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50 years of change

By Miriam English

Kaye Lee’s comment the day before yesterday got me thinking about the changes that have happened in the past 50 years and how unbelievable they are.

Back in 1967 we didn’t even have personal computers. Now we have supercomputers that fit in our pockets. The idea that we might be able to read books on electronic devices about the size of paperbacks was almost unthinkable (I say almost because I was telling people at the time that we would, so there must have been some other people who could see what was coming).

The internet didn’t exist. There were a few people working on ways to get huge computers to communicate, but those machines were not much more powerful than a cheap desktop calculator of today and those communications were fragile and clumsy. The first simple message sent from computer to computer in different locations was in 1969. TC/IP, the communications protocol the internet is based upon, was invented in 1983. Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web — what many people mistakenly think is the internet — in 1989, but it took another 4 years after that for the first proper web browser (Mosaic) to be publicly released.

The integrated circuit — an entire circuit etched on a single tiny silicon chip — had been developed in 1958, only 9 years earlier, but in 1967 a 16-bit (that’s 2 bytes) RAM memory chip was super-high tech and expensive. These days a computer is considered almost unusable if it has less than 1 billion bytes (a Gigabyte) of RAM, and I can buy tiny, fingernail-sized microSD cards containing 32 Gigabytes for $20 or less.

In 1967 Nicole Kidman, James Packer, Guy Pearce, and Tina Arena were born.

Australia Square Tower, Australia’s first true skyscraper, was completed.

Australian Aboriginals gained the right to vote.

50 years ago it was rude to ask a smoker not to light up in your presence; now it’s rude for a smoker to force their noxious smoke on you.

Back then religion used to be highly respected and considered virtuous, even by atheists. Now we know all religious institutions have been covering up child abuse for decades, probably centuries. And we’ve found that where religion is strongest so are murder, infant mortality, poverty, sexually transmitted disease, ignorance, teen pregnancy, and many more of the worst social ills.

Gay people finally have marriage equality in 26 countries (Australia is the 26th — we’re running a little bit late). In 1967 it was almost universally illegal to be in love with the wrong person.

Deep poverty, starvation, and disease have been reduced to a degree unimaginable 50 years ago. We might even see its eradication in the near future. Accompanying this improvement in the lives of the very poorest we are seeing continuing reductions in the birthrate. Birthrate peaked in the mid-1960s and put humanity, and the ecosystems that support us, in very great danger.

Through the worldwide spread of smartphones an extraordinary number of people now have access to the internet and much of the accumulated knowledge of mankind. This brings the possibility of eliminating deep ignorance in the future.

Before 1967 space exploration was pretty primitive. Mariner 2 made some magnetic and radiation measurements of Venus when it flew past the planet in 1962. A small number of rather indistinct photos of Mars were returned by Mariner 4’s flyby in 1965. USSR’s Luna 9 landed on the Moon in 1966 and sent back some photos. Lunar Orbiter 1 photographed much of the Moon in 1966.

Now, 50 years later, we’ve sent a spaceship outside our solar system, have completely mapped the Moon and Mars. We’ve visited Mars multiple times and had robots wandering around on its surface for years. We’ve made closeup photos of all the planets in the solar system, and of most of the moons. We’ve had a continuously occupied International Space Station orbiting Earth for nearly 2 decades. Last year 2 astronauts returned after nearly a year (340 days) in space. We’ve landed a spacecraft on Saturn’s mysterious moon Titan, and on multiple comets and asteroids. We’ve even returned samples from an asteroid and a comet. A robot is currently being built for a mission to a metal asteroid with the aim of investigating how to mine such motherlodes, while another is already on its way to a carbon-rich asteroid with the intent of bringing back samples to Earth.

We’ve put multiple telescopes in space, where views unhindered by atmosphere allow astounding new images of the universe. The most impressive is the Hubble Space Telescope, which will be overshadowed by the enormous James Webb Telescope destined for Earth’s L2 Lagrange point a little more than a year from now.

We have discovered thousands of planets around other stars — something thought impossible to detect not long ago — many of them in the “goldilocks” zone, where life might exist.

Elon Musk’s private space company, SpaceX, has developed spaceships that can land upright back on their launchpad ready for re-use, cutting the cost of space travel dramatically.

Our roads now have increasing numbers of electric cars that can drive themselves, and do so more safely than a human driver.

We can now edit genes directly using CRISPR, perhaps meaning the end of such genetic ailments as Huntington’s disease. We might also be able to use it to lengthen our lifespans indefinitely, and let our dogs live longer, healthier lives too.

Artificial intelligence can now play open-ended games better than the best human players.

We can have a device sitting in our pockets that can hold thousands of music tracks and play them on demand.

The fastest growing movie and TV show networks are online, play shows when you want instead of on schedules, and have given rise to the now common phenomenon of “binge-watching” series.

Anybody can publish their own books, music, or other knowledge-based creations on the internet at zero cost and make them available to an audience of billions.

Home printers have become unremarkable — everybody has them (except me — I avoid using paper).

3D printers have become affordable and are becoming common and the effect this will have on kids designing robotic systems should not be underestimated.

Cheap single-board computers (SBCs) such as the Arduino, Raspberry Pi, and many others are changing robotics and computing so that children can become involved and build intelligence into everything, now giving rise to the so-called internet of things (IOT).

Open source programming has led to a reversal in the standard way of building large projects — sometimes described as the cathedral vs the bazaar — where secretive, expensive projects by closed teams of highly paid experts turn out to be far less effective and secure than free, open projects in which thousands of interested participants contribute for free. The superior security of open source projects surprised everybody. Up until then, security was thought to be maximised by maintaining tight secrecy. Now we know the reverse is true.

Even though some people might have imagined the personal computer revolution, nobody could have imagined being able to own large, complex programs for free that could extend our capabilities in such profound ways. Some examples of quality open source software:

OpenOffice is a free, open-source office suite intended to replace Microsoft Office. OpenOffice has a wordprocessor, spreadsheet, and presentation tool (replacing Word, Excel, and PowerPoint), but OpenOffice also has a drawing program, a math formula editor, and a database. Sun created it and gave it away free as a deliberate ploy to hit back at Microsoft who were illegally sabotaging one of Sun’s main products. Sun was eventually sold to Oracle who didn’t want the OpenOffice Suite so, after letting it languish for a while, eventually gave it to Apache who now have been continuing it. (Apache is an open source organisation that creates the software that delivers most of the web.)

LibreOffice uses the same code as OpenOffice, but has some added features. When Sun was bought by Oracle a lot of the programmers who created OpenOffice left because Oracle has a very bad reputation with free, open-source programs. Those programmers created LibreOffice, which is why it looks and acts just like OpenOffice.

Geany is a free, open-source text editor. After I mentioned the OpenOffice and LibreOffice wordprocessors above you might think I use a wordprocessor to write my stories, but I don’t. I use a small, fast, text editor. The difference is that a text editor saves the file as just pure text, no styles — no bold, or italics, or different fonts or font sizes — just plain text. There are many advantages in plain text. Any text editor, text viewer, or wordprocessor ever built will read it — no need to worry about weird formats that other programs might be unable to read. The filesize is much smaller, letting you carry around enormous amounts of writing in a tiny USB pendant or bracelet. And you don’t need a big, fast computer just to run the damn writing program. The program starts up instantly because it is small. If I absolutely need styling in my text I use HTML tags for <b>bold</b>, for <i>italic</i>, and a few other tags. Later when I convert my stories to webpages it’s easy because webpages are written in HTML. I’ve written a small program that adds <p> tags at the beginning of paragraphs and some heading tags for chapter headings and the title of the story.

