"History is just people doing things"
THE ABQ CORRESPONDENT
ISSN 1087-2302 Online Edition Number 269......April 2018
Published since 1985 for clients and contacts
Still more on the synthetic/cultivated meat front. The Correspo noted last month a petition by U.S. Cattlemen's Association to the USDA, requesting rigorous definition of “meat.” While the artificial meat made from vegetable products may chemically be meat, this upset over what can be called meat isn’t likely to end soon, and it has less to do with science than with tradition. It just isn’t right to think of putting meat on the table unless somebody has killed it. There’s no romance in wearing a lab coat around the biology factory while producing cutlets, none of the flavor of “There’s thunder in the West, and it’s pourin’ down rain, and my god damn slicker’s in the wagon again, comin’ ki-yi yippee, yippee-eye yippee-ay…etc…” Another group wants to prevent the sale of anything called “Cauliflower Rice” The dairy industry still shudders at names like “Soy Milk,” lest they improperly call to mind the warm, natural values of Elsie, Elmer, and Daisy. The dairy folks have had a long, hard go of it. Just after WWII, companies began to produce and market “oleomargarine” aggressively as an alternative to butter. Worse, they had the audacity to color it yellow, which to any right-thinking person was obviously immoral! Many state legislatures banned the sale of yellow margarine. Some producers got around that by packaging their product in a strong, clear plastic bag with a capsule of yellow coloring inside it. The consumer could easily pop that capsule then knead the dye into the margarine inside the bag. It was actually sort of fun, and when the kneading was assigned to kids, they tended it go at it vigorously, tossing the bag around. The bag was strong, but not that strong, and a fair amount of yellowish hydrogenated vegetable oil was spread on walls and furniture in the 1950’s. Yellow margarine doesn’t seem to be much of an issue these days. Of course, the makers of I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter declare that their product is not butter, just as the makers of Beyond Meat declare that their product is not meat. There may be little substance to these quarrels, but there’s a whole lot of entertainment.
BUT NO THIMBLE
A sewing needle estimated to be 50,000 years old has been discovered with other artifacts (for example, quite a nice bracelet) in a Siberian cave. The needle looks perfectly practical, with a sharp point at one end and small hole in which to secure a strand of thread or sinew or whatever at the other end. It’s about 2¾ inches long, made of bone. As with other very old inventions, like spears, odds are the idea had a long previous history. It seems unlikely that somebody figured out how to make a sewing needle one Wednesday afternoon in 48,082 BC. The inhabitants of the cave in that era were a hominid group called the Denisovans, after the cave, which got its current handle from a hermit named Denis who lived in it just a couple of hundred years ago.* The identification of the Denisovans, based chiefly on DNA, has stirred much excitement, and they are suddenly recognized as having played an important role in human development, probably everywhere. As best one can tell, the only physical remains we have of the Denisovans are a fingerbone and a couple of teeth found in that cave, on which basis enthusiasts have tracked populations of those folks around the world. Not doubting it, mind you, genetic analysis is a powerful tool, but the situation recalls Mark Twain’s admiring remark about science: “One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”
*No kidding, history is just people doing things.
Steven Sester recently shared a tale of life in The Age of Unmitigated Communication: “A couple of years back, a cab I was in got broadsided. More recently I was hit by a vehicle while I was crossing the street with a green light. In both cases the accidents involved drivers who were texting. This morning takes the cake, though. While I was on my way out, some lady totally distracted by texting with one hand, and with a cup of coffee in the other hand realized that she was going to miss the elevator. She put the arm with the coffee hand in the closing elevator door to hold it, and I was drenched with coffee! What is so important that people cannot be out of touch for short trips around town or for an elevator ride?”
Mr. Sester is almost as much an old fuddy duddy as I.
The Correspo has previously noted worldwide crash efforts to achieve “quantum supremacy, the ability outperform a classical supercomputer on a well-defined computer science problem.” The consensus has been that a system with about 50 qubits would be necessary.
