Facebook Twitter Woes

For the last couple of years, I’ve been using the Facebook App called Twitter. It’s written and maintained by Twitter and its purpose is sync your Facebook status to your twitter feed. There’s a similar app for Myspace and other social networking sites. That means I post my status once to Twitter and it almost instantly updates my status on Facebook, Myspace, LinkedIn, and a dozen other sites, saving me a lot of time.

Sometime around May 11, the Facebook Twitter app stopped working. Or, at least, it stopped updating the Facebook status field. Instead all it does now is post your tweets to your wall. To most users, it appeared the Twitter app had simply stopped working since it was no longer performing its main function. This generated a lot of discussion in the Facebook Twitter App forum as more and more users reported the breakage:

By May 13 there was still no official response from Twitter on what was going on, so user tim.neumark filed a bug in the Twitter API database.

The next day Twitter API developer tokofu claimed Facebook had asked Twitter to make the change:

“We made a change to use a newer Facebook API to add content to the stream that no longer updates status. We think it provides a better experience based on what Facebook is asking developers to do.”

“You can always manage the settings Twitter has with Facebook through your Edit Applications tab.”

What’s meant by that last sentence is unclear as there is nothing in the indicated dialog that changes the behavior of the app in any way with regard to updating status.

Tokofu’s post was the nearest thing so far to an official statement on the breakage. This was followed by several days of people posting comments on the bug report noting that “better experience” is not how they’d describe a bug that breaks the app’s ability to perform its primary function. The flurry of comments prompted Twitter to close the bug report as “invalid” and users were asked to stop commenting.

Shortly afterwards on May 18, a new issue appeared on Twitter’s help pages in the “Known Issues” category: Twitter updates my Facebook wall but not my status

There was new spin on the story now. Instead of claiming it was an intentional change requested by Facebook to give the users a “better experience”, they seem to claim it was the unexpected result of moving to a new Facebook API (didn’t it occur to anyone to test it?!) They further claim Twitter is now “working with Facebook to see if there’s a way to push updates with the new API in a manner that updates both your wall and your status”. The issue has accumulated over 60 comments from users asking for the problem to be fixed, or for Twitter to revert to the older, working Twitter App until a fix is found for the new one.

After three weeks, neither Facebook nor Twitter appear to have made any progress on fixing the problem and most users of the Twitter app still have an empty status field. Oddly, third party Twitter apps such as Smart Twitter continue to work normally, so many users of the official Twitter app have switched.

Posts on the Facebook Twitter app discussion forum suggest that the move was an intentional effort by Facebook to cripple the Twitter app because Facebook viewed it as cutting down on the number of potential page hits for Facebook. By blocking remote status updates, Facebook could force users to log in and update their status manually, garnering more advertising views. It’s unclear (to me at least) whether there’s anything to this rumor or whether it’s pure speculation on the part of frustrated Twitter users. If it’s accurate, then I would expect Facebook to deprecate the old API that allows apps to update user status, disabling all the third party Twitter-to-Facebook apps as well. That hasn’t happened yet.

Given Facebook’s history of bad decisions and gaffes lately, I’m ready to believe anything.

2010 VEX Robotics World Championship

Grant Imahara

This year’s VEX Robotics World Championship was bigger than ever with more than 400 high school and university teams from around the world. It was held in Dallas, Texas again this year, so you can be sure we were there. The local Dallas Personal Robotics Group also got in on the act, offering their members as volunteers to help with the event. I managed to avoid serving as a judge this year, so I had more time to take photos, several of which you can see below. Grant Imahara awarded the top prizes to China’s Shanghai’s Luwan team and New Zealand’s Free Range Robotics and Kristin Doves teams. To make things even crazier, the BEST National Championship was held alongside the VEX events. The Metro Homeschool team 229 from Blue Springs, Missouri took the first place BEST award. Read on for more photos and details from the official VEX press release or check out my photos of the event.

Dallas, Texas – April 26, 2010 – Winners of the VEX Robotics Competition World Championship were crowned this weekend by Grant Imahara, host of the Discovery Channel’s hit show MythBusters. Shanghai’s Luwan high school team and New Zealand’s Free Range Robotics and Kristin Doves teams triumphed as the winning alliance after defeating nearly 400 teams through multiple rounds of intense competition. Elite VEX teams from middle schools, high schools and universities representing 14 countries competed at the Dallas Convention Center on April 22-24 with innovative robots they designed and built using the VEX Robotics Design System.

