KISS my magnet – or may the Force be with you!

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid – a great motto, at least for me, for the simpler it gets the more profound it seems to get and the simplest and most profound piece of science I remember from what? Elementary school? Junior High? I’m not sure. Maybe even high school. But it was at least 50 years ago, so while the insignificant details have escaped me, the significant detail remains: Like magic, iron filings dropped on a sheet of paper line up along the lines of force created by a bar magnet placed underneath that paper.

Why do I find this so profound? Because it is action at a distance. Oh sure, you say, the thickness of the paper – not much of a distance. No! Look at how the magnetic force reaches out to left and right several inches beyond the magnet. That’s distance!

And order. Pour iron filings onto a sheet of paper and you have chaos. It looks like this.


But place a magnet under that piece of paper, then sprinkle the filings on it and you get something like this. (I like watching this in fullscreen – and meditative – mode. It is not intended ot be a wham-bam-thank-you-mam video. Damn! I want things to slow down long enough for me to engage something other than the skin of my brain.)

Simple. You’ve all seen it, right? Or have you? I’m not sure I saw it as a child. But with each passing year – with growing knowledge – I feel my eyes start to open. What was so understandable – I mean there was a “north” end and a “south” end and of course the filings lined up this way because magnets attract iron, dummy. What’s to know?

Well how? Please tell me what is actually happening here? Why should a magnet attract the filings? What are “north-south”, “positive-negative,” but names we’ve applied to a concept we can observe and predict, but don’t really understand. Naming it doesn’t mean it’s ours. Why should “opposites attract” and “like” repel one another? And what is actually doing the attracting and repelling? I know the rules. I know something about atoms. I know just enough about “how” to predict what will happen. I know how to create an electromagnet. I know about radio waves and light waves and a host of other waves that are part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

And I know nothing at all of what’s really going on here.

I know when I look through my telescope at a distant galaxy that electromagnetic waves – energy – from the stars in that galaxy are somehow pinging my brain. And on a fundamental basis I simply don’t know how. I don’t know what that energy is or how it manages to travel all that distance undiminished. (Oh sure, it spreads out. But a photon – something-or-either we name “photon” – leaves a star at 186,200 miles a second and it continues that way for several million years never losing a step until it vanishes into my body. That’s real contact with the real universe, but certainly way beyond our common-sense experience. )

Modern technology tends to obscure the magic – hide it in black boxes that look complex – and are – when you open them up.

So I make simple black boxes. Crystal radio sets, . Simple, simple, simple devices – a few, easy to understand parts. A long wire put in the air. And when I pick up the headphones, sounds. Intelligent sounds. Well, frequently not intelligent these days. AM radio is overloaded with talk-show idiots, or people selling religion or ronco slaad shooters. But that’s not the point. The point is that all the energy that created that sound in my headphones didn’t come from the magic of an electrical socket. And it didn’t come form the magic of a battery. It was drawn instead out of the air – out of the force fields – the electromagnetic waves created by some distant transmitter.

I understand this stuff – honest. That is, I can build from scratch fairly sophisticated radio receivers and transmitters and have done so of and on since my youth. So what. I don’t really know what I’m doing. I have a collection of rules I follow. Connect the arm bone to the shoulder bone – that sort of thing. I know something of the theory of how it all works – why I create coils and capacitors and how they work together in a tuned circuit to select only certain frequencies out of the babel that surrounds us and goes entirely unnoticed by us.

So i take the black boxes we purchase and call radios and I throw them out. I want something simpler. So I build a crystal set. But it’s still complex. little pictures whiz about my head of all those electrons pouring down the wire, heading for ground, but first spining through my coils, pausing in my capacitors, getting chopped in half by a galium crystal and fed into my headphones were they create elctromagnetics that’s pop a thin metal disc in and out so rapidly that it creates sounds. Geeeeeeesh. That’s too much, still. So I go the Edmund Scientific catalog and find a bar magnet and some iron filings and now I’m really functioning at the KISS level. I love it. I can watch this little video over and over. More importantly, i can do the little experiment again and again. I can meditate with the paper before me.

