Car Wars – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Car Wars, The Rise, the Fall, and the Resurgence of the Electric Car” by John J. Fialka, published in 2015. This volume provided a brief history of how manufacturing and sales of renewable-energy vehicles has been evolving in the last few decades. Clearly, the author wrote about relevant subjects from documents, and people to which he had easy access.

The (lazy?) author dismissed the electric cars of the late 1800’s in two sentences, saying they were obsolesced by 1920 via an innovation by engineer Charles Kettering; an electric ignition system replaced a burdensome hand crank in gas-powered cars, especially in the Cadillac of 1912, and then just like that, everyone started buying gas-powered cars. A propaganda war, profiteering and politics likely played a role in that major development in standard-setting in transportation, but the reader wouldn’t learn that from this book.

Anyway, in the 1980’s, previously competing automakers were initially compelled to form alliances to comply with car-emissions limits and meet deadlines set by U.S. laws, especially in the state of California. They shared info on electric vehicle (EV) technology. Over the years, when the deadlines were relaxed by pro-business politicians, the automakers parted ways, and independently pursued only the specific projects they felt would be profitable. Environment be damned.

In 1990, near the campus of the California Institute of Technology, when drivers tested the plug-in recharging feature of the General Motors Impact in their personal garages, their neighbors’ garage doors and TV sets went crazy, because the recharger was actually a huge radio transmitter.

In October 1995, Japan’s Toyota beat American carmakers to the punch when it showed off its hybrid Prius, that got 70 miles per gallon of gas. Of course Japan, of all the industrialized countries in the world, is significantly more motivated to seek efficient, renewable energy sources for its transportation modes– for the sake of its economic survival.

In the late 1990’s in a few select places in California and Arizona, super-rich males leased the first few models of EVs, because the cars had the attractive features of fast acceleration and high velocity; high gas mileage was a secondary benefit.

Meanwhile, in the single-digit 2000’s, a group named the California Fuel Cell Partnership was formed. It consisted of Geoffrey Ballard, Daimler, and Ford, who were working on a competing vehicle that uses fuel cells– whose mechanical components chemically alter water molecules. The selling points for those cars, once the technology’s commercial application is perfected, include: zero-emissions and the ability to fill up the car at existing gas stations. However, oil companies would supply hydrogen tanks.

Read the book to learn some of the politics, economics, entrepreneurs and technologies involved in developing cars that ran on renewable-energy sources, up until the book’s writing.

Americanized / The Dilbert Future – BONUS POST

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The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Americanized, Rebel Without A Green Card” by Sara Saedi, originally published in 2018.

According to this slim volume (which appeared credible although it lacked Notes, Sources, References, or Bibliography and an index), the author’s family had a difficult time getting permission to live permanently in the United States, after fleeing the Iranian Revolution in the early 1980’s.

The author, born in 1980, provided a host of details on her family’s immigration ordeal, and her own life’s trials and tribulations (mostly First-World problems). Incidentally, she unwittingly wrote a line that would have subjected her to cancel-culture [In 1992]:

“…I’d personally reached peak frustration levels at our country’s complex and seemingly arbitrary immigration laws. I wanted to get on the first flight to Washington, DC, and storm the Capitol, but I didn’t, because any form of criminal activity would get me deported.”

Read the book to learn more.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “The Dilbert Future, Thriving on Stupidity in the 21st Century” by Scott Adams, published in 1997.

The author discussed his predictions, obviously at the book’s writing. One of them was particularly accurate:

“As dense as they [the children] might be, they will eventually notice that adults have spent all the money, spread disease, and turned the planet into a smoky, filthy ball of death. We’re raising an entire generation of dumb, pissed-off kids who know where the handguns are kept.”

(!!!)

Read the book to learn more of the author’s insights.

A Storm Too Soon – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “A Storm Too Soon, A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and an Incredible Rescue” by Michael J. Touglas, published in 2013.

This suspenseful story recounted the abbreviated May 2007 voyage of three Darwin-Award candidates who began to sail from the northern coast of Florida across the Atlantic Ocean to Gibraltar. Hazards included, among others– sudden, unexpected storms, spilled contents of container ships and inaccurate maps (due to recently washed-away sandbars).

