John Wilcock column header


The Column of Lasting Insignificance: November 29, 2008

“By simply skipping the unproductive phase of using human astronauts and going directly to robotic exploration, India and China could easily choose to outrace the developed nations by concentrating on remote-controlled robots at far lower cost while providing better science.   The only niche left for human astronauts would be chamber maids to make beds for super rich tourists.”
from Bob Parks’  blog What’s New

U.S. AIRPORTS note the theft of as many as 12,000 laptops a week, part of the huge total of computer thefts which take place every single minute. According to the Computer Security Institute, the average large company lost almost $4million last year to the theft of laptops and other mobile devices, and only 3% are ever recovered. Now, reports Fast Company, the Canadian company Absolute Software has introduced a device that lives inside the hard drive and pings headquarters with its online address, wherever in the world that may be.

A NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM is not only the title of a maniacally funny movie but an actual experience available at New York’s Guggenheim Museum with the cooperation of the city’s Waldorf Astoria hotel which has installed a double room on the Guggenheim’s sixth floor. The bathroom is nearby but guests requiring a shower are escorted by security guards. Guests in Carsten Höller’s Revolving Hotel Room Exhibit pay several hundred dollars for the cloistered night, but for at least a few hours have the museum’s exhibits to themselves.

STARTING NEXT MONTH we’ll be seeing dramatic pictures of passenger-filled cabins moving for almost two miles between the peaks of two mountains, Whistler and Blackcomb,  at British Columbia’s main ski resort. For eleven minutes, they’ll be on a cable that is 1,427 feet above the ground—almost as high as piling five States of Liberty atop each other. The cable is unsupported by any towers, except those at each end. The Peak to Peak Gondola, which has taken more than a year to construct, cost $52 million and will be the site of skiing events at the 2010 Winter Olympics.

IT’S NOT AS IF commercial television couldn’t get any worse. It can. In February NBC will introduce a weekly drama, Kings, whose 13 one-hour episodes will be complete commercials in themselves, sponsored by the insurance company Liberty Mutual. It won’t be immediately obvious to the casual viewer that the story — celebrating personal responsibility — is integrated with the company’s subtle moral message which “will come through clearly enough to change viewers’ behavior, persuading them to buy more auto and homeowner policies,” as Forbes explains it. CBS and ABC turned the project down, the mag says, but wonder-boy Ben Silverman, who heads NBC, predicts: “This is part of the evolution of where television is going.”

THE WILCOCK WEB: …..“Please do not submit poems that imitate Allen Ginsberg’s work,” is the instruction from Passaic County Community College to entrants submitting works for the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards 2009….When the U.S. took over as world leader from the British after WW2 it was partly because the Brits owed us so much. Now the debt is reversed, with the U.S. owing Britain more than $307 billion (we owe China $541 billion, Japan $590 billion)….Studies at Germany’s Manheim University suggested that smelling roses or other pleasant aromas before going to sleep often resulted in dreams “with a positive emotional tone”….Attempting to reduce teenage smoking with facial recognition software in cigarette vending machines, researchers found that too many kids fooled the machine by brandishing magazine photos…Another winner in the Washington Post’s Mensa Invitational for new definitions: Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with…..England’s Which magazine handed in coats they had “found,” each containing a wallet stuffed with £22 and a name and address at 16 railway stations around the country. Only five stations contacted the owners, and the money was usually missing….Harper’s quotes an unnamed government model forecasting that all U.S. adults will be overweight by 2048….Pekinese dogs were the favorite of most Chinese emperors but they’re selling for less than two bucks in Beijing today where pet owners prefer Dalmatians and poodles…. The British team that built the jet-powered car which earlier produced a land-speed record of 763mph, is now working on a model expected to achieve more than 1,000mph (one wonders why?)….. “Tourism is just national prostitution,” declares the Duke of Edinburgh. “We don’t need any more tourists. They ruin cities”….Mosquitoes don’t fill any niche in the food chain and so nobody can explain how the world would suffer if they were totally eliminated…. Free Beer (The Act of Drinking Beer With Friends Is the Highest Form of Art) is the title of a work by Tom Marioni on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It consists of empty beer bottles and a refrigerator from a drinking session the artist held with friends…Via the website, you can lend as little as twenty-five bucks to some impoverished Third World business and most of the time get it back…. University of Texas researchers have established that a layer of rooftop vegetation can reduce interior temperatures by 30 degrees and slash air conditioning bills by 20 percent…..A new jacket for outdoor types is the Merrell Gatherer ($100) with zipper-sealed pouches that can be filled with whatever insulation—leaves, grass, etc — that’s handy when the temperature drops… German psychologists have established that — presumably obeying primitive instincts — women dress more provocatively in their “high fertile season” just before ovulation….At a cost of $7,500 and with high pressure, phenomenal temperatures, and a bit of carbon for ballast, the Swiss firm of Algordanza will convert the ashes of your dead relative into a synthetic diamond…. It is forbidden by law (fine of $300) in Wilbur, WA, to “ride an ugly horse”…Scientists at Limerick University in Ireland are developing self-sterilizing hospital sheets aimed at killing superbugs…”In the fight between you and the world, back the world.” — Franz Kafka (1883-1924)