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Hello, human. Are you dying? Let’s try and fix that. Stan Horaczek

When it comes to robots in our home, there are a few well-worn tropes to which we’ve grown accustomed. There’s the friendly Rosie the Robot butler that brings us our futuristic food and slippers. Then there’s the fatalistic, sci-fi view in which any humanoid robot is just a step towards a Terminator- or Matrix-style dystopia in which humans are reduced to a nuisance or a power supply, respectively. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, however, there was an assortment of robots designed to monitor a person’s health and intervene if something goes wrong. And those helpful little bots may be the last thing you see before the squishy, inefficient, meat-based machine we call a body gives up the ghost.

The Bot Care interface let’s caretakers monitor a patient’s vitals from afar. Stan Horaczek

The most high-profile health helper bot at the show was Samsung’s Bot Care. Revealed during Samsung’s massive press conference, the hip-high robot is part of Samsung’s new robotics platform; others include an automated pal designed to help people in retail shopping environments, and another designed to filter pollution from the air in your home.

From the outside, Bot Care looks a lot like the robots we’ve come to expect at CES. It has a decidedly Pixar vibe with friendly eyes plastered across a digital display that doubles as its face. It’s adorable, which makes sense for a device that’s meant to act as a companion for a human.

Bot Care robots don’t have arms so they can’t carry you to safety, but they can monitor your health and call for help if needed. Stan Horaczek

The demo also included the robot’s ability to take heart rate and blood pressure measurements. This is where platforms like this start to tie into the burgeoning number of medical-grade health devices also on display at this year’s CES trade show.

The Omron HeartGuard helps provide regular blood pressure readings for more consistent monitoring of vitals. Stan Horaczek

The $500 Omron HeartGuide blood pressure watch, for instance, uses an inflating device to allow instant blood pressure monitoring, the results of which can transfer to Apple’s HealthKit (with Google and other platform support coming down the line). The latest Apple Watch also famously added an ECG functionality that can monitor for irregular heartbeats and detect when the wearer falls down and may be hurt. The information that these devices collect is somewhat scattered at the moment, but the summation of that data could eventually inform AI meant to help companion robots be friendlier, more helpful, and even better at telling when we might die.

Samsung’s Bot Care platform, for instance, has a compatible fall detector that a patient can wear on their clothes. If it detects a fall, the Bot Care robot can move to the person’s location and try to figure out whether or not to contact an emergency contact or even a doctor or paramedics.

Because Bot Care came out of Samsung’s AI division, it’s meant to interact with patients via regular conversations, which could have health benefits in and of itself. Researchers at University of Southern California have been using a humanoid robot to interact with patients at Los Angeles County + USC Medical Center and the Alzheimer’s care section of Silverado Senior Living center. The research claims the robotic interactions can help motivate patients to participate in healthier behaviors like exercise that they otherwise wouldn’t.

These caretaker robots aren’t a totally new concept across the board. Some have been around for more than a decade. A robot called Dinsow has been in the works since roughly 2009 and has reportedly made its way into some elder care facilities in Japan. The $2,500 bot handles familiar tasks like handing out medication reminders and keeping track of patents’ positions so it can notice if someone hasn’t moved over an extended period of time.

This health aid is stuck inside of a stationary screen, for now. Stan Horaczek

Another virtual health aid called Addison comes from Texas-based health monitoring company SameDay Security. The virtual nurse exists on a screen in the home rather than on a roving robot, but it handles many of the same functions and adds a decidedly human avatar with which patients and interact. The system is impressively conversational and friendly. It’s easy to see how a more human appearance and personality could pair with a robotic body.

While it will still be quite some time before this becomes a standard method of elder care, you can see the technologies in the AI field converging into something that could work in this capacity. After all, machine learning is getting better at learning about your current physical and emotional state by simply reading your facial expressions. One of the key things missing from that equation is context about the rest of the person’s habits and traits, something a live-in robot could collect along the way.

As more wearable devices collect health information, we’re bound to see more devices like this that can leverage it. Right now, a bot is likely to call for help, but it’s not hard to imagine a future in which it could perform some potentially life-saving tasks. Or, all this will make the robot takeover that much simpler.