“Every screw, rivet, line, seam, porthole, and the rest of what makes up a sailboat has to hold under the assault of the seas.” Unfortunately, the entire contents of the captain and crew’s 55-foot sailboat had a difficult time staying afloat, when an unseasonable squall broke a window that immediately let in 80-foot-high waves and 80-knot wind gusts. Miraculously, the life raft stayed intact. However, the various tools they had for sending distress signals to the Coast Guard were less than ideal, for different reasons.

Predictably, the three men were at high risk for drowning, harm from sharks, dehydration and hypothermia. In a case like this, rescuers who approach them via C-130 plane and helicopter, risk their lives in numerous ways. First, the plane searches an area equivalent to the needle-in-a-haystack cliche.

Read the book to learn many more details, and the fate of the participants in the above story.

Code Name Ginger

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“Now he was inventing a new story, in which I never told him that I was writing a book and in which he controlled anything I wrote.” Sounds familiar. “I” was Steve Kemper, the author of this book, and “he” was Dean Kamen, who became an amnesiac whenever it was convenient.

The Book of the Week is “Code Name Ginger, The Story Behind SEGWAY and Dean Kamen’s Quest to Invent a New World” by Steve Kemper, published in 2003.

Born in 1951 in Rockville Centre on Long Island, Dean Kamen is a spell-binding genius entrepreneur with some social blind spots. Nevertheless, he had a well-founded fear that “…scientific illiteracy would wreck the country’s economy, lifestyle and future.”

Anyway, by the time he graduated high school, he had become wealthy building cool audio-visual lighting systems that synchronized multiple slide projectors for rock bands and friends and family. By age 31, he was a multi-millionaire, after producing patented breakthrough medical products, horrifying other alpha males– ones who held graduate business degrees– with his drastic plans.

In the early 1990’s, some of Kamen’s company-employees began working on his vision for a new product– a wheelchair that adjusted the way a human being would, to different situations such as curbs and stairs. He was extremely possessive of his product, which was his heart and soul. He wouldn’t grant investors more than ten percent financial interest in the product. Ever.

In 1999, the creators planned to launch the new product, code-named “Ginger” early in the second quarter of 2001, and projected the construction of cookie-cutter factories on different continents that would build two million machines in ten years. However, Dean’s fellow employees felt he didn’t understand that high-volume manufacturing for a product like Ginger required hundreds of employees, a dozen loading docks, fleets of tractor-trailers, etc.

Kamen also reeked of overconfidence, even when presented with ample evidence that disproved his claims. In the late 1990’s, there was already so much competition from other products in the forms of various scooters and folding bikes. At a December 2000 meeting of investors, Steve Jobs told him that U.S. automakers would lobby against Ginger and the automakers would win.

Kamen’s ace in the hole was that he had friendly contact with nearly all of George W. Bush’s cabinet in early 2001. They had the power to grease the wheels of commerce in his favor.

Read the book to learn how the product turned into a toy for the rich but made mobility fun, and the personalities that shaped its evolution.

Flight of Passage – BONUS POST

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The Bonus Book of the Week is “Flight of Passage, A Memoir” by Rinker Buck, published in 1997.

In July 1966, the fifteen-year old author and his seventeen-year old brother flew from New Jersey to California in a Piper Cub they’d refurbished themselves. For fun. They weren’t attention whores. It was their famous father who helped publicize their flight. Completion of the trip was a major feat, as conditions were life-threatening from time to time. Built in 1946, the prop plane had no battery, no radio and no lights.

The media thought it was a big story: “America just wanted a good dose of innocence that summer and we perfectly fit the bill. The Jack-and-Bobby look-alikes bouncing out to California in their homemade Piper Cub was a heartwarming tale for the masses.”

Read the book to learn of: the brothers’ adventures; the issues the author had to deal with, between and among his brother, father and himself; other information on his family; and how his father’s view of black people changed radically when they saved his life.

ENDNOTE: The author focused mostly on the flight and ignored the ugly historical events then happening in the United States. Times have changed on two fronts in 55 years: back then, there was minimal security and a lot of privacy for ordinary Americans.

