View from the Edge

Peter Riva of Gila has offered his many years of columns for this online newspaper. His writings have been published in East Coast newspapers, and he decided to share them with the Beat and you, our readers.

If you could turn back the clock to, say, 1990, if you knew then that the world wide web would allow you to become a global merchandiser, would allow you to wipe out Sears and others with your powerful “digital shop” and that manufacturers would be lining up to place their product on your “platform...” what would you do? Answer? Become a multi-billionaire.

A few men and women learned about computer advances in the pipeline and so they sat down and thought: How can we, with this advance knowledge, grab a share of the new world and make it ours, making billions? Names pop out like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Larry Ellison, Larry Page and Sergey Brin. They started with nothing more than imagination built on the technology they had learned was coming. Again, I’ll repeat that: They knew nothing, had nothing, more than a foresight of technology that was going to sweep across the planet.

Let’s look at one man: Jeff Bezos. In 1993 at a TED3 meeting, I heard him say he was starting with books because books had a fair discounting system (same discounts federally mandated to all bookstores, no matter how large or small). In the end he wanted to expand to every other category, much like the Sears Roebuck model... sell manufacturers’ wares without having to warehouse anything. The idea of a retail world wide web sales’ platform was the heart of his genius. He saw the Internet as a means to put a catalogue in every home on the planet. Instead of the Sears’ catalogue, he would show you pretty pictures on your personal TV (computer screen). It was Sears combined with the Home Shopping Network, rolled into one. It took him until June 1994. eBay? 1995. Google? 1998.

Date: Sept. 11, 2018

Elon Musk, of SpaceX, talks about space travel as a "duty to maintain the
light of consciousness." Frank Drake, the astronomer, says we must search
for extraterrestrial intelligence to validate the probability - note, he
says not possibility, but says probability-of other observable civilizations
in our galaxy. Were Nikola Tesla and quantum physicist David Bohm right in
affirming that space is not empty but filled with a kind of force field,
something they referred to as "cosmic plenum?"

Date: Set. 7, 2018

In talking to people across America, there seems to be a running theme,
strong divisions in thinking, between portions of the population. The
nation-so terribly divided-seems incapable of understanding an opposing
side's view. One issue that seems to divide the most is the question of
whether the government should make your life better or whether the
government should get out of your way to allow you to make your life better.
Often, these are the arguments posed by extreme factions on both sides of
the political divide.

tempest fighter rsSometimes, especially in global turmoil and loads of flip-flopping news items, it is hard to begin to know where things are heading. Indeed, it is often even harder to determine if the nonsense said one day and un-Tweeted the next has any lasting effect or actually is taken seriously by anyone, anywhere. On the global stage there are often signs way after the effect, or Tweet, or lies, or executive orders have caught the news. So how are you, people who just want to know what the future may hold, supposed to glean any clue? Watch advanced technologies.

treaty of guadalupe hidalgo rsDid you know that Denmark and Canada are at war? And that they are negotiating – have been for 4 decades – for peace? And what's the war about? Borders and protecting territorial integrity. You see, half way between Greenland (Danish sovereign territory) and Ellesmere Island (part of Canada) in a strait of water known as Kennedy Channel is a lump of rock called Hans Island. And there's a third party involved as well, the Inuit people who call the island Nunavat – but no one is listening to their millennia-old claims. Nope, there's the pride of two countries controlling borders at stake.

space race rsMost Americans think the Space Race was over when man first circled the moon. But at that exact moment in time the Air Force was busy launching and testing a Manned Orbital Laboratory known as MOL. Only late in 2016 was the program officially revealed, although facts had been seeping out for decades. Designed as an observation platform to spy on America's enemies or adversaries, there was little doubt that a command and control platform in space would give our military the high-ground advantage. Nixon cancelled it in late '69 (no one really knows why – but, surprise, surprise, shortly thereafter we started the Skylab project which was, essentially a similar container in space, albeit only for science experiments).

mike riva rsIt is the little things that one remembers best. Moments of shared joy at RKO on 86th Street at the 25 cent matinee on Saturday morning seeing The House on Haunted Hill... the theater owner had rigged a skeleton to glide down on a wire half way through over our heads. No one was really fooled but the intent to frighten allowed us to play along and yell and scream as if we were terrified. Or playing handball or mumbly peg with pen knives and beating the older kid on the block, Chevy Chase (yes, that's his real name – same guy) who always lost for some reason. Or watching Marc Rothko and my dad paint the poured 16' concrete back wall an apartment building had snuck up during the summer of '60. The magic that Mark and my dad, a scenic designer, painted of a trompe l'oeil birch forest enthralled Mike, Kate (Mark's wonderful daughter) and I. Thirty years later it was still there only no one but us knew who had painted it.

Modern inventions always come with unexpected and possibly dangerous side effects. When the automobile first came out, horses were terrified and you needed to have a man walk before your car waving a red flag (I am not kidding). As speeds increased a claxon horn was employed constantly. In fact, in some countries the car horn is still used constantly. When microwave technology — first used for transmissions of data from one place, line-of-sight, to another — was employed, people in the way suddenly got headaches and got sick. I know a lawyer in the Citicorp building in NY who gave up his corner office and his headaches ceased.

We are all learning — in the news every day and part of the Mueller investigations — how viral media can be perverted for malicious intent. And we all remember that the NSA has access to every phone call made in the USA and most of the world. Okay, perhaps that's not all bad, but the possibilities of using benign cell phone call technology for unwarranted spying has been shown again and again. Now we're faced with Amazon's Alexa and Echo, Apple's Siri, and Google's Duplex (incorporating Home and Assistant) which are, by design, listening for your commands and, of course, picking up all sorts of other information. There are stories of those "services" listening in a bit too intrusively. A man talking on the phone to his brother discussing a serious medical issue of a relative. Next time the man went online, almost every site he went to and in his email inbox was filled with medicine recommendations for the same medical issue. When he complained he was told how to change the default settings to not listen until he called the device by name. But, one has to ask, did he turn off the commercial recommendations only? Were the recordings continuing anyway since the device is always on?