Well friends, after 25 responses to the survey, it’s time to reveal what you all think is (and isn’t) cannibalism. It was an interesting survey, and after thinking about it a little, I might include some different questions in the next one.

So, is the crowd right? Tell me what you think in the comments!

This video is great. I particularly love it that it zeros out in Chicago, just south of the Loop, by Lake Michigan.

Full-screen this baby, and sit back and enjoy.

Image Courtesy of: gesturetek.com

(Note – This article was first published by h+ Magazine, on May 12, 2010.  It’s republished here for my own archives.)

Chances are, you’re not using the same computer you were twenty years ago. But chances are, you’re still using the same basic user interface — a mouse for pointing, a keyboard for typing. While generations of hardware and software have come and gone, the paradigm for interacting with our machines has remained pretty much the same. But that’s slowly changing: Nintendo’s Wii system has gotten video gamers off the couch, Apple’s iPhone has acclimated us to using touch to control our devices, and a new generation of user-interface systems are beginning to come to the consumer market which promise more natural, intuitive, and engaging experiences.

Vincent John Vincent, president and co-founder of GestureTek, thinks next-generation user interfaces will be driven by movement. His company makes systems that use cameras and computer vision to watch a user’s movements, and then translate those movements into controls. “As the interfaces that we see on the screen become more dynamic and deep, with 3-D jumping off the screen or deeper into the screen, then the ability to reach out with your hand and manipulate them in that 3-D space is a much more natural way to go than just to have one point of control with the mouse,” Vincent said.

GestureTek has been building equipment and displays that respond to movement since the 1990s, according to Vincent. “We are the inventors and pioneers in this space, and luckily, early enough in it as well that we’ve been able to get a lot of patents on what we’ve done,” he said. “We’re very lucky that we were way ahead of our time for a long time, we sold thousands of installations of that technology, into museums and science centers and retail in various locations.”

“In the early 2000s, we started expanding and we created a number of different technologies that were interactive surfaces like floors and walls and windows and whatnot that would just be reacting to your motion and movement and being able to let people walk over those in front of them and just pick up your general gestures,” Vincent said. “We just found it to be very, not just natural, but engaging. It captures people’s attention, it makes the experience more entertaining and dynamic.”

And gesture controls are coming to a screen near you sooner than you might think — Microsoft’s Project Natal, which was announced at last year’s Electronic Entertainment Expo, is due to be released by Christmas of this year. Project Natal promises a 3-D, depth-sensing camera peripheral for the Xbox 360, which will use software licensed from GestureTek to enable gamers to play without any controller at all, simply by using the movements of their body. Hitachi has demonstrated a prototype HDTV that uses an embedded 3-D camera to replace the traditional remote control. Users simply wave their hand to change the channel or turn down the volume. Mobile phone manufacturers such as DoCoMo have licensed software from GestureTek as well. “We looked at the mobile phone market and said well, there is a processor, a display and a camera, what a perfect product,” said Vincent. “So we took what we had already created and evolved it even more so that we could use a phone in the hand to act like a joystick, and the camera would watch how the phone was moving in relationship to the world, or you could gesture at the phone, etc.”

The availability of depth-sensing cameras is driving the speed with which these innovations are getting into the hands of consumers. “The depth cameras that are coming to the market use infrared light and three depth sensors, so that when an array of light is pulsed out into the environment, much like an ultrasound, it bounces back,” Vincent said. “The sensors can tell how quickly it’s come back and therefore build up a depth perception of the world in front of it. It’s very similar to ultrasound but done with light. Obviously, the lenses that are capturing that information are very sophisticated and that is what has kept them very expensive up till this point in time.”

Of course, those hardware costs will drop over time. And that means one day soon, you might be able to ditch that mouse once and for all.

Wowee!  My old friends published a mention of my book, along with a mini-interview, in this week’s Happytown column!

Here’s the relevant portion:

Not a day goes by in which someone doesn’t ask, “Hey, Happytown™, whatever happened to that Ask Ian the I.T. Guy? He sure had a nice ponytail.” In an effort to satiate Orlando’s thirst for information on our former I.T. guru and columnist, Ian Monroe, we tracked down the man himself and found him with a newly minted degree from the Medill School of Journalism in Chicago and, more exciting still, a new book! It’s called The ____ of _____ by Means of Natural _____, which probably needs a tiny bit of explanation.

See, Monroe, ever the intellectual prankster, “cleaned up” Charles Darwin’s masterwork, The Origin of the Species by Means of Natural Selection, for evangelical Christians by redacting every word in Darwin’s book not also found in the Bible. Now even Baptists can read about evolution without risking their immortal soul! Thanks Ian!

Here’s our tiny little interview with Monroe. For more information on the book check his website at www.ianmonroe.com.

Happytown™: Aren’t you making fun of Jesus and thus risking eternal damnation?

Monroe: On the contrary, Jesus is never mentioned in the Origin of Species.  If he were, I assure you, he would retain his rightful place as lord of lords within my King James Version as well.

Happytown™: Is it possible to still glean important concepts from Darwin’s work after running it through your Jesus sieve?

