iPad-Controlled Quadricopter Surveys Tuscaloosa Storm Damage

May 8th, 2011 No comments

Screencap from the Parrot AR Drone photo gallery.

The mainstream news is finally catching up on the robot takeover of the globe — and I, for one, welcome our robot overlords.

This past week CNN featured a video from the Parrot quadricopter as it’s flown by CNN reporter Aaron Brodie over tornado-ravaged Tuscaloosa, Alabama, following last week’s storms. It’s pretty amazing footage, and surely it’s only sob sisters like me who worry about getting excited over new technology when so many of my fellow Americans have had their lives completely f*cked by mother nature. But for what it’s worth, the technology is amazing, not because of its absolute value but because of how easily available it is now.

Sold as a “flying video game,” the Parrot A.R. Drone utilizes an intuitive piloting system that makes it reportedly easy as pie to use. It doesn’t just run on Apple products, by the way; it also works with Android. The amazing thing is that it doesn’t just operate from the iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone — it operates from those platforms motion sensors:

The cockpit of the AR.Drone includes an inertial unit, ultrasound sensors and a vertical camera…The combination of these elements which are controlled by an autopilot program allows extremely accurate piloting of the quadricopter. The AR.Drone detects the movements of your iPod Touch®/iPhone® (to go up, down, turn, reverse, go forwards etc.). Anyone can pilot the AR.Drone, it is extremely simple to use.


There’s even a slight flavor of open source about it:

You can also control the Parrot AR.Drone from a Linux PC and a joystick with the software AR.Drone Navigationdesigned for application developers and available for free.

The quadricopter runs about $300 and has two cameras — forward and down — but the CNN reporter added an additional high-definition camera, to the tune of about another $250.

Brodie cogently observed of the technology:

This is really at the low end of what’s possible…There’s much more sophisticated drone technology out there that is now available to really anybody, including us in the news media, and I think this is going to continue to provide a whole new perspective on things.


You can check out the photo gallery at the Parrot A.R. Drone site here — and guess what? if you’ve become enamored of Parrot, you can even like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter. See how easy it is to follow the galloping pace of technology?

Incidentally, one of the significant advantages of a quadricopter is that each individual set of rotors can be smaller, reducing the kinetic energy stored. That limits damage if you hit something with the rotors. The platform is also less expensive because maintaining stability with it doesn’t require the same mechanical coordination as a standard helicopter configuration.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have become critical in high-tech military engagements — often with somewhat freaky results. Just last week, a U.S. drone attack in Pakistan was reported to have killed eight; drone attacks are being staged against reputed Al Qaeda figures in Yemen, and U.S. Predators armed with Hellfire missiles are an increasingly important part of U.S. military strategy.

But, of course, the technology’s simplicity is also vulnerability. As far back as 2009, insurgents in Iraq were even reported to have hacked U.S. drones, accessing the video feeds to get their own intel — and determine what U.S. forces could see — using $26 off-the-shelf software.

But UAVs have also become increasingly important in civilian applications, marking the confluence of cheap-and-easy video, wireless communications and increasingly affordable model airplane tech. Once you start talking about the application of drones to “semi-civilian” fields like law enforcement and fire abatement, and things get really interesting. And did someone mention border control? Devoted Techyum readers might remember when a Mexican border surveillance drone crashed in El Paso, which the Mexican government at first denied. An Australian archaeology team used a DIY paraglider drone to survey an ancient site in Thailand. And you might recall the incredible video from a drone flying around New York City.

Guinness Certifies Northampton Cat Has World’s Loudest Purr

May 7th, 2011 No comments

Last week, the Guinness organization certified Smokey the Cat as the cat with the loudest purr in the world. When the above clip was shot, Smokey pumped out about 62 decibels, but Guinness’s records say 67.7 decibels. Smokey has been “unofficially” documented producing 92 decibels, we’re told (which seems pretty unlikely, but far be it from me to be a purra hata). For what it’s worth, though, the sound of an M1 Garand .30-06 rifle firing at one meter is close to 170 decibels, a jet engine at 30 meters is 150 decibels, and a vuvuzela at one meter is 120 decibels — which is about where human hearing damage becomes possible in an acute incident. 85 decibels, however, is enough to cause hearing damage if experienced repeatedly and frequently. 67 decibels is louder than a washing machine, dishwasher or hair dryer.

Here’s what the owner, Ruth Adams of Northampton, UK, told the Metro about it:

Ruth, who adopted the pet from a rescue centre for her ten-year-old daughter, has previously admitted that the record-breaking purring can be ‘either adorable or annoying, depending on what mood you’re in’.

‘It’s not just the volume of her purr which is unusual,’ she notes. ‘She makes quite a unique sound, as if she has a dove stuck in her throat. ‘My daughter thinks it is adorable.’

