Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Lovers Offline


Lovers Offline
Anonymous, Telegraphic Journal, January 15, 1875.
(written by a telegraph clerk on the back of a message form)

In times that are over, full many a lover
Was won by the power of electrical fire;
There was working; then sporting -- conversing, then courting,
And letters by post followed wooing by wire.

The couples then mated are closer related,
And many a one who was helped in his work,
By patience, attention, and care beyond mention,
Has found a kind helpmeet in his fellow clerk.

But, now, things are changing, stern rules are estranging
The workers, and striving all likings to baulk;
Lest people should choose them, and Government lose them,
"The Staff, on the wires, are forbidden to talk!"

Odd moments of leisure, once given to pleasure,
Are spent in dull idleness through the day;
And kept thus asunder, can anyone wonder
If patience, at times quite exhausted, gives way?

It is so annoying, one might be enjoying
The cosiest chat with the nicest of friends;
But there's always the fear now that somebody's near now,
And "taking us down from the slip" at both ends.

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Sunday, September 28, 2014

WHEN OLD TECHNOLOGIES WERE NEW


I reasoned that there must have been telegraph hackers and sought to find them in the written history.  The telegraph came first.  Before hams broadcast in the ether, long before the telephone was regulated by the Federal Communications Commission, before Hermann Hollerith founded IBM, there must have developed prototypes of the things we take for granted in computing. 

Originally published online 4-SEP-1990 via USENET and Fidonet.  VERSION 0.75 August 26, 1990 -- A History of Early Cyberspace by mercury@well.sf.ca.us = MERCURY@lcc.edu (c) 1990 by Michael E. Marotta. published by The World GRID Association, P. O. Box 15062, Lansing, MI 48901 USA. You can copy this.
Box cover for VHS tape showing two teenagers at a computer about 1982.

Consider an anti-Western Union song from the July 20, 1883 meeting of the Brotherhood of Telegraphers at Clarendon Hall, in New York City that boasted, “We've left our keys...Let Jay Gould walk the floor...The wires are full of bugs...”(1) Though the term "bug" later referred to a semi-automatic sending key, the context is clear.  I had always accepted the story of Grace Hopper scotch-taping an errant fly into her log book.

Today's keyboarder suffers from carpal tunneling and a telegrapher would get a "glass arm" from too much sending.(1)

Box cover for DVD movie showing two teenagers above a computer screen with a scullThis summer [1990] we saw Mitch Kapor and Steve Wozniak invest their money in the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in part to aid the defense of hacker Craig Neidorf. The Strike of 1883 was supported by Thomas Edison who gave $300(1) or $700(2) at Clarendon Hall. 

Telegraphers were generally regarded as intelligent, clean, and quiet; and women worked as equals to men -- equal in ability, though not pay.(1,2,3).  And there was turnover. "Boomers", operators who hopped a train for the next horizon, filled in for boomers who had just left for the next horizon.  One major difference is that Western Union enjoyed a monopoly that would be the envy of IBM.

Some similarities are too obvious.  The computer, according to Carolyn Marvin, is a telegraph with a prodigious memory.(3)  There is no doubt that the early electric age presaged our own.  Experts defined their own status, “users” were abused with jokes about their ignorance of technology, and preposterous predictions about the complete and permanent improvement of humanity were superabundant.(3)

So where are the hackers?  Thomas Edison was the foremost telegrapher, the ultimate hardware hacker, duplexing and quadriplexing messages on the same wire.  Telegraphers played checkers and pursued romances, though, it is asserted, "not on company time". During the Strike of 1883, union loyalists within the company used the lines to keep members nationwide informed.(1)  They used a secret code,(1) though it is obvious that an operator could send anything at all in the presence of Jay Gould, whose skills lay in other areas. 

Sources:
(1) The Telegraphers: Their Craft and Union,Vidkunn Ulriksson, Public Affairs Press, 1953.
(2) The American Telegrapher: A social history, 1860 - 1900, Edwin Gabler, Rutgers University Press, 1988.
(3) When Old Technologies Were New, Carolyn Marvin, Oxford University Press, 1988.

