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Thursday
May252017

ROBOTIC LUGGAGE THIEVES

Don't let him get away!I remember years ago when Steve Martin admitted he believed robots were stealing his luggage. Up until that time, most of us would have been too embarrassed to agree with him but not anymore.  In 2016, airlines mishandled 21.8 million bags at a cost of 2.3 billion dollars in reimbursements to passengers.  Now putting that in perspective, passengers paid the airlines 4.2 billion dollars in baggage fees – this is based on the twenty-five largest US airlines -- to transport their belongings to their correct destinations.  The vast majority of the bags went missing during layovers when they had to be taken off one plane and deposited into the cargo compartment of another.  Hmm.

The above figures seem huge but, the amount of lost or misplaced luggage has gone down dramatically over the last few years.  Airline agencies insist that it’s because of new tracking systems now in place that keep a better eye on wandering bags.  I tend to think there is more to it than that.  My theory is that those bag stealing robots that have been hanging around airports have found better employment.

Back around 400 BC, Archytas built a wooden bird that he powered using steam.  The bird could fly for short distances until the steam ran out but, it made enough of an impression to go down in history as the first known robot.  My first inkling of what a robot should be was Robby the Robot, big, fat and usually friendly, unlike Gort who was big and scary.  Then the day came when I watched Fritz Lang’s1927 movie, Metropolis, featuring “the Machinenmensch.”  She was one of the first robots ever depicted on film and should have had enough influence on us to never want to create any others like her, but of course, we kept going forward, producing robots that would make our lives easier and get the job done on time.

The 1960s saw the beginnings of the industrial robotic age when General Motors included a unit capable of lifting hot pieces of metal from a die casting machine and then stacking them. From then on there was nothing stopping the future.  Robots, although still not physically resembling humans, took over many of the dangerous, dirty and low-end tasks supposedly allowing us more freedom to take on more difficult endeavors, more suited to our intellect.

Even more sophisticated robots have become part of our lives, driving automobiles, flying airplanes – the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Global Hawk flew over the Pacific Ocean from Edwards Air Force Base in California to RAAF Base Edinburgh in Southern Australia in twenty-two hours – and even joining the astronauts up on the Space Station.  Robots play a big part in the manufacturing process and in laboratory research and even perform surgery with skill and precision beyond human capability.  What about the robot telemarketers that tie up your phones lines and make you feel stupid when you think you’re talking to a person.  We can’t forget that tiny, hard working Roomba that is capable of multi-tasking, cleaning your floors while entertaining small children and animals.

Many of those airport robots that were hanging around baggage areas and lounges have left the area entirely  Instead of selling the contents of your luggage they found better gigs elsewhere.  According to a Bank of America study, by 2025 robots will be performing 45 percent of manufacturing tasks, given that the prices of robots and computers are falling.  Costs have declined by 27 percent over the past decade and are expected to drop by another 22 percent in the next decade.  With the bottom line being profitability, employers will have little choice when it comes to hiring.

Customer service jobs will be performed by pleasant, clean and always cheerful automatons as well as positions requiring accounting and statistical analysis.  Models with the perfect face and figure will always be on call to take to the runway and umpires will be able to call a ball in or out without his Seeing Eye dog.  Soon, luggage will remain in the belly of that big metal bird, to be reunited with its rightful owner and the new cry that will be heard across the universe will be that robots are stealing my JOB!

Sharon

BTW     Years ago when we lived in Chicago, I wanted to buy a toy robot for our son.  Trekking downtown, I entered the holy grail of toy departments at Marshall Field and Company.  I purchased the robot and we all had a fun time playing on the kitchen floor, Jason laughing when the dogs would either run from it or try to attack it.  It survived many battles and I still have the thing but, I took the batteries out after I found my purse missing.

Wednesday
Apr262017

A STORMY AFTERNOON IN GEORGIA

When Tony Joe White wrote A Rainy Night in Georgia, he forgot the rainy mornings and the ever popular rainy afternoons and early evenings.  After a beautiful Saturday, highs in the mid-eighties and sunny, the clouds moved in and by late evening, the rain started.  Not a gentle spring shower, this was a heavy downpour with strong winds.   I was happy that Shelby was able to take her final outing of the day just before things got interesting.

