Weblog Ethics

Wrongful actions committed by criminal justice professionals, who are black or people of colour in crime drama series. Source: https://colorofchange.org/

Even weblogs must have ethical standards.

Jim Lehrer (1934 – 2020) constructed a list of 16 Rules of Journalism, printed in italics at the beginning of the paragraphs below. These were later reduced to nine rules, marked with an *. These rules were copied from Kottke, who comments on them in general, and points to their original sources. I am using them as a starting point for my own personal reflections on weblogging. It does not mean that I favour these rules over other rules, for many have infuriated me. Others, not so much. Some rules have not been commented upon. Others have. See, especially, rule #15.

  1. Do nothing I cannot defend.* Coming first and with an *, it could be an important rule, but it grates. It is defeatist, starting with the negative (do nothing) rather than the positive (so something). Even the term defend points in two directions. Is Lehrer concerned about protecting something? or is it about showing support? My replacement would be: Promote causes that you endorse. Cause could refer to a principle, ideal, goal or movement to which a person is dedicated, or the end/ purpose for which a thing is produced, or even something broader still, such as the general welfare of the planet/ humanity/ a more restricted group/ person. Endorse includes a range of support (middle ground), from approval (weaker), to sustain or defend (stronger).
  2. Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype. This is a difficult rule to follow, especially the slanting. A slant is a perspective on a problem. All events have to be viewed from some perspective, even if they aren’t acknowledged. Where does slanting stop, and hype and/or distortion begin? How much distortion, hype or slanting does it take, before the result is considered a lie? There are no easy answers. One reason for weblogging is to present alternative opinions, especially those that are not supportive of the mainstream, which for me consist of a libertarian perspective on the economy, and a conservative perspective on social life, that are found/ distorted/ lied about/ slanted/ hyped in commercial media.
  3. Do not falsify facts or make up quotes. Quotations and other attributions of thought are difficult. In part, it comes from the inability of some people to speak/ write succinctly enough. Often, there is a need to re-state the essence of a person’s opinion, without distortion. At another level it also reveals a major challenge with journalism and its focus on individuals, rather than systems. One criticism of journalists is that some seem more interested in a subject’s passion or conviction, rather than the truth of their statements.
  4. Cover, write, and present every story with the care I would want if the story were about me.* Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez (1983 – ) tweeted a link to an article about the 2003 rape accusation against Kobe Bryant (1978 – 2020), who died on 2020-01-26 in a helicopter accident. Sonmez was subsequently harangued and threatened, her address posted publicly, and her employer placed her on administrative leave. Bryant issued an apology where he made clear he believed the woman when she said she did not feel their encounter was consensual. The Median article describing the Sonmez situation, reasons that that public relations were more important to the Washington Post than Sonmez herself. It wonders why rape victims would trust the Washington Post with their stories if they think the paper is more concerned with appeasing an online mob than holding powerful men to account? It concludes that a powerful publication silenced its female reporter for tweeting about rape. Lehrer’s rule seems to suggest he would prefer people not to write about rape, or any other uncomfortable subject, at least when the alleged perpetrator is a celebrity.
  5. Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.* One of the reasons I have stopped reading a particular local newspaper, is that – from my perspective – it covers stories by focusing on one single person/ perspective, and allowing that one person to frame events. There seems to be no balance, until later – perhaps – when a second perspective is described, that is 180 degrees away from the first. Even then, it is difficult for the second party to address issues, because they have already been framed, possibly detrimentally.
  6. Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and good a person as I am.* Radio, television, newspapers (and more) are mass media, sending out their stories to thousands, if not millions of listeners, viewers and/ or readers. The audience of this weblog is entirely different. It currently consists of 32 other people. Each of these people I know personally, even if there are some that I have never met in person. Others, I may not have met for over fifty years. I have also stated that if this weblog has an audience of more than 100 people, I will have failed at my goal. I have no desire to be famous, or to be popular. Perhaps Bernie Sanders (1941 – ) has expressed it best. Responding to a comment by Hillary Rodham Clinton ( 1947 – ) that no one likes him, Sanders replied, “On a good day, my wife likes me.” This weblog is not trying to influence anyone, apart from a very select group who are (hopefully) equally smart, caring and as good as I am. It is encouraging people to forget mass-market social media, and to engage with a limited number of real friends on issues that are of importance to that small group of people.
  7. Assume the same about all people on whom I report.* I presume this rule is actually stating, that journalists must assume that the subject of a story is as smart and caring and good a person as the journalist reporting. This makes an assumption that stories are about people. Many of my stories are about technology, sometimes its failings, at other times it successes.
  8. Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty. In its editorial on 2020-01-24, Logisk brist = Logical Deficiency, the Inderøyning newspaper takes up the legal situation of a Norwegian woman and her two children, who have been returned to Norway from Syria. The problem is that leading politicians have pronounced the woman guilty of terrorism, despite the lack of any legal judgement against her, in violation of the Norwegian constitution. Her return to Norway has even led to the Progressive Party, leaving the government. In social media, including weblogs, it is far too easy to defame people who must be presumed innocent. It is my understanding that no court of law has found this woman guilty of anything.
  9. Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.* When I initially read this statement, my mind turned to social media, and how it is encouraging precisely the opposite of this rule. For even the most intimate details of a person’s life are exposed and commented upon.
  10. Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.* This rule shows by example, the challenge of finding suitable rules. I think I understand all of the words in the rule until I get to the phrase straight news stories. It grates. Even if journalists use the term story, it is too close to the concept of fiction for my liking. I suspect a news story is a spicier version of a sequence of news facts. Since the adjective straight is being used to modify news story, I am left wondering what other varieties can be found. When I look up straight in a dictionary I find 19 different meanings, including not curved and heterosexual. Fortunately, it also provides me with a better understanding of its journalistic meaning: written or to be written in a direct and objective manner, with no attempt at individual styling, comment, etc. If I were to help Lehrer, by re-writing the rule for him, it would be: Separate and label facts, opinions and analyses.
  11. Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.* While sources are sometimes lacking in this weblog, when people are mentioned, I try to put in their name as well as their year of birth and death, to try to put that person’s experiences into context. The same is also true, with respect to the first publication date of a book or article. Unfortunately, not all C.V.s contain essential information, such as year of birth. There are times when I feel I should go further, and include country of birth, or at least residence. L. P. Hartley (1895 – 1972) wrote in The Go-Between (1953), “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” It is often difficult to understand what has motivated people. Even more difficult if the context of their life is missing. Personally, I am a pacifist, and refuse to use weapons. Yet, both of my parents, Edgar (1906 – 1991) and Jennie (1916 – ) served in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the second World War. While I have been able to condemn almost all wars since then, I still have difficulties understanding WW II, and passing judgement on its participants.
  12. Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
  13. Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
  14. Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations should be disciplined by their employers. This is a very naive statement, given that much of the media is owned by entrepreneurs wanting to promote a particular political perspective. The right-leaning (Kieth) Rupert Murdoch (1931 – ) through his News Corporation, owned over 800 companies in more than 50 countries, with a net worth of over $5 billion in 2 000. In other ages, there have been other media moguls with other priorities. William Randolph Hurst (1863 – 1951) favoured the working class, who bought his papers, and denouncing the rich and powerful. Today, Mark Elliott Zuckerberg (1984 – ) has become infamous for Facebook’s role in allowing Cambridge Analytica to harvest personal data from millions of Facebook profiles without their consent and using it for political advertising purposes.
  15. My viewers have a right to know what principles guide my work and the process I use in their practice. Change viewers to readers, and the statement should be true of every serious weblog. Thus, I am curious to know what readers believe should be the principles followed in this weblog. Readers with opinions are encouraged to comment. Those reluctant to do so publicly, are encouraged to send a confidential email. While I will read and evaluate all material sent, this does not mean that I will incorporate it in any final rules for Brock’s weblog.
  16. I am not in the entertainment business.* That is a debatable point. Everything related to the media can be considered entertainment, even if some regard themselves above it. Much of the harm initially done there, is subsequently amplified by webblog posts. Take television crime drama, as an example. In Change of Color’s report, Normalizing Injustice, a disproportionate number of wrongdoing criminal justice professionals are black or people of colour, as shown in the table at the beginning of this weblog post. This report reminds people that “the crime genre glorifies, justifies and normalizes the systematic violence and injustice meted out by police, making heroes out of police and prosecutors who engage in abuse, particularly against people of color.” Misconduct is often presented in a way that normalizes it, making problematic characters seem good and their wrongful actions justified. Fiction is not just fiction, and entertainment is not simply entertainment, both are tools that shape attitudes. Entertainment cannot be ignored, for it can be the face of oppression.