Once the media began to follow the author’s story and he and his brother became momentarily famous, though, hordes of journalists engaged in stakeouts at every place the plane touched down. Even so, the pilots didn’t hire a publicist and didn’t try to stay in the spotlight in any way. Even their father didn’t try to keep their space in the news cycle going. That is the antithesis of the current social climate in this country. Here’s a little ditty that shows how times have changed:

EVERY SELFIE YOU TAKE
sung to the tune of “Every Breath You Take” with apologies to Sting and the Police.

Every selfie you take,
from the moment you wake,
every post you make,
every ID you fake,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Oh, you emotional wreck,
you belong to Big Tech.

Your hypocrisy grows
with your privacy woes,
your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

ComplAINTS on privacy are a SLIPpery slope.
Lawyers spin disclaimers in ORDER to cope.
Look around, you’re hanging YOURself
on your own rope.
You feel so mad but can you TURN back? Nope.
You keep crying,
world– LOOK at me, LOOK at me, PLEASE!

Oh, you emotional wreck,
you belong to Big Tech.

Your hypocrisy grows
with your privacy woes,
your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

Every selfie you take,
from the moment you wake,
spyware’s watching you.
Spyware’s watching you.

Your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Every selfie you take,
from the moment you wake,
every post you make,
every ID you fake,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Your attention whore ways,
your social media days,
hours of video-game plays,
every political craze,
spyware’s watching you.

Everyone you unfriend,
every text you send,
every photo you post,
every site from your host,
spyware’s watching you.

Somebody Down Here… / How Football… BONUS POST

The first Bonus Book of the Week is “Somebody Down Here Likes Me Too” by Rocky Graziano with Ralph Corsel, originally published in 1981.

Born in January 1921, Graziano grew up in Little Italy and the East Village in Manhattan. However, when he wed in 1943, he moved in with his wife’s well-to-do family on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn; of which he nostalgically remarked, “They got Coney Island and Nathan’s hot dogs and Sheepshead Bay with all that good seafood, and they got Ebbetts’ Field and the Dodgers and a few bums like Leo Durocher…”

Nonetheless, his poverty-stricken childhood experiences and abusive father soured him on life at an early age. He continually ran afoul of the law, but his mother, who loved him unconditionally, kept bailing him out. For such boys in his generation (rejected by the military because he was an ex-con), the only way to escape his bad environment was to succeed in the “rackets” or make it big in show business or become a professional boxer. Read the book to learn how he turned his life around when he put his mind to do two of the three.

The second Bonus Book of the Week is “How Football Explains America, by Sal Paolantonio, published in 2008.

Incidentally, Vince Lombardi sought to recruit wayward boys such as Graziano for the high school football team he coached in New Jersey in the late 1930’s. He used the Englewood police department as his talent source.

Another interesting bit of information from the author in describing how professional football evolved into its current state: safety rules had to be imposed so the sport could turn its barbaric reputation around. For, in 1905, there occurred “…battered faces, broken ribs, bloody skulls, and at least 18 recorded on-field fatalities.”

Read the book to learn many other ways football and American culture became intertwined.

Ode to My Online World – BONUS POST

ODE TO MY ONLINE WORLD

sung to the tune of “How Sweet It Is” with apologies to James Taylor.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.
How desperate I am to be liked by you.

I’m a political grandstander and social media whore,
and there you are.

I need to tell the world about my ups and downs,
and there you are.

I believe all I see, so don’t argue with me.

I want to be a COP, and globally shame villains.
I want the world to STOP, exploiting me, yes I do.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.

My profile’s a goldmine.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.

I get depressed at night, wishing celebrities were in my life.

I’ve convinced myself I’m not a bore.
I POST photos and Tweet more and more.
But you occupy all of my days with time-wasting in so many ways.

I want to be a COP, and globally shame villains.
I just want the world to STOP, exploiting me, oh yes.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.

I get outraged sometimes.

How desperate I am to be liked by you. Whoa, yeah.

Everyone’s better than me. I’m not proud of myself.
You’re my whole life. I do nothing else.

I want to be a COP, and globally shame villains.
I just want the world to STOP, exploiting me, oh yes.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.
How desperate I am to be liked by you. Whoa, now.
How desperate I am to be liked by you.

I’m like, tag me, baby, oh now.

How desperate I am to be liked by you.
I’m like money to Big Tech, baby.
How desperate I am to be liked by you…

Disrupting Class

The Book of the Week is “Disrupting Class, How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns” by Clayton Christensen, Michael B. Horn and Curtis W. Johnson, published in 2008.

All three of the authors– educrats– pushed education solutions that were mostly software-centric and charter-school based. The educrats made no distinctions between teaching and learning, but indicated that students would learn from software, if schools adopted their recommendations. It is difficult to see how students who are unwilling to learn, would learn from software, though, without supervision.

Nevertheless, one point the authors got right, was that a wrench in the works that is hindering their push to convert the American education system into a machine-dominated one– is teachers’ unions across the country. One other uncertain aspect of the whole kit and caboodle is the competition between the two current software operating systems– Windows and Apple. So, due to all this political patronage and profiteering, America’s education system will remain a patchwork, most likely.

Anyway, in 2004, one school district’s (demographically similar) students in Kentucky had 26% better state standardized test scores than another; the latter had three times the funding. There are usually three major reasons for such a discrepancy: the former district prepped the students for the test, and /or they cheated, and / or students possessed the basic skills and fundamental knowledge to do better than the competition.

The authors admitted more research was needed to determine the reasons for the discrepancy. They did however, declare that their recommendations for bettering the American education system through customization of teaching would help all students improve, regardless of funding.

The authors then presented a hypothetical scenario which would defy reality in most underfunded, understaffed and /or poorly staffed schools. In the scenario, a star athlete was attending that kind of a high school. He was having trouble understanding a concept in science class. The teacher wasn’t explaining it in a way the student could understand it. If the student didn’t keep his grades up, he wouldn’t be able to play in the big soccer game. The student’s father, an engineer, was more than happy to, was available to, and was able to, successfully tutor him so he could still play. The student lived happily ever after.

First of all, subpar schools tend to coddle their star athletes– allow them to pass their classes, or provide them with extra tutoring. Secondly, such schools have a significant number of students in overcrowded classrooms, who are discipline problems– disruptive to the class (sort of like the software-based learning that would be disruptive to the industry that the authors seemed to think the American education system is becoming).

The anecdote said nothing about: the classroom’s learning environment (which in subpar schools is frequently noisy and / or hostile) or what proportion of the other students were truly interested in learning, etc. Thirdly, it would be very unlikely that the student’s father would be an engineer, never mind available.

If there was only a handful of students who truly wanted to learn, then the authors should have suggested that those schools assign those students to do software-based learning. Those students deserve better! But the authors didn’t suggest that.

It stands to reason that live, experienced teachers should know their students and thus know how to customize teaching or customize extra help for each one. The inconvenient realities that prevent them from doing so, include but are certainly not limited to:

  • limited class time;
  • overcrowded classes;
  • classes with students who are disruptive the entire period; and
  • lack of resources for helping students learn the way they learn best.

The authors complained that American schools developed ways to lump kids together efficiently in classrooms, but in ways that have hindered their learning. But– there are reasons other than efficiency: individualized learning is expensive; face to-face social interaction is good for the kids; and they learn from each other. In isolation (with software-based learning), they don’t.

The authors then compared customized teaching to products in corporate America. This was not a very accurate analogy. For, students, teachers and resources aren’t product parts; corporate America runs on the profit motive. Education shouldn’t. Nevertheless, that is the direction it’s heading, with more and more commercialized visual education resources.

The authors explained that two recent American federal education laws would lead to growing pains and chaos in the short term, but [italics, theirs] “schools have actually been improving.” Yes, and so has the United States: a meaningless generalization. One of the laws, No Child Left Behind, a can-of-worms, was obsessed with raising standardized test scores across the board, for all students. It caused schools to (besides go crazy) lie with statistics.

The authors failed to elaborate on the aforementioned “improving” with specific examples. Instead, they went on to briefly describe the evolution of the American education system, mentioning a few influencers in early curricula, trends that prompted changes to those curricula, and changes to student populations due to other federal laws, through the years.

