You are currently browsing the archive for the Science! category.

The word ‘robot’ may have first been coined in a 1921 Czechoslovakian play, but robot history’s been dominated by a battle between the U.S. and Japan for robo-supremacy.

The first humanoid robots (and humanoid’s the only ones that count here – no automata or remote-control bunk) were built within two years of each other – Herbert Televox in 1927 by Westinghouse Electric Company, and Gakutensoku by biologist Makoto Nishimura in 1929.

Herbert Televox (it’s adorable they gave it such a square first name) operated by sound and could buzz, wave its arms around, and accept phone calls, but not answer them until given a two-sentence speech function several years later. Televox was wildly popular and toured all over the country, leading Westinghouse to create other robots, one of which would end up at the World’s Fair (more on that in a moment).

Here’s Herbert’s earliest iteration before speech was added:
early televox

…and a later version playing bridge with the girls at the club:
televox bridge

(both pictures came from here, along with lots of other amazing promo articles and photos of America’s first Robo Pal.)



Gakutensoku, whose name means ‘learning from the laws of nature’, was closer to an automaton in that it wasn’t mobile and operated from a square base hiding function. Gakutensoku had arm and facial mobility, and came with a lamp named Reikant? (‘inspiration light) by which Gakutensoku wrote using an arrow symbolic of human potential, and robot bird Kokuky?ch? (‘bird informing dawn’) who perched on his shoulder and cried, because Japan kicks America’s ass in expressing poetic philosophy via physical objects.

It toured extensively as well, but was lost while touring Germany in the 1930s, a sentence fragment I take to mean ‘was stolen for diabolical use by the Third Reich’ (you’re welcome, alternative historians).

Gakutensoku was rebuilt and installed permanently at the Osaka Science Museum in 2008:

The background New-Age music isn’t just part of this video – also heard in several home movies, that’s apparently Gakutensoku’s ‘thinking music’ when he composes light verse.

Not to be outdone, Westinghouse created a series of robots with better technology and goofier names – Mr. Telelux, a light-sensitive robot in 1931, Katrina Von Televox, Mechanical Wonder Maiden, Rastus Robot and Willie, Jr. (not quite as racist as you’d expect, though Willie’s only functionality was ‘blowing things up at a distance using light triggers’ which…why would you even need a robot for that?), and their most successful public ambassador Elektro the Moto-Man, built in 1937 and displayed at the 1939 World’s Fair.

While we can’t beat Japan at thoughtful meditation, we can definitely out-cool the world (it’s why France hates/loves us)! That’s right, America debuted the world’s first smoking robot:

As Elektro’s ‘voice’ seems to come from prerecorded transcriptions, there is NO REASON it needs to talk like that save it’s being a total stereotype, fulfilling people’s expectations of what a robot should sound like.

Even in death our countries compete – Japan claims the world’s first death by robot in 1981, when Kenji Urada was pushed into a grinding machine by the hydraulic arm of an incorrectly shut-down robot at Kawasaki Heavy Industries plant. However, American Robert Williams was killed two years earlier in 1979 at Ford Motor Co. Plant when the arm of a one-ton factory robot hit him in the head. We may win historically here, but Japan wins on style – that is some serious Maximum Overdrive-style revenge shit right there.

Tags: , , , , ,

If the last names above ring a bell, it’s because mother-daughter team Katharine and Isabel together created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, one of the most widely used personality assessment tools today. And yet, on Wikipedia neither the Indicator’s nor Isabel Briggs Myers’ page has a full history of their work. Neither page even has a picture of the women (the Indicator’s shows a picture of Jung, whose writing on dichotomies inspired the test).


The test was initially developed by Katharine and honed over the years by her and daughter Isabel, the Indicator’s first guinea-pig. It was further developed by Isabel as women began entering the workforce during World War II. Using Jung’s concepts she thought to help these women, many who never held a paying job outside the house, find work suitable for their skills and temperaments. She also thought insight into how individuals process the world around them might lead to better understanding between people and nations, perhaps eliminating the need for war altogether.

It seems ironic a test developed by women to assist women is represented by a man on one of the world’s most-trafficked sites. Of course, there are plenty who would rush to say the MBTI (as the Indicator is most widely known) is not some altruistic feminist artifact, but a multimillion-dollar juggernaut beloved by human resource and lacking in accuracy and usefulness. The negative case can certainly be made, and in fact Isabel further refined the test on assistant Katherine Dowes when the young lady was set to marry into the family (Isabel thought clarifying the couple’s personality traits would help them in marriage). Matchmaking isn’t anti-feminist, but does reinforce the stereotype that girls can do science too- in GIRL areas (see: engineering or mechanical work for ladies limited to kitchen instruments/sewing machines/baby stuff).