It’s the way I rig encounters with the profoundly unknown. Yes, i can do the same by looking at a candle -a flower, a pebble, an old arrowhead. It’s just that I find some things more stimulating than others – more likely to awake in me that childish sense of wonder I crave. A magnet, a piece of paper and osme iron filings do that. Don’t get me wrong. I assume it’s all knowable. I certainly think it’s all part of one world – the natural world. I don’t see anything super natural. I just see a natural that’s super πŸ˜‰

Uh oh – forget the bailout – Detroit already sat on its brains too long!

I read Friedman’s column this morning with that mixed feeling you get when you suddenly meet the future and find it both exciting and devastating because there is something here that feels right, big time, and makes the auto industry bailout feel wrong – big time – and that means we’re in for one of those painful life lessons.

Bailout foes have been focusing on the sense of moral outrage we all feel for salvaging the bastards who made a lot of money while sitting on their brains. That’s a mistake. They need to focus on the Ipod. The real future comes at you from directions you don’t anticipate, but when you see it, you know it, and Friedman sees it and describes it well. Here’s how he sums it all up at the outset after bemoaning Detroit’s lack of initiative.

Why do I bring this up? Because someone in the mobility business in Denmark and Tel Aviv is already developing a real-world alternative to Detroit’s business model. I don’t know if this alternative to gasoline-powered cars will work, but I do know that it can be done β€” and Detroit isn’t doing it. And therefore it will be done, and eventually, I bet, it will be done profitably.

And when it is, our bailout of Detroit will be remembered as the equivalent of pouring billions of dollars of taxpayer money into the mail-order-catalogue business on the eve of the birth of eBay. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into the CD music business on the eve of the birth of the iPod and iTunes. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into a book-store chain on the eve of the birth of and the Kindle. It will be remembered as pouring billions of dollars into improving typewriters on the eve of the birth of the PC and the Internet.

Did you get that – my emphasis added – the thing about the “mobility business.” Now that’s what I mean. People get all wrapped up in the technology. They mistake the artifacts for the art. Librarians got all in a tizzy a decade ago as the web came on the scene. They thought they were in the book business. They were in the information business. Information storage and retrieval. That’s the skill they brought to the table. The technology used is secondary. Same with traditional paper media. Newspapers are not about printing presses and turning trees into pulp. They’re about filtering information and presenting it in digestible – meaningful – chunks. And the auto industry? it’s a misnomer. It’s the mobility business. it’s about freedom of movement at low cost.

Friedman’s examples are beautiful, his column on target – if I were investing in such things I’d put my money on “Better Place.” I’m not into speculative investing these days – haven’t been for some years – but this new company has the kind of thinking that is so far beyond anything coming out of Detroit these days it’s laughable. And the whole show is a prime example of how the fatcats are their own worst enemies – and ours, too, when we let them hold our future up for ransom this way. Congress and the white House are about to invest in the printing press.

I keep remembering a good friend telling me over and over again about a decade ago when I tirelessly promoted the Web that yes, it sounds like a good idea, but no one knows how to make money off it. Don’t worry – they’ll find a way, I said, and they did – ways like Amazon and Ebay and others most of us never dreamed of at the outset. And Better Place sounds like the outfit that may have found the way to make money off of the electric car – not by inventing a better, more efficient battery, but by coming up with a whole new business model. Ipod indeed!

Yes the failure of the auto industry will hurt a lot of people a whole lot – and all of us a little – but throwing good money after bad doesn’t solves anything. You can get them to cut salaries and end ridiculous perks, but you can’t get them to think tomorrow because that thinking had to be done yesterday and it wasn’t.

Laugh like a child – a taste of pure joy!

photo108I don’t laugh – laugh like a child – very often these days, but yesterday my early Christmas present to myself arrived – a 24-inch IMac – and a few hours later our grandchildren were here helping us decorate the tree. That was great family fun, as usual, but what happened next had no scripting, no planning – just spontaneous reaction, and oh my – I really enjoyed it.

