"History is just people doing things"
THE ABQ CORRESPONDENT
ISSN 1087-2302 Online Edition Number 275......October 2018
since 1985 for clients and contacts of
Last month’s complaint about anthropomorphic faces on robots was a bit ungracious, not recognizing cases in which human traits are useful. For example, the , designed to work alongside people on production lines, has a face, well, eyes on a screen, that “look at” whatever has the robot’s attention at the moment. That’s helpful to the human workers around it who judge their immediate situations largely by noticing what others are paying attention to. The situational awareness that keeps us out of trouble is formed from a zillion clues, moment by moment, and the focus of attention of our associates is one of them. Another sensible use of anthropomorphic features is in remote presence systems, perhaps better thought of as avatars, which . This is all about enabling kids or adults stuck at home or in an institution to participate in activities elsewhere. They can attend school, ask questions, banter with classmates, go to games, have friends. There have been some not-notably-successful efforts to allow non-travelers to attend business conferences and roam exhibit halls, getting a direct sense of the events, rather than depending wholly on reports. Part, if not most of the value of conferences and shows is in the contact and discussion between formal presentations…the chance to have cuppa and a chat with people we don’t normally encounter. We haven’t seen any effort to enable personal avatars to take advantage of such opportunity, but these are early days. While the physical presence of the avatar is critical; the critter is not intended to be an autonomous entity, but an extension of the stay-at-home, real live person it’s representing. How much do you want people feel that they are interacting with the physical object, and how much with the person behind it? One approach is to mount a monitor with a camera on a mobile base…essentially putting Skype on a stick. The home-bound party may not wish to be seen, and it may be desirable to make the avatar a non-threatening, sympathetic form of some sort with whom the remote parties can interact comfortably. The BBC report in the link above briefly shows some alternatives. Nothing about this is straightforward. Must the avatar move on its own? Might someone carry/wear it (the second head of Zaphod Beeblebrox)? Might the home-bound have multiple avatars…even in multiple places at the same time? (Talk about multitasking!) Cost of communication* is a concern…should only the well-to-do have avatars? Should the state provide and control avatars, giving the state extraordinary control of the home-bound and all of their associates? How will hackers intervene to affect the lives of the home-bound and remote associates? Wild and exciting times for all, even for those who don’t get out and about. We’re all in this together. A modicum of grace may be welcome.
*Yeah, but one recalls getting a call here in the high desert from an associate in London in about 1971. After a brief exchange he commented “I should really get off; this is costing $12.50 a minute.” It’s extravagant now to make such a call on a system that charges as much as a dime a minute.
Last month’s cyber fish wrapper (thanks, Joel) generated some thoughtful responses, this one from Paul Honoré: “Your article on balloons brings back a memory of WWII. Recall the Fugo balloons the Japanese sent over here to deliver mayhem with high explosive and incendiary bombs, lofted to float on the jet stream, timed to release a bomb every few minutes as they drifted by. Only one person is certified as being killed by one. A Sunday school teacher was herding her class through the Oregon woods on a picnic outing and stumbled on a downed Fugo, setting it off. The pieces of her that were recovered are buried in a nearby Port Angeles cemetery. More than 2000 hydrogen filled Fugos were released, and most found their way to their intended destination. They were made of paper, sealed from leakage with a coating of plum sauce and fabricated by battalions of Japanese High School girls (the same girls who were trained to fight American invasion troops with sharpened bamboo spears). Characteristically, the Japanese had asked about Jet stream activities over the U.S. and the weather folks happily sent them details. By the way, there are an estimated 25 Fugos still lying about somewhere on the continent, their explosive cargoes becoming more and more unstable with time. If you find one, don't kick it.”
close friend was among the first hundred U.S. officers to enter Japan after
the end of active hostilities. With a jeep and a translator, he toured the
hinterlands…the first of the feared enemy to be seen by most of the people he
encountered. Never a lick of trouble. They had surrendered, and a deal was a
THE WALLS HAVE EARS
Folks at MIT have reportedly from submerged submarines…which has long been a challenge. Apparently, the sub can create ripples on the surface of the sea representing audio. (Seems pretty basic.) A plane above, scanning with a laser, can read those ripples, and turn them into intelligible messages. This calls to mind a project we worked on in the 1960s when it seemed useful to be able to detect what was going on under the jungle canopy along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Dr. Browning had a suggestion: placing diaphragms in corner reflectors on the ground, scanning them with a laser in a plane overhead, and simply listening to sound down on the ground. (If you cut the corner diagonally off a box, you have a piece in which three sides at 90° angles meet at the corner. If the inside surface is reflective, and you shine light into it, it’s bounced back to the source of the light...like index 2 glass beads on Scotchlight, it’s retro-reflective.) Iben’s mad scheme was to produce immense numbers of little paper corner reflectors maybe 3” on a side colored to look like leafy jungle stuff, with reflective diaphragms glued over a half-inch hole in one of the sides. A pin would be pushed through the very corner to provide weight there, and the outside edges of the thing would shaped rather like maple keys, so that when it was dropped, it would flutter quietly to the ground, pin-first, and probably stick into a leaf, blending pretty well into the foliage. With thousands of these gadgets scattered all along the trail, it would be hard to find them all, even if you knew what you were looking for. A high-flying plane could sweep the area getting reflections… some very likely containing identifiable sounds, even phrases of potentially revealing speech. The sound modulation/demodulation part was not mysterious, but we experimented with pins, paper, and glue, making and testing a whole lot of the fluttering gizmos in various configurations. Sure enough, they stuck in carpets, socks, sleeves, hair, foam cups, sandwiches, and such, ready to bounce back laser probes. In real production, they could probably have been made for a fraction of a cent apiece. When the idea was called to the attention of people who had a stake in getting the information from the ground, they expressed enthusiasm, and carried the idea off happily. Somehow, the concept transmogrified into the production of tiny electronic listening/transmitting devices that cost $800 apiece, and nothing came of it. Ah well.
