A History of the WristComm

Sort of.

Wrist Comm episode of Doctor Who, 1977

In my forthcoming book UNDERCURRENT, a lot of my characters use WristComms. I figure that, even a hundred years from now, we’re still going to need some kind of phone (plus whatever apps and stuff we need), and we won’t want to carry it around. So, I named my device the “WristComm.” Settle down, all you Whovians. . . I know this name has been used before in the “The Robots of Death,” episode of Doctor Who in 1977, and this Wrist-Comm was worn by Toos (Pamela Salem).

The Wrist-Comm/Brooch

Although it looks a little like beads glued to a brooch and hot glued to an elastic band, I’m pretty sure this is a real Wrist Comm. I just hope that we don’t have to wear that gold-plated colander as an antenna.

But that’s not the only popular show to feature a Wrist Comm. Star Trek: The Motion Picture featured a communicator that was worn on the wrist. This one once looked futuristic, but on close inspection, I believe this might have been the first-generation DirectTV remote. It looks like it clips onto your arm,probably only until the end of the shot when it falls to the studio floor and breaks, and then a scrawny guy dressed all in black rushes in with a soldering iron and some duck tape to make repairs and hand it back to Captain Kirk. I do like this one, because it has red lights on it. All good technology should have red lights.  

The Realistic 2100, by Tandy

Here’s another example of a more modern-day wrist-based communicator. If Radio Shack were still around, I’m pretty sure this is what their WristComm would look like. I really like the big volume knob and the stylish wood-grain accent panel (or is that a magnifying window showing the guy’s arm hair?

But what I’m really thinking for the wonderful world of Aquataine, is something like the one below. It’s nothing more than a slim wrist band that projects the images of your apps onto your arm instead of a screen. I think that by  2125, these might actually be old technology. The picture shows the concept photo of something the developers call the Cicret Bracelet. The video is fun to watch, but for the record, I ain’t sendin’ no money to their funding page. 

The WristComm (before Holographic models were introduced in 2126)

The concept, I think is probably feasible. I note that there are no red lights, but that’s an easy fix. The other problem developers have to overcome is how you answer your phone in the winter time while wearing your new North Face Arctic down coat. But, I’m sure those are simple things compared to making this technology work in the first place.

There’s one other thing that would make this all better, and I introduced it in a couple of places in UNDERCURRENT. The first place is in the coffee shop across from the Wave party headquarters. Phelan Maxwell taps his wrist-comm to the access terminal to sync it to a larger screen mounted at the table. At the same time,the terminal projects a keyboard onto the table, making it easier for him to enter text while speech mode is disabled.

I know this looks all futuristic, but you can actually buy this at Wal-Mart right now for around $45 to tie in to your Smartphone. Or,your arm.

P.S. Yes it is duck tape.

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Could I do my ancestors’ jobs?

Gun Stock Milling Machine

Man, would I love to try! Ancestry.com posted a video (which is labeled as Episode 1 and hopefully will lead to a new TV series) shows a researcher who tries her hand at being a tailor like her ancestors. She works with a tailor shop to make a custom blazer for her father. If I was going to try one of my ancestors’ jobs, I might try:

  • Blacksmith (1780 or so)
  • Armorer (Harpers Ferry Armory, 1799-1862)
  • Armorer (Springfield Armory, Massachusetts, 1862-1920 or so)
  • Railroad Worker (Harpers Ferry, WV; Cumberland, MD; and points west, 1850-1950s)
  • Railroad Brakeman (Around 1875-1925)
  • Railroad Engineer (1875-1950)
  • Machinist (1900-1960)
  • Federal Reserve Bank (1940-1980)
  • I’m in my father’s line of work now, but let’s not talk about that.

So which one would I try? I have always been fascinated by the armorer jobs. Combining the blacksmiths and the armorers, I think all of them worked at the Harpers Ferry or Springfield armories, I suppose making gun barrels. The gun locks were for the more skilled metal smiths, but I think us Crowls were all about the barrels—hammering out two half-moon pieces of steel out of long rods,then welding them together, and drilling them smooth. It fits with our “Work harder, not smarter,” mantra, after all.

My earliest armorer ancestors might have been in town when Captain Meriwether Lewis stopped by in 1803 to purchase supplies for his expedition out west with some guy named Clark. He ordered muskets, of course, but also lots of other stuff, including a portable and collapsible boat. Might my 5th great grandfather have worked on these things?

