Life As Jazz – Part 3

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Part 3 of 3

We have all watched children play; we were children once ourselves. They can make up games and modify them as needed. They can find satisfaction and fun is the simplest of things to use as toys. There are many aspects of what children are like that we might choose to borrow. We might want to become child-like. Not childish, of course. Could it be that children are in touch with their jazz-like characteristics and humanness?

Children are spontaneous and inventive. They are creative and innovative. Children are free in the ways they act and behave. Also, they seem to be more in touch and directed by their feelings and emotions. Isn’t how children live very similar to what I have described as jazz? That is until we adults get in the way. Sit down a play with a child and see what they find fun. Try to learn how they are creative. See how simple their enjoyment can be.

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Why is child-likeness so similar to jazz? Children are very spiritual. Their spirits are undamaged by the world of adults and technology. They can be free to explore and let their spirits lead them in various directions that adults might not think of. Being less encumbered with the complex things of an adult world might free us to be child-like and spiritual in nature. It could be a way to begin to discover how to live a more jazz-like life.

We human beings have three parts to us. We have a mind and we have a body. We also have a spirit. Every cultural group of human beings, either present or past, has had some sort of belief or understanding that we have a spirit. Our mind is usually considered to be the most important part of us humans. The brain is just a very fancy computer. Scientists are now looking at building artificial brains that can learn. They also talk about backing up the human brain to the cloud in the same way one might back up their computer hard drive. Now there is the real meaning of having your head in the clouds. Maybe the image of a little cloud graphic symbolizing a thought is sort of prophetic.

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We often talk about our heart as a place where our feelings and emotions originate. One that special day of love, considered one of the strongest human emotions, Valentines Day, hearts are sent around. Love is represented by a heart shape. Where do these ideas come from? Love is one of the most discussed topics in our cultures, yet we can barely explain it. Love and our other feelings and emotions are attached to our spirit. What the heart does is pump blood to every part of our body—even our brain. Perhaps our spirit is part of our blood. Our life is in our blood.

Even if there was a smart computer that was like an artificial brain, it would never be able to be human, not even with an artificial body of some form of flesh. The human spirit will always make reproducing human thoughts, emotions and feeling impossible. Our spirit is where our jazz originates. Since we human beings are nowhere near any sort of agreement as to what our spirit is, finding a way to reproduce it is probably impossible. Some people might argue that there is no such thing as the human spirit. Let them explain feelings and emotions—how about love.

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Even if an artificial reproduction of the human mind were to someday be produced. Human beings would be able to tell rather quickly that it was not human. It would be slightly different. Even if it were so accurate that the differences were nearly undetectable, or nearly indiscernible, a human would eventually know. Humans do have a spiritual dimension that is extremely deep and complex. If it indeed does exist in our blood, then jazz flows throughout our entire body.

Why is it important to learn to live a jazz lifestyle? Because it can help us be more human. We need to increase the distance between us and our technology. We want to ensure that whatever technology we allow into our lives and the way we decide to use it, we use it to make us be more human. To understand what it means for us to be more human, we need to strip away the dehumanizing aspects of our lives to find what is simple and liberating freedom; to not be slaves of technology. We can learn to be child-like and spiritual in nature. We want our technology to be ‘our’ technology. We do not want it to replace us, unless it allows us to be less dehumanized and more humanized. It is a journey into jazz leading to a life of being human and living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.

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Be sure to read The Jazz Lifestyle.

B Sig

Let’s think about it!

© 2015 by Bob Grahame
Please do not reproduce this article, or any part, in any manner, without my permission. Thank you!

Write a book in an hour a day

I am pleased to announce that my first book in this Technojungle Project—The Future Never Arrives… at least not as expected and it always brings baggage—is now in the editing stage. I can’t say with any confidence how long this might take, however, some more rough chapters will be released here on this blog. Stay tuned.

It began as a pretty simple project. I had articles I had written here that seem as if they could be part of a book. So I embarked on the mission of writing a book taking material I had written and building on it. As I got into it, I found that it is a deep sea of technological change out there. It was not long until my book about the Technojungle was looking like a jungle itself.

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I refocused a couple of months ago and decided that some material could be left for a second book, should the first one ever get finished, published and become somewhat successful. I also began a program I now call, ‘write a book in an hour a day.’ It is true. I never moved my book along more efficiently than after I just worked at it for an hour a day.

What does that mean? It is exactly what I am doing now to write this post. I sit down at my computer and type for no less and usually not much more than one hour. No, that does not include research or editing. It means writing. I found I could bang out, when slow, 750 words, and at the most, about 1,400 words. Usually, I can do 1,000 words in one hour.

