October 29th, 2014 · Comments Off on Technology and progress: Past and present
My mother could remember when an electric iron and central heating were huge tech novelties.
I can remember my first pocket calculator (which cost a fortune!), and I remember how long I kept using my CRC handbook and sliderule anyway, not the new toy. I remember my first VHS, the freedom of time-shifting or just re-watching good movies. And my first home computer! But all those were commonplace items to my two daughters.
My daughters remember a time before there was an Internet; a time before smartphones, Siri, ubiquitous constant connection via the “cloud.” To their children, all those will be unremarkable facts, as commonplace as deliveries from the coal man and the ice man were to my mother’s household in the 1920s.
My mother was 8 years old when women got the vote. Soon thereafter, her aunts daringly drove from Northampton to Springfield in order to have their long hair “bobbed” by a barber. Oh, the freedom of not spending hours every day maintaining long hair — and oh, the wonderful freedom of owning a car!
All new technology pokes and prods our shared culture. Even despite some nostalgia, most of us would be reluctant to give up our latest new tech freedoms.
Here’s hoping the book that inspired these thoughts (The Second Machine Age, by Erik Bryniolfsson and Andrew McAfee) will provide more answers than I can now see by myself.
Doing my bit to get this little vignette added some day to a learned biography of Frank Wilczek:
Me: (sitting in living room, working on Internet stuff) (silence)
Frank: (sitting on porch, working on physics stuff) (laughing and laughing)
Me: (still in living room, not working) What? Oo, what’s funny, what?
Frank: (walking in from porch with open book in his hand, full of enthusiasm) It’s a great quote from Wittgenstein!
And if you didn’t know yet that he’s a sweet-natured guy, he agreeably posed for this picture with his great quote in view on top of the new Viking book he bought at the supermarket and is having fun reading.
You and I are both free-riders on so much of the Internet these days. We don’t have to pay for enormous amounts of good content, but … how long will our free ride last? Longer than until sundown on Saturday but not (probably) as long as we’d like.
Somebody else is pushing the buttons and paying for our free ride, because every time we check into a website somebody is hoping that I will, or you will, reveal a bit more information that can be sold to an advertiser somewhere that is planning to use it to market to us.
The problem is that there is a finite amount of interesting information that can be data-mined from my web-surfing, your web-surfing, and our web-surfing. Right now, corporations are paying our fare into lots of good web-places. Two years from now, is there anything they want to know about us that they don’t yet know?
I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that many big secrets.
Another reminder of why we read Dave Winer’s blog Scripting News: this spirit-lifting quote from a recent post Indirect business models FTW.
One of the really amazing things about New York City is the extent to which the city anticipated its own growth. It built elevated rail systems to neighborhoods that didn’t exist. A grid that went into the Bronx when the city barely made it to 14th St. A huge city park in the middle of nowhere. Tech guys have to think like that. So few do. Seriously.
We all lined up to get out pictures taken for this year’s SciFoo rogue’s gallery.
So many interesting amazing people in one place with so many great talks planned. People are here this year from the Galaxy Zoo (Chris Lintott and Arfon Smith) and I am especially eager to hear their session which will be called I think “Citizen Everything.”
My Flickr account (linked to from the photo) will probably be the best place to keep track of what cool things I happen to see here.
One small but defining aspect of geek-style pride is overcoming small obstacles with instant fixes. Here we see the misfit of a Mac plug (too loose) into a Swedish wall socket — the plug was then propped into place with several MacWorld magaizines and a light-travel-reading textbook plus two local apples.
Yes, an entire calculus limerick, resurrected from my 1992 joke book, has been made into a YouTube video by my old friend Stu Savory. (Calling him my “good old” friend would make him sound older and less good, so I’ll leave it there.)
The limerick is a fine old mathematical chestnut, most likely created by a real practitioner who invoked Gausswhen trying to tie his cravat and thought of Klein bottles when he heard the milkman’s cart rumble by. With blessings upon Stu’s head, I am not that old.
I hope all my readers will show their support for YouTube’s new adult content by favoriting Stu’s video early and often.
Let’s be more ambitious than Freud: What do Humans want? I am putting together a college-level course on the ways that Utopia is being multiply re-imagined in digital worlds.
Second Life is well-known as a place that sets people free to imagine new faces, bodies, histories, and futures. But Wikipedia is also a second life to many of its participants. If Second Life has multiple sexual genders, including a wide range of Furry and Gorean and scientific data visualization options, Wikipedia too has “genders”; people who come there to work out different desires.
Wikipedian fulfillment may involve some very strange couplings (wrong word, since far more than two people often become involved), quite often accompanied by virtual cat-on-roof yowling. Consider, for example, the passionate encounter of article-writer with article-editor. Or of somebody who just loves enforcing the RULES with a prankster who loves to break those rules.
Agenda-pushers for any agenda X would get no satisfaction were there not advocates for agenda not-X also eager to engage in back-and-forth pushing.
Yes, I am (mostly) joking. But the part of my course on “Gratified desire” will consider material well beyond Second Life.
Lisa started with major computer-geeky creds and then built up and out, to test and evangelize (6 years at least worth of) new good stuff such as RSS and Bloggercon and podcasting. She has a good eye for what will be exciting, and she puts lots of skill and energy into making good things happen.
Lisa also writes about life in the geeky-young-mom lane, e.g. annotating her desk and giving advice to panelists e.g. “Bring one story to tell” but also “The best panelists are the sharpest listeners.”
More recently, she turned her tech skills to creating H20town, a hometown online newspaper. Being Lisa, she then branched out to find others like herself and built Placeblogger, mixing high-tech with low-tech can-do in equal proportions. Now she and Susan Mernit are teaming up, so who knows what the future holds for all of us?
In conclusion, I’m wishing a Happy Ada Lovelace Day to all of you high-tech high-flyers of every gender, but especially to Lisa Williams.