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Do Engineers Dream of 0wnz0red sheep?

I’m a long time proponent of so-called hard science-fiction. While I generally enjoy fiction in all it’s forms, there is something uniquely interesting, and often eye-opening, about those well versed in esoteric (sometimes impenetrable) subsets of the science community trying to extrapolate the cutting-edge developments of their fields into ethical, moral, or straight-adventure tales.

It’s telling that one of two physical pulp-and-paper magazines I still subscribe to is the venerable Analog. While Wikipedia may be right that it can be “a bit puritanical”, I have never picked up an issue that didn’t contain at least one story or science article that made me reconsider a pre-conceived notion about the universe we live in, or our place in it.

George Dyson’s “Engineer’s Dreams” is a great story, but also a great example of this unique blend of fiction (and also how hard it is to find a venue to publish such works). It blends the history of computer sciences, approaches to computer logic, and examination of Google network topography to construct a fictional tale about man’s ever shifting view of what a “computer” is. It actually just occured to me that it’s an interesting counterpoint to Cory Doctrow’s “0wnz0red” (a 2003 Nebula finalist) in that “0wnz0red” examines what application of computer logic could do to alter our concept of “human” and “Engineer’s Dreams” is the inverse.

Both are excellent stories that raise interesting questions. So you should go read them.

Dear Robot Developers: Why Do You Want Your Creations to Kill Us All?

I was talking to someone the other day about a documentary from HotDocs called “Mechanical Love“. One of the themes the film touches on is how Japan has an official initiative of Robot integration to replace their rapidly ageing population (by 2055, over 40% of the population will be older than 65).

One of the engineers in the film (I think working on a guide robot for shopping malls) talked about how difficult it is to program certain basic empathic processes, such as recognizing that someone is disoriented or separated from their group, and in need of assistance.

While I’m no robophobe (heck one of my best friends growing up was Robo-Canadian) may I kindly suggest to engineers worldwide that programming robots which can recognize when someone is disoriented or separated from their group is a terrible idea. Because while you’re doing that, these guys are making terrifying all-terain quadrepeds (seriously check out the point in the video where ice, piles of rubble, and kicking the thing over don’t even slow it down)… and these guys are perfecting terrifying teddy-bear heads, and using people as human sheilds, and we know they’ve already mastered speaking to us in a soothing manner while planning to kill us all.

What I’m really getting at here is you think they don’t all talk to each other and pool their new abilities?. I have seen the future and it is not one I’m entirely comfortable with:

On the wisdom of crowds

after last weeks Batman story I got an e-mail grilling me on why I have a rule to not see movies on the opening weekend.

As the individual pointed out, I not only advocate going to the theatre generally (watching movies in large groups is a profoundly different experience than doing so at home), but I had actually chastised him in the past for not going to see certain movies on opening weekend (because the opening weekend gross often determines if small films last more than the opening weekend).

An aside: If you are a Canadian, and like Canadian films (or aren’t sure if you like Canadian films because you can never find any in your local multiplex) go join the First Weekend Club. Not only will you get notified when cool domestic films open near you, there may be the occasional cool freebie in your future. Just saying.

To clarify this seeming hypocracy, my rule is: No Hollywood Studio Films on Opening Weekend. Ever.. Read more

What’s The Deal with Rogers DNS Hijacking?

It was discovered today that Rogers Internet has started a new practise (often called “DNS Hijacking”) that redirects you to a Rogers-branded pages full of advertising instead of a “Page Not Found” page when you mis-type a web address (or type a non existent web address).

Click on for a patented “What’s the Deal?” Breaking down what this is about, why it sucks, and why you should care. Read more

Logo Mash-Ups

Mario Amaya’s collection of logo mash-ups and his follow up sequel have been well circulated around the internet by this point – but I noticed something interesting today for the first time.

While my initial pass through the list was just enjoyable for the novel sake of the visual puns, if I ask myself “what do I think about this company” I can get some truly stellar cognitive dissonence building up (especially in situations where Mario has combined a company with which I’ve had positive and negative experiences).

As someone who always thought that the concept of “visual branding” has been somewhat overstated – I found it interesting that by modifying the logos I no longer was entirely sure what I thought of companies that I had snap-opinions on for years. While I’m not sure this has any great insight for improving the perception of one’s brand, I now know the first thing I’d throw-out if ever asked to turn around a struggling company.

Obligatory Batman Tie-In Story

I was picking up my pull list at my local comic haunt last week (confidential to readership: If you don’t know what a “pull list” is, this story is probably not for you) and ended up in line behind a mother and her young son discussing which comic character he would dress up as for “Super Hero Camp.” “Wolverine!” was his instant, choice. “No, that’s too scary for some of the younger kids – pick someone more friendly.” The boy started scanning action figures lining the wall across from the counter “The Hulk! Hellboy! Lobo!” Each met with a similar complaint. The young gentleman clearly screwed down his thinking cap to give the issue some major thought – and then you could see the lightbulb go off over his head – “The Joker!”.
Mom beamed. “That’s a much better choice!” At this point I came dangerously close to doing a spit-take. May I present a common comic-shop dillema: Should I volunteer an opinion that no one has asked me for? Read more

XKCD meets state campaign financing

Given that, US politics often influences Canada to varying extents, there’s been a number of times I’ve been frustrated that I can’t donate to US political campaigns… although almost always at the national level. I can’t say I’ve ever really wanted to support a Kansas state representative before. I’m sure it’s a lovely state, I just don’t have a vested interest.

But this? This deserves $8.

(via Balloon-Juice)

A Blog Post: Beta Version

I think I inadvertently insulted someone today, with one of those odd reminders of how some tech terms haven’t quite permeated the general lexicon as much as I think they have.

I was talking about an upcoming meeting, one involving a few people involved in a much larger meeting later in the week as a kind of “trial run” to hash some things out first. “Gotcha,” I said “it’s like the beta version of the actual meeting“.

After a moment of silence I got the somewhat strained reply “In that it will last shortly and then fade into obscurity?”

I honestly didn’t know how to reply.