Early the next morning, I’m awakened to the familiar click, click, click, click of bare paws on a bare floor as Shelby goes to the window to check out the condition of her outside world.  I could almost hear a few doggie expletives coming from her as we made our way to the back door, ready to start the day’s activities.  After attaching her lead, I gave her a hug and told her to be quick about it and opened the door.  One paw, then another made it over the threshold before she got hit on the head with brain chilling raindrops.  Shelby turned, with panic written all over her face, and she dove back inside, feeling I’m sure like she had just encountered incoming enemy fire.  Luckily for both of us, she has great bladder control and I was able to take “Ole Yellow Eyes out during a break in the weather a few hours later.

I’ve mentioned before that Shelby hates thunder and lightning and at its first sign, runs into the bedroom and sticks her head under my bed, leaving the rest of her body to fend for itself since she can’t edge any more of her anatomy in.  Keeping to our usual Sunday morning routine, we cleaned house to a rock and roll beat.  Many Sunday mornings are spent listening to Rod Stewart or the Bee Gees or Queen but this day was definitely a Tina Turner or Righteous Brothers situation.  Things were picked up, floors were vacuumed and dishes washed and put away to the beat of Little Latin Lupe Lu and Ebb Tide.  Shelby was grooving on the tunes and not paying attention to the storm outside.  

Going for a classier mix next, I put in a Charles Aznavour CD and pushed the buttons.  Nothing happens!  I keep trying to get it started but to no avail.  Now I can’t even get the door to open to retrieve the disc.  OK, no time to panic.  Numbers and letters start flashing across the display.  Time to panic!  My first thought is to pull the unit out from the wall and check all the connections.  The entire stereo -- radio, phonograph, tape deck and CD player -- sits atop an old cigar stand that belonged to Jerry’s dad and is wedged in a corner next to a large, very old china cabinet filled with breakables.  After emptying half the china cabinet onto the table, I was finally able to move it just enough to free up the cigar stand and pull the unit out for me to check the wall plugs and the connections.  Nothing. 

I then turned to the next logical repair process and slapped the blasted thing as hard as I could on its side. At first silence, but then a whirring sound and the door snapped open, teasing me with a glimpse of the CD before sucking it back into its inner working parts, reminding me of Jabba the Hutt snacking on a Klatooine paddy frog.  I had just about given up and was already thinking of turning on the dishwasher to hide the noise from the storm when the door popped open once more and I was able to remove the disc.  After sticking its drawer out at me a few more times and retreating, it once again went dormant.  The stereo has not recovered and is now sitting back in the corner but luckily I had a backup system and we finally listened to French love songs.  Over the never ending chorus beating down outside, our choices in music moved to Billie Holiday, Wagner and Rod McKuen and finished with a Sarah Brightman album.

As the day wore on and the rains continued, I had a clean house, finished some old projects, started some new ones and never once made it into the office.  Shelby survived the storm, had more play time than usual and I hope she realizes that life’s obstacles can be overcome, partly because, the beat goes on.

Sharon

PS  I just stepped out on the deck this evening; work finished for the day.  The sky is clear and dark blue, the stars just beginning to emerge.   The frogs in the neighboring pond are singing loudly, their bellies full.  Life is good.

Thursday
Mar232017

THE ROOSEVELTS AND VETERANS

I love to read.  Since discovering Dick and his sister Jane, I’ve spent a goodly amount of my life in libraries, bookstores and resale shops whenever possible.  I’m a research addict and proud of it but I do go through spells where the bulk of my reading is mostly confined to novels, then maybe I’ll switch to how to books or then again, memoirs or biographies.  There’s usually no rhyme or reason as to my choices except what catches my eye at a particular moment.  Yes, cover copy and illustrations lure the strongest of us.              

 Lately, my tastes have run to biographies.  A while ago I read one about Eleanor Roosevelt and her many contributions to such causes as the Civil Rights and Women’s Equality movements through both her writings – she was the first, First Lady to write a daily newspaper column - and her feet on the ground, hands on, person to person volunteerism during both World Wars.  She was also active in improving working conditions in rural mining areas and farming communities during the depression.  Eleanor had a genuine concern to help all who needed it even if it meant voicing her opinions which were sometimes contrary to her husband’s.  She did not want Franklin to become president but was able through her platform as First Lady to become a world leader, working with organizations throughout the globe to secure the theme of universal human rights.   

