Sunday, November 30, 2008

Remote Controlled Black Widow Spider

Created by London’s Natural History Museum, the larger-than-life (appx 12″ long by 10″ wide) mechanical arachnid can creep forward, backwards, left, right, or even spin itself around on a dime. The remote control works from up to 30 feet away, letting you stalk your unwitting victims from around a corner or hiding in their closet.
r/c black widow spider
Ready to unleash havoc? Head on over to UK gadget retailer and plunk down your £17.99 (appx. $28 USD). Venom not included.

Article Link (Technalob)

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

To Buy Children’s Gifts, Mothers Do Without

In September and October, sales of women’s apparel fell precipitously compared with the same months the year before. They were down 18.2 percent in October, for instance, compared with a decrease of 8.3 percent for men’s apparel, according to SpendingPulse, a report by MasterCard Advisors. The downturn, analysts said, is being exacerbated by unexciting fashions in stores.

And a survey of shoppers’ intentions by the NPD Group, a consultant firm, suggests that such cutbacks may continue through the holiday season. Some 61 percent of mothers said they would shop less for themselves this year, compared with 56 percent of all women and 45 percent of men.

Reyne Rice, who studies toy trends for the Toy Industry Association, said mothers do at least 80 percent of the holiday shopping in a family, and in past recessions they have been the first to do without. They tend not to get a new coat for themselves, Ms. Rice said, so they can provide for their children.

Despite all these efforts, many mothers will nonetheless end up cutting back, at least a bit, on spending for their children. Historically, the toy industry has been more immune to economic downturns than other industries, but this year, analysts expect it to feel the pinch.

“While times are difficult, the last thing parents are going to cut from their budget is the Christmas present for their child,” said Gerald L. Storch, chairman and chief executive of Toys “R” Us. “We are not seeing price resistance for the hot toys.”

Article Link (NY Times)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

USB Stake Helps Brown Thumbs Turn Green, Monitors Soil Conditions

USB Stake Helps Brown Thumbs Turn Green, Monitors Soil Conditions

Those cacti on your windowsill don't deserve to die. Even if you
regularly fail at horticulture, the EasyBloom can help. Just leave it
in your proposed planting area for 24 hours, either stuck in the dirt
or propped up in its cradle, then plug it into your computer's USB
port. The gizmo measures soil conditions, sunlight, temperature, and
humidity, comparing the results with an online database to recommend
species that will thrive there. And should the weather be wacky that
day, the EasyBloom is smart enough to check the National Weather
Service for local averages. Your data is stored online for quick
reference. If you've already killed everything in the garden, plunk the
sensor down in your little Death Valley, set it to Monitor mode, and
let it tell you what you're doing wrong. But here's a tip: If you find
yourself running the autopsy repeatedly, it could be something basic.
You do have to water the crops, you know. The EasyBloom can't do
everything for you

Article Link

Hiring for Emotional Intelligence

There are multiple aspects to emotional intelligence, but homing in
on these three in the interview process will go a long way toward
identifying candidates with high EQ--and eliminating those likely to
destroy more value than they create:

  1. Self-awareness and self-regulation. The
    candidate understands the needs and wishes that drive him and how they
    affect his behavior. He regulates his emotions so that any fear, anger,
    or anxiety he experiences doesn't spread to his colleagues or make him
    lose control.
  2. Reading others and recognizing the impact of his behavior on them.
    The candidate has well-developed emotional and social "radar" and can
    sense how his words and actions influence his colleagues.
  3. The ability to learn from mistakes. He can acknowledge his mistakes, reflect critically upon them, and learn from them.

    Article Link

Tinker Bell appears in act of marketing magic

New toys called "Clickables" that link to the online world are hitting
store shelves for the holidays, and some 7.5 million fairy avatars that
children have created can will now be allowed to become privileged
members of the world for $5.95 a month.

