Monthly Archives: September 2016

Displacement of People in Time and Space

In the 19th century the railroad and telegraph are 2 of the earliest examples. It used to take days, weeks to get to certain places the train made it more expedient. Telegraphs allowed for long distance communication in a much more rapid way than the “pony express”. In the late 19th century the advent of refrigerated rail cars put an end to seasonal vegetables, now you could have strawberries from sunny California during a snowy winter in Colorado. People now have wider access to foods they may not otherwise have during seasons where it used to be impossible.

Time is no longer as important as it once was. In the 1830’s every town had their own time based upon the position of the sun. By the 1880’s towns were forming time zones around train stations. In factories hours varied based upon available sunlight but with the invention of the light bulb there were no longer any need to change hours.

By 1877, Edison invented the phonograph this had the ability to playback sound that otherwise would have been lost forever. The past was no longer a temporary or fleeting thing it could be memorialized for all time. In the 1900’s films became more widely available. Films captured places and snapshots of time. By 1929, film had sound it could capture a place and sound. These inventions bring pictures and sound to people that may have not had access. Music could now be listened to in the privacy of your own home, it no longer needs to be a public event. Movies have the ability to transport the watcher to another time and place.

Roots of Popular Music

The arrival of slaves from Africa, many were from West Africa, brought a people to the America’s with a unique cultural and musical influence. For white American’s to openly enjoy African music would have been taboo. Around the time of the Civil War, minstrel shows became quite popular. They appealed to many white American’s as a way to satirize African slaves and politics. They were over the top and exaggerated portrayals of slaves and free black men, that perpetuated racial stereotypes. Once PT Barnum asked a black janitor to fill in for the white “black-faced” minstrel performer and brought down the house, however if the white audience knew that the performer was really a black man they would have been furious. This is such a cultural dichotomy to me. If you despise something or someone so much why would you imitate it? Why dress up as a black man, play African style music and dance? To me it seems a way to be able to openly enjoy a culturally taboo style of music and lifestyle. By the 1900’s black men could participate in minstrel shows but they would still wear “black-face” make- up. This is also the beginning of white appropriation of African music and culture for political and monetary purposes.

Minstrel shows did many things culturally. The banjo an African instrument became a folksy instrument of white Appalachian people by the 20th century. It made fun of Africans in a way to keep them oppressed and looked down upon. They were seen as uneducated, raggedy, and happy in their “station” in life, which was no where near the truth. It put African music out in the world and celebrated it in someways. Minstrel shows drew more attention to being “white” or “black”. It allowed for other ethnic groups to pretend or play down their ethnicity because they were lighter than many Africans. Such was the case of Al Jolson, a Jewish man from the D.C. area, he put on black-face and while doing the minstrel show about the deep south he never knew it allowed him to pass for white. He was actually a friend to many African Americans and they did not view his behavior as appalling. It satirized the politics of the time. And pushed gave white people a way to enjoy African music in an allowable way. Minstrel shows created boundaries and broke them at the same time.

Popular and dance music accent on the 2 and 4 beat in the African tradition as opposed to the 1 and 3 beat in the European marching band style. One of my favorite sayings from this class is “white people clap on the wrong beat, Southern white people are less likely to clap on the wrong beat, and black people clap on the right beat.” It explains so much about the stereo type white people can’t dance.

The Internet and personal computers

The ARPAnet was a packet switching network, funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, ARPA. ARPAnet was used to transmit programming information across lines between MIT, Stanford, Xerox, and Ft Belvior. It was the first packet switching network to use TCP/IP and became the foundation of the modern day internet. TCP/IP stands transmission control protocol/ internet protocol, this protocol breaks the switching packets into smaller pieces (like Shannon’s work) and then makes sure they are put back together at the receiving end in the correct order. The ARPAnet was designed to withstand a nuclear attack. There is no central headquarters, this allows for rerouting of information if one point is attacked or down. CERN also uses the ARPAnet. Tim Berners-Lee while at CERN comes up with the World Wide Web, he wants to find an easier way to share information between scientists. He finds a way to use his hypertext protocol with the TCP part of TCP/IP and a domain naming system and you have the WWW.

