Come the Singularity

2 11 2011


Robert X. Cringely

Some interesting thoughts from Robert X. Cringely:

“How do you educate yourself to deal with the changes in your business knowing that whatever you do is going to be replaced by a computer sometime in the future?  First concentrate on the structural parts of any enterprise that are likely to never go away, computers or no: 1) finance; 2) marketing; 3) production or service…

“Jaron Lanier once told me that you can have enough money, enough power, but you can never have enough experience, so I plan to give my kids as much experience as they can handle, keeping in mind the fact that even post-Singularity it may still matter more who you know than what you know.

“Live in the coolest place, I tell Cole [Cringely’s son] and his brothers. Have the coolest friends. Do the coolest things. Learn from everything you do. Be open to new opportunities. And do something your father hasn’t yet figured how to do, which is every few years take off 138 days and just walk the Earth.”


I thoroughly enjoy Cringely’s blog:


What is the Singularity?


I Love to Fly

24 09 2010

San Antonio Sky

Yes, I love to fly. As I headed for the airport in San Antonio this morning at 3:30 am, I began to hear  B.W. Stevenson’s “Texas Morning” playing in my head.  

The San Antonio weather has been wild with the remnants of a tropical storm in the Gulf of Mexico blowing in and wreaking havoc. On my way in to Saint Anthony’s town, we sat on the runway in Dallas until 55 mile per hour winds died down and then circled SAT for a while for the same reason. When the winds reach a particular speed one is not allowed to land. I talked to a couple of good old boys who had already been to San Antone once then were sent back to wait at DFW.  

 I recall, some years ago, I was at DFW. A storm came rolling in and a plane was landing when a monstrous downdraft sucked it all the way down too soon. There’s a freeway just north of DFW Airport and some poor fellow had just moved to Dallas and gotten himself a job. As I remember, it was his first day, or maybe his first week and he was on the freeway that morning and the landing gear of the airliner brushed the top of his car and crushed it and him.  

 And then the plane hit too soon, missing the runway, and too hard and I looked out an airport window that early morning and the air was filled with fire and smoke. So I have no problem with taking our time to land.  

 I walked out of the San Antonio airport two days ago, and the sky was harsh brushstrokes of gray and black and wind whipped in all directions at once. It smelled like storm and I was reminded of growing up in Texas and just how fierce the weather could get.  

 It only dribbled on me as I drove to my hotel and when I went down to the Riverwalk for dinner it just rained hard enough to wet my glasses so I couldn’t see.  

 That night storms boiled and thundered all around and the rain pounded the window of my hotel room. I was content as Mother Texas rocked me in her roaring  bosom.  

 The next day was merely cloudy and so humid it felt like you could reach up and peel the weather off of your face and now my glasses fogged up. I didn’t really see much of San Antonio on this trip, but I experienced it.  

 It is before dawn, as I walk toward the terminal, the bus driver, a very nice and dedicated Hispanic gent, regales me with his exploits. For 22 years he has driven a terminal bus and never even been late for work once. In the dead quiet of a hot and humid San Antonio 4am I notice the insects—moths bang against the terminal window and crickets hop around me.  

 “Right in the middle of a ten cent scenery
Shuffled and stacked on a postcard rack
There’s a cute little kid on a Shetland pony
Smiles at me, I can’t smile back.  

Cactus Jack drinks coffee black
Tells me it’s my lucky day
Five o’clock in the Texas morning
I come a long, long way.”  

Will Stockdale & Ben Whitledge from "No Time for Sergeants"

 “…crackle, crackle…” The airplane shudders in the air currents. Will Stockdale spits into the back of the radio, “Hello…hello?” I look out the window and the wing lights flash through the pre-dawn cloud cover. “Sparks, what’s going on, can you reach the tower?”  

I remember this scene. Now we will break through the clouds and see below us gigantic ferns and a diplodocus or two. “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”  

 I shake my head to clear the morning cobwebs. How did I get on a plane to DFW? Wasn’t I just returning from there? Someone hit the fast forward and DFW is my connection again, this time on the way to BWI, Baltimore-Washington International. 

