Archive for May, 2013

Can the Man @ The Vineyard Writer’s Conference

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Over the past weekend we here at Can the Man made an effort to connect with other local writers from the Western New York area.  Spencer, Loren and I attended the Vineyard Writers’ Conference, which is annually hosted at the elegant Patterson Library in Westfield, New York.  Having never previously attended a writing conference, I wanted to give our readers some of my impressions, and hopefully encourage anyone interested in writing to get out there and connect with people who share their interest.


I admit that I was somewhat reticent upon agreeing to attend the conference.  The style of writing that we produce here at Can the Man is intense, and intended to positively impact the way that people think.  In light of this, I was doubtful that the conference would cater specifically to our type of media, and I was nervous about developing any rapport with the other writers.  Despite my own concerns, upon arriving at the library on Sunday the nineteenth, my initial restraint instantly dissipated.


I cannot say enough positive things about the atmosphere that was created throughout the conference.  Peter Baker, the host/organizer of the event, did an excellent job of crafting a structure for the seminar that was equal parts informal and productive.  As individual authors, we were able to choose from 3 different morning and afternoon forums that varied greatly in terms of topic.  I chose to attend the lectures on e-publishing and marketing, both of which contained a great deal of useful information for my specific type of writing.  In contrast, there were also forums that focused on completely different aspects of literature, such as poetry and literary perspective.  This division of the conference into sections meant that various authors of diverse genres could all find something valuable to their unique pursuits.


In addition to the morning and afternoon seminars, there were also general lectures given by respected authors from around the area.  Gary Earl Ross, the keynote speaker, offered the group a powerful reading from an unpublished work of short fiction and presented a great deal of advice concerning publishing and writing passion.  It was wonderfully useful for me to be exposed to a wide variety of writers and writing styles throughout the course of the day.   There were authors present who had a number of different inspirations and views of literature.  Some people wanted to make others laugh, some wanted to catalogue their journeys through life, while certain authors had more serious goals for their work. Despite all of these different avenues of writing, the passion that was shared by all of the attendees made the conference enjoyable and rewarding.  Right now I may not have any comedic goals in my writing, but some day I might.  Now I have a better perspective on what writing humorous prose entails.


With all of this information and passion woven between good food and a wonderful setting, I have to recommend the annual conference to anyone who has even a slight interest in writing.  It was hands down the most beneficial way that I can recall spending 45 dollars.


-J.A. Young

Kermitt Gosnell and the “House of Horrors”

Monday, May 20th, 2013


The disturbing case of Dr. Kermitt Gosnell is one of the more unbelievable stories to surface in recent months, and chances are you’re just hearing of it now.  Gosnell was recently found guilty on three counts of first-degree murder in the late-term abortions of three infants, known only as Baby A, Baby C, and Baby D.  Gosnell was also charged with the negligent homicide of a young woman who died from improper amounts of anesthesia.  The horrifying details of what happened within the facility Gosnell operated range from blood covered tables, late-term abortions, unsanitary waste disposal, and untrained employees administering anesthesia.  The former West Philadelphia clinic catered to impoverished women desperate to find medical care they could not afford.  Abortion will always be a divisive topic for American policy, and the ghastly revelations of Gosnell’s “House of Horrors” only further polarizes the issue, expanding discussion into unforeseen territory.

James Johnson, a former janitor at the clinic, gave a sworn testimony in which he claimed that he was given the task of cleaning toilets clogged with the dismembered remains of infants.  Johnson stated that he would sometimes have to scoop up remains with a shovel and place them in a bag that was taken to a rat infested basement. [1] Another former employee at Gosnell’s clinic, Adrienne Moton, also came forward with evidence against Gosnell in the case of the aforementioned Baby A.  Moton stated that the teenage mother was 29 weeks (more than seven months!) pregnant when she underwent the procedure.  Gosnell was reported to have “snipped” the spinal cord of the child who he claimed was, “big enough to walk to a bus stop.” [2] For these deplorable actions Gosnell will now suffer the rest of his life in prison, a punishment that hardly fits the crime.  A man who jokes about the late-term abortion he performed on an impoverished and desperate woman deserves a far worse fate.

