Friday, May 29, 2009

Branson's Virgin buying Playboy?

The Daily Mail in London reports that Virgin Group chairman and "rebel billionaire" Richard Branson is going to buy Playboy for more than $300 million US. Playboy, which has been helping young boys through puberty since 1953, is getting pummeled by all of the competition on the internet. There are supposedly a few groups interested in buying the magazine and all the other parts of the business, but the Daily Mail also says Hugh Hefner - who still controls 70% of the company - would rather die than sell out.

Actually, if there is one person in the world that could carry the Playboy image as well as Hefner, it's Branson. I've interviewed him a few times on the topic of cellphones (this is before he recently sold out his Virgin Mobile Canada to Bell), and each time he's made several wink-wink, "sly dog" comments, i.e.:

Q: What is your cellphone lacking that you wish it could do?
A: Well, if I was single I could think of lots of things but since I'm married — remember that Richard — let me see … I'd like to be able to see the person I was talking to down on the other end of the phone.

If you want to read that full interview, it's here. Otherwise, I think Branson and Playboy would make a good pair. Playboy, by the way, through its position as elder statesman of the porn industry, has been responsible for a good deal of technological innovation. The company was one of the first magazines to have a website and it was the first to develop digital watermarking technology to protect its photos online. Playboy also successfully sued content pirates well before anyone had heard of Napster, YouTube or Pirate Bay. All of this stuff is in my book, of course!

UPDATE: Well wouldn't you know it, Branson has denied wanting to buy Playboy. As we all know though, just because there's a denial doesn't mean it won't happen.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

India, Afghanistan cracking down on porn

Think North America is prudish when it comes to sex and porn? Try these two reports on for size. The first comes out of India where a recently passed law could land you in jail for five years or a fine of 1 million rupees (about $20,000 US) for downloading pornographic pictures or videos. The Information Technology (Amendment) Bill passed in December without debate in India's Parliament and was signed into Act in February, which means there was broad consent on the country's attitude toward porn. Yikes.

By the way, a second violation could put you in jail for up to seven years. I believe there are murderers in the U.S. who have served less time. The law has one last hurdle to clear, which is explained here - or not. I can't make hide nor hair of the author's explanation. Nevertheless, the Indian government said the law was expected to have been enacted by early May, so it's overdue. Hopefully for internet users in India, there's a hiccup in the process - and not just for the sake of looking at porn online. The overall law sounds ridiculously restrictive and is likely to result in major problems for Indian surfers.

The second report comes from Afghanistan, where a new fibre-optic broadband internet infrastructure is expected to come online within weeks. Some web content will be blocked - starting with porn. "We will mainly set limitations on pornography because it does not fit our Islamic values," a spokesman for the country's communications ministry said. Afghanistan will also block a host of other website types, including those used by terrorists to recruit and spread propaganda. Afghanistan has about 600,000 internet subscribers, which is not bad for a country that is largely illiterate. The costs of those connections are astronomically high though - one gigabyte of usage will currently run you about $4,000. That sounds almost like a Canadian cellphone plan!

The news out of Afghanistan isn't that surprising since porn is largely banned in many Muslim countries. However, as my friend Graeme Smith - who just won a pair of National Newspaper Awards for his work in Afghanistan - recently told me, porn DVDs are available under-the-counter at bazaars. They're stacked right next to videos of terrorists beheading prisoners. Seriously.

Regardless, it's interesting that anyone is trying to ban porn because that only makes the purveyors that much more innovative. As one of the guys who runs Twistys recently explained to me, one way to get porn into China - where it is also banned - is to tunnel in through an encrypted virtual private network based in Taiwan. In other words, the same sort of IP address anonymizer - like Hotspot Shield - that used to let Canadians access Hulu (until Hulu got wise to it a few weeks ago and messed it all up) lets Chinese internet surfers access porn. The same sort of thing is bound to take off in places like India and Afghanistan, which will kick off yet another round of technological escalation. In the meantime, I'm waiting for the Hotspot Shield folks to figure out a way around Hulu's new blocks. If anyone out there finds a way, please let me know!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Could Google build a Cylon?