The VEX robots were engineered to play the game “Clean Sweep” with students applying their programming skills and strategic thinking to defeat the opposition. Participants of the VEX program compete throughout the year and learn critical life skills including leadership, teamwork and technical problem solving. Richard Paul, captain of the Free Range Robotics team from the winning alliance said, “VEX Robotics has taught us how to work together in high pressure situations. We’re now better prepared to handle challenges because we’ve learned how to approach problems with different solutions.”

The VEX Robotics Competition World Championship included qualifying teams from 14 countries including Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States for three days of non-stop, high-energy robotics challenges. The VEX Robotics program is the largest and fastest growing middle and high school robotics competition in the world, featuring 200 events with 2,600 teams representing 20 countries.

“At the VEX Robotics World Championship, students get to be the stars and are celebrated for applying what they learn in the classroom,” said Paul Copioli, president of VEX Robotics. “Our commitment is to engage students in science, technology, engineering and math education to get them excited about pursuing technology careers.”

In addition to the middle and high school championship, China’s Mianyang Normal University earned the College Championship title. Several teams also received prestigious awards for Robotic Skills, Programming Skills, and Excellence Awards. In the High School Division, Green Egg Robotics team #44 from Oakham, Massachusetts received the Robot Skills Award and
Currahee team #1103 from Orwell, Ohio garnered the Programming Skills Award. In the Middle School Division, the Design Award went to Singapore team #8059A, while the esteemed overall Design Award went to Whitney High School Robotics #542 from Cerritos, California. Excellence Awards were presented for the top overall robotics programs and were awarded to
high school team #1509 from Ridley College in Ontario, Canada; Pearl City Hawaii Highlands Intermediate Middle School team #394; and a college team made up of students from Drexel and Temple Universities out of Exton, PA.

BEST Robotics, a middle and high school robotics program established in 1993, hosted its national championship in conjunction with the VEX Robotics World Championship, where Metro Homeschool team 229 from Blue Springs, Missouri won the first place BEST Award. The BEST Award is the highest honor that any team can receive, and goes to the team that best embodies the spirit of the BEST program. Meanwhile, Conway High School team 185 from Conway, Missouri earned first place in the Robotics Award, for having scored the most points in the game, including preliminary, semi-final, and championship matches.

Partnering with Innovation First International as presenting co-sponsors are Autodesk, NASA, EMC Corporation and the Robotics Education & Competition (REC) Foundation. Additional supporting partners include Technology Students Association (TSA), Intelitek, Robotics Academy at Carnegie Mellon University, FUTURE Foundation, ST Micro, MathWorks, ID Tech Camps, and Hyatt Regency Dallas.

The 2010/2011 game VEX Round Up was also unveiled at the VEX Robotics World Championship. The game is played on a 12’x12’ square field and two alliances – one “red” and one “blue” – composed of two teams. Each alliance competes in matches consisting of a twenty-second autonomous period followed by two minutes of driver controlled play. The object of the game is to attain a higher score than your opponent alliance by placing tubes upon goalposts, owning goalposts, and by low hanging or high hanging from the ladder.

For more information about the VEX Robotics World Championship and all other award winners, please visit RobotEvents.com.

About VEX Robotics, Inc. and Innovation First International: VEX Robotics, Inc. is a subsidiary of Innovation First International, a privately held corporation, which was founded on the belief that innovation very early in the design process is necessary to produce simple and elegant product designs. Innovation First International began producing electronics for unmanned mobile ground robots and is now an industry leader in the hobby, competition, education and toy markets.

The company’s three subsidiaries, VEX Robotics, Inc., Innovation First Labs, Inc. (makers of HEXBUG Micro Robotic Creatures), and RackSolutions, Inc. span the education, consumer and business-to-business markets. The VEX Robotics Competition was launched in 2007, designed to give a diverse group of students the chance to celebrate their accomplishments and share their passion for robotics with each other.

Leveraging the company’s core competency in electrical and mechanical engineering, the RackSolutions division works closely with all major computer OEMs to provide custom mounting solutions and industry-wide rack compatibility for data installations of all sizes.

In the 2009 the company added offices in Hong Kong, China and the United Kingdom to better serve the global marketplace. With an advanced in-house metal fabrication plant, distribution center and corporate office located together in a 13-acre complex in Greenville, Texas, the company is poised to continue on a rapid growth path. Please visit www.innvationfirst.com for additional information.