Despite the graphic and macabre details of the case, it went largely unreported in the national media until recent weeks.  There was speculation that the media was reluctant to cover the Gosnell case because the details were “too gruesome.”  Media pundits like Nancy Grace were foaming at the mouth over the widely publicized cases of Jodi Arias and Casey Anthony, what was different about this?  Could it be that hundreds of aborted fetuses doesn’t get the same ratings as a lover’s quarrel turned bloodbath?  Could it be that abortion is a heavily politicized issue that divides our nation on the fundamental grounds of religion, life, and a woman’s ownership of her body?  The fact that women are relying on dangerous men like Kermitt Gosnell to perform a life-and-death operation reflects poorly on our society.  We should be aware that increased regulation over abortion policy may lead to more evil characters like Gosnell surfacing across the country.  Media organizations have a responsibility to report the news, no matter how grisly the details may be.  Better yet, politicians have the task of protecting women and children alike while setting aside religious, moral, and personal opinions on the matter.










-Spencer James-

CTM Reads: The Computer & the Brain

Sunday, May 12th, 2013




Computers are everywhere; they manage the world around us from food-deliveries to flight patterns. The technological advances that we have witnessed in the past 25 years have been unprecedented and far-reaching.  A microprocessor in your smartphone is thousands of times more powerful than the computer that was used to put men on the moon. This exponential growth in the power of information technology has intrigued me greatly over the past few years, and recently it prompted me to pick up an unassuming little book entitled, The Computer and the Brain. This book is an unfinished manuscript by John von Neumann, the father of the modern computer. In this text, which he intended to deliver as a lecture series at Yale University, the famous mathematician sets out to compare the functions of the human brain to those of a computer. In doing so, von Neumann sheds light onto a topic that continues to baffle scientists today, and peers farther into the future than should have ever been possible in 1957.


The work contains several forewords and a preface to help give the reader some history and background knowledge of the complex topic. The most recent foreword is written by noted futurist Ray Kurzweil, who has recently been assigned the prestigious title of Director of Engineering at Google. Kurzweil notes that, “Even though it was remarkably early in the history of the computer when this manuscript was written, von Neumann nonetheless had confidence that both the hardware and the software of human intelligence would ultimately be available. That was the reason he prepared these lectures.” [1] This bold claim is supported upon reading the body of the work. von Neumann concludes that despite the chemical and physiological intricacies of the brain, it functions in a way that is comparable to a computational machine.


While the brain is a biological structure, it still works based upon the same principles as our computers  (Turing Equivalence). The neurons in our brain function analogously to the bits in a computer, they either fire or do not. They are functionally equivalent to the binary units that comprise mechanical programs—1’s and 0’s. This realization is what allowed von Neumann to make such accurate hypotheses and predictions despite writing before the dawn of the computer age. It may not sound like a particularly insightful observation today, but von Neumann made these claims before neuroscience was an established field. I cannot help but notice the irony that the father of the modern computer understood many complex functions of the brain before his invention allowed others to study them intensively.


One of the distinctions that von Neumann makes is noting that the brain utilizes parallel computing to great advantage. The mind is not suited to running many thousands of operations simultaneously and precisely in the same way that a modern computer is. A computing machine may be designed to execute a program that requires thousands of calculations in a very short period of time, but our brains have evolved to accomplish different tasks: like the ability to throw a spear. The human brain can run the same operation many thousands of times in parallel, which makes it ideal for identifying patterns, but not for carrying out a hundred calculus problems simultaneously. This is why human brains can still accomplish many tasks more effectively than modern computers. When a ball is thrown towards you, your brain can run the neural operations required to catch the ball hundreds of times in parallel, which increases the likelihood of completing the catch.


As anyone who is well versed in the tech world will tell you, the next few decades are likely to be a very exciting and revolutionary time. We have only just begun to strive towards a completely new dynamic of interaction between humans and computers. Soon you won’t wear your personal computer on your arm or as a pair of glasses, it will just be a part of you. As processors become ever smaller, cheaper, and more powerful, the line between human and machine will continue to blur. The reason that this progress like this is possible is because of the relationship that exists between von Neumann machines and our human brains.


When John von Neumann first observed the similarities between computers and the human brain in this innocent looking book, he set us on a path towards the future. I cannot say enough about the importance of this work to anyone who is interested in the future of human and machine intelligence. The insight and knowledge that is laid out in this manuscript is remarkably prescient, and truly astonishing when you consider the time-period in which it was written. There will come a time when we have the ability to not just understand the computational structure of our brains, but to actively modify it.

-J.A. Young


[1] von Neumann, John.  The Computer & the Brain, Third Edition.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012. p. xxx