AMUSING OURSELVES TO DEATH

October 18, 2020


Amusing Ourselves to Death is the title of an incredibly good book by Mr. Neil Postman.  The book is a marvelous look at the differences between Orwell and Huxley and their forecast as to conditions in the early 20th century.  Now, you may think this book, and consequently the theme of this book, will be completely uninteresting and a bit far-fetched but it actually describes our social condition right now. 

I’m going to do something a little different with this post.  I’m going to present, in bullet form, lines of text and passages from the book so you will get a flavor of what Mr. Postman is trying to say.  Keep in mind, these passages are in the book and do not necessarily represent my opinions—although very close and right on in some cases.  (Please see the quotes about our Presidential elections.)  Here we go.

  • What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no one who wanted to read one.
  • The news of the day is a figment of our technological imagination.  It is, quite precisely, a media event.  We tend to watch fragments of events from all over the world because we have multiple media whose forms are well suited to fragmented conversations.    Without a medium to create its form, the news of the day does not exist.
  • Beginning in the fourteenth century, the clock made us into time-keepers, and then time-savers, and now time-servers. With the invention of the clock, eternity ceased to serve as the measure and focus of human events. 
  • A great media shift has taken place in America, with the result that the content of much of our public discourse has become dangerous nonsense.   Under the governance of the printing press, discourse in America was different from what it is now—generally coherent, serious and rational; and then how, under the governance of television, it has become shrivelled and absurd.  Even the best things on television are its junk and no one and nothing seems to be seriously threatened by it.
  • Since intelligence is primarily defined as one’s capacity to grasp the truth of things, it follows that what a culture means by intelligence is derived from the character of its important forms of communication.
  • Intelligence implies that one can dwell comfortably without pictures, in a field of concepts and generalizations.
  • Epistemology is defined as follows:  the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.  With that being the case, epistemology created by television not only is inferior to a print-based epistemology but is dangerous and inferior.
  • In the “colonies”, literacy rates were notoriously difficult to assess, but there is sufficient evidence (mostly drawn from signatures) that between 1640 and 1700, the literacy rate for men in Massachusetts and Connecticut was somewhere between eighty-nine (89%) percent and ninety-five (95%) percent. The literacy rate for women in those colonies is estimated to have run as high as sixty-two (62%) percent.   The Bible was the central reading matter in all households, for these people were primarily Protestants who shared Martin Luther’s belief that printing was God’s highest and most extreme act of Grace.
  • The writers of our Constitution assumed that participation in public life required the capacity to negotiate the printed word.  Mature citizenship was not conceivable without sophisticated literacy, which is why the voting age in most states was set at twenty-one and why Jefferson saw in universal education America’s best hope.
  • Towards the end of the nineteenth century, the Age of Exposition began to pass, and the early signs of its replacement could be discerned.  Its replacement was to be the Age of Show Business.
  • The Age of Show Business was facilitated by the advent of photography.  The name photography was given by the famous astronomer Sir John F. W. Herschel.  It is an odd name since it literally meant “writing with light”.
  • Conversations provided by television promote incoherence and triviality: the phrase “serious television” is a contradiction in terms; and that television speaks in only one persistent voice-the voice of entertainment.
  • Television has found a significant free-market audience.  One result has been that American television programs are in demand all over the world.  The total estimate of U.S. television exports is approximately one hundred thousand (100,000) to two hundred thousand (200,000) hours, equally divided among Latin America, Asia and Europe.  All of this has occurred simultaneously with the decline of America’s moral and political prestige, worldwide.
  • Politicians in today’s world, are less concerned with giving arguments than with giving off impressions, which is what television does best.  Post-debate commentary largely avoids any evaluation of the candidate’s ideas, since there were none to evaluate. (Does this sound familiar?)
  • The results of too much television—Americans are the best entertained and quite likely the least-informed people in the Western world.
  • The New York Times and the The Washington Post are not Pravda; the Associated Press is not Tass.  There is no Newspeak here. Lies have not been defined as truth, no truth as lies.  All that has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and amused into indifference.
  • In the world of television, Big Brother turns out to be Howdy Doody.
  • We delude ourselves into believing that most everything a teacher normally does can be replicated with greater efficiency by a micro-computer.
  • Most believe that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion.  When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether. It has been estimated that the total revenue of the electric church exceeds five hundred million U.S. Dollars. ($500 million).
  • The selling of an American president is an astonishing and degrading thing, it is only part of a larger point: in America, the fundamental metaphor for political discourse is the television commercial.   We are not permitted to know who is the best President, or Governor, or Senator, but whose image is best in toughing and soothing the deep reaches of our discontent.  “Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?”
  • A perplexed learner is a learner who will turn to another station.
  • Television viewing does not significantly increase learning, is inferior to and less likely than print to cultivate higher-order, inferential thinking.