Notes:
  • "Of all the marvelous achievements of modern science, the Electric Telegraph is transcendentally the greatest and most serviceable to mankind.  It is a perpetual miracle, which no familiarity can render commonplace.  This character it deserves from the nature of the agent employed and the end subserved.  For what is the end to be accomplished, but the most spiritual ever possible?  Not the modification or transportation of matter, but the transmission of thought.  To effect this an agent is employed so subtle in its nature that it may more properly be called a spiritual rather than a material force." -- Charles F. Briggs and Augustus Maverick The Story of the Telegraph and a History of the Great Transatlantic Cable, Rudd & Carleton. New York: 1858.
  • "Redeeming Charles Babbage's Mechanical Computer" by Doron D. Swade, Scientific American, February 1993.  (A successful effort to build a working, three-ton Babbage calculating engine suggests that history has misjudged the pioneer of automatic computing.)
  • "The Electric Telegraph" a poem, anonymous. from Chamber's Papers For the People.  Long.  The chorus is "Sing who will of the Orphean lyre/Ours the wonder-working wire."   And much more of the same on this and other topics.  (Telephones for the poor... do wireless transmissions harm operators... does use of the telephone cause deafness in the left ear...)
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Monday, September 22, 2014

Base 7


Playing with arithmetic in different bases was an esoteric exercise in number theory until the invention of computers gave practical expression to binary, octal, and hexadecimal.  But the abstract exercise is still enjoyable. Driving in to work, I wondered what 121 would be in base seven.  I tried working it out in my head.  Finally, several weeks later, I resorted to paper and pencil.

I rediscovered the method I had been taught in the 7th grade at Lincoln High School in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1962.  But the rote method was not satisfactory.  I had to figure out why it worked.

To check my answers, I turned to Purple Math.  I knew Elizabeth Stapel’s website from my daughter’s years in high school.  Back then, I purchased two CD-ROMs, one for each of us.  On the Purple Math website, I found interactive exercises that let me practice what I had re-learned. 


Graphic shows repeated divisions to convert a number from one base to another
Interactive tutorial from Purple Math
4 times 7^4 = 9604
2 times 7^3 = 686
1 times 7^2 = 49
6 times 7^1 = 42
2 times 7^0 = 2
TOTAL =  10383


 I thought that it would be easy to find this in Common Core.  I assumed that the progressives would want children to practice useless number bases – and that conservatives would be outraged.  I was wrong.  In fact, Common Core is all about Base Ten.  If you want lesson plans in Base 7, you need Bob Jones University, the Christian fundamentalists who think that Earth is 10,000 years old.  Find BJU Press materials for homeschoolers here http://www.bjupresshomeschool.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/home___

Long ago, at a coin show, when my wife was proofreading for Bantam Doubleday, I found a lapel button from Encyclopedia Britannia home sales: “We never guess. We always look it up.”  Amen.

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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Mayan Mojo

Mayan Mojo is roasted breadnut, ground into a powder for making drinks.  The dark roast is coffee-like; the light roast is like tea.  The dark roast is easily the best-tasting coffee substitute I have experienced, far better than the chicory mixes. Moreover, it is high in protein, vitamin C, and other nutrients.  We saw Tommy Linton of Buchanan Dam, Texas, a few times at our neighborhood Whole Foods before stopping to sip a sample.  We bought a bag of the dark roast.  
http://www.mayancafedemojo.com/


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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ATLAS SHRUGGED PART 3: WHO IS JOHN GALT?


It is not the movie that I would have made; but it was not my movie to make. If I had directed the effort, then other people would be criticizing my work.  It is easy to find complaints from fans.  Mine are below.  They stem from the fact that we all have had the film in our heads for years, even decades.  We all imagined it.  However, none of us actually realized our imaginings.  John Aglialoro did.  With productive investment from Harmon Kaslow, Scott DeSapio. Ed Snider, David Kelley and a large body of fans (among them my daughter), Aglialoro finally brought Ayn Rand’s masterpiece to the screen.
 
I watched it twice, once with my wife, Laurel, and once alone.
They strayed from the book for reasons other than the translation across media.  Catering to conservatives not only violated the philosophical premises, it actually denied them in real time.  To make the message acceptable, the essence was removed.  As delivered, Galt’s Speech was an amorphous expression of emotional individualism already known from
Ahead of me in line,
another generation of fans.
Anthem.  Galt’s Speech could have been cut to the necessary length and still developed its political message from the requisite metaphysics and epistemology.  Instead, they missed their real audience, catering to old people and conservatives when Atlas Shrugged in particular, and the works of Ayn Rand in general always have and always will belong to the young. 

Ayn Rand taught that contradictory premises result in conflicting and unreconcilable conclusions. One example from AS3 was the mother in the Valley who said that she chose to homeschool her children, rather than hand them over to a school that did not teach them to think.  Was there an alternative?  Any kids in the Valley would be “homeschooled” one way or another. There was no  public school for them to attend.  

Even though the heroes of  AS3 had several reasons to escape an oppressive society, you do not need to go to Galt’s Gulch to homeschool your children. 

Would it not be a huge mistake for her to keep her kids "at home" when they could be learning arithmetic at the Mulligan Bank?  The very idea that children should not work but be in school was an interventionist political plan to keep them from competing for jobs against unskilled adults.  As the d'Anconia mine is delved by human labor, perhaps the children could put in 12 hours a day to benefit from the experience of learning first hand about the early industrial revolution.  Well, perhaps not...  

[September 19. On the "Galt's Gulch" discussion board contributor LetsShrug pointed out that in fact, the scene is from the book.  I found it on page 730 of the New American Library paperback.  The mother says: "They're profession I've chosen to practice, which in spite of all the guff about motherhood, one can't practice successfully in the outer world. I believe you've met my husband, he's the teacher of economics who works as a lineman for Dick McNamara. You know, of course, that there can be no collective commitments in this valley, and that families or relatives are not allowed to come here, unless each person takes the striker's oath by his own independent conviction. I cam here not merely for the sake of my husband's profession but for the sake of my own.  I came here to bring up my sons as human beings. I would not surrender them to the educational systems designed to stunt a child's brain, to convince him that reason is impotent, that existence is an irrational chaos with which he's unable to deal, and thus reduce him to a state of chronic terror.  You marvel at the difference between my children and those outside, Miss Taggart?  The reason is so simple.  The cause is that here in Galt's Gulch, there's no person who would not consider it monstrous ever to confront a child with the slightest suggestion of the irrational." ]

On a deeper level, how does one person teach another to think?  You can transmit techniques and tricks and methods and tools and aids.  But the thinking must be discovered from the inside. The homeschooling scene was not an element from the work of Ayn Rand.  It was just another sop thrown to the conservatives. 
  • The coins obviously were not gold.  The props were brass.  Alongside Night had a real gold coin.
  •  We already met Jim Taggart before the marquee card identified him.
  • The names on the ceiling of producers who spent the first night in Galt’s home included many who were not in the book.  Among them was Ashish Gulhati, an open source hacker from India.  I am happy for him; and pleased that he was included. However, it was not canonical.  That being so, this was in fact a reward to contributors to the financing of the movie.
  •  Where did the Wyatt workers come from?
  •  Where did the d’Anconia workers come from?
  •  Cool as was his airplane – a Lockheed Electra? – Galt’s plane was not powered by his own motor.
  •  Dr. Robert Stadler was soft-pedaled, not identified as the government-funded researcher whose intelligence serves brutality, whose own contradictions made that not just possible but necessary.
  • When meeting Mr. Thompson, how did Galt have a cell phone in his pocket?  Why was he not searched? 
Also, contrary to the book, Eddie Willers was saved by the heroes.  In the book his fate was purposely left undetermined. Ayn Rand specifically intended that and explained it.
 
Every work is a matrix of trade-offs.
From Spaceflight Technology,  Howard Seifert, ed.,
New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1959.
The movie offered many more positives.  Kristoffer Polaha’s performance was masterful.  His facial expressions spoke volumes.  He “got” the part: he understood the context.  He carried Dagny into the bedroom and laid her down. “I can walk,” she said.  “I know,” replied.  In shot after shot, he is aware, intelligent, focused, and  yet envisioning a wider horizon.  In the scene where he is captured, he was amused by the mental simplicity of Mr. Thompson.  When Galt is being tortured and Dr. Ferris asks, “How are we doing?”  Galt’s facial reply is miles deep. 

Jeff Yagher as Jeff Allen was the capable, competent worker who is not an innovator.  When the switching system breaks down, he does not know what do to, and neither is it expected that he should.  But he understands what Dagny Taggart intends as soon as she speaks her first words of command.  Yagher was also the narrator.  That was a segue was from the story of the Twentieth Century Motor Company from Part II.  That, too, was a deviation from the book, but one acceptable as the translation across media.

The door scene was good.  When Dagny pleads with John not to return to the City, they are still symbolically separated by a gulf of misunderstanding. 

The scene in Galt's apartment when the Feds force the door to the motor was perfect, right out of the book.

The best choice was to present this as a love story.   Atlas Shrugged works on many levels.  The girl-finds-boy thread was a dependable trope for Ayn Rand.  Similarly, most readers easily see The Fountainhead as Howard Roark’s biography (which it is) but miss the counterpoint of Dominique Francon’s narrative.  Here, the female lead is front and center. 