Or, maybe all future healthcare workers will be replaced by this robotic nurse with a bear’s face.

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The Next Novel You Read May Be In Facebook Messenger

We aren’t exactly a nation of readers. On a typical day, just 15 percent of men and 22 percent of women read for pleasure. In the last year, one in four Americans haven’t read a single book in any format—paperback, audiobook, or otherwise.

But social media and smartphone app companies think they may have the solution to our reading aversion. From Silicon Valley heavyweights to bookworm-run startups, efforts to bring fiction to our smartphones are proliferating. While reading a book in Facebook Messenger or “chat fiction” on Snapchat might seem strange, silly, or tedious, each new initiative is pushing up against the boundaries of the book cover.

Last year, James Patterson, one of the most commercially-successful authors of all time (Forbes pegged his 2023 income at $95 million), and his team approached Facebook about adapting one of his forthcoming novel to its messaging app. So the author, who believes Americans need “a shared literature,” offered Messenger its choice of two soon-to-debut books. The company selected a narrative about a New Orleans-based detective, who runs a well-known food truck with his ex-wife. After a few months of harried development, The Chef rolled out Tuesday morning on Messenger. You can find it now by searching “The Chef by James Patterson” in the app.

Without a standalone book portal in the Messenger app (a designer says they’re working on that now), every piece of the Patterson novel had to be created within the app’s pre-existing design parameters. Books usually require page-turning, but the Messenger novel unfurls itself to readers each time they press a knife emoji. The text comes through in a typical message bubble, or several at once. Each passage fills a single page on your smartphone—and not a centimeter more—so you don’t have to scroll.

Maps, Instagram posts, and more are embedded in The Chef by James Patterson on Messenger. Courtesy of Messenger

A more established reading app might offer some insight into what’s to come for Facebook. Launched in 2023, Hooked forgoes adaptation in favor of commissioning its own made-for-social stories. These original works are part of a digital genre the company calls “chat fiction”—stories written in the form of text messages, which appear sequentially on-screen.

Husband-and-wife startup duo Parag Chordia and Prerna Gupta went through all kinds of iterations before the launch. The couple originally had high hopes for image-driven media, inspired by comic books, and excerpts of bestselling novels. But completion rates among their target audience of 13- to 24-year-olds was low: Gupta says just 35 percent of readers finished the excerpts. Chat fiction, however, thrived. The 1,000-word story arcs, which involve two or more characters updating each other on plot development in text messages, boasted completion rates in the 80th and 90th percentile.

This week, Hooked released its longest piece of chat fiction yet, on a dedicated Snapchat channel. The 30,000-word-long story, Dark Matter, appeared in “episodes” (more conventionally known as “chapters”) of 5,000 to 8,000 words. Like all Hooked stories, the tale leans heavily on cliffhangers to keep readers “hooked” from message to message. There’s a liberal use of ellipses, and a tension-building mystery. “When you’re on mobile, you are in a constant battle for attention,” Gupta says. “Users need to feel that there’s some payoff in one episode,” or they won’t come back for more.

Chat fiction in action. Courtesy of Hooked

A “Snapchat-based book” sounds like a postmodern word salad, but Hooked’s serialization strategy has actually worked for centuries. In the Victorian era, most authors published their stories in bits and pieces in newspapers, with one novella doled out over weeks or months. The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens, * The Count of Monte Cristo* by Alexandre Dumas, and the character Sherlock Holmes all first appeared in periodical form.

But something else is at work, too. Publishing has never not been in a state of disruption. From monks in scriptoria painting words into books no one could read to the dawn of the printing press to the era of ebooks, how we read is always changing. The only thing that’s remained consistent is that the words themselves matter most.

Selling someone who loves the crack of a fresh hardcover spine, on a Facebook Messenger-based novel is a challenge. So is convincing a Snapchat-loving teenager to read a musty library book. But goading someone who loves literary fiction into reading a James Patterson novel—whether it’s a paperback, ebook, or Messenger bubble—is even harder. The medium and the message feel increasingly indistinguishable, but the message still matters more.