CONCLUSION:

You may agree with some of this, none of this or all of this, but it is Mr. Postman’s opinion after years of research.  He has a more-recent book dealing with social media and the effect it has on our population at large. I wanted to purchase and read this book first to get a feel for his beliefs.

CHURCHILL

September 1, 2020


I just finished reading the most intimidating book I have ever read: “CHURCHILL, Walking With Destiny” by Andrew Roberts.   When I say intimidating, I mean the book is eleven hundred and five (1105) pages in length with two hundred and twenty-two pages of references and notes supporting the document. It took me several weeks to read and gave remarkable detail as to the character and activities of one of the most fascinating characters in history.  Quite frankly, a man destined to fulfill a critical role in history and a man who changed history for the betterment of his people and the Crown.

I’m quoting from page nine hundred and eighty -one (981): “He despised school, never attended university or worked in trade or the Civil Service or the colonies, served in six regiments (so never became slavishly attached to any of them), was blackballed from one club and forced to resign from another, left both the Conservative and Liberal parties and was not in any meaningful sense a Christian.  Despite being the son of a chancellor of the Exchequer and the grandson of a duke, he was a contrarian and an outsider. “

He won the Nobel Prize for Literature, was knighted by the King of England (Order of the Garter), wrote thirty-seven books and thousands of individual papers, delivered over one million speeches, served in two wars, and was on a speaking level with the Eisenhower, King George, Gandhi, Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini,  Nevil Chamberlin, Charles de Gaulle, and Onassis just to name a few.  He rejected the Order of the Garter three times before accepting the honor.  The Most Noble Order of the Garter is an order of chivalry founded by King Edward III of England in 1348. It is the most senior order of knighthood in the British honors system, outranked in precedence only by the Victoria Cross and the George Cross.

BIOGRAPHY of ANDREW ROBERTS:

The book “Churchill” is written to be a scholarly account and was written by a scholar.  

In his own words: “Churchill: Walking with Destiny, is being published in October in the UK and November in the USA. Since the last major biography of him, forty-one sets of papers have been deposited at the Churchill Archives in Cambridge, and Her Majesty The Queen has graciously allowed me to be the first Churchill biographer to read her late father King George VI’s diary records of Churchill’s weekly audiences with him during the Second World War. I discovered the verbatim reports of the War Cabinet meetings over which he presided, which had never been used by any historian before, and I have worked on Churchill’s children’s papers by kind permission of his family, some of which are closed to other researchers. So, there is a lot more to say about Churchill.”

Prof Andrew Roberts, who was born in 1963, took a first-class honors degree in Modern History at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, from where he is an honorary senior scholar and a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). He is presently a Visiting Professor at the War Studies Department at King’s College, London and the Lehrman Institute Lecturer at the New-York Historical Society. He has written or edited nineteen books, which have been translated into 23 languages, and appears regularly on radio and television around the world. Based in London, he is an accomplished public speaker (see Speaking Engagements and Speaking Testimonials), and has delivered the White House Lecture, as well as speaking at Oxford, Cambridge, Yale, Princeton and Stanford Universities, and at The British Academy, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Sandhurst, Shrivenham and the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  Professor Roberts has two children; Henry, who was born in 1997 and Cassia, who was born in 1999. He lives in London with his wife, Susan Gilchrist, who is the Chief of Global Clients of the corporate communications firm Brunswick Group, and the Chair of the Southbank Centre.

REVIEWS: 

I always like to see what others think about the book I have just completed.  Here we go:

CONCLUSION:

If you love to read history, you will love “Churchill”, but you will need time to do so.  During this COVID-19 problem just might be the time to do just that.  I can definitely recommend it to you.

LIGHTS OUT

August 11, 2020


I retired from General Electric in 2005 after joining the Roper Corporation in 1986.  GE bought Roper in 1987 to get the Sears business for cooking products.  It was a good marriage; some say very good. Long-term Roper employees eligible for retirement came away with a significant nest egg.  Quite a few retired as a result of the company buyout.  One of my carpool buddies let me look at a check from GE.  It was a little over thirty thousand dollars with more on the way.    That was history.

