Roboticists don't speak in bleeps and bloops
Heather Knight shows off CMU's robots: Personal Exploration Rover, from left, Companion, Data, Gigapan (camera) and Rover 1.
February 29th, 2012
09:57 AM ET

Roboticists don't speak in bleeps and bloops

Editors note: Today, we're kicking off a new focus on Geek Out! called Brainiac. In this section, we'll take a closer look at the people, communities and passions behind the brainiest professions and hobbies.

For all of C-3PO’s sleek, humanoid design and eloquent chatter, it is R2-D2’s charming, melodic beeping and rolling about in “Star Wars” that captures the imagination of a roboticist - even though a humanoid robot is exactly what everyone else expects when they look to the modern landscape of robotics.

It’s what Marek Michalowski, roboticist and co-founder of BeatBots, calls a paradoxical “burden of science fiction,” which both inspires and constrains what people anticipate from robotics. He and other roboticists feel compelled to deliver on the unspoken promise of anthropomorphized, or humanoid, robots, built up within sci-fi over the last 40 years.

Michalowski finds R2-D2 to be the more interesting robot because it is limited by how it can communicate. R2-D2 is also much closer to the robotic designs that are currently possible. Because roboticists have followed their instinct to focus on purpose rather than facial expressions, robots that impact people the most can be the least human-looking. FULL POST

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New Comic Wednesday: February 29,2012
The DC universe heroes form up in DC Comics Justice League #6.
February 29th, 2012
09:54 AM ET

New Comic Wednesday: February 29,2012

Hello again, fellow comic readers!

When DC Comics canceled almost every book it published last August and relaunched with a few dozen new titles or reworked classics – the so-called “New 52” - it was the biggest story to hit the world of comics in quite some time. (Like CNN, DC Comics is owned by Time Warner.)

The New 52 roll-out offered consumers same-day digital distribution, gave a lot of relatively unknown writers and artists a chance to play for the majors, took some real chances on some lesser-known books and even rolled the dice on some creators who once strode the comics landscape like kings but had since fallen out of public favor.

The first book I recommended in this column was “Justice League #1,” the flagship title of the effort. It turned out to be one of the titles they took no chances on the art and writing whatsoever. FULL POST

'Super Mario Bros. 3' airship gets LEGO-fied
February 28th, 2012
05:05 PM ET

'Super Mario Bros. 3' airship gets LEGO-fied

Ever since the 1988 release of "Super Mario Bros. 3," gamers have obsessed over its intricacy, its difficulty, and the fact that it's one of the most fun, memorable video games ever created.

In 2007, it was even named alongside such classics as "Zork" and "Tetris" in the Game Canon, a Library of Congress-inspired list of games that ought to be preserved because of their lasting impact and importance to the medium.

One big addition to the world of "Super Mario Bros." in this third Nintendo Entertainment System game about the two adventurous plumbers (fourth if you count the original "Mario Bros.," of course) was the creation of the airship levels. The continuous scrolling and the need to move quickly, at times, from one side of the screen to the complete opposite side – all while dodging bullets fired from cannons, of course – made for one of the most challenging video game experiences yet, at that time.

Now, Julius von Brunk, of New York, New York – who calls "Super Mario Bros. 3" the "Cadillac of games" – has captured one of the famous airships, complete with Mario and Luigi, in a format most appropriate for video games: Lego blocks (just the latest geeky creation with Legos, mind you).

CNN Geek Out spoke to von Brunk about his creation.

CNN Geek Out: So what is it about "Super Mario" that captures the imagination, anyway?

Von Brunk: When I was 6 years old, the original "Super Mario Bros." game was the first game I had for NES - and since then, I've been true to the franchise up until the era of 3-D Mario games. I still played some of the GameCube titles when they were launched (in fact, Dr. Mario was my chosen Super Smash Bros. Melee fighter), but frankly, nothing can compare to the thrill and replay value of the primary series for NES and SNES!

