February 25, 2013

February 25, 2013

Don't Forget the Zeroth Law

[This year's Oscars technically ended on Sunday morning. As a result, I'm barely coherent today. You're getting an entry I wrote last week. The one I'm writing todaywhich is turning out to be almost entirely random riffs on things that annoyed me during this morning's commutewill see the light of day either tomorrow or never.]

I’ve mentioned a few times before that when the robots take over, I will welcome them with open arms. Look, I’m a left-handed, nearsighted realist. Nature didn’t build me to survive. In an apocalyptic film, I’m the one who gets killed off hilariously in the first 20 minutes. The best chance I have is to become a minion for the new robotic world order.  

Luckily, Wired magazine* seems to think along the same lines; this month’s cover story is all about the wonderful world of robots. I started reading with enthusiasm, slowly sank into a valley of despair, and then finished the article with cautious optimism.  

Here’s the problem: Humans are great and all**, but robots are just better. The Wired article defines four specific categories in which they trump us:

1. Jobs today that humans do—but machines will eventually do better.
2. Current jobs that humans can’t do but machines can.
3. Robot jobs that we can’t even imagine yet.
4. Jobs that only humans will be able to do—at first.

Any way you slice it, we are screwed. It’s been a good run, humanity!  

Wired did a good job of trying to sugarcoat our impending doom by portraying robots as catalysts that will allow humanity to realize even more of its potential. Like how the industrial revolution and internet boom created whole new economic sectors. This argument would totally make sense if we weren’t knocking against the glass ceiling of what’s physically possible. The way I see it, human potential is more like energy than entropy: conserved rather than increasing. Call me a pessimist if you will, but I observe a number of people on my commute every day and…things aren’t looking good for the human race.  

Not to mention the Newsweek article I read about how most of the first world is reproducing at too low a rate to sustain its population. Say what you will about Latin America, but their seven-births-to-each-death strategy of a few years ago is gonna look pretty smart in a few decades.  

(Fascinating side note from that article: something like 1 of every 3 male Japanese teens and 2 of every 3 female Japanese teens express “no interest” in sex. I have a bad feeling that Hello Kitty is somehow to blame.)  

(Fascinating side note from that article: The German word for this phenomenon is schrumpfnation. I ask once again: German—great language? Or GREATEST language?)  

So between declining birth rates and the advent of robots that best us in almost every job (seriously, they play sports, they create art, they serve food), and I think it’s time to start brushing up on Asimov’s laws of robotics.  

In cheerier news, here’s a Daily Show segments that made me LOL multiple times. That’s been a rarity since Newtown, which sent Jon Stewart over the frothing-liberal edge:  

* Which I apparently subscribe to now, since one showed up in my mailbox over the weekend. No idea if or when I signed up. To quote Gandalf, “I have no memory of this place.” Also, is it Wired or WIRED? Damn you hipsters and your new-agey typography.
** We both know I think humans suck. But go with the premise.

February 22, 2013

February 22, 2013

Suggested Reading: A Threeve

When I returned from vacation, I returned to a mailbox filled (literally filled) with magazines. Throughout the week I've been catching up, and three articles in particular fascinated me. One merits its own separate entry (stay tuned), but here are the other two. Between these two articles and last month's cover story on Mars (the candy company, not the planet), Fortune has become my favorite business magazine subscription. (I also get Bloomberg Businessweek and Forbes. They were free and I'm a sucker for free.)

Tourism in America has always been a big deal, but Chinese tourism in America is turning into a huge deal. Hundreds of thousands of people come here to shop, eat, and see the sights. I don't know about you, but the $5,000 package deal to see NYC, DC, Chicago, Mt. Rushmore, Yellowstone, and Hollywood sounds pretty good to me. Even if you don't find all Asian people endearing (as I do), read this.

If you've spent any time abroad, you know it's pretty easy to find a bit of Americana. I've had Cold Stone in Korea and McDonald's in Greece. (I wanted KFC in Cairo but things were pretty dicey for single females at the time of my visit.) One company has brought several American brands to the Middle East, where people go batshit crazy for them. Even if you don't find the Cheesecake Factory endearing (as I do), read this.

