In the late ’90s, I worked on a film called “Infinity” with Matthew Broderick and Patricia Arquette and screenplay written by Matthew’s mother, Patricia Broderick.   The film was about the early years of physicist Richard Feynmann.   There were no bongos or womanizing in the film and it wasn’t until later that I discovered Feynmann was a bit of a rounder. I came across this flowchart recently and was amused all over again.

Mar 06

Ether Follies

I’ve never had surgery that required I be put under but one of my paranoid fears is that should I ever have to I’ll be one of those who seems unconscious and can’t move but is feeling and hearing everything. Kind of a horror story scenario. And, of course, they steal my thoughts too while I am incapacitated (the good ones that I don’t tell anyone) along with my PIN codes.

The New York Times has an interesting interview with Dr. Emery Neal Brown, a professor of anesthesiology at Harvard Medical School entitled “Call It a Reversible Coma, Not Sleep.” One of the highlights on the original development of anaesthesia in 1846:

Apparently, there was a social practice in that era called “ether follies.” People got together and they sniffed ether. At one of these, someone fell and cut himself, but felt no pain. And the story got out, which led a Boston dentist to start experimenting with ether for painless oral surgery. He brought the idea to the great surgeon John Collins Warren, and together they used it in an operation here to remove a neck tumor. “Gentlemen, this is no humbug,” Dr. Warren declared after the successful procedure, meaning that this was the real thing and that it was going to change medicine. Before that, surgery was mostly butchery. The most successful surgeon was the one who could lop off a limb quickest. To this day, most inhaled anesthetics are ether. They’ve been embellished a bit, but they are basically ether.

I got a Magnetic Poetry Kit as a Secret Santa gift once.   I put the words on my office door and the bored kids in the office were always trying to come up with the dirtiest poems the words would allow.    

Yesterday, I saw “I Love My Union Thug” mugs online.   I guess we’re meant to think buying one is support of the Wisconsin workers but they are sold by an private company selling I Heart [fill in the blank] everything and a bunch of St. Patrick’s paraphernalia.    There’s always money to be made off the latest trend, trainwreck or tragedy.    …Although, I must admit I would have traded my poetry kit for the Charlie Sheen Edition if I could.

A couple of weeks ago I was having lunch with a mathematician I know and he was talking about his struggles to work out citizenship in the US because his home country of Germany forbids dual citizenship unless a very strict level of hardship can be proven. However, his lawyer said that because he could not receive things such as NSA grants without US citizenship and not being able to receive such things would be considered a legitimate hardship, the German government might make an exception. At the time of this conversation, I flashed on Good Will Hunting, recalling the scene in which Will turns down a seemingly super-sexy, exclusive and lucrative offer from the NSA because of all the terrible intended/unintended consequences his work would likely produce.

Today, just by chance, I came across this Kurt Vonnegut interview discussing Cat’s Cradle and the lack of conscience scientists often display in their blind pursuit of scientific or mathematical truths and their blithe indifference as to who will use their work and how. Vonnegut, who learned this the hard way between the nuclear bomb and a tenure at GE, was so articulate on this so far ahead of everyone else.  It’s a bit of a raw piece of video so beware:

My book, American Catfight:  Political Wisdom for Women is being released in eBook for the Nook reader and the iPad for Women’s History Month which begins on Tuesday.   This edition is joining the paperback that came out last March and the Kindle edition.

Also, for the first time a Netflix edition of my film, Running in High Heels, is available on DVD for a very small price of $5.99.

Now back to some science fiction writing…

Cisco is currently showing its new hologram technology at expos around the globe.   There’s something about the front of the figure showing on both sides of the hologram that reminds me of those pictures of Jesus in which the eyes seemingly follow you no matter where you are.

Mark Mitchell at Front Porch Republic has a ton of questions about how this may change communications and human relations. My feeling is “not much” for a long while. Skype has already freed the public to connect pretty similarly in the visual sense without having to purchase direct access to satellite feeds. The issue is accessibility in that many do not have the means to Skype because they lack either the equipment to do so (computer with audio and video AND good lighting) or a fast and stable internet access.   Hologram tech requires no less.

But probably and most importantly, the real threshold test of popular technology is portability.   Video calling is sure to be coming to everyone’s cell phone fairly soon but if the hologram isn’t portable, it is severely limited.

Frankly, I like being able to make voice-only phone calls in my pajamas and no one on the other end is the wiser.

While I love science and techiness, I have to admit I somehow found IBM’s Watson beating up on the humans on Jeopardy depressing.   Then I came across this post on Andrew Sullivan’s site. Quoting Jonah Lehrer in Wired:

One of the most remarkable facts about the human brain is that it requires less energy (12 watts) than a light bulb. In other words, that loom of a trillion synapses, exchanging ions and neurotransmitter, costs less to run than a little incandescence. Or look at Deep Blue: when the machine was operating at full speed, it was a fire hazard, and required specialized heat-dissipating equipment to keep it cool.

OK, I feel better. For now.  But we’re always improving battery capacity and we’re developing nanotech computing and sooner or later we will tap solar and wind energy properly and that energy gap will close. (The sun shines 10,000x more power on the Earth in second than what we consume in all the forms of power we currently use.)

In the future, I plan to lay my hope on the one thing that separates humans from a lot of species: our opposable thumbs. Because at some point, we will have loaded enough data into a computer that it can figure out its energy supply all by itself but it won’t be able to get up and doing anything about it.

Or will it?

Radar can now track a single bee at 50km. The coolest thing is the idea as one interviewee reports that “We’re beginning to think about the air much like the ocean in that it’s a big, fluid, dynamic habitat.”

It’s a summer course called, “Running in High Heels: Sex and Power in American Politics” and deals with all the themes covered within my film as well as a whole lot more. When I made “Running in High Heels,” I never expected the very robust reception it would receive in the academic world and while I’m for the moment living a different life and working on a young adult science fiction title, I’m glad to see the film is still resonating. I’ll probably be behind the camera again someday. I hope the class receives a very robust enrollment.

Feb 18

Just for Fun

Love this Bill Hader-driven short and its new proof of how separated by a common language England and America are. I would love the translation of the bit in the middle where Bill says “Graham Norton” and “Gandhi.”