(Portions of this text appeared in SERVO magazine and on the robots.net blog)

The Book of Genesis Illustrated by R. Crumb

It took thousands of years but we finally got a complete graphic novelization of the book of Genesis. And by no less than renowned artist and illustrator R. Crumb. I knew when I saw The Book of Genesis Illustrated that I’d have to get a copy. Actually, Susan got it for me at Christmas. It was as amazing as I expected and I highly recommend it. I’m not someone who normally reads graphic novels or comics, aside from the occasional Zippy the Pinhead book. But this was such a fascinating combination of forms that it’s hard not to like it.

Not surprisingly, a complete and accurate depiction Genesis is not suitable for children and the book’s front and back covers are loaded with amusing warnings: “Adult supervision recommended for minors”, “the first book of the Bible graphically depicted, NOTHING LEFT OUT!” And there really is nothing left out. As noted on the back cover it even includes “the begots”. Ironically, R. Crumb notes that it took a non-believer to create an accurate graphic implementation of the book because believers have been hesitant to illustrate the contents as written. Most alleged illustrated versions of the Bible created in the past bear little resemblance to the actual text, having been sanitized and censored into a “G rating”.

R. Crumb started out with the intent to make a graphic parody of the Adam and Eve story but as he began reading Genesis, he realized the real thing is “a text so great and so strange that it lends itself readily to graphic depictions”. He worked from a combination of the King James (for the weirdly anachronistic style of English we’re accustomed to hearing Bible characters speak) and the Robert Alter translation, which attempts to reproduce in modern English the literary elements of the Hebrew poetry. Crumb also did a fair amount of research on older Mesopotamian myths such as the Sumerian Eridu Genesis, Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh, and Assyrian stories which share common story lines with the Jewish Genesis, such as the creation and flood, to help shed some light obscure plot elements.

Having grown up in a Christian family, I’ve had Genesis read to me and preached to me. I’ve read it myself in various translations from the weird and unreliable King James to more accurate modern translations. I’ve seen portions of it depicted in various Bible films. But seeing the word-for-word text illustrated is really like reading it for the first time. It gives one a whole new perspective on the stories and makes things stand our starkly which were hardly noticed before.

One example is how obvious the merged accounts of creation are; the first story in which God creates animals first, then man; the second in which God creates Man, who gets lonely, prompting God to create animals and then a woman to cheer him up. When reading the text, it’s easy to skip over things that don’t make sense or assume you’ve misread seemingly contradicting portions of the text. But actually seeing it depicted you can’t help but notice the creation story starts over again and gets retold differently. It brings to mind the Robert Graves book of Greek myths that often incorporates multiple accounts of the same story; (e.g. Heracles joined the Gods on Mount Olympus, though others say Heracles shed his mortal skin, which went down to Hades…)

One particularly unusual element is the depiction by Crumb of the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a sort of bipedal lizard-alien who looks something like a friendly Gorn. This seems weird at first because most paintings depict the serpent incorrectly as a snake but the text clearly says the curse of crawling on its belly was a punishment for tempting Eve. Prior to its punishment, it must have had some other form of locomotion, and since it talks too, why not a reptilian biped?

You’ll find surprising illustrations throughout. If you’re expecting the Cherubim to look like greeting card angels, forget it, and check out that thing that looks like a Stargate blocking re-entrance to Eden. Crumb includes chapter by chapter commentary at the back of the book with explanations of why he chose some of the depictions, based on his historical research. He also offers insight into some of the stories based on elements from the counterpart Mesopotamian stories which are more complete or from historical background information. So be warned, you may actually learn some interesting ancient history while reading.

There’s an amazing level of detail and artistry throughout and the occasional chapter or two of “begots” mentioned on the back cover are a good example. R. Crumb has rendered unique and interesting faces for every individual mentioned, which can be quite a few. It’s hard not to skip over long lists of names when reading the original text but it’s actually interesting in this version of Genesis.

I enjoyed the book tremendously and highly recommend it. If you’re a believer, there’s nothing to fear here, the subject matter is treated with respect and accuracy. If you’re not a believer, there are still plenty of weird and interesting stories worthy of any modern graphic novel. Of course, you may not find many likable protagonists in the book. Even the good guys spend a lot of their time lying, raping, stealing each others birthrights, and killing or enslaving everyone in sight. If anybody tells you the characters in modern graphic novels are bad role models, just hand them a copy of this book and show them how the ancient Hebrew super heroes behaved.