wireless devices 1906

Cartoon by Lewis Baumer (1870-1963), first published in Punch in 1906
Kip W unearthed the above wonderful, stunningly up-to-date Punch cartoon (Williams 1955: 164) by artist Lewis Baumer (1870-1963), which first was published in 1906! It’s great historical evidence for how early in the development of a given technology people not only speculate about the future trajectory of said development, but also think about possible social consequences of it.

WILLIAMS, RONALD EARNEST. 1955. A century of Punch cartoons. New York: Simon and Schuster.
via entry at boingboing

weapons not concealed

The Kroger gun stunt sparks 2nd Amendment debate, NBC reported yesterday:

Charlottesville police say the man who showed up at a Kroger grocery store with a loaded gun wanted to make a point. On Sunday, an unidentified 22-year-old man carried a loaded AR-15 into the Kroger store on Emmet Street and Hydraulic Road, sparking not only a scare for customers and employees but also a 2nd Amendment debate.
    Charlottesville police drew their guns on the man after witnesses reported he brought a gun into the store. They restrained the man to ask him questions, but released him after they confirmed he is not a convicted felon, owned the gun legally and it was not concealed.
Police say he was cooperative and did nothing illegal. Officers did find a note in his pocket spelling out his intent to express his 2nd Amendment rights. […]

Now compare this to the following scene from Neal Stephenson’s ‘Cryptonomicon’ (1999):

In the lot of the 24 Jam, Mike or Mark has joined three other elvishlooking sorts in black cowboy hats and bandannas, whom Randy can identify based on the length and color of their ponytails and beards. There’s Stu, a Berkeley grad student who is somehow mixed up in Avi’s HEAP project, and Phil, who invented a major programming language a couple of years ago and goes helicopter-skiing in his spare time, and Craig, who knows everything there is to know about encrypted credit-card transactions on the Net and is a devotee of traditional Nipponese archery. Some of these guys are wearing long coats and some aren’t. There is a lot of Secret Admirers iconography: t-shirts bearing the number 56, which is a code for Yamamoto, or just pictures of Yamamoto himself, or big fat question marks. They are having an energetic and very happy conversation–though it looks a bit forced–because, to a man, they are carrying long weapons out in plain sight. One of them has a hunting rifle, and each of the others is slinging a rudimentary-looking gun with a banana clip sticking out of the side. Randy thinks, but is not sure, that these are HEAP guns.
    This scene, not surprisingly, has caught the attention of the police, who have surrounded these four with squad cars, and who are standing at the ready with rifles and shotguns. It is an oddity of the law in many jurisdictions that, while carrying (say) a concealed one-shot .22 derringer requires a license, openly carrying (e.g.) a big game rifle is perfectly legal. Concealed weapons are outlawed or at least heavily regulated, and unconcealed ones are not. So a lot of Secret Admirers–who tend to be gun nuts–have taken to going around conspicuously armed as a way of pointing out the absurdity of those rules. Their point is this: who gives a shit about concealed weapons anyway, since they are only useful for defending oneself against assaults by petty criminals, which almost never happens? The real reason the Constitution provides for the right to bear arms is defending oneself against oppressive governments, and when it comes to that, your handgun is close to useless. So (according to these guys) if you are going to assert your right to keep and bear arms you should do it openly, by packing something really big. (Stephenson 1999: chpt. 76)

STEPHENSON, NEAL TOWN. 1999. Cryptonomicon. London: Heinemann.

who is calling?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #57
Who is calling?
The public phone is ringing. Who is calling? And a scene from which book is cited thereby?
    Simply leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE and partial solution (29 January 2013):
Detail of the season 2 titlecard of the television series 'Person of Interest' (Nolan 2011-present)
S.A.S. has solved the first part of the riddle. It is the artificial intelligence called ‘The Machine’ from the television series Person of Interest (Nolan 2011-present) calling John Reese (Jim Caviezel) via a public pay phone. The scene is from the end of the final episode of season one, Firewall (S01E23). As a recap the scene is repeated and then continued at the beginning of The Contingency (S02E01). Now the question remains: Which scene from which book is cited here? Hint: The citation becomes even more explicit in the latest episode, Prisoner’s Dilemma (S02E12).

UPDATE and final solution (08 February 2013):
Mona did it, identified and quoted the correct passage from William Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’ (1984)—congratulations! In the scene from Prisoner’s Dilemma (S02E12) I hinted towards, a pay phone rings next to Harold Finch (Michael Emerson) walking on the street. Due to the dramaturgy of the story Finch ignores it and walks on. Then the next phone near to him starts ringing … Here is the complete scene from ‘Neuromancer’, when the artificial intelligence which goes by the name ‘Wintermute’ calls Case, the main human protagonist:

There were cigarettes in the gift shop, but he didn’t relish talking with Armitage or Riviera. He left the lobby and located a vending console in a narrow alcove, at the end of a rank of
pay phones.
    He fumbled through a pocketful of lirasi, slotting the small dull alloy coins one after another, vaguely amused by the anachronism of the process. The phone nearest him rang.
    Automatically, he picked it up.
    Faint harmonics, tiny inaudible voices rattling across some orbital link, and then a sound like wind.
    “Hello. Case.”
    A fifty-lirasi coin fell from his hand, bounced, and rolled out of sight across Hilton carpeting.
    “Wintermute, Case. It’s time we talk.”
    It was a chip voice.
    “Don’t you want to talk, Case?”
    He hung up.
    On his way back to the lobby, his cigarettes forgotten, he had to walk the length of the ranked phones. Each rang in turn, but only once, as he passed. (Gibson 1984: chpt. 7)

GIBSON, WILLIAM FORD. 1984. Neuromancer. New York: Penguin.
NOLAN, JONATHAN. 2011-present. Person of interest [TV series]. New York: CBS.

the coming war on general computation

The copyright war was just the beginning

The last 20 years of Internet policy have been dominated by the copyright war, but the war turns out only to have been a skirmish. The coming century will be dominated by war against the general purpose computer, and the stakes are the freedom, fortune and privacy of the entire human race.
    The problem is twofold: first, there is no known general-purpose computer that can execute all the programs we can think of except the naughty ones; second, general-purpose computers have replaced every other device in our world. There are no airplanes, only computers that fly. There are no cars, only computers we sit in. There are no hearing aids, only computers we put in our ears. There are no 3D printers, only computers that drive peripherals. There are no radios, only computers with fast ADCs and DACs and phased-array antennas. Consequently anything you do to “secure” anything with a computer in it ends up undermining the capabilities and security of every other corner of modern human society.
    And general purpose computers can cause harm — whether it’s printing out AR15 components, causing mid-air collisions, or snarling traffic. So the number of parties with legitimate grievances against computers are going to continue to multiply, as will the cries to regulate PCs.
    The primary regulatory impulse is to use combinations of code-signing and other “trust” mechanisms to create computers that run programs that users can’t inspect or terminate, that run without users’ consent or knowledge, and that run even when users don’t want them to.
    The upshot: a world of ubiquitous malware, where everything we do to make things better only makes it worse, where the tools of liberation become tools of oppression.
    Our duty and challenge is to devise systems for mitigating the harm of general purpose computing without recourse to spyware, first to keep ourselves safe, and second to keep computers safe from the regulatory impulse.

Here’s the full transcript of the above speech Cory Doctorow gave at the 28th Chaos Communication Congress Behind Enemy Lines.

via entry at techdirt

why turning around?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #56
Turning around
What’s happening in this scene? Why are the two kids turning around?
    Simply leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]


ennis house sunrise

The idea to recreate the House on Haunted Hill in Minecraft haunts me since months. Well, Kevin Shull already did it back in November 2011, complete with custom texture pack and all:

House was created “block for block” as close as I could get with the photographs I found. Some areas were unclear in photos if photographed at all. House is 3x minecraft dimensions. Doors are six blocks tall instead of two. Thirteen textures created for textile blocks. Thirty additional “ice” blocks were created (that won’t melt) for windows and doors. Not enough blocks to do window designs or the gate and iron work. Interior lighting by transparent “glowstone” . For interior and exterior views of the house, two models were created to allow for different block surfaces on walls and placement of windows. Single player control mod was used to control sun and turn off rain that has become a constant problem. House is so large the MC cam creates a lot of distortion. Thought I’ld never finish it, but I’m happy with the way it turned out. Hope you like it.

Oh yes, I do like it, indeed—if you do, too: Besides Ennis House Kevin also did Frank Lloyd Wright‘s other ‘textile block’ houses: Freeman House, Storer House, and Millard House.


who is eddy?

zeph’s pop culture quiz #55
Who is Eddy?
    Simply leave a comment with your educated guess—you can ask for additional hints, too. [Leaving a comment is easy; just click the ‘Leave a comment’ at the end of the post and fill in the form. If it’s the first time you post a comment, it will be held for moderation. But I am constantly checking, and once I’ve approved a comment, your next ones won’t be held, but published immediately by the system.]

UPDATE (17 January 2013):
Clink Wharf
All right, here’s a strong hint: The carriage in the screencap is on its way because of Eddy.


einstein on sts

Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
These quotes by Albert Einstein (1879-1955) are a fine follow-up to poincaré on sts:

We have thus assigned to pure reason and experience their places in a theoretical system of physics. The structure of the system is the work of reason; the empirical contents and their mutual relations must find their representation in the conclusions of the theory. In the possibility of such a representation lie the sole value and justification of the whole system, and especially of the concepts and fundamental principles which underlie it. These latter, by the way, are free inventions of the human intellect, which cannot be justified either by the nature of that intellect or in any other fashion a priori. […]
    The natural philosophers of those days were, on the contrary, most of them possessed with the idea that the fundamental concepts and postulates of physics were not in the logical sense free inventions of the human mind but could be deduced from experience by “abstraction”—that is to say by logical means. A clear recognition of the erroneousness of this notion really only came with the general theory of relativity, which showed that one could take account of a wider range of empirical facts, and that too in a more satisfactory and complete manner, on a foundation quite different from the Newtonian. But quite apart from the question of the superiority of one or the other, the fictitious character of fundamental principles is perfectly evident from the fact that we can point to two essentially different principles, both of which correspond with experience to a large extent; this proves at the same time that every attempt at a logical deduction of the basic concepts and postulates of mechanics from elementary experiences is doomed to failure. (Einstein 1933)

EINSTEIN, ALBERT. 1933. On the method of theoretical physics. The Herbert Spencer Lecture, delivered at Oxford University on 10 June 1933.