From the video, Smokey’s purr is definitely sorta dove-y, but not completely unusual. Here’s more of it, for those of you who can’t get enough:

Ready to hear the depressing part? Yes, there’s a depressing part. The ABC News footage ends with the comment that the Adams household is Smokey’s 8th home. Is that because Smokey’s purr makes it tough to sleep? No word from the news — just that Smokey was adopted from a rescue center, where I imagine she’d be kinda hard to miss. Apparently the press believes its more important to enjoy plenty LOLZ and bathe in adorableness without coping with any real issues — and yes, that’s violin music you hear. It’s catsploitation, purr and simple. But kudos to the esteemed Ms. Adams and her daughter for embracing the earth-shaking vocalizations of Smokey — a cat who, for the record, would be welcomed at my house any time (I sleep with earplugs in).

But wait! Dedicated Techyum readers will know that you can’t have a Guinness record on anything without more controversy than that! Just read the comments on this video posted by YouTube user buckethead2010, who claims to have the world’s loudest cat but is set straight by the commenters. FssssFsssFssss!!! Mrrowrr!!!

Incidentally, in case you’re wondering WTF purring is (as I often do), and whether other animals purr, the arbiter of all things factual tells me:

The term “purring” has been used liberally in literature, and it has been claimed that viverrids (civet, mongoose, genet), bears, badgers, hyaenas (et cetera) purr. Other animals that have been said to purr are rabbits, squirrels, guinea pigs, tapirs, ring-tailed lemurs, elephants, raccoons and gorillas while eating. However, using a strict definition of purring that continuous sound production must alternate between pulmonic egressive and ingressive airstream (and usually go on for minutes)…in an exhaustive review of the scientific literature, reached the conclusion that until then only ‘purring cats’ (Felidae) and two species of genets, Genetta tigrina, and most likely also Genetta genetta, had been documented to purr.


The genet is a sort of civet-like thing, and, well, they’re charming. I couldn’t find a good video of a genet purring, but here’s a not-that-good one, on the purr side, but pretty wicked with teh cute. Seriously, you have to click this. Have to.

If you turn the volume way up, you can just barely hear the little chirpy purr of the pet genet in that video. This genet doesn’t purr, but it’s a baby, so click it anyway. And if you’re wondering what civets are, well, they poop gourmet coffee, and they don’t purr. And no, I’m not making up the “they poop gourmet coffee” part. But they don’t purr, so we’re only talking about them because it’s weird that they poop gourmet coffee. Is that a skill they could teach me? It would sure as hell save me some greenbacks, that’s for damn sure.

Anyway, back to purring. Did you know that scientists actually don’t know how cats purr? According to the Library of Congress (which, I guess, must be in charge of such things) is no unique physical feature that cats (and the two species of genets) possess that explain how the sound is generated. Big cats of the genus Panthera (lions, leopards, tigers, jaguars) purr only when exhaling, unlike domestic cats, which purr both directions. Here’s a purring cheetah (genus Acinonyx, not Panthera):

Incidentally, if you ever choose to pet a cheetah up close and personal like that, my non-expert advice is that you endeavor to make it purr as loud as possible. When it stops purring…don’t run. Just smile and try not to look delicious.

One of the very best things about the internet is Robert Eklund’s site Purring.org, a site “Devoted to field purring.” Srsly. Check it. Here’s another purring cheetah, from Eklund:

Video Shows iPad Was Predicted 17 Years Ago

April 29th, 2011 No comments

A recently discovered research video, filmed 17 years ago, remarkably predicted the arrival of the iPad.

Scarily accurate, the video predicts the form factor of the iPad – an impressive feat given the era of the film was produced in was dominated by gray desktop PC and CRT monitors. It pre-dates the emergence of the flat-screen monitor or the all-in-one computer. Also accurate were the weight of the device, the touch-screen interface and one of the most popular uses for tablets – catching up on news.

In explaining the possibilities for tablet-based reading of editorial, the film introduces the concept of embedable video within a story – again something that was not currently possible back 1994.

Perhaps the only significant prediction that is wildly incorrect is that the content for the tablets would be delivered by storage cards inserted into them, rather than the Internet. Given that the Internet was already gaining traction within early adopter and academic communities in 1994 it is surprising this wasn’t considered as a more likely delivery route.

The film which was produced by former media-technology and publishing firm Knight-Ridder, now owned by McClatchy.

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Kids’ Comment Cards Reveal NY MOMA Too Low On Dinosaurs, Coatroom Ducks Famished

April 26th, 2011 No comments

After seeing the selection of NY MOMA (New York Museum of Modern Art) comment cards as separated out by child visitors, it seems that the museum does please overall, yet still leaves quite a bit to be desired in the dinosaur department. You can see all the “I went to MOMA and…” cards here, but my favorite selections are in the MOMA post where they made a gallery of all the responses from kids. I’ll be the first to suggest that all art, film and TV be critiques exclusively on paper with No. #2 pencils by the under-12 set. Vegetemoose for the win. Someone call Arianna Huffington, as we’ve found a crop of tastemakers to fill the ranks of TV and film bloggers she can’t seem to replace on those AOL brands she’s managing…

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Liquor Up Your Peeps!

April 23rd, 2011 2 comments

This past week, my old schoolmate David Solmonson, who now writes the blog 12 Bottle Bar wrote up a hilarious and fun feature on how to make liquor-infused Peeps:

While some may choose to debate the Christian versus pagan symbolism and circumstance surrounding the Easter holiday, we at 12 Bottle Bar instead turn our sights on that most eternal of vernal demagogues:  the PEEP®.  Whether you are in the love-em or hate-em camp when it comes to PEEPS®, we’re certain that you’ll appreciate the question that begat today’s Easter post:  Could we booze “peeps” up? The answer proved to be simple, yet eloquent:  Hell, yeah.

The rules, which present an opportunity for drama, pathos and excursions into science and human history, are as follows:

  • The “peeps” had to use a real cocktail as their base liquid, and one which tasted good.
  • They had to have appropriate “peep” shapes, colors, and consistency.


The real opportunity, of course, is not just the kitchen-chemistry-set goodness of liquoring up your peeps, but also the amusing detour into the too-little-studied field of Peep History, which I didn’t even know was a subject (it is), and Peep Science, which (especially if you read the comments) turns out to be a mildly complex science, and pretty fascinating.

Best of all, you can follow David’s instructions and end up with some tasty drunken Peeps of your own, if you dare — just in time for Easter!

For some time, I’ve admired David’s writing at 12 Bottle Bar — and not just because the guy used to give me rides on his red Honda Scooter and loaned me a skinny pink tie for my very first date. Those two things help, sure. But I also admire the blog because the site combines three of favorite things: liquor, thrift and LOLZ.

The site takes as its premise that interesting cocktails can be created by everyone — not just professional bartenders, and not just those who can afford a huge well-stocked bar of expensive liquors, liqueurs and mixers at home. Limiting itself to just 12 bottles at a time (the ingredients rotate as they get used up), 12 Bottle Bar presents a variety of interesting drinks along with pieces of fascinating alcoholic and gustatory history, all poured out with an irreverent yet friendly tone. It’s always a fun read and involves enough illuminating backstory to keep history nerds fascinated even if you prefer your whiskey neat.

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Oi, CNN! Conspiracies. You’re Doing ‘Em Wrong.

April 22nd, 2011 1 comment

Public Domain Image.

A CNN article this week addresses “11 Political Myths and Conspiracy Theories” — how can a guy like me not click that shit? The 11 myths “debunked” are Presidential in one form or another, with a single exception: Gary Condit and the murder of Chandra Levy.

The list is mostly a warmed-over retread of other squibs CNN has published over the years — they seem to trot this stuff out in time for every presidential election. But one aspect of it really bugs me this time.

They’re doing a crappy job of debunking at least a few of these myths. Let’s start by putting a few 6.5 mm Carcano slugs in some barrel-grown Presidential salmon, shall we? Here’s CNN:


#9 The theory: Someone besides Lee Harvey Oswald killed JFK.

The facts: Decades after President John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas, the shooting and the events that followed continue to fascinate many Americans.

Much of that interest rests on the theory that the assassination was the result of a conspiracy — not the act of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald.

Theories include that Kennedy “was killed by CIA agents acting either out of anger over the Bay of Pigs or at the behest of Vice President Lyndon Johnson,” by the KGB or by “mobsters mad at Kennedy’s brother for initiating the prosecution of organized crime rings,” according to Time magazine.

But the Warren Commission, established to investigate the assassination, found that Oswald was the lone gunman — and that there was not a second shooter.


Ba-da-bing! Zing! Hibbity-skibbity-yow! Who knew it was that simple? Read more…

Lars and the Real Girl Director Interviewed on Pride & Prejudice & Zombies

April 19th, 2011 No comments

Having cut my teeth on Kathy Acker’s Blood & Guts in High School, I find it difficult to believe the film version of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies will ever be able to beat the judge demanding of Hester Prynne, “Now pretty please tell us who you fucked?”

Nonetheless, I think it’s Hollywood’s Jane Austen craze as much as its zombie craze that has led the film version to get pushed along. There’s been a fever to make the perfect date movie by adapting this “novel,” which added text by Seth Grahame-Smith to Jane Austen’s original, based on an idea by QuirkBooks editor Jason Rekulak. The infectious desire to make P&P&Z has been been infecting Hollywood almost as much as the drive to completely fuck up World War Z.

