Archive for April, 2010

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Your Robot Sucks: The State of Robotics Today

[ 3 Comments ]Posted on April 25, 2010 by admin in Technology

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

At last, technology has enabled us to create a robot with the reasoning and communication skills of a two year old that walks like a ninety year old man trying to limbo.

It was Arthur C. Clarke that said “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. Which somehow shines a light on how much we’re all like spoiled little children when it comes to our expectations with technology. If it isn’t free and relatively glitch-free (like, you know, the internet and stuff), we’ll be submitting our negative reviews in a nanosecond. A truly revolutionary and amazing device like the iPad is created, and before it’s even available to purchase, we discard it as “nifty, but not quite good enough”, like Goldilocks sampling the porridge. I’m more guilty of this behavior than many people I know; just read my Disappointing Technologies Part I and Part II to learn what a whiny baby I really am. My latest technological ennui was caused by trying to look into the state of robotics today. We’ve touched on the Uncanny Valley and cool robots a few times over the last couple of years, so I thought it would be exciting to revisit things in 2010. Well, I’m not the only one yawning. Don’t get me wrong, I have some understanding of the incredible research, engineering, and testing that goes into creating a robot that can’t talk, listen, or reason at the level of a human two year old and walks like a ninety year old man trying to limbo. It’s just that I don’t care. I want my lifelike human companion with encyclopedic knowledge and advanced shoulder massage skills, and I want it now. Below is a video roundup of the cutting edge in android technology today. Read the rest of this entry »

This Summer Could Be A Real Riot

[ Comments Off ]Posted on April 24, 2010 by admin in Politics

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

They say that when things heat up in this country, all the scum seems to rise to the top.

There’s an old expression in southern political banter that goes something like “seems like when things heat up in this country, all the scum rises to the top“. It does seem like things are heating up lately; everybody from survivalist nutjobs to the New York Times are saying so. That NYT piece talks not only about the tea party movement, but “A Sprawling Rebellion” that seems to be spreading across the entire liberal/conservative spectrum. I’ve mentioned revolution with a little humor for a while, but I usually do so in jest; you have to understand that I live in the state that spawns the weird “Christian” Militias you hear about in the news. This is different though. The unrest in Greece, Thailand and Kyrgyzstan has all been largely driven by economics and employment/labor issues, and aside from the paranoia that some spread about the proposed bill that would supposedly make domestic internment camps possible right around the same time that a US Army Brigade is being deployed on US soil under Homeland Security control, the fact is that when the global investment ratings firm Moody’s is worried about civil unrest in the states, maybe we should take pause too. And it’s not just the possibility of riots in a long hot summer of unemployment to think about. In this Chris Hedges piece, the not-very-popular but always insightful Noam Chomsky points out that “The United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen…Every charismatic figure is such an obvious crook that he destroys himself, like McCarthy or Nixon or the evangelist preachers. If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response.” In fact, I’d be willing to bet that in spite of his comical appearance and peculiar speech mannerisms, the guy in the video below would have no trouble getting elected if he ran for office today. Read the rest of this entry »

Baby You Can Drive My Car

[ Comments Off ]Posted on April 23, 2010 by admin in Clean & Green

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Because I’m taking the train. But is this really the greener thing to do?

You’ll rarely see me driving a car. In fact, people often ask me “why can’t you drive?”, which gets tiresome; I first drove a car when I was eight. I thought it was a pretty cool machine. It was bright yellow, and had a dash-mounted push-button transmission control. Depending on your age or knowledge of cars, you may think I’m referring to some toy car I had, but I am in fact referring to a 1964 Plymouth Valiant. My parents would let me start the cars and turn them around on winter mornings before they went to work. The first time I rolled a car, I was fourteen, and did it on purpose with a friend. It was a Hillman, for the record. By the time I was eighteen or so, I thought cars were pretty stupid, and still think so. They’re dirty, inefficient, and have far more to do with ego and prestige than moving around safely and intelligently. In spite of the fact that there are reasonable arguments that mass transit is no more efficient than cars, this position is usually heavily politicized or shortsighted, failing – either by choice or ignorance – to recognize the incredible paradigm shift that could occur if all the human and financial resources devoted to autos – manufacturing them, transporting them, advertising them, selling them via independent dealerships, building highways for them, fueling them, parking them, and later figuring out how to dispose of them and clean up the results of their runoff – were redirected to a pervasive and standardized mass transit system. Like 300 mile per hour, nearly silent trains. Apparently I’m not the only one who wants more public transportation, but what about you? If there were more and better options, would you use them? Or are you hopelessly attached to your petrol-guzzling, filth-spewing relic of the last century? Read the rest of this entry »

Rednecks, White Trash, And Pabst Blue Ribbon

[ 3 Comments ]Posted on April 22, 2010 by admin in Lifestyle & Culture

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Someone ’round here ain’t showin’ their true colors. Or: You can take the beer out of the redneck, but you can’t take the redneck out of the beer.