Ultimately, Messenger’s The Chef and Hooked’s Dark Matter aren’t for everyone, and they don’t claim to be. From Patterson to Gupta, the stated goal has always been to get more Americans reading in whatever form they prefer. It’s OK to support a proliferation of reading platforms, and still stick to your paperbacks.

Know Your Client Before You Sign The Contract

Businesses that are looking for a vendor often spend a lot of time and energy researching and meeting with various different companies to make sure they make a selection that meets their needs. Too often the vendor isn’t doing the same thing and end up with a lot of ugly surprises. This can be avoided by doing a simple needs analysis.

What you want to put in your needs analysis is up to you, but here are the things I like to inquire about:

Do you have a web site?

A simple, but shockingly necessary question. A web site is a pretty important part of search marketing.

Do you currently use any web analytics solution?

Historic data about the site’s performance can make your life a lot easier when doing the initial legwork and research of the search contract. If they don’t currently have analytics, have them implement it ASAP so you’re not going in blind.

What type of server is your site hosted on? Linux vs. Windows

If you have a lot of server issues to address, like 301 redirects, you’ll definitely want to know what kind of server you’ll be working with.

Is your site built on a template or CMS platform?

Some templates and CMS setups can be extremely restricting and make it almost impossible to do even simple optimization tactics. This battle is a lot easier to fight if you know about it ahead of time, as opposed to digging in and hitting this massive roadblock.

How many pages does your site have?

Some sites have 10 pages. Some sites have 100 pages. Some sites have 1000+ pages. Obviously, you’re going to need different strategies depending on the size of the site.

Has any optimization been done in the past?

If the answer is yes, the conversation usually ends up being about what was previously done, the tactics used and the success (or lack of) from the search campaign. Get as much data as you can about past optimization efforts to cut down on the amount of work, and possible hair-tearing, as possible.

Has a site audit ever been completed?

Sometimes sites will have third-party audits completed without actually implementing the suggestions. If this is the case, make sure you get that report.

Has any optimization been done for local search?

Another simple but often overlooked issue. While it’s not applicable to all sites, local search is becoming a bigger and bigger factor. If local search hasn’t been address for the site before, it needs to be a priority now.

What are the primary goals or calls-to-action of the site?

Even if you’re an agency who worries just about traffic and not conversions, you’ll still want to have a crystal clear picture of what users are going to be doing on the site in order to target the right user group.

What keywords are currently being targeted?

A few seed works can make your keyword research a lot easier. The company might not be focusing on the right keywords, but they have a good idea of what their products/services are about and offer a great starting point when searching for the best keyphrases to use.

What geographic area is being targeted?

Spelling, server location, top level domains are all issues that need to be addressed when targeting specific geographic regions. Also inquire as to any further geographic expansion the company might be undertaking – make sure your plan adopts their long term goals too.

Who are your main competitors online?

Once you know who their main competitors are, you can investigate to find out what methods those companies are using for their own web sites. Find keywords and backlinks by spending some time with these competitors.

The more knowledge you have of your potential client, the more success you’ll have and the more value you’ll be able to give to that client. No one wants to spend extra time and money researching things that could have been easily identified at the beginning of the contract process.

Know and understand what your limitations are and plan for it. A little bit of prep work can go a long way, and that makes everyone happy.

Lyndsay Walker is the Director of Online Marketing at Canada’s Web Shop, located in Winnipeg, Manitoba. She is responsible for the strategy and coordination of all online marketing tactics and internal marketing efforts. Her experience includes several years of working with internationally recognized brands and some of the most competitive industries such as Internet pharmacies, payday loans and travel. Also involved in web design and development for over ten years, she brings a technical background to compliment her marketing skills.

You Should Not Be Worried About Sephora Giving You Herpes

The internet is all agog over news of a Los Angeles lawsuit: according to court documents, an individual is suing the beauty store Sephora for strict liability, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress after allegedly catching oral herpes from a lipstick sample.

You can’t put “herpes” in a headline without people losing their damn minds, so we’re here to unpack this for you.

What’s the lawsuit actually about?

According to court documents filed October 26 in LA County, the plaintiff got a positive diagnosis for HSV-1—commonly known as oral herpes—in “exact alignment” with a 2023 visit to Sephora in which she tried on lipstick from the “common use” lipstick sampler. The “incurable lifelong affliction” is causing her severe emotional distress, so she’s suing for damages.

The suit argues that Sephora employees should explicitly tell customers not to directly apply makeup instead of using the readily available disposable applicators, because many users are “very young females and uneducated and unsophisticated females.” Which is kind of an offensive generalization to make about folks who wear makeup? But hey, that’s not science. So what do we know.

Note: We are in no way suggesting that the plaintiff in this case did or did not get herpes from a Sephora lipstick. We’re just here to tell you, a reader who is presumably now convinced they will get herpes from a lipstick, that you probably will not ever get herpes from a lipstick. But it’s totally possible!

Wait, can you get herpes from lipstick?

Herpes is a really, really cool virus. HSV creeps in through any break in the skin or stretch of mucus membrane and lives dormant in your nerve cells, rarely making itself known. More on that in a minute.

Herpes is primarily spread via skin-to-skin contact or saliva. People with HSV often aren’t contagious, but sometimes—especially if they’re presenting with symptoms like cold sores—they can experience “viral shedding,” which is just what it sounds like. Herpes can’t survive long outside of the body, but it’s technically possible that it could hold on just long enough to infect a new host if two people used the same lipstick in very quick succession, especially if the second user had open wounds on their lips. When a similar case came up against MAC in 2013, a physician told Cosmopolitan that it could happen.

But this is a rare enough form of transmission that Planned Parenthood, to name just one example, says you can’t catch herpes from sharing a drinking glass or food. Many other physicians and researchers say that this transmission may technically be possible, but is highly unlikely. One particularly fear mongering article from Teen Vogue that calls herpes “horrifying” cites a cosmetic dentist as its source. Please do not ask a dentist to treat your herpes.

On that note: Yeah, you probably have herpes. Like, really. You almost certainly have herpes.

“The fact that someone has never had cold sores means nothing,” Handsfield said. “You would have to do a blood test showing there were no HSV-1 antibodies at the time of the outbreak, and then show several weeks later that there were now antibodies. Without that, there’s no way to know it’s a new infection.”

And even if it is a new infection, he added, you have to factor in any oral sex or kissing (even friendly familial kissing) that occurred during the same time period.

“Any of that contact during the one to two weeks before the first onset of symptoms would be a more plausible source of infection than a lipstick,” he said. “I suppose if someone with oral herpes and an active infection had used it literally in the minute before this woman used it, I’d have to say sure, there’s some theoretical possibility, but it seems a stretch.”

The fact that herpes is so stigmatized and can lay dormant for so long can lead to these sorts of implausible connections, he explained. “They get an outbreak, or they suddenly transmit it to a partner after years together, which can happen and they don’t understand where it came from because the exposure was so long ago,” he said. Handsfield runs a website where he answers questions about sexually transmitted infections, and he still has folks ask him if their herpes could have come from a contaminated toilet seat. “My answer is always, well, what parts of your body actually touch the toilet? If people showed up with a ring of herpes sores around the upper butt, I’d say, sure, maybe. But I don’t think, in general, that penises or labia are ending up on toilet seats.”

“You don’t have to invoke these magical explanations,” he said. “But plenty of people do.”

Other physicians we reached out to expressed the same opinion: it’s very likely the plaintiff had the virus before using the lipstick, because most people have herpes, and most of those people don’t know they have herpes. Your first cold sore often comes months or years after you catch the virus, if you ever get a cold sore at all.

“We can say with confidence that while there’s a theoretical risk here, the reality is there is a very minimal likelihood of contracting herpes through lipstick,” a representative of the American Sexual Health Association told Popular Science. “The virus doesn’t live very long on surfaces and proving that someone contracted herpes this way would be difficult. Most adults in the U.S. have oral herpes and in most cases there’s no practical way to pin down when or just how it was contracted.” The herpes virus is very fragile, and there are currently no documented cases of someone definitely acquiring it from an inanimate object.

Even if this transmission truly occurred, Handsfield said, there’s a reason it’s making such a ruckus—it’s clearly incredibly rare.

Wait, I have herpes?

