Robo-milking

I frequently talk about the robotization of the workforce. Today’s NY Times has an article that caught my eye. “With Farm Robotics, the Cows Decide When It’s Milking Time.

In essence, robotic devices are now available to milk cows. It frees humans from a disagreeable task and…

The cows seem to like it, too.

Robots allow the cows to set their own hours, lining up for automated milking five or six times a day — turning the predawn and late-afternoon sessions around which dairy farmers long built their lives into a thing of the past.

With transponders around their necks, the cows get individualized service. Lasers scan and map their underbellies, and a computer charts each animal’s “milking speed,” a critical factor in a 24-hour-a-day operation.

For some reason I’m reminded of an old New Yorker cartoon my dad often recollects. A farmer is milking a cow and the cow looks back at him and says, “Gently, please. It’s Mother’s Day.”

The rise of goop

An interesting idea dawned on me recently. Many people have commented that the advent of 3D printing means that it is really the design of objects, rather than the objects themselves, that has value. The day may arrive when if you need a new thing—say, a coffee cup—you just use the design to print one off.

Of course, it’s not merely the design of the object that has value there; the raw materials used to make the thing—likely plastics and metals—have value. Maybe we’ll all have a pile of goop that we use to make new things. And if we run out of goop we’ll simply melt down some existing objects back to their goop form. “We’re out of scissors? Melt down the old television and use that!”

George Costanza was right!

Seinfeld fans may recall the episode where George decides to give himself the nickname “G-Bone.” Upon hearing this Jerry says, “There’s no such thing as a g-bone. There’s a g-spot.” Furiously George replies, “That’s a myth!”

According to the book on genetics called “Identically Different” George was right.

Although it’s very hard to prove the non-existence of something, we concluded that as the G spot is lacking in academic credibility among gynecologists, has not been found by scans or anatomists, and had not the tiniest genetic influence, it was probably a figment of the modern imagination. It was more likely an area through which the base of the clitoris can be felt and stimulated in some women. Our conclusions were not popular. We got many angry letters from Italian and French sexologists who charge their patients to find their hidden g spots and from plastic surgeons who increasingly do lucrative enhancement surgery by bulking up ‘the spot’ with injection of fillers like collagen. We also received outraged letters from ‘male expert lovers’ who claimed to have satisfied many women by uniquely being able to find their G spots. Strangely we didn’t receive a single letter from a woman.

Late breaking penis news!

Been a while since I’ve posted some penis news but I think this qualifies.

Wu-Tang Clan-associated rapper cuts off penis, jumps off building in suicide try

It’s like the old saying: If cutting off your penis doesn’t kill you then the jump from the building will!

Except, in this case it didn’t.

Incredibly once he hit the pavement they said he got back up on his feet and began running around, albeit incoherently.

Oh well… old sayings aren’t 100%.

The movie industry bloodbath has begun

I’m often rather loudly complaining around here about the devaluation of entertainment products brought about by the internet. This is partly because the internet engenders piracy, but also because piracy itself engenders creators to offer their work for free (because it’s probably going to end up available for free anyway.) The result is the destructions of big chunks of the entertainment industry.

We’ve primarily seen this in the music business. But it stands to reason that as movies become more downloadable, the same thing could happen there. According to this excerpt from a book by screenwriter Lynda Obst, it is.

I leaned back a little on Peter’s comfortable couch, and he sat forward to say, “People will look back and say that probably, from a financial point of view, 1995 through 2005 was the golden age of this generation of the movie business. You had big growth internationally, and you had big growth with DVDs.” He paused to allow a gallows laugh. “That golden age appears to be over.”

“The DVD business represented fifty percent of their profits,” he went on. “Fifty percent. The decline of that business means their entire profit could come down between forty and fifty percent for new movies.”

For those of you like me who are not good at math, let me make Peter’s statement even simpler. If a studio’s margin of profit was only 10 percent in the Old Abnormal, now with the collapsing DVD market that profit margin was hovering around 6 percent. The loss of profit on those little silver discs had nearly halved our profit margin.

This was, literally, a Great Contraction. Something drastic had happened to our industry, and this was it. Surely there were other factors: Young males were disappearing into video games; there were hundreds of home entertainment choices available for nesting families; the Net. But slicing a huge chunk of reliable profits right out of the bottom line forever?

There it was. Technology had destroyed the DVD. When Peter referred to the “transition of the DVD market,” and technology destroying the DVD, he was talking about the implications of the fact that our movies were now proliferating for free—not just on the streets of Beijing and Hong Kong and Rio. And even legitimate users, as Peter pointed out, who would never pirate, were going for $3 or $4 video-on-demand (VOD) rentals instead of $15 DVD purchases.

Frankly, I never understood why people paid 15 bucks to own a DVD movie but I guess they’ve come to their senses on that one. Netflix is probably a big reason for that as you can essentially buy a huge streaming dvd collection for 7 bucks a month.

So what does this collapse mean in terms of movie quality? I think Obst’s article ties into an article I wrote a while back about the noticeable decline in the quality of current film’s stories. I used the blockbuster “WWZ” as an example.

On top of that, “World War Z” was just poorly written. There’s was no sense of ratcheting tension, no sense of real danger. The hallmark of the great horror films is that some of the characters—sometimes characters you really love—get killed. (Even “Shaun of the Dead,” which was something of a horror satire, got this.) Nobody you like in “WWZ” dies. (This is partly because you don’t like any of the characters but that’s another complaint.) And unlike the book, the movie “WWZ” is devoid of clever plot twists. The main conceit of the film—the means by which Pitt formulates a way of stopping the zombies—barely generates a “meh.”

“World War Z” had the sense of being written by committee. When a story is written this way, any interesting proposed plot twist (say, killing a key character, or having a likeable character betray the group) is bound to upset someone in the room. If everyone working on the story is granted veto power, all life gets sucked of a tale.

To quote Obst:

[The studios are] frozen, so the gut is frozen, the heart is frozen, and even the bottom-line spreadsheet is frozen. It was like a cold shower in hard numbers. There was none of the extra cash that fueled competitive commerce, gut calls, or real movies, the extra spec script purchase, the pitch culture, the grease that fueled the Old Abnormal: the way things had always been done. We were running on empty, searching for sources of new revenue. The only reliable entry on the P&L was international. That’s where the moolah was coming from, so that’s what decisions would be based on.

Gut calls are part of what lead to interesting, innovative movies. And deference to the international market means you have to dumb content down for non-English speakers and those who may not get the nuances of certain kinds of storytelling.

As I mention in my article, I think cheap horror flicks are still willing to take risks, as they always have. But I’m curious as to whether they are making any money.

Programming hunger

Last summer I had an experience that got me thinking about how much food we need to eat. I was in Paris with my Mom, and found that even though we were walking around most of the days, we only ate a couple meals per day. We had a breakfast, mostly of bread (you know the frogs and their bread) and then a regular meal in the afternoon. It was less than I would normally eat at home, yet I was never hungry.

The New Yorker blog has a post that connects to this, noting that why we get hungry is often unconnected to our need for energy.

More often than not, we eat because we want to eat—not because we need to. Recent studies show that our physical level of hunger, in fact, does not correlate strongly with how much hunger we say that we feel or how much food we go on to consume.

Even if you’ve had an unusually late or large breakfast, your body is used to its lunch slot and will begin to release certain chemicals, such as insulin in your blood and ghrelin in your stomach, in anticipation of your typical habits, whether or not you’re actually calorie-depleted.

This probably doesn’t surprise anyone, indeed I think we all observe this. You’re not hungry at all but a plate of fried chicken passes before you and whammo—pig out city!

The article states that we start to see part of our environment as cues to eat. We have a great snack on our favorite couch and we become conditioned—like Pavlov’s dogs—to associate that couch with snacking. We drive to the dentist and are reminded how there’s a great donut shop nearby and we start to crave donuts. I think this is partly why I experienced so little food craving in Paris—it is a city unfamiliar to me and I had not programmed in the environmental cues to stimulate hunger.

On a side note, I recall reading about a very ineffective campaign against drug use that was set up by some city. (I read about this a while back; can’t recall the location.) The government placed billboards in ghetto neighborhoods saying things like “Cocaine: It’s Evil” and showing a big pile of cocaine. Of course the result was rehabbing drug users saw these signs and thought, “Oh man I would love to snort a pile of coke like that right now!”

Breatharians

Today in my readings I came across mention of something I’d never heard of: breatharians. These are people who believe they can live without food by subsisting on air and sunlight. It sounds insane of course, but a google search reveals plenty of conversation about the topic. How do they do it? Well, for the most part they don’t.

In 1983, most of the leadership of the movement in California resigned when Wiley Brooks, a notable proponent of breatharianism, was caught sneaking into a hotel and ordering a chicken pie.[

Mmmm... chicken pie.

Also note:

Under controlled conditions where people are actually watched to see if they can do it without sneaking some real food, they fail. The name most commonly associated with breatharianism is Australia's Jasmuheen (born Ellen Greve), who claims to live only on a cup of tea and a biscuit every few days. However, the only supervised test of this claim (by the Australian edition of 60 Minutes in 1999) left her suffering from severe dehydration[4] and the trial was halted after four days, despite Greve’s insistence she was happy to continue. She claimed the failure was due to being near a city road, leading to her being forced to breathe “bad air”. She continued this excuse even after she was moved to the middle of nowhere.

The various forms of human insanity seem to have no limits.

What the hell is happening to country music?

Not long ago I wrote an article about Blake Shelton’s comments on the direction country music was going in. The crux of my argument there was that (and this might surprise people) I’m not opposed to country music’s attempts to modernize its sound.

Now, in recent months I’ve noticed a definite trend towards country music songs sounding more like rap and hip hop tunes. This video, for example, not only borrows rap’s rhythmic cadence, it borrows the “chicks and booze” party atmosphere that seems to populate rap videos.

What to make of this? A lot of folks might argue that country has sold its soul. It’s certainly hard to see how this music connects in any meaningful way to traditional country like Hank Williams or Willie Nelson.

Of course, we can then ask what it means for music to sell out. The presumption, I believe, is that the form’s practitioners are making music that no longer reflects any kind of or organic evolution, it is instead merely a land grab of popular trends. I’m not sure what’s really happening here. I’m pretty far removed from what rural teens* are up to, but I do get a sense that they do both embrace roots country and modern pop. (“A little bit of Hank and a little bit of Drake” as the song above says.)

* This statement presupposes that rural teens are country’s music’s target audience which may or may not be true.

That said, I can’t help watch this video and feels like it’s some kind of weird parody video they might have shown on SNL Ten years ago. This stuff seems and sounds pretty strange to me.

Sharing stuff

Author Jeremy Rifkin has an interesting op-ed in the LA Times titled “The Sharing Economy.” It discusses the rise of companies like AirBnB (the online service that allows people to rent bedrooms in other’s houses, bypassing hotels.)

Nestled in the article is this point:

Hundreds of millions of people are already transferring parts of their economic lives to this new business model. They are making and sharing their own information, entertainment, green energy and 3D-printed products at near zero marginal cost.

This is a point I made not long ago. If we can share 3d printer schematics then we can share a lot physical objects. And this seriously affects the marketplace for stuff leading to a loss of jobs related to making a transporting stuff. To quote myself:

And what about piracy? When we are printing objects, it’s no longer the objects themselves that have value, it’s the designs of the objects. With 3D printers, the design is held in a downloadable computer file. If mp3s and digital movies can be pirated, there’s little reason to think schematic files will not. I suspect that when it becomes easy and free to download and print stuff, we can expect profound ramifications for the economy. (Ignoring the issue of piracy, it also seems likely that schematics for many useful and entertaining objects will simply be offered for free by charitable or anarchistic designers.)

Was Rorschach Henry Lee Lucas?

The book I recently finished, “The Anatomy of Violence,” had quite a bit of discussion about the life of famed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Lucas had a childhood designed to turn him into a serial killer. His mother was certainly a psychopath, a prostitute who beat her son mercilessly. (She was also one of his early victims, possibly his first.)

As I read about Lucas’s childhood, I was reminded of the scenes in the comic book Watchmen which showed the childhood of the fictional vigilante Rorschach. (I discussed him here.) Rorschach and Lucas’s upbringings were so similar I was curious as to whether the former was based on the latter. I don’t think author Alan Moore has ever commented, but a Google search reveals I’m not the only one to make the connection. This review of a Lucas biopic states…

The early part of the film shows you the upbringing of Henry. It would seem pretty basic except for his incredibly abusive mother that could almost resemble the angry mother Lois from Malcolm in the Middle except on rabies and alcohol. In fact some of the scenes with the mother and young Henry would almost resemble some of the same scenes with a young Rorschach and his mother from Watchmen.