You Can Take the Boy out of Fenway...

The Red Sox, Victorious in Game 1…but you can’t take Fen­way out of the boy.

This evening, Pam and I ate hot dogs, drank beer and watched the Boston Red Sox utter­ly dom­i­nate the Col­orado Rock­ies in a wicked first game of the 2007 World Series. It was curi­ous to see the Sox not only do so well, but do so well in so many ways. They fin­ished off with a score of 13 to 1, tying the record of 13 dou­bles in a world series game. But it wasn’t only the hit­ting. They pulled off a beau­ti­ful dou­ble play, and pitch­er Josh Beck­ett only allowed 6 hits. The Rock­ies, on the oth­er hand, went through 5 pitch­ers.

Old habits do die hard, though. All the way up to a score of 7 to 1, Pam kept say­ing ‘They could still screw it up! Don’t let your­self be fooled!” It’s also hard to get used to see­ing our old Boston team as the favourite, and clear­ly not the under­dog. That said, it is fun to see them win hand­i­ly, even if we aren’t with­in a stone’s throw of the Green Mon­ster any more.

Go Sox!

Hail to the Geek

We’ve had a lot of vis­i­tors in the build­ing at work. The project we’re work­ing on is near­ing a phase where some of it (actu­al­ly a tip of the prover­bial ice­berg) is get­ting shown to the cus­tomer. This means that there are a lot of peo­ple com­ing and going, many vis­i­tor pass­es being passed out (Ter­ry at the front desk says that they are actu­al­ly begin­ning to run out of them), and the cafe­te­ria is run­ning out of most items at around 12:15. Not that I’m a big fan of the cafe­te­ria, but usu­al­ly the choice that they run out of first is the most edi­ble one. The oth­er day I took a bite of what they called a ‘Philly Cheese Steak’ and couldn’t bear to take anoth­er, because it was so awful (bits of burned scraps from the grill and who knows what else seemed to be stick­ing to it).

There has been one oth­er change, a sub­tle one: It’s the front door, or rather the door to the first floor offices right from the lob­by. It’s not so much the door, as what the door does when you swipe your ID card on it. Up until this week, when you swiped your card, it opened the lock with a short click, and also played a short a record­ing of a riff on a vibra­phone, like an announce­ment that some­one was com­ing in. It was a curi­ous fea­ture that I’d nev­er seen on a door, but the clos­est thing I can say it was like, was the ‘door­bell’ on The Jet­sons, that some­times didn’t so much act as a door­bell, but a sort of announce­ment as the guest or fam­i­ly mem­ber appeared on that ever-present mov­ing side­walk (not the one where George gets stuck on shout­ing ‘Jane, Stop this Crazy thing!’ with Astro and the cat look­ing on at the end, but then if you’re with me so far, you know that already.)

I don’t know why the sound is gone, and haven’t asked. Maybe so many peo­ple were com­ing and going that the tune was dis­rupt­ing meet­ings (there is a futur­is­tic semi-cir­cu­lar meet­ing room near that door, before the main part of the floor). Per­haps they will rein­state the entry-tune after the rash of vis­i­tors is over.

It did, how­ev­er, get me to think­ing: What if the door played a dif­fer­ent tune depend­ing on the per­son whose ID card was swiped on it. If a big­wig exec­u­tive was enter­ing, it could play ‘Hail to the Chief’, or some­one shout­ing: ‘Cap­tain on the Bridge!’. It could work like those but­lers in the movies, announc­ing guests as they arrive at some fan­cy par­ty: “The Duke and Duchess of Free­do­nia!”.

If I had my choice as to what that door would play when I came in each morn­ing, I think I’d want it to play some­thing match­ing my mood. If I was a good mood, I’d have it play some­thing like the crowd of peo­ple shout­ing “Norm!” (from Cheers), or that round of applause that came when Kramer would enter Jerry’s door in Sein­feld. (Why did they start doing that any­way?). If I was in a bad mood, I think the best choice would be the March of Darth Vad­er (You know, dum dum dum — dum di dum, dum di dum… I’m not going to both­er with nota­tion or even an audio excerpt.)

