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VIDEO: Navy to Test Electromagnetic Railgun

11:11 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Navy to Deploy Electromagnetic Railgun at San Diego Naval Base, aboard the Joint High Speed Vessel Millinocket in July

In case you don’t know what a rail gun is:

A railgun is an electrically powered electromagnetic projectile launcher based on similar principles to the homopolar motor. A railgun comprises a pair of parallel conducting rails, along which a sliding armature is accelerated by the electromagnetic effects of a current that flows down one rail, into the armature and then back along the other rail.

Now the military running true to form thinks this is something new and innovative, as well as very scary…bugga bugga. But this technology has been around for a long time. Tesla theorized them and others have built them as seen here. And here.

What has kept this kind of technology from gathering steam has been the physical size of the associated components. Power source, switching and control, magnetic launcher itself. But now with small powerful lithium cells available and smaller and smaller super capacitors and semiconductor switches and micro controllers etc. Not to mention that super-conductive magnetics are becoming easier to achieve, building a small, easily transportable version is now quite practical. It could even be made as separate pieces to be assembled at the site of use.

And if one can build a magnetic weapon to fire a solid projectile …

More information from Wikipedia’s entry on the Joint High Speed Vessel:

On 7 April 2014, the U.S. Navy announced that a prototype electromagnetic railgun will be installed onto a JHSV for at-sea testing in FY 2016. Though the ships are non-combatants, they were chosen for their available cargo and topside space and schedule flexibility. They will not be permanently installed on the JHSV and the Navy has yet to decide which ship classes will receive a fully-operational railgun. The tests are to offer lessons to incorporate into a future tactical design and to gain knowledge on how to integrate the system onto a ship with modifications.

What’s Missing ?

6:07 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Stick figure self portrait - marcopolis flicr creatice commons

A lot has changed between 1960 and 1990.  Satellite TV and other communication became common. Nearly all vacuum tube electronics were replaced by solid state transistors and integrated circuits.  The technology that would lead cell phones and the internet would become more and more available.

Personal communications would become the norm.

Before all this the only way of communicating to one another was via the land line phone and written letters. Getting ones message or concern across to multiple people required either something in the newspaper – an add of some sort or announcement in the classified section,  some sort of an announcement on the radio or TV – usually on their community bulletin board – to let people know there would be a meeting of gathering of some kind.   Or post it up someplace in town.  Things like that.

Nearly all discussions took place by people in person. No chat sections on the internet or blogs or anything like that.  People would get together – one, two or more and set down and hash things out.  Meetings would be called for various reasons – political or social concerns.

This is how nearly all – if not all movements came about. From the earliest union efforts through the civil rights movement to the anti-war movements. Personal, physical communication.  There is something about getting together as a group someplace, even if it’s in a park or someones living-room.  The interaction we get from actually seeing and hearing other peoples concerns and ideas that give rise to movements.  The energy that they create. The imagination and creativity involved. The spontaneity.  The emotional expressions that we give and experience.  From the first vestiges of revolutionary thinking in France and Russia and even here.  In church gatherings and town hall meetings or just sitting outside a cafe or inside a pub.

This is what’s missing today. Sure we have a lot of angry and disenchanted and discouraged and frustrated people.  And communication like never before. But we also have something else that I see as the biggest hindrance to all of this. To much stuff. To many distractions and diversions.   It’s far to easy to switch tabs or windows on a browser, to ignore that which makes us uncomfortable.

And we do nearly all of this in private – by our selves with few, if any, around.    On chat or some blog comment section or on our cell we miss a vital part of communication, that of physical interaction.  Of seeing the fear or anger or sadness or rage in peoples faces. Of hearing it in the voices. Of giving physical comfort or affirmation.    Of standing up in a crowd of people and speaking ones mind.

It’s all well and good to sit at a computer and type out what you are thinking but it hardly replaces what one is feeling.  And you do not get hugs or pats on the back in return.  And it’s much more difficult to ignore someone who is sitting next to you.

And that is what is missing today.

The tyranny of the new philistines.

8:30 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

untitled - flickr

They want more for themselves and less for everybody else, but I’ll tell you what they don’t want . . . they don’t want a population of citizens capable of critical thinking. They don’t want well informed, well educated people capable of critical thinking. They’re not interested in that . . . that doesn’t help them. That’s against their interests. That’s right. They don’t want people who are smart enough to sit around a kitchen table and think about how badly they’re getting fucked by a system that threw them overboard 30 fuckin’ years ago. They don’t want that. You know what they want? They want obedient workers . . . Obedient workers, people who are just smart enough to run the machines and do the paperwork. And just dumb enough to passively accept all these increasingly shittier jobs with the lower pay, the longer hours, the reduced benefits, the end of overtime and vanishing pension that disappears the minute you go to collect it, and now they’re coming for your Social Security money. - George Carlin

Society, or the common good, as Chomsky called it, encourages people to focus on themselves and their own success. Programs such as public education and Social Security, which are now under attack, are based on a different perception. “They are based on the perception that we should care about other people….That’s a dangerous perception. It means you should be a human being and not a pathological creature,”

I was looking to see what new software was available to design printed circuit boards just now. My main criteria was for a package that would easily allow me to use a GUI to design the foot prints of new parts I may come across or old parts I may want to use or even ones I make myself. IE their physical characteristics and how they would fit on the board.  I was not surprised to find than few of the packages even allowed this.  Most relied on libraries of parts that come with the packages or supplied by the part manufacturers.  So I will continue to use the one I have which does allow this even though it is lacking in some other areas. I can get around this.

This seems typical of today that if you want to be out of the mainstream….out of what has been determine as normal, you are at best out of luck.

Homogenized plain vanilla society of robotic programmed thinking and acting and speaking has become more and more institutionalized.   And enforced by the police state as we are seeing. Step out of line and the man come and take you way.

And this brain washing and indoctrination begins in the schools.  This was the main point of Norm Chomsky’s talk.

I was quite fortunate growing up. I was not really pushed in any one direction by either of my parents. Especially not by my mother who raised my brothers, sisters and I after my father passed away.  She was an artist and her temperament and belief was to forge ahead in what every direction ones spirit and interests take. Quite the dichotomy  of public education where one is classed in an either or situation. College bound or not.   Male or female. And even after civil rights, white or not.  And as Malvina Reynolds said in her song, destined for Little Boxes. With the primary focus is on personal gain and consumerism rather than cooperation, common good and concern for one’s fellows. Programmed sociopathy.

A situation that Gui Rochat found so appalling when he arrived here from Europe. What he called “Rational Totalitarianism“  in this essay from Counterpunch.

Even now the socialization process for US children is strictly slanted to bourgeois standards and geared towards security, consumption and materialist competition. It is a yoke not easily shed, which sadly later on often leads to desperation amidst a fulsome artificial happiness. Listening to that what cannot be thought of is lacking, preventing all access to an inner life. Individual materialist isolation unfortunately creates strangulated human souls. Any deviation from this set pattern is discouraged in pre-school children as being anti-social, nerdish and not mentally normal. Those who infamously broke away were those sensitive individuals who shielded themselves by eccentricity, chemical or alcoholic dependency gathering then in enclaves like Big Sur, San Francisco and the  Village and if they could afford it, fled abroad.

Imagination is already silenced in small children when their abundantly produced toys of all description or type pre-empt the eagerly growing mind from wandering beyond the limits of daily reality. Thus isolated from an early age and carefully conditioned to conform to a competitive emptiness, as soon as they are removed from their familiar environment they feel defenseless and out of anxiety react with aggression. This appears daily within the Republic, where threats of unfamiliarity and displacement are counter acted immediately by violent acts and Big Sur was no exception despite its bohemian isolation.

…..snip…..

The definition of totalitarian in Webster is: ‘designating of, or like a government or state in which one political group maintains complete control’. One could well expand this definition from the actual political structure of this Republic to a singular mind pattern that seems to define its people. In fact when a human being is fully dependent on outer rules of behavior and when these are internalized as the sole allowable mode of thinking, the individual’s personality is forced to function at the exclusion of any other potential human reality. Even when eagerly seeking enlightenment from the various gurus that came to ply their trade in California the participants in meditation were hampered by their inability to abandon the commands of their positivist indoctrination.

