"History is just people doing things"
THE ABQ CORRESPONDENT
ISSN 1087-2302 Online Edition Number 267......February 2018
1985 for clients and contacts of
A handful of recent reports talk about things that reflect no light, or almost none, intriguing some scientists greatly. Some of these things are natural, like birds of paradise, some of whom have feathers that absorb 99.95% of the light that hits them. (Blackbirds aren’t even close, reflecting on the order of 3% of the light falling on them. Snake scales can absorb a lot of light, too, but the birds of paradise so far seem to take the prize in Nature.) The absorption seems to be achieved by the structure of the feathers; the light bounces around inside it, just being directed deeper until its energy is dissipated, if I read the report right. The function of this isn’t to make the birds hard to see. After all, what they’re famous for is putting on remarkable shows to attract attention. At least two different research groups are creating artificially dark materials that are rather startling. In one case, a layer of the black material has been put on a sheet of aluminum foil, not a square inch, but about a square foot, that has been crinkled. The crinkles show clearly in the area outside the black stuff, but you see no features at all in the black area. Another group, using what they learned from studying the “all-white cyphochilus beetle,” improbable as that may seem, have produced material that absorbs about 99% of the light falling on it. The materials do have use in applications such as calibrating cameras that hope to record very dim subjects, and “light condensation in which all absorbed electromagnetic energy spontaneously generates single-colour energy pulses.” More than some of us can understand, but fascinating.
WRITTEN ALL OVER YOU
People express themselves often by blushing or turning pale, or in various other ways that are pretty good indicators of their own emotion or physical condition, or of the situation around them. This communication is not usually intended, but in robots, it could be. The overt appearance of the robot could indicate not only its own condition, but that of a person associated with it. A team at Cornell is experimenting with “electroluminescent rubber ‘skin’” that can emit light in different colors while being stretched and deformed as it might be on an active artificial critter. The patterns and choice of color might convey information. The approach seems to be modeled on the downright astonishing capability of octopi, squid, and cuttlefish to change their appearance, not just in patterns of color, but in the case of the octopus, in shape, very rapidly. That’s startling to see, as in this video. One can imagine equipping a military robot with this capability so that it conveys no information, just disappearing into its surroundings as it moves, changing constantly. Change is the key; animals other than the cephalopods are able to conceal themselves effectively, but not while moving. Robots with this capability (maybe soft, shape-changing robots) are a scary concept, but not notably scarier than the natural animals…for example, the 5-foot, fifty-pounds-or-so squid that fishermen go after in the Gulf of California. These guys grow from eggs to their full size in just a couple of years, not living much longer than that, and they not unreasonably develop rather nasty temper. Calimari comes at a price. One hopes for more benign robots, if we can manage that.
An associate and I have essentially shared an office for several years…online, several thousand miles apart (yes, the time difference has been murder), using Skype and its variants, so we can see expressions and body language, use instant messaging to pass on links without typos, and almost instantly exchange documents for review and editing. Astounding to those of us from the pre-digital era. Just to indicate how far we’ve come, the system was down the other day, and we were using Facetime on the smartphone instead. Frustrated by the inability to exchange documents instantly, my associate said “well, we can use snail mail,” by which was meant not writing-on-paper-in-an-envelope-transported-physically-from-one-location-to-another, but regular email, which seemed inconveniently slow in the context.
The Correspo has more than once commented on new agriculture that depends on the marvels of digital technology, not just for vertical farming or growing things in tanks, but big-scale outdoor activity. Blue River Technology, recently acquired by John Deere, lets big machines move through vast fields, examining each plant individually, and treating it with stuff to help it grow or to discourage pests.
The Correspo site had a visit recently from somebody using the .cat domain, which turns out to be Catalonia. Catalonia is a region in Northern Spain that features the important city of Barcelona, and which has a somewhat touchy relationship with the Spanish Central Government that has been much in the news recently. Interestingly, as Wikipedia points out, a domain name is not necessarily geographical. If you want to use a .cat domain, you don’t have to be in Catalonia. In fact, things being, um, how they are, you may not be able to do that currently if you are there. You do have to demonstrate some serious connection with things Catalonian, however. It was a bit surprising that the Basque Country, featuring the city of Bilbao, is not officially in Catalonia, but is described as being “adjacent to Catalonia” in the larger Basque Cultural Region. One hopes not to stir up strong nationalistic and cultural feelings. Nobody here but us outside observers.
