Flippy’s Takeover

Out in California there’s a “fast casual” restaurant called Caliburger.  As the name suggests, hamburgers are one of the staples on its menu.

448b016b00000578-4905576-image-a-2_1505977728222Caliburger’s Pasadena location has a new worker called Flippy.  Flippy is a quiet, methodical, highly reliable worker who doesn’t take up a lot of space, because Flippy is actually a robot.  Made by Miso Robotics, Flippy’s design is simple — it’s a robot arm, bolted to the floor in the restaurant’s kitchen next to the grille.  Flippy has a spatula where his hand should be, and he’s programmed to flip burgers and then put the cooked burgers onto buns.  A human assistant puts the meat down, Flippy does his burger-flipping thing, and then the human worker finishes dressing the burgers to fit the incoming orders.  The fact that Flippy has only a spatula hand make it easy to clean and maintain.

Flippy sells for $60,000.  Caliburger was one of the investors in the company that manufactures Flippy, and it got one of the first devices.  It has pre-ordered others, and it plans to install them in a number of its restaurants.  And, of course, Miso Robotics will look to sell Flippy to other burger-oriented restaurants.

Each burger-flipping robot will be performing a job that used to be done by a human being.  At about $60,000 a pop, Flippy seems expensive — until you figure that, with many states and cities raising the minimum wage, it wouldn’t take many months of operation before Flippy starts to pay for itself.  And Flippy is never going to miss work, or show up late, or complain about its hours, or become distracted by talking to a co-worker.  And Flippy is not going to need health insurance, or file a claim against his restaurant employer for violating a federal or state statute, or advocate for wage increases, either.  Until legislators start legislating about treatment of robots, Flippy is a lot easier for employers to deal with.

Welcome to the future.  And good luck finding that entry-level job that pays the ever-increasing minimum wage that is supposed to be an economic panacea and allow a fast food restaurant worker to support a family of four!

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Space Suit Chic

We’ve got a little bit of a “space race” going these days, 50 years after the first one.  This particular space race is about which commercial entity is going to be the provider of choice for both travel and delivery of space-related services — like creating working flight suits that people would wear on space voyages, and other necessary components of routine life in space.

space-x-suitLast week SpaceX unveiled the look of its flight suit to great fanfare.  Some people described the suit — which is sleek, futuristic, and basic black and white — as looking like the imperial stormtrooper outfits from Star Wars, but it clearly has a certain style.  Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, says the suit is functional, not a mock-up, and has been tested to double vacuum pressure.  Interestingly, Musk also noted that SpaceX was focused on both esthetics and functionality in designing the suit, and that is was “incredibly hard” to balance the two, while focusing on one or the other would have been a lot easier.

Earlier this year, Boeing gave us a peek at its version of a flight suit, which passengers would wear on the Boeing Starliner spacecraft that is intended to deliver passengers to places in low-Earth orbit, like the International Space Station.  Boeing’s announcement got a less less attention than the SpaceX unveiling, but then Boeing isn’t quite as cool as SpaceX.  Boeing’s flight suit, which is “Boeing Blue” in color, looks a lot more like an updated version of the Apollo suits we remember from the glory days of moon shots and lunar rovers in the late ’60s and early ’70s.

space_suit_630Of course, Boeing and SpaceX are just two of the companies vying for supremacy in the corporatization of space, and flight suit design isn’t going to finally and conclusively determine who gets a leg up in the competition.  But the disclosure of things like flight suits is important nevertheless.  It shows that companies are hard at work on the necessary nuts and bolts of spaceflight, and you can bet that for every item, like flight suits, that get public attention there are dozens of less interesting devices that are being developed, streamlined, and perfected.

The unveiling of flights suits has another important function, too:  getting people talking about spaceflight again.  When I was growing up, it seemed like just about every kid wanted to be an astronaut, and the space program was a constant topic of conversation.  In the cool occupation pyramid, “astronaut” was at the pinnacle.  The aspirational dreams of youngsters may not have made a difference in how the American space program was operated, but it provided an important core of support for NASA, and many of us still harbor those inner dreams even though the manned space program has basically had a 45-year hiatus.  If the disclosure of the SpaceX and Boeing flight suits cause kids to begin dreaming about space again, it would be a good thing for those of us who feel that our future lies out among the stars.

Press-On Care

At last night’s game we got a free Edwin Encarnacion jersey.  It’s the traditional design, in a size large enough to comfortably fit most reasonably sized people, and looks pretty sharp.  The jersey features that “press-on” type lettering, however — which means I’ll be giving it kid glove treatment.