Steve Parkis, the senior vice president of Disney Online Studios,
said makers of virtual worlds generally convert 5 to 20 percent of
visitors into paying customers with monthly subscriptions — which
enable users to buy better gags or weapons, pursue more interesting
quests or, in Pixie Hollow, make and buy outfits.

"Ten to 12 percent is where you want to be, 20 percent is very
successful," Parkis said of the conversion rate. "We would be in the
more successful range across the majority of our products."

Disney does not make its online revenue public. But, with a 10 percent
conversion rate and monthly fees from $5.95 to $9.95, Disney's online
worlds rake in an estimated $7 million a month, or $85 million a year —
on par with one low-budget hit movie.

Article Link

Holiday spending slashed

A little more than half, or 55%, of the 1,000 respondents said they planned to reduce holiday spending at least "somewhat," and a full 27% said they planned to spend "much less than last year," according to the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) and the Credit Union National Association (CUNA) survey.

The top two reasons cited by those planning to spend less were the economy and related economic uncertainty (36%), and less money (22%). From 2003 to 2007, the survey showed just 30% to 35% of consumers cutting back on holiday spending.

"Since data collecting began in 1992, we haven't seen a year-over-year decline." "This year, I'd guess spending could be 2% to 5% less than last year," said Hampel.

Record numbers of all age and income groups intend to reduce spending in 2008, according to the survey. Sixty-two percent of women and 61% of households with children said they would tighten the purse strings, compared with only 48% of men and 51% of childless households.

Article Link (CNN)

Monday, November 24, 2008

MIT's Huggable Robotic Bear

Huggable is another smart robot companion, a bit like Paro meets Teddy Ruxpin. Its body is covered in sensors and motors, including webcams behind his eyes and a speaker in his nose, and its designed to respond to you and react like an electronic pet. But it's a little smarter than Paro: it can act as a telepresence device, echoing the movements of a remotely-manipulated Huggable.

And the remote bear can also be moved by you, which opens up the chance for the possibility of remote-controlled cuddles. It may, at this point, help to remember the bear's intended for uses in places like hospitals, and in early-learning applications.

It's the latest version of a device that MIT's Personal Robots Group has been working on for a while, and as you can see it's a research device so it's not exactly wonderfully cuddly at the mo. Still, the group's working on a refined version that'll be used in real-life human-computer interaction experiments.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Bad product development

I'm tired of this. This sense of permanent discomfort with the technology around me. The bugs. The compromises. The firmware upgrades. The "This will work in the next version." The "It's in our roadmap." The "Buy now and upgrade later." The patches. The new low development standards that make technology fail because it wasn't tested enough before reaching our hands. The feeling now extends to hardware: Everything is built to end up in the trash a year later, still half-baked, to make room for the next hardware revision.

Take the iPhone, for example, one of the most successful products in the history of consumer electronics. We like it, I love mine, but the fact is that the first generation was rushed out, lacking basic features that were added in later releases or are not here yet. Worse: The iPhone 3G was really broken. For real. Bad signal, dropped calls, frozen apps. This would have been unthinkable in cellphones just five years ago. They were simpler, for sure, but they were failure proof. Today's engineering and testing is a lot more sophisticated. In theory, products can't go out into distribution with such glaring problems undetected.

On the other side, my parents have a Telefunken CRT TV and a Braun radio from the '70s which are still in working condition. They were first generation. They never failed.

For sure, today's products are far more complex than those of 20 or 30 years ago. But back then, the manufacturing was also a lot worse.

Clearly, the problem is the development process and the time to market, with product cycles shortened and corners cut to keep a continuous stream of cash flowing in. The rush to feed these cycles with increasingly more complex engineering seems to be at odds with shortened development and quality assurance processes, resulting in beta-state first-generation products. This beta culture, the same one that already plagues the web, breeds people who are willing to accept bugs in the name of cutting-edge gear.

That's the key: We have surrendered in the name of progress and marketing and product cycles and consumerism.

