Meet RoboSpot, the consumer earthquake dog.

30
Mar
2012

I was with my parents on vacation in a collection of beautiful but decaying buildings and a kind of shopping mall that sprawled on forever. There were a large group of people we were meeting there.  For some reason, we bought a dog that was controlled by an object that looked like a metal detector that we had to carry around with us everywhere. With this item, we could call and track the dog with a signal.  There were lots and lots of weird items that we were buying and comparing with people, mostly sheets and towels and odd nicknacks for the home.  Then it was time to leave and it seemed to take us forever to get our stuff together and ready (the items, the dog who kept hiding, saying goodbye to the neighbors) to leave.  We kept forgetting things and having to go back for them.  And then we were finally on our way out, walking through the remains of several buildings and then across the rooftop of a building when suddenly an earthquake happened. But it was an odd, rolling, slow motion kind of earthquake. Everything started to shake and fall apart, but in a very slow moving kind of way. We kept looking for structure to hide under, and I was worried I would be trapped, not sure whether to get outside or stay under a building shelter that was crumbling. Then it stopped, we were ok and I woke up.

Attack of the Hoosiers

15
Mar
2012

March always seems to be a busy month for me with regard to visitors. Today my good friends Blake and Danny arrive from Indianapolis, and we will spend the next 4 days hanging out, seeing the city, eating, drinking and catching up. I actually met Blake way back in 1994 when I was living in San Francisco, and never miss a chance to see him and Danny when I go to visit my family in Indy. They are kind of my only close friends there outside of my family, so it will be nice to host them on my home turf for a change.

This is getting ridiculous.

12
Mar
2012

7 active projects. 5 pending projects. 10 project proposals (several of which are bound to be accepted). This is no way to live. It is definitely time to raise rates, or I will go insane. The only thing holding me back has been my fear that the work will dry up, but I can’t go on like this and I suppose I could always lower rates when times are tough to stimulate further demand. And with the exception of one large project, none of these lend themselves to outsourcing at all, they are too small. The time it would take me to explain what I need done would only be marginally less than the time it would take me to do them myself. Is this all the result of the economy getting better? Of word getting out about my skills and work? Dumb luck? Or a mix of everything?

Goodbye David and Zoe

11
Mar
2012

I just said good bye to my brother and niece who have been here the last few days. We had a fun packed weekend and it was nice to spend a little quality time with them. We ran around the city doing a lot of kid friendly things and generally having a great time. I believe (I hope) we left her with a very favorable sense of wonder about the city of New York. My niece is growing up so quickly and seems much older than her 8 years. She is especially adept at problem solving and I can see her going into some type of career that utilizes these skills. She is also incredibly well behaved and very clean and respectful of her surroundings. I told my brother at some point that she seems a lot like our mother and me when it comes to this. (And like her middle namesake, my mother’s mother Annette, whose OCD about cleaning and order made my mother and I look sloppy in comparison). It is really funny to see among families our various traits and peculiarities manifest themselves in the next generation. It always makes me wonder what percent is culture and what percent nature.

Now it is back to the work grind for me, I have tons to do before my next guests arrive on Thursday…

Zoe’s turn

9
Mar
2012

Last year, my brother brought my nephew Max to see New York on a father-son trip. This year, it is my niece Zoe’s turn. They arrived yesterday and we will spend the next few days introducing Zoe to the wonder that is New York City. I have been wracking my brain for what to do that will impress an 8 year old girl. Today we will go to the Natural History Museum to see the butterfly exhibit, then wander through central park to the castle and such, finally making our way to what is apparently a holy pilgrimage site for children, a place called Dylan’s Candy Bar.

Busted.

7
Mar
2012

You have to be astounded at the random connectedness of things. Sometimes I think I see almost instant karma at work.

I had a dinner last night with my friend L, down near the Flatrion building. L and I met at a Xmas party and then went on a date or two. We didn’t really click in a romantic way, but got along so well personally that we decided to be friends. Our dinner conversation was pretty wide-ranging and easy, covering topics as diverse as the decline of American culture, recent work, travel, and what our dating lives had been like recently. L mentioned that he had seen me on OK Cupid before and we talked a little bit about that site and what it was like. L told me that he had met someone there and been on a few dates and so far, so good. I mentioned to him that I had also met a guy on the site recently and gone on two or three dates with him, which was a good first sign because I usually don’t get beyond date one. I told L I didn’t know if it would lead to anything, but my philosophy has always been that there is no such thing as a bad date, because everyone has something interesting about them. I mean it, I feel like you really can’t lose. Even if the date is terrible, you have a funny story to tell later. People get so hung up on the “end game” (marriage or whatever), that they fail to experience the “now” of the date itself. Although ultimately, sure, I would like to meet someone serious, I can really enjoy the date itself outside of a greater context.

We then moved on to discussing signs of the apocalypse or the excesses of capitalism or something like that, and among other items I mentioned the ridiculousness of things like the American Girl franchise (Modern Family recently did an amazing send up). L perked up and said,

“What a funny coincidence you mention that, the guy I am seeing works there as a visual merchandiser. We have a date tomorrow night in fact.”

My jaw dropped. The guy that I had been going on dates with also worked there. I asked L his name and sure enough, it matched. And to really kick things in the rear, I realized something kinda shitty, and said,

“Wait a minute, and you have a date with him, TOMORROW NIGHT? We had a date for tomorrow night as well, but he sent me a text yesterday telling me that he had to cancel because — and I quote — ‘something came up and I have to address it’ — unquote.”

L and I were both floored. Then we compared texts, and he showed me how the guy had asked him if he was free during the week, and when L said Wednesday, the guy said no problem. And a few minutes later, I got my cancel text. Then we started comparing notes on all sorts of things, and found that the guy has given us conflicting stories about a lot of things, his family, where they lived, etc. I believe he even gave L some bullshit story about only being able to date “one guy at a time”, that sort of thing.

L said he was going to cancel the date and I suggested he send the guy the exact same text he had sent me about needing to “address something that came up”. Or that we just show up at his work one day pretending to know nothing and letting him squirm a bit. The whole situation was just too sitcom perfect. In fact, you couldn’t even write it, it would seem too contrived and unreal. Imagine the coincidence! Here in a city of millions, that we should not only be dating the same guy at the same time, but also make the connection from a random discussion, AND find out he was lying to both of us, AND on the night before his date. Pretty awesome I say. I told L I was thrilled at the blogging potential.

Well, as they say, isn’t karma a bitch? L cancelled his date, telling the guy exactly why. L got a weak “sorry” text response, and I got roughly the same text from him about an hour later. I resisted the urge to spellcheck and correct the grammar on it and send it back.

Would I still be me?

3
Mar
2012

I was just reading an interesting article on Popular Science about “uploading” human consciousness to a robotic body. There are many variations on this idea, and many purveyors and proponents as well, most notable among them perhaps Ray Kurzweil. This is one idea among many that are currently floating about to enable humanity to achieve functional immortality, or at least vastly longer life spans. I have a fascination with this particular idea because it begs all sorts of questions about identity, feeling, and what is essential about being human. The article talks about several stages of scientific advancement that would start

first by creating a robot controlled by the human brain, then by actually transplanting a human brain into a humanoid robot, and then by replacing the surgical transplant with a method for simply uploading a person’s consciousness into a surrogate ‘bot.

The first two are definitely coming at some point in our lifetime, the third I can imagine happening at some point, but they all beg a series of questions about what it means to be human, and more specifically, What is essential to being oneself? What is identity?

1. This business of uploading one’s consciousness reminds me of the trouble with the Star Trek transporter idea: One is not really being transported, what is happening is that one example human is being exactly copied, and the original destroyed. While what is on the other end no doubt fully believes it is the original, the basis of that copy also believed itself to be real, and was annihilated.

2. Let’s say my human brain could be put inside a robot body. What would I feel? How would my senses be different? What about hunger, sex, and the feel of the wind against my skin? How much of being oneself is inseparable from the feelings of a human body? How alienating would it be to be a human mind in an artificial body? What inevitable transformations would consciousness go through to adapt and what comes out the other side?

3. What if parts of my brain and body could be slowly replaced, molecule by molecule, over time, until everything was brand new and a part of some advanced robot? Would I still be me? At what point would I stop being me? Even in biology, our bodies are replacing themselves all the time. The cells that make up one’s body today are mostly replacements for earlier ones. Are we the same people? Yes and no. How would this apply to replacing our cells with robotic parts?

Ultimately, all of these questions are as interesting for what they tell us about being human today, and the illusions we are under about our “immutable” selves. This immutability is more of a fearful belief we have, and the reason why obvious afflictions of self and identity (mental illness, Alzheimer’s) are among the most terrifying things for us to contemplate. But in reality, can you say you are the same as you were many years ago, and would you even want to? We value the hard won experiences that we gather over a lifetime, and we mostly think of these as additive to our total knowledge and personhood. But in a very real sense we can be thought of as completely different people than we were previously. The self is truly an illusion, we are a bundle of ever changing experiences, along for the ride. But what an amazing ride.