Category Archives: tech

As Quoted in the New York Times

Tech Giants Settle Antitrust Hiring Suit:

On Hacker News, the grumbling about the settlement was immediate. “I honestly do not understand why the plaintiffs would settle this case,” one poster wrote. But some saw another side: “What did the engineers risk with this lawsuit? Nothing. What did the law firm risk? Getting paid peanuts for hundreds of hours they spend on the case if they lose.”

The Only Gun The NRA Doesn’t Like

Meet the Armatix iP1. 22 LR calibre semiautomatic with a 10 round magazine. What’s not to like? How about the the RFID wristwatch that only allows the wearer to fire the gun?

Back in 2002, New Jersey passed a law mandating that all guns sold in the state had to have lockout technology built in, three years after such a gun went on sale somewhere in the United States. The gun has gone on sale &emdash; albeit very briefly &emdash; twice, once in Los Angeles, and then again in Rockville, Maryland (a place that it is strongly advised that one to not return to). Both stores stopped selling the guns after receiving death threats. Not only that, but the Republican Attorney General of New Jersey is refusing the certify that the gun was sold, and active the law.

Instead of “promoting freedom” to own the gun one chooses, the NRA is actively campaigning against the sell of a particular firearm, because the RFID locks would increase manufacturing costs. Why do they care about this? Because the NRA gets significant amounts of funding from gun manufacturers.

Rachel Tyrell Gets a Job

Premier Health Plans, a a health insurance broker, employs a rather elaborate chat bot to collect a customer’s basic information and interests before sending the potential customer to a real person to close the deal. It’s really a clever chat bot, but the odd thing about it is that it insists that it’s a real person. Clearly someone at Premier Health Plans, thought that a chat bot made good business sense, but at the same time didn’t think it was quite convincing, so they added in scripts to respond to questions like, “Are you a robot?”, with the idea that if they just deny it, that would placate enough curiosity and automaton-phobia to hold a potential customer on the line long enough to close.

Think about this for a second. At some point there was a discussion that went something like:

Analyst: In order to get n conversions per day, we need x telemarketers, which costs y dollars.
Manager: Hmm, y is a lot of dollars, and that initial part of the conversation is where we lose most of customers. What can we do bring down this cost?
Analyst: What if we used a robot?
Manager: Not a phone tree. I hate those press-one-for-English type things.
Analyst: No a really smart robot, like Siri.
Manager: Yeah, a sexy robot, like Siri, but it would have to be smart. Can we make it smart?
Analyst: That can be done, and it would only cost z dollars, which is much less than y dollars.
Manager: Good. Good. Let’s do it.
Analyst: I just thought of something. You know how people don’t like to leave voicemails, or deal with phone trees. What if they don’t like the robot?
Manager: Well, we’ll just have robot lie.

Sadly, the phone number and website, premierhealthagency.com are now disabled.

Emergent Pong

At SIGGRAPH91, graphics researcher and digital artist Loren Carpenter stood near the front of an 5000 seat auditorium in a Las Vegas hotel. In the seats in front of him, the attendees held cardboard paddles, one side of which was red, the other green. Behind him was a giant screen covered in blinking and shifting red and green dots. After a few moments, the audience figured out what Loren already knew. A camera was trained on the auditorium and was feeding images into a computer that then displayed the color and polishing of every paddle in the room. The audience cheered and began to wave back and forth in unison.

The screen changed to classic video game Pong. The only difference was that instead of all white paddles, the paddles were two-toned, with a green upper half, and a red lower half. Loren took the stage and addressed the crowd. “Okay guys. Folks on the left side of the auditorium control the left paddle. Folks on the right side control the right paddle. If you think you are on the left, then you really are. Okay? Go!”

The ball began to move across the screen and the paddles twitched to life. The paddles move to a height calculated from the relative number of red and green paddles. If everyone shows the same color, then the paddle will move to either the extreme top or the extreme bottom. However, if some show the opposite color, then paddle will stop somewhere in the middle. Surprisingly quickly, the crowd began to play effectively, even when the speed of the ball increased.