(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘Technology

“You only need two tools in life — WD-40 and duct tape. If it doesn’t move and should, use the WD-40. If it shouldn’t move and does, use the duct tape.”*…

The fascinating history of WD-40, a chemical substance with an unusual origin story and a rust-fighting ability that has become a standby of households and workbenches the world over…

In the early years of the 1950s, the Rocket Chemical Company was on a mission. They wanted to make a line of solvents and degreasers that would prevent rust in the aerospace industry.

The first fifty years of the aerospace industry were marked by innovation and change. From the Wright Brothers’ first flight in 1903 to their 1908 military contract, it picked up interest in a big way. Aircraft played a role in the First World War and prompted an era of evolution and development for the industry. According to The Encyclopedic History of the Aerospace Industry, seven firms built more than 22,500 of the 400-horsepower Liberty engines that eventually laid the foundation of what became an incredibly efficient industry. They were also led by only two companies: Wright Aeronautical Company and Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor…

Most types of metal—including the ones used in the construction of those early aircraft—have a tendency to rust over time (although there are a few that don’t). Painting, maintenance, cleaning, and hangar storage help attenuate rust issues, but they are sometimes difficult to prevent entirely. Exposing the metal to the oxygen in the air around us causes paint to wear off and rust to build up (the process is known as “uniform surface attack”). Other parts of the plane—like the landing gear and engine—can also develop corrosion over time. Then there’s the issue of moisture building up in crevices and eventually causing rust. A rusty plane is not a good thing. Even so, rust-prevention wasn’t a high priority early on for some sectors of the industry. All that changed as the industry evolved.

[In 1953] the Rocket Chemical Company stood on the precipice of that change with their attempt to solve the problem once and for all… After forty attempts to create the formula, they famously came up with the right one on their 40th attempt. The name WD-40 stands for water displacement, formula 40. It’s first application came as a coating for the Atlas missiles made by Convair in the 1950s.

As their product began gaining traction, it exploded in popularity. Everyone loved it. And much like stealing office supplies, employees of the original WD-40 manufacturing plant inevitably snuck some of the stuff out for home use. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that five years after its invention, the miracle substance appeared on the open market in 1958…

The origins– and impact– of America’s most versatile household product: “The Can That Always Can,” from David Buck (@saltyasparagus1) in @readtedium.

* Anonymous

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As we spray it on, we might recall that it was on this date in 1913 that Gulf Refining Company opened the first “drive-in filling station” in Pittsburgh. It was the first architect-designed station and the first to distribute free road maps; it also offered tube and tire installation, free water and air, and crankcase services.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

December 1, 2021 at 1:00 am

“The older I get the more things I gotta leave behind, that’s life.”*…

It’s that time of year…

Worried about your carefully chosen holiday presents languishing on a container ship somewhere? We invite you to consider these select Supply Chain–resistant items, up for bid from the world of Sylvester Stallone!

The exclusive auction event presenting the extraordinary collection of the international superstar and the Golden Globe Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated actor, screenwriter, fitness icon, author, artist and director’s most cherished treasures from his singular life and career, [is] taking place on Sunday, December 5th at Julien’s Auctions in Beverly Hills and live online at juliensauctions.com.

Give a piece of Rocky (or Rambo or Cobra or…): “Slice Through the Clutter of the Holiday Giving Season With a Little Something From the Personal Collection of Sylvester Stallone,” from @JOEMACLEOD666, @tomscocca, and the good folks at @Read_Indignity. Do browse: lots of knives…

* Sylvester Stallone, Rocky Balboa

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As we stock up, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that Edwin Land’s Polaroid Land Camera Model 95– the first “instant” camera, producing finished prints in about a minute– went on sale for the first time.  It was priced at a then-lofty $95 (to wit, the model number).

Polaroid originally manufactured sixty units of the camera. Fifty-seven were offered at Boston’s Jordan Marsh department store for the Christmas holiday.  Polaroid’s marketing department reckoned that the camera and film would remain in stock long enough to manufacture a second run based on customer demand.  In the event, all fifty-seven cameras and all of the film were sold on the first day.  Over 1.5 million units were sold over the next few years, before the company introduced new models.

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“His way had therefore come full circle, or rather had taken the form of an ellipse or a spiral”*…

Simply elaborate, elaborately simple…

Christ gazes out of the page dolefully, head canted and haloed. He seems to float, disembodied, between our world and the next. And, at first, we could step back in sympathy, shocked by the blood that drips like teardrops from those baleful thorns. But something else soon catches light. It might be the ringed texture of his eyeshine or that fingerprint whorl on the nose’s tip. Then we notice the print’s corners, where curves recede as waves do from a skipping stone. It can’t be, we think — but it is. This image was made with a single line…

The full story at: “An Iconic Line: Claude Mellan’s The Sudarium of Saint Veronica (1649),” from @PublicDomainRev.

* Hermann Hesse, The Glass Bead Game

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As we’re tempted to trace, we might recall that it was on this date in 1850 that photographer Frederick Langenheim was issued U.S. Patent #7,784 for “Improvement in photographic pictures on glass,” a process of rendering photographic images on glass plates– magic lantern slides.

Prior to 1850, most magic lantern slides were hand-painted on glass, or created using a transfer method to reproduce many copies of a single etching or print; the development of photographic slides created entirely new uses for the magic lantern, from university lectures to amateur family photo shows… to “Coming Attractions” advertisements in theaters in the silent film era.

Lang

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“Why has our age surrendered so easily to the controllers, the manipulators, the conditioners of an authoritarian technics?”*…

Half a century ago, Lewis Mumford developed a concept that explains why we trade autonomy for convenience…

… Surveying the state of the high-tech life, it is tempting to ponder how it got so bad, while simultaneously forgetting what it was that initially convinced one to hastily click “I agree” on the terms of service. Before certain social media platforms became foul-smelling swamps of conspiratorial misinformation, many of us joined them for what seemed like good reasons; before sighing at the speed with which their batteries die, smartphone owners were once awed by these devices: before grumbling that there was nothing worth watching, viewers were astounded by how much streaming content was available at one’s fingertips. Overwhelmed by the way today’s tech seems to be burying us in the bad, it’s easy to forget the extent to which tech won us over by offering us a share in the good — or to be more precise, in “the goods.” 

Nearly 50 years ago, long before smartphones and social media, the social critic Lewis Mumford put a name to the way that complex technological systems offer a share in their benefits in exchange for compliance. He called it a “bribe.” With this label, Mumford sought to acknowledge the genuine plentitude that technological systems make available to many people, while emphasizing that this is not an offer of a gift but of a deal. Surrender to the power of complex technological systems — allow them to oversee, track, quantify, guide, manipulate, grade, nudge, and surveil you — and the system will offer you back an appealing share in its spoils. What is good for the growth of the technological system is presented as also being good for the individual, and as proof of this, here is something new and shiny. Sure, that shiny new thing is keeping tabs on you (and feeding all of that information back to the larger technological system), but it also lets you do things you genuinely could not do before. For a bribe to be accepted it needs to promise something truly enticing, and Mumford, in his essay “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics,” acknowledged that “the bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe.” The danger, however, was that “once one opts for the system no further choice remains.” 

For Mumford, the bribe was not primarily about getting people into the habit of buying new gadgets and machines. Rather it was about incorporating people into a world that complex technological systems were remaking in their own image. Anticipating resistance, the bribe meets people not with the boot heel, but with the gift subscription.

The bribe is a discomforting concept. It asks us to consider the ways the things we purchase wind up buying us off, it asks us to see how taking that first bribe makes it easier to take the next one, and, even as it pushes us to reflect on our own complicity, it reminds us of the ways technological systems eliminate their alternatives. Writing about the bribe decades ago, Mumford was trying to sound the alarm, as he put it: “This is not a prediction of what will happen, but a warning against what may happen.” As with all of his glum predictions, it was one that Mumford hoped to be proven wrong about. Yet as one scrolls between reviews of the latest smartphone, revelations about the latest misdeeds of some massive tech company, and commentary about the way we have become so reliant on these systems that we cannot seriously speak about simply turning them off — it seems clear that what Mumford warned “may happen” has indeed happened…

Eminently worth reading in full: “The Magnificent Bribe,” by Zachary Loeb in @_reallifemag.

As to (some of) the modern implications of that bargain, see also Shoshana Zuboff‘s: “You Are the Object of a Secret Extraction Operation.”

