Category Archives: Current Events

Remember When We All Had Chips Surgically Implanted?

When my employer approached me about surgically implanting a microchip in my hand so that I could get into the office without having to take out my key fob, I was little reluctant.  But then I read that other people had done it, so I knew it must be safe.

Having a computer chip sitting inside the fleshy web between my thumb and forefinger was a bit strange at first.  But I quickly got used to it, and being able to get into the office with just a wave of the hand was both convenient and futuristic, and I was thankful to live in a time when such technology existed.

The following year, my employer offered a new chip that could not only unlock the doors, but would also allow you to purchase food from the company cafeteria. We normally used a special employee card for that, and although the card was very light, there were a few times that I left it in my pants from the day before, and had to beg for food from co-workers.  I immediately wanted the new chip, and I could not rest or enjoy my lunch until this chip was part of my anatomy.

So I signed up to have my old chip surgically replaced with the new chip.  But the fleshy web between my thumb and forefinger had been stretched during the first surgery, and so the doctors were afraid that yet another surgery to the same spot would cause the fleshy web to lose all elasticity, leaving me with my thumb permanently left hanging off to the side of my hand, and people would perpetually think I was giving their ideas the thumbs down.

So they had to implant the new chip in my other hand.  I was a little upset having now two chips in my body, especially after they told me that the old chip would have to be deactivated per company policy.  But this discomfort was more than offset by the convenience of being able to unlock the doors and buy lunch or a snack with just the wave of my hand.

The following year they released a chip that included a tiny receiver/transmitter so that it could also be a cell phone. I hesitated not one nanosecond before putting my name on the list that had been posted in the cafeteria.

Being able to make a phone call by talking into your hand – can you imagine?  I was so excited, that I did not foresee that there would be any problems.  So I was quite shocked when the head of HR told me that I could not have the upgrade done because both hands had already been operated on.

I begged them to reconsider. Was there another part of my body into which they could install this latest of chips?

Having a chip surgically installed in my upper leg was not as bad as I’d feared.  The surgery was simple, the scar tiny, and making calls by talking into my leg was better than I’d imagined. I could just hunch over like I had dropped a piece of food on my lap and was looking to see where it landed, and say “Dial” and then the number.  The volume of the chip was amplified so that I could hear the speaker easily from my leg. And when I received a call, the chip would vibrate, a nice sensation that had the unexpected effect of massaging my leg, and was quite welcome, especially at the end of a long day.

Naturally they had to deactivate the second chip, again per company policy.  So unlocking the office doors, which I had to do now with my upper leg, was a bit more challenging.  But hardly impossible. The real issue was buying food at the cafeteria.

It was disconcerting to my co-workers standing next to me on line when I suddenly kicked my leg straight up in the air so that the cashier could charge my meal to my thigh.  I am not the most coordinated of people.  Sometimes I jerk my leg up quickly and I can’t always avoid trays that are nearby. So people learned to avoid me when they saw me on the line.

I’d be lying if I said that this minor ostracism did not sadden me.  I’ve always thought of my co-workers as friends first, and co-workers second. But when your employer offers you the chance to become a cyborg, friendship stretches only so far.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Politics

Remember When There Wasn’t All This Hacking of Emails?

This was published earlier at Markkaplowitz.com.

I recently received a message saying that my email account “has been implicated in a security breach.”  After I calmed down and stopped pacing around with my hands in the air, asking “Why me?”, I wondered what these hackers could possibly have wanted with my emails….

“Captain, what have we found, if anything, from the emails?”dirty keyboard

“Well, sir, we have discovered that his sister is coming over to visit in a few weeks, and that he has a 20% off coupon to Target.”

“Hmm.  Not sure what I’m going to do with that yet.  But go on.  What else did you find?”

“He is delinquent in reading all emails from The Wooden Spoon Store.”

“Well, that is interesting.  Do you know what that means?”

“No, sir.”

“Obviously the account custodian is involved in a ideological battle with this retailer.  Run with it!”

The story that The Wooden Spoon Store along with other online retailers was involved in an ideological battle with me tarnished its squeaky clean image and hurt sales.  I was interviewed several times about my thoughts on the store.

They shoved microphones in my face, and asked, “Why did you not read those emails from the Wooden Spoon Store?”

“Because I don’t use wooden spoons,” I replied.

Then the FBI announced in an unsigned letter that they were “taking a closer look at a few emails that merit a closer look” and  I had to testify before Congress.

“Mr. Kaplowitz, it says here according to this email dated…ah, where is the date.  Excuse me,” turning to his right, “Senator, can you help me? Where is that email I was going to talk about?”

“Um, I don’t know, Senator.  You had all your papers on your table.”

“I did?  Well, anyway.  Mr. Kaplowitz, I understand that you believe that the Wooden Spoon Store is manipulating the market for wooden spoons.  What evidence do you have to back that up?”

“I don’t have any evidence.  And I never said that the store was manipulating anything.”

“You didn’t?”

“Well, it was taken out of context.”

At my sentencing for violation of the Fancy Kitchen Wares in Lawful Commerce Act and a slew of other fraud and obstruction of justice charges, I was given the opportunity to address the judge and all three employees of the Wooden Spoon Store.

“To my fellow human beings, I am sorry that I never read the emails you sent me, advising me of specials and other deals.  I should have taken the Terms of Service more seriously.  This was grievous error and I am glad that I am going to be punished for it.”

I served my time in a special prison for hackers, computer fraudsters, and people who post on Facebook about their long distance running.  These fellow inmates taught me how to read online newspapers without paying.  Upon my release for good hygiene, I put this skill to use and today I read upwards of four articles a day without paying for them.

Have I traded one kind of fraud for another?  Perhaps.  But a man’s got to make a living somehow.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under computers, Current Events

Remember When You Could Send a Spaceship to Mars for Only $75 million?

So I’m sure you’ve heard by now of the orbiter that India sent to Mars for only $75 million, and seen it compared to the U.S. Mars orbiter that cost $672 million. Whatever the reasons for the difference in price, my main concern is that the two orbiters will start orbiting the planet in the same path at the same time, and they’ll be fighting over the armrest, and we’ll have to turn the spaceship around.mission to mars

The more I think about it, even $75 million starts to sound like a lot. Maybe the first space trip would cost a lot.  But that was decades ago, back when there was an evening paper and people had milk delivered to them in a glass bottle.  There should have been more cost-effective innovation by now, like what they’ve done with coffee.

There are plenty of places where money can be saved on the Mars orbiter. I hope they didn’t bother installing air conditioning.  I’ve found that a good fan well-positioned can cool as quickly, if not more quickly, than central air conditioning, albeit with a plug that can be a trip hazard, especially when one is using a plate with a turkey sandwich on it to balance a large glass of soda.

We shouldn’t be paying for ice either. Space is very cold.  All the spaceship has to do is hold a pitcher of water outside the cabin for a few seconds, and poof!  Instant ice cubes.  The ice cubes would, of course, be in those annoying half-moon shapes that come out of refrigerators.  You can’t have everything in life.

The biggest cost-saver would have to be cable and internet. The price that NASA pays to have cable and internet on every one of its spaceships was probably, in the beginning, quite modest.  And after a few months, NASA got accustomed to the price, and the astronauts were too tired from walking in slo-mo in those bulky suits to read the monthly cable bill very closely anymore.

In fact, I’m sure that NASA at this point feels rather powerless to do anything against the cable company. But the company is expecting you to do nothing! I wish I could say.  Just call up, and say that you heard that other large and inefficient agencies are paying less for cable and internet, and that you as a loyal customer demand the same low price.  The cable company will grant your wish.  And do you know why?  Because they don’t want to lose you as a customer.

Friends, it has been over two days since I shamelessly plugged The Issue Box on this blog, and I suspect that many of you have not had the opportunity to check it out. I know, I know.  They’ve been showing episodes of Roseanne. I get it.  TV marathons happen.  But still there are commercials.  So feel free to stop by during a commercial break.  Unless it is one of those commercials that is better than the program you were watching.  It’s fun when that happens.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, Money, Space Travel

Remember When Your School Got Its Own Tank?