I first learned this important life lesson in 1973, when I used my Big Bear bag boy earnings to buy a cool orange Eric Clapton t-shirt with a press-on picture of the Guitar God on the front.  (I know . . . “cool” and “orange t-shirt” are rarely used in the same sent, but you must remember it was the ’70s.) I wore it, put it in the laundry basket for Mom to wash, and got back a fundamentally changed garment.  The shirt had shrunk about five sizes and the picture of Clapton had become a cracked, crumbling, unrecognizable mess.  Gah!  But, because I paid for it with my own money, I continued to use it as one of the t-shirts I wore under my jeans shirt — and avoided buying press-on t-shirts thereafter.

It may be that press-on technology has improved in the last 45 years, but I’m not taking any chances.  The EE jersey won’t be seeing the washer, ever.

Facebook Fatigue

Some years ago we were on a trip to Antigua with Richard and Russell where we met a very nice young woman from Great Britain and her parents.  She ended up hanging out with the boys, and after the trip we became Facebook friends.

The other day she posted this on her Facebook feed:

fear-of-missing-out“Has anyone else on here been considering deleting Facebook for a long time, but keeps putting it off? I’ve been toying with the idea for years but can never bring myself to fully do it; it’s an attachment to photos, friends from all over the world I might lose, FOMO of information, and sheer habit. I find it’s become more destructive than good, however. It doesn’t make me feel good, it makes me feel depressed, and in the few times per week I actually check it, I realise I’ve become a robotic scroller, consuming information mindlessly and feeling lousy afterwards. According to statistics, only 9% of Facebook activity per day is to be social, the rest of the time is accidental logging in (how many of you have tapped on the Facebook app without even meaning to, just to ask yourself why did I click on this?), stalking and filling up time. It sucks to acknowledge that you’re addicted to something, and it sucks to realise you’re scared of leaving something inanimate. Does anyone else have this feeling?”

[For the aged among us, like me, “FOMO” is short for “fear of missing out” and is internet slang for feeling a sense of anxiety that you’re missing something interesting that people on social media are talking about or experiencing, like the recent solar eclipse.]

Her post captures a mood that I’ve been hearing from a lot of people who are fed up with Facebook and other forms of social media.  They’re finding it to be a bit empty and unsatisfying, they dislike the ads and the nagging prompts to update their profiles, they really hate the angry political debates, and they question whether the amount of time spent endlessly scrolling is worth it — so they drop off Facebook.  Some are happy that they have done so; others get that FOMO feeling, because once a social media connection is made it’s really hard to sever it, and they come back, presumably feeling a bit sheepish about the experience.

I can see her point, but I think the benefits of Facebook and other forms of social media outweigh the downsides — so long as you avoid obsessing, control your exposure, keep your temper, and recognize its limitations.  In fact, my contact with this young lady exemplifies why I think Facebook is a good thing.  She was an interesting person, and being Facebook friends has allowed me to see what she’s up to from time to time, wish her happy birthday, and congratulate her on getting a new job.  The world is a smaller place than it once was, and Facebook facilitates a sense of staying in touch with friends, acquaintances, family members, and former colleagues who are now far away.  And if you happen to be traveling to a place where one of your Facebook friends lives, it’s a handy way to see whether you can set up a meeting over coffee or dinner and really catch up.

I think Facebook has obvious downsides, and there’s a Big Brother element to it that is bothersome, but on the whole I think if Facebook didn’t exist it would need to be invented.

Paper Passes

I recognize that I am an old-fashioned fuddy-duddy in many ways.  I don’t have the latest gizmos.  I don’t keep up on new apps.  And when I travel, I like to have a paper boarding pass.

I recognize that continued use of paper passes is a Stone Age approach to travel.  The airlines are trying to get everyone to use apps.  Delta even puts a plug for “flying paperless” on its paper boarding passes.  And, obviously, avoiding unnecessary paper use is more environmentally friendly.

Still, I prefer the paper pass.  I like its tangible quality.  I’m admittedly the Uptight Traveler, so a paper pass provides the immediate reassurance I crave when I’m on the road.  I can reach into my suit coat pocket, fish out the paper, and see that I’ve got a seat assignment, check my boarding group, and use the flight number so I can find my connecting gate on the overhead monitor without muss or fuss.  I don’t have to worry about thumbing around on my phone or having the boarding pass app time out and the phone screen go dark just as I’m approaching the gate agent.

