From the Desk of The God Emperor - V6N2
by John Johnson
Reprinted from V6N2, September 1992
September 12, 1992
School's back in session and the summer is behind us now. The magazine is a little behind schedule too. One good thing that has come from this is that I have a lot to print! I hope the format change has been accepted well. I would expect so, since our goal here at the editorial offices, located in beautiful downtown Los Alamos, is to make each issue better than the last!
I have lots of things to talk about. Trying to stick with PPSA matters first, I would like to appeal to you to send in dues. I will be enclosing a membership statement and return envelope with each magazine. Please return it. Your contribution will mean a lot. Also remember, it is never too late or too early to contribute to the next issue! No article is too small, no financial contribution too big!
I've been a bit lethargic lately... that's probably due to a midnight shift I had a couple of weeks ago. It sucked. Actually I did get a fair amount of work done, but I am just now able to work days. I guess that I can blame the shift on my strange behavior of late. A good example is my learning some Unix! I shiver to think of it. Anyhow, there have been several new members initiated here on 9th Street, the summer home to LANL students. This summer started out great... Volleyball, Basketball, poker and BBQ every night, but then the shifts started and things became rather uneventful. Last month I made a road trip to Mexico with some new PPSA members. Ray Swartz tried to visit me the day before I got back to Los Alamos. I guess I'll see Ray at the PPSA Winter Carnival event at Michigan Tech next February though. On Friday some of us went to see the annual burning of Zozobra (Old Man Gloom) in Santa Fe. It was pretty good, and one of the last real pagan rituals left in America!
I have been in touch with many members since the last issue. There are quite a few who plan on graduating this year or next. Soon a plethora of PPSA Ph.D.'s (mostly in Physics) will be pounding the pavement looking for employment. I am among the lucky few who should be out in '92! I returned to Austin, Tx for my qualifier in the Spring and have been advanced to candidacy. Since my data was taken a year ago (supplemented by some unscheduled late night pion catching this summer) I should be able to send the experiment paper out to a journal soon and, if I can write my nice little dissertation up in short order, graduate in December. I circulated my resume here at the lab and already have a postdoc lined up for January 1993! So I'm a happy camper. To those of you in the same boat, I hope your graduation goes according you schedule and hope your job search goes well.
There are a lot of issues facing the United States these days, our changing economy is causing a great deal of "personnel redistribution" in both the private and public sectors. It used to be that being in the military was a safe career, but not any longer. With the fall of communism the need for large troops ready to go into combat is no longer necessary. Both a smaller military in terms of troops and weapons is the order of the day. The R&D community is seeing a big change too. Personally I don't see science as a jobs program provided by the government. I would hope that sane minds prevail and monies are allocated to keep productive laboratories open. There is a need to set priorities in the U.S., but the SSC or the Space Station should not be funded AT THE EXPENSE of less glamorous science. National priorities should be focused on making the U.S. competitive in all areas of R&D. Not only should America be good at building cars or toasters, in order to compete with Japan, but there needs to be an emphasis put on basic research as well. Perhaps just as loggers need to relocate when the time comes to move to where the new-growth trees are ready to be harvested, the time has come to send new men and women to Congress to set our priorities straight. There is going to be an estimated turnover of 150 members of Congress, this is our best hope at fixing our country's problems and setting forth a strong and insightful agenda that will take us into the next century.
Certainly the economy is in a recession, but we cannot spend ourselves out of it. Redistribution of wealth is not the answer. Neither is harping on family values. Education is probably the biggest problem I see in this country. I heard of a class that is being offered at Stanford University called "Black Hair as Culture and History"--it's being offered as an upper-level history course. I don't know how to fix education, but I think the way that public schools are run needs to be addressed. The government (read: taxpayers) spend up to $150,000 per classroom I've heard. It's like the post office. The U.S. Postal Service is considering raising the cost of a first class stamp again, for the second time in two years. One reason for their problems seems to be a very top-heavy management system. Just like our government in general. The job of government should be to protect its citizens, not to overregulate, overtax and overspend. Much of the glut of government exists in too many career bureaucrats trying to entrench themselves into the system so that they have job security. When it comes to useless bureaucrats, get rid of •em. The same goes for Congress. It is important to ensure that new ideas flow into Washington from time to time. Congressional term limits can keep Congressmen as "representatives", not the isolated, lazy ass-kissers of special interest that they've become. Congressmen will want to go to Washington and make a difference "during their term of office", not just in the next 40 or 50 years that they are there. We need to elect people to public office that are willing to take on the entitlement programs that choke our society and cut some pork. Not all of the blame can be placed on Washington. The media tends to portray the United States as a second-rate nation that is falling behind. That just isn't true and it isn't fair to paint the American public as being stupid and lazy. During the 1980's the U.S. economy grew by the entire GNP of Germany. There are certainly challenges ahead of us, personally I believe that the European Community will prove to be more of a challenge than Japan has ever been. But as many less developed countries come "on-line" we will see more market potential than ever before. The United States of America is not a has-been nation, it is still a thriving superpower that other countries will turn to for ideas and leadership. The doom and gloom that we see in the papers and on TV needs to be set aside. The time for self-pity and self-indulgence is over, it's time to have a can of Jolt and get down to some old-fashioned butt-kicking. I won't get specifically political, suffice it to say that I am not pleased with the way things are allowed to be in our country. As far as the elections go I'll leave it at that, PPSA members are intelligent enough to make their own decisions.
There is a movie coming out called Sneakers that deals with the value of information in our society. In the movie (which I haven't seen yet) a band of high-tech thieves are hired by Uncle Sam to steal some vital information. I have been aware for some time now that information is the currency of the future. To quote author Bruce Sterling, "every pixel in Cyberspace is a sales opportunity." However, he states that "Money does not map onto information well." "The crux here is access...." I have done a good deal of reading up on these matters lately and find the current explosion in network communications and the rush to electronically gather information to be somewhat analogous to the explosion in the computer industry just over a decade ago. Those of us who grew up watching the computer revolution should not be surprised at all at the events today. Many of us are in science and are very familiar with subjects such as e-mail and remote access of data and computer systems. Neither should we be surprised that the growth we are seeing is just a faint precursor of what is to come.
Most households and all campuses now have access to computers, many of which are networked to others, and soon fiber optic links will be available at your doorstep. The defense network, ARPANET, which originated in the 1970's has grown and joined with many other networks such as Usenet, DECnet, Bitnet and foreign computer networks to form what is called the Internet. It is not rare today to log on to a computer system and find virtual users from several other countries logged in as well. With the fall of the Soviet Union, this international network is being accessed by people who previously took what information was handed them by their repressive governments. Now they can reach out and freely communicate with people around the world. Scientists can access the most recent databases, and ideas can be exchanged unfettered. The potential for such a system is hard to imagine. Right now, for the price of my computer account-my access to the net, I can search newspaper and magazine databases for any topic, I can check airline schedules and make reservations, I can find the weather reports for most cities, I can look up phone numbers and zip codes, I can search dictionaries, encyclopedias and thesauruses, I can retrieve the words to most any Monty Python skit, I can communicate with friends and strangers thousands of miles away, I can travel around the world without leaving my desk. Sure there is frivolous information out there, but I now have access to vital information as well. I need not travel to Texas to use their computers and I can discuss changes in a Journal article with colleagues across state and national boundaries in minutes. By logging into a computer that has access to Usenet news I can communicate and read about new ideas and opinions of people from around the world. What I can get for "free" now would have cost a pretty penny a couple of years ago. And on my CompuServe account, which has a small monthly access fee, I can access more valuable information. The more valuable the higher the access fee.
Most of the nodes that exist on the Internet are in developed countries. There are people that are working on extending a "Global Net" that will even encompass hard to get to areas in Africa, South America, Asia, and Cuba. As information becomes easier to access we will also see changes in governments. There is evidence that computer networks have played a role in both the fall of the USSR and in disseminating information on the riots in Tienamin Square. I will dare to make an analogy. Just as television has had its shortcomings, TV has allowed ideas to be shared across generational and cultural boundaries. Television allows facts to be transmitted almost instantaneously across continents. It becomes harder and harder to keep facts secret. Repressive governments despise any media that can "tell the truth" in this way. How can you continue to keep people oppressed who know what possibilities exist in the world today? Radio was an important tool of propaganda during wartime this century. But the ability to use radio or television for propaganda fails when people can receive alternative, unregulated programming that does not come from a government station. The computer networks that are developing today have the potential to free people from oppression and ignorance and help to unify the planet in a way that one can only imagine.
The idea of a unified global computer network can be extended even more through the introduction of virtual reality. I mean, here I have this fancy (by 1992 standards) computer on my desk and via my modem I can connect to computers around the globe. But all that gets transmitted is electrons or light. These get transformed into just ones and zeros, and then the ones and zeros get turned into words, but why stop there? Why not use shapes, colors, sounds and other sensory perceptions to get more out of the data? Visualizing data sets and information is a new field that started in just the past few years. There are a great many ideas as to how to incorporate virtual reality in order to deal with data and concepts in a new and unprecedented manner. Several science-fiction authors have introduced the concept of a Cyberspace in which people can handle data sets and information more efficiently than by just using a terminal and keyboard. I have included an article from Playboy that I downloaded from CompuServe that deals with this new technology. I will try and put a science-fiction short story in the next issue on Cyberspace as well. But for now, if you have access to a computer that is on the Internet, may I suggest trying some of the following ftp sites for information: (out of date)
Free Public Access Account login as NEW to nyx.cs.du.edu
FTP allows you to copy files from another system. The userid is usually ANONYMOUS and you send your own id as password.
TELNET allows you to actually logon to another system, usually you are limited and must use a menu.
FINGER allows you to find information on a users on your system or another system (also INETFINGER).
Last Updated 04/14/95.© 1996 PPSA