Posts tagged ‘Technology’

A long time ago, the first cave people sat around the fire after dinner and grunted at one another, and drew pictures on the walls with the ashes from the fire.  Thus was born “Home Entertainment”.  Stories told and retold in the oral tradition were eventually written down, and books were added to the mix. Granted, along the way, people got up and demonstrated the stories by repeating the actions, creating Theater, but that quickly moved out of the home and into the public arena.  However, the idea of theater at home was so appealing, that once Radios were introduced, the Radio Drama  became a mainstay of Home Entertainment.  Television added pictures to the sounds, and improvements in sound technology brought us to the Home Theater System of today.  Technophiles are not happy with just a run-of-the-mill Home Theater Surround Sound System.  They also need game consoles (yes, consoles, plural, because one is just never enough).  Which leads me to my living room.

Christmas is over, and, for the first time in a long time, we did not have a mega-media Christmas. Past Christmases have included the Playstation 2 (granted, that was a while ago), the DVD player, the XBox 360, the Wii, the Blu-Ray player, and the second XBox 360. This past December we added the 3D Blu-Ray player and the active shutter glasses, although since we got that mid-December, my husband is not counting this as Christmas gifts.  (He did use the money that was allocated for my Christmas presents to buy said player & glasses, so maybe they really belong to me . . . ) Add to the above-listed assortment the Media Center PC my husband built about a year ago, and we have so much entertainment coming out of our ears that we have no idea what to do with it all or what to watch next. Do we play XBox? Watch shows on the DVR? Play 3D movies? Stream Netflix on any of the many compatible devices? Pick up the toys and go bowling in the living room? Or train our tigers? Or maybe we should just snuggle up on the couch with the PC and our favorite vampires and theoretical physicists. . . .

I decided this year that I was going to go “old school”. I bought books. Not Nooks or Kindles or iPads, Books. The kind with pages made of paper that you have to manually turn. Those things that give that distinct old-world smell to used bookshops tucked away in England. Books. Ironically, a lot of this seems related to my new “job” as a volunteer at our local library. I started a few months ago and realized how much I missed reading. There is a lot to be said for being able to curl up in a comfy chair with a book and have the author weave a story with vivid descriptions of people and places and have your mind construct those for your based solely on the words in front of you. Anyway, I had made a killing late in the fall when our local Borders closed, and I had tucked away much of that stash to be given as gifts later. Then I took advantage of the bonus offers emailed to me by Barnes & Noble and the free shipping they offered all season long for B & N members. The end result is a dearth of shelf space in our living room, where once again books are competing with discs.

I think this is a good problem to have. So much of our society (and especially the younger generations) have grown  so accustomed to the instant gratification that technology provides, that many people have forgotten the joy that reading can bring. Yes, it takes much longer for the story to play out in a book than it does on the movie screen (and who would sit through 30 minutes of watching Lisbeth doing research for her job?), but delayed gratification has a lot of merit. It teaches us that things don’t always come fast or easy or cheap. Sometimes, just sometimes, the greater joy can be found in those things that take effort and cost and sacrifice. We have so much more appreciation for something we have worked for than for those things that are just handed to us or that we only have to push a button to get . . .

I hope all of you find some delayed gratification this year!

We have a movie theater in our town that screens only classic films – ones that you are sure would have been amazing to watch on the large screen when they were new, but (at least in my case) they were new before you were born.  This weekend they were screening It’s A Wonderful Life.  Now, I have seen this movie so many times, I could probably recite the lines along with the movie, Rocky Horror style, but it is still the quintessential holiday film.  There are others, of course – A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th St., and just about any version of A Christmas Carol – but Wonderful Life seems to epitomize that simpler time that we all seem to long for.  The question remains, if given the opportunity, would we really enjoy returning to that kind of existence?  Or can we somehow find a compromise?

