Flying Cars

 

I’m sitting in a hotel room in New Hampshire, on a business trip to spend a few days with my biggest client. I’ll spend the next few days making machines move, the aspect of software writing that I enjoy the most.

A few minutes ago, I received a message from a friend in Ghana. He’s a doctor, building a hospital clinic in a rural and underserved portion of the country. I asked him, a few days ago, what he needed most desperately. He tells me it’s reinforced steel bar and concrete. (I’ve watched him and his workers making their own bricks, baking mud in the sun. Apparently that doesn’t work for every aspect of construction.)

So I texted a note to a friend in Seattle who works for an engineering company, a company that has a charity program for assistance to underdeveloped countries and is looking for worthy causes. We’ll see what can be done.

Ghana to New Hampshire to Seattle, without leaving bed, all from a phone, all in real time.


I recently re-activated my Amazon Prime membership so that I could buy a bunch of electronic components — chips and stuff — for my work and get cheap shipping. Since I have Prime, I’m re-watching The Expanse (a series I never finished), which I consider to be the best science fiction television series ever made (since Star Trek TOS, he adds, more out of a sense of loyalty than conviction). That show succeeds more than any other I’ve seen at making the future seem mundane. I guess that’s what living in the future is like — taking technological miracles for granted.

For all the marvels of modernity, the elimination of global communication barriers must be among the most transformative. I just got a thank you note from that doctor in rural Ghana, including a picture of his wife and children — and an “I’ll look into it tomorrow” from that young engineer in Seattle. Shortly before midnight, from a hotel in New Hampshire, at no charge, on my phone.

The future is a screwed-up place, but it’s pretty amazing.

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  1. Mad Gerald Coolidge
    Mad Gerald
    @Jose

    Henry Racette: Since I have Prime, I’m re-watching The Expanse (a series I never finished), which I consider to be the best science fiction television series ever made (since Star Trek TOS, he adds, more out of a sense of loyalty than conviction).

    Great show.  My only complaint is the accent of the “Belters” is so thick I have to turn on captions.

    Henry Racette: For all the marvels of modernity, the elimination of global communication barriers must be among the most transformative.

    Yes.

    • #1
  2. Chris Williamson Member
    Chris Williamson
    @ChrisWilliamson

    What a great story to make us grateful! The speed of talking to each other is astonishing, and it’s ordinary to the point that we complain when it isn’t there.

    • #2
  3. Keith Lowery Coolidge
    Keith Lowery
    @keithlowery

    For all the marvels of modernity, the elimination of global communication barriers must be among the most transformative.

    I agree with you, especially when considered in the context of high bandwidth and ubiquity: we’re almost never out of reach of communication capacity at scale.

    This has the effect of eliminating, or at least shrinking, the obstacle represented by geographical distance.  (I’ve often wondered how many lives have been saved merely because of access to working cell phones in the middle of nowhere.)

    Still, I find something surprisingly liberating – even exhilarating – about leaving my cell phone behind. I recall hours wandering the woods as a kid around my house in the Pike Creek Valley in Delaware – totally out of reach of anyone and anything. It was a blissful kind of freedom.

    Why do the benefits of technological advancement always seem to be so alloyed?  

    • #3
  4. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    I also am amazed by the shrinking of time and distance.  As I was was telling my new friend, the Nigerian prince, . . . 

    • #4
  5. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    This is why we can’t have limited government under Constitutional democracy. 

    • #5
  6. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Henry Racette: I’m re-watching The Expanse (a series I never finished), which I consider to be the best science fiction television series ever made

    Reveal no spoilers!

    I’m watching it for the first time, based on a recommendation made during the recent Ricochet meetup in Florida.  I’m one episode into season two.  It is very well done, indeed.

    • #6
  7. cdor Member
    cdor
    @cdor

    Henry Racette: The future is a screwed-up place, but it’s pretty amazing.

    And yet we take the present (last year’s future) hor granted.

    • #7
  8. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I spent three weeks in Ghana with the Marines.  A poorer country I’ve never seen.

    We were bused north from Accra to Tamale (not the Mexican food, it’s a city).  All the way north there was trash piled deep on both sides of the road.  Such squalor.

    In Tamale was still the same squalor but a huge soccer stadium, nice enough to put in your city here in the US.

    Then we turned west and moved to a place on a map named Deboya.  After leaving Tamale suddenly the sides of the road were clear, beautiful green fields and trees.  

    I learned that this part of Ghana was so poor they didn’t have trash.  As is our custom, we constructed a burn pit for our trash, it’s essentially a twenty yard bon fire.  If it’s hot enough pretty much everything will burn.  Next thing you know, locals were running into the fire to collect the water bottles we toss in there.  Plastic water bottles are very useful for people who are too poor to have trash.  So we stopped burning our water bottles.

