Stories tagged toys

Oct
12
2009

Bathroom-bot doesn't like what it sees: But it's not about what Bathroom-bot likes.
Bathroom-bot doesn't like what it sees: But it's not about what Bathroom-bot likes.Courtesy thewhitestdogalive
I do. That is, I keep robots in my bathroom. I have a modified Teddy Ruxpin with a webcam erupting from its mouth perched on the edge of my sink, pointed toward the toilet. That might sound a little weird, but it makes sense if you think about it. See, if I’m ever wondering whether or not I am currently using the toilet, I can log onto the internet, and check out that webcam. If I don’t appear to be on the toilet, I must be at work, or some other place with a computer, like a public library. But if I’m wondering if I am currently using the toilet, and discover that I am unable to access my webcam via the internet, I must actually be using the toilet, where there is no computer.

Easy! It’s a simple way of keeping on top of what’s happening in my life.

Buuuuut… It turns out that the many wireless, web-enabled devices you surely have in your homes can turn against you with the help of hackers. This includes your TiVo, your parents’ fancy security system, your child’s robot, and my Ruxpin toilet-watcher. Scary, right? Your little robo-helpers periodically send out packets of information to your wireless network, and if someone were in the neighborhood looking for that sort of thing, they could find out what sort of device was sending signals, and take control of it.

A group of researchers at the University of Washington actually tested out several fairly common wireless gadgets, and found that it wasn’t so difficult to take them over. The damage they were able to do was limited by the fact that most wireless devices don’t really do all that much. Having the TiVo go crazy isn’t so bad, but someone else using your nanny-cam is a little disturbing. Toy robots like this little dude, which can be controlled wirelessly to roll around and take live video and audio are potentially troublesome. (On the other hand, that little robot can also play digital music, so friendlier hackers could use it to follow you around and regale you with song.) And there’s no telling who might know when I’m using my bathroom.

The solutions are, of course:

-Take the cameras out of your bathroom (Not going to happen)
-Don’t buy any wireless toys that are stronger than you are (We’ll see)
-Don’t buy any wireless toys (Well, sure, like a toaster. But I want more than that)
-Buy wireless things with fancier security (I don’t even know how that would work. I just thought I should put it on the list)
-Try turning that junk off some time (Fine. Whatever.)

Check-out this website! You can see a 3D cube model of a brain MRI.

Sep
25
2008

Rubber ducky you're the one...
Rubber ducky you're the one...Courtesy Mark Ryan
Boy, times must be getting tough if NASA’s latest endeavor is any indication. Researchers from the space agency recently dropped a whole slew of rubber ducks into openings in Greenland's Jakobshaven Glacier in hopes of understanding how and where melt waters from the ice sheet ends up in Baffin Bay. They’re also trying to understand why glaciers increase their speed during the summer months. The Jakobshaven Glacier, which is suspected of calving the iceberg that sank the Titanic in 1912, is Greenland’s fastest moving glacier. The current thinking is that melt water forming on top of the ice flow during the summer months travels down narrow tubes called moulins to the glaciers base where it acts as a lubricant thus speeding up the ice sheet's movement. This isn’t exactly rocket science, is it? Anyway, each little ducky carries a label with the words "science experiment" and "reward" printed on it in three languages, along with an email address. The researchers hope that those who come across the toy quackers will contact them with information about when and where they found them. So far no one has gotten back to NASA but agency officials are confidant when they do it will add to our understanding of glaciers and their role in rising sea levels. So why has NASA has resorted to using such a low-tech approach? One source claims it's because a previous test using a metallic probe failed to return any data. Another source claims the probe is being used in conjunction with the rubber bath toys. Whatever the case it looks duck hunting season has opened.

SOURCES and LINKS

CNN story
NetworkWorld story
Discovery Channel story
Animation about Jakobshaven Glacier

Aug
22
2008

If you were a scientist, which scientist would you rather be?

The guy who invents and tests new high-powered water guns?

or

The guy who invented the synthesizer guitar?

It’s a really tough call...

The British government is encouraging schools to allow young boys to play with toy guns. Their studies have shown that such play helps boys’ development, by allowing them to experiment with risk-taking behavior in a safe environment. This in turn helps their intellectual development.

Oct
03
2007

Lately it seems like no newscast is complete without a story about a recall of toys that could be lead-poisoning risks to kids. We get the details of what toys are impacted, but we rarely get the details on how they’re dangerous. Do you know the threats lead-tainted toys pose to kids’ health?

Tasty, but possibly dangerous: The US government has banned or limited lead in consumer products—like children’s jewelry or paint on toys—but toys made in other countries may not meet US safety standards. (Photo courtesy Tim Brown, via Flickr)
Tasty, but possibly dangerous: The US government has banned or limited lead in consumer products—like children’s jewelry or paint on toys—but toys made in other countries may not meet US safety standards. (Photo courtesy Tim Brown, via Flickr)

Is lead really a big problem?
The CDC estimates that 890,000 US children between the ages of one and five have high levels of lead in their blood. Small children put toys, fingers, and other objects in their mouths—and expose themselves to lead paint and dust if there’s any present. Lead is invisible and has no smell. And most children with elevated blood lead levels have no symptoms. The only way to tell if a child has been exposed is to have his or her blood tested. Small amounts of lead can cause brain and nervous system damage, slowed growth, or hearing problems. Larger amounts can cause kidney damage, coma, or even death.

Caregivers should be especially careful of toys made in other countries and imported into the US, and antique toys and collectibles passed down through generations.

A bigger worry: Despite all the hype over lead-contaminated toys, lead dust is a bigger risk for kids. Before 1978, lead-based paint was used in many homes. When the paint is disturbed—through daily wear-and-tear or remodeling projects—lead dust gets created. And kids eat or breathe in the dust. (Photo courtesy Geekly, via Flickr)
A bigger worry: Despite all the hype over lead-contaminated toys, lead dust is a bigger risk for kids. Before 1978, lead-based paint was used in many homes. When the paint is disturbed—through daily wear-and-tear or remodeling projects—lead dust gets created. And kids eat or breathe in the dust. (Photo courtesy Geekly, via Flickr)

What can you do?

  • The Consumer Protection Safety Council encourages frequent checks for toy recalls. Parents should immediately dispose of recalled toys. (Photos and descriptions of recalled toys can be found at http://www.cpsc.gov or call 1-800-638-2772.)
  • Just dispose of suspect toys. Only a certified laboratory can accurately test a toy for lead. Do-it-yourself kits are available, but they don’t indicate how much lead is present and their reliability at detecting low levels of lead hasn’t been determined. Don't donate recalled toys or put them out at the curb; destroy them instead.
  • Wash your child’s hands frequently to help reduce exposure.