Yup! Welcome to the least exclusive club in the world.

A 2023 study by the World Health Organization found that 2 out of 3 people under the age of 50 have Herpes Simplex Virus 1 (HSV-1). The CDC’s latest data on HSV-2 (genital herpes, though either virus can live in either place) suggests that over 15 percent of Americans have it, and it’s more common in women, young people, and those who live in urban areas. Plus, some 90 percent of people who are diagnosed with herpes by way of a blood test have never had symptoms and had no idea they had it. So it’s likely that actual infection rates are higher than those surveys suggest.

Once you lump together HSV-1, HSV-2, and the fact that lots of cases of both go totally undetected, if you’re totally herpes free you probably didn’t do enough smooching as a tween. Herpes isn’t a sign of some moral failure or decline. Herpes happens.

How scared should I be about having herpes?

Don’t be scared about having herpes. Everybody has herpes. If you know you have herpes, you can pretty easily keep from giving it to your sexual partners (more on that here). You’re very unlikely to ever have symptoms, let alone painful ones. If you do, there are antivirals you can take to suppress them. Everyone is different, but generally speaking? Do not worry about the herpes that you almost certainly have. That’s why lawsuits like these are kind of a bummer: they perpetuate the myth that herpes is a horrible cross to bear, which makes herpes a horrible cross to bear.

On the off chance I don’t have herpes, how can I avoid getting it from a lipstick?

Please don’t take any of this to mean you should waltz into a busy makeup store and put lipstick on straight from the tube. If you’re trying on makeup from a shared sample, for the love of all that is holy, use one of the disposable applicators. Be a good citizen of the world and do not double dip, lest ye contaminate the communal font of lip gloss with your own viruses and bacteria.

Maybe Sephora should have big signs up reminding its customers to practice good applicator hygiene when trying samples. But you shouldn’t need a big reminder. And if you’re trying cosmetics on straight from a shared vessel, herpes is the least of your problems. Partially because pinkeye is a thing, but mostly because you already have herpes.

Thank You To Dennis Ritchie, Without Whom None Of This Would Be Here

Dennis Ritchie and Ken Thompson

Ritchie is standing; Thompson is sitting. They are both inventing Unix.

This morning the news came over the internet: Dennis Ritchie has died.

Dr. Ritchie doesn’t have the mainstream adoring following of Steve Jobs, but he can take considerably more credit for the creation, and even the aesthetics, of the computer world we live in. It’s almost impossible to find a personal computing product or paradigm that doesn’t owe a direct debt to Ritchie.

At Bell Labs in the heady 1970s, Dennis Ritchie created the C programming language and co-developed the Unix operating system. Before C and Unix came along, the computer world was fragmented in a way that’s hard to imagine — there was no such thing as software written to run on a variety of computers. Everything was custom-coded for its particular platform, and every platform had wildly different standards for such fundamental things as “how big is a byte?”

Everything we’ve got — Internet servers, telephone backbones, the microprocessor in the keyboard I’m using to type this — emanates from Ritchie’s work. You are reading this on a Drupal-powered web site; Drupal is written in PHP, which in turn is written in C. (Unless you printed out the page on a printer whose internals were coded in C.) Here, take a look at this table of what programming languages are used to implement popular software. Note how heavily populated are the C column and, next to it, the column for C++, which was developed as an enhanced C.

Lest his seem like a dry, behind–the-scenes legacy, I will quote in full Dennis Ritchie’s 1994 “anti-foreword” to the Unix-Haters’ Handbook. Ritchie was right.

Date: Tue, 15 Mar 1994 00:38:07 EST

Subject: anti-foreword

To the contributers to this book:

I have succumbed to the temptation you offered in your preface: I do write you off as envious malcontents and romantic keepers of memo- ries. The systems you remember so fondly (TOPS-20, ITS, Multics, Lisp Machine, Cedar/Mesa, the Dorado) are not just out to pasture, they are fertilizing it from below.

Your judgments are not keen, they are intoxicated by metaphor. In the Preface you suffer first from heat, lice, and malnourishment, then become prisoners in a Gulag. In Chapter 1 you are in turn infected by a virus, racked by drug addiction, and addled by puffiness of the genome.

