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Strange but true: This is hard to compute

By BILL SONES AND RICH SONES, PH.D., For The Oklahoman Published: April 15, 2014


Q. In 1988, Xerox’s Mark Weiser coined the term “ubiquitous computing” to refer to the seamless integration of computing resources into most of the objects we use in daily living. What phrases are we more apt to use today?

A. Technically speaking, “pervasive computing” is everywhere, or “everyware,” as is “clamorous computing” to describe all those gadgets like smartphones and tablets that we routinely carry with us, writes columnist Paul McFedries in IEEE Spectrum magazine. True enough, it’s a sort of “jittery technology,” constantly bleeping at us and alerting us to new messages, posts, updates and news. Also consider the curious prevalence of “phantom vibration,” where we perceive a cellphone’s vibration in the absence of an incoming call. Even watching TV is no longer straightforward as people use their mobile tech for “second screening” (monitoring social media commentary about the show they’re watching) and “chatterboxing” (chatting online with people watching the same show).

In the midst of all this digital “hectivity,” we like to think of ourselves as “polyattentive,” though “continuous partial attention” is more like it, as we focus ostensibly on one task even as we wait for something more important to pop up. “It’s no wonder many of us suffer from ‘nomophobia,’ the fear of being without a mobile phone or a cellular signal,” McFedries says. “Thus have our phones and tablets become ‘weapons of mass distraction.’”

Q. Whether or not you know the Greek language, the word “ekadekapente” may be of interest to you. How many reasons can you give for thinking so?

A. Maybe not 115 but “115” is what the word means in Greek, which Gail D. suggested as the possible new name for “ununpentium” (Uup), the striking new element in the periodic table, atomic number 115, confirmed last year, as reported in Discover magazine. It was thought that volunteer observers could do better at the naming game, hence “ekadekapente” (”eka” meaning “one”, “deka” for “ten,” “pente” meaning “five”).

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