R.U.R.F.R. Are You Ready for Robots?

Creepy? Silly? Big Brother? Futuristic? The Beginning of the End? The Signal for the Singularity from which the Terminator emerges?

Malibu Security Mart Robot, photo from Roland Woerner

Mobile security robots are popping up with increasing frequency at gas stations, malls, and casinos. It caught my attention when this morning’s news had a snippet that Huntingon Park is installing a “robocop” to patrol city streets. Another story from CBS Los Angeles back in February asked, “Is 2019 the Year Robot Security Guards Go Mainstream?” Whether we label them robots, bots, nanos, androids, automation, or Big Brother, the permeation of programmed surveillance throughout our culture is something that requires continuous vigilance and assessment.

Robocop from 1987, photo from filmschoolrejects.com

Imaginary Cautionary Tales

Like many, I find the increasing examples of robo-guards disturbing, in part because there are so many stories about robots gone haywire. Reference to the word “robocop” immediately conjures up Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 dystopian tale of a privatized military and a militarized police force. Will Robinson’s companion robot from Lost in Space, the show I grew up watching, was originally programmed to sabotage the ship and murder the humans. Even when the robots are cute, like in Wall-E, there are often mastermind machines behind the scenes determined to tame or neuter humans. See also Oblivion. See also Forbidden Planet. See Iron Giant, Westworld, well, just see this handy list from BuzzFeed.

The word “robot” comes from a 1920’s Czech play by Karel Capek called R.U.R., which stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots. Capek coined the word roboti as a deliberate reference to the Old Slavic word rabu or slave. In the play, humans are producing robots (androids we might say, since they have human features and characteristics) originally to take on menial work. But the humans start to die out, the robots rebel, and they are left to restart the world in their image.

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War Over the Thermostat

As hundreds of tornadoes blasted across the midwest this past week, the impact of climate change popped up in a more mundane but perhaps significant way in two New York Times articles about room temperature. A recent study found that energy consumption increases as you get older, especially quite old, meaning a lot older than I am right now. Another study showed clearly that women and men perform cognitively very differently depending on the temperature. Both of these studies suggest our battles over the up and down arrows on the thermostat are just beginning.

Over 70? Never Be Without a Snuggie

A study published in Energy Research and Social Science looked at the use of energy stratified by age, including impact from variables of income and housing size. The data from 1987 to 2009 used pseudo-cohorts, a sciency way of saying that the study was designed to look at age groups that changed over time. In other words, they looked at energy consumption by age, and they followed those age groups for about twenty years.

From “Age matters: Ageing and household energy demand in the United States” in Energy Research and Social Science, September 2019

Apparently young people don’t use as much household energy, most likely because they run around and live in small rooms, like dorm rooms. Multi-person families buy bigger houses, so that the entire family uses relatively more energy, which seems to pick near age 50. Energy use then decreases, but starts to drive upward again after age 70.

When the researchers added income to the model, the upward slope tipped even higher, meaning that having more income when you’re older magnified the impact. This wasn’t true for those under age 30, though. Whether income was included or not, people in their twenties don’t use as much energy, whether they can afford it or not. A lot of the increase in use as people get older was due to housing size, though not all of it.

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Rewiring My Brain: Escucha y Repita

Despite five years of German and two years of French in middle school and high school, I retained none of it. I think I am not a “language person,” and I have often envied friends who seem to acquire languages like adding an extra car just because they can. Nevertheless, it’s been on my radar for years to learn Spanish. It is California; we are practically a bi-lingual state. I decided 2019 was the year to give it the full welly. I discovered ways to learn and not to learn, I started exercising parts of my brain that I didn’t know where there, and learned all about el hombre con seis dodos. Español, aquí voy!

Duolingo language app
The Duolingo free language app

How Not to Learn Spanish

This started three years ago when my daughter showed me the free Duolingo app, which purports to teach you a language five minutes a day. Since I enjoy a challenge, most of my focus has been to keep my streak going. (200 days in a row as of today). I have learned a decent amount of vocabulary, particularly about chicken with rice, fish burgers, and wine.

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The Origins of Greensleeves and Syphilis

Greensleeves illustration
Greensleeves illustration by Walter Crane. Based on a theme written by ??

This may not seem like a holiday-themed post, but in the theater of mad decorating that took place at our house last week, listening to Christmas carols led to all sorts of topics. One of my favorite carols popped into the mix: “What Child is This?” played by Vince Guaraldi on The Charlie Brown Christmas CD.  Naturally, the song led to a discussion of “Greensleeves” which naturally led to… anyone? anyone? Henry the Eighth… which naturally reminded of something I recently learned about syphilis.

The Earworm Virus of “Greensleeves”

The lyrics to “What Child is This?” were written as a poem by William Chatterton Dix, who mused on what the magi might have said besides, “Where the Holiday Inn?”  Dix was an English insurance company manager whose near death illness invoked a spark of divine inspiration so intense that he began writing poems like “The Manger Throne.”  At some point, when a hymnal was later created in 1865, his poem was set to the ‘borrowed’ tune from “Greensleeves.”

The little ballad, played by strolling bards at Renaissance festivals and the more famous pick-up lute quartets, had been around for nearly three centuries. The song has long been attributed to Henry, and the legend goes that he wrote it for Anne Boleyn as she was rejecting his advances. Continue reading “The Origins of Greensleeves and Syphilis”

The Earth’s Wobble is Veering

 

Globe
The earth, minding its own business, while secretly wobbling on its axis. Photo by kajmeister.

It doesn’t take much to get me going down a rabbit hole for facts. I’m on the hunt now, I’m on the trail. Harper’s published a factoid in their current issue’s Index which said:

Distance, in feet, by which the Earth’s axis of spin has shifted since 1899: 34
Estimated percentage of that shift that is due to climate change: 40
Harper’s Index, Dec 2018

Thirty-four feet? Really? How do they know that?  I do understand that climate change is occurring, however I also like to understand the facts behind statements. How do they know it’s due to climate change?

Start With the Wobble

First, we have to visualize the earth spinning on an axis and having a wobble.

The Wobble Dance
Dance “The Wobble”

No, not that kind of Wobble.

Start with the earth. It leans. What does lean mean? It is a matter of perspective. For example, many of us have been brought up to believe that north is up:

World Map, north at top
Standard world map from geology.com.

But, in fact, there’s no reason to view the world that way. People who happen to be standing in Antarctica don’t stand on their heads. From their point of view, the world map would look like this:

World Map, south at top
World Map, southern orientation. From Manywaystoseetheworld.com

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