I’m now reading another Roosevelt biography, this one though deals with Ted Roosevelt Jr., the oldest son of Teddy.  Ted spent his life having to live in his Rough Rider father’s shadow, never certain if he was good enough to carry on the legacy.  Reading this book should convince anyone that he was more than up to the challenge and was a man of great courage and moral conviction.

He served in France as one of the first Americans to go over during WW1 and received honors for his bravery and leadership.  He became an American hero.  Ted was one of the founders of the American Legion which promoted the supposition that all veteran soldiers were comrades, regardless of rank. He did well in business and, like his cousin, Franklin, was involved in political activities, holding various offices which included Governor of Puerto Rico.  Funded by the Chicago Field Museum, he and his brother, Kermit travelled to faraway locations, bringing back exotic animal specimens for study and display, trekking across the Himalayas through India and China.  At the age of fifty-six, Brigadier General Ted Roosevelt was the oldest soldier landing by sea on D-Day, the only General hitting the ground with the first attack wave on Utah Beach, one of the first off the landing craft, and the only man who had a son, Captain Quinton Roosevelt III, who was also part of the invasion, landing on Omaha Beach.  I think he did more than just living up to his old man’s expectations, he rose far above them.  The name of the book is HIS FATHER’S SON THE LIFE OF GENERAL TED ROOSEVELT JR by Tim Brady.

Segueing from World Wars One and Two, I’d just like to remind everyone that this summer officially marks the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War; timing varies depending on when we officially entered the conflict versus sending numerous “advisors” over there unofficially. Most will agree that this was not a popular war and many Americans protested or chose not to go.  Unlike earlier wars that were sometimes romanticized with deeds of honor and chivalry, we at home were now able to see war up close and personal via our televisions, seated in our living rooms, perhaps eating our dinner on a tv tray.  We watched people get blown up, executed, homes burned, bloody children crying, lying next to dead bodies.  After a while, seeing this day after day, a different village with different people but the scenes the same, we grew desensitized.  The number of dead or wounded became just numbers.

But what about the 2,709.918 Americans who did serve?  Most came back to their homes and families and carried on with their lives.  Some did not.  47,378 died.  Sixty-one percent of our men killed were twenty-one years old or younger.  75,000 came home severely disabled.  Many, having been exposed to Agent Orange, came home seemingly healthy only to later suffer and many times die from COPD related disorders, heart disease, lung cancer and kidney failure.  Some soldiers would and still do suffer from mental disorders and various other types of debilitation. Some veterans just disappeared.  And the worst blow given to these war veterans was the utter disrespect and downright hatred shown to some of them when they returned home. 

We’re all older now.  We’ve seen young men and women leave home for yet another conflict, most returning, some not.  Let’s remember our veterans who are now gone, and hold dear and respect those with us now                

  “No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care."                                                          Theodore Roosevelt

Sharon

Thursday
Feb232017

Life's Options in an Unreal World

I don’t know what got me thinking about this the other day but, do you ever wonder what certain people do when they are not doing what they’re more or less known for doing?  There is this picture in my mind of Queen Elizabeth playing in a Scrabble competition with a cold bottle of Guinness in her hand waiting for her turn where she’s gonna lay down her tiles, spelling out the name of the national bird of Guatemala thereby bringing her in almost four hundred points.  Oh, by the way, the bird’s name is Quetzal and she was even able to make it plural. Way to go Queen!!!
In our Survivalist series – this is what actually got me thinking along these lines – I can see General Ishmael Varakov, Supreme Commander of the North American Army of Occupation of the Soviet, a large, rather intimidating old soldier who many times controlled the lives and the deaths of those under him. Slowly he is lowering his great bulk onto the floor of his open office located in the Chicago’s Field Museum, playing with a kitten with his beloved Catherine by his side.
Along the same path, I could see Natalia’s ex-husband, KGB Major Vladmir Karamatsov, playing with that same kitten, a pretty ribbon around its neck being pulled ever so slowly, tighter and tighter, watching the little creature fight back until too exhausted, and then listening to its pathetic little mews as it slowly  dies. I guess I can’t imagine Karamatsov in any other type of universe.  Natalia, on the other hand, would put up her guns and Bali-Song knife and enroll in cooking classes and learn how to make pottery; maybe she would take a tumble at square dancing. Don’t worry though; she would still have her COP pistol tucked in her boot.
Fanny Mulrooney from The Takers would have liked to do something ordinary beside chasing zombies and devil worshipers and listening to grave site recordings but she’s too busy tracking down her other lipstick lost in the bowels of her oversized black handbag.
 Hank Frost from The Call Me the Mercenary would be taking his girl, Bess, out for dinner and dancing except one of his good, size 12 D Florsheim shoes got chewed up by the wood chipper the bad guys were throwing him into before he was able to get away by running through the swamp.  I won’t tell you what happened to his other shoe except that the alligator mistook it for its baby brother. 
All kidding aside, what would you be doing in your alternate universe?  Would the real you come to the surface or are you what you want to be, even in your fantasies?  Does a seafarer dream of sailing among the stars? Do adventure writers grow up to be cowboys?
Sharon

