Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's not pretty, but its there

I have had cockroaches on my mind a lot of late. It’s been a running theme and it has been interesting the different types of cockroaches I have been thinking about. There are the beautiful and mythical jeweled cockroaches of the Yucatan –

Which have a poignant story behind them of a princess denied her true love that is transformed by curse into the insect; she captures him and attaches him by a small leash to her clothing so they will never be apart. They are given as tokens of affection.

Then there is this –


Robo Roach.

The robotics kit for kids that allows them to insert electrodes into a roaches head after breaking off their antennae so they can control the roaches still living body using the robotic pack they have also glued to their body (having sanded off the natural protective coating first. This kit is causing an absolute uproar among many, except the US based company that made it who fails to see that perhaps this may not be appropriate for children.

The interesting thing is the argument of why the company says that allowing children to harm this insect and turn it into a remote control toy is OK. They say that by 2030, over 20% of all people will suffer from a neurological disease and by letting kids play with this kit; it will inspire them to go on and cure these diseases. In a time where computer modeling and gaming has reached a height of realism, the use of a live animal as a toy to potentially inspire future scientific and medical careers seems a little suspect. In the US, we are experiencing a rise in behaviors from the underage set that have a shared characteristic of lacking any sense of consideration for the impact of their actions on another’s life. The global issue of bullying has these elements as well. It reminds me of the old science play kits that actually had radioactive elements in them; the science often is ignorant of the impact on society because it is enamored of what it can do.

Way back when, in another lifetime, my career had a start in designing multi-player gaming worlds. This was back when you still had to know UNIX to roam the net and gaming was mostly done by MUDs and standalone DOS based programs. It was the beginning of the GUI (graphical user interface) that was so exciting because it promised to allow people with absolutely no understanding of how a computer or the Internet works access and control over it. The conferences surrounding the technology were very exciting – there were virtual worlds and multi user environments and pre-cursors to the Google glasses being shown. There was also a small voice rising of concern that perhaps we were falling in love with what the technology could do without considering if the technology should be allowed to do it. The question, of course, was about the rise of violence in gaming and how the use of graphics began to shift gaming from an adult entertainment to one that would invariably attract children. It represented a shift from a puzzle solving game format to one that focused on point gaining.

The problem has never been that violence in games (or scientific toy kits) is inappropriate for children; it is that the violence is designed from an adult contextual understanding and then presented to children with the expectation that they will be able to understand it from a mature contextual point.  The recent study about depictions of gun violence in PG-13 and R movies and how it corresponds to a rise in the willingness of children who view an image of a gun to act in more hostile manners shows that while an adult may understand a gun in a story, a child doesn’t. We also know that the area of the brain that is capable of understanding and considering cause and effect is not even fully developed until your early twenties so the argument of children understanding the difference between play and real life, cause and consequence is strained at best.

The expectation that a child will make the leap from burning off a cockroach's antennae and pushing electrodes in its brain to saving the world from neurological disorders is something that cannot happen. The child that grows up to create innovations in neurological treatments will be one that will arrive there whether they are playing with play-doh or kitting out a bug with invasive electronics. What the robo roach does is allow an adult invention of how technology can be used to be put into real time use without much thought or consideration of its impact on the roach or the person. Outside of the context of a neurological lab, there is no justification for this except for entertainment, and what kind of person is entertained by harming anything?

But the world is a very strange place in which the right to do something just because you can is taken as more important than the right to choose not to do something because of recognition of its impact. I have a little petri dish lab that I watch this play out in on a weekly basis, it is called the parking lot in front of Dunkin Donuts. When I go, early in the morning, to sit and try and orient myself before going down to run the Wellness program, I get to see a variety of behavior. Because I go often, and at the same time, I get a chance to see the same people doing the same thing.

There is a woman – young – who roars up and invariably chooses the handicap parking space. There are usually parking spaces on either side that are free but she pulls into the space sort of half way and gets out with the engine still running, and glares at anyone watching before stumping in to get her coffee. The handicap space, I should mention, isn’t the one that is usually available and is most convenient to the door. For some reason, she chooses to park there – I suspect because she isn’t supposed to and yet she can. She is not handicapped in any way, shape or form.

Interestingly enough, I got a chance to see her run into a few of her friends at the place today. They all share the same style, clothes and body orientation. They had all stood out in their own way for simple failures of consideration – one ignored the start of the line, another let the door slam in someone’s face whose hands were full. The woman in question roared into the handicap space and got out and they had a loud conversation about shopping for clothes.

Consideration is the hallmark of social maturity. It means that just because you feel something, or want something, or have a reaction to something – that you pause before acting and consider the impact it may have on the environment and people around you that may neither benefit nor harm you – but will have an effect on them. Consideration is where community begins.

 I very often go on and on about negative group identities (and am sure I will again) but at its core is a restriction on who is deserving of consideration. My students often complain that it takes a lot of work to live with consideration, it’s a constant process of stopping yourself and checking the potentials; and I tell them yes, there is no point when it gets easy. But as you practice, parts of it become intuitive. When you reach those moments, suddenly you begin to understand what it really means to be awake and alive. There are few words to explain it, but if you have ever touched it for a moment you know what I mean. Those few moments, however, also reveal how much more work and diligence needs to be done too.

 Life is complicated and it is hard. Life is work. It should be. Otherwise we are all here just keeping ourselves moronically busy until we die and what is the purpose of that? The flip side of that question is to what purpose is it to work at these things if you die anyway? That answer is surprisingly easy but it requires a shift in context that has become much devalued over the past few centuries. Given the rise of mental and physical disorders over the same period of time, it may behoove us to examine the concept again. But more on that later (the tease). The prevalence is not attributable solely to our increased ability to diagnose disorder, but our increased ability to create it.

The first real cold and a touch of snow. The eZip handles fine but the batteries don’t like the cold. I have to work on that. I just had a brief conversation with the guys from the chopshop next door and they agree that battery operated socks may be the way to go with the batteries because of space issues. The mad kitten has shifted into winter mode which consists of the consumption of treats and the draping of herself in inconvenient ways to promote communal napping. She is more successful than not and I have to get myself back on schedule.

Before I forget, the Zen Oasis app is now available. This came out of the work from the Responsive Wellness program at MHCA/OASIS. It is not perfect, but it is there and it is evolving. It has a bit of everything from meditation timers to games to a link out to the AI wonder, “Eliza.” It was built using appsbar and as I transition my skills over to the java family, I will continue customizing it. The secret wonder will be “The Good World,” which has a placeholder in the app now, but won’t be available until later this spring. Technically it is supposed to work on all platforms and should automatically update itself as I continue refining and adding things. You can find it in the Google Play store under Zen OASIS, it is free. 


  1. I wonder if you know Archie and Mehitabel? Archie is a verse libre poet transmigrated into the body of a cockroach. Mehtabel is an alley cat, the transmigrated soul of Cleopatra. They were the discovery of newspaper columnist Don Marquis in the 1st part of the 20th century.


  2. Oh my gosh! I have not thought about Archy and Mehitabel in years! I loved those articles! That also gives me some ideas ;) thank you for the prompt