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News Round-Up

February 25, 2012

On Autonomous Vehicles

Google to test driverless cars on Nevada roadways (and so it begins!).

Obesity and technology

This past week (just two days after I published this), I met Ahmed Siddiqui, the founder of Go Go Mongo. Siddiqui and his team designed a very simple app for toddlers (see video below). Toddlers move around a tablet and help Mongo catch fruits and vegetables to eat, while avoiding unhealthy, sugary snacks.

You may laugh at the simplicity, perhaps even the naivety of this app, but I have to hand it to Siddiqui because the results really do speak for themselves. The highlights:

  • Ranked Top 25 Educational Games
  • Readers’ Choice BEST 10 KIDS APPS FOR 2011 – bestappsforkids.com
  •  “Overall, my son and I both like this app. In my opinion, this is a very well designed app. And eating fruits and veggies is surely much more educational than shooting at angry birds.” – GaGaGouGou.com
  • “After playing @gogo_mongo this morning, Adi (my 2-year-old) asked if we had any cauliflower she could eat! #fb” – Coder Dennis on Twitter

This last one is my favorite and one that Siddiqui mentioned to me. It came up after I had something of an epiphany while talking with him. My parents didn’t have the luxury of using an app to get me to eat my vegetables. Instead, they did something very clever: They decided to call broccoli by a different name – “trees”. I wanted to eat these “trees” (but not broccoli, presumably). Soon enough, I liked broccoli better than almost any other vegetable. My parents psyched me out into liking the vegetable. The reason why Go Go Mongo actually works with impressionable youngsters is because it is so simple.

What I also like about the app though is that its focus is extremely narrow. Obesity is about what you eat and how much of it you eat. That’s it. Eat vegetables. Eat fruit. Avoid calories and sugar. If a parent teaches this to his children, the pattern is set. It’s not as if kids are biologically designed to love sugary snacks. If you teach your kids right, they’ll adapt their eating behaviors, but the parents need to lead the way.

The FDA approves previously rejected diet pill.

The U.S. government recognizes how big a problem obesity is. To this end, the FDA has now approved a diet drug, Qnexa, that it had already rejected for concerns over possible side-effects. This is a troubling development, and indicative of how the lawmakers in this country believe the fight against obesity to be a losing battle.

From the article:

“Having a drug for obesity would be like telling me you had a drug for the fever.” – Dr. Mitchell Roslin

Disney takes heat for Epcot’s anti-obesity exhibit.

To summarize, some people are very angry with Disney for “reinforcing stereotypes” about fat people and obesity. If you read my post, you know where I stand on this. But put simply: why is it okay for us to shame smokers and the tobacco industry but not okay to shame fat people and the food industry? No matter how you cut it, we are still personally responsible for our own weight.

Artists and Piracy

I want to use this space to recommend Steven Pressfield’s excellent The War of Art. A few quotes from the book:

“The payoff is that playing the game for money produces the proper professional attitude. It inculcates the lunch-pail mentality, the hard-core, hard-head, hard-hat state of mind that show up for work despite rain or snow or dark of night and slugs it out day after day.” (p. 79)

“The artist must operate territorially. He must do his work for its own sake.

To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.” (p. 151)

While Pressfield acknowledges the importance of getting paid for one’s art, he also acknowledges that art isn’t about getting paid. It’s about art, duh.

A fair take on the Stop Online Piracy Act.

The author’s opinion: “Piracy is probably harmful to creativity.”

The History Channel

“Don’t know much about history? Watch H2”

While Newsday may gush in this puff piece about History’s new “historical” channel H2, read between the lines and you’ll realize how little History’s programming has changed. Take, for example, the Benjamin Franklin program highlighted in the article: “Historian-author-host David Eisenbach introduces Franklin as a fugitive from the law, America’s “first tabloid journalist” and, “some suspect, a serial killer.” Plus, “he frequented a sex club”! Did you know “his sex drive helped win the American Revolution?”” It hits all kinds of typical threads, especially sex, something that History hasn’t been above exploiting in the past decade.

Remember, H2 will be showing the series “Ancient Aliens.” Tell me how that one fits into their mission statement!

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