I do this four times a week and can usually count on a minimum of about 3,500 words. That is around 10 pages. I can get 10 pages of rough text per week. When I discovered this little secret, I realized that a book could be written in less than half a year.

There is more to writing a book though. I have some other activities that I do. As I go about my days, I dictate notes into my iPhone. I also meet once a week with a coach and we discuss ideas, which I record. Then I sit down and transcribe all the recorded notes. This is actually the most time consuming activity. I would like to shorten this process, however, I realize that I have a lot of notes I can draw from in the future. Doing this also probably means that, when I do sit down to write, I not only have somethings to write about, but I am writing about some things I know about. I have thought things through and chewed on them for a while.

So, it does take more than an hour a day. But, it is easy to accumulate information. This is part of what my book is about. We have become very good at creating and accumulating information. This is not what make a book. A book is about taking the accumulation of information and telling a story that other people will find interesting. Hopefully, it will affect, even change their life in some way.

So, when I say that you can write a book in an hour a day, that is the actual writing. Writing is a craft using skills that need to be developed through exercise. The hour a day is the exercise and needs to continue every day. I have talked about the preparation of material through notetaking and discussions with others. Once you have a rough manuscript, the editing process begins. This is a long arduous process that involves other people.

So now the good news and the reason I am now able to write this piece. I have completed my first rough draft of 54,000 words. It is in the editing stage. I am entering some unknown territory now; not that I don’t know about editing, I am just not sure how this is going to pan out for my book. I am expecting that it will take a long time. I will need a thick skin, since it well involve the critiquing of my baby.

Once I have the book edited and ready to be published, I will be ready to enter more new territory; not that I don’t know about publishing, I don’t know what happens once it is laid out for printing. It is not that I don’t know about printing, I am not sure where and how my book will be printed. You see, I have worked in the printing industry and can do the prepress myself. I might even be able to produce an eBook. I can find a printer, I’m sure.

What is really unknown for me is the way the publishing world works today. The preparation work, printing, distribution and sales can be all tied together. I have decided to leave those concerns for when I have a finished, fully edited manuscript ready to go. I guess I am sort of thinking that by the time I get there, some doors will be available and I may have some choices for my next steps.

Beware of malware

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It seems like a blur of over a week and nearly two weeks of wrestling with issues on my computer. I just figured I had too many tabs open in Safari, the web browser on my MacBook Pro. It was getting very slow and not running smoothly. I also began to suspected that I did not have enough space left on my hard drive. Sure enough, by the time a got to the point of deciding to sort all this out, I did see a message that there was no more hard drive space.

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My MacBook Pro has a 250 GB hard drive. The formatting of a drive uses a small amount of space. The operating system (OS) uses a portion as a scratch disk to swap data in RAM. It takes data in RAM that is not currently being accessed and writes it to the hard drive. If an application is running and has a document open, when the system determines that other tasks are more important and being accessed, it will transfer the portion of RAM memory to disk and that could include the application and document. It can then be made active in RAM memory again much faster than relaunching the application and reopening document.

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Thus began a long journey beginning with closing some tabs in Safari and trashing some files. I gained a small amount of space. Next, I wanted to run a utility to clean caches and do other maintenance. The program required updating to Yosemite Cache Cleaner; a new application for the new OS. Once I competed that I let it run. Each task it performed took ages to complete, even when I let it run over night. I ran other programs also, such as Disk Tools Pro, Dr. Web, Onyx, Cocktail, iBoostUp and, of course, the Apple Disk Utilities that comes with the OS. Each of those took ages and most ran over night. I managed to gain around 55 GBs of space on my hard drive, mostly from cleaning out all the caches. I could gain more by deleting a year of photos that I have backed up. The main virus checker I used was ClamXav an open source package that took over 24 hours to scan my drive of over 1.4 million files. An application may look like a single item on your computer, however, what you see is a wrapper for many smaller files that comprise the actual application. This may include other smaller applications and partially accounts for such a high number of files that need to be scanned.

A cache is a folder containing data that is used frequently. The best example is a browser cache. A web browser downloads items to display a webpage, such as images and keeps them in a cache so the webpage can load again much quicker. There are other caches that the OS uses and all of these should be clean up once in a while.

I realized that the computer going to sleep probably didn’t help, so I disabled all the Energy Saving settings and the screen saver. I couldn’t do very much as each these tools was working and I didn’t want to cause them to slow down by using up the computer’s resources. I used the Activity Monitor to make sure nothing was interfering, to look for unwanted software processes and to see what activities might be hogging the system. As the days passed, I was postponing many other chores, tasks, reminders and todos. I would be in for a long stretch of catch-up once I was through this mess.

