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Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Ad changes
You've probably noticed that we're experimenting with different ad placements in Mindjack, at least you will if you're actually viewing the site instead of the RSS feed. We're trying to keep things as unobtrusive as possible while still making the ads more effective which, as you all know, can be a tricky balancing act. So if any of the new changes turn you off or make the site harder to read, just shoot me an email and tell us how we can make things better.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 12:23 PM Comments (0)
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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

McLuhan interviews in MP3
There's tons of great stuff at UbuWeb, but especially relevent for Mindjack readers are these interviews with Marshall McLuhan available in MP3 format. One is from the Dick Cavett Show where he was a guest with Truman Capote and Chicago Bears running back Gayle Sayers, and the other is from the PBS program Speaking Freely. They even have the complete, now out-of-print "Medium is the Massage" LP.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 10:50 AM Comments (0)
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Monday, March 28, 2005

Virtual Reality Helps U.S. Soldiers Back From Iraq
According to some studies, one of every six Army soldiers returning from the war zone in Iraq experiences major depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. Military scientists have launched several efforts to help them, including therapy based on a virtual reality program.

The Washington Post, in "Recalling Iraq's Terrors Through Virtual Reality" (free registration), and the San Diego Union-Tribune, in "Military to try virtual combat stress remedy," are both reporting on the progress of this initiative.

If you don't have time to read the two articles mentioned above, this overview contains selected excerpts about this virtual reality therapy project, as well as other references to previous projects in this domain.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:30 AM Comments (0)
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Wearable Eyetracking
How do we use our eyes in our daily lives? What are we watching when we drive a car, walk in the woods or wash our hands? Until recently, visual perception research took place only in laboratories and was concentrated on the mechanics of visual perception, and not at the actual process. But now, Jeff Pelz, a researcher at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), has developed several new portable eye-tracking devices. RIT says "he's taking eye-tracking research to next level."

Today, Pelz is working on how deaf students process information in the classroom or how the human eye perceives high-speed motion on large-scale LCD monitors. I've assembled a photo gallery with other details and references for you about this research.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:28 AM Comments (0)
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Metafor: English as a Programming Language
Hugo Liu, a researcher at the MIT, thinks about using English as a programming language because it is much more concise than any traditional programming language, and eliminates the need to learn one in the first place. In "Tool turns English to code," Technology Review writes that Liu and his colleague have written an English-to-code visualizer named Metafor.

You type a story in plain English in one panel of the tool. In other panels, you can see the outputs of the parser and the debugger. Finally the fourth panel contains your story rendered as code -- or the program "skeleton." Here is an example taken from Liu's research. 'If I said, "Look in the bin and pick out just the red apples," that's the equivalent of programming: "map(Pick, filter(lambda apple: apple.color == red, bin.getApples()))."'

This overview contains other details and references, including a picture of the Metafor tool.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:25 AM Comments (0)
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A Snake-Shaped Serpentine Robot
Engineers from the University of Michigan have developed a snake-like robot that conquers obstacles. It is composed of 5 segments of 8-inch diameter each and weighs 26 pounds. It is currently piloted by a human operator. And it can maneuver in extremely rugged terrain, climbing stairs and pipes. "It moves by rolling, log-style, or by lifting its head or tail, inchworm-like, and muscling itself forward."

This robot will be used for industrial inspection and surveillance in hazardous environments, and also for military and urban search and rescue operations. Read more for other details, pictures and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:22 AM Comments (0)
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Virtual Meetings Through 'Telepresence'
If the efforts currently underway at the Universities of Calgary and Alberta (U of A) are successful, you might soon be able to chat and have a real dinner with your spouse sitting in front of you even if you're thousands of miles away from her. Pierre Boulanger, professor of computing science at U of A, has just received $1.7 million to develop new and inexpensive 'telepresence' tools to do just these kinds of tricks, and much more according to CBC News in Canada.

"The technology could allow surgical instructors to transmit hand and scalpel movements thousands of kilometres across a computer network, where the movements would be recreated." Or you'll build a 3D model of the Earth core on your computer and a teammate will be able to reconstruct it and interact with it at the other end of the world. Read more for other details and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 5:19 AM Comments (0)
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Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The Digital Hospital
BusinessWeek's cover story looks at the future of health care from a business point of view. And the magazine tries to answer at how high-tech can save lives and money. For BusinessWeek, 'productivity' in health-care declined during the 1990s, but is starting to rebound, partially because of a massive investment of about $30 billion in information technology in 2005 alone by U.S. hospitals.

Not only this is saving money by better managing patients and reducing the length of their stays in hospitals, this investment is also saving lives. Lots of them! It is estimated that "hospital errors result in up to 98,000 deaths annually," including 7,000 just by missing drug-interaction problems. Amazing numbers, isn't?

For more information, please read the whole report, preferably the print edition because it will bring some money to BusinessWeek, which will be able to do more of these reports in the future. On the other hand, the online version has some extra articles, so read both. Or you can simply read this summary which gives more details about Mr. Rounder, a robot used by 35 U.S. hospitals.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:36 AM Comments (0)
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Virtual Reality and the Art of Medical Interview
Medical students often learn to ask questions such as "Tell me where it hurts" with live actors who are following prepared scripts. But this is expensive and the University of Florida (UF) has developed a new way to teach the subtle art of the patient-doctor interview.

This news release, "UF's Virtual Reality 'Patient' Teaches Bedside Manners to Medical Students," tells us more about DIANA, which stands for "DIgital ANimated Avatar" and is a life-sized image of a young woman. Her image, completed by a simulation of a doctor's office, is projected in front of a student who can interview her.

So far, the method has only been used by two dozens students, but results are promising. Read more for other details, pictures and references about DIANA.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:34 AM Comments (0)
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The Rise of Smart Buildings
In a very well-documented article, Computerworld describes the current status of building automation systems (BAS) that control heat, air conditioning or lighting and how these systems are merging with traditional IT infrastructures.

Computerworld writes that they're not enough standards in this industry and asks a fundamental question: who will administer these building networks, IT or facilities managers? Take for example Yale University which wants to connect 210 campus buildings, but also wishes "to integrate the BAS with the university's accounting system for billing and chargeback."

Imagine the security risks involved with such an approach. This shorter summary contains selected exerpts of this must-read article.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:32 AM Comments (0)
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Lip-Readable Phones
A European Union project named Synface has permitted to develop prototype phones for moderately hearing impaired people. In this article, CNN says that you need a laptop with a special speech recognition software.

When a user receives a call on his phone, he can see an animated head "speaking" the words being said over the telephone, which helps him to better understand the conversation. The project took more than three years for a total cost of about 1.4 million euros.

And with about 80 million people in the EU alone suffering from some kind of hearing impairment, this could be potentially a huge market, even if the technology is not currently commercially available. This overview contains more details, pictures and links about this project.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 8:30 AM Comments (0)
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Sunday, March 20, 2005

Yahoo snags Flickr
Well, it looks like the rumors were true. Yahoo is buying Flickr and the company that made it, Vancouver-based Ludicorp. On the Flickr blog, Caterina Fake said that "Flickr will be continuing on the path it's on -- to Flickr 1.0 and beyond. We'll be working with a bunch of people that Totally Get Flickr and want to preserve the community and the flavor of what is here. We're going to grow and change, but we're in it for the long haul, with the same management and same team." Exact details of the acquisition were not revealed.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 8:35 PM Comments (0)
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Thursday, March 17, 2005

Elephants Send SMS to Tell Where They Are
Two months ago, I told you that the Wildlife Conservation Society was planning to count elephants from space. So I was very intrigued by a very short article from the Inquirer, "Elephants text their location."

This teasing story said that when elephants start to approach their fields, the farmers are alerted by SMS in time to politely ask the elephants to move over and save their crops. The whole story is told on the Save the Elephants (STE) site.