Signed on now is director Craig Gillespie, of Lars and the Real Girl fame, who “finalized” a deal yesterday, which in Hollywood means virtually nothing at all, since people leave projects they’ve “finalized” constantly.

But just in case not everyone understands how thoroughly dead Hollywood is, note that:

“Gillespie recently wrapped a remake of the ’80s cult classic Fright Night, with Colin Farrell as the unfriendly neighborhood vampire.”

…which would probably hurt my brain to think about even more than it does, if I could remember who the hell Colin Farrell is, other than the scary face in my nightmares.

Gillespie “plans to begin shooting Pride & Predjudice & Zombies at the end of the summer,” which in Hollywood is a bit like saying you plan to have “Marty” over for dinner at your loft the next time he’s in L.A. Gillespie did an interview with Entertainment Weekly in which EW, as usual, really kicked out the jams when it comes to asking thought-provoking questions: Read more…

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Urban Tweet Art by Ted Mikulski

April 18th, 2011 No comments

Tweet by Ted Mikulski

Where the Tweet meets the street… Connecticut based artist Ted Mikulski seems to always have some kind of art project going, even if the title of his book is “Art Is Dead.” Apparently not, as it looks like the artist has been busy with a little side project where tweets are taken out of context on Twitter, turned into stickers, and placed into real-life contexts that give a new depth and scope to the original writer’s 140 characters. And they’re a little pranky, too, which we love. (Thanks, E!)

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Nailgate: A Rhapsody in Pink Roundup

April 18th, 2011 No comments

I’m a little bit late to the nail-painting party on this one, but it’s just so much fun to be pretty that I really can’t help myself. Just in case you missed it:

Last week, Fox News manufactured a controversy on Monday the 11th to punish J. Crew for gracing a newsletter with a photo showing J. Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons painting her son’s toenails pink. As Jon Stewart would later observe, this was clearly intended to be a fun bonding moment between mother and son. But Fox’s columnist Keith Ablow, MD saw it — no, I’m not kidding — as a “clear attack on masculinity.” Abelow claimed young Mr. Lyons’s pink nail polish just goes to show what happens when you let the whippersnappers social-network and stuff. Said Ablow:


In our technology-driven world—fueled by Facebook, split-second Prozac prescriptions and lots of other assaults on genuine emotion and genuine relationships and actual consequences for behavior—almost nothing is now honored as real and true.

Ablow, incidentally, is a psychiatrist — so he knows all about the genuine emotion and genuine relationships, I’m sure, not to mention the Prozac prescriptions. Ablow further claimed it’s attitudes like this that are to blame for rampant teen sex, girls dressing slutty, and…um…guys doing crunches, I guess. And a bunch of other stuff, like the imminent end of war: Read more…

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Pravda Takes On Morgellons (Sort Of)

April 16th, 2011 1 comment

Reading Pravda still messes with my mind. For the first half of my life (so far) this Soviet publication was a Cold War joke — something a righteous American couldn’t read without feeling resoundingly superior and possibly humming The Star-Spangled Banner. But the days of Steel Joe and Nikki Boy Kruschev are long passed. Now, when I want information about the “emerging disease” Morgellons, I go to Pravda.

But lest you think reading Pravda is no longer an exotic experience laced with Siberian weirdness and plenty Huh!?, just check out the first graf of the Pravarama’s 13.04.2011 article on today’s 10 Most Mysterious Diseases:

There is a great deal of illnesses, which can be cured easily. However, there is a list of well-known illnesses to which scientists still have not found a clue. They are still incurable.

I will grudgingly admit that scientists still have not found a clue, but they are far from incurable. Just loudly express your opinion on the Pentagon cover-up of the proof of intelligent design, and whenever you say the word “science,” be sure to put it in air quotes — and sometimes say “western science” for additional clinical impact. That should get rid of any scientists in the vicinity. For post-eradication maintenance, a blank stare is mandated, though that will not protect you against the frequently co-morbid affliction, “pseudo-scientists.”

Regardless, though, it’s only Pravda that has the massive babushkas to take on the dreaded Morgellons Disease, which they place at #10 on their list:

The symptoms of this mysterious ailment remind a scene from a sci-fi thriller. Patients say that they can feel something crawling underneath their skin. The condition is characterized by a range of skin symptoms including crawling, biting, and stinging sensations; finding fibers on or under the skin; and persistent skin lesions (e.g., rashes or sores). Most doctors, including dermatologists and psychiatrists, regard Morgellons as a manifestation of known medical conditions, including delusional parasitosis. Read more…