What is the “Content Economy” and Why are We Headed There?

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A classmate of mine recently posted the following on Facebook along with a picture of one of those new order kiosks popping up across the county: “Greeting the future of fast food at McDonald’s on River Road in Bethesda. Sure hope the whole ‘coal’ thing works out for everyone, since there won’t be any jobs here before too long.”

Now, before you get started, yes, this is a liberal friend (I proudly remain friends with those of all political persuasions). But let’s ignore the “coal” comment and focus on the “future of fast food” statement. The evolution to the fast food kiosk was predicted when states started raising the minimum wage. It would have happened sooner or later (just like the auto-attendant has replaced the receptionist). The higher minimum wage just hastened the inevitable. It starts with the front of the counter with order takers. For fast food places, expect to see automation in the kitchen, too. This is Continue Reading “What is the “Content Economy” and Why are We Headed There?”

7th Heaven? I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…

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Americans seem to have been infatuated with the concept of extraterrestrial life ever since Italian Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli placed his eye on the lens of that new (and very powerful) refractor telescope in the Osservatorio Astronomico di Brera. The Brera Observatory (so named because it was located in the Brera district of Milan, Italy) to this day sits on the very urban corner of Via Brera and Via Flori Ocsuri. The Jesuit astronomer Ruđer Josip Bošković (or “Ruggiero Giuseppe Boscovich,” depending on which ethnic group you believe controlled Dubrovnik in the Republic of Ragusa at the time of his birth) built the observatory in 1764. Within a decade, Pope Clements XIV issued his July 21, 1773 papal bull formally suppressing the Jesuits. Among other things, this papal bull passed the ownership of the observatory to municipal, rather than religious, authorities.

His early work having brought fame both to him and his country, the Kingdom of Italy bought Schiaparelli an 8.6 inch Merz Equatorial Refracting Telescope from famed German optician Georg Merz. In 1874 the telescope was installed on the roof of the Brera Observatory and Schiaparelli used it initially to study double stars. With the opposition of Mars set to happen on September 5, 1877, Schiaparelli turned his sight to the Red Planet. (An “opposition” is an astronomical event that occurs when the Earth is exactly between the Sun and the planet.) It was during this period of observations, beginning on September 12, 1877, that Schiaparelli drew his now famous map of Mars. Here lies, as they say, the rest of the story.Continue Reading “7th Heaven? I’m Not Saying It’s Aliens, But…”

It was 50 Years Ago Tonight I Decided to Become an Astronomer

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Ever since I can remember I loved science. All sorts of science. My mother was a substitute teacher. Before I went to kindergarten she would bring home books from her third grade class and teach me to read. My favorite book was the science text book. I particular enjoyed reading about dinosaurs. When you like dinosaurs, you tend to like fossils and rocks. When you like fossils and rocks, you tend to like volcanoes and earthquakes. When you like volcanoes and earthquakes, you tend to like hurricanes and tornadoes. When you like hurricanes and tornadoes you tend to like weather and atmospheric phenomenon. When you like weather and atmospheric phenomenon, you tend to like planets and stars.

Yep, I liked science. But of all the flavors of science, I liked astronomy the best. Growing up in Buffalo, I just happened to be in luck. In 1966, SUNY launched a pioneer program in what could only be described as one of the first distance learning experiments in the country. Called University of the Air, the pilot program contained only two courses with credite and was available only to the Buffalo and Albany campuses. The courses would be aired on the local PBS station. Now here’s the twist: one of those courses was an Continue Reading “It was 50 Years Ago Tonight I Decided to Become an Astronomer”

The Soul of the Machine

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blue-computer-1472956The group of more than a dozen met at a row of tables by the windows towards the back of the Pinehurst dining room. It was the early 1990s, and most businesses by then had discovered the most profitable way to increase productivity meant equipping its employees with personal computers. Spreadsheets, word processing, and this new thing called “PowerPoint” became the standard. Employers, though, had one challenge – they were ill-prepared to train their employees. It was one of those “old dog – new tricks” conundrums.

So the HFL Board of Education decided the best way the school district could add value to Continue Reading “The Soul of the Machine”

To The Final Frontier… and BEYOND!

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Star_Trek_300As a kid, when you visit older cousins you rarely see, you step tentatively. Going through the front door of their house, you step tentatively. Pacing through their immaculate living room, you step tentatively. Finally, when the adults take their leave and you’re left alone with your cousin and he invites you into his play room, you step tentatively.

First of all, he’s older than you. That makes him smarter, which means he can trick you in almost every dimension. Second, he’s Continue Reading “To The Final Frontier… and BEYOND!”

Conquering Kirk’s Rock

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“I was told there would be Gorns. We are the Gorns? Wait! What's this? Charcoal. Sulphur. And, are those diamonds? Now, if only I was in the South Pacific and could find a random bamboo shaft...” Life is good when you can turn your dreams into reality. Here’s yet another example of that in this week’s Carosa Commentary “Conquering Kirk’s Rock.”

“I was told there would be Gorns. We are the Gorns? Wait! What’s this? Charcoal. Sulphur. And, are those diamonds? Now, if only I was in the South Pacific and could find a random bamboo shaft…” Life is good when you can turn your dreams into reality. Here’s yet another example of that in this week’s Carosa Commentary “Conquering Kirk’s Rock.”