This past weekend's Washington Post had an interesting article on the future of translation featuring Google and everybody's favorite U.S. defense technology lab, DARPA. The article took a look at some of the iPod-sized translation devices that DARPA is testing in Iraq, as well as the phenomenon of Google Translate which, if you haven't tried, you really should because it's pretty .

The article was a good introduction to the topic but it really only glossed over the issue and pretty much entirely missed the translation link between Google and DARPA, which is good because that's something I go into in-depth in my book. In a nutshell, researchers have been trying to get computers to do automatic translation since the fifties, with little success. That's because they typically programmed computers to interpret a language's grammatical rules, which was not only excruciatingly time-consuming but also generally resulted in laughable results because people rarely speak in proper grammar.

After a while, a small number of smarty-pants researchers decided there must be a better way, so a concept known as "statistical machine translation" was born. It's got a boring-sounding name, but wait - it's really cool! The idea was, rather than a computer working off a predetermined set of grammatical rules, why not let it make its own decisions based on how language is really used? The computer learns how that language works by digesting actual documents, which it scans for patterns. The more documents it has, the more accurate its prediction of the language. In other words, if you give the computer a handful of documents in say, Arabic and English, its translation won't be very good. But if you give it thousands or millions, it can statistically analyze the language and translate it into another with a fairly high degree of accuracy.

DARPA liked this approach and, just like its robot car races, held some contests starting in 2002 to try and spur interest and advances. One of the contest winners was a German fellow named , who used zillions and zillions of United Nations documents - which are all human-translated into the UN's six official languages - to create his own model. Soon after winning the DARPA prize, Och found himself poached by Google. When I interviewed him out at the Googleplex in Mountain View back in January, Och explained that the company and DARPA have a similar-yet-reverse interest in translation: the military wants to be able to translate languages such as Arabic and Chinese into English, while Google wants to be able to translate the English-dominant web into other languages so it can expand its advertising business. How's that for a nifty military-commercial link?

So statistical machine translation holds a world of promise for finally bridging the world's language barriers, as the Washington Post story details. But there's a far more amazing possibility. What if you apply statistical machine translation not just to languages, but to something like a personality? What if you could feed a computer with enough raw digital data about a person - their e-mails, text messages, banking records, financial transactions, photos, purchases, video game scores and so on - to then have it create a reasonable estimation of what that person is really like? If you've seen Caprica, the prequel to the most awesome show ever, Battlestar Galactica, this is exactly how the first Cylon artificial intelligence was created (I am really jazzed for the new series, which begins in January). People are already becoming wary of Google's size and power, but what if the company ends up becoming the one to finally create a fully functional artificial intelligence? How cool and/or scary would that be?

As luck would have it, I'm talking to Och again later today. I'll run this somewhat far-out idea by him and post his response.

UPDATE: So I spoke to Franz-Josef Och the other day and brought up the question of whether Google could use this sort of machine translation to in fact create a Cylon. While he was iffy on actual killer robots, he essentially endorsed the idea. "The technology we're using in machine translation I could very well imagine would be useful in areas where we need to learn about the meaning of words and the meaning of things and in general where we need to correlate a lot of events that might or might not be related to each other," he said. "Many people see different things in the term 'artificial intelligence,' but it will definitely lead to more intelligent software.'" For more on this concept, and how Google sees intelligent software evolving, check out a from the company from last year. Fascinating stuff.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Want a free Big Mac? With pubes, it's easy!

In my ongoing quest to have teenage fast-food employees replaced by robots, I present another video that makes the case. In this video, a pair of guys pull off a bit of "social engineering" - essentially a scam based on a lie - to get some free food from McDonald's. They simply go through a drive-through and completely make up a story about how the restaurant screwed up their dad's order. Check out the video:

As I've ranted about before, using low-paid workers is becoming an increasingly bad idea for fast-food chains. The workers, usually minimum-wage-earning teenagers, care very little about their menial, repetitive jobs and therefore do some crazy stuff, like in the restaurants' sinks or in the food, thus doing major image damage to their employer. In this case, it wasn't the workers themselves doing anything patently wrong, but they allowed themselves to be fooled by a simple scam, which ultimately costs the chain in lost product and revenue.