I think about all of the technological advances that have come, in a wide variety of fields, and I know that there are many I would be loathe to live without.  At the top of my list would be some of the medical advances that have happened in the past 30 years, particularly in the area of breast cancer research.  When I was 12, my paternal grandmother died of the disease.  At that time, there was no such thing as yearly mammograms, ultrasound to inspect suspected lumps, or even any training on any front for women to self-examine.  My grandmother did not even know she had cancer until it had spread so far into her body that there was not much anyone could do other than to make her comfortable until the end.  Fast forward 25 years.  One day, my mother found a lump.  Within the span of two weeks, she had been examined by her doctor, had mammograms, a sonogram, a needle biopsy and a diagnosis.  Within a week of that she had started treatment.  Last month she met with her oncologist for the last time.  After all, since she has been cancer-free for the last 10 years, he really doesn’t see the need for her ever to come back.

Similarly, the progress that has been made in the area of HIV-AIDS is amazing.  When I was in high school, the worst thing that could happen to you if you had unprotected sex was a disease that required a visit to a doctor’s office and a rather embarrassing discussion that ended with a shot of penicillin.  When I was in college, the worst was a viral disease that you would have for the rest of your life, with some rather unpleasant sores, but there were drugs that would control it.  Toward the end of my college career was the first time I had heard of a sexually transmitted disease that could kill you, but even so, I figured I was immune, as I was never going to be having sex with a gay man.  Today, there are over 30 million people living with HIV.  Part of that statistic is the rampant spread of the disease in sub-Saharan Africa, but the other part is that today, due to medical advances that have occurred in the last 30 years, people are no longer dying of AIDS like they were in the 80’s.  As a matter of fact, with proper treatment and maintenance, an person with HIV can expect to live a normal lifespan, into their 80’s or 90’s, with relatively few HIV-related problems.

I also think about communications.  In Frank Capra’s world, the local police officer had to drive up and down the city streets, looking for George to let him know he was needed at home.  Running out of gas on a lonely stretch of road used to mean hiking for miles or accepting a ride from a stranger.  Clark Kent changed into Superman by ducking into the nearest telephone booth.  Enter the cell phone, and suddenly theses scenarios are obsolete.  And speaking of Superman, no where has there been a better harbinger of things to come than the scene in Superman: The Movie of Christopher Reeve desperately searching for a phone booth, only to discover an open-style pay phone with no enclosure or door.  When cell phones first came into existence, they were big, bulky bricks that were unwieldy tools used only by certain business people.  Today, if you are 12 and your parents haven’t gotten you a phone that allows you to text, surf the net, check your email, play games, take pictures and stream movies (not to mention make calls), you are considered a total dweeb by your peers.  The ability to communicate with almost anyone on the planet at a moments notice is second nature to us now.  I know I have felt lost on those rare occasions that I walk out the door without my phone.  How can I call home to check in?  What if I feel a sudden urge to call my aunt in Seattle while I am waiting in line at the grocery store?  What if there’s an EMERGENCY?  If only cell phone usage was limited to emergency situations . . .

Communication advances have also improved the dissemination of information.  The advent of the 24-hour news channel and the internet makes us all aware of world news any time of the day or night.  I was having a conversation with my husband just the other night about how Nancy Grace’s HLN show anymore seems to be nothing but trying to find the latest missing child.  Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that a missing child, in any situation, is a horrendous tragedy that I would not ever wish on anyone.  But 10 years ago, if a child went missing, it was local news.  They didn’t broadcast it on any national networks, and there certainly wasn’t the attention given to missing children today.  If a child goes missing today, the ability to let the entire country or world know about the situation, post pictures and descriptions, issue Amber Alerts, and get everyone looking for the child greatly improves the probability that that child will be returned home, safe and sound.

