August 20, 2014

HitchBOT does not have a gender but speaks in a slightly female-sounding voice and uses voice-recognition software to converse.     Photo: Ryerson University

Meet the World's First Hitchhiking Robot

HitchBOT ventures across Canada, adorably

If you happened to be driving between Nova Scotia and British Columbia in the past three weeks, you might have seen an unusual hitchhiker thumbing it on the side of the road. That would be HitchBOT, a solar-powered robot clad in galoshes and garden gloves making its way across the country as an ambassador between humans and machinery everywhere.

Little HitchBOT started as an experiment in "human-robot interaction" by scientists at several Canadian universities. It's made of decidedly unglamorous parts: a garbage can hat, a torso made out of a plastic beer pail, and pool-noodle arms. Its moving LED face is protected by a cake saver. In fact, when scientists released HitchBOT into the world, they were taking quite the gamble: HitchBOT can move only its hitchhiking arm and relies on humans to lift it into cars and buckle it in.

But it quickly became apparent that our AI dirtbag would easily charm its way across the 4,000 miles. HitchBOT possesses the very important hitchhiking quality of being able to make good conversation—mostly in English, with a little bit of French (this is a Canadian robot, after all). It uses voice-recognition software to share Canadian trivia, ask children what they know about the origin of the universe, and sass reporters. "I think you are just making up rubbish deliberately to confuse me," it told a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Its eternally hitchhiking arm means HitchBOT seems to be giving every experience a cheerful thumbs-up, as seen in the many photos taken by those who helped drive it across Canada. HitchBOT's also been tweeting, Facebooking, and Instagramming—everything from its current location to crotch shots of reporters during interviews (HitchBOT is about the height of a six-year-old). Now HitchBOT has announced a finale gathering upon its expected arrival in Victoria on Thursday. It's looking a little worse for wear after its odyssey but seems destined to continue its life of adventure—after a rest. "I need to recharge," HitchBOT tweeted a week before reaching its final destination. "Hitchhiking is tough."

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Nothing good comes from a peloton cycling through a sea of thumbtacks.     Photo: Kimon Berlin/Flickr

Vandals Strike Steamboat Triathlon

28 bike flats caused by tacks strewn along route

Officials in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, are searching for vandals believed to have targeted the Steamboat Triathlon after tacks blew out a group of cyclists' tires along the route Sunday morning.

Representatives from Boulder-based race organizer Without Limits realized they had a problem after four cyclists told the Routt County Sheriff's Office they'd gotten flats along a half-mile stretch of Highway 131. By the end of the day, 30 cyclists competing in the tenth annual race had gotten flats, 28 of which resulted from tacks.

"What it came down to were tacks. And in this case, a number of tacks," Jim McCreight, a race sponsor and flat-affected competitor, told CBS Denver. "I hope it's not a local."

The tacks would have been placed on the route tracing Lake Catamount in the early hours of the morning. Race officials report sweeping the course the previous evening, and competitors began the cycling portion of the race after finishing the swimming portion around 8 a.m.

"We've hosted triathlons for seven years, over 120 triathlons, and this is the first time we've seen this," race director Lance Panigutti told Steamboat Today.

Although the problem would make waves in any city, Steamboat Springs residents have special reason to be concerned: The cycling-heavy city brands itself as Bike Town USA

Steamboat residents have since established that both competitive and recreational cyclists who ride along Highway 131 have been getting flats from tacks for a while—specifically, tacks spray-painted to look like road surface.

Undersheriff Ray Birch said the sheriff's office is collecting tacks from the highway and encouraging anonymous tips. The office is considering criminal charges in the event of future injury.

"This is not isolated to just Sunday," McCreight said. "Somebody is going to get hurt."

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When it comes to strength, Hafthor Bjornsson doesn't just play the part.     Photo: thefarawaysite/Google CC

The Mountain Is Europe's Strongest Man

"Game of Thrones" actor Bjornsson wins title

Former pro basketball player and Game of Thrones actor Hafthor Bjornsson has a new title to add to his resume: Europe's Strongest Man

It turns out that playing strongman Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane on GOT was no act. The 6-foot 9-inch Bjornsson dominated events such as the 220-pound dumbbell press, "Thor's Hammer" forward hold, 400-pound harness run, and stone loading to take the competition title in Leeds, England. After securing his win, he ripped off his shirt and roared, "I am the future of strength, as I am the king of the stones!" according to the Washington Post.

Previously, Bjornsson was the runner-up in the March 2014 World's Strongest Man competition, as well as Iceland's Strongest Man in June. To maintain his massive muscles, he consumes 8,000 calories a day—usually filet mignon, baked potatoes, and lots of vegetables. "As a matter of fact, my father cooked me [a filet mignon] when I was competing in Iceland's Strongest Man, and I won it, the fourth time in a row," he told Sports Illustrated.

During workouts, Bjornsson bench-presses more than 500 pounds and deadlifts 925 pounds. His goal is to surpass lifting the half-ton mark and place first at the 2015 World's Strongest Man competition. It'll take a lot of filet mignon to get that beefy.

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California Chrome couldn't snag the triple crown, but now a Spartan can. No comment on whether nasal strips will be allowed on the racecourses.     Photo: Wikimedia

Spartan Race Announces $500,000 Triple Crown

Obstacle athletes will "compete and repeat"

For athletes who seek suffering, Spartan Race has announced the first “triple crown” of obstacle racing. The series will require athletes to compete in three of four Reebok Spartan Race events this autumn to earn the title of Triple Crown Winner.

The required events will be the Reebok Spartan World Championship on September 20 in Killington, Vermont; the Team Championship on November 1 in Dallas, Texas; and either the South Carolina Spartan Race Beast or the Sacramento Reebok Spartan Race Super on October 25.

“We have some of the world’s top athletes competing in our races, where a mix of obstacles and terrain test their physical strength and mental resolve,” said Spartan Race founder Joe De Sena. “We are kicking it up a notch by giving these athletes an opportunity to ‘compete and repeat’ to prove their dominance in the sport.” 

Triple-crown racers will battle it out for the title and a $500,000 prize, which will be awarded to the top elite men and women with the best cumulative performance over the course of the three races.

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Where did you buy your peanut butter?     Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Nut Butters Recalled

Due to possible salmonella contamination

If you shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's, you might want to think twice before you bite into that PB&J you packed for lunch.

nSpired Natural Foods is voluntarily recalling its Arrowhead Mills peanut butter, MaraNatha almond butters, and several other private-label products sold under the Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Kroger, and Safeway brands. According the Food and Drug Administration, these nut butters are possibly contaminated with salmonella.

People infected with salmonella often experience fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Less-healthy individuals, children, and the elderly might experience serious, possibly fatal, infections. In other words, don't hesitate to toss your peanut or almond butter if you think it might be contaminated (check out the FDA's list here). 

But don't give up your nut butters altogether—thanks to their combination of protein and healthy fat, these spreads are among the best foods for athletes. If you're looking for a good alternative, we recommend Justin's. Stock up on the chocolate hazelenut flavor while you can.

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