Archive for the 'Technology' Category


Lessons learned in line for coffee

Yesterday at work we said goodbye to the Latte Lounge.

Our office was testing it out this week. Friday was its last day with us, and I can already feel that it’s made a change all our lives.

The Latte Lounge is a remarkable little machine. Actually, it’s enormous. It must outweigh our old coffee maker 10 to 1. It stood in an underused part of the first floor like a robotic guard watching over the adjacent vending machines.

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I feel the earth move

I didn’t check in to Philadelphia’s “Earthquakepocalypse” on Foursquare with the tens of thousands of others who did.

I did check in to the Chinese restaurant where I was lunching with a friend when it happened. But I did that when I got there. Nothing to do with the quake.

Where were you when it happened?

Um, I was fighting with a vegetable dumpling as it slipped through my chopsticks for the fourth time.

I don’t check in to anything with the suffix “-pocalypse,” mostly because it’s dumb. It made sense for the snowfall of winter 2009, when we were hit three times for an accumulation of four and half feet, but not now. And the ironic, self-aware over-inflation of ordinary situations just isn’t funny anymore.

However, I guess an earthquake in Philadelphia isn’t, strictly speaking, ordinary—in a Chinese restaurant or otherwise. Bottles shook at the bar. Glasses tinkled against each other on the shelves. Plum sauce skittered across the table. And my lemon chicken sauce quivered obscenely.

Continue reading ‘I feel the earth move’


Happy 25th birthday, Super Mario!

Super Mario 25th Anniversary

Wish Super Mario a happy birthday. He's 25 years old today!

When it comes to describing the superior awesomeness that Super Mario Bros. has brought into our lives in the last 25 years, this video from the Daily Telegraph is self-explanatory. And that’s not even counting Mario’s introduction in Donkey Kong.

Here’s to 25 more!


Vox Popular

Improvement of public transit is always exciting for me, especially when it happens in Queens as well as the other boroughs. It’s not just having shiny new stuff. It’s the evidence that we’re making progress, growing up, that thrills.

So the semi-electric buses run more green. The subway cars have clean blue seats and windows free of etched tags and doodles. Some subway stops have new tilework on the floors and walls.

But by far the best improvement is the voice I hear on the new E trains running express in and out of Queens. She tells us each stop we’ve arrived at and what to do next. And she is kinda hot.

“This is … Queens Plaza. Transfer is available to the R … and … V train.”

It’s the way she says “transfer is available” that catches my attention. It rolls off her tongue like candle wax gaining momentum as it runs down the length of a taber. It’s a little richer, more throaty, more lusty, than the station announcement. It all runs together in one suggestive vocal gesture.


It’s like she’s waiting for you after work after a few cigarettes. The ice tinkles in her second, slightly stronger, gin and tonic. She’s given up the pretense of waiting for you before she starts her evening. She hitches one leg up across the other knee and leans back. Her lacquered fingertips dangle. She tempts you to switch trains. Go on.


You know you want to do it. Get off the express. Take your time through the city. Do it … slow…

But those R trains are still using an intercom. The seats are an ugly orange. And it just wouldn’t be the same.


Falling For It

When Gmail offered me an automatic email response generator, I didn’t think much about it.

A bit weird, I thought, but why not? When Google is constantly testing new and improved ways to make useful the ceaseless stream of information it gathers from us second be ever-lovin’ second, it seems perfectly plausible (though not, I hope, reasonable) that next on the list would be a service that scans your incoming messages and automatically generates a response, matching your style and tone, without a second thought from you.

They called the service “Gmail Autopilot,” powered by something called by CADIE, or “Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity

“Email will never be a thing of the past,” it declared, “but actually reading and writing messages is about to be” — as if it’s a terrible burden to think for oneself.

Who would use this? I thought. Who could be so lazy?

I wondered — hoped, really — if the system would only generate the email, leaving the decision to send or not to send up to the user. To find out, I clicked the link to “learn more.” I briefly considered trying it, but thought better of it.

