Inventor and futurist Ray Kurzweil, talking about some of the things that fascinate me. (Lottie — this is especially for “John”. I think he might find it interesting 😉 )
As many of you will already know, I’m fond of technology — especially technology that enables me to do things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to do. The Internet was a real groundbreaking development for me — enabling me to interact and work in a whole new, liberating way. Voice recognition software, although I fell out with it for a while, now allows me to get through vast amounts of work in a fraction of the time it would otherwise have taken. As well as the laptop before me, I also have a PDA and smart phone within reach, and another PDA in the drawer a few feet away. I have in total four different devices which have hard drives, and all of them get used (for storing TV programmes, movies, music, photos — all the usual stuff.) Something new comes on the market that I feel I might benefit from in some tangible way (I don’t believe in wasting money — especially money I haven’t got!), I get it when I can afford it.
One aspect of technological development that I have not as yet embraced, however, is the e-book. I’ve had hand-held devices for many years and was aware of Project Gutenberg from the time of its inception. I’ve tried various formats, and I have to say it will probably be a very long time before I give up traditional books — hardback or paperback.
Why? Well, this is the point where most traditionalists will trot out the standard response of “reading from a screen is harder on the eyes”, but that argument doesn’t really hold water any more. E-book readers are now available which convincingly reproduce the effect of ink on paper. Far better on the eyes and comparable to the real thing. So that isn’t it — for me, at least. No, my reasons for preferring traditional books centre around the tactile experience of reading — the individual feel and look of each book, the smell of ink on paper, the texture of the page, all of it. Fill your e-book reader with e-books and each and every one of them will look the same when you come to read them. By this I mean the e-book reader will not look any different, no artwork on the cover, no crinkled pages, no pencilled notes in the margin, just data on a device that you could all too easily mistake for someone else’s.
But of course, the content is what matters, isn’t it? If the book’s good, you’ll forget about how you’re reading it, right? I wish I could say that that was true, but in my experience it simply isn’t. A few years ago, I tried reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula on a PDA and, yes, it worked well enough but… I just couldn’t help feeling that I was missing out on something. It seemed somehow too clinical, too removed. The PDA kept me at a distance, it seemed. Getting beyond it and into the story seemed much, much harder than I had previously expected.
So for the foreseeable future I’ll be sticking to books — the old, tried and tested kind. At least until they come up with an e-book reader which replicates the individuality of each book to such a degree that it is indistinguishable from a real book.
There’s something almost spiritual about flying a kite. As a kid, there was nothing I liked better than going to the coast and flying my Barnstormer Stunt Kite — hovering it close to the ground and then pulling back on one line and letting it rip and ripple its way to its highest point. It gave me an incredible sense of freedom and was remarkably soothing.
When I read years later that Richard Feynman — the physicist, raconteur and bongo player supremo — had also enjoyed kite flying it was another reason to admire him. Only the best people enjoy kite flying! And that was all that ever needed to be said on the subject.
Reading through my science feeds earlier today, however, I found yet another reason to recommend this pastime. It could well be the answer to all our energy problems. (Well, some of them, at least.)
Now, I’m not in any way ashamed to admit that one of my favourite online newspapers is the Times. Yes, I read others, comparing details and noting bias, but I find this site nice and accessible, easy to navigate with a fairly decent standard of reporting. But recently I’ve noticed a trend that… well, it doesn’t exactly worry me. It amuses me, more than anything.
To cut to the chase, I’ve started to notice that the quality of articles presented by their various columnists are becoming increasingly superficial, badly written and, yes, in certain circumstances utterly pointless.
So I wasn’t surprised when I read this piece by one-time editor Simon Jenkins.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t see his point. His stance seemed to be, almost, one of either/or — technology versus “real life”. It is a naive and, frankly, badly informed point of view that seems to miss entirely that whilst people do (obviously) enjoy real-life interaction, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there isn’t an equally valid demand for technology that enables them to bridge massive distances and interact with people they wouldn’t otherwise have met. Technology is a part of the real-life of which he speaks, to the point where many of us no longer make such pointless distinctions. A number of his readers seem to agree with him (you’ll notice that I didn’t!), completely missing the point that they were sitting before their computers and replying to his article in a form more immediate than most of us would have at one time dreamed possible. They also, as he did, seemed to miss the fact that the article appears on an Internet website.
At the beginning of the article he states:
“Last week hundreds of young people queued overnight to watch Andrew Murray play a game of tennis. Tickets were reportedly changing hands for £2,000. Yet the game could be watched on any television or computer screen, in the comfort of home, pub or work-place.”
There are a couple of obvious points here. One of his main arguments seems to be that “live” is where the money is, these days. He even, rather oddly, uses reality TV as a proof for this. So, let’s look at one point at a time.
Firstly, hundreds of young people were paying (or their rich parents were, at least) up to £2,000 for Wimbledon tickets. Pretty impressive, right? Wrong. What he doesn’t mention is that in excess of twelve million people watched the match live on television (in the UK alone), with more watching over the Internet, listening to the radio etc. So where is the money? Bearing in mind that every one of those 12 million people (this is just the UK viewers, don’t forget), would need television sets, a digital decoder of some kind, and were probably chatting with their mates on their phones whilst they watched — if you wanted to make real money, long-term, which would you rather invest in? The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Association, or technology firms? I know where I’d put my money (if I had any!)
