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Tag: age

Drones and droids and robot dogs, oh my!

The older I get the more wary I become of technology.

What I haven’t figured out is whether one necessarily follows the other: Am I just becoming more fearful as I age, or is technology proving itself more worth fearing?

Both are unstoppable forces. Just as one can’t stop the march of time (even with anti-aging technology), one can’t stop the march of technology.

It keeps coming — whether it’s wise or not, safe or not — and we all blindly jump on board and become dependent on it. If it makes us prettier, gets us where we’re going, let’s us accomplish things more quickly, or function without actually using our brains, we humans are generally all for it.

Already we’re reliant on the Internet, GPS, and cell phones. Already we can purchase almost anything we want online. But the day may soon come when, once we order it, it gets delivered by a robot, perhaps a flying one, or a terrain-traversing one, or one capable of hurling 35-pound cinder blocks 17 feet.

I would say these robot dogs could become the newspaper delivery boys of tomorrow, if newspapers had a tomorrow.

droneLast month 60 Minutes revealed that Amazon was working on drones that will be able to fly to homes and deliver packages at our doorstep.

Last week the New York Times reported that Google has purchased Boston Dynamics, the engineering firm that designed the graceful beast known as “Big Dog” (seen in the video above) and other animal-like robots, mostly for the Pentagon.

It is the eighth robotics company that Google has acquired in the last half-year, but Google’s not divulging what it’s up to.

Given search engines don’t generally need to climb mountains, or hurl cinder blocks, to find their information, one can only wonder.

Is the company branching into war machines? Does it want to corner the market on robot pets? (Boston Dynamics did serve as consultant on Sony’s ill-fated pet robot dog, Aibo.) Is it hoping to take Google Earth one step further and have robots take photographs through our windows? Or, more likely, is Google, like Amazon, positioning itself to become the place where you buy everything, and working on lining up a delivery team whose members don’t require salary, or health insurance, or coffee and pee breaks?

It almost looks like Amazon is poised to cover air delivery, while Google, with its latest purchase, is positioning itself to cover the ground. (That, at least until Big Dog becomes amphibious, leaves the high seas open — aye, aye robot! — for, say, a Yahoo, Bing or eBay).

biigdogBoston Dynamics, based in Waltham, Mass., builds animal-like machines that can traverse smooth or rocky terrain, some of them at speeds faster than a human. Most of its projects have been built under contracts with Pentagon clients like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA.

Google executives said the company would honor existing military contracts held by Boston Dynamics, but that it did not plan to become a military contractor on its own.

So why does it need computers with legs, or robots that can climb walls and trees? Surely Google isn’t working on ”Terminators” that can track you down, knock on your door and provide you with the top 10 recipes for apple crumb cake.

The Times reports:  ”… Executives at the Internet giant are circumspect about what exactly they plan to do with their robot collection. But Boston Dynamics and its animal kingdom-themed machines bring significant cachet to Google’s robotic efforts … The deal is also the clearest indication yet that Google is intent on building a new class of autonomous systems that might do anything from warehouse work to package delivery and even elder care.”

EVEN ELDER CARE? Oy, robot! I do not want a robot dispensing my medication if I end up in such a facility. At that time, I will be even more terrified of technology, and the last thing I would want to see would be a robot coming into my room –  no matter how sexy its voice – saying, “Time for your sponge bath.”

I’m not a total Luddite.

I can publish a website or two, and can hook up my cable TV, and can figure out about 10 percent of what my cell phone does.

But I resent how steep the learning curve has become — how much effort is involved in keeping up with technology. That device promising to make life easier — once you spend a week programming it — may be smaller than your little finger, but its owner’s manual will be fatter than a James Michener novel.

What I fear, though, is where technology can lead, especially technology without forethought, and how quickly and blindly many of us hop on the bandwagon, giving little consideration to the possible repercussions, and how easily it can run amok.

The one futuristic (but already here) technology I’ve researched most is dog cloning. Once achieved, the service was offered to pet owners hoping to bring their dead dogs back to life, and willing to pay $150,000 for that to be accomplished in South Korean laboratories. It bothered me so much, and on so many levels, I wrote a whole book about it. You can order it through Amazon, but don’t expect drone delivery for at least a couple more years. Might one day drones deliver our clones?

