Tuesday, January 21, 2014
  What's wrong with this picture?

News item:
It took Google $3.2 billion in cash last week to snatch up digital thermostat company Nest. And it took a small startup about 24 hours to hack together a working equivalent of Nest's signature product a few days later.

That would be terrible news for Google - if the search giant's chief interest in Nest was hardware. But as is the case with its purchase of robotics heavyweight Boston Dynamics, or even its dabbling in self-driving cars, Google's acquisition of Nest isn't just about creating new revenue opportunities - it's about expanding the nodes and sensors it uses to collect data on our world.

After the blockbuster sale, Spark in Minneapolis, a Nest competitor that makes kits so folks can build their own smart devices, managed to put together a similar Internet-connected thermostat that senses when you're in the room.
Think about this from the viewpoint of these supposed "left libertarian techies". The "hacker spirit". The "maker spirit". Stewart Brand's Whole Earth Catalog.

What should a hacker be doing? He should be developing ways to AVOID the Biggest Brother Of All. Nope, that's not what these "hackers" are doing. They're developing ways to HELP Biggest Brother gather EVEN MORE data, hoping to nibble off a little slice of the massive profits that arise from Knowing Everything.

From the Dictatorship of the Proletariat to the Profitariat of Dictatorship in 30 short years. Marvelous.

Of course these things don't always end the way they start. Stalin started out the same way as Google. He persecuted uncool people and got all the cool people on his side. But after a certain point there weren't any uncool people left, and it was necessary to start grinding up the cool people.

Parkinson's Law as always. A bureaucracy never stops, it always grows, and always repurposes itself when its original target is shot full of holes.


= = = = =

Later: Someone discussing the NEST takeover on the radio said "Well, just think about how far we've come. Back in the '50s, if you had imagined programming your thermostat to come on at certain times, it would be science fiction!"

No. Exactly wrong. Timed thermostats were common in the '50s. One of the houses I rented in Oklahoma had a day/night timed thermostat controlling its floor furnace. The thermostat was probably installed in the late '30s. and it still worked in the '70s when I was there. Obviously it wasn't connected to any sort of net; in fact it wasn't even connected to the AC mains. The thermostat was 'microvolt-powered' from the pilot light, and the clock part was mechanical, something like a little parking meter. The house is still there and looks remarkably well maintained. Wouldn't be surprised if the thermostat still works.

Can't find a picture of this thermostat online. Fancier versions with real clocks are well represented on Ebay and elsewhere, but the simple windup timer isn't there.
 


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Polistra was named after the original townsite of Manhattan (the one in Kansas). When I was growing up in Manhattan, I spent a lot of time exploring by foot, bike, and car. I discovered the ruins of an old mill along Wildcat Creek, and decided (inaccurately) that it was the remains of the original site of Polistra. Accurate or not, I've always liked the name, with its echoes of Poland (an under-appreciated friend of freedom) and stars. ==== The title icon is explained here. ==== Switchover: This 2007 entry marks a sharp change in worldview from neocon to pure populist. ===== The long illustrated story of Polistra's Dream is a time-travel fable, attempting to answer the dangerous revision of New Deal history propagated by Amity Shlaes. The Dream has 8 episodes, linked in a chain from the first. This entry explains the Shlaes connection.

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