Changing technology changes the language Floundering for a way to describe having a mailbox at the front of his house filled with ads, a friend said that he had entirely too much snail mail spam. We used to call it junk mail.
For the first time in a couple of years we also heard from Dr, Russell Eberhart, distinguished expert in the behavior of bunches of flying things, natural and artificial. Russ says: “Am consulting in swarm intelligence in the cybersecurity area.” However, that wasn’t his real news. “I am also writing cyberthrillers and murder mysteries under the pen name Ross Carley.
See http://www.RossCarleyAuthor.com and Facebook at http://www.Facebook.com/RossCarleyBooks Warning: My novels contain adult content...both violence and sex. My books are available from the usual suspects including Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and about a dozen e-publishers.”
Since he warned sternly about the sex and violence in successive emails, it must either be strong stuff, or he is defensively expressing guilt about defying the gentler teachings of his upbringing.
When asked if it’s OK to reveal the real mad scientist behind the pseudonym, he said: “I’ll appreciate the publicity.” You’re on your own.
One is accustomed to posted signs saying “Yard Cleanup” or “Sheeps for Sail” but it was disconcerting to encounter this recently: “Snake Removal.”
ITEM FROM THE PAST
This piece from 1976 preceded the Correspo by
nine years. We’d just undertaken publication of
Personal Computing Magazine (first issue hit the
streets in Jan/Feb 1977), and we weren’t the first
publication in the field; BYTE Magazine, described
by some as the best technical journal ever published,
and Creative Computing, based largely on work
started on the DEC PDP-8, and emphasizing gaming,
were already in publication.
This is the intro to a piece in the MITS newsletter,
which went to MITS staff and an
external readership of a few hundred, maybe more,
who already had some notion of what we were talking
“You’ve probably seen an ad and heard some rumors about PERSONAL COMPUTING, but we’ve been so busy getting our show on the road that we haven’t yet talked with many of the people whose interest is important to us.
We want you to know what we’re up to and how our approach to a technology-based magazine is different from what’s come before. It isn’t easy to put this in a nutshell, because personal computing is part of a major revolution in human thought. It would have been tough to explain to people in 1700 how much fun they would have in the coming industrial revolution. The information processing revolution has just begun to touch the common man and we’re looking forward to lots of excitement, though the crystal balls are cloudy.
The best way to tell you about PERSONAL COMPUTING, we decided, with to pass along the text of a short talk I’ve been giving to service clubs, most of whose members don’t know the difference between a computer and a toaster. They’ve found this useful. Maybe you can make use of it in estimating the excitement we all look forward to in PERSONAL COMPUTING.”
Mind you, this was looking forward ignorantly to the
digital society we live in now.
It was surprising to come across this forgotten,
lightweight thing; the talk is less embarrassing than
I’d written a piece comparing the opportunity to sell
services using personal computers with lemonade stand
entrepreneurship, and publisher David Bunnell had the
sense to ask redoubtable illustrator Kim Behm to do
something graphic with the thought. Kim did…and it’s
nice to be associated with his wonderful work.
Oddly, the handwritten notes highlighting the talk
weren’t mine. Not my handwriting, not my words.
Given BYTE and Creative, we needed a different niche,
and because I didn’t know much about electronics, didn’t
program and didn’t want to, I suggested that this was not
to be a magazine about computers, but a magazine about
people trying desperately to use a computer for something,
anything. David bought it, the idea stuck, and it characterized
the magazine for the several years it persisted under different
ownerships after David and I had left.
It would be easy to run on about this indefinitely, but
restraint is probably a virtue.
Oh, yeah, young Bill Gates and Paul Allen were still
associated with MITS when we started Personal Computing,
and they did a column that ran in our first three bimonthly
issues. If I’d known they would become the world’s richest
men, I might have cultivated the contact more actively.
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