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News and Commentary Reported by Doug Fiedor

Thoughts on whatever timely topic comes to mind.

August 09, 2010

Use Android + AI for “Personal Robots”?

By Doug Fiedor
August 9, 2010

Nao, a robot designed by researchers at the University of Hertfordshire, is said to be "able to display and detect emotions", The Telegraph in London reports.  Computer scientist Lola CaƱamero said, "Nao is able to detect human emotions through a series of non-verbal 'clues', such as body-language and facial expressions, and becomes more adept at reading a person's mood through prolonged interaction."  Watching the video at the site one sees that the 23 inch robot is rather cute -- and it’s almost a shame that they describe how it operates.

Anyway, they used a number of modern sensors that input to an artificial intelligence routine to detect the attitude and emotion of the human interacting with the robot and taught the robot responses.

Back when the Internet was nothing but a terminal hook-up between universities and researchers we played with a software package something like that called Eliza, and later Doctor.  In fact, in my physiology research laboratory, we actually dedicated an IBM PC specifically for an offshoot of Eliza that was programmed in a combination of C and Prolog.  I wrote the code and designed in a parsing system containing 5,000 common words for the natural language section.  However, we had an "open" research notebook for the project and welcomed suggestions from all of the researchers on the floor.

The unsuspecting user could actually have a conversation with that computer.  Some actually thought we were tricking them and there was a real person in another room answering.  It would often take a few minutes for a quick thinking human to trick the computer into an incorrect answer.

Alas, we soon reached the limits of our computing equipment and that (non-official) project ground to almost a halt due to the lack of memory and speed of the available PCs of the day.  The C components of the system ran quite fast.  The Prolog components, however, often ambled along at a less than desirable speed.

Today, things have changed greatly.  Our personal computers are blazingly fast compared to those old PCs.  So is most of the software.  Better yet, some of today’s operating systems are (almost) blazingly fast at searching and retrieving information from the Internet.

Here, I'm talking about Android.

Most people would not think of Android as being a speed demon, but my new HTC-EVO seems to do some things faster than my desktop -- especially when running Google applications.  Not only can it find and display information quickly, it also has a good speech to text and text to speech function.  Even better, the information necessary to run those routines are not part of my local storage and can therefore be run on my phone.  How cool is that!

Yeah, Android, I'm looking at you and wishing that I wasn't retired and still had that laboratory (and the funding) to play in!

Picture a natural language dictionary of 10,000 common words with all the parsing routines written.  Any of today's mid-price computers could handle that easily.  Add in our updated Eliza-Doctor software, along with all of the Google Android applications and a few other of the information gathering apps.

Hello HAL Jr.!

Could that be programmed into a robot?  Sure.  Limited versions of it is already in my EVO phone, so I'm sure there would be no problem inserting the proper hardware and software in a robot the size of Nao.

And there you have it: An information service that walks around and reacts to the emotion of the user.  Good, bad or indifferent, that project is doable right now.

Sure, I know, there’s little monitory benefit to constructing such a device.  But, that's what some said about the PC, too, back when I was a researcher.  There's no real profit margin in it, at the moment.  But, isn't that the direction robotics is going?  I think so.  So, it stands to reason that the first company that gets a package like that going is most probably the company that will show a profit from "personal robots" soonest.  And, from my point of view, I hope it's an American company. . . .

Yeah, I'm looking at you, Android.  I expect to see Android becoming a great little core system for the "thinking" and communication part of a personal robot.  All the communication and Internet handling routines are already perfected and reasonably fast, so it’s almost a plug-and-play system. 

So okay, some of the good computer scientists may find a few things to contradict here.  But, isn't the concept sound?


# # #




August 02, 2010

Restaurant Violates ADA Law?

Did you know that, if you play your cards right, you can get free money for being a bit inconvenienced because of a handicap?  Being what some call “disabled,” I knew a little about that, of course.  But I had forgotten some of it. 

Ben Conery, writing for The Washington Times, reminded me about that in his article “Chipotle in violation of disabilities act” this morning. 

Apparently there’s a paraplegic college professor out near San Diego who “has an extensive history of filing ADA-related lawsuits” and didn’t like how high the counters are at Chipotle restaurants because it’s a problem for him “choosing from among the ingredients lining the counter and watching staff assemble the meal” while sitting in a wheelchair.  Therefore, he wants the restaurant chain to remodel their business to conform to his special needs.  So, as reported:

“The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that two restaurants in San Diego violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) because the counters where the staff prepared tacos and burritos were too high and blocked the view for people in wheelchairs.”

Well now, let’s see how that works for me.  My neck and spine are frozen.  Yeah, all of it.  I can’t look up and I can’t look down.  Oh, and I cannot see all that well, either.

As many might know, most fast food joints have their menus high up, behind the counters.  See what I’m getting at yet?  I cannot see the menus that are placed high behind the counters.  Sometimes I can see the pictures, but in no case can I read the words – or the prices.  So, according to this whining professor, and the ever silly, often overturned, 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, I have been wronged!  Legally.

Yuppers, under the ADA I can sue any and all of these restaurants and not only get them to change the way they do business but also make them pay me money.  Cool, eh? 

Now, I can’t really say exactly where I would like them to place their menus so it would be comfortable for me.   But that doesn’t really matter.  I don’t have to redesign their facility to make me comfortable.  All I have to do is whine that the present design is unworkable for me.  And no, under the silly ADA laws, it also doesn’t matter that the current design is just fine for 98% of the population, either.  I can “get paid” anyway, simply because it’s difficult for me to choose an order in those places. 

Of course, I would never do such a thing.  But I’ve just been reminded that the current federal law is such that I could.  Better yet, the federal government would even provide me with a free lawyer, if I so desired.


May 07, 2010

Al Franken Proves That He Makes a Poor Senator


In today’s Los Angeles Times there’s a very informative article concerning the recently elected Senator from Minnesota: Al Franken.  The article is almost funny, but the video included really tells the story.  Therein, the LA Times reports:

No, this is not a "Saturday Night Live" skit. This is the real thing from the Senate floor where the 100 members are paid $174,000 -- each -- for this work. The folks back home must be very proud of the honorable gentleman.

It's hard to believe that the far-left LA Times would give some space to showing readers just how big of a mistake the voters of Minnesota made in electing this jerk to Congress. 

Also, I never realized how poor of a public speaker Al Franken is.  This video identifies how ignorant (and stupid) he is, too. 



May 05, 2010

Why Muslims Face Mecca While Praying

Back about the year 600 there were still many tribes on this earth that were just barely out of the stone age. Some were indigenous to a certain area but many were nomads, endlessly wandering. Even what is now the United States had many such tribes. Still today, two large tribes regularly wander the desert in the Middle East and even enter Israel at will, but they probably have little to do with this topic.

Anyway, previous to 600, some of these desert people revered many of what the Hebrew Bible today calls the “gods of other lands” because nearly all they knew they learned from the ancient Sumerians living in what we today call Iraq. Some also revered one or two of the gods of ancient Egypt, but that wasn’t quite as prevalent.

For instance, one of those “gods from other lands,” Nannar (Sin), was very revered as a benevolent god in ancient Summer and is still today venerated by some Muslim sects. Even today, the symbol of Nannar, the crescent moon, can still be see all over that part of the world.

One object certain people of the desert venerated around 600 is still a sacred object today for many millions of people: a black rock, which is actually a meteorite.

Mecca is said to be the center of the world for Islam. All Muslims are said to face Mecca while praying. Actually, though, their primary area of interest is a 60’ x 60’ black building located on the grounds of a large mosque in Mecca called the Kaaba.

Inside the Kabba can be found their primary religious artifact of interest: a black stone framed in silver. The same black stone, it is said, that the indigenous residents of the area worshiped long before Muhammad was born.

As the story goes, there once were many venerated statues and whatnot, along with the black stone. Muhammad, however, ordered all of that stuff removed but allowed the black stone to stay. Today, the black stone is located on the eastern corner of the Kaaba and the photograph shows how it is encased in a silver band. We can also view rare pictures of the inside of the Kaaba.

You can see and read more about it here, towards the bottom of the page is a bit of what they say is the history of the black stone and the Kaaba. You decide on the veracity of what you read. I’ll not comment, except to say that the information is both interesting and enlightening.

Suffice to say that Muslims face Mecca to pray because that is where the Kaaba is. And, the object of interest in the Kaaba is the venerated black stone, a meteorite.

Lest anyone think that I am somehow debasing Islam with this information, that is not true at all. One can respectfully describe what is true and many Muslim publications say the same things, albeit with a better explanation.


May 02, 2010

Great News About Cell Phones for Senior Citizens


Most of us already have cell phones with us when we’re out and about. Those mobile phones help us keep in touch with the kids and grandkids and are really handy in an emergency.

Some of us even send text messages on our mobile phones. But as we all know, those phones are usually very hard to type on -- and besides, the small screen gets rather difficult to read if the text is a little long.

Well, things are changing for the better.

How about if we had a larger screen that was very bright and easy to see? Add to that a keyboard that’s twice the size of the screen keyboards on many cell phones. And, on top of that, add on an eight mega-pixel camera that is simple to use and will also take great videos.

But wait . . . let’s say that we’re out driving around somewhere and see a rather interesting looking restaurant we know little or nothing about but are thinking of stopping at anyway. What are the prices? What do they serve? Is the food any good? Should we take the chance?

If our new phone is also a rather powerful pocket computer and quickie information source, no problem. So, before we go into that restaurant we take a picture of the front of it. Then, one or two clicks (no more) later up pops all the information known on the Internet about the place. Not only will we see everything the restaurant published about itself, but also what previous customers say about the place. Handy, eh? Yeah, quick and simple, too.

That same trick works with many stores and other places, as well as most tourist attractions. That’s right! While some guide is babbling on with their prepared speech, we can find a whole history of the attraction within seconds. Easily, too. And, by easily, I mean that there are not a bunch of steps to learn to make that happen. Touch a big icon on the screen, snap a photo and up comes more information than you’ll probably want to know abut the place. That works with art & stuff, too.

Almost the same thing also works in any store. Say we want to buy a high-ticket item, like a new television. When you find one you really like, take out your little pocket computer/phone and snap a quick photo of the bar-code found on the box or price tag. That easy step done, you have a choice: You can either have your handheld device instantly look up all sorts of information about that product, and/or you can have it list what many stores in your area (and on the Internet) are selling it for. That applies to hundreds of items found in stores, even food -- and soon it will apply to almost everything.

Want to save money on gasoline? That’s simple, too. Wherever you may be, just speak the words “gas station” into your little device and up pops a list of all stations close by. Or, search for “price” and a list pops up from lowest price to highest with an address, phone number and map attached to each of the local stations. Oh . . . you don’t know that area? One click gets the GPS guidance system working and your device will guide you there. Folks who travel a lot with campers or large vans can pay for the phone many times over with the savings from just this one function.

There’s also a simple way of getting store coupons on the phone and, I’m told, that modern check-out computers will scan them right off the phone. I haven’t tried that yet, but I’m told it works well.

And then, for people like me who sometimes get a little lost, there’s yet another handy little function on our new pocket computer/phone. Two simple clicks and a map pops up showing you were you are. You can zoom in or out on the map easily of course. Or, you can type in (or voice search for) where you are going and the GPS system will guide you there.

Unlike some other GPS guidance systems, this one gives the choice between the standard map, an actual street view of the area as you drive, or a satellite view that includes all trees and buildings. You can switch anytime to any view while on the go and the device keeps guiding you with voice commands. So it’s kind of hard to stay lost with this device along for the ride.

Another thing that I find positively amazing is that much of what the little pocket computer/phone can do can be activated with voice commands. That includes telling it to call someone and/or even sending text and e-mail messages.

Yeah, I got that correct: sending text! Speak the words you want written into the phone and somehow the computer part of the phone figures out what you are saying and types it for you. It does a surprisingly accurate job of recognizing what you are saying, too. Of course, you still have to choose who you’re writing to first and then click to send it -- the thing doesn’t read minds yet.

And there you go. These are the basics that most senior citizens will use effectively and maybe often. All are simple to use functions that do not require a lot of training to perform. Some make it easy to keep in contact with family -- and make it very simple to send along photos when you’re on a trip. Any computer and most cell phones can accept these pictures. Two of these easy to use functions can help save you a lot of money -- I’ve paid for my phone many times over in gasoline savings alone. And, of course, that easy to use combination of Google maps and GPS will always tell you where you are and/or direct you to where you want to go. It’s free, too.

Oh sure, there’s more to this new pocket computer/phone. Much, much more! Of course, I’ve left out music and movies because most phones have those nowadays. Instead, I’ve just described a few of the easy to use and very useful functions here. These are functions most anyone in my age group can be expected to use effectively the second day they have the new device.

There are currently about six new mobile Android phones that perform this way. Most have “regular” sized screens, though, which makes it a bit difficult for me to see everything I need to see sometimes. So, I’m currently holding out for the new top-of-the-line HTC-EVO phone Sprint will be offering soon. It may be one of the most sophisticated smartphones available this year, but it will also be one of the simplest to use.

Why? Because this EVO Android phone has a 4.3 inch new-technology screen that is bright and easy to see and you can easily zoom in and out of everything with your finger. I want all of the functions mentioned above -- and a great deal more -- and I want that really nice eight mega-pixel camera that’s part of the device. It’ll have satellite radio service, too, if I subscribe. Really, there’s no reason for me to carry a camera, small computer, Walkman radio, and cell phone when I can now have it all in one device that fits neatly in my pocket. And, yeah, I’ll be using it to save money, too -- a lot of money, I hope




April 19, 2010

Remembering the Carnage at Waco


Yes, I remember Waco.  Anyone watching the news videos and the later published feature videos cannot not remember.  That was a time when the United States government made war on American citizens for no apparent reason.  One or two Texas Rangers could have peacefully handled the two complaints government had against the Branch Davidians.  Instead, the Clinton Administration sent in a few squads of men in their Ninja war-suites on a sneak attack.

As it turned out, it was mostly about funding for the BATF.  Yes, ATF wanted more funding and so scheduled what they thought would be an easy sneak attack on unsuspecting citizens to garner headlines.  Well, things didn’t quite work out the way ATF planned that day. 

Now, the disgraced Bubba Clinton is mouthing off in the news yet again and mentioning things like Oklahoma City and Waco.  Such is the shame of that failed Clinton presidency! 

Below is something I wrote in 2001 about one “hearing” on the Waco atrocity.  The Danforth hearing was part cover-up, to be sure.  But it did bring out a few good points inadvertently. 

For a full account of the Waco story, please see the excellent compilation by Alamo Girl.  My offering here is but a short wrap-up on one hearing.



Dated:  April 15, 2001
Author:  Doug Fiedor

Danforth’s Folly Exposed

(Newsletter #226 - A Weekly View from the Foothills of Appalachia)

Operation Showtime was perhaps one of the best armed "police action" operations in American history.  It was also one of the worst bungled actions in American history.  And, most probably, it was a totally illegal action from beginning to end.  Except, federal agents were the perpetrators, so the justice department and the courts helped cover up the most grievous errors.

Over the years, we have watched, read and written so much about the massacre at Waco the material almost fills a complete file drawer.  Issues #63, 151, 152, 185 are typical examples of what has been published on these pages.

It’s not over yet, though.  Last week, a report on Special Council Danforth’s whitewash was released by the Cato Institute.(1)  This report is Cato Policy Analysis No. 395: "No Confidence -- An Unofficial Account of the Waco Incident," by Timothy Lynch, director of the Cato Institute’s Project on Criminal Justice.(2)

Lynch writes that former Missouri senator John C. Danforth’s official report "raises deeply disturbing questions not only about the tactics used at Waco but, more generally, about the mindset often found in America’s increasingly militarized law enforcement agencies."

A number of illegal acts were conveniently overlooked by Danforth.  Lynch points out a few that would be easy prosecutions, if even an honest prosecutor looked into the fiasco.

For instance, "ATF agents were caught on tape assaulting a local television cameraman after he had filmed their retreat from the initial raid on the Branch Davidian complex."  Yup!  Assault and battery with show and tell available.  There’s more, though.  The ATF agents also committed federal felonies by lying to federal investigators.  U.S. Marshals pointed out the offense to Justice, but Reno gave them a free pass.

Then there’s the little matter of gross disregard for human life by both ATF and FBI agents.  Indiscriminately shooting into a building occupied by innocent mothers and children is obviously wrong.  We know that the FBI killed at least one young child when they used hand-held grenade launchers to fire more than 350 "ferret" rounds into the windows of the residence.  The FBI bragged that they fired many in every window and door.  Killing children by crushing with an Army tank would also have a few penalties if prosecuted.  Murder, these actions are called.

As Lynch appropriately points out: "Does anyone doubt that, if the Davidian adults had been holding children of senators and congressmen hostage within Mt. Carmel buildings, the FBI’s tank assault plan would have been rejected out of hand?"

Lynch also points out that some of those killers, suspended after misdeeds at the Ruby Ridge incident, later turned up killing again at the Waco incident.  One of these jerks was eventually sentenced to prison for destroying evidence and lying to investigators about his role in the Ruby Ridge cover-up.

Michael Kahoe, chief of the FBI’s Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section, who Reno identified as one of the supervisors at Waco, got 18 months in prison for destroying evidence and lying to investigators about his role in Ruby Ridge.  At sentencing, his lawyer told the judge that Kahoe committed crimes to "protect the institutional best interests of the bureau."

So, as Lynch correctly reports: "With a convicted felon in a supervisory position on the Waco case, obstruction of justice seems not only possible but probable."  But Danforth didn’t even look twice at these guys.

Lynch writes that the Waco incident, "has become the most controversial law enforcement operation in modern American history.  Although the ’official’ investigation of the incident now places all of the blame for the carnage on the Branch Davidian leader, David Koresh, numerous crimes by government agents were never seriously investigated or prosecuted.  If those crimes go unpunished, the Waco incident will leave an odious precedent -- that federal agents can use the ’color of their office’ to commit crimes against citizens."

The new report is 18 pages long and well worth reading.  It sheds some new light on just how far the Justice and Treasury Departments are willing to go to cover up for their agents’ lawlessness -- even when it includes murder.





April 15, 2010

Rambling About the Forces of Inflation


There comes a time when a politically astute senior citizen wants to throw up his hands and just say “screw it!, it’s time to let them do what they are going to do.”  Because, sometimes the profoundly ignorant actually win and there’s really not much one can do about it.

Of course, it really all started way back before even I was a kid. Back then, FDR threatened court-packing to get his strict central government controls passed into law and we’ve been more or less a socialist nation every since. Everyone knew the scheme was totally unconstitutional, but they did it anyway. That’s how we got all those federal regulatory agencies.

Think it’s not socialism? Is “freedom” some blanched faced bureaucrat sitting at a desk in Washington telling farmers what and what not they may grow and how much?  Is it freedom when the central government dictates how our cars must be designed, how much water you may have in your toilet at once and even the consistency of toilet paper?  If that’s freedom to you, then I guess it’s okay that they are now gearing up to regulate all American citizens on where and how they must get their medical care.

Did you know that they just raised taxes again?  Yup, they did.  A lot, too!  Most of it is hidden, but you’ll see soon.  Even those of you who pay no income taxes will see the results of that because the prices of everything will start going up soon.

Oh . . . and while I’m thinking of prices . . .  Remember all those billions of dollars in “stimulus” money floating around?  Where do you think they got all that free money to give away?  Officials of the central government act like it’s their money to give away and I guess it is, somewhat.  After all, we gave part of it to them as taxes.

Other than the tax bucks we sent them, where do you think they came up with the rest of it?  Truth be told, most of that stimulus money is just fiat money.  That is, they didn’t have it in the bank and they sure didn’t walk out back where the money trees grow and pick some.  Nope.  They created those many billions of dollars out of thin air.  Because . . . well . . . the central government runs the central bank, so government can do that.

Now, here’s a closer to home question: What do you think all those billions of dollars in fiat stimulus money is going to do for our economy?  If you have a trillion dollars already floating around in the economy and add another trillion bucks to the economy, many folks are apt to have a lot more money, right?  And so they do.  Is that “stimulating” the economy?  Think so?  How?

Okay then, who pays for that extra trillion bucks suddenly in the economy?  We do, actually.  All of us do.  That’s because all that extra money causes the worth of the dollars already in circulation to decrease.  So, we will all pay for that stimulus money the government created to give away through inflation.  Think not?  Go look at gold and silver prices after the stimulus program started.  The price of gold and silver are a great indicator of how much the dollar is worth day to day -- so much so, in fact, that many smart investors tend to park their money in gold and silver anytime the dollar is fluctuating too much for them.

The inherently ignorant are allowed to vote in this country and vote they did.  They voted for “change” and they got some.  It’ll take a couple years before the consequences are so severe they realize their mistake.  It will jump up and bite them in the ass at some point, though.  They will first realize it at the food store, and then everywhere else, just like the rest of us.

Hey, but there I go assuming stuff again, huh.  Because, most probably the inherently ignorant walking among us may never even realize they are responsible for electing the socialists now running the central government.  No, they’ll properly blame capitalism and the Republicans.  That’s how they’ve been trained, after all. Propaganda works and the Socialist-Democrats are great at it.

On the other hand, there’s a TEA Party function coming up soon and I think I’ll attend to lend my voice to those in the bright sector of our society.



About Me

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Retired medical research scientist and clinical engineer and sometimes political campaign volunteer. Presently writing political commentary -- and starting to dabble in fiction. Interests include politics, alternative medicine, photography, and communications.