Why robots can be so snotty

Oil factory senses
Warning: This story contains the word ‘snot’

Our fascination with robots may extend to some of the minutiae of gears and cams and software and semiconductors, but I’m not sure that for most it would survive a headline that screams “Fake snot improves robot noses.” Some words automatically deflect interest.

So, to save you the trouble of reading this article from Ananova, in summary: Our natural nozzles produce mucous that enhances our sense of smell, and scientists have found a way to reproduce the effect in artificial whiffers. It’s a polymer mixture that, when smeared over electronic probosci, enhances scent discrimination. This is necessary for an effective robotic schnozz , which has fewer than 50 scent receptors, compared to the human honker’s 100 million.

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Then why’s it so hard to get up in the morning?

Scientists have used a pair of satellites to determine why areas of Canada have lower gravity than other parts of the world, says New Scientist. The two satellites travel in a 500-kilometre orbit over the earth, with one trailing the other by 220 kilometres. If the leading satellite is drawn even a micron out of orbit because of a gravity increase, the technicians can tell.

Apparently, through processes and technologies that I can’t begin to contemplate, this tells us that post-glacial rebound and convection in the earth’s mantle are both partly to blame, or credit for that matter.

What gets me is that apparently, it’s well-known in the scientific community that Canada has less gravity, yet the person on the street has no idea. Must be the years of socialism that have left us lighter.

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You didn’t look like a dog in your profile

People dote on their dogs. They speak to them like children. They buy them treats from the doggie bakery and put little doggie sweaters and booties on them in the winter. They buy them cell phones.

No, they really do. As this Wired photo feature shows, tech for puppies is a growing market. Some of the technology: a collar cam that automatically uploads photos to cell phones, a waterproof, collar-mounted cell phone with auto answer – a lot of this stuff seems to be collar-mounted, for some reason — and Dogster, the MySpace of the canine world.

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For those that can’t imagine their own friends …
There has, in eBay’s history, been the occasional auction that raises eyebrows. Many of these are catalogued on whattheheck.com. Among the unusual sell-offs: a bobsleigh team; Justin Timberlake’s leftover French toast; drug-free urine; and Elian Gonzales (twice).

Add this one to the catalogue: A U.K. man is selling his imaginary friend online, according to Ananova.com. He’s received more than 20 questions from tire-kickers (“If we don’t get along can I return him?”) and bids of up to 1,500 pounds, about $3,000.

The seller says he’s now too old for an imaginary friend (he’s 27) and has grown out of him. Having led an imagination-deprived childhood myself, I don’t recall having an imaginary friend as a child. I’m considering treating myself. Or just getting treatment.

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Speaking of Ananova
BTW, whatever happened to Ananova –- you know, the actual talking avatar who read the news? Just curious. I always found her curiously compelling. And that was the hook for the news Web site in the first place.

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Democracy inaction
A U.K. government Web site which allows citizens to create and sign e-petitions has been, um, petitioned to exert pressure on Microsoft regarding its pricing of the new Vista operating system, reports The Register (story here; the actual petition is here).

According to the petition, U.K. users pay almost double what American users do. And that’s before the cost of adding RAM, upgrading video cards, etc. Petitioners want the government to stop the overcharging.

The government has declined to intercede, saying it doesn’t interfere in the market.

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Mirror, mirror with the chips, do these hot pants fit upon my hips?
Paxar Corp. has created an RFID-reading mirror that will suggest accessories when a customer brings a piece of clothing within range. Paxar, who developed the glass with Motorola and Infosys, straightfacedly calls magicmirror a “turnkey, customer-facing” retail solution. (Customer-facing … get it?)

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Dam PCs
Forget the nondescript beige box. We’re pushing the boundaries of computer design, people, evidence of which can be found on Ananova.com. The news agency has posted pictures of a computer whose tower is a dead beaver.

The user bought the rodent from a taxidermist, gutted it (again) and replaced its foam innards with a computer tower. In related news, another animal lover (?) has created a mouse from a mouse. The wee beastie was purchased in already-dead condition from a pet store and its skin used to host the pointing device.

I’m not sure what to make of this trend, but I don’t think I’ll be sleeping well tonight.

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YouTube’s short history has been colourful. Google made kajillionaires of its young creators; it has officially surpassed e-mail as the No. 1 office time-waster; it’s brought corporate networks to its knees. But for every playa there’s a hater, and the Tube has been handed more suits than a dry cleaner.

Viacom was the original uberlitigant, suing Google for $1.6 billion (all figures in US dollars, and generally so astronomical as to be meaningless). NBC partner with YouTube last summer, but has since joined News Corp. to make a rival video network. It has since joined the legal pile-on, supporting a journalist whose Rodney King beating video footage has appeared on the site. He’s suing for copyright infringement.

Joining the hate-on this week: the Football Association Premier League – apparently, Man U doesn’t make enough money – and the government of Thailand, suing for a video it deems insulting to its king.

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