I'm pleased to report that when I was in high school, my friends and I used to routinely scam McDonald's with a similar, albeit somewhat gross trick. We would order our food inside the restaurant as usual and then, just before we were finished eating it, one of us would reach down our pants and pluck out a pube, then stick it in the burger or fries. We'd then take the offending food back up to the counter and, with a look of disgust on our face, complain to the counter help that there was hair in our food. It worked like a charm - we'd get a new, free burger or whatever every time!

Needless to say, such tricks wouldn't work with robot employees. People would have to think of new tricks, like bringing motor oil with them to put in the burgers.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Porn stars reinforce stereotypes on Twitter

Let's face it: porn stars aren't generally regarded as the sharpest knives in the drawer. Even more so than mainstream celebrities, many people see them as vapid Barbie dolls whose fake bodies, endlessly modified with silicon, collagen and peroxide, are meant to distract from the fact that there's supposedly little going on between the ears.

Having interviewed and met a number of porn stars through the course of researching my book, I can generally say that this view is not necessarily fair. The porn stars I've talked to each came from different backgrounds, had interesting upbringings and had intriguing views on a variety of topics, from technology and sexuality to economics and politics. (I was most impressed with industry newcomer , who's very sharp.) As the cliche goes, we're all intelligent in own ways, and porn stars are no different.

It's a shame, then, that so many are perpetrating the stereotype on Twitter, the social media du jour. There's a bunch of 'em on there, including , , , , (who stood me up for an interview in Las Vegas, by the way) and a whole bunch more. been following a number of them for several months now in the hopes of gleaning something interesting that I can include in my book, but so far that's been a bust (no pun intended). Without revealing the culprits, here are a few examples of recent porn star Tweets:

"About to go walk off this 7 layer chocolate cake"
"Answering emails and getting some work done....had an awesome steak dinner last night!!"
"Packing my suitcase for work"
"Flip flops and sand don't mix, especially when your legs are wet. Funny to watch though."

Don't get me wrong - everyone who uses Twitter is bound to put out the occasional boring or uninteresting message. Lord knows I've used it as an outlet to vent my frustrations with the continuing lapses in logic on 24. But when it comes to putting out useless information, which is the
of Twitter, porn stars take the cake. All most of them ever seem to talk about is what they're eating, what they're doing or where they're going.

There's no right or wrong way to use Twitter, but porn stars are missing out on a golden opportunity. Much has been made about how Twitter is a chance for celebrities to "cut out the middle man" and
with fans. But in order for there to be any value for those fans, the celebrity has to provide them with something worthwhile. Porn stars could be using Twitter to let fans get to know them, their personalities, their beliefs and opinions, rather than what they had for lunch. Perhaps more of them could put out the occasional link to a news story they found interesting, or follow somebody besides each other (Sasha Grey is particularly bad, following only eight people), or respond to fans' messages (some, like Stoya, actually do). In an era when their business is so much from all the free porn out there, they could be using Twitter to build some "brand loyalty" by showing off their off-camera personalities online, thus perhaps persuading some fans to continue to pay to see their work. They're not going to do that by telling us about the ham sandwich they had for lunch.

Friday, May 22, 2009

I want a robot to make my perogies

Terminator: Salvation is now in theaters so robots are on everyone's minds (even if, by the majority of accounts, the movie sucks really bad). Coincidentally, I was out for drinks with some friends last night and got into a heated discussion with one particularly close-minded individual over the future of robots and artificial intelligence.

