Caves of PC

Two Day.Pleasing breeze this morning. Gym again sparse and the podcasts acceptable if not memorable. The Guardian science podcast episode was an interview of some fellow who had written a book on radiation and based on his performance in the interview came across as rather lame and unreadable. His explanations were not inaccurate just rather Barnumish. Still he must have decent credential for the tome to be published by Princeton’s press.

So I had a bit of time to cogitate on an article [Link] that I saw yesterday entitled “All the Times Science Fiction Authors Have Shilled Random Products.” Given Lifehacker’s horrible standards of scholarship I think we can ignore the “All” as one of the egregencies of contemporary journalism. What riveted me was not the article per se, but this picture:

Somehow I managed to miss this – the holy Isaac (number 2) pandering Tandy bits. Not as bad as the holy Isaac (number 1) pandering feline sanitation products, complete with celebrity wig, but bad enough because I missed it. Or it didn’t register? Naah!

As I recall, the handheld that thI is holding was actually made by SHARP? I know I had a SHARP with exactly the same layout except the URH logoing. It was rather a disappointment. Now I had access to real (?) computers: a CDC 6600 and an HP 9830 or 9845. So I wasn’t in dire shortage of number crunching capability. So I noodled with it a bit and after a month it was back in its original box growing dust on a shelf. Couldn’t really compare to my HP calculator for utility.

I did buy a computer from Radio Shack.  It was a small thing called a Color Computer, as I recall, that programmed in BASIC. I got some limited use from but could never get the cassette deck interface to work properly. But it did get me well started on use-once-throw-away code that I somehow excelled (no pun) at. If was replaced in 1984 with an IBM PC and the parting was untearful.

Also frustrating until Phillipe Kahn, the REAL enabler of personal computing, brought out Turbo Pascal and the process of code writing ceased to be so natteringly administrative. Up to that point – this was the DOS days – you loaded a text editor, keyed some code, saved it in a file, closed the text editor, invoked the compiler (FORTRAN mostly in my case,) loaded the text editor again, looked at either the failure dump file, made notes of the relevant intelligence, closed that file, opened the code file, and modified the code,… or looked at the output file and ….

With TP all you did was load the program. Editor and compiler were built in and you stayed in the one program. Time was saved. And ulcers were minimized.

But I still don;t remember Asimov being mercantile.

Into the Dark Past

Some time ago I ran across this cartoon: [Link]

and it brought back memories of my college days, particularly undergraduate at the Campus of the Black Warrior. I spent my freshman and sophomore years living in dorm. Because of my HS grades and being a Westinghouse Science Talent Finalist (and a Gorgas Fellow?) I was put in the honor (nerd) dorm Mallet. I don’t know who the dorm was named after but he was supposed to be a nerd as well.

The dorm had two stacks with four rooms per floor. The first floor rooms had shared between latrines; the upper two floors has shared among latrines. There were two landline phones in the dorm for student use. Needless to say I didn’t have to use the phone much those two years. In fact, I can only recall about three conversations. It was easier to hike over to the BIG dorm – Paty – with the cafeteria and pay phones to use the latter.

There were also no personal computers. In fact aside from research machines I think there were only two machines on campus: the administrative one for the business side; and a research support machine. I had access to the latter, an IBM 360 that we programmed in a mixture of FORTRAN 2 and JCL – Job Control Language. The media were IBM 5081 punch cards and one of the major burdens we carried were decks of such cards. 

I have already discussed the lack of calculators. Graduate students had access to rooms of electric (not electronic) calculator machines but we undergraduates got to use them only rarely. Mostly we made do with our slide rules and the mainframe. Oddly we undergrads had better access to the latter than did the grad students because almost all of them couldn’t code. In fact, my bachelor’s thesis was the first such that was purely computational. With a lot of negative comments by the older faculty who were unhappy I didn’t do any wet work. Of course the younger guys on my committee responded by asking what experiments I could have done?

In those days no one had any idea of a word processor or a laser printer. I remember typing papers on a typewriter – one key at a time in iconic fashion. Calculators didn’t even come about till I was in grad schule. And I had been in the workplace for over a decade before I bout an IBM PC. My office didn’t have them till two years later. 

Those were good times.

How Far?

The pogrom against the Confederacy continues. The Carolinians are supposed to bow this morning. And supposedly even the Yankee Congress is cowed.

I should probably preface this by saying that I do not consider the media trustworthy. Sturgeon’s rule applies.

But I have only heard talking heads declare that the flag is “racist”. Never mind the whackedness of the concept. It’s what the government brainwashes people with and we have to accept that they will use what is deposited between their ears. But it is still a bogus concept.

Nor that I don’t acknowledge that African-Americans weren’t discriminated against and persecuted. Or that I am unhappy that the flag is being hauled down. It’s an historic artifact and the veneration by some bogs is decidedly unhealthy.

But I do recall somewhere reading that more history books (in America) have been written about the Civil War than all other history books in total. Are they to be burned? Or only the pro-Confederacy ones? And who makes the determination?

