Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Vinyl Redux

November 20, 2017

In my garage are four large boxes of LPs (that stands for long playing, FYI).  Records.  Vinyl.  Black gold.  Cue The Beverly Hillbillies music.  I’ve been carting them around for almost 15 years now.  They’ve survived (I hope) a basement in St. Louis and several moves in California, after years sitting mostly neglected in our home.  I can’t bear to part with them.  They might be worth something!  But I haven’t owned a turntable in nearly 15 years either, and the idea of becoming linked in some way with a USB-turntable hipster dumpster diving through record piles is appalling.

But this?  This is actually tempting.  I have no doubt that audiophiles will decry it as woefully inadequate, but it’s innovative as heck!

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Nearby Paranoia

November 17, 2017

In case you found yesterday’s post about bombarding alien civilizations with unfettered communiques a bit on the paranoid side, here’s something that might be a little more disconcerting.

Robots are doing back-flips now.

While we can muse about whether artificial intelligence is equivalent to actually being human (as ludicrous as that conversation sounds), we can easily acknowledge that robots are increasingly capable of physical flexibility that puts the majority of the human population to shame.  And the little victory stance at the end did nothing to ease my anxiety.  Once again, the rush to see what we can do certainly seems to outpace our interest in discussing what we should do.

Historically speaking, this hasn’t always ended well.

As Time Goes By

November 9, 2017

My first computer was a TI-99, a gift from my engineering grandfather.  Data was stored on a magnetic cassette tape.  Through the years I’ve owned or worked on computers with a range of external data storage methods – various sized floppy disks, Bernoulli drives, CDs, DVDs, thumb drives, and various forms of flash drives.  As external data storage evolves, it orphans previous technologies, which also orphans the data you may have stored on them.

But orphaning as technology progresses can be software-based as well as hardware-based.  So it is that you might have such an old version of a file that current applications don’t recognize it and can’t open it.  Fortunately, there are sometimes work-arounds that can help you get back that prized, ancient file, like this one for MS-Word files.

Waste Not Want

October 20, 2017

I didn’t see much report about this in the news over the summer, but it seems like a pretty big deal.  China has been a major importer of the world’s recyclable materials, but is making changes that will place major restrictions on the type and amount of material it accepts in the future.  I haven’t been able to confirm it, but I’ve heard anecdotally that China – until these changes take effect – has imported up to 40% of America’s recyclable material.

That should have a major impact on our country, seeing the massive amount of plastics we use.  It’s going to get more expensive, at least in the short term, to find alternate ways of dealing with losing a major market for our recyclables.  It hopefully will drive us to find better ways of handling them in the first place.  Oversees, it was routine to see multiple bins in the places we stayed.  The expectation was that the household would clean and divide up the types of waste.  Organic waste/table scraps in one bin, paper waste in another, plastics in another, aluminum in another, etc.  It was a little excessive compared to our policy where we live that we just throw all the recyclables into a single bin for weekly pick up.

Much of what we do and how we do it is driven by convenience.  But convenience has a price, a price we’ve been able to deflect somewhat, but which may get harder and therefore more expensive to mitigate.  Hopefully that will spur our American creativity and ingenuity to find better solutions than we have so far.  It would be nice to see us dealing with our own issues and consequences rather than just off-loading them to other countries.

Who to Promote

September 20, 2017

I was raised with solid middle-class, middle-America values.  Children should be seen rather than heard.  Or maybe it was heard rather than seen.  Frankly, the preference was probably that we were neither seen nor heard.  In any event, the idea of self-promotion of any kind has always been anathema to me.  It isn’t that I don’t crave recognition.  I do.  But perhaps as a means of controlling that monster inside of me I’ve tried to avoid the spotlight as much as one can do from the front of a classroom or the front of a church.

I dreamed of being a writer but have abandoned that in a post-literate age where anybody can get published inexpensively.  Some of the folks that follow this blog seem to do so out of a concept of mutual self-promotion that eludes me.  I hope for fame, but expect that I won’t have to be the one telling people how awesome I am in order for that to happen.  It will just, someday, but broadly recognized and I won’t have to push for that recognition.