I just read an article in the publication “Assembly, summer 2020, indicating that GE has sold the lighting division to Savant Systems Inc. Savant sells home-automation technology.  GE Lighting will remain in Cleveland, Ohio and its seven hundred (700) employees will transfer to Savant, which will also get a long-term license for the GE brand.   This one hundred and thirty year (130) old lighting business goes back to the very core of the company, which once used the line “GE: We bring good things to light” in its advertising. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a tiny deal, amounting to just $250 million, according to The Wall Street Journal (actual deal terms weren’t disclosed).   This move is a much bigger statement than the dollars involved suggest.  

What remained of lighting was largely consumer-focused, an area that GE no longer really plays in.   Lightbulbs are just the latest in a long list of things—toasters, fans, radios, televisions, plastics, adhesives, motors, mixers, locomotives, computers, cooking products, that GE no longer makes.  GE sold the cooking products to the Hairer Group, a Chinese firm.   Lighting is a relatively low-margin business that adds little to the top and bottom lines. From a strategic perspective, it was time to finally sell the business, even if it didn’t bring in much money. More important, perhaps, the move helps set the tone for the future. 

The General Electric Company has changed and is changing.  The following graphics will show the transition of the conglomerate from 2007 to 2020.  It’s possible that slimming down the company’s portfolio will pay off for Flannery and for GE. Selling some (OK, most) of the company’s divisions will offer management the opportunity to streamline the corporate structure and reduce costs. The company’s outperforming healthcare division is likely to be attractive to buyers, which should help Flannery shore up GE’s balance sheet, as will the sale of its stake in Baker Hughes. 

But once the dust settles, GE is going to be left with a winning aviation engine business and an energy turbine business in desperate need of a turnaround, with no clear path to overall growth. Maybe GE will continue to radically reshape its portfolio over the next ten (10) years through acquisitions — or maybe it will stick with the current simplified structure. Either way, though, outperformance is uncertain, and there are probably better places for your money.  Right now, GE stock is selling for $6.82 per share. Jack Welch “lived” with Wall Street and nursed the stock day in and day out.  It was critical to Dr. Welch the “market” was satisfied with the numbers.

CONCLUSION:  Things change but, in GE’s case, there must be a reason.  There are very strong opinions on this subject.

Former General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt, the scandal-plagued leader who was ousted after years at the helm of the company, is responsible for destroying the sprawling, multinational conglomerate, according to Home Depot co-founder Ken Langone.  “He had a big steel ball on a crane and he destroyed it as if he was tearing down an old building,” Langone said on Friday during an interview with FOX Business’ Maria Bartiromo.  Immelt was handpicked in 2001 to take over the company by legendary CEO Jack Welch, but in August 2017, Immelt was replaced by John Flannery, who was removed as CEO on Monday and replaced with H. Lawrence Culp Jr., effective immediately.

In January, sources told FOX Business that Welch’s assessment of Immelt’s tenure was “scathing,” and that he’d privately conceded one of the biggest mistakes he made in his wide-spanning career as chief executive was appointing Immelt as his successor. Immelt came under fire last October when it was revealed that he would fly with two private jets when traveling in case the one he was riding in had “mechanical problems.”

I just hope this giant of a company can at some point rebound and redefine itself.  Time will tell.

INFLUENCERS

June 6, 2020


Some of the most remarkably written articles are found in the publication “Building Design + Construction”.  This monthly magazine highlights architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) describes building projects and designs around the world.  Many projects underway are re-construction and/or refurbishment of existing structures; i.e. schools, churches, office buildings, etc.  The point I’m trying to make, the writing is superb, innovative and certainly relevant.  The April edition featured INFLUENCERS. 

If you investigate websites, you will find an ever-increasing number of articles related to Influencer Marketing.  Influencer marketing is becoming, or I should say, is a significant factor in a person choosing one product over another.   One of our granddaughters is an influencer and her job is fascinating.  Let’s look.

DEFINITION:

  • the power to affect the purchasing decisions of others because of his or her authority, knowledge, position, or relationship with his or her audience.
  • a following in a distinct niche, with whom he or she actively engages. The size of the following depends on the size of his/her topic of the niche.

CLASSIFICATIONS:

There are various classifications depending upon circumstances.  Those are given below.

Mega-Influencers Mega influencers are the people with a vast number of followers on their social networks. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Utube, etc. are social instruments upon which influencers ply their trade.  Although there are no fixed rules on the boundaries between the different types of followers, a common view is that mega-influencers have more than 1 million followers on at least one social platform.  President Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, Hillary Clinton and of course several others may be classified as Mega-influencers. 

Macro-InfluencersMacro-influencers are one step down from the mega-influencers, and maybe more accessible as influencer marketers. You would consider people with followers in the range between 40,000 and one million followers on a social network to be macro-influencers.
This group tends to consist of two types of people. They are either B-grade celebrities, who haven’t yet made it to the big time. Or they are successful online experts, who have built up more significant followings than the typical micro-influencers. The latter type of macro-influencer is likely to be more useful for firms engaging in influencer marketing.

Micro-Influencers Micro-influencers are ordinary everyday people who have become known for their knowledge about some specialist niche. As such, they have usually gained a sizable social media following amongst devotees of that niche. Of course, it is not just the number of followers that indicates a level of influence; it is the relationship and interaction that a micro-influencer has with his or her followers.

Nano-InfluencersThe newest influencer-type to gain recognition is the nano-influencer. These people only have a small number of followers, but they tend to be experts in an obscure or highly specialized field. You can think of nano-influencers as being the proverbial big fish in a small pond. In many cases, they have fewer than one thousand (1,000) followers – but they will be keen and interested followers, willing to engage with the nano-influencer, and listen to his/her opinions.

If we look further, we can “drill down” to the various internet providers hosting the influencer packages.

Bloggers— Bloggers and influencers in social media have the most authentic and active relationships with their fans.  Brands are now recognizing and encouraging this.  Blogging has been connected to influencer marketing for some time now.  There are many highly influential blogs on the internet.  If a popular blogger positively mentions your product in a post, it can lead to the blogger’s supporters wanting to try out the specific product.

YouTubers—Rather than each video maker having their own site, most create a channel on YouTube.  Brands often align with popular YouTube content creators.

Podcasts— Podcasting is a relatively recent form of online content that is growing in great popularity.  It has made quite a few household names now, possibly best epitomized by John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneurs on Fire.  If you have not yet had the opportunity to enjoy podcasts, Digital Trends has put together a comprehensive list of the best podcasts of 2019.  Our youngest son has a podcast called CalmCash.  He does a great job and is remarkably creative. 

Social Posts Only— The vast majority of influencers now make their name on social media.  While you will find influencers on all leading social channels, the standout network in recent years has been Instagram, where many influencers craft their posts around various stunning images.   

Now, if we go back to “Building Design + Construction”, they interviewed five influencers that apply their skills to the AEC profession.  I will give you, through their comments, the thrust of their efforts:

CHRISTINE WILLIAMSON— “My goal is to help teach architects about building science and construction.  I want to show how the “AEC” parts fit together.”

BOB BORSON—He is the cohost of the Life of an Architect podcast which gets about two hundred and sixty (260) downloads per day.  He would be a nano-influencer.  “Influencer” is a ridiculous word.  If you have to tell people you’re an influencer, you’re not”.  His words only.

AMY BAKER—Launched her Instagram account in 2018 and is the host for SpecFunFacts.  She discusses specifications and contracts and has around one thousand (1,000) followers.

CATHERINE MENG– Ms. Meng is the host of the Design Voice podcast. 

MATT RISENGER—Mr. Risenger hosts “Buildshownetwork”.   He first published Matt Risinger’s Green Building blog in 2006.  This was the manner in which he publicized his new homebuilding company in Austin, Texas.   To date, he has seven hundred (700) plus videos on YouTube.  Right now, he has six hundred thousand (600,000) subscribers.

CONCLUSIONS:  From the above descriptions and the five individual influencers detailed in the AEC magazine, you can get some idea as to how influencers ply their trade and support design and building endeavors.  Hope you enjoyed this one.

HERE WE GO AGAIN

April 6, 2019


If you read my posts you know that I rarely “do politics”.  Politicians are very interesting people only because I find all people interesting.  Everyone has a story to tell.  Everyone has at least one good book in them and that is their life story.   With that being the case, I’m going to break with tradition by taking a look at the “2020” presidential lineup.  I think it’s a given that Donald John Trump will run again but have you looked at the Democratic lineup lately?  I am assuming with the list below that former Vice President Joe Biden will run so he, even though unannounced to date, will eventually make that probability known.

