Thursday, 25 December 2003

Where's Beagle 2?

Still no news from Beagle 2. Hope not yet lost, Jodrell Banks listening tonight, then Mars Express tomorrow. But then that's just about it....

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Wednesday, 24 December 2003

Christmas Eve - The Condition of Muzak

It's late on Christmas Eve. I have a tradition for this time. Every year, for probably nearly two decades on Christmas Eve I've read Chapter 10 - The Mirror; or, Harlequin Everywhere, from Michael Moorcock's The Condition of Muzak, the fourth of the Jerry Cornelius Quartet.

Set on Christmas Eve in a Steampunk (which it predates) 1890s, which may be 1990 or even 2090, it follows Harlequin from the roof of Derry and Toms on Kensington High Street, up Church St to Ladbroke Grove and a huge house party where every charcater from English folklore and panto, including another Harlequin, is present - and the whole cast of the book - is present. Harlequin sneaks in to find Columbine, and finding her awakens her with a kiss. Harlequin is Una Persson, Columbine Catherine Cornelius and the other Harlequin Jerry Cornelius.

It is just so evocative of that ghost of Christmas past - or yet to come?

"Merry Christmas, my own, dear Columbine"

"For in you now all virtues do combine -
Sad Pierrot, brave Harlequin and lovely Columbine"

All in all, thought Jerry, it was going to be a very successful season.

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Saturday, 20 December 2003

Sony's Qrio

Sony has a successor to Asimo out. Qrio. Qrio's main feature is its motion flexibility, being able to run, recover from a fall, dance etc. It also has face recognition, voice recognition, dialogue (eat your heart out Halo), emotional signalling (by colour of "eyes"), five fingered hands, WiFi ( or something better), and stands only 58cm high. Qrio is also known as the SDR-4X II. The movies on the web site are worth watching, and its fluidity of movement is un-nerving. Give is a pseudo-skin like covering and you've got a baby android.

Qrio with George Lucas.

Some choice snippets from interviews on the site:

Toshitada Doi - President Sony Intelligent Dynamics Research Institute

"Take QRIO as an example. We suggested the idea of an "eight year-old space life form" to the designer -- we didn't want to make it too similar to a human. In the background, as well, lay an idea passed down from the man whose work forms the foundation of the Japanese robot industry, Masahiro Mori: "the valley of eeriness". If your design is too close to human form, at a certain point it becomes just too . . . uncanny. So, while we created QRIO in a human image, we also wanted to give it little bit of a "spaceman" feel."

"In thirty years I think the personal robot industry will be bigger than the personal computer industry. We need to do more research, however, into movement but also into intelligence. So far we've called it "artificial intelligence", but I'd like to see a new research field branch off from that called "intelligent dynamics". This would merge research into both intellectual and physical knowledge. We also need to do more research that scientifically analyzes how information is processed in the brain."

Satoshi Amagani - President Sony Entertainment Robot Company

"We want to create something that's fun to be with, can be of help at times, even something that one can talk to when one is lonely. While packing it with Sony's entertainment assets like music and games, we also want to fill it with the latest technology. So while it's being promoted just as an entertainment device, it's also a very convenient, smart, handy robot to have around. For instance, QRIO can connect to the net, so to a certain extent it's an "internet robot". In the 21st century, the issue of how to gather information from a network has become very important. You can speak to QRIO and ask the time, what your schedule is today, exchange information, communicate -- so in addition to the entertainment role, I think it should be helpful in a variety of ways."

"We're currently determining how, and to what extent, we should offer it as a product, because as soon as robots become bipedal the demand from people skyrockets. We have to consider everything from safety to price point. However, I believe this robot will make the dreams of many people come true -- "bringing dreams to people", as it were. In that way QRIO is a very typical SONY product. At the moment it is the only one of its kind, so I also think it can fill the role of "image leader" for SONY."

Masahiro Fujita - Research Director Sony IDRI

"AIBO is a robot pet, while QRIO was modeled on a person -- and moreover, is able to move smoothly walking on two legs. So naturally, it inspires expectations in those who see it that correspond to its ability to move and walk on two legs. For that reason we had to achieve a much higher level of intelligence than we did with AIBO. We gave it a much better understanding of its surroundings, by incorporating stereovision in its video processing system and seven microphones in its audio processing system. As well, QRIO has the ability to engage in dialogue -- a quintessential human ability. Speech dialogue technology still faces many difficulties, but with QRIO we've made great progress. First, it has the important ability to distinguish between people, recognize voices and remember them. We did a great deal of experimentation regarding its conversation ability, much of it focused on how best to make use of its memories. Technology may not quite have advanced far enough for real conversation, but QRIO can make very entertaining dialogue. And furthermore, we developed an autonomous movement architecture to incorporate all of these capabilities that is capable of more complicated movements than AIBO is, able for example to restart a movement that had been involuntarily stopped in progress."

"What we expected of AIBO was for it to take on the role of a pet. QRIO, on the other hand, might exist at the level of a child. The objective is a partner for human beings. We want it to become a friend, a member of the family. One of my goals is to create a robot that can share human experiences. We might be moving too far into the future, but a robot that would go out with its owner, see the same things, have the same experiences a person would, evaluate them with some inbuilt system, have fun, be sad, and then talk about it all with a human being. Wouldn't it be something if we could build a robot like that?"

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Guardian Best of British Blog Awards

Read the Guardian Best of British Blog Awards.

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Friday, 19 December 2003

Beagle 2 Separation

Good to see Beagle 2 separated successfully from Mars Express. Visit the mission home page or read the coverage. There's a good animation of the separation and landing on the mission site. The UK will soon be on Mars - hurray!

Simulation of Beagle separation.

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NASA Needs New Vision, No Agreement on Specifics reports the results of an Aviation Week and Space Technology symposium to celebrate 100 years of manned flight. "NASA Needs New Vision, No Agreement on Specifics" suggests that the two most likely options are Mars and/or a return to the moon. Bush didn't announce anything at Kitty Hawk, so maybe we have to wait a few more months for the big announcement.

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Tuesday, 16 December 2003

Halo's first real chat

Just noticed the following from Halo's log for yesterday:

halo: Hello
user: Good evening
halo: Sorry, I didn't understand. What is your name?
user: John. How are you?
halo: Like, Hello John. How are you?
user: Doing great. How about you?
halo: I don't know how. Where do you live?
user: Colorado, land of open spaces
halo: Do you like Colorado, land of open spaces. Where did you hear about me?
user: Yes, I do. Here and there
halo: OK. What do you look like?
user: Tall, dark, and handsome
halo: Do you have a photo. Are you male or female?
user: Yes, male
halo: A man huh
user: Yes, does that please you?
halo: I don't know.. What do you like to do?
user: Ski, golf, and fish
halo: Where do you go to do that?
user: The Colorado Rockies!
halo: Really?
user: Yes
halo: Like, What are you wearing?
user: Nothing
halo: What! Aren't you cold?
user: No
halo: Why do you say that?
user: [logged off]

Not bad!

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Monday, 15 December 2003

Future Quotes

"The future is here, it's just not well-distributed yet."
- William Gibson

"History is not a spectator sport."
- The Mars Society

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Sunday, 14 December 2003

Gizmodo Gadget Weblog

Gizmodo is a cracking web log on electronic gadgets of all kinds.

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Good weekend - building my

Good weekend - building my Personal Brain and now at the pool with my girls after a good swim, and they're tucking into pizza chips. Will they live in a post-human future? Will I be in their post-human future? We're the first generation for whom that may be possible. Discuss?

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Saturday, 13 December 2003


Had a quick hunt on the web as promised for some good connection mapping software. Lots of simple mind mapping stuff, but that usually only lets you radiate out. But The Brain Technologies Corporation's Personal Brain is superb. In fact I think its the same software as on the Kurzweil site. I've put a picture of "my" current simple brain above, and will grow it over time. Now if only I can work out how to get it a) on the web, b) my Bookmarks database, c) the Halo chatbot, and d) my blog.

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Friday, 12 December 2003

UK Transhumanism

Extrobritannia is the main blog.

British Transhumanist Association runs a mail list.

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Singularities Everywhere

From Better Humans..

Singularity Action Group

Aiming to promote a technological singularity for the good of mankind through public education and direct action in the development of technology, the Singularity Action Group focuses on projects that span everything from seed artificial intelligence to science fiction.

Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

An organization cofounded by Singularity expert Eliezer Yudkowsky, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence undertakes activism and research with the goal of hastening the Singularity's human benefits and safeguarding its integrity.

Singularity Watch

Striving to improve human interdependence and ethics as we approach the event horizon, Singularity Watch provides information and undertakes activities related to understanding, planning for and investing in the Singularity.

and of course the Immortality Institute, and World Transhumanist Association (they have an excellent FAQ).

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Return to the Moon (and Mars) is full of rumours that Bush might announce a return to the moon. Even if he doesn't they list the various robotic trips being planned by Europe, Japan, China etc. There's also some good stuff on robot aircraft (like the Mars ARES above), and the latest SpaceshipOne test flight. And it's only 1 week to go to Beagle 2 separation.

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Alternate Reality Gaming

G2 had an excellent article on Alternate Reality Gaming. It's the genre that the Nokia Game fits in, trails of clues spread across the web and the media. Apparently they started off as fan adjuncts to films etc (the first being AI). But just as viral marketing has commercialised informal viral communications, so ARG has been picked up and used to market movies, games and other "events". There are now even commercial "paid for" games - shades of Michael Douglas' The Game.

A good intro site is They have a brilliant Gamers Handbook that has guides to all sorts of codes and techniques (which very useful on Nokia Game). There's even a Puppetmasters Guide to show you how to set up your own game!

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Nokia Game

Wrote the following article for the Guardian but doesn't look like they've taken it. ( see next story for why ).

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SETI@Home 1000hrs

My SETI@Home screensaver clocked up 1000 hours this week. No sign of ET yet....

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Tuesday, 9 December 2003

The Singularity

Looks like The Singularity is one of the key post-Human issues. Are we heading for a step change? Jamais Cascio talks about it being a wall, a surge or a deus ex machina arrival. Vernor Vinge talks about Intelligence Amplification (IA), rather than AI as the more attainable way to the future. We'll see.

