Big, memory, Australia etc

Companies sabotaging their competitors and thus preventing innovation is not an uncommon phenomenon. Some use patents to do the dirty work. Others use the government and the bureaucracy. Rand, in an attempt to defend capitalism, once wrote a piece titled “America’s Persecuted Minority: Big Business.” To be fair to her, she writes about the persecution of American businessmen, of all sizes, by the US government and public—the assault of “liberalism.” But Branden has different views when it comes to “big business”-

Contrary to what some commentators may have led you to believe, her most passionate admirers are not to be found among big business. They are to be found among the young. I must tell you that in all the years I was associated with her I never saw big business do a thing to assist or support Ayn Rand in any way. I would say that for most businessmen her ideas were much too daring, much too radical. She believed in laissez-faire capitalism. She believed in a free market economy, I mean, a free free market economy. An economy in which not only were you to be unencumbered by regulations but so was everyone else. No special favors, no special protections, franchises, subsidies. No governmental privileges to help you against your competitors. Often I’ve had the fantasy of one day writing an article entitled “Big Business Versus Capitalism.”

This came to mind because of an article in Ars Technica on inventors—some eccentric failures, others extremely capable—and their inventions in the field of telecom; in particular, the case of Edward Armstrong, the man who invented FM and was driven to suicide by the actions of his competitor-

They heard, as one historian wrote, “a dead, unearthly silence, as if the whole apparatus had been abruptly turned off,” and it spoke worlds of significance to The Major’s listeners. They knew that, sitting in the middle one of the noisiest and most electrified places in the world, any signal carried by the conventional amplitude modulation system (AM) would be thick with the bête noir of the broadcaster: static. Yet here was Armstrong’s FM radio station, airing the clear pouring of a glass of water and deep reverberation of an Oriental gong.


[T]he dominant manufacturer of AM, the Radio Corporation of America, had already set its sights on rolling out television. Although RCA CEO David Sarnoff admired Armstrong, he saw FM as a potential competitor with TV for licenses, especially for the audio component of the system.

For the next two decades RCA and the networks threw every possible roadblock at FM. They got the Federal Communications Commission to limit FM broadcast power to 1,200 watts. They persuaded the agency to allow AM station managers to buy FM licenses and simply copy their AM broadcast schedules, instead of requiring them to produce original programs that would highlight FM’s superior audio sound.


As for the Major, after the war he threw himself into a hopeless legal battle with RCA, which unveiled a “Super FM” system for television that the engineer saw as crude patent infringement. Overwhelmed by the consequent trial and its costs, in 1954 he wrote a note to his wife Marion, whom he had driven off in a violent outburst.

“I would give my life to turn back to the time when we were so happy and free,” he confessed. With that, the inventor of FM donned a suit and overcoat with gloves and scarf, then jumped from the bedroom window of his apartment, 13 stories above the East River.

Another article from Ars on the importance of forgetting, and its digital avatar-

Selective forgetfulness is a boon to humanity; it keeps us from drowning in our own recorded data. It allows us to sift and sort, then to think at a higher level of abstraction instead of wallowing in detail. But while forgetting has been the human default since “humans” first appeared, Mayer-Schönberger argues that something has been flipped over the last 40 years. Thanks to machines, remembering is now the default.

The shift has been driven by four factors: digitization, cheap storage, easy retrieval, and global reach. The end result is things like Gmail—and the story of Andrew Feldmar.

Feldmar is a Canadian psychotherapist who crossed into the US to pick up a friend at the Seattle airport in 2006. At the crossing, a border guard decided to Google Feldmar’s name for some reason. He came across a 2001 article written by Feldmar in which the man referenced his own use of LSD—back in the 1960s. Feldmar was then denied entry to the US.

“Do we want a future that is forever unforgiving because it is unforgetting?” asks Mayer-Schönberger. “If we had to worry that any information about us would be remembered for longer than we live, would we still express our views on matters of trivial gossip, share personal experiences, make various political comments, or would we self-censor? The chilling effect of perfect memory alters our behavior.”

This is especially true of the Web, which has the amazing property of making it quite difficult to really remove or limit the reach of information. If, in a moment of pique, a young person posts an unfortunate political rant to a personal blog, then later changes her views, the article will be cached and archived by dozens of sites. It may have been quoted or reposted elsewhere, or commented upon by other bloggers. Is it just for a some company 20 years later to use the post when making a hiring decision?

Its becoming more and more difficult to differentiate between the Chinese, the British and the Australian governments given that they all behave in the same creepy manner. Here’s the Australian Communications Minister

“What we’re saying is, well in Australia, these are our laws and we’d like you to apply our laws,” Conroy said. He added, “Google at the moment filters an enormous amount of material on behalf of the Chinese government; they filter an enormous amount of material on behalf of the Thai government.”

This could basically have come out of the mouth of a Chinese official, and it plays right into the idea that differences in censorship between countries are merely acceptable differences of local law (which is the claim that China has made, repeatedly, in recent weeks, to justify its widespread Internet surveillance and firewall system).

Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s