  • Joe Biden—AGE 76
  • Bernie Sanders—AGE 77
  • Kamala Harris—AGE 54
  • Beto O’Rourke—AGE 46
  • Elizabeth Warren—AGE 69
  • Cory Booker—AGE 49
  • Amy Klobuchar—AGE 58
  • Pete Buttigieg—AGE 37
  • Julian Castro—AGE 44
  • Kirsten Gillibrand—AGE 52
  • Jay Inslee—AGE 68
  • John Hickenlooper—AGE 67
  • John Delaney—AGE 55
  • Tulsi Gabbard—AGE 37
  • Tim Ryan—AGE 45
  • Andrew Yang—AGE 44
  • Marianne Williamson—AGE 66
  • Wayne Messam—AGE 44

 CANDIDATES NOW EXPLORING THE POSSIBILITIES:

  • William F. Weld—AGE 73
  • Michael Bennett—AGE 33
  • Eric Swalwell—AGE 38
  • Steve Bullock—AGE 52
  • Bill DeBlasio—AGE 57
  • Terry McAuliffe—AGE 62
  • Howard Schultz—AGE 65

Eighteen (18) people have declared already and I’m sure there will be others as time goes by. If we slice and dice, we see the following:

  • Six (6) women or 33.33 %—Which is the greatest number to ever declare for a presidential election.
  • AGE GROUPS
    • 70-80: 2              11 %
    • 60-70: 4             22 %
    • 50-60: 4              22 %
    • 40-50:  6              33 %
    • Younger than 40: 2         11 %

I am somewhat amazed that these people, declared and undeclared, feel they can do what is required to be a successful president.  In other words, they think they have what it takes to be the Chief Executive of this country.  When I look at the list, I see people whose name I do NOT recognize at all and I wonder, just who would want the tremendous headaches the job will certainly bring?  And the scrutiny—who needs that?  The President of the United States is in the fishbowl from dawn to dusk.  Complete loss of privacy. Let’s looks at some of the perks the job provides:

  • The job pays $400,000.00 per year.
  • The president is also granted a $50,000 annual expense account, $100,000 nontaxable travel account, and $19,000 for entertainment.
  • Former presidents receive a pension equal to the pay that the head of an executive department (Executive Level I) would be paid; as of 2017, it is $207,800 per year. The pension begins immediately after a president’s departure from office.
  • The Presidents gets to fly on Air Force 1 and Marine 1. (That was 43’s best perk according to him.)
  • You get to ride in the “BEAST”.
  • Free room and board at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
  • Access to Camp David
  • The hired help is always around catering to your every need.
  • Incredible security
  • You have access to a personal trainer if so desired
  • Free and unfettered medical
  • The White House has a movie theater
  • You are a life-time member of the “President’s Club”
  • The President has access to a great guest house—The Blair House.
  • You get a state funeral. (OK this might not be considered a perk relative to our list.)

The real question:  Are all of these perks worth the trouble?  President George Bush (43) could not wait to move back to Texas.  Other than Air Force 1, he really hated the job.  President Bill Clinton loved the job and would still be president if our constitution would allow it.

SPACEIL’s BERESHEET

March 5, 2019


If you read my posts at all you know I am solidly behind our space efforts by NASA or even private companies.  In my opinion, the United States of America made a HUGE mistake in withdrawing financed manned missions AND discontinuing efforts to colonize the moon.  We now are dependent upon Russia to take our astronauts to the ISS.   That may end soon with successful launches from SpaceX and Virgin Galactic.  The headway they are making is very interesting.

Israel has also made headline news just recently with their successful launch and landing on the moon’s surface.   A digital photograph of the lander is shown below.

The story of this effort is fascinating and started in 2010 with a Facebook post. “Who wants to go to the moon?” wrote Yariv Bash, a computer engineer. A couple of friends, Kfir Damari and Yonatan Winetraub responded, and the three met at a bar in Holon, a city south of Tel Aviv. At 30, Mr. Bash was the oldest. “As the alcohol levels in our blood increased, we became more determined,” Mr. Winetraub recalled.  They formed a nonprofit, SpaceIL, to undertake the task. More than eight years later, the product of their dreams, a small spacecraft called Beresheet, blasted off this past Thursday night atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  Beresheet is a joint project of the nonprofit group SpaceIL and the company Israel Aerospace Industries.

Israel’s first lunar lander has notched another important milestone — its first in-space selfie. The newly released photo shows the robotic lander, known as Beresheet, looking back at Earth from a distance of 23,363.5 miles (37,600 kilometers).