My guys would have been in town during the John Brown raids in October of 1859 when he mounted an insurrection to take over the United States Armory as a means of highlighting the need to overthrow slavery. Brown’s gang holed up in the armory’s firehouse, nicknamed “John Brown’s Fort,” and was ousted by the forces of none other than Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart, among others, on my birthday.  

My Crowls worked at that armory until the Union burned it to prevent it from falling into the hands of the Confederates. The town changed hands between the Union and the Confederates multiple times in the following couple of years

Engineer Crowl with his Locomotive in Brunswick, Maryland. 

And then I think about my 3rd great-grandfather who started with the railroad as the trains came to Harpers Ferry in the 1830s. He’d probably be helping to lay rails out west to the Ohio River, which was the first big milestone for what would become the B&O Railroad. Imagine the pressure of trying to prove the effectiveness of the new “iron horse” against the proven Chesapeake and Ohio canal that was being built at the same time. I imagine that seeing these new things called “locomotives” might have looked to those townspeople as flying cars might look to us.

And then I wonder whether any of my ancestors might have been as fascinated with the machinery that was being installed and perfected in Harpers Ferry at that time. John Hall operated several of the mills and factories, and worked in partnership with the armory on the “1819 Hall Rifles” to find a way to make the pieces more uniform, enabling them to be interchanged between rifles for more efficient repairs.

Before then, all the parts were handmade. When I picture my ancestors, they’re all holding signs protesting these “new-fangled ways,” digging in their heels against these more mechanized processes. But surely, one of my clan must have peered through the dirty windows of the factory in the early 19th century and wondered how all those machines worked. That just might have been me.

What’s a Lector?

It’s a question I’ve heard a couple of times, because Phelan’s Uncle Gene is reading the news on his Lector in the second sentence of UNDERCURRENT.

“Apparently, I’m the last of our team to arrive. Uncle Gene notices too. He looks up from reading the morning news, the glow from his Lector tablet highlighting his furrowed brow.”

I don’t blame folks for not knowing what it is, because it hasn’t been invented yet. It’s one of those things that certainly will be invented, just not for a while. But since this is such a stretch, I thought I’d share where this Lector thing came from and why you’re going to want one in a hundred years.

My initial choice was a holographic wrist-comm, and that’s probably something that will come about at some point, too. But I was worried that the projection would be too small to be of much use, especially if your eyes need a little bit of a larger font size. So we need a Lector–a foldable, flexible tablet. A lector (lower case) is a real thing already. It’s a reader, especially someone who reads during a church service, usually standing behind a lectern.

See, it’s not so crazy. So the Lector with a capital L is a reader. But who wants to carry around a bulky tablet in 2130? Nobody, that’s who. But what if it’s more than that? Here are some photos to get your mind in the right place.

That paper-looking one is on the right track. Uncle Gene is reading the news on his, so I included this flexible tablet that happens to be showing the news. This one below is more future worthy, as it’s on a clear sheet and it’s flexible. It’s kinda need, and it would fit in a jacket pocket, or purse, or briefcase or something. Heck, it probably could be a briefcase for that matter.

But that’s still not futur-ey enough though. It needs to have a holographic component too. I thought about those photos in the Harry Potter movies where the subjects moved and talked, and so that’s what I think we need. But why so two-dimensional? They should pop right up out of the story in 3-D. For that, we’re gonna need Tony Stark. Or maybe Elon Musk can do it, but dang it we need this!

 

 

 

“Okay Google, why do you ask such ridiculous questions?”

We’ve talked about the Google Maps app before, including the difference between Stella (The smart one), and her dumb sister Gladys (who just gives bad directions, doesn’t seem to know where to go, and might actually send you flying into a ditch if you’re not careful). This morning, I thought I had Stella with me, but then I think we picked up Gladys along the route. You see, here’s what happened…

My commute has been stupid for the past week or two, because either the roads are wet (because it rains ten times a day), or the sun is rising right out of the asphalt in the middle of the road. This morning, it was all of those things, plus there was an accident on Rt.32 “in Columbia” which is not really specific or helpful. Stella assured me that her estimate of 1 hour and 15 minutes was my best route. I trust Stella, so on I went. Then about ten minutes into the journey, Gladys hit Stella over the head, gagged her, and stuffed her in the trunk.

Dumb Question #1: “We’ve found a faster route that saves 27 minutes. Would you like to accept?”