Maybe you will too. A brief explanation before the slide show. The kids discovered the Imac, I turned on the “Photo Booth” software ona whim – unused until that point – and they just started going wild. I started snapping photos and videos and it was non-stop fun for nearly an hour, with the dogs and an occasional adult getting involved as well – all taking advantage of the built-in – and weirdly cool – filters. It was like tumbling into one of those old-time, carnival fun houses!

Hmmm. . . right now WordPress isn’t letting me embed the Flickr slide show. So for the complete show, go here I am able to make avideo of it, though, so . . .

Hey, maybe no one cares – maybe this was only fun if you were there – maybe you’ll be bored to death after yu see the first picture nelow. That’s OK – just turn it off – I just hope everyone manages to have such fun once in a while and, of course, you don’t need a new toy to do so – but for me it was just such an unexpected Christmas bonus! See for yourself.

I should add here that I’m hard of hearing – I was wearing headphones with a little amplifier so I could follow the conversation – and this hearing problem has frequently made it difficult for me to relate well to children – I simply seldom can understand what they say, even when wearing sphisticated, very expensive, hearing aids. (See my earlier rant here.) So the experience was priceless – and I feel like I’ve done my part to help the slumping economy as well πŸ˜‰

Interested in details of how this is done? OK. I don’t have a clue how unique this is or isn’t to the Mac. And it may all be old stuff to other folks. But I didn’t even know the capability was there in this Mac – I bought it because in my retirement I still design some Web sites and stuff and it has been more than six years since I had a new machine.

I knew “Photo Booth,” which came with it, allowed you to see yourself on the screen. I didn’t know anything about how it worked and I didn’t have to – it was all so typically Mac intuitive. The kids just hammed it up and I just kept clicking on things. I took six videos, each of which went a minute or two. Picture quality and sound was great. Where’s the camera? Not at all obvious – hidden near the top of the screen, I think, where there’s a tiny green light that comes on during these sessions.

Remember those old photo booth at the amusement park? Put in 50 cents – was was it 25 cents? – and you got four pictures of yourself – or maybe of yourself and a friend hamming it up! Well . . .

I think the main goal here is for use with video chat – I got to give that a try – and to do things such as create iconic photos for social networking sites. The fact that when you stand in front of the computer your image appears on the screen made it instant fun for the kids. When I then started clicking on various backgrounds that could be added to it – clouds, Paris, the Moon – they started gobbling up the clouds and trying to eat the Eiffel Tower! I found I could throw in photos of my own from Iphoto, so I put in one of the puppies playingin the snow. That lead to the real puppies joining us and in the mean time we had discovered all the “fun house” mirror filters that were included and that just lead to more craziness. “Try mirror image!’ Try “squeeze – no try swirl!”

To take a picture you just click and it gives a 4-second countdown and makes a sound like a camera. The photos you take can be ported right over to Iphoto library and from there to email or whatever. I picked out some of the better, exported them to a folder and sent them all up to Flickr where it was simple to create this slideshow. You can then email a link to it – or grab the code (copy) and paste it into a blog like this one.

Honest folks – people put down technology sometimes – especially people of my generation – but there is some genuine usefulness showing up here – usefulness for grandparents especially and well beyond what I discovered in this one instance. Take a look at this NYT article, for instance. Makes a whole lot of sense to me. And yes, all of this is genuinely simple. You don’t need to be a techy. I’m a writer with not a spec of formal computer training. People say we spend too much time in front of the computer. I say we don’t spend enough time – time like this, anyways πŸ˜‰

And happy holidays to all!


Hey FedEx! Is Rudolph AWOL?

Update: 4:30 pm Dec. 6 -All is forgiven – Santa arrived – she was cery bice, too – carrying a package with ease that I could hardly lift – ahh youth πŸ˜‰ So while FedEx tracking l(in this case) eaves something to be desired, the service performed up to my expectations. That is, the original delivery date was today and it arrived today. Rudolph is doing fine, as well – so case closed!

