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View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with the Beat and you, our readers.

tempest fighter rsSometimes, especially in global turmoil and loads of flip-flopping news items, it is hard to begin to know where things are heading. Indeed, it is often even harder to determine if the nonsense said one day and un-Tweeted the next has any lasting effect or actually is taken seriously by anyone, anywhere. On the global stage there are often signs way after the effect, or Tweet, or lies, or executive orders have caught the news. So how are you, people who just want to know what the future may hold, supposed to glean any clue? Watch advanced technologies.

treaty of guadalupe hidalgo rsDid you know that Denmark and Canada are at war? And that they are negotiating – have been for 4 decades – for peace? And what's the war about? Borders and protecting territorial integrity. You see, half way between Greenland (Danish sovereign territory) and Ellesmere Island (part of Canada) in a strait of water known as Kennedy Channel is a lump of rock called Hans Island. And there's a third party involved as well, the Inuit people who call the island Nunavat – but no one is listening to their millennia-old claims. Nope, there's the pride of two countries controlling borders at stake.

space race rsMost Americans think the Space Race was over when man first circled the moon. But at that exact moment in time the Air Force was busy launching and testing a Manned Orbital Laboratory known as MOL. Only late in 2016 was the program officially revealed, although facts had been seeping out for decades. Designed as an observation platform to spy on America's enemies or adversaries, there was little doubt that a command and control platform in space would give our military the high-ground advantage. Nixon cancelled it in late '69 (no one really knows why – but, surprise, surprise, shortly thereafter we started the Skylab project which was, essentially a similar container in space, albeit only for science experiments).

mike riva rsIt is the little things that one remembers best. Moments of shared joy at RKO on 86th Street at the 25 cent matinee on Saturday morning seeing The House on Haunted Hill... the theater owner had rigged a skeleton to glide down on a wire half way through over our heads. No one was really fooled but the intent to frighten allowed us to play along and yell and scream as if we were terrified. Or playing handball or mumbly peg with pen knives and beating the older kid on the block, Chevy Chase (yes, that's his real name – same guy) who always lost for some reason. Or watching Marc Rothko and my dad paint the poured 16' concrete back wall an apartment building had snuck up during the summer of '60. The magic that Mark and my dad, a scenic designer, painted of a trompe l'oeil birch forest enthralled Mike, Kate (Mark's wonderful daughter) and I. Thirty years later it was still there only no one but us knew who had painted it.

Modern inventions always come with unexpected and possibly dangerous side effects. When the automobile first came out, horses were terrified and you needed to have a man walk before your car waving a red flag (I am not kidding). As speeds increased a claxon horn was employed constantly. In fact, in some countries the car horn is still used constantly. When microwave technology — first used for transmissions of data from one place, line-of-sight, to another — was employed, people in the way suddenly got headaches and got sick. I know a lawyer in the Citicorp building in NY who gave up his corner office and his headaches ceased.

We are all learning — in the news every day and part of the Mueller investigations — how viral media can be perverted for malicious intent. And we all remember that the NSA has access to every phone call made in the USA and most of the world. Okay, perhaps that's not all bad, but the possibilities of using benign cell phone call technology for unwarranted spying has been shown again and again. Now we're faced with Amazon's Alexa and Echo, Apple's Siri, and Google's Duplex (incorporating Home and Assistant) which are, by design, listening for your commands and, of course, picking up all sorts of other information. There are stories of those "services" listening in a bit too intrusively. A man talking on the phone to his brother discussing a serious medical issue of a relative. Next time the man went online, almost every site he went to and in his email inbox was filled with medicine recommendations for the same medical issue. When he complained he was told how to change the default settings to not listen until he called the device by name. But, one has to ask, did he turn off the commercial recommendations only? Were the recordings continuing anyway since the device is always on?

space command rsWhat do you do when your team, your staff, your employees, your chosen loyal subordinates won't listen? What do you do when you sound them out with an idea and all the experts on the topic disagree with your idea and, in fact, worry it'll start a race with adversaries for superiority – at a cost and risk that those same experts are uniquely able to judge? You? Are you an expert? Let's say that's unlikely.

ebola rsNo doubt, on the fringes of your reading of newspapers or listening to the news, you have heard there are new cases of Ebola in the Congo. That news is disconcerting enough. Normally, aircraft are not sterilized each flight, infected people have an incubation period, handled goods can carry the virus for weeks before it finds a new host. All this doctors and medical detectives are aware of and watching carefully. The good news is that people from the World Health Organization (WHO) are on it, trying everything they can to contain the area at risk, treat patients, stop the virus running rampant.

In a previous article, I explained that the commercialization of space is underway — whole new futures are available. Many readers contacted me to say they cannot see the economics of space travel — yet. Rockets and technology development are expensive. What the heck are investors thinking? Big risk, little apparent gains to make.

Okay, Falcon 5 flew and delivered a satellite into Clark Orbit (23,500 miles above the equator, geo-stationary). What's the big deal, we've been doing that for 30+ years. The big deal? 10% of cost by the same sized rocket, in real $ terms just 10 years ago. Falcon rockets' 1st stages land upright, ready to reuse. That is a big deal. But still, is that enough of a return for the billions invested?