Maybe the recession will put some order in this thirst of new stuff and change the product cycles. As the economy slows down, people will think twice before buying the latest and greatest; they'll keep older hardware for longer. Then, manufacturers will have to rethink their product lines, and lift their feet from the accelerator, which will result on slower cycles and better products. Maybe that's our ticket for better electronics that actually make sense.
Or maybe... maybe that will be another excuse for the manufacturer to cut even more corners and keep lowering prices so that consumers keep spending and ending up with worse products than we have now.
Article Link (Gizmodo)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

SNIF Dog Tag Social Networking

Just for $299, the SNIF Tag clips on to your pet’s collar and picks up interactions with other SNIF-enabled doggies, allowing you to meet other fellow dog enthusiasts. The tag then uploads all the information to a SNIF profile and shares it with other SNIF owners at home.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

T-Mobile G1 Cost

T-mobile's G1 has been given the teardown treatment again by the guys at iSuppli, and their official estimate of its materials price is $143.89. The most costly part inside is the dual-ARM processor baseband at $28.49, followed by the display at $19.67 and the 3-megapixel cam at $12.13. Obviously this doesn't include external costs such as hardware and software development, packaging and the like, but it gives an interesting insight into the G1. And, even more interestingly, it's cheaper than it's competitor, the iPhone 3G: this runs in at $174.33.

Article Link (Gizmodo)

Monday, November 3, 2008

Amazon Frustration-Free™ Packaging

This Batman TDK Batmobile & Batpod ships in a recyclable,
easy-to-open box and eliminates 4-color printing and minimizes the use
of PVC windows, fasteners, and 4-color inserts found in traditional

Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging, a multi-year initiative designed to
alleviate "wrap rage," features recyclable boxes that are easy to open
and free of excess materials such as hard plastic clamshell cases,
plastic bindings, and wire ties. The product itself is exactly the
same—we’ve just streamlined the packaging.

Article Links (Engadget and Amazon)

The woman behind the Google logo

In her first meeting with Page and Brin, Kedar
says, the two told her they were establishing a company based on
Internet searches.

"Most of the companies that offered searches at the time were big
portals like Lycos, Netscape and Hotbot, and results of the searches
were similar to results from the Yellow Pages: If you wanted to appear
in them you had to pay," Kedar said.

"This was the beginning of the era of gathering information on the
Web. Sergey and Larry wanted to do something else, what we call today
an 'organic search' or a 'natural search', which brings relevant
results. They already believed then that the future of the Internet was
hidden in searches," she said.

There are two reasons why the Google logo looks so simple: First,
it is based on an earlier sketch Brin designed using the free design
program GIMP; second, was the designer's decision to create something
simple, catchy and user-friendly.

While first sight the logo seems basic, as if it were never really
"designed," Kedar says that it went through many changes along the way.

"Someone who sees the logo for the first time doesn't necessarily
need to absorb all the layers and considerations behind every decision
- it's better for him to discover something new every time," she said.

Page and Brin, Kedar says, knew from the beginning of the process
what they needed. They did want to be perceived as part of the
establishment, as something heavy and cumbersome - they wanted to break
conventions and create something completely new. This, Kedar says, is
another reason the logo comprises only letters and no symbols.

"From the outset, it was clear to us that the name of company had
to stand at the center of the logo," she said. "It must be remembered
that at the time, many people were afraid to use the Internet, and it
was important to broadcast something user-friendly both on the home
page and in the logo. Something simple, that you didn't need to be
scared of, something catchy and full of life."

The use of primary colors - blue, yellow and red - was born of the
same desire, to design something that at first sight wouldn't be

"With green there is something that stands on its own, that's not
apologizing," she said, "and also the two Os that lean slightly to
their sides. This gives a little drive to the logo, but also shows that
nothing on this site is standard."

Kedar demonstrated, using some of the earlier sketches, the quest to represent the infinite search.

In one old sketch, an 'O' is transformed into a magnifying glass,
an attempt to show that search results bring the seeker closer to his

Another sketch has the 'O's at the center of a target to portray
accuracy, and to emphasize that the result of a search is important.