Later, inspired by the dawn of National Poetry Month, I decided to resume reading the daily emails I have been receiving for years from The Writer’s Almanac. Leave it to Garrison Keillor to kill a perfectly good joke. Today’s post included the following entry:

Today is April Fools’ Day, and it’s also on this day in 2004 that Google released Gmail to the public. Many people thought it was a joke: It offered a whole gigabyte of storage, which was exponentially greater than what was offered by other free e-mail services at the time.

Gmail has played a number of memorable pranks on April Fools’ Day. Last year, users signing into their Gmail account on April Fools’ Day saw a banner announcing “New! Gmail Custom Time,” which supposedly allowed users to pre-date some of their outgoing e-mail messages. On April 1, 2006, Google announced a new dating service, called Google Romance. They said, “When you think about it, love is just another search problem.”

Nicely played, Google. I thought the examples on the “Autopilot” FAQ page seemed excessively humorous.

After this, I seemed to find practical jokes everywhere I turned.

YouTube was upside down today, which I thought was brilliant — only if one’s Web browser was capable of displaying the upside-down typeface.

Click to enlarge.

I found a fake news story on today’s NPR’s Morning Edition broadcast about The Economist opening up a theme park.

I received a tweet about today’s Planet Money podcast having an April Fool’s Day joke in it.

Even the BBC World Service broadcast this morning, I remembered, included a segment during which a series of implausible headlines was read aloud and the listeners were invited to write in and guess which one was actually false. It seemed to me at the time just like a cute listener-response segment like that game they play on Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me.

An aside: All this online tomfoolery at least explains why Queerty released a new page design yesterday. They must have been careful to avoid April 1, because the changes they made certainly do seem like a joke. (This is among the worst page design I have seen.)

Three people at work told friends and loved ones via email that they had been laid off in a surprise downsizing. Only one of them succeeded in tricking someone.

I can’t remember a time since I was a kid that I’ve seen so much attention paid to an April Fool’s Day. I began to fear that people would stop believing what I was saying, expecting at any moment to be the subject of a prank. I began to feel obligated to play some kind of mischief myself. If I weren’t so terribly bad at lying, I might have tried it.

Maybe we just need some fun in the news these days. It’ll be back to normal tomorrow.


I Heart Justin Long

I probably won’t see the movie He’s Just Not That Into You, whether or not it’s a chick flick, but I sure am into this cute little promo video for all the straight guys out there with girlfriends who do want to see it.

Ahh… How could I ever get a PC?


Slide to Unlock

slide to unlockTechnology has a funny way of making us into little trained monkeys. I can’t let an hour go by without checking my email. I can’t wait to tell everyone what I ate for lunch via Facebook status! I don’t bother to wear a watch, because my cell phone tells me the time just fine, and more accurately.

And now that I have an iPhone, I have been introduced to a new mantra. In order to perform any of the above essential life functions, I now must pass the gatekeeper: “slide to unlock.” It is the new automatic motion. The new reflex. The new magic. The new go-to for all life’s conundrums. Missed the bus? Slide to unlock. Credit card denied? Slide to unlock. Your gym is overcrowded? Got into a fender bender? Spilled coffee down the front of your shirt? Slide to unlock.


I Want my OED (or “Etymology for Nothing and Web Access for Free”)

Video never did kill the radio star, but there may be a very serious casualty in the smackdown between the World Wide Web and what we old timers call the “durable media.”

Of all the great crushes in my life — Chris in 5th grade, the subject of my first boy-on-boy dream (complete with, no joke, a roaring fireplace); Justin in 7th grade, who I would surreptitiously photograph at Camp Tamarack; Paul in high school, my little brother’s YMCA swimming instructor, who I never missed sight of changing in the locker room — the one that stands out above all others is the one I met in college. An English professor introduced us. I was at once captivated by his plain language and vast knowledge; his masculine, somewhat earthy scent; his perfectly straight spine; his thin, delicate pages; his minuscule, seemingly boundless print.