Don’t be fooled. In spite of the crappy
decor and a mouthful of Pabst Blue
Ribbon, this is not a redneck. Source

Recently, as I disclosed some of the truth about my white trash origins, I lamented that hillbillies and rednecks were always co-opting my heritage. But rednecks probably have it worse these days. You know your legacy is really dying when hipsters in Portland are adopting your beloved Pabst Blue Ribbon as their own . Which is a tragedy, because rednecks – in spite of your probably superficial impressions – have a rich cultural history that runs much deeper than you’d imagine. Just read Donald K. Burleson’s Understanding Redneck Philosophy . No, it’s not a book, it’s a web page. Not many rednecks publish books. Something we’ll get back to in a bit. Burleson paints a picture – one that may be fairly accurate – of rednecks as almost spiritual people, unencumbered by a longing for wealth, living in a day-to-day fashion with seeming detachment from external concepts of time. Of course this is all just another way of saying they’re broke, have no plans, and have at least one car in the yard on cinder blocks that has been getting rebuilt for the last three years, but the fact is, that all does take a certain zen-like detachment to be comfortable with. Which describes part of the essence of what I think being a redneck is really about. It’s about freedom. To shoot things. Mostly beer bottles. On fences. Or to stand next to a bonfire in the yard talking about your dualie long enough that you get a sunburn. Or to even know what a “dualie” is, in which case you probably spell it “dually”. In spite of the long-winded and politically correct definition of redneck that you’ll find on Wikipedia, rednecks are proud to be rednecks. Go ahead and call a redneck a redneck, and they’ll probably raise a beer at you and yell “h-e-e-e-e-l-l-l-l-l-l yeaaaaah!” and down the rest of it as a toast to you. And as far as rednecks being southerners? Another profound misconception. I’ve met rednecks as far north as any northern US border in Minnesota or Michigan, and they didn’t seem to be thinning in numbers if you gazed over into Canada. They just start talkin’ kinda funny north of about 40N in latitude. And the Jeff Foxworthy “you know you’re a redneck when…” approach fails miserably too. In my opinion, he’s usually describing hillbillies. Which we’ll get to in the next installment. ’cause I’m a little white trash, and we do everything on installment plans. Read the rest of this entry »

Robyn With A Why

[ Comments Off ]Posted on April 21, 2010 by admin in Music

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

How and why I finally succumbed to the Europoptasticalness of Robyn

Swede Dreams Are Made Of This

Make that three whys. Why, why, why do I like Robyn? I’m supposed to be a mildly snobbish follower of quality indy music like, I dunno, Grizzly Bear, and Hot Chip, and Flying Lotus. That sort of thing. The effects-and-compression slathered beatbox pop of someone like Robyn should be total anathema to me. And frankly, when I first heard her a few years ago, her music was. On my first listen, I thought “Ack! It’s like Pink meets MIA meets Ephemera meets Powerpuff Girls”. Or something like that. And then I listened to it a few weeks later, and was mortified to find myself liking it. I think I was resisting because it was so much like music I was trying to do in the eighties, except what Robyn is pulling of is perfectly, plinkily, Europoptastical. I think I was also struggling with the fact that in her pretty/ugly asymmetrical perfect-hair androgyny, she looks like the the girl I used to WISH I looked like AND the guy I would want to want to date me. If I were a girl who looked like that. And if I liked guys that way. So it’s been a struggle, but I finally relented. Robyn rocks, and if you don’t agree, you probably don’t like pure, perfected pop. I’m not surprised she hasn’t really broken in a big way in the states; self-aware Europop genius like this is often lost on us. And to add to the challenge, appreciating the fairly genuine sentiments expressed in her best tunes requires being thoroughly in touch with your inner melodramatic teen. Check out the widget and video below, or learn more about the odd career of the Swedish/Brit pop phenom on WikipediaRead the rest of this entry »

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