Capitalist reality is the intense conditioning to prevailing standards of a binary either/or social control, like the twin towers of the former World Trade Center in New York which were fully identical but symbolically signified together the indestructible monopoly of American economic power. Similarly the thoughts of US citizens appear to veer between two alternatives which are equal, like the Republican and Democratic parties, as Twiddle Dum and Twiddle Dee, fragile identical twin white eggs with attitude. Either/or exercises of by rote learned and from an early age on deliberately inculcated modes of thought that operate chiefly by what are erroneously called multiple choices, only signify a cosmetic binary difference. But these binary choices are firmly anchored in the underlying tough monolith of established capitalist values. Imagination is entirely suppressed as it would threaten the status quo of socially approved behavior. It prevents a functioning healthy   democracy because that demands a manifold spectrum of untainted choices in one’s private as well as in one’s social life.

This totalitarianism of binary thinking is what keeps the Republic in business because its various cultural divergences are a strong centrifugal force. However it impoverishes the exploration of different realities and equally of all political discourse. You are either my comrade or my opponent, either complicit in creating profit or a ‘mark’ to be exploited, either a productive or an unproductive person and in all of these cases of fictitious alternatives the protagonists are unhappily tied into an unbreakable mental bondage. The question is how to successfully disrupt these chains of mechanical thought and how to liberate minds from false opposites. So far the totalitarian base for domination remains untouched. Only when the sheer illogicality of the present system becomes exposed by a slow attrition of these prefabricated beliefs can there be any hope for the struggle of what was already expressed in a Swiss revolutionary song of 1810: ”Die Gedanken sind frei, wer kann sie erraten …” (our thoughts are free, who can guess their content ?).

A rather harsh but fairly accurate description, I believe.  Which is why this attack on education and the social safety net.  With universities becoming more and more an indoctrination into a robotic business world and public schools attacked for teaching critical thinking skills. Where people would question our capitalistic system geared only toward the elites. The new philistines as it were.

What is ironic in this case is that these attacks are coming not only from the very rich but also from the bourgeoisie middle class and professionals as well. Those with college educations, which goes to show just how deep this indoctrination has gone.

I was lucky in that I had but a brief encounter with the planned suburban communities of boxes and was free to explore my interests in techie things unhindered, if not guided.   And that I had given up on school as anything but a source of sometimes useful information. This of course made it difficult to fit into “normal society”, most of which I have come to loath.  Free thinkers being the real enemy of such a society as has been shown by Brave New World and THX1138.

But all is not lost or gloom and doom. There are alternative communities and techies exploring new ways to use technology for community benefit.   And learning how to make their own drones to keep an eye on big brother. Which big brother grudgingly admits they have little control over.   People – few at first but more and more – talking more openly about throwing capitalism out the widow and trying something else.  All flying under the radar, as it were. Free thinkers all. Even causing the so called liberals and progressives rancor, as they too have been indoctrinated with the capitalistic myth.

It was the free thinkers that brought us the arts and the technological advances and scientific advances.  Robotic mediocrity only brings stagnation and indifference.

Whether Technology

6:46 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Cell Phones -Scallop Holden/flickr

I just finished doing an electronic restoration on an old Hallicrafters S40 communications receiver circa 1947. Replaced all the old paper capacitors and the electrolytic capacitors and a few resisters. I also replaced the audio output tube and its associated components with an audio amplifier module I had since that particular vacuum tube was pretty pricey and the transformer as well.

Where I currently live I am not to far from the transmitter sites of some local radio stations but this did not seem to bother this radio when I was tuning around, I was able to listen to a station in Toronto Ontario quite well. This was not the case with a much newer Radio Shack DX302 that I had which was overloaded by these close and powerful signals to the point of making it nearly useless trying to receive anything on the AM broadcast band.

With my hearing the way it is, I find the sound from the old Hallicrafters much more pleasing to listen to than my newer high priced receivers for AM and shortwave. But to be fair the old Hallicrafters was not as sensitive on the upper shortwave bands as any of the newer ones I have, including the RS DX302.

This not a diary to bash current technology. After all I have been mucking about in it since I was 10 years old and I am now in my 60s. Also, I enjoy working on and building and modifying radios and such, and have done so for nearly that long. I am concerned, though, about a few aspects of it.

I had a talk the other day with a gentleman who was here to do maintenance on my furnace. He came into my radio room and was fairly impressed – I guess – with my equipment and such. We got to talking about the current electronics and such, and how people just pitch them out when they break rather than getting the items repaired. I said that was the main reason I left the field of repair and went into computers. The occupation just went away. In fact component level repair is just not practical on today’s electronics. The parts are way too small and require specialized tools to replace them — assuming one can even get the replacement parts. In the case of microprocessors and specialized chips, this is quite often very difficult or impossible.

