3 April 2014
Just what we’ve always dreamed of . . . a spider you can ride? One of the few dreams I think almost nobody has had is the one about “riding the wild spider.” When I first saw an article about this, I cocked my head and just looked at the picture for a minute – involuntarily muttering, “Wha?”
But, ready or not, the ride-able spider is here. And just in time for . . . some holiday, . . . I guess.
Beginning in 2009, Matt Denton, founder of Micromagic Systems, undertook the building of what has come to be called a giant spider. But for those of us who are aficionados of spider factoids, spiders have 8 legs. The fact that the ride-able spider robot has only 6 legs is just a bit of a disappointment. The designers, also, recognized the credibility gap that would develop if their invention were actually called a spider. So, they gave it the formal name: mantis — naming it after the six-legged praying mantis.
By the way, if you ever get a close look at a praying mantis . . . Well, let’s just say that, in terms of “looks,” it can give the creepiest spider more than a run for its money.
Anyway, reportedly, the construction of a giant walking robot that could carry around a human being was a long-time dream of Denton’s. The finished product isn’t just big, it’s the biggest hexapod built “so far.” At a height of over 9 feet with a weight of 4,188 pounds, it’s “the biggest all-terrain operational hexapod robot in the world.” A Perkins 2.2 liter turbo diesel engine is required to operate the hydraulics that moves its many legs.
And I wasn’t kidding when I talked about riding the wild spider, either. Micromagic Systems is actually making the Mantis available for rent. It doesn’t move fast, but it’s quite sure-footed and capable of traversing terrain that would stop a wheeled vehicle. In fact, Micromagic Systems shouldn’t be surprised if DARPA comes “a calling.” The Mantis has clear military applications along the same lines as other robots being developed for the military by the defense industry.
The Mantis’ rugged performance is all the more surprising because appearance, rather than performance, is the chief characteristic of the animatronic devices Micromagic Systems has always produced. “Animatronic devices” are machines that simulate the movement of living creatures and are most often built for the production of special effects for the film industry. It was Denton’s team that created the six-legged turtle for a Harry Potter film.
Although the Mantis is a fantastic achievement, I can’t help asking: It’s always six legs with you at Micromagic? A six-legged turtle. Then, a six-legged mantis. We spider-lovers are waiting for the first, eight . . . (count ‘em!) . . . eight-legged spider robot.
THURSDAY: Lauryn Hill — The Art, the Music and the Taxes — Let’s Stop Using the Term “Conspiracy Theory”
15 August 2013
On June 29, 2012, Grammy winning artist, Lauryn Hill, pleaded guilty to a charge of failure to pay income taxes. During her trial, Hill was ordered by the court to receive counseling. At the time, several sources reported that the mandatory counseling order was “because of [Hill’s] conspiracy theories.” Counseling sounds sinister when its purpose is to affect a person’s beliefs. And it could be. However, without reading the court transcript, it’s impossible to know what was actually said or what lead to the counseling order during trial and the inclusion of counseling in Hill’s sentence.
Whatever the source or circumstances, the use of the term “conspiracy theory” to describe Hill’s beliefs was unfortunate. The terms “conspiracy theory” and “conspiracy theorist” are gaining frequency, but losing any useful meaning.
On the one hand, Ms. Hill’s public statements included her wish to be a part of a community of people who share a “desire for freedom and the right to pursue their goals and lives without being manipulated and controlled by a media protected military industrial complex . . . .” And, for many, the term “military industrial complex” is almost synonymous with “conspiracy theory.” On the other hand, many artists in the music industry would agree when Hill went on to express her desire to be free from an environment in which her “art and music” were reduced “to a bottom line alone” complaining that “[o]ver-commercialization and its resulting restrictions and limitations can be very damaging and distorting to the inherent nature of the individual.”
So, is Ms. Hill a “conspiracy theorist” or isn’t she? There’s a better question. What is a “conspiracy theorist,” anyway? Arguably, the term is becoming just another personal insult — sort of like calling someone “crazy.”
Particularly in media, but increasingly in political circles, the term “conspiracy theorist” is used far too loosely as a label implying some type of mental disorder. On a political level, this is certainly a few steps down the wrong road. At least once, this line of reasoning was taken to a terrifying extreme. In Nazi Germany, a failure to support the Nazi Party was considered a “mental disorder,” which justified involuntary psychiatric commitment.
We’re still a long way from Nazi Germany but, even now, calling something a “conspiracy theory” seems to be a way of dismissing an opinion or question without discussion. There is no bright-line between “legitimate” and “conspiratorial” political views. Invoking such “lines” usually represents little more than the use of a rather cheap rhetorical device to conceal a legitimate difference of opinion. For one side to label the other “mentally disordered” is nothing more than an attempt to avoid a critical evaluation of, and response to, another viewpoint. This thinly veiled name-calling contributes nothing to public discussion and debate.
Our First Amendment jurisprudence makes it clear that free and open public discussion should define the value of particular opinions. Generally, the First Amendment is implicated when defending an “unpopular” viewpoint from government action. However, the popularity of “alternative” news and discussions is reflected in polls showing that many (and, on some issues, most) Americans hold views that would once have been labeled “conspiratorial” or “fringe.”
The particular tragedy is that, by dismissing widely held views as “conspiracy theories,” political leaders and even major media outlets are becoming the authors and prime movers in the creation of a diminished level of public discourse. Surely, every political and media commentator knows the role and importance of public discussion and debate in the history and purpose of both American government and media. And those commentators must also know the subtly corrupting effect of ad hominem “arguments” on that same public discussion and debate.
Every once in a while, even a crazy-sounding conspiracy theory can turn out to be frighteningly accurate. The reader might want to review Matt Taibi’s article in the Rolling Stone, “Everything is Rigged: The Biggest Financial Scandal Yet,” which begins with the disturbing words, “Conspiracy theorists . . . . You were right.”
In the past few years, well-documented international banking scandals (actual criminal conspiracies) have already dwarfed any real or imagined “military-industrial complex.” If you continue to read the rest Mr. Taibi’s article, . . . well, . . . the better your understanding of banking regulation — the more sleepless nights.
Notes & Links:
[n1] Wikipedia: Lauryn Hill
[n2] Lauryn Hill Blames Slavery as She’s Jailed for $500,000 Unpaid Tax Bill
[n3] (Lauryn Hill’s complete statement is reproduced)
[l4] “Lauryn Hill faces three years in prison for tax evasion”
[l5] Singer Lauryn Hill pleads guilty to tax evasion charges
[n6] “Everything is Rigged: The Biggest Financial Scandal Yet”