Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

 


Private companies have been making their electric scooters available for riders to share in cities around the United States and in Europe over the past two years, and the results are a mixed bag. Riders appear to appreciate the service, even if some of them don’t show that appreciation in how they ride or park the e-scooters. City governments appear to like that the service fills gaps in their often inadequate public mass transit services, even though they are learning that more regulation is required of e-scooter companies to rein in their sometimes arrogant disregard for city ordinances and of inconsiderate riders whose behavior can be a public nuisance. Members of the public who have no personal need for the e-scooters are largely tolerant of their presence in their cities, but in many places they are finding their patience tested by the problems mentioned above.

 


The technology behind e-scooters and smartphones or, in some places, simple cellular phones, makes the business model of sharing e-scooters in a city possible. An e-scooter rigged for sharing has a Global Positioning System (GPS) module and an inexpensive, basic cellular connection for small amounts of data transfer to communicate its exact position and condition. A lithium ion battery provides power. A rider needs to use the internet application provided by the company for use on a smartphone to unlock the e-scooter and provide for payment for the service. Some localities insist as a condition for operating in their city that e-scooter companies make the service available to people without a data connection on a simple cellular phone. One of the ideas behind the service, after all, is to provide a low cost transportation option for poor people.


Lime e-scooters, Masarykovo nádraží
Lime e-scooters parked next to a subway entrance at Masaryk train station in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Martin2035.


The problems arise because, like all private services which take advantage of the public commons, there are abuses. The private companies either do not seek out and pay for permission to park their e-scooters on public property or they may not hold up their end of agreements they have with cities that allow their operations. Since the e-scooters do not belong to them, some riders are unconcerned about how they use them or park them. Equipment abuse is the lookout of the company operating the service, but the abuse of the commons caused by careless parking is a public nuisance at best, a menace at worst. Crime problems have arisen mostly from overnight vandalism of the equipment and from the dangers to workers who must go out at night to find and maintain the equipment.

Bringing e-scooters into cities is a good idea on its surface, and they solve a mobility problem for some poor people or for commuters without cars who find using them more appealing than walking or biking. But with the problems their presence and use are causing by abuse of the commons, it would be better if cities improved their mass transit systems instead. For one thing, e-scooters are not as ecologically benign overall as people may assume, and certainly not in comparison to mass transit options. For another, solving the problems encountered during the initial rollout of e-scooter sharing programs would appear to take up public resources in the form of tighter regulation and consequent enforcement. Wouldn’t it be easier in that case to regulate a comparatively smaller number of mass transit units and operators rather than thousands or tens of thousands of e-scooter units and operators strewn all over a city?

E-scooter sharing programs may last only a year or two more if the current abuses continue, and that’s a shame because many decent people who appreciate the services and have a dearth of other options would probably like to see them continue. Unfortunately this business model appears to go against human nature in that where the commons are concerned, there are always enough bad faith users around to take unfair or inconsiderate advantage of the situation and eventually push the public at large to demand an end to it for everyone. In the words of James Madison, “If men were angels, no government would be necessary.”
— Techly

 

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You Don’t Have to Do This

 

Shop for a new smartphone and the choice of operating system appears limited to Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. The choice of wireless carrier network for the new smartphone is limited to five or six companies, and while there are more than a dozen smaller carriers, they all lease their networks from the larger carriers. Mergers of technology companies and globalization of supply chains have made it difficult for consumers to entertain enough options to simultaneously suit their desires for reasonable prices, efficient service, and in the best case scenario, ethical marketplace behavior.

 

To be a large player in the technology industry, as in many other industries, it seems engaging in horrible practices is simply a necessary cost of doing business. It’s as if economies of scale and ethical behavior are mutually exclusive. Apple iPhones are manufactured under terrible labor conditions in China, and the cobalt required for manufacture of those iPhones is mined using child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Google, Facebook, and Twitter all sell their users’ information to advertisers while double-dipping by generating enormous ad revenues from the wide use of their services. That’s the cost of “free” to the users. As an online retailer, Amazon’s reputation for egregious labor practices is as bad or worse than that of its major brick and mortar competitor, Walmart.

