An Open Letter to the iRobot Corporation

Dear Roomba (that is, the company, not the individual robot):

My house is dusty.

I have been using your Roomba product for a few years now.  I am very happy with it.  Every night at around 2AM, my little robot fires up and sweeps the floors of the entire first level, excepting the bedroom in which we sleep.  As a result, I have relatively clean floors most of the time.

It is a clever little machine.  Watching it work, pivoting around, avoiding obstacles, still entertains me from time to time, when I happen to be up at 2AM, which I often am, because we have dogs.  It seems like you must have spent many years perfecting the algorithms that drive the little beast.

Yes, it does occasionally wedge itself under a piece of furniture or get itself fouled on a curtain or a sock.  I remember with horror the time it go a hold of a roll of Christmas wrapping ribbon.  I have to remember to keep the powder room door either all the way open or all the way closed, else the robot will manage to close that door and spend a couple of hours cleaning just the powder room, until it shuts itself down.  Once a week, I empty the bin of a fair amount of dust, dirt, and bits of dog food. Once a month I give it a once-over and remove bits of hair and string that have gotten trapped in the moving parts.  All is good.  I am still very impressed.

But my house is dusty.

Wikipedia – which is never wrong, except for political issues – says you have been making these things since 2002.  Surely, you have spent over fifteen years improving the product, as well as making some other products, like floor moppers and pool cleaners.  But one has to ask out loud, how much improvement has there actually been.  Yes, I am sure my 2015 model is way better than the 2002 model. but is the 2018 model really much better or much different than mine?  I mean, what have you been spending your time on the last few years?

If you go on YouTube and search for robot or robotics, you can see some pretty sophisticated machines out in the world today.  Some of them can do standing back-flips and keep their feet.  There are dog-like robots that trot along and open doors.  There are manufacturing robots, of course, and surgical robots and we are all now seriously talking about self-driving cars.  They will soon, seemingly, have a robot that can comfortably change adult diapers.  The possibilities seem endless.

So why, exactly, is my house dusty?

Yes, other than the fact that I am basically lazy – which is why I am your customer in the first place, lest you forget – why have you not come up with some robot that can use soft feather-dusters or air jets or ionizers or neutron flow reversers to knock the dust off of my furniture and picture frames?  Wouldn’t that be the logical next step?  With all of the improvements of robotics over the last few years, why haven’t you come up with this obvious Roomba companion – one knocks the dust off the furniture, the other sweeps it off the floor.  I know there are important issues here, from a property damage point of view, but that is why you guys are paid the big bucks.  You can figure out how to scrub the kitchen counter later on.

Henry Ford sold the Model T for twenty years, and very nearly sunk his company as competitors created improved products for their customers – history says that it took the intervention of his son Edsel to push the company forward.  If your engineers are of a similar, comfortable, any-color-so-long-as-it-is-black state of mind, maybe it is time for new engineers – the colleges are full of them and the young ones come pretty cheap for a time.  Just look at what Musk has been doing with rockets in the last ten years.  Just look what Google has been doing with cars.  Just look at what Amazon has been doing with, well, everything.

Surely you can dust my house.

 

Advertisements
Categories: Business, Technology

The Doctor Fails

Back on Christmas Night, I watched the annual Doctor Who special.  It was entitled Twice Upon a Time, because it paired the outgoing Twelfth Doctor with the First Doctor, with the excellent David Bradley filling in for the long-deceased William Hartnell.

This was Peter Capaldi’s last episode.  He has been a wonderful doctor, with the one caveat that I have always had trouble understanding his brogue, but he has not been very well served by the scripts during his tenure.  The script for this episode did not serve the First Doctor at all well, making him appear dim and sexist, nor did it do a good job of wrapping up the Capaldi era.

With spoilers ahead, the basics of the story are that the Doctor, holding back his regeneration triggered by previous injuries, finds himself at Earth’s Antarctica, where he meets the First Doctor, on the eve of his own regeneration and also holding it back.  The two are quickly met by a WWI British Army captain who is being pursued by an advanced race of time travelers with purposes unknown.  The three are captured, discover that the travelers make recordings of dying people’s memories, before returning those people to their place of death.  The party manages to escape to the First Doctor’s Tardis and get away.

The second act has the Doctor making his way across an ancient battlefield at the center of the universe where lives a Dalek who kills other Daleks – and he gets to kill or maim many of them, because they show up in large numbers trying to kill him.  The Doctor’s purpose is to identify a face he recorded on board the Travelers’ ship and he figures the Daleks have the best historical database available.  This plan works, the enemy is identified, and the Doctor comes to find out that their purposes are not evil, but perhaps even good.  The last act has the Doctor saving the captain with a bit of trickery, followed by goodbyes and both Doctors proceeding with their regenerations.