To complicate whole process I was going through, there were problems with my computer not waking up. The result was that many times I had to do a forced shutdown and restart the computer. This would mean restarting whatever utility I had been running and the long process that had been interrupted. These were certainly irksome set-backs that frustrated me even more. Forcing a shutdown without letting the system close properly was probably adding some issues.

I eventually checked on the Apple website and learned how to reset the System Management Controller (SMC) and the Non-volitile Random Access Memory (NVRAM). I used to reset this years ago, however, it was known as Parameter RAM (PRAM). This sort of fixed the not waking-up problem for a while, but it returned, probably because I had not yet caught all the culprits yet.

Finally, I noticed that there were a few files that were showing up as suspicious. However, they looked legitimate, so I wasn’t sure. I did a search on the name Genieo and found a legitimate Israeli company that produces a software package to make ‘A Newspaper Styled Start Page For Mac’ (there is also a Windows version). It gathers information, sends out information—such as to Google—and installs software without the user’s approval. This has caused the software to become labeled as unwanted. Apparently, one aspect of the intrusion into a person’s computer has been to masquerade as an update to Adobe Flash Player. When I read that, it clicked in my mind that I had run more updaters recently than ever before and had wondered why.

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I never consciously opted to install any of Genieo’s software, or any associated or similar software, and yet it managed to find it’s way into my system, likely by tricking me, like a trojan horse virus. The sorts of behaviour employed has caused this software to graduate from the label of unwanted to malware/adware and finally to virus. It is now being included in the lists used by virus checkers. The problem is that the company was sold for $34 million and some components of software now have different names.

I finally have my computer operating properly after many hours of frustration. However, I did it for free and I now have some new insights. Apple have on their website some extensive instructions on how to manually remove the Genieo software along with other similar software and I have now followed each step, just to be sure.

As I reflect back over this experience, I have a couple of conclusions and some questions. First, this seems to be a new reality for Macintosh computers. In over 25 years of using these computers, I have never had a virus. I was a heavy Bulletin Board System (BBS) user and operator, downloading freely anything I was interested in. Later, the Internet came along and I continued the activity of downloading. I have always loaded up my computer with downloads and often, more so in the past, run out of hard drive space. I have never spent any money for repairs and have owned many used computers I was given or bought second-hand.

I have run many utilities in the past and, in the ‘old days’ prior to the Mac OS becoming Unix-based, I was able to debug the system myself, discovering conflicts and incompatibilities. I rely a bit more on Internet searches for solving problems these days and some of my adventures have taken me down into the Unix foundations.

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For years, the Mac OS has included protection software called Gatekeeper that runs completely hidden. (I seem to remember a commercial or shareware package that existed years ago called Gatekeeper. Perhaps this is the same or similar software.) Apple operates an App Store to allow developers to distribute software. The software is checked for issues. Some developers distribute software directly or by other means. GateKeeper allows a developer to obtain a unique Developer ID to sign their software with. If the software is distributed by someone who has tampered with the software and does not have the ID, GateKeeper will block it and give the computer user a pop-up notification. Many Apple applications in OS X are quarantine-aware and can catch files that are malicious and malware. The OS checks with a deny list of known files and software and then pops up a message to notify the user. All this is excellent, however as I mentioned, the user is usually notified and can choose to allow the software to install and run. In addition, being Unix-based, the OS runs maintenance scripts daily, monthly and yearly to help keep things in order.

Second, to have a software package go from legitimate to malware to virus seems to raise some difficult questions. Was it a case of human greed entering to cause the distribution of software to become invasive in nature? How does software slip from user install to sneaking in without permission or by masquerading like trojan horse viruses do? That software would be able to, once installed, actually accomplish tasks without the user having control seems very malicious. Then to eventually produce software that actually fools a user into thinking they are installing one software update and then having something totally different and unwanted installed, is unethical and even criminal.

This is only one example. How many others are out there? How does this sort of software moral decay impact other technologies? In other words, what other software, what other technologies can have a similar decay of having a legitimate beginning and then become rogue? This is yet another aspect of technological change in the Technojungle that we truly need to have some careful thought—Beware of malware!

B Sig

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Let’s think about it!

© 2015 by Bob Grahame
Please do not reproduce this article, or any part, in any manner, without my permission. Thank you!

What, no flying car?

Not long after we switched from the horse and carriage to the automobile, we became addicted. People drove everywhere and soon there were traffic jams. More roads were needed and existing ones had to be enlarged. For futurists, the sky seemed to hold the solution and they began to sell the idea of the personal flying car. It became a promise, a dream, even an icon of the future—when you have a personal flying car, you will know that the future has arrived.

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I remember going with my dad to get gas for our car. The price was $0.25 per US gallon. Nobody even thought about an oil crisis. Super highways, like the Interstate highway system of the United States were being built to crisscross the country. We lived in Portland, Oregon and often drove the I-5 up to Vancouver to visit relatives. But, as you might realize from the title here, this is not about gas, oil, or the highway system, although, in a way it is. In a time when road travel by car, and just as important for shipping products by truck, was becoming modernized and efficient, the dream of flying cars floated somewhere on the horizon.

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In my youth, I watched George Jetson in the introduction to each episode drop members of his family off one by one for the day and then land his flying car, which immediately folded up into a briefcase. Wow, what a concept—a car briefcase. One of my favourite shows was called Supercar. It was done with marionettes and this car could, not only fly, it could go under water too. In science fiction movies, utopian scenes of tall buildings with cars flying between them promised an outer space like calm and serene life of floating around in the sky.

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Fifty years later, oil crisis, defamation of pristine landscapes by concrete and pavement, air pollution causing global warming and other serious issues; we seem to have progressed only slightly closer to the idea of the flying car. The illusive number one promise for the future seems to keep slipping away and now seems like it might be another fifty years into the future.

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Clearly, the single greatest problem is the technology that is still lacking. A flying car, like the one depicted in the Star Wars movies that just seems to levitate above the ground, even when not in operation, has no supporting technology today that could lead to the development of such a machine. To build a flying car, we would still have to resort to technology that was around fifty years ago. The vehicle would have to be like a helicopter with noisy rotor blades thrashing the air, possibly sucking birds in and spewing them out as mincemeat and feather tufts. The other alternative would be jets which would probably be even more dangerous and have pollution issues.

Even if it were possible to invent a viable flying car, issues regarding airspace, would prohibit them. These days small drones are available at a reasonable price. Some companies, such as Amazon, plan to make deliveries by drone, however airspace safety is an issue. These are small drones and probably only a few would be used. Drones would hopefully fly very low to stay out of commercial airspace. However, where I live there are float planes taking off and landing in the harbour downtown, flying low and very close to office buildings. Another problem with drones is privacy. The main payload on non-military drones is a camera. From the earliest days of drone use, people began to report that their privacy was breached by a drone spying on them. Can you imagine if everybody was driving around in a flying car hovering near the windows of houses and buildings where unsuspecting people would suddenly see someone looking in at them?

In 1965, it was apparent that flying cars were among the great inventions promised for the future, along with robots, large-scale space travel, automated homes, wrist watch video phones (Dick Tracy) and other fascinating ideas. It was common for future predictions delivered by these promises to include “In the future, we will…” The potential problems with lacking the necessary technology, or understanding how such inventions would be possible, were accompanied with the notion that science and technology would progress and such underlying technology would simply be available in the future.

Will we ever see flying cars? The move now is toward autonomous self-driving vehicles. Even this sounds to me like it holds some hefty hurdles. For a few years, we have seen cars that can park themselves, however, navigating in traffic would involve the use of artificial intelligence. One would simply sit back and let a computer navigate around in traffic that would comprise a combination of vehicles that may or may not be under the control of a human. How would flying cars navigate with no roads in the sky? Would everybody just make a bee-line to where ever they wish to go and simply hope that they see all the other traffic doing the same thing so they can avoid a crash?

Would there ever be a time when every vehicle would come under the control of a smart machine? What about collectors of old cars who dust them off on weekends to cruise around? I see another huge problem. If we relinquish control of our vehicles to smart machines and are no longer maintaining our skills of operating a motor vehicle, what happens if for some reason we do need to actually take back control? Our skills will have diminished.

Consider all the technology you can think of in your life. Is it 100 percent perfect 100 percent of the time? What about glitches? How about hackers? Could autonomous driving vehicles ever be considered 100 percent safe and perfect? If not, what are the possible results of any failures?

We have had a quick look at and considered issues involving vehicles on the horizontal plane. What might be some of the issues when we add to the mix vehicles on a vertical plane? How about when landing and taking-off? It is unlikely that runways would be used, so these cars would haver to be capable of vertical take-off and landing. In some ways, I feel like we have painted ourselves into a corner and are stuck on the ground for some time to come. The issues are very complex.

There was a time when the idea of an electric car seemed to die and the culprit was likely the oil industry. Fortunately, we are on track for the electric car to one day over-take gas powered automobiles. One could consider this a step closer to a personal flying car as the weight of a tank of gas would be prohibitive. Personal flying cars would therefore be electric and probably only be able to carry one or two people, no other cargo. Thus, battery weight will also have to be reduced through new battery technologies. The electric motors will have to be quiet and very powerful. Could this technology be developed that would be economical and affordable? An airline is affordable because it travels at a high speed over a long distance. Low speed and short distance increases the cost of operation. Then, when you arrive at your destination, if you have to wait before you can land for somebody else to land, then your vehicle would have to hover using full thrust. A land-based vehicle simply idles.

In the early days of the automobile, there were electric cars that were very good. However, the internal combustion engine became popular. Even beginning back in the days of Henry Ford, personal flying cars have been promised, designed and even prototypes made. A few personal flying cars might one day be possible, but imagine if most vehicles were to one day become electric and leave the roads and highways barren and desolate? If this happened rather suddenly, by that I mean within a few decades, what might happen to the oil industries and other industries related to the cars, roads and highways?

Futurists often point to the fact that travel by airplane is safer statistically than car travel. We need to keep in mind that it takes a huge expensive infrastructure of complex technology and highly trained personnel to make the airline industry so safe. Can we expect the operators of flying cars to become pilots? If flying cars are operated only by computers, will that be 100 percent safe? Has anyone had their car stall? A flying car that stalls, will simply drop from the sky. Reducing that possibility would mean following the maintenance schedule of an airplane. Even then accidents would still happen. Can we expect the average person to follow that? A mid-air collision would mean that the vehicles involved would simply drop from the sky. How would these vehicles manage in tight flying spaces, like near buildings, in wind or other weather turbulences? Perhaps all flying cars would be run by a company who would maintain them—so much for the idea of the personal flying car.

When we drive our cars, we follow the rules of the road and rely extensively on signage to direct us. How would rules of the air work? Who has the right of way? Where would the signage be hung? Could everybody be trusted to follow the rules? OK, so this is beginning to look like it will have to fall entirely in the realm of computers. Do we really want to completely give up control? There goes the thrill of being at the controls and driving our personal flying car.

I can see the possibility of making flying vehicles part of the public transit system. When I look at traffic, by far the majority of it is commuters traveling to and from work places or special events. The number of cars on the road with only the driver going someplace where they will have to park amazes me. How many of these people would give up their car for a cheap individualize mode of transportation straight to their destination. Yes, I said individualized, or even carpools. This would be automated and part of the transit system. You would get picked up where you live, like a taxi, and dropped at your destination. That might work.

The automobile has become a symbol of wealth, power and freedom. People like the idea of being in control of a technological machine and being able to go where they want when they want. The modern automobile is comfortable and powerful; with all manner of features and gadgets. People will drive somewhere to get a good price on a product and not factor in the cost of the car, including gas, maintenance and replacement. Never mind the cost to the environment and the human stress due to traffic and the impending dangers of driving. The freedom seems to cancel-out the added cost to any of our endeavours.

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The automobile has not changed much in its 100 years of life. There have been some mechanical, design and safety improvements along with plenty of features added, yet a car is still a carriage with an internal combustion engine that rolls on wheels. Some things seem to never change. Our cars keep changing, yet the more they do, the more they stay the same. The personal flying car, like the future, may never arrive, at least not as expected. What unforeseen baggage might it might bring?

Let’s think about it!

© 2014 by Bob Grahame
Please do not reproduce this article, or any part, in any manner, without my permission. Thank you!

Smart machines of the Technojungle (Blog version)

This is the first article in a series of six that look at artificial intelligence from a human perspective. This first one appears on this blog, the other five will be included in the up coming book—The future never arrives… at least not as expected and it always brings baggage.

 

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The notion of humans developing smart artificially intelligent machines has been around for a few decades. Perhaps it represents the holy grail of human ingenuity and invention. Admittedly I had never thought the idea through. To sufficiently understand how these machines might work and what smart machines in our lives might look like.

As I have been working my way through the material for my book, artificial intelligence (AI) has naturally surfaced. Some sort of AI is a reality now in things like Siri on the iPhone. Even smarter AI is getting closer. That has caused more than one person, such as Stephen Hawking, to ring alarm bells announcing something like, AI could be the last invention humans make. A smart machine would essentially amplify the human mind; it might very well out-think humans and over-take them.