I realize my fears are both irrational and rational.

Fretting about the future, I guess, is part of getting older. Old fart worries were around back when automobiles first hit the road (and went on to become a leading cause of death). And it’s probably true that once we stop moving forward, we tend to stagnate. But there’s moving forward and smartly moving forward.

I’m not a fan of big government (except when it helps me get health insurance), but I sometimes wonder if we need a federal Department of Whoa, Let’s Take a Look at this First. Maybe it could monitor emerging technologies, and their ramifications, and determine whether they should be allowed to emerge at all. Maybe that would prevent unimaginable (but, with enough research, entirely predictable) things from happening — like cell-phone shaped cancers forming on the exact spot of our bodies where we pack our cell phones.

But we tend to be more reactive than proactive when it comes to those kinds of things. We wait for the damage to be done and leave it to personal injury lawyers to straighten it out — whether it’s a new anti-psychotic drug that unexpectedly made young males grow female breasts, or irreparable harm done by robotic surgical devices. (If you’ve been victim of either, lawyers are standing by to help you. At least that’s what my TV tells me.)

I want to enter my golden years without shiny silver robots assisting me in living, and without drones hovering outside my door (even if they are delivering a good book). Though I’ve met some clones, I wouldn’t mind getting through life without having any contact with droids and drones and robot dogs.

Sometimes, at least from the Fearful Old Man Perspective (FOMP), it seems we’re so focused on the future that we fail to see and appreciate the present, and don’t even begin to learn from the past.

Sometimes it seems we like dancing on the cutting edge, then cry foul when our feet get sliced up.

Sometimes it seems we embrace technology too quickly and casually, when it should be a careful and thoughtful embrace, made with the realization that, as much as technology can make life better, it can also screw it up badly. We tend to view technology in terms of what it can add to our life, not even considering what it might subtract. And, in what’s the biggest danger of all, we tend to let it overrule our hearts and do our thinking for us.

It can save and prolong lives, even, in a way, re-create them. It can make our human lives – though it’s arguable — more convenient.

But it can also gnaw away at us until we become tin men and scarecrows — maybe not actually missing our hearts and brains, but at least forgetting we ever had them.

Roadside Encounters: Betty

Name: Betty

Breed: Boston terrier

Age: 14 years

Encountered: At Heart of Gold, a jewelry store in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Backstory: Ace and I were sitting outside a coffee shop when suddenly I felt my seat start moving. I’d looped Ace’s leash over the back of my chair, and he moved it a full inch before I turned around to see what he was trying to get to.

It was a Boston terrier. She did her business in the pine needles and disappeared as quickly as she had appeared.

Ace whimpered, insisting, it seemed, that we go find her. He pulled me into Heart of Gold, where the owner was packing up — going out of business after nine months.

Despite the situation, she was happy to talk about her greying old dog, Betty, who comes to work with her every day.

She got Betty as a pup in Florida, part of a litter sired by a pedigreed Boston terrier who went by the name Willie B. Cute.

Betty’s owner, who’s moving to Texas after the shop gets packed up,  happily agreed to me taking Betty’s picture, but — not wanting to be in any pictures herself — handed the dog off to her employee.

The result was a photo that captured — if I do say so myself — both the quiet dignity of old age and the joyful energy of youth.

After our quick photo session, Betty, who’s going deaf, was returned to the floor, where she immediately began scooting her butt across the carpet. She was scolded only mildly and continued scooting. That’s one of the things that comes with the dignity of old age — when you have an itch, you scratch it.

(Roadside Encounters are a regular feature of Travels with Ace. To see them all, click here.)

The first and last flight of Snickers the cat

I feel bad for what happened to Snickers the cat. But to be brutally honest, I’m having a hard time working up much sympathy for her owner.

Snickers died last week, shortly after arrival at the Hartford airport aboard Delta Flight 738.

Airline officials had promised Heather Lombardi, who had purchased the cat from a breeder in Utah and was having her delivered, that the cargo hold the cat would travel in was climate controlled.