Is that too hard to ask?

My job is not to promote myself –  my job is to promote Christ, to make him known to as many people in as many different facets as He gives me time and opportunity.  But in order to put his name out there, it can be easy to be put mine out as well.  Given time and a bit of temptation, the desire for my name to be glorified can quickly eclipse the desire that his name be glorified.  On the flip side, excessive self-deprecation and equally result in his name not being shared as broadly as possible.  I’m wondering how to put out his Word without necessitating the inclination most people have (not entirely incorrectly) to want to know more about the messenger.

I’m being asked more and more to share my preaching and teaching with expanding audiences, particularly via the Internet as well as more localized outlets such as pre-recorded and live radio options.  It’s something I’ve been hesitant to do  because crafting a message for an audience unfamiliar with me, my congregation, my theology, etc. is a lot more complicated than just videoing a sermon and putting it online.  In a day where it’s customary to take things out of context, I want to think carefully about what I say before facing criticism either from those who don’t share my belief, or those who think they share my belief to a greater/stronger/more accurate extent than I do.

It’s also a lot of work, and being basically lazy, the idea of taking on additional work is unattractive.

But more and more I’m being led to see that this bears investigating further.  I went to lunch today with a gentleman who had the main intent of convincing me to think more seriously about radio and podcasting and other means of speaking to a larger audience.  Of course my ego loves this, and I have to try and put that down while still hearing what is being said and considering it as objectively as possible.  We have such Good News to share with a world that is so incredibly hungry for good news.  If we need to be reconsidering and reevaluating how we do Church in a rapidly changing culture, I can’t simply say that I’m not willing to consider other avenues for sharing the Gospel and helping people to understand it better.  Prayers are appreciated!

If You Have Kids….

August 18, 2017

…or grandkids, you need to know that most likely, they aren’t on Facebook anymore.  Most of their social media interaction is taking places on alternate platforms, and you should know about them and determine the appropriate way to guide, inform, and look after your child’s safety.  This is a good list of some of the most popular social media apps.

And if it sounds a bit draconian to be monitoring your child’s social media access, here’s some encouragement.

 

Too Much, Too Soon

August 2, 2017

First off, this is a tragic situation – every parents’ nightmare.  A middle-school girl committed suicide because of bullying – digital and otherwise – from some kids at her school.  The parents now intend to sue the school district for failing to put a stop to the bullying.  They are also considering suing the parents of the specific bullying students.

I have written in the past about the dangers of providing children with unfettered access to the Internet and social media.  I disagree strongly with parents who circumvent age-restrictions for their kids to access social media platforms.  While details of the particular social media platforms involved in this particular bullying case are not provided, most major social media platforms (Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook – even though kids really aren’t using Facebook these days) require users to be at least 13 years old.

Kids are kids, and are always going to be pressured to conform to peer expectations.  Sometimes that pressure is going to be abusive and intense.  Other times it will be subtle and insidious.  Handing a child a smartphone with access to the Internet and social media without providing training, support, monitoring, and limitations is just plain unhealthy.  Yes, your child might be mature enough to handle it.  But I’d argue the vast majority are not.  Believe it or not, your child (or grand-child, or great-grandchild, or niece or nephew or whatever) will survive not having 24/7 access to social media.  If they are laughed at or in disparaged for this by their peers, it’s stronger proof that they shouldn’t have it.

The Internet and social media are addicting.  Adults deal with this already, and children are even more impressionable as they seek to understand and discover who they are.  Our kids – and particularly our daughter – frequently talk about how different her friends become once they have a smart phone of their own.  How they talk more about pop culture, about being pretty, and just about how they are constantly checking their phone for updates and likes and other indicators of popularity.

This pressure was brutal enough in decades past, but today’s technology permits it to occur 24/7.  No break.  No escape.  Kids need their parents to be parents – to set limits, provide guidelines, to dialogue and to model healthy digital habits and behaviors.  There’s a lot at stake.