“In the photo of Earth, taken during a slow spin of the spacecraft, Australia is clearly visible,” mission team members wrote in an image description today (March 5). “Also seen is the plaque installed on the spacecraft, with the Israeli flag and the inscriptions ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ and ‘Small Country, Big Dreams.'”

The entire Beresheet mission, including launch, costs about $100 million, team members have said.

Beresheet’s ride through space hasn’t been entirely smooth. Shortly after liftoff, team members noticed that the craft’s star trackers, which are critical to navigation, are susceptible to blinding by solar radiation. And Beresheet’s computer performed a reset unexpectedly just before the craft’s second planned engine burn.

Mission team members have overcome these issues. For example, they traced the computer reset to cosmic radiation and firmed up Beresheet’s defenses with a software update. The lander was then able to execute the engine burn, which put Beresheet back on track toward the moon.  This reset indicates complete control of the mission and the ability to make a mid-course correction if needed.  In other words, they know what they are doing.

I would be very surprised if Israel stopped with this success.  I am sure they have other missions they are considering.  They do have competition. Prior to Israel’s landing, there were only three other countries to “soft-land” a lunar lander:  USA, Russia and China.  The Chinese have already stated they want to colonize the moon and make that their base for further exploration.  We know the direction they are going.  I just hope we get serious about a colony on the moon and give up, for the present time, sending men and women to Mars.  Any Mars mission at this time would be nuts.

 

As always, I welcome your opinion.


With the federal government pulling out of manned space flight, it gave private companies ample opportunity to fill in the gaps.  Of course, these companies MUST have adequate funding, trained personnel and proper facilities to launch their version(s) of equipment, support and otherwise that will take man and equipment to the outer reaches of space.  The list of companies was quite surprising to me.  Let’s take a look.

These are just the launch vehicles.  There is also a huge list of manufacturers making man-rovers and orbiters, research craft and tech demonstrators, propulsion manufacturers, satellite launchers, space manufacturing, space mining, space stations, space settlements, spacecraft component manufacturers and developers, and spaceliner companies.   I will not publish that list but these companies are available for discovery by putting in the heading for each category.  To think we are not involved in space is obviously a misnomer.

 

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

February 12, 2019


Just what do we know about Artificial Intelligence or AI?  Portions of this post were taken from Forbes Magazine.

John McCarthy first coined the term artificial intelligence in 1956 when he invited a group of researchers from a variety of disciplines including language simulation, neuron nets, complexity theory and more to a summer workshop called the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence to discuss what would ultimately become the field of AI. At that time, the researchers came together to clarify and develop the concepts around “thinking machines” which up to this point had been quite divergent. McCarthy is said to have picked the name artificial intelligence for its neutrality; to avoid highlighting one of the tracks being pursued at the time for the field of “thinking machines” that included cybernetics, automation theory and complex information processing. The proposal for the conference said, “The study is to proceed on the basis of the conjecture that every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.”

Today, modern dictionary definitions focus on AI being a sub-field of computer science and how machines can imitate human intelligence (being human-like rather than becoming human). The English Oxford Living Dictionary gives this definition: “The theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages.”

Merriam-Webster defines artificial intelligence this way:

  1. A branch of computer science dealing with the simulation of intelligent behavior in computers.
  2. The capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behavior.

About thirty (30) year ago, a professor at the Harvard Business School (Dr. Shoshana Zuboff) articulated three laws based on research into the consequences that widespread computing would have on society. Dr. Zuboff had degrees in philosophy and social psychology so she was definitely ahead of her time relative to the unknown field of AI.  Her document “In the Age of the Smart Machine: The Future of Work and Power”, she postulated the following three laws:

  • Everything that can be automated will be automated
  • Everything that can be informated will be informated. (NOTE: Informated was coined by Zuboff to describe the process of turning descriptions and measurements of activities, events and objects into information.)
  • In the absence of countervailing restrictions and sanctions, every digital application that can be sued for surveillance and control will be used for surveillance and control, irrespective of its originating intention.

At that time there was definitely a significant lack of computing power.  That ship has sailed and is no longer a great hinderance to AI advancement that it certainly once was.

 

WHERE ARE WE?

In recent speech, Russian president Vladimir Putin made an incredibly prescient statement: “Artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all of humankind.” He went on to highlight both the risks and rewards of AI and concluded by declaring that whatever country comes to dominate this technology will be the “ruler of the world.”