Update: 4:30 pm Dec. 5 – package has arrived in Connecticut and delivery is now estimated for tomorrow – the original delivery date. Now my main concern is do they make residential deliveries on Saturday? (Maybe the anser is “yes” for the Christmas season? We’ll see.) But I’m now optimistic that at least the original schedule will be met and my package has not been lost in the fog of a weather delay. Call off the red alert for Rudolph πŸ˜‰

Free Christmas Clipart Picture of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. Click Here to Get Free Images at Clipart Guide.comI usually find the FedEx tracking of a package helpful. My latest experience is just – well – annoying. I mean I’m a 68-year-old kid waiting for Santa and he’s a no-show!

I placed an order on November 28. The company I ordered from – very reliable = showed it as shipped on Nov. 29 – Saturday. OK, so it doesn’t show up in the FedEx system until Monday, Dec. 1 with an expected delivery date of December 6. (Another Saturday – do they deliver on Saturday?) But apparently it hasn’t even been picked up yet.

I later learn it arrives at the FedEd location at 8:27 pm Dec. 1. OK. But no more data yet from Fed Ex – then on December 2 it shows up in the FedEX system “in tranit” and great news! It is Tuesday, and the new expected delivery date is now Thursday, Dec. 4 – whoopee!

Anxious, I check regularly. No more reports on its progress. Thursday morning – no new reports. For it to be delivered it must be in the neighborhood now, right – the “on the truck” thing. . I don’t really expect it, but I make preparations for it to arrive (about an hour’s work) and all day I go out of my way to be around home because I will have to sign for this. There is an ominous hint on the FedEx tracking site though – a red note that says there’s bad weather at the Memphis hub. No specific indication that this affects my package – just a general “oops” alert. I’m still seeing an expected delivery date of that day,

It doesn’t come, of course, though the dogs call me to the door several times with unexpected barking. (They’re my alarm – I don’t hear well.) When I get up this morning only one thing has changed – still have the red alert notice, still show the “in transit” with no new entries – but now there is no expected delivery date showing. Not Thursday (past) or Saturday (tomorrow) nothing. So my gut feeling is for now my precious cargo is lost in either real space or cyberspace or both.

This is like learning that it’s a foggy Christmas Eve and Santa can’t find Rudolph anywhere! Come on FedEd, stop toying with my emotions πŸ˜‰

The great hearing aid ripoff – why do we tolerate it?

My hearing is seriously impaired, it has impacted my life for decades, and I’ve spent at least $10,000 on hearing aids over the past 30 years with only nominal success. I purchased my last pair of hearing aids for $4,500 about six years ago. They never worked real well, one of them is now lost, and the other stopped working and the company said it was “too old” to repair!

Now I am not ignorant when it comes to electronics. I was first licensed as a ham radio operator nearly half a century ago and still occasionally build small electronic devices from parts. And I am frustrated because I have no trouble at all hearing a television show. Why? Because i ran a pair of wires from the TV set’ speaker to the input jack of an old Radio Shack hi-fi amplifier purchased in the 1980s for about $100. I plug regular $10 headphones into the amplifier – which I have left turned on 24-7 for at least a decade – and my wife, with her near perfect hearing, frequently asks me what was said when we watch a show together. She’s listening to the same tv at a normal volume through it’s normal speaker. If I take my headphones off the sound is so low for me – normal for her – that I can barely tell the tv is on. But wear my headphones and I hear shows better than my wife. For that matter, I rarely have trouble hearing people on the telephone, though I sometimes slide the amplifying switch to high.

But if I go to a hearing aid company – and I’ve tried several different name brands over the years – they tell me my hearing is so impaired that it’s getting near the point where no hearing aid will help. (Yes, I’ve had audiologist check it – they come up with the same graph as the folks selling the hearing aids. As with many people, my loss is in the high frequencies making it hard to comprehend what is being said. )

But use a relatively cheap amplifier and headphones and I do fine.

