Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.
Your Facebook status updates may seem like witty prose to you, but to a bunch of scientists they're nothing but typographical DNA, waiting to reveal everything about you. Less sinister sounding stories from the last seven days include hands-on tangible web-searching and a new spin on learning the piano. This is alt-week.
Sure, you might rock at Guitar Hero, but how does that help you when it comes to wielding a real axe? Unsurprisingly, the success of such games has lead to inevitable mimicking in software. If you're more of an ivory tickler, and you want to progress from Rock Band then the Projected Instrument Augmentation system (shown above) might be for you. Essentially it's a screen attached to an electric piano, that displays blocks shuffling down towards the keys much like in the popular video games. These are color-coded to let you know which hand to use, and visual feedback advises when different musical flourishes need to be tackled. The project is currently undergoing formal testing, to gauge its efficacy, but anecdotal reports seem positive. If this method doesn't work for you, there's always the
forceful torture mechanical method to fall back on.
If you thought the youth of today could be identified just by their peculiar vernacular, then you'd be right. You might also be surprised to know that your choice of language could be just as identifiable as that off the average mallrats', too. A team at University of Pennsylvania studied the Facebook status updates of 75,000 volunteers, looking for telltale patterns. The results were surprising, with computer models able to predict age, and gender with a high level of accuracy -- as much as 92 percent. Many studies in this field use a closed approach (marking lists of words as positive, negative and so on), however the Penn-based project use a different, "open" method -- studying the words that were important from within the volunteer group itself. By observing these, it's possible to look past the large group of common words, and see which are more popular within specific demographic groups. Data was visualised with good old-fashioned word clouds, which project director Martin Seligman says gives a really close sense of what it's might be like to be a teenage girl (or extrovert, or a male neurotic etc.).
When you're searching for gift ideas, clothes, or a whole host of other day-to-day items, your search engine's web and image results are usually sufficient. Less so, however if you're visually impaired. Web Accessibility isn't new, but Yahoo Japan's Hands On Search is a fun new twist. By mixing a 3D printer with voice-operated search commands, children at the Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired, Tokyo, were able to search for whatever they liked, and receive a 3D printed version for them to explore (literally) manually. The video above reveals some of the objects the kids went for, and no surprises that imaginations soon landed upon the animal kingdom and famous landmarks. Perhaps not a solution we'll be seeing come to regular Yahoo soon, but that said, with Mayer at the helm, anything's possible.
Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.