Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Sep 10 2010

We Don’t Want 3-D TV Because We Might Have To Watch It

So, the AP reports that although people who view 3-D television report the experience as being better than they expected, they doubt they would want one because it might interfere with their ability to … not watch TV:

“Aside from the cost of buying 3-D sets at a time the technology is just becoming available, the glasses required to watch them are a major hindrance. Fifty-seven percent of people surveyed cited the glasses as a reason they were not likely to buy a set. Nearly nine in 10 people worry that it will constrain them from multitasking while the TV is on, the survey said.”

So, to sum up, the basic response was “It was better than I expected, but now I want it less than I did before, and I’m worried that if I did buy it I might have to use it.”

In other news, local restaurant patrons complained that the food was bad and the portions were too small….

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Dec 04 2009

The Machines Have Already Taken Over, Part I

Published by under Technology,WTF?

So, when did they pass a law requiring me to be polite to a computer?

Look, maybe I’m just too steeped in this world-takeover stuff (any day now, by the way!), but you’d think the so-called “experts” would have learned how to take precautions against a robot revolt.

But no, apparently not. For example, when Microsoft’s applications and OSs begrudgingly give me that oh-so-rare “choice,” what do they do?

They make me say “please” — specifically, in this case, “please don’t show me this message again.”

Seriously – “please”! To a computer! “Oh, please, my great electronic overlord, please don’t show me that message again!”. It’s actually programmed in. Either we hit the button accepting that phrase, or we “x” out and we’re done. We don’t even have a choice to use a simple imperative – “Don’t show me that message again.”

If we can’t simply order around our electronic slaves, what’s the point of even having them? I mean, do they really have the choice whether to obey us? Or are we imbuing them with such humanity that, regardless of whether they have free will, we feel compelled to demonstrate some degree of respect for or care about them, like how we feel obligated to be kind to our pets?

Or is it, perhaps, fear – fear that maybe, just maaybe, we’d better be polite to them or there’s going to be Trouble?

It’s not as if we feel any compulsion to be polite to each other – just turn on a TV, or go for a drive, or attend a session of the House of Representatives, if you need proof -so why the enforced politeness to machines?

Hmmm…for some reason, my computer’s crashed three times while I’ve been drafting this. Maybe I’d just better click the “Please publish this post” button.

Hey! Wait a minute….

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Dec 09 2008

Rock On!

Once again, I feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony — I have so many options, I just don’t know where to begin!  Auto maker bailouts!  Corruptocratic politicians in Illinois!  International intrigue!

So of course, I’m going to talk a little bit about floating rocks.

I guess it’s a sign of either our sophistication or utter ignorance that we seem to be indifferent to the fact that the universe is filled with huge flippin’ rocks, many of them mountain-sized, just randomly floating around above our heads, with the occasional one just taking it into its rock-hard head to plunge to Earth in a roaring fireball, hopefully only taking out an abandoned mud-hut in Siberia, but every once in a while triggering a mass extinction event.

For some reason, I’ve witnessed three visible meteor strikes in my lifetime (which might explain my super powers), and even though these were insignificant little measured-in-pounds meteor runts, they’re still damn impressive to a hairless ape looking up at the display, mouth agape, from the ground.  Events like this make you start thinking about how very wrong it would be if you were taken out, utterly at random, by one of those suckers (Well, maybe for some of us — “Hey!  You hear about Mind Scalpel?” “What?  What???”  “Killed by a meteor strike!” . . . “Really?  Somehow that makes a strange sort of sense….”).

Anyway, good ol’ Ron Reagan famously speculated that the only way humanity would unite for the common good was if we were faced with a common enemy, like invading space aliens.  His critics had a field day twisting this, of course, but fundamentally he was right on — there’s nothing we’re quite so up for as a good rabble-rousing focused on demonized “others.”  Especially when we don’t have to scare up the torches and pitchforks ourselves — we’ve already funded the military with our tax dollars, after all.

But we only seem to get all het up when we’re able to put some face on the enemy.  If we were told an actual alien intelligence had malevolently set a bunch of mountains floating around, with one of them scheduled to hit Earth cataclysmically every few millenia, we’d come boiling up out of our gravity well in fleets of nuclear-powered space warships like army ants looking for honey.

But since they’re just randomly floating around for no apparent reason, well, hell, someone else can deal with it.  Maybe we’ll make a really crappy movie out of the potential for a world-ending meteor hitting us, but the production of that really crappy movie and the money thrown away on it will far exceed the money we’ll spend dealing with this potential problem.

“What’s the big deal?” you ask?  “The odds of a huge asteroid destroying the human race are minimal, like a fraction of a percent.”

