POEM: Confessions of a Closet Luddite

Some people dream of shoving a boss in front of an inbound train. My own fantasies run to the smashing of computers and phones into a fine — if toxic — dust.

I don’t know what it says about me that:
-I equate these machines with the boss from that first scenario,
and, also,
-(like the aforementioned people) I’m too scared to go through with it.

I realize that these devices make life much easier…
except when they don’t, and it’s only then that I want to murder destroy them. Of course, the person who wants to murder her boss doesn’t want to do it when there is cake in the breakroom or when an unexpectedly generous bonus comes through — just, you know, the other times.

Unlike the original Luddites, I don’t hate machines out of a fear that they will replace me.
They already make a better economist than I ever did.
And even if the machines pick up their poetry-writing game,
that’s why I have the yoga instructor gig to fall back on…

[Because I’m convinced it will be decades before humans feel comfortable learning backbends from an entity that can twist rebar like a bendy-straw.]

No, I detest our silicon brethren because I have been sold a line that they can (and do) only do what I ask of them. [Hence the reason I don’t get so enraged by humans; anytime a person does something I ask is an unadulterated victory.] Instead, sometimes the computer does what I ask, but the next time something else entirely may happen. If the machines were consistently unable to complete the task, I would chalk that up to my failure to understand them. As it is, I’m left with a landscape of disturbing possibilities:

One, the machines are pranking me. (If this turns out to be the case, I think we can, eventually, be friends.)

Two, my computer’s desolate existence is causing it to try to commit “suicide by user.”

Three, we live in a glitching universe, and at any given moment the machine may produce a random unexpected result.

I don’t want to go back to the Stone Age, but I do have a newfound understanding of the allure of Steampunk. Contrary to the name, no one ever got punked by a steam engine. (Scalded and blown up, yes, but never punked.) The same cannot be said of a smartphone.

Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum

The plane is the HF-24, India's first indigenous figher jet (circa 1960's)

The plane is the HF-24, India’s first indigenous fighter jet (circa 1960’s)

I visited the Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum last week. I wasn’t sure what to expect. The admission fee is only 30 rupees (less than 50 cents in USD terms.) I ended up being pleasantly surprised. It took me back to childhood visits to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. Granted it’s neither on the scale of the windy city’s museum nor as well-maintained, but it’s largely interactive and has some fascinating–if often retro–displays. It’s great for kids or adults who’d like to revisit the science that they’re forgetting, and to do so in a way that’s entertaining.

The museum consists of five exhibit halls and a few other stand-alone displays both inside and outside the building. Outside one will see an old locomotive, a copy of India’s first indigenously-built fighter jet, an Archimedes water drill, and a big steam turbine. One’s visit inside, unfortunately, begins inauspiciously with a solitary animatronic T-rex that looks a bit dog-eared.

Also on the ground floor, the first exhibit hall one visits is the Hall of Engines. This covers steam power, gasoline engines, turbines of various forms, as well as displays of human and animal powered technology. There are hand-crankable cut-away scale models that allow one to see how the various engine designs work. There are also cut-aways of some full-sized engines. Overhead there are a series of wire tunnels through which billiard-size balls circulate, having been hand-cranked up into the track by various mechanisms. This, I believe is intended to demonstrate gravity power, which it does in a whimsical Rube Goldberg-esque sort of way. There’s also a video on simple machines that looks like it was initially made for 1950’s school children in America.

There are two exhibit halls on the first floor (that’s the second floor to Americans), one that deals with electricity and another called “Fun with Science” that’s all hands-on exhibits intended to spark the interest of school-aged children. The former covers the basic science of electricity as well as looking at the various generation methods, including nuclear, wind, solar, hydroelectric, and fossil fuels.  The latter has interactive exhibits of the kind found in many a science or children’s museum. I would say the exhibits here are largely geared toward middle school and high school students. There is a small exhibit on the top floor that is aimed at young elementary school age students.

The second floor has a biotechnology exhibit hall as well as one that deals with space. The biotech hall covers basic biology, agriculture, and even beer brewing. The space hall discusses the history of space technology and particularly focuses on India’s Chandrayaan-1 moon-orbiting mission. (If you didn’t know that India had orbited the moon and delivered an impactor to the lunar surface, you are in good company. I had no idea either. But this was back in 2008-2009.)  Anyway, it was good to see some Indian focus. As I was traveling through the exhibit halls up to this point, it occurred to me that there wasn’t a great deal for the school children passing through this museum to take national pride in. There was a lot of material about discoveries made in places like Germany, America, and Japan, but not a lot of segments on contributions of national scientific heroes as one would expect at such a museum.

The third floor has a full-sized exhibit hall dedicated to electronics and computer technology, and part of one hall that is split between a small “Science for Children” exhibit geared toward young children (pre-school and the younger elementary grades) and a temporary exhibit on chemistry. The chemistry exhibit is the most reading-oriented exhibit, except for a couple of models and a touch screen interactive periodic table, it’s pretty much a poster exhibition. The hall of computers and electronics has many interesting exhibits, such as a cylinder supposedly containing the 42 million transistors that it takes to make up one Pentium 4 processor.

There’s a nice poster exhibit about the 2012 Nobel Prize Winners. I assume this will be updated sometime next month after the new winners have been announced.

All and all, I’d say this museum is a bargain at several times the price.

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TODAY’S RANT: Puny Machines

When the machines rise up against humanity, I will be high on their list of Homo sapiens to put through the chipper-shredder.

You may be asking, “How can such an unimportant person make such a self-important statement?”

Here’s my confession: I have killed more than my fair share of consumer electronics. Let it be known for posterity that these were all cases of manslaughter–or, I guess, machineslaughter. I never once had malicious intent, nor did I ever engage in premeditation. Furthermore, in a way, I mourned the loss of these machines more intensely than I did the death of granny.

Let me say, in my defense, machines are weaklings. The good news is that I don’t worry about them taking over just yet because you can always take out a marauding terminator with a can of soda–and even make it look like an accident.

The rant part of this post has to do with the divergence between what is advertised, and what is true.

Below is a video that Lenovo has put on YouTube to show how robust their computers are.

Here was my experience, avoiding the lunging paw of a hyper cat, I spilled a drop of milk the size of a quarter onto the upper mouse buttons. This killed my mouse instantaneously (I’m aware of the irony of me killing a mouse while my cat looked on in horror.) My entire laptop died a few weeks later from what I assumed to be related causes.

Your Experience May Vary

Your Experience May Vary

Since my last machineslaughter, I’ve  quelled my killing spree by implementing three simple rules.
1.) I don’t eat in the same room as my computer.
2.) I don’t drink within 12 feet of my computer.
3.) I must close the computer any time I leave the room, if a cat is present. (This is not so much to save the laptop as to prevent the cat from composing a witty coded email such as, “a;oreanrpwipfvchaqewutheiuancvpiwe. wpn2qeyt028hnfqv-,” and sending it out to my entire email list with his butt.)

Do I resent having to walk on eggshells around consumer electronics? A little. I’d like to be able to listen to my transistor radio while taking a bath. (Research notes: Do radios still have “transistors?” Do they still make radios?)

However, what I really resent is the manufacturer making it seem like its product is indestructible when, in fact, it’s really pretty puny.

That said, I like the fact that people are tougher than the forces of robopocalypse by virtue of the fact that we can get wet.  (Of course, by that logic, fish should be our gods.)

Until next time, keep your can of Coke at the ready (but don’t drink it, that stuff will kill you.)