In fact, these conservationists are putting GSM/GPS collars around elephants in some areas of Kenya. And the collared elephants are sending SMS messages directly to farmers' phones. You can even track individual elephants on the Web -- if you're an authorized user. But read more for other details, pictures and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 10:45 AM Comments (0)
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IBM Mouse Helps People with Shaky Hands
A friend of mine who worked for free to help senior citizens to use computers once told me that the biggest hurdle was not technical -- people can learn during all their lives -- but physical. Many old people have trembling hands which prevent them to use a mouse to point and click on a small icon on a computer screen or a link on a browser page.

Now, according to this article from ExtremeTech, IBM has unveiled a mouse adapter which treats these tremors as "noise" by filtering out the unintentional movements of the hand caused by a tremor. This new mouse will also help the ten million people which are affected by this genetic disorder every year, and who aren't necessarily old.

This adapter will be sold for about $100. This overview contains more details, pictures and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 10:43 AM Comments (0)
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Tuesday, March 15, 2005

MIT Robots Serve Humans Everywhere
Robots developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working everywhere and can move without human assistance in a variety of settings, according to this article from the MIT News Office, "Robots serve humans on land, in sea and air." For example, the famous PackBots were conceived at the MIT and are now used by the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and in Iraq.

But engineers and robotic designers at MIT also are developing submarine-like vessels to help the U.S. Navy in mine warfare and battlespace preparation. And others are building 'intelligent' aircrafts, such as a 'robochopper' which would be better suited than surface robots to move in chaotic urban environments. This overview contains selected excerpts and tons of links, especially about the recent MIT's 'robotoddler.'
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 3:35 PM Comments (0)
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See It, Feel It, Hear It
With recent improvements in graphic cards and in powerful Linux-based PC clusters, virtual 3D prototypes are rapidly replacing actual physical prototypes in a wide range of industries, including early adopters such as aerospace or car companies. But now, software designers are also incorporating sound and tactile feedbacks to their Virtual Reality (VR) systems for real product development.

In this long article, Desktop Engineering gives several examples of these new VR developments. But even if PC clusters and off-the-shelf graphic cards are cheap, a state-of-the-art VR facility such as an immersive CAVE can still cost more than one million dollars, because you need to build the viewing facility and buy expensive projection systems.

However, costs are still decreasing and virtual prototyping is reaching the mainstream stage. This overview contains selected excerpts and comments.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 2:50 PM Comments (0)
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A Really Wild Wild Web...
Last week, I just noticed three highly controversial new services on the Web. In "If the world was run like eBay," BBC News Magazine reports about an eBay-like lending and borrowing exchange in the U.K.

And according to Wired News in "England's EBay for Sex," there is another British website where you can offer your sexual expertise, becoming in fact a part-time prostitute. Of course, you also can buy the services of such a part-time sex worker.

But the most outrageous service of the week is described by the San Francisco Chronicle in "Point, click and shoot." From your computer, you can visualize animals living in a Texas ranch and kill them with a click of your mouse, using what the site calls "computer-assisted remote hunting."

Are these services dangerous, illegal, and should they be shut down? Read more about them and post your comments.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 2:47 PM Comments (0)
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Saturday, March 12, 2005

Watching Crime Scenes in 3D
In "Courtrooms could host virtual crime scenes," New Scientist writes about a software called Instant Scene Modeler (iSM), which can build an interactive 3D model from a few hundred frames of a scene shot by a dual-head camera developed by MD Robotics.

Users, who can be lawyers, judges, jurors or detectives, can zoom on any object in the 3D model. Other usages of this gun-shaped camera and its associated software include remote explorations of mines, or even other planets such as Mars. The software works by identifying common features in the sequence of images taken by the special camera.

And it has already been used to pilot Aibo, Sony's robotic dog. This overview contains more details and references including a picture of this gun-shaped camera (no pun intended).
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:34 AM Comments (0)
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From Space to Ground Level -- Literally
Here is an amazing story about how a technology initially developed by NASA for the shuttle program is now being used for something radically different. Back in 2001, NASA needed a tool to conduct quality control for critical aluminum alloy parts. And it worked with KeyMaster Technologies to develop a portable device, the TRACeR, using X-Ray fluorescent technology, or XRF. The TRACeR is approximately the size of a portable drill, and it weighs only 4 pounds.