If you can’t guess what happened next, here’s some additional information:

Snickers was 11 weeks old.

Snickers was a Sphynx, or hairless cat.

It is winter, and a particularly cold one.

Once a plane lands, the cargo area is depressurized, and that climate control stuff doesn’t apply anymore.

Lombardi sent out an email blast to tell the world about “the worst tragedy I have ever personally experienced” — not to gain pity, or money, or, we’d hope, bolster her odds in a lawsuit. Instead, she says, she wanted to inform the world of the dangers of shipping a cat, by air, in winter.

With her two children, Lombardi arrived at the airport and was told to wait in the baggage area. Fifty minutes passed after the flight landed, the delay in unloading baggage being caused at least partly by a cargo hold latch that was stuck, she was told.

“I wasn’t incredibly alarmed … I figured she would be fine as long as she wasn’t outdoors,” wrote Lombardi, who paid $290 to transport Snickers. Outdoors, it was 7 degrees.

Upon being handed the crate, Lombardi opened it and pulled Snickers out:

“The kitten was ICE cold, limp, and unresponsive. I IMMEDIATELY put her into my coat, grabbed my kids by the hands & ran out of the airport to get her into my car & cranked up the heat putting all vents on her as I rubbed her trying to warm her up. She couldn’t lift or control any limbs, her breathing was labored, she had a blank stare in her eyes, and she let out a meow. As if to say help me — please. We rushed her to the emergency vet clinic, but to my utter devastation, on the drive, she let out a blood curdling cry & went completely limp …”

Ten minutes after handing the apparently lifeless cat to the vet, Lombardi was informed that Snickers was indeed dead.

“Her last hour of life was spent frozen & unable to escape. I am so utterly devastated — I cannot express to anyone how this feels. I am so sad for her, her little 11 week life lost for no reason. A tragedy that could have been prevented if the airline had valued her little promising life.”

Delta told her it is investigating, but, she said, “the bottom line is that they can’t bring her back to me or my family, there is nothing they can say or do to make this whole. We don’t want a new kitten; we fell in love with HER. She was our new child & there is nothing that can be done to bring her home to us. Snickers lost her life unnecessarily …  Value life everyone, I have just experienced something I pray no one else has too. Don’t let Snickers lost life be in vain, I pray you guys read this & maybe another animals life won’t be lost to the cold & lonely Delta Cargo holds.”

Reading over her summary of events, what stuns me most is that a customer would even consider having an 11-week-old hairless cat transported by air in the dead of winter. That the breeder would permit it is surprising as well. That Delta signed off on it is equally shocking.

So, much as we regret Snickers’ passing, we, unlike Lombardi, wouldn’t aim our anger solely at Delta. There appear to be plenty of humans to share the blame, including the one who — though her subsequent warning not to ship animals when it’s below 30 degrees is valid — probably should have done a little more research and used a little more common sense before having her new hairless cat placed on a plane.

And we have to wonder a little bit, too — coldhearted as it may be at her time of clearly anguishing loss — why, any allergies aside, someone would opt for a pricey, high-maintenance novelty pet from the other side of the country when hundreds of cats are in the Hartford area’s animal shelters, waiting for homes.

Heather Lombardi responds: 

“… I first wanted to thank you for bringing attention to what happened to Snickers. Knowledge is power & even if you don’t agree with my actions & poor decision, not everyone knows or understands the risks of placing your pets in a climate controlled cargo hold. I myself was guilty of that. I do not place blame solely on Delta, my lack of knowledge & belief that travel was safe for animals in this weather was the obvious reason she was on the flight. It’s why I decided to share her story. She died due to my lack of knowledge & an obvious service failure on Delta’s behalf. I can’t control Delta, their practices or policies, what I can control is how I handle the situation. I choose to raise awareness, and I thank you for helping with that.”

One in five prefer pet as their Valentine

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So, with only three days left to Valentine’s Day, your honey still hasn’t firmed up the plans?

Could be he, or she, is planning to spend it with the pooch.

Rather than spending Valentine’s Day with their human partner, a fifth of adults would prefer to be with their pet, Reuters reports, based on a global poll conducted in conjunction with the market research company, Ipsos.

