Trailrunner7 writes: Robocalls are among the more annoying modern inventions, and consumers and businesses have tried just about every strategy for defeating them over the years, with little success. But one man has come up with a bot of his own that sends robocallers into a maddening hall of mirrors designed to frustrate them into surrender. The bot is called the Jolly Roger Telephone Company, and it's the work of Roger Anderson, a veteran of the phone industry himself who had grown tired of the repeated harassment from telemarketers and robocallers. Anderson started out by building a system that sat in front of his home landlines and would tell human callers to press a key to ring through to his actual phone line; robocallers were routed directly to an answering system. He would then white-list the numbers of humans who got through. Sometimes the Jolly Roger bot will press buttons to be transferred to a human agent and other times it will just talk back if a human is on the other end of the line to begin with.
An anonymous reader writes: Ashe Schow writes at the Washington Examiner that, "The Monty Python co-founder, in a video for Internet forum Big Think, railed against the current wave of hypersensitivity on college campuses, saying he has been warned against performing on campuses. "[Psychiatrist Robin Skynner] said: 'If people can't control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people's behavior,'" Cleese said. "And when you're around super-sensitive people, you cannot relax and be spontaneous because you have no idea what's going to upset them next." Cleese said that it's one thing to be "mean" to "people who are not able to look after themselves very well," but it was another to take it to "the point where any kind of criticism of any individual or group could be labeled cruel." Cleese added that "comedy is critical," and if society starts telling people "we mustn't criticize or offend them," then humor goes out the window. "With humor goes a sense of proportion," Cleese said. "And then, as far as I'm concerned, you're living in 1984." Cleese is just the latest comedian to lecture college students about being so sensitive.
PolygamousRanchKid writes: The ballot to fill a legislative seat in Canada next month includes none of the above—and it's a real person. Sheldon Bergson, 46, had his name legally changed to Above Znoneofthe and is now a candidate for the Ontario legislature, the CBC reports. The election is Feb. 11. The ballot lists candidates in alphabetical order by surname so his name will be the 10th of the 10 candidates as Znoneofthe Above, according to CBC. One of his opponents is running on the line of the None of The Above Party. Maybe the American folks can learn from their cousins up north? Shouldn't every election have a line for "None of the above"? I can't wait until Little Bobby Tables hits 35.
An anonymous reader writes: Last month 188 entries turned up on GitHub in an event challenging programmers to write computer code to generate 50,000-word novels. "The 'novel' is defined however you want," wrote the organizer for National Novel-Generating Month. "It could be 50,000 repetitions of the word 'meow.' It could literally grab a random novel from Project Gutenberg. It doesn't matter, as long as it's 50k+ words." Novels were submitted as Issues on the event's GitHub repository, and this year saw intriguing titles like "The Hero with Arbitrarily-Many Faces," "THE CYBERWHALE – a cyberpunk version of Moby Dick," and "Terms and Conditions – a Legal Thriller."
jones_supa writes: Finland has rolled out images of a couple in a sauna, a legendary Nokia phone (the 3310) and a heavy metal music fan as part of a set of official national emojis to be used in communication. Billing the use of national symbols for themed emojis as a world first, the government plans to publish the full set in December – for anyone in the world to download on its promotional website. "The Finland emojis were designed with a tongue in cheek approach, but I hope that they will tell the world not only about our special features but also something about our strengths," said Petra Theman, director for public diplomacy at the foreign ministry.
I was both pleased and disappointed, as always, when I heard that a book I enjoyed was being made into a movie. Andy Weir's The Martian was the best new book I'd read in years. It was written for nerds, by a nerd — by somebody with an obvious love for NASA, science, and spaceflight. How could it possibly be condensed into the format of a Hollywood blockbuster? Well, director Ridley Scott and screenwriter Drew Goddard figured out how. The Martian is an excellent film, well worth watching. Read on for my review (very minor spoilers only), and feel free to share your own in the comments.
hypnosec writes: A YouTuber named Tom Scott has built a 1,000-key keyboard with each key representing an emoji! Scott made the emoji keyboard using 14 keyboards and over 1,000 individually placed stickers. While he himself admits that it is one of the craziest things he has built, the work he has put in does warrant appreciation. On the keyboard are individually placed emojis for food items, animals, plants, transport, national flags, and time among others.
sciencehabit writes: The Ig Nobel prizes award research that 'makes people laugh, and then think', and this year was no exception. At a ceremony at Harvard University Thursday night, awards were given for a variety of wacky science papers. Among the winners, a scientist who repeatedly had himself stung by bees to figure out the most painful place in the body to be stung, and a study of which animals take the longest to urinate.
