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June 05, 2017


Despite the fact that I earn my living as computer nerd, I tend to be a slow adopter of new technology.

That is SO me! My boss occasionally (but repeatedly) asks how a Luddite like me ever got into high tech in the first place. Like the first time she got a text message from me . . . which was maybe two years ago. Possibly less.

My approach tends to be to see if the new technology actually does something that I need. Whereas a lot of those around me seem to grab it just because it is new.

In addition to waiting for a real need, it may also be a factor that I'm all too aware from first-hand experience just how long it takes for the (major) bugs to get worked out of a new system. That and being able to spot possibilities for abuse:
Embrace the Internet of Things (IoT)! Network all your household systems together, so you can control your whole home remotely! Think of the convenience!
. . . Think of the possibilities for your local JD** nerd. Even if you are home to be harassed; but especially if you are gone.

The Internet of Things: a solution looking for a problem to solve.

** Does the term juvenile delinquent even get used any more? Come to think of it, did it fade away, only to get rehabilitated this year...?

then it took three more months for a letter to get back to Abigail saying that her husband and son had been safe and well in France as of three months before she got the letter.

What is even more mind-boggling, at least to me: In the century before Abigail Adams, the Dutch were running an empire which spread around the world. But even the bits in Indonesia were controlled, tightly controlled, from Amsterdam. Very little autonomy for the folks on the scene to take big decisions on their own initiative.

Considering how we struggle with coordinating decisions (or even just communications) today, I can't imagine how they pulled that off. But apparently they did.

Yeah, when my things are smarter than I am and conspire to boot, it creeps me out.

I suppose I should be enchanted:


In addition to waiting for a real need, it may also be a factor that I'm all too aware from first-hand experience just how long it takes for the (major) bugs to get worked out of a new system.

Let's also not forget about waiting for it to get WAAAAYYYY cheaper after a few years (from the Luddite electrical engineer).

Yeah, those initial price drops (combined with lots of improvements) can be really impressive. I think there may be an analogy here to people who buy a new car in the fall when it first comes out. Vs those of us who buy a couple of months earlier . . . at the very end of the (previous) model year. We don't get all the newest and greatest gizmos. But the price is way lower and the most obvious glitches have been dealt with.

I think there may be an analogy here to people who buy a new car in the fall when it first comes out. Vs those of us who buy a couple of months earlier . . . at the very end of the (previous) model year.

I'd go a step further, since I'm the kind of person to buy a model that's been around for years with no major design changes - just tweaks over the years to address whatever problems may have surfaced.

On another note, this post and others like it always bring to mind the opening montage in Woody Allen's Manhattan, with the long bank of telephone booths, each booth with a line of people 10 or so deep waiting to use a payphone.

I studied in England for three years, 1964-67, and never spoke to (or saw) my parents once in that time. In fact I'm only aware of one trans-Atlantic call I ever made during that period. We wrote letters, weekly, and as I recall they took just under a week to get there/here, so that wasn't too bad.

My mother was a missionary in China from 1933 to 1940. Never saw or spoke to her parents in that time. Weekly letters, which took several weeks to get through. (Even from more distant parts of China, where my father was, before they married, it could be weeks to get a letter to her. He made duplicates, sent them by different routes; sometimes both copies made it, sometimes one, sometimes neither).

Our son, OTOH, went to Princeton 1994-8 while we were living in Hong Kong. This was before Skype, but he could - and did - call whenever he felt the urge. Not free, but affordable. And he could come home at Christmas and over the summer, which neither I nor my mother had ever been able to do.

Just anecdata, to be put to whatever use anyone fancies.

JanieM, you must be about my age. We've been early adopters of pretty much all of these telephonic improvements. Possibly that's because we were running various small businesses partly from our homes for years, but partly it was the kids.

We were the first in our kids' social group to provide them with cell phones. At first we thought "all the other parents are going to hate us," but it turned out that they loved us, because they could always call our kid's cell phone and ask if their kid was with him. Within the year, they all had phones.

Now that they are all grown up, they are all much more telephonically connected than we are, and we communicate within the family almost entirely by text. I am amused by old people who say they are "too old to text", since texting is almost exactly the system my elderly relatives used to get a whole letter onto a postcard in the old, old days. How my grandma would have loved cell phones!

Price Changes (1996-2016): Selected Consumer Goods and Services (chart)

WJ: Amsterdam may have micromanaged their East Indies (Indonesia), but Spain had more difficulty with the Philippines. Prior to the late 18th century, all communications had to go by sea from Seville to Vera Cruz, by land across Mexico, and then in one of the two ships a year that sailed from Acapulco to the Philippines - the famed Manila Galleon. (Which often didn't make it - not only the longest voyage in the world, but since it was carrying an entire government payroll in silver, a tempting target for pirates.) Two years each way, if nothing went wrong.

Since, therefore, answers from Madrid arrived at least four years after questions had been asked in Manila, they were frequently no longer applicable, but of course could not be directly rejected. What they could be was not implemented. There was even a formula for this, acknowledging royal authority while at the same time regretfully pointing out that the order was not in fact carried out:

Obedezco, pero no cumplo

I obey, but I do not comply.

i'd say the internet is more important than the particular devices we use to connect to it. it's the network that makes all of the cool stuff possible.

That is SO me!

Same here.

Flip phone. Unless it's my wife, I don't answer it. If it's important, they'll leave a message and I'll call back.

I have a tablet, wireless only, no data plan.
I use it a lot, but basically just for email and general browsing. It saves me having to walk downstairs to my office. I do have apps on it, for the BBC, Reuters, AP News, weather, and my local library.

One thing I'm looking forward to in retirement (someday) is radically minimizing my contact surface with electronic devices. Of all kinds. They're really intrusive.

If my stuff wants to talk to itself, fine with me. I'm not sure what my refrigerator has to say to my light bulb, but whatever. Knock your little electronic selves out. Just leave me out of it, please.

How does everyone think cultural norms will evolve around these devices?

What I think will happen, because I think it's already happening, is that people will be subject to increasingly pervasive and intrusive forms of electronic contact, mostly geared toward engineering their behavior, for good or ill.

If I were to make one suggestion for dealing with it, that would be to practice the human art of sitting, in one place, quietly. Sit, and do nothing, until you can hear the quiet again.

At a minimum, give yourself an hour or so a day with no gizmos. Sit and look at the sky.

We let our gear wind us up. It gets us all up in our own heads. It's toxic.

At a minimum, give yourself an hour or so a day with no gizmos. Sit and look at the sky.

I'm with you there, Russell, or just yell at the clouds.

I carry around a company supplied flip phone. They keep trying to get me to carry the "computer in a pocket" but I have demurred, claiming age related inability to learn anything new, like typing using only two fingers, and when I get lost, I ask folks for directions. Great way to meet people.

When I retire, I shall have no cell phone that I leave at work or at home at least twice a week.

I am similarly flummoxed by the new golf club technological wizardry that requires tools to "adjust" the club. In the old days, we used lead tape. For other adjustments, I prefer the classic long toss or breaking them over my knee.

If it's important, they'll leave a message and I'll call back.

If the telemarketers have their way (see link in the OP), ringless voice mail will make your voice mailbox unusable. Sounds like you won't mind that too much. ;-)

russell, what about electronic drumming etc? Not that you are drumming 24 hours a day that you need a break from it, but what is your position on all that.

I love this video

of course, the girl is a ringer, her name is Senri Kawaguchi, and here she is 2 years later


Takes me back to my first favorite drummer:

wj: My approach tends to be to see if the new technology actually does something that I need.

Yes to this and what follows. Favorite quote, a chapter subhead from one of Jared Diamond's books: "Invention is the mother of necessity." (I've probably quoted it here before; I have a deja vu telling me that Tony P. is about to chime in.)

wj again: ...just because it is new.

Remember the hysteria to be first in line to buy Windows 95? Completely incomprehensible to me. As far as that goes, imagine having to stand in line to buy software! The dark ages!

wj and dr ngo: Interesting stuff about running an empire from far away. There's a whiff of this in David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, but from a more personal vantage point. Jacob was gone from home for about as long as Marco Polo, if I remember correctly.

russell: We let our gear wind us up. It gets us all up in our own heads. It's toxic.

Yes to this and the rest of it. Sometimes I just turn my computer off for a couple of hours and it's the weirdest feeling.....

Amabssadors hated the introduction of the electrical telegraph and captains of naval ships hated wireless because it robbed them of their 'next after G#d' status. At sea it was at least possible for a long time to claim to not have received inconvenient messages.
In the past there were peace treaties that specified different dates for different regions of the Earth recognizing the snail pace news travelled. So, a prize taken e.g. in the distant Pacific months after peace was declared in Europe might still be kept.
Btw, that was the seed for the Horatio Hornblower series by C.S.Forester. The author by chance read one of those treaties and was intrigued by the plot possibilities.

They keep trying to get me to carry the "computer in a pocket"...

I'm just a cranky old geek, but I refuse the "computer in a pocket" description. Computers let me write and run my own software. A $40 Raspberry Pi comes stock with compilers/interpreters for at least three major programming languages. A $600 smart phone comes with none of those.

the Pi is a heck of a gadget.

back to the OP, one thing I'm always impressed by is not just the length of time long haul travel took, back in the day, but also the generally sketchy nature of the things they traveled in.

living near Salem ma, I'm basically surrounded by artifacts of Our Seafaring Heritage. hundreds of people traveled together, around the world, without really good maps, in all weather, in what was basically a wooden box. big-ish, but far from big. the motor was canvas sails and wind.

overland, prior to trains, was no better and probably worse.

it's amazing anyone went anywhere.

it's amazing anyone went anywhere.

it's amazing anyone lived past 5.

we live out in the NC woods, on a ridge above a wide but shallow river. many moons ago, native Americans lived here; neighbors nearer to the river have found old N.A. pottery on their land. but today, it's all very old forest. if they had cleared any land for houses, it has long been grown over and buried.

still, cleared or not, people lived here, without AC or cheap denim or bug spray of any kind.

me, i'm afraid to go out into my lawn without DEET and long pants and sunscreen. and that was before i learned that, up in NY, my dad recently learned that he picked up a disease called anaplasmosis, probably from a tick.

i go out into my yard and dare myself to think about walking around the woods in nothing but shorts. terrifies me.

As Oliver Babish said to Abby Bartlett, "Nature is to be protected from."


I'll bet they figured out a bug repellent of some kind.

As Pocahontas said to John Smith, "You do realize, dear, that you arrived just in time for black fly season? Here.

someone *might* know, but it's actually somewhat surprising to me which critters arrived in NA along with europeans.

Honeybees and earthworms are two that I've heard of; and the earthworms had a huge effect on forest groundcover. It wouldn't surprise me if ticks were also an import.

I'll bet they figured out a bug repellent of some kind.

I bet they did too.

I once read a book called Among the Bears, by Ben Kilham, who raises orphaned bear cubs in New Hampshire. IIRC, bears selectively eat a plant that has aspirin in it, or aspirin-like properties, possibly (IIRC) when they have a toothache.

So it's really not much of a stretch to assume that humans living closer to nature than we do knew that kind of stuff too.

So it's really not much of a stretch to assume that humans living closer to nature than we do knew that kind of stuff too.

What we've learned is far more obvious than what we've forgotten, right? ('Cause, like, if we knew about it, we wouldn't have, you know ... forgotten it.)

On a less silly note, one of the tidbits I recall from Guns, Germs, and Steel was that the people who originally landed in what is now Australia were more technologically advanced than their descendants living there hundreds (or thousands?) of years later. They just forgot a bunch of stuff, because they were isolated and didn't travel the seas like their ancestors.

Not exactly the same thing, but similar.

Population size and technology level are intertwined. Technology is lost when population size drops. This happened Tasmania.

it's amazing anyone lived past 5.

Which is why women routinely bore lots and lots of children. It was the only way to have a replacement number survive to adulthood.

Our population boom basically reflects the delay between improved survival rates (aka reduced infant mortality) and the reduction in the numbers of children per woman. (Plus, in some parts of the world, a cultural resistance to contraception.)

