Thanks for the Technology!
In 1972 I bought a Volvo P1800 off the Chevy used car lot in Santa Barbara, California. I owned that car for 20 years and am still sad to have had to sell it in 1992, after putting 250,000 miles on it and driving it back and forth over the USA about 17 times.
I recall this now because with all the praise heaped upon "green," it is largely those in the field of practical science, technology, who have to endure a great deal of finger wagging. Yet we should often extend warm thanks to the engineers who designed and produced our various technologies. I certainly did, silently but often, extend thanks to the engineers who designed my wonderful car and all sorts of gadgets that have made my life better since.
Today, instead of dissing scientists and technologists, I would like to thank the designers, engineers and doctors. The latter, for example, have helped me regain the use of my eyes. And some are working hard to improve my back which has been operated on a few times but is still functioning pretty well, thanks to science and technology.
I often think about those people who invent the various useful gadgets we nearly take for granted these days – like the central air conditioning system in my house that makes it less of a chore for me to work at my computer, take good care of my house and read the fine novels I love so much during the hot spells of our summers in Southern California. Or the central heat – which I rarely use because, after all, I can put clothes on nearly endlessly, whereas even going about buck naked is no relief when the heat gets very high up there. I think, also, of the people who made the pain-relievers I and millions of others take when we have serious aches and pains, or those who make the supplementary vitamins or... well, you name it. Few among the elite commentators around the country appear to pay them heed other than to lament all the technology they have produced.
All you need to call up feelings of gratitude is to notice how one's ordinary life is improved when one has the great variety of products available from the marketplace. Yes, sometimes I am overcome with a powerful feeling of gratitude and wish I actually knew more of those who make such things so I could thank them personally.
Moreover, I feel very protective of these folks when I hear various critics of modern technology. Today nearly all efforts to make things better for us – be it based in biology, chemistry, physics, electronics or what have you – tend to be lambasted by some high and mighty-sounding Luddite. Indeed, I have resolved never to be complacent about such attacks, to rise to the defense of these folks who often simply go about the work diligently and competently but do not prepare well enough for being chided by the Luddites of the world.
Greens, in the main, and their kin across the globe tend to be thoughtlessly hostile to those who are devoted to improving our lives. Such critics give voice to an asceticism that no one who has ever had the benefit of microsurgery or ambulance transport could consider warranted.
Take as an example the folks at Oregon State University, who follow the ideas of "Simply Beautiful," a program developed by Sam Quick and Robert Flashman, whose motto is "To be content with what we have at this moment, to bloom where we are planted – this is the wisdom of gratitude, this is the very foundation of a simply beautiful life." They want everything to be simple again (as if things ever were simple). They need not preach to me their reactionary notions. This is like that time when a device was invented that restored hearing to some of those who are deaf and some outfit threw a fit about this, claiming that such an invention implies that there is something wrong with being deaf. What perversity!
Of course, we pay for these inventions and creations and those who design them mostly make a pretty decent living, so they do not go unrewarded. But few are actually thanked much. Nor are the middlemen who invest in their work and take financial risks with these designers, engineers and inventors. They tend to be overlooked, yet they ought to be honored more often. (Now and then I think the Nobel Prize is misdirected to the pure scientists, who are having so much fun already, leaving the practical implementers less prominently acknowledged.)
There is, of course, the great benefit produced by all those implements that enable us to keep in touch with parents, children, friends, colleagues and others by electronic means, by email, texting, cell phones (hands-free and not) and the rest. (I personally manage to contact my new grandson via Skype and instant message with my three grown children on Google! Then there are my family members who live abroad and whom I used to have to wait for months to be in touch with via regular mail and an occasional very expensive phone call!)
Anyway, here is a toast to those who try to figure out ways to make our lives better for us in those more or less small ways by which someone like me, for example, can continue to read and write and drive about safely. Thank you all! The fact that everything can be abused or corrupted isn't their fault!
Posted by Hoss on 03/19/12 12:53 AM
My thought on reading this article is that people can start by being thankful for metal. A dirty, ridiculously power-intensive industry. Let the Luddites live for a month in nature without METAL. Or any modern chemicals.
