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Posts Tagged ‘infrastructure

“Everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance”*…

 

high-cost-of-deferred-maintenance

 

The most unappreciated and undervalued forms of technological labour are also the most ordinary: those who repair and maintain technologies that already exist, that were ‘innovated’ long ago. This shift in emphasis involves focusing on the constant processes of entropy and un-doing – which the media scholar Steven Jackson calls ‘broken world thinking’ – and the work we do to slow or halt them, rather than on the introduction of novel things…

We can think of labour that goes into maintenance and repair as the work of the maintainers, those individuals whose work keeps ordinary existence going rather than introducing novel things. Brief reflection demonstrates that the vast majority of human labour, from laundry and trash removal to janitorial work and food preparation, is of this type: upkeep. This realisation has significant implications for gender relations in and around technology. Feminist theorists have long argued that obsessions with technological novelty obscures all of the labour, including housework, that women, disproportionately, do to keep life on track. Domestic labour has huge financial ramifications but largely falls outside economic accounting, like Gross Domestic Product. In her classic 1983 book, More Work for Mother, Ruth Schwartz Cowan examined home technologies – such as washing machines and vacuum cleaners – and how they fit into women’s ceaseless labour of domestic upkeep. One of her more famous findings was that new housekeeping technologies, which promised to save labour, literally created more work for mother as cleanliness standards rose, leaving women perpetually unable to keep up.

Nixon, wrong about so many things, also was wrong to point to household appliances as self-evident indicators of American progress. Ironically, Cowan’s work first met with scepticism among male scholars working in the history of technology, whose focus was a male pantheon of inventors: Bell, Morse, Edison, Tesla, Diesel, Shockley, and so on. A renewed focus on maintenance and repair also has implications beyond the gender politics that More Work for Mother brought to light. When they set innovation-obsession to the side, scholars can confront various kinds of low-wage labour performed by many African-Americans, Latinos, and other racial and ethnic minorities. From this perspective, recent struggles over increasing the minimum wage, including for fast food workers, can be seen as arguments for the dignity of being a maintainer…

Entire societies have come to talk about innovation as if it were an inherently desirable value, like love, fraternity, courage, beauty, dignity, or responsibility. Innovation-speak worships at the altar of change, but it rarely asks who benefits, to what end? A focus on maintenance provides opportunities to ask questions about what we really want out of technologies. What do we really care about? What kind of society do we want to live in? Will this help get us there? We must shift from means, including the technologies that underpin our everyday actions, to ends, including the many kinds of social beneficence and improvement that technology can offer. Our increasingly unequal and fearful world would be grateful…

Capitalism excels at innovation but is failing at maintenance, and for most lives it is maintenance that matters more: “Hail the maintainers.”

[image above: source]

* Kurt Vonnegut

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As we invest in infrastructure, we might send carefully-calculated birthday greetings to Jules Henri Poincaré; he was born on this date in 1854.  A mathematician, theoretical physicist, engineer, and a philosopher of science, Poincaré is considered the “last Universalist” in math– the last mathematician to excel in all fields of the discipline as it existed during his lifetime.

Poincaré was a co-discoverer (with Einstein and Lorentz) of the special theory of relativity; he laid the foundations for the fields of topology and chaos theory; and he had a huge impact on cosmogony.  His famous “Conjecture” held that if any loop in a given three-dimensional space can be shrunk to a point, the space is equivalent to a sphere; it remained unsolved until Grigori Perelman completed a proof in 2003.

source

And we might also send amusingly-phrased birthday greetings to Ludwig Josef Johann Wittgenstein; the philospher of logic, math, language, and the mind was born on this date in 1889.

220px-35._Portrait_of_Wittgenstein source

 

 

 

“The Net is the new underlying infrastructure for civilization itself”*…

 

infrastructure

 

Most governments have traditionally argued that there are certain critical societal assets that should be built, managed, and controlled by public entities — think streets, airports, fire fighting, parks, policing, tunnels, an army. (And in just about every rich country except this one, access to and/or the provision of health care.) The choice to have, say, a city-owned park reflects two key facts: first, a civic judgment that having green outdoor spaces is important to the city; and second, that free parks open to all are unlikely to be produced by private companies driven by a motive for profit.

When it comes to the Internet we all live on, huge swaths of it are owned, controlled, and operated by private companies — companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Twitter. In many cases, those companies’ public impacts aren’t in any significant conflict with their private motivations for profit. But in some cases… they are. Is there room for a public infrastructure that can offer an alternative to (or reduce the harm done by) those tech giants?

A diagnosis of the issue with a set of proposed remedies: “Public infrastructure isn’t just bridges and water mains: Here’s an argument for extending the concept to digital spaces.”

This article is based on a piece by Ethan Zuckerman, written for the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia, in which he lays out what he calls the case for digital public infrastructure. (He also published a summary of it here.)

Pair with this consideration of another piece of our political/social/economic “infrastructure,” corporate law, and its effects– contract, property, collateral, trust, corporate, and bankruptcy law, an “empire of law”: “How ‘Big Law’ Makes Big Money.”

* Doc Searles

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As we contemplate the commons, we might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that the U.S. government dismantled a monstrous piece of “infrastructure” when Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and submitted it to the states for ratification.

The amendment abolished slavery with the declaration: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Thomas Nast’s engraving, “Emancipation,” 1865

source

 

Written by LW

January 31, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Reality is not a function of the event as event, but of the relationship of that event to past, and future, events”*…

 

ARPAnet

Dr. Leonard Kleinrock poses beside the processor in the UCLA lab where the first ARPANET message was sent

 

The first message transmitted over ARPANET, the pioneering Pentagon-funded data-sharing network, late in the evening on October 29, 1969, was incomplete due to a technical error. UCLA graduate student Charley Kline was testing a “host to host” connection across the nascent network to a machine at SRI in Menlo Park, California, and things seemed to be going well–until SRI’s machine, operated by Bill Duvall, crashed partway through the transmission, meaning the only letters received from the attempted “login” were “lo.”

Kline thought little of the event at the time, but it’s since become the stuff of legend and poetic reinterpretation. “As in, lo and behold!” ARPANET developer and early internet icon Leonard Kleinrock says, grinning as he recounts the story in the 2016 Werner Herzog documentary Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World. Others have interpreted the truncated transmission as “a stuttered hello”; one camp argues it was a prescient “LOL.”

It’s a staple of tech hagiography to inject history’s banal realities with monumental foresight and noble intentions; Mark Zuckerberg demonstrated as much recently, when he claimed Facebook was founded in response to the Iraq War, rather than to rate the attractiveness of Harvard women. It’s understandable to wish that ARPANET’s inaugural message, too, had offered a bit more gravity, given all that the network and its eventual successor, the internet, hath wrought upon the world. But perhaps the most enduring truth of the internet is that so many of its foundational moments and decisive turning points—from Kline’s “lo” to Zuckerberg’s late-night coding sessions producing a service for “dumb fucks” at Harvard—emerged from ad hoc actions and experiments undertaken with little sense of foresight or posterity. In this respect, the inaugural “lo” was entirely apt…

Fifty years after the first successful (or, successful enough) transmission across the ARPANET, we’ve effectively terraformed the planet into a giant computer founded on the ARPANET’s architecture. The messages transmitted across it have certainly become more complex, but the illusion that its ad-hoc infrastructure developed in a political vacuum has become harder and harder to maintain. That illusion has been pierced since 2016, but the myth that seems poised to replace it—that technology can in fact automate away bias and politics itself—is no less insidious.

The vapidity of the first ARPANET message is a reminder of the fallacy of this kind of apolitical, monumental storytelling about technology’s harms and benefits. Few isolated events in the development of the internet were as heroic as we may imagine, or as nefarious as we may fear. But even the most ad hoc of these events occurred in a particular ideological context. What is the result of ignoring or blithely denying that context? Lo and behold: It looks a lot like 2019.

Half a century after the first ARPANET message, pop culture still views connectivity as disconnected from the political worldview that produced it.  The always-illuminating Ingrid Burrington argues that that’s a problem: “How We Misremember the Internet’s Origins.”

