Skip to main content

Posts

Showing posts from May, 2013

Nifty little game engine

Stumbled across this game engine during my post-work surfing. Essentially this is a special relativity modeler, slowing down the virtual speed of light so some of the stranger, more paradoxical effects are visible in real time. There's an element of this video that verges on the 'ooh, trippy lights,' category of game demos, but I like the alternate perspective on science it offers.


Hiraeth

Every once in awhile I'll run into a new word that will stick with me for a while. This word, hiraeth, is Welsh and represents one of those innumerable words that fall into broad category one might call 'unenglishable.'



Essentially the word is homesickness tinged with nostalgia, a wistful ache for something that wasn't ever actually experienced. There's a kind of tragic tone to the word as it often describes the feeling Welsh people feel for a homeland that was absorbed a long, long time ago into England.

Not so coincidentally, I consider myself Welsh in background. I'm a lot of things actually, Irish, Swedish, Scottish but, somehow my parent's calculation that I was at least 40% Welsh always resonated with me. Now, mind you, I never made the slightest effort to actually learn anything about my supposed homeland, allowing it to remain some hazy realm filled with scraps of hills and valleys, red dragons and an almost comically opaque language. Welsh was a ho…

Long Weekend

Memorial Day is the start of the official countdown for me. I have a few more weeks of regular employment and then bring on the summer. I'm really looking forward to the two and a half months this year.



Last year I felt I made real progress making the switch from having this writing thing be a hobby to something, you know, else... I've written a half a dozen stories, gotten more or less to the rejection process, and developed a somewhat work schedule for this blog, writing stories, and then sending them out.

Still, the summer is when I get the bulk of work done. It's not too tough keeping up a regular schedule during the first half of the school year but once we get to this point the work load begins to expand exponentially. It will be nice to resume my routine of waking up at a decent hour, trundling over to the local cafe, and banging out a thousand or so words everyday. It's that routine that I've found really helps the process the most. When the product of a pr…

Watson's new gig

You might remember Watson as the black box digital Jeopardy champion from a few years back. You might have forgotten that after leaving showbiz, IBM's natural language-using super-computer turned to oncology, providing diagnosis based on user answers to questions. Now Watson is moving into the customer service industry, having been tapped to provide answers to chat, telephone, and email questions for Royal Bank of Canda, Nielson (television ratings), among other companies.


Because I do not work in a field that Watson could easily move into (for now), I can look at this development with a certain degree of dispassion. But here is more evidence that one huge industry previously dependent on human labor is about to be seriously disrupted. The point isn't that millions of telecommunications workers will suddenly be unemployed but rather that millions more will never be hired, their positions taken up by 'good-enough' intelligence of Watson.

The Ship Itself

I saw Star Trek into Darkness again this weekend, same movie twice in three days, something I don't normally do. I wondered why to myself afterwards. What makes me want to see a movie again, especially back-to-back? As you might tell from my review, or possibly your own experience, the movie is good, very good in places, but certainly not the best-thing-I've-ever-seen great.

So why was I so enthralled? What was I hoping to get out of a repeat viewing?

To me it boils down to two images, one of which is a SPOILER and one of which is definitely not.



First, I loved the image of the monster crying. Benedict Cumberbatch does a phenonemal job selling a sinister and yet devoted Khan Noonien Singh. There is something so perversely right about the helpless rage he lapses into after surrendering to Kirk. He was convinced the others exiled with him had been killed and now he saw the possibility that they would be saved. The idea of these genetically, genocidal maniacs running around "…

Star Trek into Darkness review

Star Trek into Darkness poses a challenge to review without spoilers. So much of what makes it worth talking about, as a Trek fan, is bound up in the interplay between the mythology of Star Trek and the requirements of a summer blockbuster. Nevertheless, it's possible to talk about the first third of movie without getting into too much trouble so I'll start there.

J.J. Abrams' second movie opens on the planet Nibiru with James T. Kirk (again played by the very versatile and energetic Chris Pine) fleeing through a scarlet forest away from some sort of wicker ziggurant. He holds a scroll in his hand, which he informs Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban who at this point owns Bones' folksy snark) he saw the natives of the planet prostrating themselves in worship over. Overhead we see the roiling smoke of the volcano where Spock, Sulu, and Uhura (Zachary Quinto, John Cho, and Zoe Saldana) are getting ready to drop a 'cold fusion device' into an active volcano, freezing it be…

Real problems

Let's talk about real problems.