I'll bet they figured out a bug repellent of some kind.


speaking of dangerous new technology...

Would you want a private conversation with your spouse recorded and sent to someone you know without your knowledge?

A Cary man says it happened to him, and he's pointing the finger at his Amazon Echo and its Alexa voice-command system.

Rob Signore reached out to 5 On Your Side after a recent story about the increase in so-called "connected homes."

"Our insurance agent called me and said, 'Hey, Rob, I think that Alexa was listening to something and sent me a message that, um, you probably didn't want me to hear,'" Signore said.

about technology loss

Jane Jacobs wrote about Higgins in Cities and the Wealth of Nations (1984) and Dark Age Ahead (2004), but its negative example looms over her entire body of work. Higgins had not always been backwards. In the early 1700s, as Jacobs noted in Cities and the Wealth of Nations, its founders, three English brothers named Higgins and their families, possessed a wide range of knowledge and skills:

spinning and weaving, loom construction, cabinetmaking, corn milling, house and water-mill construction, dairying, poultry and hog raising, gardening, whiskey distilling, hound breeding, molasses making from sorghum cane, basket weaving, biscuit baking, music making with violins …
By the 1920s, the brothers’ descendants had lost nearly all of these, apart from making molasses, which was sold in the county seat, Burnsville, 12 miles away. Most residents had never traveled that far, however, because the only way to get there was by mule on a rough mountain track. Candles were a vanishing luxury. After the few remaining cows died, there would be no more milk or butter. One woman still remembered how to weave baskets, but she was close to death. When Robison suggested building the church with large stones from the creek, the community elders rebuked her. Over generations the townspeople had not only forgotten how to build with stone. They had lost the knowledge that such a thing was possible.

The whole this is a good read.

Bug repellent and NC reminded me of this


another good read.

it's amazing anyone lived past 5.

My uncle has transcriptions of some letters one group of ancestors sent back to Kentucky from where they settled in SE Iowa. This was before any of the land across the Mississippi had actually been opened for settlement, so "mail" is not really an accurate description.

While the tone is generally upbeat -- natives are not too aggressive, soil is magnificently fertile, etc -- every letter had deaths. Kids died. Ax slipped and the resulting deep wound got infected. A certain amount of personal violence, eg, John took exception to Peter sleeping with John's wife.

Yeah, "plants of the mint family" as bug repellent.

I recently heard on a gardening show about "natural bug repellent". They suggested catnip.

Rub yourself with catnip! What could possibly go wrong?

p.s., if you try the "catnip" suggestion, could you please post the video? kthxbai!

One of these days all our little smart devices will be replaced by...chips embedded in our arms, perhaps? Even if I live long enough to see that day, I'll probably pass on that one.

In Niven and Pournelle's 1981 novel Oath Of Fealty, one of the lesser story lines has the terminals -- processing occurs on a big computer somewhere -- embedded in the mastoid bone behind the ear. Input is by subvocal speech recognition; output is by bone-conducted audio. Only senior management gets the implant because of its expense. Here and there in the book it is pointed out what an advantage this gives them because they can always do a private database query, or hold a private conversation even in a crowded room.

In these days of smart phones and wireless data and Google, I often feel like one of the characters: "My failure rate is down to -- Oh, damn you, Art Bonner! We're out of range and I can't remember and I don't like being cut off from my memory!"

In Peter F. Hamilton's Void Trilogy, characters are connected directly by embedded hardware/wetware to a web spanning several hundred planets.

...a web spanning several hundred planets.

Faster than light data transfer? I'm envisioning a ping response that looks like

64 bytes from icmp_seq=0 ttl=55 time=7214789234911.747 ms

The Void Trilogy universe has artificial and permanent wormholes connecting the various planets. Travel between planets is done by train with large switching yards to redirect the trains to their destinations. Communication between the planets is instantaneous through the wormholes.

What could possibly go wrong?


dude: cats.

dude: cats

I've been under the impression that people sometimes refer to russell as a very cool cat.

Cats don't get along.

Hacking knots aside, does anyone have angelica growing in their herb garden?

Angelica. I was interested in it because it was featured in a recipe. (I substituted tarragon.)

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