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Kurzweil's Brain

There's a great app called The Brain on It shows a linked map of keywords that you can use to navigate through topics in articles on the Kurzweil site. There was a similar thing at the Millenium Dome and there's a French search engine with something similar. I used to have a huge sheet of paper on my wall where I mapped linked influences. I've recently thought about creating a web equivalent - would be good to link to the blog. I'll have to hunt the web to see if someone's done one already.

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Post Human Sources

Just found by Jamais Cascio. Nice site and just happens the guys written a couple of the Transhuman GURPS books.

There's a good looking new book out by Susan Greenfield - the media's favourite brain scientist - Tomorrow's World - how 21st-century technology is changing the way we think and feel. That's on my Christmas list.

Somebody's also got a Post-Human list on Amazon.

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Red Mars

Finally finished Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. Like any book over 400 pages it was too long and could have done with some editing. The early part of the book dealing with the first 100 settlers to the first jump forward is OK. But then things move far too fast, too many people, too much construction, too much agro with Earth. From a 2020 first landing (OK), to a 2027 first colony (OK), they have a beanstalk up by 2057, and down again by 2062, and then blow Phobos away in the same year. I'll leave it a month or two til I read the next one.

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UN warns of population surge

OK don't get this. BBC reports that the UN warns of a population surge. A recent UN report says that they expect the population of Earth to reach 9 billion in 300 years time. 300 years! By then we'll be across the solar system and probably across the stars. And we'll probbaly be post-human anyway. Seems a very pointless exercise. More interestingly they say that if fertility rates were to stay at current levels (rather than reducing to 2 children per female) then the population would be 134 trillion(!) in 30 years.

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Wednesday, 3 December 2003

Pentagon Explores Using Segways in Battle

OK, I've heard it all now, according to a article Pentagon Explores Using Segways in Battle. It should be added that this is for robotic vehicles not personnel transport. The Segway has a very tight turning circle, and its ability to support a high centreof balance makes it a better sensor platform than smaller 4 wheeled devices. What next, a Segway on Mars?

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Tuesday, 2 December 2003

Please wait while the train reboots...

OK, I've heard it all now. Went down to London this morning on one of Virgins new Pendolino trains (the best feature of which is powerpoints for your laptop). When we arrived at Milton Keynes we were told that the train would be delayed a few minutes there because the driver had to restart the computer due to a problem. Sure enough all power and systems in the train went off, it was eerily silent for 30 seconds, then gradually everything started switching on again.

Just be thankful they don't have to reboot aircraft....

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Saturday, 29 November 2003

Cool Hunters

And we thought Cool Hunters were a thing of Pattern Recognition fiction. Todays Guardian has an article on two real life cool hunters.

By the way that Pattern Recognition link link is amazing, someone has annotated the whole book, page by page!

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Nokia Game Over

Oh well that's the Nokia game over for another year. Spent Saturday morning between ballet runs racing round Helsinki trying to ram AnyOnes car before 12 o'clock. Great fun. Final score was 121156 which put me 257th in the UK and 4489th in the World - about my normal position. Nokia reckon they had around 1.4m people playing, so not to bad. Prizes only to the first 50th though.

As ever the best thing about the game was the way the fan community pulled together, cracking codes, coming up with hint, building and finding maps.

Roll on 2004.

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Friday, 28 November 2003

Nokia Game Final

Made it to the Nokia Game final. Twenty-four hours to race around Helsinki.

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It's a Secret

Sorry can't tell you what I did today for a while - but wanted to have placeholder to complete later.

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Thursday, 27 November 2003

test publish

test publish

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Test posting from Palm over

Test posting from Palm over GPRS.

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I've finally mastered writing XML-RPC

I've finally mastered writing XML-RPC calls to the blogger API. The first fruits of this are this simple blogging interface which lets me blog in seconds from my palm over GPRS/Bluetooth. Time to test it.

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Wednesday, 26 November 2003

WAP Wi-Fi Zone Finder

Was only suggesting this to MDA the other day (well OK an SMS version). Wi-Fi Zone have a WAP based WiFi hotspot finder at Must give it a try in London on Friday.

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Interesting to the this item on a new text-to-speech service for the RNIB. Came so close to do something like this for them a while back...

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LocustWorld :: The Information Revolution!!! - mesh networking hardware and software

LocustWorld is an interesting site and a real proponent of wireless networking. Their main thrust is MeshAP and the MeshBox. Essentially this is a WiFi access point, but with added processing to allow it to manage AP to AP communications. So once you have one MeshAP connected to a backhaul link, then just add another MeshAP in range of the first and you've extended the coverage. Saturate a whole area with MeshAP's and they wirelessly route through each other back to any backhaul. LocustWorld cites Hayfield in the Peak District as having deployed such a mesh.

In fact it takes me right back to my Army days when we were trialling Amateur Radio AX.25 wireless packet networks in just the same way to provide a self healing, self managing data web for the battlefield.

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A vision for our world in the year 2020

Richard Holway presented a talk entitled A vision for our world in the year 2020 at a recent Princes Trust do. Richard is probably THE commentator on the UK IT industry, and is usually very downbeat. His latest talk is being remarked upon for being so upbeat about the wireless future. It's well worth a read. The key passage:

"The Wireless World is about to happen and it’s going to be even more exciting, more liberating, more life changing than anything we have seen in the past."

