Slingshotting around the Sun? Grasping the Oberth Effect

A Washington Post article talked about getting to interstellar rocketry by slingshotting around the Sun. I understood the idea of slingshotting required a planet or a moon– something that was orbiting something else because you are taking some of that acceleration of the planet for your rocket. Indeed this is called “Gravity Assist,” so what is this slingshotting around the Sun?  Well, this is where you get the Oberth Effect. The idea is you go really fast by getting close to the sun, burning your fuel, and you will go much faster even after you slow down again having left the proximity of the Sun.

But after reading and rereading the wikipedia article, talking with my mates, watching a youtube video I still did not get an intuitive grasp of it– in fact it seems to break the rule of conservation of energy. How could blasting your fuel while going faster make you go faster?  I think I have an approach to see how it makes sense, in general, but does not bring us to equations.

A rocket works by throwing exhaust out the back at high speed, thus pushing the rocket forward. For a given amount of fuel, you throw it out (relatative to the rocket) at a certain speed and certain weight to become the exhaust thus pushing the rocket forward with a certain amount of force.

Let’s say the fuel is thrown out the back at a certain speed, V. If you do this while standing still, the fuel goes one way at speed almost V and the rocket goes the other. If the rocket is moving at speed V, then throws the burnt fuel out the back (say it does it all at once for simplicity), then exhaust will be standing still and the rocket moving faster than it was.

The first case is like in a swimming pool you push against a floaty to go one way– the floaty goes the other way. The second case can be seen as you are in a swimming pool and you push just as hard, but you are pushing against the wall. The wall goes nowhere, and you go faster across the pool.

You would push against a wall if you could. And by speeding up the rocket you are effectively doing that. Same force, but the floaty goes the other way vs the wall which stays still. When you push against the wall you go faster in the direction you want to go.

In the rocket case, we have to get the rocket to go the speed of the exhaust V, and not take any energy to do that. The way the rocket is speed up is by “borrowing speed” by accelerating towards the sun. The sun accelerates both the rocket and the fuel it will burn equally– this is that tricky thing in high school physics where a feather and a bowling ball fall at the same rate (if there is no air resistance). So the sun pulls both in, the rocket and fuel are going really fast, say V, then the rocket blasts out the rocket fuel leaving it behind, and then decelerates as it leaves the sun. If the rocket got up to speed V, then the net effect is that instead of the rocket throwing its exhaust backwards, it would go nowhere, thus being the wall it pushed against.

The rocket decelerates as it leaves because of the gravity of the sun is pulling it back, but it is getting less force because it weighs less because it burned fuel. Again, this is that tricky bit about the feather and bowling ball. So the Sun applied more force to the rocket+fuel on the way in than on just the rocket on the way out. Another way of seeing how this effect works.

At least this makes sense to me. The effect is caused by the sun accelerating the rocket+fuel, then when the rocket blasts out its spent fuel, the exhaust is not going in the opposite direction as much, thereby offering more of a push to the rocket, even after it is decelerated.

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Lyft took 50% of the fare from the driver this morning

Going to the airport this morning, I took a Lyft for $46. It us usually less, but it was rush hour, and still less than a taxi (usually $65) and more reliable than a taxi. The driver was cheerful, been driving for Lyft/Uber for a year and a half, and it was in a Chevy Bolt, so we were driving an electric car. I got there before it predicted, and all was good.

But I looked at the driver’s phone after we got out and it showed she made $23. Yikes. This does not seem fair.

The driver said that after Uber and Lyft went public, the “take” they were taking from the drivers went up.

50% is too high a fee for Lyft. The only higher fees I know are what book publishers take from authors.

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FasTrack (wireless highway toll-takers) that are not creepy? Yes, possible.

In the old days, paying a highway toll meant I paid with cash often a tossing a quarter in a basket or smiling at a toll-taker and handing over a dollar. But now I get to speed through.

To do this, do I really need to have my license plate photographed? Do I need to hide my FasTrak in a conductive bag to keep from getting tracked other places on the highway without my permission? Do I need to have my every bridge crossing be logged into a database somewhere?

As a thought experiment: how do we high toll takers that are automated but not privacy invasive?   If we can figure this out, can we go on to make it happen?

Features I want, and maybe all of us want:

  1. Speed through toll booths and paying the right toll
  2. Able to deal with cars that have a device and ones don’t
  3. Easy to refill the device with money as needed
  4. Not be tracked any more than dropping a quarter in a basket (not creepy)

Goal 2 means that if the toll does not detect the car’s device, then we need to track it somehow and bill the owner. Currently this is done by photographing the license plate and sending a bill.  I do not have a way around this, do you

But if the car has a transponder then the car can put out a signal to pay the toll. I think with crypto-currencies, especially zcash, we have all the technology we need.

