No Minister

Posts Tagged ‘Technology

It would not have been possible…

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… in my youthful years for a song from 1934 to suddenly land in a #1 chart spot in 1977, even for a day.

It would have been incomprehensible. The laughter and scoffing from my peers, and the radio DJ’s and record shop owners, would have been more than sufficient to prevent such a thing.

Yet the equivalent happened just the other day when the single Dreams, a huge hit for Fleetwood Mac in 1977, hit #1 on the US iTunes daily streaming chart:

‘Dreams’ has been streamed a whopping 8.47 million times in the US in the last week alone, which beats the previous high of 3.83 million in September. The song returned to the UK charts last week and was sitting at Number 85.

And it helped to also surge the monster album, Rumours, from which the single originally came:

The band’s legendary Rumours album reentered the US Top 40 for the first time since 2013 and was sitting at Number 27, while in the UK it was at Number 22.

Even more extraordinary was what was driving this; a TikTok compiled by one Nathan Apodaca, (aka Doggface208) who videoed himself skateboarding with just a phone while swigging from a bottle of cranberry juice and apparently just enjoying life. He must have been singing the song and then decided to add the music before uploading it for the usual ultra-short TikTok video.

It’s hard to say why this took off. As one commentator said, “This is a whole vibe“. There have already been parodies, including a Canadian guy chugging from a bottle of Maple Syrup.

And to make it truly strange, this is all happening while vinyl records make their comeback as well, as I wrote about here with, Our Retro Future. But obviously it’s not just the old technology that’s retro with new music but modern technology that has pulled the music of the past into the present.

Yet is it just the technology? This song and album predate iPods and MP3 players, let alone the world of iTunes and Spotify streaming. It’s from the tape and vinyl era, so there has to be something cultural about this as well, otherwise we would have already seen songs from the 1930’s, originally pressed in little vinyl singles, also getting streamed, and we’re not.

Perhaps it’s just that the people of that time did not have the technology to retain and then constantly play the music of their era around the house in the presence of their children, as parents like me have done from the start. My kids have hoovered up a ton of “my” music from the 1980’s into their playlists: it’s a little strange to pass one of their bedrooms and hear the booming, clashing, sounds of Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart, with the dulcet tones of Ian Curtis, as well as countless other tunes from a time before they were born.

Admittedly I’ve also used iTunes to access a past my parents may have known about but never passed on to me, as I enjoy Frank Sinatra, Elle Fitzgerald, The Andrews Sisters and others from the 40’s that I would never have listened to as a teenager.

But to my Gen Z kids this great cultural and generational mashup is all perfectly normal, as two of them told me:

We’re culturally vibrant 😉. I choose to see this as the beginnings of a cultural reawakening.

And…

Listen, that song is a banger, as my peers would say. I would just like you to know that the Tik Toks have that song because people my age love it, not the other way around

Turns out that Mr Apodaca lives in a RV that can’t move and which has no running water. And yet he’s living the dream and the makers of that juice gave him a new truck the other day, while strangers on the Internet rang up thousands of dollars of fundraising for him on PayPal.

It underscores the notion that Stevieness is accessible to us all.

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Written by Tom Hunter

October 10, 2020 at 4:42 pm

Connected Rabbitholes

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Just an interesting tidbit of information that I stumbled across.

Funny how most of us don’t bother investigating the stories behind the things in our everyday world. Nothing to be embarrassed about there of course as we all live lives that constrain such research. It’s one of the things that I love about the Internet, and to certain extent, Wikipedia; that the rabbit holes you can plunge down end up connecting in ways you didn’t expect.

And from aforesaid Wiki….Bluetooth:

Name:

The name Bluetooth is an Anglicised version of the Scandinavian Blåtand/Blåtann (Old Norse blátǫnn), the epithet of the tenth-century king Harald Bluetooth who united dissonant Danish tribes into a single kingdom. The implication is that Bluetooth unites communication protocols.[12]

The idea for this name was proposed in 1997 by Jim Kardach of Intel, who developed a system that would allow mobile phones to communicate with computers.[13] At the time of this proposal he was reading Frans G. Bengtsson‘s historical novel The Long Shipsabout Vikings and King Harald Bluetooth.[14][15]

Logo

The Bluetooth logo  is a bind rune merging the Younger Futhark runes  (ᚼ, Hagall) and  (ᛒ, Bjarkan), Harald’s initials.[16][17]

James Burke

Which reminds me that there was a BBC TV series running in the late 1970’s called Connections, which delved into this sort of thing. It was created and hosted by a science writer called James Burke.

It took an interdisciplinary approach to the history of science and invention, and demonstrated how various discoveries, scientific achievements, and historical world events were built from one another successively in an interconnected way to bring about particular aspects of modern technology. The series was noted for Burke’s crisp and enthusiastic presentation (and dry humour), historical re-enactments, and intricate working models.

Ha, and more results from rabbithole diving. From the same link it seems that in the concluding episodes Burke explored corollaries to his interconnected approach:

If history progresses because of the synergistic interaction of past events and innovations, then as history does progress, the number of these events and innovations increases. This increase in possible connections causes the process of innovation to not only continue, but also to accelerate. Burke poses the question of what happens when this rate of innovation, or more importantly ‘change’ itself, becomes too much for the average person to handle, and what this means for individual power, liberty, and privacy.

And as Burke predicted, those questions seem a lot more potent now, more than forty years after his TV series aired, as does the following:

Lastly, if the entire modern world is built from these interconnected innovations, all increasingly maintained and improved by specialists who required years of training to gain their expertise, what chance does the average citizen without this extensive training have in making an informed decision on practical technological issues, such as the building of nuclear power plants or the funding of controversial projects such as stem cell research? Furthermore, if the modern world is increasingly interconnected, what happens when one of those nodes collapses? Does the entire system follow suit?

On that last I would say no. Interconnected nodal systems have a better chance of surviving, although the adaptations required may be a shock to the “nodes”. It is, after all, the basic idea behind the Internet, as developed by DARPA back in the late 1960’s for building a military computer system that could survive a large-scale nuclear attack; the system continues to work as nodes are destroyed, even many nodes.

Of course there is also this Dystopian future of decision-making, although it’s usually portrayed as unwilling humans grudgingly agreeing or fighting back, rather than the take Calvin & Hobbes have on the matter. And remember that this cartoon is way pre-Facebook, let alone Twitter, Tumblr, and the rest.

Written by Tom Hunter

August 17, 2020 at 11:38 am

Posted in Technology

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The Lady of the Skies

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The other day Qantas joined Air New Zealand and other airlines in retiring the last of its Boeing 747’s.

Probably the most famous commercial airliner in the world today and one of the most famous in history, the big four-engined bird had simply run into the reality of technological obsolescence and economics, hardly surprising for a plane that first flew over fifty years ago in the late 1960’s.

Advances in jet engines meant that two-engined planes were now reliable over the vast distances that were formerly only entrusted to the four engined 747. It’s been an incremental transfer, with the trans-Atlantic flights being taken first almost two decades ago, but eventually even the longest flights in the world – such as the Auckland-Doha flight I took last year on Qatar Airways (14,500km, 17 hours) – were mastered by the likes of the Boeing 777 and Airbus A350.

In addition to having four engines, its design age and military crossover capabilities that resulted in a heavy, rugged airframe, meant that the 747 just could not cut it anymore in terms of fuel efficiency, the No.1 cost of airlines. Upgrade tweaks, such as the wingtip airfoils added two decades ago, had also reached their end.

The first manufactured 747 on the Seattle factory floor, 1968

Probably half the trips I’ve done have been on the 747, including the classic Air New Zealand, London-Auckland flight. Funnily enough the first time I ever flew one was on a domestic flight from Christchurch to Auckland! Having flown to the USA a couple of times on them even my two oldest kids expressed a little regret when Air NZ announced they were retiring the planes a few years ago.

And I’m going to miss them as well. There was just something about the 747. Its iconic look evolved from the 707; that bulbous top where sat Business and First Class passengers; the sheer feeling of extra safety derived from having four engines, as well as its safety history, including surviving incidents that would have blown lesser planes out of the sky.

The last 747 flight Qantas decided to send out was a freight flight, which is what they’ll be used for over the next couple of decades until wear and tear condemns the last of them to the scrapyards. But Qantas decided to exit with some flair for the old girl, even if it was only visible to the watchers of sites like FlightAware.

Written by Tom Hunter

July 30, 2020 at 10:13 am

Posted in Aerospace

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Past Tech – Future Tech

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Steampunk Art: Victorian woman never looked this hot.

If the following two photos look like something out of a Steampunk SF movie, with the sub-genre’s Victorian mix of the mechanical and the electrical, then that should not be a surprise.

David Kolbasovsky, Metrolinx manager, pulls the control levers

What you’re looking at is a mechanical-electrical system used to control train movements in the Toronto Terminals Railway (TTR), Canada’s largest rail passenger facility.

In 2019.

And while not Victorian it is 1920s technology that has been controlling trains at the TTR since 1932 when it was installed. The equipment has worked 24 hours a day, 365 days a year ever since. It’s a technological wonder every bit as impressive as any modern computer system.

