So very, very high

They’re released new footage of Felix Baumgartner’s record-setting freefall. Go and watch, but (as IO9 points out) be aware it gets pretty intense early on, during his spin.

It’s also interesting to watch the stats; he goes very, very fast initially, but loses speed almost as quickly as the air thickens up around him.

Here I Go Again: the 2014 MS150

It’s springtime in Houston, and that means we’re all spooling up for another MS150.

Last year, I thought I’d be one-and-done with this, just proving to myself that I could do it. Well, I did it — and rode the century on day one, even — but I had so much fun that repeating with the Karbach Team was never in doubt. We’ve already started the training rides again.

Last year, you, my friends, helped make me the number one fundraiser for the Karbach team. I don’t mean to take anything away from that, but I don’t think it’s possible for me to repeat: someone is already out in front by a long, long margin (check it out). That said, though, I’d love to make my mark once again. And it’s up to y’all to help me out. Can I count on you?

Thanks, all of you, for the tremendous support you gave me last year. It was remarkably motivating, and you helped make a real difference for the NMSS. Let’s do it again.


SBNation’s Jon Bois has been Breaking Madden this season, but the best experiment came early. I give you BEEFTANK:


Born in 1937. Parents were a rhinoceros, a Sherman oak, a wheelbarrow full of graphite, a ray of light that shone through the clouds, a fulfilled prophecy, a buried time capsule full of set-and-baited mouse traps, and a real big ol’ dude.

Was encouraged to play football at age 10, when he chanced upon a mannequin at the clothing store wearing a shirt with the words “FOOTBALL GAME” and a drawing of a football on the front. He talked to it for hours, and it never told him he was too round for this world or that he shouldn’t eat the plastic bologna rings.

Played college football at DeVry, where he studied poetry. He finished with a GPA of reddish-gray.

Dislikes taking the subway, not because of any particular phobia, but because whenever the car stops and nobody gets off, he feels terrible for the train operator.

Refers to liquids in plural, i.e., a glass of milk is “a glass of some milks.”


(via MeFi.)

TDS on the Minimum Wage

Just go watch.

It remains amazing to me that the Wal-Marts and McDonald’s of the world get away with opposing minimum wage hikes when their own employees require public assistance to make ends meet. In effect, every taxpayer is subsidizing their subpar wages. And very few folks are calling them on it.

Confidential to certain neighborhood restaurants

Recently, a joint in my hood — long plagued by spotty food, bad service, a crappy wine list, and a host of related issues — decided that “hey, I’ll ask a TV show for advice!” was the right plan.

Mrs Heathen and I decided to try them out last night, to see if the plan worked.

First, their key problems, as I see it:

  • A somewhat run-down building.
  • Generally poor service, mostly by people who appear to have never waited tables before.
  • Glacially slow kitchen production even when very, very not busy.
  • Spotty execution.
  • Bizarrely long menu.
  • Poorly considered entrees rife with unforced errors.
  • Trifling wine list that needs help.

After the visit, I can report that the interior is much nicer, and the previously unknown to me waiter did seem to have done this before. Further, the menu is much shorter and more focussed, which is great.


We waited about half an hour for a burger and a salad when there were only 2 other active tables in the restaurant. The wine list is unchanged and terrible, which will be even more damning when the always-excellent Max’s opens on the next block. The execution of the food we got was iffy at best; a beet salad should have more than a couple beets in it, I’m sure you’d agree, for example. Worse, they appear to have deliberately sourced burger buns and patties that are wildly different in size, which is unfortunate, because it gives the impression of a very small burger — and leaves you with a bunch of extra bread when you’re done. Of the fries, the less said, the better — “leathery” is not a texture I look for in side dishes unless we’re under siege and dining on filet of Allen Edmunds.

I really, really want this place to work. They’re reasonably priced, and literally two blocks away. But they seem to have a really, really hard time with the basics. Reality TV isn’t going to fix that. Given what they changed and what they left the same, I have the distinct impression that the owners and I disagree about what’s keeping Gratifi from being a great local restaurant.

Books of 2014, #2: Command and Control, by Eric Schlosser (27 Jan)

So, gentle Heathen, gather round, and let me give you a decades-delayed case of the nightmarish heebie jeebies.

