Taming the Automobile
Dangerous Grounds for Technology
(April 1 2001)
The Internet has been one of the best things to happen to the communication between the news media and the common man—in a long time. Typically, news items published by the mainstream press goes through review, editing, checking and shall we say censorship before it is seen by the unwashed masses. Things that the powers to be, do not want to be seen, are not seen.
Not any more. Journalists and sensationalists put stories on the web far before it is ready for publication. The best example is Matt Drudge and his seemingly stupid story about President Clinton and the intern. It appeared on the Drudge-Report web site long before it broke in the real press. The rest is history.
Here is a sampling of the wonderful stories that are out there on the Internet, which should come to a newspaper near you, soon. The gamut of news items that is published even before it gets to the hot presses, are sometimes referred to as raw news.
MEDICAL SCIENCE: Surgeon Removes his Brain
Renowned Neurosurgeon Dr. Jeff Spinberg from Cornell University Medical Center in New York has spent the last decade working on a computer interface to the human brain. Using electrodes implanted in the spinal cord, Dr Spinberg can capture commands sent by the brain to the muscles. When Dr. Spinberg injects these commands back into the nervous system, the muscles react exactly as if the brain was instructing them. The replay of brain commands can be very useful to enable the body to perform repetitive tasks. Dr. Spinberg is renowned for opening up this new area of medical science, called Computer Assisted Neuro-Transmission Download and Operate (CANTDO). To demonstrate his awe inspiring but controversial inventions, Dr. Spinberg, on Wednesday, operated on his own brain.
“I need a fool proof demonstration of CANTDO”, he stated. “If a computer instructs the hand to lift a ball, and the hand does, it does not prove anything. The subject could have been bribed, or set up, to lift the ball.” Hence, according to him, the best demonstration involves disconnecting the brain. Due to legal complexities of disconnecting a person’s brain, Dr. Spinberg did that to himself.
Dr. Spinberg lay on the operating table and pretended to perform the intricate surgery on himself. As he moved his hands, holding an imaginary scalpel, the computer recoded the commands from his brain, flowing to his fingers. The doctor went through the entire task of brain surgery, without actually cutting into anything, while the computer recorded the command stream. Then Dr. Spinberg held a real scalpel, turned the “replay” mode on the computer, and placed himself under anesthesia. Under the control of the computer, Dr. Spinberg, flawlessly open his skull and removed his brain.
BUSINESS: Mega Mergers by Law
During the Clinton Administration, Microsoft came under fire for its monopolistic trade practices. Monopolistic and restrictive trade is illegal in the US under the anti-trust law. While the justice department pursued the case aggressively, the Republican controlled government kept out of the bickering.
With George W. Bush as president, the case has all but dropped. The pro-business Republicans do not want to get in the way of successful behemoths like Microsoft. However, a reporter from the Capital Times, in Washington DC, has uncovered a quiet plan by House Republicans to pass legislation to merge almost all of the companies in the high-tech arena.
“Microsoft and Intel are all that matters”, said a key lawmaker, on conditions of anonymity. “They provide all the innovation and technology that churns the high-tech engine.” According to the mega merger plan, the huge number of dot-coms and hardware vendors and other companies are wasting a lot of talent and money which could be better used for targeted development of the hi-tech industry to maintain and enhance the global lead held by the USA.
To this end, the government is considering a law to coalesce all the hi-tech industry to two massive corporations, one handling software and the other hardware. Code named MegaSoft and MegaHard, these companies will be created by requiring Microsoft to buy up all the software companies and Intel to buy up all the hardware companies. Companies that do both (such as Sun, Apple, HP and so on) will be split and then absorbed. The impact will be tremendous, all the hundreds of competing products that take up time, money and energy to develop and maintain and promote will be gone, and computers will be consistent, compatible and uniform.
In a similar move, in Japan, five auto companies are considering merging and buying up a Scandinavian telecom company to produce the largest auto-cum-phone conglomeration. Toyota, Honda, Isuzu, Nissan, Mitsubishi, And Nokia will form the THINMAN Company. They will develop complete transportation and communication solutions ergonomically designed for lean men. Fat men purchasing their products will be provided with a free treadmill and a one-year membership to a health club. Some women’s advocates are furious, and demanded an explanation of such blatant bias. A spokesman for THINMAN issued the statement, “All our woman belong to cooking, not car”.