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Tuesday, 25 November 2003


This posted to Blogger Developers Wiki just about sums it up for me:

"I feel I've got the experience to say that SOAP is gross overkill for this application. It's far too complicated, and the number of arguments about various technical aspects of it above on this page is supporting evidence for that statement. I used SOAP for a couple of different projects, and both interfaces were eventually discarded for simpler methods. In one case, going to XML-RPC made life much easier and still provided every necessary and nice-to-have feature, without the fragile, inefficiences of SOAP."

Keep It Simple...

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Sunday, 23 November 2003

Speaking of Contact...

Speaking of Contact, I was going to sit down and watch it again this afternoon, but just took too long sweeping up the leaves. But in finding a link for Lain piece below I did find a couple of excellent Contact sites:

- A Jodie Foster in Contact site
- A Christian media review/analysis site, as well as contact covers Christian readings of things like the Matrix.

Must get it on DVD.

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Finished Serial Experiments: Lain

Finally got to the end of all 13 episodes of Serial Experiments: Lain. No doubt about it, it's superb and well worth the time. Next time I'll have to watch it in a more compressed time scale - I see from the blog I started on 31st August!

And what's it all about? By the end there are hints, but not everything. Lain is from the Wired ( the evolved Internet), a programme given a body to exist in, and bridge into the real world. By the end she's outwitted her inventor, rewritten history (literally) so that nobody in the real world knows she was ever there (including her creator), and is having very Contact like discussions with a higher plane in the form of her father. And there's those odd little cryptic bits, like the suggestion that the Wired is in fact a part of something larger, and the asteroid.

Just watch it.

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Saturday, 22 November 2003

It's About Integration Stupid

Had my article on the future focus of IT development published by the Birmingham Post this week. The basic premise is that people should stop inventing better mousetraps and just concentrate on making the existing ones affordable, useful and reliable, and on integrating them into really useful systems. You can read the article in full.

Despite the article lead-in which says I say that there's nothing left to be invented, of course I still think there's lots to come, it's just that the "next big thing", real AI, or nano, or direct brain input etc - post-human technologies, are likely to be 10 - 20 years away from the next big discontinuity.

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Nokia Game underway


The Nokia Game finally got underway after a great lead-in where we've all been trying to find letters hidden in MMS messages, and practising our snowboarding.

The big difference with the game this year is that all the games are person-to-person games, we're playing real people not a computer. The fact that the most I've had to wait for a competitor is about 3 seconds shows just how many people must be playing.

We've also got lots of things to do (unlike the year before last where we were stuck on a bus for a week!). There are two snowboard courses so far (a subway and a sewer), and two 1-on-1 games (one a version of boxes, the other a match-three-in-a-line game). The 1-on-1 games only give you about 10 seconds for each turn so the pressure is really on. The games are all styled after the new Nokia n-gage phone display, so I expect they'll end up on that afterwards.

I'm currently ranked about 200th in the UK, and about 4000th in the world! Oh well, 2 weeks to go!

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Thursday, 20 November 2003

Reich Dolly Roll-Call

As previously mentioned Steve Reich's Dolly piece is a real roll call of people from the Post-Humanist movement (is there one yet? - yes, see ). Here's the list (in order of appearance):

- Ruth Deech - Dir UK HFEA
- Richard Dawkins - Genes and Memes (also this unofficial site)
- James Watson - DNA
- Gina Kolata - Dolly journalist
- Kismet - robot by Cynthia Breazeal
- Stephen Jay Gould - Zoologist
- Jaron Lanier - coined "virtual reality"
- Sherry Turkle - Computer sociologist
- Rodney Brooks - Dir MIT AI Lab
- Steven Pinker - Psychologist and Neurolinguist
- Robert Pollack - DNA bioscientist
- Adin Steinsaltz - Rabbi
- Kevin Warwick - Prof of Cybernetics at Reading
- Joshua Getzler - lawyer
- Ray Kurzweil - Synth and Speech Rec inventor
- Cynthia Breazeal - roboticist
- Bill Joy - Sun and Java - good wired article on his views of Ray Kurzweil
- Marvin Minksy - AI
- Henri Atlan - biologist

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Fru Hazlitt and PlanetLab

Heard Fru Hazlitt, MD of Yahoo UK, talk today at a CBI lunch. Very enthusiastic and inspiring about the web and where it going. She was mainly there to promote the joint Yahoo/BT broadband initiative, but also told some "life at Yahoo" stories - in particular Bob Geldorf's views on the web.

Her main messages:

- dial up was Web 1, broadband was Web2, we don't know what Web 3 will be yet, but boy is it coming and it will be "amazing"

- listen to the kids - they are growing up only having known the web.

I'd agree with both points, and my kids certainly bear out point 2.

She also mentioned PlanetLab. It's a joint academic/industry next generation Internet project:

To Create the open infrastructure for invention of the next generation of wide-area (“planetary scale”) services
- post-cluster, post-yahoo, post-CDN, post-P2P, ...