"Odyssey of Flight 33"

 Have I said that I love to fly? Ho, ho, strike up the band Willie, I’m on the road again. Behind me a tank-top-clad mother with color tattoos spilling out of her shirt all around her neck and down her shoulders, is cursing her children in a stage whisper. The little darlings are kicking the back of my seat.

Across the aisle, an elderly man—meaning older than me—is reading a magazine, well reading isn’t quite right, it is filled with photos of scantily-clad young women. But at least he isn’t drooling.  

 The woman to my right, in the center seat, is reading a magazine filled with photos of scantily-clad young women, but what clothing these are wearing I would classify as “fashionable.”  

 “Yip, yip,” at first I thought the flight attendant had the hiccups, but now I realize there is a dog somewheres about. From the lack of profundity in its bark I infer a very small dog, perhaps a chihuahua.  

 Sometimes I play a game and try and guess what people’s faces look like. I spend a great deal of time staring at the backs of people’s heads. I am almost always wrong.  

 The sun is on the horizon or we have risen up to meet it. I will see good friends, commercial friends, amigos de la calle in the suburbs of Baltimore, and other friends, mi casa et su casa friends and I come bearing tea and books including our new Pathfinder Advanced Player’s Guide and my godchild: Jason C.S. Chen’s A Tea Lover’s Travel Diary. Both available at Amazon and other find book retailers.  

 My GPS is primed to get me from BWI to Timonium and other nearby destinations.  

I believe the Blues Brothers said something to the effect: “We’ve got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, we’re wearing sunglasses and it’s dark outside. Let’s hit it!”  

 Did I mention that I love to fly?

We Gotta Get Out of This Place…

28 07 2010

Out front

San Diego Comic Con 2010 is difficult to corral. Put 200,000 people in a small space: thrill, excite, poke eyes out with pencils, titillate, and exploit. What do you get? Fun. Mayhem. Lunacy. Yes, that is Comic Con.

 I arrived on Thursday morning prepped for a meeting with a chain bookstore buyer. I got out of the cab at the San Diego Convention Center [Strange Interlude Primo: San Diego wins, hands down, as the city with the most garrulous cab drivers—they all wanted to talk and liked to talk, and they talked—end of Strange Interlude] so I removed myself from the taxi and there were people everywhere. All over the place they were, and then some. And they were all moving. It looked like a god had discovered this gigantic ant hill full of Homo sapiens and stirred it up with a celestial stick. The humants had boiled over away from the convention center across a very wide main thoroughfare and into the streets and onto the sidewalks of downtown San Diego. I did not look to see if they were also swimming in the Pacific Ocean.


 Then Dame Fortune smiled upon me. I was fearfully close to a meeting time and the Facebook rumor mill had declared the lines interminably long, including the “Pro” line. And if the outside of the convention was any sign…the line wove back and forth like some enormous mythical snake or perhaps the Worm Oroboros, seeming to have neither a head nor a tail. But then I spotted the door for Pro’s and there was no line, and smiling folks ushered me along and I had my badge so fast my head was spinning. Glorioski!

 “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; or close the wall up with our Comic Con dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility…” And I entered. As there were countless people outside, so the interior of the hive was filled with social mammals, all intensely active. It was hot. I suppose the climate control equipment had just been fired up, so it was very hot. And it smelled like feet.

A really good Batman and Catwoman

I was swimming uphill. Take one step forward two to the side, twist, duck the pike over that guy’s shoulder, small step, small step, slide. It had been many years since my last Comic Con and the differences, besides the enormity of the crowds, were 1. Professionalism, the exhibits and displays had a much more professional look, for the most part. The big boys, D.C., Marvel, Dark Horse, IDW, Hasbro, Mattel, Lego, Star Wars…ad infinitum and ad nauseum, the big boys dominated. Two and three stories some of the exhibits rose up unto heaven. 2. Noise, the roar of the crowd, the even louder roar of music and sound systems, the constant buzz of light sabers as Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker fought an endless battle on a giant screen, barkers sought to draw me into their own little reality, and the chicks, there were lots of young, scantily clad chicks handing out…things…I do not know what, I did not take any.