The argument boiled down, as it usually does, to what it means to be human, and whether machines can be programmed with basic human emotions like desire. My debate opponent said no. Having formed my opinion from talking to dozens of robotics and artificial intelligence researchers and social scientists over the past year, I said yes. I about the U.S. government's EATR project - a robot that consumes other materials for sustenance when traditional fuels are not available. Such a robot will obviously know when its fuel levels are running low, so it will look for a snack (hence the government's silly name for it). Translation: I'm hungry, need to eat. If that isn't a rudimentary example of "desire," I don't know what is.

It's important to note that while the above example is neat, it's still very basic. The point, however, is that that sort of autonomous capability is going to ramp up very quickly. Consider that in 2004, the U.S. government held a road race for robot cars that no one actually finished (the furthest anyone got was 12 kilometers). A year later, five cars completed the race. Car makers expect fully self-driving cars to be on the roads within the decade, and indeed, some current models are already using some of the technology involved, like crash detection.

This is all because of Moore's Law (the theory that processing power of computer processors doubles every 18 months or so), which actually applies to far more than just computers. As each individual technology improves, the pace of technological acceleration quickens. So, for example, while separate advances in computers, lasers and video projection net some benefits to those individual fields, if you put them together you suddenly come up with new possibilities, like holograms. Robots, in that vein, are nothing if not a collection of various technologies. They are totally integrated systems that benefit from just about every technological advance that comes along.

Last night's argument really broke down when we started talking about the robot pizza-making machines I blogged about . If you watch the video attached to that post, there are some traditional pizza makers in there saying that a robot will never make a pie as good as a human, a sentiment my debate opponent agreed with. There's actually nothing more patently false - if the perfect pizza depends on the perfect ingredients assembled and cooked in a perfect fashion, then a robot is far more likelier to get it right every time than an error-prone human is. Similar nay-sayers years ago claimed that a computer would never beat a human at chess, or that robots couldn't make cars as well as humans, or that computers couldn't fly and land a plane as well - interestingly, commercial pilots today get reprimanded if they try to manually land their aircraft.

For my part, I'm particularly proud of the perogies I make. Problem is, they tend to turn out differently each time I make them, as in sometimes they're good and sometimes they're great (we Polish are not big on writing down recipes). I wish I had a robot that I could program with my method, then tweak it until it got to that perfect method. Then I would have great perogies all the time.

By the way, if the future of robots interests you, I highly recommend reading Wired For War by P.W. Singer and Love + Sex With Robots by David Levy.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Talking porn on CBC radio

If you're in need of a porn-on-the-radio fix, you're in luck. I'm on CBC Radio's Spark show this week talking about the industry's influence on technology, which is of course one of the major themes of my book. Host and I talk about porn's influence on everything from the Polaroid camera to internet payment systems to 3D movies. My segment starts at the 2:56 mark and goes for about eight minutes. It's been remarked that it was a refreshing interview in that we were earnest about it rather than salacious, which is how the mainstream media usually addresses porn. Check it out - it's a nice preview of what I'm covering in the book.

And since we're on the topic - the great news is that not only has Spark been renewed for next season, it's also going to one hour from its current 30 minutes as of September. It's also being moved to Sunday afternoons at 1 p.m., right after Stuart McLean's popular Vinyl Cafe, which should hopefully result in an audience bump for Spark. All of this seems to indicate that CBC management holds Spark in high regard, which it should because it's a great show (and not just because they occasionally have me on).

Part of the beefing up is also probably because of the axing of Search Engine, which went from being on the radio to being just a podcast to not being at all. Luckily, Search Engine and host have ended up on TVO where they'll probably get treated well. I'm a fan of both the show and Jesse, who likes to deal with the same big-picture technology issues I try to report on, so hopefully they'll do well at their new home.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

CBC journalists reign supreme

I'm proud to announce that I've won this year's award for Excellence in Science and Technology Reporting from the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance. For those of you who don't know, CATA is Canada's high-tech association and represents about 28,000 folks working in the industry. The award was decided by popular vote, so it's a special honor to be recognized by the people who are most likely to have read my work over at CBC Technology.