Clark, a technical point:
High efficiency in heating and cooling can be thermodynamically interpreted as "max heat transfer possible", which means "the least temperature differential possible". In other words, for heating, to get the highest efficiency, you need to extract as much energy as possible from the heat source. At maximum efficiency, the heat source would have no further heat to contribute, having been cooled as much as possible. That means that the air will be coming out very close to room temperature. Thus the damned thing will run all the time and blow almost-cold air. The most efficient it can be is when it runs almost continuously without falling behind. In the old days, they were designed for comfort and shorter run times (quieter that way and the fan motor lasts longer). That's why the 'improved' ones bite. They aren't designed for comfort. Same thing in reverse for air conditioning.
Posted by rossbcan on 03/17/12 10:58 AM
a simple point to ponder;
How, is it reasonably possible that those who create the products and infrastructure that our very lives and civilization depends on, presumably (neglecting allegations of greed, insufficient for designing superior products) in attemps to be contributers, to allow people more and better choices
... can perceive matters as other than:
those who profit by conflict creation and destruction are MORTAL, existantial ENEMIES to those who create value and civilization in general.
as an engineer, any other conclusion places me in severe cognitive dissonence, unable to square the contradictions, and given the values and skills of my profession, I must be far from alone.
I suspect, as the sands of time fall, that the reasons for gratitude to engineers, scientists and the objective will far dwarf the trinkets mentioned in this article.
In general, elites have engaged a superior force, on unknown (to them) turf, fatal strategic and tactical errors, as is warring against collective survival, in general..
Posted by R on 03/16/12 01:11 PM
Yes, I see a "typo" or two, but I am in a hurry and must get back to work.
Posted by R on 03/16/12 01:10 PM
Good observations. Technology, properly designed and implemented has led to great improvement. There will always be detractors who will narrow focus generalized complaints about technology that does not fit their particular "sitation" or "whim", but it has greatly improved the lives of many.
There are pseudo - environmentalists that would like to return the earth to a pristine state that has never naturally existed in nature in the first place. Nature itself can be and is highly destructive.
They also lack perspective; if our understanding of the universe is correct (and all of the data garnered to date confirms that it is) this is all temporary anyway. The sun will eventually run out of fuel, and before that, mass solar ejections will scorch the surface of the planet and remove the atmosphere. The earth is cooling off, and the planet will eventually lose its protective magnetic fields. Current evidence indicates that we are also between ice age events.
We had best use our available resources to develop technology that will allow us to travel comfortably in "space" or develop other means to more quickly move about in the space/time continuum.
Alternatively, or in concert with the above, we had best use our resources to develope technology to refuel the core of the sun and generate sufficiently strong protective electromagnectic fields. (Yes both are theoretically possible IF we develop the natural or artificial technology).
Posted by Dilence Sogwood on 03/16/12 11:48 AM
You want green technology - look no further than fracking for natgas. Seriously. But they hate that the free market just increased the world's energy supply and made it cleaner. Just think of the war machine that will go to waste!
Posted by taxesbyanyothername on 03/16/12 02:52 AM
Plenty of awful things out there, you don't have to look at high-tech, or even low-tech for that matter to find them. The whole society has to be pretty screwy for anyone to think they need apps galore, or that they should pay $500 for a key. Maybe you both need to go camping for a while, and leave ALL your gadgets at home.
Posted by vivek on 03/16/12 01:31 AM
Awesome view, I concur heartily and no harm at all being called a Luddite in this tech-mad time.
I am a Luddite, a Tech-No-Logical Luddite at that. :-)
Posted by vivek on 03/16/12 01:27 AM
Thought Provoking stuff.
But have you heard of Transhumanism? All this so called "Good technology" is ultimately aimed squarely there.
Perhaps DB should do an interview on it.
Better to Die Yourself than live as Another.
This is a one way road to the Human/Machine inter-face, and in it's current Avaatar, no good I'm afraid. If you live faster, you live shorter.
Click to view link
Posted by provolone on 03/15/12 11:15 PM
I am an avid mountain biker and I ride nearly daily in the Himalayan region. Although there have been many improvements in cycling technology over the years, not all of it is appreciated. As manufacturers seek to sell you the latest gadgetry each year, quality and durability can take a hit. Sometimes simpler and more robust technology is superior. Thankfully, market freedom means I can vote with my wallet on what is a relevant upgrade. Unfortunately, the more robust and thicker 8 speed drive train components are no longer available in most places.
Another example where sales have trumped quality is in computer software. As the years have gone on, basic tasks have required increasing amounts of 3rd party libraries. This has created what programmers call bloatware. Again, I have the choice to use free software. I can modify the source or compile it with less dependencies as I choose to reduce the amount of bloat.
