Monthly Archives: June 2011

Another Technological Leap Forward!

As you know, I am always on the lookout to identify new technology applications that will improve our lives.  And today we have a major!  It’s called ShameBeGone.  Interested already, aren’t you?

I couldn’t believe it when I read about it.  ShameBeGone is a service that handles unpleasant situations for you.  By the best method yet invented to arbitrate human differences—e-mail!

Let’s say you have a problem.  You forgot your mother’s birthday, kind of hard to do these days with Facebook and all.  Or maybe you want to break up with your  current partner and unfriending them didn’t send a strong enough message.  Or maybe you got roaring drunk at your nephew’s first birthday party and broke his new iPad and you feel bad.

All you have to do it tell the nice people at  ShameBeGone all about it and they will fire off an e-mail to the parties involved and voila!  Problem solved.

As the web site says:

Worry no more!
How it works:

You tell us about a situation that you just can’t deal with.
• You tell us what you’d be willing to pay to have it fixed.
• If we accept, we draft an email for you to send to fix up that mess.

You cut, paste and send—and then the shame is gone. It’s just that easy.

That’s the way it is in the techno world.  An e-mail is all it takes to fix everything.  And in order to make sure they get the e-mail just right, you can tell them how you want the whole thing to end.  To do that, you just check off the desired outcome. 

Friends!

Enemies!

Forgiveness

A kindly brush-off

Sex

Revenge

Estrangement

Other:

Once you’ve described your problem and indicated the desired outcome, you then have to tell them what it’s worth to you to get the problem fixed.  There is actually a line on the web page that says “Tell us what you are willing to pay ______”

I am intrigued that the customer gets to determine the price.  That is a unique business model but I can’t help but wonder whether the ShameBeGone people have some sort of internal algorithm that pegs the amount of shame reduction they provide to the price you are willing to pay. 

I don’t know about you, but I’d be afraid to go cheap because you could well make matters worse!  And, by the way, if you make matters worse, you’re on your own.  The web site has a fairly all-encompassing hold harmless clause that says they aren’t providing legal, or any other kind of advice and they are not responsible for what happens.  So be warned.  If you pay a mega bucks to send an e-mail to your favourite reality TV star and your desired outcome is sex, you have no recourse if nothing happens.  

ShameBeGone Operators Are Standing By!

Although this is clearly a major leap forward in our effort to cocoon ourselves in technology and avoid actual real world interaction with other humans, it is clear that we still have a long way to go.  This technology needs to be available in an iPhone app and instead of e-mails, texts and tweets should be permitted. 

I envision different modules designed for different segments of the population.  For example, I think the parenting module would get a lot of use.  Instead of dealing with the kids in real time, parents could have ShameBeGone handle this unnecessary distraction from Facebook and Masterchef.  No longer will parents have to feel guilty by saying no.  Outsource it to ShameBeGone.  Desired outcomes could range from “Eat your vegetables” to “You’re grounded,” to “Find a new home.”

It would also be a blessing to children to be able to communicate this way with their parents.  After all, it’s rather stressful to have to face your parents and tell them that you are pregnant and/or quitting school or have been kicked out of school or arrested.  Desired outcomes could range from “You’re forgiven,” to “It’s OK.  Here’s a new iPhone.”

A Good Time for ShameBeGone

And that’s just the home version.  The workplace would be so much simpler if
ShameBeGone could handle all of our dealings with superiors, subordinates,
clients, customers and suppliers.

The more I think about it, the more I think that this application will solve virtually all of the world’s problems.  Instead of sending armies to invade each
other, countries could use ShameBeGone to send e-mails to each other expressing disapproval.  Instead of blowing things up terrorists could tell everyone what’s really bothering them and ShameBeGone would spin out an e-mail designed to generate the desired outcome.

There just doesn’t seem to be any limit to what technology can accomplish!

Bovine Incursion in Triplicate!

Every once in a while something happens at the farm to make me rethink the entire concept of me in a rural context.

One such event occurred last week.

We were going to have a group of volunteers come out to do some tree planting on Thursday so on Wednesday we drove up to get everything ready.  I had already scoped out the planting area and put trays with about 500 little trees up there a few days earlier.  I wanted to make the volunteers think they were going to be taking part in a well organized and managed operation.

But as we drove up the driveway I had a “this can’t be happening” moment.  Because standing and staring at us were not one, not two, but three freaking cows!

