The Future Is So Yesterday

The Washington Post reviews Disney’s Tomorrowland in Anaheim: The Future Is So Yesterday.
They’ve updated a bit since it opened in 1955. But some things are reassuringly retro.

What’s interesting about Tomorrowland’s newest future is its focus on what doesn’t change. This Dream Home future at 360 Tomorrowland Way in Disney’s original California park is intentionally reassuring. The cast evokes a multigenerational intact nuclear family, the Eliases, which includes one daughter (“Princess”) and two sons and two vigorous grandparents who live so close as to routinely drop by. This future has the sound of crickets outside the front door, and a light breeze forever blowing through its flowering vines. This future, in Dad’s room, has Lionel trains.

Of course, the future in this house-of-the-future has plenty of whiz-bang gizmos, but most of them are already on the market. If you want a drink of water, the kitchen sink is a kick. It is controlled by a joystick. Hit the trigger button on top, and — vooop– a curved chrome spout slides up and forward like a snake from where it has been hiding in its cabinet. […] Arguably the most futuristic item is the mock-up of an affordable “fab lab.” It effectively is a printer — industrial versions of which exist — that takes objects you design on the computer and manufactures them in three dimensions. Since one of the Home’s sponsors is Microsoft, we also know the future has Windows crashes. “Photo Browser 2 has stopped working. Windows can check online for a solution to the problem,” proclaims the study’s screen-topped table during a recent visit.

It’s nostalgic and a bit sad to look now at theme park visions of the future. But Danny Hillis, computer pioneer, former Disney fellow, and Long Now founder, thinks Disney is giving people what they need with this retro view.

“It was very surprising to me, getting to the future, that nobody was all that interested. Things just started to happen so fast, we were overwhelmed. With the microchip, we stopped being able to imagine the future — we had so much trouble handling what was being brought out in the present.

“The second thing, everyone was imagining the future was about universal prosperity — kids being much better off materially than they were. To see that attitude today, you have to go to China and India. They are very future-oriented. The Chinese are sort of the way we were in the ’60s. Everything’s going to get better. There will be glitches, but we’ll overcome them by progress and effort.

“We are future overwhelmed. I don’t think people try to imagine the year 2050 the way we imagined 2001 in 1960. Because they can’t imagine it. Because technology is happening so fast, we can’t extrapolate. And if they do, it’s not a very positive thing to imagine. It’s about a lot of the unwanted side effects catching up to us — like global ecological disaster. […]

“What I think it says is that we are nostalgic for a time when we believed in the future. People miss the future. There’s a yearning for it. Disney does know what people want. People want to feel some connectedness to the future. The way Disney delivers that is to reach back in time a little bit to the past when they did feel connected.

“It’s a bit of a cop-out. There was a time when the future was streamlined jet cars. Rather than create a new sense of the future, they say, ‘Ah, remember when we believed that the future was streamlined jet cars?’ It’s a feeling of connection to the future, rather than connection to the future.

“It’s a core ache. Something is missing that we’re searching for.”

Making a peak out of a squeeze

As Oil Giants Lose Influence, Supply Drops

Sluggish supplies have prompted a cottage industry of doomsday predictions that the world’s oil production has reached a peak. But many energy experts say these “peak oil” theories are misplaced. They say the world is not running out of oil — rather, the companies that know the most about how to produce oil are running out of places to drill.

“There is still a lot of oil to develop out there, which is why we don’t call this geological peak oil, especially in places like Venezuela, Russia, Iran and Iraq,” said Arjun Murti, an energy analyst at Goldman Sachs. “What we have now is geopolitical peak oil.”

In 1994, the top five oil companies spent 3 percent of their free cash on share buybacks and 15 percent on exploration. By 2007, they were spending 34 percent of their free cash on buybacks — in effect, propping up their share prices — and a mere 6 percent on exploration. […] As a result, some experts warn that supplies will fall short of the demand over the next decade, perhaps sending prices well above today’s levels.

At a recent conference in Madrid, Christophe de Margerie, the chief executive of the French company Total, said the world would be hard-pressed to raise supplies beyond 95 million barrels a day by 2020. Only a few years ago, forecasters expected 120 million barrels a day by 2030, a level many analysts now view as unrealistic.

The science of doping

I heard an interesting interview on NPR with biostatitian Donald A. Berry. He argues that current drug tests for athletes have not passed scientific muster. Here is his article in Nature: The science of doping.

In my opinion, close scrutiny of quantitative evidence used in Landis’s case show it to be non-informative. This says nothing about Landis’s guilt or innocence. It rather reveals that the evidence and inferential procedures used to judge guilt in such cases dont address the question correctly. The situation in drug-testing labs worldwide must be remedied. Cheaters evade detection, innocents are falsely accused and sport is ultimately suffering.

Still searching for bottom

Santa Clara County foreclosures rise nearly fivefold; home values plunge

Nearly five times as many homeowners in Santa Clara County lost their properties to foreclosure last month than in July 2007, signaling there’s not end in sight to the local mortgage crisis. Even many county residents not threatened by foreclosure saw their home values plummet in the second quarter, according to a report released Tuesday.

In a separate report Tuesday, real estate information Web site said home values in the San Jose metropolitan area declined 12 percent in the second quarter compared with a year earlier.

The performance of home values varies widely, reflecting what some real estate experts call it the Apple effect. Homes located near the campus of the maker of iPhones and Macintosh computers —as well as other A-list tech companies — have seen their values rise as others in the Bay Area have dropped.