I’m sure you’ve all heard by now of the school district that obtained an armored vehicle – actually, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle or MRAP if you want to impress someone – from the United States military through its Excess Property Program.  The vehicle was free, and the district had to pay just the cost of transportation, which was $3.95 for regular ground, or $5,000 for 2-day express.Tank1

I remember when my school got its first tank, the graduating seniors’ class gift to the school they loved so much.  At the dedication ceremony, the Class President, Class Vice President, and Class Risk Assessment Manager spray painted the sides of the tank with “Woo Hoo Class of Awesome!  To Thine Own Self Be True!”  There was an after-party, mainly for those three people, where they ate pizza and discussed what they were going to do with all their Barron’s review books.

Some concerned parents managed to have the tank classified as dangerous, so the school had to keep it under strict lock and key in the A/V room, along with the televisions on those tall skinny carts.  The School Tank, as it came to be called, was taken out for special events like Homecoming, where the Homecoming King and Queen would ride atop the military vehicle, holding flowers and wearing their crowns, and waving to the crowds in the stands.

The following year, a neighboring school district, a rival in football, basketball, and Monopoly, got its own tank. It was larger and shinier than ours, and at the Memorial Day parade, at which all high schools in the region could march in whatever formation they liked as long as it met federal safety standards, their tank got more cheers from the crowds of parents and siblings.

Over the summer, the school diverted some funds earmarked for social studies books and ordered up another tank. This one was bigger and shinier than even the tank that our rival had obtained. Next to our first tank, it was a giant. We started calling them Big Tank and Little Tank. At lunchtime now, the school paraded the two tanks, sometimes Big leading, sometimes Little, around the track. All students could look out the window and see the two tanks parading.  The tanks were driven by students, and for some reason this job attracted the same students who were in charge of the audio/visual technology.

At the Memorial Day Parade, Big Tank and Little Tank rolled down our town’s main thoroughfare in triumph. Parents and siblings cheered loudly and the day appeared to be ours. But then a sound…a buzzing chop-chop sound filled the air and all were quiet.

And then we saw it. A helicopter with a bad drawing of a wildcat – the mascot of our rival school – spray painted on the side.  The tank was rolling on the street, directly underneath the helicopter, with balloons floating from the nozzle of the gun.

This was absolutely the last straw. Classes were cancelled for a week while school officials sold books and some desks where the chair and desk are fused together to get another military vehicle. As we sat at home and wished we could be back in English class reading Wuthering Heights, we speculated on what the new vehicle would be. What could be more impressive than a helicopter?

The Warren G. Harding High School Air Craft Carrier was delivered via overnight courier. Since our physical school building was not that near the water, we had to be relocated to a coastal town on the bay. It was a lot windier but we didn’t get as much snow.

One night our radar caught a few blips off the coast of Madagascar. Our commanding officer, who was also the official wearer of the school mascot costume at home football games, ordered our battleship and guided missile cruiser – gifts of the National Honor Society and Future Business Leaders of America, respectively – in for a closer look.

“Identify yourselves,” Kevin said into the microphone, which no one except him seemed to know was not connected to the unknown ships.  “Prepare the guns,” he said to the crew, who were making posters for a pep rally. “This could get ugly.”

Our ships were moved into position and guns aimed. Now we were worried about the math test in third period and the possibility of war.

“Man the cannon!” Kevin said. “Ready, aim…”

“Wait! Wait!” said the Class Gluten-Free Bake Sale Coordinator. “What’s that on the side of the ships? I think it says…Go Wildcats?”

Yes, it was our dear rivals from the neighboring town. Looks like they had obtained for themselves a navy. Had it not been for the unsteady block printing and pathetic drawing of a wildcat on the sides of the ships, we would have launched on them and probably have had to make up our math test.  The near risk of war marked a turning point in the relationship of our schools, and I can safely say that today we are not rivals but allies.

Editor’s Note:  It turns out that the San Diego School District has returned the armored vehicle.  I hope they kept the receipt.

3 Comments

Filed under Current Events, Government, School

Remember When the World Cup Wasn’t On?

I was walking down the street, with my headphones on, listening to Sir John Gielgud’s performance of the “To Be, Or Not To Be” soliloquy from Hamlet.  Suddenly a long black car pulled up to the curb beside me, and two large men with black suits got out and pulled me into the car.  They blindfolded me, I imagine so that I could not see their faces, or perhaps they wanted to surprise me with a gift, the way parents would do after we lit the Hanukkah candles.