Bennett Haselton writes: The comedy world crucified Josh "Fat Jew" Ostrovsky for building his career on re-tweeting other people's jokes without attribution. But Twitter, or whichever company rises as their successor, could easily implement an algorithm that could stop plagiarists from building a following, while still rewarding joke writers who come up with original content. Read on for Bennett's take on how such a system could work.
An anonymous reader writes: Entertainment Weekly reports that Amazon Studios is developing a TV show based on Galaxy Quest, the 1999 film that parodied classic sci-fi shows like Star Trek. In the movie, actors for a Trek-like show were conscripted by real aliens to help run a starship and negotiate peace with a mortal enemy. The actors had no idea what to do, of course, and ended up getting help from the most rabid fans of their show. The new TV show is still in early stages of development. It's unlikely that the original Galaxy Quest cast will return — it starred Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, and Sam Rockwell, to name a few. However, several important members of the production crew will return: "The film's co-writer Robert Gordon will pen the script and executive produce the pilot. The film's director Dean Parisot will direct and executive produce. And executive producers Mark Johnson and Melissa Bernstein are on board as well." The show is a ways off, yet — they haven't even been greenlit for a pilot episode — but it'd be a welcome addition to today's sci-fi TV offerings
An anonymous reader writes: For over a decade Bob Mankoff, the cartoon editor at the New Yorker, and his assistants have gone through 5,000 cartoon entries for the magazine's caption contest each week. Needless to say, the burnout rate of his assistants is quite high, "The process of looking at 5,000 caption entries a week usually destroys their mind in about two years, and then I get a new one," Mankoff says. But now thanks to a collaboration with Microsoft, Bob may finally have found the perfect helper. Researchers have been working on an artificial intelligence project to teach a computer what's funny. Fortune reports: "Dafna Shahaf, a researcher at Microsoft, used the database of cartoons to train the program to understand commonalities and differences in the millions of cartoons, which lets the AI run through the entries the New Yorker receives each week for its back-of-magazine cartoon caption contest. About 55.8% of the time the humans agree with the captions the AI selects, which is a pretty good percentage."
cold fjord writes: Just as it was needed then, it is needed now (more than ever). NPR reports, "Fans of the well-loved comic strip Bloom County are celebrating ... cartoonist Berkeley Breathed issued the first panels of his satirical strip in decades. Breathed won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on Bloom County back in 1987; two years later, he quit producing it. ... It's unclear whether Breathed will syndicate his new work in newspapers; he recently recalled how an editorial dispute with a publisher had a direct role in his decision to quit cartooning in 2008. His Facebook postings, Breathed said earlier this month, are "nicely out of reach of nervous newspaper editors, the PC humor police now rampant across the web ... and ISIS." When Bloom County went idle in 1989, it was one of several clever and inventive comic strips, such as Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side, that were beloved by fans and yet were also comparatively short-lived. Today, devoted fans are treating its return as a small miracle." — The Washington Post adds, ""Honestly, I was unprepared for it," Breathed tells me of the public outpouring. "It calls for a bit of introspection about how characters can work with readers and how they're now absent as a unifying element with a society. "There is no media that will allow a Charlie Brown or a Snoopy to become a universal and shared joy each morning at the same moment across the country," Breathed continues. 'Maybe the rather marked response to my character's return is a reflection of that loss. A last gasp of a passing era.'"
