News From Around The Blogosphere 11.1.10

November 1, 2010

1. Robotic gripper runs on coffee … and balloons – The human hand is very complex and replicating it is very challenging. But now researchers have found out how to mechanically replicate it McGyver style with common household objects, ground coffee and a latex party balloon.

“This is one of the closest things we’ve ever done that could be on the market tomorrow,” Lipson said. He noted that the universality of the gripper makes future applications seemingly limitless, from the military using it to dismantle explosive devises or to move potentially dangerous objects, robotic arms in factories, on the feet of a robot that could walk on walls, or on prosthetic limbs.

Here’s how it works: An everyday party balloon filled with ground coffee — any variety will do — is attached to a robotic arm. The coffee-filled balloon presses down and deforms around the desired object, and then a vacuum sucks the air out of the balloon, solidifying its grip. When the vacuum is released, the balloon becomes soft again, and the gripper lets go.

2. New films lead to skeptical articles about psychics. Two current films in theaters now involve alleged psychics who claim to be able to talk to the dead, Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter and Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger. Now I’ve only seen the Woody Allen film because (A) Eastwood tends to make boring films and (B) I don’t find dialogue like “It’s not a gift; it’s a curse” particularly profound or, you know, original. Also, Allen’s film was fairly unapologetically skeptical while Eastwoods (and maybe I’m wrong) looks less so. But what I find interesting is that both films have led to interesting skeptical articles about psychic claims, one an interview with Woody Allen, where he reiterates his atheism, and the other, a review by Roger Ebert of Hereafter.

3. Two really great pieces of athvertising:

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Rational Giving

August 10, 2010

Atheists and rationalists of all kinds are often accused of not being charitable. Now I’ve blogged before about how atheists groups dominate Kiva, a site that allows anyone to loan money to those in need but this past week, I’ve seen other great examples of giving among secular humanists.

1, For instance, atheist billionaire Bill Gates this week convinced 40 other billionaires to publicly pledge to give half their fortunes to those less fortunate:

Together with Warren Buffett, their “The Giving Pledge” project nabbed Larry Ellison (founder of Oracle), George Lucas, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Barry Diller from IAC (an internet media company that owns Ask.com, Bloglines, Vimeo, Match.com and others), along with many others.

2. Then I learned that popular atheist YouTuber dprjones is organizing another charity drive with other popular atheist YouTubers to benefit Medecins Sans Frontieres (also known as Doctors without Borders):

3. Lastly, and certainly the most controversial of the bunch, atheist Robert W. Wilson has recently given $5,600,000 to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York.

“Most of what the Catholic schools teach are the three Rs,” said Wilson, 83, in a phone interview, referring to reading, writing and arithmetic. “And they do it better than the union-controlled inner-city schools.”

Wilson began making donations to the New York archdiocese in 1997 with a gift of $10,000, and he continued at that level for several years. Then Susan George, executive director of the Inner-City Scholarship Fund, asked him to consider giving more money to the schools. Wilson responded in 2007 with a $22.5 million gift to the archdiocese’s Cardinal’s Scholarship Program. He later saw a need for a better alumni support network.

Now regular readers will know that I’m no fan of Catholic institutions, but I have heard from others that some Catholic schools do actually provide a solid education and I don’t know the detail behind this particular case. Certainly, I’d rather see that money go to New York City public schools but regardless of where I personally would rather see the money go, it’s inspiring to see an unbeliever being so giving, especially to an religious organization in which they don’t even belong.

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