Tuesday, October 30, 2007

What's the feminine form of wretch so wan and pale?

The October 30, 2007, issue of The Examiner, the San Francisco free handout of what was once a mighty Hearst-owned newspaper, features, on the Healthy Life page, an Associated Press article titled: "Work out at Work: New Product Combines Workstation, Treadmill."

Yes, the treadmill, once walked by British prisoners, including Oscar Wilde, for 6 hours/day (with five minute breaks every so often,) and now just anther piece of exercise equipment to jog on (at the gym) and to hang clothes on (at home,) is coming to work. No, not in the employer's gym -- in our cubicles. No more lounging around in chairs -- employees will walk (slowly) while trying to read a computer monitor, or while keyboarding and trying to read a computer monitor, or while talking on a phone wedged between shoulder and ear while keyboarding and trying to read a computer monitor, or while drinking something while talking on a phone wedged between shoulder while trying to read a computer monitor (and for all I know, keyboarding with one hand at the same time.) Assuming that becomes the standard workplace setup, will prisoners be expected to sit on chairs at workstations for hours at a stretch?

I strongly suspect that whoever is developing a treadmill workstation does not wear bifocals, much less trifocals. Or high heels.

The article suggests these websites: Steelcase Inc. (office furniture/design site -- uses the word Walkstation,) the Mayo Clinic, and True Fitness Technology (either a manufacturer or a vendor.)

This post's title is from what I thought was The Ballad of Reading Gaol, but isn't: so what is it from? I remember the line "In Reading town in Reading Gaol, there lies a wretch so wan and pale," but nothing further. That's not unusual for me: if the world of Fahrenheit 451 ever comes to pass, I'll join the book people and will be Bartlett's Quotations because all I can remember of poetry/drama are a few lines of any particular work. It's good to have an alternative career path, no?

Monday, October 15, 2007

If I'm living in the future, where's my rocket car?

Clicking around in the blogosphere I wound up at the MSNBC article about Roombas and their owners. Roombas are those disk-like robotic vacuum cleaners made by the Irobot company - the name is taken from a 1950 Isaac Asimov story collection which contains his three rules of robotics (which is a term Asimov created for a 1941 short story.) The MSNBC story notes that some owners of Roombas name them, and some even dress them up. That sounds weird, but then the article went on to say that Roombas make men enthusiastic about vacuuming. That's enough to make me want one of each: a Roomba and a man to do the vacuuming.

Roombas remind me of the 1950 Ray Bradbury story "There will come soft rains," in which a fully automated house survives a nuclear holocaust that has killed all humans. The house communicates with the (non-existent) residents by voice, and in the absence of responding voices, continues on its way each day, serving the default menus, clearing meals, etc. No roombas in that house though: it has fully automated small mice to clean away debris. (I forget if the lawn mowing is done by fully automated goats.)

In my opinon, Ray Bradbury is the most prescient science fiction author since Jules Verne. In his 1953 Fahrenheit 451, he foresaw all those portable music devices we plug into our ears -- now Ipods, but first, Walkmans. I just saw Fahrenheit 451 on a DVD -- one of the special features included on it is a 2002 interview with Bradbury. He mentioned that when the Sony Walkman first came out, some reps from the company came to him, showed him the device, and said "Fahrenheit 451! Fahrenheit 451!." Let's hope his prescience doesn't foreshadow firemen who burn books.

In the short story "The Veldt," which came out in 1951, Bradbury took television and turned it into wall-sized screens one could not just watch, but could also interact with --- and, in the end, enter into. Children of course loved it, and adults worried and didn't quite get it --- does any of this sound familiar today? Fahrenheit also had large screens, plus the small tv sets that exist today, but not then. On at least the large screen one could have the characters on a program turn to look at the viewer and ask the viewer, by first name, what he/she thinks of something. We're not there yet, thank heavens, as the vapidity of the show the Fahrenheit character is watching would probably kill us all, but we may be creeping up on it: in recent news CBS has announced that CSI NY Virtual Experience will allow viewers to get involved via Second Life (but not simultaneously with the telecast.)

So maybe we're living in the future now? Somehow I expected a rocket car. After the slide show of advertisments, shown with the lights on, my local chain movie theater (14 screens! 8 or so movies, as the theaterettes are too small for the popular movies!) dims the lights and starts the show with a "Welcome to the ----- Theater" piece which involves a rocket car (a more aerodynamic version of the De Lorean car with the gull wing doors) taking off from a rocket car parking space, flying through the airy streets among tall skyscrapers entirely lit up at night (the cars may be flying because the streets are littered with carbon footprints from all the electricity being used) then at last coming into a garage with the name of the theater. Once it's landed/parked, we get to move on to the adverts for the films. Eventually the movie itself appears.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sticker Shock, part 2

While I was posting yesterday about the current cost of tuition at my undergraduate college, the mail carrier was busy delivering to my home the first of this fiscal year's pleas for a donation from a graduate school I attended. This school is part of the University of California system but, as the letter is careful to point out, gets less than 30% of its funding from the state. In what is appearing to be a trend, the chatty request letter mentions that tuition is currently $24,000 per year. It was around $600 when I attended in the early 1970s. Once again I am in sticker shock.

At some level, I think I'm feeling (if that's not a contradiction in terms) worried that my degree will somehow be retroactively denied due to lack of funds.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

School Daze (part 2) and Sticker Shock

In my earlier post, all of us at the branch were hoping that intuition would help us figure out how to use our nifty (or at least feature-ridden) new phones, new to us but second-hand in fact -- hence the lack of manuals.

Intutition certainly wasn't getting us where we wanted to be, so I went back to the web, using that search engine that doesn't like its name used as a verb, so I try to think of it as Barney, from the first name in the song "Barney [company name] with the [first syllable of company name, repeated twice] - [company name with y instead of e at the end] eyes." Saying I Barneyed something doesn't quite trip off the tongue as easily as saying I [company name]d something, but who am I to argue with corporate America?

I finally came up with the full 72 (or is it 52) page manual, thoughtfully posted by a university in the midwest. Thank heavens for Barney's search capacity, and thank you to that university, tactfully unnamed in case posting it violates something or other.

When I told one of my tech colleagues about my success (she had responded to my earlier post with a suggested site that turned out not to have the manual,) she said that she's found a lot of items online posted by universities for their students' benefit. Let's hear it for academia.

Of course, even with the manual, we can't figure out how to get the phone at one desk to buzz to indicate someone's calling on another line ....

On roughly the same day that we came up with the manual, I received the first of this fiscal year's letters from my undergraduate college, asking for a donation. The letter, very chatty, mentioned that tuition this year is $34,500. EGAD! When I went there in the 1960s, it was $1600 per year, and even at that price I only attended because I had a California State [i.e., government] scholarship which paid the tuition. Those state scholarships still exist, I think under another name, and, while the maximum is higher, they are still not anywhere near the cost of tuition for private colleges/universities today.

I went to Cyndislist and looked under "money" in the table of contents, to see if I could find a site that would convert the 1960s tuition price to today's dollars. Measuringworth came up with a variety of values, the explanations for which were too lengthy to make much sense to me. One of them was in the $31,000 range, but the rest were all a lot less. I decided I would take the $31,000 figure as the most accurate, just so I wouldn't feel retroactively priced out of the market.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Cultural Markers

Bumper stickers seem to be an endangered species these days, at least in the San Francisco Bay Area. Many demonstrated a person's political/social views, providing passing interest on a roadway. With the decline in bumper stickers, a new way of marking affiliations and views has emerged -- address labels.

One can order, of course, address labels from commercial sources, which offer a mulitiplicity of designs. I did order some a few years back, and that opened a floodgate. I now regularly receive mailings from a variety of non-profits and and other groups sending me address labels and asking asking for a donation. The labels can have a mixture of designs, only some of which have the organization's logo; others have messages/logos only. I think there must be a merged marketing list somewhere of people who have ordered address labels and people who fit some non-profit's profile. Or they're merging the lists themselves.

A few days ago I received a letter at work with an address label I recognized: "Teach tolerance" with a logo. That person and I are both on at least one mailing list.

It's not quite as much fun as reading bumper stickers, but I'll take my cultural markers where I find them.