My sense is that most of you are cold war kids, like Mrs Heathen and I. Our impressionable teen years coincided with a period of time when nuclear war was taken as almost a given; we were all fucked, but we just tried not to think about it.

Or, rather, we sort of WANTED to think about it, but then regretted doing so, which is the only way to explain the existence of such destructo porn as Threads and The Day After. Even lighter fare during the 80s, like Wargames, hinged on the obviously-imminent thread of nuclear armageddon. The sky is blue. Ice is cold. We’re all going to die. Inshallah.

Somehow, it didn’t happen. We’d like to tell ourselves a fairy tale at this late date that it never could’ve happened, or that the Russians were too afraid, and our leaders too wise, to ever let it happen, and that the collapse of the USSR was foretold and inevitable and all we had to do was wait out the clock, but none of those dogs will hunt. We stared oblivion in the face for the very best part of 40 years, and somehow lived to tell the tale.

And here’s the kicker, gentle heathen: we only made it out by the skin of our goddamn teeth, and with a heaping ton of good luck. If you thought nukes were scary when you were 16 and knew little about them, well, you got another thing coming: once you know how they work, how poorly they were secured and made safe, and how political tomfoolery kept them that way, they get a shitton more frightening.

Read on, if you dare.

Eric Schlosser‘s exhaustively researched new book Command and Control explores some hugely significant but generally neglected aspects of the nuclear weapons age: the fundamental safety (or lack thereof) of the American nuclear arsenal, and the development of nuclear strategy during that same period of time. The book tells these two stories interspersed with the actual story of a massive accident around a Titan II missile in Damascus, Arkansas in 1980.

What he finds — all of which is more or less indisputable, as it’s mostly matters of public record — is horrifying.

Start with this: There were hundreds and hundreds of accidents, big and small, involving live nuclear bombs. They were dropped on runways, set afire, accidentally blown up (but not detonated), and thrown into the sky by exploding missile fuel. Crashing bombers disgorged their world-ending payloads over American farms and Spanish villages. Entire missile systems were considered unreliable and downright dangerous by experts, but kept in service as bargaining chips with the Soviets. The Titan II, which was to carry our most destructive payload (the 9 megaton W-53 warhead, i.e. 400 times the yield of the Nagasaki bomb), was plagued by maintenance issues and a criminally dangerous propellant mix, but was kept in service for years even after an accident that could have easily obliterated Arkansas.

Despite what you may have been told, every single one of these accidents, in fact, could have resulted in what the experts refer to as a “criticality event.” Nuclear weapons hinge on a primary explosion that compresses a nuclear core. They’re packed with conventional explosives that must be triggered in a precise manner to produce the desired nuclear or thermonuclear explosion. However, exploding part of the conventional payload COULD very well set of a partial reaction.

Since most modern weapons have absurdly high yields, even less-than-optimum nuclear detonations would far exceed the power of any conventional weapon, and would come with the added extra bonus of lethal radioactive fallout — and, given our paranoia for most of the nuclear period, a very real chance that the accident would be interpreted as a strike or launch by one side or the other. Boom.

The complexity of the weapons themselves, and the limits of the command and control infrastructure, created a system where an accidental detonation of a thermonuclear device was not just possible but entirely likely. As analyst, Joint Chiefs advisor, and Stanford professor Scott Sagan put it, the fact that we never had an accidental detonation of a nuke is explained less by “good design than good fortune.”

Let that sink in.

Here’s the other punch line: because organizations like the Strategic Air Command were routinely flying around with live bombs (no, really; for a huge chunk of the pre-missile era, the SAC kept armed bombers in the air ready to go, carrying live nukes, just in case), and because live missiles were armed at all times during the Cold War, instances of heightened alert were actually MORE likely to produce an accident than more placid periods. It is profoundly easy to envision a world where the 30 days of tension during the Cuban Missile Crisis included an accidental detonation somewhere, or an accidental launch of forward-deployed tactical missiles from Turkey, and then where would we be?

Sagan again: “Nuclear weapons may well have made deliberate war less likely, but the complex and tightly coupled nuclear arsenal we have constructed has simultaneously made accidental war more likely.”

