Category: tech

Online Cyborg Sex Facilitates Human Connections

The article “Experts ponder a future of new sex gizmos, robots” caught my eye.

People seem to have less and less time to spend really communicating with one another. After you get back from the office and attend to your chores, do you have enough time to really connect with people? Do you socialise as much as you used to? Can you afford to go out as much?

There is nothing that works on the Internet like pornography and sexual content. I might go so far as to say that pornography is a driving force in video compression, high speed internet links, and a precursor to most other online commerce. Today, teledildonics – or remote controlled sexual stimulation – is a reality that is a niche business with an interesting future.

Little ground is left uncovered in the ever growing desire to link everything to the Internet to revolutionise our world and make money to boot. How much of a life could you live without ever leaving your keyboard now? You can keep up with friends, order almost anything for delivery, and even… remotely operate some kind of pleasure device whilst watching your stimulated (simulated?) companion on a webcam feed.

The line between what is real and what is cyborg is beginning to blur. The same distinction between true human connections and online chimera friendships is getting more difficult to make. As the article concludes :

Some researchers warn that too much fantasy could prove adverse to everyday human interaction.

“There is a great deal of pushing people out of social relations into a kind of simulated relationship, which in fact decreases what is essential in human life, which is sociability — one’s capacity to relate to other people,”

What happens if the main way you relate to people is through an electromechanical device, and not the warmth of human touch?

From a programmed sequence…

An old monitor with old login information

In 1993, a young first year undergraduate student walked down the corridor of the French department into a small room with a single computer terminal. It was a UNIX terminal linked to the campus network, and a login prompt blinked on the screen. Next to it, a note saying “login with guest as a username to sign up”.

The young man followed the instructions and was greeted with a prompt to enter his library card number and personal details. “Your username is fruex” it said, and then the screen went blank followed by an error message. So he logged back in and repeated the procedure. “Your username is fruey”, followed by the full email address and a request for a password. He typed and confirmed a password; the rest is history.

That man was me (I think you guessed), and that is how fruey came into being. A username, and the first email address that was all mine. I had an AOL screenname and password before that, but it required me to be logged in to AOL to use it – their webmail wasn’t available at the time. FR for French department, U for undergraduate, and then two letters pulled from a programmed sequence.

Once a Dream, Now Ubiquitous

Or getting a WiFi connection.

When I was still at junior school at less than 10 years old, we got our first home computer. It was a ZX81. With 1Kb of RAM, adverts at the time of initial launch in 1981 said it could run a nuclear power station. Since installing a WiFi card in our Freebox – an ADSL box which brings TV, Internet, and a cheap phone line on which I can call fixed lines for free – I can sit anywhere in my flat and be connected to the Internet sending email to friends around the world.

Following the ZX81 we had a BBC Model B, a ZX Spectrum, a Commodore 64, and then an Atari ST. Our first PC was an 8086 with just 128Kb of RAM and a single 5.25″ disk drive with 320Kb storage. Each new stage was a leap forward for home computing, but most of it (until I started programming on the PC and the Atari ST) was for games.

As I look at Nathan at just 5 months old, I imagine how old he’ll think I am. His first memories of computing will be several gigabytes of storage in your pocket on which you can watch video and that you plug headphones into. Those little gadgets have more power than that which Sinclair marketing touted in 1981 as being enough to run a nuclear power station.

Everything will be on DVD (blu-ray, probably) and cassettes and vinyl will be museum material. Computing is gradually making its way into our daily lives, whether we like it or not. Maybe we don’t have wearable computers (yet the iPod is a fashion accessory) but many of our cats and dogs have an RFID tag implant to identify them.

Once I used to dream of having a powerful computer. Now I have more computing power in my pocket than my dream computer of some 15 years ago. I used to send 3.5″ disks by post to other people in England. Now I can transfer the equivalent of 100 of those disks in about an hour, to anywhere in the world, from outside on my balcony.

New Fujifilm Finepix E900 Zoom

Nathan crawling - almost - on the sofa

After some time without a digital camera to speak of, I finally took the plunge and bought the Fujifilm Finepix E900. It’s a 9 megapixel camera in the “serious amateur” price and quality range.