Basically the device would hold a key to the money I had transferred to it. Then the device would recieve and transmit a bunch of numbers to the toll as it was passing through, just as the current FasTrak does, but instead of saying the account number in the FasTrak, it would offer to pay the required toll by transferring the money into the government’s account. This could be done quickly, inexpensively, securely, and privately– all with technology that is currently here and open source.

Does this do the trick?

We need a low transaction cost billing system because tolls are low so the fee should be a small percentage of the toll. Currently it is 3% to 5% cost because of the visa card transaction to refill my FasTrack account. Bitcoin is often 7 cents per transaction, and zcash is much less than a penny. So current Bitcoin would work, but other systems are a better fit for this. But this works: check.

If the toll booth could detect if the payment was good and valid quickly enough then it would not need to take a picture in those cases. If the transaction is too slow for this (like current bitcoin), then the picture might have to be taken, but can be deleted when the transaction is complete, say in 30 minutes.

In terms of putting money into the account, this can be done from dollars, or credit cards, or crypto in any of a large number of proven wallets and websites. So that seems easy.

So cryptocurrency, bitcoin, etherium, or zcash can make a highway toll-takers more efficient than they are now.

Wouldn’t it be great if an early widespread use of crypto was to make our highways more efficient and less creepy?

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Amazon.com Charging Me 43% More Than Another Customer

Same product, same vendor, to same address, same day, same shipping, same billing address, but different customer, different price $8.63 vs $12.37. 43% higher price for me than for the Internet Archive. In fact I checked the price for me an hour before and the day after the Internet Archive bought it, so I do not think it is the vendor changing the price by this much.

Below are the receipt for the Internet Archive, offer to me, and offer to my home business account (same price as the Internet Archive). Turns out I stumbled upon “Business Pricing.” It’s a “feature.” Business Prime costs $179/year, as opposed to consumer Prime for $99/year.

Yikes. Shakes my confidence, and seems like we could be on our way to “redlining.”

What price to do you see for https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0089PBTV2 ?

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Hiring teams in addition to hiring individuals?

I am wondering if the Internet Archive, and tech orgs more generally, could effectively hire teams in addition to hiring individuals.  I am thinking of 4 or 5 people that could work effectively with each other, be remote from HQ, but be really “hired” in the sense that they assimilate and integrate with the rest of the organization.  I have not tried this, so this is just random thoughts at this point.

Acquisitions usually fail, they say, and I have seen failure– culture mismatch, too much redundancy, so lots of loss.  The new term “acquihire” is interesting, so people are trying to hire functional groups, but so much is loss

What if a group defines themselves as a team and goes out to be hired.  They interview as if they were an individual– talking to managers in an organization to find out if there is skill, temperament, salary match etc.  If the team is hired, then it is trained by the org, and such, and then operates as a “super individual” for the first year or so. Built into the team can be different skills, maybe: communicator/manager, tech lead, prodmgr/testing, senior and junior dev.

What problem am I trying to solve?  Well there are several:

How to grow a tech company to meet a sudden opportunity: so you get funding, a grant, increased revenue– how do you grow?   Some big companies acquire other companies, but those teams often do not integrate well, take a long time to deal with and are expensive.  Most organizations hire individuals, maybe this would be effective step up from this system.

How to be effective remote workers:  San Francisco is a tough place to move to, but what if a team operating in another area or another country but then went to job hunt in San Francisco, and did some training there, but then mostly lived and worked in their home location. They could learn from each other to bring up younger workers and can recruit to replace people in their team. To integrate with other people and teams in the organization they should switch people’s projects otherwise silos could solidify.  This team would then really work for the organization, not just for the team.

How to teach younger workers in a remote workforce: I learned by watching and working closely with others– I think we all do. Doing that over a network can only go so far. Teams can have junior and senior people in it, people that know how to work together well and have the bonds to bring each other up.

The communications issues can ease management issues with remote workers: some people are better coders than communicators, but good communications is essential in remote work, and in modern tech work in general.  What if the team had a mix of different skill sets?

Robustness, resilience:  each team can handle their recruiting, training, and rejuvenation– each job function could be shared between people, so if any one leaves, there are those that can fill in. Key is that the team would not pick up and leave all together otherwise the organization is super stuck.  If longevity with the organization can be counted on, and the company resists the temptation to fire a full team at once, then this can be a big advantage.

Team formation can be a local phenomenon— maybe a team forms in hacker spaces, around schools, or in companies that are downsizing and then they market themselves as a unit. Maybe teams are created in outsourcing company somewhere.  It is possible that a team in a remote country could cost the same as an engineer in San Francisco.

—-
The Internet Archive has successful teams working as scanning centers around the world, so it works for this task.  Can it work for tech groups? Don’t know but maybe we should try.

Have you tried anything like this?

