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.

Your brain works in a wonderful way. The things your eyes see, the senses of touch, the hearing – all these are data input traveling along nerves as electric signals, on or off, strong or weak. The brain then receives this data and organizes it along patterns it recognizes from learning since birth and stores it as engrams—analogue interpretation of data. 

Let’s take an office digital scan of a photograph. As the light and light-receptor passes over the image, individual points of data are “seen” and “recorded”—passed as digital impulses into a data file to then be reconstructed—dot by dot—on your computer screen or piece of paper (ink dots applied one at a time). At no time does the scanner, computer, screen, or printer recognize the whole image. But when you look at that image... your brain remembers the whole, all at one time.

The digital world is seeing a painting as brushstrokes, each one true, not seeing the whole. An analogue world is seeing the whole and then, if asked, seeing/recognizing what it is made up of, stroke by stroke.

Democracy and liberty are increasingly under threat around the world as capitalism and the digital revolution get together to rule your life. In fact, new and newer technologies are not only asking you—and you are willfully supplying—reams of data but--and here’s the big worry as outlined by Professor Shoshana Zuboff (one of the great minds at Harvard)—those collectors are modifying and manipulating your data even while you think it is still yours or certainly something you are clear about yourself on.

However, your behavioral data is being ripped apart, diffused all over the mainframes of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others, and stored as tiny bits of factual data about you. It’s called digital abstraction. Say you like listening to Beethoven’s 2nd while sitting in the bath. Data? Bath time noted. Music choice noted. Bubble bath you bought weeks ago linked to your preferences. So too with those towels, the bathrobe, and maybe who you like bathing with (kids, etc.). The soap company will get an offer to sell you lotion as well as the constant pop-up messages to go with it. Bath time is noted and is added to your psychological profile. Beethoven’s 2nd will be played by Alexa or Google’s Home or maybe Siri as a background choice without you ever knowing why the choice was made. In short, they know you, they can pander to you and, without you knowing, can alter your perspective by playing that music, showing those images, enticing you to use that bubble bath... dropping hints to modify your life pattern.

While we all get distracted by the body (im)politic there is a ton of news the major media people are not covering for you. Readers of this column will know I focus often on aviation since it tends to be a signpost for what are good—and bad—indicators of progress.

By the time you read this, OneWeb should just have launched their first broadband satellite from Kourou, French Guiana. They are using a Russian Soyuz rocket run by ArianneSpace. Who’s OneWeb? They are launching 6 such satellites this year to eventually connect everyone on Earth with 5G communication. They will enable broadband access for every school, every farmer, every emergency service, even you on your phone, by 2022. How? Using an Arianespace factory manufacturing process (think Henry Ford), they are turning out satellites every week ready for launch. Cheaper, expendable, easy to launch, their goal is to connect every appliance, every phone, everything with 5G as fast as possible – with 900+ satellites. Where did they get the money? Dean Manson, Stephen Spengler, Richard Branson, Sunil Bharti Mittal, Greg Wyler, Tom Enders, and Paul Jacobs. Oh, and in case you’re wondering who these guys are... these partners are Coca-Cola, Airbus, Qualcomm, Intelsat, bharti, Hughes Aerospace, Virgin, and Salinas.

During WWII there was a Department of War. It had been called that since 1789. War frightens people. Defense, protection, doesn’t. So, in a genius move, the War Department became the National Military Establishment for a couple of years until it morphed into the Defense Department. Defending you, the citizens of America, is a generous, good thing to do. It evokes protection, safety, security. And, in a sense, that’s what the Department of Defense was designed to do – partially in name only. In large part, under the cloak of coddling the public, the Industrial Military Complex could really ramp up spending and profits. 

The problem we’re faced with today is that Defense Spending has gotten so big, so all-pervasive (politically and in employment numbers) that it cannot be halted. Take one small program, the F-35. Yes, the plane’s cost has been reduced to a paltry $85,000,000 each from $110,000,000 but that was done by an accounting procedure whereby amortization of fixing problems in the overly-complex machine were not affixed to each plane but to the overall project costs. The Sec. of the Navy, three years ago, in open testimony before Congress admitted that the overall cost of the F-35 program (planes, training, base and carrier modifications, airfields, spare parts, etc.) was perhaps $14,000,000,000,000 over ten years. And that’s one plane system, one point four trillion dollars a year.

Now, listening to the news carefully, you may have heard that this Administration has decided to create a Space Force. Well, since they kicked the Coast Guard out of Defense Budgeting (never cutting Defense Budgets!) and removing them from the Pentagon’s control – they are now part of Homeland Security—they want to find another program to feed the Industrial Military Complex. What have they come up with? Space Defense.

There is an old saying that good fences make for good neighbors. Such sentiment is borne of the belief that what is mine is mine and what is yours is not mine. A fence is a demarcation, a boundary marker. If your neighbor put up a tall wall or high fence, you would not get the impression your neighbor wants to be friendly or, for that matter, ever wants anything to do with you.