A super Joker and Two-Face

 And other chicks wanted me to lie down inside a suspended animation chamber from the Nostromo in Alien…hmmm, if the very air I breathe smells like feet, what does a suspended animation chamber that has just disgorged Monstro the Human smell like? No thank you.

 3. And there were costumes, cosplay is a term I am just learning. There were very professional looking costumes like a Batman and Catwoman I saw and a Joker with a female Two-Face. Turn and look, catch an eye, wiggle your camera, and the be-costumed posed. It was as if a large percentage of the attendees were trapped in a Warholian mobius strip experiencing their 15 minutes of fame over and over and over until the show shut down.

 At one point I wandered up onto the second floor balcony to avoid a lot of the crowd and a section was roped off so that a pair of beefy, homemade-armor-clad knights could clang and bang each other whilst a king with robe and crown adjudicated. This was of course the SCA, Society for Creative Anachronisms.
These noble warriors and I have crossed paths many times.

On the outside: San Diego is one swell city!

The weather in saint Diego’s city was cool, nice, just around 70. The sun shone bright on the ocean and sailboats abounded.

 [Strange Interlude Secondo: My hotel was far from the madding crowd. Howsomeever, one reason I chose it was because it was on the shuttle bus line. Several years ago I had made the horrible mistake of choosing an hotel not on a line. During BEA my boss and I trudged for miles lugging briefcases and suitcases though the early summer high humidity in an annoying drizzle in New York City, and my left shoulder still clicks because of that. So I was on the bus line. Hurrah. Well, that morning I had an early appointment and took a cab.

Go ask Alice...wait, wait, she's late, she's late for a very important date...

 In the evening I boarded the appropriate bus. There was just me and a guy from New Jersey. The bus driver, also loquacious, gabbed about being in law enforcement and he did this to earn poker money. The bus continued on and came to a final stop at a Hilton on some island. The Jersey guy de-bused. I sat. The driver turned and looked at me. “You get off here. This is the last stop.” Me: “That sign on your windshield says there are two more hotels, and mine is next.” Lawman: “I’m not going any farther, you have to get off here.” Me: “But…” Him, “Did I mention I was in law enforcement?” Me: “So I get off here, eh?” Him: “Yeah, there’s a taxi.” He pointed. I disembarked. End Strange Interlude the Last.]

This guy stayed at my hotel and he got on the bus like this.

 I had many good meetings with buyers from all the major book chains, and I saw artists including Tom Baxa, Mark Nelson, and Todd Lockwood, plus meeting Dave Seely, and there were writers, and publishers, and editors I have known and appreciated for many a year including a super conversation with Pyr Editorial Director Lou Anders and a swell dinner with D.C.’s Bob Wayne, writer Joe R. Lansdale, and Karen Lansdale. Ha, ha, it was an especial delight seeing Mary Franklin of Lucasfilm. I had not seen Mary in about seven years…oh how tempus does fugit!

 This was the place to be and to be seen. It was exhilarating and exhausting and gratifying. And I will be back next year. Oh, and I bought myself a bright red Green Lantern hoodie. Now I just have to wait for the Seattle weather to get back to normal so I can wear it.

More Comic Con photos: 

The Littlest Storm Trooper


Marvels of the 20th Century

2 05 2010

Looking backward, the 20th century was pretty remarkable in a lot of ways. Major wars, we found lots of new ways to kill people. Major medical discoveries, many diseases were mostly wiped out. Antibiotics saved many lives and also helped generate new and deadly dangers. Jonas Salk brought us the Polio Vaccine. Things remembered as a child that I hope will never occur again: classmates crippled by polio. I remember a little girl who lived up the street from my family in Houston who was in an iron lung. The neighborhood kids would kind of hang out sometimes, trying to look in through the front door and see the poor girl in the living room, at least we did until we were told that was very rude.

I remember watching an episode of The Loretta Young Show—strange interlude—whatever happened to that show? Why doesn’t it ever appear in reruns, somewhere? Ha, and Bob Hope describing Ms Young as “A chocolate-covered black widow spider. So there was this episode where Loretta’s…her husband, I think…was in an iron lung, and the power goes out during an electrical storm. And the hand crank on the lung doesn’t work and she is frantic trying to keep him alive until the power comes back on. That episode had a powerful effect on me, for me to still remember it 50 years later.

I remember the first round of polio vaccinations. It was at school and we were in some sort of tunnel, perhaps a tent had been erected out front. I was near the back of the line, having a terrible fear of injections. But that was worse because I had to watch all the vaccinated kids walk out crying or white-faced. Subsequent rounds were given on sugar cubes, but that first one was a shot.

So, back to a century of marvels, good and bad. What is my favorite invention from last century? Hmmm. Well, I certainly love this computer on which I am currently writing, and I spent half of the 1990’s building and installing CAD machines. I was in the first real television generation. The family used to laugh about me, the child: I asked my mother what she watched on television when she was a little girl.

Marvel that it is I have to put television on both sides of the line. It was a wonderful invention and certainly shaped my life and I would not be anything like what I am today without it. I guess The Twilight Zone pointed me toward science fiction. And I always wanted to be part of the Cleaver family where mothers vacuumed whilst wearing pearls, fathers had heart-to-heart chats with their children in the den, and the houses were two stories. But I didn’t want a goofy next door neighbor like Larry Mondello. Actually, all of Beaver’s friends were creepy.

But television is evil, too. It broke up families. I was still pretty young when I started begging to eat my dinner in front of the TV. And we got TV trays and the very first god-awful Swanson TV dinners in those tin trays—or were they aluminum?—and I watched television whilst I ate and my parents sat in the kitchen at the kitchen table, and conversed during dinner, which is what families should do.

I suppose I will have to condemn the computer then, too. I am fortunate in that I work for a company that makes table top roleplaying games where people actually sit down together to play. Computers engendered computer games and now folks sit and stare at a screen for hours. Sigh. I often think we are indeed moving toward Asimov’s world of R. Daneel Olivaw where humans only see one another in person in order to procreate. And shucks, we really don’t even need personal contact for that anymore. Oy, is robot sex on its way?

All right. So what other marvels came into being or grew to enormity in the 20th century? Automobiles. Sure they began in the 19th century, but in the 20th they dominated. We went from Henry Ford and his Model T, to the incredibly indulgent Hummer. The surface of our planet crawls with cars like cockroaches on a chocolate cake. We became mobile. You could get from here to there in nothing flat.

Perhaps nothing contributed more to the breakup of the extended family than the automobile. If you lived in Tennessee and heard about a good job in California…well just get in your flivver and roll on out. Or if you lived in Oklahoma and all the topsoil blew out into the Pacific Ocean, load up the family and move to Beverly…wait, I’m getting confused. Henry Fonda didn’t play Jed Clampett.

And how we love our automobiles. I have a friend who collects Ferrari’s. Collects. Whoa, and they went to China for a race and 250,000 people gathered at a track in Shanghai to watch folks drive in circles. And every year I go to the Books-a-Million show in Birmingham and it often coincides with Talladega and the hotel is awash in drunken folks who loves them some auto racing. Ha, one year two drunken women got into a fight in the lobby over who was going to steal the standee of Will Ferrell.

And then there is air pollution. I suppose nothing has contributed to particles in the air we breathe and possible heat released into the atmosphere like the automobile.

Well, it seems that everything is two-sided. Nothing is completely good or completely bad. Okay, so I mentioned antibiotics and the Salk vaccine. Well, misuse of antibiotics has brought us MRSA and it kind of gets worse every day. But nothing wrong with the Salk vaccine, methinks.

What else? Airplanes. They kind of fit into the same category with automobiles. I have spent an incredible amount of time in automobiles and airplanes. Ha, if old Albert Einstein is correct, then I am somewhat younger than my contemporaries because of all this travel.