Yeah. It’s like that. Freaking out yet?

And, in fact, it’s even worse. Safety problems were routinely hidden from civilian officials, or even from top brass, by commanders in charge of weapon systems to avoid difficult questions, and to protect jobs and commands.

The policies and practices, especially in the early days of the arms race, were built on a freakish and naive faith in giant, monolithic control systems, and assumed many such systems would mesh with each other flawlessly. But it’s also inevitably true that such monolithic systems could not possibly survive what theorists referred to as a decapitation attack; we more or less assumed that the Soviets, in a surprise launch, could probably kill the President, most of the Cabinet, and most of the top military leadership. Where’s the central control then?

The Soviets, for their part, actually had an answer to this: they built a “doomsday” system, designed to fire their missiles automatically and without human intervention if it detected a nuclear detonation on Soviet soil. But they didn’t tell anyone about it, which sort of defeats the purpose.

The gamesmanship of nuclear strategy is also a huge part of the book, and it’s fascinating. Nuclear parity between the superpowers was “healthier” for everyone than an imbalance. If you think the other guy can wipe you off the map and leave you with nothing, you also think there’s nothing to stop him from doing so, so the idea of a sneak attack to even things up becomes more appealing. On the other hand, if you’re sure you could still wipe him out even if he hit you first, everybody is thought to be more polite.

This is a horrifying sort of mental calculus, but it was a huge part of our strategic thinking for more or less the entire missile age. Especially during the nontrivial portions of the arms race when we had a giant advantage, and both sides knew it.

(That’s another thing: the arms race was, for most of its run, a giant money and power grab by the military-industrial complex. There was no “bomber gap” in the 1960s, and the Soviets were NEVER really able to keep up with us in the missile age. They had a brief moment of public superiority with Sputnik, but after that it was all Yanks, all the time. Of course, when both sides have enough to kill everyone, keeping up is sort of pointless, and despite a missile gap in our favor the Soviets would have been able to turn most of Europe to glass in any exchange.)

But that’s all in the past now, right? WE don’t need to worry anymore, and we can sleep well again. Whew.

Well, not so much. Despite all our best efforts, nuclear nonproliferation is a dead letter. It turns out tech is easy to export, which is how countries in the emerging world have joined the nuclear club. What’s not easy to export, though, is an organizational culture that includes deep engineering know-how and safety controls.

The arms race between the US and the Soviets was, in nationalistic terms, largely abstract. I didn’t meet a Russian until after the Wall fell. I had no personal, familial, tribal, or regional beef with Russia; they were just the Other. This kept rhetoric and emotionalism largely out of the picture during our long period of detent. This isn’t the case, though, for at least one pair of new nuclear adversaries: India and Pakistan. The South Asian states have their missiles aimed at each other over Kashmir, and both are poster children for the “plenty of tech, but no engineering safety culture” problem I mentioned above.

Sleep well.

Books of 2014, #1: Something More Than Night, by Ian Tregillis (8 Jan)

Here we go again. Plus, I’m not even a month in, and I’m behind on the blogging.

I actually blame this book for the blogging part of that, because it was disheartening to start the year with something so disappointing and I kept putting off writing this entry as a consequence. Tregillis has taken a whole bunch of ideas and mixed them up here, and the result just doesn’t work. He’s got a Chandleresque narrator (for no discernable purpose, and boy HOWDY does that ever get tired) in a noir-ish mystery tale set among the angels in a near-future world where massive yet unexplored ecological changes have happened (but never mind those, because neither those changes nor the near-future setting matter at all to the plot).

Our other narrator — there are two — is more clear, and blessedly free of schtick, but she’s also so clearly the author/reader proxy that she struggles to be anything else. Her persona also tends to collapse under the weight of the info-dumps Tregillis imposes on her chapters, so as to bring us up to speed.

Tregillis is a bit too in love with his voice, I think. This can work for a writer and reader when the voice is consistent and confident; entire careers can be sustained by voice. (Some would say this describes Scalzi, but there’s more to his work by my lights, and being a voice-y writer isn’t a bad thing regardaless.) But Tregillis doesn’t have one of those voices; he comes off like a geek trying to impress with phrases and jokes that fall kind of flat. Sure, he gets some good bits in there — the phrase “like the offspring of an octopus and a Klein bottle” is nice, for example, but even it presupposes a level of geekery that will drive off readers outside the tribe. (Seriously, how many Heathen even know what a Klein bottle is?)

He also does that thing that prose writers do when they’re working in the truly fantastic (or what they think of as the truly fantastic) where they avoid direct physical descriptions because it’s all too far beyond human comprehension or whatever, and instead drop hints designed to shake you up without actually giving you anything substantive, like implying an angel has a variety of liplike things with which he could play a trumpet. It’s lazy writing, really, and annoys more than entertains. (Last year’s The Incrementalists was also guilty of this.)

Skip it.

Pete Seeger

Sad news this morning; 94-year-old Pete Seeger, folk giant and national conscience, has passed away.

Don’t miss either his Wikipedia bio or the exhaustive Times obit linked above. Remember, this is a man who told the House Un-American Activities Committee that

I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature.” He also stated: “I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.

They tried to imprison him for that. That’s an American hero, right there.

Five years ago this month, Mrs Heathen and I stood in the cold and wet in Washington at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial for the Obama Inaugural Concert. Among our favorite memories of that day is seeing Pete Seeger perform live, leading us in all the verses of “This Land Is Your Land.”

We were part of a very very large, yet very very happy sea of humanity, so my only shot of Seeger is actually a long shot of a jumbotron, but I’ll take it.

Fortunately, YouTube has decent footage of his performance. Take a moment for Mr Seeger (his grandson is part of this ensemble, by the way).

Pete Seeger was married for almost 70 years to Toshi Seeger, an accomplished figure in her own right. Mrs Seeger passed away last July, at the age of 91.

Yeah, I’m sure this was an “innocent” mistake

Somehow, the fancy new computer ordered by a core developer on the Tor project was accidentally “misrouted” from the manufacturer in California to an area just outside Washingon, DC, before finally making to her in Seattle.

The Tor Project, in the event you are unaware, provides hard-encrypted online anonymity. Compromising Tor is a stated goal of the NSA and other eavesdropping organizations, because a brute force attack is impossible with current computing techniques.

Dept. of Technological Anniversaries

Thirty years ago, on January 22, 1984, computing changed forever. The ad was a teaser; remember, it ran only once, but during the Super Bowl (Raiders 38, Redskins 9), so it’s safe to say lots of people saw it.

Jobs’ demonstration of the actual machine two days later made it clear that Apple was playing the game at a higher level than anybody else. Remember, at the time, the IBM PC was state of the art for personal computing: huge, bulky, unfriendly, and based on a command line interface. There was no sound beyond beeps and boops. Graphics were a joke on the PC, and required an add-on card. The GUI Jobs demonstrates here is, by comparison, from another planet. The technical information he outlines is similarly cutting edge, especially for a mass-market computer. To say this was an exciting development is to understate things by a couple orders of magnitude. The Mac changed personal computing in enormous and profound ways. Jobs’ examples of IBM missing the boat may seem grandiose, but he’s fundamentally right.

(Something else to keep in mind: in this video, Steve Jobs is twenty-nine years old.)

I didn’t join the Mac faithful right away — in ’84, I was in junior high. I made it through high school with a TRS-80, a cartridge-based word processor, and a cassette tape drive as my mass storage. (Bonus: without the cartridge in, the CoCo booted straight to BASIC.)

I went to college in 1988, but since my campus was more PC than Mac, I bought an AT clone that turned out to be the fastest machine in my whole dorm. That was kind of fun. It also turned out that computers made sense to me in ways that other people didn’t get, and so I stayed in the Windows world for a long time but for some very rewarding side trips largely because people were paying me to do so.

But I got there eventually, mostly because of how awful Windows became, especially on a laptop. In late 1999, I was traveling a lot, living out of a laptop, and writing lots of Office docs. Windows 98 on a laptop was a dumpster fire in terms of reliability — crashes were frequent, and the idea of putting your laptop to sleep was just a joke. Windows couldn’t handle it, so you were forever shutting down and rebooting. Then a friend of mine showed me his new G3 Powerbook. In the days before OS X, Macs were only a little less crashy than Windows, but it was enough to catch my eye. The functional sleep/wake cycle, a big beautiful screen, and a generally more sane operating environment closed the deal, and I made the switch in early 2000 to a 500Mhz G3 Powerbook.

