Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Takin Care Of Business, - By The_Macallan@AR15.com:: An unofficial ad for George W. Bush.

It is different than the ones you'll see on television, in that it's based on music, images, and plenty of text, but I think it is extremely effective.

The point of the ad is that Bush is good for the economy. Taking almost any measure, the current economy is doing just fine. The only concern of mine is the deficit, but this isn't as bad as people think. Like the price of gas, these numbers phrased in relative terms are much more benign. For the deficit, it isn't the largest as a percentage of the GDP. For gas, factoring inflation and purchasing power shows that gas prices haven't really changed since the 50s! Upper middle class college students and members of the intelligentsia whine about the poor, poor lower classes without looking at what would benefit the prols: a better business environment to induce growth.

A few months ago, I contacted the Bush2004 team with an idea about using grass roots internet support by showing and sharing ads by individuals. No reply to date, but at the very least, they should have a press release saying that they enjoy but cannot officially endorse such ads. This would allow the press to pick them up for free. On the left, you'll have MoveOn.org saying Bush is Hitler and nothing good about Kerry. On the right, you'll get great ads like this one.

I am quite confident that there really isn't much the Dems can do about this election. Let's list some factors:

-The economy is as good if not better than Clinton's 1996 election year.

-There haven't been any terrorist attacks on US soil since 911. If there is one (God forbid), it will only benefit Bush.

-Iraq will be better in November 2004 than February 2003, and the handover of authority should be before November, even if there is a delay.

-Bush is the only one who could possibly touch Social Security.

-His immigration reform is exactly right, and his strong free-trade stance is better than Kerry's "fair trade" rhetoric.

-Kerry himself hasn't really declared a stance on any major issue, other than the fact that there is only 1 George W. Bush, and he is NOT him.

-Kerry has already been defined by the Bush team as a waffler who is bad on a number of issues, and Americans believe it.

-Bush has a lot more money than Kerry.

-Bush is the incumbent.

-Changes in the Electoral College & population give Bush the advantage coming in.

-If Bin Laden gets caught ANYTIME before November, that will be the final nail in the coffin.

Maybe I’m too optimistic. I could be underestimating the “not Bush” vote. Kerry may yet say something interesting. He could get McCain in his ticket. I voted McCain in the 2000 primaries; I love his ideas. BUT, he won’t do it.

I wonder how long this will stay interesting. 7 months? Probably not.

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Mars Water Discoveries Loom Huge:: a brief synopsis about the potential for life on Mars, and the plans NASA has to discover it.

Recently, I've had fruitful discussions about the roll of robots in space exploration to the basic conclusion that human exploration is over-rated.

The idea is that spending $20-80B on anything is going to produce new science. The question is really what that science will be about. For Apollo, we got new materials and tools and a host of other technologies. We also got plenty of inspiration, which is good for the economy in terms of the scientists you create for the future, who are now excited kids.

Unfortunately, this doesn't really pay the bills. To spend the massive amounts of money on space, we should look for technologies which would have a huge impact on life here on earth.

Considering the value robotic autonomy would bring to a mission to Mars, where tele-operation isn't feasible for large missions because of the light-speed delay, we should continue pushing for more robotic power for NASA.

BUT, there is a huge benefit to all of society if we could solve problems necessary to have 100% robotic exploration on Mars:

The Grand Challenge is about offroading at high speeds in unknown environments. Large distances traversed on Mars would need to use technology which solves this problem. This is one obvious example.

Another would be the quality of manipulators/sensors and coordinated robots necessary to build a base on Mars or the Moon, as a preliminary mission preceding manned exploration. This would directly map to large scale construction projects here on earth. The barriers in buying a home would go down, and the ability of a developing nation to expand its infrastructure quickly would increase, if cheap robotic construction were available.

Also, scientific discovery could be accelerated with technologies that let robots postulate hypotheses, run experiments, and confirm results. This relates to work here and here. The idea of our society approaching a technological growth singularity, where we advance faster than our ability to track that advance, could ride on this wave.

I could go on, but the point is that the benefits of space exploration by robots needn’t be limited to what we learn about space and the other planets. The technology would yield immense benefits to real problems here on earth.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Al Qaeda's Wish List and Weak on Terror are two oposing views on the recent elections in Spain. Here is a letter I just wrote to both of the authors, David Brooks and Paul Krugman, respectively:

Hello Mr. Brooks and Mr. Krugman,

My first question is rather obvious reading both your columns this morning: Do you read each others work? Better yet, have you ever had a discussion or debate about the issues? I would certainly pay to see that, even if it were a simple office water-cooler debacle.

My second question is to Mr. Krugman, based on the ideas in Mr. Brooks’s column: how do you propose to fight the seeds of terror, other means other than spreading democracy and liberalism through the currently backward Islamic Arab world?

