Monday, June 27, 2011

Arnold Schwarzenegger could repair his image by helping the Robot Hall of Fame

Former California governor and movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger took a big hit to his reputation when it was revealed in May that he fathered a son with his housekeeper while married to Maria Shriver. Because of the media backlash, Schwarzenegger had to put his movie career comeback on hold. He’s kept a low profile since then.
But Schwarzenegger can still refurbish his reputation. As much as the media relishes tearing down a top celebrity, they also love a comeback story.
Schwarzenegger’s official website has a banner than reads “Stay tuned for my next move.” (See above photo.)
A good move for him would be to do something that reminds people about his glorious past while looking to the future.
My suggestion: Make a donation to Robot Hall of Fame in Pittsburgh so it can induct a new class of robots, including the T-800 Terminator, played by Schwarzenegger in the “Terminator” movie series.
Last November, I wrote about how funding woes had temporarily halted activity at the Robot Hall of Fame. (See article “Funding Woes Short-Circuit Robot Hall Of Fame Activity” at Investors.com.)
The hall was created by the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science in 2003 to honor both real-world robots and fictional robots that have inspired scientists. It was supposed to hold its biennial induction ceremony for a new class of robots last fall, but it was indefinitely postponed.
The organization only needs about $50,000 to $75,000 to hold the induction ceremony. Schwarzenegger and his friend James Cameron, the creator of the “Terminator” franchise, should pitch in to fund the ceremony. They also should attend the event to celebrate their creation.
The other inductees are the DaVinci Medical Robot System from Intuitive Surgical; NASA’s Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity; the Roomba vacuum cleaner from iRobot; and Huey, Dewey and Louie from the 1971 science-fiction film “Silent Running.”
Inductees are enshrined at a permanent robotics exhibit called Roboworld at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh.
The induction ceremony would be a perfect fit for Cameron and Schwarzenegger. Both men are passionate about science and technology as well as education. This is a great way for them to show it.
President Barack Obama just visited the robotics school at Carnegie Mellon University last week.
Will Schwarzenegger follow suit?
I hope so.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Terminator timeline reset; Autonomous military robots on the way

Pop culture enthusiasts had a lot of fun this spring by noting that Judgment Day from the “Terminator” movie and TV series was to occur on April 21, 2011.
That date came and went without incident.
But it looks like progress on making real-life Terminator robots – and perhaps our robot apocalypse – is running just a few years behind.
At the Robotics Summit Virtual Conference & Expo on Wednesday, Tim Trainer, vice president of operations for iRobot’s government and industrial division, spoke about advancements in military robotics.
Right now, iRobot makes mobile robots for reconnaissance and bomb disposal. These robots are used by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq to keep soldiers safe. But these robots can’t think on their own.
The current operations model requires one operator to one robot, Trainer said.
“The future of robotic systems and innovations rests with autonomy,” he said. “Our goal is to drive it to robotic squad members.”
Companies like iRobot are working to give military robots the capability to execute a desired task or mission without continuous operator guidance, Trainer said.
“Ultimately where are we going? Robotic organizations, where we give a whole mission task to perhaps a robotic organization and it carries those tasks out either in conjunction with or independent of human operators,” Trainer said.
Going from today’s 100% operator control to “mission autonomy” of 1% operator control could happen in 10 years, assuming government investment, he said. Under the scenario of mission autonomy, one person could control an army of 50 or more robots.
Tomorrow’s autonomous robotic systems will be capable of performing as teammates and independently perform mission-level activities, he said. In his presentation, Trainer even showed an artist’s representation of Terminator-like robots working with military personnel. (See above photo.)
Trainer predicted that partial task autonomy for military robots (25% operator control) could occur in two years, with one person controlling one to three robots. Task autonomy (10% operator control) could occur in five years, with one person controlling five or more robots. And mission autonomy (1% operator control) could occur 10 years from now. (See iRobot chart below for detailed timeline.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The slow death of once popular websites



