Tag: Technology

The Computer Age Turns 75

 

In February 1946, the first general-purpose electronic computer, the ENIA, was introduced to the public. Nothing like ENIAC had been seen before, and the unveiling of the computer, a room-filling machine with lots of flashing lights and switches–made quite an impact.

ENIAC (the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was created primarily to help with the trajectory-calculation problems for artillery shells and bombs, a problem that was requiring increasing numbers of people for manual computations. John Mauchly, a physics professor attending a summer session at the University of Pennsylvania, and J Presper Eckert, a 24-year-old grad student, proposed the machine after observing the work of the women (including Mauchly’s wife Mary) who had been hired to assist the Army with these calculations. The proposal made its way to the Army’s liason with Penn, and that officer, Lieutenant Herman Goldstine, took up the project’s cause. (Goldstine apparently heard about the proposal not via formal university channels but via a mutual friend, which is an interesting point in our present era of remote work.) Electronics had not previously been used for digital computing, and a lot of authorities thought an electromechanical machine would be a better and safer bet.

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A highly-touted online panel purportedly addressing climate change featuring Bill Clinton, Jeffrey Toobin and Anthony Weiner went about as well as could be expected on Tuesday as all three men ended up in varying degrees of undress. Approximately 20 minutes into the conference Mr. Weiner seemed to lose all interest as Mr. Clinton was discussing […]

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Parler, Web Hosts, and Masterpiece Cakes

 

Parler lost its rented server space with Amazon Web Services. Parler also found its phone apps booted off the Apple and Google app stores. This is not the “destruction” of Parler – not unless Parler was on such shaky ground that it cannot be rebuilt. This is certainly hamstringing it, but if this is a “death sentence”, then it is one that is easily overcome with cold hard cash (would that the Reaper were so easily fended off on more fleshly concerns). We need perspective here, and an honest reckoning of what happened, how, and why. We also need to yet again yank the plank from our own eye, for it was just a short while ago that we were adamantly defending another business for refusing paying clientele: I speak of none other than Masterpiece Cakes.

First, let’s get the technical stuff out of the way – understanding how Parler was built, and how it planned to make money for its creators (let’s not fool ourselves into thinking it was all charity work) is key to understanding its demise. Web sites have to be located on computers. You can make a website on your laptop and share it with the rest of the internet if you want. Users just would need to know the numerical address in either IPV4 or IPV6 to find it. If you want to make it easier to find then you would have to register a domain name, and then map that domain name to your server address. Now suppose your little website got really popular because its topic was fun and lovable – let’s say, for the sake of argument, that your website was all about your pet bird. If you had just a residential internet connection, after a point your neighbors would start to complain that traffic to your laptop was killing their own connections. Plus, your laptop has limited processing power to keep serving page views out – and your addition of a little bird forum doubled traffic to the point where your laptop’s cooling fan failed from overuse. How do you fix these issues?

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…but did it really happen? A case study in the difficulties of finding historical truth. On Christmas Eve of 1906, a few shipboard radio operators–listening through the static for signals in Morse code–heard something that they had never before heard on the radio, and that most had never expected to hear. A human voice. Preview […]

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Radar Wars: a Case Study in Expertise and Influence

 

In today’s WSJ, David Mamet writes about expertise and influence, pointing out that experts who get important things wrong, sometimes causing great harm to millions of people, often pay no personal price whatsoever. One example he mentions is the pre-WWII secret British debate on air defense technologies and especially the role played by Churchill’s scientific advisor, Professor Frederick Lindemann.

It is an interesting and important story, and is discussed by the scientist/novelist CP Snow in his 1960 book Science and Government…which, he says, was inspired by the following thought:

QoTD: Push Polls and the Wrong Answers

 

Hi Thomas, I’m Mercedes w/ For our Future WI. We’re conducting a survey and want to hear from you. Our first question is simple. With everything that’s going on right now, what’s the biggest issue facing you & your family right now?

Spammers texting me without even getting my name right. Or were you thinking less immediately than “right now?” Well, the intersection between what’s possible with digital technology and what kind of human interactions are fundamentally destructive (mass push polls for example) ranks reasonably high on my list of worries. Is that one of the options? Somehow I think you’ll have to tick the “other” box on your form.

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On Monday night, my iPhone turned off and wouldn’t turn back on. That’s just a minor personal inconvenience with a straightforward, if not pricy, solution—right? So the next morning, I scheduled an appointment at a repair shop for that afternoon and tried to log in for work. And that’s where the “minor personal inconvenience” snowballed. […]

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Lots of political oddities today as the presidential race shifts to Nevada, so settle in for your Thursday Three Martini Lunch. Join Jim and Greg as they get a big kick out of the large culinary workers union turning on the supposed candidate of the workers because they want to keep their health plan and Bernie Sanders wouldn’t let them do it under his plan. They also enjoy listening to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews fret that the Democrats could nominate Sanders or Michael Bloomberg when neither of them are actually Democrats. And they cringe as reports from Nevada emerge suggesting Democrats there are technologically unprepared for next week’s caucuses. Will it be a repeat of Iowa?

Mark Mills joins Brian Anderson to discuss the enormous energy demands of the world’s modern information infrastructure—“the Cloud”—the subject of his new book, Digital Cathedrals.

