Meet Atlas, the Parkour Robot Who Will Enslave Us All

Bad news, fellow meat bags. The robot apocalypse draws ever closer, as Boston Dynamics (the Delos of our time) has now trained their robot Atlas to do parkour. In the video above, you can see that Atlas has progressed from jogging/tripping face first over a box to scaling a bunch of crates like he’s a contestant on Nickelodeon’s GUTS.

I, for one, am bitter. If humanity is going to die at the hands of these robots, can’t they at least have the decency to look like Evan Rachel Wood, James Marsden, or Thandie Newton? Is it too much to ask that we get some eye candy from our soon to be apocalyptic overlords?

maeve

In the video description, Boston Dynamics describes the software that is turning Atlas the Robot into an American Ninja Warrior. “The control software uses the whole body including legs, arms and torso, to marshal the energy and strength for jumping over the log and leaping up the steps without breaking its pace. (Step height 40 cm.) Atlas uses computer vision to locate itself with respect to visible markers on the approach to hit the terrain accurately.”

But what function will Atlas actually serve, other than replacing Matt Damon in future Jason Bourne movies? According to the Boston Dynamics website, “Atlas is the latest in a line of advanced humanoid robots we are developing. Atlas’ control system coordinates motions of the arms, torso and legs to achieve whole-body mobile manipulation, greatly expanding its reach and workspace. Atlas’ ability to balance while performing tasks allows it to work in a large volume while occupying only a small footprint.”

BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN THOUGH? There’s a lack of clarity in what Atlas will actually do for humanity: will he rescue people in situations too dangerous for humans? Will he be part of the larger movement to replace human workers with automatons? Or is he just here to get us to shut up about that four-legged robot that tripped over some banana peels. Well, in that case, I say NICE TRY Atlas, because I will never stop posting this video:

Until someone can explain to me what the function of this parkour robot is, I have no choice but to assume that it’s training to kill us all and wipe out humanity. Prove me wrong, Boston Dynamics, the ball is in your court!

(via Nerdist, image: screengrab)

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Why Is It So Hard for So Many Men to Believe This Former Victoria’s Secret Model Is Also a Professional Coder?

Lyndsey Scott, model, coder, programmer, misogyny, stem

Lyndsey Scott is an actress and a former Victoria’s Secret and Calvin Klein model, as well as a successful programmer. Over the weekend, the Instagram account Coding Engineer gave Scott a shoutout with the caption “Coding is for anyone!” The point was to highlight how there is still a false idea of what a coder looks like, and that image doesn’t usually include women–and definitely not glamorous or feminine women with interests in fields like fashion. The pervasiveness of these stereotypes and the damage they can cause to women or others that don’t fit the expected STEM mold was immediately apparent in the comments of the post itself.

Many of the first comments to show up were misogynistic trolls making jokes about how she must only know how to program “Hello World,” a famously simple, ultra-beginner program. By now, the comments have been flooded with supportive and grateful messages, but it’s a reminder that misogyny in STEM is still very much a rampant, destructive force.

In that tweet from Scott, you can see her comment on the Instagram post, which, in addition to listing her accomplishments (which go far beyond Hello World, obviously), muses, “Looking at these comments I wonder why 41% of women in technical careers drop out because of a hostile work environment.”

The message in those original comments is that no matter how talented a woman is, how accomplished, many men will approach her with the assumption that she is neither. Even when proof is provided and accomplishments are listed, many will assume she’s exaggerating in some way. Men, in general, are not approached with this assumption.

Women who work in STEM and know the industry’s toxicity firsthand have been responding to Scott’s tweet.

The burden of ending misogyny in STEM shouldn’t be on women, it should be on the men undermining, patronizing, and harassing their colleagues or potential colleagues. But social media does allow women to create visibility that may be lacking in their individual offices or labs. When so many women join their voices together it’s hard to deny that coding is for anyone, and presuming otherwise only makes a person look like a sexist ass.

