Artificial Intelligence

tin cup

In the 1996 film “Tin Cup,” Kevin Costner plays a washed-up golfer who loses his swing (a common plot device in golf movies). When he finally hits rock bottom, costar Rene Russo discovers him shackled in swing aids, plastic gizmos and rubber straps latched to every part of his body in his desperate attempt to remember how to move properly.

Since the days of yore when Scottish shepherds invented the absurd game of golf, there has always been a quest for a magic move, a cure-all panacea that would instantly fix the veteran when his swing mysteriously goes awry, and allow the novice to bypass the traditional learning route, which basically consists of banging tens of thousands of balls over the course of years.

The flashiest entry into the world of golf training aids — it’s certainly the largest, priciest, and most technologically advanced — is RoboGolf Pro, which resembles something we might drop on Mars to dig through rocks. Developed in Germany and distributed in the US by Scot Nei under the name RoboGolf Pro, the machine features a golf club on the end of a computer-driven hydraulic arm. Custom data is input into the computer, the club is gripped, and the robotic arm takes the user through the path the club should ideally take in order to hit the ball long and straight. It’s a way of not only teaching the proper plane on which the club should travel, but of ingraining muscle memory at the subconscious level, says Nei.

RoboGolf Pro is priced at $150,000 and its target market is professional golfers (even they want to get better), teaching academies, and private golf clubs. There are currently 12 locations in the US where you can book a learning session, but all that technological input doesn’t come cheap. RoboGolf suggests package deals, stressing repetitions to build muscle memory, with packages typically runing $2,000.

One of the unique challenges of golf is recognizing that human beings are not machines, and that every day you feel a little different. The key thought that worked yesterday fails to work today. And it bears repeating that throughout history great golfers have possessed every possible body type, tempo, style, and every other variable, and yet the only thing that mattered was that they all got themselves into the same position at impact, golf’s so-called moment of truth.

For as long as there are golfers there will be those willing to resort to anything to learn and improve. But science fiction always cautions us that artificial intelligence is hardly the same as human intuition, and there’s no individuality inside moving  limbs of a robot. Mankind has yet to devise a guaranteed shortcut to perfecting the golf swing, for, as a celebrated book says, “golf is not a game of perfect.” And neither is being human.

Forum magazine, spring 2016

From Dance Cards To Liability Waivers


A hundred years ago, a woman going to a ragtime ball or afternoon “tango tea” would often use a dance card. A tradition going back to 18th-century Europe, the dance card allowed a lady to exert a certain control over the gentlemen with whom she would dance at an event. A gentleman would ask to have the waltz in the third set, for example, and if she agreed, she would pencil his name in.

The practice would eventually become hopelessly old-fashioned during the Roaring Twenties and Swing Era. And can you imagine kids at a ’50s sock hop penciling their names on dance cards to the raucous sounds of rock and roll?

But when it comes to social dancing, perhaps we’re destined for a return to paperwork, though of an altogether different sort. Read more

Think Tanks


How does a gentleman who owns 60 tanks celebrate the Fourth of July? However he wants to. In the case of Jacques Littlefield, he will invite several dozen guests to his 470-acre ranch in Portola Valley, Calif., where they will snack, chat, and then cheer as he drives one of his German Panzer tanks over a rattling 1975 Buick Skylark. “People always find that interesting,” Littlefield says.

Given the uncertain nature of these times, the folks of Portola Valley might also find Littlefield’s demonstration of military might reassuring. They can take further comfort knowing that their neighbor’s collection of more than 200 military vehicles also includes self-propelled guns, armored personnel carriers, and antiaircraft vehicles. At most, a dozen collectors in the country possess similar stables of war machines. Read more

Lore Of The Dandy


Sunday mornings often find me quietly strolling through the past, admiring the patina of old furniture in an antiques shop, and daydreaming about the family that might have sat at some dining room table, or the woman who might have dressed for balls before a Victorian vanity.

Then I’ll come across a malacca cane, tarnished at the handle, or maybe an Edwardian waistcoat resting proud but inanimate, like a fossil from a distant era. And again I’ll wonder, “Who might have brought this to life? Perhaps someone whose sole occupation was elegance?”

Long ago there was a rare breed of man, part gentleman and part fop, classified as “dandy.” Though similar men exist today, for the most part dandies, like dinosaurs, those other great rulers of the earth, are dead and deeply buried, proving the old saying that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

So let’s dig for bones.

Read more

Fashion Dictator


Dressing for a summer cocktail party, it would never occur to you to wear a harris tweed jacket with your cream linen trousers. But do you also know that tradition dictates that tuxedo jackets never sport notched lapels? Ah, but who cares about tradition, you cry. Answer: The best-dressed men in the world do, and their dinner jackets always have peaked or shawl lapels.

After four decades of a social zeitgeist whose defining tenet is the wanton celebration of individualism, the idea of invoking traditional customs of male dress – “rules,” if you will – surely strikes many as antiquated and elitist. Even worse, uncomfortable.

Nicholas Antongiavanni is a reluctant apologist for time-tested sartorial rules. He cringes at the idea of being thought of as the style gestapo, and he’s far more interested in individual expressions of panache than bland perfection. Still, his new book, cunningly titled “The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men’s Style,” is solidly based in sartorial customs and traditions crystallized in the 1930s and still with us – however diffuse their influence – to this day. Read more

Let’s Not Make A Deal


You’ve no doubt been at a multigenerational family dinner when one of the young ones says he’s off to some place like Egypt or Turkey. The elders always chime in with, “When you’re shopping at the bazaar, be sure to bargain. It’s expected.”

Haggling over price may be culturally ingrained in other parts of the world, but it hasn’t been part of the American character. Now, though, perhaps because of the influence of Internet auctions, and a perpetually flooded inbox with big-name retailers promising an extra 30% off plus free shipping, our growing obsession with getting a bargain may actually be turning us into insufferable cheapskates. Call it the bargain backfire.

Recently I decided to redo my apartment and so put an assortment of unwanted rugs, lamps, tables and chairs on Craigslist. I’ve used the popular bulletin-board site since it was founded in San Francisco in the 1990s. But it had been a while since my last foray. I didn’t realize that Craigslist has become a hotbed of pushy tightwads trying to get something for nothing. Read more

Men Are The True Romantics


On the surface, Valentine’s Day may seem mushy and sentimental, a day created for women and their emotional natures. But in fact it harkens back to chivalrous notions that go back for centuries. For on Valentine’s Day, while the woman may be receptive to the romantic occasion, it is the man who is supposed to deliver the romance. It is he who brings the flowers, makes the dinner reservation, hires the helicopter.

This is all perfectly in keeping with tradition and the man as lover and woman as beloved. Recently the story broke about an elderly Mississippi widower who created a museum dedicated to his late wife of 60 years. He calls it The Museum Of Love. Now there’s a true romantic.

Pictured above is another: Cary Grant in the 1958 film “Indiscreet,” one of my favorite movies. At the climax, there’s a clever exchange in which Grant proudly calls men “the true romanticists.” The entire film is available on YouTube, though be careful you don’t get your heart broken on Valentine’s Day. You may find yourself crying over the fact that they don’t make movies like that any more.

Daddy’s Little Girl


In the era of outrage, it was inevitable that at least one Super Bowl ad incur the wrath of feminists. This year it was the Hyundai ad featuring Kevin Hart as an overprotective father.

According to The Telegraph, the ad has come under fire from some feminists, who’ve complained that the ad plays upon outmoded sexist tropes in which a young woman’s romantic agency is controlled by her patriarchal parent.

It’s certainly true that in 2016 protecting a young woman from predatory males is no longer a fatherly duty. That’s a job for college administrators.

Whoever Said Golf Was Supposed To Be Fun?


Representatives from the golf and business industries last week unveiled, an initiative designed to address the calamity of the sport’s rapidly diminishing number of participants. The sport has lost five million players in the U.S. over the past decade, according to the National Golf Foundation, including a 30% drop in golfers age 18-34. Since conventional ideas—such as encouraging faster play through a television ad campaign and youth programs such as The First Tee—have done little to halt the decline of golf in America, Hack Golf aims to crowdsource random and radical ideas as a way of thinking outside the tee box. GPS nanotechnology on golf balls, for example, would certainly make finding them easier.

In the keynote presentation at the 2014 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Hack Golf founders Mark King, CEO of TaylorMade Golf, and associates Joe Beditz, CEO of the National Golf Foundation and business strategist Gary Hamel, asked what the industry can do to make golf more fun. They’re asking the wrong question, because whoever said golf was supposed to be fun? Read more