Movies: Robot and Frank

June 22, 2014

I was waiting in line to check out books at the library when I noticed Robot and Frank on a nearby rack displaying a dozen or so DVDs. I’m not sure if their placement there means they’re popular, or recommended, or what. I often recognize the titles but rarely see any I want to watch.

As this was one I hadn’t heard of and it involved a robot, I was interested enough to pick up the box and read the description on the back. If it had been a book, that would have been enough for me to take it home to read. But since a movie would be for the whole family to watch, I first wanted to read some reviews.

The reviews were all positive, but the next time I went to the library it was checked out. I suppose it must be relatively popular, because it was weeks before I managed to find it again (back in the regular movie stacks but set apart on a display shelf).

It’s hard to sum up briefly, which is probably a large part of what I like about it. It doesn’t fit the usual categories of Hollywood movies (not surprising since it was an indie film, distributed by studios after it won a prize at the Sundance festival).

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Books: Robopocalypse

May 8, 2014

I checked this book on CD out of the library at the librarian’s recommendation, when I was looking for something we could listen to during our trip to Michigan and back for Zach’s graduation. I mentioned that we all like science fiction, so Pam suggested Robopocalypse.

It’s a reasonably interesting story (at least it kept me alert while driving hour after hour, although Jon managed to fall asleep a few times while it played). We would have preferred less coarse language, but it likely is fairly realistic considering that the book is all about fighting a war.

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Cyborgs in the making?

March 18, 2014

Yesterday our younger son asked why science fiction so often portrays problems that arise from a mix of the biological with the mechanical. We had an interesting conversation about real-life instances of machines embedded in people’s bodies, such as mechanical heart valves and cochlear implants. Such devices clearly improve a person’s quality of life without raising concerns that machines could be taking over.

Science fiction, of course, is always looking at what could happen in the future based on current trends. Might we someday have implants that challenge our ability to distinguish between person and machine? Or that make the distinction meaningless?

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If St. Paul had used Powerpoint…

February 8, 2014

I’ve seen Scripture passages “translated” into a format familiar to users of modern technology, such as
God texts the Ten Commandments.” But this is the first time I’ve seen anyone tackle an entire book of the Bible.

I’m not sure whether this is poking fun more at people who inflict their tacky Powerpoint presentations on others, or at those who prefer Scripture packaged in convenient, sound-bite-sized portions. But this “Terrible Powerpoint” version of 1 Corinthians is humorous.


Gone and mostly forgotten

July 26, 2013

Every now and then someone from my generation makes a comment about phrases our children don’t really understand because they refer to antiquated technology. Why do we talk about “dialing” phone numbers, or “rolling down” a car window? How can someone sound like a broken record? What is a carbon copy?

What I hadn’t thought about until I saw this link on facebook was the sounds that went with much of that old technology. The sounds of a telephone dialing or someone typing on a manual typewriter don’t exactly bring back memories, but they stir some sense of belonging to an earlier time.

My parents weren’t coffee drinkers, so percolators weren’t part of my childhood. And I don’t remember ever staying up late enough to experience a TV station sign-off until I lived in Spain as a college student (and thought of it as a quaint feature of Spanish TV).

But I remember flashbulbs and cash registers (I even operated one at K-Mart, not as old as the one on the linked page, but even when I worked there it was a very old model). I certainly remember film projectors (watching a movie in school was a really special treat), but they weren’t as noisy as that one.

I had completely forgotten gas station driveway bells. But just the thought of them also reminds me of those old vending machines with knobs you pulled instead buttons to push.

Other websites have more examples. Do you remember calling to get the time? (Or the weather?) Dial-up internet isn’t from nearly as long ago, but in “internet time” it’s ancient.

Another website includes slide projectors. (A few months ago, my son told me he had to do a slideshow for school. My first thought was “They still have slide projectors?” before I realized he meant PowerPoint.)

Dot matrix printers, though … they’re actually still around. As recently as last August I used one regularly, and for all I know it’s still there at the company I no longer work for. It will be a while before those go the way of 8-track tapes and floppy disks.


Books: Present Shock

June 29, 2013

This is yet another book I decided to read based on an email sent by my supervisor at the college. I read the linked article, about Douglas Rushkoff’s new book Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now, and found the topic intriguing.