It is the second act that truly fails to serve.  It is mostly filler, with a callback to an earlier story, but having no purpose in this story except to take up time and provide a couple of obstacles.  It doesn’t fill the needs of the story.

What needs?  Well, the need to close out Capaldi’s tenure and resolve the cliffhanger of the previous story, as well as the need to connect it to the First Doctor in some way, to make it logical for the two Doctors to meet.

Here’s what I mean:  The last story of the First Doctor was called The Tenth Planet and it was the introductory story of the traditional Doctor Who menace, The Cybermen, humanoids from the planet Mondas who have augmented their bodies with technological improvements to the point that they have wiped out their own humanity – Borg, before there were Borg.  They have come to Earth to destroy and assimilate (sorry), though naturally the Doctor defeats them.  They have came back many times over the decades, always showing technological improvements (resulting in better costumes).  But the previous episode of the current series, The Doctor Falls, brought back the original Mondasian Cybermen from when they were just starting out, before the events of The Tenth Planet.  The Doctor partially defeats their attempt to Cyber-ize a tremendous colony ship, but he ends up leaving his assistant, Nardole, behind, to help the remaining survivors to defend themselves, almost certainly to fail and die in the attempt.

So, we have the current Doctor, who has just failed to defeat the Modasian Cybermen and about to regenerate, meet the First Doctor, who has just defeated the Mondasian Cybermen and is about to regenerate, coupled with an outstanding issue of Nardole and hordes of Mondasian humanoids left to die.  Was not the implied promise that the two Doctors were going to go back to the colony ship and save Nardole and his friends?  Why else bring back Mondasian Cybermen, in their mummy-chic costumes, if the purpose was not to link the two episodes to an ultimate solution?  Would that not have made for a better second act, if not an entire episode?  Surely that is where they wanted to go with it in the first place.

Instead, we got a mostly disjointed episode, where the stakes were pretty low.  I mean, The Captain was already fairly philosophical about his impending death and the survival of his family name already ensured, so saving him was nice, but hardly at the planet-saving levels of previous regeneration stories.  The writers seemed to show that they do not understand the 1960s doctor or the early 1960s in general, being much a continuation of the conformist, but secure, 1950s, where authority figures were mostly respected, not ridiculed.  The Doctor’s final speech was quite good, nearly worth waiting through the episode for.  Meanwhile, the regenerated Doctor will have a lot to make up for, as she managed to mostly destroy the Tardis with a single touch, before getting tossed out the doors, presumably by the Tardis herself – guess the old saw about “Two women under one roof” applies here.

Best of luck to the new cast and staff at Doctor Who.  Hopefully, they can write better stories – and find an excuse to go back and save Nardole and company.

Categories: Pet Peeves, Writing

The Wrath of Potential

Reading numerous articles lately, I have come across no less than three separate descriptions of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, as a classic – perhaps THE classic – Star Trek movie with the original cast.  Not sure why it is coming up now, but there it is. I know a lot of people have that opinion, but I have never thought so. I always thought the movie lacked what it needed to meet its potential.

Full disclosure: I am a big fan of Star Trek: The Motion Picture. I know many will disagree with me. But to me it was always Star Trek for adults, what the world of Star Trek, if it existed, would actually look like: crewmembers who acted like professionals, doing their doing their often-dangerous job in a serious and thoughtful manner. Yes, the movie had its problems. The flyby scenes were certainly too long, although I think they were trying to give us a sense of the scale of the whole thing. Still, they should have known better.  The movie was somewhat esoteric, not an action flick like the Star Wars movies or all the Star Wars wannabes that came out around that time. But when all was said and done, I think the movie they gave us was worth the price of admission.

Star Trek number Two, on the other hand, made me very angry when I first saw it. It was Star Trek for kids. It even had a kid from the Disney movies in it. There were many problems from the opening scene. Kirk is an admiral? I thought we settled that. The enterprise is a training ship? Seems an awful waste of a good ship. Spock is training new recruits? Seems an awful waste of his skills. As things progress, they only get worse.  The crew was all over the place and not acting in a logical manner. The space battles are often laughable, especially in the nebula, where the major problem seems to be static on the viewscreen. “Spock, send crewmen to every major observation port and have them sing out if they see anything.” Seems an obvious solution. Spock’s code of “days for hours” seems like it could be broken by anybody above kindergarten age.

Now I do realize that part of the problem with the movie is that they were trying to keep costs down. The first movie had actually made a decent profit, but compared to the Star Wars films, it seemed anemic to the studio brass. So their solution was to make a movie using little more than the standing sets from the first movie. Very little new was built and there was almost no location work. So, within the confines they had to work in, maybe it wasn’t that bad of a movie.

