Thursday, March 26, 2009

Column: At 40, the eyes (don't) have it

They say when you turn 40 everything starts to go. I figured this was a myth until I turned 40 and woke up to find I had made a Kafkaesque transformation into Ernest Borgnine.

First of all there’s my struggle with vitamin D deficiency, which has been well documented previously in this space. I’m happy to report that my levels are now approaching normal, thanks to daily vitamin supplements and getting more sunlight, primarily by sticking my head out the car window like a golden retriever.

But now I have another problem, one that I’d hoped could be attributed to the fact that I hadn’t cleaned my computer monitor since “twitter” was still just a nervous tic common among schoolgirls. Instead, it’s my vision that’s made me have to pump up my screen font to comical proportions, so that everything I work on looks like a children’s book. All that’s missing are the colorful watercolor drawings of frogs in pants.

[Read the rest of this week's AT LARGE by Peter Chianca here.]

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

AT LARGE Wednesday Link Roundup

Better, stronger, faster: Man replaces lost finger with USB drive. A whole new meaning to "pull my finger."

Watch Statler & Waldorf's appearance on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon." Frankly, they should have given them this slot.

Wait, is this possible? "Non-A**hole Discovered On Twitter." Sounds like an urban myth to me.

☛ Finally saw a picture of the robot model and found her vaguely attractive, in a department store mannequin kind of way. Disturbing.

Oh, good -- I thought this might have been a gag. That would have just been cruel.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Update: US is kicking Japan's robotic butt

You may recall my recent concern over the robot teacher being tested in Japan. I was worried that it might not be as effective as a real teacher, and also, it might represent the first wave of our eventual enslavement by killer cyborgs. Taken together, those things spell "red flag" to me.

But as it turns out, the Japanese aren't even all that when it comes to robotics. Right here in the good ol' USA -- at U.C. San Diego, to be precise -- they've already overtaken the Japanese, designing a robot with 31 motors in the face, not just 19, that can READ facial expressions, not just mimic them. All at the bargain price of $75,000! If it could only play baseball you could replace the entire Red Sox starting lineup for less than we're paying Manny Delcarmen.

And as if that weren't enough, it doesn't look like a QVC host like the Japan model -- it looks like Albert Einstein! See the amazing and yet still vaguely creepy video here. And the best part is, you'll notice it has no arms and legs, making its potential role in world domination marginal at best.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Column: So these two Romans walk into a bar …

The problem with historians and archeologists is they’re always turning up things nobody really needs, like clay pots and pieces of old wallpaper, rather than items that could actually be useful, like all-powerful Arks of the Covenant. I’m speaking generally here.

That’s why I was excited to read about the latest historical discovery out of Cambridge University: the world’s oldest joke book, featuring gags from the Roman Empire. Professor Mary Beard told the Guardian of London that the book would dispel the myth that Romans were “pompous, toga-wearing bridge builders,” although I never really thought of them that way … Seems to me a culture has to have a sense of humor if it can manage to go 500 years without pants.

Here’s one of the jokes, which is apparently typical of the lot: “A man buys a slave, who dies soon after. When he complains, the slave seller replies, ‘Well, he didn’t die when I owned him.’” Ha ha! It’s funny, because it’s true!

Still, the concept of the world’s oldest joke book piques my interest for several reasons, not the least of which is that my late grandfather was a stand-up comedian back in the days when comedians really told jokes — mostly other people’s jokes. In fact, he bequeathed to me his copy of “The Complete Comedian’s Encyclopedia” by Robert Orben, which I think may have been the world’s second oldest joke book.

[Read the rest of this week's AT LARGE by Peter Chianca here.]

[Need some joke suggestions? These will make you the life of the party.]

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The wearing of the green

Happy St. Patrick's Day from everyone's favorite green celebrity. (Sorry, it's not the Hulk.)

Monday, March 16, 2009

Column: That's MR. Roboto to you

Even in a poor economy, we’re always going to need teachers. Because someday things are going to get better, and someone has to teach children the skills they’ll need to ruin everything again when it’s their turn.

But now it seems even teachers have to worry: It just came out that scientists in Japan are testing an actual robot teacher at a primary school in Tokyo. Yes, I’m referring to a teacher created entirely in a lab, and presumably programmed not to get burnt out, surly or despondent over the fact that smoking is no longer allowed in the teachers’ lounge.

According to the Telegraph of London, the robot can “carry out roll calls, set tasks and make facial expressions — including anger — thanks to 19 motors hidden behind her latex face.” That last part strikes me as wholly unnecessary, given that some of my best teachers had pretty much only one facial expression, hovering somewhere between incredulity and bemused indifference. (They know who they are.)

[Read the rest of this week's AT LARGE by Peter Chianca here.]

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's less creepy that that Burger King guy, but only vaguely

So Jack in the Box got hit by a bus, was in a coma for 2 weeks, and is now giving away free fries? How did I miss this?

Maybe it's because all we've got around here is Wendy's.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Column: Looking for a few good (piano) men

Has anyone noticed that our elected officials keep talking nonstop about the impending economic Armageddon? Whatever happened to all that hope we were supposed to have? These days it’s pretty much limited to hoping that everything you own isn’t foreclosed upon in your sleep, so you wake up lying in the middle of a field in your underwear.

But never fear, everything’s about to get better. It turns out Billy Joel and Elton John are coming back to town to help you forget about your troubles with their finely crafted pop nuggets. Since they’ll be playing football stadiums, you should probably note for future reference that Billy Joel will be the little bald dot, and Elton John will be the pear-shaped dot that looks like it’s had the most expensive hair transplant known to man.

Now, I should mention that in my youth I had what you might call extreme affection for these two men and their music, particularly Billy Joel. I had all his albums, and when I was in high school he married Christie Brinkley, an action that gave great hope to all of mankind. Or at least the segment of mankind that looked like Billy Joel.

So call it a desire to relive my youth, but I actually thought about trying to get tickets to their upcoming tour, which stops at Gillette Stadium in July. And then I saw the ticket price, $179.50, and my fond nostalgia was immediately replaced by a desire to paddle both of them furiously in the buttocks with an overstock vinyl copy of “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy.”

[Click here for the rest of this week's At Large by Peter Chianca.]

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Column: Requiem for a Newspaper

In the newspaper biz these days, to say we open up forwarded e-mails from our colleagues with trepidation is an understatement. There’s always the chance that the next one you click on will bring with it the news that the entire industry has collapsed in a cloud of dust and tumbleweeds, and we should all just pack up our AP Style Manuals and head home.

And sure enough, I got one last week that hit me particularly hard: Turns out the community weekly that covered my childhood hometown of Carmel, N.Y., had closed for good, a victim of the Journal Register Company’s recent bankruptcy.

The Putnam County Courier was pretty much the only paper that had any idea of what the people there were up to — the local daily, at least when I lived there, seemed to consider us a quaint little extension of Westchester that was only really worth dipping into if someone was lucky enough to get run over by the Metro North train on its way to New York City.

[Click here for the rest of this week's At Large by Peter Chianca.]

Ryan DID start the fire

If you watch "The Office," you must watch this: