The Machines We Created

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Back in 1975, myself and a small group of other Ham Radio nerds in my area took to building Altair 8800 computer kits. It was offered to hobbyists as the “first home computer” and even though none of us thought that we really needed a computer, our curiosity as to what we could get this thing to do got the best of us.

After getting the unit assembled and running, we would compare notes on what we were able to accomplish with this new contraption. Most of the initial results were programming it to become a random number generator or make it into a number guessing game. Some of the guys just wrote a small program that would flash the front panel lights in order to impress their friends.  As we progressed in our knowledge, we were able to program the unit to become a security system for the house, along with controlling the lawn and garden sprinklers based on soil humidity. When we ran into issues with programming the unit, we would call MITS (Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, who made the kits) and talk with Bill Gates, Paul Allen, or Monte Davidoff who were then the creators of the Altair BASIC computer language.

 I finally devoted mine to monitoring the weather (wind direction/speed, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and rain amount). I ended up (as did most of the other guys) retiring the Altair computer for an Apple ][+, which opened up all sorts of new possibilities. The Apple was not only easier to program, but had new features like color graphics and allowed the connection of a joystick to play games with. The biggest advance was the ability to connect a pair of inexpensive floppy disk drives for storage, rather than trying to save programs on an audio cassette recorder or paper tape as we did with the Altair. We could also now install option cards that would allow features like converting text to speech. After we worked out the bugs (such as using the word ”kernel” instead of “Colonel” to avoid hearing the phrase “colon-el” come out of the speaker) we were now letting our computers carry on conversations over ham radio, which must have drove the other listeners batty.

As computers continued to advance during the years in both speed and memory capabilities, the operating systems became more “user friendly”, which really meant that they were becoming more geared toward the neophyte user. This resulted in the computer (and author of the software) having more control over the user than before, along with the user having less control over the computer. The introduction of the Internet opened a new door on privacy issues that were offered under the guise of better ways to communicate with others or a quick way to search for anything. Now large corporations were able to collect data from users and either use it for themselves to create databases or sell the data to other customers for profit. Most of the users of these services never read into the details of the user agreements contained on “detail pages” that stated in loosely interpretable terms about how their data was going to be used and who had access to it. As an example, Facebook began asking users to include their cell phone number in their profile that “would only be used to contact the user” by Facebook. They then introduced the “Track Nearby Friends” cell phone locater feature. One can only imagine how this data is being used by Facebook’s customers to track users every move for marketing purposes, driving habits (especially useful for auto insurance companies) and even private investigators to name just a few.  Of course, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has stated that “Privacy is no longer a social norm” and has done his best to try and open up everyone’s private lives to everybody.

I believe it was a Google executive that stated “People who use Gmail and other free email systems have no reasonable expectation of privacy”. As new updated operating systems and “Apps” are introduced, it seems that they just become more and more invasive into our lives on purpose.

We are now at a time where we need to decide if we want to preserve what is left of our privacy or just give in and allow everyone including corporations and governments to gather up every bit of information that they can about us. The technology that we developed to supposedly make our lives easier has virtually taken over our lives.

Computers are no longer “fun” as they were in the heyday.