Kompozer is a small, simple, free, open-source HTML editor that works like a wordprocessor. I use it to make very quick webpages if I’m in a hurry. It’s not as efficient as making webpages by hand in a text editor, but it is fast and easy and works. The advantage of using an HTML editor is that the result can be viewed in any web browser and because HTML is actually plain text the document filesize is very small and it can be loaded into a text editor if you need to tweak it. (Most wordprocessors can also save documents as webpages too, but they are generally terrible at the job, producing awfully bloated documents that can up to ten times larger than the filesize needed.)

Calibre is a free and open-source ebook editor and converter. I drop my ebooks (written as very simple HTML) onto Calibre and convert them to epub format, which is the standard format for ebooks. Calibre also has an ebook reader built into it, but I only really use that for checking that ebooks have converted the way I intend. I don’t like to buy locked ebooks, but when I can’t avoid it I use Calibre (with DeDRM tools plugin installed in it) to remove the locks so that I can read the books I’ve bought on any device and in the reader program that I prefer.

fbreader is a free and open-source ebook reader. This is what I use on my tablet computer and my smartphone to read ebooks. It will read almost any open (not locked) format ebook. I don’t buy locked ebooks very often. I either buy ebooks that don’t have locks (for example Baen Books don’t lock their ebooks), or else I download free ebooks, often from Project Gutenberg (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/) where there are tens of thousands of free ebooks scanned and converted by volunteers.

GIMP is the GNU Image Manipulation Program. It has been free and open source since 1996. It is similar to, but in my opinion better than Photoshop. I’ve been using it for more than 20 years and it has so many capabilities that I’m still constantly finding new things it can do. I use it to create pictures and to alter existing ones. One of my main, everyday uses for it is to change the light and shade balance in photos. Another thing I often use it for is to shift the color balance in old, faded photos to make them look vibrant and new. I also use it to draw and paint using a graphics tablet attached to my computer.

Inkscape is a free, open-source vector image editor similar to Adobe Illustrator, but free. (The drawing program in the OpenOffice and LibreOffice suites is a vector graphics program too.) Unlike paint programs like GIMP, Photoshop, and others, a vector graphics program stores the image as instructions. A line will be stored as two endpoints and a line color and thickness; a circle will be a center position, a radius, a fill color, and a line thickness and color. Curves will be endpoints and control-points having a mathematical effect on the line. But you don’t need to understand any of that. The big difference is that, unlike ordinary paint programs, when you enlarge the image it doesn’t blur. So creating a small image then blowing it up to be a giant poster to fit on the wall of a building will still produce a sharp, clear image with smooth curves.

Audacity is a free, open-source sound editor. It can record and edit multitrack audio. It can mix and filter sounds and add special effects, such as echo, chorus-effect, flange, reverse, speed-change, pitch-change, and dozens of other effects. Unlike many sound editors Audacity is simple to use.

Blender is a free and open-source 3D model creator and editor and video editor. It lets you “sculpt” 3D objects and virtual worlds and animate 3D characters. It also has a video editor built in, so that animations can be edited into a movie. The video editing functions also are useful for matchmove work, where a 3D object in Blender is inserted into some existing video footage and the movements of the video camera and the virtual camera are matched. This is surprisingly easy to do and astonishingly convincing. Blender also has a built-in game engine that allows the creation of 3D games that have physics (for example, a dropped ball will fall, bounce, and roll without needing the programmer to explicitly animate it). Games created in Blender can be sold or given away without having to pay royalties to the Blender Foundation. In recent years Blender has become astonishingly sophisticated, outperforming programs that cost many thousands of dollars.

Mplayer is a free and open-source video player. It plays almost any kind of video because it comes with almost all the codecs required (codecs are small modules that tell a program how to encode and decode videos). Mplayer is fast and of minimal size so it takes up few resources on your computer. It can also rip videos from DVDs to your computer so you can watch movies without fiddling about with stupid DVD menus and risking scratching your precious DVDs. Its companion program, “mencoder” can re-encode videos (though for encoding I now prefer another free, open-source program, “ffmpeg” for that).

Linux is the greatest example of open source software. It is an operating system (similar to Microsoft Windows or Apple’s OSX), but unlike those two it is free. It has become the standard recommended operating system for a number of countries around the world. Many security organisations prefer Linux instead of the less secure proprietary operating systems. There are now hundreds of different kinds of Linux. Each designed for a particular use. The most commonly used kinds are Debian, Ubuntu, Fedora, Linux Mint, Arch Linux, Scientific Linux (mainly in research labs). The Linux I mostly use is Puppy Linux which specialises in being very small and fast.

In recent years, large numbers of voluntary, non-profit projects devoted to spreading information to the world have created a flood of knowledge freely available to billions of people:

Wikipedia – the largest encyclopedia ever created.

Project Gutenberg – a vast library of tens of thousands of free, out-of-copyright ebooks, scanned and digitised by volunteers.

I prefer to start at the catalog: http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/

Project Gutenberg Australia has thousands more free ebooks, many specific to Australia, but as Australia’s copyright laws, though still insane, are not as bat-shit insane as USA’s, we have more recent ebooks not yet available in USA, for example Gone With the Wind.

The Internet Archive was a project started up by Brewster Kahle to archive a copy of every webpage on the internet. This is incredibly useful because it lets you access pages that are no longer on the net. The Internet Archive also keeps many thousands of ebooks, historic sound recordings, audiobooks, and even old movies and old radio programs. It is all free.

Librivox is an enormous collection of free audiobooks recorded by volunteers. They’re good to listen to when doing housework, driving, gardening, or just lounging around. They’re especially useful for blind and nearly-blind people.

There are various free textbook initiatives now that let anybody study for zero cost. They’re generally the result of teachers concerned at the dangerously spiralling cost of education because governments no longer invest in the next generation. These are texts are mostly scattered across the internet, but there are a few places that collect links to them. They change, so it’s best to search.

The same people who created Wikipedia have also created:

Wikibooks – free, open-content textbooks collection that anyone can edit.
Wikiversity – learning resources, learning projects, and research for use in all levels, types, and styles of education from pre-school to university, including professional training and informal learning.

Sci-hub is a free access point to vast numbers of science papers that would normally cost ridiculous amounts of money to access. It was created because the specialty science journal publishers now impede science so that scientists and universities can no longer afford to keep up with recent science. The publishers charge outrageous amounts for access, but they don’t pay authors so it has become a rort. Scientists have to publish because their careers depend upon it. Often the research was paid for by taxes so the public should own it, but are blocked by greedy publishers. Now sci-hub lets anybody access the latest information.

PLOS ONE is a free publisher of science papers.

arXiv free access to science papers, mostly physical and mathematical sciences.

bioRxiv free access to biological sciences papers.

Google Scholar lets you search a vast library of academic articles and books.

