June 22, 2018
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Technology can’t solve everything

By Renee Ordway, Special to the BDN

There simply must be a better way of doing things.
This was the thought I had last weekend as my daughter with the learner’s permit stomped down on the gas pedal instead of the brake, shooting us wildly, and in reverse, into the middle of the street. To divert attention away from this small error, she immediately began shouting at me for having the nerve to let out a gasp and for grasping the dashboard.
I had the same thought a few days later when she started to drive off with her little brother half in and half out of the car.
I feel the same about having to drive with a newly permitted teen as I did 10 years ago when a not-so-experienced doctor or doctor-to-be performed a spinal tap on my 6-year-old, as another, more experienced doctor talked and coached him through it.
I know teenagers have to learn to drive and I know that most doctors at some point have to perform their first life-threatening procedure on a real person, but I’d prefer not be present for either one.
There should be a better way.
For Pete’s sake, last March a company in Boston tested and released video footage of the first flying car. The goal is to manufacture a vehicle that a person can fly, land at an airport and then drive off the runway and onto the road. The push of a button and the wings fold up and disappear in just 35 seconds. It uses regular gas and can go for 500 miles on one tank. The company hopes to be selling them sometime next year.
In May it was announced that vegetables can communicate with their people folk, letting them know when they need some water. Plants will be equipped with microchips and will send text messages to farmers’ cell phones letting them know they are thirsty.
And speaking of vegetables, students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently developed robots capable of watering and harvesting tomato plants, even being able to distinguish between ripe and unripe tomatoes. Their goal is to develop a completely autonomous greenhouse.
Just this week, we learned of the successful birth of a baby panda using artificial insemination and frozen sperm. This may seem like no big deal, but Pandas are notoriously poor breeders, with the females able to conceive only three days a year. If papa bear isn’t right where he should be when the moment is right, then mama bear is going to have to wait another year to try again, which is part of the reason the Panda population is declining.
Of course, the real big news out of China was the successful production of live mice from stem cells that were coaxed from skin tissue from adult mice and then reprogrammed. Skin tissue stem cells are less controversial than embryonic stem cells and could be pivotal in finding cures for serious diseases, and apparently someday may be used to make copies of people.
That’s right. Like yourself so much you’d like to have another you? Scrape off a few skin cells and grow another one in a petri dish.
Perhaps my favorite discovery this summer comes from outer space and involves penguin poop. In remote Antarctica, researchers have been unable to figure out where colonies of Emperor penguins live and whether their population is in peril.
Scientists have found they now can locate these colonies by following the poop. Because the large penguins stay on the same ice for months at a time, their poop stains stand out and can be seen from space. A satellite locates and charts where the poop is, the data are sent to researchers and the chase is on. So far researchers have located 38 penguin colonies using this technology.
Science is truly fascinating.
But yet, here I sit in the passenger side of a minivan, traveling down the highway at 65 mph, with a passing tractor-trailer truck a couple of feet to our left and a guardrail a couple of feet to the right, and a nervous 16-year-old with a learner’s permit behind the wheel.
Do you suppose anyone in China or at MIT is working on a solution to this?
It’s just not right.
But I must go now; my cell phone is ringing. I believe my carrots may be calling.

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