Yet your prison without coherent design continues to imprison you. How can this be, if it has no strong places? The rational prisoner exploits the weak places, creates order from chaos: instead, collec- tives like the FSF vindicate their jailers by building cells almost compatible with the existing ones, albeit with more features. The journalist with three undergraduate degrees from MIT, the researcher at Microsoft, and the senior scientist at Apple might volunteer a few words about the regulations of the prisons to which they have been transferred.

Your sense of the possible is in no sense pure: sometimes you want the same thing you have, but wish you had done it yourselves; other times you want something different, but can't seem to get people to use it; sometimes one wonders why you just don't shut up and tell people to buy a PC with Windows or a Mac. No Gulag or lice, just a future whose intellectual tone and interaction style is set by Sonic the Hedgehog. You claim to seek progress, but you succeed mainly in whining.

Here is my metaphor: your book is a pudding stuffed with apposite observations, many well-conceived. Like excrement, it contains enough undigested nuggets of nutrition to sustain life for some. But it is not a tasty pie: it reeks too much of contempt and of envy.

Bon appetit!

A Collection Of 10 Data Visualizations You Must See


Writing codes is fun. Creating models with them is even more intriguing. But things start getting tricky when it comes to presenting our work to a non-technical person.

This is where visualizations comes in. They are one of the best ways of telling a story with data. In this article, we look at some of the best charts and graphs people have created using tools like Python, R, and Tableau, among others.

I have also included the link to the source code or the official research paper, so you can attempt to create these visualizations on your machines or just get a general understanding of how it was created.

Let’s get into it.

Visualizing the tree line using solar panels

This is a beautiful graph where the author has visualized the trees around his house using solar panel data and the position of the sun.

You can access the source code here.

Tool Used: R

Calculating the Age of the Universe

Using data from Hyperleda, the author created this visualization in R to calculate the age of the universe. Astonishingly, his calculations were only off by -0.187% from the accepted age of the universe.

You can access the source code here.

Tool Used: R

Rendering the Moon using Earth’s Colors

This is a rendering of how the moon would look if it was filled with Earth’s colors. A spectacular effort using the moon’s topography which was converted to colormap using matplotlib and cpt city. The 3-D model was created with blender and python.

You can access the source code here.

Tool Used: Python

Gaussian Distribution

What’s impressive about this graphic is that it was created using JavaScript in a HTML document (you read that correctly).

You can access the source code here.

Tool Used: JavaScript

1.3 Billion Taxi Trips in New York City

An absolutely gorgeous firefly-like visualization. The author collected, cleaned and plotted the pick-up and drop-off locations of all taxi rides in New York between January 2009 and June 2023.

You can access the source code here.

Tool Used: Python

Instability of an unsteered bicycle

This surreal visualization shows 800 runs of a bicycle being pushed to the right. For each run, the path of the front wheel is shown until the bicycle fell over. The research paper is written in a humorous tone as well, adding to the already fascinating effort of creating self-riding bicycles.

You can access the research paper here.

Tool Used: Python

The World Seen Through 17,000 Travel Itineraries

According to the author, “Each city is plotted with its (lat, lng) coordinates and connected to any other city that came after it in someone’s itinerary. For example, London is connected to Paris because there’s at least one itinerary going from the former to the latter. The countries were clustered together and colored using the Louvain Modularity. All countries of the same color have trips that go between each other more often than other countries.”

You can further read about it, and access the source code files, here.

Tools Used: Tableau, Gephy

The BB-8 Droid

If you are a fan of the Star Wars franchise then this one is for you. The author created this droid using shapes (and a couple of other libraries) in R.

You can access the source code here.

Tool Used: R

Visualizing Solar Eclipses

The author has visualized solar eclipses over 5 millennia based on type, date, duration, and latitude. A spectacular effort.

You can access the Tableau workbook here.

Tool Used: Tableau

The Jimi Hendrix Experience

This Tableau visualization contains all of Jimi Hendrix’s live performances between 1967 and 1970. It includes which songs were played and their frequency, where the concerts were held, among other insightful data.

You can access the Tableau workbook here.

Tool Used: Tableau


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