It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World
Pity the poor editor who needs to put together a collection of short, interesting, entertaining and tech-related items on April 1 with the proviso that all of them must be true. Tech web sites have a long history well, long in Internet time anyway of April Fool's Day prank postings. This year is no exception.
Naturally, Google leads the pack with CADIE, its newly-created panda-loving artificial intelligence. This AI is making new Google services possible, such as Gmail Autopilot (computer-generated answers to your email so you never have to actually read it) and the addition of red eye to Picasa photos. While other search engines didn't seem to be making April Fool's pranks, some celebrated by linking to stories about such pranks.
Going beyond the search engines, New Scientist ran a selection of stories too strange to be believed at first glance, with headlines such as Yeast-powered fuel cell feeds on human blood and Genes may time loss of virginity. Slashdot climbed on board the April Fool's bandwagon with an item indicating a link between autism and vinyl flooring, another about the battle between comedian Stephen Colbert and NASA, and the launch (this one legitimate) of user achievement awards. The venerable British newspaper The Guardian, meanwhile, stated that after 188 years of ink, they would be switching to Twitter, because any story can be told in 140 characters. And the jokes just kept coming.
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In Praise of Colorful Conversations
Whoever thought the phrase colorful metaphor could be taken so seriously? When computer scientist Karrie Karahalios activates her computer terminal, she can show conversations as lively colors reds, yellows, blues, greens that get larger as voices get louder, overlap other colors when one voice interrupts another, or narrow when a speaker goes silent. It lets users see their conversations.
It might be fun, but how is it useful? People who have Asperger's Syndrome or other autism spectrum disorders are often saddled with poor social skills, and can benefit from the extra cues. Even people without such handicaps can sometimes use this kind of help in their interactions such as the man whose spouse complains that he hardly ever talks. The computer provides a social mirror that lets users adjust their interactions in real time. Most users, when presented with this changing, real-time image, tried to balance the play of colors, thus balancing the conversation.
Karahalios has dubbed the computer program that provides the colorful feedback a conversation clock, and notes that it has already been tested with autistic children and in marriage counseling. Plans are in place to study its potential use with children with Asperger's over the summer at the College Park, Maryland campus of the University of Illinois.
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A PC For Your Kitchen
Touchscreen PCs may not be making a big impact in the office yet, but some PC makers see huge potential for these devices somewhere completely different. They hope consumers will take to them in the home and not in the den or the living room, mind you, but in the kitchen. The idea is that a PC with a touchscreen is just thing to use for leaving notes or surfing the web for dinner recipes.
So far, four PC makers Dell, HP, Asus and MSI have built touchscreen PCs with an eye to how they can be utilized in the kitchen. These PCs do not have keyboards; some of them come with very large (19-inch) touchscreens, and they range in price from $600 to $800, about what you'd expect to pay for a major appliance. Some analysts see kitchen PCs as offering the same advantages over desktops that netbooks do over notebooks: they're cheaper, smaller, and less powerful, but just the thing when you don't need all the extras that the larger, more powerful, more expensive machine offers.
One of the nice aspects of kitchen PCs is their design. It isn't just that the computer features a touchscreen; it's an all-in-one design with no mouse, keyboard, or separate tower for the CPU. Instead, all of the computer's operating components the CPU, hard drive, and memory are folded into the display unit. Users simply interact with the touchscreen to get e-mail, weather, news, calendars, recipes, and so forth. Manufacturers don't expect kitchen PCs to be someone's main system, but they may provide a little more mileage to the desktop model.
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