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Posts Tagged ‘infrastructure

“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

“You can’t trust water: Even a straight stick turns crooked in it”*…

 

New Yorkers like to say their tap water is the best in the world. Surely, then, it’s worth a $1.99-a-month subscription to drink it when you’re away from your sink—right?

That is the concept behind Reefill, a startup that aims to bring the subscription model to the simple, free act of filling up a water bottle at a café. The company wants to build 200 smartphone-activated water fountains inside Manhattan businesses, less to make money off the Nalgene crowd than to hit Dasani, Aquafina, and the wasteful consumption habits of bottled water–guzzling Gothamites…

Just as one field of startups is dedicated to doing what Mom won’t do for you anymore, another is reviving the infrastructure of the 19th century. Uber eventually found its way to the bus; Reefill, to the public drinking fountain…

Top up at “The Startup That Wants to Sell You a Subscription to New York City Tap Water Explains Itself.”

* W.C. Fields

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As we pine for the days of bigger visions, we might recall that it was on this date in 1961 that President John F. Kennedy gave the historic speech before a joint session of Congress that set the United States on a course to the moon.

In his speech, Kennedy called for an ambitious space exploration program that included not just missions to put astronauts on the moon, but also a Rover nuclear rocket, weather satellites, and other space projects.

Read the transcript here.

 source

 

Written by LW

May 25, 2017 at 1:01 am

“They swore by concrete. They built for eternity.”*…

 

These are interesting times for the concrete industry. After the misery of the 2008 financial crisis, construction in America is back in rude health, albeit patchily. Texas, California, and Colorado are all “very hot,” attendees say, as places where new hotels and homes and offices are being built. Demand is so high in these states that concrete-pump manufacturers are apparently having trouble filling orders. Employees worry that with baby boomers retiring, there isn’t the skilled labor force in place to do the work.

But America’s public infrastructure is still a mess—rusting rebars and cracked freeways stand as miserable testaments to a lack of net investment. It’s a complex and cross-party problem, as James Surowiecki has described in The New Yorker. Republicans have shied away from big-government investment– though of course Trump paved his pathway to the White House with pledges to build roads, hospitals, and, of course, a “great great wall”– and the increasing need to get the nod from different government bodies makes it hard to pass policy. For politicians keen on publicity, grand plans for big new things are exciting. But the subsequent decades of maintenance are thankless and dull…

Georgina Voss reports from World of Concrete, the concrete and masonry industry’s massive trade gathering—a five-day show that attacts more than 60,000 attendees.

How the construction business and the politics of the moment are mixed for the pour: “Welcome to the SXSW of Concrete.”

Pair with this piece on the state of dams in the U.S.

* Günter Grass

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As we wait for it to set, we might recall that it was on this date in 1845 that a method for manufacturing elastic (rubber) bands was patented in Britain by Stephen Perry and and Thomas Barnabas Daft of London (G.B. No. 13880/1845).

In the early 19th century, sailors had brought home items made by Central and South American natives from the sap of rubber trees, including footwear, garments and bottles.  Around 1820, a Londoner named Thomas Hancock sliced up one of the bottles to create garters and waistbands. By 1843, he had secured patent rights from Charles Macintosh for vulcanized india rubber.  (Vulcanization made rubber stable and retain its elasticity.)  Stephen Perry, owner of Messrs Perry and Co,. patented the use of india rubber for use as springs in bands, belts, etc., and (with Daft) also the manufacture of elastic bands by slicing suitable sizes of vulcanized india rubber tube.  The bands were lightly scented to mask the smell of the treated rubber.

 source

 

Written by LW

March 17, 2017 at 1:01 am

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