In a way, the entrance of some­one could be just like an exten­sion of ring­tones. I recent­ly found out that peo­ple spend $5 bil­lion a year on ring­tones. (To quote David Pogue: What the?) If we could spend part of our pay­cheques on hav­ing the right entrance music when we enter our work­place, would we?

Update: A Design­er came up with a more low-tech solu­tion, but it requires some skill on the part of the per­son knock­ing the door. 

Has the World Finally Caught Up with Isaac Asimov's Vision?

Solar SatelliteI vivid­ly remem­ber meet­ing Isaac Asi­mov when I was a teenag­er. My father had man­aged to get him as a speak­er at the col­lege he was teach­ing, where as part of a Fes­ti­val on The Future, the Sci­ence Fic­tion writer was being asked to give a lec­ture on his advice for the future. Besides his impres­sive mut­ton-chop side­burns and live­ly demeanor, I also remem­ber what he spoke about.

One of the main points of his talk was that he found him­self great­ly influ­enced by an ear­ly piece of Sci­ence Fic­tion him­self. It was a nov­el called “The Man Who Awoke”, writ­ten in 1933 by Lawrence Man­ning. Despite some sil­ly dia­log and flat char­ac­ters, I actu­al­ly had read the book and real­ly liked it. It was about a rich her­mit named Nor­man Win­ters, who found a way to put him­self into sus­pend­ed ani­ma­tion in a sub­ter­ranean cham­ber he’d con­struct­ed, for thou­sands of years at a time, mak­ing him a sort of one-way time trav­el­er. When he first wakes up in the year 5000AD, all of the world’s fos­sil fuels have been used up, and the peo­ple alive at that point use alco­hol refined from wood pulp as a fuel, and referred to the past cen­turies as the Great Age of Waste. The book is a com­pendi­um of pop­u­lar Sci­ence Fic­tion plots: in lat­er chap­ters, in the times that Win­ters awakes cen­turies lat­er, the Earth is run by a tyran­ni­cal cen­tral com­put­er (see any num­ber of Star Trek and oth­er Sci-Fi series plots), then he tries to inter­vene with a city of sleep­ers who can pro­gram their own dreams (see The Matrix), he then finds a world dom­i­nat­ed by anar­chists in enor­mous walk­ing robots who per­form Genet­ic Exper­i­ments, and final­ly, he reach­es the age where Man dis­cov­ers Immor­tal­i­ty (and just in time for him, too).

It was that first episode, how­ev­er, that struck Asi­mov as down­right plau­si­ble; as we know very well today, there are only finite reserves of fos­sil fuels, and we now know that burn­ing them at the rate we’ve been doing for pow­er and trans­porta­tion has led to cat­a­stroph­ic cli­mate changes. After years of study and thought, Asi­mov (back in the 1970’s, when he gave this lec­ture) sug­gest­ed a scheme where we launched satel­lites into geo­sta­tion­ary orbit, much the way weath­er satel­lites are today. These satel­lites, how­ev­er, would use arrays of solar cells to col­lect the sun’s ener­gy and con­vert it into elec­tric­i­ty. To get that pow­er back to the earth, Asi­mov sug­gest­ed a microwave beam, that like a tow­er between the earth and the satel­lite, would nev­er move, and allow us to con­tin­u­ous­ly har­vest pow­er, with­out any inter­rup­tions of clouds or storms.

Much of Asimov’s pro­pos­al was dis­missed in the 1970’s, most­ly because it was too expen­sive, par­tic­u­lar­ly when you fac­tored in all of the rock­ets that you would need to launch and man­pow­er you’d need to sup­port in space to build such a struc­ture. A lot of peo­ple were still in denial that mankind would ever real­ly run out of oil, despite the Ener­gy Cri­sis of 1973 being a clear warn­ing shot off the US’s bow.

Today, with Manning’s 1933 prophe­cy com­ing true, and the even more seri­ous prob­lem of glob­al warm­ing from the Green­house Effect, Asimov’s pro­pos­al is start­ing to look far more attrac­tive. In fact, if you fac­tor in the sav­ings we get by using robots to build the solar arrays (anoth­er Asi­mov cre­ation, but odd­ly enough, he nev­er dis­cussed using them to help build his orbital con­struc­tions), improve­ments in pho­to­volta­ic effi­cien­cy, new­er, lighter mate­ri­als, and the idea starts to gain cred­i­bil­i­ty.

