Technological Change (in my life) part-3

edit: 2023-12-09 (this is a stream-of-consciousness thing)

Epiphany 20: The Apollo 11 moon landing (50 years later)

The manned spacecraft programs in both Russia and the United States changed the world in more ways than most people would ever know. First off, humanity cannot ignore the contribution of the Soviet space program because the United States would have never attempted such a thing if it were not for cold-war politics. The plain fact is this: many Americans didn't care about Apollo but did care about beating the Russians at something. History informs that President Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were plotting to terminate the Apollo Program at the very time that Nixon was congratulating, via telephone from the White House, Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong who was standing on moon (both Nixon and Kissinger thought that Vietnam was a more urgent issue; more on this in a moment). To add insult to injury, many Americans lost interest after the apparently routine flight of Apollo 12 (e.g. we won that race twice; time to move on). Proof of this can be seen in the number of citizens who complained to the TV networks about favorite TV programs being preempted by spaceflight coverage. Heck, in-flight video transmissions from Apollo 13 were not aired until after a tank explosion placed the mission in jeopardy. Part of this public disinterest led to cancellations of Apollo flights 18-20.

FACT: development of the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) was the trigger event for the largest amount of human technological progress. The design work was done by Draper Labs at MIT while manufacturing was done by Raytheon. Why was the AGC necessary? Initially, many astronauts and cosmonauts incorrectly thought that human pilots would be able to directly fly spacecraft much in the same way that pilots flew aircraft. Consider this thought experiment: you are flying the Lunar Module and need to catch-up-to, then dock with, the Command Module. For simplicity, assume that both vehicles have identical orbits and velocities but are separated by a distance of 1000 m (3280 f). Without thinking about life outside of the atmosphere, you fire your RCS thrusters (force: 100 pounds or 444 Newtons) while aiming at the Command Module. This will increase your velocity which pushes you into a higher orbit. Your new orbital velocity is faster but your orbital time is now slower. This causes the Command Module to quickly pass under you making it impossible to dock. One correct solution dictates that you should fire your RCS thrusters away from the target vehicle, which will cause you to drop into a slightly lower orbit; then wait a short period of time; then fire your RCS thrusters in the opposite direction which should return you to the original orbit as the CM but hopefully much closer (BTW, first firing forward then quickly firing backward produces the same result). Remember "F = ma" from Isaac Newton's second law? Since "a = dV/dT" then the second law can be rewritten as "F = m x dV/dT" which becomes "F x dT = m x dV". (the left side of the equation is known as impulse). The instantaneous mass of the LM (which decreases every time you fire your thrusters) determines how long you should fire them in every maneuver (e.g. two one-second thrusts will not produce identical results; a one-second forward burn cannot (exactly) be cancelled by a one-second reverse burn). These real-time calculus solutions are best determined by a guidance computer because fuel is limited so must be conserved.

How did the development of the AGC improve things here on Earth? First off, commercial mainframe computers in the 1960s were manufactured from discrete electronic components, including individual transistors and diodes. So when IBM learned that the AGC computer had to fit into a volume the size of a bread-box (one cubic foot or 28,316 cc) many IBM engineers didn't think it was possible. The Draper/Raytheon solution employed "integrated circuits" (semiconductor chips containing numerous transistors) which they were already using in a more primitive way inside Polaris missile guidance systems. The high per-component prices meant that the American government was their primary customer (Apollo consumed 60% of the IC developed by America in 1966). Because of high cost, government contractors developed semiconductor test methods to ensure that the government would only pay for components that met design specifications. These testing methods eventually migrated from the customer (government) back to the manufacturing industry which resulted in affordable chips for the rest of us. That revolution in chip manufacturing produced things like:

comment: Apollo used 3-input NAND gates manufactured by Fairchild Semiconductor. Engineers leave to form Intel then later, AMD

Software jobs also changed drastically during this time. While it is true that high-level programming languages like FORTRAN (1957) and COBOL (1959) existed, the phrase "computer programmer" did not yet exist as computer programming was primarily done by mathematicians. High-level languages required more memory and CPU power then what was available on the AGC, but they were employed on mainframe computers used "to run AGC flight simulations" then "generate the necessary binary code" for the hand-made read-only core rope memory used to hold AGC programs. The level of redundancy built into the AGC programs (see reference-1) should inform that these people were doing "computer engineering". Click Margaret Hamilton to see what I mean.

Critics of Apollo mention that the program was too expensive in that it was consuming too much of the national budget with 4% being the oft quoted maximum number. Let me remind everyone that cold-war concerns at the time mandated that the Defense budget was kept secret. On top of that, no American citizen knew how much money was being used to support the Vietnam War. Today we know that the total cost of Apollo (in 1968 dollars) was $25 billion whilst the cost of the Vietnam War (also in 1968 dollars) was $168 Billion dollars. Now everyone knows that it is much harder to create than to destroy so allow me to state the obvious: America got no return on the $168 billion investment. Check out the next chart then advise your political representatives accordingly or vote differently.

Activity Cost Human Cost RIO
(return on investment)
$25 Billion
(1968 dollars)
3 astronauts metallurgy, semiconductors,
computers, ARPAnet (1969)
which morphed into the
internet (1982)
admiration of the whole world
During the peak years, the Apollo program employed ~ 400,000 scientists, engineers and technicians across 20,000 companies. Much of this work was done by, or managed by, defense contractors.
$168 Billion
(1968 dollars)
58,000 US soldiers killed
200,000 US soldiers injured
2 million Vietnamese civilians
1.1 million North Vietnamese
200,000 South Vietnamese
50,000 Laos civilians
259,00 Cambodia civilians
agent orange
contempt of the whole world
During peak years, more than 400,000 American soldiers were committed to Vietnam (almost the same number of people tied to the manned spaceflight effort). Despite hearing crazy political justifications like "the domino theory", America lost this war but no literal or metaphorical dominoes were ever observed.
First Gulf
$61 Billion 382 US military
others: casualties
American defense contractors
do well
first use of "depleted uranium"
by the Americans (a war crime?)
Middle East
$5.9 Trillion ??? American defense contractors
do well
Many American citizens do not know that "1 trillion" = "1,000 billion"
First use of: Extraordinary rendition
war references:
  1. (published by: Congressional Research)


What About China?

Back in the 1960s, conservatism revolved around business interests which caused some Americans to wonder if China was a missed business opportunity. This was the main reason for Nixon and Kissinger opening relations with China in 1972 which was trigger event started the Chinese shift from agriculture to industrialism. (think of this as an industrial revolution confined to one country)

American companies and schools in the 1980s found themselves in the Reagan era of "minimal government" which now goes by the name austerity. This might have translated into greater economic problems, including unemployment, except for the actions of China's leader, Deng Xiaoping, who favored "maximal government" so was paying to send thousands of Chinese students to the USA every year to be educated.

I personally experienced this in the 1980s when I was studying as a computer engineer in Boston (on this one occasion I was attending classes at: 20 Crosby Drive, Bedford, Mass). Based upon a luck of the draw, our class engaged in "morning lectures" and "afternoon labs". An English-speaking Chinese student sat one row ahead of me in the lecture hall accompanied by two minders who spoke very little English but were still required to pay for student slots (IIRC, the price was $5k per week; these minders ensured the student would return to China; they passed the day in class by reading little brown books of political dogma). Back then, Americans correctly welcomed these foreign students as business opportunity but none of them thought that China would eventually compete head-to-head with the USA. I applaud the Chinese students who were able to acquire an education in a foreign country speaking a foreign language but wonder how many Americans would be willing, or able, to do the same by traveling to China.

Steps to MAGA (Make American Great Again)

    • The colored chart (28-lines above) provides proof that many millions of people would be alive today if the USA had not been funding foreign wars on foreign shores. One way to make American great again is to stop funneling taxpayer money into those defense programs which, in realty, are offense programs used to support the American empire
    • Like an addict that is unable to quit cold-turkey, defense contractors will probably not be able to survive having their government funds reduced. But just as happened during the 1950s and 1960s, defense contractors could be employed by the government to do big science projects though civilian agencies like NASA
    • During the 1990s, the American defense budget was always under $300 billion per year. By 2023 the defense budget had climbed to $785 billion per year. Meanwhile, NASA's budget has fluctuated between $17 to $20 billion since 2006. If NASA's budget was doubled by diverting money from the defense budget would the Pentagon even notice? And yet we know that spending on NASA will have a positive ROI (return-on-investment)
    •  DARPA is on American defense investment with a very high ROI
    • There are still many people alive today who will tell you that they attended Harvard University in the 1950s and only paid $100.00 tuition
    • Before defense contractors started receiving the bulk of government monies, the American government (via the Pentagon) used to subsidize all college and university educations. Funding for education slowly dried up as money was diverted into the defense/offense budgets.
    • Once money is diverted from offense back into education, the whole economy will repair itself

Epiphany 21: Microsoft is promoting Python3 (Python version 3.x)

2020-05-06: Today’s alert from ZNET informs that Microsoft has added 51 Python videos to their previous 44. I read somewhere that because Bill Gates had started programming in BASIC, that Microsoft could never really get rid of it (other than the massive changes to "visual studio" between VS6 and where they made it play-nice with C/C++ and anything else that generated code under the .net framework). I wonder what Bill would say about the shift to Python?

“Python for beginners” playlist from Microsoft (this is the original 44)
notes: “More Python for beginners” (this is the new 20) 

“Even More Python for Beginners” (this is the new 31)

Epiphany 22: Machine Learning is a real thing

NumPy Library to add array support to Python2
Also contains support for matrix mathematics Community - 2006
scikit-learn first generation learning library Google Summer of Code - 2007
TensorFlow second generation learning library Google - 2015
Keras second generation learning library Google - 2015
PyTorch second generation learning library Facebook - 2017
caveats: both machine learning and artificial intelligence have a lot of history going back to the 1940 and 1950s so contains a lot of non-computer terminology. Modern computer technologists wishing to learn more might wish to start here:

Epiphany 23: 5G is still confusing some

Not sure why some people are still complaining about 5G. Is it ignorance or something else? Here's a thumbnail table of facts:
Gen Lifetime Features Frequency Data Speed Max Power
non-cellular radiotelephone service: click here to learn more
1G 1980-1990 analog cellular 30 KHz 2 kbps
2G 1990-2000 digital cellular (GSM), text messaging 1.8 GHz
64 kbps
email, web, camera phones

3G 2000-2010 smart phones, video calls
1.6 - 2 GHz 144 kbps – 2 Mbps
4G 2010-2020 LTE, WiFi
2 - 8 GHz
100 Mbps – 1 Gbps 0.25 milliwatts
5G 2020-2030 wwww (world wide web wireless)
3 - 300 GHz
up to 1 Gbps 100 milliwatts
6G 2030-???? click here

CB (Citizen Band) Radio (1958-present) 27 MHz

4 watts
School room Laser Pointer
5 milliwatts
Hearing Aid
1 milliwatt

Epiphany 24: big advancements happen every 10 years

Processor Hardware:
1940s electromechanical think ENIAC and Enigma
1950s vacuum tube (known as valves to you Brits) Mainframe computers are now possible
1960s discrete semiconductor (diodes and transistors) Minicomputers are now possible
1970s integrated circuits Personal computers are now possible
1980s VLSI (very large-scale integration) Workstations are now possible
1990s ULSI (ultra large-scale integration) Graphics cards and large Game Consoles are now possible
ATI Technologies (1985) Nvidia (1993) PlayStation (1994)
Graphics cards morph into Vector + Tensor processors
(this technology helped to enable Artificial Intelligence)
notes: these are not hard dates. For example, Integrated circuits were invented in 1959 but only NASA, and the American military, could afford them during the 1960s. While minicomputer processors might have been using integrated circuits in the 1960s these systems usually employed magnetic core memory. Once integrated circuits were used to manufacture computer memory then personal computers became economically feasible.
1970 ARPAnet created in 1969 to connect universities
1980s internet created in 1982 to interconnect various networks
1990s www (world-wide-web) created 1989-1991 to simplify document sharing at CERN
the public becomes infatuated www and email around 1995
2000s search and
cloud computing
Google helps you locate data (2002)
AWS (Amazon Web Services) helps you store your data (2002)
CERN creates the world-wide-grid (this name never becomes popular)
2010s social media Reddit (2005), Facebook (2007), Twitter (2008)
2020s Artificial Intelligence Google restarts interest in Machine Leaning (2007)
Google's DeepMind beats humans at Go (2016) and Chess (2017)
Google invents a Machine Learning Transformer (2017)
OpenAI uses Google's Transformer in GPT3 (2020)
OpenAI releases ChatGPT in (2022-12) which does badly on things like LCAT
OpenAI releases ChatGTP4 four months later and it beats all humans on LCAT
caveat: almost all A.I. systems are trained by looking at data on the internet
notes: Artificial Intelligence may be as important today as was the invention of the internet back in the 1980s and probably cannot be stopped (well, one country may stop development but would this apply to all others?)
speculation: Artificial Intelligence is nowhere close to Artificial Consciousness but will this always be the case? It has been estimated that the human brain uses the equivalent power of 15-30 watts while IBM's Watson used 85KW to play Jeopardy which is ~ 4250 times higher. Couple this with the fact that AI and ML systems are programmed with huge data sets, then it should not be surprising that these systems often detect medical problems that human doctors overlook. So what do we do when a generative AI makes recommendations for the next generation of computer hardware? IMHO this is where "science and technology" meet "science fiction".

Epiphany 25: Star Trek (art imitates life?)

I have been a life-long fan of the whole Star Trek genre, and own a laminated poster titled "Everything I've Ever Learned in Life, I learned from Star Trek".  However, one weak plot point involves the Borg from Star Trek: The Next Generation (a.k.a. ST:TNG) . I found it absurd that "individual Borg ignored humans walking around the Borg ship". One common explanation says the Borg drones are preoccupied by the conversations of the "Borg hive mind".

[[[ any good software engineer would have individual drones receive an emergency interrupt which would temporarily disconnect in the event of an emergency ]]]

Last week (2023-11-17) I noticed a lot of people at the local gym wasting time while exercising their thumbs scrolling on smart phones. I needed to get on one machine that was occupied by a scroller, so I asked him if I could do a quick set between his. This guy was so lost in cyberspace that he didn't hear my request, and didn't respond until I began waving my hands in his field of view. And that's when it hit me: People on social media are part of some sort of "human hive mind" (an incredibly dumbed-down with social disctractions)

External Links

Back to Home Neil Rieck
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada.