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Archive for history
Today I just want to post a few quick thoughts on various topics, none of which are sufficient for a full article:
THE UPCOMING ELECTIONS: Before you vote, or if you are thinking of not voting, you should watch Keith Olbermann’s video (transcript here), which really exposes what the Tea Party candidates are all about. I realize that Mr. Olbermann does get a bit passionate at times and that he does not break up his talks with humor (like, say, Jon Stewart) but in this case what he has to say is really important. If you think that the Tea Party candidates are in any way standing up for America or espousing American ideals, you really need to watch the video. Suffice it to say that I firmly believe that if the Tea Party, every gets much of a foothold in American politics, they will destroy the Republican party and many of our cherished American principles. And people of my age and older should really be very afraid of these folks — again, watch the video if you want to know why.
HULU AND THE NETWORKS BLOCKING PLAYBACK ON BOXEE AND GOOGLE TV: This is doomed to fail. The same folks who have figured out how to “jailbreak” mobile phones will find it extremely easy to fool Hulu, et. al. into thinking it’s communicating with a plain old web browser on a standard PC. And the reason that Hulu and the networks should not be blocking their content on such devices is because when the “jailbreakers” do it, you can bet that they will also figure out a way to remove the commercials from the stream. Hulu in particular is very vulnerable here, because either they’re going to have to relent or they’re going to wind up blocking playback to users that really are using a standard browser on a desktop computer. If they don’t relent soon, then the hack that allows viewing Hulu on those devices without the commercials will begin to receive wide acceptance, and then they will be in the position of trying to put the genie back in the bottle — they will never be able to get people to accept watching the ads (which will, of course, mean that eventually they will go out of business).
THE MOST USELESS FEDERAL AGENCIES have to be the Federal Communications Commission and the federal Food and Drug Administration. I’ll leave the FDA alone for the moment, but the FCC is so obviously in the pocket of the huge corporations that you know something is definitely wrong there. Seems like about every other day we read story after story of how Internet users in countries like South Korea get broadband speeds about 100 times what most of us can get. The thing I don’t understand is why this seems to happen even in times when the Democrats have the majority in the legislature — it’s as if the Republicans still control the agenda even when the Democrats are in power — UNLESS the Democrats are also kowtowing to the huge corporations. If Democrats DO lose to the Tea Party loons, they have only themselves to blame, for not doing the right thing when they had every opportunity.
ZECHARIA SITCHIN PASSED AWAY ON THE MORNING OF OCTOBER 9, 2010: Many readers will not know who he was, but basically he was a researcher of ancient Sumerian texts, who offered some very interesting (and often controversial) insights into our ancient past. Even if he wasn’t 100% accurate — and who could be when you are talking about things that happened thousands of years ago, when you consider that our news media often can’t get details right on a story that happened two days ago — his biggest contribution to humanity was to expand the thinking of everyone who ever read his work. For example, you will never look at the evolution vs. creation debate in quite the same way after you find out what the ancient Sumerians had to say about our origins, as reported by Mr. Sitchen. I think he is one of those people whose genius has gone largely unrecognized by his own generation (even though most of his books sold very well), but who will be recognized and revered by future generations. Whether you agree with everything he wrote or not, he was one of the great thinkers of our time. By the way, the Wikipedia article about him is extremely biased, though that doesn’t surprise me considering that his writings were probably seen as a threat to both the existing religious institutions, and to conventional “scientific” thinking regarding our origins.
- R.I.P. Zecharia Sitchin, 1920-2010 (cosmiclog.msnbc.msn.com)
- Fired-Up Keith Olbermann Recites Laundry List Of Tea Party Offenses: “This Is The America You Want?” (mediaite.com)
- Keith Olbermann did an amazing Special Comment this evening… (underthelobsterscope.wordpress.com)
- Olbermann: If The Tea Party Wins, America Loses (VIDEO) (huffingtonpost.com)
- “Keith Olbermann Special Comment: “If the Tea Party Wins, America Loses”" and related posts (thejoshuablogs.blogspot.com)
- Olbermann Warns Voters Against ‘Cataclysm’ of Tea Party, ‘Would Destroy America from Within’ (newsbusters.org)
United Airlines fliers must now ask yourselves: If I speak to a flight attendant will I get thrown off the plane?
Saw an item on The Consumerist site today, entitled “United Removes Passenger From Flight After He Asks Whether A Meal Will Be Served.” It contained a link to an original blog post that details the story of one Joe Sugarman, an Internet marketing consultant who was on his way home from a seminar in Austin, Texas (why does this sort of crap always happen in Texas or Florida?). And his blog post tells the story:
I get to the airport, boarded my plane and I’m sitting in first class. The flight attendant was right in front of me and was curious if they were going to serve meals onboard. So I asked her, “Are you serving any meals during our flight?”
She looked at me kinda funny and said, “I can’t answer that for security reasons.”
A little puzzled, I wondered how it affected security but I let it pass as she went into the cockpit. About three minutes later, two armed Austin police officers boarded the plane, looked at me and said, “Sugarman, follow us.”
Picking up the story a bit further down…
Finally a United representative approached me with my bags and said “We are taking you off this flight for security reasons.”
“Why” I asked.
“You apparently asked the flight attendant if the Police were onboard,” said the United representative. We’re not taking any chances and the captain asked that you be removed.”
“But I only asked her if a meal was being served,” I said. Only to be told that it was her word against mine and the Captain was not going to take any chances based on what the flight attendant claims I said.
Thrown off the plane for asking if a meal was being served was ridiculous. And why would I care if there was a policeman onboard anyway?
Strangely, United had a customer service representative ready and willing to book Mr. Sugarman on the next flight, so apparently at least someone in United has common sense. But, as The Consumerist said about the incident,
… WTF, seriously flight attendant? You couldn’t even say, “I beg your pardon” or “Would you repeat the question” to confirm that you had an evil ‘sploding terrorist on board?