The information age has also sounded the death knell for the old door-to-door encyclopedia salesman.  After all, who needs an encyclopedia when one has Google or Wikipedia?  Despite that, when a neighbor held a garage sale several years ago, and had a World Book set from 1987 available for $10, I snatched it up.  It’s not like there is suddenly going to be new information on folks like Beethoven, George Washington, or Elvis Presley.  There is valuable information to be had in an encyclopedia, and even “outdated” ones can be useful.  As a matter of fact, we now have two sets of encyclopedias in our home.  The other set is Encyclopædia Brittanica from the 1880’s.  It belonged to my great-grandparents.  I figure if I am still around in 2080, I will buy another set.  One every 100 years should keep me up to date.  Seriously, having the world at my fingertips is an advance I would not want to give up.  Being able to learn about situations around the world help me to appreciate what I have at home or, conversely, prompt me to try and improve myself and my situation.

In the working world, technology has improved the safety of the work environment, expanded job opportunities to entirely new classes of people, and improved the qualities of the products we buy.  Labor unions gave workers the ability to unite forces and demand better working environments.  Henry Ford’s assembly line revolutionized manufacturing.  The US involvement in World War II introduced women to the manufacturing fields, and equal pay laws helped to level the playing field.  At the same time, child labor laws forced children out of the factory and back into the schools, where, by improving their education, they are able to improve their prospects for employment opportunities in the future.  And in “Research and Design”, the goal of trying to make the latest widget smaller, faster, stronger, cheaper, longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly seems to be never ending.  Computer aided design makes reaching for that goal even easier.  Engineers can “test” virtual models in a simulated environment without the cost of actually making a prototype.  The end result being better products for the consumer at prices that seem to plummet the longer the product is on the market.  Priced a GPS unit or big-screen TV lately?

All of this technology has admittedly improved our lives, but at what price?  I am lucky if I can get my family to unite at the dinner table four nights a week.  Even so, breakfast and lunch are usually in front of the TV, watching something or playing the XBox.  I don’t know most of my kids’ friends because, rather than going to each others’ house’s to play, they party on their gaming systems and text each other late into the night.  If they want to see each other, they wait until they are at school.  Gone are the days of the entire gang descending upon one child’s house to raid the refrigerator and disappear to study or play a game or just “hang out.”  Being able to talk to anyone at the drop of a hat doesn’t mean I am any more connected with those people who are most important in my life.  On the contrary, I think to a certain extent  I take for granted that I can talk to someone at any time, and therefore I don’t talk to them unless there is a pressing need.

For this holiday season, I propose that we all try and take a moment, and make our lives Wonderful.  Take a look at the people around you and really appreciate them for who they are and how they contribute to your happiness.  Look at the value of the quality of your life, not just the quantity of what you have.  Turn off the cell phone and the TV and gather the family for some Christmas caroling in the neighborhood. Invite your friends to join you for Christmas Eve services at church, and repeat the following mantra:

“Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.”

Merry Christmas.

About a year ago, my husband asked me to come look at something on his computer.  Not sure how he had stumbled onto it, but he had discovered Steampunk.  Sometimes he’s cutting edge, sometimes he’s late to the party.  This time, I think he was a little of both.  For the uninitiated, Steampunk is that unique fusion of the modern and the antique – technology and Victorian styling.  For great visuals, rent Wild Wild West, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Van Helsing or Sherlock Holmes (the Robert Downey, Jr. version).   And while it is certainly not something you find in the mainstream, its popularity is prolific.  There is a huge culture surrounding Steampunk, as evidenced by the size of its Wikipedia page.  There are myriad sites devoted to the asthetic – blogs, shopping sites, and music (one of my faves being Abney Park).  If you are looking for it, you will be able to find it, but like many counter-culture things, it is not going to jump up in front of your face and advertise itself.  Usually I find new things because of the variety of sites I surf and things other people send to me.  Tonight I came across the next thing for modern-day authors to covet, thank you Twitter and Roger Ebert.

For your consideration: the USB Typewriter.  Jack Zylkin is a genius and I humbly bow down to him.  I want one of these!  Preferably the Underwood, but I’m not entirely certain about the green.  My sensibilities say it should be flat black.  I remember having to take typing in high school (my mother told me it would be a useful skill, no matter what field I decided to go into, because I could always make money in college by typing other students’ papers for them).  It took effort and deliberation to push down the keys of a manual typewriter (yes, I’m that old – or my school didn’t have the money to get that many electric typewriters – you decide).  And God forbid if you made a mistake.  Your only choice then was to either try and correct it manually or start all over.  That takes dedication.  You really have to be committed to what you are writing, otherwise each time you type it, it changes a little.  I guess that is the beauty of the writing process.  Each draft includes changes, until you just don’t change it anymore.

Anyway, I am ready to shop.  I am wondering if Jack would custom-make one of these for me if I came up with the typewriter.  I am thinking of one of those 50 pound jobs that comes with no warning labels or attorney-drafted disclaimers against such things as strained backs or crushed fingers.  But of course, I would also need to get an iPad . . . which begs the question: if I am old enough to remember manual typewriters, does that mean I am too old to be on Santa’s watch list?

Santa, if you are reading this, you know what I want . . . .

I read with interest a story in today’s local paper.  It was all about the latest computer technology advance out of India.  International demand for the Apple iPad has hardly slowed since its initial introduction, despite its hefty price tag.  Unfortunately, the Apple price point is simply out of reach for the vast majority of the Indian population, so the demand for less expensive computers is incredibly high.  When the under-$300 PC was introduced, it was a solid hit, but the Indian tech gurus may have knocked it out the ballpark this time.

If you have read any of my previous blog entries, you know that I am often referring to the TED conferences and the innovations that stem from them.  In 2005, Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the MIT Media Lab, proposed a $100 laptop that would be distributed in developing countries like China and India.  The laptops would be distributed in schools to students as a way to aid the learning process and give them more connectivity to the rest of the world.  He called the program One Laptop Per Child.  Ironically, India rejected OLPC as being “too expensive” and set out to create their own computers that would be even cheaper.

Which brings us to the $35 tablet PC unveiled earlier this week.  Of course, $35 is the high end of the price range.  The development team is hoping that they can get the cost down to $10 per unit once they go into full-steam production next year.  It will have connectivity similar to that of the iPad, but it runs the Linux system and operates with a USB-type storage device instead of an installed hard drive.  All of these factors help with the price reduction, but the developers have also shopped the globe looking for companies willing to produce a portion of the system for a low cost.  By farming out the components and using open-source software, India seems to have done the impossible.  And if that were not enough, the Indian government has also said that they will be willing to help subsidize the cost of the tablet computers for students, so they will run around $20 each.  Functionality might be limited on these machines, but if there was a device that could surf the web, bounce out to YouTube, check email and do basic word processing for 20 bucks, wouldn’t you jump on it?

People in the United States used to joke when India first started “stealing” phone support jobs, but with the advent of a variety of modern technologies being produced at a much lower cost that the rest of the world, India is a player to watch.  I know I could swing $20 for a new computer.  I just have to come up with the money to move to India . . .

To view the entire Associated Press article, click here.

I got off work early last Saturday.  One of the local hospitals just completed a multi-million dollar, multi-year construction project, and was offering tours, so I decided it would be interesting to check things out.  I must admit, my motives were rather self-serving.  As a parent of a child with severe food allergies (he has a whole list of things that will cause anaphylactic shock), I wanted to see the new facilities designed specifically to hold the Children’s Hospital.  I hope I never have to see them again, but it is comforting knowing they are there.  I also took the three-year-old with me.  He has lived most of his life with “If you eat that, you will have to go to the hospital,” and I wanted him to have a familiarity with the facilities in a non-threatening situation.

The tour took a little over an hour, and we walked forever, but we saw some of the most amazing things!  All the patient areas where a child might be a patient are accessible only by a key card issued by the hospital, so no one can get in without pre-approval.  On the one hand, it might be a bit much.  I mean, the reason children being snatched from hospitals makes such big headlines is it almost never happens.  On the other hand, when it happens it makes big headlines, so I can understand the hospitals wanting to err on the side of caution.  Anyway, because of the key-card access limitations, once the new building goes into use, none of these spaces will ever be open to just look at again.