Not too long ago I liked using Digg and MySpace. I used Digg to bookmark and share funny or interesting articles, videos and websites. And I used MySpace to connect with my favorite music artists.
Digg and other social bookmarking services have become less relevant because of Facebook and Twitter.
Facebook’s ubiquitous and easy-to-use Like and Share buttons are much more appealing than Digg’s labored submission process. And Twitter is a quicker and easier way to share weblinks.
The articles I submitted on Digg never got any traction with that community anyway. So I decided just to share those items on Facebook and Twitter instead.
Facebook also killed MySpace. Facebook kept innovating and making new features that turned its social networking website into an addictive pastime. That attracted a critical mass of users and caused MySpace users to abandon ship.
I don’t visit MySpace much anymore. A lot of the music acts have transferred over to Facebook. But not all of them. So I’m keeping my account for now.
But MySpace is looking more and more like a ghost town.
It seems likely that Digg and MySpace will join other failed websites and eventually the information they collected will be lost forever.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The most beautiful women in the world, according to Patrick Seitzes

I recently conducted an unscientific survey of men named Patrick Seitz to see if we could agree on who is the most beautiful woman in the world.
The results were inconclusive. While we have great taste in women, we couldn’t agree on what constitutes ultimate beauty.

Q: Who is the most beautiful woman in the world?

Choices listed alphabetically

Christina Aguilera (See Wikipedia and Maxim.)

Jessica Alba (See Wikipedia, Maxim and Esquire.)

Kelly Brook (See Wikipedia and Maxim.)

Fergie (See Wikipedia.)

Bryce Dallas Howard (See Wikipedia and Maxim.)

Eva Mendes (See Wikipedia, Maxim and Esquire.)

Marisa Miller (See Wikipedia and Maxim.)

Natalie Portman (See Wikipedia and Maxim.)

Sharon Stone (See Wikipedia and Esquire.)

Photo: The lovely Kelly Brook

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

My ‘Googlegangers’ are a cool, diverse bunch

Anyone who’s ever Googled their name has come across their “Googlegangers.” They’re people you don’t know who share the same name as you.
They may not be evil twins, or doppelgangers, but they certainly detract from your uniqueness.
I’m friends with 29 Patrick Seitzes on Facebook, which counts 53 Patrick Seitzes among its members (although a few of those are duplicate accounts). LinkedIn has 10 Patrick Seitzes.
Judging from photos and interests of my Patrick Seitz friends on Facebook, we’re a pretty cool bunch of guys. Many are interested in manly sports like motorcycle racing, downhill skiing and rifle shooting and have enthusiasm for sports cars, hot women and good beer.
I thought it would be fun to survey all the Patrick Seitzes I could find to see if we have much in common.
I composed a survey using Survey Monkey and e-mailed it to more than 50 Patrick Seitzes worldwide about a week ago. Unfortunately just seven responded. I guess we Patrick Seitzes are a pretty private bunch or don’t like surveys. I thought the survey questions were pretty innocuous, but oh well.
Here are the results:

Birth place and current residence

Two Patrick Seitzes are from the German homeland – one from Bavaria and the other from the state of Baden-W├╝rttemberg, both in southern Germany – and currently live there.
Another Patrick Seitz was born in Switzerland, but currently lives in the U.S.
The other four Patrick Seitzes are from the U.S. and currently live in California, Connecticut and Minnesota.

Ancestry

With an Irish first name and German last name, I figured most respondents would be 50-50 Irish-German like me.
Two out of seven are and another said he is Irish, German, French Canadian and Ojibwe (or Chippewa) Native American.
Of the rest, two said they are 100% German; one is 100% Swiss; and one is 50% German and 50% Hispanic.

Religious affiliation

Three were raised Catholic, but only one still practices the religion. Two are Protestant. One is an atheist and another reports no religion. That means that just three out of seven currently have a religious affiliation.

Profession

Three Patrick Seitzes are engineers. The rest identify themselves as small business owner, human resources worker, journalist and voiceover actor.


Hobbies

Movies and cars are the most popular hobbies for men named Patrick Seitz, according to my unscientific survey. Four respondents listed movies among their hobbies and three said cars.
Two Patrick Seitzes identified “partying” as a hobby. Two listed video games.
Three listed sports as pastimes. One said, “Golfing, fishing, snowboarding, mountain biking, hockey and too many more.”

Favorite food and drink

Red meat and Italian food are clear favorites among men named Patrick Seitz.
Asked to name their favorite food, two said simply “steak” and one wrote “really well cooked Filet mignon. (med-rare, truffle butter).”
Pizza, pasta and “Italian” were responses from the four others.
When it comes to favorite beverages, three are cola drinkers (“Pepsi,” “Coca-Cola” and “Diet Coke with Lime.”), two prefer beer and one each for wine and “vodka, soda, lemon.”


