Two Hundred and Fifty

Ferrari 250 GTO
Ferrari 250 GTO

This post will be my 250th. 250 times approximation 1,000 words. A quarter of a million words. Wow. I didn’t think that I could do it. I hit the target. I reached the summit of Everest. I ran a marathon. And other similar metaphors for success.

Of course, I could be posting into a void. I see that I get, usually, a few dozen views for each post and some people are actually “following” me. I even, now and then, get a comment. I’ve done zero in the way of self promotion. I finish each post, figuratively pat it on its back and send it on its way, never to be seen again.

On its way
On its way

This doesn’t concern me. It seems that, for me, writing this blog is a bit like playing a piano in an empty room, or doing a jigsaw on the Internet. The reward is in the doing. I certainly feel a sense of achievement when I hit the “Publish” button, but I don’t often follow up on the post.

What I found amazing is my ability to ramble on for 1,000 words on any subject. I reckon that I could probably stretch any subject out to 1,000 words. In fact, I usually go over. Around the 300 to 400 word mark I’m wondering if I will reach the 1,000, and then suddenly I’m a couple of dozen words past the mark and wondering how to stop. Many times I will just stop so if you think I dropped a subject abruptly, you are probably right.

Analog television ends in Japan
Analog television ends in Japan

Some subjects have come up more than once. If you have been a regular reader you will have noticed themes running through my posts. There’s science, particularly physics and cosmology, there’s philosophy, there’s maths. I’ve tried to steer away from politics, but Trump has crept in there somewhere.

There’s weather, there’s seasons, there’s discussion on society, as I see it, and occasionally I discuss my posts themselves. These things are, obviously, the things that interest me, the things that I tend to think about.

River Arun
River Arun

Apparently I have 144 followers. That’s 144 more than I expected. I hope that some of them read my posts on a regular basis, but that’s not necessary. I hope that more dip in from time to time and find some interest nugget.

That sound disparaging to my followers, but that’s not my intent. My intent is to reflect on the realities of blogging. I follow other blogs, but I don’t read all the posts on those blogs. Maybe one or two of them I read pretty much every time the blogger posts a new post.

Someone's blog post
Someone’s blog post

That’s the reality of blogging I think. Millions of blog plots are published every day, and I reckon that very few of them are read by more than one or two people at the most. Some blogs strike the jackpot, though, and have millions of followers.

I’d guess that the big blogs are about politics in some shape or form, or fashion and fashion hints and tips. Maybe cooking? I’ve seen a few cooking blogs and they seem to be quite popular. Some big firms have taken to publishing a blog. Some people blog about their illnesses and their battles with it. The best of the latter can be both sad and uplifting.

Protest
Protest

You know the sort I mean? You go to the firm’s website and there’s a button or menu item that proudly proclaims “Blog”. When you look at the blog, it’s simply a list of what the CEO and board have been up to, or releases of new products, or sometimes posts about workers at the firm getting involved with the local community. All good earnest stuff, but scarcely riveting. I wonder how many followers they get? Probably about as many as me! I hope so. At least they are trying.

(Approaching 600 words of waffle. I can do it!)

Since I’m not doing a political blog, I don’t think that anything I post is controversial, which is probably reflected in the number of my followers. I don’t stir up any furores with my words on Plato’s Cave analogy, so far as I know. I get no furious comments about my views on Schrodinger’s Cat. “You should see what he says about Plato’s Cave! You must go on there and refute it!” Nah, doesn’t happen!

Plato's Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan...
Plato’s Allegory of the cave, Engraving of Jan Saenredam (1565-1607) after a painting of Cornelis Corneliszoon van Haarlem (1562-1638) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As I said, the low number of hits doesn’t worry me. It would be a hassle if suddenly my followers shot up to thousands, and I felt obligated to provide all these people an interesting post on a regular basis. As it is I can ramble on about prime numbers or the relationship between the different number sets and potentially only disappoint a few people. If any.

What have I learnt from all this blogging? That it is hard. It’s not just a matter of sitting down and blasting out a 1,000 words. Well sometimes it is, actually, but most times I grind it out in 100 word or so chunks. I aim to write the blog on Sunday and add pictures and publish on Monday.

Hard work
Hard work

Sometimes I miss the Monday deadline, out of sheer forgetfulness, mostly and pop it out on Tuesday or even later. Sometimes I forget to write my post until late on Sunday, but it is only rarely that I have to write it on Monday or even later. So far as I can tell, I’ve not completely missed a weekly post since the earliest days.

This is not the first blog I’ve tried to write. I had several goes before this one and I think that maybe this attempt “stuck” because I set out my aim to publish weekly early on. Maybe. It may also be the target of 250 posts that I set myself early on. Now I’ve achieved that goal.

Mud
Mud

So what next? I’ve not decided. I might stop now, or I might go on to 500. I may not know right up until the last minute. 500 posts is approaching 10 years of posts which seems a phenomenally long time. But then again, 250 posts is around 5 years of posts and I achieved that. We’ll have to see.

(As I sail past 1,000 words, I reflect that I can extract that many words from practically nothing. It seems to be a knack.)

Fireworks in NZ
Fireworks in NZ

The Tyranny of the Minority

English: LGBT pride parade in Madrid (Spain) 2...
English: LGBT pride parade in Madrid (Spain) 2008 Español: Desfile del orgullo LGBT en Madrid (España) 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It would be nice if everyone could agree what is fair and what is not. In an ideal world a believer in a religion would agree with a believer in another religion that they both have the right to believe as they wish. Instead we find believers in one religion continuously killing believers in another religion.

One of the problems is that the holy books TELL believers to kill, in various dreadful ways, those who do not believe in the holy books, so for a believer the killings are justified. Naturally those being attacked also have a holy book that tells believers to kill non-believers, so we have a religious war.

This book is considered the most important of ...
This book is considered the most important of the Baha’i faith. Kitáb-i-Aqdas (The Most Holy Book, 1873) is, however, NOT translated into Swedish yet, and no layout for the front has been devised or developed. Therefore I have created a dummy cover, a pretended cover, with the intention to illustrate a wikipedia article about a book that eventually will be translated into Swedish. The appearance of the Aqdas in Swedish and its face is completely my own invention. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most religious believers would probably characterise themselves as “moderate” believers and would probably condemn those extremists and countries that practise killings in the name of the religion. They would point out that when the deity instructed believers to kill, it was in specific historical circumstances (such as when followers of another region were trying to wipe them out) and that to apply the injunction in modern times is perverse.

Most of the time, I’d suggest, the average believer would be happy to get along with believers in another region, but is instructed to shun them by a small number of “militant” believers and teachers. The would be moderates are bullied and coerced by the militants into actions which they would not normally contemplate.

English: Street Preacher A Christian street pr...
English: Street Preacher A Christian street preacher by the war memorial at the junction of High Street and Moss Street. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, such things don’t just happen in religious societies. When people see their standard of living fall, when they are thrown out of jobs because the jobs are being shipped overseas, or because technology is making their jobs redundant, they may fall under the sway of someone who tells them that their situation can be improved and that person if the best person to achieve that feat.

It helps if the person is charismatic, if the person claims that he/she is going to overturn the traditional ways of doing things, if the person is not part of the establishment, if the person intends to disrupt the current ways of doing things.

What actually happens is that the the person stumbles when he/she tries to shake things up. Some things will change, but far more things will remain the same. Many processes and procedures have reasons for their existence, though it is good to challenge them now and again.

My point is that the directions of our lives are directed and controlled by a small number of people. They may be politicians, or business people, or religious leaders. We may get to choose between them, but as types, politicians are very similar, regardless of party affiliations. Generally they are leaders while the rest of the population are followers, just getting on with their lives, trusting the leaders to lead us in the right direction.

This is a workable model, and has served us well for the most part. Sometimes a maverick comes along to lead us in a direction that in retrospect seems bizarre or counter intuitive, and the unmotivated majority is dragged in a direction that they would not have wanted to go. Sometime a leader is so powerful that he/she does things that give him/her power over the population that they would normally not cede to the leader, and we get a depot or dictator. But dictators die and rarely are they followed by an equally despotic ruler.

We pretty much expect others to, basically, run the country for us, but I’ve noticed in recent years the rise of a new type of tyranny, the tyranny of the minority. A few people, for their own ends, prevent the silent majority from having what they want.

For instance some people refuse to have their children immunised, which means that their children can catch diseases and while the disease may turn out to be mild for their children, their children can then infect smaller children who are too young to be immunised and who may react badly to the disease. Children die in this manner, and this is preventable.

If there was a law that all children hove to be immunised, then these deaths could be prevented and as a bonus the disease could be wiped out. In my opinion anyone who lets their child become a carrier for a disease should be charged with manslaughter as the very least.

Most people are happy with chlorine being added to tap water. It ensures that tap water is safe to drink. However in the developed countries a militant few are campaigning to stop chloride being added to tap water, and in some places they are winning. They are winning by using scare tactics and misinformation.

This anti-chlorine web page is typical and uses both techniques. Firstly it mentions that “chlorine gas was used with deadly effectiveness as a weapon in the First World War.” This is a fact, but it is also a big scare as the concentrations of chlorine gas used in the First World War were massively higher than the trace of chlorine left in tap water by the disinfection process.

English: Using a pool chlorine indicator to te...
English: Using a pool chlorine indicator to test for chlorine gas escaping from a solution of acetic acid and sodium hypochlorite. Note the amount of yellow in the drip suspended in the gas. The same amount of chlorine gas is made with addition of acetic acid as without acetic acid. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Secondly, the article mentions that “a recent study conducted in Hartford, Connecticut found that women with breast cancer have 50-60 percent higher levels of organochlorines (chlorine by-products) in their breast tissue than cancer-free women”. This is misdirection as there is no evidence that the organochlorines entered the body through ingested water.

