(mis)adventure in the so-called maker so-called space

In principle the "maker" movement -- where people use soldering irons and actually learn how their devices work -- should be applauded. In practice it's still dependent on unscrupulous component manufacturers and/or exploited foreign workers.

Let's say you own a digital synth module that uses an Arduino board and you want to update the firmware. To communicate with the Arduino from your Mac or Windows PC you buy a serial-to-USB device from the synth module company -- cheap at under $10. The company recommends that you download a driver from FTDI, the Scottish company that makes the chip affixed to the serial-to-USB. You install the driver, plug the device into a USB port, and check to see if the PC recognizes the device. Yes, there it is, with serial no. 00000000. The eight zeroes means the driver has determined that the chip is a counterfeit FTDI chip, and will not send data to the device.

You go online and learn that (i) there are more fake FTDI chips for serial-to-USBs on the market (eBay, Amazon, etc) than real chips and (ii) there is no way to tell which chips are fake other than to buy the devices and let the driver determine whether they will pass muster.

Why would FTDI make devices that they don't manufacture, but that incorporate their products, unusable? Apparently the profusion of fake chips from dishonest factories in China challenges their business model, so they are fighting back by punishing innocent third party consumers with clever software that acts as judge and jury for the intellectual purity of all chips (previous versions of this software "bricked" the offending device -- now it just doesn't speak to it). Some makers are outraged and have found other chip sources, but they don't say where they are getting their serial-to-USB devices, which are not made by FTDI. Some are finding "real" FTDI chips, de-soldering and removing the fake ones from the serial-to-USB devices, and soldering on the FTDI chip (a cumbersome and error-prone process considering the device is a $10 component).

Ultimately makers and their noble intentions smack up against unregulated grifters in the country where most electronics are made, and DRM-users in the Anglosphere who treat third party customers as collateral damage. (cue violins)


michael wetzel + stanislaw lem



These sculptures by Michael Wetzel appeared in a two-person show (with Jeffrey Tranchell) called Standards of Living at Honey Ramka gallery last year. Of the artworks in the show, these objects most drew my eye and lingered in my thoughts afterward. These are blurry screenshots I made from the gallery's photos and don't do justice to the intricacy of the work, but serve as visual notes to accompany a passage from Fiasco (1986), a Stanislaw Lem novel I am reading for the first time. Lem is describing a field of bizarre, fanciful-seeming mineral deposits on the surface of Saturn's moon, Titan.

For the very reason that here nothing served a purpose -- not ever, not to anyone -- and that here no guillotine of evolution was in play, amputating from every genotype whatever did not contribute to survival, nature, constrained neither by the life she bore nor by the death she inflicted, could achieve liberation, displaying a prodigality characteristic of herself, a limitless wastefulness, a brute magnificence that was useless, an eternal power of creation without a goal, without a need, without a meaning. This truth, gradually penetrating the observer, was more unsettling than the impression that he was witness to a cosmic mimicry of death, or that these were in fact the mortal remains of unknown beings that lay beneath the stormy horizon. So one had to turn upside down one’s natural way of thinking, which was capable of going only in one direction: these shapes were similar to bones, ribs, skulls, and fangs not because they had once served life -- they never had -- but only because the skeletons of terrestrial vertebrates, and their fur, and the chitinous armor of the insects, and the shells of the mollusks all possessed the same architectonics, the same symmetry and grace, since Nature could produce this just as well where neither life nor life’s purposefulness had ever existed, or ever would.

Addendum: The first sentence is eloquent and rather long and at first it seemed ungrammatical (perhaps it's the translation from Polish). The core of it is "nature could achieve liberation" but the word "nature," surrounded by other clauses, tends to get swamped, or appears to be paired as a synonym with the word "survival" that precedes it. Regardless, once you have it, this passage is a good example of Lem's Borgesian talent for extrapolation from known phenomena to create "unthinkable" vistas and thought processes. It comes at the end of a description of a volcanic crater where minerals have run riot over millions of years of geological time to create landscapes that seem like amalgamations of our worst nightmares. There is beauty there, as well, which got me thinking about those quasi-biological Wetzel sculptures. Lem is one of the most visual sf writers, and his book Solaris has been stripped down by film directors into something like a simple love story, when the essence of it is his poetic description of the surreal life forms constantly churning in the Solarian "ocean" and human inability to ever understand them.

ask me nothing

Strange press releases come to this blahg every day. Today one arrived full of talk about AMAs (AMA vibe, AMA feed, AMA queen) -- yet AMA is nowhere defined. The Wikipedians tell us it's a Reddit thing -- someone with expertise in something says "ask me anything" (a la Ask Jeeves) and is peppered with questions by netizens who wanto to know about the subject.
So AMAfeed provides a blog-like "feed" of self-declared specialists opening their minds and clouds to eager questions about their areas of interest.
The feed seems heavy on digital marketeers and their own odd brand of Newspeak. Below are some phrases harvested from the feed descriptions. As William Carlos Williams said about Ginsberg's Howl, "hold back the edges of your gowns, Ladies, we are going through hell."

YA fantasy and paranormal romance novelist
Working with Bloggers or Influencers
Brighter Local SEO Results
travel with purpose company
blogger and weight loss success story
mentor and leader
Mature-age workers
Holistic Cancer Coach
instagram influencer
Neonatal Nurse Pracitioner [sic]
mom/creative entrepreneur
Analogue vs Digital, the neuroscience of love, deal breakers or how modern matchmaking works
Boost Your SEO
mobile-first and the future of SEO
thought leaders and experts
building your author platform and monetizing your content
[how I] Resolved Health Issues
online business consultant, speaker & podcaster
starting & growing your coaching business & podcasting
Professional Certified Transformational Coach, Public Speaker, Disabled Veteran, Mentor, Internet talk radio host, and podcaster
use social media to level the playing field between SMEs and large corporate firms
designer, explorer and environmentalist
the first PR Company for Ethical or Sustainable Brands
time and project management expert
space fantasy audio drama
Crime & Trauma Scene Cleaners/Hoarding Remediation
marketing expert focused on the blockchain space
sexual enhancement products
at-risk youth and seniors
holistic health coach and wellness advocate
Personal exit strategy

If one was writing a novel set in 2018 it might be necessary to have characters who speak in this mixture of sales jargon and New Age blather. So chalk this list up as research as well as the poetry of the Damned.

See also: m.po list of banal phrases

hidden under the soles of your shoes

Business Insider Australia has a somewhat informative picto-article (hat tip Naked Capitalism) about the state of the physical internet (i.e., cables and server farms). "Somewhat" because it (i) comes larded with journalistic asides designed to make the data more comforting and less technical, and (ii) goes out of its way to omit cell traffic from the equation. The phrases in bold below cover both scenarios:

...people often mistakenly assume that internet traffic happens by air – our mobile devices, after all, aren’t wired to anything.

But satellites carry less than 1% of human interactions, and in some ways the truth is far more impressive than messages sent by tower signal.

The internet – arguably the most important resource in the modern world – is very tangible and fairly vulnerable. It exists in large part under our feet, by way of an intricate system of rope-thin underwater and underground cables hooked to giant data storage units.

The article wants to make the point that "the internet" (monolithic) depends on cables and power-hungry data centers. Its graphic depiction of how ocean and underground cables are laid, and the sheer extent of them, is compelling. The "vulnerability" of this network isn't addressed but clearly power failures and strategic bombings are what they are implying. The article should give any reader pause to consider how un-ecological all this hardware and cable-repairing is. But the "only one-percent of interactions are by satellite" datum elides the enormous cell-phone infrastructure that works in tandem with these cables and servers. "Towers" are mentioned but those do more than just beam signals into space.