That would be a mistake. If we don’t learn from history we will repeat the same mistakes. And humans are too good at propagating mistakes as it is. 

Evil needs to be enshrined lest we forget it.

Forward to the Past

Spring may have arrived! I got to go execute constitutional in the park this morning. Dihydrogen oxide fell most of the night and was still when I left Castellum SCP but the volumetric rate of fall was small and I only got wetted below the rain coat, a rather horrible thing from the Maine Guide Store with fleece lined sleeves. Nasty things. Horrible to put on and take off. Whoever designed should entertain a firing party for one volley. 

Anyway, the podcast was an episode of “Linux Luddites” that I initiated yesterday in gym and had time left over so I continued it as I maneuvered puddles on the path. And reminded myself repeatedly to refresh the accumulators in my head lamp. Anyway one of the things they were discussing was the ethical dimensions of FOSS and mentioned the good old days of mainframes. This prompted my attention span – time to the matter.

I first encountered main frames as a freshman. My previous experience had been limited to standardized tests, mostly the ACT/SAT sort of thing. Gathering rather redolent of cattle at the slaughter house. No expectation of any resolution. Perhaps the basis of all adolescent rebellion in my generation. I clearly recall taking an aptitude test at an induction call-up and being whispered about, inveigled to enlist in officer’s training and then told to go home because of hypertension.  Somehow that chain epitomized the wgole standardized test in society thing.

I should probably also warn that as an ORF I am not as accepting of change as I used to be. Although I am not sure I was very much that way. I have always been a late adopter of all but nerd tech. When the HP-35 came out I wanted one enough to sell my nonexistent children. But I stopped short of buying one because my TA stipend wouldn’t cover that and food and somehow eating seemed a bonny addiction. So take what comes with a bit of ‘grano’.

Computers were better in those days. We used them for real work, crunching numbers on all manner of reality things. I spent a lot of senior year time doing molecular structure calculations and drawing graphs by hand. And typing my senior thesis on my typewriter. No word processing on mainframes!

And no cellular telephones. The only mobile phones were radio phones which were almost nonexistent and tied to motorcars. But we had CB radios and they were better than cellulars since we could talk car-to-car and didn’t have to know who we were calling. And if we were late for dinner then we took our admonition.

The only thing I really think is great is the digital camera. All we had then were film cameras and one pretty much had to have considerable skill to be a wake-maker with those. And no matter what, you had to wait for the picture. Of course, it was on paper, but that made it somehow more memorable and important, and besides the pictures were always better than they are now, a result of photographer talent and training. 

I am not sure we were not more productive in those days. Yes, it took us a long time to write/publish stuff and we didn’t “communicate” as much but somehow the publications were better, especially better written, and the communications were memorable and important. We didn’t call home to discuss the grocery list. 

I don’t know that things were better then but I do know they were more satisfying. The food was better, we didn’t obsess over weather, and we didn’t have our lives run by our pocket boxes.

Selah. So sayeth an ORF writing a blot. Fundamentally contradictory.

STEM NERD Writing 1

A fair start to the day. Lower temperatures. Almost pleasant. And I listened to part of an episode of the “Pen Addict” [Link] podcast during my constitutional. One of my colleagues, Total Angular Momentum Magnetic Inductance, put me on this, which I share with another common colleague, Magentic Inductance Force, because we are all rather interested in pens and/or pencils and paper. The podcast started out as an attention diversion but after I commented a couple of times on the hosts’ grammar, it improved considerably and the podcast is – part of the time – enjoyable and informative.

I listen with some latency so the recent announcement of the podcast shifting (?) has caused some stress. And it has provoked me to reflect a bit on my own history with pens and writing and such.

So while this is not becoming a penphenalia blog, I am going to be doing some blots on the subject. Somewhere between reminiscence and history.

When I grew up, basically in the ’50’s and early ’60’s, I lived a pencil existence. We didn’t use pens much in schule. Even in high schule. But I do recall that I greatly disliked “wooden” pencils. They had to be sharpened. That meant you had to get up and walk over to the sharpener – a manual device in those days – and use it. I am not very mechanical. I have struggled all my life to learn to use tools, almost always unsuccessfully. In the Sowth this type of handicap is seen as gender incompetence. No male is tool incompetent.

Also, when you go to the pencil sharpener, people look at you. Not agood thing for an introvert in schule. Extro handle it naturally; intros get nightmares and contemplate suicide, or planetary destruction.

I recall getting my first mechanical pencil at about age seven. About the same time I got my first slide rule. It was a gift from my paternal grandfather. He was an insurance executive and got lots of pens and pencils given him and since this was an advertising pen I suspect it was a birthday gift of convenience. But successful and exciting and pleasing all the same.

