Archive for April, 2014

Bob Hoskins reported dead

April 30, 2014

Bob Hoskins reported dead

Pugnacious.

That’s the word that comes to my mind when I think of characters played by Bob Hoskins.

Of course, that’s not fair…Hoskins played a lot of different types. After all, the actor was nominated for an Oscar (for Mona Lisa), three Golden Globes (winning once), and four BAFTAs (again, winning once).

I guess part of it is how strongly I associated Bob Hoskins with Who Framed Roger Rabbit as the hard-boiled detective Eddie Valiant, doggedly uncovering the truth…on behalf of a cartoon rabbit.

That wasn’t the first time I’d seen Bob Hoskins, or even the actor’s first geek-friendly role.

I remember what a surprise it was at the time for a British actor to do an American accent…now, of course, they pretty much all do it, but back then, Bob Hoskins was a pioneer.

That wasn’t it, though: bringing a real empathy to interactions with Roger Rabbit, who wasn’t only a cartoon…but could be truly annoying, struck a chord. It was a member of the mainstream (albeit on the periphery) standing up for a true outsider. We geeks appreciate that.

Bob Hoskins’ geek-friendly roles include:

  • Brian Clemens’ 1970s TV version of Thriller
  • Pennies from Heaven TV series
  • Pink Floyd The Wall
  • Terry Gilliam’s Brazil
  • Steven Spielberg’s Hook (as Smee)
  • The live action Super Mario Bros. (as Mario)
  • Rainbow (with Dan Aykroyd)
  • Balto (as Boris the Goose)
  • The Forgotten Toys
  • Tales from the Crypt
  • Spice World (yes, the Spice Girls movie)
  • Michael (the Nora Ephron movie about an angel, with John Travolta)
  • Don Quixote (Sancho Panza to John Lithgow’s Don Quixote)
  • The Lost World (as Prof. Challenger)
  • A Christmas Carol (Fezziwig to Jim Carrey’s Scrooge)
  • Neverland (TV miniseries with Keira Knightley…as “Mr. Smee”)
  • Pinocchio (as Geppetto)
  • Snow White and the Huntsman (as Muir)

Good-bye, Bob Hoskins…the world is less sure of itself without you.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

On the Robot Beat #7: President Obama sets back human-robot relations

April 27, 2014

On the Robot Beat #7: President Obama sets back human-robot relations

robot is something created by humans (directly or indirectly) that performs tasks (autonomously or not) done by humans (or, more broadly, by other animals…a robot dog, for example, would perform work done by living dogs, including providing companionship). 

The word may conjure up an image of a mechanical man, perhaps clunky and made of metal. The way we use the term at The Measured Circle, it would include software performing human tasks, and non-anthropomorphic devices like an answering machine or a calculator.

On the Robot Beat presents news about our creations that are, even in small ways, replacing us.

Note: in this unusual On the Robot Beat entry, we are going to focus on one story…because we think it is that important.

In the next ten years, there may be a major barrier to robots improving our lives…bringing new freedom to the visually impaired, helping the elderly live independently at home, savings lives when disaster strikes.

That barrier isn’t the technology. Robots will be smart enough, strong enough, skillful enough, and careful enough.

It really comes down to one thing:

Fear.

Let’s take one example: robot cars.

We’re not going to use term “driverless cars”, because that’s simply wrong. The cars will have drivers: it’s just that the drivers won’t be human beings.

There is no question that robot-driven cars would be far safer than human-driven ones. When I was talking to a group of people about them, one of my listeners said, “What happens if a three-year old runs out in front of the car?” I responded that I would much rather have a car trying to avoid that kid than a person. The car simply knows that it has to avoid the collision…while you could give a car object recognition that would let it realize it was a human child at stake, that’s not necessary. Whether a kid or a rolling garbage can, the car will take the best possible steps to avoid the crash.

A human, on the other hand, is likely to panic. In that situation, they might step on the gas instead of the brake. They  might simply freeze up and do nothing at all. They might wildly twist the wheel, crossing over into oncoming traffic.

Might the car fail? Sure. Is the person more likely to fail? Undoubtedly.

Since the cars can drive so much more safely, they can drive faster and closer. We already know that

V2V systems

(Vehicle To Vehicle) are going to let cars communicate directly with each other. One car won’t get made because another one “cut them off”. They’ll know what the other car is going to do before it does it, and adjust.

Right now, though, there are engineers and marketers trying to figure out how to get people to accept the robot-driven cars…and how those cars can perform while the roads are “mixed use” (some cars driven by humans, others by robots).

The simple answer?

They’ll probably have to dumb down the cars. They’ll have to drive below their capability, so they don’t scare people…and so people will like them.

Let’s be honest: would you be afraid if a robot-driven car was driving a foot behind you on the freeway? Probably…because you couldn’t trust a human driver to do the same thing.

To paraphrase, FDR: “We have nothing to fear from robots but the fear of robots itself.”

Right away, I’m sure some of you are protesting, thinking of how robot warriors are going to make the world a less safe place.

As I’ve written about before, one main purpose of using robots on the battlefield is to decrease death and injury by having the robot decide when not to kill someone.

A land mine doesn’t care who steps on it: a cat, a dog, or that same three-year old child from our story above.

A “smart land mine” wouldn’t decide to explode when a “stupid land mine” wouldn’t: it’s that it would decide not to explode when it recognized a friend or a non-threat.

Let’s be very clear: we at The Measured Circle do not think that fear of robots is unreasonable. Fear of the unknown makes sense, from an evolutionary standpoint. Send a robot into a chicken coop, and the birds will scatter…as they should.

Humans, though, can overcome our natural fears, by using our more rational selves.

That’s not an easy process, though, and we may need help.

We may need to see our leaders, well, leading us so we can model that behavior.

That’s why we were so disappointed with something President Obama said recently.

The President was in Japan, and met with some robots, including Honda’s ASIMO.

As reported in this

Washington Post story by Juliet Eilperin

(and we’ve seen the clip), the President said:

“I have to say that the robots were a little scary, they were too lifelike,” Obama declared. “They were amazing.”

 

That’s right: this President, who has been called our “Geek-in-Chief” (having cited Star Trek as an influence, and being a reported collector of comics), told the world that robots were scary.

That was one of the most counter-productive things that the President could have said.

It sounds as though President Obama thought they were scary because they were too much like us (and other life forms). We are going to want some robots to look like us, even if many will work better if they don’t.

That’s why you can’t have Rosie from the Jetsons in your house, folding your laundry.

Oh, not just because of President Obama, of course…the fear goes back much before that. It’s in part because of many influential people frightening the public about robots.

The fear is a big drag on progress…and our leaders should be striving to make us less fearful about robots, not more so.

We are going to increasingly live with robots. Whether they are on your phone reminding you when it is time to leave for an appointment, getting your packages ready for delivery, or driving a blind person to the corner store, there isn’t a choice about that.

We can choose how we feel about it. Geeks like me? Not a problem…we want more robots now. The average person? They are going to need help adjusting to the future, or we risk leaving them behind because they are slow to join us.

We need our leaders and other role models to make the future inclusive, and that means reducing fear…not adding to it.

So, Mr. President, next time you meet a robot, don’t let the unfamiliarity scare you: embrace it, share your excitement, and lead the world to a better future.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.

 

The Wizard of Oz invented the cellphone

April 7, 2014

The Wizard of Oz invented the cellphone

Who invented the cellphone?

Was it Martin Cooper in the 1970s?

Or, perhaps, was it Oscar Diggs in the 1910s?

Never heard of Oscar Diggs?

Oh, but you have…he is better known as the Wizard of Oz.

In L. Frank Baum’s 1914 eighth book in the Oz series, Tik-Tok of Oz (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*), we encounter this remarkable scene (mild spoiler alert).

Ozma, the ruler of Oz, has a magic picture which enables her to see anything happening in the world (although she has to direct the picture to show her something).

Previously, one limitation was that the picture had no sound. Dorothy had to make a hand gesture at a certain time of day (which Ozma could see) in order to communicate.

At this point in the series, Oscar Diggs is essentially part of Ozma’s cabinet. He has learned some real magic, but also dabbles in technology.

The Shaggy Man is a prototypical hippie, with an easy-going philosophy, a disdain for the establishment, and a life built around love…or, a love magnet, at any rate.

Shaggy would be right at home on many tech campuses.

When some magic happens, Shaggy realizes it must be the intervention of Ozma:

“…Shaggy suspected the truth, and believing that Ozma was now taking an interest in the party he drew from his pocket a tiny instrument which he placed against his ear.

Ozma, observing this action in her Magic Picture, at once caught up a similar instrument from a table beside her and held it to her own ear. The two instruments recorded the same delicate vibrations of sound and formed a wireless telephone, an invention of the Wizard. Those separated by any distance were thus enabled to converse together with perfect ease and without any wire connection.

