When Robots Take Over

Will anybody care?

We recently bought a floor cleaning robot that specializes in pet hair. We have a menagerie, so that’s important. I’ve been testing it out using various settings. This morning for the first time I just pushed “auto” on the remote. The little guy zipped around the house picking up whatever was on the floor. While that went on, I had to do some pool maintenance outside, which I did. When I came back in I didn’t hear the robot, so I went looking for it. I found it sitting properly in it’s charging station, where it had put itself. So, this machine took off from its charging station, cleaned up all of our floors, and put itself away. Without me even touching it. That, friends, is pretty cool.

And my point is that robots really are cool. Very few of them walk and talk like humans do, but even that is becoming more common. As you might imagine, I’m not crazy about cleaning pet hair off of floors. I’m also not crazy about having to tell a machine what to do. Well, this little guy (they call him Bob) does what it’s supposed to without me doing anything beyond pushing a button to let it know that I want it to start. There are other settings, where it just goes for a set time and stops, but that involves putting it back in its station manually, and, well, why would I want to do that? I am supremely lazy, after all!

So, it is true that automation is advancing all the time. Machines are more and more able to carry out tasks unsupervised. I, for one, look forward to a car that drives me around. Cars as they are give a wonderful illusion of control, but that is only true if you put all of your attention into controlling the automobile, and develop the requisite skills to see you through any situation. I’d say, um, zero percent of drivers anywhere fit that description. Auto accidents kill more people than terrorists, plus several dread diseases, combined. Want to eliminate that carnage? Let the cars drive!

I don’t know that it will not be a lot better for humans once robots are common is society. If humans atrophy and die out, it will be because they’re not smart enough to improve themselves to stay ahead of their creations. Come to think of it, some people probably aren’t. So if they die out . . .


The Antique Corral

On US 160, West of Cortez, Colorado
On US 160, West of Cortez, Colorado

IMG_20150920_115931513 (640x358)

Happened to be passing through Cortez, Colorado over the weekend. Yes, that is a long way from Las Vegas, but we did enjoy our stop at this antique mall. Sorry I didn’t take any interior pictures, but I can tell you that it is more open than most, as there are display areas for various vendors, but not individual booths. This place is a long ways from anywhere, unless you’re a Southern Ute (they have a travel center ten miles west of here.) But if you like antiquing, and mid-century, or western items, you really should stop by when you’re in the neighborhood.

Neighborhood being defined as within two hundred miles, I suppose.

The postal address is 6817 Highway 160-491, Cortez, CO 81321. US 160 is very similar to US 66, except that no freeway has replaced it. I doubt if one ever will, as 160 goes through some pretty tough country. To the east is Wolf Creek Pass, formidable in good weather, which is rare. To the west is Navajo, which is a whole lot of open space, although in my experience the food is good in the scattered settlements.

You can see the Google results for this store, as well as a map, by clicking here.

(970) 565-1256.


Sometimes it Takes A While

Sometime in the 1990s we took a family trip past the four corners monument, but it was six in the morning and it wasn’t open. On our return there was a fierce winter storm in the area, so we didn’t make it. Yesterday we saw it. It’s run by the Navajo, and it’s okay, but really, meh. Kids would’ve loved it, though.

We have a place not far (as the crow flies) from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We’ve been to the canyon many times, but always the South Rim. Wednesday, we stopped at the North Rim. That’s what I was doing instead of posting here, in fact. Here’s a photograph taken there.

The South Rim as Seen from the North Rim
The South Rim as Seen from the North Rim

If you click on the photo and look at it big you will see that, eighteen miles away is the place we’ve visited the canyon in the past. Don’t strain your eyes trying to see details — it’s eighteen miles away! But you can see, if you look closely, a whole lot of South Rim ground, because the North Rim is well over a thousand feet higher than the South. There are trails, one of which we hiked, a quarter-mile out to Bright Angel Point and back. Damn near killed me, or so it felt. At 8500 feet or so there isn’t as much air as I’m used to. And I used to live in Denver, so I’m used to thinner air. Just not that thin.

If you’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, you should. If you’ve only seen it from the easier, South side, drive around. It’s a completely different experience, just as totally awesome, but unfamiliar. Don’t wait — do it today!

I Like This Quotation

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”

Or is that an aphorism? Heck, I don’t know! But I like it.

That’s because I have been the smartest person in the room quite a few times. Professionally, I mean. I tell myself that the others are actually smart, but they just have different opinions. (No, I don’t think you’re stupid because you disagree with me.) It is true, after all, that smart people are more divergent in their views than those of average intelligence. But the truth has always asserted itself one way or another. Frequently by my getting my ass fired, to be honest. That’s not fun, although in every case I was happier, though poorer, without the late job. So, maybe I’ve read a thing or two that spoke to this topic:

“To thine own self be true.” — Shakespeare

“Follow your heart.” — 10,000 self-help gurus

“Only write stuff you want to read.” — Every successful writer ever.

Thing is, I don’t think that people are inferior or superior based upon intelligence. There are a lot of more important things, like kindness, love, generosity, backbone, keeping cool in a crisis, practiced skill, and so on and so on. But if you aren’t using your gifts, intelligence or others, you will simply not be happy, nor are you likely to succeed in your chosen path.

So now I write YA and Middle Grade fiction, and I write and perform stand-up comedy. I’m rarely the smartest person in the room these days, which makes me thing that maybe at long last I am on to something.

Just some things to think about for this Wednesday.

Time Slogs On

Two years ago tomorrow I got a card that featured the Beatles’ “When I’m Sixty-Four.” So take a guess what tomorrow is. I’ve been on Medicare for a year now and I like it. It’s a socialist program being paid for by people who work for a living, and I like it. I don’t think for a minute that I “earned” it. All I did was get older. I’m not sure what the hell those who say “it’s not an entitlement” think that the word “entitlement” means, but whatever that may be, they’re wrong. It’s an entitlement, and I’m glad to get it.

I’ve always been privileged. I’ve never had to care about a person’s race, for instance. That’s a privilege. I’ve never been truly poor and hungry, and that’s a privilege. I’m tall, blue-eyed, and male, and that right there is a whole slew of privileges rolled into one sexy package. But, as many seem to post on Facebook, there is no such thing as white privilege.

Holy cats, can people really be that blind to the world in which they live?

Sure they can. The dolts!

Saving Mr. Banks and Writing

I didn’t see the movie Saving Mr. Banks when it came out. In fact, I only watched it this week. I’m sorry I waited so long, as it is an excellent film. It’s about the making of Mary Poppins. Mary Poppins seems like a story for children, and I suppose the fact that P L Travers managed to sell a series of eight books about the magical nanny speaks to their effectiveness. But I’ve always gotten misty at the end of the movie, when they all go out to fly a kite. It’s just so wonderful that old Mr. Banks has finally seen the light and learned to break out of his shell and play again, or maybe for the first time. And no wonder, because as it turns out, there is a lot of truth in the story of Mr. Banks. He is based upon the author’s father, one Travers Goff (her real name was Helen Goff.) She took his name as her own, which says something about how much she loved the man.

He was “in a cage,” just like Bert tells the children in the movie. He never broke out, at least not before the consumption took him away. So, young Helen was left to try to redeem him all by herself. The movie is about her coming to terms with the real story behind Mary Poppins, and I won’t spoil it any more than to say that redemption did come. My thesis here is that the film works because of the genuine, heartfelt emotion that was written into it, both by Mrs. Travers and the Disney folks who translated the story on to film. In fact, that “Fly a Kite” scene is the exact moment when Mr. Banks, and by extension, Mr. Travers Goff, is finally redeemed. No wonder it’s such a wonderful scene: it’s real!

I look at the stuff I write and I wonder if I’ve put myself into it to that extent. Because I doubt if it will do well if I haven’t. This is the reason, I’m sure, that the #1 piece of advice for new authors turns out to be “only write stuff you want to read!” Sure, there’s craft, technique, word usage, all of that, but what it comes down to, I think, is whether or not your heart is in the story.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think that I have a kite to fly.

Foundation’s Friends

Stories in Honor of Isaac Asimov

Asimov was my first love of science fiction. My sister gave me a copy of the book Foundation when I was 11 or 12, and I was hooked. If you remember Han Solo’s speech about the difficulty of making a hyperspace jump in the first Star Wars movie, that was almost verbatim from Foundation. One of the coolest things about Asimov’s fiction is that he created a world that you could drop yourself into and forget that the real one was even out there. In fact, by the time he finished, he had tied up three of his worlds into a vast future history that is, frankly, one hell of a lot of fun to read. I was saddened when he died, because I thought I’d never get to see inside that world again. But, I was wrong.

Had I been paying attention, I’d have noticed that this book was already available at the time of his death. It was a tribute to a living author, and one well deserved. I’ve read only the first four stories so far, but they are, well, fantastic, amazing, and astounding. (Long-term fans will get that sentence. The rest of you, meh!)

The first story is about a girl who is a strip runner in future New York CITY. I mean CITY, as in the ones Asimov describes in Caves of Steel. A world where today’s New York is a sort of a bump on a log compared to the reality that is NEW YORK. In Caves of Steel, a detective names Elija Bailey is hired by “Spacers,” those who live on planets other than this one, to solve a crime. Elija comes from a world where paranoia about hygiene is rampant, and where robots are the common way to get everyday labor done. Spacers get colds, and don’t use robots. Our heroine must deal with those facts, and with her crime (strip running) as she learns some things about her world, her CITY, and the Outside. She even meets Bailey. Such fun! An excellent story, in a familiar world that is not the one we really live in!

The second story actually involves Thiotimoline! A practical use for it, and the solution to a difficult problem; a solution with cosmic implications! Thiotimoline is a powder that dissolves before you add water. The story of the powder was originally published in the journal Chemistry in 1948 as a bit of a joke. It reads like an actual thesis, which is what Asimov was also writing at the time. He got his PhD, we got two good stories. It’s a mystery with tongue firmly in cheek, just the way Asimov liked them. Just remember to resublimate your Thiotimoline before use.

The third story is another detective story, a tad grimmer, but still with a joking twist at the end. I think that if I’d been told that Asimov himself had written it, I’d have believed it. Somebody crossed a cabbage with, oh, no, I don’t want to spoil it, in case you haven’t read it. You should, you know.

And finally, fans will recognize the time that Gilmer sacked Trantor. This story is about the Second Foundation and how they deal with Gilmer. Right at the end one of them says something rather hubristic, and fans know the price of hubris, right? “What are the odds?” he asks. “Damned high!” we answer. Again, completely back into Asimov’s world. On Trantor, where you may recall “The Stars End.”

Well, I’m sorry I missed this book all these years, but at least I’m getting to read it now. Dammit, I like Asimov’s worlds, and I’m truly sorry that he had to leave this one.

Read it, you’ll like it!

Foundation’s Friends: Stories in Honor of Isaac Asimov

Edited by Martin H. Greenberg
Prefice by Ray Bradbury
Afterword by Isaac Asimov

Tor, 1989

No e-book, but still available at not outrageous prices used.

The Meaning of Life

Oh, Monty Python, where art thou? (“Wherefore” means “why,” in case you’ve ever wondered.)

The Python troupe did a whole movie on this subject. You can read about it on IMDB.   You should watch it, if you haven’t. I saw an collection of articles recently about what atheists think of the meaning of life. I am thereby inspired to put in my zero cents worth.

Scientifically speaking, life arises to reverse a localized buildup of negentropy. If there’s a meaning to life, I reckon that’s it. It’s an important job, although I have no idea why. It’s important because the laws of nature dictate that energy flows from a warmer place to a cooler place. Every time. The Universe hates a vacuum, is how it’s sometimes put. That means that all of the hot places are going to lose energy to all of the cold places, until eventually all that will remain is undifferentiated low-grade heat (and not much of that.) That’s entropy. Negentropy is organized stuff. The sun is a big ball of negentropy, for example. On most planets either not enough energy from the sun hits to do anything, or the sun’s energy is so fierce that it rips off bits of the planet (Mercury) or it’s so hot that the whole place is covered by clouds that reflect most of the sun’s energy away (Venus.) On Earth, the energy builds up at just the right rate to make stuff more and more complex. This is bad, because the Universe wants to get rid of negentropy, and organization is negentropy. So, when stuff gets negentropic enough, it starts using energy to replicate itself, and life is born. By replicating itself, life reverses, or at least balances, the buildup of negentropy.

That’s the scientific explanation. Doesn’t really explain anything, does it? ‘Cause you want to know why you’re here, right? Well, to help the universe do what it does. Why is the Universe here? Damned if I know! Nobody knows. But what I do know is that I’m gonna die, and you’re gonna die, and so is the entire human race, sooner or later. But I’m not dead now! Given the possible combinations of DNA that exist, and the odds of a successful impregnation reaching adulthood, it’s quintillions to one against any single one of us even existing! A quintillion looks like this written out in numerals: 1,000,000,000,000,000,000. I live in Vegas, where we deal with odds every day. Those are horrible odds, bub! But I’m here! And you’re here! And, in spite of the horrible odds against them existing, there are those who think we should fall on our knees and ask some god for favors? Great Gravy! What do they want? You’re here! You get to be a part of the greatest (and only, so far as we can tell) think that there is! You want faith? How about I think that the universe is proceeding as it should, and that my place in the process is assured? I don’t know what made everything happen. I do know that there are hundreds of religions appealing to some god or other, and that they can’t all be right. They could easily, however, all be wrong.

So, rather than waste my short precious life appealing to a questionable higher authority to make things okay, I’m going to enjoy my life while I’ve got it. And one thing I’ve learned is that the secret to happiness is to make other people happy! That’s not a commandment, just a rule of human interaction. If you make other people happy, you’ll be happier yourself. And this wonderful life, short as it is, will be better for everyone in it because you were here.

For me, that’s more than enough meaning, thank you!


I posted on Facebook recently to the effect that the OED should put, as their definition of “sophomoric” the word “Facebook.” Google’s definition is “pretentious or juvenile.” That’s not bad. Sophomores are called by that name because they know something alright, but they don’t know enough to know what they know, or more importantly, what they don’t know. And most of the opinions I see posted on Facebook are, indeed sophomoric. I don’t know if that’s bad, but if you want to know anything for certain, you don’t ask a sophomore. Facebook is sort of like Wikipedia, only worse. A place to start, maybe, but hardly definitive.

Lest you think I’m about to go on a left-leaning screed, let me start by looking at a topic that the more Liberal Facebook users tend to post about a lot. Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMO. I see a lot of posts asserting that Monsanto Corporation is evil because they genetically modify our food. Folks, every agricultural company on the planet genetically modifies food. If Monsanto is doing anything wrong, it has nothing to do with their GMO and everything to do with their insistence on preserving patents on a product which, by its very nature, will run wild. If there is a problem, and I say “if” because I doubt that there is one, it lies in not being thorough enough in testing the newly modified organisms for safety. All food should be thoroughly tested for safety; possibly by being fed to those who develop a new variety of organism (kidding, mostly.) Scientifically, there is no reason that an organism modified by gene splicing is any more likely to be harmful than one modified by traditional breeding methods. But the sophomores seem to expect that the genetically modified mosquitoes recently released in an effort to control mosquito-borne diseases, will inject “Modified DNA” in to their bite victims and turn us all into, well, I’m not sure. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? That is not how DNA works, as anyone who paid attention in 10th grade biology class could tell you. But the sophomores among us hear “modified DNA” and look at a chart about how it’s accomplished, and immediately leap to a completely erroneous conclusion.

On the Conservative side of Facebook, I find the example of Welfare Fraud. A popular view of people on welfare is that they waste money by taking drugs. The truth is that most welfare recipients are single mothers who can’t make ends meet on the minimum wage that is all they can get while being single mothers. That doesn’t stop the sophomores from deciding that drug testing for welfare recipients will save us millions of dollars. In fact, from July through October of 2011 Florida did test welfare recipients for drug use and discovered a 2.6% rate of drug use among welfare recipients.

Oklahoma Drug Testing Costs

This chart shows the results in Oklahoma. It cost the state of Oklahoma roughly $1300 per case discovered. Maybe that’s cost effective use of public money, but I doubt it. Certainly, it isn’t going to save a lot of money net. Again, the sophomores rule the day.

I could cite examples of all sorts of sophomoric pontification on Facebook, but I’m going to stop here. One of the things supposed to be taught in school these days is Critical Thinking. I believe that I can see a possible failure of the Educational Establishment, don’t you? Let’s start a Facebook campaign about it, okay?*


*That was sarcasm. I mean the opposite of what I wrote.