The next anecdote told of a student doing online research. The problem is that, sadly, the World Wide Web has been largely taken over by political propagandists and profiteers.

A subplot of the above anecdote (which was ongoing) was that a dedicated high school student got permission to take an online course in Arabic through the local community college. This, because her school didn’t offer Arabic. In a later chapter, the authors claimed the course was free (!) but didn’t specify whether course materials were free, or what kind of financial arrangement, if any, was made between the high school and college. They also weren’t clear whether the course fulfilled a graduation requirement for the student.

The student was allegedly going to chat with a native Arabic speaker halfway around the world. However, there are all different dialects of Arabic spoken in different Middle Eastern countries. The authors explained nothing about this inconvenient fact in their fanciful anecdote.

Further, the authors wrongheadedly compared the disruptiveness of online classes to that of innovations in consumer goods. But those are apples and oranges. Consumer goods’ innovations are driven by the profit motive. Childrens’ educations are driven by their parents’ belief in education and legal requirements that children attend school. The parents see the connection between education and success in life.

There are millions of complications of all sorts in connection with preparing children to become mature, responsible adults. Consumer-goods innovations are applied to inanimate objects. The only similarity is that costs of software-based learning and innovations will both fall as time goes on. But for students: at what price?? Especially if their chemistry class, as has happened at Brigham Young University (according to the authors)– was turned into a video game??

The authors thought that the large amount of money spent for universal free pre-kindergarten could be more wisely spent on parenting classes. But, once again, they failed to elaborate, and instead, ended the chapter. (For more extensive info on the myriad of subjects covered above, see this blog’s entire category of posts, “Education”).

Read the book to learn: the four major aspects of the American education system that, according to the authors, constrained students from learning; why the authors thought extrinsic motivators would force schools to rethink their services; the four ways the authors contended that technology would assist with customized learning; other comparisons with corporate models; charter school methods; and other imaginary “learning” scenarios that are likely to remain imaginary.

Life after [sic] Google

The Book of the Week is “Life after [sic] Google, The Fall of Big Data and the Rise of the Blockchain Economy” by George Gilder, published in 2018.

The author explained that Google’s business model is being eclipsed by blockchain technology. Google offers many services for free, and derives revenue from advertising. The author neglected to mention that one sign that Google is on the wane, is that, in 2013 it stopped updating its PageRank data– a measurement of the extent to which each website on the World Wide Web is networked to other websites.

A bunch of tech-industry greats are improving blockchain technology in the form of various competing cryptocurrencies, which are a financial instrument whose value fluctuates (See this blog’s post, Digital Gold). Blockchain technology’s advantages include efficiency, scalability, improving cybersecurity, and the fact that it is virtual.

Google data centers (comprised of physical servers) derive their power from the Columbia river. Worldwide demand for additional power is growing every day. According to the author, another possible power source for data centers is atomic. He wrote, “China plans to build as many as forty new-fangled nuclear plants, the next wave of data centers may well be in Shenzhen.” Considering that parts of China are in an earthquake zone (!), China might not want to end up like Japan. However, politically, it does have a sociopathic disregard for the health and safety of its citizens.

Anyhow, cryptocurrencies’ major cybersecurity feature is that they are comprised of a decentralized peer-to-peer network so they don’t have a central point of failure. Nevertheless, a major rival of Bitcoin– Ethereum– was hacked for a $150 million loss on one of its nodes. Google has all its data in one place, so theft of data and cyber-attacks are much more efficiently accomplished.

One other financial entity that uses blockchain technology is a hedge fund of the company called Renaissance Technologies. Its software mines terabytes (inconceivably large) quantities of data in order to find minute, even obscure correlations between (at times unrelated) variables that allows it to buy and sell securities at a profit. For more than thirty years, it was delivering inconceivably large returns. Until, starting in 2020, it didn’t. The author argued that since the software isn’t generating new knowledge for the world, it is not generating real wealth for society. Economically, that is bad.

Read the book to learn a wealth of additional information about the features of virtual reality versus artificial intelligence in connection with Google and other technological marvels.