Not wanting to plunk down another $4,000-plus for a pair of hearing aids that only partially solve my problem I’ve been prowling the Web and searching stores for other solutions. So far, one of the better ones I came up with was a $40 amplifier from Radio Shack that i can wear around my neck and plug headphones into. This has worked for me in a couple situations – sitting at a table with family or friends, and riding in the front seat of a car, dangling the device over the back of the seat, and thus being able to carry on a conversation with the people in the rear seat. But the sound quality isn’t that good. I know it could be better and not at a horrendous cost. In certains ituations, however, it offers as much improvement as a $2,000 hearing aid, though less convenient then something you wear in – or on – your ear.

I also know that one of the problems here is vanity – human vanity – but not mine. Damn it I am not vane about my hearing loss and I don’t know why anyone should be, but much of the hearing aid industry advertising is obviously aimed at people who are vane – or they assume are vane. I don’t need a device hidden in my ear. Why the hell should I be ashamed of the fact that I can’t hear well? I’ll gladly wear any reasonably-sized device in my ear, behind my ear, around my neck – or sit it on the table in front of me – and wear headphone if it will allow me to participate in family conversations. But this shouldn’t cost me $4,000. It should not cost me $1,000; one hundred dollars – maybe. Or if it performed like an Ipod, I would pay Ipod prices – but hey, I have one of those terrific little postage-stamp-sized ipods that delivers great sound and costs $50. Why in the world should a hearing device cost me more?

I think part of the issue is the industry simply preys on elders who are the main market for these devices and who frequently are not that savvy when it comes to electronics – and yes, maybe a lot of them are vain. Geeeeeze – if so, get over it folks. it’s wonderful to be able to hear. I love birds. But no bird who sings higher than a crow gets to my ears unless I have some sort of hearing device handy.

One of the things that really frustrates me is when I look at the price of other relatively complex- and minaturized – electronics. For example, I paid $25 for a radio-controlled model airplane for my grandchild recently. Yes, it was on sale. But it worked. What was involved? A dinky foam airplane that contained an electric motor, control devices that were hooked to a radio receiver, and an onboard, rechargeable battery. In addition there was a radio transmitter that ran on regular batteries and also was used to recharge the battery that was attached to the airplane. That’s a heck of a lot of minaturized electronics – all weighing in at a few ounces – and all for $25.

Yes, there are some hearing aids out there now through the Web that come in under $1,000 – but I simply don’t know if I can trust them because the companies are young, the brands unknown. I don’t want to invest $500, for example, then find out the device doesn’t work.

If anyone has found a good, reasonably-priced solution, I’d like to know about it. Seems to me some honest entrepreneur could develop and excellent asisted hearing device for the price of an Ipod, make a lot of money, and at the same time be aboon to significant portion of the population.

Obama’s ‘secret’ weapon – try it!

I was a bit surprised when a New York Times news analysis on Friday began:

WASHINGTON β€” President-elect Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination with the enthusiastic support of the left wing of his party, fueled by his vehement opposition to the decision to invade Iraq and by one of the most liberal voting records in the Senate.

Now, his reported selections for two of the major positions in his cabinet β€” Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton as secretary of state and Timothy F. Geithner as secretary of the Treasury β€” suggest that Mr. Obama is planning to govern from the center-right of his party, surrounding himself with pragmatists rather than ideologues.

Mind you, I was not surprised that Obama was surrounding himself with thinking people who might think differently than he does – and I certainly wasn’t surprised that he was taking a pragmatic approach – these are both reasons why I voted for him – big reasons. Especially the pragmatism. I was just surprised that the NYT seemed surprised. But in any event, let’s hear it for pragmatism – it’s high on my list of – well, of what works πŸ˜‰

And I’m not talking just about politics. I’m talking about paper airplanes, crystal radios, astronomy and much more. Hell, having tried for decades to teach people how to use computers I can’t tell you how many times – sometimes in exasperation – I’ve said “just try it. You’re not going to break anything and you’re not going to learn any more by reading about it, or listening to me. Yap the keyboard, click the mouse, go there. Try it. See what happens.” This is a wonderful environment to explore and give you really quick feedback. So you feel like a rat in a maze sometimes – try it. If you don’t , you’ll never find the cheese.