“Tech companies confront an inconvenient fact,” writes Mills. “The global cloud uses more energy than is produced by all the planet’s wind and solar farms combined.” In fact, digital traffic has become the fastest-growing source of energy use. While nearly every tech company has pledged to transition to renewable energy sources, most data centers are physically connected to the conventional power grid, fueled by hydrocarbons. The modern economy won’t be exclusively powered by renewables any time soon.

In a Century

 

An old country girl now in her 80s reflected the other day on how much life has changed since she was a kid. It wasn’t the usual story of colorless television and walking to school with a lunch pail. There was no TV in her small town.

Baths were on Saturdays. They filled “the number 3 bathtub” with water heated on a fire stove. They stitched their own clothes together from feed sacks. “Burlap?” I asked. No, the sacks were softer cotton then. So many Americans made their own clothes from feed sacks that feed makers produced the sacks in a variety of colors and patterns. Attractive patterns improved sales.

Her family had two horses and two mules. When they visited the nearest significant market 18 miles away, her dad hauled the kids in a wagon behind the horses. The mules he used to plow.

Young people and commentary about them tend to focus a lot on the present. But what will the future that Millennials and younger generations inherit actually look like? Jack enlists R Street Institute Technology and Innovation Resident Fellow Caleb Watney to return to the podcast for some big-picture thinking about what the future might hold.

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What novels, memoirs, and films with a business setting do you like? Most fiction seems to be about people who are lawyers, policemen, criminals, soldiers, spies, students, politicians, and noble but struggling writers. But there are indeed some works of fiction, and some vivid personal memoirs, in which business plays a central role without being […]

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Delayed Innovation

 

Sometimes the best thing that can happen to an inventor is for him to be ignored.

Take for example German archery enthusiast Jörg Sprave. He pitched his bow designs to manufacturers for years. None purchased his plans. But Sprave did not idly wait for broader success. He continued to iterate until building something he wished he had thought of years ago. 

Stian Westlake joins City Journal editor Brian Anderson to discuss the future of productivity and how institutions and policymakers can adapt to the new “intangible” economy.

Throughout history, as documented in the book Capitalism Without Capital by Westlake and coauthor Jonathan Haskel, firms have invested in physical goods like machines and computers. As society has grown richer, companies have invested increasingly in “intangible” assets: research and development, branding, organizational development, and software. Today’s challenge is to build the institutions and enact the policies that will maximize the new economy’s potential.

Eating Cheetos with Chopsticks

 

Chopsticks are, in a general manner, inferior to the fork. Forks are more effective over a wider range of food, and they’re easier to master as well. Really in this day and age, the major reason to learn chopsticks is to look sophisticated. You don’t want to look like a dolt in front of your friends. So I’m using chopsticks to eat Cheetos.*

Cheetos are pretty much on the opposite end of the sophistication spectrum from sushi.** If you learn chopsticks to look suave in one of those swanky Japanese restaurants that’s one thing. You simply can’t look debonair eating bright orange cheese puffs. So why bother with the chopsticks? Aren’t they a finger food? They are if you don’t mind leaving blaze orange fingerprints everywhere.

Once you’ve determined you need to avoid orange gunk on your digits you’ve got to settle on an implement. Forks are inferior to chopsticks in this circumstance; neither the scooping action or the stabbing motion do you much good. Chopsticks, on the other hand, can pick up puffs one by one, with great accuracy. You’re rate-limited by the speed you chew in either case.

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Podcaster Joe Rogan recently sat down for a long conversation with id Software and Armadillo Aerospace founder John Carmack. The legendary programmer and engineer no longer designs video games or rockets. He now leads Oculus (purchased by Facebook) in improvement of virtual reality (VR) hardware and software. Preview Open

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In the latest episode, the Young Americans get super nerdy, with the help of real-life tech policy researcher Caleb Watney of the R Street Institute. He and Jack discuss the virtues of free markets vs. Millennial skepticism thereof, question the emerging conventional wisdom on tech addiction and Silicon Valley, rebut the Unabomber (!), and go full nerd with semi-related digressions about Blade RunnerThe Matrix, and, of course, Dune.

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A Wall Street reporter made some 120 tests of the new 5G technology offered by her new phone. She found that it is super fast – when it works. However, it doesn’t seem to like to work that much in the summer when it is hot… Of course, when it doesn’t work, you can always […]

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Quote of the Day: Historia Calamitatum

 

The title of this post may look like rather esoteric, bluestocking, or even erotic clickbait, but there’s nothing to that theory. It’s not a feminist take on the story of poor Peter Abelard, and no guy ends up minus an essential piece of equipment at the end of it. No. It’s just a rumination on one of the dumbest things I ever did in my life (that I’m willing to cop to, at least), and how I got past it, beyond it, and how it all turned out for the best. (It’s also, perhaps, an object lesson in heeding the warning signs, something else I’m not always very good at.)

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It was the best of games. It was the worst of games. This week E3 (the Electronic Entertainment Expo) — the video game industry’s biggest annual gathering and press event — is spinning out a flurry of announcements in Los Angeles, like it always does. New platforms and services have been scheduled for release next […]

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