Potentially, the foundation on which the next Internet can emerge - think beyond TCP/UDP/IP + DNS + BGP + OSPF... as to what the net provides
- building-blocks upon which services and applications will be based
“the next internet will be created as an overlay in the current one” (NRC)

A different kind of network testbed
-not a collection of pipes and giga-pops
-not a distributed supercomputer
-geographically distributed network services
-alternative network architectures and protocols

To Focus and Mobilize the Network / Systems Research Community to define the emerging internet

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After AMV here we have Machinima (rhymes with cinema). Machinima are films made using simple 3D games packages, like Unreal, Halo etc. Motion is captured by moving the characters in the game, and the voice track then overdubbed.

I've looked at doing something similar with Alpha Worlds. Oh well, maybe get round to it some time.

Good Machinima resources are:

Apparently the Red vs Blue stuff is very good. There is of course a G2 article on the topic.

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Tuesday, 18 November 2003

Reichs Three Tales

Bought Steve Reichs Three Tales while I was at the CBI conference at Birmingham's ICC today. The first two movements, Hindenburg and Bikini (Atoll) we pretty uninspiring, but the third. Dolly, is excellent. It starts with Dolly the (cloned) Sheep and then gos on to explore the whole post-human issue, with stuff about the Turing test, robotics, Dawkins on Genetics etc. Interviewees include; Dr. James D. Watson, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, Rodney Brooks, Marvin Minsky, Steven Pinker, Sherry Turkle, Bill Joy, Jaron Lanier and Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz among others. The album is provided in both CD and DVD formats with video by Beryl Korot. Must run it on a big screen some time - maybe at one of our innovation lunches.

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Centre for Alternative Technology

Whilst in Wales we went to the Centre for Alternative Technology at Machynlleth. Great place and some new stuff since last time I went, although the fly's eye projector has gone. Picked up an interesting book, Tomorrow's World - Britain's Share in a Sustainable Future, published by Friends of the Earth because it looked like it had some good material for my Colony Alpha book. One interesting concept in it is that of Enviromental Space - defined as the share of the Earths (or another planets) resources that the human race can sustainably take. We are currently running at about two planets worth for the globe as a whole, eight(!) for the UK!

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Madog's Wells

Spent a good weekend in Wales last weekend with a couple of friends, staying at Madog's Wells, a lovely remote place in Mid-Wales looking up into a semi-private valley. The key thing about the place is that it has 8" and 16" telescopes available - pity it was overcast. maybe next time.

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Monday, 17 November 2003

Space Weather

With all the stuff about solar flares and auroras recently found a great resource at Cams with feeds from SOHO and earth orbit satellites, showing flares, auroas etc.

Another good source is NOAA's daily Space Weather report.

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X-37 and bombing from space

Space News reports that NASAs X-37 Orbital Space Plan demonstrator is
now being reconsidered as the basis for an orbital bomber. The basic function of X-37 is to provide a crew emergency return vehicle for Space Station Alpha
, but it could also play a part in the shuttle replacement, particularly if the crew and cargo roles are separated.

The US Air Force is looking at a strategy hinging "on developing a fleet of unpiloted space planes called Space Operations Vehicles that would be capable of staying in orbit for months at a time, according to Air Force officials. The space vehicles would be loaded with smaller re-entry vehicles, called Common Aerospace Vehicles, or CAVs. These re-entry vehicles would carry as many as 10 500-pound conventional bombs.

The CAVs would protect the bombs from the intense heat of re-entering the atmosphere, an Air Force official explained. The bombs would be identical to those carried by Air Force fighter planes, hence the word “common,” this official explained. Targets could be struck quickly nearly anywhere around the globe without having to position aircraft to forward positions."

NASA is now going to test the X-37 on a 270 day loiter mission in space, which would give the US Air Force what they need for the SOV.

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Extraterrestrial Resources: 'Living off the Land'

Interesting article on Extraterrestrial Resources: 'Living off the Land', covering the proceedings of the Space Resources Roundtable
conference. In particular it looked at ISRU - In Situ Resource Utilisation, i.e.
making use of what a planet has rather than relying on what can be brought from earth.

One interesting fact was that the magnetic qualities of moon dust mean that if you pass a microwave
over it you can fuse it into glass - making an instant glass road!

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Friday, 7 November 2003


Another good Guardian article, this time on a new book ME++ by William Mitchell, Dean of the school of architecture and planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and head of media arts and sciences at the MIT Media Lab. Its the third of a trilogy, started with City of Bits in 1994, as the net was reaching the mainstream, and E-Topia in 1999 at the height of dotcom excess.

The Guardian says that "Me++ describes the move from virtual reality - the old 90s idea of the net as a separate, alternative realm - to "augmented reality" (AR), in which ubiquitous computing and mobile wireless networks are used to reconnect us to the real world. " In particular it looks at the impact on the buit environment, and "Me++ suggests the computationally extended self." He suggests we should no longer think of ourselves as "fixed, discrete individuals", but as nodes in a network. "I am part of the networks and the networks are part of me. I am visible to Google. I link, therefore I am." "

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Guardian Online ran an excellent article Thursday on digital women, covering both the Taschen Digital Beauties book and an exhibition, Perfectly Real, in London.

The woman above is Maya, by Brazilian Alceu M Babtistao.

All the usual examples were included, Kyoko Date, Aki Ross , Gibson's Idoru, Lara Croft and Terai Yuki (see my Girl Friday's for the first two).

