Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Robots to compete against humans in Ironman triathlon race

As if computers trouncing Jeopardy champions and making chess kings look like pawns wasn't bad enough, now robots will be 'competing' in the grueling Ironman race.  Panasonic, seeking to promote their brand of rechargeable batteries, will pit mini-robots against world-class athletes in the vaunted triathlon in Hawaii next month, TechCrunch reported. But the real athletes don't have to worry - the robots won't be setting any speed records; they're expected to take a week to finish the race

But just look how cute they are!

Three different robots will take part in the contest, each specifically designed to perform a part of the three-leg race. The Ironman race is a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride and a marathon.  So far, computers and robots seem a whole lot better at thinking and calculating than they do at running & swimming... so far.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What if a powerful alien race judges mankind to be evil?

(August, 2011)  A study that reviews a host of sci-fi scenarios for contact with extraterrestrials stirred up such a ruckus today that NASA had to step in and distance itself from the research. The controversy focuses on the idea that E.T. could well decide that we're a threat to interstellar order, and therefore we have to be stopped before we spread.

The report itself, published in the journal Acta Astronautica, covers ground that's familiar to dedicated fans of E.T. lore. For example, the premise of the 1951 sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still" is that universalist-minded aliens see our civilization as so rooted in violence that it's better to snuff us out than let us ruin the neighborhood. (Remade by liberals in 2008, starring Keanu Reeves, recycled that idea with an environmental theme.)

Then there's the "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" scenario, in which Earth is destroyed merely to make way for a new stretch of intergalactic infrastructure. "At the heart of these scenarios is the possibility that intrinsic value may be more efficiently produced in our absence," the researchers write.  The most familiar sci-fi scenario is the one in which the aliens are as selfish and territorial as we are, and want to wipe us out or enslave us and take our stuff. Think "War of the Worlds" or "Independence Day." In such cases, the researchers note that there's the potential for big payoffs ... if we prevail.

"Humanity benefits not only from the major moral victory of having defeated a daunting rival but also from the opportunity to reverse-engineer ETI [extraterrestrial intelligence] technology," they write. Indeed, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman joked last weekend that a fake alien invasion might be just the thing to spark an economic turnaround.  The researchers touch on more benign scenarios as well — for example, the "Star Trek" scenario, in which helpful aliens welcome us into the United Federation of Planets because we're all basically good guys (as opposed to those evil Klingons, until they become good guys, too). And then there's something like the "E.T." scenario, in which the aliens mostly just want to stay out of our way.

The 33-page study reflects at length on the potential risks.

"The possibility of harmful contact with ETI suggests that we may use some caution for METI [sending messages to extaterrestrial intelligence]," the researchers write. "Given that we have already altered our environment in ways that may be viewed as unethical by universalist ETI, it may be prudent to avoid sending any message that shows evidence of our negative environmental impact. The chemical composition of Earth's atmosphere over recent time may be a poor choice for a message because it would show a rapid accumulation of carbon dioxide from human activity. Likewise, any message that indicates widespread loss of biodiversity or rapid rates of expansion may be dangerous if received by such universalist ETI."

In short, let's keep our environmental bad habits on the down low, so as not to get the sad-Keanu E.T.'s on our case.

Are you following this so far?

By themselves, these ideas are not all that, um, alien. For years, sci-fi author David Brin has advised keeping quiet about our existence, and celebrity physicist Stephen Hawking agrees. U.N. officials and scientific experts also say the messages we direct toward any aliens we come across would have to be carefully managed.  So what's the big deal? Well, one of the authors of the paper, Shawn Domagal-Goldman, happens to be a postdoctoral student working at NASA Headquarters — and that highly tenuous connection to the world's most influential space agency sparked a huge wave of scare headlines. It started with The Guardian's story, and rolled onto The Drudge Report's webpage with a headline reading "NASA REPORT: Aliens may destroy humanity to protect other civlizations..." Another variant was this one: "NASA: Aliens May Destroy Humanity Over Greenhouse Gases."