K-type glass relays mounted on oiled wooden boards

As the Metrolinx blog explains:

(TTR) train movement directors spend their shifts inside the John Street tower, pulling and pushing black and red levers that line the outside of [a large metal locker]. As they do this, they listen for double-clicks that signal a lever is in the right position to send a train along the correct route.

[inside the locker] every wire has a path running through holes listed alphabetically and by the numbers, before connecting into a puzzling maze of more energy panels.

And from there, those sporadic pulses move outside three old brick towers built in downtown Toronto to 180 signals and 250 track switches that dictate the movement of 900 train trips – from GO to freight to UP Express to VIA Rail – travelling daily along the 6.4 kilometres that make up Union Station’s rail corridor.

The system mid-20th century showing the controls

It’s an extraordinary system that has been foolproof, which is why it has continued to be used even though it was probably obsolete even fifty years ago.

However, time has finally caught up with it. The interlocker was bespoke to the physical design of the TTR,  so any change and expansion in that setup would mean designing a entirely new interlocking system – and nobody is going to do that now when computers can do more for less money.

Not to mention that making spare parts for this system is almost impossible now, though that’s also been the case with a few computer systems from the 1970’s that I’ve analysed over the years; they also still worked fine after forty years but there were no more spare parts, which forced complete replacements of the hardware, if not the software.

Same here: a new computer control system is being built to manage the train movements in the TTR and it should not be an issue since its fairly standard around the world. When it will start and this old system is finally shut down is still to be decided but probably no later than 2020.

And the development of computer technology itself rolls forward – and SkyNet smiles:

Written by Tom Hunter

December 19, 2019 at 12:47 am

Posted in New Zealand

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Our Retro Future

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The classic look of a music lover’s wall

A decade ago, while on holiday in Chicago, I spent a lazy afternoon just wandering with my two oldest kids through various hipster shops in the neighbourhood of my sister-in-law.


In one of these shops I was astounded to find a vinyl record of an album and single that was then big in the charts.

The artist was called La Roux and the single was Bulletproof.

Seeing brand-new vinyl pressings of classic albums and artists was one thing: I figured there were enough old Baby Boomers left  who still had great turntables and equipment and loved that vinyl sound.

But this was a new artist!

Some investigation revealed that vinyl was making a bit of a comeback with Millennials. How could this be I thought? Like almost everyone else I’d begun switching to music CD’s as soon as they were available in the mid-1980’s – and as soon as I could afford the then hellishly expensive CD players.

I had mixed success with early CD’s as it depended on the production values: a mid-80’s CD of Led Zeppelin’s Houses of The Holy being a particular example of excerable production as it was simply pushed out the door as fast as possible to take advantage of the rapidly rising sales of the new medium. The digital conversion process had been bloody awful.

By contrast, the production of Donald Fagen’s album The Nightfly was fantastic right from the start, likely because even when released as vinyl in 1982 it had been digitally recorded, one of the earliest examples of the technology’s use in music. Hardly a surprise given Fagen’s history with Steely Dan, who were always known for paying lavish attention to the detail of their music and pushing production quality to the limits of current technology.

As the overall quality improved and prices for CD’s and players dropped, CD sales grew rapidly and by 1990 they exceeded vinyl. From there it was all downhill for the old format. Although my friends and I did not miss the scratches and clicks of vinyl records, we noted that album cover art was just not the same on the smaller medium of CD’s: one part of the music experience gone. Not to mention the sleeve notes: I have fond memories of discovering the words – I think on David Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album – “TO BE PLAYED AT MAXIMUM VOLUME”.

With the coming of iTunes in 2001, the stage was set for the next music revolution. I ripped my CD’s onto the computer as fast as possible, and bought an iPod, mainly for car travel. Jump forward another decade and the rapidly increasing speed and accessibility of the Web, combined with the advent of music streaming sites such as Spotify, rendered even computer disc drives obsolete as people paid a monthly rental fee to access literally tens of millions of songs.

This was basically three generations beyond vinyl. And then a funny thing happened around the same time as Spotify. People, particularly people in their late teens/early twenties, started buying vinyl records. And in the strange alchemy that is the marketplace – perhaps based on word-of-mouth – young musicians began to insist on their albums being produced on vinyl too!

In 2014, more than 13 million vinyl long-playing albums, or LPs for short, were sold in America.
… the last time it has seen such high LP sales was a quarter century ago, in 1989. At that time, nearly 35 million LPs were sold.

