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.