YouTube has enormous numbers of free videos on science, literature, maths, and many academic topics, as well as many tutorials on all the above programs and more. Some of my favorite YouTube channels:

happenfilms – alternative lifestyle (gardening, building)
scishow – short news program about recent science
scishow-space – scishow format, but concentrating on space
crashcourse – series of courses on various topics
The Brain Scoop – delightful Emily Graslie – biology at the Field Museum in Chicago
minutephysics – very short, physics
Kurzgesagt – topical, science-oriented
Numberphile – wonderful conversations with mathematicians
Deep Sky Videos – chats with astronomers
Khan Academy – educational courses (mostly maths)
Green Power Science – a bit sensationalist, but full of useful information
TheraminTrees – philosophy and psychology
Trae Crowder – liberal redneck – humorous/sensible approach to recent events
Last Week Tonight with John Oliver – a scathingly funny look at current events.
Every Frame a Painting – analyses movies to understand why they do or don’t work
VscorpianC – makes step-by-step, easy-to-follow tutorials on many of the open source programs mentioned above.

There are countless freely downloadable talks online on every topic imaginable. I have oodles of favorites:

Radiolab – lighthearted and humanist approach to science
Sam Harris’ Waking Up podcast – he very thoughtfully interviews many very interesting people
TED talks – these are wonderful
EscapePod – science fiction stories
The Skeptics Society
LittleAtoms.com – interviews with scientists and related people
AstronomyCast – astronomy and related topics

So much has changed. Over 50 years the world has become a very different place. How much would you have thought impossible? Sure, you probably thought we’d have flying cars … and we sort of do, but they were always actually a pretty silly idea. Did you imagine Wikipedia? The internet? Mobile phones? The fact that mobile phones would be supercomputers? Virtual reality?

Things feel superficially the same, but they are really very different.

 


82 comments

  1. Terry2

    Then we have the Amazon superstore that has just gone online in Australia with a big fanfare and we are told will quickly replace bricks & mortar stores : who’s saying that ? Well Amazon it seems.

    I went online to rummage through the Amazon site looking for a cordless power drill. they had two, Stanley and Black & Decker. No Bosch, no Ryobi, no De Walt, no Makita.

    So I went to Bunnings where I saw a good cross section of the brands and had a helpful old bloke explain the finer points of Lithium batteries and the capabilities of the various tools : I bought the Ryobi kit , it was on special.

    We need to take care as we roll into the new economy and acknowledge that an old bloke with factual technical information is probably better than an online selection of ‘consumer ratings’ or a dude in tight pants who tells you how cool everything is.

    Thank’s for the article, Miriam.

  2. Michael Taylor

    I take my hat off to those people who can keep up with the pace of the changing world.

    I was in the bank the other day and an old codger in front of me handed his passbook to the cashier. I didn’t know they still had those things!

  3. Miriam English

    Yeah, I must admit I’m not keen on Amazon. Early on they looked like they’d be a great thing, but Jeff Bezos seems to have been lured by the dark side.

    His warehouses have terrible working conditions.

    They used market clout to try to ruin their competitors instead of honest competition.

    They only allow locked ebooks to be sold on their site, and they use a non-standard format.

    They charge authors obscene amounts to sell their books and have the gall to boast that they let authors have “big” royalties from sales of their ebooks.

    Their Kindle ebook readers creepily allow Amazon to delete your books even if you’ve bought them legitimately, for example the case where a number of people bought George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm in good faith, then when it turned out that the seller didn’t have the right* to sell them, Amazon remotely deleted them from people’s Kindle ebook readers. One student took Amazon to court because they not only deleted the books, but all his notes. That was very Big Brother of them. The irony was not lost on people.

    There was another case where a woman bought a secondhand kindle ebook reader and bought a whole lot of ebooks so she could give it to her mother as a present. Amazon became confused about the ownership and without checking with the owner simply deleted everything on the kindle and locked the owner out of her account. It took ages of battling Amazon’s unresponsive bureaucracy for the woman to regain access to her account. (If it was me I would have ditched the Kindle and vowed never to deal with Amazon ever again.)

    So, yeah. I avoid Amazon if at all possible.

    🙂 Thanks Terry2


    * Orwell’s books are restricted in USA because of USA’s lunatic copyright laws. His books are freely downloadable in Australia and most other countries.

  4. Miriam English

    Michael, I have to admit I feel very impatient with the pace of change. I’d like it to go much, much faster. But I understand what you mean. I have a number of technophobic friends and I feel kinda sorry for them. They often seem so lost in trying to keep up with the pace of change.

  5. Joseph Carli

    Mirriam…ol’ sol’…an excellent compilation indeed and one we ought, as a collective, get down on our bended knees and thank the living be-jeezus we have them!…But we may have to go even further back for the innovational thoughts of some of theose “wonders of the world”..I have a modest little publication here on my lap now, by one : “Professor A.M.Low”..titled : “Facts and Fancies…something about nearly everything under the sun (with diagrams)”….Published in 1942 London. Peter Davies. on “war economy paper standards”…
    On page 84, we have under the title of “Wonders of the world”…: “The Severn Wonders of the next twenty years may be..Television-telephones, Power from the Sun, Moulded mass-produced houses, Long-range weather forecasts, The 50 pound (as in money) motor car.”

  6. Miriam English

    Hi Joe. 🙂 Thanks.

    I’m often amazed by some of the ideas of the early science fiction writers, and the later ones too, of course. Scientists also have a great record for predicting changes, though those predictions can also wander into quagmires (I’ll never forget the prediction that we’d all be driving nuclear-powered cars, each with its own nuclear reactor — what a nightmare that would have been). I guess it’s probably not surprising that scientists often do well at predicting the future, as they are often the ones bringing it to us. And science fiction writers often influence our culture to strive for the very things they write about.

    As for video phones, they came in a very different form from what had been expected. I was chatting via video to a friend in USA just yesterday on my tablet computer.

    Power from the sun was a good call.

    There are many approaches to moulded, mass-produced houses, with none getting it perfect yet.

    Long-range weather forecasts will probably never be more than general — weather is a chaotic system and will probably always remain impossible to predict with much accuracy.

    The £50 car made me laugh. I wonder what that would be taking inflation into account. Interestingly I looked that book up online and it turns out the book itself is now worth about £50 (or about Australian $85).

  7. Jack Russell

    Printing this out for my grandkids. The oldest is 11, but there’s no such thing as too young to find what you need when you need it, and no such thing as too poor either when it costs nothing.

    You are a treasure Miriam. Thank you so much for compiling this enabling info!

  8. Kronomex

    “I was in the bank the other day and an old codger in front of me handed his passbook to the cashier. I didn’t know they still had those things!”
    Michael, in twenty years time you’ll be standing in the line at the same bank with your plastic card and some teenage virtual avatar standing behind you will be showing his/her friends that some old codgers are still using plastic.

    I’m going to have to look at Mplayer because it does more than VLC Player. Particularly like the idea of being able to rip…er, um, back up… DVD’s straight to hard drive.

    Did you imagine Wikipedia? – “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.”
    The internet? – “From the ‘London Times’ of 1904” by Mark Twain.
    Mobile phones? and The fact that mobile phones would be supercomputers? – Star Trek and “The Mote in God’s Eye” by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.
    Virtual reality? – “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury, “The Tunnel Under the World” by Frederik Pohl and “Neuromancer” by William Gibson. One must not forget “The Girl Who Was Plugged In.” by James Tiptree Jr. (pen name of Alice Bradley Sheldon).
    You can’t call them predictions by any standard more like

  9. Joseph Carli

    ” … the book itself is now worth about £50 (or about Australian $85)”….$50. and a coupon for a double feature at any Hoytz Theatre near me and it’s yours!