…and just because it comes to mind, some people in a doctor’s waiting room in Albuquerque a few years ago were conversing actively in a language of which I understood not a word. I asked one of the speakers what the language was, and the cheerful lady said it was Basque. I commented that my only previous exposure to Basque had been in a wonderful restaurant on either Broadway or Stockton (anyhow, near one of the tunnels) in San Francisco in the ‘60s where guests were seated at communal tables, provided with very dry salami appetizers, and served soup out of big tureens. “Oh,” said the lady, “my aunt owned that place.” Who’d have thought?
ITEM FROM THE PAST
This item from 1993, referring to events in 1962,
has no special relevance today, but the recollection
is pleasant. [This was also a “Past” item in 2003,
but it’s fun again.]
We were shooting a commercial for Mayonette Mayonnaise at one end of a big soundstage at KTTV in Los Angeles. It was a big production, with three elaborate sets and several actors. At the other end of the stage Edgar Bergen was rehearsing a pilot for a new television show (that never got off the ground). It was fun to see Bergen and Jerome Cowan looking just the way they did in all those movies as we went about our work. At one point, our whole crew was intent on taking a picture of an empty mayonnaise jar against a plain blue background. The lights were pointed at the jar, along with the big Mitchell BNC camera on a crab dolly and the eyes of perhaps forty people. The jar wasn't doing anything but reflecting some light, but that had to be just right, and the crowd was quiet while the fellows fussed around to make the perfect shot. I realized that Bergen was standing next to me. After a couple of minutes, staring at the jar with the rest of us, he nudged me. "Must be exciting, show business," he said. Ah, the bigtime.
The Ted Bates Agency producing that spot was famous
for concentrating on “the unique selling proposition”
in each ad, and using a sledge hammer to make that
proposition over and over, until the viewer was
infuriated by it, thus somehow made eager to buy the
product. (The “Please Mother, I’d rather do it myself”
line was theirs, and those who remember it probably
still cringe at its mention.) The chap directly responsible
for production of our spot had previously produced an
ad for shaving cream that showed how easy it was to
shave the grit off sandpaper that had been treated with
the product. The stuff really worked, but it was such an
expensive chore to shoot it, that the producer had instead
photographed the shaving of sawdust stuck lightly to
paper, feeling that the artistic license was legitimate.
Unluckily, Congress was just enjoying a fit of moral
outrage over Truth in Advertising, and when it came to
their attention that it wasn’t real sandpaper
in that shot, they righteously denounced the advertiser,
the agency, and the poor devil we were working with.
He’d been grilled unmercifully by hostile politicians
whose opinions about artistic license differed from his.
He’d brought a full case of Mayonette Mayonnaise jars
from New York to use in our spot. (You can’t just take
such products from the shelf, and use them, because on
close examination you see that most bottles are scratched,
the labels are cockeyed, etc...so specially prepared packages
of products are used in photography.) We ran through the
whole case, and needed more immediately. With that big
crew waiting, I rushed through several Hollywood
supermarkets, urgently searching for acceptable jars of
the product...and found none. The Mayonette Mayonnaise
sold on the West Coast was packaged differently from
what he’d brought. I got some jars anyway, and we
carefully transferred the mayonnaise from them to some
of the special jars, cleaning them so they’d look OK on
camera when an actor scooped out the delicious spread.
When the producer discovered what we were doing, he
turned pale in shock. He was in dread that the mayonnaise
might be different as well as the packaging, and he could
see himself explaining the substitution to a congressional
committee...again. Taking into consideration the cost of
wrapping production for the evening, and shooting when
another case of jars arrived, he persuaded himself that
artistic license really did extend far enough to cover him,
and we proceeded. The matter never became an issue, but
he probably lay awake, worrying, many a night. Well,
nobody ever said that job would be easy.
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