Put up a simple demarcation like a picket fence, and your kids can still play ball, you and your neighbor can talk over neighborhood matters as proximity inhabitants should. In short, a good fence does make for good neighbor relations because, precisely, it removed any dispute over whose is whose and yet allows for sharing of commonality.

The problem we have with the wall or fencing along the southern border near where I live is that no one on either side of the border needs a fence unless something nefarious is taking place. Look, if your neighbor came to you, over the picket fence, asking for help because someone was violating their home... would you not take them in? Would that mean such refuge was permanent? No, but you sure as heck would not turn people, neighbors, away in time of need. That would be both un-Christian and inhuman. 

Now, if the border between you and your neighbor is continually violated, the police may want to erect a more permanent barrier—at your house—if only to make their job easier. And that’s the point here, walls or barriers are sometimes necessary to make police enforcement easier, more affordable. No wall or barrier is ever necessary for the home owner if, and I stress if, law enforcement is properly able and financed to do their job. But you see, that’s the problem here, Border Patrol on the southern border is not properly financed, officers not properly paid, equipment not properly made available. And the courts dealing with legitimate asylum seekers are under-staffed, underfunded, and working on years of backlog cases.

So, what’s the cheapest way to claim you are doing law enforcement? Put up a wall and claim you are protecting people. You get the funds for that by preying on their fears that without a wall there is no protection. You pay no attention to environmental issues (4 National Parks on the border), you pay no attention to animal migration, you pay no attention to land and homeowners’ rights and swipe their land, divide families who have lived on both sides of the border for more years than the USA has been in existence... you claim a wall will make all issues go away.

Integration—it’s a word you hear everywhere these days. Electronics need to be integrated so that your phone can follow your email at the office, Alexa can meld your purchasing and entertainment needs, and so on. What people are beginning to discover, is that ancient systems can be integrated into the most modern developments and, together, they can bring greater efficiencies.

Let’s take energy production with electricity. The first dynamos (in New York) were powered by steam engines, fired with coal. Shovel coal in, burn it, heat the water, steam powered pistons (like a stationary train) attached to a flywheel turn the copper windings in a coil and electricity is produced. Keep shoveling coal to keep the electricity on. The conversion? Coal to electricity. That system is still working today across the world. The problem is, if coal becomes in short supply, then electricity in those power plants is at risk (not to mention the pollution). The advantage of a hotter kettle producing steam with nuclear reactors is that they do not seem to run out of a heat source. The downside is that you can’t turn off a nuclear power plant to match demand fluctuation. At night many nuclear power plants ground the electricity into the earth, producing fields of molten glass.

So too, renewables have issues. For giant wind turbines to produce electricity all day long, they require wind all day long. If the wind dies, the turbines produce exactly nothing. And the same goes for solar arrays; if the sun fades or night comes, nothing is produced. You may think hydro-electric dams are constant, but they too depend on a good flow of water. In times of drought or climate change, dam flows need to be reduced, sometimes to a trickle.

But what happens if you integrate these systems?  What happens if you take the wind power excess – say at night—and apply it to water below a dam, pumping it back over the dam to refill the dam lake? You create a huge battery. You can replenish the system.

If you could turn back the clock to, say, 1990, if you knew then that the world wide web would allow you to become a global merchandiser, would allow you to wipe out Sears and others with your powerful “digital shop” and that manufacturers would be lining up to place their product on your “platform...” what would you do? Answer? Become a multi-billionaire.

A few men and women learned about computer advances in the pipeline and so they sat down and thought: How can we, with this advance knowledge, grab a share of the new world and make it ours, making billions? Names pop out like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Larry Ellison, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They started with nothing more than imagination built on the technology they had learned was coming. Again, I’ll repeat that: They knew nothing, had nothing, more than a foresight of technology that was going to sweep across the planet.

Let’s look at one man: Jeff Bezos. In 1993 at a TED3 meeting, I heard him say he was starting with books because books had a fair discounting system (same discounts federally mandated to all bookstores, no matter how large or small). In the end he wanted to expand to every other category, much like the Sears Roebuck model... sell manufacturers’ wares without having to warehouse anything. The idea of a retail world wide web sales’ platform was the heart of his genius. He saw the Internet as a means to put a catalogue in every home on the planet. Instead of the Sears’ catalogue, he would show you pretty pictures on your personal TV (computer screen). It was Sears combined with the Home Shopping Network, rolled into one. It took him until June 1994. eBay? 1995. Google? 1998.

Date: Sept. 11, 2018

Elon Musk, of SpaceX, talks about space travel as a "duty to maintain the
light of consciousness." Frank Drake, the astronomer, says we must search
for extraterrestrial intelligence to validate the probability - note, he
says not possibility, but says probability-of other observable civilizations
in our galaxy. Were Nikola Tesla and quantum physicist David Bohm right in
affirming that space is not empty but filled with a kind of force field,
something they referred to as "cosmic plenum?"