This marks the end of Lehrer’s rules. What do readers think should be in a set of rules that should apply to all weblogs? In addition to these, what other rules should apply specifically to Brock’s weblogs?

Devices Future

Volkswagen and D-Wave Systems have used quantum computing to find optimal routes, as illustrated here in Lisbon, Portugal, and available as an app near you. (Photo: Volkswagen)

… and the answer is, everywhere.

Now for the question, where do people want to use computing devices?

Guestimations

After trying to collect and interpret validated statistics, I have given up and present some numbers than might approach something meaningful and coherent. Some are based on information collected by Simon Kemp, dated 2019-01-31. Other bits come from Wikipedia, such as this article, along with a variety of other places with assorted dates.

With a world population of 7.7 billion people, there are over 5 billion handheld devices, the vast majority also referred to as mobile phones, increasingly smartphones, although they do much more than connect people using voice communication. It would be much more honest to eliminate any reference to phone in the description. The German Handy or the French Portable, are both better. Other devices in this category include tablets, and similar devices lacking keyboards. Regardless, Android operating system variants clearly and increasingly dominate, with at least 75% of market share, with Apple’s iOS declining market share taking most of the remainder. It remains to be seen if Huawei will be able to introduce a viable alternative to Android.

There are two important characteristics that distinguish handheld devices from larger personal computers. They are the large screen size and the use of a keyboard input device. Minor differences also include the use of a mouse or some other pointer, They are often referred to as laptop and desktop machines. In terms of the world, this is small segment of machines compared to mobile devices, with its importance decreasing. Part of the reason for this decline is their inability to be used everywhere.

There is general agreement that the billionth personal computer shipped in 2002, and that there were one billion such computers in operation in 2008. The dispute is how many are in use now. Some are looking for a magic number of 2 billion, but 1.5 billion units is far more likely. Windows will be installed on at least 75% of machines, MacOS on, say, 13% (which to me seems high), ChromeOS on 6% (at least in the US, and higher than I experience in Norway) and Linux on 2%. The 2019 Stack Overflow developer survey gives very different figures on what is found on machines used by computing professionals. In round numbers: Windows on 45%, MacOS on 30%, and Linux on 25%.

Another category of computer is the embedded device. One essential aspect of these is the electronic control unit (ECU). Domotics refers to home robotics. It includes all aspects of smart home technology, including sensors that monitor the environment and actuators that activate controls. These include temperature, lighting and security. However, it is pervasive, found everywhere from electric toothbrushes, to toasters and every other form of kitchen machine. Today, even a lightbulb can be considered an ECU. A typical smarthouse may contain hundreds of these devices.

The vast number of ECUs expected, plus its vulnerability in terms of security, means that WiFi can only be a temporary solution. While communication can be built on top of 120/240 V AC circuits, most devices, including LED lights, actually use low voltage DC power. Anyone building something new should be installing Ethernet cable 6A at a minimum, with connections to every room. Power over Ethernet, (PoE) can then provide DC power to almost everything needed.

I expect clothing will soon include embedded devices, so that personal data can be continuously collected and monitored. In Sweden, I note that several individuals have voluntarily inserted RFID devices into their bodies, so that they can use these to identify themselves, rather than relying on PIN codes. Unfortunately, it is probably only a matter of time before these devices become mandatory.

Embedded devices are also found in cars where even the most primitive contain 25 – 35 ECUs. More luxurious models may have 70 or more ECUs. Hopefully, autonomous vehicles will soon be on streets near you. The last thing this world needs is a nut behind the wheel, especially one that feels provoked into road rage at the slightest offence. Electric vehicles are already here, with Tesla’s innovations leading the way. In Norway, there will be no opportunity for people to buy fossil fueled vehicles (including hybrids) after 2024. Everything will probably be battery electric, as an explosion at a hydrogen fueling station has dimmed everyone’s interest.