I learned the technical side of photography when I inherited my grandfather’s old 35mm reflex camera. It’s a Prinzflex with an old screw-fit lens thread which meant any lenses I bought for it were all acquired second hand whilst hunting around old camera shops. Having that camera encouraged me to read a few books and familiarise myself with the notions of aperture, shutter speed, film speed and depth of field. Then I started taking loads of pictures, but I hated waiting for development (and the cost) when only one out of every fifty or so photographs were actually any good. You have to take a lot of shots and analyse what’s good about the photos you find most pleasing – it’s rarely the subject that is interesting. It’s all about trial and error.

I’ve always wanted a serious digital camera. A few years ago on a low budget I bought the cheapest camera with an LCD screen that I could find. A lot of the photos on this site were taken with that camera, but it really was a point and shoot box. Nonetheless I could shoot a lot of photos and delete everything I didn’t like immediately. Most of the time that’s actually enough for web quality photos and experimentation. Some of the shots I took with that camera, like the ones on this post, or an early photo of Nathan with Mummy, are actually quite good.

Investing in the new camera allows me to mix the technical aspects of my old Prinzflex SLR and the convenience of digital. Like most midrange digital cameras, you can control shutter speed, aperture and with the E900 even a simulated ISO rating. Fujifilm make their own CCDs for these cameras and they claim – and seem to have shown to me so far – that they can treat natural lighting settings really well. The key point for me is that the shutter delay is very short: when you press the shutter button, the picture is taken almost instantaneously. My previous digital was very slow to actually take the photo after you pressed the button.

Nine megapixels means that I can print big enlargements and they should look very clear. The argument that actually swayed me to allocate the extra budget compared to the 5 megapixel Nikon I was looking at is that even with about half as much zoom, you grab the same information: I can crop out a lot of image and still be left with a 5 megapixel shot. This goes for macro photography too: at almost twice the distance from an object I capture as much detail as an equivalent 5 megapixel camera.

Some other advantages of the Fujifilm E900 are excellent video capacity: it can film at 640×480 resolution @ 30fps which is close to analogue NTSC TV resolution (if you compare with these video resolution specs) and not far from PAL or DVD resolution. You can add audio notes to your snaps as a reminder of conditions, names of places, etc. You can crop photos on the camera itself. This is very handy – you can cut out unneeded stuff from the edge of the frame and save the resulting image at lower resolution, freeing memory for more pictures. The E900 also boasts RAW format, automatic and manual white balance, and comes with rechargeable batteries and its own charger. There’s a review here with some good examples of photographs under different conditions.

At only 250 pixels wide you can’t really see the quality of one of my first photo experiments – Nathan crawling – especially because I compress the images quite a bit too. However, you can see how the colours look very natural even though this photo was taken with flash. The focus is very crisp, and the detail in the cushions is totally clear at full resolution.

So now I can really start experimenting.

A New Home

Home Sweet Home

Hello! Welcome to my new domain. After troubles with my other host I decided to move. I have just finished migrating my blog, comments and theme to this new server, which is all hosted under my domain name Now I have a couple of issues : redirecting traffic from the old site is no problem (a 301 redirect from the old server), but all the links that point to this blog are now being lost in terms of blog tools like Technorati and TTLB. I think I have TTLB sorted, as I have linked this new address to the old one, so the link at the bottom of the sidebar should update OK. I still haven’t looked at ways to sort out Technorati yet, but since I didn’t “claim” my old address so I don’t think there’s much I can do :-(.

If you link here, I would appreciate that you update to use the new domain Normal posting will be resumed shortly once I get my email sorted and explain to you why “caperet” is important (or not). Guess if you like, I’d love to see if any of you can work it out. There is a hint here somewhere that displays randomly; it’s pure chance as to whether you see it or not.