Did I mention that the one person quoted extensively in the article was employed by a filter manufacturer? Shame on Scientific American for publishing an article with such an obvious bias.

English: Water Filter Standing in a field besi...
English: Water Filter Standing in a field beside a minor road. There are some old foundations nearby which suggest that there might have been a building here at one time. See the manufacturer’s plate here 441663. Arran is just visible in the distance. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is one way that the minority tyrannises the majority. They come up with spurious and unscientific arguments that are plausible to many people and persuade the authorities that they will launch lawsuits if the authorities persist in whatever the minority doesn’t like. They demand their “right” to chlorine free water, or bread without folate, or the right to not have their children vaccinated, or similar.

This denies the rights of the majority, who either want chlorine, folate or don’t want disease carriers giving whooping cough or measles to very small children, or more likely don’t care one way or the other, but accept that what the authorities are trying to do is beneficial. Which stinks, in many ways.

SCHOOL CHILDREN TESTING WATER FOR PURITY - NAR...
SCHOOL CHILDREN TESTING WATER FOR PURITY – NARA – 543915 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

(I add illustrations to my blogs, not because I agree with the points that the illustrations may be making but because they are related in some way to my topic. Please be aware that the words are the important thing, and the illustrations are only decoration and may not reflect my point of view.)

Shift to the Right

All around the world, it seems, in the so-called democratic Western societies there is an ongoing shift to the right. What does “a shift to the right” mean? What does “the right” mean in the context of modern politics?

In the past the right stood for monarchy, the status quo and conservatism, while the left stood for republicanism, revolution and change, and socialism. The right is seen forward-looking and the left is seen as backwards looking.

The robes of HRH The Duke of Clarence, a Royal...
The robes of HRH The Duke of Clarence, a Royal Duke (later William IV), included a train borne by a page. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The right has come to espouse the capitalist view of economic matters, and the concept of free markets where there is no regulation of the market and the left has come to mean stiff market controls and social ownership of some of the more important resources, such as the roads and other infrastructure, the police, and bounds on firms and corporations.

While the right tends to individualism and capitalism, the left tends to collectivism and the rights of individuals as part of a group. In the public mind the businessman is the epitome of the right while the worker represents the left.

But why are right-wing parties gaining control everywhere? The answer is of course in the rise of Islam and of ISIS and the militant Islamic movements in many countries, coupled with the floods of refugees from countries where Islamic activists are waging war against the authorities.

The refugees came not only from states where the Islam factions were looking to take over, but also from other countries, such as Ukraine, where Russia is looking to extend its interests into the country, which it lost when the old Soviet Union was dissolved. There are also trouble spots such as Israel where minorities feel threatened and are abandoning homes and heading to other countries.

Islam in Europe 1%-2% (Belarus, Croatia, Italy...
Islam in Europe 1%-2% (Belarus, Croatia, Italy, Monaco, Ukraine) 2%-4% (Andorra, Denmark, Luxembourg, Norway, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain) 4%-5% (Germany, Greece, Lichtenstein, Switzerland, United Kingdom) 5%-10% (Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Sweden) 10%-20% (Bulgaria, Cyprus, France, Montenegro, Russia) 20%-50% (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia) 50%-90% (Albania) >90% (Kosovo, Turkey) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People in Western bloc countries have seen on television news and elsewhere how these floods of refugees are causing problems because of the inabilities of countries in the path of the refugee flood to cope. At the same time they have seen on the news of the atrocities caused by radical Islamists close to home, in London, Paris, and in the USA.

This has naturally led to a rise in xenophobic distrust of those people who might be Islamic extremists and to the influx of refugees in general irrespective of their religion or beliefs. The feeling is that Islamic extremists could enter a country in guise of refugees, with intent of setting up branches of terrorist organisations.

An 1863 meeting between Māori and settlers in ...
An 1863 meeting between Māori and settlers in a pā whakairo (carved pā) in Hawke’s Bay Province. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

That may be true in a very few cases but many cases the terrorist incidents have been perpetrated by people from the country that the incident occurs in, who have been “radicalised” via the Internet. While it is or may be true that the incidents are orchestrated by those outside of the country, few seem to be perpetrated by actual refugees.

Generally refugees are glad to be taken in by other countries and are also glad to fit into those countries and be accepted by the people who live in those countries. Most are appalled by the violence done in the name of their religion and don’t believe that their religion actually requires believers to do these things.

Old woman wearing hijab
Old woman wearing hijab (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Refugees are usually happy to fit into a country which allows them to practise their religion quietly and privately. Most Christians would say the same, regardless of which denomination they belong to. If you espouse a religion aggressively, then this would cause issue with your neighbours and merely repeats the problems of your original country.

