating its stores in Europe where there is a higher minimum wage. Do you think you will see AI doctors and nurses in your lifetime? How about teachers? What is your major? Do you think you might be replaced by a robot?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

In Honor of Comic Comic Con and the Olympics

Since I'm feeling sorry for myself after reading all the exciting posts from my friends at San Diego Comic Con, here's a comic website that will make you smile -- Comics with Problems. Today let's take a look at "The Insiders: The Marijuana Mystery".

This comic from 1991 features Holly, a gymnast aspiring to win the state championship, who has a crush on Mike, a popular jock and failing student. Holly offers to tutor Mike hoping he'll ask her to the prom, but instead he rewards her with marijuana. She takes one toke off a joint and immediately quits studying for tests and misses gymnastic's practice. When she makes it back to practice she gets injured and can't go to the state championships. After confessing to her best friend that all of her new problems are due to marijuana, there's a robot intervention.

Here's the facts laid out in this comic about marijuana abuse as delivered by Alpha the Robot:
[BEEP.] Marijuana impairs a person's thinking, making it hard to learn and remember. 
[BEEP]. Marijuana affects the natural balance of hormones which build a healthy body.
[BEEP]. It affects a person's reproductive system. 
[BEEP]. It also impairs the immune system's ability to prevent disease and illness. 
[BEEP]. THC remains in the body, trapped in fatty tissue. 
[BEEP]. Marijuana is a gateway drug. 
[BEEP]. Marijuana is more dangerous than tobacco because it contains more tar, cancer causing chemicals and carbon monoxide.
After learning about marijuana, Holly's response is to educate Mike so he doesn't "get hurt." It doesn't work, so she goes to the school counselor and gets Mike some help. Hmmm, I'm not sure about that.

This company also produced "The Insiders: The Tobacco Temptation" and "The Insiders: Tony's Sobering Lesson." I can only imagine how much fun those must have been.

We can argue all day long about the validity of Alpha's claims, but I suppose if your audience is made up of 8-year-olds this might be a comic to read with them, but then again, I don't think I want my 8-year-old even thinking about smoking pot.

Oh, and what's up with the title, "The Marijuana Mystery." It reminded me of the Scooby Doo Mysteries I loved as a kid, but I was sorely disappointed. There is no mystery. Marijuana is EVIL . . . end of story.

And, what's up the visual and textual sexual innuendo and double entendre? Were the writers and artists just goofing? Were they even aware of all the sexy bits? Were they high?

I hope all those gymnasts in Brazil have read this, so they don't get hurt. Do you think "Marijuana Mystery" seems silly because it was produced for a 1991 audience? What do you think junior high students today would think about this comic? If you were to make a PSA comic today directed at junior high school students, what would it be about and how would you title it?

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Saving Money While you Relax

One thing you might miss once you move into the dorm is having those 363 channels your parents subscribed to at home for $176 per month. Yup, cable is expensive.

You also might think I wouldn't recommend TV, but after a hard day's working and studying sometimes you just have to veg in front of your own personal boob tube and it doesn't have to cost a bunch of money.

There are a few different ways to get free (or relatively free) television in the San Francisco Bay Area.

If you have a laptop you can use that free high-speed wi fi in your dorm room to access Project Free TV. I have to admit I don't use it that much - I'm pretty old school - but I have used it on an iPad, it gets good reviews, but I'd beware of viruses.

Speaking of free wi-fi, another way to watch TV is to get a Roku with an initial investment of anywhere from $50 to $120 (Costco, BestBuy, Fry's). The Roku is a streaming tv service that attaches via your TV's HDMI port and comes with a really easy remote. Roku is super simple to set up and has lots of free channels you can enjoy. If you have a streaming Netflix or an Amazon prime account, you can easily watch those channels. You can also rack up money by subscribing to HBO, Showtime, MLB.tv or NBA, etc, however those fees are usually less than most standard cable packages. Roku's most popular free channels are Crackle (TV/movies), YouTube, PBS, CBS, NBC, TwIT (geeks), History Channel, Smithsonian Channel, etc. and something called Twitch, which being a gamer I don't understand, but my game-playing kids love.

The biggest drawback of Project Free TV and Roku is that you don't get local news (some limited selections) and SPORTS - I know, no Warriors! AYK?! - but not to worry, if you have a television (a new tv costs less than $100) you can get an antenna (remember, I'm old school) and before you say "No way!" I have a secret to share. Today's antennas are not the rabbit ears padded with tin foil that you had to hang from a coat hanger off the nearest curtain rod. Today's antennas deliver HD signals FREE. And, btw, today's antennas deliver snow-free signals, you either get the channel or you don't. In the East Bay you can get over 90 channels (check out Antenna Web to see what channels are available via antenna in your area). Of course, you have to buy an antenna and those can run anywhere from $20 to $40 depending on . . . who knows. It just depends on which antenna your TV likes, so you may have to try a couple (save that packaging). The best one I've found that works way out here in the sticks is the Mohu Curve. BTW new antennas need a power source.

You can even buy a Roku TV (40 inch, $250 at Costco) that comes all set up and ready to go and includes 3 HDMI ports for your video equipment and the antenna connection for local tv.

There is also a way to turn your computer monitor into a TV by using a ATSC Digital Tuner (about $40) hooked to an antenna, but that's a whole different post.

Now that you have your FREE tv set up, you can also get free tv listings on the internet from Titan TV where you can view customized schedules for broadcast tv (antenna) and various cable services, so you can figure out when your favorite shows are on.

So now that you are a starving student who needs to unwind to some free tv every once in a while, what are you going to watch? What is your favorite show? Why do you like it? What is your guilty tv pleasure? Mine are Firefly and Downton Abbey.