And then there is the telephone. And electricity! Combine those with the computer, and, perhaps, television and you wind up with those little marvels we walk around with in our pockets that do everything but make toast. Of course, Thomas Edison was not a nice man, and Nicola Tesla was, at the least, obsessive-compulsive, and at the worst kind of mad…and do cell phones cause brain cancer? Ha, using cause and effect, watching people drive with a cell phone stuck to their ear, I must conclude that they at least cause stupidity.

Holy moly but last century was indeed packed full of marvelous inventions. And I mean this as things at which we marvel, good or bad.

And then there are nuclear weapons. Can anyone say anything good about the atomic bomb? Well, without it Dr. Strangelove would never have been made. And it all depends on perspective. It ended World War II, and damned fast. But the Japanese were running out of young men and food and equipment and maybe we didn’t need to nuke a couple of their cities. But tell that to folks whose sons were coming home in a box from the Pacific Theater. I don’t know.

Nuclear weapons still hang over our heads today and sooner or later a terrorist group will get hold of one and blow up a city. But Pandora’s Box tells us that once something is let loose upon the earth we just have to learn how to deal with it.

I spent a great deal of time as a child scared out of my mind waiting for the war to begin. We watched movies showing us how to lie down in a ditch and cover ourselves with something or other just in case one was caught out in the open during a nuclear attack. And we cowered under our desks and were cautioned to stay away from windows and all this engendered the joke about kissing your ass goodbye.

And Ray Bradbury wrote that incredibly poignant scene in The Martian Chronicles, wherein the shadows of dead children playing with a ball are burnt into the side of a house. And the robotic house of the future continues to operate after everyone was dead and it lets the poor radiation-sick dog into the kitchen.

But when Pandora’s Box is opened you cannot close it again. You can’t put toothpaste back in the tube. When someone invents something it will get used, one way or another and humans have always had this nasty habit of trying to find more efficient ways to kill one another.

Now, what else? I had a friend in Dallas who wrote for the Dallas Times Herald in the 1980’s who always swore that the greatest invention of the 20th century was Velcro. He never quite convinced me, but many wonders did come out of the space program. Which brings us to rocket ships. I suppose the rocket first came into its own with the German V2, the sound of which certainly brought nightmares to an entire generation of Brits. And the space race came about because we couldn’t let the Russians get ahead of us, but lordy that was a fine day watching the first men on the moon. I would go into space if I could. And like Delos D. Harriman, “The Man Who Sold the Moon.” Thank you very much Mr. Heinlein, dying on the moon is kind of a cool idea.

So good and bad, yin and yang, is balance achieved? I have decided that my favorite invention is refrigeration. Despite warnings from my Chinese doctor about the evils of cold beverages, I just had a lovely glass of ice water, thank you very much. I guess if I had actually put ice cubes in it, it would be iced water. I adore cold drinks. Pop, beer, wine, juice, give it to me cold.

Of course, I was born and grew up in Texas, which in the summertime is hell misspelled. Texas Monthly magazine once ran an article about the heat factor and Texas. With elements such as wind and humidity included, much of Texas in the summertime is hotter than Death Valley. And without air conditioning, a large part of the populace would now be living somewhere else.

As a child in humid, bug and critter infested Houston, I remember our having one air conditioner. It was a window unit installed in the dining room. In the summertime we would hang sheets up over the doorways and move beds into the dining room. That became our total living space for a large part of the year. And lordy the kitchen was indeed hell on earth and we ate a lot of fresh, uncooked food, or went out and got hamburgers from Prince’s Drive-in.

In the 1990’s, I went west of Fort Worth to visit my cousin Elizabeth in the little town of Strawn, Texas. Her sons had just built her a new house on her property and we sat in the air conditioning and chatted whilst the sun beat down everything outside. In my head, I could hear Steve Fromholtz singing “And it’s hotter than hell when the sun hits the land…” And Elizabeth, who was near 90 then, talked about the old house and how the kitchen was outdoors. There was a wooden shed with a wood-burning iron stove and it was open on all sides. When the wood finally got sufficiently grease-soaked, you just tore it down and built a new shed.

So refrigeration in general and air conditioning specifically has played a large part in my life. And of course it has its price too, that being an enormous use of electricity and the yin for its yang, putting out lots of heat. If you chill something over here you have to heat something over there.

The current issue of Saveur magazine has an excellent little article on the history of refrigerators. I highly recommend it, and the entire issue may be the best, cover-to-cover in the history of that fine magazine.

When I was a kid, it was quite a treat to go down for the Saturday matinee at the movie theatre for a dime and sit in air conditioned comfort watching serials and cartoons and usually some cheesy “B” feature. The theatre had a blue and white sign out front advertising the air conditioning.

Now, what have I missed? What marvel of the 20th century most thrilled you?

Space, the Moon, and I

14 02 2010

This article makes me kind of happy:

I learned to read at age three, sitting in my father’s lap. He would hold me and we would read comic books. About age five I began using the public library. I exhausted their supply of books on earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, and tornadoes. Then I went on to dinosaurs and archaeology in general. I still remember how enthralled I was by Roy Chapman Andrews’ chronicles of his adventures in China and other parts of the far East exploring for fossils.

Next came a novel entitled “Danger, Dinosaurs!” by Richard Marsten. It was science fiction, and I was hooked. All through my extreme youth I read about space exploration and other planets, solar systems, even other galaxies. The universe was mine, all between the covers of a book.


 And now the International Space Station is really beginning to take shape. I know I am too old to go into space, but oh how I would love to visit the space station. Robert A. Heinlein wrote a story, “The Man Who Owned the Moon” about a millionaire who felt the same way I feel, and was able to make it to the moon to die. How glorious it would be to view the Earth from the Moon. And Mars, ai-ya, to stand on the red sand of the planet Mars, well, that would be indescribable.

Alas, I cannot and will not, but at least I can live vicariously and read about the astronauts on the internet, on the effing internet, hoo, real science no-longer-fiction at the tips of my fingers—I can read about the space station as I read about Roy Chapman Andrews 57 years ago. I should call someone on my cell phone, cell phone, ha!, on my little handheld computer, but, it’s still too early in the day.

Holy Moley Addendum: or maybe, Addendum: Holy Moley. I was just toodling around the web and discovered that Richard Marsten was a pen name for Evan Hunter. Crikey, that means the book might even have been well-written. But the few remaining Winston Science Fiction Series copies are too rich for my blood. Oh I long to go once more, dinosaur hunting in a time machine. Wait, I can do that with Ray Bradbury, too.

The Soul of the Old Machine

13 09 2009

StarchildForty years ago, as my formal matriculation was nearing its final stages, the formula signaling the end of civilization as we know it became clear. Sophistication equals fragility. I do not remember now, but this was probably prompted by reading how an electromagnetic pulse such as one generated by a nuclear explosion in the atmosphere over the central United States would destroy all of those new-fangled electronic devices such as automobile ignitions and computers.

As our world progressed scientifically feeding on all of the discoveries generated by World War II, the Cold War, and the Space Race, we were putting more and more of our increasingly sophisticated eggs into an alarmingly fragile basket.

Forty years later, my thoughts on this have not changed as we become even more dependent on sophisticated technology. I am not a scientist, but I suspect, or at least hope, nanotechnology or something that comes out of nanotechnology might pull our fat out of the fire.

However, this is all prelude. My real purpose being a short paean to homo sapiens and especially to parents. Consider the human being as an ultra-sophisticated machine. Look at it folks! It is self-replicating, self-repairing, and self-programming. It can turn all sorts of organic matter into fuel, and it can even chemically alter this matter to create super fuels such as sugar and white bread.

Okay, so maybe that mostly describes ants, too, but humans are probably the pinnacle of Earthly super-machine development. Let us say we are  at the top of the organic machine chain when it comes to sophistication, neh?

