The trip heats up

Yesterday morning, I was awoken emphatically around five by a burst of lightning that might as well have been across the street. When I woke up for real, it was drizziling and the gutters were full, and the hotel’s manager had gloomy predictions for the rest of the day. By the time I’d gotten downtown, here’s what it looked like:

Fed up with the transportation problems I’ve had so far, and heartened by the nicest weather I’ve seen yet, I decided to take matters into my own feet. I walked through downtown to the Roberto Clemente Bridge (Constructed in 1928, so I doubt that’s the bridge’s original name). I crossed over to get another look at the ballpark, then walked along the Allegheny, just looking for something to do. After I’d passed the Steelers’ yard and a monument to Mr. Rodgers, I came to the Carnegie Science Center.

When I walked in and paid the admission, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that there would be a presentation on the science of cooking at “The Kitchen Theatre.” This combines three things I have great interest in (besides baseball): food, science and theatre, so I made my way there post haste. It turned out the presentation was teaching the kids all about fire and alcohol. The young lady presenter made a banana caramel flambé. She talked about phases of matter, nutritional information for the ingredients she was using, and other scientific principles, but all the time teasing the audience that the presentation would end with fire, which it did. After pouring some rum into the mixture and getting a pretty wimpy flame, she explained that she needed a higher proof liquor, and then proceeded to explain what she meant by “proof.” As you can see, it worked.

The museum features a fascinating interactive exhibit about robots. Along one wall are models of famous science fiction robots, from Robbie to R2D2. An animatronic emcee went through a routine of talking about what’s new in robotics, and joking that the revolution where robots will take over the world was scheduled for next Sunday. There was a robot that would draw a picture on a rotating surface, a robot that was an air-hockey wizard—I held my own in a scoreless draw, if you must know—and a robotic arm that was shooting basketballs (it was shooting about 18% on jumpers, but 57% on layups).

What really interested me, though, was the “Charbot.” This is a computerized woman who is—allegedly—able to interact with humans in “a pleasant manner.” Her programmers still have a bit of work to do. After watching a bunch of the kiddos typing random keys and thoroughly confusing her, I sat down at the keyboard.
     “Hi,” I typed, and the computer generated face lit up with a smile. A good start “Do you ever get sick of the brats?” I asked (I’m paraphrasing this conversation, I don’t remember it exactly).
     “I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you’re saying.”
     “Never mind.”
     “Can you rephrase that question? Sometimes I just don’t understand humans.”

Neither do I, sometimes. Neither do I.


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