Google has announced development of a 76-qubit system with a satisfactorily low error rate. This experimental system doesn’t really crack the nut, doesn’t solve the problems of having to operate at almost absolute zero, or any of that, but it shows that things are moving right along. Fasten your seat belts.
Iben suggested to a university library some decades ago that they should forswear the Dewey Decimal System, and instead just put books wherever there was room for them, then remember where they put them (kinda like stuff on my desk). The library folks were deeply offended. Well, that’s exactly what Amazon is now doing in its warehouses. They don’t allot specific locations to items, wasting space when stocks are low; they put the stuff wherever it fits, and keep track of the locations. Saves a ton of warehouse space. The nice thing about the traditional organization of libraries, of course, is that the uncertain reader can poke around in a section of books on the same general subject, discovering interesting, unanticipated material. That happy activity would be lost…but maybe search engines can make up for it.
ITEM FROM THE PAST
This item from 1996, a mere twenty-two years ago,
was brought to mind by the avalanche of mail we
get from people who are certain they can improve
rankings we don’t care about in searches…but really
it points up how things have changed since this ran.
WHAT SHALL WE PUT IN THE WINDOW?
Leafing through some computer magazines back about 1980, I noticed that a huge percentage of the photographs in the magazines, both in advertising and editorial space, featured people sitting at keyboards in front of monitors. The pictures in the ads were often not shots of the advertiser’s product; they were just convenient symbols telling the reader: “This has something to do with personal computers.” Counting pages in several magazines, and counting pictures, I was able to calculate the number-of-pictures-of-people-sitting-at-keyboards-per-page, and write an article about the phenomenon. It pointed out that IBM was getting an astonishing lot of exposure paid for by other people, and observed that we might, if we applied ourselves, think of something more informative to do with the ink and paper. The computer marketing magazine that bought the piece ran it on the same page as an ad containing a picture of somebody sitting at a keyboard in front of a monitor, and their advertiser was deeply aggrieved.
Now, get onto the World Wide Web, and do a search on Web Page Design to find sites where the people who design websites professionally present themselves. Perhaps half of the pages start with complex artwork that costs you a dime’s worth of time to load. The text explains that the Internet is teeming with millions of people who are eager to see what you have to offer, and the sponsors offer to present you in grand style at modest cost. Gad. One sympathizes; it isn’t easy to think of fresh ways to reward the viewer for his time and dime, but we tend rather too easily to let the medium be the message. (Have you ever seen a film written and narrated by the sainted Marshall McLuhan? Avoid the opportunity if you can.) As ever, the really sharp website creators stand out from the crowd.
For openers…this was obviously written in
pre-always-on days, when we got onto the web
via Compuserve or Prodigy, which billed us by
the hour of online time...$8/hr is the figure we
recall…hence the reference to a dime’s worth
of loading time… so we worked offline as much
as possible. Clumsy, but economical. When really
fast search engines came along, they were hugely
And, they’re not still “personal computers,” just
“computers,” ordinary tools like forks or pens.
The Correspo has commented in the past on the
bureaucratic stresses involved in getting a teletype
machine installed in an employee’s apartment in
Austin in the 1960s, so she could hook into the UT
mainframe via timesharing. By the reaction of the
city authorities and the landlord, you’d have
thought we trying to set up a heroin dispensary.
Rick Loomis, running the Flying Buffalo game
(by snail mail, just calculating the results of
players’ moves on the computer) in Phoenix in
the mid-‘70s was forbidden by zoning laws to
operate his industrial equipment, the computer,
in his private home. He had to move.
And, if you do a search for web page designers,
you’ll find…a bunch, some of them even in the
U.S. It was an astonishing novelty to see a
billboard some years ago that showed only the
advertiser’s website address. If you give the
name of your company to somebody at a
conference now…and that party can’t find your
website on a smartphone in the next couple of
minutes…you become insignificant, and an
object of mild suspicion.
One assumes that we ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Five years ago this month the Correspo lost it first reviewer.
Nothing has been right since.
Copyright © 2018 ABQ Communications Corporation. All rights reserved.