Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Marconi #11

I end this series of posts with some of the author's (Marc Raboy) reflections on Marconi and his legacy.

"Marconi was without a doubt the dominant – as well as most enigmatic and controversial – figure in the pioneering stage of the information age. After a certain point, it does not really matter who did what; it is impossible to speak about the history of modern communication – from the wireless telegraph to radar, the cellphone, GPS, and the Internet – without paying close attention to Marconi and his career" (Marconi 673)

Quoting a historian: "Marconi's inventions, modifications, and improvements fit into a small box, at that time dubbed Marconi's 'secret-box' or 'black-box.' When Marconi 'opened' this 'black-box' by publicizing his first patent in 1897, people were amazed and intrigued by its simplicity. The solutions appeared so simple and obvious that many began to wonder why no one else had come up with them" (673).

"Marconi thus personifies the paradox of communication. His ambivalence is ours. How does a technology that promotes and facilitates contact, openess, and human potential become an instrument for domination, manipulation, and control?" (677).

Thank you, Mr. Raboy.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Marconi #10

In 1930 Mussolini appointed Marconi president of the newly formed Royal Academy of Science. The academy's purpose was to promote Italian science and culture. The academy was to have 60 members. The government was to name the first 30 members. They would nominate the rest, with Mussolini having the final say. Mussolini claimed to not be antisemitic, but he nixed all nominations of Jews.

In 1933 Marconi felt compelled to respond to a reporter's question about the situation in Europe: "Mussolini and Hitler will not join forces. They are too different" (Marconi, 593).

In 1936 Mussolini pursued his war in Ethiopia, then an Italian colony, with renewed vigor and determination. His forces used chemical weapons, murdered prisoners, and terrorized Ethiopians. Marconi did not protest while lauding Mussolini for other things.

In July, 1937 Marconi died. He had long-standing health problems. About 50,000 people filed by while he laid in state. There was a grand funeral. "At precisely 6:00 p.m. Rome time, telegraph and radio stations in Italy, Britain, the United States, and Canada went silent, along with other beam and wireless stations around the world" (653).

Marconi's will designated all his assets go to family members, and none to scientific, political, or religious organizations. I have skipped a lot of the biography about Marconi's personal life. He was married twice. During his first marriage he traveled a lot and lived apart from his wife a lot due to his work. They had three children. Much of the communication between the spouses was via letters. He married his second wife when he was age 53. She spent much time with him. She was devoted to him and attended to his health problems. They had one child. For many years in midlife, his home was his yacht, which included a lab for experiments.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Marconi #9

In 1922 Marconi began experimenting with short waves. "Using a transmitter described as a "baby wireless set," he awed his audience by demonstrating "how a flying shaft [beam] of radio waves may be hurled in a desired direction, straight at a receiving station intended to receive it." This was the new directional "beam" system he had been developing with his associate Charles Franklin since 2016" (Marconi 472).

In a talk Marconi said he thought it possible to design an apparatus by which a ship could send a beam of rays in a desired direction and the rays coming across a metallic object such as another ship could be reflected back to the sender, thus revealing the presence and bearing of the other ship. Marconi was describing a process that would come to be known as radar. Successful use of radar was one of the keys to allied superiority in WW II, and now is essential to air traffic control (473-4).

Others were developing broadcasting. Marconi did not see what the fuss was about. He thought radio was about communication, not the one-way delivery of light entertainment, what he thought broadcasting was doing (486). Broadcasting used continuous waves as opposed to Marconi's spark waves.

Largely due to the efforts of other people the radio boom was well under way by 1922. In 1922, the first year when numbers were available, 100,000 radio sets were sold in the USA. It was 5 times that a year later. Such enormous growth continued for several years afterwards. The proliferation of broadcasting attracted the powers that be, too. Vatican Radio was established with Marconi's help. In February 1931 millions of listeners around the world heard the Pope speak. Inspired by the example of the Vatican, totalitarian dictators and Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were soon using radio to "inspire, cajole, mobilize, or terrify" (568).

In a May 1931 broadcast the pope called for "the reconstruction of the social order, describing the dangers of both unrestrained capitalism and totalitarian communism, as well as the ethical implications of reconstruction. It was one of the most important political interventions of the 1930's, approving the triparate corporatism of government, industry, and labor [ ] favored by Italian fascism ... [I]t was also couched in a tone that could invite the praise of a liberal politician like FDR" (568-9). FDR later met with Marconi, and FDR was interested in Italy's domestic policies (591).