As someone who closely monitors global events and studies emerging technologies, I think Putin’s lofty rhetoric is entirely appropriate. Funding for global AI startups has grown at a sixty percent (60%) compound annual growth rate since 2010. More significantly, the international community is actively discussing the influence AI will exert over both global cooperation and national strength. In fact, the United Arab Emirates just recently appointed its first state minister responsible for AI.

Automation and digitalization have already had a radical effect on international systems and structures. And considering that this technology is still in its infancy, every new development will only deepen the effects. The question is: Which countries will lead the way, and which ones will follow behind?

If we look at criteria necessary for advancement, there are the seven countries in the best position to rule the world with the help of AI.  These countries are as follows:

  • Russia
  • The United States of America
  • China
  • Japan
  • Estonia
  • Israel
  • Canada

The United States and China are currently in the best position to reap the rewards of AI. These countries have the infrastructure, innovations and initiative necessary to evolve AI into something with broadly shared benefits. In fact, China expects to dominate AI globally by 2030. The United States could still maintain its lead if it makes AI a top priority and charges necessary investments while also pulling together all required government and private sector resources.

Ultimately, however, winning and losing will not be determined by which country gains the most growth through AI. It will be determined by how the entire global community chooses to leverage AI — as a tool of war or as a tool of progress.

Ideally, the country that uses AI to rule the world will do it through leadership and cooperation rather than automated domination.

CONCLUSIONS:  We dare not neglect this disruptive technology.  We cannot afford to lose this battle.

BENDABLE BATTERIES

February 1, 2019


I always marvel at the pace of technology and how that technology fills a definite need for products only dreamt of previously.   We all have heard that “necessity is the mother of invention” well, I believe that to a tee.  We need it, we can’t find it, no one makes it, let’s invent it.  This is the way adults solve problems.  Every week technology improves our lives giving us labor-saving devices that “tomorrow” will become commonplace.  All electro-mechanical devices run on amperage provided by voltage impressed.   Many of these devices use battery power for portability.   Lithium-ion batteries seem to be the batteries of choice right now due to their ability to hold a charge and their ability to fast-charge.

Pioneer work with the lithium battery began in 1912 under G.N. Lewis but it was not until the early 1970s when the first non-rechargeable lithium batteries became commercially available. lithium is the lightest of all metals, has the greatest electrochemical potential and provides the largest energy density for weight.

The energy density of lithium-ion is typically twice that of the standard nickel-cadmium. This is a huge advantage recognized by engineers and scientists the world over.  There is potential for higher energy densities. The load characteristics are reasonably good and behave similarly to nickel-cadmium in terms of discharge. The high cell voltage of 3.6 volts allows battery pack designs with only one cell. Most of today’s mobile phones run on a single cell. A nickel-based pack would require three 1.2-volt cells connected in series.

Lithium-ion is a low maintenance battery, an advantage that most other chemistries cannot claim. There is no memory and no scheduled cycling is required to prolong the battery’s life. In addition, the self-discharge is less than half compared to nickel-cadmium, making lithium-ion well suited for modern fuel gauge applications. lithium-ion cells cause little harm when disposed.

If we look at advantages and disadvantages, we see the following:

Advantages

  • High energy density – potential for yet higher capacities.
  • Does not need prolonged priming when new. One regular charge is all that’s needed.
  • Relatively low self-discharge – self-discharge is less than half that of nickel-based batteries.
  • Low Maintenance – no periodic discharge is needed; there is no memory.
  • Specialty cells can provide very high current to applications such as power tools.

Limitations

  • Requires protection circuit to maintain voltage and current within safe limits.
  • Subject to aging, even if not in use – storage in a cool place at 40% charge reduces the aging effect.
  • Transportation restrictions – shipment of larger quantities may be subject to regulatory control. This restriction does not apply to personal carry-on batteries.
  • Expensive to manufacture – about 40 percent higher in cost than nickel-cadmium.
  • Not fully mature – metals and chemicals are changing on a continuing basis.

One amazing property of Li-Ion batteries is their ability to be formed.  Let’s take a look.

Researchers have just published documentation relative to a new technology that will definitely fill a need.

ULSAN NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY:

Researchers at the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in Korea have developed an imprintable and bendable lithium-ion battery they claim is the world’s first, and could hasten the introduction of flexible smart phones that leverage flexible display technology, such as Samsung’s Youm flexible OLED.