And now here we are in 2019 with this report from NME (New Musical Express):

Last year’s RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] report revealed that CD sales are dying three times as fast as vinyl sales are growing, and it’s more of the same in this year’s.

The new report states that vinyl records earned $224.1 million (from 8.6 million units) in the first half of 2019. This figure is impressively close to the CD numbers ($247.9 million, 18.6 million units).

It’s somewhat amusing to read about the impact on the industrial processes demanded by an old physical product:

The plant machines are some 40 years old, and have been refurbished by Dave Miller, the plant manager. Miller said the technology hasn’t changed much at all in that time. Each record takes about 25 to 40 seconds to make. The process includes molding and heating vinyl up to 350 degrees and hitting it with about 100 tons of pressure on the press. Each record is then listened to individually before being packaged and shipped.

“It’s still heat and compression,” Miller said. “Digital timers and things like that have come into play, but really nothing has changed.”

The equipment’s age, however, can sometimes be problematic. “When stuff breaks you have to either redesign it and have it reworked or remanufactured.

Heh!

But why is this happening? Why is a generation that had almost no exposure to this ancient medium, turning to it?

“Digital strips out the tangibility of music. It really is just a file, and a record is such a great tangible piece. It’s something you can hold, something you can touch, something you can listen to in a way that just putting something on your computer doesn’t [compare to],”

The process of purchasing a vinyl record, buying a record player, and sliding a vinyl record out of its sleeve is somewhat of a powerful experience; particularly if you are a serious music fan.
“In an increasingly digital age, vinyl records can provide a deeper, tactile connection to music that resonates with some of the biggest fans,”

The Clean: Boodle Boodle Boodle

Makes sense. When people talk of the aesthetic aspects of music the simple physical nature of vinyl seems to count for a lot.

Given all this I’m glad I held on to some of my old vinyl albums. I ditched the mainstream ones, but the NZ bands of the 1980’s that I grew up with – especially the small EP’s and obscure compilation albums – I knew I had to hang on to.

I’ve noted that some of these have gone to digital, even something as unknown as the 1985 single Thread of Gold by Turiiya, has turned up on iTunes.

More Songs About Buildings and Food

But at this rate I may buy a record player, just so I can finally play an LP that has sat in my closet for a quarter of a century.

A wedding gift from a friend who found it in some record store in LA in the early 90’s,  it’s a one-time pressing of studio recordings by Talking Heads.

It was done sometime between the eras of More Songs About Buildings and Food in 1978 and and Remain in Light in 1980.

Remain in Light

I’ve no idea what I’m going to hear.

It could be great or it could be crap.

But whatever the case, when I flip that album sleeve between my fingers, carefully extract the record, lay it gently on the turntable, and softly drop the diamond needle into the grooves, I’ll be reliving some long-ago moments with great friends.

And I’ll also have the satisfaction of knowing that I’m not nostalgically alone, as millions of Millenials and Gen Z’s do the same.

Written by Tom Hunter

October 8, 2019 at 12:00 am

More Amazing Technology

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Amazon has opened it’s first ‘staff free’ shop in Seattle.   There are no check outs.  You simply walk in, put what you want into your bag and walk out without speaking to a person or scanning a bar code.

This is a peep into the future of shopping and it should make the sphincters of Matt McCarten and his ilk quiver because there’s nobody in the joint who needs a union.  Not only that but there’s no such thing as a ‘minimum wage.’

Customers download an app onto their phones, which they then scan at turnstiles upon entering the store. As they shop, hundreds of cameras watch them from above, monitoring what they pick up, put down, and put in their bags. As soon as someone picks up an item from the shelf it is added to their virtual cart. If they put it back again, it is immediately removed.
When customers are done shopping, they simply leave the store with their items. Their Amazon account is charged, a receipt is sent immediately to their phone, and they’re on their way. 



Apparently there might be one person in the place to look after refilling shelves which have eluded the robots.

Written by adolffinkensen

January 28, 2018 at 10:32 am

Posted in New Zealand

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Amazing Technology

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Today I was listening to a long Youtube recording, ‘The best of Tchaikovsky’ when I heard a piece of music I had never heard before.  A haunting and poignant violin piece.  Because it was in the middle of a collection, I didn’t know what it was.

My daughter’s ‘man’ turned up and said “I’ll find out what it is for you.’  To understand my disbelief, I need to tell you his taste in what passes for music these days is philistine.  He dangled his smartphone in front of the laptop and after six seconds announced, ‘It’s the violin concerto in D major.’

Here it is, for your enjoyment.

Written by adolffinkensen

January 24, 2018 at 10:09 am

Posted in New Zealand

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