Category Archives: Technology

Attention Span

While I was standing next to my car last week, filling up the tank, I realized that the screen embedded in the fueling station didn’t just have some pop-up ads showing but an actual video stream of a basketball game. TV.

At my gym, there is a speaker OUTSIDE that plays music as you are approaching/departing the building. Equipment like bikes and treadmills all have individual tv screens and for the weight-lifting machine there are big screens hanging from the ceiling.  There is even a TV in the locker room.  In most airports you can’t find a space that doesn’t have something blaring at you. With everyone glued to their phones these days, it seems a waste of electricity.

It made me think that we have become a society with such a limited attention span that we need 24/7 entertainment. There are several folks here at my office who use earbuds all the time – even when they are away from their desks and I often see people walking along, looking like they are talking to themselves, but of course they are on their phones.

In college I had a professor who had memorized all of Paradise Lost by John Milton.  Today he’d have it downloaded to his phone so he could access it whenever he wanted!

What the largest thing you have memorized?

Lost & Found

On Wednesday I ran three errands over my lunch hour. When I got back to my desk, my cell phone was not in the pocket of my purse where I normally keep it.  My very first thought was that I had left it at one of the errand locations.  But then I thought about it and remembered that I hadn’t taken it out of my purse at any of those places.

Maybe it had fallen out of my purse in the car or on the way from my desk to the car. I went out, searched all through the car, including moving the seats forward and back to check underneath.  Then I looked again.  I emptied out my purse twice.

Then I decided to re-trace all my steps and drove back to all three of the places I had been over lunch. Weirdly, in all three places, the same spot I had parked in earlier was open when I arrived.  I looked in the spots, looked under the cars on either side, went into each establishment and asked if anyone had turned a phone in.  Nope.

Sadly I returned to my cube and over the next half hour discovered that my phone did not have any tracking capability turned on and then further discovered that for my particular phone there didn’t even seem to BE any tracking capability. I took a deep breath and suspended service and then called the phone company to see if perhaps they could track it from there end.  All the while the cost of getting a new phone was running through my head and I was starting to make a mental list of all the information stored in the phone and how I was going to have to re-assemble it somehow.

While I was on the phone I thought I’d empty out the purse one last time. As I set the empty purse down on the desk, it “thunked”.  I felt around and could feel the outline of the phone at the bottom.  It was between the purse and the lining!  The pocket that I normally put it in had a phone-sized hole and the phone had fallen through.  The gal on the phone with me was really nice to me, reactivated my service and wished me a good rest of the day.   I was so relieved, I could feel the weight falling away from shoulders – I almost shed a tear.

I got duct tape from the maintenance department and taped up the hole before I left the office.

What was the last thing you lost? Or found?

Arithmetic Assault

Decades ago I knew all of my friends’ phone numbers by heart. I knew almost everybody’s address that I sent mail to on a regular basis.  I knew my multiplication tables.

Over the years, most addresses have faded since I have them written in my day planner as well as on a spreadsheet. I recognize them when I write them out on envelopes, but that’s about it.  If a pixie got into my planner and re-arranged the house numbers, I probably wouldn’t know.

My cell phone has helped to alleviate the trouble of remembering my friends’ phone numbers well.  As people have added cell phones to their lives and dropped land lines, I have added their new numbers to my phone’s contact list but I have never memorized any of them.  With the exception of my BFF and YA, I don’t think I know anybody’s number by heart any more.

But the cruelest blow happened this morning. I was working on a program and deciding on how many beach towels we needed to order.  Without much thought at all, I entered 64 into the calculator on my desk and then hit “divide” by 2.  To get 32.  As soon as I did it, I realized what I had done. I used a machine to divide 64 by 2. This is horrifying to me.  Not that I’m worried about my ability to figure this out on my own, but that I would automatically go to a machine if I needed to do arithmetic.  Ouch.

My new practice starting tomorrow is to not turn on the calculator until I actually need it.

What technology has crept up on you?

Making Things Pretty

Today’s post comes to us from Port Huron Steve

In the summer of 1974 my parents invited my erstwife and me to a dinner. They explained that my dad had made a serious amount of money recently, much more than they needed. There could be no happier use of that money, they said, than to send us to London “all expenses paid.” We wouldn’t need to spend a dime of our own money for two weeks of touring London.

Of course we were thrilled. We were grad students eking out a living with on-campus jobs at the University of Minnesota. This gift would let us live like rich people for two weeks. Even better, we realized there was enough money enough to allow us to travel around the United Kingdom. Instead of staying in a posh London hotel, as my parents had anticipated, we could sleep in B&Bs in the countryside. The money saved would cover a cheap rental auto. We could travel wherever our whims directed.

Our two-week vacation in September featured a week of exploring London and a week of bumbling about the country. We visited Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Devon and Dorset. We nipped into Wales briefly, which was funny. The Welsh were astonished that tourists would intentionally enter their country. They had no infrastructure to accommodate us, and we didn’t stay long.

We took hundreds of photos. Photography was trickier then than now. We shot slide film, a touchy and unforgiving medium. Our Fujichrome slides weren’t as pretty as Kodachrome, and they had gobs of grain. The British weather did us no favors, raining every day. The fugitive sun made a brief appearance three times. When not raining the skies remained overcast and harshly bright. Our slides were drab, with unpleasant tonality.

You can’t view slides without a slide projector, screen and dark room. Several years ago I hired a company to scan our slides, converting them to digital files. When I got the scans I was dismayed. The scanning process was crude. All the scans were underexposed and grainy, with ugly colors and tones.

A few weeks ago I came across those scans where they’d been hiding in a remote file on my computer. I opened a scan in my photo editing software. It was easy to brighten the image. I made some areas of the image darker, lightening others. I tweaked some colors. I tamed the harsh sky. My editing software has ways of reducing grain. Soon I had a new version of the slide that was pretty, or at least prettier than it had been. Some scans were too compromised to salvage, but that left nearly 200 scans that begged for a beauty makeover. With a big grin I began editing the 1974 trip images.

That kicked off three of the happiest weeks I’ve known. Because my computer is attached to good speakers I could stream an internet folk music broadcast while I worked.

Photo editing is tricky. I kept returning to images I had edited earlier, tweaking them, and often making my edits more subtle. Of course, no amount of editing can make fuzzy images sharp. Many things can go wrong in photography. I was puzzled by an icky color cast in pictures of suits of armor. I finally figured out that the armor was in a room lit with fluorescent lights, giving the metal a green cast. Aha! That could be fixed. In the end I produced 189 pleasing images.

The project was emotionally complicated. I was having so much fun I tuned out the horror show of our national politics. It was a joy to revisit moments from that extraordinary trip 44 years ago. Each image presented unique challenges, old memories and surprising rewards. Christmas—actually, a splendid Christmas—came and went. I was almost too absorbed with editing to pay it much attention. I was too busy making ugly things prettier. What is more rewarding than that?

Do you have ways to add beauty to your life?

Digital Nuptials

A Japanese man made the news this week when he married a holographic version of an anime character.   He had a formal wedding ceremony with invited guests, white tux and a reception afterwards.  The hologram is capable of simple greetings and can also turn the lights on and off.  People online are referring to the groom as “digi-sexual” and saying it’s a new trend in people relating to their artificial intelligence devices in addition to their human interactions.

The young man actually makes a compelling argument for how he feels when he interacts with the hologram and that it’s made a difference in his life. Hard to argue with that, although I’m not sure I’d want a relationship in which I completely control every variable. But it’s his life and his marriage isn’t a legally binding contract, so if he meets another holographic anime character that he likes better, he can move on fairly easily.

Imagine your current spouse/relationship (if you have one) doesn’t exist. What cartoon character would YOU choose to marry?

New Year’s Fly-by

A little over three years ago, Dale wrote a piece when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft approached and photographed Pluto. He included several nice photos and gave us an update on the PTA (Pluto Tourism Association) about groups wanted to book some serious vacation time on the planet (or whatever Pluto is categorized as this week).

Today, after 3 years, New Horizons is doing a flyby of 2014 MU69; it will be the most distant object every visited by a spacecraft. Even NASA realizes that 2014MU69 is a terrible name – they have nicknamed the object, an icy Kuiper Belt object, Ultima Thule, which means “distant places beyond the known world”.

Scientists are not sure if Ultima Thule is one object or two objects circling each other and are hoping this flyby, which will happen at a whooping 31,500 mph, will clear up that mystery. After the New Year’s flyby, it will take a full 6 hours for the radio signals to arrive back at earth.

It’s amazing to me that just 117 years after our first machine-powered flight, we will be waiting for signals from a spacecraft that has traveled a billion miles since it passed Pluto three years ago. I wonder if we’ll still be getting signals in three more years when it is a billion miles farther from Earth and if we will be vacationing on 2014 MU69 by that point?

Have you ever had a speeding ticket?

Speed Limit

On my way to work on Friday I was deep in thought and suddenly looked up to see a police cruiser on the side of the road – I was going 37 instead of 30. I immediately took my foot off the gas, but as I looked into the rear view mirror, I saw the cruiser pulling away from the curb and the flashing lights starting up.

All kinds of thoughts went through my brain: I don’t want to pay for a ticket, I don’t want any points on my license, do red cars get more tickets, I’m going to be late for work, what if I cry when the officer comes to my window.

Luckily someone in the other lane just behind me must have been going a bit faster than I was when we passed the radar; the cop pulled the other car over. I feel like I dodged a bullet and I went the speed limit all the way to work after that.

Have you ever gotten a traffic ticket of any kind?