Thursday, May 21, 2009

Robots learn to fall gracefully

There's something that really tickled me about this article in New Scientist.

When I first read that "soccerbots in Chile are learning to fall" I couldn't help but think of Didier Drogba. There's something amusing about the idea of robots learning to cheat.

But there's more to it of course:
"The aim of the RoboCup project is to have a robotic team in place by 2050 that can beat the best human side - an impossible goal unless soccerbots can learn to fall over without damaging themselves."

But the research potentially has an even more worthwhile use:
'Giving a large robot the ability to fall over gracefully could greatly extend the role of humanoid robots outside soccer, including cybersuits and robot legs that assist walking in elderly and disabled people."
Read the whole article here.


Monday, May 18, 2009

how to make people think

Warning: Short post written through the haze of Monday morning tiredness:

I'm a big fan of small gestures that have a disproportionate affect on the world around them. I saw a great example of this in Whole Foods the other week in New York. On the bins - which are marked by category: plastic; paper; tin etc - the 'trash' bit said: "Landfill" in big letters.

I hesitated, paralysed by the word landfill and all it implies and double-checked that everything I was putting in there could in fact not be recycled.

I think this kind of simple change in the language of signage can have a brilliant affect on behaviour.

Someone else agreed this was great - and luckily I can use his photo:

Friday, May 15, 2009

Pretend Office

This is a wonderful example of the power of community. And how simple it can be to bring people together and give them something to do.

In the spirit of pretending (you'll see), I'll share this story in the form of a pretend interview, pasting in the explanation thus:

So what's this all about?

Pretend Office:
"A few times over the past couple of years I’ve discussed with freelancing friends how we miss out on some of the aspects of working in a proper company: the Christmas lunch, the after-work drinks, the fire alarm tests. All that bonding."


"A couple of us thought that maybe we should start an email list to compensate in some way. So I set up the Pretend Office mailing list."

Go on. I love your tie btw - is that real silk?

"A weird thing happened. With no planning, we all started acting as if we were people in a real office. Almost immediately we began to adopt characters and send officious announcements. Soon we were referring to characters in the office who didn’t exist in real life. Meeting rooms were booked, couriers arrived, servers went down, timesheets were requested, and embarrassing emails were accidentally sent to everyone in the company."

That's awesome. I think I love you.

"After the first few fun days I was a bit worried that we’d used up every office topic. But several weeks in and we’re still going."

Have you got any snippets of dialogue to share? Maybe something featuring a meeting room named after a celebrity?


Sorry James - I meant desk not deck...

Obviously I'll be first in line for Pamela
Gerridge-Smythe's 'Typos and Teepees' talk
tonight at 6pm in the Orlando Bloom suite.
See you all there!!!!!!!!

- Cat


Read more here and here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

twitter for SMS

Has anyone else started to use twitter instead of SMS on their phone?

I was doing it the other day with Wrisley and accidentally replied instead of Direct-messaged. Thankfully it was nothing embarrassing, but it made me think.

Imagine an SMS function called 'publish to the world'. Scary.

Wossy just made a similar mistake apparently:

back in the frame

Campaign showed they have a sense of humour and published some of my Campaign Unframed images. Good for them/you. :)

Strange sensation; photographing the magazine to capture the images I made from photographing the magazine.


Sunday, May 10, 2009

wedded to new york

We were in New York this last week. It was mostly to plan our wedding, but being a living, breathing human, I also looked at stuff and pondered some of it.

I thought it might be fun to present some of these thoughts in wedding-speak - something old; something new; etc. Let's see if this works:

Something old

Macy's Elevator from Andy Whitlock on Vimeo.

I absolutely love these old, wooden escalators in Macy's. Sorry for the rubbish video clip - I accidentally took a photo during filming. Yes, I was that keen to document it.

My second 'something old' is this painted advertisement for Dewar's White Label Scotch. I presume this is old. Those are children drinking, right? Hmm. Spotted in the LES.

Something new

ok - not new to everyone, but it was to me: In some subway cars there are new-ish digital signs to tell you where you are. The thing I like about them is that the display moves along one place at each stop. This way, you only need to look in one place to see the next few stops, rather than scan and find where you are on a longer display. Who needs to see where you've just been, right?

Also new is this T-shirt I bought.

It's very difficult to explain my reasoning for buying a tee that says "I am awesome". I don't think I am awesome. I think part of the reason I like it is because it reminds me of - and is perhaps an homage to - an Eddie Izzard story about awesome hot dogs:

Something borrowed

Pepsi's brand campaign in NYC is unmissable. Anyone living State-side will have seen this stuff for ages, but I hadn't seen it. To get its new logo in people's heads - and associated with the zeitgeist - the billboard series sees Pepsi borrowing equity from various well-known phrases.

LOL is awful, IMHO, but XOXO is spot on. For anyone that doesn't know, this is the sign-off for Gossip Girl - and a potent shorthand for Upper East Side teenage fabulousness. While also trite and cheap, if the goal is to continue Pepsi's crusade to be the cola for the fashionable new generation, then this is well chosen.

Something blue

Blue 1: Wrisley's dad, Mack, has a Wii Fit. I discovered, much to my sadness that I have a Wii Fit age of 45. Oh dear. Although watching Mack doing virtual ski jumping in the front room was awesome - like a hot dog.

Blue 2: It rained most of the time I was in New York. On the plus side, the mist and gloom enabled me to get this picture, which I like.

As well as containing an iconic NYC water tower and the silhouetted Empire State Building, it also contains a clue that soon, things will be looking up! :)


Friday, May 01, 2009

Fluff vs Meaning

I was just reading about Wolfram Alpha, a "computational knowledge engine" due later this year. You can read about it too, or simply accept this synopsis on the BBC by its creator, Stephen Wolfram:
"Wolfram Alpha is like plugging into a vast electronic brain," he wrote earlier this year. "It computes answers - it doesn't merely look them up in a big database."
He goes onto say something that really rubbed me up the wrong way, that the system is really good at "removing linguistic fluff".


'Linguistic fluff'? I call that 'meaning'.
As Faris has said, "words are where we live."

Thankfully, someone more intelligent than me - Dr Boris Katz of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology - speaks up in the same article:
"I believe he is misguided in treating language as a nuisance instead of trying to understand the way it organises concepts into structures that require understanding and harnessing."
Optimisation scares me when it sacrafices meaning. I'm all for better, faster ways of doing things, but we are at risk of losing context. And context is everything.

Lloyd Shepherd, Head of Future Media Solutions at Channel 4 Television seems to agree. For a very different project, he has been spending "more time than is healthy mulling over how to bring local information together effectively" and presenting some findings. One of which was this:
"Wonderful as they are, there's something rather unnourishing about and Everyblock. And I think that's because they're just not very good at tracking emerging narratives, which is something local newspapers do rather well. Narratives are where aggregation fails, I reckon."
While off the topic of linguistics, I recall a talk the phenomenal Seth Godin, gave - I think at Google some time ago. Someone asked him what he thought about Google maps. He was a little dismissive, saying it was fine and everything, but essentially a gimmick. That he didn't need to be messing about with maps, but instead an application should access his diary and email, know where he needs to go and save the address to his phone. Or something very similar.

Sounds wonderful, but the map isn't just a gimmick, it's context. The application could also just email the address to your driver directly and you'd never have to know where you are at all. But that just doesn't feel right to me.

Is there a happy medium between optimisation and meaning? Or are we in a downward spiral towards having everything but knowing nothing?