Virtual Reality for Robots, and Super Cool Desks

Gazebo is a virtual world...for robots! It lets researchers test robot behaviour without risking the expensive robot hardware in a real situation (via Technology Review). In this podcast, Nora Young sees it as an example of the creative power of building on top of an open source platform. Cathi Bond wonders about its potential in medical research.

Sharetable is a very cool desk designed for people who work with clients. The table has a computer on one side and a sort of 'mirror image' set right into the desk on the client side. The client can not only look at the images, but scroll through and manipulate them using touch.

And, just for fun, play a simulated theremin in your browser here!

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Virtual Reality Hangouts, Healthy Vending Machine Food, Solving Mobile Keyboards

Algramo is a Santiago based company aiming to deliver inexpensive, healthy food to low income people in Latin America via vending machines (via PSFK). As in many parts of the world, food deserts mean people in urban low income areas can't get access to healthy food at reasonable prices. A solution for lots of communities? Cathi Bond weighs in. The future of virtual reality has long promised that we'd hang out together with our friends virtually, from the comfort of our separate living rooms. Maybe now that VR headsets are nearly ready to go, the time has (nearly) come! AltspaceVR is designing social hangouts for the VR future (via Technology Review). Would you do socialize with pals virtually? Go to concerts together? Or would you miss the meatspace connection? Plus, Cathi mentions TextBlade. If you don't like tapping things out on your mobile touchpad, this may be for you! [iframe style="border:none" src="" height="100" width="480" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen] Download MP3

Tech That Watches You and Robot Overlords

Nora Young talks about Virool, a new online ad platform that, with your permission, will use your computer's camera to monitor your reactions to the ads you watch (via Springwise). It's an example, she says, of the increasing trend towards tech that monitors our moods and reactions. See, for example, this story or this one on her show Spark. Cathi Bond, talks about the DARPA Robotics Challenge coming up in June, and in particular, the Atlas robot (via Gizmodo). Nora mentions David McCandless' infographic about online music services and artists' compensation (via The Guardian)   [iframe style="border:none" src="" height="100" width="480" scrolling="no" allowfullscreen webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen oallowfullscreen msallowfullscreen] Download MP3

Tiny Houses and Fixers for Tourists

Long-time listeners will know that Cathi Bond has an, ummm, interest? fixation? with tiny, well-designed housing, especially if it's mobile! She's particularly intrigued by Leaf House, a company that designs and builds elegant, tiny, organized mobile homes. You can find version 3 here, which features 'quad pane' windows, designed to make the home comfortable even in Arctic temperatures. You can see images here.

Meanwhile, Nora Young talks about Zoolafix, which aims to connect travelers to London or New York with a local 'fixer', based on shared common interests in nightlife. Your 'fixer' does things like line up for drinks and getting you into nightclubs (via Springwise). It's a good example of the ongoing trend in matching up people and services in different cities. Would you use it?

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Behind the Scenes at The Sniffer: Explanatory Note

From Cathi: Attention all gearheads who are interested in this sort of thing! As promised, a brief tale of what happened to The Sniffer over the winter holidays and well into February with iTunes. In November our feed broke. When a feed breaks it means your podcast needs to be resubmitted. We made a new feed, we followed the iTunes protocol, but when Nora went to submit the new feed into iTunes, she was met with, 'it appears the feed has already been submitted'. So she went to the podcast section of the store and typed in The Sniffer in the search engine. It’s not there. There’s an actually sort of good surf rock podcast that shares our name, but it’s not our show. Our show is gone. The bureaucratic nightmare began. Emails flew back and forth promising fixes and delivering nothing in return. Time for Cathi to pick up the phone. After two days of being bounced around from hither to yon I finally found this great guy Roger, one of the top dogs in accounts and billing at iTunes, and he promised me an answer. He even gave me his phone number and extension and everything. He was good to his word. He made a phone call to John, who became my very patient savior, calling me every 48 hours, working hand in hand with the engineers to solve the problem. We even got a real file number. Neato! The engineers determined that The Sniffer was hiding somewhere in the iTunes machine and they couldn’t locate it. “What?” Although thoroughly annoyed, this simultaneously delighted me. The idea of a podcast on the run. Like Dobby the house elf in Harry Potter. The engineers couldn’t find it. And as far as I know, they still can’t. (The irrational part of my brain believes that all sorts of things are going on in the machines we’re creating and we have no idea of what they are. Nora thinks I’m nuts. I guess that’s why we’re friends.) John had the idea to look behind the iTunes interface, the physical “store” we see on our monitors, and look behind at our libraries instead. Lo and behold, The Sniffer was there. He suggested that we tell our listeners how to subscribe manually, which is what I described below, and see what happened. My idea was to post a new show and see where it went. Guess what? Straight through the new feed and into my iTunes library. So in a way, our podcast is working, but we're still not at iTunes, and we may have lost those listeners who subscribed to the old feed. I’ve asked Libsyn, which hosts our audio files, for advice and they said essentially said “not my job” and to contact Feedburner. And that folks, is where I’m at. A lot of you know a heck of a lot more about this than I do. (But I must admit it’s been fun trying to figure it out thus far.) Do you have any ideas of how to expedite things? Thanks for your patience. Cathi

