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Saturday 29 October 2016
Indoor navigation for the blind, global granny grub, Japan's workplace issues, how do you rest and relax, and who should control all those algorithms?
A short trip to the shops or a cafe can be a major challenge if you are blind or visually impaired.
Wellington has become the first place in the world to introduce BlindSquare on a large scale to a city, with more than 200 beacons beaming spoken directions to user's smartphones.
"BlindSquare provides the shopper who is blind the ability to navigate, with confidence, from their home, to the bus, to the CBD, to explore the shops, and to return safely with information that exists beyond the tip of their cane." Rob Nevin of BlindSquare
"Growing up I realized that my grandmother had been the repository of our family culture and identity. And I found out that, like her, millions of grandmothers all over the world pass down their heritage to their grandchildren." Jody Scaravella of Enoteca Maria
Jody Scaravella's the owner of Enoteca Maria, a New York restaurant that's started showcasing the best in global granny grub.
He started off with a crack team of Italian grandmothers celebrating food from his own past, but he quickly found there was a hunger for good home-cooked food from other places.
So now he's recruited a team of international grannies from Ecuador, Kazakhstan, Poland and lots of other countries to display the best their national cuisine has to offer. And the idea is getting rave reviews.
"We really need to represent every culture" Mr Scarevlla says. "I think it's really important to get people to understand that we are just one as a people. Music takes you across those borders comfortably, and art takes you across those borders, and food does as well."
A long, hot summer has made things decidedly whiffy in some Japanese workplaces.
Yes personal hygiene is becoming an industrial issue, with Japanese employers being encouraged to take the issue of offensive odours at work more seriously. And cosmetics companies are spotting a sales opportunity in re-educating some pungent parts of the workforce.
Meanwhile, a government survey's just found that 1 in 5 workers are at risk of dying from overwork. Working yourself to death has a word in Japan: karōshi. And the issue is exacerbated by a working culture that promotes long working hours, and almost obligatory corporate bonding sessions after work.
Now Tokyo's governor has vowed to change things by getting city workers out of the office by 8pm, an obligatory scheme that will be enforced by special 'overtime police'.
Resttest.org was a global crowdsourced experiment that aimed to explored people's attitudes and opinions about rest, and how they like to relax.
18,000 people from 134 countries participated in the study, including lots of us here in New Zealand.
Claudia Hammond is the host of BBC's 'All In The Mind' programme and was part of the team that ran the survey and she's been looking at the results.
"The place getting the least amount of average rest is Ireland followed by the US, and at the top end for getting more rest is France very closely followed by New Zealand."
"New Zealand had an average of 3 hours and 37 minutes rest the previous day compared with only 3 hours and 8 minutes in the UK. So that's nearly an extra half hour you are getting!", Ms Hammond said.
The algorithm has become a central part of our digital lives. It's basically a set of rules that calculates information and then provides us with instructions or recommendations automatically.
So when you put cat into Google, it's an algorithm that trawls through millions of web pages to search out information about this small, typically furry, carnivorous mammal.
Every time you interact with a computer today you're teaching a system a little bit more about yourself, and over time this digital model of you becomes valuable property in the hands of commercial enterprises who are trying to provide you with services, or sell you stuff.
Pedro Domingos is a professor of computer science and engineering at the University of Washington. His book 'The Master Algorithm: How the Quest for the Ultimate Learning Machine Will Remake Our World' (Basic Books) is a warning about who is controlling the algorithms that are so central to so many parts of modern life.