On the Imprisonment of Electrons

One of my colleagues, an academic Velocity Spin Angular Momentum, has a tag line in her signature “No electrons were killed in the production of this email, but several were inconvenienced”. We have to expect humor like this from a feminist computer geek trapped teaching computers in a business college. 

I am reminded by it, however, that when we do things electronic, including saving emails, we are usually imprisoning electrons. Which led me to consider two matters in this regard.

The first, [Link] has to do with the relationship between updates and the recent WannaCry pogrom. I call it that because it was an organized execution of a social group. In this case, not Jews, or other religionists but, in a sense, atheists. 

Many of the aspects of computer geeks and nerds is that their attitude towards computers and matters computing has strong parallels to stupidstition and mythtrapping. They are a people set apart, exalted above the majority, and often disliked by that majority. As I have mentioned several times the difference seems to be that between a tool and a appliance.

The study bemoaned in the article talks about the faithful majority. It turns out what they are faithful to is not installing updates. IOW, their commitment to believing, no matter what, that their computer is an appliance and needs no maintenance, only replacement when it craps out.

All sorts of statistics are presented but they are not very convincing beyond some skillful artistic presentation. Apparently that minor difference is significant. Survival is once more razor thin. 

What bemused me about the survey is its bias. It is pro-appliance user. The attitude is that freedom from updates is something decreed by the deity. So their answer is the make updates unsensible. IOW, just sit back and let the deity take care of you. 

Very anti-vaccination, anti-soap, anti-knowledge, anti-freedom.

The bias extends to only including Winders users in their sample. This one is a bit smelly. The sample population is large enough that the probability of being comprised only of Winders users – no Apple, no Linux,,, – is vanishing small. Maybe not suddenly asphixiate when all the air in your room crowds into one corner but still so small as to prompt a special counsel.

And they all hate updating, to some degree. I understand that. I am almost always not thrilled by updates. The exception is when the previous update trashed something I need to use.  But I check for updates daily. Usually I let the update client in the OS do the checking but I don’t let it do automatic updating. Why? Because I have learned from experience that if X is updated and not Y at the same time, Z doesn’t work. So if X is in the update list and Y isn’t, the X update waits.

This is the situation in spades fro MegaHard. In the last twelve months they have released three (that I know of) system killing updates. They got fixed in a day or two (surprise! surprise!) but that didn’t help the pious who updated automatically and had to hire someone to bring their box back. 

Abandoning responsibility is a short road to loss of freedom. And maybe to gain of death. Think of updates as Listerine. Hate it, use it when it makes sense, and keep your teeth.

The second, [Link] is entitled “Ode to the Graphing Calculator.” It’s written by some tweener journalist who had to buy a “graphing” calculator in public schule. With lots of tears fro the pain and suffering of having to carry the thing and have to use it. Evidently finger enumeration is preferred.

I have scant sympathy except for knowing that what little chance this fellow had of learning any maths (and enjoying them) were vertically copulated (with mentally deteriorating STD) by the public schule system. Education by mandate is ineffective. And the public schules will never abandon it. 

So Tyson (“Chicken Man”) is right: “Good students learn in spite of bad teachers.” Or bad schule systems. 

I went through public schule in a different era. Parents held students and teachers responsible. And they were part of the process – regardless of whether the schule system wanted them to be or not. Fastest way to retire as a superintendent in those days was to get a dozen parents micturated. And the teachers were judged on how much the kids learned that the parents didn’t. None of this no science because we’re Conservative Reformed Shrub Druids. Kids were supposed to learn to analyze stuff for themselves. And make enlightened decisions. And standardized tests were a distraction, not a holy ritual. 

And we had no calculators. That’s an overstatement. The admin office had a tape adding machine. That was it. And from fifth grade on (ninth or tenth for most who did,) I had a slide rule. I got it as a Christmas holiday present from pushy parents (it was a fad that year) and I was precocious enough to learn how to use it on my own. Because my parents were at the taped adding machine level and wanted be to be more advanced. 

So I used a slide rule all through public schule. And all the way through college. And I drew graphs with graph paper and pencil and straight edge and French curve. I still do except I use a spreadsheet program. 

When I was a first year grad student the first battery powered portable (not fit in a pocket) calculators (four arithmetic operations) came into the marketplace. Only the rich kids had them; grad students didn’t have the coins. Food and rent and heat were higher priority. But we did have access to the schule’s Freiden calculators. No tape but you could crunch numbers and write them down preparatory to hand graphing,

About the same time, HP brought out their first portable nerd calculator, the HP-35. $375. That’s two months gross salary for a teaching assistant. So we still used slide rules.

When I was about to take my qualifying exams, HP brought out a third iteration, the HP-55. The Yankee Army of Occupation saw fit to issue me one for my work duties and allowed me to use it for other things not involving damage to the calculator like smashing nutmeats or loosening frozen machinery. I never used it in an exam. Why? Because it was too slow. Slide rule was faster. Risk avoidance. 

Years later I got a graphing calculator. Not a TI, which the author extols. Mostly because TI bought the standardize testing people. Not directly – baksheesh. That’s why the public schules adopted them instead of HP. That and the inability of the proletariat to learn how to use Reverse Polish Notation. That slowness of HP I mentioned? Still twice as fast as a TI because of RPN!

So no great love for TI. Lots of colleagues like. That’s fine. TI is like Unity to me. (See previous blot.) 

I never really learned to do graphs on a graphing calculator. Resolution too low. Only worked with nice functions. So when Lotus 1-2-3 came out I signed on immediately for “Instant Graphification.” I could mumble up numbers AND plot them. Pretty goodly. Especially if I had a laser printer. HP again. 

So I have no dog flesh in the graphing calculator thing. I prefer the number display. Got lots of calculators. One is a TI. Bought it to be able to converse with a colleague. 

HP isn’t as good as it used to be. My HP-35 (bought at a salvage sale) still works but the battery is goop and I have to stay withing reach of a wall. If it wasn’t an antique for my daughter to sell when I discorporate iot would be all I need except for vanity and whim. So I mostly use an HP-35S. And a couple of others. And despair of the demise of the calculator. The crap on my cellular telephone is not 90%, it’s 100%.

And I still think schule kids should have to learn to think and analyze and reason and decide. Not get tested on key pressing.

Another time I am glad to be ORF. And have a good calculator. And several good slide rules. And integral tables. 

So I may find the authors’ comments misplaced but not unattended. And bemoaned. 

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