What’s Up With The Sniffer

Hi there, Nora here. Well, we've had some...issues with the venerable, nearly-ten-years-old Sniffer. We have a new feed, which appears to be working, but we're still sorting out some issues with iTunes. If you want to subscribe in iTunes, you can do so manually by following Cathi's instructions, below. If you're not using iTunes, please subscribe via the 'subscribe to the podcast' link at right. In the meantime, we're putting out new episodes because we REALLY MISSED IT...and you! From Cathi: Hi all Here is how you can once again subscribe to The Sniffer in iTunes, but you’re going to need to bypass their usual subscription process. It’s easy and it’s FUN! Open your iTunes store, so you just have the bar across the top that says FILE EDIT VIEW etc. Click on FILE and then go down to where it says 'subscribe to podcast'. Paste in our new feed in the URL box and poof you are now manually subscribed. Thanks for bearing with us as we diligently work on this. On the positive side, I am making new friends with the nerds at iTunes in Sacramento.    

Trends in Virtual Reality and Annotating Text

Howdy! It's been a long time, but we are back with a new episode! This time around, after years - and years - of talking about virtual reality, and augmented reality, they're finally here, and that means figuring out how to actually make it work seamlessly in daily life. Researcher Pulkit Budhiraja and his colleagues have been thinking about a problem with virtual reality: how do you pick up physical, real world objects while you're in an immersive, virtual environment? (Via Technology Review) Nora Young also mentions the Reality Cave at Communitech. Has this happened to you? You get a link on social media that sounds like an interesting read, and then you're taken to a 5,000 word article? Great read, maybe, but so long! Cathi Bond talks about, a sort of 'highlighter for the Internet' that allows you to share an article but highlight what you find interesting (via PSFK).    

Plant Sex and Robot Operas

We are back after a bit of an absence! On this podcast, Cathi Bond talks about the Plant Sex Consultancy, a design concept for helping plants pollinate in an era of problems like bee hive collapse or changes brought about by commercial breeding (via PSFK). With a wink, the Plant Sex Consultancy aims to protect plants from STIs, give plants vibrators to shake pollen loose and more. Underneath it all, they seem to be making a point about the problems we humans create, and our anthropocentric approach to solving those problems. Meanwhile, Nora Young talks about composer Keiichi Shibuya's plans for an all-robot performance (via The Globe and Mail). It got Nora thinking about all the tech innovation happening in live performance now, such as the play Helen Lawrence, which was recently in Toronto. You can watch a sample from Shibuya's previous opera, The End, which featured the virtual pop star Hatsune Miku and computer-created music. You can watch a sample here. Nora also mentioned this post about public wifi insecurity. Hat tip to her colleague, Dan Misener.

Smartest Smart Watches; Wearables and Surveillance

We are back at last with a new podcast episode! This time around, Cathi Bond wants to talk smart watches. Undeniably a huge trend, with Apple Watch, Pebble, Android Wear, and more. Cathi talks about a new entry, the Puls 'smart cuff', brought to you by of Black-Eyed Peas fame. It has the notable feature of not requiring you to have your smart phone nearby. She also mentioned the very cool TinyScreen project, which you can hack as you like, or use it out of the box, as a watch, video screen, or gaming device (via Gizmag). Nora mentions her colleague, Dan Misener's recent column on the creepily named but practical "Skin Buttons" project, for using your arm as the input interface for those tiny little wearable devices. Meanwhile, still on the topic of wearables, Nora Young mentions this New Scientist article about the use of wearable in the workplace, in some cases just to encourage fitness, but in other cases used as part of coordinating the actual work flow. Nora wonders: if employers can already monitor what you do on work-supplied computers and phones, can surveillance via wearables be far behind?

Second Screens, Bot Etiquette, Free Images for your Blog

This time around on the podcast, Cathi Bond talks about an experiment at some movie theatres in China: allowing moviegoers to text comments about the film, which turn up on the side of the screen! The future of social moviegoing, or a distracting nightmare? (via The Verge). Nora Young talks about an intriguing personal assistant A.I. called Amy (read more at PSFK). The bot schedules your meetings and pops the time of the meeting into your calendar. Certainly a cool idea, but it had Nora wondering about future etiquette in a bot-ified world. Should you disclose to the person you're meeting with that they're about to be conversing with a non-human entity? Finally, quick source of free, public domain images for you. The Internet Archive has been taking images from the public domain books it has scanned and is posting them to their Flickr account (Via Ars Technica). The Flickr account is here!