FamilyNow, as stated above, this sophistication comes at a price, namely, fragility. We are cantankerous little creatures. As machines, I am tempted to call homo sapiens a prototype. I mean look at us. We were not built to stand upright, but our survival programming pushed us that way anyway, perhaps so we could look out across the drought-ridden plains of millions of years ago, watching for danger or food or love. But the original specifications did not allow for this, so today, back problems are legion and for back doctors the living is easy.

I have read that the human head of an unborn baby is too large for the birth canal which cause all kinds of birthing problems and lots of pain for the delivery mechanism: mothers. But we needed more computing power so the brain grew. Sigh, I guess we can fix that problem in the next iteration. Nuff said.

So here comes a brand new machine, fresh off of the…well assembly line isn’t quite right, unless there are twins or better, but here comes the new machine and the specialist technician: doctor, midwife, or what-have-you picks up this new device still slick with protective packing fluids and pushes the start button. For dramatic purposes we shall designate the old tradition of a slap on the butt as said start button.



Once the technician has ascertained that the new machine is running properly–let’s call this new machine a “baby,” the baby is sent home with parents, who, in the best of all possible worlds Dr. Pangloss, are also given an operator’s manual, which, like all good humans they will not read unless something goes wrong.

But here is some of the really cool stuff about the new machines. The old machines, the parents, are pre-programmed with operating instructions. It’s kind of like coming home with a brand new plasma TV and having the genetic in-born ability to hook it up and turn it on. Wow! We are pretty cool.

There are genetic triggers like neoteny-ha, calls neoteny “larval characteristics.” Anyway, big eyes, big head, it sets off parenting instincts…I mean it launches the parenting program. In fact it does it so well, neoteny in other species sets it off too. “Oh, look at the cute little kittens, aren’t they adorable?” Many, many years ago Natural History magazine ran a swell article on the neotenous evolution of Mickey Mouse. Oh, and there are many other triggers, like the smell of a baby’s breath. “Read the manual, ma!”

Puppies are so-o-o cute.

Puppies are so-o-o cute.

So the proud new mother unit and father unit have launched their parenting software and taken the baby unit home. Let us revisit the original premise, sophistication=fragility.

When one brings home a new computer and turns it on for the first time, most likely the Operating System is launched, and this could take a few minutes, or longer, and the computer asks for additional programing and we provide it. Although, some computer owners are more saavy than others and some do not provide the additional programming properly, and, well…they screw up the computer and either continue on like that, or bring in an expert to fix things.

And babies get colds, other “viruses,” but the human being is a damned sophisticated machine and its anti-virus software and hardware–ha, ha antiviral hardware, too, white blood cells moving around wiping out viruses–is pretty darned incredible and with a little TLC from the parent units, most babies survive the constant assault from viruses and other program and machine contaminants.

Well, our sophisticated little machines do survive at an incredibly high rate, considering how many things are after them. Not only microbes, but other organic machines are just waiting to gobble them up. Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my!

Being sophisticated, our babies are incredibly fragile and require constant attention and protection if they are to develop into the next generation of self-replicating devices. Remember, these are prototypes, so parent units and technicians: doctors, teachers, and clergy, have to continually tweak the little critters. An unsupervised baby can get into all sorts of trouble. And once they begin growing and develop independent motility, ai-ya, nothing but problems.

The parent-units must spend at least 20 years correcting glitches and faulty programming, not to mention hardware repairs. But they do. And our little baby units wobble and grow and stumble off into the sunrise of a new generation to produce their very own baby units. Remarkably, humans continue to learn and while each individual unit is still fragile, the basic machine model, for all the problems inherent in a Beta product, does pretty darned well, not only pumping out new baby units by the billions but also extending its own life span.

Sophisticated we might be, fragile we are, but we are also a tested and trusty design.

Sadly, Nevermore

17 01 2009

At age six, when I was moving from comic books to text, I discovered Edgar Allan Poe. I devoured every story I could find, and read each more than once. I did not really understand everything at that age, but I understood enough.

Monday, January 19, 2009 is Poe’s 200th birthday. I intend on having my pendulum set up that day…if I can only remember what I did with it.



No one could better remind us of dear Edgar’s works than Vincent Price.