Is history doomed to repeat itself? Or rather, is there really any doubt that it isn’t, considering recent events that made the news? I am of course talking about New Jersey’s call for COBOL programmers to fix their ancient unemployment system, collapsing under the application spikes caused by the COVID-19 lockdown. Soon after, other states joined in, and it becomes painfully apparent that we have learned absolutely nothing from Y2K: we still rely on the same old antiques running our infrastructure, and we still think people want to voluntarily write COBOL.
Or maybe they do? Following the calls for aid, things went strangely intense. IBM announced to offer free COBOL trainings and launched a forum where programmers can plug their skills and availability. The Open Mainframe Project’s COBOL programming course suddenly tops the list of trending GitHub projects, and Google Trends shows a massive peak for COBOL as well. COBOL is seemingly on its way to be one of the hottest languages of 2020, and it feels like it’s only a matter of time until we see some MicroCOBOL running on a Teensy.
However, the unemployment systems in question are unfortunately only a tiny selection of systems relying on decades old software, written in a language that went out of fashion a long time ago, which makes it difficult to find programmers in today’s times. Why is that?
Continue reading “COBOL Isn’t The Issue: A Misinterpreted Crisis”
Unless you happen to be from Finland, this is just an all too familiar situation: you’re stuck in an inescapable situation with this one person who is really more of an acquaintance than a friend, and neither of you knows who should say something in hopes of keeping a conversation going. Awkward silence is inevitable, and the longer it lasts, the more excruciating the thought of opening your mouth becomes. Well, consider those days over, thanks to [Jasper Choi] and his friends, who blessed us with the System for Awkward Silence Solution and Interaction Enhancer, or SASSIE.
Built as a laser-cut rotating cylinder, and equipped with a pair of microphones, SASSIE detects and counts the duration of any ongoing silence in the room. Once a pre-defined time limit is reached, it rotates itself to a random direction, symbolically pointing a finger to one of the people present in the room to indicate its their turn to speak now. To break the silence right off the bat, the finger pointing is accompanied by some pre-recorded messages. Unfortunately the audio files exceeded the storage of the Arduino Uno used here, so the responsibilities had to be divided between two Arduinos, arranged with the help of some simple serial communication.
While this is obviously a tongue-in-cheek project, it might just be a welcoming relieve for people with social anxiety, and there is definitely potential to take the idea further. Maybe with some inspiration from this happy robot fellow, a future version might ease the conversation even further by suggesting a topic along the way.
Continue reading “Eavesdropping Assistant Disturbs The Sound Of Silence”
There are so many important design decisions behind a robot: battery, means of locomotion, and position sensing, to name a few. But at a library in Helsinki, one of the most surprising design features for a librarian’s assistant robot was googly eyes. A company called Futurice built a robot for the Oodi library and found that googly eyes were a very important component.
The eyes are not to help the robot see, because of course they aren’t functional — at least not in that way. However without the eyes, robot designers found that people had trouble relating to the service robot. In addition, the robot needed emotions that it could show using the eyes and various sounds along with motion. This was inspired, apparently, by Disney’s rules for animation. In particular, the eyes would fit the rule of “exaggeration.” The robot could look bored when it had no task, excited when it was helping people, and unhappy when people were not being cooperative.
Continue reading “Your Next Robot Needs Googly Eyes, And Other Lessons From Disney”