Then someone spoke to me.

“We heard that you said football was boring.”

I protested and said that I never said such a thing, that I love football and cherish every tackle as if it was happening to me or someone I loved.  There was some whispering, and then the man who spoke cleared his throat and spoke again.

“I mean, we heard that you said that soccer was boring.”

I tried to remember if I ever said that soccer was boring.

“Well, I certainly remember thinking it,” I admitted.  “But saying it?  I’m afraid I don’t remember.  I mean, I’m not saying I didn’t say it.  I’m saying I just don’t remember if I said it or not.”

The car stopped moving and the door opened and someone led me out of the car.  We walked for a while and I wondered if I was going to be killed for thinking or perhaps even saying that soccer was boring.  Then I remembered that many great people had died for a deeply held belief, and I was comforted.

Then someone stopped me, and removed my blindfold.  I was standing in the middle of a field.  It was a sunny day, and I felt around for my prescription sunglasses, and realized that I had left them at home.  Then someone called to me from my left.

I turned and a large man in a black suit, perhaps one of the pair who had kidnapped me, was standing by a soccer ball.

“We are going to show you how much fun soccer is!”  And he kicked the ball over to me.

“Now kick it back,” he said cheerfully.  I kicked it back.  I admit it was a little fun, kicking a ball.  I’ve never been able to hit a baseball or throw a perfect spiral.  But kicking a soccer ball?  It’s just like kicking a TV that doesn’t work, except it rolls.

The man kicked the soccer ball in different direction, and I saw that the person he had kicked it to looked as confused and out of place as I did.  Without a word, he kicked the ball back to the kidnapper, who then gracefully kicked the ball in yet another direction to yet another person looking confused and out of place.  I turned my body around a full 360 degrees, and saw many other people standing around, looking confused and out of place, all with a look that said, “I can’t believe I’m standing here playing soccer.”  I was apparently part of a soccer game designed to expose soccer to people who were rumored to have said that soccer was boring.

I don’t know how long I was out there.  Time seemed to stand still as we kicked the ball to this person, then to that person, then to that person.  It was too hot to run around, so we all just stood there kicking the ball.  But after a while it was kind of fun.  Just kick the ball.  At some point someone asked the kidnapper how much time was left in the game.  The kidnapper signaled to the sideline, and two other large men with black suits came onto the field, hit the person over the head with something, and dragged him off the field, his heels leaving tracks in the grass.  He did not return to the game.

At some point the soccer ball disappeared, and we were blindfolded one at a time.  I was led to the car, told to get in, and driven a distance.  Then the car stopped, the door opened, the blindfold removed, and I’m let out of the car.  The kidnapper who played with us was standing next to me.

“You see?  Now you know how much fun foot – I mean, how much fun soccer is.  Tell all your friends!”

The car drove off and I wandered down the street.  I passed a bar where people were watching World Cup soccer, and I walked inside.  The players on the screen were kicking the ball from one to another, just as I had been doing a short while before.  I thought about how much fun I had been having.  I remember the satisfying feeling of kicking the ball, and projected my feelings onto the players on the TV.  No one in that bar was more focused on the game than I was, and soon I started to feel like I was actually in the game.  I was living soccer!  This is what they were talking about!

I lasted almost five minutes.  Then I felt around for my headphones, put them on, walked out of the bar, and continued listening to Sir John Gielgud as the melancholy Prince of Denmark.

14 Comments

Filed under Current Events

Remember When Virtual Reality Was More Virtual Than Reality?

Facebook’s Director of Newfangled Operations was sitting at his desk, reading reviews on Yelp for a good place to get turkey salad. An assistant knocked at his door.

“Come in, come in,” he said, facing the assistant. “So what’s the good word?”

photo of human wearing virtual reality headgear

Photo courtesy of Sensics, Inc. via Wikipedia.

“Well, sir, you know that ever since we acquired the virtual reality company Oculus VR, the, uh, upper management has been anxious to learn about the user experience.”