I had a good time last night at the gala awards dinner in Ottawa and even managed to sneak in a quick acceptance speech. I'll post some pictures and links when I get them but in the meantime check out this barely audible video of my acceptance:

As I mentioned in the speech, winning the award is particularly satisfying because it's a stamp of approval on the type of journalism I try to do, which is issues-based rather than so much of the product-based tech reporting out there. Reporting on important consumer issues such as net neutrality, copyright reform and competition problems - like the woeful state of Canada's cellphone market - often rubs those in power the wrong way, especially when exposing a lot of the bull that goes on, so it's nice to see some back-up from the people who matter most: the readers.

Taking myself out of the equation, it was also nice to see CATA acknowledge online journalism through this award. I've spent almost my entire career working in newspapers, having only made the jump to full online with the CBC about a year and a half ago. I can honestly say we online reporters still don't get nearly half the attention or respect from sources as traditional print journalists do. I can only hope that more awards for the online world - which, let's face it, is the future of journalism - can change this outdated view.

Taking home a similar honour for French language media was Bruno Guglielminetti, who covers technology for the CBC's French arm, Radio Canada. Bruno, who I've never met before but is nevertheless a colleague, made a very strong point during his speech - that it was ironic that two CBC journalists were being honored for their work just as our employer is about to embark on massive layoffs. The CBC, if you haven't heard, is cutting 800 people, most of whom (myself included) are anxiously waiting until next week to find out if they have jobs or not. It's a crying shame that amid all the talk of government help and buyouts for various industries, a few extra dollars couldn't be found for, you know, a broadcaster that is actually funded by that very government.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pizza-making robots = no boogers

Regular readers of this blog know I've been questioning exactly why fast-food chains continue to use low-paid teenage labor to make their food, especially in light of PR fiascos like the Domino's workers who in sandwiches or the Burger King employee who in a restaurant sink.

As if on cue, a pair of entrepreneurs are coming to the rescue with pizza-making vending machines. Over in Europe, "Let's Pizza" has a machine that can create a pie in about three minutes at a cost of five euros. The machine lets the customer pick their toppings, then watch as the pizza is assembled and cooked. Here's a Reuters report on the machine:

An American company, La Pizza Presto, has the same idea with its vending machine but promises an even faster cooking time at 90 seconds.

All of this reminds of a speech that Colin Angle, CEO of robot vacuum cleaner maker iRobot, gave at a conference last year. Angle told the audience that he considered the vending machine the perfect robot: not only was it totally autonomous, but an idiot could work it. Needless to say, if a robot vending machine can make a pizza, couldn't it also make Big Macs, Subway sandwiches or Starbucks coffee?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sasha Grey and the mainstreaming of porn

There's probably going to be a lot of mainstream attention to porn this week because of this Friday's release of Steven Soderbergh's new movie, The Girlfriend Experience. The film, which is about a high-priced call girl who delivers to customers the title of the movie (not just simple sex, but an intimate girlfriend-like experience), stars Sasha Grey, who is last year's winner of the Adult Video News female performer of the year award.

What's an Oscar-winning director - he's done stuff like Erin Brockovich, Traffic and the Ocean's 11 movies - doing teaming up with a porn star? Well, here's what he recently told The Guardian: "I wanted somebody who in sexualised situations feels totally in command and powerful... What a lot of people might see as a problem, I felt was crucial to the core of the movie." As for Grey, she explains her side of the story in a lengthy interview.

Many porn stars have tried to make the jump from adult movies to the mainstream before, with varying degrees of success. Of course there was Traci Lords, who had some success in movies like Blade and Underworld and in TV shows like Melrose Place. A few others, like Jenna Jameson, have also made some strides but Grey is being positioned as perhaps the first real crossover star, sort of like The Rock was the first pro wrestler to really hit the big time after guys like Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper tested the waters. There's little doubt she's a smart cookie so she may very well pull it off, although if you ask me, I think she takes herself a little too seriously.