The second point is, of course, that not everyone can attend live events — either because they find it too expensive, too far from where they live or simply because old age or disability makes it difficult for them to attend. This is where, in my opinion, technology comes into its own. It is becoming increasingly egalitarian. Without it, frankly, I would not be able to write the novels I write today. The availability of information, the constant reduction in the price of technology (which companies can do whilst still making a profit because so many units are being turned over), all this and more means that I can more easily do the things I need and want to do. It has not replaced any aspect of my life. Technology has never set out to do that. It merely enhances the lives we already lead.
His final paragraph is so banal I was tempted to write to the Queen to ask her to withdraw his knighthood.
“The money is now being made in supplying a public craving not for technology but for human experience. It lies in flesh and blood. Live is live.”
Human experience? We are making money not from technology, but from human experience? Is there a difference? I’d argue that there isn’t. Technology is becoming so enmeshed with our everyday experience (our everyday human experience) that people like Simon Jenkins just don’t see it. How does he think these live events of which he speaks are organised? What of the amazing light shows that take place at these “live” concerts? Are they achieved by lining up hundreds of people, handing them torches of different colours and instructing them “to wave them about a bit”? No. The complex logistics of putting on such shows and events require masses of technology.
His argument is tantamount to a straw man. Call me stupid (that’s rhetorical, incidentally!), but I consider writing this piece using my nifty voice recognition software on my wonderful Acer laptop, as much a flesh and blood experience as heading out onto the moors and breathing in lots of lovely fresh air. Each has its place. There is no battle, financial or philosophical, except in the minds of those unable to see what is right before their eyes:
A computer screen. Just one element of human experience — and one that many of us can profit by, in many, many ways.
I haven’t done a science related post in a while, if memory serves me well, so today I thought I’d share this great YouTube series on the history of the universe with you. There is much in it that many of you will already be familiar with, but it is nonetheless an excellent, simple explanation of many complex ideas. A valuable refresher and an excellent introduction for the beginner.
WE NEED YOU! — I am looking for people who can “seed” the Made Easy series, either hosting it on their websites, mailing DVDs to schools or to other ‘seeds’, or spreading through BitTorrents. If you can help spread a bit of science and counter the rolling tide of creationist ignorance, please get in touch. Message me with a description of what you can do. Thanks!
The ‘Made Easy’ series is designed to explain the evidence that shows how we got here, from the Big bang to human migration out of Africa. A better quality version will soon be available for free download from a website — details to be announced. I will be happy to send DVDs free of charge to schools after the series is finished.
The ‘Made Easy’ series of videos can be freely copied and distributed for educational purposes, but cannot be used for commercial gain in whole or in part. They cannot be altered, transformed or added to. If you use repost these videos you must attribute them to ‘Potholer54 on YouTube.”
I’ve been a journalist for 20 years, 14 years as a science correspondent. My degree is in geology, but while working for a science magazine and several science programs I had to tackle a number of different fields, from quantum physics to microbiology. My particular talent was my ignorance. By not understanding half of what I was assigned to cover, I had to reduce scientific discoveries from the complex to the simple. If I wrote it in a way that I could understand it, then my readers could understand it.
All right, it may never happen. Chances are, someone will decide there’s a far better way to make lots of money and this will be the last you or I will hear of it.
But if it does happen, I want one! Why? Well, simply…
” […] it’s the fact that you buy the car online, it gets shipped to you in two cardboard boxes, and the estimated assembly time is less than two hours. Perhaps it’s that the car is made out of “airbags” – the same polymer materials used to cushion NASA’s rovers when they landed on Mars. Then again, it could be the company’s claim that you can drive the car off a cliff without serious injury, and that it will float in a flood or tsunami.“
Just imagine the fun we could all have, driving our cars off cliffs! Wouldn’t that be wonderful and… well, bouncy? (Yeah, okay, I can’t drive… but would it matter?)
I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, but what with my “creative endeavours” and whatnot, I just haven’t got round to it.
The blogoshere is growing on a minute by minute basis. It’s estimated, in fact, to be growing so fast that by 2020 it will have broken free of its technological confines and turned the world and everything in it to a fish-paste-like mush… or was that nanobots? Either way, it’s a force to be reckoned with — and as our blogging skills increase I’m sure the trend for so-called “real journalists” to start sweating a bit and worrying about their job security will also continue to grow. Exponentially.
But, let’s face it, there’s a whole heap of dross out there. Silly, personal websites I have no objection to. They serve a purpose for the individual concerned and more power to them. What I don’t like, however, are the badly written blogs that claim to speak with authority on subjects they quite clearly know nothing about.
With this in mind, I thought I’d take a few moments to introduce you to some of my fellow bloggers who don’t fit into this category. These are the blogs I read on a daily basis. And they are a bit good.
See what you think.
- The Odd Blog. Mike’s mix of Internutter de-masking and commentary.
- PD Smith. Science writer par exellence.
- The Will Rhodes Portmanteau. Will’s political blog.
- Nectarville. Bekki’s blog. Slow down, girl!
- Pharyngula. “Evolution, development, and random biological ejaculations from a godless liberal.”
- KurzweilAI.net. Science and futurism.
… that’s all for now, but more will follow soon.
[Edit: Please be aware that not being included in the list does not necessarily mean your blog falls into the “badly written blogs that claim to speak with authority on subjects they quite clearly know nothing about” category.]