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Kronos 60

Short story by brewster kahle, 2019 [pdf, googledoc]

Now running, he had never seen the campus cops get aggressive before. Something clicked– he could now see how it could happen, how it was happening to him– he was questioning, even doubting, those he had looked up to, learned from. Now he was told to just obey and he didn’t like it.

What had actually happened was pretty tame from what he was reading in the papers of what was going on other places, but it was something about coming to his campus.

In the morning, his friends in the dorm had convinced him to help prepare for the anti-war protest in the afternoon. This meant that he would have to skip work at the campus hotel, call in sick or something, which was a transgression he was not comfortable with. He was happy with his studies, learning a lot and at high speed, but letting his boss down at the hotel, and having to lie was outside a Mainer’s comfort zone.

But he let his friends win out, making signs, listening to the new music, was more exciting than setting up people’s rooms in the hotel. Hendrix was his favorite—there was something raw and burning that brought it all home to him even though he was in a nice green isolated campus in Vermont on a spring day.

He had read the New York Times in the morning, but he was finding the mimeographed underground fliers more riveting, but more importantly, more true. But “true” might be overstating it–they reported events going on at other campuses in very different ways. What was true was starting to be a bit hard to figure out. The debates on perspectives and underrepresented voices were always understandable but, frankly, a bit abstract compared to sitting down and having to reconcile these different newspapers when he did not have a god’s eye of history to say, “oh, yes, I knew it all along, it really happened this way.” He was just confused. He knew they were not winning the war, but what about the kids at the University of Wisconsin– did the cops really let loose on them for doing, well nothing much? Or was it actually as insignificant as the small piece implied in the New York Times saying some activists were stirring trouble? It was these small issues that helped him the most in understanding from the confusion, by being confused, about what is right or wrong; what is true or exaggerated; how this generation could come to question the fabric that had coddled them.

So he brought his copy of Electric Ladyland that could now legitimately be taken out of the library since last week. He loved his turntable in the dorm living room, where he could turn it up, maybe a bit too loud.

He was the self-appointed music aficionado in his dorm and got to know the music librarian pretty well. The collection was pretty good too, he tried to keep himself to the new-releases display and took to reading Rolling Stone and getting into waiting for things to be put out, usually on Thursdays. It was then that he could take them home and listen there. It was much more satisfying to crank it on the hi-fi than sitting in a little carrel with headphones on. He liked the suspense of waiting for the new releases. 1968 was a good year for music, he thought, and it was bringing together his love of music with the politics and issues that he was waking up to. His program on the campus radio station had gathered more listeners throughout the year, and he was given the best slot, after dinner, because he would play music but also talk about happenings at other campuses that most did not know about. A little bit of context never hurt anyone and if he kept it short, got back to the music, people seemed to even like his historical banter.

Some of his friends really got into the movies, putting on nightly shows once they got the hang of the projectors. It was a bit hit-or-miss since they often had not even seen the movie before they put it on for other students. But it all worked out.

They rarely got to see TV, but they had gathered in the library around the small set last week to see the reporting of Democratic National Convention in Chicago. A police riot is what the underground sheets were saying, but the Chicago Tribute was saying it was provocateurs, and maybe foreign ones, that were disturbing the peace and not respecting the democratic process.

“Glad you decided to come, Bryce” said Ava with a mischievous smile, “or should I call you ‘Moon Child’?” He smiled back, a bit awkwardly, somewhat because he was not comfortable with the monikers, or nom-de-guerre that some of the others are adopting, but mostly because he is feeling guilty about the hotel. “Thanks, Ava, I think this will be fun.”

“What did you bring for us today?” she asked looking at the colorful cardboard square under his arm. Bryce brightened up. “Hendrix came out with a double album that is perfect… perfect for the day, but also perfect for me right around now.” Ava nodded, the deviousness gone, and said, “yes, for me too, I am starting to get it, it has taken me a long time.” Bryce shot back, “Oh, you have always been more accepting of the moment, more in the moment than I have been. I think that is because you are from the city where the media has always been important to you in shaping your world. But up north, we take time in the woods and on the sea, and everything seems to be a bit more, you know, rooted.” “Oh, stop philosophizing and put on the record, we have signs to make.”

“Uh, where did you get the paints and cardboard, Ava?” and now her smart aleck smile returned. “Oh, the Art teacher is an artist herself so she understands if some of the supplies disappear, and besides I think she might be coming to the protest– she is into it.” Bryce looked a bit puzzled, and asked, “are the teachers allowed to come to a protest and one that we have not cleared with the administration?” “Allowed?” Ava pondered, “hadn’t thought of it, yes, I guess she could get in trouble.” Bryce’s expression of “well, yeah” and a bit of fear communicated better to Ava what was at stake. They were breaking rules, skipping work, stealing supplies. In some measure being caught up in the moment, in another measure it was wrestling with the issues inside– they had nothing against the college and certainly didn’t want to get their Art teacher in trouble. “Are you doubting this, Moon Child?” Bryce looked down and tried to think of what he wanted on his sign.

Grateful Dead music poured out of the Kronos College 60 Quad as Ava and Bryce entered. Colorful dresses, flowy skirts and handmade signs all seemed like a party. The Bronze statue of the Founder of Kronos had been given an afro wig and colorful shirt. The large letters of the motto on the statue that said “Grow” had had a painted addition so it now said, “Grow Free.”

But looking over towards the administration building there was a row of men in blue in formation and looking… dangerous, with billy clubs across their backs. Bryce and Ava wondered if there were that many cops on campus and they looked closely at the faces. Bryce said: “That is my boss, Mr. Stills, from the Hotel, what is he doing here?” Bryce walked towards him, but there was no eye engagement at all. Bryce could not figure out the look in his face– was Mr. Stills happy about being there, or a bit afraid of being there?

The student president started off his speech with a ponderous argument against the war, but was drowned out pretty fast with chants of “hell no, we won’t go” and people rushing the stage. He could not even finish his speech and was taken over by a disorganized sequence of Buddhist chants, tirades about mistreatment of American Indians, and even a Dylan lookalike trying to get everyone to sing together.

A change in tone came abruptly when a tall older man, not a student and not from around there, started talking about the school and the role it plays in supporting the power structure. He launched into it: “How could a college that is focused on history, on looking back, when there are big problems to solve. THEY said THEY would make a better world, but THEY didn’t. Why re-learn their mistakes when we need new ideas and action to address the future.“

The speaker then pointed at the administration building shouted “There, that is where the puppet masters work, that is where the real power lies, and lie it does! If we are really going to make a change it is not going to be complaining about a distant Washington, it will be remaking our school to be relevant.” The students were starting to get riled and pumping up and down their signs. “Now, who is with me? Who will take on the administration and take over this campus?”

And this is when the shouting started. The microphone went dead. The students were now a mob with different people calling out directions. “On to the administration building!” and the row of campus cops, in unison, came to attention. Bryce did not like where this was going, but was feeling the crush of students goading themselves on towards the cops.

Bryce, now 20 feet off from the line, made eye contact with Mr Stills who looked stern and frightened. Breaking role, Mr. Stills shook his head, looked straight at Bryce, and called: “Leave. Leave Now. Run.”

And Bryce and Ava ran. They ran out of the Quad and the day snapped back into a beautiful spring day, but they were shaken. They did not know what to do or where to go, so they went to the library, where Bryce always felt safe.


Collapsed into the chairs in the music section, Bryce and Ava did not speak. Carol the librarian came over and smiled in as calming of a way as she could. Bryce implored, “Is it always this way, does this always happen?”. “No, no it is never the same. 1968 was a cataclysm and it unfolds differently for different classes– never the same, but always deeply affecting.”

In the library, they were allowed to come out of period, see the bigger picture, read from the future, and it gave Carol, and all librarians, a special role in the student’s lives. She continued, “Each Kronos College class’s 1960s reflects the students’ real-life backgrounds and their group dynamics– always the 60’s but a different slice. Some classes, when they get to 1968, they are much more into the hippy thing, the drugs, the awakening. There is something about your class that has always been attuned to the politics. Even last September, your 1960 month, your class was completely engaged in the election and the buildup of atomic weapons. The Cuban Missile crisis of 1961 hit you guys very hard, if you remember.”

Bryce and Ava had now caught their breaths, helped by someone to pull them out of the intensity in the Quad to put it in some perspective. Carol went on, “Your class is asking the right questions, though, and really staying in the moment– this is not easy for everyone to do. 1968 was very intense even on small college campuses. Compressing 1968 down to one month is a headspin that is difficult to take. Assassinations, the draft, Saigon… Sometimes I wish we could spend a full year in 1968– there is so much and so many perspectives. Think about villagers in Vietnam, student riots in Paris, and later, as the song says ‘4 dead in O-hi-o’”.

“I just hope no one gets hurt out there,” Carol mumbled under her breath.


The next morning Bryce went early to the Hotel to apologize, but Mr. Stills put him right at ease. He said he understood the torment, excitement, and rebellion. “I was a Kronos 60 student once, you know, I know 1968, I know it well.” Mr. Stills went on, “For me, I got caught up and got hurt, not from a billy club, but by acting in ways I am not proud of, not proud of to this day. But I think I learned a great deal about the times and myself. If I could be swept into these things, I can just imagine what it was like to be a confused college kid in the real 1968– graduating meant getting drafted. All pretty real.”

Bryce was relieved and thankful, but then looked quizzical– “but you were a cop yesterday…” “Yes,” Mr. Stills answered slowly, “it is not an easy job, but the school needs us to take different ones at different times. It is tough, most of us want to be on your side.” He paused, “and it is not clear exactly where things will go, each year is different. It used to be much more student-run, but over the years, or should I say decades, we have learned that things can get pretty out of hand.”