“Yes, yes,” the Director said. “And what is the user experience? Do the people, the salt of the earth, the great unwashed masses yearning to be free…do they like virtual reality?”

“Yes, they do, but—”

“But what? Are people displeased with the gaming?”

“No, they love it. They say the exploding bodies have never been more life like.”

“Are they able to access enough pornography?”

“Of course. We’ve enabled even individuals with visual, hearing, and tactile disabilities to enjoy it. A Congressional committee has commended us.”

“Don’t tell me they’re concerned about privacy.”

“Most people accept the theory that privacy was a myth originated by the Sumerians around the same time as the Epic of Gilgamesh.”

“Well what then?”

“Sir, the users’ concern is that when they wear the virtual reality headgear, they can’t tell if people are touching their food.”

The Director stared at the assistant for a few moments. “Touching their food?”

“Yes, you know. Like putting their hands all over a bowl of potato chips, and then watching while the virtual reality user eats the potato chips that have just been touched.”

The Director was a silent a moment. “I see how this could be quite a problem.”

“Sir, should we tell Mr. Zuckerberg? Perhaps—”

“No! Mr. Zuckerberg doesn’t like problems.” The Director chewed on a nail. “We’ve got to fix this ourselves.”

The solution was to offer virtual reality users the services of someone who would sit in the same room with them, without wearing headgear, and would stand guard over the users’ food or drink or bodily integrity. These hired individuals—called “guardians”—could also watch coats and book bags. And for a while it worked.

But then people started to worry that these guardians were doing things to them that they had been hired to prevent. What if the guardians had been bribed by someone who wanted to dip a finger in the users’ coffee and stir it around? How would the users ever know?

So then the guardians were scraped and instead the headgear was fitted with a little camera that would broadcast the user’s immediate surroundings through a little window in the corner of the headgear’s screen. So now users could watch the real world while they were immersed in virtual reality.

After a while, users found that watching their real life surroundings was more interesting than the virtual world. If they were alone, they could watch an empty room and see if anyone came in. If they were in a room with other users, they could watch a bunch of other people wearing headgear, bobbing around in their seats and waving their hands.

Users started talking to each other while they were immersed in virtual reality. Now that they could see everyone else in the room, they could talk freely, knowing that they weren’t speaking to an empty room. At first they talked about the virtual reality simulation they were using at the moment. But soon they moved on to other topics, like the weather, or upcoming weddings, or what each of them had done that day. Tech bloggers dubbed this growing practice of in-person conversation while wearing the headgear “non-virtual reality.”

Non-virtual reality became so popular that the software engineers kept enlarging the size of the window projected on the inner screen. Before long, this window took up the entire screen, so that when the users put the virtual reality headgear on, they saw a live, perfectly to-scale rendering of the same exact scene they would see if they took the headgear off.

“Sir!” the assistant said, entering the Director’s office with the headgear on. “Your program is a complete success! It is reported that 98% of the world’s population now walks around with headgear on all the time.”

“Splendid!” said the Director, wearing his own headgear. “But who are the 2% that aren’t wearing headgear? Are they from those primitive societies that walk around in loincloths and star in those movies they show at the Museum of Natural History?”

“No, sir. That was our initial theory, too. But it turns out that the 2% are hardcore techies.”

“Techies! But how can that be?”

“They say the original headset was better.”

13 Comments

Filed under Current Events, Technology

Remember the Cold War?

Is it East versus West
Or man against man?
Survivor, “Burning Heart”
Rocky IV Soundtrack
(Volcano Records, 1985)

The President of the United States wasn’t having one of his better days.

“He wants to annex what?” he asked into the phone. “Moldovia? I’ve never even heard of Moldovia…What’s that you say?…It’s ‘Moldova’ and not ‘Moldovia’?…Well, I’ve never heard of Moldova, either…I don’t care how many athletes they sent to the Olympics.” An advisor walked into the Oval Office and the President glanced at him briefly. “Listen, John, I’ll have to call you back.” The President slammed the phone into its cradle.

The advisor spoke without preamble. “Mr. President, the President of Russia says he won’t withdraw Russian troops from Crimea and he won’t give Crimea back to Ukraine.”

“Really? Did you make him the offer?”