“Is everyone who lives in Ignorance like you?” asked Milo.
“Much worse,” he said longingly. “But I don’t live here. I’m from a place very far away called Context.”
Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth

* Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men

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As we ruminate on roots, we might send carefully-coded birthday greetings to Gordon Eubanks; he was born on this date in 1946.  A microcomputer pioneer, he earned his PhD studying under Garry Kildall, who founded Digital Research; his dissertation was BASIC-E, a compiler designed for Kildall’s CP/M operating system.  In 1981, after DR lost the IBM operating system contract to Microsoft (per yesterday’s almanac entry), Eubanks joined DR to create new programming languages.  He soon came to doubt DR’s viability, and left to join Symantec, where he helped develop Q & A, an integrated database and wordprocessor with natural language query. He rose through Symantec’s ranks to become it’s President and CEO.  Later he became president and CEO of Oblix, a silicon valley startup that creates software for web security (acquired by Oracle in 2005).

eubanks source

 

Written by LW

November 7, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Infrastructure is much more important than architecture”*…

 

The wind driven Kincade fire burns near the town of Healdsburg, California

 

A kind of toxic debt is embedded in much of the infrastructure that America built during the 20th century. For decades, corporate executives, as well as city, county, state, and federal officials, not to mention voters, have decided against doing the routine maintenance and deeper upgrades to ensure that electrical systems, roads, bridges, dams, and other infrastructure can function properly under a range of conditions. Kicking the can down the road like this is often seen as the profit-maximizing or politically expedient option. But it’s really borrowing against the future, without putting that debt on the books.

In software development, engineers have long noted that taking the easy way out of coding problems builds up what they call “technical debt,” as the tech journalist Quinn Norton has written.

Like other kinds of debt, this debt compounds if you don’t deal with it, and it can distort the true cost of decisions. If you ignore it, the status quo looks cheaper than it is. At least until the off-the-books debt comes to light…

All told, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that it will cost $3.6 trillion to get Americans back to an acceptable level of technical debt in our infrastructure.

Of course, it’s been saying that for many years. The number is so big as to be almost laughable. It’s 2.4 times the amount Donald Trump’s tax cuts are to add to the American budget deficit over the next 10 years, according to the Washington Examiner

Climate change will soon expose a crippling problem embedded in the nation’s infrastructure.  In fire-ravaged California, it already has: “The Toxic Bubble of Technical Debt Threatening America.”

[TotH to AR]

* Rem Koolhaas

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As we aspire to be good ancestors, we might recall that it was on this date in 1906, at the first International Radiotelegraph Convention in Berlin, that the Morse Code signal “SOS”– “. . . _ _ _ . . .”– became the global standard radio distress signal.  While it was officially replaced in 1999 by the Global Maritime Distress Safety System, SOS is still recognized as a visual distress signal.

SOS has traditionally be “translated” (expanded) to mean “save our ship,” “save our souls,” “send out succor,” or other such pleas.  But while these may be helpful mnemonics, SOS is not an abbreviation or acronym.  Rather, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, the letters were chosen simply because they are easily transmitted in Morse code.

220px-Thesos source

 

 

Written by LW

November 3, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Apparently I lack some particular perversion which today’s employer is seeking”*…

 

 

Instead of looking at only the most common job in each state, I found the top five for a slightly wider view. You still see the nationally popular occupations — drivers, cashiers, and retail workers — but after the first row, you see more regional and state-specific jobs.

The sore thumb in this picture is Washington, D.C., whose top five ordered by rank was lawyers, management analysts, administrative assistants, janitors, and, wait for it, chief executives…

From Flowing Data: “Most Common Jobs, By State.”

* John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

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As we struggle to add the gainful to employment, we might recall that it was on this date in 1870 that America’s first asphalt pavement was laid in front of City Hall in Newark, N.J.  Edmund J. DeSmedt, the Belgian chemist who oversaw the work, had received a U.S. patent for this asphalt paving method two months earlier. Later that year, DeSmedt became the inspector of asphalt and cements for the District of Columbia, and oversaw wide application there.

DeSmedt’s crews at work in D.C. in 1876

source

 

 

Written by LW

July 29, 2018 at 1:01 am

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