“Now please set up your rooms for the incoming visitors, we have 20 coming for this week, and they bring in a lot of the real-life money we need to keep Kronos debt free. We have new sets of clothes because we are at the end of 1968 and the fashions were widely varying and changing quickly. Most of the guests like the hippy garb, and we try to make them look as good as we can even though they usually weigh too much. But give them the other outfits in their closets, maybe they want to be a farmer or plumber instead. Oh, and make sure you change out the newspapers, magazines, and records. The joints get hidden in the teapot, the visitors are expecting that.”

Bryce and Ava had another month in the 1960s to go. Bryce was looking forward to Led Zeppelin’s first album. Ava was thinking of applying for a job as an assistant Art teacher so she could stay– she liked art nouveau– so maybe in Kronos 20, but was not sure.

Right now, 1968 was causing their heads to spin.

Causing them to Grow. Grow Free.

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As We May Think Paper (Memex) seen through eyes of the Current Web

Memex paper of Vannevar Bush, in 1945, predicted, or maybe better said inspired the computer revolution.   Doug Engelbart said it was seminal to him.  It is worth reading again.  These are my notes on reading it from the point of view of “how are we doing towards it?”    (scanned copy from Life Magazine condensed version)

Photograph everything interesting one sees, but high rez.   Television for seeing these static images at a distance.

10,000 : 1 compression by microfilming. Encyclopaedia Britannica is size of a matchbook, a million book library in an end of a desk.    (The web, Internet Archive, Google books)


Create faster by text-to-speech;  “read” by speech-to-text. (Siri)

Augmenting intellegence with computation: “For mature thought there is no mechanical substitute. But creative thought and essentially repetitive thought are very different things. For the latter there are, and may be, powerful mechanical aids.”   — hum, creative thought might be mechanically substituted?

Predicted general purpose computers… “Such machines will have enormous appetites. One of them will take instructions and data from a whole roomful of girls armed with simple key board punches, and will deliver sheets of computed results every few minutes. There will always be plenty of things to compute in the detailed affairs of millions of people doing complicated things.”

Machines to do higher logic and math. (Mathmatica)

Search: “The prime action of use is selection, and here we are halting indeed. There may be millions of fine thoughts, and the account of the experience on which they are based, all encased within stone walls of acceptable architectural form; but if the scholar can get at only one a week by diligent search, his syntheses are not likely to keep up with the current scene.  
Selection, in this broad sense, is a stone adze in the hands of a cabinetmaker. “  (Google search)

Better than indexing, association “Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of systems of indexing.   … The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. … Yet the speed of action, the intricacy of trails, the detail of mental pictures, is awe-inspiring beyond all else in nature. “ (relevance feedback, original Alexa Internet idea, related links)

The Memex:  “Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and, to coin one at random, ‘memex’ will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory.

It consists of a desk, and while it can presumably be operated from a distance, it is primarily the piece of furniture at which he works. On the top are slanting translucent screens, on which material can be projected for convenient reading. There is a keyboard, and sets of buttons and levers. Otherwise it looks like an ordinary desk.

Personal, corporate, and wide area information integrated (WAIS concepts paper, Web, Google Drive):  “Most of the memex contents are purchased on microfilm ready for insertion. Books of all sorts, pictures, current periodicals, newspapers, are thus obtained and dropped into place. Business correspondence takes the same path. And there is provision for direct entry. On the top of the memex is a transparent platen. On this are placed longhand notes, photographs, memoranda, all sorts of things. When one is in place, the depression of a lever causes it to be photographed onto the next blank space in a section of the memex film, dry photography being employed.”

Flipping through pages on a screen:  “On deflecting one of these levers to the right he runs through the book before him, each page in turn being projected at a speed which just allows a recognizing glance at each. If he deflects it further to the right, he steps through the book 10 pages at a time; still further at 100 pages at a time. Deflection to the left gives him the same control backwards.”

Annotation (not done yet, hypothosis):  “He can add marginal notes and comments, taking advantage of one possible type of dry photography, and it could even be arranged so that he can do this by a stylus scheme, such as is now employed in the telautograph seen in railroad waiting rooms, just as though he had the physical page before him.”

Linking is the important thing:  “All this is conventional, except for the projection forward of present-day mechanisms and gadgetry. It affords an immediate step, however, to associative indexing, the basic idea of which is a provision whereby any item may be caused at will to select immediately and automatically another. This is the essential feature of the memex. The process of tying two items together is the important thing.”