“Of course, Mr. President. And he said thank you, but that he already had a neck basket.”

The President frowned and nodded.

“Okay,” he said. “Time to think outside the box.” He went up to a white board along the wall of the Oval Office and wrote “military action” in red erasable marker. “Let’s brainstorm. Give me some options for dealing with Russia.”

“Military action, Mr. President,” said the advisor.

“Great! Now, let’s flesh that out a little. What are some things that go with military action.”

“Um, troops,” said the advisor.

“Yes, okay.” Underneath “military action” the President drew a dash and wrote “troops.”

“What else?”

“Tanks.”

“Okay, great.” The President wrote “- tanks” under “- troops.”

“What else?”

“Planes.”

“Great. We’re moving right along.” The President added “- planes” to the list.

There was a knock at the door.

ya

“Come in!” yelled the President, wiping away some stray marks from the white board. In walked the Secretary of Defense.

“Mr. Secretary!” said the President. “Come on in. Take a doughnut. We’re just doing a little brainstorming on what to do with Russia. As you can see, we’re off to a great start.” He presented the white board with his hand, palm turned up.

“That’s very good work, Mr. President. But I don’t think military action is going to work. The Russian forces are well set up inside and around Crimea, and our forces are frightened of going into a country that has a backwards ‘R’ in its alphabet.”

“Hmm, that’s a good point. I never trusted that backwards ‘R’ either,” said the President, shuddering.

“Mr. President,” said the Secretary of Defense with a tight smile, “may I offer an alternative strategy?”

The media did not respond favorably when it was announced that the President of the United States had formally challenged the President of the Russian Federation to a game of Flappy Bird to determine the ownership of Crimea and Russia’s overall designs on world domination. The criticism was especially sharp over the fact that the challenge had been issued over the President’s Twitter account. But to everyone’s surprise, the challenge was accepted, and the coverage shifted from anlysis of foreign policy to analysis of the two leaders’ video game skills.

American historians noted that when the President of the United States was in law school he had won a Super Mario Bros. tournament against the other students in his constitutional law class.

But Russian historians noted that the President of the Russian Federation had been the top scorer in a first-player combat video game developed just for Russian government officials, called KGB versus Journalists.

Flappy Bird was a two-dimensional, side-scrolling game with primitive graphics, like Super Mario Bros., but required laser-like precision and impeccable reflexes, like KGB versus Journalists. So both Presidents had an edge.

As the time of the match approached, people were anxious. No one wanted to be unpatriotic or find themselves imprisioned. But Vegas odds never lie, and the odds on the two contestants were neck and neck.

TV stations had arranged to broadcast the match during primetime. Since Moscow is nine time zones ahead of Washington, DC, to prevent either President from playing the middle of the night, the match was arranged for 10 a.m. eastern standard time, and 7 p.m. Moscow time, on the same day. Video cameras were set up so that in the left corner of the screen would be live video of the American President, and in the right corner would be a live video of the Russian President, and the middle of the screen would be the video screen of the leader who happened to be playing Flappy Bird.

The rules were simple. A coin flip would decide who would go first. Then they would take turns, and whoever had the most points at the end of ten rounds would be declared the winner. If the American President won, the Russians had to withdraw from Crimea and forget about the Soviet Reunion.  If the Russian President won…well, no one really wanted to think about that.

Everyone – East and West – was nervous as the coin was tossed at a live video feed in Reykjavik. As the coin flipped end over end the Russian President said “Golovy!” – heads.  And the coin landed heads.

Immediately there were arguments all around the world over whether it was better to go first or last. The Russian President chose to go first, and his compatriots cheered him for taking the initiative. But the Americans were, for the most part, relieved, as more than a century of baseball had taught them the value of last licks.

In the end it didn’t matter who went first.  Flappy Bird was so hard that even after ten rounds neither man had scored a single point. There was no winner and nothing changed in the geopolitical world. But since it had stayed unchanged without a single shot being fired, both sides declared victory and were wrapped in the flags of their respective nations by the warm embraces of their citizens.

I’d like to wish Renée A. Schuls-Jacobson a hearty welcome back to blogging.  It’s good to see that familiar title in my inbox again. – MK

3 Comments

Filed under Current Events