Archive for February, 2009

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Friday, February 27th, 2009

Fiction Daily returns Monday … with an all-new Figuratively Speaking on Friday!

A Singular Future?

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Today, a few thoughts about a concept that’s new to most of us … the singularity. Now most of us think of the singularity as the very center of a black hole … a no-man’s land where the mass of the sun exists in an area the size of a pinhead. Theoretically, nothing … not even light … can escape the pull of this singularity.

Rolling Stone had an article last week about an altogether different singularity, proposed by Ray Kurzweil. The call him “Technoprophet,” as he’s been right on many unexpected advances. Not sure whether to curse him for this, but he created the synthesizer that creates computer sounds that sound like instruments. We can thank him for the piped-in music that’s so annoying on hold, in shops and some offices.

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He is know for pattern recognition innovations such as programs that enable computers to read text, the basis of scanning.

Nevertheless, Stevie Wonder is a good friend, and credits Mr. Kurzweil with changing his life because he created a computer program that translates text to speech.

The idea that is stirring up a lot of interest (some may say doom, fear and controversy) is known as the Singularity. But this Singularity is a lot closer than the nearest black hole. No, Kurzweil’s singularity will likely occur by 2045 — that’s when my niece will barely be 49 years old, the age I am now.

He believes by that time, machines and human beings will merge, that human life will never be the same again. That nanobots will clean out our blood streams of disease and illness, that we will plug ourselves in to back up our brains by computer.

He has been honored by three presidents, received the National Medal of Technology, so this guy is vastly respected. But not everyone buys his vision, or anti-vision, for the future. Jaron Lanier, who pioneered the realm of virtual reality, says in the RS article that the Singularity theory is comparable to a kooky religious fanaticism, predicting the end of times. That Kurzweil has gone off the deep end.

I have to say, however, I feel a chill when I realize how easily (and whole-heartedly) I embraced the iPod. I’ve often joked, I’d have it implanted if I could.

Now that’s a joke — I draw the line at my skin barrier — but who’s to say that if someone said a nanobot could clear cancer from our bodies, wouldn’t I at least try … especially if I were going to die … I think so.

In that sense, it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s possible these nanobots could also clear pollution — and carbon — from our atmosphere.

A couple of thoughts about Kurzweil. He perdicted the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of the Internet, and the spread (ubiquity) of wireless networks.

If you’re interested in reading more, his book is The Singularity is Near.

Alcohol & health

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Here we are, mid-week already, and there’s no sign the work obligations are letting up. It’s been some time now since I’ve worked on the novel … been in the river with it so to speak … but when the current kicks up, you just have to swim.

Meanwhile, an interesting health note today. A new study shows a link between alcohol consumption and making truthful observations about alcohol.

While I don’t espouse making booze illegal, we can agree that it’s a toxin and worse, a highly addictive substance that ruins people. They lose jobs, then their personalities change, then their minds go and eventually their bodies.

Granted, there are some people who can enjoy a drink every now and again, and are fine. Still others enjoy wine tasting and characterization. Those pleasures are precious and very human.

Still when dealing with any kind of alcohol, it’s important to understand what we’re dealing with — a highly powerful substance that can do harm.

In a separate observation, someone is unleashing its bad ‘bots on this blog again. Bad, bad ‘bots!

Taking Stock of Satellite

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

So these days so much focuses on finances and the stock market, that it’s not surprising our most recent update on Sirius-XM satellite radio focuses on the market’s response to last week’s deal with Liberty Media.

In today’s SiriusBuzz, our faithful blogger Brandon Matthews takes on mainstream media for its eagerness to write the obituary for satellite. In fact, he tells us, if investors and stock holders are willing to hold on, they may be surprised at the recovery of their stock’s value.

As he tells us, Sirius-XM may become cash-flow positive next year. Now I have no idea what that means, but I think it’s good news.

Since I’m writing about technology (and it’s not even Thursday), why not mention the new iPhone app that will allow loyal listeners to stream their satellite over the Internet. Now that should silence all the naysayers who declare satellite will fall to the ‘Net.

So not true!

Clearing the Inner Noise

Monday, February 23rd, 2009

LANDSCAPE OF THE HOME

It’s not unusual for me to open the week with a description of some kind of clearing out and cleaning up. Getting rid of clutter is one of the hardest things for me to do — clearing the home requires making decisions, many of them very emotional.

But my sister gave me this sweater … I say to myself … my Mom gave me this ceramic bunny … this wooden panel has been in my family for three generations … you get the picture.

We get busy … things enter our homes … dust settles on them … we’re too busy to take things down, clean them off and decide if they should stay.

Yet when I take time to remove everything from a shelf … a drawer … a closet … it allows me not only to clean away the dust, but also to clear away old emotions, and even old parts of myself. It allows me to return to who and what I am today — today’s projects, and not yesterday’s burdens.

Two expressions guide me. First: The landscape of the home is the landscape of the mind. In so many ways, this one is true. When I’m very busy, working on many projects, no time for peaceful thought, my home tends to reflect this state. Sometimes when I’m really busy, the house becomes nearly unrecognizable — dishes on the counters, clothes on the floor, disarray everywhere.

Yet these are times when I’m often getting a lot done. So there’s no need to focus on cleaning the house. There’s a flurry of ideas, so there’s a flurry of, well, stuff.

Nevertheless, this junk in the long term is very burdensome. Whether we’re aware of it or not, all the dust, all those objects that we really don’t want or need, weigh on our thoughts and minds, tangle us in them, literally and figuratively weigh us down.

The second expression that guides me goes: Only keep items you believe to be beautiful or know to be useful. That expression recognizes that we can appreciate and enjoy things because of how they appear — we don’t have to always use them.

I have a shelf with items most people might consider ordinary. I have two plastic tops, a couple of rocks, feathers and a plastic salamander. As I dusted this bookshelf yesterday, I looked at each item and felt something. The plastic salamander was a gift from the children next door when they were 6 or 7 years old. The pyrite belonged to my Mother when she was a little girl, and it reminds me of Medoc, the state park I used to visit as a little girl.

On the other hand, there was a bit of shell I once thought beautiful, but think it should be sent into the world. Likewise, favorite books that deserve to be read by other people, instead of sitting on my shelf. Books I accept I will not ever read. (Sometimes these books decisions are the hardest, as they bring me face to face with my own mortality.)

What is useful, what is beautiful? When we can make these decisions, we can better understand ourselves and what we value.

At the same time, these are decisions that we sometimes would rather put off, as we may not know the answers. And so, our homes become cluttered while we figure them out.

Plants & Philos

Friday, February 20th, 2009

FIGURATIVELY SPEAKING

Today, we look at the Greeks and science.

So many of our scientific terms come from Greek it’s hard to know where to start. Being a tree lover, let’s look at our trees.

A heliophyte is a sun-loving plant or tree, such as the pine, cedar or cherry. It comes from helio, which is Greek for “the sun.” It is added to phyte, which means plant.

There are plenty of other words that build on the Greek helio. We have heliocentric, which was the radical theory that the planets revolve around the sun. (Heresy!)

We also have heliogram, which is a cool term for a message send by a mirror reflecting sunlight. You can send one of these messages with a heliograph.

Did you know that we live in the heliosphere? That’s the region of space, including the entire Solar System, in which solar wind has a significant influence.

So back to our plants. Our wonderful green friends all tend to grow toward the sun a trait known as heliotropism. I’ll never forget the science fair project someone did in the fifth grade — they grew plants upside down, still aiming for the sun.

As the Greeks might say, there’s good reason to be a phytophile, phyte for plant, philos Greek for “loving.” With courage like theirs, how can you not love plants?

Satellite Safe (For Now)

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

TECH THURSDAY

Today, a wrap-up of what has been a perilous week for my beloved satellite radio. Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of Sirius-XM, after receiving it as a gift from my husband at Christmas.

Yet last week, disturbing reports began appearing about a possible hostile take-over. The villain so to speak was Charles Ergen, CEO of EchoStar, which operates DirectTV.

Rumor had it Ergen wanted to buy and cannibalize satellites for his own ends. Can’t you just hear the Hollywood version of this story? HISS … BOO.

Enter satellite’s White Knight: Liberty Media. Of course everything’s relative, and these guys want to make money. But somehow, Sirius CEO Mel Karmazin persuaded John Malone of Liberty to step in with a cash infusion just before a large debt payment was due (to Mr. Ergen, it should be noted).

So for now, satellite radio is safe, sort of.

And so are our stations — Sirius-XMU, AltNation, First Wave, Lithium.

Some people will say why do we need satellite when there is streaming Internet?

I say, who wants to download podcasts, or listen to stale, computer generated playlists on some streaming servers.

With satellite, the music choices are impeccable, the program categories surprising and dynamic.

And of course, satellite is the only place you can hear Howard Stern in the mornings. I know, Cringe.

But he’s just side-splittingly funny. And he represents, like it or not, what it means to have freedom of speech. Real freedom of speech. That allows you from time to time to make jokes about body parts and functions without someone else’s values determining what you can and can’t say. Yep, sometimes the show is out of bounds (prank calls) and I just turn down the volume. Other times, I just sit there and say, thank goodness, someone can make me laugh today.

So a hopeful week after all, despite the bad news everywhere.

DUST UP OVER FACEBOOK’S PRIVACY TERMS CHANGE. Never quite understood it, but protested it anyway.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday.

Global Dust-Up

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

Almost like a frisson going through the large universal human soul, everything is crunching and reordering. Waves around the world today of happenings that stem from our country’s economic crisis; scandals, fears and business scale-backs.

Human beings seem to bounce back from horrible, terrible times — our World Wars, genocides, apartheid, slavery. It takes a long time for us to realize the sin of our behaviors, and usually we won’t stop until someone threatens us with hardship, imprisonment or death. Or, we see the horror of what we’ve done and someone helps us see a way out of darkness. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Mohandas Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln.

Slavery sent this nation into Civil War; World War II stopped fascism.

In our world this morning, there is unbridled greed, which allowed the most powerful nation on earth to become a big fat Atlantic City gameroom.

Good, honest people were suckered in by adjustable rate mortgages, with pie-in-the-sky promises that they could flip their house and make a bundle before the rate jumped. Now, they’re sitting in … or losing … homes they owe more on than they’re worth.

Meanwhile, million-dollar salaries among CEOs created an upper tier of wealth and power, and removed moral constraints.

So we wait and watch for the dust to settle after this whirlwind of change, and wait for the light after the storm.

Everything Blooms

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Shutting the blinds to close out the day last night, I noticed something unexpected.

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Our bougainvillea, a crawling bloomer that’s native to Florida, sits on a table by the eastern kitchen window. Each fall it comes in to join the peace lilies and philodendron, then struggles, day after day, to stay alive until May or June, when I take it outside again to flourish.

We’ve had this plant for nearly five years, I suppose. My husband chose it to hang on the new trellis we built several years ago, planning to hang it from the cross boards.

We liked it so much we brought it to the front yard, where it hangs each summer on a shepherd’s hook.

When it comes in each autumn, the first thing it does is shed its leaves to ease the stress of coming into a dry house environment. There it sits for weeks, bare, mere sticks, to all appearances dead.

Then slowly, as the weeks go by, I’ll see tiny sprouts on the stems, and soon, leaves push through.

Sometimes, there’s more, and yesterday, it happened: the bougainvillea was starting to bloom.

The sepals are pale red, not the deep crimson they’ll be in the summer, but there they are, nonetheless.

Bougainvillea blooms. Doing their best, despite the odds.

If you’ve ever spent time with plants, you can’t help becoming affected by them. Plants have such courage, resilience, and strength. They are so generous — sharing nectar with bees and birds; color and pollen with butterflies; food and joy for us human beings.

Whenever I see the color of a blossom, it’s almost jarring to see such gorgeous life expression.

I gaze and wonder, and remind myself that in this mysterious world of miracles, one thing is certain: Everything blooms.

Whither Satellite Radio?

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Monday Special Tech Edition

Not since my previous blog disappeared from the Yahoo server have I been in such a flutter about technology. (The blog returned after several panic-stricken days and you can find it here.)

For the past several days, talk has swirled about Sirius Satellite Radio’s financial problems. There are good guys — Mel Karmazin, CEO of Sirius XM who has nurtured the project — and bad guys — Charlie Ergen, CEO of EchoStar. He wants to scoop up our beloved satellite radio and use the satellites to widen his TV broadcasting abilities.

The nerve!

Anyone with satellite radio knows it’s invaluable. For me, it was like walking into heaven … and St. Peter said, Now that you’re here, we’ve got this awesome heavenly radio system that plays great music of all types with no commercials. (Of course there are heavenly devils like Howard Stern, but you have to admit, he’s clever, intelligent and well, funny.)

The news this morning is a mix. First, Howard Stern was not broadcasting his show live. Not sure if that was planned (it is, after all, a bank holiday and Mr. Stern has a sweet contract).

Then there is this fairly gloomy editorial on Philly.com that appeared today.

On the other hand, this article in the New York Post, the city where satellite mostly originates, sounds pretty hopeful … it’s the one I’m hoping is true.

Meanwhile, Sirius Buzz has several articles that are probably the surest for information.

So as this week of uncertainties opens, we are holding our breath that our dear, delicious, satellite radio will survive.