Up next: Do men named Patrick Seitz have a standard ideal for beauty? Find out as I ask them to pick the most beautiful woman in the world.

Photos: Pictures of Patrick Seitzes in action worldwide. Source: Facebook.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Reverse image search needs improvement

One of my pet peeves is websites that don’t provide sourcing information for photos.
When I see a cool photo, I want to get the story behind the shot, including where and when it was taken.
Take this popular photo of a fisherman being sprayed in the face with ink by a squid. It’s an amazing shot and I’d love to find out more about it.
An online service called TinEye can do reverse photo searches to help you track down the origins of a photo.
TinEye helped me find a better version of the photo, but couldn’t help me identify its origins.
TinEye found 63 websites using a version of the photo. But there was no way to tell which site posted it first, much less where it came from.
I’m not sure if it is technically possible to do, but finding out who posted a photo first would go a long way to solving where a lot of mystery pictures came from.
With TinEye, you can sort results by “Best Match,” “Most Changed” and “Biggest Image,” but not by when it was posted.
Google today launched a competing reverse image search service.
I tried Google Search by Image, but it also couldn’t help me find the origin of the squid photo.
Google came up with 382 search results for the photo. But more isn’t necessarily better.
This particular picture has been popular with websites that run funny photos like Fail Blog and I Am Bored. Many of the websites that use the photo have plastered their logos or funny captions on it to make it their own.
If TinEye wants to compete with Google in reverse image search, it should focus on helping users find the origins of photos like this. That would be extremely useful.
Here are some suggestions:
  • Since photos like this one are often altered with words and logos, provide a filter to eliminate versions that have been changed in that way.
  • Sometimes photos are cropped to eliminate a photographer’s copyright notice or for artistic reasons. So, provide a way to search for photos with more detail on the edges. In other words, uncropped.
  • TinEye has a passionate user base that the service could use to its advantage. Allow users to mark the photos in search results that they believe are originals, have sourcing material or were posted first.
  • Taking crowdsourcing one step further, offer users the chance to help track down the origins of certain photos. Call it the gamification of TinEye. Regularly post photos that people submit for searching and make a contest out of finding the origins of the photo. (The search could even bring offline information online for scanned photos.)
You’re welcome, TinEye.
Maybe you can start with the fisherman and the squid photo as a test.
The earliest postings I can find are Oct. 19, 2004, and Nov. 1, 2004. Of course, neither of those websites provide any sourcing info.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Lessons from my father

I often wish I were more like my father.
My dad, James Albert Seitz, 82, is the rock of my large Catholic family. I’ve always admired his wisdom and his patience. He and my mom raised seven well-adjusted children and put them all through college.
Growing up, Dad had a way of taking emotions out of the equation when helping me solve personal problems. I liked to say he was the analytical German and my mom was the emotional Irish parent. He’s the yin to her yang.
He did lose his temper occasionally with me and my siblings, but I’m sure we deserved it. Sometimes when we kids got a little out of control at dinner, he’d pound his fist once on the table and we’d instantly shut up. I remember clearly how the dishes, glasses and silverware would sound as they rattled when he put his fist down.
I can’t recall him ever using corporal punishment, though he threatened to spank me by saying, “I’m gonna tan your rear end.” That was enough to make me behave (for a little while at least). His tone of voice was pretty convincing.
I also have never heard my dad use foul language.
When he swore, he’d say stuff like, “What in the Sam Hill are you doing?”
If I was being lazy, he’d say, “Don’t act like a bump on a log.”
If an older sister did something foolish, he’d say she was acting like a “dumb cluck.”
He was successful at whatever he applied himself to, whether it was investing, home repair or gardening.
He liked to track stocks he owned and those on his watch list by recording data on paper in three-ring binders. He charted the stock price action on graph paper. He was meticulous about it. It was both a hobby and a sound method of managing investments.
He was a classic value investor, looking for undervalued stocks and then buying low and selling high.
Long since retired from his job as a research pharmacist, Dad was a hard worker. He’d get up early while we were all in bed, have coffee and a light breakfast, read the newspaper, listen to AM news radio in the kitchen before work.
He provided his children with everything we needed.
My dad is deeply religious and politically conservative. He has a great concern for others and gives generously to charities. As for his views on government, he doesn’t like the way politicians use their positions for personal gain.
We all can learn a lot from him. I know I need to follow his example more.
Some of my fondest memories of my dad are of him coaching my Little League baseball team, working with him in our vegetable gardens, and watching "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" (though he often fell asleep on the sofa). I also remember our after-dinner exercise of taking brisk walks around our neighborhood in Libertyville, Ill. As a kid, I had a tough time keeping up with him. I still enjoy taking walks with him in the many parks in Lake County, Ill., where my parents live.
I know I wasn’t the easiest kid to raise. I got into trouble here and there, but Dad was patient with me and offered sound advice.
Thanks for everything you’ve done for me, Dad. And happy Father’s Day.