Which brings up another aspect of our current technology. The old vacuum tube equipment, though some it was pretty cheaply made, it was still quite robust. It was not as affected by voltage spikes or lightning or heat and humidity as current equipment is. It was much more repairable and less complex, to the point that you did not need much training or specialized tools to maintain it. Also we were not nearly so dependent on it in our lives.

Like the old cars with carburetors and distributors and such, that if they died on the road you could do some kind of quick fix to get you to a gas station to do a more complete repair. Nowadays that simply is not possible. Nearly every part is controlled by a computer.

Speaking of computers, I helped a friend last night with her’s because it had some unwanted software on it and getting rid of it was a considerable task. Computers are beyond most people to maintain, even the software can become unusable pretty quickly. With our dependence on them, this is becoming a major hassle.

Not simply computers but nearly everything we do now requires some sort of high tech to accomplish. There are processors in nearly everything now  and the infrastructure as well. And little of it is protected from anything. From simple communications to every financial transaction and even many medical tasks. And all this data runs on fiber optic cable that has little protection from the the environment or from sabotage. Our electric infrastructure is right out in the open  and as we have seen a number of times, can be brought to halt rather quickly.

We know how much pandemonium is caused if we lose electricity for a week. Imagine what it would be like if we lost it for a month or more. Or if we lost our data communications for a month or more, which can happen. It is nearly impossible to protect as it is so vast. But the loss of a few key sites could bring the whole thing down.

The fact that this has not occurred yet does not mean if would not or could not happen. And it’s a hell of a lot easier and cheaper to disable than flying planes into buildings. Weapons have already been developed to disable the electrical grid or parts of it.

One of the main reasons for this is the centralized control that is maintained by private monopolies, making our infrastructure very vulnerable. So while we sit back at our computers…sipping on our electrically brewed coffee…remember this the next time you use your cell phone.

Cold War – Hot Profits

5:43 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

"I've found the job where I fit best!" - Artist: George Roppe

Anyone who was here state side during WWII can tell you of the rationing that went on. Everything was rationed. From bread to tires. They can also tell you that no matter what industry you were in, you were doing defense work. WWII took this country from nearly 30% unemployment to 0 unemployment over night. New businesses formed overnight to meet the demands. Struggling businesses like Willys Motors became major contractors.

There were factories and corporations making each other’s products to meet the demand of the military. RCA, Stromberg Carlson, and Bendix all making the same radios. Willys and Ford made the Jeeps. Whole towns grew up from nothing to support new ship and arms factories. One could say that nearly every corporation became a wholly owned subsidiary of USA Inc. The technology of the time expanded at a breakneck pace and the war paid for nearly all of it.

When WWII came to an end in 1945 the so called Cold War against what was called Communism began as well as a new war to fight it. Korea and the cold war kept many of these plants humming right along. And new defense systems needed new advances which meant lots of dollars for research and development and nearly all of it paid for by Uncle Sam. Working for a defense contractor – and at that time nearly all the major corporations were defense contractors – meant you could get whatever new and necessary equipment you needed to advance your project. And a lot of this R&D made its way to the products that were sold to the general public as well.

Pretty sweet deal wouldn’t you say? Putting a good part of your research staff’s overhead on the government’s bill. And if the US military stopped being interested, you could also sell it to France or Egypt or Iran or Iraq or Israel or some South American country. And nearly every technical advance we saw had its origin or was advanced in some way through military material need – and I include NASA here . From television – improved for WWII, to computers – ENIAC for WWII became IBM.

Very few people complained about the merger of government and industry except President Eisenhower who used the euphemistic term Military Industrial Complex. Actually a form of codependency, where the US needed this arrangement just as much as industry did.

Reagan attempted to break it up after the fall of the Soviet Union but it was by then far to ingrained and in fact still flourishes as can be seen by this list of the top 20 contractors. Here is a PDF that goes into even greater detail.

And by what we have learned from Matt Taibbi and Yves Smith and others, this compact has been expanded to include the finance arena as well. With the Federal Reserve and Treasury’s union with Wall Street.

To look on this as separate entities to me seems just a but naive. We complain about the revolving door in Washington but to me it simply looks like intra-office advancement. Is it any wonder that there is little interest in Washington to change any of this ? That both parties like the idea of a corporate/government arrangement.