The question with porn stars (and wrestlers) usually comes down to: can she act? We'll see what the critics say after the movie comes out on the 22nd. But what's more interesting are Soderbergh's thoughts on porn and the mainstream: "Porn is beyond everywhere now. Everybody on television looks like they're in porn, you know? I mean, the people that give you the news every day look like porn actors. The degree of coiffing that's going on is kind of disturbing."

Indeed - porn IS beyond everywhere. I'll be on CBC Radio's Spark program this week talking about some of the ways in which porn has influenced mainstream technology. I'll post a link to that show later this week when it goes up.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Porn producers anxious for Palm Pre

Porn producers are getting very excited about the impending launch of the Pre, the new "Jesus" phone that could save Palm (remember them?) from extinction. Kim Kysar, brand manager Pink Visual, told AVN that while porn companies have generally been thrilled with the iPhone because it's actually allowed them to develop some mobile content in North America, they're really jazzed about the upcoming Pre, which will launch in the U.S. through Sprint any time now, and with Bell in Canada in the second half of this year. Kysar says:

The iPhone single-handedly opened up new horizons for American mobile porn, and we positioned ourselves to take advantage of the opportunity by keeping our eyes and ears open when the iPhone was still in development. We heard some of the buzz that was floating around prior to the iPhone’s release and thought to ourselves, ‘This is going to be big.' ... We’re by no means losing sight of the iPhone market, but we are definitely looking ahead to the impact of the Palm Pre, and ensuring that our sites are compatible with the Pre and other new devices that are soon to be released.

Pink Visual, you may remember, is experimenting with on the iPhone in conjunction with a technology made by Toronto-based Spatial View. So why are they so excited about the Pre? Well, when it comes to the iPhone, porn companies have been relegated to simply designing websites or video that works well with its web browser - but they've been completely shut out of designing special downloadable software for its app store. In fact, never mind porn - Apple's iron-fisted lording over of its app store has ticked off countless developers, including Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor.

The Pre, as its product manager told me back in January, will have a two-tiered app store - one that will feature Palm-approved downloadable software, and another one that will be wide open, which means the porn folks will finally have an outlet for specialized apps. The only question is: how long will it last before someone - probably Sprint or Bell - clamps down from the controversy this is guaranteed to cause? Or will the Pre once and for all establish that our cellphones are our own personal property and we should be allowed to put whatever we want on them, regardless of what the cellphone carriers and manufacturers think?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Should soldiers blog in combat?

Wired's Danger Room has an interesting post on whether soldiers in the field should be allowed to blog. The Taliban was quick to exploit a U.S. air strike last week that killed dozens of innocents in Afghanistan. Whenever such events occur, it gives the Taliban ammo in the war for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

Michael Wynne, a former Air Force secretary, thinks the counter in this sort of propaganda war is to let soldiers write about what's going on in their own, unfiltered words. "We need to make sure we capture the news cycle by providing our troops with something like a combat blogger," he told Wired. Wynne does have a point - on-the-ground troops are perhaps the most trusted voices in the American military, so having them tell the story may be the most honest thing to do.

On the other hand, whether you're the military or a business, there's something almost un-American about not having absolute and total control over your media message. Wynne's suggestion is neat, but I can think we can easily resign it to the "yeah, when pigs fly" bin.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The problem with genetically modified foods

I've been meaning to comment on this story about a breakthrough in drought-resistant crops for a while now but I'm only now just getting around to it. In a nutshell, a group of scientists from Canada, the United States and Spain have come up with a gene discovery that could help make crops resistant to heat and drought. On the surface of it, this could have huge repercussions for growing food in Africa.

The CBC article is informative, but the reader comments at the bottom are far more interesting and closer to the real story. I've been delving into the world of genetically modified foods for my book and one thing I've learned so far is that little of this sort of research is actually done for humanitarian purposes. The problem is that just about all food gene research comes into conflicts with biotechnology patents - either the research itself is done by corporations such as Monsanto or DuPont, who then patent their findings, or, in the case of independent researchers, they can't help but use techniques that have been patented.

When foods, or the seeds they come from, are patented, they aren't exactly fit for use by farmers in developing countries because they aren't exactly cheap. Despite arguing that their work helps Africans, Monsanto and the like prohibit farmers from saving their seeds from year to year and force them to buy new ones, which isn't an efficient way to end hunger in struggling nations. Some call this a conspiracy theory but the company's lawsuits against farmers in this regard are well documented. More on this soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

May is the month for stroking

Did you know that May is National Masturbation Month? I didn't - I only found out yesterday. I think I'd like to file this particular piece of knowledge in the "Things I Wish I Didn't Know" pile.

It's true. National Masturbation Month was apparently created in 1995 by San Francisco sex toy retailer Good Vibrations after President Bill Clinton fired Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders after she suggested that stroking it should be part of sex education for teenagers. Which immediately brings up the question: Clinton fired her?!? The same dope-smoking, sax-playing, intern-BJ-getting Bill Clinton we all now so retroactively revere? Wow. Elders must have privately been up to some crazy shit if she got fired by Bill Clinton. It's like Steven Adler getting kicked out of Guns 'n Roses for doing too many drugs.

Anyhow, in honor of this prestigious month, held a comprehensive survey on the topic of masturbation. Some dude named Corey has posted some of the results here on his totally safe-for-work blog. Some interesting details: 41% of straight men say they've masturbated in a gym locker room; about a third of women are moaners, and 67% of straight men have wanked it at work.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Finally - a fast-food employee video game!

Think you have what it takes to be a fast-food restaurant employee? Ha, isn't that a question everyone has wondered at least once in their lifetime! Well now you can find out with nifty little Flash game located here.

The task is to use your computer's keypad to take customers' orders. As in real life, speed and accuracy are the keys to success. The orders get more complex as you move up in level, which also adds a touch of realism, particularly if you live in the United States. While on early levels the customer might ask for a burger, fries and pop, in later levels they order heftier and heftier meals.

The game only held my interest for a few minutes but if anybody out there is willing to play it through to the end, I'd love to know if the eventual prize is one of those scooters they give you when you're too obese to walk.

Hey, speaking of fast-food employees, check out this news story from last year where a Burger King worker took a bath in the restaurant's sink. Hilarious stuff. Like the recent Domino's , it still puzzles me why fast-food chains don't do away with minimum wage workers in favor of robots.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pentagon's secret budget continues to grow

The Pentagon is looking to spend $50 billion (U.S.) in 2010 on its unreported "black budget," which would make it a three-percent increase from last year and the largest sum ever. More interestingly, that total is more than the entire defense budget of the UK, France or Japan.

What about Canada? Bwahahahaha! It's more than triple our piddly $18 billion (Cdn). In fact, Wired has found that $16 billion (U.S.) of the secret budget will be spent on a single line item for the Air Force. What could it be? Who knows, but I for one think it's kinda funny that the U.S. is spending more on one secret technology than Canada does on its entire military. To put it another way, the U.S. spends more on its military secretly than most countries do publicly. The Pentagon's black budget is only 10 percent of total U.S. defense spending.

In any event, some other cool projects gleaned from public defense budget documents include "directed energy technology" (aka ray guns), "prompt global strike capability development" (weapons that can strike quickly, anywhere in the world, possibly satellite-based?), and "landfill gas energy capture" (aka turning garbage into fuel?).

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Mobile porn growing big time

The porn industry may be falling on in its traditional internet and DVD businesses but one area - mobile - is looking up. According to a new report from, the market for mobile porn is expected to hit $4.9 billion by 2013, more than double the $2.2 billion reported for 2008.

Not surprisingly, Western Europe is expected to lead the pack with 32% of the market by 2013, although that would be down from the 43% share it had last year. That's because us prudish North Americans are expected to increase our share of the pie from a measly 2% to 11%. One of the ways in which that might happen is if Apple opens up it's app store to adult applications, which some are expecting to happen when the company unveils its iPhone 3.0 this summer.

