Posts Tagged ‘technology’

CLEANING THE BLACKBOARD: THE PAST, THE PRESENT, THE FUTURE…

October 7, 2015

2015-10-07kids-fighting-cartoonIn the course of a Skype discussion my English language informant mocked my using the classroom expression “to clean the blackboard” because, allegedly, blackboards were not cleaned in Britain any more. Being an eternal doubter with a sort of “show-me” mentality, I googled the phrase and, with a sigh of relief (“Still, I do NOT speak Chaucer’s English!”), discovered that blackboards (aka chalkboards, whiteboards, or, simply, boards) are vibrantly alive and keep being successfully cleaned even now. Those who don’t like to clean them, may clean them off/up , or wipe, erase and rub them. The written matter can also be removed. YouTube videos demonstrated the best technologies of cleaning (I liked Benny Hill’s energetic approach at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y_ANwPJtyqM  and auto-cleaning when an automatic  eraser moves slowly from left to right making the board “clean and prepared” —  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xwCwbKrZQc  ).

However, I thought that there was something rational in what my English critic said. With the current societal, political and demographic trends, changes are sure to invade our everyday lives, and teachers of English cannot disregard them. The notorious “board” can be an example. Cleaning a smartboard is different from cleaning the blackboard, since the former action is not about removing what has been written but about cleaning the screen and involves such steps as shutting down your board and the connected computer, dusting the board with a damp cloth, getting ready with an erase solution, etc.

I wondered what traditional conversational topics, which students of English usually learn, would look like in about fifty years. By way of example, I took the topic ABOUT MYSELF (“My name is…, I get up at…, etc)

My name is Futuro. I get up at 11 o’clock in the morning. I do not know if I am a girl or a boy because I will be deciding about my true gender when I come of age. I have two parents. Theirs is a same-sex marriage, that’s why I do not know which of them is my Dad or my Mom. I address them as P1 (Parent One) and P2 (Parent  Two). Until recently they used to take me to school by car, except for one day in the year when we observed International Walk-to-School Day (hmph…). Then I had to walk to school. Now I am on a home schooling program because I am already through with the elementary courses of Bullying, Smoking, Drug-Abuse and Obscene-Language Usage. At the moment I’m reading a book “How to Scare and Snare Other People”. It’s a required item of my home school curriculum. Alongside I have to do the project “The Frequency and Meaning of Expressive Interjections in Modern Literature for Children.” So far I have found out that the words yuck (to express disgust), eek (unpleasant surprise), boo (to provoke fright) and hee-hee (a mischievous laugh) make up 49 per cent of all the words used in my book. I go to bed when I want to.

And that’s that.

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RUSSIAN YABLOCHKOV AND AMERICAN EDISON

January 5, 2015

2015-01-05YablochkovWhen I shared with my colleague, a former military, the news that Russia is developing a new strategic 2015-01-05Edisonbomber which will have better characteristics than its NATO counterpart, the colleague gave a smile: “It’s a question whether the nation will be able to afford it – they are cash-strapped. The developmental costs for the similar American aircraft were in $50 billion range. Even if the Russians do something of the kind, it will hardly be more than a few planes for test flights. And then… there are other reasons…Remember what happened to their manned lunar program?”

Apparently, my colleague was referring to problems other than technical. In 1961 President Kennedy proclaimed a manned landing on the Moon. Soon afterwards Nikita Khrushchev reportedly said to leaders of the Soviet rocket industry: “”Do not leave the Moon to the Americans. Anything you need in order to do it, will be provided.” In August 1964 the Soviet government finally gave full go ahead to the lunar landing effort, but two months later, in a palace coup, Khrushchev was forced to step down, which also meant the death of the Soviet lunar project.

Russia (which, for appearances’ sake, named itself the “USSR” for a period of seven decades) has never been a fertile ground for technical innovations. Ideas were produced but they almost never caught on. At my high school the teachers never missed an opportunity to emphasize the priority of Russian inventors as compared to foreign scientists. All of us knew that Pavel Yablochkov and Alexander Lodygin were the first in the world to invent an electric bulb, Ivan Polzunov made the steam engine before James Watt, the Periodic Table of chemical elements was developed by Dmitriy Mendeleyev and every pupil could tell you that May 7th was “Radio Day” – i.e. the day when Alexander Popov invented the radio (the date was celebrated nationwide every year). On the other hand, our teacher never told us about what used to happen to those inventions after they were made. Polzunov’s project was sent to Empress Catherine. She awarded him 400 rubles and promotion two ranks (to captain-poruchik) but did not seem to appreciate the new technology, as she recommended hydropower (not steam) be used to return the pistons as done in Britain. After Ivan Polzunov’s death at age 37 the machine worked three months, then was disassembled and replaced by convenient hydropower, despite paying off its costs in those three months.

Even more illustrative is the example of Yablochkov’s arc lamp (“candle”). Yablochkov experimented on arc lighting in Russia. By the autumn of 1875 he had moved to Paris where in 1876, he was awarded French patent # 112,024 for his electric candle. The first public exhibition of the candle was in London on 15 April 1876. It enjoyed immediate success and popularity. The Yablochkov candle could burn for an average of one and a half hours in a lamp before the candle had to be replaced.

The candles rapidly increased in popularity as another exhibition was held in London on 17 June 1877. Their first commercial use was at the Louvre in October 1877 (that’s when Paris got its nickname that it’s still called today—“The City of Lights”). Units were sold in many European countries including Belgium, Spain, Portugal, Sweden and Greece, as well as in cities on other continents including Rio de Janiero, Mexico City, New Delhi, Calcutta, and Madras. The Shah of Persia and the King of Cambodia used the candles for illuminating their palaces. At the height of the candle’s popularity, the 8,000 of the candles were produced in France per day. The Russian government persuaded Yablochkov to come back to Russia after he got rich in France—and to do it in Russia. He came back, started a company, and went bankrupt—he couldn’t find investors! He couldn’t even get the hotel he was living in to install his lights. They preferred gas lights!  In the long run, Yablochkov returned to his home province of Saratov, and set up an office where he worked on plans for lighting the city. He died on 31 March 1894. Yablochkov was buried in the village of his parents in the Church of Archangel Michael. The church was destroyed by the communist regime in the late 1930s, so in 1947, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth, Sergey Vavilov, then president of the USSR Academy of Sciences, attempted to locate the exact grave site. By interviewing village elders and reviewing archival records he arrived at a probable location, and a monument was erected on this site on 26 October 1952.

In 1964 two Russians  Alexander Prokhorov and Nikolay Basov  and  an American Charles Townes shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for inventing the laser. But no Russian company is making money off lasers nowadays. It never went into the Russian inventors’ heads to commercialize the idea. Meanwhile, Charles Townes took out a patent on what he had developed, sold it to a business, got his slice and … Russia is buying all its cameras, printers, etc. from the West.

The most recent example is fracking. The Russians developed the idea of hydraulic fracturing in the 1950s. A few articles were published in scientific journals and that seemed to be the end of it. In the 1980 the Americans took it up and now Chevron, Exxon, BP are teaching the Russians how to successfully do fracking.

Why so? One reason may be that the social and political environment does not contribute to the implementation of ideas. In western countries successful entrepreneurs are cult figures. Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates have iconic status… Stories go about their not particularly having sweated over their courses at school, some of them were even university drop-outs. But they rose to the heights thanks to their brilliant acumen…  In Russia scientists shun away from business which is considered by them to be dirty, corrupted and criminal, and which it, for the most part, is.

One last finishing touch. A few years ago I was in Turkey translating for my colleague and helping him with tickets, accommodation, etc. while the colleague was being treated for a malignant tumor (in Ukraine there was no gamma-knife to perform that kind of surgery,  and I’m not sure if there is one now). Before we returned to Ukraine, the chief doctor of the oncological center in Turkey where we were staying suggested that their team visit Kyiv and speak to the Ukrainian oncologists about their experience in treating cancer. Incidentally, in his time the doctor had been working at the Division of Oncology at the Stanford School of Medicine, so he knew what he was suggesting. Back in Kyiv, it took me three weeks to phone all potentially interested doctors and to knock dozens of doors explaining that doctors from Turkey were ready to come to Kyiv at their own expense to deliver lectures and demonstrate the equipment.  You don’t even have to pay for interpretation services, I said, I am the interpreter. The last words I heard from a high-positioned medical bureaucrat during my final phone call were: “I don’t need that headache. I feel quite comfortable as I am now…”

Just a graphic example of what the “environment” is…

TECHNOLOGICAL GIGANTISM

January 14, 2012

Thousands of fans and those who were hired by scalpers to buy the phones for further re-selling were queuing all night in freezing temperatures in Beijing to purchase the latest Apple model – iPhone 4S. Being afraid that the sale would get out of control, the administration of the Apple store didn’t open the shop in the morning. The indignant crowd started throwing eggs at the shop-windows, scuffles followed and the police cordoned off the store.
There are oodles of examples when people are led in their actions by greed and vanity. With IT-technology the example is even more vivid because of the clearer distinction between the high-tech achievements and low morality. The other day I watched a documentary about a person affected by the disease of macrosomia, or gigantism. The development of the person’s heart, lungs and other parts didn’t catch up with the anomalous growth of the body and the person eventually died. The first warning bell for mankind rang, probably, in the first half of the 20th century when the inventions and discoveries, like electricity, telephone, aviation and nuclear power didn’t prevent nations from the two world-wars in which 60 million people were killed. On the contrary, they intensified the massacre. The April of 1986 was the second alert message.  When I was watching  the faces on the video from China, as they were distorted with rage, I thought that, morally, mankind hasn’t grown a single millimeter higher. It looks like it is terminally ill.


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