Morning Ed: Technology {2018.06.26.T}

[Te1] The first portable computer weighed twenty tons.

[Te2] Our new robot helpers are not necessarily being welcomed by the public at large. We may be finding out more soon here, stateside.

[Te3] We may be too worried about science creating artificial brains and maybe not enough about synthetic brains.

[Te4] Jeff Jacoby argues against breaking up Google. After watching Microsoft get knocked off its perch, I’ve moved against the notion that technology companies in particular need to be broken up.

[Te5] David Tracy wrote of the confusing and dangerous world of aftermarket car parts. We have aftermarket radios in both of our cars, but I’d be wary about anything involving kinetic safety.

[Te6] Microsoft is sinking data centers. Literally and intentionally.

[Te7] This is truly amazing. The question, of course, is whether or not it can be used for instant replay in sports.

[Te8] Seems noteworthy that Microsoft isn’t on this list, which probably tells us what we should (or more to the point, shouldn’t) do with the three that are.

[Te9] You know what software design really needs? Brutalism!

[Te0]

This sounds really trippy.


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Will Truman is the pseudonym of a former para-IT professional who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He is also on Twitter. ...more →

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28 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Technology {2018.06.26.T}

  1. Te5: Back when I was in the habit of fixing my cars at home, the aftermarket space was much smaller and eBay wasn’t a thing. Still, the guy seems to be stressing over a few bucks here and there, which strikes me as penny wise and pound foolish. Part of being a technician of any stripe is learning when you can be lax about quality and when you have to be serious about it.

    PS thanks Will for covering for me today, the internet isn’t getting hooked up to the rental until this afternoon, so I am limited to a weak cell signal.

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    • The guy makes the valid point that using price as a proxy for quality is a mug’s game. The potential for abuse is obvious. (See also: the standard claim that air travel being so crappy is our own damn fault.) For modestly priced items I am willing to experiment. I have concluded, for example, that buying the expensive windshield wipers is a good deal in the long run. But for expensive or safety-critical items? You pretty much have to become an expert–and no one can be expert in everything–or have an expert you can rely on. I am fortunate to have an auto mechanic I trust. If he tells me I need work done now, I believe him. If he advises me to buy the more expensive part, I also believe him.

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    • Just to demonstrate my age, I remember when you could get entire catalogs of mail-order aftermarket parts for Volkswagen bugs: everything from seat covers to superchargers. I had a friend who rebuilt his bug’s engine a few higher-performance parts at a time. In some cases — eg, the crankshaft — the new parts went in because the old one broke under the strain of the steadily increasing power output. He really did add a bolt-on mail-order supercharger. He enjoyed embarrassing people with low-end stock “muscle” cars. I called his vehicle “the wolf in bug’s clothing.”

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      • I once knew a guy who supercharged his Pinto. He once got out of a ticket for driving at some ridiculously excessive speed by pointing out to the judge that it was a Pinto, without mentioning the supercharger.

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          • I seem to recall that there was some Monza package that included a 305 V-8. Had to loosen the motor mounts and lower the engine to reach the last two spark plugs. The woman who lived upstairs from me had one of whatever it was. She said that if she ever quit working at the dealership and lost her big service discount she’d have to sell the car because tune-ups were so expensive.

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  2. Te9 – the article is trying way to hard to make an analogy, that, generously, is very strained.

    You could have written an article about the homogenization of the user experience and user interface pretty much anytime in the history of electronic computers, back to the punch card era.

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    • As someone who spent the weekend explaining the differences between various Windows flavors to my mom, let me just say that I didn’t understand why I couldn’t set things up so that they merely appeared to work like 95/98/XP did oh those many years ago. I explained to her how Windows 10 worked on her new computer, what was the same, what was different, and how to create a brand new word document from scratch. I also put a link to “This PC” on her desktop and I renamed it “My Computer”.

      I am all down with trying new things and changing paradigms and whatnot, but I very much want the option to remap things to be the way that requires the least amount of retraining.

      Windows 8 taught a hard lesson to Microsoft. New and exciting applications fail to learn this lesson at their own peril.

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      • But, on the other hand, I saw this very, very good point on the twitters the other day:

        Those who built routes for telegraph had one wire. Return path was earth. Ground.

        Telephone followed the same routes.

        Fiber optic followed the same routes.

        Multiplexed pulses of light on the path of copper from the 1800s.

        You are making choices in the Forever.

        You are forever.— SwiftOnSecurity (@SwiftOnSecurity) June 22, 2018

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          • Denver RTD’s commuter rail to Boulder and Longmont has been delayed 20 years because the BNSF railroad wants billions of dollars for the use of 30 miles of track. The route is used very infrequently by BNSF because it follows exactly the same course that was laid out in the 1890s. Contemporary freight trains have to creep along it because of the number of curves and their sharpness. RTD’s offer included paying for sufficient straightening and regrading to bring it up to commuter rail standards (which are different, as the trains are shorter and lighter), but BNSF is having none of it. When the route is used, it is almost invariably trains carrying Powder River Basin coal. Probably the best hope for getting access any sooner is that the ongoing collapse in the use of coal for generating electricity, and the need for coal transport, will put BNSF in a world of hurt.

            Large amounts of the fiber optic network in the western US runs where it does because Phil Anschutz owned the Southern Pacific and decided to install large amounts of fiber along all of his right-of-way, then extended that as part of the deal when the UP bought the Southern. Not just across passes; everywhere, on speculation. Only the telecom gods know how much Phil made on that bet.

            As a teenager living in the suburbs south of Omaha, one of the unique driving things I had to learn to handle was going through the very narrow two-lane tunnels through the Union Pacific Lane Cutoff buried trestles, surveyed in 1865 and finally built in 1908. Long after I had moved away the state and the railroad “unburied” and replaced part of the wooden trestle with a metal one with an opening big enough for a four-lane divided road.

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    • “back to the punch card era”

      Perhaps noncoincidentally, a lot of folks were still using punch cards at work to do computer stuff at the time when Brutalism became a thing in architecture…

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  3. Te7 – I have questions for Dr. Picciuto regarding this tech and ‘truth’. My own take for replays or other judgements is that this is less ‘evidence’ than it is ‘analysis’.

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    • I’m no philosopher, but the boundary between “evidence” and “analysis” seems to be an almost infinitely porous one, as the results of previous analyses almost always feed forward into future evaluations of evidence. Besides, it’s not like our brains don’t do an amazing amount of janky, poorly understood post processing of visual stimuli to (among other things) allow us to interpret changing stimuli as “motion”.

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    • I would refer to video recording, like visual observation, to be factual, and the insertion of missing frames into a video recording, to be an opinion. I would not use an opinion for instant replay in sports.

      I would not use video to make calls that the naked eye cannot see (e.g., sliding over a base that on replay shows tenth of a second of non-contact)

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  4. The cartoon addressed a legitimate concern at the time in major cities, which had canopies of electrical, telegraph, telephone and street car lines that were disorganized and dangerous. This image depicts the death of a Western Union lineman, whose dead body shot blue flames from his mouth in a tangle of wires over a busy Manhatten intersection to the horror of the crowds.

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      • Further down thread, there is someone who wrote a chapter on the subject, and it seems more that Edison tried to take advantage of a highly publicized tragedy. He was fear mongering about the extent of the risk, but people were dying strangely from unregulated, unsafe wires within walking distance of the NY press.

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        • It was a pretty common Edison sales technique. He onced zapped an elephant with AC, and built one of the 1st electric chairs as an attempt to make Westinghouse juice sinister in the public mind.

          Edit today it would probably be like Apple building drone software on a Google OS.

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              • Oops, I didn’t mean to suggest I doubted his role in the electric chair.

                Again, I don’t think the lineman story was a “put-on” job. The lineman died very publicly and horribly with reporters present to describe the scene. Edison’s previous attempts to demonize AC had not been successful, but after this story he was able to get the ear of reporters to push his line, and when later in the year some guy brushed against a lamp and was instantly electrocuted to death, his doom-saying was prescient. (Touch a door knob, and you might die!!!)

                But the problem was ultimately not seen as AC technology, just the labyrinth of overhead wiring, so the city ordered all overhead electric lines removed and installed underground. Which meant Edison’s machinations were ultimately not successful, because he wanted AC to be demonized.

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