"Super Mario Bros." was an early platform game with dozens of levels, power-ups, enemies and depth, which made it an ideal universe for me to latch-on to and create many tributes to in my artistic media. The series itself is like nothing else the world has seen previously, with so many original themes and elements - from the music to the game synopsis. Sure, at the end of the day, the games boil down to a standard "hero saves the princess" cliche, but it's the deliverance and originality of the worlds and characters which makes it unique on its own; let's not forget the Lewis Carroll-inspired ideas which went into the original game's creation - which of course is an endless stream of imagination in its own respect!

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Fans create their own trailer for 'John Carter'
February 27th, 2012
04:45 PM ET

Fans create their own trailer for 'John Carter'

Fanmade trailers are certainly nothing new on Youtube and elsewhere online. And yet, Michael Sellers' and Mark Linthicum's home-grown trailer for the upcoming "John Carter" movie is one that has gone viral, with well over 100,000 page views. Viewers comment that Sellers and Linthicum's edit should be used instead of the official trailer.

Even the official "John Carter" director took notice of the video.

Sellers, a Burbank, California, resident who discovered "John Carter" at age 11, and runs the fansite The John Carter Files – all about the classic Edgar Rice Burroughs novel, and especially the upcoming March 9 release of the film adaptation – spoke with CNN Geek Out about what makes fans want to improve on official trailers in such a way.

CNN Geek Out: What did you hope to accomplish with this video?

Sellers: It started out as a form of DIY therapy - we had been watching the Super Bowl in excited anticipation of seeing the "John Carter" TV spot. We were disappointed by the spot that played in the game and kind of a had a slightly boozy, post-Super Bowl moment of inspiration in which we said, basically: "Come on, we can do better than that!"

So we downloaded all the spots and trailers that were available online and cut a new one from all the old clips. When we started cutting it we were just doing it for fun but by the time we were done we knew it played well and might help if anyone saw it. At that point we started thinking, you know, if we could just get this out there and people could see it - who knows, it might have a positive effect?

We realized the most likely outcome is that it would just be seen by a very few people so we didn't have major delusions - but we thought, every little bit helps, every person who decides to see the movie and likes it and talks about it adds to the possibility that it's a success.

So we uploaded it to YouTube and hoped that people would start seeing it and start talking about it. Nothing much happened for a couple of weeks until the film's director Andrew Stanton ["WALL-E"] tweeted about it and said: "Great fan trailer! They get it!"

It took another day before it gathered much momentum - but now for the last two days it's been getting a lot of attention. Now that it's out there and being seen we hope it converts some skeptics.

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‘Wonder Women!’ puts superheroines in the spotlight
February 24th, 2012
11:55 AM ET

‘Wonder Women!’ puts superheroines in the spotlight

Editor's note: Erika D. Peterman is a Florida-based writer and editor, and the co-creator of the comics blog

Two weeks ago, Wonder Woman herself asked her Twitter followers to support a documentary that examines the evolution and history of female heroes in comic books, television and film.

The Tweet came from actress Lynda Carter, who is one of several artists, writers and activists featured in the buzzworthy film “Wonder Women! The Untold Story of American Superheroines.” Her powers of persuasion must have helped. Thanks to two highly successful Kickstarter fundraising campaigns (Kickstarter was instrumental in another female-focused comic book, "Womanthology," which earned a record-breaking $109,000 from their campaign) the filmmakers were able to get "Wonder Women!" polished and ready for its 2012 SXSW Film Festival next month.

“Thank you, Lynda Carter!” said director Kristy Guevara-Flanagan. “We have been floored by the support, and as we are cranking away into the wee hours, it really cheers us on to know that our story is important, that people really are hungry for stories about strong women, and to know that there will be an incredible audience for us when the film launches.”

There’s no shortage of commentary about men in capes or action heroes, but their female counterparts are another story. In a revealing person-on-the-street clip in the documentary, people of both sexes rattle off the names of comic book characters, and not a single female comes up. Not even Wonder Woman.

Guevara-Flanagan talked to Geek Out! about the documentary and why society still struggles with superheroines. FULL POST

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