Friday, February 24, 2012

Camel Racing Reconfigures Human-Robot Relations


In 2004, Qatar banned the use of child jockeys in camel races. These child jockeys were not young 'adults' of 12 or 14, but enslaved 4 or 6yr olds from Sudan. Wired has written about the rise of robotic technology to replace human jockeys, and the end result, that all child jockeys were summarily shipped back to Sudan, without a penny.

Cast your eye over the background of the photo. For every camel carrying a robot, there is a car full of men carrying remote controls and cameras, racing alongside the track. Where is the real action?

The story for me lies in the reconfigured relations, who is doing the work, and where the value lies. The horse was feminized and fetishized as it lost work value. So were all the horse's attendants. I pity the poor camel.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

RIP Marie Colvin


"Covering a war means going to places torn by chaos, destruction, and death. ... It means trying to find the truth in a sandstorm of propaganda when armies, tribes or terrorists clash. ...

"Many of you here must have asked yourselves — or be asking yourselves now — is it worth the cost in lives, heartbreak, loss? Can we really make a difference?

"I faced that question when I was injured. In fact one paper ran a headline saying, 'has Marie Colvin gone too far this time?' My answer then, and now, was that it is worth it. ...

"We go to remote war zones to report what is happening. The public have a right to know what our government, and our armed forces, are doing in our name. Our mission is to speak the truth to power. We send home that first rough draft of history. We can and do make a difference in exposing the horrors of war and especially the atrocities that befall civilians."

Marie Colvin, from 2010 Memorial to Fallen Colleagues

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Christchurch - one year on

One year on since the devastating Christchurch earthquake, 2011 Feb 22. Although family still live there, I left Christchurch as a child. Still, I want to join, even in this abstracted way, the memorial service for a shattered but unbroken city.

Take a moment to send good wishes to the citizens of Christchurch who are still suffering the effects of the earthquake and the continuing aftershocks. Rebuilding is a difficult and daily challenge to the spirit. Touching stories from the memorial service of people who felt too raw to relive the events but were nonetheless drawn to spend time with the people they had been with on the day of the earthquake.

There are studies that show communities really do grow stronger and happier in the years after a great trauma, perhaps we do value the important things in life just that much more and feel the need to connect and share with others. But as an expatriate, with nostalgic memories, NZ seems like Narnia under the Ice Queen, where Christchurch is now always afternoon but never tea-time.

Best wishes, Christchurch.

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geek management for non geeks

*I just found this old email I sent to all the organisations that I tech supported. Did it help?*

Dear CEO, Manager, Board,

The right questions are not technical ones. Don't be blinded by complicated answers.

Most organisations make decisions based on ''it needs fixing urgently!" and "we can't afford it". You are trapped into maintaining a hotchpotch of devices. Decisions to make a mass purchase and change are scary but can be cost effective in longer term.

Question: How much is it going to cost over the next x years. Consider purchase price, installation, maintenance and upgrading or troubleshooting. How much staff time is spent/saved/wasted on this?

Question: How long will this last for? Try to have a cyclical plan. ie. This year new computers and internet connection. Next year new printer and other peripherals - unless none of the old things work with the new things. Don't buy software just before changing hardware. Avoid purchasing something soon to be obsolete OR something that's just come out. Let other people iron the bugs out and post their solutions on forums for you.

Question: Who will we call on to install, maintain and troubleshoot? If something happens to our first choice (something usually does), who is second and third choice? How easy are they to contact? How quickly can they respond? How expensive? Sometimes you have to rule out a fabulously good and inexpensive IT setup because it is dependent on one person. You have no backup.

Question: What are our backups and redundancies? Who is your tech backup? Where is your data backed up? What if the internet isn't available? What if this thing or that thing breaks? What if there's a fire? What if everything is stolen?

Some information:

Average business total IT spend 5% to 15% of budget. (hard to get solid figures) Average non-profit IT spend? 2% to 10%.

Training is rarely included. Training actually fixes most hardware and software problems ahead of time.

Average device life: 3 to 5 years
Average software life: 2 to 4 year

Rephrase that.

Average device life: 3 years for business
3 years plus 2 more years of rebooting while standing on one leg and gluing antennae to your head for a non-profit
Average software life: 2 years for business
2 years plus 2 more years of reinstalling and downgrading while logging on as long gone staffers and losing all your files again if you're a non-profit.

The reality? Staff in non-profits are cheaper than almost anything else, therefore staff time is constantly wasted on old IT.


I still agree that training is the most affordable and achievable solution to most problems and would now suggest using the '5 Whys' as well. The kick ass image at the top of the post is from Geek Girl Con.

"GeekGirlCon is a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting awareness of and celebrating the contribution and involvement of women in all aspects of the sciences, science fiction, comics, gaming and related Geek culture through conventions and events that emphasize both the historic and ongoing contribution and influence of women in this culture."

Do you have to be a girl/geek/adult/trekkie/gamer to attend Geek Girl Con?

"[GGC is] a convention that welcomes all ages, races, sexual orientations, genders and gender identities, creeds, physical and mental abilities, and familial statuses. We are a gathering for the trekkie, the mathlete, the gamer, the otaku, the braniac, the engineer -- a home base where all tastes of geekdom can be sampled and savored. We are GeekGirlCon."