Then there is the lazy Captain, who apparently could not be bothered to go talk to the passenger and do his own assessment of the situation.
Mr. Sugarman further comments,
Another thing that puzzles me is that I am what is called a 1K flyer on United flying over 100,000 miles a year at a minimum. I have flown 2.5 million miles on their airline through the years as well. Couldn’t they use common sense and realize that I didn’t suddenly go off my rocker after being such a good customer of theirs. And why did they believe the flight attendant over me when they let terrorists on board with bombs in their suitcase? Can you make sense of this?
Now, when I read Mr. Sugarman’s blog post, I scrolled down and viewed some of the comments, and noticed this one by Robert Clay:
This reinforces something I have observed for some time. It is often said that the United States is the land of the free, and at gatherings people are often asked to celebrate their freedom. But I wonder if this is all really brainwashing. After all, for all it’s many excellent qualities America right now has the largest percentage of its population in prison of any country on Earth. One out of four people, one out of four humans in prison in the WORLD are Americans, imprisoned in America. This excellent TED talk by Chris Jordan really makes the point” http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_jordan_pictures_some_shocking_stats.html
The ridiculous experience you had is another symptom of this. Interestingly I saw a TV program where Russians were being interviewed about why they were seemingly so disinterested in “democracy,” and what came out is that they just don’t need democracy. Nobody bothers them. They get on and can live their lives without interference.
That said, I don’t suppose the authorities would be too impressed if you were a political activist pushing views that oppose their own. But it’s no different in the US. Or Singapore. Or China.
But I agree with you, it’s right to ask what America is coming to when the average person really isn’t as free as they’ve been brainwashed to believe, and freedom and America are far from being synonymous for millions of people.
Mr Clay sort of verbalizes a feeling I’ve had for a long time. When I was a kid, our teachers tried very hard to brainwash us into thinking that America was the greatest country on earth. Of course, the way they framed it was that if we didn’t love America, our only other option was to live in a place like the “evil” Soviet Union, where people might be shot for asking for a loaf of stale bread to feed their families (seriously, you can’t begin to imagine the lies we were told about the Soviet Union as kids – it actually came as quite a shock to me when I finally realized that Moscow was a major city with modern buildings and electricity, even if not exactly up to U.S. standards).
But the worst thing about the old U.S.S.R., or so we were taught, is that the people there had no freedom – the government basically dictated their every move, morning, noon, and night. The U.S.A. was the closest thing to heaven on Earth, while the Soviet Union was the closest thing to hell, and if there were other choices our teachers sure weren’t about to mention any of them. We weren’t even taught anything about our closest neighbors, Canada or Mexico, except perhaps in passing references. According to our educational experience, the only countries that mattered were the United States, England (primarily for historical reasons), Germany and Japan (primarily because of their involvement in then-recent wars), and the U.S.S.R. Occasionally we’d be taught about what we now call a third-world country, like Malaysia (where the natives were still slaving over rice paddies or running around using blow darts to get their food when they weren’t dying of malaria, according to my elementary school education), but probably only to reinforce how lucky we all were to be living in the United States.
This kind of teaching occurred with some regularity throughout elementary and junior high schools, and didn’t really even begin change until about the time I got into high school, when the VietNam War basically divided the country and started causing many people, including some of my teachers apparently, to start questioning whether the U.S.A. always took the most noble course of action. The fact that we had two fairly awful presidents in a row (Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, followed by Richard Nixon, a Republican) probably didn’t help matters any. But then the war ended and the Bicentennial came along in 1976, and that invoked a new wave of patriotic fervor.
But back in 1967, just about the time that our teachers were starting to sound a bit more enlightened, a movie called “The President’s Analyst” came out. It’s probably one of the few movies I ever saw in a theater (suffice it to say that I am not a big fan of the “theater experience”). And at the time, there was a line in the move that impressed me as being somewhat prescient, at least for the U.S.A. No, not the one about everyone hating the phone company, although I did get quite a chuckle out of that one. I actually could not recall the exact line until I went to the The Internet Movie Database, and right there it was, posted in a user review by Merwyn Grote, who wrote,
My lasting view of Soviet-U.S. relations was clearly defined after watching THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST. Soviet spy/assassin V.I. Kydor Kropotkin, played by Severn Darden, explains to kidnapped American psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Schaefer, played by the irrepressible James Coburn: “Logic is on our side: this isn’t a case of a world struggle between two divergent ideologies, of different economic systems. Every day your country becomes more socialistic and mine becomes more capitalistic. Pretty soon we will meet in the middle and join hands.” Beautiful, simple logic, clearly stated in a whacked-out, slightly psychedelic satirical farce about Cold War paranoia. A gem of genius in a world gone mad.
The trouble is that, in my opinion, we’re not just becoming more socialistic – we’re also beginning to take on some of the negative attributes that our generation was warned about, only we were warned they would happen if we allowed the “evil Communists” to take over our country. Well, virtually all the recent laws that have seriously curtailed our freedoms were passed during the junior Bush administration, and I don’t think the Republican party is quite ready to take on the mantle of “socialist” or “communist”, though at times they seem to approve of actions that seem not too far removed from something Joseph Stalin would have approved of. Admittedly, the current administration doesn’t seem to be in any big hurry to give us back our stolen freedoms, and that worries me a lot – if we can’t trust either of our political parties to do the right thing, what hope do we have as a nation?