Blog Down Over Weekend

The server hosting this blog was working very slowly and/or not at all over the weekend. Most of the time requests were coming up as a blank page. Initially I thought there was a problem with the configuration, and I upgraded to WordPress 1.5.2 (Strayhorn) without success. However, this morning things were back to normal so I assume that my upgrade in fact worked OK.

My theory is that a site on the server (since it’s a shared server) was making the server go into overdrive due to a bad configuration or hosting some movie file or something, and my pages were timing out. No error messages, just a long wait and then nothing. This spurred me to buying a paid hosting package on a shared server which is a little better managed, with my own domain name. I hope this will work better than my current package which is free space bundled with my ISP ADSL connection.

So this blog will soon be moving to a new home. I should be able to make sure that all links on blogrolls and such are all redirected automatically. Thanks to all of you who managed to post even when the blog was down : I think in fact that those in western US timezones actually hit the blog when the European server was actually responding OK because it was the middle of the night here.

Watch this space, the new domain should be live over the course of this week!

They Put a Man on the Moon

Apollo Astronaut on the Moon

In thirteen years from now, with a budget of at least US$108 billion, NASA plans to once again put a man on the moon. In fact not one, but four at a time. Perhaps even a woman this time ;-). The major difference in the new moon launch plan – and something no doubt which came out of all the thinking about how “unsafe” the shuttle missions have been – is that a large unmanned heavy cargo launcher will take the actual moon vehicle and cargo up into Earth orbit; then a smaller crew launcher rocket will take the crew into orbit and allow them to dock with the mission specific vehicle. As far as coming back to Earth is concerned, the craft will be much like the original Apollo capsules, but with airbags to land inland and not at sea.

I have a couple of questions on my mind. Firstly, it was announced in the early 60s that the US could make it to the moon before the end of the decade. Today, in 2005, they can only announce 2018 as a possible date for a moon landing. Clearly the plans are more ambitious but the basic fact is that it will take more time, because everything is more complex and more grandiose. Secondly, the budget is very much equivalent to the original Apollo mission budget converted into 1994 US$. Indeed, it’s cheaper. So a more complex project to put four men onto the moon for seven days is budgeted to be cheaper that Apollo was. Somewhere, something doesn’t quite add up for me.

So why go there at all? A number of people hark back to forty two years ago, and one of JFK’s renowned speeches from 1962 :

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Back then, the Russians were engaged with the US administration in the space race. They put the first man in space in April 1961 and this speech followed a few months later. I wonder therefore if the desire to get back to the moon has anything to do with the Chinese space program. They may have denied having plans for a manned moon mission back in 2002, but being the clear leader in defense and aeronautics is a keystone of American policy.

Image Credit : NASA Glenn Research Center (NASA-GRC)

Incremental Improvement

When Tara Met Blog, before and after

I was chatting the other day with the owner of this site : When Tara Met Blog. I mentioned that the sidebar wasn’t particularly easy to read because the background of cocktail glasses with red liquid inside tended to obscure the black text and links. Since Tara told me that she didn’t have full control of all content on the pages due to the hosting platform she’s on, I didn’t know exactly what to suggest apart from getting rid of the background. Doing that would of course change the whole look and feel of the page.

Which got me to thinking about a single class change in the CSS file to give a slightly transparent background to the sidebar, in order to render it more legible without detracting from the style of the site. This is a simple, incremental improvement to the site. Instead of a redesign – why change everything all the time – a simple update to a couple of CSS classes can make a big difference to a blog.

So how do you achieve a transparent background for a block (DIV) in your page, without using a PNG file? Here’s how :

.myClass {
background-color: #fff;
opacity: 0.7;

There are 3 declarations to cover different browsers.

# IE -> filter:alpha(opacity=50);
# Mozilla (version 1.6 and below inc. Firefox) -> -moz-opacity:0.5;
# CSS3 standard -> opacity: 0.5;

This code was all gleaned from Ove Klykken’s eponymous site. Tara made the changes and links to me in this post. Thanks Tara!

If you would like me to suggest an incremental improvement for your blog, using just a CSS class change or a very small change in your code, I’d be happy to have a look. Reply to this post or leave a question in the “Ask me a Question” section.