Samsung first demonstrated this display technology at CES 2013 as the next step in the evolution of mobile-device displays. The battery could also potentially be used in other flexible devices that debuted at the show, such as a wristwatch and a tablet.

Ulsan researchers had help on the technology from Professor John A. Rogers of the University of Illinois, researchers Young-Gi Lee and Gwangman Kim of Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute, and researcher Eunhae Gil of Kangwon National University. Rogers was also part of the team that developed a breakthrough in transient electronics, or electronics that dissolve inside the body.

The Korea JoongAng Daily newspaper first reported the story, citing the South Korea Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, which co-funded the research with the National Research Foundation of Korea.

The key to the flexible battery technology lies in nanomaterials that can be applied to any surface to create fluid-like polymer electrolytes that are solid, not liquid, according to Ulsan researchers. This is in contrast to typical device lithium-ion batteries, which use liquefied electrolytes that are put in square-shaped cases. Researchers say this also makes the flexible battery more stable and less prone to overheating.

“Conventional lithium-ion batteries that use liquefied electrolytes had problems with safety as the film that separates the electrolytes may melt under heat, in which case the positive and negative may come in contact, causing an explosion,” Lee told the Korean newspaper. “Because the new battery uses flexible but solid materials, and not liquids, it can be expected to show a much higher level of stability than conventional rechargeable batteries.”

This potential explosiveness of the materials in lithium-ion batteries — which in the past received attention because of exploding mobile devices — has been in the news again recently in the case of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, which has had several instances of liquid leaking lithium-ion batteries. The problems have grounded Boeing’s next-generation jumbo jet until they are investigated and resolved.

This is a very short posting but one I felt would be of great interest to my readers.  New technology; i.e. cutting-edge stuff, etc. is fun to write about and possibly useful to learn.  Hope you enjoy this one.

Please send me your comments:  bobjengr@comcast.net.

WORDS OF WISDOM

January 28, 2019


If you are like me, you would hope that elected “public servants” at the federal level are as smart if not smarter than the average American.  Is that not too much to ask?  Coming home just now I listened to an XM Radio broadcast from the White House Media Room.  Questions and answerers, or the lack thereof, addressing difficulties with our immigration laws and what the Dems and Pubs will do in the next eighteen (18) days to fix it. If no fix results, we are shut down for another period of time—an expensive period of time.   Members of the media, Congress and the Oval Office always address the “broken immigration” problem and promise to fix it although they have not done so for decades.  The Oval Office tells us a border wall, a fence, a barrier, etc. will solve this problem.  I have no real idea. All I know is we have a back and forth that is very detrimental to our country and gets nothing accomplished.  In the southern part of our country we call this a pissing contest. Ego vs Ego.

I long for words of wisdom from our dumb-ass politicians realizing they are merely politicians and not statesmen. With this in mind, I sought out others noted for their wisdom.  Here is a small portion of what I found:

  • Accept challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory—George S. Patton.
  • If you must speak ill of another, do not speak it, write it in the sand near the water’s edge—Napoleon Hill.
  • The best way to make your dreams come true is to wake up—Paul Valery.
  • Nothing is so frightening as ignorance in action—Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
  • Two men working as a team will produce more than three men working as individuals—Charles P. McCormick.
  • Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that—Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
  • Nothing is more dangerous than an idea, when you only have one idea—Emile-Auguste Chartier.
  • An ambitions man can never know peace—J. Krishnamurti.
  • Never leave well enough alone—Raymond Loewy.
  • You may be disappointed if you fail, but you are doomed if you don’t try—Beverly Sills.
  • Where would the gardener be if there were no weeds? —Chuang Tsu.
  • Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts—Winston Churchill.
  • We see things not as they are but as we are—H. M. Tomlinson.
  • Getting along with others is the essence of getting ahead, success being linked with cooperation—William Feather
  • Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there—John Wooden.
  • I’m not one of those whom expressing opinion confine themselves to facts—Mark Twain.
  • In great matters, men show themselves as they wish to be seen; in small matters, as they are—Gamaliel Bradford.
  • Work like you don’t need the money; love like you’ve never been hurt; dance like nobody’s watching—Satchel Paige.
  • The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing—Socrates.
  • If what you did yesterday seems big; you haven’t done anything today—Lou Holtz.
  • To conquer without risk is to triumph without glory—Pierre Corneille.
  • The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it—Terry Pratchett.
  • The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home—Confucius.

As you can see, we are a long way from wisdom relative to our three branches of government.

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