Ok, look — I don’t know if these are real scientists or what, but a bunch of song and musical-style parody videos where the subject is crazy science concepts and gear that even I (in my extreme geekiness) know almost nothing about, well… let’s just say I was too busy giggling to find out. And that was one hell of a run-on sentence – but hey! It’s another long weekend up here in Canada, and when I get a long weekend post, I like to loosen up the reigns a bit.
Seriously, though, if you want something that will boggle your brain, and maybe make you laugh to the point where your loved ones and co-workers look at you funny (not talking about myself here… really!), then you need to take a look at these!
TED is a home for amazing things. If you’ve never been to TED.com, you should make it a point to go and spend a mini web-vacation there. Hell, spend a couple a week — it’s worth it! Their slogan is “Ideas worth spreading,” and I have yet to run into something on the site that defies that message. The awesome that I happened across this week (thanks to Pamela D Lloyd sharing a Rick Vlaha post on Google+) has made the hallowed halls of my “that was so freakin’ cool!” list.
A robot bird. Scratch that. A robot bird that looks and moves and flies like a real live bird! Holy, unmitigated awesome, Batman! The Wright Brothers’ and Da Vinci’s head would explode if they could see this.
The bird is inspired by the Herring Gull, and is the product of the genius of Markus Fischer and his Bionic Learning Network team at German technology company, Festo. There are no propulsion systems other than the flapping of the robot bird’s own wings, and its movements are so realistic, that it is likely that some audience members it flew over (twice) were thinking they should be covering their heads and getting under cover. This amazing creation is called SmartBird, and is also remarkable for the simple fact that the robot weighs only 450 grams.
Watch the video. Your brain will fall out your ear.
If you don’t want to click the link (WordPress won’t let me embed the TED video), check out the YouTube video below that was taken by an audience member during the bird-bot’s first fly-over. It gets right to the point.
Here’s another — even real birds can’t tell the difference:
Mmmm. Computers. We tech geeks love them, but we also love to hate them when they don’t operate as intended. Whether due to an actual bug, or a glitch introduced by human error, the world has seen countless computer glitches, some of which have had dramatic implications. Here we take a look at ten of them. We’ll use a loose definition of the word "glitch" to mean a situation in which a computer didn’t operate as intended, whether through hardware failure, software failure, or user error that the computer didn’t catch.
1. The Northeast Blackout of 2003
On August 14, 2003, the Northeastern United States, Midwestern United States, and Ontario Canada suffered a massive power outage that affected 55 million people. Investigators attributed the main cause to be the failure of FirstEnergy Corporation to trim trees in parts of Ohio, causing power lines to come in contact with the trees, and bringing about a cascading effect that forced the shutdown of more than 100 power plants. However, a software bug also stalled FirstEnergy’s control room for more than an hour, preventing system operators from detecting audio and visual alerts. This led to a server failure, followed by the failure of a backup server. Because of the lack of alarms, operators dismissed a call from another power company about issues with a shared line.
One of the features of Google’s search engine is that it protects you from harmful sites, by warning you if a site in its search results is known to contain malware that could infect your system. In January of 2009, though, Google went a bit haywire, and flagged every site on the internet as malware. What happened? When updating the list of suspected malware sites, the URL of “/” was accidentally included. Every site on the internet uses this symbol, so every site was flagged as malware.
3. The Murderous Hal 9000
Computer glitch #3 isn’t a real-life glitch, but one that arose in a book and a movie. HAL 9000 was a mega-computer onboard the spacecraft in 2001: A Space Odyssey (both the novel and the film). HAL, which was like a sixth crewmember, attempted to kill all of the other crew members due to a programming contradiction. Specifically, HAL was programmed for "the accurate processing of information without distortion or concealment," yet his orders required him to keep the purpose of his flight secret, for reasons of national security. This contradiction caused Hal to become paranoid, and led him to murder most of the crew.
The Space Shuttle Columbia is known for the tragic breaking apart during reentry in 2003. Columbia was also the first space shuttle, and its maiden voyage was scheduled for April 10, 1981. As the clock ticked down towards liftoff, with thousands watching, the launch was delayed due to a computer glitch. The glitch involved the synchronization between Columbia’s main and backup computers (for a detailed explanation, check out this PDF file).
According to pop culture, the term "computer bug" arose on September 9, 1947, when a primitive computer experienced problems due to a moth being trapped between the points of a relay. The moth was removed, and affixed to a log, with an entry that read "first case of bug being found." The term "bug" actually, in a technological sense, dates back to the 1800’s. That bug from 1947, though, will be forever famous, even if erroneously so.
You 40-somethings out there probably have fond memories of the video game, Asteroids. In Asteroids, the player controls a spacecraft in an asteroid field, and shoots at the asteroids and at flying saucers. In early versions of the game, players could hide their spacecraft behind the score area of the screen, and avoid being hit.
On June 3, 1980, inbound missiles appeared on computer screens at Strategic Air Command and at the Pentagon, indicating that two submarine-launched ballistic missiles were headed towards the United State. Seconds later, an increased number of Soviet launches were indicated. The problem was determined to be a computer glitch, but not before Strategic Air Command directed crews to B-52 bombers, and land-based missle crews were put on a higher state of alert. The cause of these false alerts was traced to the failure of a single chip in a computer that was part of a communication system.
In October 2009, T-Mobile and Danger, a Microsoft subsidiary, announced that they had lost all user data that was being stored on Microsoft’s servers, due to server failure. Users were therefore at risk of losing all of their data if they removed their batteries, reset their Sidekicks, or lost power. PC World reported that, of the million Sidekick users, thousands could have lost their personal data. A few days later, Microsoft confirmed that, in fact, it had recovered most, "if not all," customer data. That didn’t erase the heart failure already suffered by Sidekick users, when they thought that they had lost contacts, photos, calendars, and to-lists that weren’t locally backed up.
The Y2K bug arose from the practice used by computer programmers of abbreviating a four-digit year to a two-digit year. The theory was that this practice would cause date-related processing to operate incorrectly after January 1, 2000. Despite predictions of doom and gloom, the Y2K bug turned out not to be so bad, possibly due to the hard work of programmers around the globe to correct the situation.
Are you like me, and get frustrated when one of your gadgets doesn’t work to perfection? It is easy to forget just how far we’ve come. Technology advances at a breakneck speed. The gadgets and gizmos in our lives change drastically from month to month, let alone from year to year. An earlier comment by one of our readers, Jim Saul, got me wondering what tech was like in the year I was born, 1968, compared to today. Read on to see what I discovered.