Command and control (C2) is defined by Marius Vassiliou, David S. Alberts and Jonathan R. Agre in C2 Re-Envisioned: the Future of the Enterprise (2015) as a “set of organizational and technical attributes and processes … [that] employs human, physical, and information resources to solve problems and accomplish missions.” (p. 1) This definition can apply to individuals, households, organizations, small businesses, large enterprises or even the military. One major challenge has been the tendency of large manufacturers of ECUs to consider just their own product range, and to make controllers for these and only these. This is not a viable solution. Our household has opted for the most inclusive solution, found in Home Assistant.

Miniaturization will continue into the future. I am uncertain about the future form factor of personal devices/ phones. Asked if they will shrink to wristwatch size or remain about the size they are today? Today’s form factor wins. Yes, one can imagine screen technology being built into glasses, or wrist watches, but will it happen? It will be interesting to see what has happened in 2040 and beyond.

In terms of PCs, they could be doomed to extinction. Physically smaller personal devices will be capable of doing everything PCs do. However, there may be situations where a person may want a larger screen, a keyboard and a pointing device. So the personal device will have to interact with these. I am not certain when voice control will replace the keyboard. When I first studied computing, in the mid-1970s, 1980 was even considered a target date for its replacement. However, that was based on people going from card punches to something else.

In terms of servers, one can also envisage a household having something the size of a small media centre, perhaps 100 x 100 x 50 mm (4″ x 4″ x 2″) which is about the size of our Asus PN 40 media player. At the current rate of miniaturization, it should be able to hold at least 100 TB by 2040. One could ask why anyone would need so much storage capacity, but today everyone seems capable of using every last byte of storage they have, and I see no reason for attitudes to change. Computers will be used in new areas because people have the processing power and data storage capacity to do it.

Perhaps the greatest change will come as quantum computing matures. Quantum computing is real. It allows computations to be made in seconds that would take a conventional supercomputer considerably longer. Google claims that its Sycamore processor with 54 Qubits, has achieved quantum supremacy, and is the most advanced quantum computing processor in the world, capable of processing in 200 s, what a Summit supercomputer would use 10 000 years to accomplish, making quantum computing 1 577 880 000 times faster. IBM has countered this, stating that it would only take 2.5 days, making quantum computing about 1 000 times faster. Regardless, quantum computing will provide faster calculations.

With my origins in Vancouver/ New Westminster, and with some of my most positive learning experiences at the British Columbia Institute of Technology, I will end this post by mentioning its Burnaby neighbour, D-Wave systems. They announced in 2019 their next-generation Pegasus quantum processor chip, the world’s most connected commercial quantum system, with 15 connections per qubit, and with more than 5000 qubits, to be available in mid-2020.

Stavanger Airport Parking Garage Fire: A tidbit

Thermite RS1-T4 (photo: Howe & Howe Technologies)

On 2020-01-10 a fire broke out in a parking building at Norway’s Stavanger Airport. There were no injuries to people. However, much of the structure collapsed, including ramps to upper stories, because of structural damage caused by intense heat. Fire trucks could not enter the structure because of its low ceiling height. Because of its open walls, it was not, and was not required to be, equipped with a sprinkler system. An estimated 200 – 300 vehicles were destroyed in the fire, but about 1 300 vehicles were trapped in the building. It was initially reported the fire started in an electric vehicle. However, the fire started in a recalled diesel-powered 2005 Opel Zafira. The car was recalled after a similar fire in Cork, Ireland 2019-08-31, damaging about 60 cars in another parking structure.

Fake news, has resulted in some places in Norway banning electric cars from parking in their structures, although this is being contested by The Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association. It has sent out letters about this situation, the latest on 2020-01-21. The Norwegian Directorate for Social Security and Preparedness (DSB) states that electric cars rarely burn, but when that happens, the fire has a different course than fire in a gasoline or diesel-powered car. The fire energy is smaller and develops more slowly, but the extinguishing work must be done in a different way and may take longer.

Nils-Erik Haagenrud, Fire and Rescue Chief in Rogaland, the county where Stavanger is located, wants the county to invest in a robot that can be put into extinguishing work, when crews have to stay away from a fire, physically. Rogaland has the longest subsea tunnels in Europe, with exactly the same problems as in the parking facilities. Oslo and Romerike use robots.

Ethics of Care

Carol Gilligan (1936 – ) is considered the founder of the Ethics of Care philosophical movement. Much of the foundations of this movement were published in her book, In a Different Voice (1982).

In the 1960s Gilligan realized that men (in contrast to people) were the measure of humanity, with autonomy and rationality as the markers of maturity. To explore this, and its implications, she undertook three empirical studies: college student study about moral development, the abortion decision study looking at conflict, and the rights and responsibilities study which examined concepts of self and morality in men and women of different ages.

Analysis and reflection on these studies resulted in Gilligan developing a framework for the Ethics of Care, where, “the different voice I describe is characterized not by gender but theme. Its association with women is an empirical observation, and is primarily through women’s voices that I trace its development.”

The Ethics of Care is proposed as an alternative to Lawrence Kohlberg’s (1927 – 1987) hierarchal and patriarchal approach to ethics, where he claims that girls (and thus women), did not in general develop their moral abilities to the highest levels. Gilligan explained gendered differences in moral reasoning as cultural constructions, and not in essentialist terms. Kohlberg provided detailed responses to Gilligan in Essays on Moral Development: Vol.II. The Psychology of Moral Development: The Nature and Validity of Moral Stages (1984). Kohlberg has been extremely influential, including some of the content in John Rawls’ (1921 – 2002) A Theory of Justice (1972).

Gilligan contended that women approach ethical problems differently, by focusing on responsibilities and relationships while men focus on rights and rules.

In 2011, Gilligan was able to appreciate that care is regarded as a feminine ethic within a patriarchal framework, but as a human ethic within a democratic framework. For her, reason can co-exist with emotion, mind with body, self with relationships and even men with women. This co-existence is not permitted in a patriarchal framework. Gilligan calls this less divisive and more human approach, the Ethics of Care.

Many other feminists, especially, have reflected on the Ethics of Care, and developed their own philosophies. One of the first was Nel Noddings (1929 – ) who wrote Caring: A Feminine Approach to Ethics and Moral Education (1984). She makes a distinction between natural and ethical caring. Personally, Noddings is difficult to understand, except that she seems to be enforcing traditional views of nurturing.

Annette Baier (1929 – 2012) is more interesting because she states that women and men make their decisions about right and wrong based on different value systems: men take their moral decisions according to an idea of justice, while women are motivated by a sense of trust or caring. A major concern is that philosophy, and its history, have been dominated by men, resulting in the feminine perspective being ignored.

Joan Claire Tronto (1952 – ) attempted to operationalize the ethics of care, especially in Moral boundaries: a political argument for an ethic of care (1993). She defines care as “On the most general level we suggest caring be viewed as a species activity that includes everything we do to maintain, continue and repair our “world”so that we can live in it as well as possible. That world includes our bodies, our selves and our environment, all of which we seek to interweave in a complex, life-sustaining web.” (p. 103)

Tronto differentiates obligation-based ethics and responsibility-based ethics. Obligation-based ethics involve a decision maker determines what obligations s/he has and responding. This contrasts with responsibility-based ethics, where the relationship with others is the starting point. Thus, the Ethics of Care involves/ requires developing a habit of care. (p. 127)

There are four elements of caring, that are the fundamentals necessary to provide effective care. These require certain attitudes and skills. They are: 1. attentiveness; 2. responsibility; 3. competence; and, 4. responsiveness of the care receiver. (p. 127)

Tronto defines four phases of caring. These involves cognitive, emotional, and action strategies. However, they are not in sequential order, and can overlap. They are: 1. caring about; 2. taking care of; 3. care giving; and 4. care receiving. (p. 165)

The one Norwegian philosopher who deserves mention is Tove Pettersen (1962 – ), perhaps better known for her work on the existential ethics of Simone de Beauvoir. In addition to numerous articles, she has written one major book on the subject, Comprehending Care: Problems and Possibilities in The Ethics of Care (2008).

In an interview, later published, Pettersen states, “In our culture, the Good Samaritan ideal overlaps with the traditional understanding of what it means to be a good woman. Female care workers in particular—whether they are mothers or nurses—are commonly expected to be altruistic, to systematically put the interests of others first, while treating their own needs as secondary and unimportant. Consequently, they are expected to work beyond what is reasonable in order to fulfil this altruistic ideal. Using the Good Samaritan as an ideal for care workers in professions where the employer’s goal is to maximize profit and minimize costs paves the way for exploitation. Care workers are especially exposed to exploitation, because they have the responsibility for the well-being of vulnerable others. In many situations, care workers simply cannot reject this responsibility. It is therefore very important to be aware of how easy it is to be exploited when the traditional images of what it means to be a woman, and the traditional images of what good care is, are jointly applied. Unfortunately, the Good Samaritan cannot be an ideal for contemporary care work.

Devices Past

3D Rendering of computer center with IBM System/370-145 and IBM 2401 tape drives (Illustration: Oliver Obi)

In ancient times, computing meant batch systems that required users to drive across town to a computing centre, to punch their programs onto cards, then to submit those cards so they could be read by a card reader. An IBM 3505 Model B1 card reader from 1971 could read 80 column cards at the rate of 1200 CPM (cards per minute). It was based on the Hollerith Keyboard punch, from 1890. The programs were then run on a mainframe computer, such as an IBM System /370 dating from 1970. A machine consisted of several units housed in a large air-conditioned machine room with a raised floor to improve cooling, and conceal wiring. Processing took time, and results were provided an hour or two later, from high-speed printers, such as an IBM 3211, printing at about 150 lines per minute, more than enough to keep up with the punched card input. This was the basic situation from the mid-1950s until at least the mid-1970s, with variations.

The IBM System /370 Model 145 had 500 kB of RAM, 233 MB of hard disk space, and ran at 2.5 MHz. It cost from US$ 705 775 to US$ 1 783 000. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics consumer price index, states that US$ 1 in 1970 is worth US$ 6.63 in 2020. So that the IBM System /370 Model 145 would cost from about US$ 4.7 million to almost US$ 12 million in 2020 dollars.

Computers are a mix of hardware and software. Writing system software was a craft where a select few excelled. They wrote elegant but lean code that executed fast. In ancient times, when the hardware was primitive, craftsmanship mattered. Compilers and operating systems had to be written in assembly/ assembler language for increased efficiency and space savings. A programmer had to think like a processor, moving code into and out of registers. As computer hardware improved, the need to write parsimonious code gradually disappeared. Programmers started becoming verbose. Programming as a profession expanded far beyond the few.

To gain an understanding of the situation facing professional programmers, at this time, one of the best books to read is The Mythical Man-Month (1975) by Frederick Brooks (1931 – ). During Brooks’ exit interview with IBM’s legendary CEO Thomas Watson Jr. (1914 – 1993), a seed for the book was planted. Watson asked why it was harder to manage software projects than hardware projects. In this book the answer is stated, now known as Brooks’ law: “Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later.”

A 2020 Raspberry Pi 4 Model B is available with 1, 2 or 4 GB of RAM. That is anywhere from 2 to 8 000 times more than that found on the IBM machine in the previous paragraph. A 16 GB (or larger) SD card, contrasts with 233 MB of hard disk space. That is 68 times more. The speed of 1.5 GHz with 4 cores competes with 2.5 MHz, with a single core. Potentially there is a 2 400 times speed increase. More than anything else, with a RPi costing between US$ 35 and US$ 55, the IBM machine cost about 100 000 times more.

By the 1980s, card punches had given way to terminals, consisting of a screen (that frequently offered green text on a black background) and a keyboard. These were connected indirectly to a mini-computer, that replaced the mainframe. Digital Equipment Corporation were especially fond of using Ethernet cable to connect terminals to their VAX Mini-computers. Offices were starting to be interconnected. These machines still required their own machine rooms with adequate cooling, as well as the drive to the office.