Maybe, maybe not. Let's not forget that here in Canada, Telus was mightily shouted down a few years ago when it took the bold step of becoming the first North American cellphone company to offer porn for download. For all the faults of our carriers, surely Telus didn't deserve the lynching it got at the hands of the Catholic church and some of the family-values zealots over at the normally left-leaning Globe and Mail. I mean come on - this editorial almost sounds like something written by someone at Fox News.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Robots don't need us anymore

In honor of finishing my chapter on robots yesterday (for now), I thought I'd post this amazing clip of a robot reproducing itself. Engineers at Cornell University have come up with a simple machine that can pick up new parts and put them together to replicate itself. The robot thus fulfills one of the Terminator/Matrix fears - that robots will eventually not need humans. Check it out:

In related news, check out these presentation notes on DARPA's EATR robot. EATR is, of course, one of those silly, forced acronyms that scientists come up with just so they sound cool. The EATR, or Energetically Autonomous Tactical Robot, does just what its names says - it eats. More specifically, the robot can refuel itself by eating its environment when traditional fuels aren't available. Scary, huh?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Is there any actual rib in the McRib?

Sometimes you don't even need to get down to a genetic level to engineer foods. Anybody remember McDonald's McRib sandwich? I certainly do, and I don't recall it being particularly all that tasty. Nevertheless, some folks in the U.S. like the sandwich and have created a McRib locator Google map to pinpoint the restaurants that are actually selling it. The McRib, although officially discontinued by McDonald's as a full-time menu item in the eighties, is still available as a "special item" in some restaurants.

What's funny though is this website that deconstructs the McRib. Not only does the meat not really look like meat, it's obvious that the rib-shaped protrusions on the top side of the patty are purely cosmetic. The McRib is boneless, after all, yet the protrusions are supposed to look the bones on ribs. Anybody else think there's something really wrong with this?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Rubbing Viagra onto mouse penises

Among my group of friends, it's humanly impossible to mention the words "nanoparticle" and "penis" without setting off a healthy round of jokes. It's with that in mind that I proudly report that scientists have created a nanoparticle solution to the problem of the flaccid penis.

Yes, it's true - for those times when Viagra just won't do, it looks like there will soon be a woody-inducing cream on the market, Xbiz reports. Scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York have successfully tested a substance that contains the anti-erectile chemical nitric oxide, which can be rubbed on rather than taken orally. The problem with pills like Viagra, approved for sale in 1998, is that they sometimes cause headaches, cause color blindness or the user's face to turn red. Not so with the new rub-on stuff, which in tests made five of seven mice get chubbies.

I'd like to officially nominate the job of "rubbing anti-erectile nanoparticles on mouse penises" as the new "worst job in the world."

Friday, May 1, 2009

Beware the Nazi super cows

Further to my post about how scientists had fully decoded the cow genome, a reader wrote in to pass along some juicy info on "Nazi super cows" (thanks Tom!). I've always been very interested in World War Two history, particularly the crazy Nazi occult stuff, but this is one bizarro story I'd never heard before.

It seems a British conservationist named Derek Gow recently imported 13 "Heck" cattle to his farm in Broadwoodwidger, about 370 kilometers west of London, from a nature preserve in Amsterdam. The cattle were reverse bred by a pair of brothers named Heck for Hermann Göring, the Nazi Luftwaffe commander, back during WWII in an attempt to recreate the auroch, a wild ox that went extinct some 400 years ago.

Where it gets even more interesting is that Göring wanted to bring the giant auroch, which stood two meters tall from its shoulders, back as part of a sort of Nazi theme park - he wanted to turn conquered Eastern Europe into a primeval Aryan wildnerness. What this means is that Michael Crichton ripped off the Nazis for the idea to Jurassic Park.

But seriously folks... as the various stories have pointed out, most scientists agree that it's impossible to recreate a species simply by breeding backward. Everybody knows you need cloning to do that!
Newer Posts Older Posts Home