Monroe: Not really, no.  It’s pretty unreadable.  However, I did learn some interesting things about the Bible while I was working on it. For instance, did you know that unicorns are mentioned in the Bible twice? That makes them more real than the entire continent of South America, which didn’t even appear once.

Happytown™Are you planning to do the same for other great works of science?

Monroe: Darwin was particularly well-suited to analysis through a biblically correct lens; I imagine that most modern science would yield even more redactions.  However, I invite readers to “correct” their own texts with the interactive Bible masher on my website, ianmonroe.com/bibleizer/.

So, the Bibleizer doesn’t work at the moment … terribly sorry about that.  I’ll have it working tonight, though, so stay tuned.  (I’ll update this post when it works.)


Audiobook version coming soon.

I’m happy to announce today that I’ve released my first book. It’s called The _____ of _____ By Means of Natural _____ or the _____ of Favoured _____ In the Struggle For Life: King James Version.

I also set up a separate page for it on this site, so that I’d have a nice little landing page for it.

Basically, I wrote a PHP script that took Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species, and I had the script redact every word from Darwin which does not appear in the King James bible.

The resulting work is an amusing objet ‘d art. I think it says something about fundamentalism and language.  I also hope it says something about the absurdity of creationism, and the importance of science in how we understand the world.

It’s available now as a 204-page, perfect bound trade paperback.  A bargain, at a mere $13.25.

After the jump, the text of the press release I’ve been spreading around.

Continue reading

MIT Professor Angela Belcher and the prototype battery she and her team created using a genetically engineered virus.  Photo credit: Donna Coveney, courtesy of MIT

MIT Professor Angela Belcher and the prototype battery she and her team created using a genetically engineered virus. Photo credit: Donna Coveney, courtesy of MIT

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have successfully demonstrated a technique for fabricating a better battery using a genetically engineered virus.

They announced their technique for the battery earlier this month, maintaining that it allows them to use a much wider variety of materials for potentially higher-capacity, rechargeable batteries.

The interdisciplinary team of MIT scientists combined research in biology, chemistry, engineering and advanced nanotechnology to fabricate the battery.

Dr. Chad Mirkin, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, said he is glad to see demonstrations of practical applications of nanotechnology. This represents one of the latest applications of the ongoing advances in nanotechnology using genetically modified viruses.

“There are many examples of using genetically engineered viruses to manufacture nanomaterials,” Mirkin said. “It’s a merger of molecular biology and material science.” He said that research in this area has been almost exclusively focused on batteries.

Applications of this type of virus battery may one day include powering personal electronics and even electric vehicles. The manufacturing process requires no organic solvents and can occur at and below room temperature. The process is described as “environmentally benign,” because it requires fewer toxic components, according to MIT.

To manufacture the battery, the researchers used a genetically modified strain of the common M13 bacteriophage, a virus that consumes bacteria but which is harmless to humans. By altering the virus’s DNA, the researchers were able to fabricate a battery cathode.

To do so, they altered the viruses to bond with iron phosphate on one end of their structure, and then to attach themselves to single-walled carbon nanotubes. Carbon nanotubes are used by scientists as a kind of super-small scaffolding to build nano-scale structures, and for their electric properties.

A small change in the virus’s DNA produced an affinity for molecules of iron phosphate, and these molecules were built up by the virus into a structure known as nanowires. The researchers then experimented with ways of combining the nanowires with carbon nanotubes, which are excellent conductors of electricity.

They applied the idea of modifying the virus a second time to produce an affinity for bonding with carbon nanotubes. When the researchers incubated the viral iron phosphate nanowires in a suspension of carbon nanotubes, the viruses were drawn to the nanotubes, and they produced a highly conductive network in which electrons “percolate” through the carbon nanotubes on their way to the iron phosphate.

The researchers used this network as the cathode portion of their battery, and packaged the battery in a standard coin shape. The prototype was used in a simple circuit to light a green LED, and was demonstrated last month at a White House press briefing by Susan Hockfield, president of MIT.

The prototype maintained power after being charged and discharged at least 100 times in lab tests. While this falls short of current-generation lithium ion batteries, MIT Professor Angela Belcher stated she expects to improve  performance with further research. Belcher, lead researcher for the battery project, is an expert in the fields of material science, engineering and biological engineering.

“We expect them to be able to go much longer,” said Belcher in a press release.

Note: This article was first published on the Medill Reports site, on 4/9/2009.  Reprinted here for my own archival purposes.

This is interesting. ScienceDaily.com is reporting that some folks at the University of Exeter have used game-theoretical models to predict strange food gathering behaviors that ravens exhibit only in particular geographic conditions…

“The researchers built a mathematical model to understand how this behaviour evolved and why it might occur in some roosts and not others. The model designed for this study was based on techniques used in other game theory models, which identify the most profitable behaviours of individuals in different situations to predict what would be favoured by evolution.

The study revealed two strategies as being most profitable for ravens to find food. One is for birds to search independently for food and recruit each other. The other is for the birds to forage in gangs.”