Not Benghazi. Not the IRS. Not even the deficit.

Lets talk about the future.



You see, the mainstream media is just beginning to awaken to the fact that something has changed over the past decade. There are no longer enough jobs for everyone and the number of employed people keeps decreasing a little bit each year. This has been happening since the turn of the century and it promises to accelerate.

Partly this stems from the nature of the workforce. Demographically, we're getting older. As people live longer, a greater percentage of the population is retired or on disability. But a share of the blame goes to technology.

At the dawn of the industrial revolution, the introduction of automation and mass production still required labor. Someone had to operate the increasingly sophisticated machines or design future machines. But we are reaching the cusp of a great wave of change. Machines are beginning to design other machines and smarter technologie…

Personalized Toys

On one level, this advertisement from Disney isn't that special. I remember going to Disney way back in the late 80s and getting some custom-made plastic gewgaw that I promptly threw in the bottom of the old toy bin as soon as we returned home. I also had mugs with my dogs face on it and I'm sure everyone has given at least one 'Build-A-Bear' stuffed animal or engraved knickknack from "Things Remembered." However, I do think 3D printing offers up something new.

For one thing, the 11 year old version of me would have gone insane for this kind of thing. Just in the interest of honesty, that needs to be said. But I also know that the possibilities of this technology would have been just as compelling. With a little tinkering, you could imagine actual action figures with a real person's face on them or stuff animals with stylized rendering of a real pet. I'm not sure everyone would want this, but you have to imagine there would be some kind of market for …

Just in

Preview for Ender's Game. Enjoy.


Work: What's it Good For?

I love my job.

Okay? I love going to work each day and teaching what I know about ancient history to middle school students. I like the challenge of my job and like taking small steps every day to be better at what I do. I'm one of those very lucky people that has the job they would have picked. If I won the lottery tomorrow I really would go to work the next day.

In other words, I'm lucky and I know it.

However, a question has been pressing on my mind more and more recently. Why do we have to work? Clearly, until artificial intelligence progresses, someone needs to be in a classroom helping and encouraging young learners. So I have a few more years of relatively stable employment. But that's just not the case for every industry.

Think about it. Manufacturing jobs are moving back to the states, but they're being filled by robots. Craigslist employs 35 people, makes a respectable amount of money, and has destroyed the market for classified ads across the country. There …

L'Homme de Fer

First, and I think you should keep this in mind, Iron Man is a fun action movie directed by guy, Sean Black, well-known for fun action movies (Lethal Weapon being the prime example). It has a pleasingly asymmetrical plot, lots of impressive SFX, and veritable police line-up of despicable villains. It doesn't do anything particularly new and its big "twist" is fairly low-key. As a matter of fact, the entire movie seems like an elaborate exercise in establishing the proper scale of an action movie.



Right off the bat, Tony Stark (played with with a bit more roiling pathology than his last time out in the Avengers) listens calmly as his friend and fellow exoskeleton pilot Col. James Rhodes explains a series of bombings ascribed to an arch-terrorist The Mandarin. Stark suggests the problem is one for the President and the military rather than the Avengers and the Shield Organization. The suggestion here is that Iron Man is concerned with threats of a truly global scale, not t…

Glass more than half full

Forty percent.

That's the number of Americans that would be willing to trade more of their civil liberties for security in the wake of the Boston Bombings according to a recent CNN/Time poll.

Now, I've seen other numbers that are more encouraging and some that are less but the overall public reaction to the bloody terrorist attack on April 15th was muted and somber. Maybe a moment should be observed about what hasn't happened in the two weeks since the attack.

No general outcry for more profiling, more wiretapping, more exceptions to basic liberties. No drum beat of more foreign adventures oversea or support for Russia to invade Chechnya. No blind panic.

The reaction to the Tsarnaev's successful plot has been far from perfect. The 'voluntary' lock-down of Watertown and other parts of Greater Boston is troubling. I'd also like to know whether or not Dzhokhar did ask for a lawyer during his interrogation several times before being granted his request.

But thi…