Photon Pop Guns

One Day. And in the midst of petrol shortage. So no gym until I can determine how much petrol I can access. So onto the stationary this morning for a bit of muscle bashing. And I forgot to pick up my MP3 player so much time to cogitate. In this case on my early days working for the Yankee Army.

I was hired to be a High Energy Laser (HEL) chap. Didn’t know much about lasers beyond my coursework on quantum mechanics and optics but I was game and anything nerdish would be preferable to the farce that was my job with a local defense contractor. What I got for work assignments would have insulted a college sophomore. And the management was ranged from tepid to insipid to blatantly incompetent. Not politician incompetent mind you but of a level that any self-respecting technical organization would regard as shameful and debasing.

The Yankee army was much better. Not that 0.9 of the managers weren’t incompetent but none were as incompetent as what I had seen in that defense contractor. 

Anyway, the YA was trying to build a tactical laser cannon, as well as decide whether it wanted to do so, and I settled in to learn about being an Army laser nerd. The hot topic then was propagation through the atmosphere and for HEL it’s non-linear. So since I was a bright young grad student type I didn’t know any better so I got assigned to work on propagation. The alternative was lab work on making test zappers into light bulbs – manufacturable – and evidently my lab klutz limitations had preceded me.

The reason I was thinking on this was I saw an article [Link] yesterday on how the YA was planning tactical laser cannon tests next year with deployment in about five years. I recalled similar rhetoric in the mid ’70’s of the last century. And when I looked at the pictures of the field unit

I was struck by the resemblance to

that similar things were said about 40 years ago. 

So I have to wonder what else may be similar?

Reflections of Failed Mediocrity

Five Day and shuck of gym. I am experimenting with extending my visits to five per week and this has been the first full week of that number. The only down was my lack of adequate podcast planning. Today was ad hoc and a bit sad.

Otherwise, I note that this has been a wonderful for corporate terrorism. Largely in the cellular telephone environment. Specifically:

  1. Samsung has successfully deployed a million Improvised Pyrotechnic Devices (IPDs aha Fire Bombs) making them the most successful terrorist organization yet and bringing new meaning of second rate to Al Quaida and ISI?; and
  2. Apple has introduced a tepid telephone that offers to replace a $5 pair of ear buds with a $160 pair of earbuds. Makes the monopolists of the Nineteenth century look humanitarian.

Elsewhere, the nation remains bent on rapidly Making Amerika A Failure, mostly through idiotic politics.

On to the daily misery!

For want of a bandwidth

One Day. Back to gym. Strange podcast. Had to do with what aliens would look like on different planets. About half sciencey and half fictioney. Barely diverting.

But I did get to cogitate on the question of national bandwidth. As such things go, Amerika is a third world country. The only places worse are the ones solely dependent on cellular. 

This is one of the differences between hinterland and cities. By and large the cities have more bandwidth than the boonies. Not enough, but better. Otherwise why would Chattanooga be trying to install city broadband?

It occurred to me that this has an enormous social/cultural influence. I have abysmal bandwidth. Scant choices in Greater Metropolitan Arab and the town conscript parents are oblivious. Or in denial. Not sure which.

But because of that trickle I have to do things differently than if I had plenty. Most internet things take a bit of planning. Like when to do updates. But perhaps more important is that I tend to use stand-along clients rather than web applications.

Take email. I log on to web mail once a day, just to prune the SPAM filter. The rest of the time I use an email client. That stutters a lot because of the shallow bandwidth. I can see the SPAM folder with it, but the email provider only pays attention if I go on web to prune the filter. And since their SPAM filter is rather too enthusiastic, with an 0.8+ false positive fraction, I am encouraged thereby to go on web.

I keep hearing noise about the wonders of the internet. Access to lots of (mostly false or inaccurate) information. No need for any sophisticated OS or clients, just browser access. …

But not in the hinterland. That’s not possible. Because of the bandwidth. Instead we have to basically act like we did in the old days of 300 baud modems.

No wonder our politics is whacked.

Amerislavia

It seems the EU is showing its failure in public.[Link]

An EU citizen litigated the manufacturer of his new computer for not distinguishing the price of HW and SW. The court ended up beating on him in the most mealy-mouthed organizationist way,but I rather doted on a statement:

“the model of computer is not marketed without pre-installed software and that he is therefore free to choose another model of computer, of another brand, with similar technical specifications and sold without software, the ability of that consumer to make an informed transactional decision was appreciably impaired,”

In my visualization of the Cosmic All, I have to ask whether any other computers at that store are sold without SW? And if not, which is the universal with rare exception, why is that not a crime?

Back during the Cold War it was joked that people in Yugoslavia had freedom of choice. If they wanted to buy soap – no computers in stores then – they could choose to buy the national brand or not buy. 

Apparently the Europeans, as well as we Amerikans, live in Corporate Yugoslavia.

The whichness of code

Five Day and a bit of an adventure already. In keeping with my want of challenging my earlier analyses and assumptions, I took myself off to gym this morning. Previously I had ceased on Four Day because of feeling burned out rather than a lack of hours of availability as on the Bog “weekend”. So I went off this morning and aside from needing a bit more preparation for what podcast to listen to, it went well.