(H/T Pajiba, image: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images, Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for TheirWorld)

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I Really Wish Apple Hadn’t Blocked Its Pride Watch Face in Russia

apple pride watch face

For all of my interest in most of Apple’s product lines, even though I’m far from using the latest and greatest of their tech myself, I haven’t been very interested in the Apple Watch. However, I’ll admit that I do enjoy watching them eagerly give dramatic reveals to new watch faces, even if only because their own excitement seems so endearingly outsized next to what those watch faces actually are—but recent news about their Pride watch face caught my eye for a much more disappointing reason.

The faces generally amount to the same thing as changing your phone background while simultaneously moving some widgets around—even including one that does use your own photos. One of those cosmetic adjustments, fittingly making its debut back in June for Pride month, is the Pride watch face. As you can see in the image above, it includes the rainbow colored imagery you’d expect, and when you touch it or move the watch, those bands of color move in reaction.

Neat, right? And, ultimately, just a fun little way to show your own pride and/or support for the LGBTQIA+ community—that is, unless you’re in Russia, where the rainbow-themed watch face is nowhere to be found.

According to The Verge, users on support forums and reddit began noticing the absence of the Pride face in Russia, which is apparently deliberately coded not to appear if the watch owner’s paired iPhone if its region is set to Russia:

This is likely due to the homophobia that’s codified in law in the country. In 2013, Russia added a new law commonly known as the “gay propaganda law,” which relies on some of the same homophobic ideas you’ve heard here at home: that anything outside of strict heteronormativity is an affront to “traditional family values,” and children are to be protected from it so that they don’t get the wrong idea.

Of course, the idea that children need to be protected from seeing two (or more!) people in love with each other, regardless of their sexuality, is ridiculous, but what’s even worse here is that Apple doesn’t seem to have even stood up for itself—or the LGTBQIA+ community, for that matter. The Verge also points out that Google openly trolled the Russian government with its homepage during the Olympic Games in Russia, and I wish Apple had at least tried something similarly bold here.

The watch face can hardly even be called propaganda anyway. It’s literally just movable, rainbow-colored lines across the screen. It’s just called “Pride.” Sure, Russia likely could have legally compelled them to make the watch face unavailable anyway, but at least there would have been a very visible public conversation about it.

There may very well still be one, the way this story is going around today, but unless there was behind-the-scenes legal pressure we don’t yet know about (Apple has yet to comment), Apple preemptively gave up any ground on being on the right side of it.

(via The Verge, image: Apple)

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FCC’s “Cyber Attack” Excuse Turns Out to Be About as Real as It Sounds

Dade yells "Hack the Planet" in Hackers

No one has ever, ever believed an “I was hacked” excuse for things going wrong on the internet without direct confirmation that it was actually true. In terms of believability, it comes in just barely ahead of “the Ambien made me racist.” The FCC’s claim that a cyber attack was responsible for bringing down the agency’s public comment system, while they were taking comments on their wildly unpopular plan to roll back net neutrality rules in May 2018, ranked just behind that, if only because it wouldn’t have been a “hack” … if it had actually happened at all.

Pretty much this entire time, no one has really believed them, because everything about that situation is embarrassing. If anything, we all just kind of assumed that the FCC’s comment system went down due to the sheer volume of people attempting to express their thoughts on the agency’s net neutrality plans—and if we know anything about internet commenters, it’s that they don’t really flood anywhere in massive numbers just to say, “This is good, and I like it, and you’re all swell people who deserve respect, or at least basic human decency. Have a lovely day.”

The FCC, on the other hand, seemed intent on convincing everyone that this was not the case, making it look like an attempt to save face, rather than own up to their plan’s intense negative reception and their system’s inability to handle a spike in traffic. In the time since, the agency has been stonewalling anyone who tried to obtain information about exactly what data they had on this imaginary cyber attack (including denying Freedom of Information Act requests because they had no documentation), as well as lying to Congress about it.

This continued up until yesterday, when FCC chair and net neutrality opponent Ajit Pai tried to get out ahead of the Inspector General’s official report on the incident, which debunks the cyber attack claims, with a strong “the buck stops elsewhere” attitude. Pai placed blame at the feet of former FCC chief information officer David Bray, who … honestly seems to be at fault here, based on the evidence in the now-released report, but Pai was sure to get extra petty and point out that Bray was hired by the “was hired by the prior Administration.” It’s also puzzling why the agency allowed the patently false story to circulate right up until a report was about to call them out.