Thomas Napers Added Jul 23, 2015 - 11:35pm
If you’re worried about privacy and the use of Facebook, why not stop using Facebook?  Why provide Facebook your cell phone number?  Personally I don’t understand why people are so concerned about privacy.  If some company could see everything I do in my private life, I don’t think they would care. 
I believe it was a Google executive that stated “People who use Gmail and other free email systems have no reasonable expectation of privacy.” I’d love to know the name of the executive that said that. 
Bill H. Added Jul 24, 2015 - 1:17am
I personally don't use Facebook, but my concern here is how people are tricked into surrendering information by initial misinformation or lack of details. Granted, most people never read into the "fine print" or misread a statement that was deliberately written to provoke misinterpretation or even appear to say just the opposite. This becomes even more of a concern when the person agreeing to the jumbled legal jargon is a teenager.
Again, there are those who could care less about having any privacy at all.
Everyone to there own!
One thing that hit home for me is when I was informed of several examples, such as Health Insurance companies adjusting individuals rates based on what they were purchasing at their local market and Auto Insurance companies adjusting rates based on GPS mileage and speed limit compliance info acquired from customer's cell phones and vehicle communication systems, such as OnStar.
In my opinion, this is Big Brother at it's best.
The statement “People who use Gmail and other free email systems have no reasonable expectation of privacy” was used by Google during a court battle in an attempt to defend their practice of scanning email for information to provide to other companies for advertising.
Stone-Eater Added Jul 24, 2015 - 7:22am
We are now at a time where we need to decide if we want to preserve what is left of our privacy or just give in and allow everyone including corporations and governments to gather up every bit of information that they can about us
It's not in our hands anymore. Everything will be chipped in a decade, and even now everythink is cross-linked somewhere. We have lost that battle before it even began. Facebook and social networking made sure of that ;-)
Bill H. Added Jul 24, 2015 - 11:24am
SEF - I agree that at this point it will be like trying to stop everyone from texting while driving since many drivers have made this a way of life. If people were to make this a real concern and stop using various intrusive services, this may generate a successful movement and the offenders would react. There are also various add-ons that one can install to eliminate or minimize intrusions. I use one called Ghostery on my browser that not only blocks the spies, but displays who they are and what sites they frequent. I was having a discussion the other day with a group concerning the implementation of driverless cars. Many were actually concerned with the privacy aspects since these vehicles would be networked. Just imagine programming a driving route from point A to point B and being constantly hijacked by Google to cruise by various stores and locations based on your web-surfing interests, or having camera footage from the forward/rear view cameras stored and analyzed constantly.
DS - Yes, we need a way to allow individuals to purge whatever information they wish off the web. Last year I found a site posing as a real estate database which contained virtually all of my info including name address, age, income, phone number, prior residences, relatives names, etc. Of course, there was no way to contact the site owner or webmaster to request removal of the info. It was obviously gathered from multiple sources and combined on this site without any notice or permission from me.
Bill H. Added Jul 24, 2015 - 8:40pm
MS - Yes, one party created the problem and the other party continues it. I suspect "Big Data" (Google/Microsoft/Apple/Facebook/etc) has the power and the bucks to make sure things stay as they are and become even more invasive.
MD - I'm not sure if we will ever see they type of pioneering into technology that we saw in the '70s being performed by individuals here in the US anymore. Seems we are importing both technology and technologists.
Bill H. Added Jul 25, 2015 - 12:55am
Mike- I would like to see user agreements be more open and truthful about what the system operator does with the data. Most of them are deliberately written in a way to downplay the facts or sugar coat them by using wording such as "We may share some of your data with our partnering companies in order to enhance your experience while using our site". Many times even statements like this that finally hint your data may end up somewhere else are only found if one bothers to click on the "details" link in the initial user privacy statement.
And yes, Facebook is probably the worst offender here. Not many users realize that some of their future employers are able to mine Facebook data on prospective employees using channels other than obtaining the applicants Facebook password. Many a young person's future career prospects have been ended in this way simply due to that "selfie" posted from a Friday night doing shooters at the bar that will never disappear from the internet.