Rushkoff is sounding an alarm about what he calls presentism – an obsessive focus on the present moment, unmoored from its context in the flow of time. He talks about society has lost the idea of narrative, and how people are slaves to the digital devices that demand their constant attention.

Perhaps it’s because I live in a relatively rural area in the Midwest, or because I am over fifty, but I don’t see the extremes he is talking about in my everyday life. I thought perhaps reading the book would help me get an idea of what is happening to people elsewhere, where these trends may have taken greater hold of people’s lives.

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Good new, bad news, or not news at all?

June 14, 2013

If you’re interested in manufacturing technology or the role of manufacturing in the economy, you may be interested in an article recently published in the Wall Street Journal, “Advanced Manufacturing: The New Industrial Revolution.” But what I found nearly as interesting as the article was (as is often the case) the different comments readers made about it.

The article itself is about how technology is changing the nature of the manufacturing process. Inexpensive electronic components make it possible for machines to monitor themselves, and humans located at remote locations can respond to problems that do arise. Additive manufacturing makes it possible to produce parts in shapes that were not feasible before, or that previously cost too much to be practical.

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High-tech socks

June 2, 2013

When you hear “high tech,” what do you think of? Computers, probably. Or at least something with a microchip in it – which could be almost anything these days. But socks?

I buy cheap socks. Considering that I wear pants most of the time, and my socks are seen so little that I’m mostly just interested in the color not contrasting too much with my pants, it hardly seems to make sense to pay extra for fancy socks.

Plus they stick around for very long, at least not in good shape. The last set of socks I bought, I think they had holes in the toes by the second time I wore them. Or they disappear when I wash them (only one of them, of course – and probably the one that doesn’t have a hole in it).

Until I read this article in the Wall Street Journal, I figured my sock troubles are just part of life, and a fairly small problem in the big scheme of things. But now I wonder, should I try some of the newer, high-tech socks?

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Mending made easy

December 26, 2012

For eight years I lived without a sewing machine. I had bought one used, a long time ago, back when I got my first full-time job and my first car and my first rented room. I had never-ending problems with the tension, even after getting it supposedly repaired at a shop that specialized (among other things) in fixing sewing machines. After I had children, I had no time to sew my own clothes, and I used the machine only for mending. It was such a pain to use that some mending jobs seemed easier to do by hand. When we moved from Michigan to Illinois eight years ago, I gave the thing away.

But some mending is not easier to do by hand, and the pile of unmended clothes grew. I looked, sometimes, at the sewing machines sold at Walmart, and wondered if a new machine might work better than that old one. But I remembered the man at the sewing machine repair shop telling me I had a good machine, made out of metal instead of plastic. The newer, plastic machines, he said, gave a lot more trouble. That was easy to believe, considering what I hear people say about newer models of so many other products.

The pile of mending got so big that I had been thinking, recently, of taking it to someone who does sewing to make some extra money. Somehow we never settled on a time for me to get the stuff to her, though – we both have busy schedules. Then a few weeks ago, at the Boy Scout Christmas campout, one of the Scout mothers was there with her sewing machine, sewing patches and badges on boys’ uniforms. It looked like it worked well, and I asked her about it. She was very happy with it, and explained that the electronics took care of the tension, and pretty much everything else.

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Books: The Neanderthal Parallax

November 9, 2012

Having previously enjoyed Robert Sawyer’s WWW trilogy, I tackled his Neanderthal Parallax trilogy over the past two weeks. Like Sawyer’s other science fiction, these novels are based on real science, however speculative some of it may be. As in the WWW trilogy, one of these areas of speculation is the origin of consciousness.

In the WWW trilogy, the theory that is explored posits a relatively recent origin of consciousness, less than three millennia ago. In this trilogy, it is set about 40,000 years ago, and is thought to be the result of a collapse and subsequent reestablishment of the earth’s magnetic field. Along with consciousness and therefore conscious choices came the first split between parallel universes.

As chance would have it (this being based on quantum theory), in our universe, it was our ancestors who developed consciousness. In the parallel universe, it was those we call Neanderthals. Our own ancestors, in that universe, failed to develop consciousness and subsequently died our, presumably (according to Neanderthal scientists) due to lower intelligence, our cranial capacity not allowing for as large a brain.

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