Archives for category: technology

In 1973, Skylab, America's first space station, was launched aboard a two-stage Saturn V vehicle. Saturn IB rockets were used to launch three different three-man crews to the Skylab space station.

Today is the 32nd anniversary of the Challenger disaster. You’ve probably seen something in the news about it. I wrote this in the Summer of 2015 with the desire that some musician friend or other might set it to music, possibly in advance of the 30th anniversary. (One of these days maybe I’ll commission Unwoman when one of her Kickstarter bonuses is to arrange the poem of the funder’s choice.)

I Dreamt of Yuri Gagarin
Space Age Folk Songs #1

Gazing up at the moon
I dreamt of Yuri Gagarin (1)
Dreaming himself of lunar kolchazi (2)
The grand collective cocoon

This is the space age
And we are here to go (3)
Poyechali, Poyechali (4)
To the next rendez-vous

I dreamt of spinning space stations
Stepped from giants’ shoulders
Through solar paneled portals
Of interplanetary migrations

Of Mars and of Titan and Pluto
I dream of Sirius and Centauri
Goldilocks’ exoplanets
Of light speed and black holes

Of the ones who dared and knew,
Komarov (5) and Gargarin;
Gus Grissom (6), McAuliffe (7), McNair (8),
The dream was bigger than any shuttle or Soyuz

1. First human in space, died testing a MiG jet fighter.
2. Russian: Collective farm
3. William S. Burroughs at the first Nova Convention speaking about the space program
4. Russian: Let's go (Поехали - uttered when ground control indicated to Gagarin that Vostok 1 had lift off)
5. Soviet colleague of Gagarin - died in a crash after orbiting earth in a faulty ship
6. US astronaut who died in a pre-flight test of Apollo 1.
7 and 8. US astronauts who died in the Challenger disaster.

A few years ago I wrote a sort of pseudo-scholarly essay that attempted to tie together Blade Runner (in its many forms, save for the most recent sequel which was still in simpsons-naked-lunchproduction at the time and which I still haven’t seen), WS Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, and William Gibson’s Neuromancer with some extra outside references. A friend had recommended both the essay I reference in the second paragraph and Andre Breton’s Nadja. Those two, combined with a reread of both PK Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and the Gibson after many years away from them, gave me a bunch of ideas that took shape over a couple of months. After receiving a piece of fairly easy criticism from a trusted friend that I didn’t quite know what to do with, I let the thing sit on my hard drive for a while (the better part of three years). I’ve reread it, done a couple of minor edits, and added a conclusion. I welcome your thoughts.

Replicants, Replication, and the Cyborg Inside

Politics? Again?
I haven’t written on politics in a while. A couple of months ago I was working up something on feminism based on another entry I’d read on the subject of feminism. A male blogger whose name and article I don’t have to hand suggested that feminism is a strange word because supporting the rights of all to equal treatment under the law should be the default position. My aunt Karen, a professor of law and long-time writer on matters of gender, argues that there are three related terms: feminism, as above; antifeminism, the position that women are somehow less than men and should occupy only limited space in family, law, and discourse; and pre-feminism, the position of those who don’t yet recognise that women are disadvantaged by dint of gender in more ways than we know how to count and with one or two eye-opening experiences will move to the other side. She discussed a male student of hers (possibly in a family law course) married to a female naval officer – not a man likely to overlook or be daunted by a capable woman. I don’t recall precisely what Karen said her lecture covered, but the man was compelled to change his views on not only the issues faced by his wife but of all women struggling for acknowledgement in the working world. (My conversation with Karen was almost two months ago and I was certain I had notes on the matter, but I have lost them.) 

 I was alerted by a facebook link to This page contains a manifesto of sorts for women leaving the tech industry. I would direct you to read it – it runs about 500 words.

On a certain level I’m fascinated (and horrified) by the treatment women receive in the tech industry. The main thing that surprises me about Tableflip is that it hasn’t happened sooner. I’m pretty sure Ellen Pao’s recent court case has a lot to do with it, but that might only be because the verdict seemed so egregiously wrong, and it was so well-publicised. 

The writers also explicitly push back at the whole Lean In concept. When that book came out, I heard a couple of interviews with its author, Sheryl Sandberg. While astoundingly accomplished and obviously brilliant (Harvard, McKinsey, Google, FB, etc.), she seems generally unaware of how hard most people have to work to get even a tenth as far as she has. So I’m not too surprised that equally brilliant women who haven’t had quite Sandberg’s career path are keen to do something about it. 

 I’ve been in tech for about 15 years now – I started in customer support for a hot cable broadband firm that tanked in the year I worked there (coincidence is not causation). I was then mentored into technical documentation by a fantastic and fantastically capable woman. I did mostly contract work for a couple of years before I moved to Europe. In Prague I spent a few years at Systinet (now a subsidiary of HP), surrounded by about a hundred mostly young, mostly male developers out of CVUT (the Czech technical university). I recall three women: reception, HR, and a brilliant, intuitive Slovak woman named Bea. The company was ecstatic to have her – at one point she left to spend a period in Australia with no plan to return. When she returned to Prague about a year later, she didn’t have to ask twice. They may have asked her which team she wanted to work with. Alas she died of a very swift illness several years ago. Never got to see how far her brain would take her.

