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Cybernaut

Battle of the robot dogs

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There are niche markets and then there are markets so small you have to wonder why companies bother to call them markets at all. Star Trek fans? That’s a niche market. Robot dog buyers? That’s just plain silly.

Yet, while Mac battles PC, HP battles Gateway, Microsoft battles Linux, Adobe battles Corel, and so forth, Sega launched a quiet battle to capture Sony’s share of the robot dog market. Seriously.

Last week Sega, which no longer competes with Sony in the home video game market, launched iDog, a four-legged robot that dances, plays music, creates music, walks around and tries not to bump into furniture.

Its selling point will be its price. Although exactly what that price will be hasn’t been announced just yet, the company says it will be cheaper than the Sony Aibo, which has been around for several years.

Meanwhile Sony is getting ready to release the next version of Aibo, a learning robot that learns to identify sounds, makes sounds and uses body language, lights and sounds to express emotions. The new version will be able to play back all types of music, take digital pictures, and can even connect wirelessly to your computer to upload tunes and send pictures to your e-mail. Another feature is Aibo’s ability to recognize objects, like a pink ball and bone, which it will play with. You can also communicate with your Aibo by showing it cards indicating whether you want the dog to dance, take a photo, or set Aibo’s built-in alarm for the following morning. The same visual recognition will allow the dog to recognize you by your face, as well as your voice.

Aibo also charges itself, using visual markers on the charging unit to find its docking station.

If there wasn’t money in this technology, I doubt either Sony or Sega would be in the robot dog market. Still, it can’t be much money compared to their other business units, and the research and development costs must be enormous – which could be the whole point of this exercise. If both companies have robotics divisions, it only makes sense to release the fruits of their research periodically in the form of toys.

When these dogs learn to run and bite, it might be time to take notice.

Alternative Canadian news

After a short battle launched by the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the CRTC gave Fox News and MSNBC licences to broadcast in Canada – it was inevitable, really, in a day where the market rules. Both 24 hour news channels have been available since the New Year on a subscriber basis.

This is horrible news for people who believe in a highbrow, impartial press whose role it is to represent the public over corporate and government interests. That’s why the media is such an important pillar of any democracy, and why today’s partisan, infotainment-driven and commentary-heavy outlets are such a danger to our way of life. Stations like Fox News are the reason half of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein had chemical weapons and was in league with al Qaeda.

Their claim to be "fair and balanced" is a total joke. I watched a few minutes of Fox last night on satellite, and was appalled to hear the anchorwoman say Fox was the "only news station still doing real journalism" before breaking for a commercial.

Saying something over and over doesn’t make it true, but today’s media moguls know that some people will end up believing it, and those that don’t believe it will eventually stop being outraged every time they hear it.

Canada is the only nation in North America, maybe all of the Americas, that is still producing real journalism, on par with the excellent journalism you’ll find in Europe. If you want to see what’s really going on in the world, switch to RDS from France sometime. While shows like CNN are showing talking heads screaming at each other, RDS is showing footage from the ground in all of its gory detail.

If people in the U.S. ever got the same kind of war coverage that people in France and the rest of Europe see on a daily basis, they may never want to go to war ever again. Cheese eating surrender monkeys, my foot.

My point is that with Fox and MSNBC polluting our airways, and CNN growing more conservative and nuanced every day, it’s more important than ever to support our national news outlets that are still doing a credible job reporting the news.

If you don’t believe me, check these sites out for yourself – www.foxnews.com, www.msnbc.com, www.cnn.com and compare the news and commentary to that found on sites like www.ctv.ca, www.cbc.ca, www.theglobeandmail.com, www.torontostar.com. (I left the National Post out because it’s the Fox of Canadian newspapers, in my opinion.)

Some people like Fox’s views, and that’s fine for them. Just don’t let them become your views without getting the real fair and balanced story – over time I think you’ll find that the slogan means nothing.

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