Ilhan Omar speaking at worker protest against Amazon (45406484475)
U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaking in December 2018 to about 200 workers protesting conditions at an Amazon workplace in Shakopee, Minnesota. Photo by Fibonacci Blue. Protests by workers in this country against unfair labor practices by giant companies like Amazon would get a slingshot-like boost if lawmakers would repeal the anti-union legislation passed in the last 50 years at the behest of corporations.

That is by no means a comprehensive list of all the technology companies with reputations for treating customers, workers, suppliers, or the environment badly. Just as Americans are becoming more concerned with what is in their food and how it’s produced, they can devote some time and attention to how their technology products are produced and how companies are using the personal information they hand over in the course of using their services. It may seem like there are few to no alternatives to some technology products and services, but there are alternatives, and it may require effort put into research to find out about them, and then some sacrifices as it turns out they don’t offer absolutely everything consumers are used to getting from Microsoft’s Windows operating system, for instance, or Facebook’s one-stop social media and news sharing platform.

Some people simply won’t care, of course, and will remain interested only in what’s easiest and most convenient for them. This is not for them. Others who are concerned about voting with their dollars, however, should know there are ways to find alternatives to signing on with the big technology companies, and that informing themselves doesn’t have to suck up an inordinate amount of their time and energy. Currently there is almost no labeling on technology products and services such as there is on food for sale in supermarkets, informing consumers of organic and non-GMO options, and of nutritional content. There should be similarly easily apparent labels for technology, listing ratings from an impartial source, if such is possible, on a company’s treatment of workers, suppliers, and the environment. The companies are now required by law to enumerate the ways they use customer information, but that is for the most part buried in fine print legalese that few consumers bother to read.

In episode #1938, “Theresa Syndrome”, from the radio show Car Talk, the portion of the show relevant to this post starts at the 10:45 mark with a call from Brian in Harrisonville, Kentucky. Questions of ethics come up every day in everyone’s lives, and in this case as in many others, arguments of efficiency that mask motives of self-interest are all too common.

Until the technology industry catches up with at least the halting steps the food industry has taken to inform consumers about what they are buying and what kind of ethical or unethical behavior they in turn support with their purchases, it will remain up to individual consumers to inform themselves. Globalization has made it easy to hide the ugly details of technology manufacturing halfway around the world. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s not as if things were far better 100 years ago, though, because at that time for most Americans a sweatshop on New York City’s Lower East Side was as much on the other side of the world as a sweatshop in Bangladesh is today. Speed of travel and communications have changed the seeming size of the world, but sadly not the willingness of businesses and governments to exploit the less fortunate, and of the more fortunate to turn a blind eye.
— Techly

Editor’s note: Bonus points to readers who note advertising on this site for the products of one of the companies criticized in this post. It’s hard, maybe impossible, to exist in the modern world without some compromises, and like everybody else, writers have to eat. With a little effort and attentiveness, people do what they can to make the world a better place, but no one is without faults, and as Joe E. Brown said at the end of the movie Some Like It Hot, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

 

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Coloring Within the Lines

 

To maintain the integrity of a supplied drawing, people usually color as much as they can within the lines. Some people use crayons, while others use markers or pens. When it comes to using electromagnetic spectrum in the United States, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is in charge of allocating bands within the spectrum and making sure everyone stays within their specified lines. The NTIA does its work within the Department of Commerce.

 

The Department of Commerce also oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which in turn oversees the National Weather Service (NWS). Independent of all these Department of Commerce agencies is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the parts of the spectrum allocated for its oversight by the FTIA, such as radio, television, and cellular phone frequencies. Beginning late last year, the FCC has been auctioning spectrum to mobile phone companies for them to use in their 5G networks. When the FCC auctioned off spectrum in the 24GHz (gigahertz) band, they raised alarm within the NOAA since that agency uses the 23.8GHz band in its weather satellites to measure water vapor in the atmosphere, a key component in its ability to forecast the weather.

January 2016 Spectrum Wall Chart
This image of an outdated January 2016 Spectrum Wall Chart from the NTIA is only useful as an overview of just how tightly packed bandwidth allocation is in parts of the spectrum, based on the jumble of colors. For a better view, download a PDF (Portable Document Format) of the chart from the NTIA website, though even then it can be a strain on the eyes without higher magnification.

Now anyone who has ever manually tuned a radio receiver with a dial knows the radio stations do not stay exactly within their spectrum lines at all times, and depending on the power of the transmitters the different stations use and atmospheric conditions and the varying state of the ionosphere, some stations can occasionally push into the territory of other stations. That is what worries NOAA administrators about the 24GHz band proposed for 5G use by mobile phone companies and their man in the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai. NOAA administrators believe 24GHz is too close for comfort and may occasionally interfere with its use of 23.8GHz, which it cannot change because it is determined by the physical law of water vapor’s behavior. They believe the interference could cause as much as a 30 percent drop in forecasting efficiency, akin to stepping back in time to 1980.

This inter agency squabble isn’t even necessary, it turns out, because if the FCC and American mobile phone companies followed the European model for ensuring minimal interference with weather satellites, they would simply add greater restrictions to the transmitting power of 5G antennas in the higher bandwidths and rely more extensively on mid-range bandwidths that are not only better for 5G transmission, but also safely removed from the vicinity of crucial weather data transmissions.

A May 2019 news report from Sky News in London, England.

There will be a World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt in October and November, where attendees will set international standards for 5G. Considering the attitudes and policies of the current presidential administration, the American delegation will probably resist the European model and go its own incautious way in order to serve the interests of the major telecommunications companies. It’s possible the American model may turn out fine eventually, but considering the drawbacks of being wrong, wouldn’t it be prudent to heed the concerns of weather forecasters, at least until more field testing proves without a doubt the safety of using the 24GHz band of the spectrum? To satisfy the greed of telecommunications executives and the desire of some smartphone users for faster loading Facebook feeds, is it worth having a hurricane drop in on us unexpectedly? A real hurricane, that is, not one drawn with crayons, however neatly.
— Techly

 

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You Guessed It!

 

Being good at trivia contests or general knowledge quizzes requires an excellent memory every bit as much as having learned widely. Without a memory capable of storing and retrieving vast amounts of information, a person cannot have learned well, though he or she may have studied widely. A strong capacity for memory is dependent partly on genetics and partly on the interest a person has in learning a thing. The lack of one factor or of both explains why some people can go through 16 or more years of schooling and not appear to have retained much knowledge beyond what would allow them to pass the next exam, while others can cite obscure facts from their reading years later, with or without having picked them up in a formal school setting.

 

The latter skill is often dismissed as nothing more than a parlor trick by jealous people who don’t possess the skill themselves. They are unwilling to give credit when credit is due by recognizing that some or all of the ability to recall bits of knowledge from a large store in memory may come from studious application of the individual to the hard task of learning, and that may be in addition to, or without benefit of, the gift of a genetically strong memory. These personal dynamics can be evident during a gathering of friends or family to play a game like Trivial Pursuit.

Trivial Pursuit
The board and pieces for Trivial Pursuit, the 1981 classic game. Photo by Pratyeka.

The flaw in a game like Trivial Pursuit, as popular as it has been since it made a splash in the board game market in 1981, is that in a contest between unevenly matched opponents, as is often the case in informal gatherings of friends and family, time and again there will be the same winners and the same losers. The winners may think there’s nothing wrong with that, but in a short time they will probably have trouble getting a game up, and then only with dispirited and half-interested opponents. And the losers go away either feeling stupid or defensively rationalizing that being able to dredge up trivia is merely a cheap parlor trick and doesn’t indicate true intelligence. That’s no fun!

There may be a kernel of truth to the opinions of all the players, and yet there should be a better way for everyone to shine and have fun. The habitual losers of a board game like Trivial Pursuit, or of home viewing play along sessions while watching the television quiz show Jeopardy!, are not necessarily stupid people, any more than the habitual winners are geniuses. A good game dynamic should welcome in a variety of personal strengths so that most players can be competitive. It appears former Jeopardy! champion Ken Jennings, along with game development partner Richard Garfield, the creator of Magic: The Gathering, have recognized the flaw at the heart of many trivia games and tried to overcome it in their new game called Half-Truth.

A scene from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, with Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin.

Half-Truth calls on a player’s capacity for deductive reasoning and strategic thinking as well as the usual ability in trivia games of being able to tap into a personal well of knowledge. Expected release for the game is this year’s holiday season. Like all but a few trivia board games and pub trivia nights, using smartphones to look up answers will probably be against the rules. Leveling the playing field by incorporating more ways for more players to remain competitive rather than relying on the one and only way available in standard trivia games seems like a good plan for a game that will become popular and get played more than a few times and not soon forgotten on a closet shelf like many other trivia board games, and that will lead to sales of additional sets of question cards, the great recurring source of revenue for trivia game makers. In the old days, a player could cheat by memorizing the information on cards played over and over again; now they cheat by sneaking a peek at their smartphone, the handheld virtual encyclopedia.
— Techly

 

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Spell It Out

 

This Memorial Day weekend, millions of Americans will gather for cookouts, enjoying grilled foods of all sorts, and many of those people will eat something that includes the following ingredients:

Arsenic, bacteriophages, benzoic acid, chlorine, copper, melengestrol acetate, potassium bisulphite, ractopamine, sodium benzoate, sodium proprionate, tilmicosin, transglutaminase, trenbolone, urea, and zeranol.

And that is by no means a comprehensive list of all the chemicals that may be found in hamburgers made from ground beef produced from factory farmed cattle and sold at grocery stores nationwide. Just about everything we eat can be made to sound pretty scary when it’s broken down like this into terms only chemists might understand.


Critics of the Impossible Burger, a substitute for hamburger that contains no meat, have been using the tactic of decrying the unpronounceable ingredients in its production as well as tacking on the argument that an Impossible Burger is no healthier than a regular burger. The Impossible Burger is necessarily highly processed in order to imitate ground beef in flavor, texture, and the many other characteristics that signify to our bodies and brains that we are eating meat. The goal is to offer meat eaters an alternative to factory farmed beef which contains residues of hormones, antibiotics, herbicides and pesticides, heavy metals, disinfectants, and which is wrought at the cost of enormous animal suffering and the dehumanization of people working the production line.

Burgers and hotdogs flaming on the bbq grill
Burgers and hotdogs cooking on a charcoal barbecue grill. Photo by Luke.

The argument that the Impossible Burger is not a health food is a straw man, set up not by the makers of the product but by critics so that they can knock it down, and by extension get people to dismiss the whole crazy idea of a meat alternative. Critics intentionally ignore that Impossible Foods never claimed its burgers were a health food, and that if consumers are seeking healthy dietary options, perhaps hamburgers should not be high on their list. Vegetarian options have always been synonymous with health food, and whether that was ever entirely true was besides the point since it was the perception people had that vegetarian food was healthier food. The Impossible Burger is a vegetarian meat alternative, hence it’s supposed to be healthier than a regular hamburger, right?

The point again of producing a meat alternative that appeals to meat eaters is to wean them away from supporting the factory farming of animals, with its disastrous consequences for the animals, the environment, and ultimately for the people producing and consuming the meat. The beef industry has a powerful lobbying influence on government, and it has the means and the ability to employ mouthpieces everywhere who can disguise their links to the industry. It’s still early in the development of competition between the beef industry – and agribusiness as a whole – and producers of meat alternatives, but perhaps the meat producers see down the road to where consumer preferences shift away from them in a big way as buying satisfying meat alternatives becomes easier and cheaper.

Oingo Boingo performing “Weird Science”, with songwriter and film composer Danny Elfman singing lead.

It’s wise to read labels and to be skeptical of genetically engineered foods, keeping in mind not all of them are inherently as harmful as Roundup Ready crops, which introduce herbicide residue throughout the food supply. Making informed decisions requires at least a modicum of research rather than merely listening to the loudest voices in print, on the air, or on the internet. It’s also prudent to look ahead and not stay stuck in old ways of doing things when newer, better alternatives present themselves. Ask the makers of BlackBerry smartphones, and any of the other true believers in the status quo throughout history as changes swirled around them. This Memorial Day weekend, if you’re able to grill some tasty, ethically produced meat substitutes then that’s great, and since the holiday cookouts will most likely be hot and thirsty occasions, you may like to accompany your meal with a glass of cool, refreshing dihydrogen monoxide, otherwise known as water.
— Techly

 

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Leave It to Google

 

People go out of their way to use the Linux operating system on their desktop and laptop computers for all sorts of reasons, and it’s a fair guess that among them is the desire to stay clear of the tentacles of major technology companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google. Microsoft has never made any pretense of being anything but evil, while Apple has pretended to be above the fray, and perhaps the least trustworthy of the three is Google, which tipped everyone off to their evil intentions by sanctimoniously proclaiming at one time “Don’t be evil”. Any individual or organization professing to abide by moral certainties that should not even be in question is not to be trusted.

 

It’s ironic then that because of some holes in Linux development such as lack of drivers for some peripherals, usually printers, Linux users may find themselves forced to rely on Google services as workarounds. In the case of printers, incompatibility with Linux has become less of a problem over the past 20 years as Linux has climbed in market share to around five percent. Microsoft’s Windows is around 75 percent, with Apple’s Mac operating system at about 15 percent, although it seems no one can agree on the exact numbers. Google’s Chrome operating system makes up most of the remaining percentage in use for desktops and laptops, and because it has access to all Google services built in, including Google Cloud Print, printing from Chrome OS is never a problem even if proprietary drivers are not available from the printer manufacturer.

 

MagpieOS infofetch
Magpie OS is an Arch-based Linux distribution, developed by Rukunuzzaman, a Bangladeshi developer. Screenshot by Kabirnayeem.99. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of different Linux distributions, enough to suit anyone’s preference.

Some printer makers still do not provide drivers for Linux, and in cases where generic drivers won’t work the Linux user is confronted with either turning their incompatible printer into a doorstop or falling back on workarounds like using Google Cloud Print. It’s an efficient service that comes in handy. It’s also free. Free often comes at a price, however, and in the case of Google, like many other technology companies, that means turning the user of the free service into a product sold to marketers. Google is perhaps no worse in this respect than companies like Facebook, only more pervasive by its utter ubiquity. It’s nearly impossible to escape Google entirely and still get along in today’s technological world. Google’s Chrome OS may bring up the rear among major desktop and laptop operating systems, but its Android OS for smartphones leads the next highest competitor, Apple’s iOS, by a huge margin at around 85 percent to 15 percent.

Printer manufacturers appear interested mostly in configuring their drivers for the two biggest desktop and laptop operating systems, Windows and Mac, and Linux is generally an afterthought. Chrome can fend for itself, and to some extent Linux can as well, but not without having to resort to using Google services occasionally. Linux developers are volunteers, and they can’t keep up with the myriad of proprietary configurations for all the printer models hitting the market each year. Much of the proprietary nature of printer drivers has nothing to do with actually making the product perform its basic functions, but rather with marketing gimmicks like greeting card suites.

Al Pacino in The Godfather: Part III, a 1990 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Not that large technology companies are necessarily comparable to the Mafia, but to some people their grasp may feel similarly inescapable.

Now more than ever people need a reliable printer at home. About the only way left of obtaining tax forms is to download them from the internet and print them at home. Using the internet and printing out web pages has become a major factor in children’s schoolwork, and their parents need to print out receipts and coupons or run a home office. Getting along without a printer, or having to jump through hoops in order to get one to work properly, can no longer be part of how most people cope with the modern world. For most people, the 90 percent who use either Windows or Mac computers, compatibility problems are rare to nonexistent; for the 10 percent minority, and particularly those who wish to go against the flow with Linux, incompatibility between operating system and printer should no longer be an issue if manufacturers want to sell their wares to all consumers and ensure the same ease of use long enjoyed by the majority. It’s about time for proprietary drivers to go into the desktop trash can.
— Techly

 

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Voting Should Be Easy

 

Over 75 percent of the American people have smartphones, and since voter participation in elections hovers around 50 percent of eligible citizens, the idea has come around to increase voting by making it possible for people to use their smartphones for that purpose. This year, West Virginia is trying out smartphone voting on a limited basis. The biggest concern with this practice is ballot security from smartphone to tabulating facility, usually a government office such as in a county courthouse. The medium used for that transmission would, of course, be the internet.

Smartphone Zombie Girls (15773553090)
Pedestrians in the Rahova neighborhood of Bucharest, Romania, on October 27, 2014, days before the first round of the Romanian presidential election on November 2. Photo by J Stimp.

 

Now the internet is many wonderful things, but numbered among them is not airtight security for the general user. Some users haven’t the faintest idea about or concern for the security of their system, whether it be on a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet or a smartphone. It’s clear that the integrity of internet voting by smartphone or any other device would need to be maintained by a third party, since the users themselves are unreliable.

The voting system would have to be capable of freezing out “man-in-the-middle” hacks, which have historically been the greatest vulnerability of internet communications and the most commonly exploited by hackers. Think of it as the postal system, in which Party A mails a letter to Party B by entrusting it to Party C, in this case the United States Postal Service, with the understanding that in between point A and point B no one will intercept and read it, save perhaps a Postal Inspector who can show probable cause.

 

The internet has never been even as secure as the postal system. More often it has been like the party lines that used to exist on some phone systems around the country. Until the security problems can be fixed, smartphone voting is unlikely to see widespread use. The safest system for voters is still paper ballots filed either by mail or in person at a polling place. Voting should be easier, not more difficult, as all the voter suppression laws passed by Republican controlled state legislatures have made it, with the idea that low turnout favors their candidates.

Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the US presidential election in Philadelphia 14200A
Voters wait in line to cast their ballots in the U.S. presidential election in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on November 8, 2016. Note how some are looking down at their smartphones, a common sight in public places now. Photo by Voice of America News.

Relatively few people are motivated to spend a long time waiting to vote in a queue that may keep them outdoors in bad weather, though some do appear willing to endure similar conditions in order to purchase the latest iPhone. Smartphone voting is a great idea for increasing participation in elections, but sadly it is one that needs work before becoming wholly viable, if it ever does. Until then, voters can still bring along their smartphones to their polling places to keep themselves entertained while they wait.
— Techly

 

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Straining to See

 

Many folks may remember that as children they were admonished by their elders not to sit too close to the television because they would strain their eyes. If a child was a reader, a parent or other elder would express concern that the reading light wasn’t bright enough. If a child read in bed after lights out, then a concerned elder would issue a warning of punishment for staying up too late, in addition to concern about eye strain. Of course, this scenario is dated because children today may be reading from a backlit screen instead of a paper book. New technology, same worries about eye strain.

Looking at computer and phone (Unsplash)
View from a street in Toronto, Canada, into a building where a woman looks at her laptop computer and smartphone. Photo by Tim Gouw.

Asthenopia is the medical term for eye strain, and in a chronic case the condition can be a concern worthy of a visit to a doctor. With the prevalence of computer, tablet, and smartphone use now, adults are as apt to have asthenopia as children who don’t heed their parents’ warnings. Few people admit to reading from their smartphone or tablet in bed after dark, but most probably do it, because for one thing it’s an easy way to read without disrupting a partner’s sleep, even if it may disrupt their own sleep habits. Looking for hours at a time into a relatively bright light from a foot or two away, or perhaps mere inches, is a sure path to eye strain.

Other than changing behavior, the solution starts with turning down the brightness on all those screens, including the television. Most devices now come with sensors that detect room brightness and adjust the device brightness accordingly. A darkened room will require less brightness from the device in order for the user to comfortably view the screen. Find that control and use it. Next, devices made specifically for reading at close range, such as smartphones and tablets, may have a “Reader” mode in the display settings. Find that and turn it on. Some internet browsers also come equipped with a “Reader” mode.

Finally, if those native adjustments are insufficient to tone down the blue part of the spectrum, which is the part most responsible for causing eye strain, then seek out a third party application for computers, smartphones, and tablets that will shift the color temperature from blue to red, with many degrees in between. Such applications have timers built in order to shift the color temperature gradually as day moves to night, and vice versa. They take some getting used to, but after a day or two the warmer color temperature will feel natural and less noticeable. Your eyes will sense the difference, though, since they will no longer be asthenopic, a word which is such a strain to pronounce it’s just as well you no longer have to deal with it.
— Techly

 

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Nothing to Lose Sleep Over

 

Technology for helping people sleep appears to be a booming business, with everything from machines that mimic ocean wave sounds to sensors built into mattresses to adjust the sleeping experience for maximum comfort. Technology also is ushered out of the bedroom, in the form of light temperature filters for smartphones and electronic tablets. Sleep difficulties, especially for older people, are nothing to be taken lightly since lack of sleep or poor quality sleep can lead to all sorts of problems in the larger society, some of them dangerous, like driving a motor vehicle while deprived of good sleep.

 

One of the factors often ignored in discussions of sleep is how the natural sleep cycle of our species appears to broken up into two, and often three periods. The natural cycle seems to drop into the background during most of maturity for many people, giving rise to the common illusion that eight hours of continuous sleep from late evening through the night to early morning is the norm. Nothing could be further from the truth. The true sleep pattern for our species makes itself known in youth and in old age, when work schedules are less demanding. The young and the old typically sleep several hours from evening into the night, then are up for an hour, maybe more, and then back to sleep from late night into the morning. They also often partake of a midday nap.

RBunny21
Asleep, a 1904 painting by Rupert Bunny (1864-1947).

The introduction of widely available electric lighting in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries played a part in resetting humanity’s internal clock, particularly for those living in industrial societies originating from northern Europe. Southern European societies retained a more relaxed rhythm and honored the tradition of the siesta, or midday relaxation. But in industrialized England and America the norm became 12 to 16 hours of work during all of daylight and into twilight at both ends of the day, followed by 8 to 12 hours of some sort of relaxation and sleep at home before getting back at it the next day. Sleep had to be concentrated in those hours, or foregone. Sleep at home when you got the slim chance, or fall asleep at the wheel of some dangerously unprotected machinery, risking death, maiming, or at the very least loss of employment.

To have been an insomniac working in a factory of the last centuries in the industrial north must have been utter hell, as it must be today for those working in the garment and electronics sweatshops of southern Asia. Some of the devices advertised for sale to help the sleepless may seem ludicrous or indulgent, but for those afflicted it may not seem so. The question is whether those who truly need those devices can afford them or are even aware of them. Probably not.

Madeline Kahn, as Lili Von Shtupp, sings “I’m Tired” in the 1974 Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles. Warning: foul language.

The sound of waves crashing, the gradual transition of blue light to red on electronics invited into the bedroom, and the monitoring of sleep quality, as far as that may be possible, all are geared toward the middle class and above, the office workers who have followed the 9 to 5 mold set for their kind one hundred years ago. Many work more hours than that, usually appended to the end of the day. All the same, sleep for them is crowded into the overnight hours, and if they don’t get it then they will miss out. There’s nothing wrong with them if they can’t sleep all 8 hours in the time allotted; it’s the mold that is broken and needs remaking.
— Techly

 

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We’re Watching You

 

There are so many surveillance cameras in private and public spaces watching private citizens that it seems the only way to redress the imbalance is for private citizens to start recording corporate and government officials with surveillance cameras of their own. Recording business representatives on their property without their permission would be legally permissible only on publicly accessible portions. Recording public officials, however, such as police employees, would be much easier since much of their business is conducted in public and because they are, well, employees of the public.

 

The police employees themselves will often dispute the right of citizens to film them as they go about their business, and intimidate filmmakers into shutting off their cameras and even turning them over to the police. Those tactics are illegal, and cops who use them are doing so either out of ignorance of the law or, more likely, in anticipation of ignorance of the law on the part of the filmmaker. It’s interesting that the increasing surveillance in public of private citizens by corporate and government entities is justified by asserting “If you’re not doing anything wrong, then you have nothing to worry about”, but the same entities do not feel their dubious logic applies to them when the public films them going about their activities.

Inauguration U.S. Park Police Surveillance
A U.S. Park Police (USPP) employee takes video of spectators observing an incident in which the USPP had kettled a group of people at 12th and L N.W. in Washington, D.C., on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017. The USPP officer has his back to the kettled group. Photo by Mobilus in Mobili.

Dashboard cameras, many of them with audio recording capabilities, are increasing in popularity mainly for insurance purposes in the recording of accidents. Some auto manufacturers have started including them as standard equipment or options, and therefore they are not entirely after market purchases by car owners anymore. What some car owners tend to overlook is the usefulness of dashboard cameras in recording interactions with police employees. Police have themselves had dashboard cameras for about 20 years, and body cameras are becoming more prevalent every year. The question is how much a citizen can rely on evidence provided by police dashboard cameras and body cameras in any interaction with police employees.

 

The police have cameras, which they can and do turn off, or the footage of which they can and do selectively edit. It’s well past time for the general public to have cameras in the same abundance. In their cars, for instance, they should have not only a dashboard camera pointed forward, but a rear dashboard camera pointed backward, because that is where a roadside stop by a police employee will end up if it goes outside, with the cop and the driver between the back of the driver’s car and the front of the squad car. All cameras should have the ability to swivel on their mounts, which in the case of the front pointing dashboard camera would allow it to capture the interaction with the police employee at the driver’s side window. All cameras should also have audio capability, though it is important to remember to advise passengers in the vehicle if this feature is on. Police employees do not have to be informed, because they are engaged in public business.

Bodycam-north-charleston-police
Police employee with bodycam in North Charleston, South Carolina, in March 2016. Photo by Ryan Johnson.

So many people have smartphones now that it may seem unnecessary to buy and install more than one dashboard camera in a vehicle. If the need arises, people think, they can always take out their smartphone and film the interaction with the police employee. There are a few things wrong with that idea. The first is that for most people, who interact with police rarely, getting stopped by a police employee can be intimidating and make them nervous, which in turn may make it difficult or impossible for them to get out their smartphone and point it directly at the police employee, making it obvious they are filming them. Secondly, for some aggressive police employees who don’t know or don’t care about the constitutional rights of the citizens who employ them, pointing a smartphone camera at them is like waving a red cape in front of a bull. It’s much easier and less conspicuous to reach up quickly and turn the dashboard camera toward the driver’s window, making sure to enable audio.

The Conversation, a 1974 film by Francis Ford Coppola, is about an audio surveillance expert, though in general the topic becomes the loss of privacy in the electronic age.

It’s a shame it has come to this, where the public feels they have to protect themselves against the very people who have sworn to serve and protect them, people who use public funds to trick out publicly funded squad cars in thousands of dollars worth of the latest technology, and themselves in quasi military gear and vehicles for the purpose of intimidating and beating down the citizens who pay their way. For the time being, it may appear out of control police employees are hurting only minorities and the poor, but that will change as they see they can get away with it, as they have. Any day now, the mistreatment will become indiscriminate, because that is the way of things like this. Psychotic bullies will beat up on almost anyone, middle class white people included, if they step out of lines that are ever more narrowly defined. They will beat up on almost anyone, that is, except the rich who are their real masters. Protect yourself with as many cameras as they have, if you can, because you can’t afford as many lawyers.
— Techly

 

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