I used to think the TV contained little people and the scenes they acted in were real. I also used to think the music played by radio stations came from the bands performing live in their studios. For the longest time, I could never figure out how The Beatles traveled so fast from one radio station’s studio location to the next. And when it came to Hey Jude, well, forget it. That song has a never ending chorus that just keeps repeating. Somewhere, The Beatles are still repeating, “Naaaa, naa, naa, na, nan, naa, naaa, hey Jude!” and wondering how will they ever get off of this merry-go-round.

But back to the TV thing. We watch TV and wonder. We wonder how they can make a story come alive the way they do. We wonder how much of the scene is real and how much is a useless façade. And we wonder what those fabulous on location scenes look like in real life. If you’re like me, you Continue Reading “Conquering Kirk’s Rock”

The Daddy-Daughter Talk… About Gravity Waves

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Graphic Source: NASA.gov

Graphic Source: NASA.gov

On the morning of Thursday, February 11, 2016 at a press conference in Washington DC, an international team of scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the discovery of Gravity Waves. Long sought after, this phenomenon was first postulated by Albert Einstein more than a century ago in his seminal 1915 paper on the General Theory of Relativity. While the major media jumped on this “universe changing” story, the reports were not adequate to fully explain the concept of Gravity Waves and the implications of their discovery. Leave it, then, to the innocent questions of a young daughter to her wise father to explain The Facts of Life and Gravity Waves. What follows is the transcript of the actual conversation that occurred through Facebook messaging on Friday, February 12, 2016:

Daughter: [Friday 3:20pm] “Gravitational Waves Detected, Confirming Einstein’s Theory” (New York Times, February 12, 2016) “Scientists say they heard the faint chirp of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, fulfilling Einstein’s general theory of relativity.” (nytimes.com, accessed February 12, 2016)… did you see this? A lot of my friends liked this story, but they don’t know what it means.
Daddy: That’s because it’s not something tangible. We can’t really “see” a physical “wave.” What we’re doing is detecting radio waves – i.e., sounds. This branch of astronomy, called “Radio Astronomy” has been around for a while (it took off in the 1960s when a couple of Bell Labs engineers accidentally discovered it wasn’t pigeon poop, but Continue Reading “The Daddy-Daughter Talk… About Gravity Waves”

Don’t Get Stuck in Today

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time-to-die-1564796I often tell people I was either born 50 years too late or 50 years too early. In the first case, there’s my interest in classic railroads, old-fashioned Americana, and classical liberal arts (OK, that last one might mean I was born 500 years too late). In the latter case, you have my enthusiasm for astronomy and space exploration/travel, (and the requisite zeal for Star Trek), my absolute passion for computers and technology, and my extreme pursuit of “the coming thing.” From the way that sounds, you would be tempted to assume I never think of today, too consumed by the dichotomy between yearning for a past I never experienced and dreaming of a future that may or may not be.

While I’m not one to rest on any laurels, I do take the time to stop and smell the roses (in my own eccentric way). If there’s any way to accurately describe my state of being, the best universally understood example I can give is Kurt Vonnegut’s Billy Pilgrim, the protagonist of Slaughterhouse-Five who becomes “unstuck in time.” For Pilgrim, there is no Continue Reading “Don’t Get Stuck in Today”

Star Trek Into Darkness Review: Man Enough to Admit the Truth

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Here’s the good news: My daughter and her college girlfriends went to the New York red carpet premiere for one purpose: to leave with a picture of themselves with Star Trek Premire Red CarpetChris Pine. They succeeded. As for the movie, with the exception of my daughter, none of them had ever seen any of the many versions of Star Trek available in this universe and, in fact, openly declared their dislike for science fiction in general. After seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, they emerged as fans. They couldn’t believe how great the movie was. They were bubbling with excitement, eager for the next sequel.

That’s what they call “expanding the constituency.” It’s a marketers dream come true, and no doubt one of the reasons Paramount partnered with J. J. Abrams for the Star Trek reboot.

But I’m part of the original constituency – the one dating back to Star Trek: The Original Series (a.k.a. “TOS”). For my part, I fulfilled my dream merely by Continue Reading “Star Trek Into Darkness Review: Man Enough to Admit the Truth”

Star Trek Fans: Call 232-3700 NOW!

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[This Commentary originally appeared in the November 16, 1989 issue of The Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima Sentinel.]

CarosaCommentaryNewLogo_259The long day generally leaves a tired wasted body which desires only a warm meal, a soft sofa, and the remote control device. Don’t get me wrong. I really don’t consider myself a couch potato (though I wish I could afford that luxury). In fact, I peruse but two TV shows on a regular basis – the news and Star Trek (either the original or the newer series).

I find it very convenient that I often arrive home when either of these shows are on. Such timing grants me the opportunity to cook while watching the news and dine during Star Trek. (Don’t tell my mother, she still doesn’t like me to watch TV when eating dinner.)

Pleasant consistency, however, cannot exist in the dynamic media. Demographics and Arbitron Ratings eventually invade even the most staid of stations (witness the former Continue Reading “Star Trek Fans: Call 232-3700 NOW!”