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Friday, February 17, 2012

I don’t want to be a feminist anymore.

Most of all, I am tired of knowing. Knowing that my eyes have been opened, and that what has been seen cannot be unseen. I am tired of knowing it, when I see something that is wrong. I am tired of knowing that only speaking out can change it. I am tired of knowing exactly how hard and scary it can be to do so.  I am tired of knowing that if I am not careful, the fight will eat up my hope and strength, and leave me only with bitterness. I am tired of knowing that I can never turn back to not knowing. I am tired of knowing that despite my fears and exhaustion, I am a feminist.

No, I don’t want to be a feminist anymore – today.
Tomorrow? Tomorrow I think I’ll try again.

I can relate to this post on feministing - particularly the last section above. I know I'm about to kill the conversation, but someone has to mention the elephant in the room. Surely?

Everyday, I feel that I explore a different excuse for why not to open my mouth. I wonder what I am trying to change or achieve. And then I feel guilty for letting things slide. In the end, I am proud that I choose to speak up but I'm still searching for the best way to do it.

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

We love Cubelets


One of the coolest advances in recent years has been the consumerization of robotics. Whether it’s the Roomba or the Pleo, we’ve seen robots go from only being in movies and auto factories to becoming devices that can both help and entertain us. It’s an important trend in technology, and it’s all made possible because of the simplification of robotics and, more importantly, the simplification of how we interact with these products. Cubelets are a great example of this and they are something that I’m excited to get my hands on.

Cubelets are a robotic construction kit out of Carnegie Mellon's Computational Design Lab's roBlocks project. We ordered a set after seeing prototypes at Maker Faire Bay 2011. They finally arrived late 2011 after we'd forgotten all about them. There were no instructions at all. It was wonderful!!!

Our whole family explored the blocks and were rewarded by all sorts of actions and interactions. Something always worked. Often in a very surprising fashion. We shared our discoveries. Since then the cubelets have sat on the living room table and everyone who comes to the house plays with them. They are incredibly tactile and satisfying. Show anyone a simple critter or how one block works and they immediately create something new.

Sal Cangeloso from is right that the consumerization of robotics is one of the coolest things in years. Even though on the whole, robotics is reaching out to SMEs and service industries rather than providing home robots, the democratization of technology means that as more robots are made, more robots become cheaper.

But I find that the coolest thing about cubelets is the user experience. They are easy and tactile. Anyone can use an ipad. Anyone can use a cubelet. As some forms of robotics (and augmented realities) embrace really simple and satisfying user experiences, then I foresee a rich environment for amazing technological growth.

btw... watch the ad 8)

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Robot State | Technology, Culture and Gender

Automated Life After Death

GRUMPY CUSTOMER: Adam Robertson, 24, has been left $900 out of pocket after a company he bought a tablet computer from shut down following the death of the owner. ANDREW GORRIE/Fairfax NZ

It strikes me that this is a very cyborg/robot kind of story. Our automated lives continue after death. Who has the power to turn off your systems? What impact will your proxies and extensions have on the lives of other people. There are a growing number of online executor businesses like legacy locker (tech crunch article about). The focus is largely on social sites, photos and emails, as described in the special “Tools for Managing Your Online Life after Death” . This doesn’t take into account the trend towards independent single operator online businesses or even small startups. How do you shut turn the shopping cart off? What other cloud based services don’t die?

Hundreds of Kiwis have been left out of pocket because an import company continued trading after the only man at its reins died.

Tech Brands Pacific’s sole shareholder and director, Brian Isaksson, died on November 4, leaving no-one in charge of the business.

The company continued to sell technology products such as iPhones and iPads on sites like People were buying through the shopping cart function on the website until a week ago.

via Tech Brands Pacific | Hundreds lose money after… |

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RoboTigers and human-robot relations | The Robot State

RoboTigers and human-robot relations

artist/engineer Kezanti from Brugge (tbc)

The Bloggess isn’t my usual source for robotics writing, so I was overjoyed to read today’s yesterday’s post about Robot Tigers. It’s a sublime demonstration of all the contradictory and confusing human-robot relations that exist, in reality and in fantasy. Don’t make me spell it out. Enjoy.

Victor:  One day I’m going to finish my robot tigers and we will rule the world.

me: It’d be easier if you just took over the world with real tigers.

Victor:  Robot tigers are scarier than real tigers.

me:  No.  Real tigers are scarier because they’re unpredictable.

Victor: My robot tigers have a random setting.

me: Like a shuffle function on an iPod?

Victor: Exactly.

me:  That is way scarier.

Victor: Plus they could beat you at chess.

me: Well, not me specifically.  I’m pretty damn good at chess.

Victor:  Not as good as a robot tiger.

me:  Live tigers are still scarier because they’re real and you know they hate you. With a robot tiger you understand they’re just doing their job when they kill you.

Victor: My robot tiger would be a cold, calculating killing machine – set on random – that also has an emotion chip and laughs at your pain.

me: That actually sounds scary as shit.


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