Since I do not believe in religion, but do not object to people who practise one, I see no problem, provided the believer doesn’t try to force his/her religion on me. I will happily take part in a marriage or naming ceremony in any religion, and not just in the Christianity which I was nominally raised in.

English: An Igbuzo child naming ceremony in Wa...
English: An Igbuzo child naming ceremony in Washington DC, USA. Parents of the child confer with the Diokpa (Head of he family) on the names of the child (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The seeming daily “terrorist” acts have scared people. They now look askance at anyone who worships differently from them, and who dresses differently. This has led to many refugees who do not espouse the local religion or customs, adapting, so that they don’t stand out from the locals.

There is a constant dialectic between the religion and customs of their homelands and the new country to which they have moved. The refugees do not want to lose their culture, which they see as a rich heritage, which it is, yet they want to conform and fit in to their new country.

English: South Croydon bus garage on 1 April 1...
English: South Croydon bus garage on 1 April 1985. A newly-delivered ‘M’ class bus stands outside, awaiting the fitting of its destination blinds. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many people in countries to which refugees move see refugees as different. They don’t understand the customs, they don’t understand the religion and they don’t understand why the refugees are not exactly like them. They are worried that the refugees may be terrorists in disguise, but rationally, a terrorist is more likely to adopt local customs and dress, so that he/she doesn’t stand out as different.

This difference engenders fear, and I’ve seen this before. In the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s many West Indians came to Britain, changing the face of the country. Many British people had not seen anyone with a dark skin before, and this shocked and in some cases horrified people. Uneasy jokes were made as how the West Indians were taking over the busses, as drivers and conductors. The tension led inevitably to the rise of the National Front party.

Thankfully the British people eventually accepted the West Indians into the country, and while there were a few incidents over the years, the British people have tolerated incomers pretty well overall.

Nevertheless, in many countries, especially those on the route of the fleeing refugees, there has been a resurgence in the nationalist movements, which laughably indirectly led to the right wing United Kingdom Independence Party congratulating itself for being annihilated by the Tories in the UK local elections. It also led to a right wing candidate reaching the run-off election for the post of the French president.

It also almost certainly led to Trump’s election as president of the United State. His promise to make America great again resonated with those who saw their jobs sliding into an abyss as a seeming flood of strangers entered the country. In the US case of course the unwanted immigrants came mostly from Mexico.

While the United States has its problems, I doubt that Trump can solve them by banning and deporting all the illegal immigrants in the country, which would remove many hard working and useful people, and declaring that the mining industry would be revived and that people would get their jobs back.

Graffiti-art in Venice, Italy. I think (basing...
Graffiti-art in Venice, Italy. I think (basing myself on the inscription “Stop deportation” and the rainbow chador) belongs to the wordlwide protests against the United Kingdom deporting an Iranian lesbian to her country, which punishes homosexuality by law. Picture by Giovanni Dall’Orto, 16 August 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This goes against all economic common sense as the solid fuel mining industry is in decline in most parts of the world, and any gains will be short term and will rapidly fade away, leaving the miners in a worse position than before. It’s hard to see how any of Trump’s actions and reforms will turn the country around.

Miners work in a mine with a low roof
Miners work in a mine with a low roof (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Capitalism

Labor supply and demand in a perfect competiti...
Labor supply and demand in a perfect competition labor market (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A free market is one in which there is no government, monopoly or other authoritative interference in the workings of a market. However there is in practise no such thing, as there are always constraints on a market from one or more of those sources.

For instance, in a small country there may be only two or three organisations which are involved in the whole supply chain, and if they are much the same size there is no drive to compete strongly. If one large competitor decided to drive another large competitor out of the market, it would be expensive and difficult, and would more likely than not trigger monopoly prevention legislative mechanisms.

An example of a cover from a Monopoly video game
An example of a cover from a Monopoly video game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the other hand, a small competitor might be worth an aggressive approach as an attack could be targeted and localised. It would be cheaper and while it might raise a few worries about lack of choice (in an area), it would not trigger any monopoly laws.

An open market goes hand in hand with the laws of supply and demand. Generally these are expressed as graphs showing the intersection of the supply curve (an upwards trending line) with the demand curve (a downwards trending line). Any change in conditions is shown by other lines more or less parallel to the first.

Fig5 Supply and demand curves
Fig5 Supply and demand curves (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

These curves can only be illustrative as they are almost never drawn with quantified axes, and the curves are drawn without the use of any measured data. They are arbitrary. Nevertheless they purport to show the effect of market changes on the equilibrium or balance point where the curves cross.

While the laws of supply and demand may be true in the sense that if either the price or demand changes the other also changes, the graphs are of little practical use, and they are only marginally mathematical, as definite mathematical conclusions cannot be made from them. It is impossible to quantify the effect on demand of raising the price of a can of beans by 10c, for example.