As we move into the third decade of the 21st century, surveillance capitalism is the dominant economic institution of our time. In the absence of countervailing law, this system successfully mediates nearly every aspect of human engagement with digital information. The promise of the surveillance dividend now draws surveillance economics into the “normal” economy, from insurance, retail, banking and finance to agriculture, automobiles, education, health care and more. Today all apps and software, no matter how benign they appear, are designed to maximize data collection.

Historically, great concentrations of corporate power were associated with economic harms. But when human data are the raw material and predictions of human behavior are the product, then the harms are social rather than economic. The difficulty is that these novel harms are typically understood as separate, even unrelated, problems, which makes them impossible to solve. Instead, each new stage of harm creates the conditions for the next stage…

And resonantly: “AI-tocracy” a working paper from NBER that links the development of artificial intelligence with the interests of autocracies: from the abstract:

Can frontier innovation be sustained under autocracy? We argue that innovation and autocracy can be mutually reinforcing when: (i) the new technology bolsters the autocrat’s power; and (ii) the autocrat’s demand for the technology stimulates further innovation in applications beyond those benefiting it directly. We test for such a mutually reinforcing relationship in the context of facial recognition AI in China. To do so, we gather comprehensive data on AI firms and government procurement contracts, as well as on social unrest across China during the last decade. We first show that autocrats benefit from AI: local unrest leads to greater government procurement of facial recognition AI, and increased AI procurement suppresses subsequent unrest. We then show that AI innovation benefits from autocrats’ suppression of unrest: the contracted AI firms innovate more both for the government and commercial markets. Taken together, these results suggest the possibility of sustained AI innovation under the Chinese regime: AI innovation entrenches the regime, and the regime’s investment in AI for political control stimulates further frontier innovation.

(And, Anne Applebaum warns, “The Bad Guys Are Winning.”)

* “Why has our age surrendered so easily to the controllers, the manipulators, the conditioners of an authoritarian technics? The answer to this question is both paradoxical and ironic. Present day technics differs from that of the overtly brutal, half-baked authoritarian systems of the past in one highly favorable particular: it has accepted the basic principle of democracy, that every member of society should have a share in its goods. By progressively fulfilling this part of the democratic promise, our system has achieved a hold over the whole community that threatens to wipe out every other vestige of democracy.

The bargain we are being asked to ratify takes the form of a magnificent bribe. Under the democratic-authoritarian social contract, each member of the community may claim every material advantage, every intellectual and emotional stimulus he may desire, in quantities hardly available hitherto even for a restricted minority: food, housing, swift transportation, instantaneous communication, medical care, entertainment, education. But on one condition: that one must not merely ask for nothing that the system does not provide, but likewise agree to take everything offered, duly processed and fabricated, homogenized and equalized, in the precise quantities that the system, rather than the person, requires. Once one opts for the system no further choice remains. In a word, if one surrenders one’s life at source, authoritarian technics will give back as much of it as can be mechanically graded, quantitatively multiplied, collectively manipulated and magnified.”

– Lewis Mumford in “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics,” via @LMSacasas

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As we untangle user agreements, we might recall that it was on this date in 1970 that Douglas Engelbart (see here, here, and here) was granted a patent (US No. 3,541,541) on the “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System,” the world’s first prototype computer mouse– a wooden block containing the tracking apparatus, with a single button attached.

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“There are only patterns, patterns on top of patterns, patterns that affect other patterns. Patterns hidden by patterns. Patterns within patterns.”*…

… and so many more in a beautiful 1878 book of brick patterns, published in France by architect J Lacroux: “Brick Tease,” from @presentcorrect.

* Chuck Palahniuk, Survivor

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As we muse on masonry, we might send carefully-designed birthday greetings to John W. “Jack” Ryan; he was born on this date in 1926.  A Yale-trained engineer, Ryan left Raytheon (where he worked on the Navy’s Sparrow III and Hawk guided missiles) to join Mattel.  He oversaw the conversion of the Mattel-licensed “Bild Lili” doll into Barbie (contributing, among other things, the joints that allowed “her” to bend at the waist and the knee) and created the Hot Wheels line.  But he is perhaps best remembered as the inventor of the pull-string, talking voice box that gave Chatty Cathy her voice.

Ryan with his wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor. She was his first and only spouse; he, her sixth.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 12, 2021 at 1:00 am

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