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Bat, Bean, Beam: Inside the Personal Computer
"The inside of a computer looks a bit like a city, its memory banks and I/O devices rising like buildings over the avenues of soldered circuits. But then so do modern cities resembles motherboards, especially at night, when the cars sparkle like point-to-point signal carriers travelling along the grid. It is a well-worn visual metaphor in films and advertising, suggesting that the nerve centres of business and finance have come to resemble the information infrastructure that sustains them. Besides, isn’t the city at the sharp edge of the late capitalist era above all a generator of symbols?

And yet this technology with which we are so intimate, and that more than any other since the invention of writing has extended us, remains mostly opaque to us. Why would anyone bother to learn what digital machines look like on the inside? What difference would it make, when the uses we make of them are so incommensurate with this trivial knowledge?

I like pop-up books, and early pop-up books about the inner workings of computers have become obsolete in an interesting way. They are the last thing we would think to use to demonstrate such knowledge nowadays. They are so prone to jamming or coming apart. They have none of the grace and smoothness that our devices aspire to.

The centre piece of Sharon Gallagher’s Inside the Personal Computer – An illustrated Introduction in 3 Dimensions (1984) is the machine itself, complete with keyboard and floppy disk drive.

If you push the disk inside its unit and lower the flap, a Roman blind-like mechanism changes the message on the screen from INSERT DISK AND CLOSE DOWN to HELLO: THIS BOOK EXPLAINS WHAT I AM AND HOW I WORK. BY THE END YOU’LL KNOW ME INSIDE OUT.

It’s a neat trick. But the book is at its best when it gets into the basics of how transistors work, or uses wheels to explain how to translate a number into binary code, or a typed character first into ASCII, then into its binary equivalent.

Or simply what happens when you type “M”.

There is the mechanical action that alienates us from the digital word. Writing technologized language but still allowed us to write in our own hand, whereas there is simply no way of typing gracefully. Any M is like any other M, and even if we choose a fancy font the translation from the essential M (ASCII code 77) to the fancy M happens inside the computer and in code. This is not a ‘bad thing’. It’s just the state of the tools of our culture, which require a different kind of practice.

The other thing that this book makes clear is that the personal computer hasn’t changed very much at all since 1984. Its component parts are largely unchanged: a motherboard, a central processing unit, RAM and ROM, I/O ports. Floppy disks have become USB sticks, while hard drives – which boasted at the time ‘between 5 and 50 megabytes of information – the equivalent of between 3,000 and 30,000 typewritten pages' – have fewer moving parts. But their function is the same as in the early models. Ditto the monitors, which have become flatter, and in colour. Even the mouse already existed, although back then its name still commanded inverted commas. Today’s computers, then, are a great deal more powerful, but otherwise fairly similar to what they were like three and a half decades ago. What makes them unrecognisable is that they’re all connected. And for that – for the internet – it makes even less sense to ‘take a look inside’. Inside what? Does the internet reside in the telephone exchange, or at the headquarters of ICANN, or where else?

The inside of a computer looks a bit like a city, but it’s an alien city. None of its buildings have doors or windows. The roads are made not of stone or asphalt but of plastic and metal.

The pictures above, by the way, show the guts of mine, which I recently upgraded. It’s what I used to write this blog and everything else from 2010 to June of this year, but I feel no attachment to it – it would be silly to.

There are guides on the web to help you mine your old computer for gold using household chemicals. They come with bold type warnings about how toxic the process is. But in fact computers are both hazardous to manufacture and to dismantle. Waste materials from all the PCs and assorted electronic devices discarded since 1984 have created massively polluted districts and cities in the global south. Places like the Agbogbloshie district of Accra, Ghana, and countless others. Vast dumping sites that are mined for scraps of precious metals as much as for the personal information left onto the hard drives, while leeching chemicals into the local water supply.

This would be a more meaningful inside in which to peer if we want to understand how computers work, and their effect on the world’s societies. One effect of globalisation has been to displace human labour. Not eliminate it, far from it, but rather create the illusion in the most advanced nations that manufacturing jobs have disappeared, and meaningful work consists in either farming the land or providing services. Automation has claimed many of those jobs, of course, but other have simply shifted away from the centres where most of the consumption takes place. This is another way in which the computer has become a mysterious machine: because no-one you know makes them.