As I began to think about the possible AI scenarios, I connected the dots of some other ideas like ‘big data,’ ‘the Internet of things’ (IoT) and ‘the Internet of everything’ (IoE). With big data, the vast amount of unstructured information we have been dumping on the Internet for decades can now be processed with huge computing power available today. IoT and IoE is the goal of putting a computer in everything and connecting them with each other and the Internet.

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I began to realize that this could be a recipe for disaster, as a smart machine would be able to tap into all the information available on the Internet along with everything in our lives that is computerized. This began to look like a doomsday scenario for humans. How long could we live in a world of machines that just might begin to see us as an inferior nuisance?

Then I asked myself; just how accurate and true is the information on the Internet? I know that humans make mistakes and that not everything you find on the Internet should be believed. I have even heard people dismiss Wikipedia as inaccurate in many places. That can be seen in articles that are missing citations. I know that Facebook often shows me people I might want to connect with. Since I have never heard of many of them, I wonder why I would want to be ‘friends’ with them? Then there is the volumes of noise, that useless sea of information senselessly dumped on the networks. Of course I mustn’t leave out the fact that much information, for whatever reason, is in error. It might be information that has mistakes, or has expired. It might have been purposely and even maliciously made inaccurate, such as a scam or a review of a product placed to promote the product rather that give truthful representation of its value.

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If the Internet is being created by humans, then it stands to reason that it is a reflection of who humans are. Thus it must include all our faults. Suddenly I realized that plugging a smart machine into this abyss of information ranging in accuracy might actually not result in the desired outcomes we so treasure through all the promises of technology. How can smart machines assist humans with their daily lives if the information that is available has holes in it?

We humans are duped often by inaccurate information. We also have some very sophisticated abilities to determine that which we choose to believe as accurate. This could range from our experience, to intuition, to our beliefs and values that guide our decision making processes. I have concluded that an AI computer may never be able to make the same decisions we make. That having such machines be guided by what is available on the Internet might actually be no better than what we can do for ourselves, perhaps even worse.

My recent declaration to people I meet has been that we should be nurturing those aspects of being human that a computer would not be able to mimic. I have been stating that we need to be more creative, emotional, inspirational, irrational—the list can go on. I have been advocating that we borrow from the essence of what jazz music is to live a life free from the often enslaving attributes of the Technojungle.

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Now that I take a closer look, the Internet is, truly in many ways, a reflection of who humans are, faults and all, inaccuracies and all. Smart machines might quite simply get lost on the many paths and trails we humans have weaved through the Technojungle we created. Where would that leave us if we have decided that technology will always improve humankind?

In the end, the jungle, the Technojungle, keeps growing, but it remains a jungle. No matter what we do with machines, or what machines try to do with us, the human element is always there and that make it a jungle. The Technojungle exists because of the differences between humans and machines.

Let’s think about it!

Next: Hunting on the human trail
The next article and the entire series of six, will appear in the upcoming book mentioned at the beginning of this article.

© 2014 by Bob Grahame
Please do not reproduce this article, or any part, in any manner, without my permission. Thank you!

We could watch the world in a tube

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In my life during 1965, the television was probably the most influential piece of technology. The invention of the television might well be connected to the telephone, another important influencer. In 1880, Alexander Graham Bell took sealed documents to the Smithsonian Institute. Word got out that the documents described an invention called a “photophone” that could send images mechanically. This started a flurry of activity and controversy. There was an illustration in Punch’s Almanac for 1879 depicting a “telephonoscope.”

In the early days, actually for most of its history, the TV was a box with a large cathode ray tube (CRT) inside that held the world ready for viewing. Without getting too technical and yet still describe the difference between the CRT TV and the TV of 2015, the cathode ray tube was a triangular shaped tube with an electron gun in the pointed part at the back of the TV. It was so long that there was a bump that stuck out five or six inches at the back of the TV, making it difficult to push the huge unit close to the wall. The front of the tube was the viewing surface and was round in the early days, but square in most cases by 1965.

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We actually had a round TV in a very large cabinet. It was a colour TV, which was a very new thing in those days. A couple of years prior to 1965, TVs began to go from black and white, actually a sort of bluish colour, to being wonderful “living” colour. I can remember the neighbours having the first colour TV. One of the first TV shows to be broadcast in colour was The Wonderful World of Disney, probably because they had a lot of colour content, from cartoons to movies, they could use. We would go over to the neighbours to watch Disney.