To understand this new mini-machine period of computing, there is yet another book to read, The Soul of a New Machine (1981) by Tracy Kidder (1945 – ). Data General needs a machine to compete with Digital Equipment’s VAX, 32-bit computer. In South Carolina, they start project “Fountainhead”, where they divert almost all of their senior design personnel. A few remaining senior designers in Massachusetts are allegedly engaged in improving Data General’s existing products. However, Tom West (1939 – 2011), starts a skunkworks project, “Eagle”, that becomes a backup in case Fountainhead fails (which it does). It is a high risk project using new technology and misusing newly graduated engineering.

There are lots of candidates for declaring the first PC, as in personal computer. Personally, I opt for the 1973 Xerox Alto, since it offered both hardware and software that worked. Others may refer to the 1976 Apple II, 1977 Commodore PET 2001 or 1977 Radio Shack TRS-80 or even the 1981 IBM PC.

Most people were still using a terminal, rather than a PC, until about 1990. Terminals didn’t die when PCs arrived, because there was initially no easy way to connect a PC to the mini-computer. The two machine types had incompatible operating systems, MS-DOS on PCs, and a host of proprietary operating systems on the assorted mini-machines. Novell NetWare and Banyon Vines offered solutions, but these were weak and difficult to implement. Important data was stored and backed up on tapes, that required special readers located in a machine room. When PCs did finally connect to larger computers, the PC usually required an ethernet card, the entire building had to be wired for ethernet cables, and the name of the mini-computer was changed to server, that lived inside 19-inch racks with 1.75 inch rack-units, a system standardized by AT&T around 1922.

The other first PC, as in portable computer, today better known as a laptop, is a matter of debate. The Xerox Dynabook from 1972 was a fantastic machine, except for one fatal flaw – it was never actually built in hardware, only as a conceptual model. Most other early machines were either too heavy or were equipped with screens that were too small. This situation continued until 1985, when Toshiba finally produced the T1100, fairly accurately described as “the world’s first mass-market laptop computer”.

Both LANs (Local Area Networks) and WANs (Wide Area Networks) started interconnecting users in the early 1990s. The need for servers brought about a need for a standardized operating system. The first steps involved the use of different flavours of Unix, first developed in the 1970s at Bell Labs, along with the C programming language. The Unix modular design provides a set of simple tools that each performs a limited, well-defined task. It uses its unified filesystem as the primary means of communication, along with shell scripting.

A number of unfortunate issues related to the proprietary origins of Unix, led many to seek an open-source solution. It was found in the use of BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) and the Linux kernel based operating system distributions, along with other related products that could be used freely. Linux was able to address a variety of different segments, servers, consumer desktops, laptops, tablets, phones and embedded devices. This is assisted by the modular design of the Unix model, which allowed the sharing of components.

Initially, home users had the choice of Windows or Apple operating systems. In the mid- to late 1990s, low-speed, dial-up modems allowed Internet access. People even started wiring their houses for the Internet, with Ethernet cables. However, most office and home computers were still beige boxes.

Fictional tablets first appeared in Stanley Kubrik’s (1928 – 1999) A Space Odyssey (1968). Real tablets first appeared in the last two decades of the 20th century. However, it wasn’t until 2010, when Apple released the iPad, that the tablet achieved widespread popularity.

Cell phones are often incorrectly referred to as mobile devices. They are more correctly handheld devices, even if they spend most of their times in assorted pockets and bags. It is the human with the bag or pocket that is mobile. On 1966-12-01, the first commercial cellular network (OLT) was launched in Norway. This was subsequently replaced, in 1981, with the Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) system, in operation in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. These used what would be regarded today as massive phones. Thus, the first personal data assistant (PDA) that could be accepted today as a handheld device, was the 1984 Psion Organizer, although PDA was not used as a term until 1992.

The 1996 Nokia 9000 Communicator, can be regarded as the first primitive smartphone. It was actually a hybrid combining PDA and conventional cell phone features. Canadians, especially, will want to date the smartphone to Research in Motion’s 2002 BlackBerry. The company founder, Mihal “Mike” Lazaridis (1961 – ) is in some ways the Canadian equivalent of Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011).

Corrections: Alasdair McLellan has corrected two errors. I had exaggerated the size difference of RAM between the IBM /System 370 and a Raspberry Pi, by a factor of 1 000. It is not 2 – 8 million times larger, but only 2 – 8 thousand times larger. The first commercial cellular network was not Japanese, but Norwegian. Documentation for it can be found in this Norwegian language source.

The Norwegian Wikipedia also writes about it, stating: Offentlig Landmobil Telefoni (OLT) var det første mobiltelefonnettet i Norge. Det ble opprettet 1. desember1966 og ble nedlagt i 1990 (stopp for nye konsesjoner var 1. november 1989). Ved intruduksjonen av NMT i 1981 var det ca. 22 000 abonnenter på OLT. OLT var manuelt, og ikke et automatisk mobilsystem, og regnes derfor som før “1G”.

Translation into English: Public Land Mobile Telephone (OLT) was the first mobile telephone network in Norway. It was established on December 1, 1966 and closed in 1990 (stopping for new licenses was November 1, 1989). At the introduction of NMT in 1981, there were approx. 22,000 OLT subscribers. The OLT was manual, and not an automatic mobile system, and is therefore considered as before “1G”.

Virtue Ethics

Our hobby business, Fjellheim Institute ANS existed for many years mainly as the publisher of the Norwegian edition of The Virtues Guide (1996). Information about this enterprise is found in Keywords 023 Excellence.

Mary Rosalind Hursthouse (1943 – ) explains the concept of a virtue in her entry for Virtue Ethics in the 2013 edition of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “A virtue such as honesty or generosity is not just a tendency to do what is honest or generous, nor is it to be helpfully specified as a “desirable” or “morally valuable” character trait. It is, indeed a character trait—that is, a disposition which is well entrenched in its possessor, something that, as we say “goes all the way down”, unlike a habit such as being a tea-drinker—but the disposition in question, far from being a single track disposition to do honest actions, or even honest actions for certain reasons, is multi-track. It is concerned with many other actions as well, with emotions and emotional reactions, choices, values, desires, perceptions, attitudes, interests, expectations and sensibilities. To possess a virtue is to be a certain sort of person with a certain complex mindset. (Hence the extreme recklessness of attributing a virtue on the basis of a single action.)”