Also, you say that Iraq, a "brutal but secular" regime had nothing to do with the attack of fanatic Muslims in Al Queda. Then Spain gets attacked by Al Queda, debatably, because of its involvement in Iraq. Doesn't that prove to you that the Al Queda wants to see America fail there; that it is indeed a crucial battleground on the "war on terror"?

People seem to complain about terms like a "war on terror", which technically can never be won. Yet, they seem to be blind to the most obvious methods available to stop the root of terror. Going after Joe-bomber in the Arab basement is a wild goose-chase, as Israel has shown. Solving the problems that cause the terror is a true solution.

Thanks & continue the great work ( Mr. Brooks ;),

Ivan Kirigin

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Saturday, March 13, 2004

I, Robot:: A new Hollywood-ized movie adapted loosely from the Asimov novel. A few thoughts:

1) I think that if America wants to compete with Japan, we need to celebrate robots, not fear them.

2) This doesn't seem to follow the book at all. The book is a collection of stories that span a century of robots becoming more and more integral parts of society. The movie is a murder story turned into a robots-vs-humans war story. Lame...

3) Robots made with good CGI make me want to see this movie really bad

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Status Board - DARPA Grand Challenge:: Too bad all the bots from the Grand Challenge have died.

It looks like no one made it past 10 miles. In my understanding, the Red Team went through a few fence posts (which you can imagine are hard to detect because they are thin) which caused mechanical damage.

I watched the extremely boring and poorly produced satellite feed at CMU. Shame on whoever was responsible for that mishap, which could debatably lead to less interest in robotics, the exact opposite of what the goal is.

Actually the goal is to be autonomous off-road. It is a very, very hard problem which wasn't solved this year, as many people predicted.

The highlight for me was watching the bad bots break in the first 200m. The motorcycle, which couldn't even run autonomously and was driven by remote control as a demo, fell over in 2 seconds.

What needs to be done to solve the problem? My opinion: add vision as a classification tool. Currently, it is only used for adding more points to the dense 3D map, basically aiding the laser-range-finders. This is ok, stereo is proven. But a bump in a map could be a bush, or a rock, and you need vision to tell the difference.

Segmentation is a problem in computer vision where you try to break an image up into meaningful parts. Drivable road, non-drivable road, unknown, and sky are the four categories that pop out to me. Hopefully we'll see this used next year.

For those who are disappointed by the result, just keep in mind: this is a VERY, VERY hard problem. It is basically THE problem to solve: understanding you environment enough to intelligently interact with it.

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Monday, March 08, 2004

No Riders: Desert Crossing Is for the Robots Only:: New York Times on robots for the Grand Challenge race in about a week. As expected, high level articles miss many important details. BUT, it's nice to see good press coverage.

You might also be depressed when you look at the RedTeam site, where apparently they went too fast around a turn and tipped their vehicle. This shouldn't be too bad, because they have sufficient replacement parts and working around the clock is normal for them. Amazingly, most of the hardware didn't fail, and the computers were still running. This brings new meaning to "crash resistant hardware & software”, no?

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Thomas L. Friedman: The Secret of Our Sauce:: A great post which strings together two of my past ideas: America is good because it allows it's enterprising people to excel, and Americans needn't worry about outsourcing if they are working hard, get constant education, and have drive. These will yield personal profit.

From the article:

"There is a reason the "next big thing" almost always comes out of America, said Mrs. Narayanan. When she and her husband came back to live in Bangalore and enrolled their son in a good private school, he found himself totally stifled because of the emphasis on rote learning — rather than the independent thinking he was exposed to in his U.S. school. They had to take him out and look for another, more avant-garde private school. "America allows you to explore your mind," she said. The whole concept of outsourcing was actually invented in America, added her husband, Sean, because no one else figured it out.

The Narayanans are worth listening to at this time of rising insecurity over white-collar job losses to India. America is the greatest engine of innovation that has ever existed, and it can't be duplicated anytime soon, because it is the product of a multitude of factors: extreme freedom of thought, an emphasis on independent thinking, a steady immigration of new minds, a risk-taking culture with no stigma attached to trying and failing, a noncorrupt bureaucracy, and financial markets and a venture capital system that are unrivaled at taking new ideas and turning them into global products.

"You have this whole ecosystem [that constitutes] a unique crucible for innovation," said Nandan Nilekani, the C.E.O. of Infosys, India's I.B.M. "I was in Europe the other day and they were commiserating about the 400,000 [European] knowledge workers who have gone to live in the U.S. because of the innovative environment there. The whole process where people get an idea and put together a team, raise the capital, create a product and mainstream it — that can only be done in the U.S. It can't be done sitting in India. The Indian part of the equation [is to help] these innovative [U.S.] companies bring their products to the market quicker, cheaper and better, which increases the innovative cycle there. It is a complimentarity we need to enhance.""