 

Monday
Jan232017

 FRIENDS

Some blogs back and again on Facebook, I’ve mentioned a few of our friends, such as the Spanish voice actor who settled in the States and scared the crap out of us doing his Dracula impersonation while we drove down a dark, deserted country road and another friend, who cut off part of Jerry’s ear while giving him a haircut. These people were unique and we couldn’t have come up with anyone nearly as much fun in the world of fiction.  I wish to add James to our list of friends from the past.

James had been an encyclopedia salesman before leaving France.  He would tell us about his adventures crossing the Alps during winter storms and I’ll have to admit, some of his driving advice paid off when traversing over the snow and ice covered roads during Chicago Winters. He decided to settle in the Midwest and further his education although his mastery of spoken English left much to be misunderstood.  Standing at about six foot six and skinny as a stick, James fell in love with and eventually married a woman who worked for one of the major newspapers in town.  She was the stereotypical American girl, blond and lanky, voicing an opinion on everything topical, and he with his very pronounced accent and his clothing preference of bell bottom pants and striped, knit shirts making him a poster boy for all things French.

We, along with some other friends, were asked to help them move out of their North Side apartment.  Being the only punctual ones in the group, we were there in time to help with any remaining packing that was needed.  I helped Fran empty her closet and throw her clothing into plastic bags and empty out the dresser drawers while Jerry helped her husband take down artwork and curtains from the many long windows adorning the apartment’s walls. I remember Fran shouting to me from the bathroom to find her diaphragm and what went with it and stick it in her purse since she’d be needing it that night.  Never having seen one but too embarrassed to mention it, I spotted something in a small case that I didn’t recognize amid the mess of dresser memorabilia I had just removed.  I grabbed the case and dropped it into her purse. I don’t know what happened that night and I never asked.

The rooms were large, oak floors and high ceilings; a beautiful place but too expensive for them at that time. They had an enormous oriental area rug in the living room which we rolled up and intended to lug down the three flights of stairs and out to the waiting truck.  The rug was heavy and bulky and the very thought of making it down those winding stairs caused us to pause for a bit and rethink the situation  One of us, I don’t remember exactly who, turned their eyes towards the open window in the living room. The rest of us followed suit. Light bulbs exploded over our heads.

 It was like pushing a sausage through the eye of a needle but finally, enough of its weight hung over the ledge and gravity took over, sending that rug down towards the ground and smashing into an elaborate flowerbed then bouncing onto the windshield of a parked car.  James and two other men ran down to the courtyard and pulled the rug off the miraculously unbroken windshield and, with adrenalin driven superhuman strength, they carried the rug to the truck and threw it in. No one reported the incident.  James and his wife got their security deposit back and their area rug they discovered was unfortunately too large to fit in their next apartment; they left it by their new apartment’s dumpster.

We were the next couple to move.  We didn’t have much furniture but did have hundreds of books which I, of course, packed in as few boxes as possible.  Our transition was from a modern apartment building with an elevator to a brick four-story apartment with lots of stairs.  After getting most of the boxes up the stairs, James stood on the landing, perspiration running down his face, soaking his striped shirt, hugging a particularly large box to his chest.  He spoke words of truth when he exclaimed “Ceci est lourd!” as the bottom of the box gave way and the books tumbled out onto the stairs and to the landing below.  Fran unnecessarily translated to us the fact that he found the box to be heavy.  That night we all got more than a little drunk but felt we deserved it.

Sharon