I found that last bit out in an arti­cle on the web site for New Sci­en­tist, where the US Pen­ta­gon has sug­gest­ed Space-Based Solar Pow­er Facil­i­ties as a poten­tial solu­tion to our ener­gy prob­lems:

A report released yes­ter­day by the Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Space Office (NSSO) rec­om­mends that the US gov­ern­ment spon­sor projects to demon­strate solar-pow­er-gen­er­at­ing satel­lites and pro­vide finan­cial incen­tives for fur­ther pri­vate devel­op­ment of the tech­nol­o­gy.

Space-based solar pow­er would use kilo­me­ter-sized solar pan­el arrays to gath­er sun­light in orbit. It would then beam pow­er down to Earth in the form of microwaves or a laser, which would be col­lect­ed in anten­nas on the ground and then con­vert­ed to elec­tric­i­ty. Unlike solar pan­els based on the ground, solar pow­er satel­lites placed in geo­sta­tion­ary orbit above the Earth could oper­ate at night and dur­ing cloudy con­di­tions.

We think we can be a cat­a­lyst to make this tech­nol­o­gy advance,” said US Marine Corps lieu­tenant colonel Paul Damp­housse of the NSSO at a press con­fer­ence yes­ter­day in Wash­ing­ton, DC, US.

The NSSO report rec­om­mends that the US gov­ern­ment spend $10 bil­lion over the next 10 years to build a test satel­lite capa­ble of beam­ing 10 megawatts of elec­tric pow­er down to Earth.

My favourite part of the arti­cle comes right at the end:

…the NSSO and its sup­port­ers say that no fun­da­men­tal sci­en­tif­ic break­throughs are nec­es­sary to pro­ceed with the idea and that space-based solar pow­er will be prac­ti­cal in the next few decades.

There are no tech­nol­o­gy hur­dles that are show stop­pers right now,” said Damp­housse.

So, noth­ing new to invent, and we could have much of the prob­lems of the end of cheap oil and Green­house gas buildup fixed with­in, say, 15 years. That might just save the human race from extinc­tion (even if we do lose the Polar Bear).

I am aware of the dan­gers of a fixed and con­tin­u­ous microwave beam, and we have no idea what it would do the atmos­phere. I cer­tain­ly wouldn’t want to be a bird (or plane) that wan­dered too close to the beam itself. Nev­er­the­less, I can’t help think­ing that if we’d only lis­tened to Asi­mov, when I met him back in the 1970s, we’d be in much bet­ter shape now, but maybe it’s not too late to heed his advice 30 years lat­er.

iPhones Coming to Canada, but It'll Cost You

Pricey iPhone for Canada

Accord­ing to Betanews :

Apple is plan­ning to begin sell­ing its Apple iPhone through Rogers Wire­less in Cana­da by mid-Octo­ber, tech­nol­o­gy news site Dig­i­tal Jour­nal report­ed this week. The site said a source from with­in Cana­di­an lux­u­ry retail­er Holt Ren­few said it would be receiv­ing the phone with­in two weeks, and it would retail in the coun­try for $799.

Did they say $799? Uh, the Loonie is strong, but not that strong. I think I will plan on a trip to the Apple Store in Belling­ham or Seat­tle to pick one up. I can’t imag­ine them giv­ing us the same trou­ble as Cana­di­ans have had try­ing to buy cars in the US. An agree­ment with Cana­di­an Car Deal­ers make it impos­si­ble to do so, deliv­er­ing as much as 30% more prof­it straight into the hands of the car mak­ers, lead­ing to a 2 Bil­lion$ Class-Action Law­suit on the part of Cana­di­an con­sumers. If that’s no good, and they find some way of stop­ping us at the bor­der, even buy­ing online from the Apple Store and pay­ing the duty and import tax­es here would be cheap­er.

I expect that the only iPhone buy­ers actu­al­ly pur­chas­ing it from Holt Ren­frew will be the Amer­i­can Film Actors stay­ing in Van­cou­ver while they shoot what­ev­er movie they are in.