Cullen Writes Added Jul 25, 2015 - 7:15am
Privacy is important because sometimes data paints an untrue picture and assumptions others make about data on you can be wrong. And you can suffer consequences for those assumptions by the gummit. 
Bill H. Added Jul 25, 2015 - 6:02pm
I think everyone remembers when Facebook tricked users into letting them download their contact lists, giving Facebook other people's names, email addresses, and phone numbers without the consent of the contacts. LinkedIn also tries to trick users into doing the same thing with a misleading statement. On the other hand, this is occurring constantly with apps designed for smartphone and tablet use. Most of these apps don't even let the user know that they have downloaded their contacts. Yes, smartphones have privacy concerns that are even more serious than your standard PC.
Bill H. Added Jul 26, 2015 - 10:49am
No, Facebook should have been straightforward about what they intended to do with the contacts they receive and should have advised the user to check with the contacts involved for their OK (which could be done with one simple group email). I know myself and many others who ended up getting spammed by Facebook and followed all around the internet after an acquaintance carelessly turned over their contact list to Facebook.
I certainly don't want my email address, home phone number, cell phone number, business phone number, position, and home address, and whatever else was in the contact file simply handed over by an individual to any company that is in business mainly to profit from personal data. There should be strict laws here in the US to prevent this and other forms of blatant privacy invasions as are implemented in Europe.
Bill H. Added Jul 26, 2015 - 4:46pm
That is a genuine Gold Lion KT-88 Pentode originally made in the UK and now manufactured in Russia using the original tooling. For sure one of the best sounding audio tubes presently available.
Barry aka. Hyperminde Added Jul 26, 2015 - 9:24pm
RE (Thomas N): “People who use Gmail and other free email systems have no reasonable expectation of privacy.” I’d love to know the name of the executive that said that.
I suppose this article gives as good of an answer as any....
I kinda' get the feeling that "Feds" encourage "Private" Business to get information that "they don't really need" because the "Feds" know it provides a path to getting stuff which would normally be Unconstitutional.
RE (article): Computers are no longer “fun” as they were in the heyday.
I really do like today's "Power Levels" in PC's.... Assembly Language and 256K of (bank-switched, due to 64K limits) memory was tedious (but I had a C-Compiler as well).
My file organization and backup looks like spaghetti, but I can still find "anything" in less than a minute.
Today, setup your own DNS Server and a Packet-Sniffer on your Home Network if you want to see what "sneaky" things that your devices are up to..... That's its own kind of fun! ... ;D
Bill H. Added Jul 26, 2015 - 11:50pm
Thanks Barry!
Always on point.
Steve Borsher Added Jul 27, 2015 - 9:01am
I still have fun with my computer; but my expectations of privacy have always been low. Here's a funny story about Gold Lion KT88s (your new avatar) and kits, that I also related in Nuts & Volts a couple years ago. I used to build everything Heathkit and Dynakit. We used "balanced" KT88s in the Dyna MkIIIs, and would test and replace them regularly; and I kept the spec sheets. When we ordered the first replacement pair I thought to compare the spec sheets, which were a list criteria with red checkmarks next to them. All 4 lists were identical. After that we just used 6146s; same as in our Heathkit transmitters. So much for honesty in electronics, even back in the 60s.
Bill H. Added Jul 27, 2015 - 12:35pm
I still see 6146s being used in some of the Ampeg guitar amps I work on occasionally. And yes, my early Heathkit DX-100 could put out 130 watts on CW with a pair of those.
Johnny Fever Added Jul 28, 2015 - 6:06am
“As new updated operating systems and “Apps” are introduced, it seems that they just become more and more invasive into our lives on purpose.”
I find your use of the word invasive to be very misleading.  Rather than that word I would have used the phrase important to our lives or a part of our lives or critical to our lives.  After all, to the extent they were invasive we could easily turn them off and go back to leaving messages on answering machines and using the yellow pages.  But everyone knows that was very limiting to our lives, so we keep those machines turned-on and in search of new and better uses for them.
Steve Borsher Added Jul 28, 2015 - 9:01am
I still find cellphones invasive, where people think anywhere is their public phone booth. And I am not allowed to turn off another persons cellphone; although I do occassionally voice my disdain. I find it as repulsive as someone picking their butt in public. But it has now gone on for so long my complaints no longer carry much weight; so maybe I'll just complain about butt picking from now on.