While Virtue Ethics can be said to begin with Socrates (ca. 470 – 399 BC), it is Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) who puts the field on the map, in Nicomachean Ethics, where he discusses about 11 moral virtues. Each virtue was suspended between two vices, one excessive, the other deficient. Thus, a person was to aim for moderation, a position somewhere between the two extremes.

At this point, we will ease our way into modern Virtue Ethics, by noting Alasdair Macintyre’s (1929 – ) demand in After Virtue (1981/ 1984/ 2007) that virtues have to be a community project. Ethics implies ethos, that each and every virtues has to be grounded in a particular time and place. If I look at my own upbringing, the society I grew up in was racist, discriminated against women, refused to tolerate either abortion or homosexuality, allowed parents to use physical punishment, encouraged smoking and drinking, and punished people who advocated socialist principles.

Each and every individual has to address emerging social issues, and to make a decision as to how to behave in the world. The list of moral virtues has to be applied to countless areas.

In addition to the 11 moral virtues, Aristotle also comments on seven other intellectual virtues. Of these it is especially Techne, translated as art or craftsmanship, that is of overwhelming interest for me, and many others in contemporary society. Here, I am particularly interested in miniaturization, manufacturing techniques – especially those that can be implemented locally, robotics and other forms of physical computing using sensors and activators. Naturally, I hope that there will be many others who are concerned about other challenging areas, such as health and nutrition/ agriculture.

One of the works that has impacted me the most is David Harvey’s (1935 – ) Social Justice and the City (1973), which I read almost as soon as it came out. The book is divided into three parts, of which the first two are most important. When I finished the first part, I felt I had understood the problem of urbanization. Then, as I read the second part I began to realize, that the proposed solutions simply created new problems. People fail to understand the consequences of their actions.

In my mind, I am often comparing Harvey’s work, with A Theory of Justice (1971) by John Rawls (1921 – 2002). The libertarian solutions proposed by Rawls, mirror those in the first part of Harvey’s book. I continually fear that Rawls does not appreciate how much needless damage libertarianism extracts from society. For MacIntyre, morals and virtues can only be understood in relation to the community in which they come from. Harvey expresses the same, but uses different words. Rawls wants people to consider justice as some sort of abstract ideal.

The Virtues Guide (1990/ 1993/ 1995), written by Linda Kavelin Popov and Dan Popov, and illustrated by John Kavelin, consisted of 52 different virtues, one for each week of the year. In our kitchen we also have 100 Virtues Cards. We choose one to focus on each week. Unfortunately, many of them do not feel like virtues.

I am contemplating a new approach, focusing on Aristotle’s original 11 moral virtues, one at a time. First, there has to be an understanding of the social context of each virtue. What does it mean, anno 2020? Second, there will have to be an understanding of how that virtue prepares a person for their ultimate destiny. Third, one must look at how a deficit of that virtue will affect a person. Fourth, a similar approach must be undertaken to understand what excess means, in terms of that virtue.

Computing: The Series

Red lighted Keyboard (Photo: Taskin Ashiq, 2017)

In 2020, a series of weblog posts about computing devices will be written and published. The first in this series, about the end of support for Windows 7, was already published one week ago, on 2020-01-07.

Many people, do not know what types of devices will be advantageous for them to acquire. Even when they know the type of device, they do not understand how to evaluate that category in order to make appropriate purchases. Brand names and price become proxies for device quality. Unfortunately, this can result in inappropriate devices being selected. Not all devices need to be purchased new. Many older, even discarded, devices are often suitable for continued use, but may require the installation of different, more appropriate software.

This series consists of:

  1. Windows 7 (2020-01-07)
  2. Computing: The Series (2020-01-14)
  3. Devices Past (2020-01-21)
  4. Devices Future (2020-01-28)
  5. Clouds & Puddles (2020-02-04)
  6. Universal Serial Bus (2020-02-11)
  7. Video connectors (2020-02-18)
  8. Power supply/ charging (2020-02-25)
  9. Input & Output Peripherals (2020-03-03)
  10. Computer Access & Assistance (2020-03-10)
  11. External Drives (2020-03-17)
  12. Printers (2020-03-24)

Starting 2020-04-01, the focus at Cliff Cottage, will be on outdoor building construction. There will be limited time for blogging, with the exception of a single monthly update. Blogging will resume again 2020-10-06. There are several different categories of computing devices that most people may use/ acquire for work and leisure:

  1. Handheld devices (2020-10-06)
  2. Laptop & desktop devices (2020-10-13)
  3. Media players (2020-10-20)
  4. A Practical Server (2020-10-27)
  5. Vehicle devices (2020-11-03)
  6. Smart home devices (2020-11-10)
  7. Other embedded systems (2020-11-17)
  8. Visual impairment (2020-11-24)
  9. Hearing impairment (2020-12-01)
  10. Dexterity impairment (2020-12-08)
  11. Mobility impairment (2020-12-15)
  12. Computing: A Summary (2020-12-22)

Many of these will focus on the needs and limitations of older users, and how to mitigate the impact of various impairments.

Each topic, including publication dates, is subject to revision. People who want other topics covered can contact me via email: brock@mclellan.no

Update: On 2020-02-04 kl. 13: 40 Two of the topics on this post were changed. 09. Input Devices (2020-03-03) and 10. Output Devices (2020-03-10) were merged into 09. Input & Output Devices (2020-03-03), and a new topic 10. Computer Access & Assistance (2020-03-10) was created. On 2020-02-16 kl. 07:00 Input & Output Devices was changed to Input & Output Peripherals.

Carlos Ghosn vs Japan Inc.

Nissan Diesel Trucks (Photo: NZ Car Freak)

This weblog post is about Carlos Ghosn (1954 – ), the former CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance and his cultural war with the Japanese business establishment. It might have had a different plot if I hadn’t read Exposure: Silenced. Threatened. Time to Fight Back. (2012) written by Michael Woodford (1960 – ).

The major reason for writing this post now, is Ghosn’s escape from Japan to Lebanon. He had been charged in Japan 2018-11-19 with under-reporting his earnings and misuse of Nissan assets, followed 2019-04-04 with charges of misappropriations of Nissan funds. He has spent considerable time in detention, as well as house arrest. However, many suspect that these charges were more about Japanese business interests (aided by the Japanese government) wanting to take back control of Nissan, than that anyone was actually worried about the relatively miniscule size of misappropriated funds. The fact that a major Japanese auto manufacturer had to use the services of a gaijin (foreigner) had been extremely embarrassing.

Background

In 1996, Renault hired Ghosn to turn the company around from near bankruptcy. By 1999, the plan devised by Ghosn had worked. Much of it involved using Japanese management practices. In 1999 Nissan was facing a similar bankruptcy threat. In 1999-03, Renault and Nissan formed the Renault–Nissan Alliance, resulting in Renault purchased a 36.8% minority interest in Nissan. This allowed Ghosn the opportunity to develop the Nissan Revival Plan to turn around Nissan, using many of the same approaches as he used at Renault. By 2002-03-31 all of these goals had been accomplished. As of 2018-11, Renault owned 43.4% of Nissan, while Nissan owned non-voting shares equal to 15% of Renault’s equity, showing the unequal strength of the two companies in relation to each other.

This webpost does not proclaim Ghosn’s innocence. Only a court of law can do that, although there is a presumption of innocence until proven guilty. A legitimate question to ask is, what is the reason for the criminal charges against Ghosn? The problem with the Ghosn affair, is that Ghosn seems to be treated differently than equivalent Japanese business leaders caught up in similar situations. Here are some examples.

Fukushima

Perhaps the greatest Japanese crime of this century is related to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that began 2011-03-11. This disaster was the most severe nuclear accident since the 1986-04-26 Chernobyl disaster and the only other one to be given Level 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

The disaster caused meltdowns in three separate reactors. The lack of adequate preparations for a tsunami and related events resulted in the evacuation of more than 470 000 people. Nearly 18 500 people died in or were listed as missing from the disaster area. Despite the enormous ramifications of this disaster, Japanese society/ culture effectively blocked any one person or even group of people from being found responsible for it. Japanese prosecutors had twice declined to press criminal charges against former Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) executives, saying there was little chance of success. Then a judicial panel ruled that three men should be put on trial, despite the opposition of the prosecutors.

2019-09-19 a Japanese court found Tsunehisa Katsumata, Sakae Muto, and Ichiro Takekuro, the former most senior executives of Tepco, not guilty of professional negligence. No one else has been charged with anything related to this disaster.

The conviction rate in Japan is 99.4%. In other words, the prosecutors are acting, effectively, as judges. In this particular case, their reluctance to prosecute was interpreted as an indication of non-guilt.

Olympus

Only a month after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, Michael Woodford was appointed president and COO (2011-04) of Olympus Corporation, a Japanese manufacturer noted for its professional optical products. He was appointed CEO six months later, 2011-10. Woodford started working for Olympus in 1981 and subsequently rose in the company to manage its European operations. Woodford was the company’s first non-Japanese CEO. He was removed from his CEO position after two weeks, when he persisted in questioning fees in excess of US$1 billion that Olympus had paid to obscure companies, which appeared to have been used to hide old losses and appeared to have organised crime connections. By 2012 this scandal had developed into one of the biggest and longest-lived loss-concealing financial scandals in the history of corporate Japan.

Woodford’s life was threatened, because of the criminal organisation connections. Ultimately, Olympus had to agree to a settlement for defamation and wrongful dismissal.

Reactions

Japan Forward was sceptical of Ghosn’s arrest: “A Western businessman with several decades in Japan noted: The “thin gruel of ‘misdeeds’ that they’ve put forward to date as justification is laughable. Reads like any day at the office for many [Japanese] CEOs. The Japanese business establishment crushes everything that threatens its worldview and privileges. … Another added: “During my time in Japan, I met the CEOs and managing directors of a variety of companies and a few were wonderful people, but a lot were not…. [They were] in cahoots with the yaks (Yakuza) — abused their expenses, went on company paid junkets, received kickbacks, got laid on the company tab…. I don’t know what Ghosn did, but I doubt it would have come close to what is normal behavior for many of his Japanese counterparts.”

Japan Forward may not have said it so explicitly, using a question mark rather than an exclamation mark, but many see systemic xenophobia in the Japanese business community.

Nikkei Asian Review was even more condemning: “There is no indication that other board members made actual moves in terms of governance processes or statements at the board level, [Nicholas Benes, head of the Board Director Training Institute of Japan and a former investment banker] noted. This makes him suspect that the board members were more concerned about protecting their jobs than confronting [Ghosn]…. If individual board members, including CEO Hiroto Saikawa, felt so strongly about the issue that they allowed a criminal investigation, they should have taken steps first. These could have included proposing to discuss the issue at the board level, trying to call an extraordinary board meeting, threatening to resign or getting advice externally. No such internal moves appear to have been taken before the prosecutors’ move to arrest Ghosn. Under Japanese company law, directors are expected to actively participate in discussions and oversee the chief executive.”

There are several recent Japanese business scandals:

In 2015 Toshiba revealed that it had overstated its operating profit by nearly $1.2 billion.

In 2017 Takada had become mired in a global scandal over faulty airbags. Ammonium nitrate was used to inflate airbags quickly, some with such force, they spewed shrapnel at drivers and passengers leading to injuries and in some cases, death. Takada was forced to recall millions of airbags which, along with facing a multi-million dollar wave of litigation.

In 2017 Kobe Steel admitted to changing or falsifying data about the quality of some of its goods before they were shipped to customers.

In 2018 Nissan admitted its emissions and fuel economy tests for its cars sold in Japan had “deviated from the prescribed testing environment”.

Japan’s Criminal Justice System

Counterpunch has detailed the inhumanity and authoritarian nature of the Japanese criminal justice system. The current laws are from 1947. Except for omitting offences relating to war, the imperial family and adultery, the 1947 Penal Code remained virtually identical to the 1907 version. This means that there has been no substantial revision for 113 years, as this post is written in 2020.

Nobuo Gohara, a former prosecutor, stated: “If you admit to the crime you’re arrested for, you’re released on bail relatively quickly. However, if you dispute the charges or claim innocence, you will be detained longer. You won’t be released on bail and your detainment will last weeks. You’re basically held hostage until you give the prosecutors what they want. This is not how a criminal justice system should work in a healthy society.” Cases detailed in the same article explain this further.

Beirut Press Conference

At the press conference held in Beirut 2020-01-08, Ghosn compared his arrest to the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. He said his prosecution on charges of financial misconduct was politically motivated, the result of an elaborate conspiracy involving malevolent Nissan executives and even the Japanese government, a systematic campaign to destroy his reputation and impugn his character. He further claimed that Japanese authorities were repaying him with evil, because he was an easy target as a foreigner. Further information about the press conference can be found in numerous online news sources, including this report in The Guardian.

Windows 7

Windows 7 (2009-07-22 – 2020-01-14) R.I.P.

This weblog post was written to discuss the situation facing people currently using Windows 7, and who will find themselves without support after 2020-01-14.

Summary: If you currently run Windows 7 your machine soon will be insecure. If you intend to keep older hardware, you will probably have to transition to a Linux distro because that hardware won’t be able to handle Windows 10. If you intend to upgrade the hardware, you may still prefer to transition to something like Linux Mint, because the learning curve will be gentler. Windows 7 is closer to Linux Mint, than it is to Windows 10.

If you are still running Windows 7, you are not alone. Many are in the same end-of-live situation. It is requiring many people to rethink their operating system strategy. Should they keep on using Windows 7, or upgrade to Windows 10, which may require a hardware investment, or should they keep the same hardware and go over to something like Linux Mint? Chris Barnatt has three videos where he discusses the challenges facing Windows 7 users. The first from 2018-08-26 deals with a transition to Linux Mint for Windows users. The second from 2019-11-17 is about hardware that allows for a quick change of drives between the two operating systems. The third from 2019-12-22 shows what Chris is planning to do. Yes, it includes keeping Windows 7, but disconnecting it from the internet. Don at Novaspirit Tech also has some insights. Heal My Tech provides an alternative view.

There are also a large number of other Linux distros that could be selected instead of Linux Mint, but there is only a short window of opportunity left to experiment and make a selection. Distros can be tested by running them as a virtual machine, or running them from a memory stick.

VirtualBox is open-source and can run on a Windows 7 host machine. Multiple guest operating systems can be loaded, started, paused and stopped independently within its own virtual machine.

I used Windows regularly because my employer insisted on it. This situation ended upon my retirement at the end of 2016. Looking back, Windows XP was my favourite Windows version, even though it only reaches warm on a scale ranging from cold to hot. My opinion of Windows 7 is that it ranks luke-warm, but definitely much warmer than the cold assigned to Windows 8 and 8.1 (the last version I was compelled to use).

Here is part of the Windows timeline. Certain versions are deliberately missing: Windows XP, codenamed Whistler – after the British Columbia mountain and resort, was released in 2001, supported until 2009 with extended support lasting until 2014. Windows 7 (Blackcomb – another BC mountain) was released in 2009, supported until 2015, with extended support ending this month, 2020-01-14. Windows 8 (no codename) was released in 2012, and version 8.1 (Blue) in 2013. Regular support ended in 2018, and extended support will end in 2023. Windows 10 (Redstone) was released in 2015, and is currently supported.

These days, irregular use of Windows 10 is required because another resident has a computer with Windows 10 installed, an Asus ZenBook laptop, and I seem to have some maintenance responsibilities. I have tried to find Linux equivalents for all of the software she uses regularly, but have not been able to port her library management system (BookCAT), and catalogue of almost 4 000 paper books to anything open-source. I find Windows 10 not just complex, but also confusing, and grade it frosty.

I have also used MacOS, in the 1990s when we owned up to several different Apple Macintoshes, then at school in the early 2000s, when I was teaching Media and Communication. Most recently, I used it when I inherited a MacBook Pro from my kind daughter, along with an iPhone 5S in 2015. I liked the operating system, and ranked it balmy, slightly above Windows XP. Yet, vendor lock-in prevents me from ranking it any hotter, and from going out and buying anything with an Apple label. Walt Mossberg provides an overview of developments at Apple, over the past forty years.

Regretfully, I am an experienced Acer ChromeBook 11 user. This system receives the grade of frozen, if only because it refused to play sound with Firefox. It also had several other faults, so that one year and one day after purchasing it, I gave it away. Chrome OS essentially functions as a host for Google’s other products where all files and folders are stored in Google’s cloud. It exists solely so that Google can offer software-as-a-service (SaaS). Its vendor lock-in is far worse than Apple’s. This insight partially rehabilitated Apple in my eyes.

Microsoft with Windows 10 is, in this respect, also imitating Chrome OS. Microsoft Office 365 provides text processing/ spreadsheet/ presentation and other programs with files stored in Microsoft’s cloud. This is one reason I won’t allow it on my computers. I don’t want my personal work spread indiscriminately throughout the world, and I would have no idea what Microsoft is doing with it, and no guarantee that it is behaving properly.

Knots

Mathematicians and engineers at MIT have developed a mathematical model that predicts knot stability. Key properties, include the number of crossings involved and the rope segments’ direction of twist as the knot is tightened, help compare the strength of different knots.

A Granny knot, famous for slipping (above), and a Reef knot (below). The Reef knot is at least 4 000 years old. Its name dates from at least 1794 and originates from its common use to reef sails. (Artwork: PAR on wikimedia)

With the new model any two knots – even those that are almost identical – can be compared and the model will determine which one is better.

Over centuries people have empirically known which knots are better for which purposes. The model explains why.

Researchers were able to identify characteristics that determine a knot’s stability (counting rules). A knot is stronger if it has more strand crossings and changes in the direction of rotation from one strand segment to another (twist fluctuations). If a fiber segment is rotated to the left at one crossing and to the right at a neighbouring crossing, twist fluctuations and opposing friction will occur as the knot is tightened. These add stability to the knot. If segments are rotated in the same direction at two neighbouring crossing, there is no twist fluctuation. The strand is more likely to rotate, slip, and produce a weaker knot.

Counting rules explain why a reef knot is stronger than a granny knot: The reef knot has a higher number of twist fluctuations, making it a more stable configuration.

For further information, please see the source article.