Douglas Englebart advances these ideas even farther. After receiving his PhD in Electrical Engineering at the University of California, he patents the “mouse” for the P.C. and in 1968 he concludes that you could use a screen, such as a tv, with a mouse as a computer. You could use hypertext programs to link to other programs, these should no longer be closed systems. Englebart goes to Xerox park where they want to expand on his ideas. At Xerox park they come up with command line prompts, and input. In 1975 they develop G.U.I, the graphical user interface. The G.U.I. is all the options we use with our mouse we are familiar with now days such as the scroll down menu, windows etc.

In 1976 an Apple inventor gets a tour of Xerox and 5 years later they produce the first mass marketed personal computers. By 1993 NCSA released the graphical interface “Mosaic”. In 1994 “Netscape Navigator” is out and prettier graphically than Mosaic.

What began as a closed network, led to an open network in order to share information. This goes to show information “wants to be free”. In order to continually develop and improve technology it must be shared and viewed by different people with different ideas.

The development of the internet and personal computers has made sharing information effortless but at what cost? It reduces social interaction, there is also greater access to false or misinformation. Is it like Carr believes that technology is breaking down the personal and public self? Sometimes I think yes, for example the amount of online bullying and “public”shamings. Sometimes I think no because it allows such great access to things in which I may not otherwise have access to.

Claude Shannon and to be intelligent or not intelligent?

Claude Shannon worked with signal to noise ratio. How does one cut out the noise/ interference and only get a good signal the “information” that we want? Shannon solves the signal to noise ratio problem by breaking the information into manageable pieces, by breaking the information down you receive less noise with the signal. Claude Shannon used Boolean algebra to translate logic into formula.After completing his PhD. from MIT he goes to work at Bell Labs where he meets, British mathematician, Alan Turing. During Shannon’s time at Bell Labs he writes, ” A Mathematical Theory of Communication” this explains how to best encode the information. Shannon is only concerned with the information not the meaning. In order to transmit the information efficiently with the least amount of disruption and noise you must get rid of the meaning. Later, Shannon and Harry Nyquist came up with the Nyquist- Shannon Sampling theory, allowing analog music to become digital music. You only need 2 pieces of information to recreate a sound wave. Music was turned in to numbers to a frequency then back to music.

Alan Turing is well known for decrypting Nazi codes and his work with machine intelligence. Turing developed the “Turing test” in order to tell if a machine is intelligent. He believed if a human could not tell that it was a machine or a human it would need to be considered intelligent. In opposition to this school of thought is John Searle. Searle believed that to be intelligent you must understand what you are doing, you must have intention. While Turing argues Searle point is moot because we only assume other’s intention but there is no way to know because we only know the outward self. Can you be intelligent with out intention? What if you make some great intelligent mathematical discovery by complete accident? If there is no intent are you still intelligent?

Thank you Cold War for my cell phone!

Max Weber a German sociologist believed the most crucial information management was record keeping and centralization. After the Civil War the US was paying more than 2 million pensions, none of the individuals had identification other than a birth certificate, there was no centralization, or even typewriters to assist in record keeping. How could the US government realistically keep track of what was getting paid and to whom? How to verify whether a person was who they say they were? After the Civil War, Montegomery Miegs was put in charge of the Pension division, where he commissioned a new building, “The National Building Museum”, to house the workers he would need to hire to streamline the system.

Prior to WWII the US Army would reduce in size after war, because of the thought “standing armies are dangerous”. The shift however after WWII is that a standing army should be a permanent fixture in the US. President Eisenhower in his farewell speech recognized the changing military landscape. Besides military personnel and weaponery, large expenditures were made towards “computing”.Many technological advances stem from war. During the 1950’s analog computers were used to calculate missile trajectories. The analog computers needed 7-8 men to operate and feed it information. These computers were used to help fight global communism.

In the 1930’s Vannevar Bush created a differential analyzer, an analog computer. During the war it was used non-stop in the MIT Radiation lab ( Vannever Bush theorized that men need a device to store and categorize their books, personal papers, and records that can be accessed with expediency, he named it the “memex”. The “memex” would help supplement a man’s memory and allow him to better use the information at his disposal. Unlike Carr, Bush believed the memory worked by creating networks and associations, in  a non-linear fashion. Bush wondered why if there was a “better option” for people to use why would they not use it? Bush was fortunate to live in a changing age, analog computers to the “electronics revolution”.

The invention of ENIAC one of the first electrical computers was contained in multiple rooms it was so large. It operated using a thermionic/ vacuum tubes. The downside to these tubes were their size, fragility, power requirements and the heat generated. During their time these were magnificent machines that took up large amounts of space but nowadays computers that fit in our bags and on our tabletops are more powerful.

What facilitated this post war change? Was it the realization a country needed a standing army to advance technology to helpfacilitate safety? Was it purely to prevent the global spread of communism?

Carr, Plato, and Socrates

In Carr’s book “The Shallows” he lays out what he believes the internet is doing to our brains. Carr makes the argument that the way we process information from the internet is rewiring our brains to gather information in bits and pieces in a distracted way. He seems to feel reading books creates a deep thinker, a person able to concentrate. It is a linear process with no outside distractions. Carr believes that the “erosion of the public self” was due to the inability to pay attention. While reading on the internet we are bombarded by tiny distractions that cause us/our brains to go off on side tangents, searching for more and more information.  Carr might be on to something the internet can certainly cause distractions. How does this impact us other than the way in which we process information? The information we are now so hungry for can be false. How does this change our views of society and social interaction? There is no need to go interact with the librarian at your local library, research can be done with the touch of a button. These things can be good and bad. You do not necessarily know the quality of information you are gathering from the internet and while it is convenient it also cuts down on social interaction among other causing isolation. You then have the opposite spectrum people putting all sorts of information about themselves on line, I will call this the Kardashian problem.

Carr’s argument is not the first time that someone has wondered about how access to information affects us. Socrates made the argument against literacy. Seems absurd, you can gain so much knowledge by reading, right? Socrates’ argument is based on the premise that you should make your own observations, through social interactions, and shared learning experiences. If you rely on the knowledge of others through literacy, it could be inferior to what you yourself could learn. Socrates has a valid point someone else’s knowledge compared to your knowledge could be inferior to yours. Each person see’s things from their own perspective, no two people will have the same experience, if you are able to experience something it is probably best to have first hand knowledge.

Plato on the other hand makes the argument for literacy. While Socrates had a valid point about learning through observation and social interaction, Plato’s argument for literacy has some good points. One being you can pass down information that might otherwise have been lost. Not everybody will be able have all life experiences especially back in those days, travel was more arduous, it was a different world. You could explore other things though through literacy, you may not be able to travel to China but you could read about. Sometimes when secondhand knowledge is the best you have, it is better than nothing.

I think the key to these views lies in balance.

History of Music in the Digital Past

The class for History of Technology was very interesting. Definitely, not what I expected. I was expecting a boring run of the mill history of technology, more along the lines of computers Steve Jobs etc. Instead we listened to Tito Puente known for his Latin Jazz music style. We discussed “dynamic range” how producers make songs louder in order to be heard better. The advent of the vinyl record changed the experience of music listening.  Music used to be a public event one would go to a bar, pub, speak-easy, or church to hear music, now you could listen in the privacy of your own home. The way in which Vinyl records work. The wider the groove the louder the sound will be. The problem with this however is that a record is only so big and can only produce a certain amount of loudness. According to psycho acoustics louder is better.

Vinyl records also offer better dynamic range than compressed CD’s or mp3s. Compression is the act of leveling out the dynamic range. Cd’s and mp3s are highly compressed to save space. Compression makes it a mindless listening experience, where if you are listening to live music or Vinyl records the dynamic range makes it more involved, you have to listen for the softer parts because it is not all at the same sound level.

The invention of the microphone created an artificial intimacy. You no longer needed to sing loudly in order to be heard. You could draw people in even if you had a soft voice, like Frank Sinatra.