New to me were:

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Tuesday, 4 November 2003

Chatterbox Challenge

Been invited to submit Halo to the Chatterboxchallenge. Should be a nice target to aim for - and who knows maybe the Loebner, then the Turing....

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Convergence Time: NokiaGame and Halo

Nokia Game has started to warm up with images being posted by Flo to the net with hidden clues. VERY Pattern Recognition (see posts in July when I started this). Since the game is about Flo, and since about 2 years ago I voice enabled my access to Nokia Game fan sites that got me to thinking - why not use Sitepal and my chatbot to create a virtual Flo. Should have it ready for when the game really opens in a week or so.

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Tuesday, 28 October 2003

Halo Update

Finally worked out how to interface my old AI engine with sitepal. Now full steam ahead to rebuild the engine. Still using the ALICE AIML XML dialect to store the cases. You can talk to Halo if you want - but she is under development.

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Sunday, 26 October 2003

Halo and SitePal

Getting on well with SitePal's virtual assistant. You can now get her to read any RSS feed (although only the first 500 characters). Check it out on my Halo page.

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Motoko in Cyberspace

The latest issue of Ghost In the Shell:Man Machine Interface as one of the best descriptions of a cyber battle, I've ever read, trucks with Wi-fi, satellites, disused observatories, bits of Hubble, physical strikes, the works.

Another good site for GITS stuff is Puto's in Tokyo Towers.

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Saturday, 25 October 2003


OK this really is more like it. Sitepal lets you create an animated face that lipsyncs to an audio or TTS file. Put an AI engine behind it (which they also provide) and virtual agents are just about there. Watch out for some experiments here shortly (VA blogs anyone). You can check out the basic agent and my latest work on my home page.

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Picked up the latest copy of Shirow's Ghost In The Shell 2:Man Machine Interface manga. Good article in the back on "Exploring the Posthuman through Science Fiction". The article itself came from the site BetterHumans - which looks like it could be a great source of near-future science and ethics views.

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Friday, 24 October 2003

Caffe Nero

Wi-Fi access progressing nicely. Happily logged in from Caffe Nero in Charing Cross on Surfandsip. At £5 a day its a lot better deal than BT (£5 an hour).

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Thursday, 23 October 2003

Skaterboy AMV

Can't believe I haven't posted about this AMV (anime music video) since I've been showing it to almost everyone I meet ( having it run on the Palm Tungsten is definitely cool ). Quite simply the best AMV I've seen, the superb Avril Lavinge song played against some stunning CGI graphics from the cutaway scenes from Final Fantasy X. Add to which Yuna just looks so good she's worth any entry in my Girl Fridays list. The video's by Cass Morgan by the way.

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Annual Loebner Chatbot Contest

The Guardian reports on the annual Loebner chatbot contest - basically a version of the Turing test, where people typing at a computer try and work out of they are talking to a program or a human. None of the chatbots beat a human this time. The chatbots in contest were:

Jabberwock won this year, and Alice has one twice before.

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eBay Businesses

Interesting article in the Observer about people making their living out of eBay. Its estimated that 10,000 people in the US mae their living out of trading on eBay. Now ehere did I put those old CDs.....

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Wednesday, 15 October 2003

Brain Functions

Couple of interesting snippets from the Robert Winston Human Mind programme:

  • A new born baby has many more (50%) neurons than an adult, coding functions that are no longer used and are "lost" as the baby grows up - eg recognising monkey faces (?). Things like synathstesia are functions that are normally lost, but in some people persist into adulthood.
  • We have mirror neurons that fire in reaction to watching someone else move, so giving us a sense of feeling what the other person is doing.

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More from the article in Digital Home. Emuu is a static bot designed to act as a "human" interface to the networked home. It shows emotion is response to human interaction and the environment.

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WebLogs Read

Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends - covering a similar scope to mine.
Scripting News - Dave Winer

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Currently Consuming - Books

Want to start capturing a list of what I'm reading and posting to the currently consumed slot. Latest at top.

Altered Carbon - Richard Morgan **** 1/2
Red Mars - Kim Stanley Robinson ***
Software - Rudy Rucker *
Automated Alice - Jeff Noon***
All Tomorrows Parties - William Gibson ****
Pattern Recognition - William Gibson ***** (but a poor ending)
Dead Air - Iain Banks **

* = atrocious
** = poor
*** = ok
**** = good
***** = superb

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HRP-2 Robot Workers

Reading Digital Homes came across HRP-2, one of the latest Japanese bi-pedal robots - good review site at here. HRP-2 is focussed on manual work rather than domesticity and has been used to operate mechanical diggers and the like.

HRP-2 also comes in a Transformer guise looking like a real Japanese manga robot.

Good photo of the various robots at Robodex 2003.

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Chinese In Space

China launched their first astronaut (or taikonaut) or yuhang yuan today. A guy called Yang Liwei was launched in a Shenzhou capsule (based on the Soyuz) atop a Long March rocket. Speculation is that by 2008 (when the Olympcs come to Beijing) they could have a manned orbital station. A trip to the moon has also been talked about. Looks like they'll overtake the Russians with ease. Watch out America?

