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Time itself (external)

This links to a much more complete article from the SWling Post, but unlike most of my external-link posts, I have quite a bit to say about this. The gist is that there’s a pair of antenna arrays in Colorado broadcasting an analog and digital signal on 60kHz. The proposed FY19 PresBud proposes shutting this radio transmitter down. I’m a radio nerd, and an analog nerd, and I’m always lamenting over technological shifts and shutdowns that nobody else cares about. Like, say digital transmissions on the AM band. But this is different. Part of NIST, WWVB broadcasts an incredibly accurate time signal across the U.S. If you have a clock or watch that describes itself as ‘atomic’, it maintains its accuracy because of this radio transmission.

WWVB sits next to WWV, which started its life in Washington, DC1 in 1920. For nearly a century, we have had an official radio broadcast of the time. In 1983, Heathkit released the GC-1000 clock which automatically synched with WWV. It was quite possibly the first clock for consumers to receive radio direction for impeccable accuracy, and one of the only radios to use WWV before WWVB went online. These clocks still routinely sell for upwards of $200, with an unbuilt kit selling on eBay this month for $810. I’m sad to see AM going digital, SW dying out partly because of such a rich legacy of receivers out in the wild. To an extent, this is no different – be it WWV, WWVH (on shortwave, similar to WWV but in Hawai’i), or WWVB, millions of devices seemingly magically pull an impossibly accurate (and official) time standard out of the air.

As the linked post mentions, most people likely have no idea how their ‘atomic clocks’ work. A lot of people seem to think that anything that happens automatically is just the internet at work. Time signals are also by necessity provided by GPS. But a ubiquitous (stateside) terrestrial signal that is easily interpreted and worked into signals… it’s obvious why that caught on (again, with millions of clocks out there in the wild). It’s incredibly disheartening to think that an open, official time broadcast will just disappear… but it’s far beyond disheartening to think about how that will affect millions of clueless users.

The array (originally built in the 1960s) has been upgraded and refurbished several times over the years, and in fact within the past decade. The bottom line is that an official standard is available to the entire nation via an easily received and decoded signal. This standard is time itself. This may seem trivial, but it’s important. Though from a budgetary standpoint it truly is trivial. This administration cuts every tiny thing it feels it can mock while lining the pockets of defense contractors and other private-industry capitalists. If you’re reading this, and you care about the free spread of information… things like WWVB are the prototypical information age. Contact your representatives, and let it be known that this is an unacceptable cut.


FOSTA-SESTA

Content warning: mentions/links to data on sex trafficking, and murders of women & sex workers.

I know this site gets zero traffic, but regardless I regret that I didn’t take the energy to write about FOSTA-SESTA before FOSTA passed. FOSTA-SESTA is anti-sex-worker legislature posing as anti-trafficking legislature. It’s a bipartisan pile of shit, and the party split among the two dissenting votes in the FOSTA passage was also bipartisan. Since the passage of FOSTA, Craiglist has shut down all personals1, reddit has shut down a number of subreddits, and today Backpage was seized. I would implore anyone who gives a shit about sex workers and/or the open internet to follow Melissa Gira Grant on Twitter.

If you don’t support sex workers, frankly I don’t want you reading my blog. But if you’re here anyway, it’s worth pointing out that the absurdity laid out by FOSTA is a threat to the open web at large, which almost certainly explains why Facebook supported it. It’s not just sex workers who oppose this thing, NearlyFreeSpeech.net, the host I use for all of my sites, had a pointed and clear blog post outlining how frightening it is.

Obviously, it’s worth listening to sex workers on this matter, which nobody did. But it’s also worth listening to law enforcement, the folks who are actually trying to prevent trafficking. And, who would have guessed, law enforcement actually works with sites like Craigslist and Backpage to crack down on the truly villainous aspects of the sex trade. Idaho, just last month, for instance. Meanwhile, having outlets where sex workers can openly communicate and vet their clients saves their lives — when Craiglist opened its erotic services section, female homicide dropped by over 17 percent. That is to say that so many sex workers are routinely murdered, that helping them vet clients significantly reduces the overall female homicide rate.

This whole thing is misguided and cruel2, and I don’t really know what to do about it at this point. But listening to people who are closely following the impacts is a start. It’s a death sentence for sex workers, and a death sentence for the open web, and anyone who cares about either needs to keep abreast of the impact as it unfolds.


