The Machine that Japed: Microsoft’s Humor-Emulating AI

Ten years ago, highbrow culture magazine The New Yorker started a contest. Each week, a cartoon with no caption is published in the back of the magazine. Readers are encouraged to submit an apt and hilarious caption that captures the magazine’s infamous wit. Editors select the top three entries to vie for reader votes and the prestige of having captioned a New Yorker cartoon.

The magazine receives about 5,000 submissions each week, which are scrutinized by cartoon editor [Bob Mankoff] and a parade of assistants that burn out after a year or two. But soon, [Mankoff]’s assistants may have their own assistant thanks to Microsoft researcher [Dafna Shahaf].

[Dafna Shahaf] heard [Mankoff] give a speech about the New Yorker cartoon archive a year or so ago, and it got her thinking about the possibilities of the vast collection with regard to artificial intelligence. The intricate nuances of humor and wordplay have long presented a special challenge to creators. [Shahaf] wondered, could computers begin to learn what makes a caption funny, given a big enough canon?

[Shahaf] threw ninety years worth of wry, one-panel humor at the system. Given this knowledge base, she trained it to choose funny captions for cartoons based on the jokes of similar cartoons. But in order to help [Mankoff] and his assistants choose among the entries, the AI must be able to rank the comedic value of jokes. And since computer vision software is made to decipher photos and not drawings, [Shahaf] and her team faced another task: assigning keywords to each cartoon. The team described each one in terms of its contextual anchors and subsequently its situational anomalies. For example, in the image above, the context keywords could be car dealership, car, customer, and salesman. Anomalies might include claws, fangs, and zoomorphic automobile.

The result is about the best that could be hoped for, if one was being realistic. All of the cartoon editors’ chosen winners showed up among the AI’s top 55.8%, which means the AI could ultimately help [Mankoff and Co.] weed out just under half of the truly bad entries. While [Mankoff] sees the study’s results as a positive thing, he’ll continue to hire assistants for the foreseeable future.

Humor-enabled AI may still be in its infancy, but the implications of the advancement are already great. To give personal assistants like Siri and Cortana a funny bone is to make them that much more human. But is that necessarily a good thing?

[via /.]

It Sucks to Pick Up the Pieces

Jigsaw puzzles are a fun and interactive way to spend an afternoon or twelve, depending on the piece count and your skill level. It’s exciting to find the pieces you need to complete a section or link two areas together, but if you have poor dexterity, excitement can turn to frustration when you move to pick them up. [thomasgruwez] had the disabled and otherwise fumble-fingered in mind when he created this pick and place jigsaw puzzle aid, which uses suction to pick up and transport puzzle pieces.

The suction comes from an aquarium pump running in reverse, a hack we’ve seen often which [thomasgruwez] explains in a separate Instructable. A large, inviting push button is wired in line to turn the pump on and off. An equally large and inviting momentary switch turns off the vacuum temporarily so the piece can be placed.

At the business end of this hack is the tiny suction-cupped tip from a cheap vacuum pen. To interface the pen head with the pump, [thomasgruwez] designed and printed a rigid straw to bridge the gap. With utility already in mind, [thomasgruwez] also designed a ring that can be bolted to the straw to house a steadying finger of your choice, like the pinkie hook on a pair of barbers’ shears.

Our favorite part of this hack has to be the optional accessory—a tiny platform for quickly flipping pieces without cutting the vacuum. Check it out after the break.

Continue reading “It Sucks to Pick Up the Pieces”

Generate Graph Paper — Complete with Jolly Wrencher

There’s a lot of talk about CAD software these days, and don’t get us wrong, they’re an essential tool of the trade. But for roughing out an idea, nothing tops paper and a pencil. Even the back of a cocktail napkin will do.

If you’re like us, at some point you may have had an engineering teacher force you to sketch your ideas out on paper, rather than in software. Or maybe you went to a university that required engineering students take a drawing/drafting class, where the first few weeks, you’re only allowed to use paper and pencil.

It may seem silly that in today’s age that one would choose to sketch an idea out by hand, but one simple drawing can communicate an idea quickly and easily – and that’s key. After all, the biggest part of engineering is communication.

If you’re a bit older you may remember a staple in every engineering office was the green graph paper – some people called it an “Engineer’s Notepad.” It’s basically perfect for jotting down an idea. Thick lined graph paper on the back of each page that lets the lines be visible on the front, without being distracting. It’s becoming harder and harder to find at your local office supply place, but if you search for “Ampad Engineering Pad” you’ll still find it. (There is also a “National” brand that this writer prefers.)

If you’re in a pinch, or don’t want to pay for a full pad, we found a wonderful alternative. This online graph paper generator will allow you to make your own graph paper, and even customize it to suit your needs. With things like multi-weight lines, and polar graphs and much more. The result is a PDF file you can download and keep for the future. Or if you’re a bit crafty, you can add your own logo in an vector-type editing  program such as Inkscape for free.

Still need some pointers on how to using this for project planning? [Steve] sets the standard for graph-paper project planning.

Shirt Printing With Freezer Paper

There’s a pretty good chance that you’ve wanted to add a graphic or design to a t-shirt some time in your life. There are certainly ways to do it but most of us don’t have silk screening equipment or a steady enough hand to have the end product look cool. Lucky for us, [UrbanThreads] has put together a stenciling tutorial for personalizing garments. The process is easy and inexpensive. The results are good, although it can be time-consuming if the pattern is intricate.