Three in a Row

May 31, 2017

Scanning the news this morning I came across three interesting articles.

The first is a not-so-veiled criticism of President Trump’s ban on certain electronic devices in airline cabins – meaning passengers have to put these items in their checked luggage instead.  As I reflected on this  article, it strikes me as one of the dumbest articles I’ve recently read.

The article ignores the fact that lithium ion batteries are “inherently volatile” beyond wanting to criticize a policy decision.  If they’re that dangerous, why are they allowed on flights at all?  Why are we using them in electronic devices that we carry with us everywhere if they are essentially the equivalent of little time bombs?  Wouldn’t the article be better aimed at critiquing why such a volatile substance is accepted beyond the parameters of certain airline flights from certain countries?

The second article is a great discussion of what may appear to be  rather arcane Supreme Court ruling that actually has a great deal of actual and potential impact for consumers everywhere.  I’ve long been distrustful of the growing trend of virtualizing ownership.  Seen most clearly in computer operating systems and software, it’s the idea that you don’t really own a product, per se.  Rather, you are paying for the right to access something that still belongs to someone else and who has ultimate say over what you do or don’t do with what you’re accessing.  Physical and intellectual property issues are critical not just for their economic implications but in terms of privacy and consumer rights.  Definitely worth a read through!

The final article describes the renaming of a NASA project to send a probe closer to the sun than ever before.  Instead of calling it the Solar Probe Plus (which is admittedly a lousy name!), it is being renamed the Parker Solar Probe in honor of a scientist.  But the article immediately reminded me of one of my favorite author’s short stories – The Golden Apples of the Sun.  It’s the name of both one of his short stories – about a manned trip to the sun to actually scoop up and bring back to earth some of the sun’s essence – as well as the anthology that includes the story.  Since Bradbury’s story pre-dates Eugene Parker’s solar scientific contributions, I think it’s at least worth considering.  Plus, The Golden Apples of the Sun is a far more beautiful name for a solar probe!

Re-Making Good

April 5, 2017

If you’re worried about your privacy and the security of your personal information in an interconnected, Internet world, you aren’t alone.  The man who first created the World Wide Web is also concerned.  Fortunately, unlike you and I, he’s the sort of guy who might be able to do something about it.

Resurrecting Rogues

December 27, 2016

We went to see the new Star Wars movie today, part of our annual Christmas-time tradition of going as a family to a movie theater.  Yes, it’s a good movie.  Far better than the last four installments, and frankly even better than I remember Return of the Jedi.  Rogue One inclines me to go back and watch at least A New Hope again to see the interplay, because I think they did a really good job of linking to that next (story-chronology-wise) film.

What I didn’t expect as part of that linking, was to see actors and actresses digitally reproduced for Rogue One as they appeared – roughly – in A New Hope, despite the latter being filmed 40 years ago and at least some of those actors being deceased.  Although Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin is the most obvious example of this, there is one other example at the very end.

I mean, realistically, it shouldn’t be unexpected.  Probably 90% of everything in the movie was digitally created or added in terms of scenery, backdrops, extras.  Frankly, before getting lost in the story – fairly immediately – I pondered how the stunning opening visuals of the new movie didn’t hold the same grandeur for me, knowing that they’re all computer generated.  Part of the immersion into another galaxy is lost for me knowing how little of it is created in our galaxy but rather in a digital galaxy on a hard drive.  But, the story was compelling enough so that such thoughts were short-lived.

Until Peter Cushing appeared on screen.  Since he died 22 years ago, I know that’s not him.  Even were he still alive he wouldn’t look as he did in 1977.  Yet there he is, very realistic and life-like and, had I not known all of the above, perhaps I would never be the wiser that he is as much computer generated wizardry as the backdrop of stars and Death Star behind him.

