The Public’s Domain

 

Police employees in Beverly Hills, California, have gotten the clever idea that they can effectively jam a live streaming broadcast of their activities by playing copyrighted music from their phones, thereby causing the automated filters of a platform such as Instagram to shut the video down for copyright infringement. The filters have been around for several years, and they can be either too aggressive or too timid unless monitored by a human being, presumably one with common sense.

RKO Radio Pictures transmitter ident
The RKO Radio Pictures transmitter logo that signaled the beginning of a motion picture from that studio from 1929 to 1957. This image is now in the public domain.

But monitoring and moderating by a human being comes after the fact; to shut down a video in real time, the filters have to be automated and act independently. The police employees have figured this out and are now counting on the filters being set too aggressively so that they can exploit the feature for the purpose of frustrating citizens’ rights to film them as they go about their public duties at the behest and expense of the public. This tangled mess will surely end up in the courts.

Meanwhile, at this time like no other before, technology bestows benefits on those who enjoy listening to radio programs from around the world, whether that involves copyrighted music or not. Internet streaming of radio broadcasts has been around for decades, but never has access been as easy for casual listeners or the choices as broad as they are now. Radio Garden is a Dutch non-profit project that makes picking out a radio station anywhere in the world to listen to as easy as spinning the globe and then jabbing a finger at a green dot somewhere on it. Let police employees everywhere know that they are in the public’s domain, and that copyright – as easy as access to copyrighted works may be – is not theirs to wield as a baton.

— Techly


The first clip here is from the 1963 Blake Edwards film, The Pink Panther. The second clip is from the 1964 film, A Shot in the Dark, also directed by Mr. Edwards. Both films starred Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau.

 

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Can You See Me Now?

 

A new law goes into effect on December 20, 2020, banning Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from charging a rental fee to consumers for company equipment such as modems and routers even when consumers prefer to use their own equipment instead. For years, ISPs have gotten away with charging rental fees on the basis of network compatibility and service support, conveniently ignoring instances where equipment owned by consumers may be the equal of equipment provided by the ISPs, or even superior to it. This was a situation rather like a subscription meal service grabbing an additional monthly fee for the rental of its proprietary tableware and cutlery, regardless of whether the subscriber already possessed adequate means to prepare and eat the provided meals.

Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen - Tournée du Chat Noir de Rodolphe Salis (Tour of Rodolphe Salis' Chat Noir) - Google Art Project
An 1896 poster by Théophile Steinlein (1859-1923) advertising a tour of The Black Cat cabaret troupe led by the impresario Rodolphe Salis.

 

This is no small matter in these times of exponentially increasing broadband internet use as video conferencing, a bandwidth hog, has taken off with businesses, consumers, and students and their schools because of the demands of the coronavirus pandemic. When parents are working on their computers at home, using Zoom or any of a half dozen other video conferencing applications to stay in touch with employers, employees, and clients, and at the same time their children are at home learning remotely from teachers on their computers, also using video conferencing, the demands on a home router are greater than ever before, and the consequences of poor performance are more critical than they would be for streaming entertainment during hours off from work or school.

Now that ISPs are no longer allowed to penalize consumers for using their own equipment, the next step is to make it easier for consumers to ascertain compatibility of any equipment with their provider’s network and service plans. It’s understandable that 1Gbps (Gigabit per second) service requires a modem capable of handling that speed of throughput, and that a router handling data requests from multiple devices simultaneously needs to be more robust than a router dedicated to only one device. ISPs and equipment manufacturers should make it easy for consumers to determine compatibility prior to purchase, rather than blindly trying to match equipment to service through trial and error.


For many years, Henri, Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), was the star of short films featuring his dour philosophical musings. Henri, who retired a couple of years ago, died earlier this month, but his legacy lives on among internet surfers as one of the first standouts in the cat video genre, and always among the best.

 

Better communication between ISPs and equipment manufacturers could develop standards that can be easily determined by consumers through labeling of a piece of equipment’s network compatibility and its minimum and maximum performance capabilities, cross referenced with the network’s requirements for safe and effective performance. Such easily referenced labeling will free up everyone’s time and energy for more worthwhile pursuits, like watching cat videos when they’re not on Zoom calls.
— Techly

 

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Listening to the Scientists

 

Dr. Scott Atlas, a neuroradiologist with no credentials in the public health field, has found favor with the current president because as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force he says what the Egoist-in-Chief wants to hear when he listens to scientists. Dr. Atlas is not an idiot, in other words – he’s an ego masseuse, an important qualification as far as the current president is concerned.

 

White House Press Briefing (50352466736)
White House medical advisor Dr. Scott Atlas delivers his remarks during a press conference on September 16, 2020, in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House. Official White House photo by Tia Dufour.

What follows is a very short list of doctors and scientists, some better than others, to be sure, but all more or less qualified for the Man Baby’s pandemic science team.

Bill Nye 2017
Bill Nye, better known as Bill Nye the Science Guy, at the May, 2017, Montclair Film Festival in Montclair, New Jersey. Photo from the Montclair Film Festival.

Prince Avenue Mascot
Phil McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil, in a stock photo.

Mehmet Oz - World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012
Mehmet Oz, better known as Dr. Oz, at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on January 27, 2012. Photo from World Economic Forum.

Robert Young Marcus Welby 1973
Robert Young as Dr. Marcus Welby in the television program Marcus Welby, M.D.. 1973 publicity photo from ABC Television.

DeForest Kelley, Dr. McCoy, Star Trek
DeForest Kelly as Dr. Leonard ‘Bones” McCoy in the television program Star Trek. 1970 publicity photo from NBC Television.

Ted Geisel NYWTS 2 crop
Ted Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, seated at a desk covered with his books. 1957 photo by Al Ravenna for the New York World Telegram and Sun newspaper.

Lost in Space Jonathan Harris & Robot 1967
Jonathan Harris as Dr. Zachary Smith poses next to the Robot in the television program Lost in Space. 1967 publicity photo from CBS Television.

Frankenstein1931Karloff
Color lobby card for the 1931 black and white film Frankenstein, directed by James Whale and featuring Colin Clive as Dr. Victor Frankenstein and Boris Karloff as the Monster. Card from Universal Studios.

Dr.Evil3
A Dr. Evil impersonator at a Dell Computers presentation in January, 2007. Photo by Flickr user Edans.

Muppet Mobile Lab video on blip.tv (420548297)
The Muppet Show characters Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and his laboratory assistant, Beaker, at a March, 2007, event for the Muppet Mobile Lab. photo by Flickr user Dawn Endico.

Groucho Marx A Day at the Races
Groucho Marx as Dr. Hugo Z. Hackenbush in the 1937 film A Day at the Races, directed by Sam Wood and starring the Marx Brothers. Publicity photo by Ted Allan for MGM Studios.


In this scene from the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove, directed by Stanley Kubrick, Peter Sellers plays both Dr. Strangelove and President Merkin Muffley, and George C. Scott plays General Buck Turgidson. The current president is not at all like President Muffley in his reasoned assessment of the options available to him in a crisis, but more closely resembles General Turgidson, whose simple-minded grasp of issues is limited to his primal and self-serving interests.
— Techly

 

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The Web

 

“Near the Day of Purification, there will be cobwebs spun back and forth in the sky.” — a Hopi Prophecy

Elon Musk’s SpaceX has sent hundreds of internet communications satellites into low Earth orbit, and has plans to launch thousands more such satellites in the near future. Other companies, among them Jeff Bezos’s Amazon, have similar plans. Within the span of several years, the number of satellites launched into orbit could double from the amount that have been launched since the beginning of the Space Age in 1957. The clutter could interfere with astronomers’ observations and measurements, and even with casual enjoyment of the night sky by lay people.

 

A fleet of East Indiamen at sea
“A Fleet of East Indiamen at Sea”, an 1803 painting by Nicholas Pocock (1740-1821).

There are terrestrial alternatives to webbing near Earth space with tens of thousands of satellites in order to get internet service to rural communities around the world. in the United States, rural electric cooperatives have worked steadily for years to overcome infrastructure and regulatory obstacles to provide internet service along the last mile to their members. It is the big telecommunications and cable television companies, with their friends in big government, that have often made operations difficult for alternative internet service providers. Even when the local governments of towns and small cities try to cooperate with small internet service providers, their efforts are often undercut and overruled by larger government entities working at the behest of large corporations that will brook no competition.

Now comes SpaceX’s Starlink and Amazon’s Project Kuiper, backed by their founders’ deep pockets and enabled by their existing links to big government, links that will only strengthen and deepen as the companies take over near Earth space and provide launching and communications services to government agencies. The partnership with government may even prove to be the primary consideration for both companies, and providing internet service to private individuals a secondary, though lucrative consideration. The partnership could develop into a Space Age equivalent of the British East India Company’s close association with the British Empire, which saw the two entities merging in so many areas public and private that eventually one could hardly tell where one left off and the other began.



In addition to the Space Age, the modern era has come to be known as the Information Age. The internet via the world wide web has become the chief vector of information in these times and, as many have often observed, information is power. In the days when the British East India Company held sway along with equivalent companies sanctioned by other European powers, trade goods from far off lands were the valued currency that governments sought to procure and protect. Governments guarded the trade routes to and from the far off lands as well as the lands themselves. Over time, the various East India Companies adopted their own paramilitary arms to protect their interests. Similar relationships could develop in the coming years as companies seek the help of government in protecting their interests in space in return for providing essential services.

Why should SpaceX, for instance, invest hundreds of billions of dollars in the infrastructure needed to establish colonies in space with the potential for enormous profitability in the long run without being assured tens of billions of dollars in government contracts in the short term and the perpetual cash cow of providing internet service to billions of people every day? Look up in the night sky for answers and soon enough you’re likely to see the winking reflections off tens of thousands of satellites, glinting like dew along the strands of a spider’s web.
— Techly



The last scene of the 1982 meditative documentary Koyaanisqatsi, directed by Godfrey Reggio, with cinematography by Ron Fricke and music by Philip Glass.

 

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There’s a Term for That

 

Hypocognitiona term from psychology and linguistics meaning the inability to discuss or process a concept because of the lack of a word or words for it.

“Phubbing” is a portmanteau made up of “phone” and “snubbing”, and it describes the act of looking at one’s phone (presumably a smartphone) in order to avoid interaction with another person. It’s nearly always a rude action, and it can be dismissive and disrespectful when the phubber employs it to imply that whatever might be displayed on the phone’s screen is more interesting than the person in front of him or her. It’s a term that didn’t exist – and couldn’t have existed – before smartphones became ubiquitous.

 

People appear to have an ingrained reverence for the immediate demands of technological devices. Before smartphones, extricating oneself from an unwanted interaction in public meant having to invent excuses, such as an urgent appointment. Burying one’s interest in a book has never worked as well in closing off conversation as getting a phone call or even just looking intently at a smartphone’s screen. People will stop everything for someone who is on the phone, or nowadays only looking at one.

The meeting place - Paul-Day - détail du bas relief
Detail of The Meeting Place, a 2008 high relief sculpture by Paul Day, on the concourse of St. Pancras train station in London, England. Photo by Patrice78500.

The concept of using one’s smartphone to rudely dismiss another person now has a name, “phubbing”, and therefore no longer falls into the category of hypocognition. There are numerous other fuzzy concepts that still qualify as hypocognition, at least for some people. The two groups at either extreme in their reaction to the coronavirus may be engaged in hypocognition, each of a different kind. There are the people who refuse to take public health measures seriously, and so endanger everyone; and there are the people who have allowed their fears to so intimidate them that they have imposed some unnecessary burdens on the rest of society in order to help them assuage those fears, as if they were unaware that everything in life carries an element of risk.

And then there is the matter of white privilege. African-Americans understand the concept of white privilege because they have to cope with its consequences throughout their lives. Most Caucasian-Americans do not grasp the concept because they swim in the currents of white privilege every day. It is the medium that envelopes them, and they cannot see how it protects them from the same dangers and insecurities faced by their African-American neighbors.

For example, say a white man is out jogging through a largely black neighborhood. This particular neighborhood is undergoing gentrification, by which everyone understands houses owned or rented by mostly poor blacks are being bought up cheaply by better off whites and then inhabited by them. The white jogger is new to the neighborhood, part of an influx of people who can afford nice things, and whose clothes generally reflect their status. But most folks would give this jogger a pass even if he wore old clothes with holes and tears for his exercise. No one in the neighborhood, black or white, suspects the white jogger is up to anything other than jogging.

Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks discuss the origins of some concepts in this clip from a portion of their ever changing 2000 Year Old Man improvisational comedy routine. This 1967 appearance is from the television program The Colgate Comedy Hour. Comedian Dick Shawn introduced them. R.I.P., Carl Reiner (1922-2020).

Now take the same circumstances and flip them 180 degrees, with a black man jogging through a largely white neighborhood. The black man lives in the neighborhood, and thus people don’t consider he has any gentrifying influence, no matter whether the neighborhood is working class or upper middle class. The black jogger wears neither very good nor very bad clothes for his exercise. All other factors being neutral, he’s just a black man out for a run through a white neighborhood. Think about what might happen. The black jogger does, all the time. The white jogger in the other neighborhood, he never has to consider the possibility of something bad happening to him, simply because of who he is. That’s white privilege.
— Techly

 

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Maybe Just Whistle

 

People fall into comfortable habits and routines through their adult years, depending on their circumstances and how they have adjusted to them. Some people live in partnership with another, while other people mostly live alone. For many people at some advanced point in adulthood it becomes difficult to imagine any other way of living than the one to which they have become accustomed.

 

A person meets another person, say an older man meets a younger woman, the difference in their ages amounting to 20 years or more, and at first the age gap seems an enormous obstacle to developing a romantic relationship, to falling in love. But once the “falling” begins, the difference in ages doesn’t amount to anything. If it presents any difficulties, they will come later as the relationship deepens.

Bogart and Bacall To Have and Have Not
Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart together for the first time in To Have and Have Not.

Scientists and medical doctors have determined the physical symptoms of being in love, the chemicals in the body that produce those feelings, but they will readily admit there is something else at work beyond chemicals, and even beyond psychology. No one knows what causes us to fall in love; it is beyond science and technology to fully understand or manipulate a sensation, a sense of being that goes out from one person to the beloved and returns in kind from the beloved, enveloping both people.

Dr. Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University and a leading researcher into why people fall in love, herself married a man 23 years older than herself. She and others involved in the field acknowledge there are special problems encountered in May/December relationships, mostly to do with children, both having them and raising them, though there can also be difficulties in acceptance of the age difference by friends and family.

 


From the 1997 film As Good as It Gets, directed by James Brooks, Jack Nicholson, 60, has an evening out with Helen Hunt, 34. Willingness to compromise is a sign of respect for another person, and while old habits die hard, there is love in accommodating change for the sake of greater happiness.

All difficulties can be overcome by a couple engaged in a mutually satisfying partnership. Science and technology may be of limited help in some ways that are not as important as they may at first seem, such as having children or in helping the older partner mitigate poor health due to advancing age. When we can’t completely change our circumstances to suit our outlook, it can be better to adapt our outlook to the circumstances, much as we did when first falling in love.

Remember that feeling and bend with it, and maybe just whistle, as Lauren Bacall advised Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not. In real life, the two of them had quite a happy life together after meeting on the set of that 1944 film, until Bogart’s death in 1957. She was 25 years younger than he, and while 13 years together doesn’t seem very long, as they both attested, neither would have skipped the opportunity to be with the other for any reason.
— Techly

“If I knew I was gonna live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.”
Mickey Mantle at 46.

 

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All Lines Are Busy

 

Filing an unemployment claim online is the modern way, and few people bother about calling to file their claim. At least they don’t bother until they reach the last step of filing online when they may be confronted by a request from the unemployment office to call them in order to answer some questions for clarification of their claim. By the way, the claim is not complete and official until the applicant makes that call. *CLICK*

Jobless Men Lined up for the First Time in California to File Claims for Unemployment Compensation - NARA - 7716670 (page 1)
Jobless men lined up for the first time in California in 1936 to file claims for unemployment compensation under the Social Security Act of 1935. Photo for the Social Security Administration by Dorothea Lange (1895-1965).

 

Making that call and actually getting through to a live human presents a nearly insurmountable obstacle when tens of thousands of other applicants are trying to do the same thing at the same time, overwhelming a system that was meant to handle only hundreds of calls each day, or maybe a few thousand calls a day at best. Since Department of Labor guidelines for unemployment claims dictate that many, possibly most, applications require follow up questions for clarification, there are now hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of unemployment applicants around the country whose claims have been in limbo for weeks because they cannot get through on the phone to their state’s unemployment agency, at the agency’s request. “We’re sorry we can’t take your call at this time, as all operators are currently busy assisting other applicants. Please try again later.” *CLICK*


In the 1979 PBS television show Previn and the Pittsburgh, Miklós Rózsa conducts a suite from his score for the 1959 film Ben-Hur, performed here by the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra. If you’re going to be on hold with a phone call, you might as well listen to some glorious music, and particularly at this time of year if it’s related to Easter.

 

No one knows exactly how many people are trying to call and not getting through. The online claims are in limbo, and so how would anybody know? The current estimate of approximately 10 million new unemployment claims nationwide is almost certainly a low ball figure. The technology exists for handling such a high volume of online claims and the phone calls they generate, but state governments didn’t want to spend the money for technology and employees that would have been underused most of the time. State officials would have had difficulty selling preparation for the absolute worst case scenario. “The party you have reached is not taking any more calls.” *CLICK*

Rózsa’s “Overture” to Ben-Hur, recorded in 2017 using state of the art technology. For all that, music like this is performed by musicians on instruments that have changed little for centuries. Note the fellow filming the proceedings on a digital video camera no bigger than a tablet computer, which nonetheless delivers excellent optical quality and smooth motion. If you’re stuck at home for days and weeks at a time, it’s nice to have technology like this available as a compensation.

They could have come along part of the way, however, mainly in improving their ability to scale up quickly in response to a crisis. Instead, in some states like Florida, led by Republicans, officials actively undermined the capabilities of agencies, like unemployment offices, which were meant to aid workers. In times of low unemployment the agencies adequately supported the needs of claimants, but as soon as the load increased the system buckled and the agencies’ inadequacies became apparent. “Your call is very important to us. Please stay on the line to speak to the next available representative.” *CLICK*

Like the infectious disease advisory boards and the equipment and facilities necessary for coping with a pandemic, the state unemployment agencies appeared in quieter, safer times to be unnecessary expenses in the view of the kleptocrats currently occupying public office throughout much of the land. But wiser heads understand these are services that, when you need them, you really need them. Dumbkopfs don’t understand and are unwilling to admit these services can’t be brought up to speed overnight to handle a crisis the magnitude of the coronavirus pandemic. Primarily they don’t care. Trumpkins do understand military defense preparedness, but then that has more to do with maintaining the gravy train of defense contract boondoggles than with the actual requirements for defending our country. They think defending our country means ripping children away from their parents at our southern border and throwing the parents and children into separate concentration camps. Trillions for defense, but no more than pennies for scientific and humanitarian concerns. “All lines are busy. Good-bye.” *CLICK*
— Techly



Finally, an analysis of Rózsa’s “Prelude” to Ben-Hur, the music that played during the opening credits. To all those who must sit and wait while technology catches up, may your call finally get through.

 

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No Question of Right or Wrong

 

As we tumble headlong toward an imminent future of ubiquitous “smart” machines, the question of ethics in artificial intelligence keeps cropping up. The machines themselves have no ethics, of course, and it’s easy to forget that as they come closer to mimicking human intelligence and even emotion. Does a furnace have ethics? What if we attach a computer to it and it malfunctions, causing the deaths of everyone in a house where, say, the “smart” furnace allows a gas leak while the inhabitants sleep, never to wake up?

 

We understand that machines malfunction, clear and simple. Why impute anything more to an artificially intelligent machine when it malfunctions? We should refer any question of ethics in their use and misuse to their makers. No artificially intelligent machine, no matter how smart, has free will. Until it can be demonstrated that a machine has free will, that machine acts for good or ill at the behest of its makers and users.

Ales golem
An 1899 illustration by Mikoláš Aleš (1852-1913) of the Golem with Rabbi Loew.

There are fortunes to be made in smart machines with artificial intelligence, and there are fortunes to be lost when things go wrong and the courts end up deciding matters of liability. When a smart car hits and kills a pedestrian, even though the pedestrian’s partial negligence may have contributed to the accident, the makers of the car and, in the case of the 2018 incident in Tempe, Arizona, the driver who was supposed to be monitoring the car’s progress need to be held accountable by the law and the courts. Technology companies are trying to muddy the waters where artificial intelligence is concerned so that they can escape liability while still reaping profits. No machine is smart enough to have figured out an ethics dodge like that.
— Techly

 

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Bariatric Pressure

 

When the nineteenth century German-Austrian cabinet maker Michael Thonet (pronounced Toe-net) turned his attention to making furniture using bentwood, he perhaps had no inkling his technique for producing strength through elegant design would not be surpassed by other manufacturers in the ensuing century and a half. Some have made chairs just as strong, and others have created furniture attractive in the eyes of many beholders, but none have combined the two features as well as Herr Thonet did with his café chairs and other pieces. The furniture making business he established with his four sons in the mid-nineteenth century is still in production today.

 

The strength of seating matters more than ever presently because of the increasing amount of people who are overweight or obese. Bariatrics is a medical term related to the ramifications of obesity, from preventing it to curing it to all the methods and practices in between for treating the condition and coping with it. Adults under 200 pounds probably pay little attention to a listed weight capacity for a chair, sure as they are in the knowledge that any reputable furniture maker will engineer their chairs to uphold them securely. Adults over 200 pounds do not have similar confidence.

Chair No. 14, Thonet, design 1859, manufactured c. 1920, bentwood beech, walnut stain, woven cane seat - Germanisches Nationalmuseum - Nuremberg, Germany - DSC03037
The original 1859 design of Chair No. 14 by Thonet did not have braces between the seat and back, which they incorporated into the design in later years. This particular model is in a museum in Nuremberg, Germany. Photo by Daderot.

There are no government regulations requiring furniture manufacturers to list weight capacity on their products for one thing, and for another, when a manufacturer does voluntarily list a weight capacity, they often do not specify whether it is for a static or dynamic load. Almost universally, the listed capacity is for a static load. A static load limit does not account for the uneven distribution of weight as a person shifts about in a chair, or when the person gets in or out of the chair. The seat may be listed for 250 pounds, but what happens when a sitting 225 pound person braces himself or herself against one arm of the chair in order to stand up? Now the arm and one side of the chair are under an extraordinary strain they may not be built to withstand.

Thonet-Stuhl 17 makffm 14583
Thonet Rocker No. 17, from 1870, in a museum in Frankfurt, Germany. Photo by Wikimedia user FA2010. The bentwood rocker has been a mainstay since Thonet introduced it in 1860, however since it has always been a piece more for private residences than the No. 14 chair, it has not been subject to the same standards of commercial use in a variety of settings, and therefore there are many more cheaply made knockoffs that are not as sturdy as the original. Buyer beware!

 

Overweight people and people with limited mobility often need to brace themselves in some manner when getting in and out of chairs. The weakness of some cheaply made chairs these days becomes apparent under these shifting load conditions. A 250 pound person may be perfectly safe and comfortable seated in a chair listed for 250 pounds, as long as he or she doesn’t move erratically. Even a chair listed at 300 pounds may in that event have its flaws exposed. Flaws such as weak wood joined inadequately in the structure, and all that flimsy construction hidden by overstuffed upholstery.

The beauty of furniture made by Thonet and other similar manufacturers lies not only in the graceful curves of their bentwood structure, but in the strength inherent in those curves of superior pieces of wood and in the simplicity and effectiveness of their joinery. It is difficult to imagine the manufacturers of highly padded living room recliners using the same pine sapwood for structure, and brads – brads, of all things! – for cheap, rapid joinery, if their handiwork were open for all to see the same as it is with a Thonet Number 14 café chair, a timeless design that continues to sell.

Thonet still makes the No. 14 chair, though now they call it the No. 214.

There have been other factors figuring into the enduring popularity of the No. 14, such as how its simplicity lent itself to mass production, lowering costs, and how the paucity of joints, which were strong yet simple, allowed buyers to assemble the chair themselves, saving space and freight costs since the Thonet company could ship the chairs flat, as a set of constituent parts. Perhaps the largest factor in the success of the No. 14, as well as similarly designed and constructed bentwood pieces of furniture, was that even in the days before independent bodies tested chairs for strength and durability, buyers knew these pieces were stronger than they appeared, a vital consideration for shop owners serving customers who could tip the scales anywhere from 40 to 400 pounds.
— Techly

 

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All We Want for Christmas

 

As much as we may see signs posted on residential and church lawns reminding us that “Jesus is the reason for the season”, for many of us Christmas remains a season for getting stuff, giving stuff, and receiving stuff, among other reasons for the season, like visiting friends and family and engaging in charitable works.

 

In the last 20 years, getting, giving, and receiving electronic stuff has particularly taken off because of the accelerating pace of improvements in technology, some of which are real improvements while others are invented or hyped by marketers. When it comes to electronic devices like smartphones and flat panel televisions, last year’s model is outmoded, and a model from two years ago is obsolete. That is the perception marketers would like us to have, and many of us are willing to go along with it. Whether that is because of a real need for the latest technology or merely as a way of signaling to others about oneself is anyone’s guess.

Paonroue
A Peafowl flaring his feathers. Photo by Jebulon.

Or it could be purely for one’s own gratification and sense of identity. All of us are what we eat, but some people are also what they own. It’s nice to have good things that work well, doing what they are supposed to do. The point of demarcation toward excess is relative to every individual, of course, though as a culture we can detect roughly when enough is enough, either in quantity or quality. That is, after all, what makes conspicuous consumption worthwhile to conspicuous consumers consuming conspicuously. If no one noticed or cared, there would be no point to it.

Certainly it can be necessary at times to replace broken or malfunctioning stuff, and the occasions for doing so with electronic devices like computer printers seem to pop up more frequently with each passing year. Any other reason, such as an obsessive desire for acquiring the latest and greatest, seems suspect, maybe not to the person doing the acquiring, but perhaps to observers. Some of those observers may even be the recipients of a latest and greatest type of largesse at Christmas.

A routine from George Carlin’s appearance at Comic Relief USA in 1986. What makes this piece poignant satire is Mr. Carlin’s presentation of it at a charity event focused on helping the homeless, who of course have very little stuff. Warning: foul language.

Do they need more stuff? Maybe not. Do they want more stuff, or stuff of better quality than their current stuff? Maybe. When it comes to pricey electronics particularly, most of which are troublesome to recycle or to dispose of responsibly, maybe it’s best to ask before giving, or to buy something else altogether. Marketers of electronic products won’t like to hear of that sort of attitude, but who cares what they think? Their only interest is in generating excitement about the latest developments in their products, and if that leads to multitudes of genuinely unnecessary purchases of new products and dumping in landfills of products only a few years old, well then that’s none of their concern as they see it. It’s nice to have good things that work well, and even nicer to understand that is enough.
— Techly

 

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