Increasingly, travelers are using boarding pass apps.  There are still a few dinosaurs out there with paper passes, though.  We’re not quite extinct yet.

“Strong” Password Follies

You may have seen this already, but if not, brace yourself:  everything you’ve been told about creating “strong” passwords has turned out to be wrong — or at least misguided.

Meet Bill Burr.  In 2003, he was a mid-level manager at the National Institute of Standards and Technology who was asked to create guidance on the development of computer passwords.  Burr then authored an eight-page manifesto, enticingly called “NIST Special Publication 800-63, Appendix A,” that articulated two by-now familiar rules that have frustrated computer users ever since.  First, you’re supposed to come up with passwords that feature both capital and lower case letters, numerals, and characters — so instead of a password like “Tubesteak” you’d have a “strong” password like “TubesTeak$123.”  And second, you need to change your password every 90 days.  Special Publication 800-63 quickly became a kind of bible for the IT geeks and was widely adopted by the large companies and organizations that employ us, causing us to need to develop new, creatively configured passwords on a regular basis.

51juanfwf9l-_sy445_So, what’s the problem?  Isn’t computer data security worth the hassle of occasional password changes that use the 800-63 rules to strengthen our defense against soulless computer hackers?

Perhaps it would be . . . except that Mr. Burr really didn’t figure human nature into his “strong” password analysis.  It turns out that people are pretty unimaginative when it comes to password development, so they end up using predictable approaches to their SP 800-63 compliant passwords, by substituting numbers or characters for the letters they resemble.  And people are forgetful, don’t easily remember their passwords, and don’t want to to be locked out of their systems due to a memory failure, so they write their passwords down, which just increases the security risk.  And, finally, hackers are clever, and can come up with software that anticipate the predictable rules people use to create those “strong” passwords.  All of  which means that the annoying NIST 800-63 rules lead people to create passwords that really aren’t that “strong” after all.

Mr. Burr concedes defeat, and says:  “Much of what I did I now regret.”  And NIST has come out with new guidance that encourages users to pick a string of random words and only change them in the event of a data breach.  (Of course, IT departments being what they are, it may take a while for the new rules to supplant the old.)

Who knows?  Maybe people will decide to use curious conventions, like the process you’re supposed to us to develop your “porn actor” name, to create passwords.  That naming convention says you combine the name of your first pet with the name of the street you lived on in grade school to come up with your “porn actor” name.

That would make me “GeorgeOrlando,” which wouldn’t be a bad password.  I can almost hear Allen Ludden whispering it now.

Employing The Email Selfie

Last night I was having dinner with a colleague.  At one point during the meal, when we were talking about something work-related, we both apologetically pulled out our iPhones and started thumbing away at the keyboards.

We weren’t being rude — at least, we weren’t trying to be.  We were just sending emails to ourselves so we could be sure to remember something that we had been discussing.  Otherwise, there was a pretty good chance that, by the end of the meal, that great (or even just marginally significant) thought — whatever it was — would have totally fled the jurisdiction, and we would both be racking our brains later trying to remember what it was we were supposed to remember.

ios_android_typing_tips_bullet_em_dash-100538034-origThese are the moments for which the “email selfie” — shall we call it the “elfie”? — is made.  You just pull out your iPhone, call up your own email address, tap in a few cryptic words sufficient to remind yourself of whatever it is you want to remember, and hit send.  A second later you get that satisfying, confirming phone vibration that tells you that you’ve received your email selfie, and you can continue whatever it is you’re doing with a brain unburdened by the need to remember whatever it is you’re trying to remember.  It’s a liberating feeling.

At first, I was kind of embarrassed by my need to resort to the email selfie.  Now I prefer to think that, rather than a leading indicator of declining mental faculties, it’s more a technological upgrade of the reminder note concept that people have used since the ancient Egyptians invented papyrus for that specific purpose.  Whether it’s post-it notes, “to-do” lists, Franklin Day Planners, erase boards on the refrigerator at home, or little slips of paper left in a place where you know you’re going to see them (another technique I’ve frequently employed), human beings have long employed memory aids.  Sending emails to yourself is the logical next step.  And sure, you could use the “notes” function on the iPhone, but I’ve never used it — whereas I always check my emails.  Sending the email selfie is a surer route to recollection.

These days, I’m one of my most faithful correspondents.