Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Legislating the Three Laws

Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics, as outlined in I, Robot, are:
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
2. A robot must obey orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Japan is codifying law 1(a). Nothing yet about allowing a human being to come to harm through inaction, but new guidelines being developed by the industry ministry seek to assure that robots will not injure human beings. For the most part, the guidelines seek to minimize robot-human collisions and make the robots less likely to inflict injuries if such a collision occurs. In a blow to sci-fi thriller plots everywhere, the guidelines also call for an emergency shutoff button in case the robot goes rogue.

Here's to hoping the Three Laws work out better for Japan than they did in the book. While often referred to as a novel, I, Robot is in fact a collection of short stories, most involving what happens when robots follow the Three Laws a little too well. What we say we want robots to do and what we actually want from them are not always similar. My personal favorite story from the collection, "Reason," has a robot demonstrating impeccable logic culminating in the conclusion that the humans on the space station where she was assembled have no legally-admissible proof that an Earth full of humans even exists for her to do no harm to.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

War Zone

The rookery has turned into a war zone. The primary invasion force landed last night. Emp. Peng. summoned me to the kitchen to identify a strange bug on the countertop. I don't know what the quarter-inch long, skinny, shiny black oblong things are, but the one on the countertop had a cloud of friends swarming around the light fixture. People toss around the phrase "cloud of insects," but these actually dimmed the room. Deploying the bug zapper and the vacuum got most of them. Today, I mounted a perimeter defense. The window most likely to be their main entry point has been shrink-wrapped, and shrink-wrap adhesive has been supplemented with clear packing tape. The tops of the windows with the air conditioners got the same treatment. The a/c units themselves have had borders sealed with duct tape. The look is something I like to call "Early Department of Homeland Security." Well, Early DHS and Star Wars. We put the giant prequel posters up yesterday in the entryway, above the front door. Where the former owners had a large, oak-framed clock, we now have a life-sized, lightsaber-wielding Yoda with the message "Size Matters Not--Except on an IMAX Screen." The first thing people will see upon entering the house is a subtly reflective Darth Maul above "At last, we will have revenge."

Friday, May 26, 2006


I can never seem to find a wallet I like, so when I noticed mine starting to come apart at the seams, I cringed at the notion of going billfold shopping. The wallets made for ladies are almost always froofy and sized to fit in a handbag rather than a back pocket. The wallets made for men are usually too large for the pockets on ladies' jeans. None ever have nearly enough card pockets.

Once again, duct tape saves the day. 3M Canada has instructions for making a wallet completely out of duct tape. Took me about an hour to make one with a roll of black duct tape we had around, and having gotten the techniques down, about another hour to create a perfect custom billfold by modifying the instructions. That is still less time than driving down to the department store and hunting down a wallet that is merely adequate. Cheaper, too. Between the two, I used about 70 cents worth of tape, including some clear packing tape for an ID holder.

One final step I would recommend that 3M does not include is to deoderize and de-sticky the finished product. Duct tape does have a bit of an adhesive residue and a duct-tapey smell. You need a plastic baggie and the box of baking soda from your refrigerator. Spoon about a tablespoon of baking soda into the bill compartment, then place the wallet in the baggie with another couple tablespoons of baking soda. Shake it around a little and let it sit in the closed baggie for a half hour or so. Then remove the wallet and brush off the excess baking soda with a paintbrush. The powder sticks to any exposed adhesive and dramatically cuts down the odor.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Penguin News

The penguins that were evacuated from New Orleans last year are back home again. Their home, the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, reopens Friday.

Full article

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Fun at the Convention

The second most amusing thing I did today at the convention was walking up to Brent Spiner and commending his performance of Bob Wheeler on Nightcourt. The most amusing thing was going to the panel discussion on the 40th anniversary of the Batman TV show, with several cast members from the show. The panel moderator asked everyone on the panel to say a few introductory words before the Q&A session. One of the male villians and Yvonne Craig both said something sentimental about the show and meeting the fans. Then it was Julie Newmar's turn. Without a word, she stood up from her seat, sat on the edge of the table, and in slow motion, swung her legs over the table. May I have gams half that good some day.

Mongolian Hordes of Baby Corn

For some reason, whenever we go to a Mongolian restaurant, I end up eating baby corn. I don't particularly like baby corn, but that is the price one pays for good Mongolian grill. For those unfamiliar with Mongolian grill, which probably resembles the authentic cusine of Mongolia about as much as my cats resemble a rabid puma, you fill a bowl from a salad bar of raw meats and vegetables and concoct a sauce, then a fleet of cooks stir-fry your selection on a circular grill about 6 feet in diameter, alongside a dozen or so other meals. This setup, while making for a great show and some great stir fry, means that tidbits sometimes migrate into your dinner from neighboring piles. For me, that tidbit always seems to be baby corn. Without fail, at least one bit of baby corn always winds up in my dinner when we go for Mongolian.

