E-tales: Baby bot will be so human

Hopefully, iCub will grow up into a proper little robot

Robbed of quality

Computerworld’s editor is confused — no, it’s not the grog; it’s an invitation he recently received to attend the Data Quality Expo 2008.

It started with a question: “Doesn’t the right data make all the difference?” Well, of course it does. Our man might have been more impressed though if his name had been spelt properly on the envelope, which was addressed to “Rob O’Neil”. It’s actually “O’Neill”, which is a more standard spelling and also appears in Computerworld every week.

Data quality, it ain’t easy.

Never a cross word

They do say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well, that is surely the case, but it can be an uncomfortable sort of compliment, all the same.

One of our e-talers recently came across this reader rewards advert in the NZ Herald and exclaimed: “Hey, that looks so like the original BlackBerrys when they first came out!”

And so it does, but of course it does something rather different — the Collins Crossword Master is an aid to solving those tough newspaper crosswords so beloved by some people. So, it doesn’t really compete with the BlackBerry. But it sure pays serious homage.

If I lose you…

Many of our contacts are in the business of telecommunications, more or less. So, it’s always a bit disquieting when you ask a receptionist if you can speak to a named person and the reply is: “I’ll try to put you through”.

Our e-taler often wonder if the operator is dubious about the phone system the company is using, or his or her ability to operate it. But when the comment comes from the Centre for Critical Infrastructure Protection somehow it’s especially worrying.

For the record, our e-taler’s call went through smoothly.

Fifteen minutes of infamy

Given the state of the NZ housing market, one could be forgiven for thinking bad thoughts about estate agents — sellers hate them because they charge like the proverbial wounded bull; buyers hate them because they pump up home prices.

Anyway, news site Ananova reports that a German estate agent, Frank Amsel, has been dubbed one of the world’s most wanted men, described as “a ruthless Mafia godfather”.

It seems Amsel is actually (relatively) harmless, however. Apparently, the FBI put out the wrong picture — an image of Amsel, instead of one of the real “godfather”, James “Whitey” Bulger, was beamed across the world. This resulted in some sarkiness from the mother-in-law and bemused comments from the neighbours.

Amsel believes holiday photos he posted online led to his 15 minutes of infamy.

Never, ever dump someone online

It never ceases to amaze us here at E-tales how people can be so smart in one area and so dumb in another. We’re talking here about Wikipedia co-founder Jimmy Wales’ public dumping of his girlfriend on Wikipedia.

Not surprisingly, the story whipped around the world and the lass in question, one Rachel Marsden, chose an exquisitely embarrassing response. Well, she would, wouldn’t she? Doesn’t Wales know that publicly humiliating someone is one of the worst things you can do, and that the fury of a scorned woman burns very bright indeed.

What did Marsden do? She auctioned a selection of his clothes on eBay, describing how she had washed them twice, in extra-strength Tide, after unearthing the isolation bag, hidden in her closet, in which they had been sequestered — to avoid “ongoing terrorism of my olfactory senses”.

Baby bot will be so human

Our last e-tale is an “Aaaaaah” kind of tale — the boffins at Britain’s University of Plymouth are to develop a robot in a very old-fashioned way: by teaching a “baby” robot to speak and play like a toddler.

Little iCub, as he or she has been dubbed, is three-foot tall and as humanoid as possible. The baby bot will be taught to talk, and to stack blocks and nest cups — parents will recognise these classic toddler toys. The hope is that, over the duration of the four-year project, iCub will develop human-like speech, as well as human learning and thinking qualities.

Language development specialists will work with robotics experts to help iCub grow up into a proper little robot, reports the BBC.

Ooooh, ‘Mosquito’ targets kids only

A case of the biter bit? Not so long ago, teacher-proof ring-tones (they’re out of the hearing range of the over-25s) were being used by British kids to disrupt classes. Now, similar high-frequency sounds are being used to make the kids buzz off themselves.

Called the Mosquito, the ultrasonic device was created by a father, Simon Morris, and his partner, after Morris’ 15-year-old daughter was harassed by youths outside a shop. Likened to the sound of an alarm clock going off in your ear, some shop-owners are now using it to move on any loitering kids.

Although some of these loiterers really are trouble, the Children’s Commissioner isn’t keen on the device and wants to ban it, saying it infringes young people’s rights.

Still, those dodgy ring-tones continue to sell well.

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