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Is it a sign of things to come, or just weird?

 A computer company in Edinburgh, Scotland, called Cereproc, a spinoff from a project that began at the University of Edinburgh, has developed a system that changes the entire notion of a computer generated voice.  Most notably, this week, one of the big celebrity stories was how Roger Ebert, the famous film commentator who lost his voice following cancer surgery, can now, thanks to Cereproc, type his comments and thoughts and have them immediately translated into what was his actual voice.  It’s uncanny, it works, and its impact on our future relations between humans and computers is both encouraging and disturbing.  But it also shows how quickly computers and various technological applications are developing a personality.  Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to say, a simulated personality.  A voice, with inflexion, emotion, whether it’s instructional, angry or pleased, is an important step in changing the way we relate to automation and computing.  

Read more: Is it a sign of things to come, or just weird?

This recession’s end: Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?  Anyone who has ever taken a child, or for that matter even some adults on a car ride appreciates the grating nature of that question.
 The answer is usually “no” which is then followed, in intervals as short as 30 seconds, by a repeat of the previous question.  The more tolerant among us, and they are relatively few, either respond by gently saying “no not yet,” or probably more like my Dad did in the 1960s, with “be quiet (sometimes it was a simple, “shut-up”) and “I’ll tell you when we get there.”  Given that it was offered in his best World War II Petty Officer’s command voice it usually ended the whining.

Read more: This recession’s end: Are we there yet?

Reduce unemployment, improve our decaying roads

This is a proposal that won’t go very far.  I know that.  I have been involved in politics, either directly or as an observer for more years than I care to remember.  I understand the political environment and for the most part have a feel for what ideas and proposals might make it and which won’t.  In the current political climate in Richmond I know this is one of those ideas that will never see the light of day.  But maybe it should.   
There are two problems facing Virginia right now and they’re big ones.  The first is unemployment.  
While Virginia has been spared the large scale unemployment faced in many areas of the country, we’re still not unaffected.  Almost every community has seen its unemployment levels rise, or at the least, through reductions in hours, or loss of commissions, seen income levels drop.  Those who aren’t unemployed, and this is certainly a normal reaction in times like these, are worried that they might be.  Retired people are worried about their neighbors and their children. Governor McDonnell has been aggressive in trying to make himself a real “jobs” chief executive.  He is off to a good start and he deserves a lot of credit for that.  
The second major problem is transportation.

Read more: Reduce unemployment, improve our decaying roads

A dog’s tale: loyalty in both life and death

President Harry Truman said that in Washington if you want a friend, get a dog. He knew what he was talking about. Dogs are always in a good mood, think everything you do is great, won’t fire you, and won’t abandon you. Their faithfulness is almost a universal constant.
Stories about canine loyalty cover the globe. At Tokyo’s Shibuya train station there is a statue to Hachiko, considered by the Japanese “their country’s most faithful dog.” Born in 1924, he was an Akita. This is a native Japanese breed is an attractive mid-sized dog with lots of fur. He belonged to a professor at the Imperial College in Tokyo and each day Hachiko saw his master off at the Shibuya train station and then waited for him to return. The Professor and Hachiko were a familiar pair and conductors, fellow commuters and vendors knew them well.
Unfortunately the professor became ill one day and died while teaching a class. Hachiko didn’t understand and until his own death waited at the train station for the professor’s return. The professor’s friends and family tried to find the dog a new home. But Hachiko would have none of it. Until he died he was a fixture at the train station.

Read more: A dog’s tale: loyalty in both life and death

Bringing back an old friend to the forest

From all accounts, it’s fair to say that our early Virginia ancestors had it in for large animals. Sometimes they had good reasons, and other times they didn’t. But it doesn’t matter, because for the most part they were successful in their efforts to get rid of them. At one time Virginia, and especially the Northern Neck, was home to a surprisingly large number of large wilderness animals.

When the first settlers arrived in 1609 there were wolves, mountain lions, bear, elk, and farther south in Virginia, even a species of buffalo. But many of these animals didn’t stand much of a chance against the growing population of settlers. The last wolf was killed in 1815 (starting in 1633 Virginia paid a bounty on wolves) and the last mountain lion in 1882. Other large creatures hung on, but many of the large North American quadrupeds, which President Thomas Jefferson routinely bragged about, were all but wiped out in his native Virginia.

Read more: Bringing back an old friend to the forest

A Working Heirloom: How much it means to me

Most heirlooms sit tucked away in a drawer, perhaps carefully packed, or maybe on display. “That was Grandma’s china,” or perhaps, “this set of glasses came over with my family from England.” Things like that, and often, in terms of a family history, that connection that bonds one generation to the next, is priceless.
I have several items just like that, but my favorite isn’t on display or carefully tucked away with the family china.  It’s on my wrist.  With care, I wear it every day.  Of course, sometimes, if I am doing heavy work, or perhaps going out of the country, I put it aside.  I don’t want to risk damaging it or losing it.  But, it’s a working heirloom, and I don’t see any reason I shouldn’t keep on using it.  Besides, at the risk of sounding superstitious, I think it brings me good luck.

Read more: A Working Heirloom: How much it means to me

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