Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Greetings from the Uncanny Valley (Odds & Ends)

Recently, I met a member of the Single Action Shooting Society(^). Members of the SASS target shoot in competitions, dress in period clothing, use period weapons, and answer to a "Western" name that they adopt which is unique to each member. Calamity Rabbit has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

The fellow I met was very nice, taking time to explain everything to me, including the fact that about 40% of their members locally are women. Wow.

Simply put, single action weapons are those that have to be cocked before each shot, i.e., the hammer has to be pulled back before each round is fired. The trigger performs a single action when it is pulled (it drops the hammer). Cowboys in the Wild West (and everyone else) fired single action weapons before double-action weapons were invented.

I'm considering joining the SASS in the spring. It sounds fascinating; combing my love of sewing (costuming), history, and target practice. We'll have to see if I can find the time. How neat would it be to research and sew (and then wear) an authentically styled Western costume?

I was reminded of SASS when I saw something interesting about Annie Oakley recently. Annie Oakley was an amazing woman, accomplished in areas that were dominated by men at a time when women were generally afforded very few options.

As a young girl, Annie hunted and sold what she shot to help her widowed mother get by. She was so successful that she was eventually able to pay off her mother's mortgage.

Annie met her eventual husband, traveling show marksman Frank Butler when he placed a bet with a hotel owner for $100.00 (a whole lot of money in 1881) that he (Frank) could beat any local marksman. The hotelier got Annie to compete and she won. She and Frank were married the next year. When she died, at age 66, Frank, unable to bear life without her, refused to eat and died 18 days later.

She was an early promoter of women in combat roles, and once wrote a letter to President William McKinley offering the the services of a company of 50 'lady sharpshooters' to the government if there was a war with Spain. There was a war, of course, but McKinley never took her up on her offer.

Annie was an amazing shot; she could split a playing card edge-on and put several holes in it before it hit the ground with a .22 caliber rifle at 90 feet. She earned the title of Little Sure Shot of the Wild West from her days touring with Buffalo Bill Cody.

This was Annie Oakley as people would have seen her on posters advertising the Wild West Show:

and this was Annie Oakley as she looked in life:

And this, which I found when I was researching something else this week, is Annie Oakley on film:

How spiffy is that? First, it's Annie Oakley. Who hasn't heard of her? And second, it's one of the earliest Edison Kinetoscopes know to exist.


And then there's this, which is completely unrelated but spiffy nonetheless:

A couple of nights ago, Dan and I were watching The Polar Express, based on the book of the same name. The movie is about a boy who isn't sure he believes in Santa anymore. On Christmas Eve he finds a steam locomotive outside his door, and once aboard, he travels with other children to the North Pole to see Saint Nicholas. It's a sweet movie, and we enjoyed it, for the most part.

Not everyone did, however. It didn't review well(^) when it was released, and a large part of why seems to be because reviewers(^) felt that the characters were creepy and unreal-seeming.

Before we went to bed for the evening, I searched for the film online, and read about how it was made, using motion capture technology. Motion capture records the movement of the actors and uses computers to translate "real" movement into the movement of characters onscreen. It allows for more realistic human action on film.

And that is a huge potential problem. There is a hypothesis, put forth by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori, that states that when robots are made to seem more human, humans (that's us) will respond with more empathy toward them. In other words, we'll like them better the more they seem to be like us. So, we will like a robot with two arms, two legs and a head better than a mechanical box with crane-like arms, no legs and no head.

But, the theory goes, as robots approach being indistinguishable from humans, they will cross over from cute and become repulsive to us.

For example:

The robot from Lost in Space(^) seems fine to most of us. He has two arms, two legs, a head, and a metallic voice. We recognize him as being human enough to elicit empathy.
A robot (or human facsimile in a film or elsewhere) that is indistinguishable from humans will be fine because we won't be able to tell the difference. If it seems human in every single way, we won't know the difference, and it won't bother us.
Somewhere in between Lost in Space and the indistinguishable robot of the future is the repulsive middle. It looks human, it acts human, but something is a little off and we humans know it. It will be uncanny, foreign yet familiar.

That gap between the Lost in Space robot or perhaps the Maria robot from the 1927 Fritz Lang masterpiece Metropolis and the Robot of the Future is the Uncanny Valley.

Robot Maria
Apparently, many reviewers found that the characters in The Polar Express fell within the realm of the Uncanny Valley(^). They found the characters looked slightly off and that unnerved some viewers.

We didn't find them creepy, exactly, but did find ourselves trying to figure out which actions were motion capture and which were straight up animation, and that definitely detracted from the movie.

Won't it be interesting when robots become indistinguishable? We won't know what we don't know, I guess.

Other links I've found in the last few days:

  • Google has found that certain search terms used by the public are a good indicator of the severity of the flu, and have placed this information in a handy chart here(^).
  • If you've ever wondered what those additives or dyes in various food and makeup products are, here is Food Additives World(^), an informative website that describe what they are and what they're doing in your food and/or makeup.
And finally, some pictures from the last few days:

This is Mar-Belles. Not Marbles. Mar-Belles.
Dan and I named her Marbles, which we thought somehow went with Waffles, but the SuperCat immediately renamed her Mar-Belles, which sounds like a character from Gone With The Wind.
Mar-Belles acts like a little lady, so the name is apt.
She is just teeny tiny, and so sweet. She sleeps on my feet at night and comes and cuddles in the early morning. She tolerates the enthusiastic pets of little people, and has perfect manners.

This is Neh-neh. He doesn't have any other name. We've tried several times to give him other names, but Neh-neh is the only name that sticks. His hobbies include being the dog's very best friend in the whole world, repeatedly falling into the bathtub once it's full of water, and waking me up several times a night. He really is a cute little guy, and we love him, but wish he wouldn't try to play at 4:30 AM.

This is what you get when you try to use that teeny little video screen on the digital camera to take pictures instead of using the viewfinder.
This picture was supposed to be a shot of my snow-filled backyard.
What it is is a picture of a ceramic squirrel stuck into the jungle of plants on the shelf above my kitchen sink.
I don't have the greenest thumb in the world, but can grow various Aloe and Sansevieria (mother-in-law's tongue)
plants until they are practically sentient.

More squirrely goodness.
This little guy holds measuring spoons in his tail and has googly eyes.
How awesome is that?

The white glare is from the snow outside.

Santa lights up at night when the rest of the lights go on, not that you'd notice because our shared lawn looks like Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with all the inflatables.

Finally a bit of snow.
Not a lot of the it, and no pictures of the vast uninterrupted swaths I had meant to photograph earlier in the day, but snow nonetheless. This shows about a third of the inflatables in our immediate neighborhood.
Santa is lost in the crowd, but he's in there somewhere.


Current Mood: Photobucket contemplative

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