It took the large – 2 mm? – leads of the day and had a clutch mechanism similar to those used in drafting pencils. The body was green plastic, a very warm feeling pen and not uncomfortable in my juvenile hand. I can’t recall what happened to it. Probably superseded or broken but the loss was emotionally decoupled so it could not have been traumatic. But that pen strated me on a road of NOT using wooden pens. The only time I used wooden pens after that was when I took those horrible standardized tests with the optical scoring forms for the selected answers. The ones where one had to use a “Number 2” (what hardness is that?) “lead” (not graphite-clay mixture) pencil. The teachers were always pedantic about reminding of that I would have to go buy pencils specially for the exam. And abandon them as soon as the exam was over.

But I didn’t use a pocket protector. Never associated with anyone who used one until I went to work for the Yankee Army.

And there were pens along the way, but I don’t recall them. Pencils were the thing until I got to college. Film at Eleven.

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Fruit Fall

Gad, I already dislike summer. And it isn’t really here yet but its scouts are already annoying and irritating. That’s summer in Alibam: an itching of the nether regions. And that has nothing to do with the political environment.  Which is reminiscent of those medieval era setting vampire-werewolf oppressions. And yes, Alibam politicians are definitely parasites of the worst sort.

The constitutional was moderate mostly because I had the park to myself- except for critters – but the wind was almost non-existent. Still that is better than those bitterly hot winds that characterize so much of Alibam summer.

On the bright side, today is the birthday anniversary of William Whewell, who is the Victorian scientist who coined the term. I read on a book on him some time ago that made much of him and his colleagues but all I can recall was his coining of the term and some sort of difficulty with marriage. No, not repressed sexuality, but some organizational rule that was prohibitive. I also recall he was a big wind in the British national science organization which evidently was not as much of an indication of scientific incompetence as it is today. Anyway, there is a middling article on him at Wikipedia that I am too lazy to reproduce the URL.

Along which azimuth, I noted a cartoon [Link]

that I ran across yesterday and was rather bemused by. First of all, I have to wonder if the youthful, plague avoiding, Newton would have been wearing a wig to sit under a tree on a farm. Social conventions are seldom logical and rational from without.

It should also be mentioned that Newton did not “invent” gravity. There were already theories of gravity in place at that time. What Newton did was to come up with a consistent mechanics that included gravity in something more than a descriptive fashion. But it didn’t come to fruition under that tree. The falling apple planted the idea seed that grew into the tree of Newtonian mechanics.

How’s that for a really horrible metaphor?

And I have no idea what a “fruit hug” is. I am not even sure it is worthy of  mentation.

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Piled Up

Week out is begun. Just finished my constitutional at the park. The air was unmoving so my heat dragged. Or more properly, I dragged it with me. No convective heat transfer. And the podcast was especially terrible, some acalculate mysticism about 1E2. But I downloaded episodes of two new – to me – podcasts yesterday and they may offer some relief. Although the ‘cast does serve its intended purpose of making all the others I listen to better by comparison. And better grammar. Mostly.

I noted in passing yesterday [Link] that the Moundville facility will begin observing its seventy-fifth anniversary today.

That’s the Douglas Jones Museum at the left in the picture. You can’t see the David DeJarnette Laboratory off to the right.

I have to admit to good feelings/memories about those two and the park itself. As an undergraduate I took and Anthropology track – two courses – of diversification study and one of those courses was New World Archaeology taught by Mr. DeJarnette. He was one of the greats to me, a capable teacher and an open mentor. He had high standards and openly shared his views. And being unable to convince me to abandon a frivolous existence majoring in the physical sciences and maths, put me to work on the physics aspects of various archaeological problems. Like dating some limestone caves in the Yucatan.

Doug Jones was a geologist and dean of the fartsy, nerdy schule at the campus of the Black Warrior. When two of my colleagues and I wanted to wander over to the mechanics schule and take FORTRAN, instead of the moneychangers schule’s COBOL, he was the fellow who “shouted havoc” for us. So both of these chaps molded my education and future.

I mention that because I ran across an article [Link] that indicates that students are much more likely to be successful in their endeavors if they have professors who mentor them. So while the mentoring was peripheral, I do attribute some components of my success – if I can call it that – to these two professors.

It is not easy to mentor an introvert. I was reminded this morning that one definition of an introvert is ” a person who would rather pay for something than get it free if social contact  can be avoided thereby.” Social contact in anthropology is hard to avoid. In a sense, it’s all about social stuff. And the average anthropological theory is overwhelming extro. So anthropology is no home for an intro.

I first went to Moundville as part of DeJarnette’s course. One of his duties was to be poohbah of the facility and he sent us off to see it. And I can say that it had a deep impression on me, one so deep I tried to impart it to my daughter – and failed.

It was wonderful then, with the museum, not yet named for Doug Jones, musty and dark, and the fascinating mounds. And it’s better today, not because of the museum being renewed but by the enrichment of the Yankee government returning the Duck Bowl

to its home.

But no, I am not going to the festivities. They’re for extro bogs. I’ll wait and go when there aren’t crowds and I can enjoy what is there.

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