The podcast was more of that “Chips on Everything” series on the internet. Decidedly bottom drawer. Not obscene or anything, just rather low quality. 

Which gave me occasion to reflect on a rather surprising television advertisement I saw recently. While I try to ignore advertisement because of their inherent vacuity of trustworthiness, this one actually provoked some thought. It was an insurance advertisement touting the “technology of its app”. In actuality, its app is actually less capable than some of its competitors, but what good it did was to raise the question of whether code is technology?

To start with, I feel inclined to semi-cite the historian James Burke who did some marvelous television programming about information networks. That isn’t how it was portrayed but that’s what it was and it was only saved by Burke’s historyisms. One of which is that we humans tend to mistake engineering for science, technology for engineering, manufacturing for technology, and so forth.

But this is a bit of a different problem. Is coding technology? Technology is almost always a material thing like an electronic circuit (e.g., a CPU) and not a social activity. Thus social media is an interaction network facilitated by technology. But it isn’t a technology itself despite the statements of Bog Journalists. (Is that redundant? Probably.)

So what about coding? Is a steering wheel technology? No. It’s merely a means of controlling the operation of a technology. A tiller would work similarly and did in the early days of motorcars. So in the sense of controlling, code is not a technology. But what about embedded code? I have a microwave over – an appliance – that can be “programmed” with a simple heating/not-heating pattern. That pattern is empowered by the technology. I could stand about and do it myself, manually as it were, one step at a time, and I have done that in times past with simpler devices, but is it technology? Is complication technology? I think not. Embedded code does not have a separate existence from the actual material technology.

Code has a literature aspect, It is written, composed. Perhaps even in a functional sense, semantic. But is it technology. Clearly paper and pen and ink are technologies. And in my opinion, much more intriguing and worthwhile than most electronics. I can create many thing that are independent of what paper and pen and ink I use but that is not so of code. Code has no meaning outside of its material interaction. (I am excluding NERD coding here. Crunching science numbers is independent of its material but it is still not technology.)

I am not done with this but as of now I am of the conjecture that code is not technology but it is related. It is functional. But I suspect it is nothing more than a special kind of manufacturing process.

Tactile Trauma

I can remember, back when I was a young-adult, to reading a science fiction novel/novella, probable an ACE or some similar, whose central character/hero/protagonist had been raised in a fundamentalist – I forget whether religionist or naturist – enclave and now living in general society was unable to use its “advanced” technology without breaking it. 

I used to have a secondary report who was such a Komputer Klutz that we had to have three computers for him. (This was back in the DOS/early Winders days.) One on his desk, and two in or in transit to/from the shop. He was knowledgeable of computers, for someone who had to learn coding in the workplace, but never really made the transition from main frame to PC.

This is all a lead in to a rant: I Hate Touchscreens! I get bitten by them at least once a day. This morning it was my MP3 player at the gym. Used to we could buy good MP3 players that we could hack and get to do what we wanted and they had real button switches. Nowadays you can’t get MP3 players that aren’t almost useless and exorbitantly priced. This one is of this genre.

But I also get bit by my cellular telephone and my slablets. All running ANDROID which is saved from being the planet’s worst OS only by the continued existence of MegaHard and Winders.

I also am not really happy with keyboards and mice. The keyboards are expensive – Blue Switches – and between my fumble fingers and the spontaneous generation of crud under the key-caps, I get mistypes. Which I can usually – almost always – fix without a hard reboot. Similarly, my mousing dexterity is never up to what seems to being an ever decreasing pointer sweet spot on screen. And my mouse pad keeps shrinking.

But I reserve my hatred for touch screens.

Internet Survival

Two Day. Off to gym and with this being holiday season for the rest of the English Speaking nations of the planet, I tried a new podcast, the Guardian’s “Chips with Everything.”[Link] Since this is British I feel I need to remind the locals that these have nothing to do with Lay’s, Golden Flake, or Paul Bryant. It is supposed to be the Guardian’s take on society and technology. I downloaded a four part series on the internet as a sample.

After listening to two, of four, episodes I have to admit to being underwhelmed. The disenchantment started when one of the journalists claimed to be expert on the internet. Not that such don’t exist, but not journalists. Journalists, even British ones, are like teachers. They know a lot about journalism (teaching) but have very little content knowledge. This is particularly the situation with STEM stuff. A good article has maybe 0.5 of its information accurate and trustable. The rest is stercus. And that’s a good journalist. The bad ones satisfy Sturgeon’s Rule.

So I early got into distrust mode since the – later demonstrated – talker claimed the highly improbable. Which was fulfilled by some of the crap uttered.

I was particularly nauseated by the statement that the slablet in the pocket gave one access to all the information they would ever need. 

Stercus! First of all there are lots of things that aren’t on the internet, or can’t be accessed well with a slablet. More importantly, what is missing here is knowledge. Just because you own an encyclopedia doesn’t mean you know and understand it.

The series was motivated by the recent UN declaration that internet access is a basic human right. This raised the question of whether the internet is really a survival thing. The obvious answer is a resounding NO! So the edict is a bit specious.

And if it weren’t I could happily relate as to how the Yankee Republic is a totalitarian state for denying access to something like a third of the population.

Bue we already knew it was such, didn’t we?