When we stopped at Blue Pacific Grill tonight on the way home from the comic con, we thought we might finally have baby corn-free stir fry. We arrived right as the restaurant opened at 5 p.m. We were the only people in the place who were not on the payroll. We were first in line at the ingredient bar and avoided baby corn like it was carrying Ebola. Our two dinners were the only thing on the grill. Somehow, we wound up with more baby corn than ever in our dinners. I can only conclude that the baby corn sprouts directly from the grill surface under my pineapple-sweet pepper-seafood teriyaki.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Busted, or Maybe Just Cracked

Day 2 of the Motor City Comic Con, and we were anxious to see the results of yesterday's bust of the video pirates, which you can read more about here. As I got my wristband for the day, I glanced over at toward where one of the most egregious offenders had set up yesterday.

They were still there. Some of the stacks had been replaced by a spread of autographed 8x10 celebrity photos, but there was still quite a selection of bootleg television shows. He even had the "special 7-disc set" of the New Series Doctor Who (ninth Doctor)--a pirated version of the official BBC release of the season, complete with a large notice that the design of the pirated video case is trademarked (new definition of Chutzpah: trademarking your pirated videos). Across the convention center, the video pirates were still selling most of their wares. The only conspicuous absence was the pirated big studio feature films. According to one vendor caught in the raid, eleven of them were rounded up, taken in, and never arrested. They had their inventory confiscated, but were released without further punishment. Most were back in business today, minus the feature films. Apparently, the MPAA doesn't care about the television shows, including pirated Wuzzles.

Friday, May 19, 2006


First, let me say that I was not arrested.

We're at the Motor City Comic Con this weekend, and within the first two hours we were there, we found ourselves in the middle of a police bust targeting the movie pirates who also frequent these conventions. Most of their wares are either out-of-production "cult" TV shows or human nature documentaries, but there is also a heavy showing of current or recent movie releases, usually bearing a disclaimer, "This film is presumed to be in the public domain." Now, having been hauled out in handcuffs, the vendors get to explain how someone who knows enough about copyright law to understand public domain can assume a movie still playing in theaters is a public domain work. The one vendor selling legitimately public domain works was sweating bullets during the raid.

Oh, and I also saw another rare sight at the con today: a centerfold model eating a chunk of fudge. On the one hand, it is an amusing sight; on the other hand, she eats fudge and still looks like that. Life is not fair.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

What Did You Do This Morning?

I dug a pond--before breakfast.

It's a small pond. Pondlet, really. My morning routine is usually something along the lines of: get dressed, make a cup of coffee that I drink while reading my email and the headlines, then go out and check over the plants in the yard. We put in a lot of fruit this year and rearranged some of the landscaping, so I like to check how everything is doing. The flora inspection was going swimmingly until I got to Marionberry #3. It was under water. The newest cane, about two inches tall now, was barely keeping its tip above the surface. Not good.

It has rained here for just about a week straight. Tomorrow, we're 1/5 of the way toward Noah's Ark. The soil has had just about all it can take, and for some reason, the bit under that marionberry, on one of the highest spots in the yard, was first to give up trying to drain. The rain is coming faster than the soil can find places to put it. Thus, the pondlet and accompanying canal: temporary quarters for excess water until the rain stops. If the rain stops.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Huff and Puff and Burn The House Down

A painting project has turned into a complete remodel for a homeowner who, after taking a smoke break, tried to extinguish his cigarette in a bowl of what he thought was water. In fact, the bowl contained paint thinner, which is somewhat less effective at extinguishing burning materials. On the other hand, it is very effective at turning a house into a smoldering pile of cinders.

Read the AP story.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Yet another reason to be glad you are not a guppy

Sexual harassment among guppies is so bad that female guppies prefer swimming with predators to swimming with male guppies, according to a study by a team of researchers from the University of Leeds. Seems male guppies resort to guppy rape when their mating displays are spurned. Swimming with predators, while risky to the females, provides a measure of protection against the advances of the males. After all, the predators only want a snack.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Eat those words with mayo on the side

The PlayStation 3 will cost $600 if you want most of the features that Sony has been bragging that their new system has. That's just the system, before you plunk down any clams on any games to play on it. In justifying the price, the CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America, Kaz Hirai, said, "What we're presenting to consumers is future-proofed. It's not going to fall by the wayside."

Note that a good chunk of what makes the PS3 console so expensive is the Blu-Ray player Sony is including. For those who aren't so techy, the Blu-Ray is a new DVD format. Not the new DVD format. A new DVD format. Blu-Ray and HD DVD are slugging it out, VHS/Betamax style, for supremacy in the high definition video disc format. Sony did so well with Betamax, so we'll see how "future-proofed" the Blu-Ray is when the format wars settle down.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


The sign on the trailer read "Llama on Board." Not only was there an acute lack of llama on board, but the owners of the llama transport were hauling lumber. If we are to respect the "Llama on Board" signs, the least they can do is have a llama on board.

Friday, May 05, 2006

In the News

Grandma drops baby off at wrong address. That's one way to get out of babysitting duties, I suppose, but the next family get-together is going to be a bit awkward.

Monday, May 01, 2006


Out of curiosity, I picked up a bottle of Berry Cream Dr Pepper today, and I think I can say with confidence that Cadbury-Schweppes has finally found the maximum number of flavors one can stuff into a soda. What flavor, exactly, Dr Pepper is supposed to be is a trade secret, but by most accounts, it is supposed to have 23 components. Add cream and berry to that, and gustatory sensory overload kicks in.