An anonymous reader writes: Over the past decade, Marvel has been rolling out superhero film after superhero film. They've found a successful formula, and each of the last half-dozen films has brought in over a half-billion dollars in ticket revenue. Today they added to the franchise with Ant-Man, based on a superhero who can shrink himself to the size of an ant (while maintaining normal strength), and control insects. But where the spate of Avengers-related movies only occasionally interjected humor into their world-preserving plots, Ant-Man focuses more on being funny and simply entertaining. Reviews are generally positive, but not overwhelmingly so — Rotten Tomatoes has it at 79%, with a 91% audience score while Metacritic has it at 64/100, with an 8.4/10 user score. The LA Times calls it "playful." Vox has good and bad to say about Ant-Man, but notes that its failings are very common to Marvel's other films. Salon says, "...in its medium-stupid and mismanaged fashion it's not so awful." Wired posted the obligatory physics of Ant-Man article, as did FiveThirtyEight.
jones_supa writes: North Korea has created a wonder drug which not only cures AIDS, but also eradicates Ebola and cancer — at least, according to the latest proclamation from the country's news agency. Their announcement says the miracle cure consists of ginseng grown from fertilizer and rare earth elements. The drug's website cites a medical study in Africa where the product was tested on HIV-positive patients. It records that every single participant in the trial noted an improvement, with 56% being completely cured and 44% noting a considerable improvement in their condition. Among other benefits, the North Korean scientists also revealed that the drug is capable of curing a number of cancers, but did not provide details of the medical trials which support this claim. It's also good to remember that the state has previously claimed that Kim Jong Il invented the hamburger.
theodp writes: In response to those of you who are unhappy with your Open Office, McSweeney's has some ideas for taking the open floor plan to the next level. "Our open floor plan was decided upon after rigorous research that primarily involved looking at what cool internet companies were doing and reflexively copying them," writes Kelsey Rexroat. "We're dismayed and confused as to why their model isn't succeeding for our own business, and have concluded that we just haven't embraced the open floor plan ideals as fully as we possibly can. So team, let's take this open floor plan to the next level!" Among the changes being implemented in the spirit of transparency and collaboration: 1. "All tables, chairs, and filing cabinets will be replaced by see-through plastic furnishings." 2. "All desks will be mounted on wheels and arranged into four-desk clusters. At random intervals throughout the day, a whistle will blow, at which point you should quickly roll your desk into a new cluster." 3. "Employees' desktops will be randomly projected onto a movie screen in the center of the office." 4. "You can now dial into a designated phone line to listen in on any calls taking place within the office and add your opinion." Some workplaces might make you question just how tongue-in-cheek this description is.
alphadogg writes: A pair of Georgia Tech computer science students have created a Random Startup Website Generator that spits out a different jargon-laden startup website every time you click on the URL. Mike Bradley and Tiffany Zhang's project "serves as a parody of startups that have websites full of vague praise and little information about their actual business, often because they have little to show in that regard."
jones_supa writes: The Korean electronics company LG ships a split screen tool with their ultra wide displays. It allows users to slice the Windows desktop into multiple segments. However, installing the software seriously compromises security of the particular workstation. The developers required administrator access for the software, but apparently they hacked their way out. The installer silently disables User Account Control, and enables a policy to start all applications as Administrator. In the article there is also a video presentation of the setup procedure. It is safe to say that no one should be running this software in its current form.
An anonymous reader writes with the story of a Github user's joke repository that is causing some controversy. "There's no question that the tech world is an overwhelmingly male place. There's legit concern that tech is run-amok with 'brogrammers' that make women programmers feel unwelcome. On the other hand, people just want to laugh. It's at that intersection that programmer Randy Hunt, aka 'letsgetrandy' posted a 'project' earlier this week to software hosting site GitHub called 'DICSS.' The project, which is actual free and open source software, is surrounded by geeky jokes about the male anatomy. And it's gone nuts, so to speak, becoming the most trending project on Github, and the subject of a lot of chatter on Twitter. And, Hunt tells us, the folks at Github are scratching their heads wondering what they should do about it. Some people love DICSS ... and some people are, understandably, offended. The offended people point out that this is exactly the sort of thing that makes tech unwelcoming to women, and not just because of the original project, but because of some of the comments (posted as "commits") that might take the joke too far."