Photo: My parents, Mr. and Mrs. James A. Seitz, in Libertyville, Ill., in 2004.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

New wiki website devoted to mancations

Last week I suggested that somebody should create a wiki devoted to mancations. Today I decided that that person was me.
A wiki is a website that allows many people to collaborate on writing and editing content. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is the best known wiki.
I set up the Mancation Wiki at Wikia, an advertising-supported wiki service. I put up the basic framework tonight and plan to add content to it in the days and weeks ahead. I’m hoping that other people discover it and share their knowledge about fun mancations as well.
Mancations are man vacations. They can range from short weekend trips out of town to longer road trips or traveling to exotic destinations. They can revolve around the great outdoors, sports, thrill seeking or geeky pursuits.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Top mancation destinations

Continuing on the theme of mancations (i.e. man vacations), here are some online lists of suggested trips.

Top 10 Guy Trips (ShermansTravel)

1. Catch a baseball game in Boston
2. Cook in Napa
3. Drink beer in Bavaria
4. Golf in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.
5. Off-road in Death Valley
6. Party in Las Vegas
7. Play cowboy in Lajitas, Texas
8. Spa in Chicago
9. Sport fish in Panama
10. Surf in Sydney

Top 6 Mancations (Adventure: Your Travel Blog)

1. Road trip: Los Angeles to Grand Canyon to Las Vegas
2. Homeplace Ranch, Alberta, Canada
3. Thailand hike, bike and kayak
4. Japan’s Furano Ski Resort
5. Legend Golf & Safari Resort in South Africa
6. Shark diving in South Africa

Top 5 Mancations (Party Travel World)

1. Daytona Beach, Fla.
2. Kentucky Bourbon Trail
3. Crystal Lake, Michigan
4. Las Vegas
5. Tampa, Fla.

Top 10 ‘Mancations’ (TripAdvisor)

1. Las Vegas
2. New York City
3. Miami, Fla.
4. New Orleans
5. Denver
6. Kailua, Hawaii
7. Louisville, Ky.
8. Portland, Maine
9. Savannah, Ga.
10. Milwaukee, Wis.

Top 15 Geekiest Vacations (eWeek.com)

Here are the first 10 on the list:

1. National Computer Museum in Mountain View, Calif.
2. Tour of Silicon Valley tech landmarks (HP Garage and Googleplex, in Palo Alto, Calif.; Yahoo headquarters in Mountain View, Calif.; and the Intel Museum in Santa Clara, Calif.)
3. World Science Fiction Convention
4. Movie and TV show locations (New Zealand, “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy; Snoqualmie Falls in Snoqualmie, Wash., “Twin Peaks.”)
5. The Queen Mary 2
6. National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Udvar-Hazy Center in Dulles, Va.
7. International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C.
8. The Quark Bar in Las Vegas
9. Space Camp in Huntsville, Ala.
10. The Star Wars Odyssey Tour

Top 20 Mancations (The Man Truth)

1. Tristan da Cunha, the most remote inhabited island in the world, located in the south Atlantic Ocean
2. Comic-Con in San Diego, Calif.
3. The Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Desert, Nev.
4. Angels Falls, Venezuela
5. Mardi Gras in New Orleans, La.
6. New Year’s Eve Celebration, Times Square, New York City
7. Trans-Siberian Railway, which connects Moscow with the Russian Far East
8. Cattle drive
9. Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colo.
10. Las Vegas
11. African Safari
12. Redneck Games in East Dublin, Ga.
13. Skiing in Colorado
14. Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio
15. Grand Canyon
16. Tomatina in Bunol, Spain
17. Polar Bear Plunge, Coney Island, New York
18. Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain
19. The Battle of the Oranges in Ivrea, Italy
20. Queenstown, New Zealand