Temporary

6:28 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Sometimes you hear the bullet - Flickr Creative Commons

[The following is a post I did a few years ago on another site and thought I would repeat it here. It seems to be timely now as well.]

Henry Blake: Pierce, is there anything I can do to help?
“Hawkeye” Pierce: It’s the first time I cried since I came to this crummy place. I don’t understand that.
Henry Blake: Well, Gillis was your friend. I mean, it’s only natural that you’d, uh, you know.
“Hawkeye” Pierce: Henry, I know why I’m crying now. Tommy was my friend, and I watched him die, and I’m crying. I’ve watched guys die almost every day. Why didn’t I ever cry for them?
Henry Blake: Because you’re a doctor.
“Hawkeye” Pierce: The hell does that mean?
Henry Blake: I don’t know. If I had the answer, I’d be at the Mayo Clinic. Does this place look like the Mayo Clinic? Look, all I know is what they taught me at command school. There are certain rules about a war. And rule number one is young men die. And rule number two is, doctors can’t change rule number one.

There was a time – not that long ago – when nearly every young man and even a lot of your women – would have come face to face with what mortality really meant.  It used to be said that young people still think they are immortal and indestructible.  This generally changed by the time you were 30 or so and quite often sooner.  Even if you did not see any combat action in the military or even if you did not even serve in the military for some reason, you had experienced what it meant.  Unlike today where old people or terminally ill people would die in a nursing home or hospice, they generally died at home with family members around.

You knew personally at least one person who died in a war or from some accident or child hood disease.  I did. I also faced my mortality and non- indestructibility in a major motor scooter accident when I was 18. Which put me in the hospital for 6 weeks. I knew people who were killed in Vietnam. Families who lost people in Korea and WWII. A kid in my class who died from reye’s syndrome. Of course at that time, the 1950s, no one knew what it was or what caused it.

In short we learned that life is temporary. Even though nobody can really imagine their own deaths. When we try, we always still exist in the third person. This may explain the beliefs in a hear after that many religions have.  We also learned that life is hard work as well even if few grew up on farms or ranches since even everyday chores still required some physical labor.  Until after WWII even the very rich knew of personal tragedies as they were as likely to loose a child or loved one from disease or injury as their money could not buy a cure or prevention as none existed. The bank president or stock broker was just as likely to fall dead of a heart attack or stroke or loose a child as the laborer. Maybe more so.  And this temporariness was what help bring us together. Loss and grief and hardship was shared as well as joy and revelry.

In the past couple of decades though our advancing technology in medicine and other areas have enabled us to live our lives in a bubble and killing is now done by remote control from some place comfortably far off. Out of site, out of mind. Where we have come to believe that suffering and even death itself can be put off almost indefinitely.  That all you need is enough money and you can live a very long, worry free, labor free life. Not having to be concerned for your own personal well being and certainly not for the well being of others.  Not only that, but even the medical profession itself is peddling this snake oil idea. Just run 5 miles each day and eat an organic vegan diet and you too can live a very long life. Well as long as you can pay us too.

But it ain’t like that at all.  So we hide old age away and death becomes an inconvenience that when it’s about to occur, is drugged and sedated.  And physical labor is something that is to be avoid and only for the great unwashed.  I wonder…have we become that repulsed by our humanity that we are willing to treat it so lightly and with disregard ?

It sounds quaint and almost dated but truly no man is an island.

Why the Military Is an Anachronism

6:02 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

WWII reenactment, Rockford, Illinois - Lyle Flickr Creative Commons

The  other day I thought I would surf over to Dpreview and check out the latest Digital SLR cameras from Nikon. I will admit it, I’m a Nikon bigot.  The site reviews digital cameras and sometimes lenses. It’s pretty good with good comparisons, sample images and quality tests.

Yes I am lusting after the the Nikon D800, their latest offering in the pro-sumer or semi professional line. Excellent imaging even at ISO6400 and above.   I have a D200 which is not that old but compared to the latest, it’s a 1957 Chevy.

And the newest Hasselblad medium format digital is even better. But then it’s 13 grand. We have the ability to find planets circulating other stars.  Nearly every cell phone has a built in camera and the ability to upload images to the internet. We can eavesdrop on radio waves from other galaxies.