But now, according to "Carpet Cleaning or Rocket Science?," published by ICS Cleaning Specialist, it's also being used to quantify carpet cleanliness by the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) to give its Seal of Approval (SOA) to vacuum cleaners. This overview contains more details, references and pictures about this unusual transfer of high-tech to a really 'down-to-earth' domain.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:31 AM Comments (0)
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Wearable Computers That Fit You Well
In "Wearable Computers You Can Slip Into," BusinessWeek Online reviews several new unobtrusive wearable devices, such as a handbag with embedded chips. When this bag becomes available for about $150 in two or three years, it will remind you to grab your wallet or to pick an umbrella before going out.

And according to research firm IDC, the clunky wearable computers which required users to be wrapped in wires like Christmas gifts are quickly becoming things of the past. The future of wearable computers is already here, especially for some health-care applications, such as a 'smart band' that collects data on your physical activities and can be used as a weight-loss monitoring tool.

Read more for other details and several illustrations about these wearable assistants.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:29 AM Comments (0)
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Are Ships Pulled by Kites in our Future?
Several companies around the world are experimenting with wind-assisted ships, which would reduce fuel consumption at a time where fuel can represent up to 60 percent of the running costs of operating a ship. But another goal is to reduce pollution: the toxic emission volume of the world trade fleet is roughly equivalent to the U.S. one today.

In "The new age of sail," New Scientist describes a ship that will be partially pulled by a high-tech kite flying at an altitude of up to 500 meters where winds are more stable than at sea level. The German designers, who tested a prototype last year, estimate that such a hybrid sailing ship would see a 50 percent reduction of its fuel consumption.

Danish and Japanese companies are also designing wind-assisted ships. This overview contains several illustrations about these wind-assisted ships.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:26 AM Comments (0)
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Our Oceans Are Getting Healthier
A surprising new study from NASA reveals that a new trend about the evolution of phytoplankton in our oceans is emerging. Instead of declining globally by 6 percent between the 1980s and 1990s, phytoplankton levels are now growing, by more than 4 percent between 1998 and 2003. But according to the data gathered by NASA satellites, this evolution is not uniform.

The increase is by far larger near the coasts, where the ocean floor is less than 200 meters and where phytoplankton levels grew by more than 10 percent in the last 5 years. At a moment where everyone is concerned by the global warming effect, this is very good news because one of the things phytoplankton does is absorbing carbon dioxide. This overview contains more details and images showing the increase of phytoplankton between 1998 and 2003.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:24 AM Comments (0)
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Virtual Reality Psychodramas
Researchers at the University of Buffalo (UB) are producing immersive virtual reality (VR) dramas in which the users are given some goals at the beginning and are interacting with 'self-aware' computational agents. The UB Reporter writes that they are putting a new face on 'user-friendly' VR environments.

They already created a psychodrama called "The Trial The Trail" in which "the user is given two companions named Filopat and Patofil and told that at the end of her experience she will get her heart's desire." And because the software agents are continuously improving and 'improvising' around human users, the show is different every time.

I don't know if this will lead to some mainstream application, but I'm sure that the researchers had lots of fun in their CAVEs-like systems. This overview contains more details and pictures about this unusual project, including those of Patofil and Filopat, two of the software agents.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 7:21 AM Comments (0)
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Friday, March 04, 2005

Is a blogging crackdown coming?
CNET's Declan McCullagh has an interview FEC Commissioner Bradley Smith that raises a bunch of questions about the future of blogging, especially when it comes to political speech.
Q: What rules will apply to the Internet that did not before?
A: The commission has generally been hands-off on the Internet. We've said, "If you advertise on the Internet, that's an expenditure of money--much like if you were advertising on television or the newspaper."

The real question is: Would a link to a candidate's page be a problem? If someone sets up a home page and links to their favorite politician, is that a contribution? This is a big deal, if someone has already contributed the legal maximum, or if they're at the disclosure threshold and additional expenditures have to be disclosed under federal law.