Distant megaphones

I’m a big fan of cities. Whether I’m trying to settle in to sleep or just absorbing the ambience around me, I am an especially big fan of the sounds of cities. I’m not alone in this; Leonard Bernstein was inspired by the urban soundscape, Steve Reich composed New York Counterpoint and the even more blatant City Life, and the Konzerthausorchester Berlin paid homage to the sounds of Berlin with thirteen pieces that include such urban mundanities as the preparation of food and being snapped in a photo booth.

I live in an environment that could barely qualify as urban if you really squinted your ears at it. I do hear what I believe to be the world’s loudest street sweeper on a regular basis, but I’m more likely to hear the whistle of a factory or freight train than a bustling street performance. Working in DC, however, affords my ears a wonderful palette of sounds. There are a ton of police forces, all seemingly trying to outdo one another with their bizarre sirens. Bucket drummers abound, and for about a year I got to listen to the wonderful contrast provided by a stunning street harpist.

The District is also, by its inherently political nature, a hotbed for activism and protest1. Chanting forms its own unique rhythm, and the most confident and compelling protest emcees assert poetic lilts in their megaphone communiqués. And while I appreciate hearing the vocals of a revolution, there’s another magical sound that comes of this: that of distant megaphones.

Distant megaphones echo and blur. Distant megaphones are pronounced but inarticulate. Distant megaphones are at once familiar and alien. There’s almost an uncanniness about them, unquestionably human yet obscured and abstracted through the distortion of the machine, the reverberance of the city. The indecipherable lilt of the protest emcee now dances out of phase with itself.

This unwitting reduction of the voice of rebellion to little more than mechanized rhythmic moans is quite possibly my favorite of the city sounds. Unintelligible as it may be, there is a signal in the noise: We are here, and we need to be heard.


Automatic excitement: video as default

By now we all know that Twitter has killed off Vine, or is slowly killing off Vine, or has killed off part of Vine and will kill off the rest of it in the future. My initial reaction to this was pure joy, for I have long hated Vine. That enthusiasm was tempered by promptly hearing from source after source how Vine was a huge creative outlet for oft-ignored black youth. That my experiences never crossed paths with this version of Vine is purely a failing on my part, plain and simple. A wake-up call to attempt to be less complacent and lazy in my media consumption.

If I were left to my own personal experiences with Vine, however, I would still be delighted with the news. This is because, put simply, I have never watched a Vine and felt like I got anything out of the video that I did not get out of the screencap. This is not a problem unique to Vine by any means, it seems that increasingly we live in a world where video is considered the most captivating medium, thus all content should be video. Rather than letting a creative work dictate its own medium and leaving the excitement factor as the responsibility of the creator, video checks off that box from the get-go. I guess if audiences are largely eating it up, then that’s true enough and fair enough. But I wonder just how many people clicked Vine after Vine and felt that they weren’t getting an appropriate return on their time investment.


Pizza dreams

I’ve had pizza on my mind a lot lately. Cravings. Running through my mental Rolodex, imagining the sauce from this local joint, the crust from that one. Promising myself a slice or two or three as a treat to myself at the end of the week. I don’t even like pizza all that much. It’s fine, I certainly won’t complain about being offered one, but I’ve never understood the obsession over it. A well-executed pie can be a wonderful thing, but no more so than any other food. Pizza, certainly, is not the stuff dreams are made of.


A night of Pokémon Go

Tonight marked my first night spent actively hunting Pokémon; it was, in fact, the first time I’d ever bothered to catch one outside. Finding new critters in new places, seeking out pokéstops with lures attached, comparing notes with a friend… this was all fun but predictable. I guess I just also haven’t been on an evening walk in a while1, because the whole meatspace community aspect of the thing was new, and very unlike what I expected.

Walking through our main town park, which was technically closed since it was after dark, was fascinating. Where there were pokéstops, there were just masses of people huddled together… enough where it seemed rather unlikely to me that all these people actually knew each other… little social gatherings were forming in the middle of the night just out of the desire to catch virtual monsters. And while the basic idea here wasn’t surprising, the sheer scale of the groups, the sheer number of people glued to their phones and alerting others to the presence of a Goldeen really wasn’t something I had anticipated.