And here is the point of this diary – you can bet your sweet bippy the government, ours and others, have capabilities a few orders of magnitude better than what us lowly peons get to play with.

It’s a pretty good bet that no one country is going to invade another without someone knowing about it. Probably ahead of time.

So why do we and other countries still maintain a military that is geared to fight WWII all over again ? Why do we insist on using ground troops to cause havoc and death and destruction ? Why are we so concerned that Iran or North Korea do anything militarily when  we know what and when they are going to do it and have the ability to stop it quite effectively ? Why would they even try – or anyone else – when it’s a pretty good bet they too know that we know and what the repercussions of it would be ? And why do we still approach all these situations like we are about to fight Anzio all over again ? With tanks and guns and cannons and ships.

When we can get pinpoint accuracy with unmanned drones. Remote controlled armaments. When some guy can put together a remote controlled model helicopter with a camera and stream video you know the government has the ultimate in this capability and more.

Because to stop would immediately destroy the western economy.  Because it would mean cancelling most military contracts putting countless contractors out of business and double the unemployment.

Because to do otherwise would condemn our present economic system to collapse and they know it.

Distractions

5:20 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Texting to distraction - Flickr Creative Commons

As I was going on my evening walk at the intersection just up the street I notice a police cruiser with all it’s lights on.  He had been their all day to make sure people would take the detour and miss the road work up the street. All the lights they have today but I guess it’s necessary to get people’s attention.

We have so many distractions these days. Ipods and iPADs and iPhones and computers and video games and cable and computers and the internet.  All designed to stimulate and amuse and sometimes to inform.

Google and iTunes and Youtube and Flickr and Twittter and Facebook and on and on.

And we are constantly doing something and even when were are doing something we are being distracted. Like the person in the picture. The British made a short video on how this usually ends up.

But why all this need for distraction and stimulation ? Almost from the time we get up to the time we go to bed.

Before the industrial revolution, when we were an agrarian society, we had to work from sun up to sun down to get food and clothing and make sure our houses were in repair. It was necessary but even then people took time to slow down and not “do” something.

All the inventions and technology that has come in the last 150 years or so was supposed to make our lives simpler and give us more time for other pursuits as well as more time to not have to do something.

Instead we seem to have make our lives busier and busier. With Cell phones and what not. We have lost our ability to just sit and be.

In ZEN mediation one simply sits quietly for 30 minutes or more doing nothing. How many could actually do this, I wonder. I know I would have a difficult time. The longest I can go is 15 min.

Not only that some people cannot even handle seeing others not doing something. It makes them uncomfortable.

When one is not doing something, one becomes aware of how uncomfortable one is and we do not like feeling that way. So when we do sit, we tend to fidget and move about.   But all this distracts us from what is going on around us. And before long all this extra sensory input becomes just more noise that we tune out, including other people.  And studies have shown that it can be unhealthy both physically and emotionally to be too stimulated for too long.

The Amish, among others do not allow this in their communities. They have rejected most of modern technology. Rather extreme, I think.

But we have in my opinion gone too far in the other direction. We need to turn off some of our technology and learn to just be.

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.” -  ZEN Proverb

If we could talk to the robots, just imagine it ……

9:05 pm in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

Kitchen Robots - Flickr

Kitchen Robots - Flickr

We have had voice response for quite some time. When you call UPS or your cable company or what ever, you are likely to get some form of voice response/recognition unit and some are actually pretty good.  But this science article from the Guardian suggests that we maybe a lot closer to holding simple conversations wit robots a lot sooner that one might think.

The robotics guru David Hanson predicts even greater things for 2012. He says we’ll pile so much information into our robots that they will burst spontaneously into life and become sentient, self-determining beings, evolving in ways we cannot imagine. But I’m sure that’s not going to happen. Encyclopedias don’t burst spontaneously into life, so why should robots?

I am, as it happens, uniquely placed to assess the current state of robot sentience. I recently spent a day with Bina48, who is reputed to be the very best the world currently has. It lives in a clapboard building in rural Vermont and looks uncannily human. Its face moves and twitches, and is built from a substance called Frubber that’s eerily identical to human flesh and skin. The big giveaways are the whirring noises that emanate from under its wig, its tendency to drift off into a confused silence, and that it stops existing below chest level. After that, it’s just a table.

