Thursday, March 26, 2009

wasn't there a movie about this?

"Robots must be constrained to adhere to the same laws as humans or they should not be permitted on the battlefield," Arkin wrote. Asimov already came up with excellent laws of robotics, but by definition war robots can not conform to them.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

this is NOT a suggestion. Just popped into my head.

When I read Stranger in a Strange Land as a teenager, the messages about freedom and religion and sex didn’t seem too profound to me. But eating dead bodies- that was something to think about. Made sense, after all. Maybe that’s why Soylent Green never made an impact on me. It was only logical, what with the hunger and overpopulation, and meat was harvested in a rather less disturbing way than in the warren surrounded by snares in Watership Down.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

my dreams are serials

While the plots of my dreams do not pick up again, incidental details do all the time. One example: dreams about Twin Trees, my family’s cabin in the Adirondacks. Over the past year or so I’ve dreamed about it numerous times and there are several things about Dreamworld Twin Trees that are different from the real one. But they remain consistent within Dreamworld. There is another bedroom in the basement (no basement in the real world) that my aunt and uncle normally sleep in. I do occasionally when they’re not there, but don’t like it because it’s creepy. A secret door off this bedroom leads to a deep closet. There are lamps and dishes that are consistent in my dreams that are nothing like the ones actually there. The woodstove is a different style in a different location (where the telephone table is) and includes an oven for baking. In one of my dreams the oven broke and my relatives slid parts of a broken electric oven into the opening, so the stucco-ish woodstove sports the door of a 70’s-era oven on its side. It’s been there in all my dreams since.

Monday, March 09, 2009

maybe I should've gone for a Harlequin

A few weeks ago I realized that I couldn’t recall ever having read a romance novel. I decided to remedy this with Pride and Prejudice. I was unimpressed.

I remember getting into a debate with a women’s studies professor at Alfred about whether Tom Sawyer was more entertaining than Little Women. I felt exploring caves to be inherently more interesting than reading Pilgrim’s Progress. She pointed out that the values placed on stereotypically gendered diversions were socially defined, and that my preference for action/ adventure stories was likely because they, like masculinity, were valued more by my culture. I’m still not sure how much I agree with her. But even the March girls, whom I found boring, were more interesting than the Bennets. Both books concluded in marrying off a passel of sisters but at least in Little Women they did a few other things too.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

I do not however miss tape drives

In fourth grade or so I did an in-depth research project on the Pony Express. My mother suggested I dig up newspaper articles as source material and escorted me to the Schenectady Library (the main branch of our library system). Paper indices of the New York Times were cross-referenced to the boxes of microfilm I needed, but staying on-task once the film was loaded into the reader was near impossible. These were real newspapers from the 1860s! The advertisements! The headlines! Sitting in front of the machine with the stories glowing in front of me, the film whirring as I skipped forward and back, heightened the sense of time-travel.

The process became somewhat less exciting as my academic career progressed; looking up 20-year-old academic articles isn’t quite so fascinating. But in graduate school I worked in the library’s microfilm department and was again enchanted. Most people were too lazy to get their articles themselves so they sent in a request and paid me to do it. I’ll admit to occasionally being glad when they wanted something from the less time-consuming microfiche collection. But the process of seeking out articles on all subjects from all eras was made more romantic by the pages of the microfilm flying by, and I became adept at stopping on the right page on the first try.

Long periods of reading microfilm is awful on your eyes; storage and retrieval is space and time inefficient. But it gives me the same pleasure as a few other time-consuming anachronisms- darkroom work and mixed-cassette-tape production come to mind. There’s the visceral pleasure in the process itself plus the technical pleasure in accomplishing something that requires some work- it gives a sense that you’ve Done Something, not just hit “print” after using a search engine or clicked an icon in Photoshop. I miss it.

(Reminded by this.)