(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Technology

“I can kind of envision maybe one person with a lot of machines, tapes, and electronics set up, singing or speaking and using machines”*…

 

radiophonics

 

In 1957, just before the broadcast of a radio show called Private Dreams and Public Nightmares, a warning was sent to BBC engineers. “Don’t attempt to alter anything that sounds strange,” it said. “It’s meant to sound that way.” The BBC was also worried about the public. Donald McWhinnie, the programme’s maker, made an explanatory statement, ending with the cheerful signoff: “One thought does occur – would it not be more illuminating to play the whole thing backwards?”

Radiophonic sound was now in the public domain. A year later, to the bewilderment of many, the BBC dedicated a whole workshop to this avant-garde stuff, even giving it a home in an old ice rink: Maida Vale Studios. Years later, the Queen, shaking hands with the Workshop’s creator, Desmond Briscoe, would confirm its universal success with the words: “Ah yes, Doctor Who.”**

But what is radiophonic sound – and why did it need a workshop? Radiophonics owes everything to the invention of the tape recorder. Once you could capture sound, using a workable material, you could play with it: slow it down until it thundered, feed it back on itself until it shrieked and echoed, or simply slice bits out. However extreme these experiments became, there was always something eerily familiar to the ear, because they were made from real objects or events…

The story of the BBC’s storied Radiophonics Workshop: “Now for a lampshade solo: how the Radiophonic Workshop built the future of sound.”

* Jim Morrison in a 1969 interview, when asked about the future of music

** For the story of the remarkable Delia Derbyshire [left in the photo above], who arranged and performed (on an oscilloscope) Ron Grainger’s composition for the theme of Doctor Who, see here and here.  And not that you need reminding, hear the original Doctor Who theme here.

###

As we appreciate audio, we might recall that it was on this date in 1981, with the words “Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll,” that MTV premiered.  The first video featured on the new cable channel was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”  Indeed.

source

 

Written by LW

August 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Organizing is a process; an organization is the result of that process”*…

 

28265398367_88db0c4057_z

19th century railroad stock offers were the cryptocurrencies of their time: confusing, risky… but with the promise of converting “old” wealth (mostly land riches) into the wealth of the future

 

Many crypto enthusiasts are looking at blockchains as a way to correct the sins of the past (government over-reach, lack of sound money, expensive middlemen, centralized businesses, etc.)

The truly important question should be way bigger than this: How can crypto-powered businesses create new types of abundance? How will blockchains drive our standard of living forward exponentially? How will we see the creation of tens of trillions in new value like we did with the stock market in the last 150 years?

The answer lies in how crypto can transform the tragedy of the commons into the wealth of the commons…

“Midas List” V.C. Mike Maples traces the provenance of cryptocurrencies and the blockchain from the railroad IPOs of the 1870s (which helped launch an explosion of global economic growth) through the work of Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrum to argue for crypto’s promise as a remedy to the Tragedy of the Commons: “Crypto Commons.”

[Readers looking for an on-ramp to understanding crypto-tech and the blockchain may want to start with Steven Johnson’s blissfully-clear “Beyond the Bitcoin Bubble.”]

* Elinor Ostrum

###

As we address asset allocation, we might recall that it was on this date in 1936 that Henry F. Phillips received several U.S. patents for the Phillips-head screw and screwdriver– a system in which a matching driver with a tapering tip conveniently self-centers in the screw head.  Phillips founded the Phillips Screw Company to license his patents, and persuaded the American Screw Company to manufacture the fasteners.  General Motors was convinced to use the screws on its 1937 Cadillac; by 1940, virtually every American automaker had switched to Phillips screws.

 source

 

Written by LW

July 7, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The Encyclopedia – the advance artillery of reason, the armada of philosophy, the siege engine of the enlightenment”…

 

42985744371_2d2152c476_z

Encyclopædia Britannica occupies a special place in the annals of publishing and the history of the West. Although its full influence, like that of any great work of literature, is ultimately immeasurable in concrete terms (the number of units sold is never the best barometer), its larger social and cultural impact—as a reference work, a spark to learning, a symbol of aspiration, a recorder of evolving knowledge, and a mirror of our changing times—has been extraordinary…

From George Bernard Shaw to Keith Richards, a few of Encyclopædia Britannica’s famous readers– and their fascinating tales– on the occasion of its 250th anniversary: “Encyclopedia Hounds.”

* Peter Prange

###

As we look it up, we might we might recall that it was on this date in 2007 that Apple released the first iPhone….  the device that ushered in the smartphone and that, with Wikipedia (which dates from 2001), contributed to the decline of Encyclopædia Britannica, which ceased print publication in 2012.

28117516167_320a47faca_n source

 

Written by LW

June 29, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I will show you fear in a handful of dust”*…

 

27933708127_79c4876180_z

More than 40 percent of the global population, more than 2 billion people, have a dust problem. Not “dust” meaning the grey puffs under the couch, but the dust of the Dust Bowl: microscopic soil particles, less than 0.05 millimeters across, so small that they get hoisted up into the wind and end up in people’s lungs.

We know that large amounts of dust are linked to premature death. However, climate change is expected to make the problem much worse in the next century, and scientists still don’t know how much. In the next century, the lethal range of dust is expected to proliferate. Between now and 2050, the many as 4 billion people, half the world’s population, are expected to live in drylands. It’s not because people are migrating there. Drylands are growing because of (you guessed it) climate change

Dust is known to cause premature deaths, but climate change’s effect on how bad our dust problems will get remains notoriously understudied: “A global Dust Bowl is coming.”

* T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land

###

As we do our best to go green, we might send grateful birthday greetings to Arthur Hinton “Art” Rosenfeld; he was born on this date in 1926.  A physicist at U.C Berkeley, he was moved by the oil embargo of 1973 to turn his attention to energy conservation, founding and leading the Center for Building Science at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.  Over the next 37 years he developed new standards which helped improve energy efficiency in California and subsequently worldwide.  His work helped lead to such breakthroughs as low-energy electric lights, such as compact fluorescent lamps, low-energy refrigerators, and windows that trap heat.  In his fight against global warming, he saved Americans billions of dollars in electricity bills– and earned the nickname, “godfather of energy efficiency.”

40991909200_d3e78c4bcd_o

Rosenfeld receiving the 2011 Medal for Technology and Innovation from President Obama

source

 

Written by LW

June 22, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge”*…

 

40990080740_17170c03ec_z

After the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German citizens were offered the chance to read the files kept on them by the Stasi, the much-feared Communist-era secret police service. To date, it is estimated that only 10 percent have taken the opportunity.

In 2007, James Watson, the co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, asked that he not be given any information about his APOE gene, one allele of which is a known risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

Most people tell pollsters that, given the choice, they would prefer not to know the date of their own death—or even the future dates of happy events.

Each of these is an example of willful ignorance. Socrates may have made the case that the unexamined life is not worth living, and Hobbes may have argued that curiosity is mankind’s primary passion, but many of our oldest stories actually describe the dangers of knowing too much. From Adam and Eve and the tree of knowledge to Prometheus stealing the secret of fire, they teach us that real-life decisions need to strike a delicate balance between choosing to know, and choosing not to.

But what if a technology came along that shifted this balance unpredictably, complicating how we make decisions about when to remain ignorant? That technology is here: It’s called artificial intelligence.

AI can find patterns and make inferences using relatively little data. Only a handful of Facebook likes are necessary to predict your personality, race, and gender, for example. Another computer algorithm claims it can distinguish between homosexual and heterosexual men with 81 percent accuracy, and homosexual and heterosexual women with 71 percent accuracy, based on their picture alone. An algorithm named COMPAS (Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions) can predict criminal recidivism from data like juvenile arrests, criminal records in the family, education, social isolation, and leisure activities with 65 percent accuracy…

Knowledge can sometimes corrupt judgment, and we often choose to remain deliberately ignorant in response.  But in an age of all-knowing algorithms, how do we choose not to know?  Two scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development argue that “We Need to Save Ignorance From AI.”