  10. Rhonda

    Thanks Miriam, I needed that introduction and simplified summary of useful web stuff. V useful, but still only as good as our limited capacity to access all things databased with our pretty pathetic NBN satellite internet

  11. Joseph Carli

    Miriam…I have only ever sold one book and that was in desperation…it was a first (only) edition of Patrick White’s “Happy Valley” (sans dust jacket) that I found at that rubbish tip years before and brought home for my mother..I don’t think she ever read it…I tried but gave it best about half way through…not my cup of tea..about the only book by White I really got into was “Voss”…but of course..

    Anyway…I was starting a mature entry scheme course at Adelaide Uni in Classics and I needed a new computer…the old Apple Classic just didn’t have the clout to take the internet seriously..but I was broke so I took that edition to a booksellers and he valued it and put it up for auction which got me enough to buy a brand-spanking new ASUS w/windows 95.

    But when the bookseller was valuing the book, he remarked that it was a pity it had a dedication on the inside page…for there was written : “To Rasche, from , Sandy”….

    “Oh no” I replied straight faced ” That is a dedication from Patrick White himself”…The bookseller was interested now..he raised his eyebrows somewhat…he looked quite comical as only booksellers can..

    “Yes” I continued ” It was dedicated to a fellow he met at the beach”….

    It took him a while to catch on…but those booksellers..they’re such dour people…

  12. Kaye Lee

    When I started school, we had inkwells in our desks.

    And I agree about Patrick White. His books are a really hard slog.

  13. totaram

    ” TC/IP, the communications protocol the internet is based upon, was invented in 1983. ”

    Just some corrections. It is TCP/IP, Transmission Control Protocol and Internet Protocol. . According to Wikipedia, Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn worked on preliminary versions of it from the 1970’s. TCP was first published in 1974, but underwent changes and modifications. 1983 was the year in which the TCP/IP suite became the official protocol of the ARPANET. I was using TCP/IP with Unix machines running over “ethernet” (CSMA/CD) in 1986.

  14. Miriam English

    Jack Russell, you’re welcome. 🙂

  15. Kronomex

    Harquebus, take a short step off a high building. You are a nasty petulant little man. Please, PLEASE go and start your own blog and then you can rant on and on and on, ad nauseam. I look forward to seeing how you reply.

    Kaye Lee, inkwells. That brings back images of wanting to be the inkwell monitor and looking forward to the year that, gasp, you were allowed to use a…oohh…a BIRO.

    Crap! Ignore the last unfinished sentence in my previous post, forgot to delete it.

  16. Miriam English

    Kronomex, excellent list. I grew up on science fiction — began reading it in Primary School. Yeah, SF is great.

    If you have any difficulties ripping your DVDs feel free to email me (miriam at miriam-english dot org — replace the “at” and “dot” with appropriate symbols) and I’ll give what knowledge I have. The manual for mplayer is enormous and takes forever to get to grips with. Also, don’t discard VLC. It is useful for working out where the tracks are on the DVDs. Having lost some DVDs to accidents and more than one to deterioration in the humid QLD climate (the reflective metallised layer appears to have been eaten by a fungus), I now back up all my DVDs to external hard drives, re-encoding them as much more efficient mp4 videos, reducing their size nearly 5-fold while retaining clarity.

  17. Miriam English

    Harquebus, you’re wrong.

  18. Miriam English

    Joe, that same difficulty parting with books afflicts me too.

  19. Miriam English

    Kaye, those inkwells… I remember being fascinated with how when I pushed the inkbottle around in its hole in the desk the inkbottle would rotate in the reverse direction. It gave me an intuitive understanding of planetary gears. 🙂

  20. Miriam English

    totaram, quite correct. Thanks for the correction. I realised my typo too late.
    Interesting about the earlier origins of TCP. Thanks for the info.

  21. Miriam English

    Hmmm… would have been more efficient to roll all those replies into one. Silly me.

  22. Joseph Carli

    Hey!…: “To Rasche, from , Sandy”…a fellow he met at the beach??…get it??…rash – sand…nyuk, nyuk ??…geez!…I can see I might as well save my Dad & Dave jokes for more jocular company….

  23. townsvilleblog

    Miriam English, yes in 1967, we had to use our own super computer called our brain. Some people in the 21st century believe that a ‘report’ from a computer is the be all and end all and that we need not use our own brain. Joseph, at least one commentator got it lol!!!

  24. townsvilleblog

    December 29, 2017 at 10:49 am

    The word “energy” was not mentioned once in this article.
    50 years worth of environmental and resource exploitation and pollution has delivered some amazing results. Too bad it will all come at the cost of civilization and perhaps, humanity itself.
    Miriam English is another dreamer whose dreams have become our nightmares.
    There is no easy technological out to our predicament. We either stop what we are doing or we will kill ourselves doing it.

    I believe this to be true, unless we switch from coal fired power stations to renewable energy solar/wind/hydro as examples we will kill ourselves with environmental carbon pollution, a fact recognized by previous Prime Minister Julia Gillard when she introduced the carbon pollution tax on the big emitters.

  25. Jack Russell

    Oh, we’re jocular Joe … I’m supposing lots of us here cut our teeth on Dad’n’Dave (heh heh).

    Ohhh my, the arrival of the biro! Verboten in my day – best we were allowed were the disposable ink cartridges for pen holders (in high school).

    Ahhh, plastic, and the invention of. So much damage stemmed from that one thing …

    TV – and the whole place went to hell in a handbasket, quicker’n a rat up a drainpipe.

  26. Terry2

    Michael Taylor

    Banks ! banks ! you’ve got it good

    They closed the last bank branch (NAB) in our small local town from 31 December : I asked would they maintain an ATM and they rolled their eyes, looked at me as though I was crazy . “You can got to the IGA for cash “they told me

  27. Terry2

    Kaye Lee/Miriam English

    Your talking to an inkwell monitor here, a position of trust and responsibility. I was also responsible for providing replacement nibs but you had to show me the old one first and if it had been used for darts practice I was obliged to dob you in !

  28. Michael Taylor

    Miriam, I have removed that ridiculous comment from Harquebus. We don’t need that repetitious crap ruining a good article again.

    I’m going to be tied up for a while so could I kindly ask any of the moderators who might be about to delete his comments if he tries that rubbish again.

  29. cjward2017

    Thank you: I use some Open Office programs and cannot fault them, except to say it takes but a little while to recognize the differences.

  30. totaram

    Michael Taylor: I disapprove of your decision to remove Harquebus’ comment.

    (a) freedom of speech. He didn’t really abuse Miriam in that comment.

    (b) I think most people here are aware of the First Law of Thermodynamics: Energy can neither be created nor destroyed (barring relativistic conversion between mass and energy). His constant reference to energy and how we are somehow “running out” displays his ignorance of that law on a regular basis. Best to leave his comments for all to see and contemplate.

  31. Kronomex

    Television was fun back in the 60’s – Doctor Who in the weekday evenings. Saturday morning cartoons – Prince Planet, Marine Boy and Gigantor just to name a few. Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, and who can forget Adventure Island. Television also had a darker side no better summed up when they played the footage, at tea-time for most Australians, of the Vietnamese general executing the Vietcong prisoner in the street.

    The most memorable years for me was 1968 when I discovered Science Fiction books (and drove my parents to distraction by whining about needing more and more of the SF drug) by way of Asimov’s “Foundation”. I was already hooked on SF movies from first seeing “Invaders From Mars” on the TV at age five. 1969, and arriving at school to find that almost all the teachers had lugged their tv’s in so we could spend the whole day watching the Apollo 11 moon landing and walk in glorious and grainy black and white.

    Just realised that I had no feeling of nostalgia while writing the above, it was more like doing a short assignment on what “I did last
    summer.”

    On the matter of books, in my will it is stipulated that I am to be cremated with half a dozen books (I’m considering changing it to “as many tomes as they can fit in with me”) so I won’t be bored.

  32. Michael Taylor

    totaram, I am happy with my decision to remove his comment (as indeed would a number of people). I will gladly do it again. One can only tolerate that repetitious rubbish for a certain period of time, and the tolerance level has been reached.

    I don’t buy that “freedom of speech” mantra. If he, or anybody else doesn’t like the way this site operates then they are free to go elsewhere.

    End of argument. We will not turn this post into a discussion about Harquebus.

  33. Michael Taylor

    Kronomex, Game of Thrones would have to be one of the best things to come out in the last 50 years. 😀

  34. Miriam English

    townsvilleblog, I half agree with your comment about using our brains. I see computers as assistants that free us from doing the things that are too tedious, or the things that we have difficulty doing. They then allow us to learn greater things at a higher level.

    As an example, my arithmetic is terrible. I blame a teacher in primary school who used to terrify me when I made mistakes.

    But I love mathematical concepts. I’ve written programs that calculate mandelbrot sets and Julia sets on the complex plane and have played around with 4 dimensional mandelbrot sets using quaternions. I’ve calculated 3D movement of cameras inside virtual worlds so that they always point at another randomly moving object. I’ve created formulas to output data points which then get read into a file and processed as sounds. I’ve designed virtual worlds to use pseudorandom numbers to generate a “random” but predictable landscape. I’ve used irrational numbers to define rotations of objects so that they rotate around 3 axes in unpredictable ways.

    All of these kinds of things are mathematically complicated for someone as stupid in this subject as I am. The only way I could do so is with the assistance of a computer. Take away the computer and it doesn’t force me to become better; I just simply don’t get past square one. However, with the computer it augments my brain so that I’m capable of things I never could do alone.

    Everybody here (except Harquebus) knows that we need to be greatly increasing renewable energy and turning away from fossil fuels. My original draft of the article included a brief discussion of energy. One of the reasons I removed it is I didn’t want to encourage Harquebus.

    We all know the situation with energy, but perhaps I should have mentioned how much more efficient most things are now. Cars use less fuel and pollute less. Lightbulbs use a fraction of the electricity they did. Washing machines, fridges, airconditioners all waste far less energy than they did back in the bad old days. And computers! They used to consume many kilowatts; now a smartphone consumes a bare trickle of electricity to accomplish far, far more. Last year renewable sources produced more energy than nuclear power (in USA, at least). This is wonderful news. Renewables are growing at an unstoppable rate regardless of what crooked idiot denialist politicians think.

  35. Michael Taylor

    Miriam, that’s interesting what you said about mathematics.

    Would you believe that I was never interested in mathematics until I was introduced to Microsoft Excel? I just loved the way you can play with all those wonderful little codes and ‘what if’ scenarios.

  36. Zoltan Balint

    Kronomex in 20 years time you will NOT have a bank to stand in line unless you are saying wait for the connection on your device so you can book in. ATM’s were introduced and were free to save you money and time so banks did not have to have ques waiting for people to serve them. Now you get charged to use an ATM and we are told to bank on line. Banks say the connection is very safe and can not be hacked, BUT, they are talking about the system on their end and YOUR computer security is YOUR problem (key stroke log hacking).

  37. Jack Russell

    School, and learning to read.

    For me, the most profoundly wonderful revelation, and lifelong passion. I’ve been plugged into other people’s minds since I was 6, “hitchhiking” everywhere, and everywhen.

    All the momitoring jobs in the classroom? Hotly contested prizes!

    And now? Still books, but also technology.

  38. Jon Chesterson

    ‘Was life less
    fitbit candy crush and roses when
    juicy apples came from a grocery store
    as snakes and ladders squarely hung on trees?’

    50 years of change reflecting back to the sixties with a little metaphysical, surrealism and metaphor, for full poem link: At the Bottom of My Green Garden by Barddylbach https://allpoetry.com/poem/13510926-At-The-Bottom-of-My-Green-Garden-by-Barddylbach

  39. Kaye Lee

    During university, one of my part time jobs was a bookmaker’s clerk at the trots. We did not have computers or calculators. The guys I worked with had little formal education but their mental arithmetic at working out what was to be paid was amazing. I have always been good at maths but I got a shitload faster doing that job.

    I don’t despair about using tools. In high school, we had slide rules and log/trig tables. The time wasted using those restricted what we could do. Calculators and computers allowed us to to be much more practical in applying the knowledge to real world situations. It let us fly where before we crawled.

  40. Zoltan Balint

    40 years ago calculators were not allowed in maths or science exams. Slide rules and log/trig tables maybe.

  41. townsvilleblog

    Jack Russell, TV, yes and of course the yanks and their traditions like Halloween for example, that we Aussies are now embracing. We 50 years ago had our own identity, now we are only a pubic hair away from being the 51st State of the USA.

  42. townsvilleblog

    Kaye, please, you didn’t work with ‘guys’ then, you worked with blokes, this is just another example of how Americanized we have become.

  43. townsvilleblog

    Miriam, you have my admiration.

  44. Miriam English

    Michael, I just spent about an hour trying to track down the Scientific American that had the article about using spreadsheets to calculate amazing things. I finally found it!

    Wow! I never realised how utterly crappy is Scientific American’s indexing on the net. No wonder they ran out of money and had to be bought by Nature magazine. They’re so consumed with preventing their information leaking out onto the web that they have utterly isolated themselves from the people who would pay to gain access. Very very silly.

    Anyway… I found it. (I have Scientific American issues going back to 1958, and I still get them today.) The October 1983 issue had the beginning of a new column: Computer Recreations. In that one Brian Hayes discusses using spreadsheets to simulate boiling water, magnetic domains, and John Conway’s “Game of Life”. It’s fascinating.

    I think I’ll scan and OCR it to add to my digital library because I’ve often thought back on this one and wanted to refer to it. Thanks for making me think of it and chase it up.

  45. paul walter

    !967..black and white TV was advanced entertainment along with little transistor radios we held to our ears, listening to the Who, while older people grumbled at us for not watching where we were walking. Cricket on the ABC- no ads, or listen to the radio for an Ashes series in England in the we small hours when you should have been asleep ready for school the next day. People drank mainly beer, most products were Australian made if not owned, an Asians was a rare curiosity indeed and it was normal to smoke at the doctor’s surgery, on buses and in some movie theatres still..Adelaide was five hundred miles away from Melbourne and unless you flew on a newfangled 727, a day from anywhere else also much of the news was a day old before getting an airing in the newspapers or on radio or TV.

    In 1967 I was first year high school at a brand new school in a dust bowl paddock, only a few years away from when a teacher at primary school had us outside in the weak spring sun on the mats, stirring our imaginations reading “Magic Faraway Tree” ..absolutely enchanted, but these days Blyton is persona non grata.

    Still big families then, especially if you lived in a place like Elizabeth,with huge families of Irish, Scousers, Geordies, Italians and Greeks, East Enders and Glaswegians as well as local western subs working people with dad and increasingly mum, looking for work at the new Holdens plant.

    To me, the big changes in the way of technology have been in biological sciences and electronics and perhaps engineering and construction, but no way the world of 2018 resembles anything like what was imagined by Disney or on the Jetsons.

    We were poorer then, but no radar traps and cameras, no computers and kids played in the parks all day without parents much worrying. Books were loved, not regarded as museum pieces.

    I recall a couple commentors observing how the pace of change; the “Future Shock”, is problem as to new tech – I am defintely one who suffers.

    My old Nanna used fume at the modern gadgetry of the 1960’s..” in my day, we had fun just sitting around singing with the pianola”- we would look sideways and grin , but had to say straight faced when they went on about the Depression and WW2 and Polio. or one roast a year, chicken on Xmas day and everyone only got a small portion, or even great uncle Alec in WW1.

    Now I begin to understand the “old’s” bafflement.

    I’m perplexed at all the button-fingering of little electronic cases on the bus when you could be looking at the parks, houses and trees. And what is this stuff they listen to, why don’t they get some Led Zeppelin and rock!

    As for Miriam Englsih, I don’t have the foggiest, half of what she’s on about in the second part of her posting, but I know it is like myself trying to teach my mother how to operate a video back in the early nineties, except now I am on the dummy end and finally know how she felt..

  46. paul walter

    One more thing.

    In 1967, you had a constant sputter about “communist plots”…old guys in double-breasted suits with short back and sides haircuts hooping about “the communists”.

    All that has gone, yet nothing has changed. These days it is a monotonous and nonstop hysteria about about “terrorist plots”.

    For my part, bring back the first one- at least you got a good laugh out of it.

  47. Kaye Lee

    paul,

    I LOVED the magic faraway tree. My cousin owned it so I read and reread it every school holidays when, in those days, our families got together. Funny, I never thought of asking for a copy myself. I remember asking for a project book – one of those books that had one lined page and one blank page, larger than a normal exercise book. Santa brought me one and I spent much of the school holidays doing projects – cutting out pictures from magazines, doing fancy headings, drawing pictures and looking up information in our new encyclopedia britannica bought from a door to door salesman. That sounds so weird now.

  48. Harquebus

    I forgot about the rule against criticizing the author. Sorry ’bout dat.

  49. Jack Russell

    Meeee too Kaye, and the Famous 5, and the Secret 7 … oooh, and Dr Doolittle, and Tan, and Bobby Brewster’s Bicycle, and Robinson Crusoe, and the Call of the Wild, to name a very few … graduating to sci-fi of all stripes, or anything I could borrow, beg, scrounge, found lying around, yes, the encyclopaedias … okay, ANYTHING!

    Age appropriateness was irrelevant, if I could read it, I did. Libraries were open season.

    Sitting here typing this atm surrounded by a lifetime’s collection, distributed in an orderly fashion in homemade bookcases throughout the entire house … and if moving, the first things to be packed and unpacked.

    A hopeless case me.

    Yes, I DID and do do other things too … lol.

  50. Michael Taylor

    In 1967 I knew change was in the air when the Beatles all grew moustaches. It was the end of the world as we knew it! The tremors from the shock rattled all the windows on Kangaroo Island.

  51. Freethinker

    I just wonder if the Cuban missile crisis was no the most important point to trigger the begging on important developments in technology and also a dramatic change in social behavior.

  52. Jack Russell

    Remember Bodgies and Widgies? My Dad was harsh in his criticism, and of their pack leader, the dastardly Elvis Presley … so very, very harsh!

    Anyway, he walked into the house to the music of Blue Hawaii and waxed lyrical about the singer’s wonderful voice.

    We kids descended on him en-pack … as you would! … safety in numbers did play a part, I admit.

  53. king1394

    i still miss card catalogues in libraries. Everything possible was put on those cards as opposed to the computerised catalogues which restrict you to a ‘need to know’ basic author/title call sign and availability. The handwritten notes were the best (‘also known as …; not suitable for children;) and the Library of Congress Subject Headings with their own prejudices: Forest Fires but no Bushfires.

  54. Kronomex

    Jack, my mother started teaching me to read before I started public primary school. If there is one thing that means a huge amount to me it was her instilling a love of reading and books in me.

    I was into comics (still collect them now but the costs mean I have to be very choosy with what I buy) and movies and then SF turned me into a fiend for a number of years before I widened my reading horizons. High School in Sydney: sod sports, the school library was my best friend until I found out why there were no SF books. We had an English class in the library one day the head librarian asked each student what they liked reading and what follows is verbatim (it’s not something you forget):
    “And what do you like reading?”
    “I like reading Science Fiction,” I replied.
    Her face went purple with rage and she snarled, “People who read that trash should be locked up and have the key thrown away!” That was when I first discovered that SF was considered childish garbage with no literary value. It bugged me for a few days then I woke up morning and thought, “Stuff ’em, I enjoy it.”

    The head librarian was quietly removed a couple of months later, in part for her behaviour but mainly for other reasons we never found out about, and joy of joy, Science Fiction started appearing. We readers who like our sense of wonder really were in a minority back then.

    Music wise I listened to then current pop music which came to an abrupt halt when I heard “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zepplin in late 1969 and Paranoid by Black Sabbath roughly a year later. Heavy metal ruled for me from then on. As with most things my music tastes have changed but still remain pretty eclectic and somewhat esoteric.

    Damn! Now I have to go and put my friends ducks to bed. Good night all.

  55. paul walter

    I remember a group of us on the long walk to school one morning. One of us had a tranny and in a moment our lives changed forever. This was the first we time heard “Whole Lotta Love” and nothing was ever going to be the same again. As for scifi, i had heard of 1984 and being the sort of student I was, went behind some shelves and started reading it when I should have been boning up on geography. That was also a game chamber, the book blew me away. About this time, they had Animal Farm and later Brave New world as actual parts of the curriculum, but 1984 was an entirely different kettle of fish, no punches pulled, a grey and ugly brute and the ancestor in many ways of Handmaids Tale later.
    I also was lucky as to parents. Mum read to me early and dad had me join the library at about age seven.

  56. LOVO

    Ah, …defining moments..The Archies (sugar..ah, honey, honey..my 1st record 😳 )….Sabbath, Led Zeb…Pistols…Crass…Acca Dacca…the Oils…Brave New World…1984…..Arthur C. …Moorcock…. Asimov…Hubbard..Donaldson…Philip K. Dick ….Ursula K. Le Guin…..Herbert.plus many more …and ‘a’ pivotal defining moment. .. “Chariots of the Gods”…me dear old mum* always said that doco changed me….
    ..and as someone mentioned earlier, I have never forgotten that news story where the South Vietnamese Officer shot that bloke…I remember the reporter asking something like “How do you deal with the Vietcong ” and he said “like this” and shot him in the head..there..in the street …and in my lounge room….I was about 8…it’s stayed with me and informed me all my life…..and it was shocking..and real….and whom could forget the pictures of “Napalm Girl” …Horror Movie’ it’s the 6.30 news …ah those were the days, indeedy doo, but one wonders what have we learned……(apart from we had the best music 😛 )

  57. Miriam English

    Freethinker, yes, I completely omitted the whole nuclear war fear that was a permanent background hum to everything back then. I remember being very worried about it.

    paul walter, did you mean that about not having the foggiest what I was talking about in the later part of my article? If you really meant that, I’m surprised. I thought it was relatively non-technical. Anybody else have difficulty with any part of it? Please let me know so I can be more careful in future.

    Michael, I’ve digitised that Computer Recreations article about using spreadsheets for modeling unusual things, like magnetic domains, percolation, and John Conway’s Game of Life. You might be interested in it.
    http://miriam-english.org/files/comp-rec-spreadsheets/spreadsheets_magnetism_percolation_life.html
    I used to turn immediately to that column and the Amateur Scientist column each new Scientific American I got.

    king1394, yeah, I always liked card catalogues for browsing. Computer searches reveal the same information, but only for the item(s) you searched for. That’s why I like wandering through Project Gutenberg’s virtual book stacks via their catalogue (http://www.gutenberg.org/catalog/) rather than the automated search. The search function is useful when I need it, but I do like browsing.

    Kronomex, yes, comics! Being a writer and an artist I’ve always loved comics. My favorite from back in that era was Magnus, Robot Fighter (1963! Wow!) I still have all my old issues, though they’re yellowing and looking a little worse for wear. Recently I bought them again when they were re-released as 3 hardcover volumes. When I sat down to re-read them I was amazed that beautiful Leeja, who I used to think was very feminist and independent, was really not at all. It’s hard to remember just how revolutionary characters like that were.

    One of my favorite TV shows in the 1960s was the British spy-comedy-science fiction series, The Avengers with heart-stoppingly gorgeous Diana Rigg, another independent woman who made being self-assertive sexy. She was preceded by Honor Blackman, who (unlike Diana Rigg) actually knew judo and karate. Diana just faked it. Today the fight sequences in The Avengers look ludicrous compared to today’s painstakingly realistic, bone-crunching choreography.

    Modern times have produced some truly brilliant comics, nothing like earlier days:

    Watchmen – written by legendary Alan Moore and made into a movie (the movie necessarily omitted half the story). It is a story about superheroes as if they are real, flawed people, and how some of them become corrupted by their power. The name comes from the quote, “Who watches the watchmen?” The structure and complexity of the story is so exquisite that this book is considered by many to be one of the most significant works of fiction of the 20th Century.

    Y the Last Man – by another writing legend, Brian K. Vaughan. A brilliant story about a single man who accidentally survives the death of every male mammal on Earth. The “Y” in the title refers to the Y chromosome that confers male sex, the main character’s name “Yorick”, and sounds like questioning “why?”. The story turns all your preconceptions on their head. Even though it’s ostensibly about a man, it’s really about the various women he encounters.

    Runaways – another by Brian K. Vaughan. Its premise is that a group of young friends accidentally find out their parents are murderous supervillains. It sounds a bit silly, but it absolutely is not. The tale is fresh and subversive and funny. When Brian K. Vaughan finished working on it, Joss Whedon took over and made it shine even more brightly, with the most perfectly written characters and a mind-bendingly brilliant extra plot.

    Strangers in Paradise – this enormous masterwork written and drawn by Terry Moore (no relation to Alan Moore) is an extraordinary, convoluted tale of an unusual love triangle that runs over decades. It doesn’t have any superheroes or supernatural stuff, but it does have mystery, romance, and humor.

    Sandman – by the legendary writer Neil Gaiman. This is long, complex story of gods and how they mess with humanity and each other. Sandman Morpheus, is the god of dreams, his sister is sweet, gentle, loving, good humored and wise, Death. This is another of those widely considered to be a pivotal work of fiction.

    Logicomix – is the most unusual comic I’ve ever seen. Superficially, it is a biography of Bertrand Russell, one of the great thinkers of our time, but it is much more, because it goes into depth about his philosophical work on mathematics. It is written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou.

    The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage – written and drawn by Sydney Padua. She wrote it as an affectionate and lighthearted look at Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage and their work on the earliest computer(s). At times the footnotes from her research into the pair take up more room than the cartoons, sometimes going on for pages. This is a fascinating work. She takes it far beyond what was and adds a hilarious crime-fighting alternate life, but she ensures reality and whimsy don’t get mixed up.

    Lazarus – This astonishing work is still in production. I bought volume 5 recently and can hardly wait for more. This is a story set in the near future after some unspecified plague has wiped out much of the Earth’s population, nations have collapsed, and several ultra-wealthy families have risen to power in a new feudal society, but it isn’t retro. Science has continued to advance, but most scenes look like today. The writing by Greg Rucka is brilliant and is about people’s relationships — love, alliances, suspicion, betrayal, trust. It’s an amazing tale. The artwork by Michael Lark looks at first glance to be rough, but after reading for several pages you come to realise it has a photographic quality that makes the places that the characters inhabit feel surprisingly real. I’m certain this is going to get turned into either a TV series or a series of movies.

    Paper Girls – another by Brian K. Vaughan. This is still in production. I bought volume 3 recently. As with everything he writes this is very fresh and unpredictable with characters who feel very real. One of the things I love most about this is Cliff Chiang’s gorgeous, deceptively simple artwork — it fills me with envy.

    Love Not Found – Gina Biggs writes and draws this. I love it so much I became a patron to support her work. The story is into its 3rd volume. You can read it online and/or buy electronic and paper volumes. This is a delightful story with no superheroes, no guns, no bad guys. It is perhaps the sweetest love story I’ve read. The main two characters are straight, but many of the other characters are gay or gender non-conforming.
    http://www.lovenotfound.com/comic/chapter-1-cover

  58. paul walter

    Miriam, yes i understand most of it. I used Gutenberg at uni over a decade ago, but yes, I have troubles with computers..call it ptsd after the worst of my experiences with them.

    Honour Blackman was brilliant, also Steptoe and Son and Zed Cars, and Panorama to learn some thing about the world.

    Wouldn’t you rather discuss the RSL, DLP and Communist plots?

  59. Harquebus

    Lovelace and Babbage are two of my idols. At the top of my list are John von Neumann and Alan Turing. Gods they are.

  60. paul walter

    Took a long time to “out” as to Turing’s shabby treatment.

  61. Rapideffect

    For a different prospective on the progress of change:

    https://dothemath.ucsd.edu/2015/09/you-call-this-progress/

    “So my claim is that I was born into a post-invention world. I can’t possibly mean this in the extreme. I myself invented the first cryogenic image slicer, and co-invented a nifty airplane detector that is selling to observatories. But these are not big deals—just derivative products.

    The big deals are: the computer revolution, the internet, mobile phones, GPS navigation, and surely some medical innovations. But I would characterize these as substantial refinements in pre-existing gizmos. It’s more an era of hard work than of inspiration. I’m not discounting the transformative influence of the internet and other such refinements, but instead pointing out that the fundamental technological underpinnings—the big breakthroughs— were in place already.

