"Luddite Hipsters" Rejoice: Tom Hanks Has Created A Typewriter IPad App

Are you one of those retronauts who longs for the days of clacking keys and difficult deletes?  Are you even old enough to remember what a typewriter acted like?  Either way, Tom Hanks is bringing back the dubious heyday of typewriting, all via your suspiciously-slender and technologically-inclined iPad.

As theverge.com reports, Mr. Hanks has released a new app called "Hanx Writes" that replicates a frustration-free feel of the analog word processors.  Hanks, who is a devotee of typewriters (like some sort of sad spinoff of record collecting), has had his app reenact the moving pages and chattering keystrokes for the ultimate in what he calls "Luddite hipster" appeal.

The "crisp typeface" Hanks lauds is actually your standard typewriter font, with the added bonus of a "delete" button (although this can be turned off and replaced with the classic "XXXX" elimination...seriously.)

The app is free and was co-developed by the Hitcents agency.  So if you need an excuse to take up even more time working on your screenplay, now Forrest Gump is on your side.

Momma always said, "Life is like a box of a bunch of cumbersome letter and symbol keys that make a lot of noise and are hard to find ink for."

"Shut Up, Devil!" App To Help Save Your Soul

In this crazy and cruel modern world, it doesn't seem like one can get very far without hearing the voice of the devil (or however you may perceive the forces of evil) taunting and tempting you.  Now, a new app promises to offer a means of fighting back by using the force of the Lord (the Christian one.  Other lords' advice may vary.)

As reported by charismamag.com, the free "Shut Up, Devil!" app is there for you when the powers of darkness threaten their worst.  Users can choose from a variety of troubling topics, or indicate their exact feelings by typing them in.  Shut Up, Devil! then provides a Bible verse appropriate to remedying the situation, as well as a retort to set loose on Lucifer.

"The lies the devil launches at you will no longer influence you," app creator Kyle Winkler states.  To drive the message home, Shut Up, Devil! also includes reminder alarms that can be programmed to send you to your "favorited" in-app scripture cards whenever you feel you may need support during the day...be it when you're waking up feeling a little evil or slamming down drinks at last call.

Tell the Prince of Darkness to get behind thee and show him who's really boss, all with just the power of your smartphone!

Hell no, I'm not making out on the Ferris Wheel with you!  

Python: What to do after you've finished Code Academy?

One of the most common beginner questions I see in Python programming forums is from people asking what to do once they’ve completed Code Academy’s Python training course. The possibilities are virtually limitless and may seem overwhelming at first, especially if you have little prior programming experience. It’s a bit like finding yourself in a foreign country where you know enough of the local language to just get by, but not enough to really find your way around. I certainly don’t claim to have the map, but in this post I’ll try to point out a few landmarks that might help some folks get their bearings. 

The Code Academy course covers the basics of Python syntax and data structures, and provides a quick introduction to more advanced topics like the use of list comprehensions, bitwise operators, classes, file input/output etc. Along the way, the student also completes a handful of small projects to demonstrate how this newly acquired knowledge can be put to use, for example, a pig latin translator, a Battleship game simulator and so on.

But the big question is: what next?! There is no straightforward answer to this question, as it depends on a number of highly individual variables such as your level of prior programming knowledge and experience, your interests, your goals and motivations for learning programming in general and Python in particular, not to mention the amount of time you are able to devote to study and practice, to name just a few. For the sake of simplicity, what follows is targeted to a beginner who has recently completed an introductory Python crash course such as Cody Academy’s Python Track, or Learn Python the Hard Way, has little or no prior programming experience, and can devote a modest amount of time to study and practice on a regular basis. 

As a natural language instructor, I can almost always tell when a student has not done any homework or practice over a long weekend: they are already starting to get rusty! Probably the single most important thing to do after an introductory course like Code Academy’s is to reinforce the lessons learned, and to do it on a consistent basis. This will help to shore up all that newly acquired knowledge and provide a sturdier basis to extend it and expand on it. This could be anything from reading a textbook to watching a series of lectures, or following along with another tutorial, exploring other areas of the Python universe, tinkering with your own little programming projects, or some combination of these, or even all of the above. 

You’ll likely also find that these activities are themselves mutually reinforcing: while working on your own projects, you’ll realize when you’ve hit a wall and need to consult some documentation or a textbook, or seek out a new library or framework to help achieve your goal; reading through a textbook you’ll be exposed to new ideas that you can experiment with in the interpreter or in your own little projects; working through a tutorial, you might find a piece of code that interests you and which you start to tweak on your own to see how it works and to experiment with extending it or expanding on it in some way, shape or form.  

If Code Academy was your first exposure to programming in general, it might be a good idea to consider working through a general introductory textbook (or even an introductory course!) on computer science. This will provide you with a basis in the fundamentals of the discipline as a whole, things that are more or less the same across all programming languages. 

So far as introductory textbooks go, many people, myself included, highly recommend Think Python: How to Think Like a Computer Scientist, which is freely available online.   This book is required reading for a number of well known introductory computer science courses such as MIT’s Introduction to Computer Science and Programming, and was written for the express purpose of introducing students to the field. It is highly readable, provides a review of basic syntax and covers intermediate as well as more advanced topics, along with a series of chapters on object-oriented programming and design. 

Along similar lines, if you have the time to devote to it, I highly recommend MIT’s Introduction to Computer Science class. All the lectures, recitation sections and course materials are freely available online in their entirety, and the course uses Python as its pedagogical language of choice. For more information on this course, see our previous post Teach Yourself Python in Less Than Four Months, which provides a learning plan that uses the MIT course as its guide.  

Okay, but what if you are not the type who likes to curl up with a good textbook, and don’t have the time to slog through a college level introduction to computer science course, but want to delve more deeply into Python itself? What then? In this case, you might consider working through another general introductory tutorial on Python programming, this will help consolidate the knowledge you’ve already gained and also likely expose you to more beginner and intermediate level aspects of the language and the programming process. There are tons of such resources available online. Here are a few that I've found quite helpful:
"Bah," some may say, "I'm bored of mechanically typing out tutorial code! I want to experiment, but I'm not sure where to begin!" Not to worry, there's tons of stuff out there, you just have to know where to look. For those who want to jump right in to real problem solving, your first stop should be the Programming Mega Project List. This is a list of around 100 practical programming projects that can be solved in any programming language. The difficulty level of the various projects ranges from beginner to advanced and the list broken down into basic categories such as math, algorithms, networking, text, web, and so on. Find one that interests you, tackle it and repeat.

Other people may find it rather uninteresting to solve problems for the sake of problem solving, and would rather explore Python itself. The standard library is your friend! One of the great things about programming is that it can make your life a whole lot easier. If you stick with programming, one thing you will learn rather quickly is that programmers are lazy and proud of it. If I had a dime for every time I’ve come across a talk or article on programming which proclaimed that programmers are lazy, I’d probably have like $10 by now.  I guarantee there is some absurd, repetitive task that you have to complete on a regular basis that can be automated with a relatively simple Python script. For these everyday routines, there is also very likely a standard library module that can aid you in your endeavor. Relevant xkcd:

Maybe you work in an office and have a tedious spreadsheet task you have to complete on a regular basis. Automate it with the csv module. Perhaps you’re in a band and hate writing up set lists, write a random set list generator with the random module. Maybe you like sports or finance, and are constantly looking up scores or quotes. Write a command line app to grab them from your favorite online source using urllib without having to open a browser.  If you’re a news junky, you could consider writing your own RSS headline aggregator with urllib and one of the XML modules. The possibilities are literally limitless. 

Last but not least, as a beginner Python programmer, you will most definitely want to begin checking out the many great frameworks that have been built around the language.  "A software framework is a universal, reusable software platform to develop software applications, products and solutions," says Wikipedia. At the most basic level, a software framework is a library or set of libraries that provide generic functionality for routine tasks to aid in the development of applications and programming projects. In the Python universe there are tons of frameworks to explore, such as web frameworks for the development of web applications, GUI frameworks for development of graphical user interfaces for desktop applications, and so on. Some of my favorites:
Well, that concludes our tour of some noteworthy landmarks in the Python programming space. As always, feel free to provide your own favorite resources or suggestions in the comments.

Hi From The Sky: New Satellite To Spy On You, Down To 10-Inch Parameters

That feeling that someone is watching you has never been more apt.  In addition to the countless cameras on the streets, in vehicles, in stores, on phones, and wherever else instant-documentation is for some reason now necessary, there is now also a seriously strong satellite checking you out.

As reported by engadget.com, the "high-resolution, public imaging satellite"  WorldView-3 is set to launch tomorrow, providing imaging data down to a frankly creepy 10-inch range.  Parent company DigitalGlobe intends to sell this information to its customers like Microsoft and Google for better street imaging, but grandparent company Lockheed Martin is a well-known U.S. government ally.  Take that as you will, as they take your pictures.

The technology is supposedly also set to aid farmers, mineral-deposit seekers, environmental protectors and others, so apparently we're just going to have to pretend this is all altruistic, as if we had a choice.  And maybe it's really not all bad...at least for exhibitionists, your nude sunbathing just got a little more exciting.

It can also see spectra that your eyes cannot.  But it's still probably just watching you.

Your Security, Your Secretary, and Your Sacajawea: New "Smart" Motorcycle Helmet Protects, Takes Calls, Provides GPS

Do you enjoy motorcycling but long for the creature comforts (like hearing audible music, making phone calls, and monitoring rear-view cameras) afforded by some cars?  According to bgr.com, the new Skully AR-1 "smart" motorcycle helmet will bring you the best of both worlds.

Skully, which was created thanks to a crowdsourcing initiative, has been heralded as "the helmet for the digital age," by Popular Science.  It was one of this year's top 10 inventions, according to CNN.  And if you don't believe the media hype, believe the masses:  the $250,000 development goal was met two and a half times over...in one day.

Each Skully features an E-tint visor that acts as a heads up display, offering GPS maps and a 180-degree rearview camera (for watching our for rival biker gangs, obviously.)   An in-helmet Bluetooth connection allows for music and phone calls to be dealt with hands-free.  A 9-hour battery ensures you can go on long treks with your tech still intact.

This most badass of bike helmets comes in Matte Black (*insert Darth Vader noises*) or Gloss White, and currently retails for $1,399.  The first models ship in May 2015, so you still have some time to learn how to ride a motorcycle (unfortunately Skully is not quite smart enough to teach you...yet.)

Look, it's as close to an X-Wing pilot helmet as you're going to get for right now, okay?

New "Nanosheets" Heal Burn Wounds, Adapt To Your Skin

All the medical technology in the world sometimes can't help undo the trouble we humans get ourselves into. Fortunately, a new discovery may help with one of the world's oldest and most difficult medical issues: effectively and safely treating burns.

According to techswarm.com, a new material called "nanosheets" is in development to combat infection and aid in healing for those afflicted by burn wounds. Ultra-thin and pliant (so that they move as skin would move), the nanosheets have met with success in clinical trials on mice. The results are being presented this week at the 248th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), which happens to be the world's largest scientific society.

Developer Yosuke Okamura, Ph.D. specifically created the nanosheets to adapt to the many contours and crevasses of the human body. This is important because, as he says, "The nanosheets can adhere not only to flat surfaces, but also to uneven and irregular surfaces without adding any adhesives." The sticky but sterile nanosheets are made from a biodegradable polyester called poly(L-lactic acid), also known as PLLA, piece of which are spun in a test tube with water, then poured out and allowed to dry as a single nanosheet.

The nanosheets are effective at combating infection for up to three days with only one application, or six days after two. The eliminated need for frequent changing of a burn victim's dressings would help speed recovery. The nanosheets are also capable of fighting bacteria like Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a pathogen notorious for causing skin infections.

While it will be a while yet before humans stop inventing mechanisms to cause gross bodily harm to each other, at least a solution to the results is coming along nicely.

Nanosheets: saving your skin.

Burger-Bot: Robotic Skill On The Grill

The coming decades will inevitably be powered by many automatons, particularly in fields that hold little appeal to humans. Now, the stereotypical "burger-flipping" gig may be outsourced completely to machines, thanks to a new robot.

Momentum Machines' meat-managing masterpiece is not humanoid, and it doesn't need to be. It doesn't want to be your friend, give you travel advice, or monitor your house or body. It wants to make burgers. Lots of burgers, and fast. An assembly-line style setup of burger-building materials (patties, buns, lettuce, tomato, cheese, etc.) are lined up, and well-engineered robotics (the creators have experience at Tesla and NASA) take over from there.

According to singularityhub.com, the average fast food restaurant spends $135,000 a year on human burger-flippers. With living, breathing workers, there is sickness, margin for error, strikes and accidents to consider. However, one Momentum could alleviate all that trouble (and not make snarky remarks at mean managers, either.) One 24-square-foot Momentum machine can spin out a burger every ten seconds, or 360 per hour.

Momentum cofounder Alexandros Vardakostas doesn't mince words about the company's mission. “Our device isn’t meant to make employees more efficient. It’s meant to completely obviate them.”

There's little dispute that this may soon become the norm for many by-rote professions. However, Momentum isn't completely coldhearted about their orchestrated robot takeover. They plan to ally with vocational schools to offer (better) job training for those who have been replaced by their robot.  Perhaps the ousted kitchen hands can go into a more lucrative field with their new knowledge...maybe robotics?

Today, they build burgers...tomorrow, a new empire!