* Daniel J. Boorstin

###

As we consider closing our eyes, we might send discoverable birthday greetings to Tim Bray; he was born on this date in 1955.  A seminal software developer and entrepreneur, he is probably best known as the co-author of the original specifications for the XML and XML namespace, open standards that fueled the growth of the internet (by setting down simple rules for encoding documents in a format that is both human-readable and machine-readable), and as the co-founder of the Open Text Corporation, which released the Open Text Index, one of the first popular commercial web search engines.

40990080840_2a593e7046_o source

 

Written by LW

June 21, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”*…

 

A New Orleans levee, lit from above [source]

400,000 years ago, humans and Neanderthals discovered fire. This ignited a relationship between people and photons that changed the course of mankind—and continues to evolve to this day…

* Martin Luther King, Jr.

###

As we remove our sunglasses, we might spare a thought for Roger Bacon; he died on this date in 1292.  A philosopher and Franciscan friar, Bacon was one of the first to propose mathematics and experimentation as appropriate methods of science.  Working in mathematics, astronomy, physics, alchemy, and languages, he was particularly impactful in optics: he elucidated the principles of refraction, reflection, and spherical aberration, and described spectacles, which soon thereafter came into use. He developed many mathematical results concerning lenses, proposed mechanically propelled ships, carriages, and flying machines, and used a camera obscura to observe eclipses of the Sun.  And he was the first European give a detailed description of the process of making gunpowder.

He began his career at Oxford, then lectured for a time at Paris, where his skills as a pedagogue earned him the title Doctor Mirabilis, or “wonderful teacher.”  He stopped teaching when he became a Franciscan.  But his scientific work continued, despite his Order’s restrictions on activity and publication, as Bacon enjoyed the protection and patronage of Pope Clement…  until, on Clement’s death, he was placed under house arrest in Oxford, where he continued his studies, but was unable to publish and communicate with fellow investigators.

Statue of Roger Bacon in the Oxford University Museum

 source

 

 

 

Written by LW

June 11, 2018 at 1:01 am

“The challenge for capitalism is that the things that breed trust also breed the environment for fraud”*…

 

 source

WannaCry, a computer virus that encrypts data and demands a ransom to unscramble it, hit thousands of computers in May, causing several hospitals in Britain to close their doors. Hardly a week now goes by without a large company admitting that its systems have been breached: Yahoo recently confessed that 1bn accounts had been compromised in an attack in 2013. Cyber-attacks are a scourge of modern life, but their history goes back further than you might expect.

The world’s first national data network was constructed in France during the 1790s. It was a mechanical telegraph system, consisting of chains of towers, each of which had a system of movable wooden arms on top. Different configurations of these arms corresponded to letters, numbers and other characters. Operators in each tower would adjust the arms to match the configuration of an adjacent tower, observed through a telescope, causing sequences of characters to ripple along the line. Messages could now be sent much faster than letters, whizzing from one end of France to the other in minutes. The network was reserved for government use but in 1834 two bankers, François and Joseph Blanc, devised a way to subvert it to their own ends…

Nearly two centuries ago, France was hit by the world’s first cyber-attack.  With a nod to Isaiah Berlin**, Tom Standage argues that it holds lessons for us today: “The crooked timber of humanity.”

* James Surowiecki

** Berlin’s title was a reference to a quote from Kant: “Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.”

###

As we learn from history, we might recall that it was on this date in 1858 that two ships, the Niagara and the Agamemnon headed out from Keyham Dockyard in England to begin work on what would become the first operational Transatlantic cable, as previous attempts at laying a Transatlantic cable had failed.  Designed for telegraph operation, the cable run was completed on August 5th; and the first test message was sent on August 12th.

The Niagara at work

source

 

Written by LW

June 10, 2018 at 1:01 am

%d bloggers like this: