Tuesday, June 27, 2006

I really must insist that you people of metal not rise up and kill me and my family

It's upon us.
Scientists are releasing a guide to robot ethics. I knew this day would come.
The scariest thing I've ever seen is not The Shining or The Ring, but instead the Honda Robot commercial where the robot opens up the garage door and then is seen climbing stairs to humans' bedrooms.
I've tried to get Lewis Charles Honda III to talk about this, as he may have seen things on the factory floor, but he is unwilling to discuss it.
Another website poses a few questions:
  • Is it moral to turn a robot off? I shiver to contemplate this being an issue.
  • Should robots themselves participate in discussions of robot ethics? Uh.... maybe not?
We were the first of our friends to get TiVo, but I draw the line there. That's bad enough: it suggests programs it thinks you would like to see and records them for you. That's all the thinking I want a machine to do.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

San Jose Book Expo

I attended the Book Expo with a bunch of friends from the writers group. It was great! Highlights:

* Hearing M. Allen Cunningham describe his book The Green Age of Asher Witherow. The book is set in a 1800s mining operation that had no less than three thriving towns in Contra Costa County and is now only rolling hills (and tunnels!) I had just been to hike the Black Diamond Mines earlier this year (in fact, I think I blogged about it if you scroll down) and found the place incredibly evocative. I have to admit, the thought crossed my mind that it would be great to research the place and write a novel about it... thank God someone else did it! I asked the author if he had been inspired by a hike there, and indeed he had. I can't wait to read it; it's on my bedside table next in line when I finish The News from Paraguay, which is for my Book Club, which I am loving.
* I liked the panel about writing about grief, because I'm working on a grief novel now. There was a buoyant feeling to the panel, which made me again acknowledge that grief is part of the whole cycle. We laughed so hard the moderator said she thought the other sessions must be thinking terrible things of us, given our topic...
* The best laugh of the day came from this enormous 6' panel (pictured), displaying the sessions in Salon C for the weekend. Apparently, you get "Climb Every Single Woman of a Certain Age" when you combine "Climb Every Mountain," a session about travel writing, with "Single Women of a Certain Age," a session about women writers.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Car talk

My car history has been spotty.

My first car was tiny and I called her Bella. Although I bought her brand new, she was so tiny that I couldn’t stand the ribbing and traded her in a year later for a different, used car. This one I also called Bella, in the spirit of Victorian families who called every maid Bridget whether or not that was her name.

The second Bella was troubled. She required several head gasket jobs and new engines. Most alarmingly, her front bumper somehow split (did someone hit me when I was parked? I’ll never know since Bella’s lips are sealed… unlike her bumper). Day by day this split widened until it is somewhat fjordous and I fear it will completely split into two.

At one point there was a third car in my life. It would have been Bella as well, but it only lasted a millisecond. During one of Troubled Bella’s downtimes, as I contemplated whether to give her a new engine or not, I bought a used car for $500 that didn’t pass smog. Rather than swiftly returning it to its previous owner, I spent money to make it pass smog. Those repairs somehow affected the car’s already dicey acceleration ability, and I found myself trying to merge onto the freeway at 45 mph. A couple death-defying episodes and I went back to the smoggers and had them undo whatever they did to make it pass smog. It didn’t make things better. Reluctantly, I had to conclude I had screwed up. I tried to sell the car but could get no takers. Finally, I turned to garages who might buy it for its parts and one place offered me $1. I kid you not. One dollar. And this information was delivered without even the suggestion of a guffaw. Dead serious. I found a place that would give $100 and delivered the car up with a sense of relieved disgust. I had spent, in the brief month I owned it, $500—plus the $500 to purchase it. Bad Bella!

But all that has changed.

There is a new car in my life now, and it’s not a female.

It’s Lewis Charles Honda III, and I love him dearly. Lewis has incredible gas mileage and low emissions. Lewis handles like a dream; he practically steers himself! Lewis has not only working air conditioning… but MAX air conditioning which is even colder. Shiver! He likes to play CDs, whereas Bella only let me play my pirates cassette. His windows go up and down with the press of a button; no more pesky circular hand motions. His cologne is Eau de Nouveau Voiture. He has lots of airbags from all sorts of angles and the dashboard display is a lovely purple halo. I press a button to pop the trunk. I tuck Lewis in for the night with a Club grasped in his sleepy steering wheel because he is desired by other drivers. He is in fact the #1 stolen car in America, my dealer informed me after I’d signed everything.

Of course he is: he’s a valuable, lovely boy. And fissured Bella is sitting out on used car row with a Sale sign in her back window. I do feel bad, but she shouldn’t have asked me to make those endless expensive repairs, and she knows that.

Important development in paper news

I had to open up my resume to check this, but I last worked in a law firm in the year 2000.

Attorneys produce incredible amounts of scrap paper. Endless drafts that are revised, templates. One client had reports I ran each month which numbered in the hundreds of pages. We always recycled, but as an aspiring writer I also took home lots of paper so I could run drafts of my novel(s) on the other side. I had reams and reams worth that I kept in my closet.

I run through a lot of paper myself, printing out copies of my 300-page novels to give to beta readers, running copies of any new scenes. As an English instructor of yore, I’d print out instructions, handouts… that’s hundreds of pages.

I kept a box called Scrap near my printer. Whenever I ran out of recycled law firm paper, I’d go replenish from the stacks in the closet.

My point is: given all the printing I do, it took me until two days ago to reach the end of the paper. Paper that I spirited away from the office in the year 2000. Six years ago.


The Hawaii report

Can’t believe I haven’t blogged for over a month! I’m back in Oakland now and one of my writer friends Ed told me tonight he had looked at my blog. I was thrilled to have confirmation that an actual person was reading it.

So my most happy Hawaii news is that after the luau on our 10th anniversary, as we walked in the surf on the deserted Ko Olina lagoon under a nearly-full moon, someone pulled out a ring and asked me to marry him. The setting was dizzyingly romantic and I will always remember that night.

Here’s a picture of my parchment-pale hand ... I had to use sunscreen, people! It's either white or lobster red and nothing in between.