What do you think? Do I want to cut my commute almost in half? No! Stella made a promise. She committed herself to getting me to work via the best route. She told me so herself, so dang it, you’d better be right about this. Of course I want to accept!!!

Then, on my way home tonight–and this has happened before–I drive about 10 miles up Rt. 32, and one of the suggested routes it to get off at Great Star, get back onto Rt. 32 in the opposite direction, go back to the agency, and start over. Dumb Question #2: It’s 19 minutes longer if you go that way. What do you think? You wanna?

Hmmm… I dunno…. sounds awfully tempting.

One last thing. We have one of those stupid Google Minis. Now, I get it. If I had the Ring Doorbell, and a WiFi-enabled deadbolt, and the Nest thermostat, and a Nest smoke detector, and all that other cool and expensive stuff… we could do stuff with the Mini. We typically ask it dumb questions while we’re watching TV, like “Okay Google, how old is Alex Trebek?” Sometimes, it tells us.

But at other times, it just ain’t our day. My granddaughter asked it a question about the Power Rangers (Yes, they’re back on Netflix), and the response was, “I’m sorry I can’t help you. Something’s not right.” My granddaughter said, “Well fix it.” Google responded with, “What would you like me to fix?” And my granddaughter’s reply was, “Your actions.”

I’ll just leave it at that.

Why is this called a “Patrick Desk”?

This name has been bothering me. Patrick Desk. Why would anyone call this piece of furniture a Patrick Desk? Who the hell is Patrick? I might have the answer. All research on this slant-front desk calls it just that. . . a slant-front desk, or a Governor Winthrop desk. Was Governor Winthrop’s first name Patrick? No it was not. It was John.

So, digging deeper, it was my daughter who stumbled onto a Gov John Winthropstory from the mid 17th century about Goody Garlick. Wife of Joshua Garlick, Goody was, by all accounts, a mean, nasty gossip who got through her day talking about people behind their back. Garlick worked in the Gardiner family home in Massachusetts, and when the lady of the house became ill, she began screaming as if possessed. When they asked the woman what was wrong, she complained of being pricked with pins from the double-tongued woman, Goody Garlick. Was she a witch?

It was Governor John Winthrop, a Puritan lawyer, who heard Garlick’s case. He reviewed the evidence against her, and declared it insufficient. It was during proceedings such as Garlick’s where Winthrop would travel to the accused’s place of residence to hold inquiries–in front of her peers, and it is here where the origin of the Patrick Desk has its roots. The initial version of the desk consisted of the slant-front top which could be placed on top of folding, collapsible legs, easily transported to remote locations. Though relatively portable, the desk was still heavy.

Winthrop cinched the desk onto the back of his favorite draught horse, “Patrick,” a sturdy mount, capable of carrying such a load, as well as a rider. When a case such as Garlick’s arose, Winthrop could be heard saying, “Time to get ol’ Patrick ready.” Many believed Patrick to be the desk that he used to sign official court records, or stays of execution for those accused of witchcraft. And that is one explanation of how a mahogany, serpentine-drawered, ball-and-claw foot, fold down, slant-front desk could come to be called a “Patrick Desk.”

Or is it? When I informed my uncle—owner of the Wagon Wheel Antique Shop in Ellicott City—of my quest for the truth, he knew exactly the origins. When I picked this up, he referred to it as the Patrick Desk. The key in the desk top’s lock said, “Patrick Desk.” I mentioned that I was working on the Patrick Desk, and he said, “That’s great.” So I said, “You know, I can’t find any indications of why this thing would be called a Patrick Desk.”

“That’s easy,” he said. “I bought it from the Patrick family.”

Really Uncle Ed? Seriously folks. . . All the rest of this article is total BS, but thanks for hanging with me until the big reveal.

I Didn’t Need That

Cars these days come with a lot of useful stuff. I love satellite radio, power windows, power seats, the automatic trunk release, windshield wipers, and brakes. But there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t need, or stuff that makes me wonder if the engineers who designed my car actually drive the same kind of car. I also wonder if you would like to know what these things are, because I’m sure by now, you’re wondering if I’m going to tell you. Good news. . . I am!

I miss the little knob on the “day/night” mirror that lets me shift the mirror up, and then—this is key—shift it back to its original location. Instead, I have an auto-dimming mirror which does virtually nothing to dim anything automatically. To be fair, I drive a Kia, and I doubt many of the folks in South Korea have to deal with Chevy Suburbans and jacked up Dodge Rams following too closely and beaming their headlights directly into their rear-view mirrors, so why would they design something to avoid that? Oh, and I think it was in a previous post when I wrote that little phrase when I realized, all mirrors are rear view, aren’t they? Front-view mirrors are simply called windshields.

I also miss the tilt-wheel steering column. Instead, I have a tilt-telescoping column, which sounds all fancy and stuff, but it doesn’t really tilt. Oh, maybe one degree or so. It basically gets higher or lower, but doesn’t tilt all that much. If it did, it would be easier on my hands/wrists/arms while I’m driving for what seems like forever on Route 32. I guess it is rather convenient, though, to have a steering column that pushes in so the short guy at Jiffy Lube can reach the pedals for the 30 seconds it takes him to drive it over the pit.

Kia also thought it would be cool to have a “refrigerated” glove compartment. The salesman made a point of highlighting this to me when I bought the car. There’s a little twist knob thing inside the glove box that opens a portal to the cold air from the air conditioner and shoots it into the glove box to keep candy bars from melting. There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, this is a stupid feature. It doesn’t make it refrigerated, it just makes it cold. A second thing, there’s no room for candy bars or anything else that I want to keep cold, because the glove box is already full of a 2,496-page owner’s manual in a tri-fold, faux-leather presentation case, and 412 McDonald’s napkins. The third thing is, who the hell puts candy bars in their glove box? Are you storing them for the winter? Isn’t winter cold enough to keep the candy bars from melting? Why can’t you just eat one stinking candy bar? Just. Eat. The candy bar.

So what could they have engineered into my little car to make me happy? Insulated cup holders. An in-dash Keurig. Massaging seats. Hovercraft mode. Polarizing windshield. Heated glass to melt the ice in the winter. An electronic message board to communicate with other drivers. An “I just wish you’d go” signal. Self-cleaning wheels. An EZ-Pass that would pay for my coffee at Chick-Fil-A. Electrostatic glass so I don’t need a sunscreen in the summer. Front-mounted worm hole generator to alleviate traffic congestion. Drone view to find a good parking space. And maybe. . . just maybe. . . a bright, rear-facing light to flash at the Chevy Suburban in my rear-view mirror.

Underestimation

On my way to work, I often use a four-way stop at Ten Oaks, which is along the back way (read, not Route 32) to work. I’ve written about this intersection once before in my post, “Coexisting with Civility.” This intersection, as I’ve noted, performs more effectively than a roundabout. People approach and just instinctively know what to do. Your turn, his turn, your turn, her turn, your turn, MY turn. Magical.

Today, this was an intersection of impressive horsepower. A show of might. A display of flagrant, American purchasing power.

To my right, dressed all in black, with tinted windows, 18-inch aluminum wheels and Brembo brakes—powered by the 460HP 5.0-liter V8—the Champion. . . FORRRRRD MUSSS-TANGGG!

And to my left, wearing the bright red cape, trimmed in flat black, with 20-inch chrome wheels—the shaker scoop over a 392-cubic inch 465HP Dodge V8—The CHAL-LEN-GERRRRRR!

Okay, enough with the wrestling drama. . . There was also some little sporty car, possibly a Honda or something. I don’t know. . . it was silver. What I do know is that, whatever it was, the other two could have eaten it if it had gotten in the way. He did leave his stop sign with vigor, and he had one of those little four-cylinder mufflers that sounds like a fart machine, and THAT is what started the display.

The Challenger noticed that, and then he noticed the Mustang, clearly in an opposing position, and he established himself as his namesake. There was a loud chirp of squealing tires as he wound his first gear out near the red line, and then his tires hooked up, and he left the area promptly, and with authority.

The Mustang, now that his opponents had already cleared the area, gave less of a show. Nonetheless, he couldn’t let that gauntlet slap across his grille with no response. He rolled forward into the clear intersection, and then sent a million decibels through his injectors and out of his exhaust system as he went into hyper-drive.

But there’s one thing that NONE of these drivers had noticed before. They were so busy trying to impress each other that they failed to notice the fourth vehicle in the ring. They were so quick to leave, that they all missed the show, for there I was.

The 2011 Kia Optima, equipped with a stunning 2.4-liter motor with wheels and lights and stuff. I clicked off ECO mode, flipped my shifter into sport mode and jammed down the accelerator, wound out first gear as I tore across the intersection. The sound coming out of my exhaust was about the same as what was coming from the bar when they were making my Pina Colada at Chili’s.

Pure awesome. . .