The incident with Mr. Sugarman and United Airlines is certainly not the worst thing that’s happened to an air traveler in our post-9/11 society, but it is symptomatic of how wacko our nation has become, both in that this sort of thing could happen and that most who read about it will think, “Well, that’s just what you have to put up with when you fly nowadays.” Most people in the U.S.A. don’t even blink when TSA screeners do full body scans on children (as this article explains, “In the United Kingdom, scans are not performed on anyone under 18 because they would violate child pornography laws”). And the people of the former U.S.S.R. are probably saying, “Welcome to our world.”
I’ve been saying for years now that when quantum entanglement is fully understood, it will revolutionize communications. And apparently, the Chinese are taking this seriously. According to an article on the POPSCI site,
Scientists in China have broken the record for quantum teleportation, achieving a distance of about 10 miles, according to a new study in Nature Photonics. That’s a giant leap from previous achievements.
The feat brings us closer to communicating information without needing a traditional signal transmission, the researchers note.
Read the rest of the article here (and note that the word “teleportation” is somewhat misused, as it becomes clear when you read the article that they are talking about quantum communications, not teleportation of matter).
Why is this significant? Well, let’s assume for the moment that right now we understand this technology about as well as we understood lasers in the 1950′s — we knew they were significant and would be very useful someday, but most of the scientists originally had no idea just how useful they would become. They certainly never imagined that everything from the world’s communications systems to audio and video equipment in your home would become dependent on the laser.
As I have said before, suppose you have two devices that contain entangled particles and therefore are capable of sending data between them, without using radio waves or cables of any kind. This is what the Chinese are apparently on the verge of achieving, if they have not done so already. And why is that important? Well, let’s say you are getting your Internet service from a company in New York, or your TV from a company in Colorado, or your phone service from … well, who cares where it’s from. The Important thing is that in each case, you won’t need wires or cables, nor satellites and dishes, nor a network of cellular towers, to bring the information to you. Eventually you may have a device the size of a USB stick (or smaller) that you plug into your computer or TV, or that is embedded into your phone, and no matter where you go in the world, it will be capable of communicating with its companion device at your service provider.
It’s my belief that once scientists really understand this, there will be virtually no distance limitation – you could take your phone or TV or Mars and it would still work. And then there is the other question I really would like the answer to — is this type of communications constrained by the speed of light? I may be wrong, but I have this sneaking suspicion that it is not. And if that is true, that would in part explain why Chinese scientists are willing to pursue this while Western scientists are afraid to touch it.
The problem is that in the West, our scientists don’t like anything that doesn’t conform to the known laws of science, and we especially don’t like anything that’s “supernatural.” And yet, when you get to the quantum level, science and the supernatural start looking an awful lot alike. Make no mistake, it’s still science, it’s just science we don’t yet fully understand. Just as a remote control capable of activating a device that displays pictures and plays sound might have seemed like sorcery to a scientist of 500 years ago, a lot of what we’re discovering about the quantum world seems “spooky” to us now. People in many Asian nations have an entirely different mindset about such things; they readily accept things that we don’t understand (some forms of Chinese medicine being an example). So, it does not surprise me that they’d be more likely to embrace this new field of science — it doesn’t pose as great a challenge to their cultural or scientific paradigms.
If we in the west ever hope to get into the forefront of this field of science — the thing that I’m sure will revolutionize communications, if we humans can stay alive that long and not nuke ourselves back to the stone age — we have to we willing to tell the “skeptics” to take a hike and get busy working on this stuff. We can’t take the attitude that because we don’t fully understand why something works, we’re not going to touch it until we do, because if we do that, people in parts of the world that have no such inhibitions are going to get far ahead of us in science and technology.
My prediction is that quantum science (including quantum communications) is going to be to this century what electronics was to the 20th century. If you think about it, it was only a little over 100 years ago that the very first AM radio transmission took place, and it wasn’t until the 1920′s that radio receivers became a common item in homes. In only about 90 years we’ve gone from AM radios in large, furniture-sized cabinets with vacuum tubes to all the technology we have today. We’re just scratching the surface of the quantum world, and while I may not live to see it, I predict that at some point there will simply be no need for the millions of miles of copper and fiber cable used around the globe, nor all the cellular towers, not to mention the communications satellites in space. Even things like remote controls will use paired quantum particles, simply because they will work through walls, and each remote will control only the device that its paired with (so if you have two brand XYZ devices in a home, one remote won’t activate both devices).
For some reason I just find it really interesting to speculate about this, because I just believe this is truly the Next Big Thing. The real shame will be if we in the West just ignore it until the scientists in China and other Eastern countries have fully developed the technology, while we’re still trying to prop up up our aging copper infrastructure. In a worst-case scenario, I could see devices that use quantum technology being banned in the United States, at least for a time, so that the big corporations can milk every last dime out of the existing (and by then antique) infrastructure. I sure hope THAT doesn’t happen!
Hard to believe we’re coming up on the turn of another decade. Although the technological revolution was well under way by the time I was born, it’s interesting to think about how different things are today from how they were way back then. Here’s how I recall the decades (note I wasn’t born yet in 1950, but close enough that I can extrapolate):
1950: Black and White television was just starting to appear in the homes of those who were not extremely affluent (although a TV was still a major investment). Sets were large and picture tubes were small (and round, though sometimes the top and bottom parts were masked). Nationwide television broadcasting was still a year away – coaxial cable connections only extended between New York and the eastern half of the country until 1951, when it was extended to the west coast. Many network stations in smaller markets actually got their signal by putting up a tall antenna and picking it up from the nearest network owned and operated station, or another nearby affiliate (a practice that continued in some places until communications satellites came into being). Local telephone calls in many areas had to placed through an operator, although some cities had rotary dial service. Long distance calls were very expensive and usually had to be placed through multiple operators and toll switchboards, although operator dialing of distant numbers was starting to come into use. Many people only called relatives at Christmas or on a birthday, and were careful to keep the call length under three minutes (the initial charge was for the first three minutes). Telegrams were just starting to decline in popularity, as long distance had become a bit less expensive after the war ended. As for computers, a basic pocket calculator today probably has more computing power than the largest computers of the 1950′s.
1960: Color TV’s were available, but they were big and heavy and definitely a luxury item. TV picture tubes had started to take on a more rectangular shape, but still had rounded corners. The big story of the previous decade had been the development of transistors, and the transistor radio was just starting to be the hot item for teenagers to have. “Direct Distance Dialing” (customer dialing of long distance calls within the U.S. and Canada) was being implemented, although in 1960 there were still many manual exchanges in rural areas, so not all points were dialable, and long distance calls were still expensive enough that you thought twice before making a long distance call, even though the phone companies did everything they could to encourage long distance usage. The first experimental satellite television signals were still two years away. Telegrams were for funerals and official business – people had found that it was cheaper to make a three-minute call than send an old-fashioned telegram. And even with transistor technology, computers still filled large rooms and weren’t as powerful (and almost certainly didn’t have as much memory or storage) as even a low-end notebook computer of today.
1970: All but the poorest people (and the cheapskates) had color TV (or would within a couple of years), and some TV’s had real remote controls (in many homes, the remote control was a parent hollering for one of the kids to come change the channel!). TV’s has shrunk to a reasonable size, too – the large TV-as-a-piece-of-furniture was on its way out, and a smaller model (perhaps on a rollable stand) was in. With the new mostly-transistorized sets, the TV repairman was no longer almost a part of the family, since transistors didn’t fail the way vacuum tubes did. Commercial satellite television was now a reality, being used to relay news and programs from overseas, and to deliver network programming direct to TV stations, no matter how remote the location. The receiving equipment was still very expensive, though. The hot new technology was the Integrated Circuit. Electronic switching had come into widespread use in telephone exchanges, and the days of the operator (for completing local calls) was gone. For most folks, regular telegrams were something only seen in old movies. There were mobile telephones (and marine telephones on boats) but they were very expensive and required bulky equipment, and in most areas only a handful of channels were available (and they were plain old analog radio channels, so anyone with a radio that tuned those bands could listen in!). Touch-Tone telephones were starting to become popular, replacing the old rotary dial phones. Computers had actually started to appear in many medium-sized and smaller businesses – the most compact models were about the size of a home furnace and used LARGE hard drive platters (16″ was a common size) with far less storage capacity than you’d get on a memory stick today. And electronic calculators were starting to be widely used in businesses, and even some homes.
1980: Your TV had integrated circuits and a remote control, and was priced so that even poor people could afford one. Only small specialty sets were black and white. Cable TV was becoming available in many parts of the country, though the selection of channels was fairly pitiful by today’s standards (it had actually been around for many years, but it was just starting to become a somewhat ubiquitous utility in populated areas). News and programming from around the globe was commonplace, delivered via commercial satellite, and some people were installing large C-band dishes on their property to receive programming direct from the satellites. The Sony Walkman was the hot new thing, and it would forever change the way people listened to music. And wonder of wonders, the personal computer had arrived – if you lived in a major city, you could actually go to a “computer store” (or a Radio Shack) and buy your very own home computer. You’d store your data on cassette tapes, or perhaps a floppy disk if you could shell out few hundred dollars for a floppy disk drive (hard drives were in the four to five figure price range – a home computer might have one with 5 MB capacity). Oh, and your family and friends would look at you like you’d grown a third eyeball when you told them you had a computer at home! And there was this thing called the Internet that was being used to move data between large computers (mostly those owned by universities and the government) worldwide, but most home computer users had never heard of it – what was newly available in 1980 was commercial services such as Compuserve and Prodigy, if you had a 300 baud modem and were willing to pay by the minute for a service that displayed text at a rate much slower than most people’s reading speed.
1990: What a difference a decade makes. By 1990 most of the original home computer manufacturers were long gone – the introduction of the IBM PC in 1981, and Microsoft’s MS-DOS had radically altered the personal computer landscape. Apple and a few others were still in business, but most of the early PC makers either got out of the business or started selling PC “clones.” The hot new thing in 1990 was Windows 3.0, which many would argue was the first version of Windows that remotely resembled Windows as we know it today. A typical computer hard drive would have capacity measured in megabytes, in most cases under 100 MB. And while computer users were starting to become vaguely aware that there was something called the Internet out there, many users were still using 2400 to 9600 bps modems and connecting to local BBS systems, many of which were interconnected through an ad-hoc network called Fidonet, run in some areas by tin-pot dictators who were more interested in enforcing rules than applying common sense (causing some sysops to incur hundreds of dollars in unnecessary phone charges, because they weren’t allowed to pick up feeds from the least expensive source). I still have the deepest of contempt for one particular Fidonet “coordinator” who I’d swear was working for the phone company (since he was a direct cause of many sysops incurring excessive or unnecessary toll charges), except for the fact that he even caused problems FOR a phone company’s sponsored Fidonet BBS in one city. Many Fidonet users and sysops were looking for an alternative to Fidonet by 1990, and I think that in large part jump-started the interest in that “other” network, the Internet. In other news, Direct-To-Home satellite service was just getting started in Europe; it would be another year before Primestar would be available in the United States. Cell phones were starting to be used by businesses, but the per-minute rates were prohibitive for most users. At the same time, rates for calls to many overseas locations had started to fall to somewhat affordable levels. The big news in telephones had been the Bell System breakup of 1984, and by 1990 many customers had started buying their own telephones instead of paying the phone company approximately $5 a month for a rented phone (even more if you wanted a color other than black, or a long cord). Also, by 1990, competitive long distance companies such as MCI and Sprint were capturing a large percentage of long distance traffic that had formerly gone through AT&T.
2000: The home computer user was no longer considered a bit strange, thanks to the appearance of the commercial Internet (and the World Wide Web) starting in the early- to mid-90′s. Suddenly the Internet was usable by the common person, and it was far less expensive that Compuserve or AOL, which were but a shadow of their former selves. Fidonet only held onto a few hardcore sysops (though it has tenaciously refused to die completely). Windows 2000 was the new OS from Microsoft (some people are still using it!). Writable CD’s were replacing the floppy drive, and hard drive storage was measured in the hundreds of megabytes; and those large drives were needed to store all those MP3 files that people were downloading courtesy of Napster and similar filesharing programs that had become the bane of the recording industry (since most users were still on dial-up Internet, using 56K modems, it wasn’t really feasible to download large video files yet). Speaking of the MP3, personal MP3 players were only another year away – goodbye to our old friend, the Walkman. Dish Network and DirecTV were competing for customers, finally giving TV viewers an alternative to cable television, which was increasingly becoming overpriced – the channel selection was increasing, but people were starting to find the offerings underwhelming, thus the lament of “500 channels and nothing’s on.” The long, slow changeover to HDTV had begun, though few stations broadcasted HDTV signals, and HDTV sets were very expensive (and about as easy to move around as a grand piano!). Cell phones were becoming a somewhat common item, at least among the well-heeled, and they were getting much smaller as well – gone were the “bag phones” that had been used in cars. And traditional telephone calling was getting much cheaper, due to the increased competition between both long distance companies and the new competitive local phone companies. Unfortunately, the trend toward big mergers had begun; the “baby Bells” started putting themselves back together.
Going into 2010: The 2000′s brought us flat screen monitors and TV’s in sizes that we’d only imagined (just in time to help us baby boomers with failing eyesight). HDTV sets are finally becoming somewhat affordable, though they have a way to go (I think HDTV is about where color sets were in 1970). Cable and satellite TV services have gotten more expensive but not necessarily better, but today we have an alternative – sites like Hulu and YouTube. However, another thing that happened during the 2000′s was that most of us started getting our Internet service from the cable company, in order to get away from slow dialup speeds, but in the process we have nearly eliminated the very competitive dialup ISP market and replaced it with a monopoly or duopoly provider situation when it comes to broadband. And both the cable companies, and the phone companies that are starting to see the potential in offering their own cable TV equivalent, would like very much to kill the streaming video sites, by going to metered billing so that customers are afraid to use the bandwidth they’re paying for (bear in mind that NO provider wants to offer TRUE metered billing – they still want to charge you a monthly rate like they’ve been doing all along, but then start piling on charges if they think you’ve consumed too many bytes of data in a month). Computers have gotten much faster, and hard drives capacities are starting to be measured in terabytes. The floppy disk has gone the way of the dodo, and the CD probably would have if so many of us didn’t have drawers full of “free-after-rebate” blank CD’s that we bought to back up our hard drives, only to discover that it was more efficient to just buy another hard drive for backup purposes. The music and movie industries moved to impose Draconian punishments on those who share copyrighted files, arguably alienating many of their best customers in the process. Microsoft really dropped the ball with Windows Vista, giving Apple a leg up in the consumer computer market, and it remains to be seen if Windows 7 will reverse the trend. In telephony, the big story was VoIP, which drove down the cost of both domestic and international calling, to the point that traditional phone companies started doing something they probably never thought they’d have to do – offer affordable, flat-rate nationwide calling plans. And even with that, people are abandoning the traditional landline in droves. As the telegram was in 1950, is perhaps what the traditional landline phone call is today.
2020: Okay, my crystal ball (or third eye or whatever you want to call it) has never worked right – I keep hoping for that moment of enlightenment, but so far, no such luck. So I’ll probably miss on some of these, but here’s what I suspect may happen by 2020. With regard to TV’s: Bigger, thinner, cheaper, and the hot new thing may be 3D television. With regard to telephones, the dangers of cell phone radiation will become more apparent as more heavy cell users start getting brain tumors, so the cell phone will be redesigned so there is no high power transmitter close to any body part (unless it’s shielded in some way). This means that portable phones may only radiate to one side (away from the head/body), posing interesting challenges for cell site designers. Also, I suspect wideband voice will take hold – it is ridiculous to limit voice channels to sub-AM radio quality, a relic of available long distance circuit bandwidth from nearly a century ago. Traditional copper-pair based residential landline service will be all but dead, except for older people and some businesses. By 2020, phone companies will simply stop installing new copper (except perhaps for the last few- to few-hundred feet) and go to fiber almost exclusively. There will be a mad scramble by all traditional phone companies to try and sell off as much of their aging copper plant as possible. After that, I think competition may arise in the broadband market – as existing phone/broadband companies find that they have saturated their existing service areas, they will look to grow by (finally) moving into the territories of other companies and overbuilding (this assumes that the cost of running fiber will get cheaper). One wild card is that the government could still require divestiture of outside plant, spinning off the wires, cables and fiber to an entity that would not be allowed to be in the phone or broadband business, but would only be allowed to wholesale connectivity between homes and service providers. And I’m not sure what the hot new technology for the kids will be, but I’m betting it will involve some form of thought control (remember the line from Back to the Future II: “You mean you have to use your hands? That’s like a baby’s toy!” No, I don’t think we’ll have antigravity hoverboards, not because the technology won’t exist, but because it won’t have filtered down to commercial use yet). As for computers: Faster, MUCH smaller desktop models (think Mac Mini, but thinner), quieter, more use of solid state storage to replace hard drives, and built in HDMI ports will become commonplace. I also expect you’ll see HDTV sets with a fully functional computer either built in, or offered as an accessory. There will be a replacement for the computer mouse – it may involve thought control, or it may take the form of a camera smart enough to recognize gestures and hand movements in the air (privacy advocates and conspiracy theorists probably won’t like the camera idea much), but the mouse will be too inconvenient when you are sitting in your easy chair using a wireless keyboard and your HDTV screen!
Then, as I’ve mentioned before, there is the “X factor” — the technology that hardly anyone sees coming even a decade before. We’ve had a lot of those in the past few decades: television in the home, transistors, the space program, integrated circuits, lasers, fiber optics, cell phones, the commercial Internet, the World Wide Web, commercial broadband to the home, VoIP. Some of these may have been anticipated in science fiction, but still they were often things that few had seriously dreamed of even ten years before. Let’s suppose for a moment that someone figures out the secret of anti-gravity and makes it widely available — can you imagine the changes that would bring to society? Or, what about cold fusion (which some scientists think is still workable)? Okay, now suppose that you had some way to put a platform in the sky, in the upper atmosphere above the level of clouds and storms, and you have figured out how to oppose gravity (and have the nearly limitless energy supply to do it). Suddenly you have the perfect platform to spot-beam wireless Internet to entire counties or more, plus with clear line of site such platforms could network to each other. Unfortunately, far too often the governments of the industrialized countries choose to protect existing corporations rather than advance new technologies. We don’t even utilize the technologies we have available (case in point: Why do we not have computer controlled, “drive by wire” automobiles and trucks? You’d likely have to embed control wires in or near road surfaces, but once fully implemented, such a system could save both fuel and lives, particularly in the case of avoiding accidents caused by sleepy/distracted/aggressive/inexperienced/elderly/fleeing criminal drivers).
Well, I hope you have enjoyed this romp through the technological past and possible future. Did I miss anything important? Do you know of some up and coming technology that has the potential to change life as we know it? Feel free to leave a comment!
I read some consumer-oriented sites and blogs fairly regularly (if for no other reason than that telecommunications companies have been known to do decidedly consumer-unfriendly things at times, and those sites help me keep track of such abuses), but every now and then they take me down a path that leads to some real pearl of wisdom. And thus it was when I followed a link to a post entitled, The Consumer Overdraft Protection Fair Practices Act Needs Your Support – which is a site that encourages you to “Write your representative today to support Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s bill which will clean up this predatory lending practice that fleeces consumers of billions every year.” And while that’s certainly a noble cause, and one I hope many folks will get behind, it’s not the thing that caused me to write this post.
Rather, it was a comment (or “signature”) on that page, from one Ani L. Schwartz of Arroyo Seco, NM, which said (in part):
- If Consumers are not helped, the whole system will crash harder and faster. It is indeed what Jim Hightower calls “TERMINAL STUPIDITY” for Corporate Powers to kill their markets.Please work to END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD and the “legal person” status of Corporations which allows them to get away with Murder, literally and figuratively.
That was enough to cause me to click on the link associated with Ms. Schwartz’s name, where I found this posted on her “Comment Wall”:
I pledge to speak out to End Corporate Personhood as often as I have the ability & opportunity to do so. The “legal person” status of Corporate “entities” must be revoked before WE (LIFE) can gain any ground towards HEALING.
In my own view, THIS is “the most pressing issue facing the country today” that I “would make the centerpiece of the address if [I] were President” NOW:
END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD
Ultimately pols & govs must join the People in efforts to free ourselves and our planet from the Chains, Catastrophes & Anti-Life IM-Balances of Corporatism, which are systematically destroying all life, liberty, & PURSUITS OF happiness, health, peace, education, wisdom, creativity, love, spirit, & all the things that really count in life to all living beings. In order for vital changes to be possible, the “legal person” status of Corporate “personhoods” must be revoked. Until this is accomplished, Corporate “entities” will thwart all vital changes because these changes require that these “entities” GIVE BACK to the Universe upon which they depend for their inedible Profits.
One need not agree with me about what is “the most important issue” in order to sign this pledge.
I’m not entirely sure whether Ms. Schwartz came up with this on her own, or if this is a new Internet meme, or what, but it makes me wonder what is taking so long for people to realize this simple truth:
Back in olden times, following the “great flood” and for at least a few thousand years thereafter, royalty held most of the power. And therefore, most of the oppression of the common folk came at the hands of the Kings and Queens, or whatever the ruling monarchs were called.
Then, for a time, religion held more power than royalty. The Pope was more powerful than the Prince, and most of the oppression of the common folks came at the hands of religious leaders.
Neither of the previous two forms of oppression have totally gone away, but they are now being overshadowed by a third form of oppression – that is, oppression by large corporations, which operate largely above the law.
The problem is that we give corporations most of the rights and the legal status of an individual. But when a corporation commits a criminal act, they can’t be punished in the way an individual can. You can’t jail a corporation. You can fine a corporation, but because large corporations have so much more in the way of resources than any individual, fines are largely ineffective (and are often thought of as a cost of doing business). Part of the very purpose for the existence of a corporation is to shield any individual from personal liability for the corporation’s actions. So if a corporation does something that causes real people to be injured or killed, it’s extremely rare for any individual to go to jail (and when it does happen, it’s often whichever poor patsy the corporate masters decided to throw under the bus, rather than take any responsibility for their own actions).
I’ve heard it said that the sort of people who would have set up an organized crime syndicate back in Al Capone’s day find it much more convenient today to set up a corporation, and run their scams from underneath a corporate shield. It’s much more lucrative, and a lot safer for the people involved. Instead of mobsters with tommy-guns doing the enforcement, now they hire high-priced lawyers. Corporations sue each other (the upper-crust equivalent of mob warfare) but they also go after common people who don’t bend to their will. Indeed, certain four-letter organizations that end in “AA” have been compared with organized crime in the way they bring lawsuits against the most defenseless (they seem to pick their victims carefully, although occasionally they do screw up and pick on the wrong person) and then demand the equivalent of “protection money” to stop bothering the party sued. Since most of the accused don’t have the funds to mount a real legal challenge (they really DO seem to pick their victims carefully), it’s basically a choice between paying the “protection” or losing their financial life.