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Friday, March 05, 2004

Japan Seeks Robotic Help in Caring for the Aged:: Good article about a new tub in Japan that can wash a human automatically. Sounds like fun.

This is the 10th time this month I've read about Japan's problem with an aging population combined with xenophobia. I personally love their distaste for immigrants because it yields better robots.

Either way, eventually the world will become a fairly even place, and "cheap" labor won’t exist. This combined with a increasing life expectancy means that robots will need to help with everything. It just makes sense economically when you think about the worker/retiree ratio. Look at Korea: 25 years ago, Korea was a lot like the Philippines or Thailand is today, 25 years from now, those countries might be the most wired in the world. 25 years after that, standards will increase so much that I’m certain it will be hard to find labor. It isn’t just that poorer countries will become richer. It is that as countries become richer, the demand for services goes up. Think about it like a threshold: after a given level of income, it makes sense for me to hire an accountant, lawyer, and broker. Today, because I’m a poor graduate student, I make do…

Also, the article mentions that the cost of the tub could pay for two Filipino nurses for one year. What they neglect to mention is that aside from maintenance costs, this machine could probably run for many years without addition costs. You need to factor in the continuous cost of labor.

Put it another way: a robotic butler might cost as much as a Mercedes, for which you could just hire a regular butler. BUT the robot can be made to last as long as the car! If that good book and horrible movie “Bicentennial Man” taught us anything, it’s that mechanical parts are easier to maintain that biological parts because, while not self-healing (yet) they can more easily be replaced.

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Thursday, March 04, 2004

I've got wireless on the 28X parked outside CMU. For those in the know, this is pretty cool...
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ScrappleFace: Kerry: Bush Lied About Water on Mars:: I love this site....

"Evidence of previous water is not the same as the presence of actual water now," said Mr. Kerry. "No one doubts that Mars once had a 'water program', if you will. But Mr. Bush spent $800 million on his unilateral Martian adventure. That money could have provided affordable health care for poor children of minimum-wage-earning same-sex domestic partners who were wounded by assault weapons on underfunded public school playgrounds."

Mr. Kerry added that when he supported increased funding for NASA, he didn't know that "Bush would...uh...foul it up as badly as he did."

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

CNN.com - New video game uses voice technology::I love different modes of input in videogames, IF they work well.

"As it turns out, Rio is a great listener. "LifeLine" recognizes more than 5,000 words and 100,000 phrases such as "Run," "Walk," "Open door," "Go to this room," etc. During firefights, you have to tell her to where, when and whom to shoot.

Konami's "LifeLine"
Of course, if you have a virtual hottie like Rio at the center of an action game, some players will try to command her to do more than just run and shoot. " 'I love you,' 'Take your clothes off,' 'What's your sign?' We have responses for most of those," Goff says. He believes part of the fun in this game is seeing exactly what Rio will respond to. "

I wonder what kind of software they use for the voice recognition, and how robust it is. I think this interface for a 1st person explorer/shooter is silly. A game like StarCraft, where you need to strategically command hundreds of units, would be better suited.

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CBSNews.com:: videos updated often. I like that they are free.

Go to the "Bloody Tuesday In Iraq" video, and watch a man in a hospital after over 140 people were killed in multiple blasts. Apparently they blame the foreign nationals for the blast but also blame America for letting these folks across the border.

His quote that I find remarkably naive: "Is this the freedom? Pardon my language, but FCUK the freedom."

Is this the view of most Iraqis? Probably not, at least not in the long run. Is this the only quote you hear from CBS-news of a "man on the street" reaction? Yes.

That man should join the army or interim authority if he wants to do more than complain about lacking government services that have never really existed before America came. Placing blame on America only proves that such bombings are successful psychological warfare, while failures in any real sense, and encourage more bombings.

Do people think that because America is rich, it can solve ALL the world’s problems so fast? It’s like we have some magic that we can sprinkle on Iraq and make everyone happy.

There is a fundamental lack of understanding, often even in America, about what makes a country successful. It is the sum of all the successful people in the country, and not some broad notion of charity or a unified personal government. How could it just be the government when our economy is 10 times the size of our government? America's government is good because it allows for individuals to grow without great hindrances.

People are successful, for the most part, if they work hard and live a stable life. (e.g. across all races, the long-term poverty rate for individuals that hold a steady job and get married is almost nil, i.e. they don’t stay poor.)

I’m sure there are people in Iraq who prove this idea on a daily basis. I wish I could get a major news source to talk about them, rather than giving a police-blotter style body-count quote and calling it journalism.
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