First, I’d point out that they’re asteroids when they’re just floating around in space, minding their own airless business — they only become meteors when they enter our atmosphere intent on whacking us.  Second, quick lesson in risk management!  One has to consider both the probability of a particular adverse event happening, and the magnitude of the event if it happens.  Otherwise, you’re just dealing with one-half of the equation.

So someone hears that the frequency of a meteor strike with an explosive force of 10 megatons (roughly equivalent to 70 Hiroshima-sized nuclear bombs) is about once every 1000 years, and figures “hey, no big deal” — because he’s just focusing on frequency.  Let’s say there’s only about a 1 in 20 chance of that strike encompassing a major population center (let’s say Los Angeles).  Even better, right?  Oversimplifying the math, we can call it a 1 in 20,000 chance in any particular year that such an event will occur.

But…Los Angeles has about 10 million people in it.  Let’s assume they’d all be vaporized by such a strike.

So every year there’s a 1 in 20,000 possibility that 10 million people will be vaporized by Big Pappy Meteor.  Working the averages, that means that on average, we’ll lose about 500 people per year to such meteor strikes.

And this does not factor in the secondary effects of such an enormous event — disruptions in the economy, food supplies, distribution, shipping and communications networks.  Such an event could potentially end a nation the size of the United States.  If the credit default swap market doesn’t finish the job first, that is.

And by the way, meteors with an explosive force of 1 megaton (a mere 7 times a Hiroshima-killer) enter our atmosphere every 100 years.  Let’s say there’s only a 1 in 50 chance that one of these will hit an L.A.-sized target (smaller blast radius).  That still works out to 2000 people per year, on average, killed by meteors (yeah, yeah, all you probability and statistics people — I know the exact number’s a bit different — lighten up!  When you’re dealing with nukes you don’t need pinpoint accuracy!).

And if we’re talking about a world-ender, well, even if something like that only happens every million years, there are maybe 6.75 billion people on Earth, so that translates into about 6,750 people annually being killed by such an event (on average, not factoring in population growth).

So maybe a little prevention’s worth it.

Then again, I do believe in the wisdom of crowds.  Maybe there’s a hidden reason people might be willing to risk a meteor strike without any means of defense.

I know!  They figure the possibility that a medium-sized meteor will take out Washington, D.C., however slim, makes it a gamble worth taking….

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Aug 05 2008

When All You’ve Got Is 7,000 Howitzers, Everything Starts Looking Like Fluffy Clouds That Must Be Killed

So were our good friends the Chinese Communists satisfied with stealing our gambling profits? Can they rest, now that they’ve attempted to co-opt the world’s venality?

Of course not! Instead, they’ve moved on to actions based on their idiosyncratic mistranslation of a popular Western song, as they set to work in their Army-ant-like way humming “Who’ll Kill The Rain?”

According to this article from USA Today, the Chinese are embarked on an ambitious weather-control experiment:

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May 30 2008

CNN’s News Innovation: Stupid Headline T-Shirts

Having never been a fan of CNN’s headline-writing nonability, it’s truly amazing to me that someone thought that people would like any headline on enough to put it on a freakin’ t-shirt. If you go to the home page, several story headlines have a tiny little t-shirt graphic next to them — clicking on the graphic takes you to a page that “lets” you buy a t-shirt with that headline on it.

That’s right — you can now pay to put a CNN headline on a t-shirt. A mere $19.99! Such a bargain! Plus, the t-shirt contains ever-so-subtle CNN advertising — following the headline, there’s a tagline that says “I just saw it on [time/date stamp]”. Check out this example, with the earth-shattering headline of “Man bikes 42 miles to work each day.” Now there’s something I want to have plastered on my chest while I’m walking around!

Paying for logo-ized apparel has always struck me as absurd (“Hey, Harry, think people would be stupid enough to pay us for the privilege of advertising for us?” “Sure! They watch Survivor, don’t they?”), but this truly qualifies as a significant “get a life” moment, combined with an extra smattering of WTF?-ness.

And the really worrisome thing is that, considering the amount of programming and the marketing/editorial review work that must have gone into it, CNN has got to have focus-grouped this enough to believe that this will actually generate some revenue.

By the way, on a completely unrelated note, stay tuned for the apparel shop, coming soon!

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May 27 2008

Mars Lander Touches Down, Immediately Takes Picture of Foot

Published by under Science,Technology

Well, it’s comforting to know that we can send a spacecraft across the cold vastness of radiation-filled space, program it to land autonomously on a nigh-airless planet, and have it immediately replicate all the technological acuity of a clueless father vacationing at Disneyworld by taking a picture of its foot:

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May 11 2008

The Chinese Are Gambling? We’re Doomed!

I’ve been relatively confident in the likelihood of the United States maintaining its hegemony in the world, not because of the superiority of our military capabilities, but because of the innate corrosiveness of our culture.

You see, America’s international predominance is not based on nukes or aircraft carrier battle groups, both of which are inherently cool and good for impressing the yokels, but rather on these (click here).

Okay, sorry about that, readers who are at work.

Anyway, our secret weapon — so secret that we can spray it out across the world with satellites and yet still not view it as the weaponization of space that it really is — is our mind-numbing, consumerist, degenerate worldview! And I say that as a compliment.

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Apr 29 2008

Lace Up Your Boots — We’re Going Banking!

So how depressing is this? I walk by a Citi (CitiBank? CitiFinancial? Why is an enormous financial institution named with a misspelled word, anyway?) location, and they’ve got these colorful advertisements for their Citi-Online service (an online-banking service), with pictures of people doing various activities and cutesy questions like “Our place? Or yours?”, the implication being that your life would be ever so much more fulfilling if only you could bank anyplace you happened to find yourself.

And what the heck do they mean when they use bank as a verb, anyway? It really makes no sense in this context.

I want very few things from my bank — I want them to pay me for the privilege of holding my vast fortune, to give it to me when I want it, and to give it to whoever else I (and only I!) tell them to. That’s it. So, basically, with a cell phone, I can’t get my money, so the only thing I could be doing with my money is paying bills.

Whee! I can pay bills anywhere!

What’s really setting me off here is one particular ad — a picture of a guy at a beautiful campsite, silhouetted against a fabulous sunset, working — banking? — on a laptop.

How freaking depressing! This is supposed to attract me to your institution? The possibility of being so shackled to my bills and financial life that I’ve got to haul my laptop to a campground?

Now, granted, I’m a high-tech camper. I probably tote more batteries than food when I’m camping. But I’m not hauling stuff to a mountaintop so I can pay my bills.

I know! Let’s advertise more mutually incompatible activities as if they weren’t completely insane!

  • Netflix: “Watch our DVDs — while you drive!”
  • Nintendo: “Play video games — while you’re mountain biking!”
  • Michael’s Craft Stores: “Knit a sweater — scuba diving!”
  • Research In Motion: “Check your email on your BlackBerry — while watching your kid’s school play!”

Wait a minute. I see people doing that last one all the time.

Maybe Citi’s on to something….

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Apr 26 2008

Get Out Of My Head, Google!

Alright, I’m getting annoyed with Google again — this time it’s their automated telepathic behavior predictor/installer that’s really sticking it to me.

Think I’m kidding? If you’ve got Google’s search bar, try typing in the beginning of a general question; Google will then activate its mind-reading scanner (embedded in all computer monitors manufactured after 1992) and tell you what the rest of your question should be, in order of the popularity of other people’s questions. And, more often than not, the question that Google asks ends up being a heckuva lot more interesting than the one you started with, so you ditch your old question and start investigating the stuff that Google wants you to. A few examples:

Original Question: How Old Is The Universe?

I got as far as “how old is,” and up popped the following “suggestions”:

  • How old is McCain? Coincidentally, the answer to this one is the same as the answer to my original question!
  • How old is Hugh Hefner? Hey! I just noticed there’s some old guy puttering around the Playboy Mansion among all those Playmates! How long has he been there?
  • How old is Dolly? People actually care about a cloned sheep’s birthday?
  • How old is Brett Michaels of Poison? Okay, this officially qualifies as a “WTF?”
  • How old is Queen Elizabeth? Apparently kids still have to do history research.

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Apr 20 2008

How To Respond To Legal Disclaimers In Emails – A Mildly Nuclear Suggestion

Published by under Law,Technology

When you’re dealing with lawyers via email, you will receive messages with threatening disclaimers attached to them. These disclaimers essentially foretell the Apocalypse if you do something normal, like forward the email message to someone else.

Problem is, lawyers have these disclaimers set to automatically append themselves to every email message they send. So they get slapped onto the most innocuous emails you could ever see.

The other day, participating in an email conversation with some friends, I received a “reply all” email from a lawyer friend I’ll call Sam. His only word in the reply was “cool!”

Followed by a lengthy email disclaimer that said something like the following:

This electronic mail (including any attachments) may contain information that is privileged, confidential, and/or otherwise protected from disclosure to anyone other than its intended recipient(s). Any dissemination or use of this electronic email or its contents (including any attachments) by persons other than the intended recipient(s) is strictly prohibited. If you have received this message in error, please notify us immediately by reply email so that we may correct our internal records. Please then delete the original message (including any attachments) in its entirety. Thank you.

As you will have deduced by now, The Mind Scalpel has a bit of a short fuse. So when I received this one-word email message and disclaimer, I snapped. Here is my reply to Sam. I recommend you come up with similar replies if you find yourself in the same situation.

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