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It took quite a few years before most TV shows were in colour. Colour was an expensive process. There were only a half-dozen, or less, channels in those days, depending on where you lived. The stations were broadcast from local transmitters and the TV would pick up the broadcast with rabbit ears. Rabbit ears were two long metal telescopic spikes called antennas or aerials that pointed at an angle in opposite directions but came together at the bottom to form a V-shape where they connected in a small box with a wire that lead to the TV. Some people actually had a large antenna mounted on the roof of their house and a wire stretched from the roof to the TV set.

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CRT TVs were not instant on. Often the volume knob was the on switch. One would turn the knob, it would click to on and then turn a little more to get the desired volume. But wait. Yes, wait. Both the CRT and the audio amplifier used tubes and thus had to warm up for many seconds. First, a small dot of light would appear in the centre of the screen. Sometime a flicker and soon an image would appear that might be distorted until all the tubes were warm in the TV set.

That might be only the start. One might have to adjust the antennas to get the best reception. Sometimes the TV set might need other adjustments. I mentioned a bit about the CRT earlier and said it was a gun. I’ll try to explain this as simply as I can without looking up the exact details of how it worked. I just want you to get the idea behind the device.

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The electron gun shot a beam to the front of the CRT which was coated with something, perhaps it was phosphorus. The phosphorus would light up. The beam could be directed to different places on the screen and the way the screen was filled with an image was to have the gun draw or scan lines across the screen. If one were to look very closely at the image on the screen they would see these scanned lines. I think there were around 525 lines and I don’t think this could be altered. If one had a larger TV, the scan lines would be larger. The gun would make a line across the top of the screen from left to right and then move down and draw another line, repeating to draw more lines until it reached the bottom of the screen where it would go back to the top and start again. All this happened so fast that the whole screen looked lit-up. The actual image was probably produced by varying the intensity of the beam. Less intensity at a certain point on the screen would produce a darker image. A colour TV had three guns, red, blue and green that would combine to scan colour on to the screen.

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Modern TVs use a liquid crystal display (LCD) or light emitting diode (LED) screen. This technology does away with the gun at the back of a big CRT and thus allows for the screen to be very thin. TVs are no longer boxes and large pieces of furniture. Because they are solid state digital technology with no tubes, they can be instant on and not restricted by the number of lines that can be scanned on the screen. They have other issues that govern the quality of the image which are outside the scope of this article.

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The television was invented in the late 1920s. I think I remember seeing the first image that was ever broadcasted. It was of Felix the Cat. Television technology was expensive and the Great Depression and then World War II delayed the TV from becoming the massive personal and societal influencer it has become. Prosperity came after the war and so did many new appliances. Modern technology was gaining a deep foothold on North American life. Western societies were ready for the TV by the late 1940s.

During the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, people either listened to the radio or went out to see a movie, play or other form of entertainment. TV allowed people to stay home and see the world from their own living room. It was a natural step from the radio in the living room, but with an important difference. With radio, the listener would sit back and imagine the scene that the audio was depicting. This kept the mind as an active participant. The TV, with both audio and image, was much more passive. One simply had to watch and listen. There was much less thinking.

As television became more popular, it was considered somewhat a threat to radio, just as radio had threatened the phonograph recording industry, which had threatened the live entertainment industry. The movie industry began to scramble to come up with many new technological features from wide-screen to 3D.

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At first, shows were done as a stage play. The equipment was cumbersome and it was difficult to move around, so the viewer was sort of a member of the audience. It wasn’t long until more than one camera was being used. I think it was Desi Arnaz, the husband of Lucille Ball, and their I Love Lucy show that began to use more than one camera during the 1950s.

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Recording the television shows was very crude in the beginning. The kinescope was a process where a film camera was aimed at a TV to record the image on film. It was not long until the equipment became more compact and video tape recording was invented. Taping, allowed for shows to be delayed for better time periods different broadcast time zones, and for editing. As more satellites were put in orbit the possibilities of content were expanded since content could be gathered at one location and beamed to a satellite and then to another location in the world. It was in 1965 that the first commercial communication satellite, Intelsat 1, went into operation. Think for a moment how that event has changed the world.

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This brings us to 1965. The Vietnam War was on and I can remember well my father watching Walter Cronkite anchor the 6 PM CBS Evening News with very graphic reporting of the Vietnam War. This was the other side of the world in a tube in our house—a war in a tube in our house—at dinner time. Never before had war come to the dinner table. To me, this is a stark marker in how society had changed.

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Even with radio, it was turned on primarily to listen to a show. Perhaps one might listen to some music or a drama. One would listen and imagine. Nothing else was done. By 1965, we were eating while watching TV, mothers would iron clothes while watching a soap opera drama. Children would come home from school and plop themselves down in front of the TV to be parented. Parents didn’t have to worry that their child might be out somewhere getting into trouble. The world had changed forever. You didn’t have to go out into the world, it could come to you in a tube.