The same can be said about manufacturers of products designed to fail at a certain time to increase revenue. These market forces, combined with monopolistic practices have corrupted the otherwise noble desires of engineers. As a technical person, I take pride in my work and enjoy creating products that ensure trouble free operation. This can create a conflict of interest with some business models.
The conflict manifests its self when it becomes more important to drive new or repeat sales than create a quality product. We have seen this in the software industry as free software has eclipsed offerings from large corporations. Perhaps somewhat inconveniently for our ideology, Linus Torvaldes created Linux while supported by the Finnish state education system. Many in the free software movement are decidedly anti-capitalist. Of course none of these are absolutes as there have been many contributors including large corporations.
At the end of the day, we all have the freedom innovate if we are not satisfied with the current offerings. Yet an engineer who is rewarded by his passion for technology and is supported by some socialist entity does have increased creative freedoms in some regards. These people have excelled where for profit conflicts of interest have failed. The Internet as we know it today is built upon such technologies.
None of this precludes the reality that it is possible to create free software and enjoy a passive income from another for profit technical endeavor. From my personal experience with this route, I assume that it takes more drive and self reliance. Navigating the bureaucracy to utilize those state provided resources probably takes an entirely different skill set.
Posted by alexsemen on 03/15/12 03:41 PM
You told the TRUTH !
Posted by alexsemen on 03/15/12 03:32 PM
As usual the best and [perfect BS!
99% of such gadgets we realy don't need !
Thanks to mr. laptop and Internet ,now I know that almost all ingineurs are realy stupid and useless !
You Tibor M. you preach as the new Apostel, the new religion of the New God : the God machine ! That means Death! Only Death of Humanity !
Without the Internet , I was dreaming that out there are another intelligent people. !! They don't ! My dream is gone !
You at DB you tell us abotu Internet reformation, as the old one who give us the reform ( qui prodest !!??) who leads to the actula Hell !
Internet Hell !! Thanks but I don't need !
And by the way, nobady seems to realise that 99% of technogical "advance"are weapons and all devices to contriol and swubmit us !
99% of technologycal "advance" has assured to us the possibility of perfect and absolute crime.
Posted by gmallast on 03/15/12 02:51 PM
In my previous comments, I probably should have also mentioned Leonard E. Read's classic lecture, "I, Pencil" which is available on line.
Posted by gmallast on 03/15/12 02:24 PM
Dr. Machan has a serious point here. It is really puzzling how few books there are and how few university courses on the history of business, technology, and industry. But every useful invention we take for granted has its own story. I didn't really think about it until I had to do a great deal of background research for The 1938-39 Ford Book.
Think of a little thing like nuts and bolts. You can buy a screw at a hardware store, go to another store ten miles away and buy a nut of the same size and thread for a few pennies and they reliably screw together. That wasn't always the case. I remember talking to a retired engineer at an SAE exposition when I was working on the book. The fellow was originally from England. He said the shop where he served his apprenticeship in the 1930s was powered by an ancient Boulton & Watt walking beam steam engine. This beast would have been a museum piece even back in the 30s. Anyway, all the nuts and bolts on it were match marked because they would not screw together if mixed. Think if you were Chief Mechanic for a railroad in the 1850s. Your job and that of the mechanics who work for you is to keep from 10 to 200 or more locomotives running-depending on the size of the railroad--so the trains run on time-but the nuts and bolts don't even reliably interchange. So when you have a critical nut disappear from an appliance or your car and you can get another that fits right away for a few pennies, think of Henry Maudsley, Sir Joseph Whitworth, and William Sellers among others who made it possible. Think of voluntary standards associations like ASTM and SAE.
Yet you can go to a bookstore or library and find whole bookcases full of books on military history, especially World War II and the U.S. Civil War or political history, and find maybe a book or two on business, technology, or industrial history. But what has more real influence on your day-to-day life, battle strategies at Antietam or Edison's light bulb and Tesla's Alternating Current distribution system?
Three recommendations: Joseph Wickham Roe, English and American Tool Builders, 1916 Yale University Press, Reprinted by Lindsay Publications, St. Charles, Illinois, Click to view link; Henry Petroski, The Evolution of Useful Things, 1994 Vintage Books, New York; Thaddeus Wawro, Radicals and Visionaries-Entrepreneurs Who Revolutionized the 20th Century, 2000, Entrepreneur Press, Irvine, California.
Posted by chad2 on 03/15/12 11:59 AM
Odd to me to be so focused on technology... It's like the Swiss. They are seen as such an advanced society, yet, their suicide rate is very high, equal to that of Russia... Somethings not right!
