Archive for the Robots Scare Me Category

Fahrenheit 1200

Posted in Books, Robots Scare Me on July 27, 2008 by rkunzig

As the Kindle prepares for its second iteration, Luddite bibliophiles are perhaps stoking their blowtorches to a toasty 1200 degrees Fahrenehit–the temperature at which plastic burns.  Take that, Montag.

Seriously, though, hardly a day passes without an, ahem, conflagration on the interwebs over the “death of print media” at the hands of e-book readers like Amazon’s wildly popular Kindle.  These discussions inevitably lead to the general decline in American literacy; a notable example is a recent press conference held by Steve Jobs, who doubted the Kindle would succeed because Americans don’t read anymore.  “The whole conception is flawed at the top,” says Jobs, “because people don’t read anymore.”

Jobs’s very recognition of the Kindle was enough to set speculators and gossipers a-tittering.  With a pronouncement from the father of iCulture, the question no longer became whether or not Apple would produce an e-reader, but whether Steve Jobs could save American literacy.

In the Guardian Book Review, voices sound off on the iLiad (for shame!): Peter Conrad against, Naomi Alderman for.

Kirsten Reach, the progressive bibliophile, pipes up from the back with a few suggestions.  She has, of course, baked cookies for the occasion.

I’m withholding an opinion on e-readers until I can get my hands on one.  The sheer implications of its success make my head spin.  Oprah put Marquez on the bestseller list and made Faulkner summer reading–could a mainstream predilection for expensive, shiny things give reading a jump start in America?


Crackberry Speak

Posted in Robots Scare Me, The Real World on November 21, 2007 by rkunzig


Since my family really got “wired,” I’ve owned second-string cell phones, the ones that come free with the plan. After a long string of dependable, if not sometimes idiosyncratic, Kyocera models, Mom took pity and urged me to pick out “whatever cell phone I wanted.”

Like that certain cheerleader–a little melancholy to the smile, a little thickness to the build, a little sarcasm in the swish of the pom-pom–the LG Chocolate wasn’t the best, per say, but the most appealing. It slid open. It was white. It was smooth, and when I touched it, it responded with a spry, eager click. It took pictures. And in less than a year, I’d owned two, both dying from ailments so catastrophic and terminal that they could only be replaced.

After the latest aneurysm, I spoke the word “BlackBerry.” It was a dependable technology. It had earned its stripes in the DC-Metro area, and with a few generations’ distance from whatever hiccups plagued the first, I felt comfortable calling it a safe bet. Who knows? In a years I could have a middling job as a pup reporter with some middle-rung paper. It might come in handy.

Happy Birthday: The BlackBerry Pearl 8130, the newest, sharpest and sleekest of the Pearl “Smartphone” series. On paper, it shines: It can juggle up to 15 email accounts, access the internet, execute SMS, MMS and BlackBerry messages, take two-megapixel pictures, provide directions; along with the other standard amenities. Navigation is handled by a trackball.

In practice, it lives up to its pedigree. The idea behind the “Smartphone,” I think, is to combine the versatility and power of a PDA with the compactness and access ability of a cell phone. Example: yesterday, while waiting for a friend to squeeze through a battery of red halter-tops, I read Nicolai Ouroussoff’s architectural review of the new New York Times building. On my phone. Am I embarrassing myself, or is this still cool?

The BlackBerry is another issue entirely. Debuting humbly in 1999 as a pager, the device evolved along with the modern cell phone, always staying a few integers ahead of the curve–and ahead of most wallets. When the familiar color-screen QWERTY 7200 series hit the market at a relatively affordable price, young Potomacians and the Bridge-and-Tunnel crowd pounced. By 2004, the number of BlackBerry users had reached two million, having doubled within ten months.

Enter CrackBerry. A unique form of Stimulus Addiciton emerged as the cheery Smartphone vibrated every time an email, text message or call was recieved. Users started feeling phantom vibrations, reaching for emails where there were none. Inane, wandering letters from friends, timestamped somewhere between 8 and 9 a.m.–the commuter surge–came post scripted with “Sent from my Verizon Wireless Blackberry.”

Gaurenteed, you’ll never find a more vanilla, inoffensive spread of language than in a BlackBerry message. While AutoText allows lightning-fast dispatches, predicting words based on context and probability, it also discourages words it doesn’t know. Typing your way to most compound words is like hacking through half a mile of Vietnamese jungle with a dull machete. God forbid you want to spell something so exotic as “fuckhead,” or “shitbird.” Most proper names, too–though, oddly enough, most Jewish surnames slide out easily, as if they were invited. Thus, even the most spirited complaint is sanitized. Example:

“Some birdbrain burned the coffee this morning. Fucking retard.”

Turns into:

“Some idiot burned the coffee this morning. What a retard.”

Suitable for the dinnertable, but I didn’t mean idiot; I meant birdbrain. Styrofoam speech is the price of convenience, and when it’s a labor of frantic backspacing to shape le mot juste, most will choose the supermarket-brand word. Welcome to the commuter’s lexicon, the lazy locution. Smile like you don’t mean it–unless you’re ready to spell it out.

A Season for all Dorks; or, Eugene, Go Buy Call of Duty 4

Posted in Robots Scare Me on November 13, 2007 by rkunzig

SAS commandos do gas-mask chic in Inifinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4.

A lot of deep thinking gets done on my doorstep. There , Eugene bums me a Turkish Gold, takes a first drag, and say something like:

“So, Call of Duty 4 is fucking awesome.”

And I say something like:

“Mass Effect comes out this month, too.”

Gene shakes his head, mutters “Goddamnit” at the ground. Then, “I’m running out of money.”

I tactfully suggest whoring out Aubrey, our housemate. She shouts something from inside. We scratch the idea. I tactfully suggest Gene whoring out himself, or whoring out myself, or maybe a dual whoring–tagteam as fetish appeal, complete with Mexican wrestling masks. Someone would pay. Someone would help us keep up with Quarter 4’s ridiculous videogame release schedule, which has so drained dear Gene’s coffers.

A brief summary of this Quarter’s “Must-Have” titles: Halo 3. Assassin’s Creed. Mass Effect. Call of Duty 4. The Orange Box. Bioshock. Were one to be kind to oneself–and prudent, not buying games of marginal interest like Timeshift or Virtua Fighter 5–one would be dropping a cool $359.94. Not to mention, dozens of hours with a controller in hand, staring at a screen while the world leaves concerned post-it notes on the door.

This isn’t counting PC or Wii giants like Crysis, Super Mario Galaxy or Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. Truly, it’s been a red-letter season for the industry, the likes of which hasn’t been seen since 2004, when Halo 2 and Half Life 2 both dropped before Thanksgiving. Halo, in fact, has secured itself in the popular imagination, getting ink on every paper from X-Box Official Magazine to The New York Times. Halo 3 netted $300 million in first week sales–smashing box-office records–and was blamed by the film industry for a corresponding slump in ticket sales. Everyone in the industry, from lead designers to coders, is putting a new car in their garage.

The question demands more scholarship and thought than is presently available in this venue, but I can’t help but ask: to what extent are video games supplanting cinema in the American imagination? Daring academics are already beginning to incorporate games like Half Life 2 into larger questions of narrative and story-telling. Is it possible that as interactivity becomes more, well, interactive, storylines branching further, the player’s choices becoming more complex, other, more static forms of storytelling will seem outmoded?

The knee-jerk Orwellian in me recoils, of course. But it’s a thought.

Either way, Eugene did buy Call of Duty 4, and the game has rendered such priceless moments as:

“Holy shit, you just blew his fucking arm off.”

“Spun him right around.”


“Wait he doesn’t know you’re there. Use the knife.”


“Fuck my balls!” (Eugene.) “Where the hell did that come from?”

“From your flank, dumbshit. Use the grenades that god gave you.”

“God has nothing to do with this.”

“You’re in Chernobyl. Think. God hates communism, and you are God’s vengeance. Use. Grenades.”

Such things my generation sees through the pixelated crosshairs of a sniper scope. Now let’s hold hands and pray for our brave new world, where we don’t tell war stories–we fight them.