mosquito-shooting laser

So this video of a mosquito-shooting laser in the article here has been making the Youtube rounds recently. This isn’t really new, is it? It was already demonstrated last year, as described in this article. I was curious about the technology that supposedly you can assemble from eBay-acquired parts, and it turns out to be kind of lame…

Demonstrating the technology recently, Dr. Kare, Mr. Myhrvold and other researchers stood below a small shelf mounted on the wall about 10 feet off the ground. On the shelf were five Maglite flashlights, a zoom lens from a 35mm camera, and the laser itself — a little black box with an assortment of small lenses and mirrors. On the floor below sat a Dell personal computer that is the laser’s brain.

To locate individual mosquitoes, light from the flashlights hits the tank across the room, creating tiny mosquito silhouettes on reflective material behind it. The zoom lens picks up the shadows and feeds the data to the computer, which controls the laser and fires it at the bug.

I’m sorry, but having a screen behind to form an image for detection is cheating and makes this much less exciting. How is this going to work in the field (cheaply) and be something more relevant than a net?

autotune and avatar

Although autotune is now used as a digital effect, it was originally used to correct pitch in songs. With its use, singers can sing in perfect pitch, so long as they are not too far off. Indeed, autotune does not need to work in real time, and at a high level, it is no different from an instrument synthesizer, but with the instrument sampled in real time. (Perhaps such a hybrid approach could render even more realistic real acoustic instruments, and make almost anybody a “great” music player.) As the automated portion of the autotune’s capability improves, less and less of the singer’s input is needed, and one finds less and less need for the perfect singer, and more and more need for the perfect song and its performance intention — this is, after all, the essence of a creative work — not the much valued virtuosity with which it is performed (for its “difficulty”).

A similar thing has been taking place in motion picture production, with computer assisted graphics taking over for effects and stunts. Lately, the production process for the movie Avatar has pushed this process to a mini-plateau of some sort. Avatar, as you may recall, is produced by sampling the expressivity of the actors on a body grid, then re-rendering in a very different way. Much like the human-controlled machines in the movie, the actors are just giving input to a machine, which follows the director’s desires. Again, as the technology improves, less and less of the actor’s input is needed, and eventually, they, like the singers, will be unnecessary.

When it comes to the creative fields, as it does — I believe — in any field, the evolution of automation technology diminishes birth advantages, allows compartmentalization of skills, promotes specialization of skills, and therefore equalizes opportunities. The beneficiaries are people who engage in true creativity of the mind, both in the arts and in the engineering of the technology, while the losers are the human “performers”, save for the few truly great ones, who will be needed to go through the dehumanizing experience of being sampled as input for a machine.

So… study what a machine cannot do, or, study how to make a machine do that.

chrome os, wave, collaboration

Something in the news says Chrome OS got a demo today. I don’t even care, since I don’t think what’s being demonstrated — a glorified PDA with internet connection — is, by itself, very interesting. What’s important is what runs on it that can’t be run in another way or with as much ease. What might that be? It seems to me this “novel experience” (not necessarily novel technology) is in the roadmap of Google and other big companies — but only in pieces spread among them, with none of them seeming to have the entirety of it. And that is ridiculous…

So Google has the ideas. Microsoft has the delivery mechanism in the form of the installed base and the ready platform with the ability to propogate via a simple update. Apple has the hardware designs and marketing to get people to adopt. Yet, each is missing the critical pieces held by others. And so we stall in Year 2009 as each company tries to replicate some existing thing that another company is already good at.

(This very good article gives too much credit to Google, I believe. The situation is a lot more symmetrical and Google should not be elevated to a privileged position. The current Chrome OS for netbooks, I believe, is a clear misread of the market. People want a better phone, not a worse computer, and Google will likely fail with this if they make the latter without the former (Android?) catching on first. I think the “PC companies” are not that far behind either. It’s much harder for inexperienced Google to make a good cloud client than for say Microsoft to deliver good cloud integration. In some sense, Microsoft’s lack of execution on this front is due to politics, i.e. lack of will-power to lose a cash cow until it is inevitable, not due to technical barriers.)
(Read the article)


I guess it happened like they say in the brochures, the guys in my college dorm started a company (called ‘apture’), now with millions of dollars of initial funding. This by itself is a great feat and I’m impressed that these guys, who could have been you or me in other respects — I know them so I know — made it happen. (But please, this is not to say there is something wrong with being Joe Codemonkey or Bob Engineer.)

At first I wasn’t too impressed with the technology. In terms of conception, popping up content on a page isn’t too much different from what people naturally do by opening tabs or what designers do in more laboriously manual fashion. Sure it looks nicer and saves work, but is that really going to revolutionize the web? Does that befit the ridiculous moniker web 3.0? Of course not. If that’s all there is, it’s a flash in the pan and stupid. But when I realized that server-side embedding is really what they’re doing, I recognized the Trojan potential in this, and I must say it’s a brilliant business move and sets up for potentially much more exciting technologies once they get around to implementing them.
(Read the article)

Wired on the Gaussian copula

Because this article is spamming the internet today, I decided to read Li’s paper and learn what the heck is this Gaussian copula.

For five years, Li’s formula, known as a Gaussian copula function, looked like an unambiguously positive breakthrough, a piece of financial technology that allowed hugely complex risks to be modeled with more ease and accuracy than ever before. With his brilliant spark of mathematical legerdemain, Li made it possible for traders to sell vast quantities of new securities, expanding financial markets to unimaginable levels.

And anyway, here is the paper referenced in the article.
(Read the article)

execution methods and consciousness

With the news of Sodamn Insane’s execution plastered in big letters over the front pages of the new year weekend dailies (a strange phenomenon in itself), I realized that most of the world’s ancient execution methods do indeed go straight for the head.
(Read the article)

automatic parking

This is interesting, this self-parking car thing. Well, it’s not completely automatic, but it is supposed to take care of the most difficult part. Now I know my driving test required a demonstration of parallel parking ability – not sure about other states, so it is natural to ask, if somebody had this car, should they turn this off for the test?

Are there existing conventions dealing with technological aid in various kinds of skills testing? I can think of some, and they generally seem to fall on the side of accepting technology, with restrictions that can sometimes be arbitrary. For example, on the SAT you could use a graphing calculator, but not one with a “QWERTY” keyboard, so a TI-89 was okay but the TI-92 was not, even though they ran the exact same firmware. Not sure if they changed this. Guess not. The College Board still appears to be living in the stone age with regard to some of these banned calculators:

  • calculators with QWERTY (typewriter-like) keypads arbitrary
  • calculators that contain electronic dictionaries they all do now or can
  • calculators with paper tape or printers cash register? lol
  • calculators that “talk” or make noise right
  • calculators that require an electrical outlet haha
  • etc…

That aside, the car that drives itself has got to be the most popular civilian application touted by sensor networks people. So far, most automated components of the car are not fully automated. There is always some human element in some key part of the chain, unlike in airplanes. There is some human resistance toward giving up control on this matter. The trend toward more automation may be unstoppable, though, if automation creeps in a bit at a time like this.