March 9, 2009

The Locomotive

Everyday, as I take the Campus Connector to the St. Paul campus and back, I stare out the window on the north side of the bus and watch the rail yard. You see, I have a fascination with trains. I even bought a train simulator computer game at Target for $7.50. Trains are one of those things that people take for granted these days, albeit one of many. The complexity and versatility of the behemoths are often underplayed in the goings on of everyday life for most of us, but without them we wouldn't have many of the everyday essentials that we need, such as oil, coal (for energy), and corn syrup. Trains haul everything. Cattle, cars and everything in between are shipped across the country using trains on a daily basis, as well as hundreds of thousands of shipping crates from around the world.

It also gave us the opportunity to travel across the country in the 1800's by means other than covered wagon. The locomotive was one of the original modes of transportation, and the steam engine paved the way for the internal combustion engine commonly used today. Of course, lost in translation was the cross country travel in the covered wagon, but that was not the highlight of many people's days. However, it connected our country and our world like nothing before, and made our world much more productive. It truly revolutionized the world.

Reaching for the Remote

I chose to write about the remote control and its effects on our culture. I decided on this topic because some people don’t realize how the “clicker” has impacted our lives, and I’m interested in how the remote actually works and how it has changed over the years. The use of a remote would enable one to change the channel, volume, color, and other features while remaining seated in the chair. This prevented the need to get up to change the channel, thus made the life of a person a little bit lazier. There are negative effects from the use of remotes and weight gain is one of the most drastic outcomes.

The first wireless television remote was made public in 1955! Some operated by the use of sound waves (instead of infrared rays), so there was an incident where a toy xylophone actually changed the channels on the TV. As technology advanced, a universal remote was created, an object that could control the TV as well as many other devices.

I’m not quite sure if I should focus strictly on the use of the remote for the television or if I should incorporate other important uses of the remote, such as for military purposes, space explorations, entertainment, unlocking/starting the car and other reasons. Any suggestions? Either way, the remote has had a significant impact on our culture.

The Can

The process of cannery has been a wonder to me. I have never canned or know the process of cannery. So, I wanted to learn about canned food. It is also a big part of my religion. We are encouraged to have food storage for our family and many people around me are so familiar with cannery yet, I know very little about it. So, this type of technology got me interested to go back in history and get a idea. It seems that back in 1795, Napoleon Bonaparte offered a 12,000-Frac prize to anyone who could figure out how to preserve food. It was from this offer that, 14 years later, a man named Nicolas Appert devised a way and won the prize. He had experimented with heating food in sealed jars although, he did not know how he was able to perserve the food. It wasn't until 50 years later that another person was able to explain the preservation process. This introduced the way to perserve food and held even after the refridgerator and freezer. Canned foods are widely used today and very useful in conserving food. It has changed the way that people view homecooked meals. Today, we see canned food headings or marketing labels with homecooked style, country style, or just like mom's on them. This seems to have made canned food the norm for home cooking. Canned food has changed the way many people prepare home cooked foods. Canned vegetables are cooked and making a vegetable soup could take less than 5 minutes. It just seems that it has made it so people want the fastest meals. Should we enjoy cooking and take the time to prepare our meals and add the extra time to clean, cut, shred, chop, and cook our food? Or it it better to get that quick meal to spend more time with our families doing other things? Canned food has made our access to food a lot easier. We end up relying on company's to provide the food we buy. We don't grow food anymore and canned food keeps longer than fresh. While it has made cooking faster, it seems to have taken away a large part of the cooking enjoyment.

The Grid

It's something that few of you ever think about, and fewer think about how it has affected us. Electricity itself is an incredibly important development, but I think a more interesting case study in how technology affects society is the electrical grid. It is one of the most defining aspects of the modern lifestyle: all your appliances, all your toys and amenities have a little wire running from them into an outlet. It gives us the magic energy that fuels our lifestyle, and yet it binds and immobilizes us. The key here, again, is not the fact of electricity, but how we get our electricity. We don't power our factories with generators, nor are the lights to our house driven by batteries. This basic resource is centrally managed, and distributed via the electrical grid. While this has many advantages, our society and culture evolved around the limitations of this infrastructure.

March 7, 2009

Popping "The Pill"

For my paper, I have chosen to look at the affect that the birth control pill has had on women and families. For women, the birth control pill was liberation. Women were free to have families as large as they want, and most importantly, when they wanted them. The responsibility of safe sex was no longer placed on the male (no more dealing with other annoying forms of contraception) and women were freer to act on their their sexual desires and their decisions to hold off on starting families. The sizes of families have also declined in the country as larger families fell out of fashion and the rulings of the Catholic Church changed in reference to birth control. While the liberation of women and the decrease in family size can be seen as huge pluses in the eyes of most, the pill has also caused some major cultural changes that may not be seen as positive. With the invention and use of birth control pills, many young women, spurred on by more radical feminist theory, have started to see sex as something casual and, in many modern scenarios, as an appropriate topic of public discourse and expression. I have not decided if I want to focus on this negative aspect of the birth control pill. I was wondering if anyone could suggest other negative cultural changes due to the introduction of the pill? My research is still in its infancy and I’m having trouble finding a solid direction.

March 2, 2009

The Trouble With Tech

National Public Radio has been my primary source of sanity against the tidal wave of information. I listen to it every day, it being a primary source of information about the world to me. I have very much been affected by the problem of information overload, mostly due to the easy availability of it on the internet. With so much stuff thrown in my face, it was easy to lose perspective of what is important. Whatever you may feel about NPR’s politics, I will say that they devote their time to giving you information that matters.
On a side note: information overload is vastly more problematic in this day and age than it was when this book was written.

Reading through the previous posts, I see a lot of University of Minnesota bashing. I’m going to jump on that bandwagon as well, but with a caveat. Considering its size and the scope of the problems it deals with, the University is remarkably efficient. I was very impressed with this aspect of its operations when I first came here. But the sheer size of the place means that it can never be as personal or human as a small institution. Others here have mentioned how little we talk to real people when dealing with our problems; there are web applications to do that for us. It makes sense to do this, since they save so much money. But it distinctly changes the face of the university. When I think of the “face” of the University bureaucracy, I don’t think of a person, think of the onestop website.

Journalism strikes me as a field which has been both bolstered and torn down by technology. The communication tools available to us today are fantastically useful for journalists. Cell phones, digital cameras, and their integration into a world-wide communications network have removed many of the logistical barriers facing reporters in the past. But in this focus on the tools of the trade, the end result has been neglected. The rise of technology in this field has changed the way people receive information and opinions about the world, not doubt. But it is harder to argue that the public has become more informed over the years.

Captain James T. Kirk ponders the downsides of recklessly embracing new things

Wii World

Poking fun at our fascination with, and dependence on, technology.

February 28, 2009

Filtering and Formulating the infomration Overload

1. To manage the information “glut”, I belong to a synagogue. In the past few years, I have come to rely on my rabbi and the people in my community to focus my life in a more spiritual direction. I have learned through this community to look toward the teachings in the Torah as a guide to help me deal with some of the major issues in my life. Suffering, the passing of loved ones, and self realization have been topics that I have worked to understand as a part of some greater plan. Through teachings in the Torah I have tried to break down my own world into something more manageable by taking the information I am given and asking what is really important within it. What is it that is at the heart of my misunderstanding or frustration? Religion has become my filter for what is important in an endless sea of information.
2. I often feel as though the Honors program at the University of Minnesota is a bureaucracy. It is my personal experience that there has been little effort put toward the human aspect of acquiring an advanced education and that the program has been reduced to standardized forms, standardized expectations, and formulated responses by advisors. Nowhere in this “machine” is there any sort of effort to look beyond the students they accept into their program as mere work-horses. Their idea of an “honors level education” is one in which the student is worked into the ground…and of course fills in the proper forms along the way.
3. The three ideas that the “ideological basis of medical technology” is based on: aggressiveness, obsession with the notion the technology is the key to progress, and a reoriented culture, can be seen in today’s advertising. Not only is advertising more aggressive than ever, it has made its way into every visual and audio technology! Every day we are bombarded by messages of clear skin and the newest weight loss cure. These messages are seen on the television in our living rooms, the magazines in our bathrooms, on the billboards as we drive to work, and on the web pages we surf at our desk. Aside from the constant bombardment we receive each day, the greatest change as a result of aggressive advertising can be seen in our younger generations. We are creating a generation obsessed with the latest and greatest (that of which may only last for a few days) and are taking on greater debt to do so. Today’s pop culture is in desperate need of a revamping. Gone should be the constant pressure put on women to change their bodies. Gone should be the stress on males to be the most materialistic and womanizing. People are slowly losing their sensitivity to the constant brainwashing of today’s advertising.

February 23, 2009

The Lamentation of Postman

As I read the first three chapters of Technopoly, I tried to discover his warrant. I believe the claim Postman is trying to put forward is that technology has had a profound effect on our culture and has lead to dependence and a deterioration of culture and traditional thought. I believe the warrant of his argument would then be that this change in culture and tradition is a negative aspect of technology. In the first three chapters, I do not feel as though he has addressed the opposition of this warrant (at least not very well): that a change in culture and tradition is a good thing! Postman seems to lament the turning of the times. One example of Postman’s point of view on technology’s affect on culture is the continued debate over religion and its new place in society. No longer is religion in the driver’s seat, but technology and scientific reasoning have taken control. People are losing faith and turning toward the absoluteness of technology and science. What I am wondering is, what is so wrong with the evolution of ideas and thought? We no longer segregate blacks and whites, stone adulterers (at least not in this country), etc…so why is the idea of losing traditional logic such a big deal? Is it not our nature to continue to ask questions and seek the answers we think most logical and accurate? And is technology not a part of that process?

King Thamus and his Texting Populace

For me, one of the most important and valuable parts of the first chapter comes from the story of King Thamus and his inventor Theuth. King Thamus says to Theuth about his invention of writing, “Those who acquire it will rely on writing to bring things to their remembrance by external signs instead of by their own internal resources. What you have discovered is a receipt for recollection, not for memory” (pg. 4). To me, this has been one of the fundamental issues I have had with my college education. I feel as though, for the most part, our time spent in class is less focused on our ability to think and reason, and instead to memorize and mimic the logic of others. I have never thought of writing as a technology, but in this context it is revealed as one of our greatest and certainly our most influential.
Text messaging has become a phenomenon that has reached the point where it is removing our willingness to speak directly with those we are communicating. This is something beyond a simple e-mail; this has created an entire generation who faces their social problems though expressionless technology. Using a smiley emoticon is now becoming a replacement for the sound of laughter. I have seen teenagers texting the people sitting next to them! How do we expect a generation of “texters” to act as they grow into adult hood and are then forced to communicate in the business world? How will texting continue to affect our relationships and social interactions?

February 10, 2009

The Onion on Technology (contains copious amounts of profanity: you've been warned)

Sony Releases New Stupid Piece Of Shit That Doesn't Fucking Work

February 4, 2009

Digital signing and its flaws

NOTE: Hey everyone, this is my blog post from last week that never got posted. We had some "technical difficulties".

This is in response to the NY Times article about archiving and crypto hashes:

The article presents this as being “new? technology, when in fact it is very mature technology. Hashing is a wonderful tool for digital signing. It is in extensive use by many software distributors as a sure-fire way of verifying that a piece of software is not corrupt or tampered with. As a core technology, hashes and crypto are bulletproof. The trouble lies in the implementation.

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