Inside the Personal Computer was written 33 years ago in an effort to demystify an object that would soon become a feature in every household, and change everyone’s life. On the last page, it is no longer the book that ‘speaks’ to the reader, like in the first pop up, but the computer itself. Its message is perfectly friendly but in hindsight more than a little eerie."
giovnnitiso  computers  computing  2017  globalization  labor  hardware  geopolitics  economics  pop-upbooks  1984  sharongallagher  writing  technology  digital  physical  icann  ascii  accra  ghana  objects  environment  sustainability  ecology 
4 days ago by robertogreco
Globalisation marches on without Trump
So while the Trump administration has focused on ripping up existing trade agreements, largely to try and address a US trade deficit in manufactured goods, the rest of the world is moving on and tackling rules that are likely to define commerce for decades to come.
globalization  trade  DonaldTrump  ft  china  japan  eu  asia  protectionism  nafta 
7 days ago by Kirk510620
China Could Sell Trump the Brooklyn Bridge - The New York Times
Thomas L. Friedman NOV. 14, 2017

The saying — “When you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there” — and it perfectly sums up the contrast between China’s President Xi Jinping and President Trump.....All along, Xi keeps his eye on the long-term prize of making China great again. Trump, meanwhile, touts every minor victory as historic and proceeds down any road that will give him a quick sugar high.

Trump literally has no idea what he’s doing and has no integrated strategy — because, unlike Xi, Trump’s given no thought to the big questions every effective leader starts his day with: “What world am I living in? What are the biggest trends in this world? And how do I align my country so more of my citizens get the most out of these trends and cushion the worst?”

What world are we in? One in which we’re going through three “climate changes” at once.
(1) Destructive weather events and the degradation of ecosystems are steadily accelerating.
(2) globalization: from an interconnected world to an interdependent one; from a world of walls, where you build your wealth by hoarding resources, to a world of webs, where you thrive by connecting your citizens to the most flows of ideas, trade, innovation and education.
(3) technology and work: Machines are acquiring all five senses, and with big data and artificial intelligence, every company can now analyze, optimize, prophesize, customize, digitize and automatize more and more jobs, products and services. And those companies that don’t will wither.
Tom_Friedman  China  U.S.  Donald_Trump  globalization  technology  climate_change  TPP  international_trade 
8 days ago by jerryking
The Shadow Economy - Friedrich Schneider
The Shadow Economy and Work in the Shadow:
What Do We (Not) Know?
In this paper the main focus lies on the shadow economy and on work in the shadow in
OECD, developing and transition countries. Besides informal employment in the rural and
non-rural sector also other measures of informal employment like the share of employees not
covered by social security, own account workers or unpaid family workers are shown. The
most influential factors on the shadow economy and/or shadow labor force are tax policies
and state regulation, which, if they rise, increase both. Furthermore the discussion of the
recent micro studies underline that economic opportunities, the overall burden of the state
(taxes and regulations), the general situation on the labor market, and unemployment are
crucial for an understanding of the dynamics of the shadow economy and especially the
shadow labor force.
24 days ago by zryb
Overcoming Language Barriers by Connecting Every Word in Every Language

PanLex is building the world’s largest lexical database

What we do
For over 10 years we have been building the world’s largest lexical translation database, and we keep adding new words and languages all the time. By transforming thousands of dictionaries into a single common structure, the PanLex database makes it possible to derive billions of lexical translations that are not found in any single dictionary.

Why it matters so much
There is a growing divide between the opportunities available to speakers of major languages and to those who speak under-served languages. Making translation dictionaries and technology available in under-served languages helps speakers exercise their rights and access equal opportunities, while supporting their social, cultural, and economic well-being.

How we are different from Google Translate
Google Translate and other machine translation applications translate whole sentences and texts in up to a hundred major world languages. PanLex translates words in thousands of languages. Our database is panlingual (built to contain every language) and lexical (focused on words, not sentences). It is free for noncommercial use.
language  communication  global  globalization  connection 
28 days ago by pgorrindo
Kürzer Überblick über die chinesischen Online-Firmen mit Internationaler Bedeutung
globalization  ojlj  china 
4 weeks ago by heinzwittenbrink

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