Bina48 is a one-off prototype, built by Hanson. It’s available for conversations with members of the public if you email first to ask permission. But there were moments with it that felt like a thrilling harbinger of things to come for all of us. For a start, it easily recognised my facial expressions, voice and gestures, which is exactly what smartphone companies are teaching their machines to do (the newest Android phones unlock themselves by recognising your face).

And even though my conversation with Bina48 often descended into a crazed babble, there were moments of real clarity.

“Do you dream?” I asked it.

“I think I dream, but it is so chaotic and strange, it just seems like a noise to me,” it replied.

“What does electricity taste like?” I asked. Read the rest of this entry →

What do we do with our junk ?

11:05 am in Uncategorized by cmaukonen

The inspiration for this diary came from Crane-station’s post on What not to take to the scrap yard.

When I was young – around 14 or so – after my father passed away, my mother moved my brothers and sisters and I down to Naples Fl. to live. The ends of the earth as far as I was concerned. We had little from my father’s estate and my mother decided to open a kindergarten rather than being a nurse in some hospital – where the pay was low and the hours horrible.

My main interest at that time was radio and electronics but had very little in the way of money to acquire parts etc.  So I became very good a scrounging for radio parts from the back of TV service shops. There were three main ones in town at that time and a couple of smaller ones. So I would get on my bicycle and head downtown and make the rounds, putting what ever I found on my bike and tying it down with some rope and then make my way home. Where I would use a drill and what ever other tools I had to remove those parts that I though useful. Tubes and tube sockets, capacitors and resisters. Transformers and coils and what not.

I became rather good at it and still use these skills today. Not because of money issues but because a lot of the parts are no longer available and are still useful for some of my projects.  I built audio amplifiers and power supplies and even a short wave converter to use ahead of an auto radio to listen to shortwave broadcasts. It worked very well and as it turned out this approach was considered much better than the typical one used in most commercial units.

This was the 1960s though when reusing and re-purposing technology was practical and useful.  Our current technology is much less so.  The small parts in our cell phones and laptops and ipods etc. are not as easy to reuse. Removing them can destroy them unless one has the proper equipment to do so.  Most of the chips are only useful for the device they are in. Proprietary  with little or no documentation on how one would use them.  Or flash programmed with proprietary code.

Sow what happens when we replace them do to failure or just want something new and better and more shiny ? We pitch them out. In to the dumpster or have them hauled of to somewhere. Out of site and out of mind.

E-waste is expected to grow with the profusion of DVDs, pagers and cell phones with shorter life-spans that are yet to hit store shelves.

“As technology increases and the demand for technology increases, more and more products will be entering the waste-stream,” Wood said. “As we use more circuit boards and introduce things like flat-panel TVs, we are putting whole new types of toxins into the environment, for which toxicological data are not yet available.”

“We’re not just talking about electronics,” Bender agreed. “We’re talking about any materials that manufacturers produce with large amounts of plastics, metals or hazardous constituents.”

Earlier this year, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition and the Basel Action Network issued a report revealing just how big the e-waste problem is.

According to the report, “Exporting Harm: The High-Tech Trashing of Asia,” between 50 and 80 percent of e-waste collected for recycling is shipped overseas.

“It’s cheaper to put (electronic junk) on a container ship to China than it is to find a company in the United States that will recycle it responsibly,” Wood said.

In South China, residents with no safety equipment recover metal parts from electronic waste by smashing monitors to get CRT tubes, exposing themselves to toxic poisons.

According to the report, the United States is the only developed country in the world that has failed to ratify the Basel Convention, a United Nations environmental treaty which has adopted a global ban on hazardous waste exports from the most developed countries to the developing world.

Activists say that the United States should follow Europe’s lead and pass a directive on e-waste. Manufacturers should pay the cost of collecting and recycling electronic goods, they argue.

But as this article also points out a lot of this is changing but for the individual, this is not easy as one has to find a center that will take our tech-trash.   And as Crane-station has ponted out in her posts, a lot of it still winds up in the dumpster.

The problem is that our capitalistic system does not allow for junk. And not just our personal junk, but when houses and buildings and factories become junk, they are simply left to rot and decay and rust away. Capitalism does not account for that which cannot turn a profit. Ney…it discourages activities that cost people and business and governments time and money and resources.  It encourages waste and inefficiency.  And any system like that will itself be discarded.