Curried Beans
Curried Beans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nevertheless one could probably use the graphs to suggest that if the price changes in one direction the demand will move in another direction, and these guesses may be used to decide on price changes. It’s definitely a guess, though as the opposite may happen – if you put up a sign saying “Beans now $1.55 per can”, having raised the price by $0.05, you may sell more as you have drawn the customers’ attention to the beans.

The “Free Market”, the “Laws of Supply and Demand”, and the principle of “Laissez Faire” are part of the backbone of Capitalism. Capitalism is a robust economic system which has achieved immense feats and advances. It has harnessed science and sent men to the Moon, given us a computer and communication devices in our pockets. There is no doubt that Capitalism has been hugely successful.

A capitalism's social pyramid
A capitalism’s social pyramid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In spite of its amazing successes, there have always been drawbacks to Capitalism. The trend of prices is to rise continually, though at times, they do fall, as demand reduces in recessions and market collapses. These recessions and collapses hurt the poor much more than the rich, as the poor have fewer resources to cope with these setbacks.

Capitalist markets lead to concentration of resources, especially money, in the hands of the rich, and a scarcity of resources in the hands of the poor. It leads to the growth of large market dominating firms, as one firm succeeds while others fail. The successful firm often widens its control of the market by purchasing up and coming smaller firms or older firms who themselves may control a smaller market niche.

Capitalism fosters the growth of the gap between the very rich and the very poor. It is often argued that, in countries where the economic system is Capitalist in nature, the “poor” have much more in the way of consumer items than their parents could have imagined. Most people have a car. Most people have a television. Most have a cellphone.

This is all true, but that is only because these items are both essential and relatively cheap. At the same time, health care is becoming unaffordable for many of the new poor. Schooling is also a huge drain on the poorer families. Many poor people work at multiple jobs to bring up their children and pay for the operations that their parents are coming to need.

As a result, many of the new poor live from day-to-day, with no real opportunity to save for retirement or to lay by a little money to allow for the vicissitudes of life. A small accident that requires time off work and consequently reduction of income becomes a disaster in such a situation.

Capitalism stratifies society and the bottom strata, often those with a lack of education or intelligence, lags behind those who are in higher strata. Those at the highest levels tend to outstrip those at lowest levels until their wealth, to those in lower strata, appears as meaningless numbers. What the difference between $100 and $1000 to those at the bottom? It’s a huge amount. What about the difference between $10 billion and $100 billion? It’s irrelevant.

English: Memorial to a wealthy benefactor
English: Memorial to a wealthy benefactor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Capitalist market forces tend to favour those who already have over those who don’t and the barriers that prevent those in the lower strata from moving up are immense. Those few who make are the lucky ones. Yes, luck plays almost as big a part in entrepreneurial success as luck does in winning the lotto.

Capitalism is the best economic system that we have ever had, without a doubt. It is however not without its flaws. Socialism is not a good economic system, but purports to deal with the issues of poverty by redistribution of wealth. (Maybe I’ll do a piece on socialism’s flaws at some time).

Karl Marx (1818-1883)
Karl Marx (1818-1883) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Capitalism however does not deal with poverty or the poor. Some effects do trickle down and today’s poor appear rich in comparison with the corresponding strata in the past, but the fundamental poverty still exists.

It would be nice to think that there is some other system, waiting for someone to discover it. The odds are probably good, as no system lasts forever. What it would look like I’ve no idea. We would need to get a much better scientific view of the so-called social sciences to really solve this fundamental problem.

Iconic image for social science.
Iconic image for social science. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Mainframes were different

IBM System 360/65 Operator's Panel The IBM Sys...
IBM System 360/65 Operator’s Panel The IBM System/360 Model 65 first shipped in 1966 This photo was taken by Mike Ross of corestore.org . He has given permission via email “Feel free to make use of … my pictures under the GNU license. All I ask is that they are credited & linked…”. –agr 19:07, 17 Aug 2004 (UTC) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Mainframes were … different. Today we have devices that have orders of magnitude more processing power than the old mainframes. The old mainframes were big machines that performed business tasks for large organisations and that cost millions of dollars. The phone in your pocket shows you your email, let’s you Facebook or tweet your friends where ever you might be and what ever you might be doing. You can even use it to phone people!

Arguably we fritter away most of the enormous amount of processing power and storage that our hand held devices provide. We watch videos on them, yes, even porn, and play endless silly games on them. And cats. Cats have taken over the Internet and thereby our connected devices.

A six-week old kitten.
A six-week old kitten. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fundamental concept of the mainframe is one single powerful(!) computer with all devices, such as card readers, terminals (screen and keyboard, no mouse), printers, tape units and other devices, more or less directly and permanently connected to the computer.

Interestingly, when you typed something into a terminal using the keyboard, it wasn’t sent immediately to the mainframe but was recorded in a buffer in the terminal. When one of a number of keys was hit the whole buffer was sent to the mainframe. These special keys were “Return”, which is similar to the “Enter” key, a “PF Key”, which is similar to a function key, and a few others.

Return
Return (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This meant that you could type and edit stuff at your terminal and it would only be sent when you were finished. That is different from the model used by PCs and other modern devices, where every single key press that occurs is sent to the target computer, including typos and correction to typos.

Of course, when you press a key on your PC keyboard, the computer that is the target is the one that the keyboard is connected to, and what you type in goes into a buffer, but the principle still applies. The effect is more obvious if a lot of people are connected to a multi-user computer and are using it heavily, when the response to hitting a key takes a second or so to echo back to the screen.

Multi-user computers are not common these days as they are not trivial to set up, and computers and networks have become so fast that it is generally easier to change the model and access applications over the network rather than use the direct connect model that was used in the early days.

A lot of the features of modern computing devices originated in mainframes. Mainframes originally ran one job or task at a time, but soon they became powerful enough to run many jobs at the same time. Mainframe operating systems were soon written to take advantage of this ability, but to achieve the ability to run multiple jobs, the operating systems had to be able to “park” a running job while another job got a slice of the processor.

Punched card in the 80-column-format according...
Punched card in the 80-column-format according to the IBM standard. The card was used at the beginning of the 1970s at the University of Stuttgart (Germany) for the input of Fortran programms in the IBM mainframe. The plain text of the coded line is on the top left. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To do that the operating system had to save the state of the process, especially the memory usage. This was cleverly achieved by virtualising memory usage – the job or task would think that it was accessing this bit of memory but the memory manager would make it use that bit of memory instead. The job or task didn’t know.

For instance the job or task might try to read memory location #ff00b0d0 (don’t worry about what this means) and the memory manager would serve up #ffccbod0 instead. Then a moment of so later another job or task might try to read that memory location. It would expect to find its own data there not the first task’s data, and the memory manager would this time serve up, say, #ffbbb0d0.

SVG Graph Illustrating Amdahl's Law
SVG Graph Illustrating Amdahl’s Law (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The key point is that the two tasks or jobs access the same address, but the address is not real, it is what is known as a virtual address, and the memory manager directs the request to different real addresses. This allows all sorts of cunning wheezes – a job or task can address more memory than the machine has installed and memory locations that have not been used in a while can be copied out to disk storage allowing the tasks in the machine to collectively use more memory than physically exists!

Exactly the same thing happens in your phone, your tablet, or your PC. Many tasks are running at the same time, using memory and processors as if these resources were dedicated to all the tasks. (Actually not all tasks are running at the same time – only as many tasks as there are processors in the processor chip can be running at the same time, but the processors are switched between task so fast it appears as if they are. The same is also true of mainframes).

Diagram showing the memory hierarchy of a mode...
Diagram showing the memory hierarchy of a modern computer architecture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of course, there’s a downside to the mainframe model and that is that if the mainframe goes down, everyone is affected. In the early days of the PC era, every PC was independent and if it went down (which they often did) only one or two people, those who actually used the computer were directly affected. So if the Payroll computer crashed it didn’t affect Human Resources.

Soon though the ability to connect all the computers over a network became possible and computing once again became centralised. Things have changed, but the corporate server or servers now fulfil the role that once belonged to the mainframe.

All the advantages of centralisation have been realised again. Technical facets of the operation of computers have been removed from those whose job was not primarily computing, much to the relief of most them I’d suspect. Backups and technical updates are performed by those whose expertise is in those fields, rather than by reluctant amateurs in the field.

However, the downside is that a centralised computing facility is never as flexible as the end users would like it to be and, somewhat ironically, that as an outage of the old mainframe used to affect many people, so will an outage of a server or servers in the current milieu.

Ganglia report showing editing outage, when Wi...
Ganglia report showing editing outage, when Wikipedia server srv156 stopped responding (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Voters and non-voters

 

Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire
Hillary Clinton in Concord, New Hampshire (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hillary Clinton won more votes than Donald Trump in the US elections, yet she didn’t win the presidency. This has led to many of Clinton’s supporters to cry foul, and talk about getting rid of the electoral college system that they have in the US.

It’s not going to happen. The electoral college is a result of the unique formation of the United States of America. Before the Union all the states were autonomous and had their own laws and regulations and these were protected in the US Constitution. One of the safeguards which was built in was to protect the electoral system within a state from being replaced or modified by those not from that state, and this resulted more or less directly in the electoral college system.

English: 1908 Electoral College
English: 1908 Electoral College (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As a consequence of this being part of the constitution, it is very difficult to change. To just become a proposal an amendment requires a two-thirds vote in congress, and requires a three-quarters vote by the states to be adopted. Since the two major parties pretty much share the country, it would require all the votes of one party and around half the votes of the other party.

There have been many ways that the leader or leaders of group of humans is chosen, and there are many words that end in the suffixes -ocracy or -archy. All have their advocates and their denigrators. All have probably been tried somewhere at sometime or other.

Countries highlighted in blue are designated &...
Countries highlighted in blue are designated “Electoral Democracies” in Freedom House’s 2006 survey Freedom in the World. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an attempt to define how a person should be treated and the rights that he or she should have, Eleanor Roosevelt chaired a committee which wrote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a somewhat fatuous document which was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Article 21 of the UDHR talks about the right of everyone to take part in the government of his/her country, and implies but stops short of prescribing representative democracy. As such, the UDHR has plenty of “wriggle room” for alternative for other methods of government, as even a dictator could argue, and they often do, that what preceded them was worse and the dictatorship is merely a step towards returning or giving the power to the people.

(1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
(2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country.
(3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

Many regimes though, don’t even try to argue they are merely filling a gap, but no doubt think that they are doing the best for their people. No one surely sets out to be a blood-thirsty dictator, after all. Arguably, though, a volatile country might benefit from a period with a strong leader, but eventually a strong leader will become succumb to a feeling of hubris and entitlement. Eventually he will be overthrown.

60 th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration...
60 th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2008) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There exists a strong feeling that democracy is the best form of government that humans have tried. Whether or not it is the best system that is possible is another question. In a democracy everyone has a say and theoretically at least the government can be replaced, without revolution or bloodshed, if the population at large decides that it doesn’t like those it has elected.

Most democracies are representative democracies, in that the population do not normally vote on all issues, but elect a person to represent them in governing the country. Ideally such a representative would canvas or solicit views on topics that have to be decided, but in practise a potential representative will lay out his/her views and the electors pick the person who most closely fits their viewpoint.

Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh.
Women standing in line to vote in Bangladesh. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since this is done before the representative is selected, a future contentious issue may find the representative at odds with many of his constituents on the issue. While a good representative will make his views known and may solicit electoral views, and the electors can make the representative aware of their views by various means, the communication between the representative and his electors is to say the least inefficient.

A big thing about democracy is that everyone has at least one vote. In some systems a person may have more than vote, and in almost all democracies the voter gets a chance to vote to fill various roles, such as mayor, or sheriff, or local councillor. A democracy is an involving system, soliciting voter views on a periodic basis, so why don’t people get involved?


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In the recent American Presidential election only just over 50% of the electorate voted, and this was in one of the most controversial elections of recent times. Since each candidate took almost half the popular vote only one in four voters voted to make Trump president. Of course only about one in four voters voted for Clinton (who got more votes than Clinton).

People don’t vote if they can’t be bothered, if they think that their vote will not make a difference and a small number don’t vote because they disagree with the process, maybe for political or religious reasons. The US is not alone in this, as a significant number of voters do not vote in an election in many democracies.


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I would suggest that this is true in most democracies, but I don’t have the data. Some people suggest that making the voting easier by introducing electronic voting over the Internet, but I feel that this will not make a big difference. I feel that the reason for low turnouts is disinterest and a belief voting doesn’t make any real difference.

“For politicians, passing laws is like passing water,” said Narayan. “It all ends down the drain.”
Rohinton Mistry, A Fine Balance

Election promises are rarely believed and seldom acted upon. There is unlikely to be a wall built between the United States and Mexico. Trump has succeeded with that promise however, not because people believe that he will do, but because he most aligns with what people would like to do, and I don’t mean build a wall. He has proposed a solution to a perceived problem, and that is good enough for those who turned out and voted. Any solution that catches the imagination of the voters would have done as well.


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Post-rational


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Science has achieved marvellous things. It’s sent people to the moon, It’s reduced disease and the impact that disease has on people. It’s given us transistors, computers, the Internet and cell phones. It’s given us non-stick frying pans.


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Science and its descendants, like biology, physics, and chemistry, and their descendants, like engineering, agriculture and medicine, have been an immense boon to the human race, to the extent that the human race would not have achieved the majority of things that we see around us. Railways, planes, roads and cars have all been achieved by the applied use of science.

Why then are people beginning to reject science and all that it has done for us? Why is there this anti-science, anti-rational groundswell, and does it really matter?

English: Anti-Science (including math, physics...
English: Anti-Science (including math, physics, chemistry, biology, computer science, etc.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There have always been flat-earth proponents – people who disbelieve science, and bend the predictions of science almost to breaking point to favour their point of view. While they in general accept the facts, they do not like the conclusions drawn from the facts and build their own convoluted theories and explanations instead.

Then there are those who attack the theories of relativity. Here at least there is some justification as relativity is not easy to get your head around. It is not intuitive, and that is a weak way to some extent excuses the attacks on it. However the relativity opponents are generally unwilling to throw some maths at the problem – and without the maths, their objection do not stand up to scrutiny. In fact if they were to apply the maths, and were able to understand the maths, then probably the only conclusion they could come to is that the theories of relativity apply.

Banesh Hoffmann, in the 1979 film Continuum, s...
Banesh Hoffmann, in the 1979 film Continuum, speaking about the theory of relativity (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of those who oppose scientific theories do not understand what a theory is. A typical case is where someone declares that “evolution is only a theory“! What they don’t understand is that everything is a theory.

It is a theory that the sun “rises” because the Earth spins in its orbit, causing the Sun appear to rise in the East. (I’ve lost the Flat Earthers by this point of course). It’s a very good theory and one that is incredibly unlikely to be disproved, but it is still a theory.

Only A Theory
Only A Theory (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A theory is something that explains the known facts, and trying to dismiss something as “only a theory” pretty much amounts to dismissing all of science, as science is a network of interconnected theories.

This ignorance of what science is and theories are goes hand in hand with the simplified and cartoonish way that science is taught in schools. Here is an atom is behaves in so and so way, it reacts with these other atoms, and so on. Very little of the history of the development of the concepts is done, and unless someone gets interested and studies the roots of science, much of science becomes merely didactic and not fundamentally informative in any way.


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Students do get told a little about how one theory may supplant another theory, but very often the concept doesn’t really sink in. A scientific theory is taught authoritatively – students are told that the ancient Greeks had some weak ideas which could barely be called theories, but Newton tossed that junk aside and used Reason to develop his theories. Then Einstein came along and “disproved” Newton’s theories.

There is an idea that theories can be discarded, but the next part, where another theory takes its place is skipped over or ignored. Inconvenient facts are ignored, or “explained” as errors or bias. It may often be implicitly or explicitly asserted that scientists have a vested interest or that there is a conspiracy to suppress the true theories.

Three models of change in scientific theories,...
Three models of change in scientific theories, depicted graphically to reflect roughly the different views associated with Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn, and Paul Feyerabend. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is one huge example, the tobacco industry, where bias and vested interests have had a negative influence on the science, and this, one can see, seems to validate the point of view that scientists are regularly distorting the results of science for their own ends.

So, it is not uncommon to have a case where people refuse to accept the science and go with their own views. One case that I saw recently was in a discussion of the so-called Supermoon on November 14th 2016 and the earthquake in North Canterbury, New Zealand early that same morning.

A SuperMoon is a perigee-syzygy, a new or full...
A SuperMoon is a perigee-syzygy, a new or full moon (syzygy) which occurs when the Moon is at 90% or greater of its mean closest approach to Earth (perigee). The March 19, 2011 supermoon is just 221,566 miles (356,577 kilometers) away from Earth. The last time the full moon approached so close to Earth was in 1993, according to NASA. it is about 20 percent brighter and 15 percent bigger than a regular full moon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the discussion several people were looking at the coincidence of the two events and linking them in their minds. After several people had pointed out that the science shows that there is no noticeable correlation between “supermoons” and big earthquakes, people were still saying that there must be something in it.

They had replaced the current scientific theory with their own thinking, without really explaining the facts away – there is no known or even noticeable link, and that lack of any apparent evidence should be explained by any replacement “theory” before any new theory can be put in place.

1755 copper engraving showing Lisbon in flames...
1755 copper engraving showing Lisbon in flames and a tsunami overwhelming the ships in the harbor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Similarly, I’ve come across people who oppose the use of fluoride and chlorine in public water supplies, and those who refuse to inoculate their children against diseases. In past decades people died from water-borne diseases, children have died from childhood diseases and whole populations have been wiped out. Children’s’ teeth have rotted in their mouths.

Why do these people do these things? In general they are fairly well-educated, fairly well read, and not unintelligent. Of course there’s a fear factor, but in previous generations fear was the thing driving people towards chlorination and fluoridation and inoculation against diseases.

La vaccination. Inoculation against smallpox i...
La vaccination. Inoculation against smallpox in Paris in 1807 as shown in a painting by Louis-Léopold Boilly at The Wellcome Library, London. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, I think that there’s more to it than that. There’s a rejection of rational thinking. They realise that science has done so much for them, yet they only pay it lip service. “Proof” of their views is obtained by scouring the Internet for the few dissenting voices. Any establishment voices are dismissed as biassed or merely toeing the establishment line. This is not a rational argument. A single or even a small set of dissenting voices is not proof of anything.

This worries me. We have always had the “alternative” views, the crystal gazers and the iridologists, but those people completely reject science as a world view. That’s OK. We don’t expect science from such people.

Human Iris, Blue Type
Human Iris, Blue Type (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The antivaxers and the fluoride opponents however pay lip service to science while rejecting it, which is not logical. They know something of how science works, as evidenced by their rejection of current evidence of the benefits of fluoride and chlorine in the water, but they don’t follow through with meaningful data to support an alternative theory.

(Coincidentally I came across this article after publishing my post. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/education/teach-philosophy-to-heal-our-post-truth-society-says-president-higgins-1.2875247)

Cover
Cover (Photo credit: Wikipedia)