Kedar even used capital letters in one design, in contrast to the
final result in which only the G appears in capitals. This was intended
to instill a feeling that the company is solid and serious, while
attempting to protect the feeling of playfulness that comes from every
letter being a different color.

In yet another sketch, Kedar turned one of the Os into a face and
added a smile, in an attempt to portray a positive search experience.

Kedar says that when she first brought the sketches to Page and
Brin, they would look at the pages, place them on the table, and
discuss with their visions for the company.

"It was important for them to tell me about themselves, what they
believe in, where they see themselves in the future and which people
they were looking for to work with them, even at a time when the entire
company numbered five people," she said.

"In general, when people speak about their big dreams in life, they
apologize many times for it, for the pretension. They [Brin and Page]
weren't like that. It was clear to them from the start that they had
something big in their hands."

Kedar is no longer perturbed by the criticism that any child could draw the Google logo.

"Ultimately, the question was whether to portray a feeling of
playfulness without using a familiar symbol that would limit us in its
meaning, something that is possible to appreciate in retrospect," she

"We worked very hard in order to create something simple, and
that's also the reason all the other sketches were cancelled out on the
way. Or that they were sophisticated, or that they were too sharp. We
didn't want Google to be restricted to something, just like the search
is also not restricted."

Ten years later, the logo Kedar designed still continues to touch and surprise her.

"It somewhat amuses me to turn on the computer and look at the logo
I designed. But it also fills me with pride," she said. "When you say
Google to people today, they immediately see the colorful logo."

"Also, 'Google doodles' - the illustrations of Dennis Hwang that
accompany the logo in special events - don't disturb the design. On the
contrary, they awaken the strength of the product and play with the
logo in an exciting and very nice way," she said.

"From my point of view, that is a big achievement," she said. "I get a lot of pleasure from this child.

Article Link (Haaretz)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Recon Scout

Developed by the University of Minnesota using funding from DARPA, the
Recon Scout resembles your average barbell weight, but when you're not
workin' those triceps, this little fellow can be heaved across
flatlands, over fences, and into brick walls in order to secure a
location and start feeding back video of its surroundings. The two-wheeled bot is equipped with a low-resolution monochrome camera
that feeds images back to the Operator Control Unit, and since it
weighs just a single pound and fits in most cargo pockets, the whole
platoon could carry their own in order to really scope out the next
bend. Of course, the current iteration will only broadcast video up to
250 feet, and onlookers at a recent demonstration weren't thrilled by
its quickness, but a titanium-based wheeled spying
machine is fairly impressive regardless. Reportedly, the Recon Scout
has been sold to "law enforcement agencies" for around $6,500 apiece.

Article Link (Engadget)

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation was
interested in this rugged bastion of self-sacrifice, too. They can
apparently envision all kinds of nightmare scenarios where prisoners
have weapons and no human wants any part of it -- which is why they've
agreed to a rental contract where they get ten devices and developer
ReconRobotics gets feedback from the Department in exchange.

Article Link (Engadget)

Saturday, November 1, 2008

MSR-H101 Hexapod kit

Robot builder Matt Denton apparently first built a
one-off Hexapod robot for himself some time ago, but he's now taken
things one big step further and is offering a kit of a similar bot to
the general public through Micromagic Systems. The
MSR-101 Hexapod looks to be relatively simple to get going
straight out of the box, with it boasting a built-in HexEngine with
plenty of pre-loaded settings, and built-in PS2 controller suppport,
which'll let you parade your creation about without having to mess
around with it too much beforehand. Of course, there's also plenty of
room for more experienced robot builders to get their hands dirty, and
Micromagic is more than happy to sell you a whole slew of optional
add-ons for the kit. Those just looking to get started, however, can
simply grab the base kit in their choice of black, red, or silver for
an entirely reasonable €105, or roughly $168.

Article Link (Engadget)

Hexapod Dancing Robot

Created by students from the
HTL Saalfelden engineering school in Austria.

Article Links (Gizmodo and Rocketboom)