The survey of 24,000 people in 23 countries found, globally, 21 percent of adults would rather spend February 14 with their pet than their spouse or partner.

Interestingly, Turkish people were most inclined to want to spend the day with the dog (49 percent), while the French were least likely (10 percent).

The survey found that age and income were even bigger factors than country of residence, with younger, less affluent people more likely to choose their pet as their Valentine’s Day companion. About  25 percent of people aged under 35 opted for their pet over their partner, compared to 18 percent of those aged 35-54 and 14 percent of people aged 55 and over. Men and women were evenly split over the question.

About 1,000 individuals per country took part in the poll, with Turkey showing the largest numbers by far of owners who preferred their pet’s company on Valentine’s Day.  Next came India with 41 percent, Japan with 30 percent, China with 29 percent, the United States with 27 percent and Australia with 25 percent.

The nations where residents were the least likely to want to spend the day with a pet over their spouse or partner were France at 10 percent, Mexico at 11 percent, the Netherlands at 12 percent and Hungary at 12 percent.

Snow, dogs and living in the moment

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Dogs, among all the other things they teach us, show us how to live in the moment — to see the snow as something to be played in as opposed to something to be whined about.

Then again, they don’t have to shovel it.

Part of me, upon confronting two feet of snow, wants to go to sleep in that moment and wake up in a future moment when it has all melted, and then proceed to live in that moment.

Which brings us to this weekend’s momentous snow.

Like most dogs, Ace loves the snow. A good covering of it seems to take years off his age. Snow, for dogs, is a fountain of youth. It brings out their inner child, which, with them, is already pretty close to the surface anyway.

That said, even Ace was briefly flummoxed by 25 inches of it — the most he’s ever seen. When I opened the front door, there was a two-foot wall of snow. He stared at it for a few seconds, then busted through and down the steps.

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Even for a big dog like him, the only way to move forward was with a series of bunny-style hops — and, unlike with me, each hop served to invigorate him more. “Let’s go! Let’s go!” his entire body said. With me trudging and him hopping, we worked our way to a plowed road and to the park, where other snow-invigorated canines frolicked with abandon.

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Even among more elderly dogs at the park, the snow seemed to have made them young again, bringing more spring to their steps, more sparkle to their eyes. It made me reflect back to my New Year’s resolutions – to look at things, including burdensome ones like two feet of snow, and see the joyous opportunities they present.

Like dogs do.

rocky1

(Photos by John Woestendiek)

Guinness names new oldest dog

otto20Otto — a nearly 21-year-old dachshund mix from across the pond — has been proclaimed the world’s oldest dog by the Guinness Book of World Records.

To be precise — for all those who will be coming out of the woodwork saying their dogs are older — Otto is 20 years and eight months, the UK’s Daily Mail reports.

Owners Lynn and Peter Jones, from Shrewsbury, entered him for the title with Guinness World Records after learning of the death last month of the previous title holder, a 21-year-old dachshund  in New York named Chanel.

Otto’s claim to the record was approved this week. Mrs. Jones, 53, has owned Otto since he was six weeks old.

They attribute his longevity to “plenty of love, plenty of good food” and regular veterinary check-ups.

Otto has arthritis, and doesn’t appreciate walks like he used to. “He gets about ten yards down the road then looks back over his shoulder as if to say ‘I want to go home,’” Mrs. Jones said. “But he’s still playful. He can still jump all over people when they come round.”

The oldest dog on record was an Australian cattle dog named Bluey, who lived to 29 years and five months before having to be put down in 1939.

Dogs joining humans in enjoying longer lives

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Although it’s difficult to find any studies that back it up, dogs seem to be living longer — a result of improved veterinary technology, healthier diets and, we’d like to think, pet owners taking their reponsibility more seriously.

Veterinarians say it’s no longer unusual for some dogs and cats to reach 15 years or more, according to a recent MSNBC report, and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence supporting that.

The MSNBC report, for instance, mentions Chanel, the wire-haired dachshund who when she died last month at the age of 21, was heralded as the world’s oldest dog, according to Guinness World Records. It also mentions Max, a terrier mix whose owner thinks he deserves some heralding as well. He is 26 and going strong.

