From the galleries, the music grows louder and more complex as the slaves, surgically operated upon to sing but one perfect note each, are stimulated to more passionate efforts. Even the young emperor is moved by the sinister harmony of their song which in few ways resembles anything previously uttered by the human voice. Why should their pain produce such marvellous beauty? he wonders. Or is all beauty created through pain? Is that the secret of great art, both human and Melnibonean?
The Emperor Elric closes his eyes.
— Michael Moorcock, Elric of Melnibone
Looking remarkably like the Mogwai creatures from the 1984 film Gremlins, Furbies first hit the market in November 1998, becoming an instant success. In just the first three years of production, over 40M of these fake fur-covered robotic toys were sold. Since their early days, the Furby has been re-introduced a few times.
That means there are a lot of Furbies collecting dust on this planet.
I won't lie, as noisy as it is, I totally want a Furby Organ for myself. Read the rest
When Context Labs teamed up with UK consumer group Which? to produce an outstanding report on the surveillance, privacy and security risks of kids' "connected toys," it undertook the reverse-engineering of Hasbro's new Furby Connect, a device that works with a mobile app to listen and watch the people around it and interact with them. Read the rest
Two leading European consumer groups -- the UK's Which? and Germany's Stiftung Warentest -- have published an advisory with the results of their lab tests on the security of kids' connected toys, warning that these toys are insecure and could allow strangers to listen in and talk to your kids over the internet. Read the rest
You can't walk up to the Treasures in the Trash collection in the New York City Sanitation Department's east Harlem warehouse, but if you're lucky enough to get an in, you'll find retired sanitation worker Nelson Molina's meticulously organized displays of the wonders he rescued from the landfill. Read the rest
Steve Jurvetson (of venture capital firm Draper Fisher Jurvetson) posts this photograph of himself with "the true Armstrong hero," on the occasion of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong's birthday -- which was yesterday, August 5, same as mine! From Steve's post:
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At Kelly's house, I had the chance to ask him a question about the first landing on the moon that provoked a response that seemed poignant and awe-inspiring.
I asked him, of all of the systems and stages of the mission, which did he worry about the most? He had spoken about the frequently failing autopilot... the reliance on a global network of astronomers to spot solar flares in time to get the warning out... the onboard computers being less powerful than a Furby...
Venture capitalist, photographer, and master-level space fanatic Steve Jurvetson has been digging in to his archives for snapshots and relics related to the life and legacy of the late astronaut Neil Armstrong. For instance: above, a vintage 11”x 14” X-ray of Armstrong's lunar EVA spacesuit boots dated 7-7-69, only 9 days before the launch.
Steve shared some amazing conversations with the "First Man," from what I can tell. Here's one:
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Tang is a farce. That was the first thing Neil Armstrong told me last night. “We did not use it on the Apollo missions.”
I asked him, of all of the systems and stages of the mission, which did he worry about the most? (the frequently failing autopilot? the reliance on a global network of astronomers to spot solar flares in time to get the warning out? the onboard computers being less powerful than a Furby?....)
He gave a detailed answer about the hypergolic fuel mixing system for the lunar module. Rather than an ignition system, they had two substances that would ignite upon contact. Instead of an electric pump, he wished he had a big simple lever to mechanically initiate mixing.
That seemed a bit odd to me at first. So, I asked if he gave that answer because it really was the most likely point of failure, or because it symbolizes a vivid nightmare – having completed the moon mission, pushing the button...
John looked toward the expected iPod revamp coming this fall, found a surprisingly pleasant solar laptop bag, and discovered a gadget that reminded him of his 26-volume opus juvenilia, The Adventures of Fart Man. More edifying is his current tale of life aboard the miniature remote control Star Trek Enterprise.
Rob heard a sinister chorus of tortured Furbies; discovered a tasteful joypad; praised the internet's mockup culture; and linked to a gallery of communist tech wonders from the fabled east. (Adds commenter Otter: "While we were drawing the Jetsons, they were building the Jetsons.")
There was Cloud, Heathrow Airport's incredible flip dot animated sculpture; a cellphone embedded in the road surface somewhere in Italy; and a robot fight to the finish line. Finally, the unicorn chase—to the death. Read the rest
I'm working on a novel right now in which scroungers build exciting new devices out of really high-tech toys that failed to sell -- the favorite being an Elmo doll from 2008 called "Boogie Woogie Elmo" that can learn to dance by watching you (this turns out to be a great tool for clustering: install Linux on five or ten of them, teach them to speak and hear several rudimentary commands, and they can drive a car as a cluster of homeostasis-seeking cellular automata).
The Associated Press has an article on this year's robotic toys -- new Furbies and Elmos and such -- imagine what a boon these things will be to assemblage sculptors in five years when they can be had for a nickel apiece and when someone's standardized a GNU/Linux distro for each.
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Pixel Chix from Mattel. The handheld gadget in the shape of a house lets a child interact with an animated girlfriend and will retail for $30.
Winnie the Pooh or Elmo Knows Your Name from Mattel's Fisher-Price. A doll that can learn a child's name and other personal details, such as a birthday and favorite games, is programmed by the parents. Using a cable connection and a CD-ROM, parents can download information into the characters, which will be priced at $40.
Furby (a new version) from Hasbro. The toy's new technology is called emotronics, which supposedly brings the plush toy more to life because it speaks interactively with the child and reacts to words like "hungry." All this for a mere $40.
As we previously noted, Coke has launched a contest revolving around a small number of cans outfitted with cell phones and GPS receivers. Winners who discover the cans call a prize center to win big prizes. According to the AP though, military bases are paranoid that soldiers might bring the cans into classified meetings where they could inadvertently be used as an eavesdropping device. For example, Sue Murphy, a spokeswoman for Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, told the AP that her facility has "taken measures to make sure everyone's aware of this contest and to make sure devices are cleared before they're taken in." The special cans shouldn't be too hard to spot though--they have a big panel of buttons on the side.
Paul Saffo, research director at The Institute for the Future, a technology research firm, compared the concern about the Coke cans to when the Central Intelligence Agency banned Furbies, the stuffed toys that could repeat phrases.
"There's things generals should stay up late at night worrying about," he said. "A talking Coke can isn't one of them."