IBM’s Cognitive Computing Engine is, after all, the construct of a 100 year-old non-unionised American corporation. Its world view is bound to differ somewhat from that of a liberal European like myself.
For those that don’t know, Big Trak is a programmable tank. It was popular (with me, at least) in the 1980s and reissued in all its retro glory a few years ago.
Big Trak, if you don’t remember, was an amazingly cool-looking 6-wheeled tank that you could program yourself to move around whilst firing its photon beam. Happily, not much has changed with this new version, which means you can not only relive the fun you had as a kid but, if you’ve got children of your own, pass it on through the family.
A few simple instructions can make your Big Trak go forward a certain number of lengths, fire, and then come back to you. The onboard memory will store up to 16 commands in one go, which means you can easily have your faithful tank-servant completing some complex manoeuvres in no time.
I have one and Alexandre is fascinated by it. So much so that he can now code up the basic manoeuvres himself…
Turning is still a challenge, but we’ll get there.
It’s incredible how the most popular toys turn out to be the cheap impulse buy picked up by the grandparents on the way over for Christmas. So it is for Penguin Race II, in which three penguins noisily climb a set of stairs and then slide down the slope. Over, and over and over again.
In other news, HandBrake is proving to be a rather useful video transcoder. I still need to read up on web video formats, but I will apologise now in case this blog starts to become a bit noisier.
I had a Victor Meldrew moment this weekend while looking at a Toy catalogue with Macsen. It turns out that you can now buy a scoop to pick up snow, a mould to form it into a snowball and a launcher to fire the snowball at someone. The catalogue in question was on paper, and the associated webite was unlinkably awful, but the same toys can be found on Amazon.
What’s wrong with picking up a handful of snow and lobbing it?
Psychologist Oliver James, author of the parenting book Love Bombing, believes children don’t “need” a vast panoply of toys.
“Most children need a transition object,” said James, “their first teddy bear that they take everywhere. But everything else is a socially generated want.”
This strikes me as very true. Certainly, my own kids have no shortage of toys and most of these end up left in boxes – ignored and then forgotten. They do each have their favourite toys and it is this limited subset of the available options that they keep returning to.
And, truth be told, more fun for all can be achieved by handing them a tool (be it a broom, a rake or whatever else happens to be seasonally appropriate) and making sure that they are able to help with whatever I happen to be doing.
Obviously there is a balance to be struck here and I am not about to embark on some sort of anti-toy crusade. Equally, though, if you have considered buying some over-priced replacement for an over-arm throw, one that is only going to be usable for about one week in 52, then your kids have too many toys.
Last week, a lot of the tech press was full of the news that a pair of enterprising Canadian students had managed to send a Lego minifig into space. Now Captain Barry Wiszniowski, chairman of the Air Canada Pilots Association’s safety division, has whined that launching Legonauts could represent a “concern to aviation”.
Wiszniowski said: “I think in the 25 years that I’ve been flying I’ve seen two weather balloons that passed on one side of the aircraft or the other.”
Not exactly a major threat to air traffic, then…
The students, Mathew Ho and Asad Muhammad, do appear to have been reasonably diligent in ensuring that they weren’t doing anything dangerous or illegal and University of Toronto astrophysics professor Michael Reid said of the achievement: “It shows a tremendous degree of resourcefulness. For two 17-year-olds to accomplish this on their own is pretty impressive.”