25 November, 2021

u/haberdasherhero on the first ENIAC programmers

There was only one in the world and it was this one, the ENIAC. It was run by a team of 6 women who had to literally invent programing. The guys who built it gave them full schematics and said "you can ask the engineers any questions, here's the diagrams, make it work". Seriously.

They programed ENIAC by manually connecting inputs to outputs. Like, instead of code telling this parcel of information to "go here, do this calculation, then the result should head over there", the electricity just flowed and wherever the cables led the information went.

Imagine an entire stage packed full of oscillators and modular synths for an electronic artist, with wires manically being pulled and pushed into different components and the vigorous turnings of knobs. Like that, except with AC, spinny skirts, sensible pulling and pushing of cables, delicate and exact knob turning, and levels of pencil biting only a half dozen mathematicians can achieve.

They had to manually reconfigure every input-output pair each time they wanted to run a new program. They are responsible for many of the fundamental aspects of computer programing that are still around to this day.

After the 1940s all but two of these amazing mathematician-turned-programmers went home to cook, clean, and start families. They got zero credit for the amazing contribution to modern society they all made.

For 40 years no one knew of their existence. They were noted in zero history books, plaques, textbooks, or the minds of anyone save those who worked on the project or knew them personally.

Then, one day in the 80s a college student asked about pictures of them holding parts of ENIAC and at work programming. There was no names, no explanation, nothing except a few pictures in an archive.

The answer the student received was "those are models they used to make the computer seem more interesting". After finding that answer insufficient the student dug into the paper records and interviewed people who worked on the project and found out what these women really did.

They are finally known about, though you rarely hear of them. Everyone reading my words should take a moment to mentally thank/pray for/sacrifice a chicken to Kay McNulty, Betty Jennings, Betty Snyder, Marlyn Meltzer, Fran Bilas, and Ruth Lichterman.

23 November, 2021

u/commentsOnPizza on why trolley systems failed

I'd say that it was more than just car industry propaganda that got rid of the trolly systems.

First, the trolly systems were privately owned. This is important for several reasons.

1) They didn't get government subsidies. Transit systems today are mostly funded through government subsidy (and I'm including roads as a "transit system"). If the government is going to pay for the roads via taxes, but you have to build and maintain your trolly tracks based on fare revenue, you won't make ends meet. People using your trolly system would still be paying the taxes to fund the roads which means that driving would end up comparatively cheap.

2) They were taxed. Most jurisdictions had a franchise tax on trolly systems (ie. they had to pay the city to operate). They also had to pay property taxes on the land they used. Again, roads don't pay property taxes and roads don't pay franchise taxes. From point #1, they're even subsidized.

3) One of the business models of a lot of trolly systems was building a line along a strip of land that you owned. You buy a lot of property along a linear space and then build a trolly bringing people to that area and the value of your real-estate skyrockets. You can run the trolly at a loss and make it up on the real-estate. Of course, once you start selling off that real-estate, you don't have a lot of incentive to invest in your trolly. When busses were replacing trolly systems, the trolly systems were pretty decrepit and in need of huge overhaul and replacement. [...]

09 November, 2021

Inside the machine that saved Moore’s Law


To give a sense of scale, if you took the mirror in your bathroom and blew it up to the size of Germany, it would have bumps about five meters high. Blown up to the same size, the smoothest EUV mirror Zeiss’s engineers had yet made—for space telescopes—would have bumps only two centimeters high. These mirrors for ASML would have to be orders of magnitude smoother: if they were the size of Germany, their biggest imperfections could be less than a millimeter high. “These are really the most precise mirrors in the world,” says Peter Kürz, who is responsible for the development of the next generation of EUV optics at Zeiss. 

A big part of Zeiss’s work would be inspecting the mirrors to look for imperfections and then using an ion beam to knock individual molecules off, gradually smoothing the surface over months and months of work.

While Zeiss was developing the mirrors, Benschop and other ASML suppliers were working on their other big challenge: how to create a light source that would produce a steady flow of EUV. 

It would haunt them for years.

03 November, 2021

Where We Stand, and Why


Third, prioritize real relationships. One of the most important and insightful reported pieces in the entire 2020 election cycle came from The New York Times Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy. They analyzed data from the Hidden Tribes Project and concluded that “the outspoken group of Democratic-leaning voters on social media is outnumbered, roughly 2 to 1, by the more moderate, more diverse and less educated group of Democrats who typically don’t post political content online.”

Spend too much time online, and you’ll emerge with a distorted view of your opponents and your allies. 

02 November, 2021

Tse Chi Lop, the suspected ringleader of a $21-billion crime syndicate, may be the world’s most innovative drug lord.


Tse rose to prominence as a criminal disciple of open multicultural hypercapitalism. David Au of the RCMP says that’s what sets Canada apart. “When I used to go down to the western U.S., every group was very siloed,” Au says. “The Chinese would only work with the Chinese. The Vietnamese would only work with the Vietnamese. The African-Americans among themselves, Latinos among themselves.” The inter-ethnic collaboration here is distinctly Canadian. “Other jurisdictions find it unique,” Au says.

What gave traditional organized crime its strength in the past—the violence, the control of territory, the ethnic loyalty and defined hierarchies—are the heart of its weakness in the present. Tse had a better system. Instead of ethnic loyalty, transnational and inter-organizational co-operation. Instead of territory, logistics. Instead of hierarchy, metrics. Instead of centralized control, connections. Tse Chi Lop is easily the most significant criminal in Toronto’s history, and he represents, in an entirely diseased way, a perverse triumph of the city. His vast criminal organization flourished through open-mindedness and entrepreneurship, by creating markets and exploiting them in a spirit of eager globalization and cosmopolitanism. He is one of capitalism’s grandest and most polite monsters. He is very much one of us.