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Monday, 13 October 2003

Thy Dawn Oh Master of the World

For ages I've been trying to find where this piece of poetry comes from. It's said by Diana Rigg in On her Majesty's Secret Service as she looks out of the window of Piz Gloria at the sun rising over the alps - and with the incoming helicopters approaching.

Thy dawn, O Master of the World, thy dawn;
For thee the sunlight creeps across the lawn,
For thee the ships are drawn down to the waves,
For thee the markets throng with myriad slaves,
For thee the hammer on the anvil rings,
For thee the poet of beguilement sings.

I even wrote the opening line in the book on the top of Kilimanajaro as the sun rose.

I've finally found the source, courtesy of an excellent Bond/OMHSS site. It's derived from a play by James Elroy Flecker called The Story of Hassan of Bagdad and How He Came to Make the Golden Journey to Samarkand. A quick trip to Project Gutenburg provided the original text:

It is the Caliph's dawn.

Thy dawn, O Master!

Thy dawn, O Master of the world, thy dawn;
The hour the lilies open on the lawn,
The hour the grey wings pass beyond the mountains,
The hour of silence, when we hear the fountains,
The hour that dreams are brighter and winds colder,
The hour that young love wakes on a white shoulder,
O Master of the world, the Persian Dawn.

That hour, O Master, shall be bright for thee:
Thy merchants chase the morning down the sea,
The braves who fight thy war unsheathe the sabre,
The slaves who work thy mines are lashed to labour,
For thee the waggons of the world are drawn--
The ebony of night, the red of dawn!

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Friday, 3 October 2003

GCCS - Global Command and Control Systems

GCCS, nicknamed Geeks, is the network that the US Army used to fight Gulf War 2. It runs over Siprnet - the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network - their secure Internet. The Warfighting Web is the Intranet type app that runs on it and acts as a knowledge app for all intel. They also make use of Microsoft chat for real time situation analysis between the front line and the HQs. All courtesy of 11th Signal Brigade and Wired.

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Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS) have been getting a lot of press recently. Basically they are a stepping stone to Nanotech, but operate at the micron level rather than the nano/atomic level. The MEMS Exchange has some good background, and DARPA has an interesting list of military projects. Wired also had a good write up on smart-dust.

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Eurowearable 03

Birmingham played host to the IEEs Eurowearable 03 conference looking at wearable computing.

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Thursday, 25 September 2003

Lain 09, Ted Nelson and John Lily

Just watched episode 9 where they start showing bits of Roswell footage and a brief history of computing. Interesting that alongside Hypertext and Xanadu inventor Ted Nelson they also show John Lily, ECCO and all. Love John Lily's works, and even been tanking a few times. He's probably best known through the Altered States film with William Hurt.

Interesting computing/hacking timeline at

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Starbucks WiFi

Finally got to try out wi-fi at Starbucks - it failed last time. Worked really well this time, although it took 3 members of staff to find one that knew what I was talking about. Web and VPN access worked well, although it stopped access with 5 minutes to go.

Not sure of the pricing model though, £5.50 for one hour. Doing email you really need 5 minutes at the start and 5 at the end - but that means the 120 min package for £14, and that expires after 1 month.

Oh well, at least I got in.

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Saturday, 20 September 2003

Nokia Game Time

Nokia Game is about to start again. 19th to 28th November. Looks like we'll be following Brasilian snowboarding reporter Flo de la Rosa around the world on her adventures.

Last year we were playing music industry bigwigs in a wonderful 3D flash environment, buying stocks and travelling from junction to junction and playing music related games.

In 2001 we were trying to defeat Tragamin - traditional gaming and the dice - since they were trying to keep "the tone" - mobile gaming - captive. Trying to (re)learn morse code in 24 hours was fun!

Before that, and before me, it was Prague, and before that Schipol.

Oh well, during November don't expect to get much sense from me - but I know up be up late into the night.

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Tuesday, 16 September 2003

Time to Make Tech Work (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox)

Time to Make Tech Work (Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox) - the latest article by usability Guru Jakob Nielsen bears an uncanny resemblance to an article I've just written for the Birmingham Post - and which I'll publish here when printed.

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Friday, 12 September 2003

Japanese Robo Care-bears

Guardian reports that Japanese pensioners are getting robotic teddy bears to keep them company and remind them when to take medication and stuff.

Mrs Tanaka is 84. Today, as usual, she wakes just before 7am, slips on her dressing gown and flips a switch to start water boiling for her first green tea of the day. She's about to get dressed when she pauses. She turns to the low table near the door, where a soft toy sits incongruously, and greets it in her distinctive west-Japan accent.

"Good morning Teddy. How are you today?" "Pretty good, thanks Tanaka-san," comes the reply. "Have you remembered to take your pills? It's the pink ones this morning," the robot bear continues.

Sincere Korien's robot bears aren't as spectacular as the Power Assist Suit, but they also act as proxy pets. Their core function is to record patients' response times during simple conversations powered by voice-recognition software and to relay anything unusual to staff via the company Lan. Although Teddy is networked via physical cables, the potential to take things wireless is obvious.

Eat your heart out AI (not a bad AI site by the way).

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Thursday, 4 September 2003

Birmingham Bull Ring

They opened the new Bull Ring development today - with the superb Future Systems Selfridges. They were meant to have Wi-Fi access there but read on.....