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Marconi #8

In 1915 Marconi traveled to Schenectady, New York to visit the General Electric plant where Ernst Alexanderson developed and patented a high-frequency alternator capable of generating continuous waves (Marconi 393). Marconi wanted to buy it. Marconi and GE's chief counsel arrived at the verge of an agreement whereby GE would manufacture the alternator, while Marconi would have exclusive rights to use it. The agreement didn't materialize (439).

"The proposal was intensely political and essential to Marconi's global strategy. Marconi's UK base was constricted by British wartime restrictions, but the war also presented opportunities for technological development and the company was still determined to build a global network anchored by a British imperial wireless chain. At the same time, the US domestic market and likely emergence of the United States as the dominant world power after the war foreshadowed an increased role for Marconi's American operations. A deal with GE would palliate American nationalist concerns and reduce Marconi's exposure to the British public sector, with which he had such a fraught relationship. At the same time, the company was anxious to position itself once and for all against the anticipated postwar resurgence of Telefunken.
     The United States' entry to the war in April, 1917 put a major crimp in Marconi's plans. The US Navy took over all wireless operations on April 7, and as the war proceeded it was not entirely clear what would happen to them once the conflict ended" (439-40).

Telefunken was a German wireless company and Marconi's chief competitor.

In 1919 Marconi reopened his negotiations with GE, proposing purchase of 24 alternators. GE's chief counsel conferred with the US Navy. The response requested that GE not sell the alternators to Marconi. Even President Wilson wanted to dissuade GE from doing the deal. The president was convinced that world pre-eminence would be determined by three factors: oil, transportation, and communication. Wireless, however, was still up for grabs, and if the United States could achieve dominance there, the result would be a standoff between the USA and Britain (441).

As the situation evolved, almost the opposite of Marconi's plan occurred. GE bought Marconi's American operations. It resulted in the birth of the Radio Corporation of America (RCA), incorporating the assets of the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company of America (MWTCA) into a new public company in which GE owned a controlling interest. RCA replaced MWTCA as the major US domestic wireless company and gave the US a solid foothold in global communication (443).

Monday, July 23, 2018

Marconi #7

The Marconi biography includes the following. I will be brief.

Marconi wins the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1909. He was nominated a few times before. He was the first entrepreneur to win the prize. He shared it with a German, Karl Ferdinand Braun, who contributed significantly to the development of radio and television technology.

In 1909 two ships collided, one with 1200 passengers. Marconi's wireless system aided a quick rescue response. Only six lives were lost, demonstrating the benefit to mankind made possible by wireless.

After H. Cuthbert Hall was ousted, Marconi took on much of what Hall had done. In 1910, though, Godfrey Isaacs joined the firm, which gave Marconi more time to devote to research and experiments.

In 1911 Italy declared war on the Ottoman Empire in defense of Italians in northern Africa. Then Italians started building wireless stations on Africa's northern coast. This was the third time wireless was used in war.

On 10 April 1912 the passenger ship Titanic left Ireland headed west to New York, with 2,208 (estimated) passengers and crew. The ship had the then-best wireless equipment aboard. On 14 April, four days into the crossing and about 375 miles (600 km) south of Newfoundland, she hit an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. ship's time. The wireless operator sent distress signals while the ship was sinking. Unfortunately, the closest ship to receive the signal, the Carpathia wasn't very close. Almost two hours after the collision the Carpathia arrived and rescued an estimated 705 survivors. Many people gave Marconi a lot of credit for saving the survivors.

In 2012 the British Postal Office's not yet signed agreement with a British Marconi Company made the news. The agreement drew criticism for the terms being too favorable to Marconi's business and political insiders who made investment gains from holding stock in Marconi companies (ref. Marconi scandal).

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Marconi #6

In my opinion Marconi's scientific achievement was more spectacular than John Galt's motor in Atlas Shrugged. Firstly, Marconi's was real and Galt's was fictional. One might say that's an example of "truth is stranger than fiction" (Mark Twain quote; Lord Byron quote). Galt's motor was designed to harness static electricity from the air for power generation. Secondly, unlike radio waves, static electricity can be seen, felt and heard. The electromagnetic waves -- originally called "Hertzian waves" -- used by Marconi for wireless telegraphy cannot be directly perceived. They can only be indirectly perceived via instruments -- radio, television, antenna, cell phone, computer. Thirdly, Marconi's achievement made possible Galt's hijacking a radio broadcast in order to make his speech. 😉

Marconi and John Galt (really Ayn Rand) did have very different ideas about politics. Marconi courted governments to commercialize his wireless telegraphy. They wanted it mainly for military use. Marconi also relied on government-backed patent protection. Conversely, Galt's motor was targeted for the private sector.

H. Cuthbert Hall was second in command to Marconi in Marconi's business from 1901 to 1908. Hall's political views were far closer to those of Ayn Rand than were Marconi's. Hall had led the company's fight against the Berlin Convention (see #5). Hall had an aggressive attitude toward the British government, Marconi's biggest client. "Hall was an ideological free enterpriser, to whom government interference of any kind was anathema. If dealing with the government could bring benefits to the company, then fine. But there was nothing intrinsically beneficial to the relationship. Marconi, though not at all ideological, felt intuitively close to political power of every stripe. In his mind, nothing could be more powerful than a partnership with government -- any government" (Marconi 285).

In 1907 Marconi became increasingly dissatisfied with Hall. Marconi thought his companies'  business dealing were impaired by Hall and depended upon its relation to governments. So Marconi, with the support of board members other than Hall, ousted Hall.

A future post will contain some more about Marconi's relationship to Mussolini and fascism many years later.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

Marconi #5

Marconi sought exclusive contracts with licensees of his system, and there were other, different wireless telegraphy systems provided by competitors, especially in Germany. This led to disputes internationally.

The International Radiotelegraph Conference took place October 3 to November 3, 1906 in Berlin, Germany. Its proposals were endorsed by twenty-six countries and, if ratified, would take effect mid-1908. "The [proposed] treaty's most important provision governed wireless communication between the shore stations of contracting nations and vessels of any state, regardless of the wireless telegraphy system these ships employed. The United States insisted on ship-to-ship transmission. One clause that attracted far less attention provided for a bureau to oversee international wireless telegraphy [...]. This bureau [...] would be the first international regulatory body for broadcasting and telecommunication. This was the lasting legacy of the process that started because Marconi refused to allow his licensees to communicate with competing systems."

Marconi had used contracts and patents to establish a monopolistic position in Italy and Britain [...], but the rest of the world was wide open (Marconi 276-80).

I believe it is important to note that this was before the United Nations, or even the League of Nations, was formed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Marconi #4

By 1905 Marconi's sytem was pervasive. "On ships it was sometimes suggested that wireless had ruined 'the delights of complete repose which have hitherto ... been associated with the idea of being on a long ocean voyage,' but this notion was discounted by the benefits it brought for minimizing danger at sea. It was also good for business travelers who could for the first time remain in touch with their offices as they crossed the Atlantic. With cheap long-distance telegraphy within reach, emigration took on a less onerous meaning; it would be easier for members of disporic communities to keep in touch with their families back home. At the same time, ambitious corporations and military establishments everywhere vied for ways to use the new technology as an instrument for their grand designs. Indeed, the sentiments for and against Marconi's invention were not unlike those we hear today about the good and evil of the constant connectedness that comes with modern communication technology. There was full agreement, however, on the basic point: wireless communication had changed people's relationship with time, distance, and mobility" (Marconi 247-8).

Reginald Fessenden was "soon known in the United States as a sharp critic of Marconi's system. Fessenden realized that if Marconi's spark transmitter could be replaced by one that gave off a continuous wave, it would be possible to transmit voice by wireless. This was the technical breakthrough that enabled what would eventually be known as broadcasting, and for this reason, Fessenden is often claimed to be the inventor of radio. The spark-reliant intermittent wave transmission that Marconi pioneered could transmit dots and dashes but not speech and music (hence the distinction between "wireless telegraphy" and "broadcasting"). However, both methods relied on the medium of elecromagnetic waves, and Marconi was unquestionably the first to use the wave spectrum for communication" (250).

Dots and dashes, of course, refer to Morse code. By the way, Thomas Edison's first two children were nicknamed Dot and Dash (link). 😊

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Marconi #3

G. Marconi secretly worked on a project he referred to as "the great thing" -- an attempt to signal across the Atlantic Ocean. Theoretical physicists said it couldn't be done because they claimed electromagnetic waves radiated in a straight line into space and would not follow the curvature of the earth. Holders of this view included the great French mathematician and physicist Henri Poincare, who understood the properties of Hertzian waves. But Marconi was convinced that the theoreticians were wrong; he believed electromagnetic waves would bend to follow the curvature of the earth (Marconi, 148).

In December, 1901 Marconi experimented with signals sent from a station in England across the Atlantic Ocean to a station in Newfoundland. At the receiving end he did indeed hear signals "serenely ignoring the curvature of the earth which so many doubters considered would be a fatal obstacle" (174).

Prompted to explain how Marconi had been able to receive a Hertzian wave signal nearly two thousand miles away, two theoretical physicists later hypothesized that there might exist an ionized layer in the upper atmosphere capable of reflecting or refracting radio waves of certain frequencies back to earth (176).

The biography doesn't address the varying range of radio wave lengths/frequencies. However, Wikipedia shows the whole range of radio waves (link1) and includes the following (link2).

"Lower frequency (between 30 and 3,000 kHz) vertically polarized radio waves can travel as surface waves following the contour of the Earth; this is called groundwave propagation."

"In this mode the radio wave propagates by interacting with the conductive surface of the Earth. The wave "clings" to the surface and thus follows the curvature of the Earth, so groundwaves can travel over mountains and beyond the horizon."

"Early long distance radio communication (wireless telegraphy) before the mid-1920s used low frequencies in the longwave bands and relied exclusively on ground-wave propagation. Frequencies above 3 MHz were regarded as useless and were given to hobbyists (radio amateurs). The discovery around 1920 of the ionospheric reflection or skywave mechanism made the medium wave and short wave frequencies useful for long distance communication and they were allocated to commercial and military users."

So it seems both Marconi and Poincare were partly correct and partly incorrect. Marconi's experiment used lower or medium frequency (longer or medium length) radio waves.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Marconi #2

Radio waves were first predicted by mathematical work done in 1867 by Scottish mathematical physicist James Clerk Maxwell. Maxwell noticed wavelike properties of light and similarities in electrical and magnetic observations. His mathematical theory, now called Maxwell's equations, described light waves, and waves of less or more length, as waves of electromagnetism that travel in space, radiated by a charged particle. In 1887, Heinrich Hertz demonstrated the reality of Maxwell's electromagnetic waves by experimentally generating radio waves in his laboratory, showing that they exhibited the same wave properties as light: standing waves, refraction, diffraction, and polarization. The waves were first called "Hertzian waves." The modern term "radio wave" replaced the original name around 1912. (Link).

"Hertz's breakthrough had attracted worldwide excitement when he published his results in 1888, but no one had yet found a practical application for the discovery" (Marconi 27). Hertz's interest in the waves was theoretical, and he died in 1894 (age 36). Marconi was strongly interested in their practicality and/or commercial use.

Besides developing the technology, much of his early career was devoted to obtaining patents in different countries and defending his patents from infringement. He sought exclusive contracts. A big part of advancing the technology was increasing the useful range of radio waves for communication. A big step was succeeding in transmitting radio waves over the Atlantic Ocean. That would allow wireless communication with ships very far from land and between continents. The greater part of practical interest in Marconi's wireless telegraphy was by governments for military use. A private sector exception was Lloyd's of London. "The first major firm to recognize the commercial potential of Marconi's invention was Lloyd's, the world's leading provider of marine insurance and, hence, dealer in shipping information" (88).

P.S. You might wonder how G. Marconi and wireless communication relate to a blog named Correspondence and Coherence. The relationships aren't strong, but there are some. 1. One definiens of correspondent is 'a journalist employed to provide news stories for newspapers or broadcast media.' Such correspondents nowadays often communicate using wireless technology with a cell phone or computer. 2. A coherer "was a primitive form of radio signal detector used in the first radio receivers during the wireless telegraphy era at the beginning of the 20th century" (Wikipedia).  😊

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Marconi #1

I'm reading Marconi by Mark Laboy (link). It's a biography of Guglielmo Marconi, who invented wireless communication. He is often credited with inventing the radio. His invention made the radio possible, but the claim is only partly true.

Pages 34-9 describe the technology of communication and its effects prior to Marconi's invention of wireless communication.

"Gutenburg's invention of movable type, in the mid-fifteenth century, was arguably the most important single development in communication technology of the past thousand years, in terms of its impact on the struggles for unhindered human expression and the corresponding attempts to exercise social and political control over it. Coupled with the spread of literacy, the printing press enabled the Protestant Revolution, among many other revolutions of modernity. But the thing about literacy, British cultural theorist Raymond Williams once wrote, is that you cannot teach someone to read the Bible without also, simultaneously and unintentionally, empowering them to read less holy tracts" (34).

