Got Human?

In Kevin Kelly’s latest Cool Tools, he “reviews” GetHuman, an online database of human operators for big companies that normally port you into Voice Jail. This is definitely a must-bookmark site.

Customer Service is also given grades by users of the GetHuman base. Wow, look at all those Ds and Fs. CS: A dying art to be sure.


iRobot Releases Robot Development Platform

Since the robot community has been busy hacking and modding the Roomba anyway, iRobot decided to go with the flow and offer a robotics development platform built around the Roomba formfactor. Robot Magazine has an Introduction and First Look. Here’s the juicy bits from the piece:

The iRobot Create comes fully assembled. It has 32 built-in sensors, two powered wheels, a castor (and optional 4th castor wheel), 10 pre-programmed behaviors, an expandable input/ouput port for custom sensors and actuators, a cargo bay with mounting points and a tailgate for ballast. This new bot platform works with optional accessories such as the iRobot Command Module, iRobot Roomba Virtual Wall units, the self-charging home base, and iRobot Roomba standard remote. You can use the Roomba rechargeable battery options or standard alkaline batteries. You’ll need a computer with a serial port (USB connectivity is expected soon) and Microsoft Windows XP, Linux or Mac OS X.

The First Look piece on Robot Magazine’s site includes some pics of the Create turned into a laundry picker-upper, a store barker, and laser tag robots. Cool!

The Create starts at US$130 for a barebones unit and goes up to $230 for a full kit with Command Module, self-charging station, and two virtual walls. Here’s the iRobot Create page.


Stephen Hawking, Astronaut?

Stephen HawkingIn other space news: Today is Stephen Hawking’s birthday. He is 65. In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he told them that one of the things he plans on doing this year is taking a ride on the Vomit Comet (the zero-G airplane), and then, in 2009, to go into space via Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. Sir Richard Branson is picking up the tab for his ride.

The normal retirement age at Cambridge is 76, but the good Professor has no plans to stop teaching. He’s currently also working on two books, George’s Secret Key To The Universe, a children’s book, to be published this fall, and The Grand Design (on the philosophy of science), which will likely be out in ’08. God speed, Stephen Hawking. And Happy Birthday.

Thanks, Ron!


Did Viking Missions Overlook Life on Mars, or Worse?

story.mars.nasa.jpgSnarkiest science headline of the year (so far):

“Scientist: NASA found life on Mars – and killed it”

From the piece (on CNN Technology):

Two NASA space probes that visited Mars 30 years ago may have found alien microbes on the Red Planet and inadvertently killed them, a scientist is theorizing.

The Viking space probes of 1976-77 were looking for the wrong kind of life, so they didn’t recognize it, a geology professor at Washington State University said.

Read the rest of the piece here.

Thanks, Ron!

MAKE/Street Tech Soldering Tutorial

Bre Pettis of MAKE Media has put together a nice video/PDF package on soldering. The video features Joe Grand running down the basics of soldering/desoldering, even showing how to use Chip Quik, the desoldering kit for suface mounted components. They’ve teamed this video with a PDF version of my Street Tech Thumbnail Guide to Soldering.

Between these two pieces, there really is no excuse to not learn soldering. If you do decide to learn as a result of these and have any questions, feel free to post them here and we’ll try and help you out.


Roboquad, WowWee’s New Spiderbot Premiering at CES ’07

Robert Oschler of Robots Rule tells Street Tech:

WowWee is showing their new spider robot at this month’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. This may be the bot that was rumored to be codenamed Spidersapien. Its actual name is the Roboquad, a fast moving four legged robot with advanced object assessment and detection circuitry. Built to move rapidly in any direction and react quickly to motion in its environment, it’s slated to hit store shelves in Fall of 2007. Nocturnal, the clever Evosapien Team expert that created the sinister Robosapien + Teddy Bear creation named RoboTed, has created a fun video showing his idea of what the Roboquad/Spidersapien should have been.

You can discuss this new robot, or Nocturnal’s vid, at the Roboquad forum.


How-To: Barcode Scan Your Library

Just the other day, I was in the shower (oops, sorry, that’s a mental image you didn’t need) thinking about revamping my bricks and mortar library. I started wondering where my CueCat was — that ill-fated magazine barcode scanner from years back that mags like Wired were giving away — and if anyone had library scanning software for modern computers (XP and OS X). Well, here’s my answer, a project called LibraryThing. And if I can’t find my ‘Cat, they even sell ’em for US$15.

[Via Make]


Search Inside of YouTube Videos

This so so cool. From Lifehacker:

PodZinger, the site that enables keyword searches within audio and video podcasts, now lets you search inside YouTube videos as well. Here’s the scoop from the company’s blog:

Now besides simply searching on the metadata of the video files, you can search for terms that are actually mentioned inside the audio, allowing for a greater likelihood you will find relevant material.


How-To: Hide Your Porn

We kid about the Pr0n. That’s just to get your attention. Surely, that’s not what our sweet and innocent Street Tech readers want to keep from prying eyes. But whatever it is, if you’re on Mac OS X, Mac Geekery has an excellent tutorial (called, um… “How to Hide Your Porn”) on (short of installing third-party apps), how you can hide and secure data stores using tricks and features native to OS X.

Awesome Platform-Agnostic Apps

Free Software magazine has a list of their picks for some of the best platform-agnostic programs. There’s a lot of ones we use here (OpenOffice, Firefox, Azureas, Audacity), others we’ve messed with and liked (GAIM, GIMPShop, Thunderbird), and others we should probably check out (Blender, Sunbird, Scribus). It’s so amazing that there are so many truly outstanding free, open source, and cross-platform applications. The topic discussion following the article has some good reader-recommendeds too, such as the VLC Media Player and MoneyDance, a checkbook/finance program I just might have to…ah… check out.

BTW: If you’re on OS X and want to run OpenOffice, we recommend NeoOffice instead. It is built on OO but is native to the Mac (does not require an install of the X11 Window System) and has more of a Mac look n’ feel — of course, that sort of blows the whole platform agnostic concept, but if you’re only working on a single platform (Mac), it’s likely your best bet. And it’s been surprisingly stable, even at the Alpha dev stage.