It’s also weird that Bray was able to spread such a story story this time around, when he’d apparently tried to do so, unsuccessfully, the last time a segment on John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight took down the FCC’s net neutrality comments, in 2014. (That’s right, the official government report on the matter attributes the 2017 outage to John Oliver’s minions, so if you’re a LWT viewer, expect a fairly smug shoutout on the show this week.) As Bray tells it, that’s because both of these hacks totally happened, but Obama administration FCC chair Tom Wheeler covered up the first one!

So … it’s the Obama administration’s fault that the FCC lied about a cyber attack for over a year, when that same lie, about a nearly identical incident, was halted in its tracks during … the Obama administration. Bonus points for finally landing on an excuse that comes off even more disingenuous than “I was hacked,” I guess.

(image: MGM)

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IRL Sex & the City Political Fanfic: Mr. Big Supports Miranda for Governor!

sex and the city, miranda, big, chris noth

As we all learned from everything that was 2016, it can be super dangerous to treat politics like it’s reality TV or general entertainment. On the other hand, the world is a garbage fire and it can be really nice to impose some frivolous distractions into our political landscape.

Cynthia Nixon is a highly qualified, incredibly serious and promising candidate for New York governor. She is not a television character. But you know what? She spent many, many years (which happened to coincide with my youth and the formative years of many others) playing  a television character–one which happened to be uniquely smart and self-actualized–and I believe it is 100% possible to view her as a serious political candidate while also taking total joy in imagining our current reality as an extension of the Sex and the City universe as we all dreamed to see it continue in a smart, adult timeline.

All of that is a far too lengthy explanation for my excitement over this news that Chris Noth–aka Mr. Big–is a supporter of Cynthia Nixon’s gubernatorial run, now that it’s been disclosed that Noth donated $2,500 to Nixon’s campaign.

Miranda notably loathed Big for all of the bullshit he put her best friend Carrie through. It brings me such joy to imagine that the thing that could finally bring them together, if not as friends but at least as political allies, would be Miranda’s run for governor.

Is this a totally normal thing not at all worthy of media coverage? Yes, obviously, it’s a man donating to the campaign of a political candidate, based on her platform or maybe even just their personal or professional relationship. It’s normal politics.

But is it also a way for fans to fantasize a S&tC fanfic extension in which Mr. Big and Miranda are finally on the same page, having made good on their personal beefs for the good of all New York? Can we imagine that these two opposites (if not full adversaries) have finally come together for the future of their state? Yes, of course we can and it’s beautiful.

While we’re making fanfic out of our actual world, it should be noted that other Sex & the City characters actors have also given financial support to Nixon’s campaign, including David Eigenberg (Steve) and Lynn Cohen (Magda). EVEN STEVE AND MAGDA ARE ONBOARD WITH MIRANDA’S GUBERNATORIAL RUN.

Again, this is all presented in jest. Cynthia Nixon is a very real candidate. But for many of us, especially young women, she has lived in our hearts as Miranda Hobbes for quite some time. We don’t have to deny her that place in our lives as she takes on this new one.

 

(via Vulture, image: HBO)

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I Was a Victim of the Great Twitter Purge

Twitter purge

Logging onto Twitter and seeing about two thousand of my followers suddenly gone was what it must feel like when a parent turns around and their child isn’t following them through a shopping mall any longer.

Also, that is probably extremely dramatic, but I loved looking at my nearly eight thousand followers and knowing that, among them, maybe some person out there was enjoying my nonsense.

Imagine my dismay the moment I logged on to Twitter today, only to discover that suddenly my follower count dropped faster than my energy levels when I see the heat index. Now, I am hardly the only one to suffer. Going into the great Twitter purge, users knew what would come of our follower counts when the big sweep took hold. Twitter was taking action to eliminate so-called “locked” accounts, accounts that were locked in the past for displaying spammy or bot-like activity.

Clearly, we weren’t ready to say goodbye to our fake friends. “Let the bots stay, let my almost eight thousand remain,” I cried out into the void as I watched my follower count dwindle down to its current standing of less than six thousand.

In a melodramatic flair, everyone began to share their tales of woe—who had lost what amount of followers? The main concern coming from how many our Twitter-obsessed president lost in total. His current standing? Only about 100,000 bots lost. Hmm.