What hope did I have? How could I possibly resist this true, this pure, this urgent love? I was hopelessly lost from the moment I parted those covers to examine “gun” and “hangnail” and “nickname” and other marvels.

Yet there will come a time when those hardcover multi-volume memories are all I have left. I fear that I will never see the great love of my life — the Oxford English Dictionary — in its third edition in printed form.

Oh, for how long have I dreamed of wrapping myself bodily around its two dozen volumes! Of running my fingers along its stiff, bony edges. Of digging the sharp corners of its perfect, tight binding into my softly pliant flesh! Of inhaling the musky perfumery of inks on thousands upon thousands of translucent leaves!

A recent visit to the OED Web site rudely wrestled me from such dizzying passions. Intending to confirm the third edition’s publishing date, I was shocked instead to learn that plans had changed dramatically since my last visit. The FAQ stated unmistakably that the revisions currently underway for the third edition will not be completed until 2037.

Two thousand.


I will turn 61 years old that year.

The OED contains the history of the meaning of every blessed word in the English language, which includes by default a fair number of words from other languages, traced all the way back to their first recorded usage. It is the bible of my sacred tongue. An essential (and significantly large) part of the history of human thought itself. Few have anticipated the Second Coming with as much fervor as I have waited for this edition.

The second edition contains more than 300,000 words. Apparently more than 4,000 words are added every year. The OED will effectively double in size by the time the third edition is complete. There is no dictionary more well-endowed.

But the second edition is riddled with supplements and additions, a Frankenstein’s monster of cobbled volumes.


The complete CD-ROM edition is not available for Macintosh.


And a subscription to the online service, perhaps the most bearable option, is unaffordable. Libraries in the UK and Ireland offer remote access for free, but the New York Public Library does not. (So much for one of the greatest knowledge institutions of the world.)

Rat bastards!

Unthinkably, there may not even be be a printing of the third edition! Can you imagine a 40-volume dictionary? In type too small for my old ass to read? What is the point of literacy? What is the point of living?


I Heart Ms. Pac-Man


It’s 2 a.m. Do You Know Where Your Contribution to Global Mercury Poisoning Is?

It’s like … ten thousand sick Nigerians when all you need is a clear desktop.

The day after we dropped off a non-functioning printer and a bag of old cell phones and chargers at the recycling center, we found this from the AP:

America Ships Electronic Waste Overseas

An excerpt:

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Most Americans think they’re helping the earth when they recycle their old computers, televisions and cell phones. But chances are they’re contributing to a global trade in electronic trash that endangers workers and pollutes the environment overseas.

While there are no precise figures, activists estimate that 50 to 80 percent of the 300,000 to 400,000 tons of electronics collected for recycling in the U.S. each year ends up overseas. Workers in countries such as China, India and Nigeria then use hammers, gas burners and their bare hands to extract metals, glass and other recyclables, exposing themselves and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals.

“It is being recycled, but it’s being recycled in the most horrific way you can imagine,” said Jim Puckett of the Basel Action Network, the Seattle-based environmental group that tipped off Hong Kong authorities. “We’re preserving our own environment, but contaminating the rest of the world.”

Beautiful. You think you’re saving the planet, but really you’re just killing Chinese babies. Uhm … It was emotionally wrenching enough to get rid of my old Power Mac G3 in the first place (not to mention my dear departed iPod). I was hoping not to add unwilling complicity to murder into the bargain.

You just can’t win … so it would seem.

Lucky for us, we live in the civilized borough of Queens, and we dropped off our junk at Build it Green NYC‘s collection site in Astoria. In association with the Lower East Side Ecology Center, Build It Green provides a drop-off center for disposing of electronic equipment — the right way.

From their Web site:

Is any of the recycled material sent overseas?
No. We share your concern about dumping electronic waste on developing countries. Therefore we require that our vendors recycle all collected materials in the US and provide us with documentation about their down stream vendors. We audit this information to confirm validity.

Yay! We win.

For more information:

the untallied hours