Posted by heidii on 03/15/12 08:23 AM
Wonderful letter Tibor
If someone hasn't invented or made something, have only just purchased or been given something without working for it, there is more often than not any sense of gratitude, there are only a few as yourself, say with a "higher ideal" in life that can actually see and appreciate the wonders of "technology" and Life Itself.
It seems and is not often, so apparent that "those" who do not appreciate the "higher ideals" in life actually RESENT these wonders that can be produced. There only course of action because of this "resentment" and it is a natural outcome of resentment, is to attack ignorantly that which "they" wish they could invent or produce "themselves".
Posted by clark on 03/15/12 04:20 AM
I find it strange you post this just after I made a related comment here at TDB:
Click to view link
Funny how things work out.
Tibor Machan wrote, "I often think about those people who invent the various useful gadgets we nearly take for granted these days - like the central air conditioning system in my house that makes it less of a chore for me to work at my computer, take good care of my house ... Moreover, I feel very protective of these folks when I hear various critics of modern technology."
Whoa, I hope my comment at the other thread didn't come across as if from a Luddite. I think I meant it as something else, I'm not exactly sure what though.
For instance, you praise your CAC. I did too at one time, that is until my old unit which heated and cooled my house perfectly became worn out and was replaced by one of those "high efficiency" units. In a word, they bite. (Heh, I guess that's, in a phrase, they bite. But I'm trying to be polite.)
My new "high efficiency" CAC unit runs constantly. In the Winter the rushing air makes the air too dry. It never really warms the house. It it terrible at cooling the house too.
Perhaps in a more temperate climate the results are not the same? But in the Midwest, those CAC units bite.
You might say it's just me, but no, I've experienced the same in other houses I've rented and many other People have made the same comments about theirs too.
As a result, I'm not very protective of these folks who made the "high efficiency" CAC.
However; I most certainly have high praise for the makers of the old units.
Much the same could be said of the newer window air-conditioning units. They look and seem technologically advanced, but, they are junk. There is no durability in these durable goods.
If the comment I wrote on the other thread, and this one, makes me a Luddite,... then I simply don't understand the use of the word.
I like technology,... when it actually makes things better,... and cheaper, er less inexpensive, but not when it makes things worse or more costly for me and enables the Power Elites to accomplish their goals of control.
Another example, I like the quality of the sound and video from CD's and DVD's, but a VHS tape doesn't skip over scenes in a film like DVD's do when there's a scratch on the DVD. Sure, a VHS tape can get messed up, but not like DVD's do.
Or for that matter, digital TV signals too. In a storm it is impossible to watch a digital TV broadcast, quite unlike the old analog TV signals.
Of the times I've rented a VHS tape I would say maybe one percent of the time the video was messed up and unwatchable.
With DVD's, the percentage is much higher, probably ten or twenty percent. Some improvement.
On a VHS tape I can fast forward though the goberment warning about what I can or can't do, unlike with the control the Powers-That-Shouldn't-Be have over my viewing with a DVD. Same with cassette tapes, even though it has been years since I used one, I miss them. Sure, they degrade in the sun on a hot dashboard in the sun and the sound quality is lower, but I could record them to whatever media I desired, unlike with some (all?) new MP3 players nowadays.
Another strange coincidence, I was thinking just the opposite about back surgery, other surgeries and western medicine in general.
Someone close to me is experiencing the pain of Frozen Shoulder, western medicine can't explain it, has no cure for it, and cannot provide pain relief for it.
Yet, acupuncture provides pain relief for many. Chiropractors have solutions which cut down the severity and duration of the condition (as close as one can get to a solution) while they are marginalized and ridiculed by the so-called technologically superior doctors of western medicine.
I'm sure there are other examples, I know a few but I won't go on.
Maybe all I'm trying to convey is how goberment interference has distorted the market and others misconstrue that as being a Luddite? Idk.
At the same time, I admire the Amish. And, I like books. Not to mention lately I find anything which is powered by batteries, besides flashlights, to be junk, or it simply has too short of a useful life to be worth the expense. $500 keys? Psft.
Does that make me a Luddite?
Dang, my rant is supposed to be /off.
Posted by taxesbyanyothername on 03/15/12 02:56 AM
Great article as usual Dr. Machan. The practical implementers may be less prominently acknowledged by prize commities, but I think most prefer practical remuneration anyway.