Bob Schwartz

Category: Technology

Facebook Releases Oculus Go—Its First Self-contained VR Headset

This isn’t a review of the Oculus Go released today—Facebook’s first self-contained Virtual Reality headset, requiring no phone or computer.

This isn’t a review of the photo above of Mark Zuckerberg demonstrating the Oculus Go. (Note: you can use the Oculus Go wearing a t-shirt or the occasional business suit, if you are demonstrating it to a Congressional committee.)

This is a mention of the growing movement to travel to and colonize Mars, a movement Trump supports. Until that dream comes true, if we want to avoid and escape the depressing and often insoluble problems we are faced with, problems that some are daily making even worse, a self-contained VR headset—from Facebook!—seems like just the ticket.

“He’s in the bestselling show. Is there life on Mars?”

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Thomas Merton on Technology

I am ambivalent about the benefits and effects of unstoppable technological progress. It is nearly a force of nature. Rain helps our plants to thrive, our food to grow, our rivers to flow, our thirst to be quenched. But it can also overwhelm and destroy, so that we seek shelter from it in a flood or hurricane. Still, I wouldn’t trade technology in, not all of it, not easily. I am just wary and watchful.

This is from Thomas Merton’s journals. He lived as a monk in a handmade hermitage on the grounds of the Abbey of our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. It is a tiny building that up until 1965 did not have electricity:

“At last the electric line is coming to my hermitage!”

Yesterday in the morning, when I went out for a breath of air before my novice conference, I saw men working on the hillside beyond the sheep barn. At last the electric line is coming to my hermitage! All day they were working on the holes, digging and blasting the rock with small charges, young men in yellow helmets, good, eager, hardworking guys with machines. I was glad of them and of American technology, pitching in to bring me light, as they would for any farmer in the district. It was good to feel part of this, which is not to be despised, but is admirable. (Which does not mean that I hold any brief for the excess of useless developments in technology.)

Thomas Merton Journals, February 16, 1965, V.206–7

More posts about Merton:

Merton: Events and Pseudo-Events

Merton on the Desert

For Me to Be a Saint Means to Be Myself

 

My Birds

My Birds

I started the digital birds singing
Just as the real ones arrived out the window
Mine were louder
And under my control
The wild ones served no one
Least of all me
And would stop and go
At any time
Anyway I silenced mine
To be with
The real singers of spring

Great Cheap Holiday Gadget: SoundPEATS Wireless Bluetooth Earphones

soundpeats-qy7

I love gadgets, especially great cheap gadgets. I don’t usually (ever?) recommend them in this blog. But since I am now inundated with holiday promotions for way overpriced wireless earphones and headphones, I feel compelled to suggest this alternative.

I waited a long time to buy wireless earphones. It is a great idea, but they were too expensive. My ears are good, but not nearly smart enough to pay a premium for the incremental sound differences they promised.

Then a few months ago I looked harder. What I found seemed too good to be true. Wireless earphones that, according to customer reviews, worked well. And cost about $20!

After months of using the SoundPEATS QY7 Wireless Bluetooth Earphones every day, I can say that they do work well. And they still cost about $20. And they come in a bunch of colors (I always go for plain black). And they have over 14,000 customer reviews on Amazon—half of them five stars.

So there you go. Buy one for yourself. Buy them for friends and loved ones. If you’re thinking about those higher-priced ones (some for $200 or more), feel free. Of course, for $200 you could buy TEN of these.

Live Streaming: High Holy Days at Central Synagogue

Central Synagogue

Central Synagogue in New York is one of the great synagogues and congregations in America.

If you are not attending High Holy Days services in-person anywhere, for whatever reason (don’t usually attend, not convenient, not Jewish, etc.), here is your opportunity to join in the services at Central Synagogue. Without leaving the comfort of wherever you have your PC, tablet or phone. For as little or as long a visit as you like.

Central Synagogue live streams its services. Here is just a partial schedule. (You can see the complete schedule here.) All times Eastern Time.

Erev Rosh Hashanah
Sunday, October 2, 8:00pm

Rosh Hashanah
Monday, October 3
Morning Service 9:30am

Kol Nidrei
Tuesday, October 11
6:00pm or 8:00pm

Yom Kippur
Wednesday, October 12
Morning Service 10:45am
Afternoon Service 3:30pm

No prayer books? No problem. You can download those from Central Synagogue too.

Rosh Hashanah Prayer Book

Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur Morning Prayer Book

Yom Kippur Afternoon Prayer Book

These are the highest of all Jewish services with the highest of all Jewish music and prayer on the highest of all Jewish holidays at one of the most extraordinary Jewish congregations with one of the most extraordinary rabbis. And all you need is a browser.

What If There Had Been Hacked Watergate Emails?

The issues surrounding the release of hacked emails from the Democratic Party and related entities are many and gray. If you hear anyone say that all the answers are clear and that there are simple bright lines is either not thinking it through, has some vested interest, or is one of the people who lost their job at the DNC.