Certainly a lot of bloggers are very much out front. Do we give bloggers the press exemption? If we don't give bloggers the press exemption, we have the question of, do we extend this to online-only journals like CNET?
[Via JD Lasica]
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 3:35 PM Comments (0)
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Thursday, March 03, 2005

Second Life game slides into real life
Tringo, a puzzle game created in the virtual game world Second Life, will soon be making the transition to the real world in the form of cell phone and web games, WSJ.com reports (scroll down for the story). Donnerwood Media has bought the rights to the game outside of Second Life but, here's the kicker, the game's creator Nathan Keir will retain the rights to the game inside the virtual world, where he's already made about $4,000 in real money from it.
:: posted by Donald Melanson, 10:06 PM Comments (0)
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Sharing Medical Data to Save Lives
In this long article, CIO Magazine reports that some cities, such as Indianapolis, are creating regional health information networks to share medical records between doctors and hospitals to save lives and money. In the example of Indianapolis, the "emergency rooms of the city's five major hospital groups share patient data via an electronic medical network," and 1,300 doctors have partial access to this network.

The first goal of such networks is of course to save lives, but in the case of central Indiana, it also could save more than $500 million per year. Of course, there are many hurdles to overcome, many of them financial: finding money to fund the networks or convincing doctors to invest in new technologies.

But the two biggest obstacles are human. First, less than a doctor over five is currently using electronic medical records (EMRs). And obviously, in our world where banks and payroll companies more or less routinely see some of their records leaked to the general public or even criminals, it's a little bit scary to think about your medical records flying over not so secure networks. But read these selected excerpts and my comments if you don't have enough time to read the original article.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 4:09 AM Comments (0)
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Are Social Networking Sites Useful?
I've read several very interesting stories about social networking recently. In "From Contact to Contract" (neat title), Employee Management writes that many entrepreneurs and even professional recruiters are using services such as LinkedIn, Ryze.com, Spoke.com, or one of the two other dozen social networking sites to fill professional positions, even executive ones. Of course, human resources consulting firms are still also relying on more traditional tools, like their 'real' social networks.

But in "'Social Web' Has Far To Go, But Much Promise," the American Reporter is more skeptical about the usability of these social networking sites, saying that they are making contacts more difficult instead of easier.

And Stowe Boyd, from Corante, concurs, by unlinking from social networking applications he subscribed to in a recent past (links to part 1 and to part 2).

So what do you think about these applications? Have you ever used one? And if yes, have you seen some benefits? Please read all the above articles before answering these questions or these selected excerpts and commentsif you don't have enough time.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 4:07 AM Comments (1)
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Palette, the Robotic Supermodel
A Japanese designer has developed a mannequin robot, Palette, which can adapt its movements to the shoppers passing in front of it, according to this article from Agence France-Presse (AFP), "Striking a robotic pose."

Using motion-capture technology, Palette will be able to act as a supermodel. And with its specialized sensors and software, it also will be able to identify the sex and age of shoppers before transmitting them to store owners for marketing purposes.

The price has not been set yet, but Palette should go on sale in 2005 in two versions: a body without legs to showcase clothings, and a torso model for jewelry. Read more for other details and an interesting picture of Palette, which intentionally has no human face.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 4:05 AM Comments (0)
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Pervasive Patient Monitoring
A vast majority of long-term patients in the world don't take their medication in time, intentionally or not. In the U.S. alone, this represents an additional $100 billion yearly expense due to unexpected emergency hospital admissions. It is therefore crucial to gather accurately patient medical data in real time. For this purpose, a team at IBM Zurich Research Laboratory has developed a mobile health toolkit to perform this task.

With this toolkit consisting of a Java-based middleware and Bluetooth-enabled sensors, all the medical patient data can be wirelessly exported to a doctor's office via a PC or a cell phone. Read this overview for other details and references.
:: posted by Roland Piquepaille, 4:02 AM Comments (0)
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