A thoughtful article on the test’s inventors and the test itself, especially as it’s used in the business world, can be found here. My favorite excerpt: “Corporate America has its own religions, and one of them is Myers-Briggs.”

Tags: , ,

In a completely un-asteroid-related event, the Ural area of Russia was hit this morning by several chunks of meteorite. Videos can be seen all over the place at LiveLeaks (where you won’t suffer stupid advertisements from news outlets):

This definitely had nothing to do with the asteroid event; the streaks came from the opposite direction the asteroid’s coming from, and these events happened earlier this morning, while the asteroid’s due to pass nearest earth around 2 PM this afternoon.

You might, after watching the 6th video, wonder why so many Russians had car-cams ready to go to capture the event. The short answer is: the majority of Russians always have car-cams ready to go, for the same reason a number of US States require insurance – it’s necessary before even getting behind the wheel as a preventative measure. Russia’s had such a problem with accident fraud that the majority of drivers now just record their entire daily drives to have objective proof of events that happened.

Tags: , , ,



This has been a positively bizarre week for news. The pope retires (and hopefully has a better go of it than past Popes), a straight up body was found in the home of an Olympic athlete with murder looking likely, and of course, today is the day we celebrate the beheading of a note-passing monk, Valentine’s Day. So it’s understandable major media outlets are too busy to hype up something like a chunk of rock from space hurtling closer to Earth than any ever detected.

Yes, tomorrow asteroid 2012 DA14 whizzes by a mere 17,100 miles from Earth’s surface. For reference, the Moon orbits 238,900 miles away. Despite the thing being ‘half a football field’ large, it can’t be seen with the naked eye, and certainly not from where I’m sitting. Its closest fly-by point will be Sumatra, and it will be visible via telescope  from Asia, South America, and parts of Europe. Man, they get to see the asteroid and all the good eclipses. Also, it’s just adorable NASA trying to make things relevant by referencing sports:



This means absolutely nothing to me. For all I know this is a Foosball field and the asteroid’s the size of a baked potato. Of greater pertinence, it’s the same size as the alleged ‘object’ causing the Tunguska Event (supposedly a meteor or comet fragment, but come on- it was aliens). If despite numerous assurances you don’t believe this will be the nearest miss we’ve had, the Tunguska link has all sorts of first-person accounts of the impact and its destruction, to better prepare yourselves…or more likely not. Happy Near-Miss Friday!


Tags: , , ,

It wasn’t until after I hobbled into the office I realized with certainty I would not be able to do my job that day. By the time the subway dragged me home, each jostle a torment, the flu had blossomed in full force. To avoid my stupidity, in this case ignoring obvious symptoms like aches and complete lack of appetite, always err on the side of caution. At worst you’ll have a day off. At best you’ll avoid a personal recreation of ‘Jacob’s Ladder’.  For further elucidation, do enjoy these helpful videos on how to avoid all sorts of germs.

Para Español…’What Is Disease – Unseen Enemy’

It seems bizarre ANYTHING Disney escaped into public domain, but this movie, created as part of a larger goodwill project between the American and various South American governments, most likely lost copyright when the government group responsible for creating it dissolved. I’m not quite sure how that susses out fully, and am too tired to do the research.

‘Joan Avoids A Cold’ (1947)

Don’t be like Joan’s brother Jim or his thoughtless friend George, or you’ll miss the Kermesse! This movie also serves as subtle Dutch propaganda – “The Dutch people keep CLEAN!” Not like those OTHER European groups.

Goodbye, Mr. Germ (Reel 1 of 2)

Goodbye, Mr. Germ (Reel 2 of 2)

This one features a Joycean mad scientist, Fleisher Bros.-style animation, and a TB germ sounding like Boris Ravenscroft. I was surprised to find the animation wasn’t Fleisher’s, but a smaller company out of Philadelphia called De Frenes. Interestingly, the company’s tied to the UFO community through a request for an animated short on the subject matter (and that is the sanest link I could find, though if you’re into animated UFO gifs, go nuts in GoogleSearch).




Tags: , , , , ,

« Older entries