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"History is just people doing things"

THE ABQ CORRESPONDENT

                 ISSN 1087-2302   Online Edition Number 257......April 2017

Published since 1985 for clients and contacts of 
ABQ Communications Corporation, the fuzzy focus

of The ABQ Correspondent is "the impact of new 
technology on society." If you'd like to receive e-mail 
notification when each monthly issue is posted, please 
let us know.   correspo at swcp dot com

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STORAGE

The Correspo has pointed in the past to interesting methods for storing energy when it is abundant (e.g. the sun is shining on your solar panels) and saving it for use when power is scarce (e.g. it’s dark out). That’s what batteries are for, but they’ve never been cheap enough, or had the capacity to do all that’s desired. We’ve mentioned a scheme to push loaded railroad cars uphill for some miles when power is available, then let them roll back downhill, generating power afresh.  Another approach is to pump water into a high reservoir, from which it will flow through a hydroelectric generator. Companies like Tesla are now producing better batteries, and there’s dim light at the end of the tunnel, so to speak, but dozens of other approaches are being explored. An example: Germany’s Frauenhofer Institute has tried putting a (strong) sphere 100 meters under Lake Constanz, pumping it empty with cheap power, then letting high pressure water fill it again through a generator. it seems to have worked, though their strongest claim is that “they learned a lot.” This test sphere was only 3m in diameter, and they look forward to using 80 spheres 30m in diameter at 700-meter depth that could produce 20MWh of power over four hours. That’s a big jump, and almost nothing seems to scale up linearly, but this is bold and fun, maybe even practical

 

 

NOW HEAR THIS

Quite obviously, the world around us looks different from the way it did years ago. Cars no longer sport distinct “fenders,” for example, and men do not routinely wear hats, completely changing the look of crowds in the streets. It’s less apparent that things sound different, too. There’s interesting stuff to listen to at the Museum of Endangered Sounds, which has some neat sounds like clicking and winding an Olympus camera, the clatter of a manual typewriter, and the sound of dialing a rotary phone. This museum is a great start, but one longs for more. Several sites offer nostalgic sounds: this has a nice steam whistle for example, this has a good dial-up handshake, and this has a ton of great old telephone noises, Other sites offer no sounds, only tantalizing lists of missing sounds, such as the rattle and clank of bottles in a milkman’s carrier. One commercial source of sound effects offers some clanking bottles, but that’s not really satisfactory. It’s possible to buy wire carriers and old milk and cream bottles on eBay, so the sound could be recreated (recall the 1944 song Milkman Keep Those Bottles Quiet…the lament of a night-shift war-factory worker in need of some shuteye at dawn), but it would take work, patience, and a few bucks.

Sound can be tricky. One of our companies is just introducing a turbine engine for UAVs that is uncommonly quiet in flight, an important matter. The fellows sensibly keep wanting to demonstrate its hush by recording the sound, and posting it online, and I’m winning no friends by saying we can’t do that effectively. All the audio systems on which people will hear it make loud sounds quieter to protect the gear and the ear, and quiet sounds louder, so the listener doesn’t miss anything…perfectly making our demo impractical. My, how frustrating.

 

 STEP INTO OUR FARM

Another familiar Correspo topic is indoor agriculture. There’s quite a lot going on…enabled partly by the widespread availability now of LED lighting systems that dramatically (that’s DRAMATICALLY) reduce the cost of growing stuff under lights. Most of what’s being done seems a trifle precious, like growing spinach and herbs year-round for immediate consumption by patrons of high class restaurants whose proprietors believe that fresh fresh is good good. That’s nice, but it’s hard to imagine indoor fields of waving grain to feed the hungry population. We’re not talking just about veggies, either. People are producing “meat” and “milk” artificially, that is, not just working miracles of chemistry, but using living, growing material to produce protein in quantity that has the characteristics of meat and milk. This isn’t exactly new; controversial scientist Alexis Carrel grew chicken cells in vitro, separately from any chickens, early in the 20th century.  The story goes that the culture was maintained for decades, producing enough meat so that fifty years later everybody at a memorial banquet of scientists was served a portion of it. This wasn’t considered the launch of a commercial venture, just a sort of eccentric recognition of an interesting accomplishment. In this era of changing climate, alternatives to traditional agriculture and husbandry are being examined seriously. At least one company is producing chicken (and duck) tenders from real, reproducing  animal cells many generations separated from the critters of origin, while another is already commercially producing “hamburger” entirely from non-animal sources. They don’t say that it’s “real” meat, don’t call it “synthetic” meat…but it isn’t the familiar material of the veggie patty. The question arises; what is real meat?  Different habits and traditions in our society are being expressed with notable vigor. The technical issues in this may be as nothing compared with the social issues. It’ll be interesting to watch. One relatively non-controversial journal chronicling indoor agriculture and “vertical farming” is HortiDaily, It’s lightweight, but informative. We’ll be hearing more.

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NELS MUSES 

Item:

Mr. Peers has gently reproved us for speaking carelessly last month about lenses made of “silicon” rather than “silicates,” silicon being a greyish metal that is but one component of glass. John also recalled that a friend visiting him in the San Francisco area some years ago referred to “Silicone Valley.” John commented he must be thinking of Carol Doda, a featured performer in the steamy North Beach district in the ‘60s. Ah yes, that brings the recollection that a Bay Area television personality announced that he would interview Carol Doda live on the air, topless. On the appointed day, he did it. He did not wear a shirt. She did.

 

Item:

Another good line from Bruce Schneier: “We no longer have things with computers embedded in them. We have computers with things attached to them.”

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ITEM FROM THE PAST

This is again not an item, but a recollection stirred by

discussion (this, and this, and this, and this, for example),

some of it indignant, about the use of computer generated

images (CGI) to recreate characters performed by actors

who have died. In this case, the specific characters are those

played by Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher in the Star Wars

series.

Readers occasionally ask for predictions about what the future holds, but I’m a demonstrably unimaginative and unhelpful prophet. Only now and again do we see something clearly. Paul Honore’ and I gave a paper called What Good is a Baby? at the December, 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference in a session called Computer Generated Pictures—Perils, Pleasures, Profits, dealing with the newfangled concept. John Whitney was there, showing pulsing  mandalas produced with a movie animation program on (gasp) punched cards. Csuri and Shaffer from Ohio State showed exciting images of insects and people, and fellows from Bell Labs and MIT showed what telephone poles would look like as you approached the speed of light along a roadway, and how we might show a fourth dimension in animation…heady stuff. Paul and I didn’t show interesting movies, just talked about stressful practical and social challenges in the field.

I’ve been recalling wrongly that our paper spoke of extracting Marilyn Monroe from The Misfits, Rudolph Valentino from The Sheikh, and sets from The Ten Commandments, and putting them all together in a new movie with different action and angles. Not in that paper, a re-reading shows, but we published that notion elsewhere in the same era. The capability seemed obvious. Even so, it’s startling to see The Grand Moff Tarkin reincarnate…or is that reillusionate? There’s still a way to go, but few now doubt that these effects can be achieved convincingly.  We got one right.

That paper was delivered from the same platform

in the San Francisco Civic Auditorium where Doug

Englebart had just an hour earlier shown a strange thing

he called a “mouse” to the somewhat puzzled computer

establishment. His performance is now popularly recalled

as The Mother of All Demos. Intriguing that both

mouse and CGI movie are now important in our society.

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 After some years of working and reworking, this has become a real book, via Lulu Publishing. The blurb on the back (under a picture of the author looking unnaturally cheerful) says:

 “This book is Nels Winkless’s wry look at his half-century-and- more as a “professional outsider” writing, editing, interpreting, presenting new ideas, and serving as a sounding board for interesting people who have influenced some of the major technical developments of the era. While fascinated by the dazzling advance of technology, he’s most intrigued by the savage resistance people have to every sort of change, making technical progress virtually miraculous, and he suggests an explanation for this puzzling conflict.
   His recollections of the work and people are often funny, sometimes painful, and usually surprising.

ISBN: 978-0-557-05785-6    
                   Review(s)               Available at Lulu.com

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