Katy Perry also lost quite the number of followers, proving that not even writing hit songs will keep you safe. If this is the beginning of The Purge franchise in our real lives, those of us with lots of Twitter followers will, seemingly, suffer the most. According to Variety, other famous people like myself suffered greatly:

Follower counts for Justin Bieber fell 1.3%, Rihanna was down 0.6%, Ellen DeGeneres dropped 2.5%, Taylor Swift fell 2.7%, and Lady Gaga declined 1.9%. Barack Obama’s (@barackobama) total followers shrank by 2.1 million, or 2.1%, to 101.5 million.

We may never get our lost bots back. My treasured eight thousand is now much further than it was prior to this unwanted purge. At least Twitter is doing something about bot accounts that don’t do any harm rather than handling their crisis with Neo-Nazis! It’s great to see they have their priorities straight.

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Employees, GitHub Coders Pressure Microsoft to End Their Contract with ICE

microsoft

Hundreds of employees from both Microsoft and the recently acquired GitHub have threatened to leave the company unless they sever their contract with ICE. The tech giant currently has a $19.4 million dollar contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, and ICE’s family separation policy has clearly had an impact on the employees. In a letter sent to Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, employees said:

“We believe that Microsoft must take an ethical stand, and put children and families above profits. We request that Microsoft cancel its contracts with ICE, and with other clients who directly enable ICE. As the people who build the technologies that Microsoft profits from, we refuse to be complicit. We are part of a growing movement, comprised of many across the industry who recognize the grave responsibility that those creating powerful technology have to ensure what they build is used for good, and not for harm.”

Microsoft isn’t the only tech company whose employees are speaking out against government contracts. Recently, Google decided not to renew their Project Maven contract with the Department of Defense in response to the outcry from their employees.

The Microsoft employees are joined by coders at GitHub, which was acquired by Microsoft earlier this month for $7.5 billion dollars. In response to the ICE contract, GitHub workers released a statement of their own, saying:

“As members of the open source community and free software movement who embrace values of freedom, liberty, openness, sharing, mutual aid, and general human kindness, we are horrified by and strongly object to the Trump administration’s policies of detainment, denaturalization, deportation, and family separation as carried out by ICE.”

“We call on Microsoft to end its relationship with ICE and any federal agencies engaged in enforcing the cruel policies of this administration, which is destroying families and jailing asylum seekers, undocumented long-term residents, and even naturalized citizens under threat of deportation. Or, we will simply take our projects elsewhere.”

Nadella and Microsoft have responded to the statements, saying that their contract with ICE has nothing to do with forcibly separating children from their families. In a company-wide email, Nadella wrote “I want to be clear. Microsoft is not working with the U.S. government on any projects related to separating children from their families at the border.” However, earlier this year the company was touting AI and facial recognition software as part of their work with the government.

The GitHub campaign was started by web developer and activist Daniel Sieradski, who summed up his feelings by saying, “Any entity that is complicit in facilitating these injustices should be named, shamed, and boycotted until they get on the right side of history.” We wish the employees at both companies the best of luck with their efforts and hope that the corporations servicing these atrocious policies condemn them. Complicity is not a good look on anyone, and we all know how history looks back on those who were just following orders.

(via Gizmodo, image: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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Koko, the Gorilla Who Learned Sign Language, Passes Away at 46

koko

If you were a kid in the ’90s, you wanted to do three things: go to Space Camp, complete the Temple Run on Legends of the Hidden Temple, and meet Koko, the sign language gorilla. Sadly, the world-famous gorilla has passed away at the age of 46, at her home at The Gorilla Foundation in the Santa Cruz mountains. The Gorilla Foundation released a statement saying, “Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world. She was beloved and will be deeply missed.”

Koko was born on the Fourth of July in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo, where she was named Hanabi-ko (Japanese for “fireworks child”). The western lowland gorilla was selected as an infant by animal psychologist Dr. Francine “Penny” Patterson, who developed a language research project designed to teach a modified form of American Sign Language, known as “Gorilla Sign Language” or GSL. Koko was able to master more than 1,000 signs in GSL, and reportedly understood up to 2,000 English verbal words. She quickly became world famous for her remarkable intelligence and empathy for others.