"The "press" ... was by its very nature oppositional and mobilizational, encouraging and enfranchising individuals, and their publishers, to act more effectively as political citizens. Governments became more obsessed with a sense that they needed to control the press and,  not surprisingly, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted in 1788, stated that Congress shall make no law interfering with freedom of the press. ... By the early nineteenth century, the press was a toll not only for democrats but for all sorts of propagandists as well" (35).

"[T]he introduction of the most important communication technology since the Gutenburg printing press [was] electrical wired telegraphy. By the 1830's, large commercial press interests as well as a new type of company, the national news agency, started to emerge. Press technology could operate as well on a very small scale as on a large one. Getting one's hands on a small printing press and using it to go into business or politics was not beyond the reach of entrepreneurs or activists. Telegraphy was another matter. Telegraphy was a complex technology, requiring huge capital investment; therefore access to it was regulated either by companies or governments, or, more typically, both. With the telegraph, for the first time, there was a separation of means and message, and the emergence of a belief that the tremendous power bestowed by ownership and control over the means of communication had to be offset by responsibilities.
    Another new feature of telegraphy was that messages sent along telegraph lines did not recognize national borders. (Neither did carrier pigeons, which is one reason it took some time for telegraphy to catch on.) ...
    The mail had to physically cross a border. Not so with the telegraph. ...
    Wired telegraphy had some significant limitations, however. It did not reach everywhere, and often needed to be combined with another, usually more primitive, form of communication. To send someone a "telegram," or "wire," one needed, first, to get the message to a local office. Then, at the other end, someone had to deliver it by hand to the intended receiver. There were issues of security and confidentiality" (35-37).

Wired telegraphy's language was Morse code.

"After the first international underwater cable was laid between Dover, England, and Calais, France, in 1850, the idea of a transatlantic cable started to take shape. ...
    The cable-based global communication infrastructure expanded ten-fold between 1870 and 1900, and double again in the next decade" (37-38).

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Supreme Court rules against forced fees to unions

On June 27 the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that employees cannot be forced to pay "agency fees" (LA Times, CNN). "Agency fees" refers to money that employees who aren't union members pay to a union for things such as negotiating a contract, representing employees in grievances and arbitration, and lobbying activities to foster collective bargaining negotiations or secure advocates. The agency fee is also sometimes referred to as “fair share” and “agency shop fee.”

The agency fee differs from union dues. Employees who are not dues-paying members of the union pay this fee to the union for representing them (link). Agency fees are not supposed to be used for the union's political activities. Whether they actually are or not is very difficult to identify. Of course, these non-members do not get to vote in elections for union officers or vote on whether to strike or ratify a new contract. So the ruling gives more freedom and take-home pay to non-union employees.

Pro-union people didn't like the ruling, calling it things like "an attack on the working class." Of course, it wasn't an attack on the workers who will no longer be required to pay the fees. Union leaders and pro-union politicians didn't like it because it lessened their own power and money, but they refrained from saying that, probably not wanting to be accused of being selfish.

I confess that what I know about these fees, the government rules, and union activities is not a lot. For example, I don't know by how much "agency fees" are less than union dues, but part of the difference, maybe a lot more, goes to the union's political activities. This ruling may have been a little heavy-handed. Non-union members get some benefit -- hard to say how much -- from the union's collective bargaining efforts. Wages or benefits for unionized workers "spill over" to those for non-unionized workers. On the other hand, it doesn't bother me that the ruling will likely lessen the influence of union leaders. It won't bother me if it reduces their headcount and pay. Nearly all money donated for political campaigns by unions goes to Democrats (link). An article in Fortune magazine says 40% of union members vote Republican. So why does 99% of union advocacy money go to liberal groups? Some union leaders grant themselves huge pay and benefits. They have had too much power and influence for decades, much due to government rules favoring them. Like Justice Alito wrote in his majority opinion, union leaders have been very much responsible for huge budget problems in Illinois and other states and costly public employees pensions that are badly underfunded.

Monday, July 2, 2018

JARS 18.1

The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, Volume 18, Number 1, July 2018 has been published. The Table of Contents is here. The article Egoism and Others is by yours truly.

Also of note is Robert Campbell's review of Harry Binswanger's book How We Know. I made several posts about How We Know on this blog during June-August, 2017. Campbell's review is more critical than mine, and our criticisms are about very different things.