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Actually, children of the TV generation were being raised by the media. You could believe anything just because it was on TV. Children demanded the latest toy and the latest sugar-coated cereal. Children no longer made toys out of whatever was around and diets became processed by machines, preserved by chemicals and instantized. We were told it was fun, or that it was good for us.

Many toys, such as the Frisbee and the Yo-Yo, became ever cemented into the toy chest through the popularization by TV. The pace of life picked up as we struggled to mould our lives around our favourite TV shows. Often, there was no time to cook a meal, so companies, such as Swanson, seized on the opportunity and invented TV dinners. Just take the foil tray out of the box and place the frozen meal in the oven and, by the time the first commercial comes on the TV—perhaps even an advertisement for a TV dinner—your meal is ready, all segmented into sections of the tray. There was one indentation in the foil tray for meat, one for vegetables and one for potatoes. If that was too much, you could simply stop off at Colonel Sanders Kentucky Fried Chicken (now, because of our rapid lives, often shortened to KFC) and bring home a bucket with everything in it, just in time to unfold the TV trays (small folding flimsy tables) to see your TV show.

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As modern life began to revolve more and more around the TV, we found we needed more and more TVs so each person could go to a separate room to watch their own favourite show. Just as with phones, why not have one in every room. I counted seven TVs in our house one day. One of our TVs was a Sony Trinitron. This TV ran for 30 years in our house and probably would have kept going had we not decided to move on to newer technology. Our Sony was one of what were commonly call portable TVs and generally had the rabbit ears built in.

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We would come home and turn on the TV to see what was on. If you didn’t want to watch what was on one channel, you would get up and turn the tuner dial to another station. It would click for each number on the dial. By 1965, there were more stations coming on and one would have to sit next to the TV and turn the dial to see what other channels have on. If there was a commercial on a particular channel, you would have to check other channels and come back, or wait until the program resumed. By the time you had checked all the channels, the shows would be changing and you would have to start over and by then your tea or coffee, or your TV dinner, would be cold.

I think Zenith was one of the first to solve the problem. They came up with a remote control that worked by a button that would create an audio tone. One could turn the TV on or off, raise or lower the volume in steps and, of course, and change the channel. Voila, problem solved. Well, partially. You still had to check all the channels and there was no jumping, you moved up the channels sequentially. But, you could stay in your seat and eat your ice cream before it melted. The invention of the remote, also invented channel surfing. However, there was one problem. At my friend’s house there was one of these TVs with the remote control. Sometimes the doorbell or the telephone would ring and operate the TV because the remote operations were accomplished with audio tones.

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Fifty years later, we have gone from a few channels to hundreds. It seems like we have more than the world in a tube. The TV has out-grown the tube. It is no longer the warm analog friend that was introducing us to the world in 1965. It is a digital portal to the universe. Gone are the rabbit ears; we now have a cable, like a giant pipe feeding us with whatever we want. Most channels do not go off the air in the middle of the night, displaying a test pattern. It all just keeps going as an endless flow ready to flood our minds at any time of the day or night. Television stations are no longer multinational corporations. Content providers who own the cables are no longer king. Content can come from a variety of sources and can be produced by almost anyone. The floodgates are open.

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I remember well when I first heard the idea of a flat TV that could hang on the wall like a picture. I imagined a wall with pictures hanging on it and a TV somewhere in the middle. There were other ideas of 3D and an entire wall as a TV. Even a holographic TV similar to the imaging device seen in the Star Wars movie. I am watching to see if the new 3D TVs of today will be a fad as it was with the movies of the 1950s. Today, we can have a TV on a table, on the wall, in our lap, in our hand, in our car, almost anywhere and it comes with more than TV. TV is only one part of the multi-communicative devices we have at our fingertips.

Our current family TV is a Panasonic that sits on the mantle above the electric fireplace in our townhouse. It is connected to a sound system, a Blu-Ray disc player and the Internet. We can do Skype or watch YouTube videos among many other content sources which we seldom use. We do not subscribe to cable television, but seem to get a dozen channels that come with our Internet subscription. That seems to be plenty for us. Even with only a similar number of channels that I had in 1965, I can end up watching far too many hours of TV. It is mesmerizing. I can’t even imagine how I would settle on a show to actually watch if we could get hundreds of channels. It boggles my mind. So, I sit and flip back and forth sometimes trying to watch more than one show on the few channels we get and attempting to get some things done on my computer at the same time. How do people with everything do it?

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