In addition to GSL, Koko showed extraordinary intelligence and aptitude, learning to play the recorder and operate a camera. Her self portrait made the cover of the National Geographic in 1978. Did Koko invent the selfie? Sure looks like it.

Koko was widely recognized in pop culture after meeting several celebrities, such as Mister Rogers, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea, and Robin Williams. When Williams died in 2014, Koko’s handlers said she expressed sadness at the news.

Koko was also famous for her love of kittens, and for expressing grief when her kitten Ball died. The beloved gorilla inspired generations of children and adults with her compassion and playful nature, reminding us that we are not so different from our fellow mammals. Rest in Peace, Koko.

(via NPR, image: PBS)

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Professor Alice Roberts Designs the “Perfect” Human Body and It’s Here to Haunt Your Nightmares

The quest for perfection has plagued mankind since the dawn of time. We’ve poured countless hours, resources, and money into anything and everything to improve ourselves, be it physically, emotionally, mentally, etc. There seem to be no limits to the Faustian bargains we seek to be the very best version of ourselves. Anatomist Alice Roberts delves into the problems with perfection in her new BBC Four special, Can Science Make Me Perfect?.

In the special, Roberts enlists the help of virtual sculptor Scott Eaton and SFX model maker Sangeet Prabhaker to design a “perfect” version of herself with evolutionary upgrades and improvements. She debuted the finished model in a presentation at the London Science Museum and the results were…something. The audience giggles as Roberts walks them through the “improvements” made to Alice 2.0, which include a chimp’s sturdy lower back to support the transition to walking upright as well as the shock-absorbing legs of an emu.

Included are tiny thigh pumps to improve circulation, a dog’s heart, and the lungs of a swan. Swans, like most birds, have ultra-efficient respiratory systems, which are necessary to be able to fly. Birds can breathe up to ten times faster than mammals, thanks to a one-way breathing system that rapidly intakes and expels enough oxygen to power the bird’s muscles (unlike mammals, whose lungs have a “dead end” where air must flow in and out on the same pathway).

In addition, Alice 2.0’s neck features a choke-proof windpipe, and her sensory capabilities are enhanced by large ears and enlarged, light-sensitive eyes. Oh, and to avoid painful childbirth/baby Bjorns, Alice 2.0 can now carry her baby in a marsupial-style pouch. The model comes complete with an iPhone, because of course it does. Part manimal, part Na’Vi, part Quatto, Alice 2.0 is truly a wonder…or a nightmare, depending on your perspective.

(via The A.V. Club, image: BBC Four)

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It’s Raining Seafood in China and Other Headlines I Never Thought I’d Write

Citizens of the Chinese coastal city Qingdao experienced a bizarre natural phenomenon this week, when a storm rained down octopi, shrimp, starfish and more aquatic sea life. The fishy weather was due to a tornadic waterspout, otherwise known as a tornado that occurs over a body of water. The high speed winds act as a vacuum, sucking up sea life, which ends up raining back down when the weather disperses. This phenomenon was depicted in the nature documentary series Sharknado, which captured raw real life footage of sharks decimating the city of Manhattan. #NeverForget.

sharknado

Folks in Qingdao took photos of the storm of ceviche that hit the city, and the images are pretty bonkers.

Imagine driving down the street when, out of nowhere, an octopus lands on your windshield. Try explaining that to GEICO.

As wild as this shellfish storm may seem, it is not an isolated phenomenon. Last year, several fish fell from the sky in Tampico, Mexico during a rainstorm. And the phenomenon of raining frogs dates back to 1st Century AD, when the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder documented a rain of fish and frogs.

This meteorological occurrence also pops up in the Old Testament. In the Book of Exodus, a plague of frogs is the second plague visited upon Egypt after the Pharoah denies Moses’s request for liberation. More recently, a rain of frogs occured in the town of Odzaci, Serbia in 2005. And if you’re looking for nightmare fuel, in 2014 a 1,000-foot-tall funnel of insects (probably locusts) appeared in Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal in what was termed a “bugnado“. BRB, never leaving the house again.

(via Newsweek, image: FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images)

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