To help clarify, consider this. What if there had been emails covering the entire Watergate conspiracy, rather than just the tape recordings that emerged after the fact? What if those emails were hacked and released while the cover-up was still ongoing? (This is not to say that the current situations even approach such gravity.) Would we be wringing our hands because high-level private and confidential communications had been stolen? Would we be happy that what Gerald Ford later called “our long national nightmare” would have been over sooner? Maybe we would be a little of both.

In coming days, as the next batch of leaked documents and data is released, some will be quick to condemn the leaks or to exploit the leaks. The best we can do, hard and unlikely as it is in such situations, is to think it all through carefully. Because like it or not, this is what the future looks like.

Stale Donuts: What I Share with Ted Cruz

Donut

This is a true and inconsequential story.

I may not be as smart as Ted Cruz. But he and I share something important.

Ted has said he loves donuts. I love donuts.

Donuts get stale, somewhat quickly. Donut lovers devise ways to freshen stale donuts.

On the campaign trail, Ted has talked about refreshing stale donuts (really). He says he puts them in a microwave for 12 seconds.

I also have a technique for refreshing stale donuts. I put them in a microwave for 10 seconds. (Too much microwaving can destroy their delicate texture.)

So while he and I share this love, we disagree slightly on this. We have bigger disagreements on other matters, of course.

I did not clerk for a Supreme Court Justice. I am not running for President. Etc. So maybe Ted’s 12 seconds are better than my 10 seconds. If you’d like, you can try it for yourself.

The Goofy Digital Clock

Dali - Persistence of Memory

I have a digital clock that stays in touch with a smart satellite to keep exact time. One way I know this is that last night, when the time switched from Standard Time to Daylight Savings Time, it automatically added an hour.

But here’s the thing. From the beginning, years ago, that digital clock has offered the slightly wrong time. It is slow by seven minutes. Not six or eight. Exactly seven minutes slow. I have pushed every button, slid every switch, plugged and unplugged. It is just plain wrong, in its own idiosyncratic way.

It is an excellent alarm clock otherwise, does a great job at that. Except that all wake up times have to be adjusted by seven minutes.

I could replace it easily and inexpensively. But I’m used to it. And I’ve actually grown fond of the clock’s tiny quirkiness.

There’s a life lesson here. Which you, as I have, can probably figure out.

Save, Don’t Save, Cancel

If you write on a computer, as most of us do, you face a dilemma.

When you wrote hand to paper (and still may)—on legal pads, notebooks, single sheets, scrap paper—you could instantly crumble and toss or eventually discard. As in throw away. Forever. Whether you did or not depended on lots of factors. Not the least of which was storage space. Because those drawers and shelves and manila folders and file cabinets and boxes, they do fill up.

Now your writing rests on a hard drive, flash drive, or in the cloud, just waiting for you to wake it up from a nap or from a long Rip Van Winkle sleep. It takes up virtually no space. So when you jot something down, or create a paragraph or page of text, the answer to this choice question should be easy:

Save
Don’t Save
Cancel

Why not Save?

I look at that Word choice box maybe a dozen times a day. Save would seem automatic. What if those words are the best formed and most important you have ever composed? Why not keep it, just in case?

But sometimes, even if some time and effort has gone into the work, I let it go. Not that I need the storage space available, which is now measured in terabytes (that’s a million million bytes of data). It’s the self-awareness that however good and important I momentarily think those notes/thoughts might be, many are not. And the realization that by letting them go, I am helping myself along the rocky path of humility, which in the end is really much more valuable than whatever would be in that file. No matter how much I might wish otherwise.

“Books Smell Like Old People”

Denby - Decline of Teen Reading

David Denby in the New Yorker asks: Do Teens Read Seriously Anymore?

If reading means books or other extended forms of writing, evidence and anecdote say the answer is no.

Denby doesn’t have anything particularly new to say about the big picture and long term consequences of generations who are less interested in books than ever. This is an ongoing conversation that just gets more and more attention as digital demographics continue to roll over us all.

Still, it’s worth reading his piece as a reminder and, for some, a wakeup call.

Denby mentions the related ascendance of STEM education:

The Times reported on Monday that at least fifteen state governments were offering some type of bonus or premium for high-demand STEM degrees. “All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so,” Matt Bevin, the governor of Kentucky, said. “They’re just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayers like engineers will be, for example.” (Governor Bevin, as it turns out, graduated from Washington and Lee with a bachelor’s degree in Japanese and East Asian studies. So much for the crippling effects of the humanities.)

Denby also mentions a recent book by media scholar Sherry Turkle, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age:

Much of their social life, for boys as well as girls, is now conducted on smartphones, where teen-agers don’t have to confront one another. The terror of eye contact! Sherry Turkle, in her recent book “Reclaiming Conversation,” has written about the loss of self that this avoidance creates and also of the peculiar boredom paradoxically produced by the act of constantly fleeing boredom.

Denby doesn’t come off like a snobbishly literate dinosaur. He doesn’t over-idealize “the way things were” as being infinitely and generally better, which they weren’t. He is just an astute observer making the point that extended discourse, written and read, is an essential part of moving society and civilization along. How we reclaim that, if it is in fact getting lost, is a difficult but worthwhile mission.