But what really makes me think that they missed their mark is that they totally wasted their main villains. These guys were super soldiers, with tremendous strength, endurance, and intelligence. They were a physical threat to anybody who came upon them. Yet, they spend most of the movie locked in a spaceship which, as the movie displays, they are ill-equipped to actually pilot and use. That is, in essence, the solution to Kirk’s problem: they don’t really know how to use their ship.

We only see them using their great skills on a couple of occasions. Chekhov gets himself hoisted into the air early on. And a bunch of namby-pamby scientists get killed in a grizzly, off-screen manner. Where was the threat that we should have felt from these retro supermen?  At no point in the movie to the two crews actually come into contact with each other.

This was a horrible waste of potential.

Maybe they should’ve kicked loose with some funds for location shooting. You can imagine what it would be like if the two forces met on a planet surface. You can imagine Kirk’s speech to his crew.

“Attention all hands, this is the captain. Half of you are about to receive orders to descend to the planet surface, where you will defend the colony from Khan’s troops. For those of you who remain on board, we will almost certainly face the Reliant again, a battle that will almost certainly end in either us boarding their ship or them boarding our ship.  So let’s think about this: Super Soldier. It is a name out of history. People bred for war, people bred to subjugate. I understand the fear you must all feel. However, it is best to remember that these super soldiers were defeated, twice, first centuries ago, which is why they are here now, and then again a few years ago, aboard this very vessel. They can be defeated. What you have to remember is that they are creatures of their time. The world you grew up in is foreign to them. Things you take for granted, they do not understand. So I want you all to remember your training, to use your equipment and your weapons the way they were meant to be used. Use your advantages to prevent them from using theirs. Set your phasers on heavy stun, but if they get inside your perimeter, use whatever force you require. Good luck and good hunting.”

The resulting battle, with technology set against brawn, would have been a film classic, I think. With the space battle above and the land battle below, I think audiences would’ve been very entertained and it would’ve compared well with what George Lucas was doing at the time.

That, anyhow, is my feeling on the matter. A great potential was squandered, and I think the resulting movie would have far out grossed the extra money spent on it. But I do not run a film studio and I do not know the office politics involved in trying to get a film made. Maybe they did the best with what they had to work with. But I do not think that film qualifies as a classic. At best, it kept the franchise alive long enough to make better movies and more television. In fact, better television. I always thought The Next Generation made episodes of a higher quality than most of the movies Star Trek was putting out.

I now await your righteous indignation.

Categories: Pet Peeves

There Be Dragons Here

February 28, 2017 Leave a comment

So, I am in the new house, for a few months now. Finally, I have a new computer and I have put Dragon voice or Dragon NaturallySpeaking on it, to help me compose. This will take some getting used to. When I used Microsoft’s voice system, it didn’t work as well as I had hoped. Here is to better listening.

So far, it seems to be doing what I say. I am hoping this little tool will help me along the way to further authorship. It might. As I say, it takes some getting used to.

I have noticed some authors getting into a lot of trouble with this kind of tool. It isn’t that the tool doesn’t work, just that they don’t go into the text afterwards and look for mistakes. Now that’s one thing on a daily blog, but quite another when you’re writing a novel for sale. (Just so you know, it knew which version of “your” to put in there)

To add to the hilarity, WordPress has changed its menu system, so it took me a while to figure out how to make a new post. But, as they say, live and learn.

Anyhow, enough for quick blog post. It is after 11, and the dogs are looking at me to go to bed. So I will just get this thing published, then go to bed.

Good night world!

Categories: Uncategorized

America Needs Gary Johnson

Haven’t written in many months.  We are in the new house in another week or two and, shortly after that, I expect to get a new computer set up in my very own den and get to do some serious stuff.

Meanwhile, last night I watched the Third Debate.  Theater of the Absurd does not begin to cover it – it was more like WWF.  It is hard to believe that we have come to these two as our only choice: the maniac or the crook.

But, of course, we have a far better choice, in all fifty states, and why would we not vote for these two proven, reasonable men?

Don’t worry about wasting your vote or allowing the greater evil to prevail.  The Democrats and Republicans have done nothing this year to earn your vote.  Let them know what you really want and you will help them select better candidates in the future.

If not now, when?

Quilting History

Categories: Oddities

To Speak Freely

This is a test. It seems to me that many bloggers are using voice to text.  I just want to see how that works on Windows system and I want to see how easy it is to edit afterwards.

When I speak to my computer, I see a small text box in the top left corner, and all the text appears there. I then have to click on a box that says insert and it is added to the browser editing screen.  Or I can just say “insert.”  This seems to work OK, but I have noticed some small errors. Part of this is my fault -I tend to stammer a little bit while thinking of something to say. Sometimes it just gets a word flat wrong.

But it seems like a real time-saver, and it will only take me a couple of moments to go back and correct the small errors. So I may well do this, both while blogging and while writing. I just need a room to myself.

 

Categories: Oddities, Technology, Writing