What’s interesting now to me in retrospect is that I realized I’ve been on the Mac side for nearly half its life. I’ve used Macs way longer than I used PCs (1988 to 1999). I see no future in which I switch back. Had Apple not switched to a Unix-based OS, I’d probably have gone to Linux for professional reasons — and, honestly, desktop Linux would probably be a much better place. (Having a commercially supported Unix with professional-grade software written for it, running on premium hardware meant fewer people worked to make Linux on the desktop viable for normal humans.) Instead, Apple built OSX, and changed everything again.

Original Macs were sometimes derided by so-called “serious” computing people as good for design and graphics and whatnot, but not for “real” work; by shifting to the BSD-based OSX, Apple gave the Mac the kind of hardcore underpinnings that Windows could only dream out (and, really, still doesn’t have). The designers and creatives stayed, and a whole extra swath of web-native software people joined them as the Mac (and especially the Mac laptop) became the machine of choice for an entire generation of developers. That shift has been permanent; if you’re writing web code in Python or Ruby or PHP, you’re far more likely to be doing so on a Mac than on Windows simply because the Mac has so much more in common with your production servers than Windows does.

The end result is that the Mac platform is in better shape today, at 30 years old, than it’s ever been.

I tallied it up the other day. I’ve had five Macs as my personal machine, counting the G3 I bought back in ’99. I’ve bought two others for my household — a 2009 Mini that serves as my media server, and a 2012 11″ Macbook Air I bought Mrs Heathen last Christmas. Somewhat hilariously, in doing this tally, I realized that (a) I never owned an “iconic” square Mac like the one in the video above; and (b) four of my five Mac laptops have looked almost exactly the same: the 2003 Titanium Powerbook G4 (1Ghz, 512MB of RAM, and a 60GB hard drive — a very high end configuration at the time!) was one of the first of the “sleek silver metal” Mac laptops, and that style was carried over to the upgrade I bought in 2005, though by then they were made of Aluminum. In 2007, I made the jump to the Intel-based Macbook Pros; the bump in power was pretty huge, but the chassis was substantially the same.

My 2010 update didn’t look much different, and the only significant visual difference between the 2010 model and the one I bought last fall is that my new one doesn’t have an optical drive and is therefore slimmer.

Eleven years is a long time for a product to look pretty much the same, especially in computing, but I’ve yet to see anyone complain that the MacBook Pro looks dated. That’s what paying attention to design gets you. I suspect that, eventually, the Pro will get a more Air-like profile, but right now the power consumption and temperature issues mandate the more traditional shape.

Anyway, Apple has a minisite up about the anniversary. It’s fun. Visit.

“You need a little bit of larceny in your heart to get a film made.”

This oral history of Swingers is pretty damn fantastic. They made it themselves, for almost no money (in film terms, anyway), as a labor of love, and somehow it turned into a cultural phenomenon.

Oh, and launched or boosted the careers of several folks, as it happens. I hadn’t realized, for example, that the director Doug Limon, went on to do the Bourne films, largely on the strength of Swingers.

Friday Letdown: There Is No Ghost Rat Ship

Well, not really, anyway. From The Smithsonian:

Off the coast of England there is a ship. Well, there are probably many ships, but this ship in particular is interesting because it has no people on it. It’s a ghost ship — a 1,400 ton ocean liner of a ghost ship. If you believe the headlines, it’s full of cannibal rats, and it’s heading for England. Neither of those things are true.

The Lyobov Orlova disappeared on Febrauary 4th of last year while it was being towed from Newfoundland to the Dominican Republic. How and why the ship was cut loose is still a mystery, and for months, no one knew where it was.