Annotating with links (not done yet):  “The user taps a single key, and the items are permanently joined. “

Following a link with one action: “Thereafter, at any time, when one of these items is in view, the other can be instantly recalled merely by tapping a button below the corresponding code space. “

Surfing: “The owner of the memex, let us say, is interested in the origin and properties of the bow and arrow. Specifically he is studying why the short Turkish bow was apparently superior to the English long bow in the skirmishes of the Crusades. He has dozens of possibly pertinent books and articles in his memex. First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds an interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected. Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes, building a trail of many items. Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item. When it becomes evident that the elastic properties of available materials had a great deal to do with the bow, he branches off on a side trail which takes him through textbooks on elasticity and tables of physical constants. He inserts a page of longhand analysis of his own. Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him.”

Leveraging past trails, passing them to others, adding them to the memex (Alexa Internet’s original vision, not done yet) “The owner of the memex, let us say, is interested in the origin and properties of the bow and arrow. Specifically he is studying why the short Turkish bow was apparently superior to the English long bow in the skirmishes of the Crusades. He has dozens of possibly pertinent books and articles in his memex. First he runs through an encyclopedia, finds an interesting but sketchy article, leaves it projected. Next, in a history, he finds another pertinent item, and ties the two together. Thus he goes, building a trail of many items. Occasionally he inserts a comment of his own, either linking it into the main trail or joining it by a side trail to a particular item. When it becomes evident that the elastic properties of available materials had a great deal to do with the bow, he branches off on a side trail which takes him through textbooks on elasticity and tables of physical constants. He inserts a page of longhand analysis of his own. Thus he builds a trail of his interest through the maze of materials available to him.”

Wikipedias: “Wholly new forms of encyclopedias will appear, ready made with a mesh of associative trails running through them, ready to be dropped into the memex and there amplified. “

Alternative assemblages, ala Ted Nelson’s ZigZag: “The historian, with a vast chronological account of a people, parallels it with a skip trail which stops only on the salient items, and can follow at any time contemporary trails which lead him all over civilization at a particular epoch. “

Editors, ala WAIS Concepts Paper (not done yet), somewhat done with tweets, facebook, (but no backlinks):  “There is a new profession of trail blazers, those who find delight in the task of establishing useful trails through the enormous mass of the common record. “

Telepathy (openwater) and VR:  “All our steps in creating or absorbing material of the record proceed through one of the senses—the tactile when we touch keys, the oral when we speak or listen, the visual when we read. Is it not possible that some day the path may be established more directly?”

Dealing with information overload:  “Presumably man’s spirit should be elevated if he can better review his shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory. “

Weilding this technology for good rather than conflict: “The applications of science have built man a well-supplied house, and are teaching him to live healthily therein. They have enabled him to throw masses of people against one another with cruel weapons. They may yet allow him truly to encompass the great record and to grow in the wisdom of race experience. He may perish in conflict before he learns to wield that record for his true good. Yet, in the application of science to the needs and desires of man, it would seem to be a singularly unfortunate stage at which to terminate the process, or to lose hope as to the outcome.”

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Driving a Tesla Model 3 is seeing the future, and it is like Driving an IPad and @ 4 cents a mile

Mary just got the Tesla Model 3 she has been waiting for– she is loving it.   And for a reason.  It is absolutely magic– driving it is like visting the future, now. All sorts of things have evolved, seemingly all at once, and evolved into a “why hasn’t it always been this way” kind of way.   Magic.

But it seems like driving an iPad. When I drive my 1996 Miata (which I love) I feel like I am in a simplified airplane cockpit: nobs buttons gauges– fun things that make me feel I am in control.  In the Tesla, there is almost nothing to do.  Let me explain.

To get in to drive, I walk up,  I open the door (it unlocks itself), buckle, my music starts to play by itself, put in drive and press on the gas. No key in the door, no key in the ignition, no starting the car, no turning on the stereo, no adjusting the climate control. The car does all of these things. I don’t need to put the headlights on, it knows if it is dark.  I don’t put on the windshield wipers, it knows. It connects again to my phone for my music to start playing (why can’t other devices know how to pair this well?)

I think the maps feature knew we were a carpool because it knows how many people are sitting there.

When I park (or it parks itself), I stop, I unbuckle and get out, it puts the car in park, it shuts itself down, it locks itself up. It is wild. Wild.

So I think of this as driving an iPad.  I, as the driver, feel kind of optional.  And they are explicit about the self driving features that are coming– I, as driver, am optional.

And it is a “connected device”.  It knows what I am doing, always connected to Tesla, always spying on me. But conveniently so. The app in my phone says exactly where the car is (to find it after parking), or how fast my wife is currently driving — spooky.

Driving this Tesla 3 is visiting the future, now.

Based on my calculations, it will go 250miles in San Francisco driving on a charge, and cost 4 cents a mile when charging at home.  (details below)

We just tried out the adaptive cruise control in Bay Area highway traffic.   It makes cruise control usable because it speeds up and slows down.  And knows if I am on a highway, so will only allow me to use it then.  Astonishing.