Eventually, NASA had to send out a Twitter update saying "Yes, @drudge and @guardiannews are mistaken about an 'alien' report. It's not NASA research. Ask the report's author...." The space agency followed up later with two more tweets, emphasizing that it was not involved in the study and saying that Fox News and CNN "have it wrong."  In each case, NASA linked to a lengthy clarification and apology from Domagal-Goldman, who made clear that the study was not a "NASA report," that no NASA funding was expended on it, and that he spent none of his working hours on writing the paper. He said his two co-authors, Seth Baum and Jacob Haqq-Misra of Pennsylvania State University, "put in the vast majority of work on it."

"It was just a fun paper written by a few friends, one of whom happens to have a NASA affiliation," Domagal-Goldman wrote.  He admitted that including the NASA affiliation turned out to be a "horrible mistake":

"I did so because that is my current academic affiliation. But when I did so I did not realize the full implications that has. I'm deeply sorry for that, but it was a mistake born out of carelessness and inexperience and nothing more. I will do what I can to rectify this, including distributing this post to the Guardian, Drudge and NASA Watch. Please help me spread this post to the other places you may see the article inaccurately attributed to NASA.

"One last thing: I stand by the analysis in the paper. Is such a scenario likely? I don't think so. But it's one of a myriad of possible (albeit unlikely) scenarios, and the point of the paper was to review them. But remember — and this is key — it's me standing for the paper ... not the full weight of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. For anything I have done to mis-convey that to those covering the story, to the public, or to the fine employees of NASA, I apologize."

This isn't the first case where the NASA connection has become entangled in scientific speculation. In March, the space agency took great pains to distance itself from NASA researcher Richard Hoover's claims to have found evidence of outer-space organisms in meteorites.

In Domagal-Gordon's case, the substance was far less controversial. As I've tried to point out above, the views expressed in the paper aren't that far off from the typical science-blog fare. I'm willing to bet a goodly sum of quatloos that Domagal-Gordon will go on to have a fine career in science ... and also that this won't be NASA's last P.R. kerfuffle over E.T.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Star Trek Cast Mouse Pad

The perfect mouse pad for the Trekkie in your life. Featuring the cast of the Enterprise from the original Star Trek series. Textured fabric top printed with a vibrant image. Backed with a neoprene rubber non-slip backing. 8.5" x 7". Officially licensed.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Doctor Who - Dalek LED 3 Phrase Topper Alarm Clock

Exterminate sleep and wake up to Dr Who Dalek alarm LED lights & sounds Dalek wake up bedside alarm clock. Emits 4 phrases including "Exterminate", "You are an enemy of the Daleks", "You must be destroyed" & "You would make a good Dalek" Requires 3 x AAA (Batteries not included)

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Star Wars Air Freshener - Clash Of The Jedi - Vanilla Scent

Star Wars Air Freshener is double-sided and has its own oh-so-appropriate and scrumptious scent to keep home, office, gym locker, RV or car smelling dainty. Air Freshener measures approximately 3" x 3" and gives off a Vanilla scent.

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Friday, June 3, 2011

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [Blu-ray]

As the triumphant start of a trilogy, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring leaves you begging for more. By necessity, Peter Jackson's ambitious epic compresses J.R.R. Tolkien's classic The Lord of the Rings, but this robust adaptation maintains reverent allegiance to Tolkien's creation, instantly qualifying as one of the greatest fantasy films ever made.

At 178 minutes, it's long enough to establish the myriad inhabitants of Middle-earth, the legendary Rings of Power, and the fellowship of hobbits, elves, dwarves, and humans--led by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and the brave hobbit Frodo (Elijah Wood)--who must battle terrifying forces of evil on their perilous journey to destroy the One Ring in the land of Mordor. Superbly paced, the film is both epic and intimate, offering astonishing special effects and production design while emphasizing the emotional intensity of Frodo's adventure. Ending on a perfect note of heroic loyalty and rich anticipation, this wondrous fantasy continues in The Two Towers (2002). --Jeff Shannon

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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mass Effect

The galaxy is trapped in an endless cycle of extinction. Every 50,000 years, an ancient machine race invades the galaxy. With ruthless efficiency, the machines wipe out all advanced organic civilization. They leave behind only the scattered ruins of technology, destroying all evidence of their own existence.

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