I’ve mentioned the problem of bovine incursions in the past.  We have five neighbours and four of them graze cattle on their farms.  For various reasons, cows may find themselves on the wrong side of the fence from time to time.  In the days when we were grazing cows it didn’t matter—the cows would happily socialize and then would get sorted out the next time they were getting moved.

But now a cow visit is a major crisis.  Even if they don’t eat any of the new trees, in a few hours a cow can wipe out a day’s tree planting just by walking around.  And of course, they crap everywhere and leave a lasting legacy.  Cow pies seem to have a half life of about two years.

I don’t know about you, but when things like this happen, my rational thought processes sort of shut down.  That’s mainly because I have no idea what to do.  I have no idea where the cows have come from, how they got in and how to get rid of them.  Odds are they have either come in through a break in the fence or, for some reason apparent only to the bovine mentality, have breached a hole in an otherwise good fence. Although the boundary fences are electrified, cows have been known to break through them.

It’s bad enough with one cow because if by some chance you figure out how it got in, the chances of having it obligingly go back the same way are less than zippo.  Managing three cows was going to be a serious challenge because when you approach them it’s like they are billiard balls and you are the cue ball–everyone goes in a different direction.

I urgently wanted to go up to the planting site and make sure they hadn’t eaten the next day’s plant supply or, equally disastrous, bombed it with cow poop, but before I did anything I wanted to make the cows go away.

The more I tried to think, the less happened.  The predicament was complicated because a normal farm would be broken up into smaller paddocks where a rogue beast could be sequestered until its owner came to claim it.  But we’ve removed most of the internal fences on the property so once a cow is loose it can virtually go anywhere.

My first goal was to keep them together and to try to get them into an area where they would not do too much damage.  I figured out which property they had come from.  Unfortunately, Warwick, the neigbor in question wasn’t home and as there is no cell phone coverage out there I could not even call him and inform him about the bovine incursion (in other words, get him to handle it).

So it was just my wife and I vs. two and a half tons of beef–or three beeves (I’ve always wanted to use that word).

That’s another problem.  Cows may be docile but they are also Very Large.  And some of them have horns.  They are also generally unwilling to demonstrate any indication that they are sentient.  And they make very big footprints.  None of these things fill me with confidence when dealing with them.

We settled on the strategy of trying to move them into an open area with lots of nice grass near their home ground in the hope they would either go back where they came from or at least occupy themselves until the neighbour got home.

I didn’t even have an off road vehicle but figured I could possibly herd them along from the safety of the car.  Ominously, as I pulled up toward them they came running toward us but as I inched forward, they turned around and actually started moving in the direction I wanted them to go!

At this point they were about 20 feet from their home, but the fence in that area was perfect.  So now the challenge was to somehow orchestrate getting three cows to move together with me as we searched for the opening in the fence that would let them go home.

Clearly leadership was called for.  I got out my conductor’s baton (cow sized) and addressed the troops.  You can see I’ve really gotten their attention:

I decided that a threatening gesture was called for:

Which had an immediate impact:

I wasn’t sure how long they were going to stare at me while I waved my stick at them and requested them to get lost.  My wife and I decided to test the beasts’ fight or (hopefully) flight mechanism.  We walked slowly, herding them with our batons, and to our glee the cows started moving in the direction we wanted them to.  We sped up and they sped up.  We slowed down and they slowed down.  It got really boring so we did a sort of run at them.  And that got a reaction.

Unfortunately there is no photographic evidence, but the cows took off over a hill with thundering hooves.  I was happy that they were now well away from where I particularly didn’t want them, but my joy turned to euphoria when I topped the rise and saw that they had all run home, through a gap in the fence that neither my neighbour or I had previously known about.

My wife and I took an old metal gate and dragged it to the opening and wired it in place.  I then spent a few hours replanting a number of trees that they had pulled up or knocked down.  The damaged was very localized and fortunately they hadn’t visited the new planting area.

The story has a happy ending, but not for the cows.  Warwick has four cows and three of them had escaped.  When I talked to him I mentioned that an en masse breakout was unusual and that when I was trying to move them one of the cows was unusually aggressive and seemed to be the trouble maker.  He agreed and mentioned that two of them had been exhibiting bizarre behaviour for a while and that he would “take care of it.”

We had a fun planting day with the group on Thursday and then headed home.  Two days later I looked over at Warwick’s and was concerned to see only two cows wandering around.  Had the two troublemakers done a midnight run?

I didn’t see any evidence of tampering with my temporary fence repair and there was no evidence of any rogue cows running around on the property.  And then I realized that Warwick had indeed “taken care of it.”  I haven’t talked to him but I assume steak was on the menu.

Joyce and Ulysses on Twitter?

When I did my English degree I spent quite a bit of time on James Joyce.  I even considered doing a PhD dissertation on Ulysses.  I’ve had a piece published in The James Joyce Quarterly and also generated some discussion with a novel interpretation of a chapter of Ulysses.

The reason that I’m telling you this is because my friend and fellow literature enthusiast, Karen, has told me about an exercise that will be taking place on June 16-17.  June 16 is known by Joyce fans as “Bloomsday” because Ulysses describes the activities of Mr. Leopold Bloom on June 16, 1904.  Devotees of Joyce around the world have all sorts of commemorations every June 16 and the truly devout make the journey to Dublin to walk the route described in the book (stopping frequently at the pubs along the way).

 

This year there is a new event and it is the one making news.  Someone has dreamed up a project to tweet the entirety of Ulysses over the course of the day.  It is an impressive logistics effort.  The action in the novel covers 24 hours and the project involves 96 people tweeting a part of the novel in 15 minute chunks over the course of 24 hours. 

This isn’t exactly a real time re-enactment or anything.  That would be impossible.  The idea is more that bursts of tweets distilling down chapters of the book will go out over the course of the day.  As the website about the project says, “Part of the fun . . . is to see how different minds & souls wrestle with the daunting task of recasting 8-10 pages of the rich and free-flowing novel in just 4-6 tweets.”

For those of you who may not be familiar with one or both, Ulysses is a 265,000 word novel and a tweet is limited to 140 characters.  So there will be a bit of condensation.

It’s hard for me to figure out exactly what this project really is.  I think that ultimately the person who came up with the idea is just curious to see what sorts of things people come up with.  Joyce loved playing around with words and you have to enjoy that sort of thing to like Joyce—so it stands to reason that a bunch of Joyce fans would have fun trying to capture some of his phraseology in highly condensed form.  I could see Shakespeare fans trying to do it to a play or two or even Harry Potter fans tweeting a book or two.  It may even have already been done.

My guess is that things like this happen a lot on Twitter and this one is getting a lot of publicity because the New York Times picked up the story.  That unleashed the predictable firestorm of outrage on one side and a celebration of the joys of technology on the other side.  One side bemoans this experiment as yet another example of technology undermining culture and the other side urges that more be done along these lines.  One overzealous high school teacher asked “how cool would it be” for students to take “ponderous novels” and “cut out words that are unnecessary – re-word, re-think, re-write, re-mix, & be creative!”  I’m not sure how a student identifies the unnecessary words in Pride and Prejudice or re-thinks To Kill a Mockingbird, but, as we’ve seen before, technology lets us do it, so why not?

The more I think about it, it seems that this Bloomsday tweet exercise is a prime example of how social media has fulfilled the futurist dream of the technocrats.  In the 80s and 90s, futurists were predicting global teams coming together do work on projects and problem solve without ever actually meeting each other.  Here a group of people are doing just that.  Whether the output of their effort has any interest or value outside of the group is unknowable and perhaps irrelevant.  The bottom line is that the technology now exists to enable that kind of activity so people are engaging in that activity. 

When I was an agent of global capitalism, we hired those futuristic consultants to tell us how we could do what Facebook and Twitter now let everyone do.  We had a need for global teams to work together—we sought a solution because we had a need. 

It’s different today.  Instead of a need in search of a solution we have solutions in search of needs.  And that is why we get the tweeting of Ulysses.  No one woke up and said that the world would be a better place and the National Archives would be enriched by a tweeted version of Ulysses.  But we’re getting one.  Because we can do it, not because we want or need it.

A day or two after I heard about the Ulysses project I had a synchronistic moment while reading an article in the May/June 2011 issue of Engineering Insight.  It’s not my usual first choice of reading material, but I try to be eclectic.  The article was about students being the driving force behind the development of new technology and it included the following statement:  “if a concept can offer one iota of instant pleasure, the waiting mass will test it and draw to itself another set of evaluators from within itself . . .”

I’m not sure but I think that is one definition for “going viral” and my initial reaction was alarm at the implication that all it takes for something to succeed is for it to produce an “iota of instant pleasure.” 

But then I realised that is why I like to read literature.  And then I realised that Ulysses and Pride and Prejudice and To Kill a Mockingbird did not come about because we wanted or needed them but rather because one of us could write them. 

And now I’m really confused.