I don’t think Systinet mistreated its one female developer, but they didn’t work too hard to recruit more. 

I moved from there to Sun Microsystems (now a subsidiary of Oracle). I had a large number of female colleagues there – I think Sun nurtured its female staff, but most of the politics went on in California. I knew people who’d been with Sun for 10, 15, 20 years, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t subverted in their quests for advancement and equality. Just that I didn’t see it directly. The dozen or so mostly white males at the top of the company probably say enough about female advancement there, however. 

 In Nederland, I’ve worked primarily for two relatively old firms in which the same story plays out – very few female developers and no women above a certain level on the food chain. A couple of product owners, a few developers. My current company is a 30-year old producer of enterprise resource software. I’m pretty sure the highest woman there is a bold brash Afrikaner who holds a bespoke position between the product owners and the management team. I’m not sure whether the scenario plays out the same way here as it does in the Silicon Valley of the tableflip folks, but I have my suspicions. 

 The Tableflip manifesto gives a major hat tip to a blogger (new to me, but this isn’t surprising) named Amelia Greenhall who is fierce and articulate in her articles about how women are treated in the boardroom and the media and in her advocacy of how women can advance in the world on their own (not leaning in) terms. I’m now busily flipping through her blog and wishing I could follow every link. One of several neat things her writing provides is insight into the tech world from both developer and human standpoints. A long entry on twitter DM etiquette doesn’t just say, ‘don’t be a creep,’ but tells why DMs from new male followers creep out female twitter users. And next to that, she’ll post about how to get ahead (fairly!) in publishing and pop in some satire as well. (It took me a couple reads to get her piece on Uber investor Jason Calicanis.)

I’m sure the links from Ms Greenhall’s entries can keep me busy for an awfully long time, but the timesink involved will be a good diversion from the trio of Kos, AmericaBlog, and Crooks & Liars which generally keep me distracted. 

 And here’s to learning more, including
10 Simple Words Every Girl Should Learn
by Soraya L. Chemaly which also requires dissemination. I’d like to believe I’m slightly more aware of the male things I do that Chernaly finds so bloody frustrating, but I’m still far from excising them.

For a period of time last year I worked for a hosting provider in the marketing department. They tasked me with explaining the concept of bandwidth for the corporate blog, but they never used it. As I’ve been gone for the better part of a year, I figured I might share it without issue.

In the past, you could only watch entertainment when and where the providers said, in front of your TV via terrestrial cable at a prescribed time. At the same time, gaming was primarily an offline pursuit. Because media consumption is now on-demand, on location, over the Internet, and 24/7, hosting customers are finding their own customers eating through bandwidth far more quickly than they did a few years ago, and that quickly scalable hosting infrastructures will be more and more important.

Some stats: In 2011, more than 100 million Americans watched online video content each day, a 43% increase over the previous year. At the beginning of 2012, more than 11% of all digital traffic was consumed over smartphones and tablets; a year later that number had jumped to 21%. In addition, mobile device penetration is increasing fast. In Australia, the US and the UK, smart phone user penetration topped 50%. This is expected to be true in most of western Europe by 2014.

In this blog we’ll talk about what bandwidth means and how video, gaming, and advancements in mobile internet are driving bandwidth consumption.

What Do We Mean When We Talk About Bandwidth

In the context of web or data infrastructure hosting, we’re really talking about two things:

  1. An amount of data traffic going over the network, usually measured in bytes (kB, MB, GB). When a hosting company offers “unlimited bandwidth” it means the amount of data traffic served is limited only by the port’s capacity.
    In general, the term “unlimited” has been replaced with the more accurate “unmetered”.
  2. The rate at which data travels over the network as measured in bits per second (kbps, Mbps, Tbps).

On an unmetered port, your data traffic limit is calculated by multiplying the rate of the port (in bits) by the number of seconds in the period you want to discuss and dividing by 8 because traffic is measured in bytes, but port capacity is measured in bits. By this measurement, the daily traffic limit on an unmetered 1 Gb port should be 10.8 TB.

However, maximum port traffic generally runs 80-90% of maximum capacity. This 10-20% overhead includes bandwidth used by the communication protocol and transactions at other hardware and software layers of network communication.

So, when an article or report asserts that consumer demand for bandwidth is increasing, it refers to:

  • Demand for data, generally from the consumer including on-demand streaming media (YouTube, Netflix, Spotify), audio and video downloads (Amazon, iTunes, Bandcamp), gaming (World of Warcraft), voice over IP, and IPTV.
  • Consumer demand for higher mobile and fixed broadband data rates
  • Supplier demand for networks with greater capacity, servers with greater processing power, and more storage.

Three things currently drive bandwidth consumption:

  • 24/7 entertainment on demand
  • Increased image quality
  • 3G and 4G mobile internet usage

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