    Computers existed before I was born, and even talked to each other over (local) networks. Mobile phones have a long history predating my birth. GPS navigation is a space-based refinement of the older LORAN system, which is also based on timing of signal receipt from transmitters at known locations. Lasers (now important for optical drives and many other devices) were invented before I was born and were even used to measure the Earth-Moon distance to few-decimeter precision in 1969. The microwave oven was invented just after World War II; the first countertop model became available in 1967.”

  62. Miriam English

    Rapideffect, that’s a very jaded perspective.

    By this way of seeing things there have been no big inventions because everything is a matter of refinements. We got from the cave to robots on Mars by merely standing on the shoulders of those who went before. While that’s in some sense true, it also belittles some truly remarkable changes.

    The idea to put many devices on a single silicon chip (the first integrated circuit) began with just a few transistors. It grew through leaps, such as MOS and CMOS and FET technology and using ultraviolet light for masks with finer details. Before each big change people were predicting the end of any further gains in the industry. Now we routinely fit multiple CPUs on a single chip, with each CPU containing many millions of transistors. Each of the steps was revolutionary leading to here.

    When I was a kid, the laser (invented in 1960) was jokingly referred to as a solution in search of a problem. Nobody used them for anything, even though everybody thought they were very cool. In time, people developed amazing uses for it, from holography (3D photographs) to surveying equipment, to barcode scanners, to CD and DVD readers, to image stabilisers for telescopes to compensate for atmospheric aberration, to photolithography in making integrated circuits. Each of those was groundbreaking.

    The recent discovery and use of CRISPR for gene editing came completely out of left-field. Nobody expected anything this remarkable to appear on the scene. It had been expected that gene editing would be a laborious process that would take many decades to master. All that changed quite suddenly.

    3D printing is a new field that is built on older technologies. It requires stepper motors, cheap, digital computers, low-temperature plastics, and programs that enable 3D visualisation of objects and translation from that to a printable set of instructions, but building on those other technologies it becomes an entirely new technology… and it is very early days for that field yet.

    For many decades I’ve noticed that periodically various people assert that we’ve invented all the big things now and it’s only the details that need tightening up, or that we’ve discovered all the main things in science and it’s just a matter of tying up the loose ends now. Those people are repeatedly shown to be lazy and wrong. They are often either young people who have grown up used to the things they have and nostalgic for what they think was a more dramatic time before they were born, or they are older people who feel lost in the current era and are nostalgic for an earlier age where they thought they were more at ease.

    Chaos and complexity only recently became a field of learning despite hints of it for centuries. Now we know that astonishingly simple formulas can create things of literally infinite complexity. For example all the infinite detail in the geometric shape called the Mandelbrot Set can be created with the simple formula:
    z ← z² + c
    where c is a coordinate on the complex plane and z is a complex number derived iteratively from the formula. The simple formula is applied to each pixel’s coordinate in the window you wish to view. (Read about it here if you want.)

    Give me the excitement of the future. Give me the new inventions that will fix today’s problems. Give me the entirely new fields of learning, new technologies, new works of art, new ways of thinking and creating.

    Others can keep their hankering after stagnation.

  63. diannaart

    Miriam, am loving your breadth of thought and your depth of generosity.

  64. Kronomex

    Science has always been about finding the answer to Question A then discovering it leads on to Question B and so on and so forth.

    “Give me the excitement of the future. Give me the new inventions that will fix today’s problems. Give me the entirely new fields of learning, new technologies, new works of art, new ways of thinking and creating.” Sums it all for up me quite nicely.

  65. Miriam English

    [blush] Thanks Dianna. 🙂

  66. Kronomex

    Look out Miriam, Dianna might be after something. Oh wait, just remembered that I might have been thinking of when I was a kid and made comments like that to Mum. The first thing she would do is –

    a) Look at me.
    b) Ask what me what I’d done wrong.
    c) What was I cadging after this time.

  67. Joseph Carli

    diannaart !…you’re back!..I haven’t “seen” you for a while..did you have a good Xmas?

  68. Kaye Lee

    Of course new inventions build on prior knowledge and discoveries. We often make discoveries that take us centuries to find practical applications for. Whoever that was that Rapideffect was quoting sounds very self-occupied. Discoveries that happened before their apparently recent birth are ancient history to them rather than amazing breakthroughs that happened not so long ago.

    Because we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time doesn’t mean that we haven’t discovered/invented/created something new.

  69. Jack Russell

    The “happy accidents” have been happening forever … it just took a species with the ability to notice and have a think about what they’d just observed … then fiddle with it.

  70. diannaart

    Kronomex:

    May 2018 ease your guilt complex.

    Joe:

    I have been unwell.

    Kaye Lee:

    I agree humans can chew gum and walk at the same time AND build on knowledge or discover something completely new.

    Happy New Year AIMers!

  71. Joseph Carli

    ” I have been unwell.”…..Ah..sorry to hear that..I’ve come to imagine you as a person..in the physical sense that is..well..I trust this communication finds you recovered somewhat..

    “A healthy person desires a thousand things..a sick person but one…”

  72. Kronomex

    Dianna, I hope you are feeling better. My guilt complex has lessened since I started shaving the palms of my hands although they do feel the cold a bit now.

  73. Michael Taylor

    Nice to see you again, Dianna. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been unwell. Here’s hoping better health awaits you in 2018.

  74. Miriam English

    Dianna, I chime in on what others are saying. Hopefully you gain better health in 2018. Look after yourself; the world needs people like you.

  75. diannaart

    Joe:

    ““A healthy person desires a thousand things..a sick person but one…”

    Indeed. I will leave your thoughts of my physical manifestation or otherwise to you.

    Kronomex:

    A most excellent retort, made me smile, it did…

    Michael: A most heartfelt thanks.

    Miriam:
    Back atcha – as in the world is in dire need for, not as in a comment upon your health.

    Midnight approaches…

  76. Miriam English

    See you all next year 🙂

  77. LOVO

    Soylent Green; now there’s a ‘humane meat’. 😆

  78. Kronomex

    “Now, now, little Johnny, if you don’t eat your Soylent Green the Soylent Monster will leave a bag of Soylent Brown…yes, Soylent Brown, the snack that smells of crap and leaves you gagging…Soylent Brown, made from the bodies of politicians…under your pillow.”
    “No he won’t because I’ll hear him come into my room.”
    “You’re wrong there Johnny, because you will not hear him.”
    “Why won’t I hear him Mummy?”
    “Because he’s soylent.”

  79. Miriam English

    😀

    You might be surprised that there really is a complete food called “Soylent” developed by a guy named Rob Rhinehart because he was sick of having to interrupt what he was doing to prepare food and ensuring he ate a balanced diet — a man after my own heart. I hate having to eat. And no, unlike the fictional version, it doesn’t contain people. From back in 2013…

    https://www.vice.com/en_au/article/ppmegk/rob-rhinehart-interview-soylent-never-eat-again

    I wondered what became of it so I googled it just now:

    He has a company:
    https://www.soylent.com/

    Uh-oh… There have been problems:
    https://www.meghantelpner.com/blog/the-soylent-killer/

  80. Kronomex

    Politicians are people? That’s horrifying! So that means for years I’ve been incorrect in my thought they they were strange and awful microscopic animacules that colonised what came out of animals after food had travelled through their digestive tracks.

  81. LOVO

    Kronomex, what an load of trickle down ….. “Politician’s are people?? 😯 ” WTF, mate 😆
    … “after food” ..now there’s a classic. ..kinda reminds me of Tony and Little Johnny

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