My immediate reaction was one of curiosity.  Not as to how they did it, but rather what the implications of doing it are.  Does Cushing have an estate, or family that would benefit from royalties or payment for the appearance of his likeness in this movie?  Does the movie studio get to use his likeness for free then?  Did anyone have to give permission for Cushing to appear in this movie, post mortem?  Star Wars fans are well aware that Sir Alec Guiness really disliked Star Wars and his role in it.  Could the studio use his likeness in future films, forcing Guiness to keep appearing in a franchise he loathed?

What’s to keep a studio from reusing famous faces indefinitely?  And what does this mean for actors and actresses, or frankly, for any of us?  What if a director spotted my face in a restaurant, snapped a pic on his phone, sent it to his animators and said ‘put this guy in the film‘?  Would I have any recourse?  Do I deserve compensation?

My wife sent me this article from The New York Times which discussed very few of these things.  The tone of the people quoted reminded me of stories where scientists pursuing questionable procedures are quoted.  Inevitably, they respond with something along the lines of Yes we know this is very complicated and controversial so you can trust us that we’ve thought it all through very carefully.  Which is not reassuring in the least.   I’m glad that thought was given.  But the idea that one small group of scientists or directors have the right to decide what is and isn’t acceptable, based on their own personal struggles and considerations of the topic is ridiculous.

Ultimately, they dismiss the concerns because it was really, really important to them and to their story to do it this way.  I would argue quite the contrary.  Tarkin’s presence would of course be expected in this film at some level, but there was certainly a lot of additional drama and therefore screen time that wasn’t necessary to the storyline at all.   And the fact that you wanted to do this to tell your story is not a justification for doing it.  Nor is the assurance that it’s really expensive and hard to do so not many other people are likely to do it, including us.  The fact that they were willing to go to the time and difficulty and expense of doing it obviously shows that these are not, in and of themselves, deterrent factors.

I was pleased to hear that they received permission from Cushing’s estate, at least.

In a rather unexpected twist of fate, I find myself in agreement with a Huffington Post editorial for a change.  It should not be in the hands of later generations to resurrect the image of a deceased actor or actress.  It is unfair to the dead, and ultimately another blurring of our own acceptance of and coming to grips with mortality in general.  This editorial also rings the same bells, though neither editorial propositions a very compelling rationale for their position.

Here’s my theological rationale:  something in us reacts against the idea of using the dead for these purposes because part of us resonates with the idea that they aren’t really dead and gone.  Oh, they’re not here with us, for certain.  But that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.  Therefore it’s more than just a memory we do offense to – we do offense to their reality.

If we truly die, if there is nothing beyond death, then that’s it and like an expired copyright others are free to cannibalize us and our works to the extent that the law allows or prohibits.  We can try to ensure that our families are compensated in some fashion, but that’s more of a formality than anything, and certainly one prone to eventual revocation should circumstances make that convenient.  There are no moral obligations to consider, because nothing like morality or appropriateness or ethics exist beyond our conceptualization – or reconceptualization – of them.

But if we aren’t truly dead and gone, absorbed back into atomic nothingness; if there is a corpus of ethical and moral standards that we have been entrusted with as stewards, not creators, then our misgivings have a root.  It’s not just the economics we balk at, not just the potential for misappropriation, but the possibility of actual offense.  Not against an idea or a memory but against a person – a person who may be dead but who continues to exist in a meaningful sense – every bit as meaningful as when they were alive.

If we remember that our theology isn’t separated somehow from the rest of the issues we try to make sense of, these other issues begin to make more sense.  It isn’t a matter of respect for the living or the dead, but rather for a person, who might be living or might be dead, but exists just as definitely either way.  What’s more, Christian theology indicates that we don’t simply continue to exist, we continue to exist in relationship.  What we look forward to is a time to come when we are together again, more together than ever before.  Our actions to one another continue to have meaning and weight.  And while I have no doubt that if we do take advantage of somebody after they are dead, and we meet together again in glory there will be forgiveness for that, it still dictates how we treat that person up until that reunion.  Not as an asset to be exploited but as a creation of God the Father, redeemed by God the Son, and – God-willing – brought to faith by God the Holy Spirit.