Bill H. Added Jul 28, 2015 - 12:51pm
 I think that many users were mislead into downloading invasive operating systems and apps. Yes, many of them provide beneficial conveniences that are certainly invaluable, but as a by-product they seem to always hide a subroutine that constantly plucks off geolocation data, text/email keyword data, GPS driving speed and mileage-traveled data, phone use data, and the newest trend, inter-store aisle location data that (as an example) allows the retailer to know that you are in the sporting goods aisle looking specifically at golf clubs. Now when you get home and turn on the TV, you may notice some targeted ads touting golf subjects being hurled at you for the next week or so.
This is why so many entities are offering "free" apps. They are not really free at all, because the user ends up paying with yet more lost privacy.
Steve Borsher Added Jul 30, 2015 - 9:54am
And then there is Farcebook. I have driven two people off of it by telling them how open a book their life is there, and how easy it is to track them down physically.
Bill H. Added Jul 30, 2015 - 4:04pm
Steve- I agree that cellphone "etiquette" has disappeared. There was a time when people were at least courteous enough to step out of the restaurant to carry on a cell phone conversation, along with letting the phone go to voice mail when socializing. Now it's everyone yelling into their phones at the restaurant and letting the device interrupt virtually any social occasion or verbal conversation. I was at a funeral last year when someone in the front row decided they had to answer their cell phone during the service. The pastor stopped his service and stared at the guy with the phone, waiting for him to hang up. The guy with the phone muttered loudly "Dude, like I'm at a funeral so like can I like call you back, Dude? This phrase was repeated about 3 times until Dude decided to hang up. The pastor asked Dude "are you done on the phone?" Dude responded "Sorry Dude, it was my Bud calling about my ex wife".
And we co-exist with these people!
Steve Borsher Added Jul 31, 2015 - 9:35am
I don't co-exist with those people; I don't even tolerate them. They are sub-human and just bumps in the road to total contentment. Same as with driving: I treat them as obstacles to be overcome; not tolerated. I am the American Ninja Warrior of the road.
And there is only one true Dude: Lebowski.
Bill H. Added Jul 31, 2015 - 11:32am
I was able to borrow a friends cell phone jamming unit that he purchased on the internet about 5 years ago. It was capable of eliminating cell phone conversations, texting, and tablet use with a range of over 60'. I did the ultimate test at my neighborhood Starbucks and watched virtually all of the customers be denied their "life purpose" for a period of about 10 minutes until one guy discovered that he was getting coverage outside of the "jamming blanket". Virtually everyone proceeded to sit on the sidewalk about 100' away in the shade so they could get back to being Zombies again.
I also took it to a movie theater and was actually able to watch a movie after about only 10 minutes of LCD screens glowing in the air.
Of course, these devices are illegal in the US, but are constantly being used in churches, some restaurants, and by law enforcement. A good legal way to accomplish this during building construction is to screen the building with 1/4" galvanized mesh or some of the new shielded sheet rock designed for this purpose and ground the mesh/shield at each corner. This was done at a local restaurant that caters to wealthy older citizens who totally despise cellphone antics during mealtime. It paid off big-time with a massive increase in business. When it was challenged by a group of phone zombies whining "what if someone is choking on their food or has a heart attack?", the response was that the staff or anyone could use the various landline phones throughout the establishment and was upheld by the local city government. Hooray!!
Steve Borsher Added Jul 31, 2015 - 11:59am
Yes, I still have a landline phone; albeit over digital cable. I have a unique problem with cellphones. Calls from one cellphone to another are virtually unintelligible to me because of the out of sync sampling. So much information is lost that I can only pick out the occasional word. My poor hearing doesn't help either. It is only slightly better to my digital landline phone. I was considering going totally cell at some point, along with cutting the cable entirely, but now I doubt that will happen. I just helped my son's family cut the cable, and they are doing fine without a huge lineup of stations never watched.
As far as the jammer, I did a lot of research into those before I moved from MA 3.5 years ago. I was going to get one for my truck, because other drivers on cellphones was getting to be a real problem. Now in RI that is nut as much of a problem as the poor driving with or without cellphones.
