Category - gizmos
It’s the gizmos, stupid.
… we really are going to need shades…
Imagine being dropped into the middle of an episode of “The Big Bang Theory.” Then imagine taking LSD. Then imagine that the episode runs for like 12 or 14 hours…
Now you’ve got some idea what this past Saturday was like for me…
The occasion was the 26th annual gathering of HEAS – The High Energy Amateur Science group – a loose-nit gang of high voltage, radiation, and fringe science enthusiasts from all over the country who gather at the home and lab of Richard Hull in Richmond Virginia to talk gizmos.
This was my fourth or fifth time attending this event, but even so I felt woefully “out of my league.” I attended because this is the best chance I have every year to visit with the people who inhabit Fusor.net – the site I started back in 1998 to foster discussion among people who are interested in Philo T. Farnsworth’s approach to nuclear fusion.
I felt out of place, but there I was…
I think the tone of the weekend was set early on, when I was chatting with an 18 year old from Seattle named Noah Hoppis, who pulled a small – wait for it – geiger counter! out of his pocket. He proceeded to explain how it works, how he got it, what he does with it, etc.
Noah was there with an older friend of his family, a woman named Linda who lives in the area and was providing transportation for the weekend. I watched as Linda’s eyes glazed over, and at one point she said, “I understand all the individual words, but once he starts stringing them together…. he loses me.”
Which is pretty much how I felt the entire day.
I am at best marginally conversant in these questions of advanced science and physics. Remember, I’m the guy who basically got flunked out of physics in high-school because I was a pain in the ass for the teacher. That was in the 11th grade, and I spent the semester in the principals office pulling wires out of an early kind of computer circuit board. The symbolism is pretty rich…
Despite my failure in any kind of academic scientific pursuit, I have some capacity for staying tuned in long enough to get a sense of the big picture, and maybe even some talent for distilliing the Broad Concepts into language that the average reader can comprehend. I’ve done it in two books, and occasionally somebody will tell me “you said that pretty clearly” or words to that effect. I smile and think to myself, “fooled ‘em again…”
So I spent the first two hours being a million miles – light years? – out of my comfort zone… thinking, “I have no business being here.”
After a few hours of that, I finally settled down and got my camera out and started taking some pictures.
First, here is Richard Hull himself, as his fusor runs on the apparatus around him. Just over his left shoulder is the fusion chamber itself, and over his right shoulder is the video image of the actual “star in a a jar” reaction inside that chamber:
Now, of course, the reaction that Richard has created is pretty “low yield.” 1-2 million neutrons emitted per second may sound like a lot, but that level is safe to be in the same room with. Exponentially, that yield is expressed as 1x10E6 (1 times ten-to-the-sixth) “Breakeven” for a system like this is predicted to occur somewhere between 10E12 and 10E14. Let me do the math: that would be somewhere between 10 and 100 TRILLION neutrons per second. We ain’t there yet.
But fear not. Here’s my favorite single photo of the weekend:
This is Scott Moroch and Jack Rosky, two students at a high school in Wayne New Jersey who are building – yes – their ow nuclear fusion reactor. What Scott is holding in his hand is a model of the fusion chamber they plan to build that they rendered in a 3D printer. The model is plastic, the real thing will be stainless steel (and considerably larger). Now THAT’s using new technology to create new technology…
Finally, my favorite demonstration of the weekend:
….where in Robert Tubbs looks on and assists as Dr. Kevin Dunn from the Hampton-Sidney College in Virginia demonstrates a form of “Caveman Chemistry” – namely a prehistoric chemical process called “fire.”
Conducted in the presence of the Fusor, it’s an intriguing juxtaposition of “Fire Version One” with “Fire Version 2.” Kevin made the point that “civilization” essentially begins with the discovery and control of “Fire v1.0” What becomes of “civilization” if/when we finally control “Fire v2.0”?
And, not surprisingly, it is no easy feat to make fire from two pieces of wood. It takes some coordination to rapidly and repeatedly pull the bow back and forth to spin the spindle while pressing the spindle down against the second piece of wood. It takes a bit of practice and perseverance to get the hang of it.
Watching these young guys try their hand at making fire – and knowing that they would go home to resume their efforts to build and operate a fusion reactor, I came up with this new rule: You’re not aloud to make “nuclear fire” until you have demonstrated that you are capable of making “carbon fire.”
You know, first things first…
Maybe you’ve seen these photos that I posted on Facebook of the August Super Moon rising over Nashville: The response has been very gratifying. Several people have said these are the nicest photos they’ve ever seen of Nashville. That might be debatable (he says, feigning modesty), but in any case, several people have purchased prints.
In addition to the prints, I’m throwing in a digital file that looks really cool as the “wallpaper” on your smart phone or tablet:
Just follow THIS LINK for details and ordering
A friend sent me this video yesterday – along with the ironic observation that a rap decrying our obsession with screens was delivered – how else? – by screen. And that a screed lambasting Facebook would show up – where else? – on Facebook.
I have managed to more or less maintain my “social media” embargo for the better part of three weeks now. I have ranted a few times via Twitter @Comcastcares (they don’t, really, it was a full week before anybody tweet-replied to the most recent distress signal. Hence the ensuing hash tag #Comcastjustpretendstocare).
And I have made one or two ‘guerilla strikes’ each day into Facebook to see if there are any actual pressing matters that have been left for me there. So far, no so much.
So I am learning that an Internet addict CAN manage their consumption of digits, just as an overeater can learn how to manage their consumption of calories.
More parallel ironies come to mind. I have said on several occasions that over the past few months my engagement with the ‘social media’ firmament has been recalling my relationship with Johnny Walker and Stolichnaya in the months before I finally started going to AA meetings in the fall of 1987. Some arithmetic is in order:
I started getting stoned, etc. in the spring of 1969, and closed the book on that chapter of my life in the fall of 1987. That’s roughly 18-1/2 years.
I got on the Internet in earnest in 1995 (though I’ve been online since 300 baud in 1979) and put myself on this “Digital Rehab” program in 2014. That’s, umm… roughly 19 years. Close enough for the sake of ironic symmetry.
Obvious, I am still on the Internet even though I haven’t had a sip, a snif, or a puff in… it’ll be 27 years this coming Thanksgiving Day.
As I’ve said, that’s the difference between being an alcoholic and a digi-holic. Being a digi-holic is more like being an overeater. A recovering alcoholic can get along fine for the rest of his life without a drop of liquor ever passing over his lips. An overeater is going to have to find away to eat.
And I will have to find a way to integrate all this nonsense back into my existence.
Starting with creating and maintaining effective filters on what constitutes “nonsense.”
Which starts by withdrawing completely from the ‘random trivia generator’ that a Facebook ‘news feed’ has become.
Oh, I still have access to several random trivia generators.
I use the Pulse RSS reader (now ‘LinkedIn Pulse’ since LinkedIn acquired the company, though it is still the only real use I’ve found for anything having to do with LinkedIn), several times a day. But the information I’m accessing through that app is a tad better filtered than what I typically get on Facebook: I decide what the feeds are, have them categorized in pages, and can pretty much decide what I information I care to avail myself to at any time. That’s where I keep Andrew Sullivan, Salon, Cult of Mac, This Modern World (the Tom Tomorrow comic) and a couple dozen photography sources. It comes in very handy when I’m standing on a line somewhere – like when it takes 30 minutes to return a appliance to Comcast.
So still no Facebook on my mobile devices, and still no default email account. That way there is nothing tugging at my attention on my phone. On a conscious level I know there is nothing new – no new emails, no notifications from Facebook – so there is no reason to “check” my device(s).
Which leaves me to observe and ignore the subconscious impulse to “check” every couple of minutes.
And my “phone”? It’s mostly an audio book player these days… I’m learning a lot about the first decades of English colonization in the New World…
Thursday, September 25, 10:21 AM
Jeez, is it already almost 10:30? I was so sure I’d be at the keyboard by 10. A few minutes before 10, I was almost done clearing my inbox of the detritus that I’d let accumulate by mostly ignoring it the day before. And then one thing and another… and now it’s 10:21. Another half hour I’ll never get back…
See, that’s the quandary.
Time slips by in tiny increments… one small distraction after another, and before you know it a quarter, a half, a whole hour has slipped by and there’s nothing to show for it except time spent with the RTG – The Random Trivia Generator.
The Random Trivia Generator is not just Facebook. It’s the whole Universe of digital distractions. Here we see the downside in the interconnectedness of all things. Maybe it starts with an indispensable tool like e-mail, which by now is mostly littered with e-newsletters of varying degrees of actual interest, each with their own links to something brighter and shinier beyond. Once you’re in the browser, there are more links, most of them of the “link bait” variety that promise even deeper satisfaction if you just give into your curiosity and… click here.
I’d snuck into Facebook for a minute. Just to clear an item I’d left in my inbox from yesterday, a link I needed to post to The 1861 Project’s Facebook page, which these days serves as the Project’s website. Since the actual website attracts so little traffic – and conversely the Facebook page gathers whatever interest there actually is in the project – we just redirected the domain to the Facebook page and we “engage” our “audience” there.
Tales of distraction: I’m suddenly tempted to drop the developing stream of consciousness that was forming here in order to follow up a phone call I made a few minutes ago with an text msg. But when I open the phone I discover that an e-mail I thought I’d sent from my phone hadn’t actually been sent. It was stuck in a digital limbo called “Outbox.” So I had to (?) drill down into my mailboxes to find the unsent message and attempt to “Send” again.
And now I’m tempted to check the device again to see if the message has sent. And that’s when I realize:
This is where our lives go. Read More
Do not watch this if you don’t like hot dogs.
Or elegant ideas.
All of which begs the question: if you do not like such things, why do you bother breathing?
It’s no coincidence that a better picture renders better stories.
Ever since I got my first HDTV – would you believe it’s been more than 10 years? – I’ve been wondering what effect the higher resolution picture would have on the medium itself. Because, let’s face it, more than a thousand lines of resolution is really a completely different experience from the NTSC standard, the 525-line picture that defined the television picture for its first fifty years.
So if HDTV is effectively a new medium, and the medium is the message, then… what new message is this new medium be delivering?
I think David Carr answered the question in the New York Times over this past weekend:
The vast wasteland of television has been replaced by an excess of excellence that is fundamentally altering my media diet and threatening to consume my waking life in the process. I am not alone. Even as alternatives proliferate and people cut the cord, they are continuing to spend ever more time in front of the TV without a trace of embarrassment.
In case you don’t get the reference, “the vast wasteland” harkens back to a speech that then-FCC commissioner Newton Minnow delivered to the National Association of Broadcasters way back in 1961:
- “When television is good, nothing — not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers — nothing is better.
- But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
That speech pretty much set the tone for how television was regarded for several decades. It was always “the vast wasteland,” “the boob tube,” or “the idiot box.” Nobody of any intellectual standing ever admitted to actually watching TeeVee.
In the past several years though, as Carr articulates, the television universe has become much more vast – but much less of a wasteland. Oh, sure, we’ve still got the Kardashians (who?) Nancy Grace and Court TV, American Idol, Survivor and all of their “reality” brethren (because nothing says ‘reality’ more than having being followed around by a camera crew…). The lowest common denominator will always have a place in American culture, just like trailer parks and tent revivals.
But we’ve also got Game of Thrones, House of Cards, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Justified, and more recently the just concluded first season of HBO’s anthology True Detective.
These shows and several others have expanded the narrative capacity of the medium – arguably (I would argue…) because the refined visual capacity of the higher resolution screen has forced writers, producers, actors and directors them to raise their own game.
In other words, television shows are better today because the medium itself is better.
But it’s not just the screen (and the theatrical, surround-sound audio) that is changing the game. It’s the mode of delivery as well.
I’ve had a DVR (TiVo) for longer than I’ve had HDTV, and that device probably changed my viewing habits even more than HDTV did. Before TiVo, I’d always time-shifted the series I wanted to watch with a VCR, but TiVo changed the whole experience, making it much easier to record, store, and play back entire seasons of multiple shows. And fast-forward through the commercials…
Now, add to TiVo: Netflix, AppleTV, Hulu, HBO GO and an array of other services that are delivered mostly through the Internet; then add YouTube and Apple Airplay or Google Chromecast that give you the ability to flip just about any ‘content’ from any networked device onto you high-def flat panel display – and it’s a wonder we ever get off the sofa.
Meanwhile, in other news… The Europeans are beginning to take a dim view of US control of the Interwebs…
The European Union’s executive body is raising pressure to reduce U.S. influence on the Internet’s infrastructure, after revelations of widespread U.S. surveillance activities have caused what it calls a “loss of confidence” in the global network’s current makeup.
The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will propose the adoption of “concrete and actionable steps” to globalize essential Web functions–like the assignment of so-called top-level domain names–that are still contractually linked to the U.S. government, according to a draft policy paper seen by The Wall Street Journal.
I don’t know that I trust the EU’s Communications Command and Control structures any more than I like the U.S.’s… this is probably an internecine turf war: The EU doesn’t like the US/NSA monitoring our communications only because it presents a challenge to the EU’s ability to do precisely the same thing.
I am reminded (as I am often) of an observation that somebody made back in the heyday of Napster: “The labels don’t like Napster ripping off the artists because it interferes with the labels’ ability to rip off the artists…” Or something to that effect.
I think the same principal probably applies here.
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