“Do you hear me, Shaggy Man?” asked Ozma.

“Yes, Your Highness,” he replied.”

At the end of the conversation, Ozma puts her phone down, and Shaggy “…replaced the wireless telephone in his pocket”.

So, while you may have heard in the past that the Star Trek communicator inspired the cellphone, here was a clearcut description of one the way we use them now…more than half a century earlier.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Mickey Rooney reported dead

April 7, 2014

Mickey Rooney reported dead

While it has been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, there is something distinctive about being the cultural shorthand (no pun intended…well, maybe a little…so to speak) for jokes.

In Mickey Rooney’s case, his significant and lasting popular impact allowed references to height, multiple marriages, and a “gee, shucks” kind of youthful enthusiasm. That enthusiasm lasted well into his third quarter century.

It’s important to note that these jokes weren’t because of a lack of respect (and I don’t intend my own introduction that way). Rooney was nominated for four Oscars…with the first nomination coming forty years before the last. He was also given an honorary Oscar in 1983.

He won two Golden Globes, and was nominated for five Emmys, winning one.

He appeared on stage (including the hit Sugar Babies with Ann Miller…starting when he was nearly 80).

His Hollywood Walk of Fame star recognizes his work not only in movies, but in radio and TV.

Throughout his career, Rooney had many geek friendly roles, including:

  • Voicing Oswald the Rabbit in the 1920s and 1930s (this came following his success in the Mickey Maguire series of live action shorts…which continued, meaning Rooney was doing two series at the same time)
  • The Lost Jungle
  • Puck in Max Reinhardt’s all-star version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935)
  • Young Tom Edison (as the Wizard of Menlo Park)
  • The Atomic Kid: a 1954 wacky comedy in which Rooney becomes radioactive
  • The Mickey Rooney Show, a TV series with some geeky elements (including an episode with a robot)
  • Francis in the Haunted House, taking over co-starring duties from Donald O’Connor with the talking mule
  • Pinocchio, a 1957 live action TV version, with Rooney in the title role, and featuring Jerry Colonna, Stubby Kaye, and Fran Allison
  • As the Devil in The Private Lives of Adam and Eve (with Mamie Van Doren as Eve
  • In a memorable episode of the original The Twilight Zone, Rooney played on the perception of his  diminutive  stature, as a jockey who wanted to be big
  • It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (it made sense that one of Hollywood’s most popular stars would be part of this celebrity-studded comedy)
  • How to Stuff a Wild Bikini (one of the beach party movies, with Buster Keaton, Annette Funicello, and Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper)
  • Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (which still shows every holiday season, with Rooney voicing Kris Kringle/Santa Claus)
  • Night Gallery
  • Journey Back to Oz (voicing the Scarecrow)
  • The Year without a Santa Claus
  • Pete’s Dragon, which was perceived at the time as an ambitious mix of animation and live action at Disney
  • Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July (back as Santa Claus)
  • Arabian Adventure (with Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing…and John Ratzenberger)
  • Creole (narrator: later edited into Misunderstood Monsters)
  • The Fox and the Hound (back at Disney, voicing Tod)
  • The Love Boat (“The Christmas Presence”)
  • The Care Bears Movie (as Mr. Cherrywood)
  • Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland
  • Erik the Viking
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (as Joe Petto)
  • The Magic Voice (English narrator of this German cartoon…other voices include Corey Feldman and Dom DeLuise)
  • Kung Fu: The Legend Continues
  • Kleo, the Misfit Unicorn (as Talbut…a regular voice on this late 1990s series)
  • Conan (TV series with the Robert E. Howard character)
  • Stories from My Childhood (The Snow Queen episode)
  • Sinbad: The Battle of the Dark Knights
  • Babe: Pig in the City
  • Phantom of the Megaplex
  • Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure
  • To Kill a Mockumentary
  • The Happy Elf
  • Night at the Museum
  • The Thirsting
  • The Yesterday Pool
  • Wreck the Halls
  • A Miser Brothers’ Christmas
  • The Muppets (the 2011 movie)
  • The Voices from Beyond
  • The Woods
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (not yet released)
  • Fragments from Olympus: The Vision of Nikola Tesla (not yet released)

Good-bye, Mickey Rooney…the world never stood taller than when you brought your attitude to it.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle.


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