For me it is like the first time I used Altavista in 1995 to search this new thing called the Web, or an iPhone, or Google Docs– that wow factor, that “moment”.   Way to go Tesla.

 


battery calculations:

Mary’s tesla reported it had 217miles left on its battery when we got back from going to Berkeley. Let me call that “battery miles” so I can distinguish it from “driven miles”.  When it is 80% full (its default), it has 270 battery miles, so we went through

270Miles – 217Miles worth of battery use or 53 battery miles.

The distance she went was from the house to the Archive over the Richmond bridge and back over the bay bridge. According to google this is approximately: 29.7miles + 17.2Miles plus a little bit to pick up brewster at the archive, say .5 miles = 47.4miles

So with our driving, 53 battery miles will go 47.4 miles. or 1 battery mile = 47.4/53 = .9miles.     So a battery mile goes 0.9 miles.   So the battery miles was 10% optomistic.

So, 278mile charge (standard 80% charge) will go 250miles in San Francisco driving.

That suprised me in how accurate that was given driving in SF has all sorts if hills and I was drove some of the time like a maniac testing how fast it accelerated (really fast).

The electricity cost of a mile is 4 cents a mile:

we charge at 240Volts at 40amps at about $0.15 per KWH, and the car reports charging at 40miles/hour-of-charging. There is an issue of converting single or 3-phase AC volts to watts, and I don’t know if we are 3 phase or 1 phase. if we go with Watts = 240V * 40amps, it will be between the two, so lets do that.is 9,600Watts, or 9.6KWatts.

So the power costs 9.6KW * $0.15/KWH = $1.44 per hour to charge. 3.6cents per battery mile. since a battery mile goes .9 drive mile, the electricity cost is 4 cents per driven mile.

Therefore, with standard charging we should be able to go 250 miles at a cost 4 cents a mile for the electricity

 

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Big Data versus Humanity

I never used the tools of Big Data and artificial intelligence to build profiles of masses of people. And on purpose. I realized what could be done– the power in knowing too much, the temptation to manipulate. But now others have crossed that line. Total Information Awareness; Facebook, Equifax. Now we see the problems, now we have a problem, and we need ideas on where to go from here.

I started collecting databases in the early 1980s at the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT and at Thinking Machines in the 1980s. I knew what could be done as we built supercomputers.

The artist David Byrne wrote, “In the Future, there will be so much going on, no one will be able to keep track of it.”   His statement haunted me in the early 1980s, I felt it was importantly wrong. “No one” person would could keep track, but computers could. I read a book in the late 1970’s about how computers were used in South African apartheid. It turns out it was very simple record keeping computer, a couple of mainframes from England (IBM did not want to sell to them) was all it took to keep a population of millions under control.

I spent time at library school in the 1980’s and studying the information habits of high priced consultants at KPMG Peat Marwick. I wanted to know what people asked about. Often it was as simple as “people, products, companies”. I was up for helping with the products and companies, but not the people.

When we released the first Internet publishing system’s software, Wide Area Information Servers, into the public domain in April of 1992, I included an essay with every copy titled “The Ethics of Digital Librarianship.”  A kind of guide, a warning, to those that would start to accumulate information on users in the form of usage logs– unwitting traces of what others were thinking about. Usage logs give intimate insights into individuals, and the Internet addresses they come from can allow a user to know whose thoughts they are.

Some think I came up with the term “Big Data” in the early 1990’s, I could have been the one, it is hard to know. But I certainly promoted it. If I did coin it, then where it came from playing with Laurie Anderson’s song title “Big Science.”   In that song, released in 1982, Laurie warns of

“Every man, every man for himself
All in favor say aye
Big Science. Hallelujah.”

“Big data” came after databases and before data mining. Profiling, redlining, targeting. Data analytics. I knew that big data unleashed by libertarian free-for-all thought ( “what can be built must be built” type of thing), we could get mass manipulation by those that could afford it, those that wanted it: Intelligence agencies, corporations, and those wishing to influence elections.

There would be those that would cross the line to build profiles on a massive scale– Facebook, Cambridge Analytica–  but I was not going to join them. I was not going to use these powerful tools for this.

As we have built large datasets at the Internet Archive, there are some we can let anyone do anything with, but most allow aggregation of information about people, things that make us uncomfortable letting anyone do just do anything with it. Do we need an ethics board to sift proposals as they do in medical studies?  People are sold that there is no “personally identifiable information” in these large datasets, even after they are “anonymized.”  Maybe they want to believe it. But it is almost certainly not true.

I don’t know of a technical way to keep us from making databases of profiles, or restraining manipulation. We need to keep ourselves back from those edges. But those edges are justified by many with money, with calls for “security” and other righteous causes.

We have the tools of Big Data now, will we keep our humanity?  I am still looking for answers, and how we can help. Any ideas?