While there don’t seem to be statistics to support it, it seems dogs, like people, are seeing their life expectancy stretch to new lengths.

“Just as the average life expectancy for people keeps reaching closer to the century mark, we’ll continue to see the same parallels in our pet population,” says Martha Smith, director of veterinary services at Boston’s Animal Rescue League.

Melanie Otte, a diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine at Florida Veterinary Specialists in Tampa, believes someday it will not be uncommon to see dogs routinely reaching 19 years of age, according to an article in South Florida’s News-Press.

That strong bond between an owner and their pet is one reason why dogs are living longer, some experts say.

My guess is, in some cases, it’s one reason people are living longer, too.

(Photo by John Woestendiek)

“Oldest dog” appears on NBC’s Today Show

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Chanel, a 21-year-old dachshund mix who has been certified by Guinness World Records as the oldest dog in the world, appeared on the Today Show yesterday, celebrating her birthday with her owner, Denice Shaughnessy.

Wearing a pink sweater and red goggles (because of cataracts), Chanel received her official Guinness certificate on the show.

Denice’s husband, Karl Shaughnessy, contacted Guinness after noticing it had no category for world’s oldest living dog.  He sent in Chanel’s birth certificate showing her birth date: May 6, 1988. In dog years, her veterinarian says, Chanel is 120. She’ll be listed in the 2010 edition of Guinness World Records, scheduled for publication this October.

The oldest dog ever whose age could be verified was Bluey, an Australian cattle dog that died at the age of 29 years, 5 months in 1939.

Chanel wears a sweater or T-shirt when she goes out, because she tends to get chilled easily. She also has a benign tumor on one hind leg, and wears booties to protect the limb. She is prone to getting up in the middle of the night for a drink, and sometimes has trouble relocating her bed.

Denice Shaughnessy was a single mother in the U.S. Army 21 years ago when she went to a shelter in Virginia looking for a dog for her daughter. They paid a $25 adoption fee and took Chanel home.

A few months later, Shaughnessy’s house burned down. That was followed by more hard times in which mother, daughter and dog subsisted on macaroni and cheese. Denice later married Karl Shaughnessy and settled on Long Island, where she got a job as a school secretary.

A face we miss: Bella the Great Dane

I miss seeing this old girl at the park — a Great Dane named Bella, who I just recently heard died a couple of weeks ago.

Bella was a familiar white face at Riverside Park, where every once in a while, after standing still as a statue for minutes on end, she’d briefly break into that thundering trademark Great Dane gallop.

Mostly though, she watched the younger dogs, or found a human to lean on — frequently, ever since the time I gave her a treat or two, me.

I liked to think the two of us, neither being youngsters anymore, shared a special bond. Maybe it was just the treats.

Either way, I still miss the old girl.

A walk in the woods

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Daniel Rubin was taking his dog Harley for a short morning walk. You know the kind. Hurry up and do your business … It’s cold … Gotta get to work. But — as will happen when new dog meets freshly fallen snow – the short walk turned into a long walk, an acquaintance turned into a friend, and, more important for Dan, taking the time to go down a new path or two turned into a column. Here’s what he posted on his Facebook page, which he later condensed into a column, which appears in today’s Inquirer.

Harley’s first step out the door is up — straight up — all 100-or-so loping, furry, orsine pounds of Bouvier twisting, leaping, soaring into the air. He looks back, wild-eyed and grinning.

To be a dog in the snow.

The idea was to walk him long enough so he could do his thing, then I could excavate the car and drive into town, where bad roads and deadline awaited.

But everytime this dog sees a blanket of snow, he’s seeing it for the first time. I’m not sure how bright he is. But he does know how to live.

We took the middle of the road, usually a whoosh of morning traffic, but there were no cars, no sound. There were no sidewalks yet either at 7 o’clock, just slight furrows in the virgin snow.

In the next block a lone figure shoveled the deep, airy powder. He was pink-faced and wore a beret, a field jacket, sweats and Wellies.

“Nice day for a walk,” he said, happily stopping for a moment.

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