During the latter part of my career as a independent software/database developer, cellphones arrived, but I never got one. I have never needed to be in contact with anyone 24/7; that people do is, to me, a sign of insecurity and/or incompetence; in business and/or in life. I am a slave to neither man nor phone.
Bill H. Added Jul 31, 2015 - 12:25pm
Yes, cellphone audio quality is getting worse as the carriers lower the sample rate and delay data packets to try and cram as much traffic into their pipes as possible to avoid the upgrade costs. I think it has finally reached the point that a few users are starting to complain about everyone sounding like robots.
Steve Borsher Added Jul 31, 2015 - 12:31pm
And when iStuff started coming on line the Internet response time also diminished significantly. They fool you with local response times for Speedtests, but the speed diminishes greatly in passing through many servers. Someone better come up with something faster than light; and soon.
Bill H. Added Jul 31, 2015 - 4:16pm
They are all hoping that everyone will just sit back and "go with the flow" as is the case these days.
Steve Borsher Added Jul 31, 2015 - 5:04pm
Yes; especially the politicians.
Steve Borsher Added Aug 1, 2015 - 11:01am
Here's a "machine" that was created, between tubes and transistors, gained a lot of cache, then mostly disappeared. I had not heard of it before this article.
Bill H. Added Aug 2, 2015 - 10:58am
That was an interesting technology for sure!
Just hearing that Microsoft is pushing Windows 10 (even free upgrades) and hearing (just as I thought) that is has massive privacy issues.
Windows 10 Privacy Issues
Steve Borsher Added Aug 2, 2015 - 12:26pm
Now I know why Mr. Softy skipped Number 9: they still don't have anything revolutionary.  But they have created another business opportunity: fixing W10 privacy issues. My friends and I are waiting to the last possible moment to upgrade, to see just how many shoes fall.
Bill H. Added Aug 2, 2015 - 1:56pm
I'll bet Microsoft will do just what they did to externally obsolete XP. That was to change MS Office applications and IE to make them obsolete. When I "upgraded" to Windows 7, I found that I would need to purchase a new copy of Office in order to keep things running. There was no longer any free upgrades to those that had bought the rights prior, Also, security updates were halted for XP, deliberately opening it up to hackers, which was a sure sell for W7.
Steve Borsher Added Aug 2, 2015 - 2:34pm
I never found a problem with using older version of Office on W7. I'm still running various apps from 2003, 2007, and 2010. I'm an old dog who does not like learning new tricks. But I do agree with you on XP. I stayed on that as long as I could, basically skipping every other Windows release; all of which turned out to be dogs. I won't even help anyone with W8; it's just too much trouble to use. Mr. Softy put intuitive into the Recycle Bin with that one.
Bill H. Added Aug 2, 2015 - 4:21pm
My purchased version was Office 2000 and it worked on all Windows versions up until 7. It refused to load, even after trying some "tricks" that some said might work. I probably should have upgraded Office during the following versions prior to the new version as I suspect it would have been a freebie.
Steve Borsher Added Aug 2, 2015 - 4:39pm
I subscribed to TechNet subscriptions and had access to just about everything; up until the end of last year, when the ended it. Only cost about $260 per year. Before that, when I was working, it cost me $3000 for a Volume License Agreement; but it was still worth it. I had clients running every version of windows, from 98 through 2003, SQL, Transaction Server, etc, etc back then; and I had to keep up with their upgrades.
Steve Borsher Added Aug 10, 2015 - 10:34am
As part of "cutting the cable" I thought I might go cellphone only as well. However, the cellphone sampling rate/bit rate is now so slow that, in conjunction with my diminished hearing, I can mostly not understand speech between one cellphone and another, because so much information is lost when the sampling doesn't line up; which is probably always. I have digital landline, but that does not exhibit the same problem because the sampling rate is probably much higher.
Robert Burk Added Dec 24, 2015 - 5:47am
I think you all have it wrong, the issue is sovereignty versus servitude, or being an owner versus a subject. The above comments appear to worry about marginally increasing our degree of enslavement as if a slave ought to be focused on if he or she is allowed to eat peas for dinner rather than beans.
Human Rights versus Legal Rights (available on Smashwords) is a book about human freedom and dignity, it is also a way to eliminate debt, poverty and unemployment all the result of a way of ownership that by its very structure enslaves us to a system and those who control it. ... Just saying ... A slave is a slave regardless of how much privacy or little he or she is allowed.
Steve Borsher Added Dec 24, 2015 - 9:08am
But are slaves slaves if they don't consider themselves slaves. One can carve out an oasis for oneself in the worst of deserts.

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