 

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I want “Crypto-pay” to be the AliPay for the non-Chinese world — OpenPay!

I am in China and AliPay is everywhere.  With your smartphone (which everyone has at least one of) you scan the QR code at convenience stores, in your taxi, at the subway, anywhere– to instantly pay for things.  Many people do not carry cash anymore. AliPay, a service of Alibaba the massive Amazon-like company, and wechat-pay, backed again by WeChat, is almost the only way people pay for small bills and large.

But it is more than just a convenient credit card system in a land that did not go to credit cards. AliPay seems to have very very low payment threshold making new businesses possible.

Every restaurant in Hang Zhou I have been in has a phone recharging station full of batteries you can rent for free for the first 30 minutes, and 14 cents/hour thereafter.  So a typical charge is 14 cents, and it is still profitable to make a business around this. Visa card fees are often a minimum of 30 to 50 cents, so charging 14 cents would not work.

Rental bicycles are everywhere here.  Unlike the states, they are not in big theft-proof

Rental Batteries with AliPay

docks, but rather are basic bikes that lay around everywhere.  Every street corner, in front of most restaurants, everywhere.   You scan the code on the bike which unlocks it, and off you go. People subscribe to one of the many companies that have bikes everywhere, and it costs $28/year, and most rides are free (unless you keep the bike longer than the normal hour or so, and which case it costs 14 cents per hour).

And the rental bike companies are private, not city subsidized.  This means there is  competition and as I said, they are everywhere. The payment system is only part of why this works (also the bikes are inexpensive and there is enough trust that these do not need to be locked down).

The payment system is making new things possible.

But…

there is a privacy trade-off to how this is done.  Alibaba knows everything you pay for, everywhere you go, and can infer everyone you socialize with. They are explicit about this and display your “social credit score”– how trustable you are based on datamining this.  This score shows up on your phone. This score is being used by lenders to figure out who to lend to, by landlords to figure out who to rent to.  And the government is looking to use an extension of this to figure out how good a citizen you are.  This is super creepy to Americans, and to some Chinese who will be frank.  Many Chinese do not see the problem with this, or at least will not say so to a visiting American.

Apple-Pay and Google-Pay have launched, and I guess that means Amazon-pay will follow.  Combined with Apple’s convenient fingerprint reading log-in system, and now facial recognition, your phone is your “PIN”, your personal identification number.  And your phone is bio-metrically fixed on your real world identity. Already Apple or Google, app companies, and your phone company know who you socialize with, much of what you say to them, and soon everything you buy, where, and with whom.

This can go very wrong.    But, there could be another way:

Introducing Crypto-pay! (boy, do we need a better name than that– “Open-Pay”?)

Imagine Ali-pay but as an open system, and a private system, and competitive system. Fortunately we have many of the pieces already to do this, but it has not been done.

Crypto-pay users would have apps on their phone and merchants would have QR codes.  The QR code encodes a web URL for that store, this could be as simple as a bitcoin address, but it can also be a more complicated little web app to handle the rental bikes or rental batteries.   The App on the phone would ask the user for how much money to pay and they punch it in, hit confirm, and the store’s cashregister (which is a phone) instantly says “paid.” The store does not need to know who paid them.

Lets take another easy app for Crypto-pay– paying in a restaurant– you could get a paper bill which is a QR code on it that encodes the store name and the amount.  Scan, confirm, presto– paid.   Or, as most restaurants here in China do, you scan the QR code on your table, it brings up a menu on your phone, you pick what you want, they bring it, and then at the end you say “confirm” and it is paid for.  No paper menus, no waitstaff taking the order, no paper receipt.  Living in the future.   But with Crypto-pay it can be as private as paying with cash.

The particular Crypto-pay app on your phone could be one of many competing applications that come from multiple vendors.   I use BreadWallet on my phone (disclosure: I have a tiny investment in that company) which makes spending bitcoin really really easy.  But as we have seen Bitcoin’s transaction fees and delays make it inappropriate for this application.

So bitcoin may not be it, but imagining a system that has sub-penny transaction costs for tiny transactions (and maybe higher fees for larger transactions) and a few second transaction times is not impossible technically.

So an open and competitive system– with lots of players providing merchant services, lots of players creating user apps, even with different block chain technologies is possible.

But will it happen?  It starts with imagining a future with lots of winners, and then getting a level playing field to do it on.  It will require Apple and Google to not lock out apps of their stores that rival apple-pay and google-pay (or maybe we could do it completely with web based phone-apps, but lets start easy).  It will require regulators to not be heavy handed as they have been with bitcoin.   It will require investment in startups, it will take neutral organizations to help with standards.

Hard to accomplish, yes.  But just imagine– a system that has the combined benefits of cash and debit cards.  And not creepy.

I want it, anyone else?

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