History says Otherwise
I’m thinking about technology today.
I read something interesting this morning. Edward Snowden, the fugitive hacker who lifted the rock off of our government’s slimy, Constitution-killing surveillance programs, accepted a visit from journalists. He told them to put their phones in the refrigerator. Why? Because that way, if Barack Obama turned the phones’ microphones and cameras on, he would see nothing but beer bottles and cold pizza.
It’s funny to me, because I’m one of those rare people who avoid showing their phones and tablets things they don’t want seen. I do not use the phone on the toilet. When I say things I really don’t want it to hear, I put it in a drawer. I don’t think anyone is interested in what I do–today–but it’s good practice. You never know who will develop an interest in the future. There are a lot of actresses out there who wish they had kept their phones in drawers or their drawers on.
Apparently, Snowden knows the government does, in fact, listen to us and watch us via our phones. Confirmation. If only we could turn the tables. I suppose we would spend a lot of time throwing up, though.
I worry about tech privacy in some regards, and in others, I’ve made a conscious decision to give up. Privacy was one reason I got rid of Facebook and Twitter; I thought it was a bad idea for everyone in the universe to know what I had had for lunch every day for the past three years. On the other hand, I accept the fact that the government tracks all of my driving, because I can’t do anything about it. I also blog, knowing that what I write will surely be used against me in the future. I use email and a cell phone, knowing my communications are stored away somewhere, by people I find disgusting.
In the law, we have a concept we call “ex post facto,” which means something or other in Latin. It looks like “from after the fact,” but then I got a D in Latin. It means you can’t punish someone retroactively, for breaking a law you make today. It doesn’t seem to work very well. Bill Clinton taxed people retroactively. But we do rely on it. We sort of assume the legal things we did in the past won’t be used against us in the future.
One glaring problem with the policy against ex post facto punishment is that it depends on laws that can be changed in the future. If you pass a law saying ex post facto punishment is okay, then it doesn’t really matter what the law said a day earlier. You’re on the hook. You can change the law, but the past is carved in stone.
Another problem is that it doesn’t bind private individuals. If the general public decides to persecute you for past deeds of which they approved when you performed them, there isn’t anything you can do.
In the future, people like me will be persecuted and probably prosecuted for legal self-expression. In 2025, it will probably be possible to take all sorts of legal action against me for things I said legally in 2014. It will definitely be possible to take social action; it already is.
That’s life. Maybe “smart” conservatives will take down their blogs and beg for forgiveness. Maybe they’ll make convenience conversions to liberalism and atheism. It worked for Arianna Huffington. Of course, assimilation didn’t work too well for Jews under Hitler, so maybe we can’t do anything now to save ourselves.
Everything is documented now. We swim in evidence.
File all this under, “That’s tough.”
I’m also thinking about programming. I wrote a little about this a few days ago. I got my CNC lathe to work, sort of, and then I found out the program that came with it, which tells the motors what to do, isn’t very good. I’m sure it’s great for mill users, but lathe users are the red-headed stepchildren of CNC, and hobbyists are also red-headed stepchildren. Maybe that makes me a red-headed step-grandchild.
Anyway, the program depends on a lot of files written in the computer language C. The manufacturer admits that you should know C in order to deal with his invention. That’s not a knock on the manufacturer. Surely getting the electronics and software to the point where they are was a Herculean task. I don’t want to abuse anyone for failing to take it further.
I do not know C. I had a small amount of interest in programming in the Nineties, but it withered and died. While I was getting my physics degree, they made me take a Pascal course, and that’s about all I’ve done, apart from hacking php, css, and html files in order to blog. I did that hacking very clumsily, by trial and error. I didn’t know what I was doing.
I don’t know why my advisor told me to take Pascal. It was a MONUMENTAL mistake. I looked Pascal up, and it’s not very useful. For the most part, it’s a teaching language. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:
Initially, Pascal was largely, but not exclusively, intended to teach students structured programming.A generation of students used Pascal as an introductory language in undergraduate courses.
Pascal was used in the development of some Apple products, but, hello, just about everything else in the world is based on C or a related language. Teaching future programmers Pascal is like teaching UN interpreters Esperanto. A complete waste of time. And my experience has proven that. I believe I wrote one or two programs in Pascal back in the deep past, for purposes I no longer recall, but today I am, essentially, a programming cripple. That’s where Pascal got me.
My undergrad advisor at the University of Miami was a great instructor, but he gave me some really bad advice. He told me grad schools didn’t care about the physics GRE, so I shouldn’t waste time studying for it. Yeah…okay. The Pascal suggestion came from him, too.
I love MOOC sites. “MOOC” stands for something I don’t remember, but it basically means online education. I decided to check Udemy, Edx, and Coursera for C courses. I didn’t see anything I liked. There were a lot of C++ and C# offerings, but I read that these languages were not really C or helpful to C users, so I blew that off.
I decided to check Youtube, and I found a couple of good offerings which I will not link to. The best one for barely sentient beginners was run by a user called Thecodingschool or something similar. I started watching and doing exercises, but I soon realized they were crawling. It would take me a year to get anywhere. I looked for a book.
Amazon had a number of offerings. I looked at them and decided the one I wanted was a beginner’s guide by a guy named Kochan. As luck would have it, it’s available at an online lending library, so I am using that. I may buy the book or a Kindle version, though, because the library thing is hard to read.
The thing that surprises me is that I’m doing very well. I am finding C very easy. Pascal was a different experience, even though it’s basically the same thing. When I wrote Pascal programs, my absent-mindedness drove me up the wall. I left characters out or put them in the wrong places, and I would spend ages reading the same code over and over, looking for the booboos. This time I’m making mistakes, but finding and fixing them isn’t nearly as bad. I can’t explain why.
The book has programming exercises in it. I can’t stand them. It’s just too boring; when an activity is too dull, it slides off the brain like a blunt instrument. I had to make it more interesting, so instead of doing the exercises, I do things that are different but related to the exercises.
I can’t resist making the code silly. I think that’s hardwired into me. Here’s a program I wrote yesterday:
//int dancer, prancer; This didn’t work. Apparently you can’t divide two integers and get a float.
float dancer, prancer, vixen;
printf(“Enter a number: “);
printf(“Enter another number, if you can think of one: “);
vixen = dancer / prancer;
printf(“Here is %0.2f divided by %0.2f (to six places after the decimal), and that’s exciting: %0.6f.”, dancer, prancer, vixen);
//If you leave fflush in, the program stays open and waits for you to enter a key before giving you the final
//”enter any key” message. You have to hit 2 keys in order to make the CMD window close.
//The values %d and %i mean “integer.” They are fungible.
/*Here is another way of adding comments.*/
As you can see, I’m using the programs to do little experiments to answer questions, and I take notes inside the programs, to help me remember. Here, I tried to divide one integer by another and produce a float, which is a number that extends past the decimal point. The computer didn’t like it.
It beats printing “Hello World” over and over. Now that I think about it, my “Hello World” program was actually, “Hello, Fat Jackass.”
You have to do something to keep yourself awake.
My feeling now is that if you have to watch videos in order to learn this, you might as well kill yourself, because it will really hurt.
I’ve learned something new. A lot of our modern machines can be penetrated with programming. C, supposedly, is the king of languages for operating machinery. That includes robots and so on. So if you want to do anything really interesting with motors and whatnot, C is for you. Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s the impression I get from what others say.
I also found out that you can buy little robots and write code for them so they do stuff. I guess this is how we ended up with self-driving cars invading our privacy. There is a language called Pbasic, which I refuse to capitalize, which works with certain popular microcontrollers. You can get yourself an inexpensive robot and Pbasic it all over the place. I don’t know how much C would help a person who needs Pbasic, but it probably can’t hurt.
I plan to look into that if I ever get the lathe functioning correctly. I feel like it would make me feel less intimidated by the machinery around me. Maybe the computerized toaster and portable phones would tense up and start to sweat when I came into the room. That would be nice.
In other news, I completed Thucydides and started in on Plato’s Symposium. My short take on Thucydides: the Athenians were evil, disgusting people. They whined and moaned about excellence and virtue all the time, but they kept slaves in their homes, they destroyed other cities, they slaughtered untold thousands of people just for getting on their nerves, and they were colossal thieves. They were right up there with the Nazis. I have zero respect for them, even though I acknowledge their mental achievements.
The small amount I’ve read recently tells me I probably did not read The Symposium when I was at Columbia University, because I think I would remember the revulsion it engenders.
When I was at Columbia, I thought gay sex was just fine. I was not much of a Christian. I would not have been offended by the Athenian predilection for sodomy. What would have bothered me is the predilection for boys. The Athenians didn’t prey on their equals. They sodomized small boys and teens who were weaker and less informed. Even in my younger days, I would have been bothered by that.
The Symposium starts out with a long discussion of “love,” and by “love,” it means the phony, self-deluding love between an erastes (older sexual predator) and an eromenos (younger victim). If erastes looks familiar, it’s because it’s related to the word “pederast.”
A man (presumably a real person) stands up and says there are two types of love; a high kind and a low or common kind. The heavenly kind is the love a predator shares with a victim who is old enough to have sprouted the beginnings of a beard, and supposedly, it is largely based on a desire to help the younger victim improve himself. The low kind is the love a predator shares with a younger boy, who is simply a sexual device intended to satisfy lust.
This reasoning reminds me of the bilge spewed by molesters in Internet chat rooms. They say we don’t understand their pure, altruistic love. They say it’s good for the kids. They say kids consent, which is surely true sometimes. We still put the molesters away, and in prison, criminals still rape and kill them.
Somehow we’re supposed to accept this from the ancient Greeks, while we imprison people for it today. That’s crazy. It’s the same. Man’s laws change; that which is evil remains evil.
It’s remarkable that we have studied this work in our universities for so long. I can understand how it would have been popular in my youth, because universities were already pretty gross at that time. But I don’t understand how it could have passed inspection in 1900 or earlier.
My skin crawls when I read the book, but I want to get it over with, so I will continue. I think this is the book that mentions the cave and the ideal forms and so on. I will take whatever profitable information it has to offer and try to forget the rest.
Incidentally, people who get their Greek history from the movie 300 may be surprised to learn that the Spartans weren’t the big military power in ancient Greece, and they weren’t the leading sexual predators. The Athenians topped them (poor choice of words) in both regards. In the movie, Leonidas calls the violent, imperialist Athenians “boy-lovers,” but Plato’s book tells us the Spartans had a reputation for “common” love, or sex with very young boys.
I look forward to getting past the Greeks. I ordered Ovid and Vergil, so I will be reading the Romans before long.