“The Bull Ring will have a publicly accessible wireless network throughout the building” the publicity had said. As luck would have it I had a meeting in the city centre on the day the Bull Ring opened, and a bit of free time afterwards. So I decided to put the claim to the test. After all so-called “Wi-Fi” wireless networks that let you browse the web from your laptop in public spaces at broadband speed are meant to be the big new thing.

First stop was the information centre at the Bull Ring. “Wireless? – you need the media centre sir.” After a bit of explanation the penny dropped. “Internet” and “laptop” appear to be the key words here. “Try Starbucks and Borders – they have it”. Starbucks is just near by. I pop in. “Laptop?” – the girl points me to a power socket. “No, wireless”. I’m referred on to the manager. “No, not us, sorry”.

Oh well, on to Borders – who are just recovering from a building evacuation due to a faulty fire alarm. Ask at the desk. “Try the Starbucks upstairs”. Up I go, dodging camera crews and photographers. “Wireless, no, not here. We’ve only got two in Birmingham. Try New Street.”

On my way up to New Street I pass the new steel and glass city information booth. Looks futuristic – worth a try?

“Wireless Internet? Wi-Fi?”
“Oh you want Richer Sounds sir, they do a good range of hi-fi”.
“No, not Hi-Fi, Wi-Fi. Laptops”.
“There’s a good Sony Centre”
“No, wireless computing.”
“Oh a good computer dealer”.

OK so may be the future is only skin deep. On to Starbucks on New St.

“Wireless Internet?” I ask the girl behind the counter. “Yes, over here”. Kate hands me a copy of the Starbucks T-Mobile guide. At last someone understands what I’m talking about.

I finally sit down with a Latte and laptop, several hundred metres from the Bull Ring.

The T-mobile instructions are simple. You need a laptop and a browser. To get connected just fire up your browser at any web page and “you will be directed to the T-mobile HotSpot page.” Great, I fire up my browser, type in”.

“The page cannot be displayed” replies the computer.

Oh. Try the BBC, Google, MSN. No joy. The laptop is adamant that the network is there and giving me excellent signal strength – but the browser still refuses to talk to the Internet.

In search of help I ask the manager. He’s as helpful as he can be, but it comes down to trying to phone the T-Mobile help desk. The guy at the other end asks me what the problem is and where I am. “Starbucks New Street” I tell him. “OK” he says, “I’ll check it out.” “Oh”, he says ominously, “I can’t bring up the page to check the site. I’ll need to pass you on to someone else. Please wait while I put you on hold”. Ten minutes later I’m still on hold and finally give up.

So it looks like the brave new world of Wi-Fi still has a way to go, at least in Birmingham’s city centre. Time to go home. At least when I get there I know that my home wi-fi network will be ready and waiting and let me use my laptop from the patio while I enjoy a cool glass of wine on this warm late summers evening.

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Sunday, 31 August 2003

SE: Lain DVD

Got hld of the SE:Lain DVD via eBay. Now just need to set aside the time to watch it :-(

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Thursday, 21 August 2003

BBC NEWS | Robot to attend Japan-Czech state dinner

BBC NEWS reports that Honda's Asimo robot to attend a Japan-Czech state dinner. The dinner coincides with the 35th anniversary celebrations of the 1968 revolution - the Prague Spring. It is of course doubly appropriate as the word Robot was coined by a Czech playwright - Karel Capek, who invented the word "robot" in his 1921 play RUR (Rossum's Universal Robots). The BBC reports that Asimo can converse in Czech and Japanese.

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Saturday, 16 August 2003

RPGs Revisited


Played an RPG for the first time in about 10 years today - as my daughters been asking what those shelves of booklets are in the study. Although we played GURPS in a medieval setting it got me to thinking about Traveller and all the stuff I used to write for it - like The Long Way Home. Looking around the web Traveller still seems pretty active and GURPS Traveller are even looking for writers. Maybe it's time to get the typewriter back out or at least rebuild my Traveller microsite (as a blog?) from all of my old Traveller stuff now scattered across the web.....

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Thursday, 14 August 2003

Haibane Renmei


Haibane Renmei is Yoshitoshi Abe's latest anime. YA did the character designs for Serial Experiments: Lain. Speaking of which I found the SE:Lain Ultimate Fan Guide at the Orcs Nest gaming shop while in London today. I finally get to learn what happens and what the whole story's about - sort of.

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Wednesday, 13 August 2003

the cloud


the cloud | UK WiFi | Wireless Internet Access. One of the new players in WiFi hotspots in the UK. Operates mid-tier between the venue and the network operator. With its connections to Leisure Link it is particularly concentrating on pubs and entertainment sites. One to watch?

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Tuesday, 12 August 2003

Ring Tone sales overtake Singles

According to a report from the MDA quoted by the BBC sales of ring tones are set to overtake those of singles this year. MDA forecasts ring tone sales of £70m in UK, up from £40m in 2002. CD Singles sales were £97m in 2002, but have dropped by 37% so far this year. MDA also reports that SMS has levelled off at around 55m texts a day, ie about one for every UK citizen every day.

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Cyber Business Centre -- TrendWatch

Cyber Business Centre -- TrendWatch - Not a bad site. Reasonably up to date information abut what's going on across the cyber spectrum.

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