    A lieutenant colonel asked to borrow my three legged stool while he went to do some chore.  Eventually he came back and told me he couldn’t return my stool.  Some local admired it so he gave it away.  He confessed that he knows it wasn’t his to give away, but it broke his heart and he’d buy me a new one when we got home.  In the meantime my careful planning of what gear to bring on our trip was ruined, but I didn’t complain.  I didn’t need it that badly.

    I unknowingly erected my tent on an ant nest.  One of the cooks gave me a spray bottle of insecticide to fix the problem of residual ants after I moved.  A local saw that and asked if he could borrow the bottle.  He immediately sprayed his legs. Probably some great relief to him after a lifetime of bug bites.

    The children were very quiet.  I only heard one ever cry.  Apparently he suffered a pretty painful injury, not life threatening, and wailed pretty loud.  None of the other children ever whined or complained.  It wouldn’t have done them any good because there was nothing to whine for.  They had nothing.

    Our dentists told us of the teenager with a bad tooth.  The witch doctor would jam wood shards into bad teeth to kill the nerve.  This child had numerous shards in one tooth.  They all missed the nerve and were driven into his jawbone.  

    The doctors gave everyone deworming pills.  They told me it would make them have more energy for a while until they got reinfected; which was guaranteed.

     

     

    • #8
  9. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Continued:

    We brought a mobile surgical hospital with us for our own use.  (Think a navy version of MASH.)  We were in the middle of nowhere and our government wanted us to have good care.

    In addition, we brought a slew of doctors, veterinarians, and dentists to help the locals.  That was our purpose for the first two weeks to provide security for these teams.  

    While there, we met the local Peace Corps denizens.  They were trying to teach some of the locals how to make primitive cloth and dye it blue with indigo.  The locals liked to wear t-shirts.  I don’t know who thought rough cloth would be popular in a jungle.  

    Oh, and remember that soccer stadium?  I learned more about it.  I asked my Ghanaian Army counterpart about it and he replied, “That’s why you’re here.  The Chinese have built seven of these stadiums throughout the country.  They are always filled to capacity when there’s a game.  We are very worried about Chinese influence and we are interested in establishing a closer relationship with the US.”  The US was looking for a country to host a Africa Command headquarters (like SoCom, CentCom, etc.) So the US sent a reserve battalion to visit.  We can be pretty stupid sometimes.  

    Anyway, I like to describe it this way.  The US military sent us to help deworm people.  THey’d feel better for a few days.  The Peace Corps sent a few bleeding hearts to teach them weaving so they could sell a product.  

    So we gave them a fish to eat for a day.  The Peace Corps taught them to fish.  

    The Chinese, however, created a fish market.  

    Ghana did not agree to the AfriCom headquarters.  I think soccer was more important to the people.

    • #9
  10. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    This is why we can’t have limited government under Constitutional democracy.

    I once heard a commentator note multiple times that in times past, although peasants and other “ordinary folk” did not have the legal rights we do today in the United States, as a practical matter they were freer of the constraints of a government. There was only so much a ruler could physically do, and only so far the ruler could reach out and touch his subjects. 

    • #10
  11. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    DaveSchmidt (View Comment):

    I also am amazed by the shrinking of time and distance. As I was was telling my new friend, the Nigerian prince, . . .

    Skipping over your joke about the Nigerian prince, the shrinking of time has added the most stress over my working career. I do not think quickly. I need time to put thoughts into a sequence that is logical for me. Instant communications gives people the impression they should get instant response. “Why haven’t you answered the text I sent ten minutes ago?” “I need your answer to my complicated business proposal in one hour.” Etc. 

    • #11
  12. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    One more entry:

    I was the battalion communications officer.  This was 2008 and pretty much any long range communications equipment were in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I had just joined the battalion a week or two prior to the trip so I didn’t get to wheedle anything for us.  Our only contact with the world was with one Iridium satellite phone.  The CO got tired of chasing it down so he directed me to keep the phone on my person and only the CO or the XO had authority to allow its use.  You should have seen how popular I was, and also how disconnecting from the world emboldened a sergeant or two to try intimidate me.  “Sir, I’m not a reservist, I’m with the active duty staff.  Those rules don’t apply to me.”  That takes a lot of nerve.

    On our third week we drove south to their jungle warfare training center.  To us it was an administrative move.  We were on buses and all our equipment was on trailers.  One of the trucks broke down.  The drive shaft sheared at the connection to the differential.  Suddenly the truck crew ran off into the jungle with machetes and came back with wooden branches.  THey lashed the branches onto the drive shaft and we continued our trip.

    When we arrived, the Jungle school had a standard plan of “attacking” new arrivals and starting off training with a surprise.  They attacked us into the jungle.  That’s all well and good, but I had an Iridium Satellite phone in my cargo pocket that I had to guard with my life.  I mean, I even fended off horny sergeants that wanted to talk to their girlfriends, I couldn’t let a terror attack endanger it.

    I was unimpressed with the jungle.  Honestly, it was hardly different than the swamps of Virginia Beach where I grew up, except for the poisonous snakes hanging from trees.

    The Ghanaians were usually nice people, but very desperate.  They would do just about anything to get a connection to the US so they could come here.  There were an awful lot of them that would rob you blind.  It is a desperately poor country, mostly trying to do well and kind of doing better than most from what I could tell.

    • #12
  13. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    Keith Lowery (View Comment):

    I agree with you, especially when considered in the context of high bandwidth and ubiquity: we’re almost never out of reach of communication capacity at scale.

     

    Mrs. Tabby likes crime mystery novels. Often a point of tension is based on a lack of communication ability (a person in peril can’t communicate out, or a person needing to receive or to provide information can’t get communication). Mrs. Tabby has noted that as the time settings for the  novels become more contemporary, the author has to become more desperate in explaining why the person can’t communicate. In the olden days, the need to reach a (distant or inaccessible) landline phone, or even older get in an automobile or ride a horse or a train or find a servant boy to carry a message, made such inability to communicate obvious. But now authors seem to create more characters who can’t remember to charge their mobile phones, or are butter-fingered and drop them, or to put the characters into metal rooms or boxes in which mobile phones don’t work. Anyway, it’s becoming harder for an author to create reasons why a character can’t communicate. 

    • #13
  14. Dotorimuk Coolidge
    Dotorimuk
    @Dotorimuk

    Skyler (View Comment):

    One more entry:

    I was the battalion communications officer. This was 2008 and pretty much any long range communications equipment were in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had just joined the battalion a week or two prior to the trip so I didn’t get to wheedle anything for us. Our only contact with the world was with one Iridium satellite phone. The CO got tired of chasing it down so he directed me to keep the phone on my person and only the CO or the XO had authority to allow its use. You should have seen how popular I was, and also how disconnecting from the world emboldened a sergeant or two to try intimidate me. “Sir, I’m not a reservist, I’m with the active duty staff. Those rules don’t apply to me.” That takes a lot of nerve.

    On our third week we drove south to their jungle warfare training center. To us it was an administrative move. We were on buses and all our equipment was on trailers. One of the trucks broke down. The drive shaft sheared at the connection to the differential. Suddenly the truck crew ran off into the jungle with machetes and came back with wooden branches. THey lashed the branches onto the drive shaft and we continued our trip.

    When we arrived, the Jungle school had a standard plan of “attacking” new arrivals and starting off training with a surprise. They attacked us into the jungle. That’s all well and good, but I had an Iridium Satellite phone in my cargo pocket that I had to guard with my life. I mean, I even fended off horny sergeants that wanted to talk to their girlfriends, I couldn’t let a terror attack endanger it.

    I was unimpressed with the jungle. Honestly, it was hardly different than the swamps of Virginia Beach where I grew up, except for the poisonous snakes hanging from trees.

    The Ghanaians were usually nice people, but very desperate. They would do just about anything to get a connection to the US so they could come here. There were an awful lot of them that would rob you blind. It is a desperately poor country, mostly trying to do well and kind of doing better than most from what I could tell.

    I have seen several articles about the number of US blacks moving to Ghana to escape “racism.”

    • #14
  15. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    Dotorimuk (View Comment):

    Skyler (View Comment):

    One more entry:

    I was the battalion communications officer. This was 2008 and pretty much any long range communications equipment were in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had just joined the battalion a week or two prior to the trip so I didn’t get to wheedle anything for us. Our only contact with the world was with one Iridium satellite phone. The CO got tired of chasing it down so he directed me to keep the phone on my person and only the CO or the XO had authority to allow its use. You should have seen how popular I was, and also how disconnecting from the world emboldened a sergeant or two to try intimidate me. “Sir, I’m not a reservist, I’m with the active duty staff. Those rules don’t apply to me.” That takes a lot of nerve.

    On our third week we drove south to their jungle warfare training center. To us it was an administrative move. We were on buses and all our equipment was on trailers. One of the trucks broke down. The drive shaft sheared at the connection to the differential. Suddenly the truck crew ran off into the jungle with machetes and came back with wooden branches. THey lashed the branches onto the drive shaft and we continued our trip.

    When we arrived, the Jungle school had a standard plan of “attacking” new arrivals and starting off training with a surprise. They attacked us into the jungle. That’s all well and good, but I had an Iridium Satellite phone in my cargo pocket that I had to guard with my life. I mean, I even fended off horny sergeants that wanted to talk to their girlfriends, I couldn’t let a terror attack endanger it.

    I was unimpressed with the jungle. Honestly, it was hardly different than the swamps of Virginia Beach where I grew up, except for the poisonous snakes hanging from trees.

    The Ghanaians were usually nice people, but very desperate. They would do just about anything to get a connection to the US so they could come here. There were an awful lot of them that would rob you blind. It is a desperately poor country, mostly trying to do well and kind of doing better than most from what I could tell.

    I have seen several articles about the number of US blacks moving to Ghana to escape “racism.”

    That’s funny.  It’s more likely that their SSA goes a long way there.

    • #15
  16. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Keith Lowery (View Comment):

    I agree with you, especially when considered in the context of high bandwidth and ubiquity: we’re almost never out of reach of communication capacity at scale.

     

    Mrs. Tabby likes crime mystery novels. Often a point of tension is based on a lack of communication ability (a person in peril can’t communicate out, or a person needing to receive or to provide information can’t get communication). Mrs. Tabby has noted that as the time settings for the novels become more contemporary, the author has to become more desperate in explaining why the person can’t communicate. In the olden days, the need to reach a (distant or inaccessible) landline phone, or even older get in an automobile or ride a horse or a train or find a servant boy to carry a message, made such inability to communicate obvious. But now authors seem to create more characters who can’t remember to charge their mobile phones, or are butter-fingered and drop them, or to put the characters into metal rooms or boxes in which mobile phones don’t work. Anyway, it’s becoming harder for an author to create reasons why a character can’t communicate.

    Battery ran out of juice. 

    • #16
  17. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    This is why we can’t have limited government under Constitutional democracy.

    I once heard a commentator note multiple times that in times past, although peasants and other “ordinary folk” did not have the legal rights we do today in the United States, as a practical matter they were freer of the constraints of a government. There was only so much a ruler could physically do, and only so far the ruler could reach out and touch his subjects.

    Yes, that’s part of it. 

    • #17
  18. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    Keith Lowery (View Comment):

    I agree with you, especially when considered in the context of high bandwidth and ubiquity: we’re almost never out of reach of communication capacity at scale.

     

    Mrs. Tabby likes crime mystery novels. Often a point of tension is based on a lack of communication ability (a person in peril can’t communicate out, or a person needing to receive or to provide information can’t get communication). Mrs. Tabby has noted that as the time settings for the novels become more contemporary, the author has to become more desperate in explaining why the person can’t communicate. In the olden days, the need to reach a (distant or inaccessible) landline phone, or even older get in an automobile or ride a horse or a train or find a servant boy to carry a message, made such inability to communicate obvious. But now authors seem to create more characters who can’t remember to charge their mobile phones, or are butter-fingered and drop them, or to put the characters into metal rooms or boxes in which mobile phones don’t work. Anyway, it’s becoming harder for an author to create reasons why a character can’t communicate.

    Think how hard it was for the Russians to make a crime movie in the Soviet days.  It wouldn’t do to show corruption in high government places, nor to show the police as bunglers, crooked, or lacking in information. In fact, it was best to show the crime mystery as all but wrapped up, with a citizen hero allowed to play a minor role in helping the omniscient, omnipotent police put the final touches on the case. A crime comedy with a citizen hero-bungler could be a safer project.  A brief communication delay might be allowed for excitement. 

    Some crime movies were made, though, some of which were sponsored by the KGB in order to rehabilitate the reputation of the state security police.  One of the best made-for-television series that has held up well since the early 70s is Seventeen Moments of Spring, but it takes place in Nazi Germany during wartime, and not inside Russia.  There are communication obstacles for the Soviet sleeper agent in the Nazi hierarchy, whose is given the mission of keeping the Germans from making a separate peace with the U.S.  That, of course, is not really a domestic crime show. 

    It has struck me how boring the modern Putin-era movies are in which everyone has a cell phone and there are surveillance cameras everywhere.  Sometimes the lack of surveillance camera footage of a crime can be a key point. 

    • #18
  19. DaveSchmidt Coolidge
    DaveSchmidt
    @DaveSchmidt

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    The Reticulator (View Comment):

    This is why we can’t have limited government under Constitutional democracy.

    I once heard a commentator note multiple times that in times past, although peasants and other “ordinary folk” did not have the legal rights we do today in the United States, as a practical matter they were freer of the constraints of a government. There was only so much a ruler could physically do, and only so far the ruler could reach out and touch his subjects.

    Yes, that’s part of it.

    Totalitarian government requires modern levels technology. 

    • #19
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