automation posts

ChittahChattah Quickies April 13th, 2012

Robots Ate My Job [Marketplace] – “Robot” is a bit of a red herring…the series is really an investigation of automation, when we interact with other devices instead of a human. Not sure there are too many surprises here but it’s still great to have this topic receive some focused attention.

Special Correspondent David Brancaccio takes us on a week-long series on air, online and on social media, called “Robos Ate My Job” to explore how technology is impacting the future of jobs in America. Find out who’s winning and who’s losing at the hands of the robots.

The Strange Art of Picking a TV Title [The Hollywood Reporter] – I’d be interested in knowing if the TV people design for nicknaming. Battlestar Galactica comes BSG among the cognoscenti. Does that little hook let people take ownership as the narrative pulls them in? Around my house we call “The Simpsons” by its shorter form “Simpsons.”

Would Friends have been the same hit had NBC executives approved its original title, Six of One? Would Lost have lasted six seasons with its earlier name, Nowhere? And would Grey’s Anatomy be able to charm nearly 12 million weekly viewers had it remained Surgeons? These are the questions now haunting studio and network executives as they look to attach the perfect title — catchy, but not cheesy; clever, but not confusing; inclusive, but not vague; provocative, but not inappropriate — to their crop of pilots in contention for the fall schedule. Producers and executives agree that getting a title right is more important than ever given the increasingly crowded and fragmented television landscape, where standing out is as important as telegraphing what a show is about. And while a great title can’t carry a poor show, it can get an audience to show up, which is why networks and studios have been known to rely heavily on focus groups and the occasional consulting firm.

Alphabet Soup [More Intelligent Life] – More on the ‘how does stuff get named?’ theme. Ever dine at QV? Me neither.

Some names come out of the blue. While seeking inspiration for his new London venture in 1926, an Italian restaurateur called Pepino Leoni saw a poster for the 1925 film “Quo Vadis”. The restaurant that bears its name can still be found in Soho. In 2002, about to open a place specialising in French food, the British chef Henry Harris was forced into creative thinking by his signmaker. “He said if we didn’t come up with a name right then, we wouldn’t have a sign in time. So I put together a long list of French words, including a few writers as fillers: Beaumarchais, Moli?┬«re, Racine-Going through them, we went, ‘Crap, crap, crap’ until we reached Racine and someone said, ‘Racine, of course, French for root. Absolutely brilliant.’ So there it is. Both interpretations are true.” The restaurateur Will Smith explains the origin of Arbutus, in central London, thus: “We discovered there used to be an arbutus, or strawberry tree, around the corner in Soho Square. The name felt good and sounded great. It was a bit like naming a child. At first, people went, ‘Eh?’ but soon said ‘That’s interesting’ and accepted it. Also, arbutus fruit have a culinary application in Portugal, where it is made into a spirit.” So does Arbutus sell arbutus spirit? “No.”

The Personal Analytics of My Life [Stephen Wolfram Blog] – I was pretty surprised to see this was just about his email. Email is one lens into someone’s life, but it doesn’t provide much detail into what you are doing when you aren’t using email. I was hoping for something along the lines of the good ol’ Americans Use of Time Project that took a broader look. The title is definitely an overreach.

What is the future for personal analytics? There is so much that can be done. Some of it will focus on large-scale trends, some of it on identifying specific events or anomalies, and some of it on extracting “stories” from personal data.
And in time I’m looking forward to being able to ask Wolfram|Alpha all sorts of things about my life and times-and have it immediately generate reports about them. Not only being able to act as an adjunct to my personal memory, but also to be able to do automatic computational history-explaining how and why things happened-and then making projections and predictions. As personal analytics develops, it’s going to give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives. At first it all may seem quite nerdy (and certainly as I glance back at this blog post there’s a risk of that). But it won’t be long before it’s clear how incredibly useful it all is-and everyone will be doing it, and wondering how they could have ever gotten by before. And wishing they had started sooner, and hadn’t “lost” their earlier years.

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ChittahChattah Quickies October 19th, 2011

The Solo Cup: How the disposable drinking vessel became an American party staple. [slate.com] – Hmm how did this odd red cup become the undisputed centerpiece of the American party scene? The recent redesign provides an opportunity to explore the question. I wonder, will most users even register, or appreciate, the receptacle’s new “distinctive elements?”

How did the red cup become synonymous with good times, keg draughts, and sticky-floored basements? “The history is a little sketchy,” says Kim Healy, VP of consumer business for Solo. “We know we were one of the first to introduce a party cup.” So perhaps first-mover advantage played a role, with followers clamoring to emulate Solo’s technological breakthrough? For surely the quality of the design played a part. From the beginning, this has been the Sherman tank of disposable mealware. Made of thick, molded polystyrene, the Solo party cup could be squeezed in meaty frat-guy paws, dropped to the ground by tipsy highschool cheerleaders, and mercilessly battered by Flip Cup contestants-all while maintaining shape and functionality. It was stiffer and more resilient than competitor party cups like Dixie’s. No doubt the cup’s opacity was a selling point for underage college and high-school drinkers who would prefer not to reveal exactly what they’re sipping. But why red?

Bun-Making Goes High Tech [wired.com] – In other news related to icons that represent our culture’s mass consumption, robots are checking out our buns. The aim here is to eliminate any distinctive elements, to achieve ultimate consistency at scale.

Engineers at the Georgia Tech Research Institute have devised a system for inspecting breadstuffs automatically, using image-processing technology. A camera trained on the production line captures an image of each bun, and software analyzes its color to determine whether it’s over- or undercooked, then adjusts the oven accordingly. The program also checks the bun’s shape and diameter and the distribution of garnishes, like sesame seeds or a cornmeal dusting. Ovenmaker BakeTech is working to commercialize the prototype, which has been saving Flower’s buns for the past year. May you never get stuck with a unique baked good again.

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ChittahChattah Quickies December 2nd, 2010
  • [from julienorvaisas] StatSheet Is Writing Sports Stories With Software [NYTimes.com] – [And you thought mainstream sports writing was formulaic now…] I asked Michael W. White, a specialist in the field of natural language generation, for his professional opinion of the quality of the writing. We visited the StatSheet site for Ohio State’s team and looked at the write-up of its Nov. 12 season opener, written expressly for Buckeyes fans: ”Ohio State Gets 102-61 Monster Win Over North Carolina A&T.” “Ohio State has already started living up to monumental expectations with a good first game,” it began. “On November 12th on their home court, the Buckeyes waxed the Aggies, 102-61.” The story had 10 sentences and 156 words. Over all, Professor White said, it read “pretty well.” He praised the first sentence as very good and said the use of “waxed” in the second was a nice touch. Then he pointed out some glitches. It was a bit overeager to show that Ohio State was undefeated so far this season, when its record was still just 1-0.
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ChittahChattah Quickies December 12th, 2009
  • Streisand effect – The Streisand effect is an Internet phenomenon where an attempt to censor or remove a piece of information backfires, causing the information to be publicized widely and to a greater extent than would have occurred if no censorship had been attempted.. Origin is in reference to a 2003 incident in which Barbra Streisand unsuccessfully sued photographer Kenneth Adelman and Pictopia.com for US$50 million in an attempt to have the aerial photograph of her house removed from the publicly available collection of 12,000 California coastline photographs, citing privacy concerns
  • NYC replaces automated toilets with staffed restrooms, a signifier of trust – But where the floors of the old restrooms had a tank-tread-like surface that automatically rotated across a scrubbing system after each use, and the toilets themselves were cleaned by a rim-mounted U-shaped traveling brush, the new ones are inspected, mopped and scrubbed — 15 to 25 times a day — by eagle-eyed, uniformed men and women.

    “It’s an attendant who knows what’s going on and has functions that go from sanitation to exchanging a few words with you to generally having a sense of what should be done,” said Jerome Barth, the partnership’s vice president for operations. “People see them, and they know the bathrooms are clean.”

  • Florida judges shouldn’t friend Florida lawyers on Facebook – A new advisory warns it may create the appearance of a conflict. Being a "fan" is still okay.
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Kiosks, technology, and culture January 5th, 2007

Yet another article that mocks the introduction of an automated technology. In this case, it’s a self-serve postal kiosk in San Francisco. Several silly examples in the story where people struggle to figure out how to use it, taking longer than the line for a real person, where the machine asks for lots and lots of extra info (since it has no a priori context like a human might), and so on.

Some themes that we now know

  1. Lots and lots of stuff is badly designed
  2. Many people can’t easily become quick at interacting with a new computer system
  3. Some tasks are more appropriate for a kiosk than others.
  4. Lack of context in an automated system and the resultant work the system (and thus the user) must do in order to establish that context reads as silly, funny, frustrating, and unacceptable

It’s impossible from these stories to tell, of course, what’s really going on. Me, I love self-check even if I have to fight it, even if I have to bend my natural tendencies to work the way it wants me to work. Maybe it’s being an introvert, or a bit of a technology geek, or curious, or just the idea that there’s a scam to be had by being savvy and checking out automatically rather than the usual way.

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