(I own zero stocks, bonds, CDs, or other non-retirement investment vehicles. The irony that I read magazines in which the Jimmy John's ad wants you to buy a restaurant and not a sandwich isn't lost on me.)

February 20, 2013

February 20, 2013

Three Times Would've Been Uncouth

I’ve just come back from a long weekend in Milwaukee. Don’t be mad; I didn’t tell a soul. Well, I told my dad, since I needed him to pick me up at the airport, house me, and feed me. But he was under strict orders not to tell a soul. A soul. I wanted to keep it very low-key, so that nothing would prevent me from eating my body weight in Chinese food (which I did).

As is often the case when I spend time back in America’s Dairyland, I was reminded of how nice a place it is. (Cold, but nice.) People drive courteously. Cashiers make pleasant conversation. The TSA agent at Mitchell actually said, “Heather, have a great trip.” He used my NAME, you guys. He used my name.

So today I’m sitting n my Washington DC-based office and this headline pops up on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Twitter account:

“Cookpot-swinging woman cited for disturbance at Oak Creek home twice in about an hour”

So. A number of things make this headline great.

1. I read it first as “Crockpot-swinging woman” and didn’t pause to question. I just accepted that any Wisconsin woman worth her salt owns at least one Crockpot that she could swing. (My mom owns four.)
2. The swinging was somehow disturbing enough to earn a citation. Was it noisy? Did she break things? Does it matter?
3.  Twice?!
4.  About an hour?!

I’m not going to read the details of this story because there’s no way they’re better than what’s in my head right now.

Good old Wisconsin.

February 11, 2013

February 11, 2013

Seriously, Did Someone Say Cheese

Whatcha been up to lately? I spent the weekend ogling expensive cars at the auto show and watching the Granthams play cricket.

Another year, another impossibly-narrow Mini Cooper rear window.

So, anyway, it turns out that I got into the White House Social, in which a group of government types are going to watch the State of the Union with White House staffers and ask them questions afterwards and


Obviously, there’s absolutely no chance I’ll be able to play it cool. Already I can’t decide which Hello Kitty necklace to wear.

(Maybe just the HK watch?)

The sad thing is that I rarely watch the SOTU* all the way through. I just catch highlights the morning after. It’s not that I don’t enjoy a Presidential speech, it’s that I prefer a Presidential speech filtered through the dulcet tones of Brian Williams.

But this year I will need to pay attention during the whole thing AND try to ask constructive questions afterwards rather than my usual inquiries of the “Are there appetizers?” variety.

(Can I take snacks into the White House? What is the protocol?)

On the plus side, pictures are allowed, so I will do my best. I’ll also be live-tweeting as @medevam with the tags #WHSocial and/or #SOTU.

(Ix-nay on my epublican-Ray ote-vay, okay?)

I wonder who the designated survivor will be? I hope it’s Arne Duncan, because he’s like 20 feet tall and a picture of the two of us would be totes hilarious. What if it’s Eric Shinseki and I try to Asian-bond with him and end up insulting him instead?


* This is how the cool kids refer to it. So I’m told.

February 5, 2013

February 3, 2013

February 3, 2013

Didn't We JUST Have Super Bowl XL?

I could've sworn last year was XL. Yet here we are, basically at L's doorstep.

Remind me again why we use Roman numerals for...well, anything at this point?

Anyhoo, the best part of any big event the Super Bowl is the food. Obviously. Even in a year when the Packers make it to the Big Dance, I'm more concerned with how much cheese I can eat without overdosing on lactose.

(Answer: 3.5 pounds, or 77 cracker-sized squares. Ask not how I know.)

Whether my party is attended by one or one hundred (as if), I like to put out a good spread. The key is to think strategically. What will be served? Where will it go?

I like to do a dry run before the day. Keeps things organized during the heat of battle.

I decided this year to make something. DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! Thankfully, it was just bowls made of Rice Krispie treats. We used them for ice cream.

God bless America. And the Ravens, though I would've been happy with either outcome. I like the NFC, but I like closer to Baltimore. Six of one, as they say. The only down side was that I had to miss Downton Abbey. C'mon, PBS! Work with us here!