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What Makes Revolution?

Thinking about what revolution is and isn’t.

The recent events in Egypt have been described mostly as either a military coup or a revolution. Not much as both. But what makes a revolution, in the political sense? All sorts of products have been called revolutionary, but few have been. Maybe some uses of the Internet have been revolutionary. Maybe some improvements in weaponry have aided in revolutions.

Was the United States Civil War a revolution? Was the Great Depression?

Was the emergence of life on earth a revolution? Will Artificial Intelligence emerge, and won’t that be a revolution?

It’s a revolution if it changes what? The name of the leader? The name of the country? If it makes the history books in 20 years, 100, 1,000 years?

One might decide that the revolution is the time of turmoil, prior to the emergence of a new status quo. That we cannot live with revolution, but only live before and after it. That during revolution, we are not ourselves. We are transformed by the revolution into something else for a time.

That is true of war, disaster, of so many of life’s greatest triumphs and travails. That identities are lost in the haste and upheaval, children’s stuffed animals, to be found and stitched up, or lost completely.

Can revolution be unanimous? Is it a revolution when all a nation’s rail gauge is standardized over a two day period? Or when everyone switches which side of the road they drive upon? Couldn’t there still be some identity loss, even then? A particular angle of sight on the road, seen daily for years, now forgotten with a lot of other little things.

And for the masses, is revolution seldom more than just the feeling of change and progress? That someone somewhere marches onward, that they by their very existence lend energy and purpose to even our most tedious tasks.

Was reality TV a revolution? Was 3D TV a failed coup?

The web is a revolution. Every day you can find something you never found.

If you want a picture of the web, imagine a kitten — forever.

– Hfpshf Psxfmm, 3968

But the web is a revolution. Every day you can find corporations and governments trying to bully humans. Identities are lost in the web. The governments, unable to understand it, wear it on their head like a kid who finds a bra.

Video is a revolution, both on and off the web. The police are finding this out, as photographers and citizen journalists find out what the ground smells like. But maybe there is an axiom that the greater information flow (signal/noise) wins. Not sure if it works like that.

It seems sensible to not save the word revolution for the rare and complete upheavals. But still to defend it against being tagged to sell product. To find little revolutions in the day-to-day. Not to relish in them, but to study them. To ask the question seems to be the greatest revolution, the mental equivalent of turning over the stone, to see what’s under it.

Solar Messaging for Interstellar Discovery

The notion of communicating via the stars themselves.

The sun, our star, emits something on the order of 400 terawatts (trillion, trillion watts; 15 zeros) of radiation. Per second. It is the biggest thing we have going for us. It lets us see, keeps us warm, powers our plant life.

In examining the question, “is earth alone?” we might turn to the sun. Launched in 2009, the Kepler space telescope has been finding remote planets. It has definitely found over one hundred such planets, and has thousands more unconfirmed. It does this work by focusing on the stars. It looks for telltale changes in what the star looks like over time, looks for a dimming that is caused by an orbiting planet moving between the star and the telescope.

The planets are too distant to be seen (yet?) by our instruments. But the stars, putting out terawatts of energy per second, we can see the stars.

And if we wish to signal to other intelligent life, or if it wishes to signal to us, the stars may be the most obvious and best bet. Because where else are we going to pick up a transmitter that can output terawatts?

But the trouble is how to wire this massive, powerful transmitter. As small as we are, with as limited resources as we have, it seems improbable we can make much of an impact on the solar output in any meaningful way. And even if we could, what way would that be, that would produce a detectable difference that would be definitive proof of life to aliens across the galaxy?

More importantly, what should we look for in the stars we can see?

The SETI Institute has been looking for intelligent life out there. But they tend to look for the alien equivalent of terrestrial signals: microwaves, radio waves, laser beacons. But, as far as I know, they do not look at the stars themselves, for anomalous readings that might indicate some subtle tampering by a local intelligence.

In a few hundred years, maybe, we will have advanced our space program and asteroid catalog far enough that we might endeavor to shift some asteroids about. We might do this with minimal effort, using a chain reaction in which we nudge one or a few asteroids ever so slightly. In this effort, we might produce a distinctive pattern for aliens who happen to glimpse our star. Maybe one that gives some sort of prime-number-based sequence to the next generation of alien Kepler-esque telescopes.

We might look for the same sorts of patterns in the stars we examine with our next generations of planet-finders.

Or maybe there is some other property of the stars we will learn to manipulate more easily? That we might find alien stars exhibiting the same changes?

What secrets do you see looking up at the stars? What secrets do you fail to see?

Value in Television

Brief look at rental racket in cable, and the future with autonomous vehicles.

Happened to see a repost about an old (2011) report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) finding high electrical costs associated with cable boxes. The environmental cost of rented equipment often gets overlooked, along with the economic losses it perpetrates. Mostly, renting helps the environment. But chronic/long-term renting, where the energy costs or other negative environmental factors are obscured, should not be confused with short-term, purposeful renting.

But, of course, we went down the equipment rental road with Ma Bell for decades before the government finally stepped in and ruled their scheme illegal. Today most people own their own telephones; the few that still have landlines, anyway.

Still, adoption of subscriber-owned equipment appears negligible in television. Digging around turned up a speech/statement from then-commissioner Susan Ness, 11 June 1998 (that’s 15 years ago) (see FCC: Text document: stsn816.txt). It discusses the FCC implementation of Section 629 of the Communications Act. That section charges the FCC with adopting regulations allowing consumers to replace their rented set-top boxes with commercially-available devices. That section was enacted in 1996.

To date, the adoption rate is dismal. It remains a work in stasis: the government has no ability to bootstrap markets in the manner the law dictates.

We see this pattern repeated. Industry, happy with their oligopolies (hell, just look back at Ma Bell, she never did voluntarily sell phones; it took the government breaking the company up to get it done), maintain them. And that’s what we see with cable. And that’s what we’ve seen with tobacco’s sluggish entry into the electronic cigarette market. And so on.

But given enough time, evolution takes its course. The advent of Internet Protocol video services has begun to foster new set-top boxes. New services. Although still developing, it seems clear that before long the industry that didn’t want to evolve will become extinct. Or will likely use whatever cash they have left to buy some small piece of the new industry just as their mast splinters and their sails (and sales) fall to the sea floor.

Ahoy, but a new raider appears on the horizon. We’ve been reading about self-driving cars, and that the ownership of cars will die off. That’s both good and bad, depending on how quickly an oligopoly develops. We will face the same sort of shipwreck of capitalism that cable has been. Like Michael Caine in The Island, stranded on a desert island of bloodthirsty, inbred swashbucklers.

Does the rental racket, per se, mean oligopoly? Not hardly. The oligopoly of phone and cable came not out of necessity but the desire for an extra subscriber fee. Maybe with a provision similar to the Affordable Care Act’s 80% rule (that 80% of premiums go to actual care), it could have been avoided: if all rental fees had to be at least 80% provisioned for equipment replacement/upgrade.

But for cars, as long as the fleet-ready regulations are low enough, anyone could likely purchase and maintain a vehicle that could generate revenue. That is, if the requirements for an autonomous car to be rentable are low enough (some simple quality test system, payment/route system, etc.), it will thwart the ability for some few companies to simply control the market, excluding competitors.