But beyond my love for what I grandly thnk of as experiential learning, I’m just plain leary of the abstract. I love the concrete. Sure I read a lot – an awful lot. But I frequently put the book down and do it. Which is probably why it takes me so long to finish a book.

In these times the last thing I want is another ideologue as president who surrounds himself – or herself – which a bunch of ideologues who think the same way. What’s wrong with ideologues? They want everything to follow a preconceived set of rules – their set. Life doesn’t work that way and I simply don’t believe that anyone has discovered the complete set of rules – and those who think they have quickly turn into snakeoil salesmen. Look, listen, think – yes. And when you’ve done that, try it. And when it doesn’t work, stop doing it and try something else. Please spare me from a gutless president who can’t make – and admit he’s made – mistakes.

But as I said, this isn’t just good sense for politics, it works in many disparate fields.

I just stumbled across this in the latest issue of Air & Space from the Smithsonian:

From his paper airplane tinkering, Blackburn learned to avoid preconceptions about fuselage and wing performance. “Sometimes the shapes surprise me,” he says of his hand-folded airplanes.”I think ‘Well, this shape should do really well,’ and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I come up with a shape that I think,”well, it looks good but it won’t fly well,’ and then it does fly well. You learn by doing. more than anything else, this has made me appreciate having an open mind.”


Now before you start thinking “why the heck should I take lessons from a guy building paper airplanes,” consider that Ken Blackwell is an aerospace engineer who set the world record for the longest flight of a paper airplane, wrote a very successful book – “The world Record paper Airplane Book” – and currently designs little radio controlled planes that fold to fit in a soldier’s backpack, carry a couple of tv cameras plus a gps system, and can scout ahead behind a hill and yes – they actually have saved lives in combat. (looking at his website – link above – he also likes small dogs, so that’s reason enough to respect the guy. πŸ˜‰

Moving on . . .

As to astronomy, I don’t think you get close to grasping the wonders of the distant universe without getting out there on a cold, clear night and letting the aged light from some distant galaxies enter your eyes and ping your brain. Stop looking at pictures – they’re two dimensional representations of what is a three-dimensional (at least) living, evolving reality so far beyond their images it’s ludicrous to consider. (OK, they help a little – but . . . they are their own reality and only a shadow of the reality that’s out there, waiting to connect with you directly.)

And simple as a crystal radio is – and it can be very simple – I am amazed at how little we really know about how these few parts interact – take a look here for 70-plus examples – and those who are devoted to them continuously experiment. Do they think first? Of course. So will Obama.

Thinking is good. Having some guiding principles that give you a sense of direction is good. Being wedded to one ideology or the other – being afraid to listen to conflicting ideas from people who think quite differently than you do – and being afraid to try something that your preconceptions say “won’t fly” – that’s not going to get us anywhere.

I firmly believe that President Obama is going to make mistakes. What’s more, he’s going to do some things that sound appalling to liberals such as myself. But I’m all for it. Listen. Consider. Try. And know when to let go when your favored idea fails. Sounds refreshing to me – even hopeful.

Star Trek – a future where we don’t change?

I’m way behind on my Star Trekking, but from what I just saw – I watched an episode of “The Next Generation” called “Evolution” that came out in 1989 -it and many other science fiction of the space opera sub-genre seem to miss one huge point – people will evolve and very quickly, yet the people on these shows are all very recognizable as being the same as us.

I hasten to add that might be a necessary fictional device – we tend to relate to people we can recognize as like us – and Star Trek in other episodes, or other form may go way beyond what I’ve seen. But this is not about Star Trek – that’s just ane xample of what I see as a basic mindset we have about ourselves and evolution:That evolution is very slow and we’re going to stay the same for hudnreds, if not thousands, of years. Not so. I think we’re in the early stages right now of rapid and dramatic change.

This is crucial, not just for the future of science fiction, but for the future of the human race – a future that is rushing towards us far, far faster than most people imagine. Yep, I’m talking about Kurzweil again. “The Singularity is Near” is my current reading. I’m having trouble getting deep into it because the beginning pages leave my mind spinning so fast I need to put it down and go do something else. Partly this is because the basic theme is one I’ve toyed with for years – a recognition of how extraordinarily different these times are – these moments we are living right now – from any moments lived by the human race before. That alone seems hard for many people to see judging the way they appear to be sleepwalking through their lives. It’s so easy to underestimate your times – to think that what you are experiencing is pretty much the norm. It’s isn’t. It isn’t even remotely close to normal. And what’s just around the next bend is even more unusual. As Kurzweil said in a recent interview:

The computer in your cell phone today is a million times cheaper and a thousand times more powerful and about a hundred thousand times smaller (than the one computer at MIT in 1965) and so that’s a billion-fold increase in capability per dollar or per euro that we’ve actually seen in the last 40 years,” says Kurzweil.

The rate is actually speeding up a little bit, so we will see another billion-fold increase in the next 25 years–and another hundred-thousand-fold shrinking. So what used to fit in a building now fits in your pocket, what fits in your pocket now will fit inside a blood cell in 25 years.

So it’s not simply that humongous change is coming fast – it’s coming faster with each advancing year. That is, the pace of change is advancing as well.

But when we do think of change we usually think interms of change to machines. I find it ironic that this particular Star Trek episode is called “evolution,” but deals only with a limited example. The episode is about the rapid evolution of some bots that have gotten into the ship’s computer and are inadvertently threatening the existence of the ship. So what? They are talking here about self-replicating machines and the rapid evolution of those machines. But as Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977) told us half a century ago, “there are things still coming ashore.” We get it in our heads that evolution ends here – with us. But it doesn’t. However, I’m not sure Eiseley saw how fast evolution would be moving – that the new beach was not on the shore of an ocean, but in Silicon Valley and other such places. I think we’re plunging head first into the next step in our evolution as we sit at these machines right now and read and type.

Yes, right here – right now – we’re not simply building global communities, but a global mind. And while the machine is separate from us – it is out there – it will not remain so for long. In fact, the first steps of melding silicon and carbon have already been taken. Witness the monkey games so extensively reported last spring. In these experiments monkeys were able to control the movement of a robotic arm by their thoughts alone. Simply thinking about what they wanted the arm to do would result in the arm doing the task – which in this case included feeding the monkeys. The key, of course, involved a brain implant.

That’s the future, I believe. I think all the little things we’re doing here with blogs, Goggle, YouTube, RSS feeds, Digg, comments, links, embedding video and Flickr slideshows – all of these things are preliminary explorations akin to the preliminary steps the monkeys took when they used a joystick to move the robotic arm. What we are doing is exploring related technologies and developing new types of social interactions using these technologies. But the logical next step is more direct integration with our brains.

The other morning, while in that dreamy, half-awake state, it came ot me that in the future I would merely think about a friend and have in my thoughts a public space in their rains where they had set words and images aside for sharing. I could go with them on a hike, if they choose to let me in, as an extension of the hiker today who stands on a mountain top, pulls out her cell phone, and sends video toa friend back home of what she is seeing at that moment.

We are not that far away from when we will need to wonder whether we are looking at a human being assisted by a machine, or a machine assisted by a human being. As Kurzweil puts it:

You won’t be able to walk into a room and say “OK, humans on the left, machines on the right,” because it’s going to be all mixed up.

But I’m just toying with some ideas here. If you haven’t met Kurzweil and encounterd his way of thinking, here’s a real good, bite-sized starting place. (Also recommended for those who have already read his books. ) I can’t pick out what all to quote from this – I want to quote the whole thing. So I’ll just link.

Or you can get a video version – not of the same thing, but of some basic, digestible Kurzweil.

Or if you want to wait a decade or two, you can just think Kurzweil and . . .

OH – and btw. I know I’m three years behind time. I find it impossible to keep up. So I write this for myself and the other slow learners out there πŸ˜‰