At any rate, this con­firms a sim­i­lar rumor that I had heard ear­li­er in the week. Geeks across Cana­da are ready to heave a sigh of relief.

An Update from Dig­i­tal Jour­nal:

 We have received word from Mario Man­za, Exec­u­tive Direc­tor of VIP Ser­vices at Holt Ren­frew, that they will not be car­ry­ing the iPhone for now. He said he con­firmed this infor­ma­tion with the buy­ers this morn­ing and apol­o­gized for any mis­in­for­ma­tion on behalf of the com­pa­ny.

It sure is a weird sce­nario: Yes­ter­day we placed cold calls to their acces­sories depart­ment and they were telling every­one the iPhone would be there in two weeks. They were even going so far as tak­ing down phone num­bers of peo­ple who called, inform­ing them they will call back when it arrives in two weeks. They even quot­ed the exact price of $799.

Yes­ter­day we also received a pan­ic-sound­ing call from Holt Renfrew’s PR team say­ing this deal was not con­firmed “yet” — “yet” being the oper­a­tive word.

If you call today, how­ev­er, the same employ­ees are now say­ing they are no longer get­ting the iPhone any­time soon. Dig­i­tal Journal’s insid­ers are now say­ing the same thing.

As we men­tioned, and as most peo­ple agreed, Holt Ren­frew sound­ed like a very unlike­ly place for the iPhone to be launched in Cana­da. But the retail­er does car­ry expen­sive Nokia, D&G and Pra­da phones, and they have car­ried iPods in the past.

So rumour is quashed, for now (accord­ing to Mario Man­za). Holt Ren­frew insid­ers still say Rogers will have it in Jan­u­ary but they say it’s not clear why a poten­tial Holt Ren­frew deal fell through. We’ll see if we can get more infor­ma­tion on that.

We’ll keep you post­ed if we learn any­thing new.

This is approach­ing the lev­el of hys­te­ria. You’d think some­one had leaked that mar­i­jua­na was going to be legal in Cana­da.

Oh, it already is. My mis­take.

A Disturbing High School Discovery

One of the typ­i­cal con­nec­tions on Face­book, one would think, is to schools you used to attend. For me, I’ve been tracked down by a class­mate or two, but I have to admit that this is not the source of most of my con­tacts. I did not enjoy going to my High School, and didn’t ‘fit in’ with any crowd there to speak of. With the sole excep­tion of my Choral Teacher, Richard Disha­roon, I can’t remem­ber very many teach­ers there who made much of an impres­sion on me. At the first chance I could get to take cours­es at the local col­lege where my moth­er taught (Tow­son State Uni­ver­si­ty), I leapt at the oppor­tu­ni­ty, and was thrilled to dri­ve out of the park­ing lot at mid-day to attend class­es, most of them in Music, which would be my major in Col­lege.

Now, I’m begin­ning to see even more why I didn’t fit in. Yes­ter­day, at the invi­ta­tion of a for­mer class­mate, I joined the group online that rep­re­sents the grad­u­at­ing year from my High School (Pikesville High School, 1978). Con­nect­ed to that group page was some infor­ma­tion about the school, etc. includ­ing a Wikipedia Entry with the his­to­ry of the place, and a few notable stu­dents who had attend­ed the school. I saw a list of a few names, includ­ing :

So far, so good. No ser­i­al killers or child moles­ters. Then, one jumped out at me, like a bolt of light­ning:

I didn’t attend Pikesville High School at the same time as Mehlman, but I remem­ber see­ing him on TV as one of the poster boys of the GOP, and he was par­tic­u­lar­ly mem­o­rable as some­one who was clear­ly a clos­et­ed gay man with a sig­nif­i­cant degree of self-loathing (how could one not be to be the head of the extreme­ly homo­pho­bic Repub­li­can Nation­al Com­mit­tee?) He man­aged the Bush pres­i­den­tial re-elec­tion cam­paign in 2004, which was a piv­otal event, at least in my life­time, because the out­come was the ‘straw the broke the camel’s back’ for us, lead­ing to our depar­ture from the US. If Ken Melh­man was a prod­uct of Pikesville High School, then it’s pret­ty clear to me why I didn’t take to the place. I hope nobody holds my hav­ing attend­ed there against me.