The tour started in the lobby, then went to the top patient floor and worked its way back down.  We did skip one floor – the second – which the hospital has left as an empty shell, in preparation for future expansion.  For the time being it will not be used.  And we did not get to see the roof with its two new heliports, but you can see it on the website.  (SPOILER ALERT – The audio was not properly synced with the video when I checked out the virtual tour last time, so you see stuff before you hear about it.  It is really annoying.)  The 6th floor will be General Pediatrics, kids who are hospitalized for this or that or the other thing.  When the three-year-old was in the hospital for the flu, General Peds is where we stayed.  All the rooms are private, so the kids have space to spread out, and there are empty picture frames on the walls that have openings in the top for kids to drop in their own artwork.   There are two Child Life Centers – AKA playrooms – on each children’s floor, one for teens and one more geared toward littler kids.  All of the Child Life Centers are designated as treatment-free, meaning that they will be a safe zone for the kids, away from needles, or medications, or vitals checks.  They also have classrooms where the kids can catch up on homework and assignments that they are missing while in the hospital.

The 5th floor is an adult cardiac unit.  In addition to all the things you would expect on a cardiac floor, the hospital has also installed an internet network that is accessible in every patient room, so that patients and their families can keep up with their online life.  This floor does not have the key-card requirements, like the child floors do, but there is a check-in area just outside the elevators where visitors will have one last stop before they see the patient.  On this floor, there is a difference in the ventilation system, as well.  On on the children’s floors, the air-flow in the rooms is designed to “blow” out through the door, so any germ in the room are moved away from the smaller patients, who may have compromised or not-fully-developed immune systems.  On the cardiac floor, the ventilation is reversed so the air “blows” INTO the room.  This helps keep any germs a patient may bring into the hospital with him or her, rather than spreading to other cardiac patients.

On the 4th floor Pediatric Critical Care Unit, each room has a movable pillar suspended from the ceiling.  In these pillars are all the connections you would normally find on the wall near the head of the bed.  The pillars allow for the rooms to be “rearranged” for kids who may be spending a longer visit in the hospital and would otherwise get bored with their rooms.  Special rooms for child cardiac patients and the St. Jude patients are also located here.

The 3rd floor is the new Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit.  The NICU is massive compared to the current facilities.  Where currently there are 6 incubators to a room, the new unit will have one incubator per room and a sofa bed for the parents if they want to sleep in the room with their baby.  They also have additional “bedrooms” for the parents just down the hall, in case they want to sleep for a while away from the machines, or if the parents want to “trade off” – one in the patient room while the other sleeps in the bedroom.  The NICU will be able to house up to 60 infants at a time in seven different “neighborhoods” that are color-coded to help parents and loved ones find the right room more quickly.

On the main floor will be admitting, outpatient testing, a gift shop, and a Family Life center – phones, computers, a kitchen and even laundry facilities for families of patients to carry out some of their normal, day-t0-day activities while staying close.  Downstairs is the cardiac and pediatric operating rooms.  I’ve never before seen the inside of an operating room, but these are really cool – or hot as the case may be.  The cardiac surgical suites can be cooled down to 60 degrees in a matter of minutes to help slow blood flow during surgery, while the pediatric suites can have their temperatures raised to 90 degrees to help premies and other infants maintain their body temperatures during surgery.  Additionally, all the electronics for all the equipment are now just outside the operating rooms, separated by a large plate glass window.  Having the electronic equipment out of the room helps keep the room temperature steady.

Overall, the most impressive thing about the tour was how well-behaved the three-year-old was throughout the whole thing, even not having a nap that day.  The guides kept us moving at a quick enough pace that he didn’t have time to get bored, and almost every time we stopped to get a dose of information, there were places for him to sit down, and lots and lots of play tables!  Several older ladies were in our group, and kept commenting on how good my little boy was being.  They just could not get over how polite and patient he was being.  When we got to the end of the tour and they gave us free t-shirts, he was so excited!  You would have thought it was a big batch of gummy bears.  All in all, if I ever have to be in the hospital again, I hope it is there.  Even if I don’t get a free t-shirt.