To get started, a black and white graphic is printed on a sheet of paper. The design is then taped to a sheet of the secret ingredient: freezer paper. The two sheets are then placed on a table with the freezer paper up. Since the freezer paper is semi transparent, the printed out design shows through. It’s now time to use an exacto knife and trace the design while cutting through the freezer paper. The two sheets are then removed from each other and the freezer paper is put wax-side-down on the garment and ironed into place. The wax melts and acts as a temporary adhesive to hold the stencil down. At this point, fabric paint can be sprayed or dabbed on with a brush (avoid brushing back and forth as it may lift the stencil). Once the paint is applied, the stencil is removed and the paint is allowed to dry. According to [UrbanThreads] the freezer paper doesn’t leave any wax or residue on the garment.

For more garment modding, check out t-shirt bleaching or get ambitious with this DIY screen printing setup.

Using The Sun To Beat The Heat

It’s practically May, and that means the sweltering heat of summer is nearly upon us. Soon you’ll be sitting outside somewhere, perhaps by a lake, or fishing from a canoe, or atop a blanket spread out on the grass at a music festival, all the while wishing you had built yourself a solar-powered personal air conditioner.

[Nords] created his from a large insulated beverage vessel. The imbibing spout offers a pre-made path to the depths of said vessel and the heart of this build, the ice water refrigerant. [Nords] fashioned a coil out of copper tubing to use as a heat exchanger and strapped it to the fan that performed best in a noise-benefit analysis.

A small USB-powered submersible pump moves the ice water up through the copper tubing. Both the pump and the fan run off of a 5V solar panel and are connected with a USB Y cable, eliminating the need for soldering. Even if you spend the summer inside, you could still find yourself uncomfortably warm. Provided you have access to ice, you could make this really cool desktop air conditioner.

[via Embedded Lab]

Crosswalk Pong Auf Deutschland

What is there to do in America while you’re waiting to cross the street at an intersection? Nothing; listen to that impatient clicking sound, and if you live in a busy city, pray you don’t get plowed into. In Germany however, pedestrians will now get to play Pong with the person on the other side.That’s right, as a means to encourage people to just hang in there and wait out the cycle instead of darting across against the light, design students [Sandro Engel] and [Holger Michel] came up with an entertaining incentive involving a potential conversation sparking duel with your impromptu counterpart across the street.

The first of these interactive cross-walk indicators was installed recently in Hildesheim, Germany, two years after the duo first designed them back in 2012. There was a little friction about installing the touch screen equipped modules initially, but after a proper redesign for functionality taking traffic science into account, the city authorities caved and allowed them to test the wings of their progressive idea on one city intersection so far. The mindset behind the invention of these indicators is part of a larger movement to make public spaces safer through means of fun and entertainment. Instead of threatening to punish those partaking in unsafe activity with fines, the notion is to positively enforce following rules by adding a level of play. While pedestrians have the right to walk, the screen shows how much time is left to make their away across, and for the duration that traffic is rolling through, the score will be kept for an individual game of pong for those on either side of the light.

Since the idea is generating some interest, the group of developers involved with the project have moved to promote their work (now branded as Actiwait) with an Indiegogo campaign. They hope to turn their invention into a full fledged product that will potentially be seen all over the world. Admittedly, it’d be charming to see this sort of technology transform our urban or residential environments with a touch of something that promotes friendly social interaction. Hopefully my faith in our worthiness to have nice things is warranted and we start seeing these here in America too. Nice work!

Check out this encounter with the street indicator here. The guy introducing the invention loses to the girl on the other side, but they share a high-five as they pass in the street:

Continue reading “Crosswalk Pong Auf Deutschland”

Triple Sensor Mailbox Alert Really Delivers

Messing with the U.S. Mail is not something we generally recommend. But if you build your own mailbox like [Bob] did, you stand a much better chance of doing what you want without throwing up any flags.

Speaking of throwing up flags, one of the coolest parts of this project is the toy mailbox inside the house that monitors the activity of the real box. When there is mail waiting, the flag on the toy mailbox goes up. Once [Bob] retrieves the mail, the flag goes back down automatically. A magnet in the real box’s flag prevents false alarms on the toy box provided the Flag Raised On Outgoing protocol is followed. Best of all, he built in some distress handling: If the mailbox door is left hanging open or the battery is low, the toy mailbox waves its flag up and down.

So, where do the three sensors come in? A magnetic reed switch on the wall of the real mailbox pairs with a magnet in the flag. To determine whether the door is open, [Bob] initially used another magnetic reed switch on the underside of the box. This didn’t work well in wet weather, so he switched to a mechanical tilt sensor. An IR LED on the ceiling and a phototransistor on the floor of the box work together to detect the presence of mail.

[Bob]’s homebrew mailbox has a false back that hides a PIC 16F1825. When the door opens, the PIC wakes up, turns on a MOSFET, and checks the battery level. It waits two minutes for the mailman to do his job and then reads the flag state. After comparing the IR LED and phototransistor’s states, it sends a message to the toy mailbox indicating the presence or absence of mail.

The toy mailbox holds a modified receiver board and a servo to control its flag. [Bob] has made the code and schematics available on his site. Walk-through video is after the jump.

Continue reading “Triple Sensor Mailbox Alert Really Delivers”