The Smartphone Trap

January 11, 2020

As regular readers will be aware, neither the Everloving nor I have ever had a mobile phone.  We are a disappearing breed, it seems, but we seem to manage our daily lives quite efficiently without being tracked by corporations and governments all day.

The fact that we are a vanishing demographic is shown by recent figures from Visual Capitalist indicating that smart phone ownership has reached saturation point:

 

Moreover, the latest numbers show clearly that the point of mobile phones is not (if ever it was) to enhance people-to-people communication but is rather to encourage you to buy more things:

 

I am sure that having a smart phone could add a degree of convenience to our lives, but the cost, for me, is just too high.


An Old View of The House Today

January 4, 2020

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, one of the must-watch shows on TV for me was Tomorrow’s World on the BBC.  Presented without excess or fanfare, it gave me an enormously useful hand hold on science and technology. So I was pleased to come across today a 4-minute segment they broadcast in 1989 with their predictions for household technology in 2020.  They get a few details wrong but I am impressed with just how much they got right 30 years ago.

Well worth watching.


We Lost The North Pole!

December 2, 2019

The Magnetic North Pole is a moveable object; it travels around the globe.  In a previous post, I mentioned that millennia ago it was positioned far south of where we usually suppose it to be.  Now, it has emigrated away from Canada!

According to an article in Forbes magazine,

“What we’ve seen in the past hundred years is that the location of the magnetic North Pole has moved northward. That migration of the magnetic North Pole was switched into overdrive in the past few years, causing the pole to rapidly move … In the recent past, the magnetic North Pole has moved 34 miles a year toward Russia. Just a half-century ago, the magnetic North Pole was wandering about 7 miles each year.”

 

 

Apart from Canada losing this natural asset, the movement of the pole affects a lot in our technological world:

“The [North Pole] model update ensures the accuracy of work in governmental agencies around the world. Specifically, NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the U.S. Forest Service use the magnetic poles in their daily operations from mapping to air traffic control. On a more individual level, smartphones use the magnetic north for GPS location and compass apps.”

I’m sure if the Pole moves rapidly over to China, much of Canada’s media will blame Trudeau for it.


Living Without Electricity

November 29, 2019

I am sure that most people reading this blog hardly give a thought to electricity, excerpt perhaps when the utility bill arrive or a storm disables a few power lines for a day or two.  Having electricity seems as natural and normal as breathing.  But here we are, well into the 2000s, and more than one billion people still don’t have what the rest of us consider an essential necessity.

Here is a map from Virtual Capitalist showing where — mostly in Africa — the lack of power hits home.

Select the image for a larger view.

As the article notes:

“Between 2009 and 2015, solar PV module prices fell by 80%, ushering in a new era of affordability. Solar powered mini-grids don’t just have the potential to bring electricity to new markets, it can also replace the diesel-powered generators commonly used in Africa.”


You Can’t Hide

November 22, 2019

Over the years I have written quite a bit about government and corporate surveillance, and the ability of massive computing power to digest and process multitudes of data from that surveillance to produce individualized profiles of every single person on the planet — no matter how far off the grid you think you are.  Here is an article from this month’s New AtlantisAll Activities Monitored by Jon Askonas — that tracks the history of, and warns of the implications of, the modern wave of surveillance and processing technologies.

He cites the US military’s “Gorgon State” operation in Iraq:

Gorgon Stare and several other programs like it allowed American forces in Iraq to continuously surveil cities in their entirety, unblinkingly and without forgetting. After an IED attack, analysts could look back over the video to find the insurgents who had placed the bomb, and then further to find all of the places they had visited. Analysts could also cross-reference this data to other intelligence or surveillance, and build up lists of likely insurgent hideaways. Algorithms could trace individual cars or people over time, and even highlight suspicious driving activity for further investigation, like cars that did U-turns or followed other cars. Operators of the system could do this work in real time as well, coordinating with troops on the ground to pass on fresh intelligence or transmit the live images …

“Big data analytics, persistent surveillance, and massive increases in computing power enabled more sophisticated ways of … fusing intelligence from all kinds of sources. Social media, cell phone intercepts, captured documents, interrogations, and Gorgon Stare’s aerial surveillance could be used to build a nigh-inescapable net.”

Gorgon State was directly inspired by the 1998 movie Enemy Of The State, and its potential for use outside the military sphere was obvious.

“Programs like Gorgon Stare were, strikingly, inspired by a movie about government abuse of surveillance power. From the beginning, all involved understood exactly what they were trying to build, its power, and its potential for abuse. As a noted philosopher of science once warned: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should …

“Like so many other technologies created for war, this type of surveillance has come home, and early adopters have found many inventive uses.

Security companies have used it to protect events like NASCAR races — in one case, the surveillance system allowed a security team to quickly track back a hostile fan to his trailer to eject him from the event.

The Forest Service deploys wide-area surveillance to monitor potential forest fire zones.

And of course, a number of law enforcement agencies, ranging from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security to local police departments, have experimented successfully, if controversially, with using the technology to fight crime …

Beginning in early 2016, … cameras were flying above crime-ridden Baltimore, with knowledge only of the police department — even the city government at first didn’t know about it…”

[I]nsurance companies will be, and in some cases already are, eager to use these systems to examine disaster areas and detect fraud, as aerial images can help them to compare claims against visible damage…

Other uses are still in the planning phase: Retail stores might want to track traffic around them to know where their customers come from and where they go; major utility companies might want to observe construction activities along underground pipelines.

These new abilities in the hands of the few have shifted

“the balance of power between citizen and state, between individual and corporation, and have eroded to the point of extinction what little remained of the natural rights of privacy, all around the world. For the masses, the feeling that technology develops along an inevitable path reflects their lack of agency — the fact that the crucial decisions about the technological conditions of society will be made by a largely self-regulating confraternity of elites. For engineers and scientists, technological development appears to be driven by a combination of what they can imagine, what is technically feasible, and what governments or markets demand.”

Well worth reading.


When Vending Machines Ruled

November 12, 2019

You probably have to be my age to recall the excitement caused by the spread of vending machines in the early 1960s.  This 4-minute Pathe newsreel from 1964 is evocative of the times.

 

It was hard to argue against the convenience such devices would bring us.  Harold Wilson’s 1963 speech about how the “white heat” of “scientific revolution” was to be Britain’s route to the future fed into the delusion — shared by almost everyone — that technology and automation were invincible.  I am concerned that many in my generation (and, worse, some much younger) are still enmeshed in the myths spun by Branson, Musk, and many other profiteers that technology is the key to the world’s problems.

I know I am not the only one who believes that mutual aid and cooperation will always outweigh technology; I hope that the eco-crisis movement will not be suckerewd into following mega-projects once again.


Modern Complexities

November 3, 2019

Way back in the Dark Ages of the 1950s, I was taught a simple lesson: people who talked to themselves out loud on the street were, as my mother explained clearly and explicitly, “a little touched” and were to be avoided or at least grumbled at.

Now, of course, they are just as likely to be talking to their broker on their hands-free mobile phone. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

I’m easily confused.