Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Secret Life

If you're even a bit of a tech geek, you need to check out The Secret Life of Machines.

I remember seeing some of these shows on the Discovery Channel quite a while ago. The simple, but informative, presentation added to the quirky allure. Other than the presentation and animation, what stands out in my mind is some of the facts. For example, the fax machine was invented around the same time as the telephone, and a switch used in the washing machine has another use in stunt driving, which they show by setting up a demonstration with a real car. Fun Stuff.

Since I watched these shows about the same time as Connections, the two are loosely linked in my memory.

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Thursday, April 14, 2005

Bike to Work

Have you ever gotten one of those emails that encourages a gas boycott for a specific day? Over the past several years, I recall getting a few of them. At first, it seemed like a good idea, but a little more thought made the proposition just ridiculous. Think about it: skipping gas on just one day. Even if the whole country participated it would be a useless gesture. Unless people altered their need for gas over a considerable period of time, there would be no net effect. Sure, gas stations might lose revenue for one day, but as drivers buy gas before or after the one-day boycott, the drop in revenue would be repaid completely.

Consider the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It lasted for over a year. Do Americans have the capacity to avoid using their vehicles for even a month? I know a number of people who don't own cars, and are fine with using the CTA. My point here is that any real change is not easy, and will not be achieved with one-day actions now and again, which brings me to the point of this post: biking.

I've been occasionally using my bike for commuting purposes on and off for about 12 years. I commuted to school for a while in college, I commuted to work (at The Container Store's Buckhead Store in Atlanta) for a while after that, I rode with my daughter to her day-care and then on to my job for a summer, and recently, I've been riding part-way to work when the weather is not untenable. My goal for this summer is to ride my bike the entire distance from my house to work most days, which is not that big a deal. I'm about 4 1/2 miles, one way, from work. The Chicagoland Bicycle Federation is having a "Bike to Work Week" in June. So, it's my intention to be riding the full distance from home to work during that week. I've got eight weeks to get ready. I've been riding about 1 1/2 - 2 miles each way for the past few weeks. I had to get a new bike recently, though, since the bike I've had for about 12 years, broke down.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Biking to work sounds good but how many people actually live in biking distance from their job? I had a friend that biked 23 miles to work but really, who in their right mind would do that?

9:11 PM  
Blogger Michael M. Davis said...

People don't need to bike 23 miles, but biking about 5 miles to a train station instead of taking the bus or definitely instead of driving would be beneficial in at least two ways: exercise and decreasing the use of fossil fuels.

It's a frustrating commentary on our society that we now design everything around the presence of the automobile to such a large extent.

10:56 AM  

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

What's in a Name?

Check out this article about research into the possible economic impact of "black names".

By way of Eric Zorn's Notebook.

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Sunday, April 10, 2005

Virtual Communities

I have become a big fan of TiVo, as some of my previous posts can attest. Of course, they have an online presence and an email newsletter. In the most recent newsletter there is mention of how Digital Video Recorders (DVR) are changing "water-cooler" chit-chat around the country. As the number of DVR users increase, there is a corresponding increase in the likelihood that one or more of those conversing has recorded the show for watching later. This is an obvious example that while technology brings down barriers to communication and creates the "global village", technology creates new interpersonal barriers. Maybe this just suggests a new technology is needed? Ah, yes, the ongoing search for technological solutions to problems created by technology. Like searching for new ways to deal with pollution. Maybe the Amish have it right: less technology = fewer problems. I'd still like to keeps my buttons, though.

I'm starting to get off track here, but if a technological solution presents itself (such as...oh, I don't know...blogging?), does this just maintain the new barrier or does this solution overcome the barrier? What I mean is that we've turned personal discussions with co-workers into impersonal online discussions with strangers, and if not strangers, at the very least we've created distance within the "discussion".

Let me get to the title of this post. By Virtual Community I don't mean one of the Sims computer games, and I don't necessarily mean Internet-based groups, although Internet friendships fit nicely within the concept. A year or two ago, while contemplating the church attendance of a friend and former coworker, I thought of the Parish system of the Catholic Church and its role within a community. It occurred to me that a person today probably belongs to more than one "community", particularly in a large city. Because of my Math Geek status, I started to think of Venn Diagrams. Do you remember Venn Diagrams? They're graphical representations of sets that may overlap (showing the intersection of the sets) and can be joined (the union of sets).

What really struck me was how disconnected I felt with the church I was attending. The friend and former coworker mentioned above attended another church in a different part of Chicago, and I was attending a church in Oak Park. It seemed a little odd, but neither of us was attending a church near where we lived. Essentially, our lives were segmented. There are distinct groups: a group of coworkers, a group of friends, a group of neighbors, and the church congregation. The intersection of these various groups was very small -- one or two people -- or nonexistent. These small, or empty, intersections led me to contemplate the Parish. Back in the day, the Parish was the center of a community. The intersection of the various groups was very high. If you lived in a Parish, your business connections, neighbors, friends and church congregations were all pretty much the same. The difficulty of travelling limited contacts for most people to those in a relatively close proximity. In the US today, the "relatively close" proximity is much greater than at any other time in history. I guess you could use available travel methods as a measure of community "closeness". As the time required to travel longer distances decreases, the result is even more virtual communities. We could maintain relationships over very long distances, and then not "need" to start new relationships with the people who happen to live close by. This is kind of the phenomenon in a large city. My friends are all over the city, 15-30 miles away.

Anyway, the main point was that we create and maintain these virtual communities that are almost arbitrarily defined: high school friendships, a coworker from a job five years earlier, etc. Now I'm wondering if these virtual communities are both a blessing and a curse.

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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

More Name Games

Since we bought TiVo, I've found myself recording shows that I probably wouldn't watch otherwise. I tend to watch them when there's some free time, and I just want to lay in bed and veg. Also, I usually forget about when shows air, and TiVo is a nice safety valve that catches the stuff I would normally want to watch. I've been regularly watching Arrested Development, which seems to get crazier each week, and Scrubs has me watching each week. The first season of Scrubs comes out in May, and I think I'm going to buy it. I'm usually not one to buy DVDs since I expect the format will be dead within the next 5-7 years. DVDs will probably be replaced with Holographic Memory in the long term, and definitely by HD-DVD in the short term.

Anyway, not long after we bought the TiVo, I decided to record Carnivale on HBO, and I found myself getting addicted. I recorded four or five episodes before I watched any, but then I quickly caught up, and hated waiting for the next week's episode. I thought that this was the second season, but I wasn't sure. I just went to the HBO web site and learned that they have the season one DVDs for sale. I may need to pick them up.

The Name Game reference alludes to a strange thing that I noticed after watching the last episode of this season: the name Michael Davis in the credits. This Michael Davis was the "Transportation Coordinator" for the show. Interesting. Check out this really cool graphical representation of name popularity over the last century. One site I found with a Google search had the name Michael as the fourth most popular, and the last name, Davis, as the sixth most popular. I couldn't find anything showing occurrence rate of name combinations, though. I'd guess that John Smith is probably occurs most often.

When I was looking to register a domain name, I found that the city of Davis, California had registered, but now someone else has it. An architect had registered.

The first time I remembering hearing my name used in reference to someone else was a juggler on Saturday Night Live. That Michael Davis was a pretty funny guy.

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