MANAGEMENT: Corporal Punishment for Employees
The current economic conditions have resulted in a shortage of qualified people. This shortage has resulted in employers competing for employees and often giving them unheard of perks. As the employees have seen their demands met and unreasonable requests granted, they have taken advantage of the situation. Of course, this led to the widespread malady of the “spoilt employee syndrome”. Mr. Alan McKinley of McKinley and Co. says the situation has gone out of hand. Employees want to come in late, leave early, and complain about everything. Whining like three-year olds are too common. “I have heard it all”, says McKinley, “the coffee is not exotic enough, the bathroom do not have TV, the phones are not cordless, the lighting does not have the right mood, the cafeteria is not free, there is no internet access in the gym, and on and on. They need slapping”. Mr. McKinley is soon going to use the latest management technique being advocated by the American Employee Management Institute, to diminish the employee spoilage.
Managers will not be allowed to slap employees for a variety of reasons. As a start employees who are late, complain too much or dress inappropriately will be slapped. Slapping about once a week will be tried and if the situation does not improve it may be escalated to once a day. Mr. Johnson says he is very jealous of Ms Seibring, “I have only 5 people working for me”, said Johnson. “Seibring is my manager and she has 4 managers under her, with about 23 employees, so she gets to slap 27 people, while I get to slap only 5”.
Those employees who cannot handle the slapping will be provided counseling at company expense for the first four incidents.
PERSONAL HYGIENE: The E-Toilet Invented
A startup in San Jose, California called CyberDump has unveiled the world’s first e-toilet. While the details are still murky, CyberDump’s spokesperson Ms. Cyndi Eloper says is it a breakthrough in personal downloading. “It is cleaner, faster, quieter and more upgradeable than anything nature has invented”, she said. This is the first personal hygiene product that is reputed to be compatible with both Apple Macintosh and IBM-PC platforms. It also comes in many colors. Future versions will support broadband connections to enable faster downloads.
When CyberDump was accused of over-hyping the product and promoting style over substance, Ms Eloper was incensed. “Not at all, she said, this product allows users to dispose of substance in style.” The installation needs subscription to CyberDumps WSP (Waste Service Provider) network. Advanced encryption technology built into the toilet provides cutting edge virus protection, allowing up to 64 people to simultaneously share the facilities without fear of catching something. The cipher in the toilet encryption protocol (code named encraption) is patented. Of course, cyberspace access while defecating comes standard—with customized delivery of breaking news, sports and business headlines, at the right moment. The New York Times is reported to be very worried. “This may be the final nail in the coffin of the newspaper, as it replaces the real reason why our readers buy our newspaper,” said a marketing specialist for the New York Times. Ms. Eloper however looked ecstatic as she said “We are not a dot-com. The dot-coms are getting flushed down the toilet, as they do not make anything real. We have a real product, which handles a real substance. We are a not-com”. Finally, she added, “It’s a small step for CyberDump but a giant leap for pee-commerce”.
TECHNOLOGY: Cell phone linked to Mad Cow Disease
Beleaguered cell phone manufacturers who have been dogged by allegations that cell phones cause brain damage, have more new worries. Of course, the evidence of brain damage is spotty. Note that case of a well-mannered, sophisticated, genteel Mr. Brigham, who is normally the perfect gentleman. However, Mr. Brigham has been observed to pick up a ringing cell phone, in an upscale restaurant and then yell into it much to the chagrin of all the people around him. Brain damage.
Incidences of mad cow disease is significantly higher in farms using transmitters and monitors for tracking cow movements and where the farm workers use a lot of cell phones to coordinate activities. This evidence is so strong that the British Government has started an enquiry, and plans to ban all radio transmitters on cow farms.
POLITICS: Canada and USA in merger talks.
Secret negotiations are in progress to make Canada the 51st US state. In a secret interview, the Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chretien, sounded frustrated at managing a country larger than the US with one-tenth the population of the US. Mr. Chertien reportedly said, “We have to manage 3.8 million square miles of territory. We have to maintain a strong military to keep up with the neighbor. We have to pretend to have a separate and vibrant culture. We have to provide universal health care. We have too much to do, for only 30 million people. For heaven’s sake many US states have more people than that.”
Canada is the world’s third largest country, behind Russia and China. However, according to the Prime Minister managing this huge place is getting boring, time consuming, too difficult and economically infeasible. To get the ball rolling, the huge unpopulated provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan will be first merged with Montana to form a new state called Almansasmon. Eventually the rest of the country will follow. The militant French Canadians who want to secede may be actually allowed to do that and form a new county called Newfranland. The details are still being worked out. Intervention from the British is expected, as this merger will mean one less country with the Queen’s picture on the currency.
Remember, these are off the hot press, written on the most auspicious day of the year. Check your calendar.
Partha Dasgupta is on the faculty of the Computer Science and Engineering Department at Arizona State University in Tempe. His specializations are in the areas of Operating Systems, Cryptography and Networking.