September 02, 2006

Image Game

I woke up late tonight and decided to do some reading for work.

But then I ended up playing Google Image Labeler instead. There is something strange and addictive about reaching out to another anonymous person and trying to think up the same thing.

Image labeler is based on work by Luis von Ahn from CMU.

Here is a talk he gave on the topic at Google. Worth a watch.

Posted by David at 05:09 AM | Comments (1)

September 04, 2006

Sudoku Generator

Here is a free Sudoku generator that can generate puzzles of varying difficulty in PDF, Postscript, plaintext, and HTML. It is a nice example of the website fun you can have with 250 lines of Python over a Labor day weekend; it also makes a handy command-line Sudoku solver...

Update: For Google Chrome users, try installing this Chrome Sudoku Web App for hints and more. Preview the Sudoku Helper here.

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Posted by David at 03:36 AM | Comments (51)

September 05, 2006

Milksop Nation

This essay by Jack Gordon (winner of the 2002 Shell Economist Prize) is worth a read. You can also listen to Richard Dreyfus read the essay. (Though reading it is faster. Link via reddit.)

It is fashionable to remark that America “lost its innocence” on September 11th. This is balderdash. Our innocence is too deep and intractable for that. The thing we’ve really lost doesn’t even deserve the name of bravery. We’ve lost the ability to come to grips with the simple fact that life is not a safe proposition—that life will kill us all by and by, regardless. And as a society, we’ve just about lost the sense that until life does kill us, there are values aside from brute longevity that can shape the way we choose to live.

The essay resonated with me. Somehow the USA has fogotten that there is no victory without risk; that there is no heroism without sacrifice. If every medical procedure had to be risk-free, Heidi would never transplant an organ; indeed transplantation would not exist. If every harebrained idea had be proven before it was tried, I would never write a line of code; indeed there would be no Microsoft, no Google.

Mandating perfect safety eliminates discovery. Requiring safe perfection squashes creativity.

What is life without mistakes?

Posted by David at 02:41 PM | Comments (2)

September 07, 2006

The Turbot

Here is a video of our Turbot.

September means school and homework. One of Anthony's first assignments was to bring a bag of his "most valued posessions" to school, and tonight he dug up this robot. We built it (mostly I built it with a little participation from him) last year with a kit from Solarbotics. You can see I added some red 3mm Sintra that I also got from Solarbotics.

I think the Turbot is a pretty cool robot, well worth the soldering time. It is a light-seeker that tumbles on two spidery legs. It is very robust. It detects when it is stuck and knows how to reverse itself. And it is also efficient: I have not yet had to replace the original AAA batteries.

Here is the video.

Posted by David at 09:27 PM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2006

Nut Free Zone

Are your children allowed to bring peanuts to school?

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Posted by David at 09:12 PM | Comments (57)

September 23, 2006

Für Elise Pickup

Once during our family's summer trip to Taiwan, while staying in Heidi's parents' home village of Beisan, we heard a merry little electronic sing-song tune coming from a faraway street. The notes seemed to be roaming the town, sometimes getting closer, sometimes getting farther.

"Is that an ice-cream truck?" asked Anthony. "Let's go get some ice cream!" suggested Piper.

As the music approached our house, we all ran downstairs to see what it was. It came louder and louder until it was upon us. Finally, a truck turned the corner, and we could see... it was a garbage truck! In the villages of Taiwan, the arrival of the garbage truck is announced by a happy electronic rendition of Beethoven's Für Elise.

Everybody in Beisan came to their front doors with their bags of trash and helped the sanitation workers heave trash into the back of the truck. The truck didn't stop; it just kept singing its cheerful little tune, driving down the street, with all the neighbors taking their turn tossing bags and boxes of waste into the back. Pretty different from the trash pickup we have in the states.

I was reminded of this sight by Wikipedia. The Taiwanese trash truck tradition is noted in Wikipedia's entry on Für Elise. What a quirky fact. What a quirky encyclopedia!

Posted by David at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

September 25, 2006

A Coding Puzzle

If you are in the mood for a programming puzzle, read on.

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Posted by David at 10:17 AM | Comments (7)

September 27, 2006

The Race to Mars

In the Race to Explore Mars, it is pretty clear.

Mars Rover Opportunity Arrives at Victoria Crater

Robots win.

The vision of exploring the universe on human feet suffers from a lack imagination, does it not?

Posted by David at 09:39 PM | Comments (1)

September 29, 2006

Longer Life or More Stuff

An opinion piece from the NYT on the largest myth in healthcare today:

“We must all do more to cut costs,” G.M.’s chief executive, Rick Wagoner, said on Capitol Hill this summer while testifying about health care. Mr. Wagoner’s argument has become the accepted wisdom about the crisis: the solution lies in restraining costs. Yet it’s wrong...

David Leonhardt points out that the reason healthcare is so expensive is that we are keeping people alive longer, and keeping people alive longer - well - it turns out that costs money.

And maybe that is okay. Why is it so bad to spend money on our health? Would we rather buy more stuff?

It’s easy to be against high costs, and it will no doubt be hard to come up with a broad health care solution. But the way to start is by acknowledging that an affluent society should devote an ever-growing share of its resources to the health of its citizens. “We have enough of the basics in life,” Mr. Cutler, the economist and author, points out. “What we really want are the time and the quality of life to enjoy them.”

This is what Heidi has been telling me for years. After reading the article, she asked, "why did it take so long for somebody to figure it out?"

Posted by David at 06:38 PM | Comments (0)