Overall, this was a finesse.  The producers, director, actors, and cinematography team all achieved as much (if not more) on $5 million as the first installment (also a grand achievement) did on fifteen.  "Third time is the charm."    

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Saturday, September 13, 2014

There is no John Galt - and that's worse

There is a destroyer loose who is shutting off the motor of the world, slowing the engine of creation, tapping out the extra power of invention.  But it is not one person whose name is a question.  What you tax you get less of; and what you subsidize you get more of.  The brightest people in the world are making video games; and no one is on the Moon.  It did not take a genius to figure this out: it is a universal law of human action.



No law, no regulation or ruling says what a computer is or who is qualified to program one.  In a lifetime, we have gone from no computers to over a billion of them.  The poorest people in the world have cellular telephones; and they trade online minutes as an ad hoc monetary medium.  It is truly wonderful, a perfect demonstration of the power of open markets.  When criminal hackers seek to violate your financial security, they do not need supercomputers chilled with liquid nitrogen: they use gaming computers whose powerful processors outstrip anything planned by university consortiums. 

However, to be an civil engineer or a mechanical engineer, you need to attend a government approved college, take a government licensing examination, serve an industry mandated apprenticeship, and, as a professional, buy a ton of liability insurance.  Since 1945, on the advice of MIT's Vannevar Bush, the government has actively subsidized as many research projects as we, the people, (and our grandchildren) could afford.  So, we have the same roads, the same railroads, the same internal combustion engines and steam turbines as we did 100 years ago.  They are, indeed, better, but not different.  The jet engine is 70 years old.  So is nuclear power.  We have nothing better.  

All work is an act of philosophy.  
They subsidized education, but never bothered to measure learning.  Torrents of federal money only bloated the administrations of universities without rewarding the faculties or incentivizing the students.  They subsidized healthcare, but never investigated life extension.  The medical monopoly pursues a cure for cancer like 19th century doctors fighting consumption caused by miasmas. 

We all get along somehow...  

And that allows the lawmakers, the regulators, and taxers, and tax-eaters to believe that their actions have no effect, no deleterious consequences. They believe that human action - and human inaction - is impervious to reality, that the physical laws of the universe do not apply to their decisions.  They see the tax-revenues coming in. They spend the money going out.  They never discover the unbroken window.

Frederic Bastiat's famous analogy of the broken window is a law of the universe. As best as we can imagine from science fiction, any sentient, self-aware, rational being must of necessity act and respond just as we have. There is no escape.  Every decision of the government must be an economic loss because the basis of that decision is for power not for profit.  Economic losses are not impersonal: they take the food off your table.  You do still have food, for the moment, but you do not know what you do not have because it was not invented or discovered.  


Not everyone wants to be a video game designer.
What do you do if you cannot do what you love? 

But if obeyed, nature can be commanded.  New sources of energy will power the extension of humanity into new frontiers. We know from historical evidence that new arts can be invented and new artists will flourish.  We could  live longer and smarter, and more prosperously. To achieve that in every endeavor, we must only do what we have done to create the video game industry: nothing.  Laissez nous faire.  Leave us alone.  

Previously on Necessary Facts
Atlas Shrugged Opening Show (2011)
Love, Loss, and Redemption in Atlas Shrugged
The Influence of Ayn Rand's Objectivism
Atlas Shrugged Part 3

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Epic Meat Bars

These high protein paleo-diet meat bars were our salvation when flying as passengers.  Yes, I know the 20-gram soy protein "energy" bars. They have their limitations. If you can eat meat, these are an order of magnitude better.  The Native Americans called it "pemmican." You start with meat: turkey, buffalo, whatever.  You beat it with fruit and maybe something else and make it into a dried paste.  Yum. 

Merchandizer Robert from EPIC BAR.
Website here.
Austin, Texas, is home to technology, music, art, government, and food.  Once, I was working for the German firm Carl Zeiss, and one of our engineers had to go to Chicago to meet a customer.  "Does anyone know anyplace good to eat in Chicago?" he asked the room. We broke up laughing!  "Dude, if you cannot find someplace good to eat, you let us know!"  But, Austin has Chicago beat.  Period.  

Epic Bars come in bison, turkey, lamb, and beef.  We ran into their merchandisers at Whole Foods and bought a dozen assorted bars for our trip.  After we returned, I met their merchandiser, Robert, at the Wheatsville Co-op where we are members.

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