Monday, June 6, 2011

Man Tripping: Best website devoted to mancations

I have yet to find the perfect website devoted to man vacations, a.k.a. mancations.
My ideal mancation website would offer a combination of once-in-a-lifetime trips with more realistic extended weekend outings. It would include lots of choices for mancations, organized by themes, such as sports, the great outdoors, thrill-seeking and geeky pursuits.
It also would pull together resources from others, including links to mancation stories in the mainstream press and a wiki that users could help write.
I’ve only found a handful of mancation resource websites. The best is Man Tripping, subtitled “Mancations and Guys Weekends,” by James Hills of Elgin, Ill. You can find some good ideas for mancations among the many posts on the site. (Examples: Oktoberfest in Munich, the Lake Placid Bobsled Experience, South Dakota’s Black Hills Buffalo Roundup and a even Cleveland mancation.)
Man Tripping could be better organized, however. It would be great to have an index page listing mancation ideas, instead of having to dig through blog posts under the categories from pull-down menus. Plus, how about organizing mancation ideas by region, especially in the U.S.? Also, a calendar of upcoming festivals and events would be nice for planning purposes.
But Man Tripping does a good job of getting you thinking about types of mancations. And that Black Hills Buffalo Roundup sounds like a lot of fun to me.

Photo courtesy of Custer State Park.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Mancations subject of new TV travel show

Man vacations are the subject of a new Travel Channel TV program called “Mancations,” which premieres tonight.
It stars comedic duo Evan Mann and Gareth Reynolds. The pilot was shot at ManCation Nation in Parker, Ariz., which promotes itself as a place to “Load your gun rack, pack up your backpack and get your sack back,” according to MSNBC.
After taking my first mancation in over 10 years last March, I’m thinking about ideas for my next one.
Possibilities include tornado chasing on the Great Plains, climbing Half Dome at Yosemite National Park, camping at Yellowstone National Park and rock climbing at Devil’s Tower in Wyoming.
The big categories for mancations are: thrill-seeking, the great outdoors, sports and major events.
In the thrill-seeking category, I’d put whitewater rafting, skydiving, racecar driving, and running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
The great outdoors category would include camping, hunting, fishing, hiking, canoeing, etc. It also would take in exotic destinations like the Wonders of the World.
Sports would cover such mancations as visiting baseball spring training, golf vacations, touring Major League ballparks, and going to the Olympics or the Super Bowl.
Major events would run the gamut from Oktoberfest in Munich, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Tomatina in Bunol, Spain. This category also would include music festivals like South by Southwest, Lollapalooza, Coachella, Bonnaroo and the Pitchfork Music Festival. The category also would cover Comic-Con and the Adult Entertainment Expo.
Some websites have cropped up to capitalize on the mancation trend. I’ll write about that next time.

Photo from the Travel Channel show "Mancations." Cutline: Evan, Gareth and expert lumberjack Andrew Cole swing their axes at the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Clyde Tombaugh: The man who discovered Pluto

While reading a book about our solar system recently with my 8-year-old son, I came upon a section about Pluto.
Once the ninth planet in our solar system, Pluto was downgraded to a dwarf planet in 2006. Pluto was discovered on Feb. 18, 1930, by astronomer Clyde Tombaugh.
I interviewed Tombaugh by phone in November 1985 for the Streator Times-Press newspaper in Illinois. At the time, he was 79 and a retired professor of astronomy at the New Mexico State University Research Center. He discovered Pluto when he was 24.
I’ve posted the article and its jump page on Twitpic.
Since the article was written for a small town newspaper, it focuses mostly on his recollections of growing up in central Illinois and his feelings about getting a historical plaque in his honor.
Tombaugh called Pluto a “very unusual planet.” Aside from having a proportionally large moon, Charon, Pluto is probably a big “methane-water-ammonia snowball,” he said. “Pluto has very little rocky consistency, very little metal.”
Much more has been learned about Pluto in the years since that interview.
Tombaugh died in January 1997 at age 90.
Four years from now, NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft is set to become the first spacecraft to visit Pluto. It will study the dwarf planet during a flyby. It will make its closest approach to Pluto on July 15, 2015.
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