And I don’t want to pick on just one industry – the problem cuts across many industries. People die because pharmaceutical reps try to get (and too often, succeed in getting) doctors to prescribe the newest and most expensive durgs, rather than the old, tried-and-true drugs that work just as well (if not better), and have fewer toxic side effects. People can’t afford the more expensive drugs, so they skip doses, or they have life-threatening problems with some side-effect of the newer drug. Now many physicians are forming “professional corporations” to try and limit their personal responsibility to they patients, and of course, virtually all hospitals are incorporated and many are now a part of some large corporate chain of medical facilities. Nowadays almost all hospital bills contain errors (often very significant errors), and they are nearly always in the hospital’s favor, so at a time when you should be worried about getting better you are burdened with the stress of dealing with an uncaring corporate hospital billing department (or worse yet, the collection agency that gets your bill when you can’t pay, which is also a corporation).
I could go on and on, but the point is, today virtually every oppression of ordinary citizens comes either at the hands of some large corporation directly, or because government is acting to protect some large corporate interest(s). Think about it – is there some law that you really hate, that you think should never have been passed? Assuming it wasn’t passed to bring more revenue into, or accrue more power for the government itself, the next most common reason a law is passed is to protect some large industry or corporation. Our governments often act as lackeys for the corporations.
Which brings me back to Ms. Schwartz’s “Comment Wall” – she has the right idea, although that’s only one of many reforms that should be passed – not just as laws, but as constitutional amendments. I can think of three amendments that would go a long way toward ending most, if not all of the abuses of corporations:
1) All human beings are entitled to the rights accorded by this Constitution to persons, but such rights shall not be extended to non-humans. The government shall not grant the rights of a person, or convey the legal rights of a person to any corporation or similar entity, or to any entity other than an actual human being.
2) No entity other than a human being, or a group of one or more specific human beings which are individually named, shall be granted ownership of any patent, copyright, or any other form of “intellectual property”, with the sole exception of a trademark. A corporation or similar entity may own a trademark, but shall not be granted ownership of any other form of intellectual property. Nothing in this amendment shall prohibit the inclusion of intellectual property rights in the estate of a deceased person, provided that such rights may only be passed to other named individuals, and the inclusion of such rights in an estate shall not extend the term of the patent, copyright, or similar form of intellectual property.
3) In any case where a corporation or similar legal entity brings a lawsuit against one or more individual human beings, and does not obtain a judgment against that individual or individuals, the corporation must pay double the attorney fees incurred by the defendant to the attorneys that represented the defendant, and in addition must reimburse the defendant for any costs and lost income incurred by the defendant while defending the case. If the individual’s life has been significantly altered as a result of the lawsuit, the defendant may petition the court for an additional award to compensate the defendant for any losses incurred. This amendment shall not be applicable in a case where a corporation or similar legal entity has brought a lawsuit against another corporation or similar legal entity.
I’m not a constitutional expert, so my wording might need to be polished a little. I’d also like to see included prohibitions against undue influence by corporate lobbyists, and the use of “sock puppets” (individuals or non-profit organizations that are compensated in some way to represent the views of a corporation as if they were their own, usually without disclosing the Quid pro Quo), but have no idea how to word that sort of amendment in such a manner that it would not trample individual rights.
I seriously doubt there is any chance I will see any of these amendments passed in my lifetime, but who knows – if enough of these corporate abuses keep occurring, maybe one of these days we will see an anti-corporate backlash turn into a strong enough movement to get some very strong protections against corporate abuses passed into law.
In closing, I want you to think about this:
When our country was founded, we knew about the abuses of kings, and our constitution contains protections against giving any one individual too much power.
When our country was founded, we knew about the abuses of religious leaders, and our constitution contains protections against government unduly influenced by religion.
Neither of the above work perfectly, and they are sometimes ignored by Congress and the courts (to our detriment), but at least they are there.
As time went by, we’ve added other amendments to protect people (most notably forbidding slavery, and enacting civil rights, and giving the vote to all adults regardless of race, gender, etc.). What we did not seem to realize, when our country was founded, was how powerful large corporations could become, nor how devoid of empathy and human compassion they could be. It is now time to reign in their power and to protect people from the abuses of large corporations, but they (the corporations) will not give it up easily.
Please don’t give the me the old bromide about how corporations are just individuals joined together for a specific purpose – in the first place, there are all sorts of studies that show that people behave much differently in large groups (particularly when they do not feel any individual responsibility for the actions of the group). Think about suicide jumpers that are sometimes encouraged to jump by onlookers – chances are that if any of those onlookers was the only person there they would not open their mouth, but once one person yells “Jump!”, the crowd takes up the chant. Large groups of people are often devoid of the compassion that individuals would exhibit when alone, and this seems just as true (if not more true) when people think they are simply following the directives of their corporate employer. And also, don’t forget that the specific purpose for which these individuals join together is to make a profit – in large corporations, everything else is secondary to that, specifically including the health and happiness of the people they deal with, or who deal with them.
I hope you will remember this article the next time you are feeling truly oppressed by forces outside your control – very often, there’s a large corporation (perhaps more than one) somewhere in the background, trying to advance their own financial interests. Even in cases where government is the oppressor, if you dig a bit deeper you’ll find corporations pulling the strings.
Take our drug laws as an example. The alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries all have a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal – they fear the competition from another drug that’s probably every bit as safe as at least some of the substances they sell. And just so you know, I’ve never smoked pot in my life, not even once – but I still think the current laws against it are ridiculous and protectionist. There is no valid reason anyone should serve a long jail sentence over marijuana usage or possession for personal use – especially when our jails are so overcrowded that truly violent criminals are being released early. I don’t want anyone to use marijuana or tobacco, and I don’t want anyone to drink alcoholic beverages and drive (or drink to excess), and I’d rather not see anyone take dangerous but legal pharmaceuticals just because some corporation managed to get them approved (perhaps by withholding negative tests, and only showing the FDA the ones that didn’t indicate a problem). But only ONE of those substances is illegal, and classed as a felony to even possess – and it’s not the one that makes money for the large corporations!
I won’t even get into the corporate influence on organized religion – but think about what houses of worship were like a century or two ago, and what they are like today (especially the big super-mega-churches that have sprung up in the suburbs). There are large corporations that make huge sums selling goods both to the houses of worship themselves, and directly to the “sheep” – and a lot of that is the books and other literature (and in the modern age, DVD’s and other forms of media) that help shape people’s religious views, starting with Sunday School. I’m just waiting for one of them to start teaching that Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple because that space was better suited for a big box store – we’re not quite to that point yet, but I can pretty much guarantee you that the big corporations that publish church literature are not going to say anything negative about large corporations, so if you are involved in an organized religion you might want to give some thought about who is shaping your family’s views on modern life.
If you think there’s any truth in this article, please feel free to link to it. And, of course, you should feel free to comment (even if you disagree with me), as long as you don’t include any links that might make me think you are a spammer (if in doubt – leave the link out).
How different would the history of telecommunications been if Bell had not invented the telephone? It turns out that he may not have, depending on how you define the word “invented”:
BOSTON – A new book claims to have definitive evidence of a long-suspected technological crime — that Alexander Graham Bell stole ideas for the telephone from a rival, Elisha Gray.
In “The Telephone Gambit: Chasing Alexander Graham Bell’s Secret,” journalist Seth Shulman argues that Bell — aided by aggressive lawyers and a corrupt patent examiner — got an improper peek at patent documents Gray had filed, and that Bell was erroneously credited with filing first.
Full story here:
New book claims Bell stole key telephone idea – Science- msnbc.com
This, of course, shows one of the problems with the entire concept of “intellectual property” – ideas are seldom exclusive to one person. How often have you sat down with someone at a meal and as part of casual conversation mentioned some idea you’d had, or some product that you think someone out to invent? The person you spoke to might file that away in the back of his mind, and maybe months or years later develop it, without even remembering you or that conversation. Or, they might simply express that idea, or some variation of it, to someone else in conversation. Or perhaps someone else had the same problem you did, and used the same logical thought process you did to come up with roughly the same solution.
Anyway, it doesn’t matter where the idea came from, in theory the patent is supposed to go to whoever develops the idea – the “inventor.” But somehow we’ve gotten into a situation where people are patenting ideas and concept, then sitting back and hoping someone else comes up with the same idea (which will probably happen if the idea has any merit) so that they can sue. It’s a total perversion of the original reason for patents – instead of rewarding the inventive person who actually develops the idea into a marketable product, it often penalizes them. And as often happens in disputes of law, the attorneys also make out like bandits.
All this book shows is that this problem is nothing new. I’ve been saying for much of my life that the entire concept of “intellectual property” is flawed, especially as it’s currently being defined. Even the term itself is misleading – the word “property” is usually defined as something tangible. A toaster is property. A car is property. Land is property. Those things are tangible. Ideas are another matter entirely – we don’t really know where they come from, and they are pretty useless until acted upon. The simple filing of a patent benefits no one – it doesn’t mean that a product will be developed, and indeed, often impedes others from developing a product because now that idea is “protected” and can’t be used unless the person willing to develop the product wishes to pay royalties to the person who paid some lawyers to get the idea protected. It’s a crazy, loony, nutso system and in my opinion is one of the primary reasons that we don’t have many of the cool new inventions that they were telling us we’d have by now back in the 1950′s (flying cars, anyone?).
But at the same time, it does raise an interesting question – if there had been no challenge by Bell, and if Elisha Gray’s patent had stood, would Bell have still been willing to go ahead and develop his telephone? Gray was trying to develop a harmonic telegraph – back in that day, many imagined that no one would want to use voice for communications. I’m sure that something like the telephone would have been developed eventually, but progress may have been retarded by years – in the year 2000 we might have still have only been in the rotary dial era. So whether Bell acted ethically or not, this may have been one of the somewhat rare cases where the inventor that was willing to develop the idea into a working product actually wound up with the patent.
I can’t end this article without recognizing that neither Bell nor Gray were probably the actual first inventor of the telephone – that honor probably belongs to Antonio Meucci, “who invented the telephone in 1849 and filed his first patent caveat (notice of intention to take out a patent) in 1871, setting into motion a series of mysterious events and injustices which would be incredible were they not so well documented”, according to this page.
So when you come right down to it, the invention of the telephone is a pretty sordid story of people building on the work and ideas of others and then claiming that work as their own. I guess I tend to identify with Meucci because in my lifetime I’ve had plenty of great ideas, some of which I’ve later seen developed by others (for example, I was pushing the idea of a VoIP adapter on various online forums back in the mid 1990′s, right after the original iPhone first came out – I hated the idea of having to have your computer running to make and receive phone calls, and I still do, which is why I don’t use Skype and similar products. But I had neither the means nor the ability to develop those ideas beyond a concept, and besides, it was only logical that others would also see the limitations of VoIP softphones and decide that a hardware VoIP adapter was needed). I’ll be the first to say that I believe that under the current system of patents, it’s often neither the person who originally had the idea that gets rewarded (because it’s too expensive and complicated to file for a patent) nor the person who actually develops an idea to a working concept. Patent holders nowadays are all too often like domain name squatters in the virtual world – they see a good idea and snatch it for themselves.
Just my take on the matter – anyway, this book sounds like an interesting read.