Helping with Homework

All of my boys have graduated from high school and while I hadn’t actively thought much about it, I guess I was resigned to the notion that these fine young men have grown up, and that they do not need my help anymore with most things, especially school work.

It is one of those things that you don’t know you miss until something happens and you get hit over the head with it. Right now, there is a small sadness wrapped in joy within my heart. Over the weekend our youngest son called from Pittsburgh where he is attending college asking for help with school work. He needed some common items scanned in order to use them with a graphic arts project. He didn’t have the items, and knew we did. I jumped right in and started scanning, and forwarded the images via email. (I have to remember to relate this story to compute-phobic relatives that think people use computers only as overly expensive toys.) Computer technology is becoming as essential to everyday life as the internal combustion engine, isn’t it?

Back to the school work. Doris did the some more scanning later in the weekend. It reminded me of clipping out pictures from magazines for him to use with homework when he was in grade school. I got a phone call and he thanked me and told me it was just what he needed.

Part of the emotion, the joy, is knowing that my boy still needs me. Part of it is knowing that he trusts my instincts and knowledge and he trusts he will be able use what I hand him. The sadness part is recognizing that he really didn’t need me. If circumstances had permitted him to have more time, he would have purchased the items himself. He didn’t need me to explain or teach him anything. He just needed me to clip pictures out of real life. And that is okay with me. I really miss my boys now that they are not around as much. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy the quiet house most of the time. But I also miss the laughter.

I am so glad I got to help with homework, one more time.

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The gentle touch of a robot

This is old news. A year ago the National Geographic reported that “researchers have devised a ‘nanosheet’ that can be wrapped around any surface—such as that of a surgical instrument or a robotic hand—to mimic the sensitivity of touch.”

This is huge news, yet it has fallen under the radar as most science news does these days.

Another human sense has entered the domain of computers. Sight and sound have been part of computers almost from day one. There is some argument if chemical analysis of a sample of anything can truly mimic smell or taste. I think that with clever software similar to an expert system, a computer could tell the difference between fresh baked bread and apple pie. But we are not there just yet.

The ability to “feel”, to mimic the sense of touch with artificial skin has up to now eluded scientists. Sure, robotic arms have had sensors that will let them know when resistance is building between two pincers, but that is not touch. This nanosheet stuff will allow delicate touch. Imagine the applications! Prosthetic hands will be able to untie a knotted shoelace, pet a dog, turn single page of a novel and wipe the tears away from the face of a crying child.

I realize that sensitivity is not the only thing touch tells us. But if we can achieve a gentle touch, can discerning hot and cold or wet and dry be that difficult?