As Grady pointed out, DARPA has it's Grand Challenge to build autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves. I'm rooting for the Stanford Racing Team simply because they use a Volkswagen T-reg named Stanley.
I remember back in the 1980s looking at an illustrated book about the future with descriptions on how robots will become part of our everyday lives in the 21st century. Although we don't quite have androids doing our shopping yet, we do have self-driving cars, vacuum cleaners, lawn mowers, bomb sniffers, pets, flying spybots, and even soccer players. These ordinary robots make the old Disneyland Tomorrowland ride look like a joke. We're catching up to our futures already. Now if only that moonbase was ready with a basketball court.
Community and social computing
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Marshall Goldsmith has an interesting observation in this month's Fast Company (print edition): Can you listen?
He gives the example of what differentiates great leaders like attorney David Boies: he knows how to listen.
Here's a way of testing yourself:
Sit in a quiet place, close your eyes, and count slowly up to 50. If you can listen to yourself only counting and not thinking of anything else, you might possibly be a good listener.
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I saw a truly priceless rug today. We stopped by after lunch at a rug store next to the restaurant just to look. After looking over a number of 8x10 rugs, the owner took us up to his safe where he keeps the heirloom ones. He pointed out a particular antique rug which is one of two remaining in the world. It's about 500 years old from Tabriz, Iran, and probably over 30 feet long. According to him there is no real price on it but the only other one is in a museum in Europe. I couldn't tell the difference from a $9,000 rug but that's art. It's worth whatever price you put on it if someone wants it bad enough.
It's amusing to cosnider there's very little parallel for it in the software world. When developers create something from their minds, we sometimes call it "a work of art". The cost can be high but we don't really sit there and appreciate it as much.
Consider the idea of service-oriented computing where you build an "application" from a combination of components or applications each described as a service. It's no where near the analog of a painter's choices when it comes to colors, even if it does take as much thought, exasperation and suffering. But I guess I can take consolation in that the term "starving developer" hasn't caught on with the general public.
Science fiction movies and TV shows have come a long way from simple puppets and men in ape suits. It even seems like the industry is starting to become nostalgic about those old movies (e.g., Spielberg's remake of War of the Worlds, and upcoming King Kong by Peter Jackson).
A friend of mine brought around a hilarious B-movie spoof called The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra (None Can Stand Its Mental Power!). It was complete schlock, with such classicly idiotic dialogue like "Yes, honey, I am a scientist and now I shall go do science." B-movie's typically have bad dialogue, cheesy plotlines and very cheap effects. (This one had an evil skeleton that walked around puppetlike which you could obviously recognize as left over from a medical school model).
Some B movies can still excel. To get away from the stigma of B movies, they are now sometimes called "independent films", although I'm not sure if that does it any good.
Ever since watching Clerks, a decade ago, I've found a whole new respect for these movies. Made on a budget of $27,000 I believe at a convenience store that the director actually worked at, it was the first independent film which I thought should have gotten an Oscar for best screenplay.
Take George Romero. Dawn of the Dead is still considered one of the best zombie (B) movies of all time. But it spawned a whole new generation of such movies from the Evil Dead series to the absolutely hilarious Shaun of the Dead. With his new release (that I have not yet seen) Land of the Dead, Romero was honored with an ovation at the pretigious Cannes film festival this year.
On US TV, the remake of the Battlestar Galactica series loses the idealistic, sophomoric drama, and heavy stock footage reuse from the late 1970s series, for a significantly more hard-hitting drama that poses the tough questions that sci-fi at its best tries to bring forward.
Like War of the Worlds, the Battlestar Galactica series has a non-human force that easily overwhelms the skills and ability of humanity. In this case, this force is the Cylon "race" of intelligent robots that humankind created to handle warfare. After many smaller wars, the Cylons retreat for years eventually returning with new self-designed models that are very humanlike. More significantly, they develop the notion that God has created them to replace humans with a more organized civilization.
These are the tough questions that the legends of sci-fi like Asimov, Niven, Wells, and others posed. Too often today, the sci-fi stories are simply covered up with cute relationship drama, and special effects (e.g., the new Star Wars series spent too much time on these elements rather than building a deep story).
Whether probing the classic futuristic themes or just providing entertainment, many of these same shows have developed a very healthy community of faithful followers. Some of them have even become some of the biggest brands in entertainment (e.g., Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.)
If you follow Douglas Atkin's theory as described in The Culting of Brands, many leading brands have similar features whether it is a company, an organization or a religion. These include ideas like:
Atkins' talks about how such activities exist in many leading organizations like JetBlue, Apple Computers, Harley Davidson and others.
Can you see any of Atkins' elements in movie and TV show fan followings?
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I spent the weekend watching the 4th of July Independence Day fireworks from our new house with friends. We bought a lot which is about 1.5 miles behind this hill where the City of Tucson shoots its fireworks from, so we got an excellent view. The housing subdivision is all sold out but so far we're the only house on the hill. Our neighbors is a community that allows only those over 55, so we're the youngest people on the block by about 20 years.
It feels slightly lonely even when near so many homes. We bought a large acre lot so we wouldn't have to be too close to our neighbors. Many subdivisions here have houses within 10 feet of each other. That's too little privacy, even in suburbia, especially when you're new.
Sometimes blogs feel the same. There are so many bloggers out there but not everyone crosses the street to meet the neighbors. It is not possible to know and follow everyone around; it is difficult enough to even follow several dozen blogs.
However, the secret is in how people interact in the first place. We are only starting to investigate better means of social networking and understand what actually drives people to connect. If you read Duncan Watt's Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age, or Malcolm Gladwell's The Tipping Point, you can start to understand the mechanics of social behavior. These plus about another 12 books are my summer reading right now.