According to some sources, the ship is infested with “cannibal rats.” But this is more theory than fact, as no one has been on the ship in a year. The cannibal rat theory comes from Pim De Rhoodes, a Belgian salvage hunter, who told tabloid The Sun, “There will be a lot of rats and they eat each other. If I get aboard I’ll have to lace everywhere with poison.” De Rhoodes has no actual information about whether there are rats on the boat, or whether they’re diseased, cannibalistic or perfectly civilized.

According to the BBC, the ship has yet to be sighted off English waters. The Irish Coast Guard isn’t worried, nor is the U.K. Maritime and Coastguard Agency. For more Orlova sightings, the blog Where is Lyubov Orlova tracks sightings and theories about the ship. You can see map of sightings, as well as the ship’s deck plan, and there are shirts and mugs on offer for the most intrepid Orlova hunters.

Disappointing, I know.

This is not of course to say that ghost ships like these aren’t a thing.

That didn’t take long: Dept of Followups

That poor bastard raped (note: I mean literally, not figuratively) by cops and medical personnel in New Mexico has already won a $1.6 million settlement from the city, with claims against the hospital and doctors still pending. He may get get a real jury trial on the outstanding claims, which is likely to make this a very, very expensive episode for a variety of entities in Hidalgo County, New Mexico.

But the only thing that’ll really, truly reign in this kind of bullshit is for serious and personal consequences to accrue to the people who actually made the choice to abuse this guy: the cops. Unfortunately, that’s all too rare, so the taxpayers will foot the bill.


Dept. of Obsolete Plots, and the People Who Inspired Them

Back when I was a wee Heathen in the 1970s, World War II wasn’t ancient history. Nazis were still pretty reliable go-to villains, even 30 years after their surrender (e.g.).

Rarer but still somewhat common was the trope of the “isolated Japanese soldier, lost on an island or in the wilderness, who still believes the war is on.” I saw this more than a few times — I remember an episode of Gilligan’s Island originally broadcast in 1965, but also one from the Six Million Dollar Man in 1975, and another from the 1979 show Salvage 1.

The reason this trop was so popular is simple: it was grounded in the real. Holdouts were discovered as late as 1974, nearly 30 years after the end of the war.

One of the last of those men, Lt. Hiroo Onoda, famously refused to believe the war was over until his former commander flew there from Japan to issue orders personally.

Onoda died last week at the age of 91.

The House on Wade Avenue

This is pretty awesome.

The house at 3215 Wade Avenue, about 15 minutes from downtown Raleigh, looks just like the rest of the houses in that neighborhood. A nice metal roof. Forest green window shutters. Doric columns line the front porch.

But there’s no driveway out front. And the lights are never on. And there’s no walkway to the front door.

Of course, none of those amenities are necessary, because this house is not a house at all.

“How many films did Roger Corman make and never release? ONE.”

In the middle 1990s, some folks who’d optioned the rights to The Fantastic Four from Marvel had a problem. They’d not yet been able to secure proper financing for a film, and their option was set to expire if no film was made.

The solution? Make a hideous adaptation for almost no money — and then never release it. Of course, you can’t TELL the cast and crew that the film is destined for oblivion…

It’s that wrinkle — plus the inevitable leaks — that make the 1994 film notable enough to spawn a documentary. I saw the movie at a convention years ago, and holy hell is it ever bad, but I can’t wait to see this doc.

(Sure, they eventually made a big budget version and a sequel, but I’m not altogether convinced that either is actually any better than this one. While the bigger-budget FF movies made money, they were savaged by the critics, and rightly so. Consequently, the modern cinematic FF has not been even hinted at in the Marvel Cinematic Universe despite a history of overlap in the comics. It’s probably better this way, though, because otherwise they’d have to figure out a way to address why Captain America looks so much like the Human Torch.)

Well, the Internet was fun while it lasted

The DC Court of Appeals has struck down the 2010 FCC order that established network neutrality on the specious and laughable grounds that consumers have a choice in their provider.

Before this ruling, these monopoly common-carriers were obliged to treat all paid traffic equally. In particular, they weren’t allowed to privilege their own traffic over others. This was partly to preserve the commons that is the internet, but also because the quasi-monopolies enjoyed by the telcos were built on the back of public investment, so expecting them to play nicely was a reasonable expectation.

Look now to see the Verizons and AT&Ts of the world aggressively fuck us all even more than they already do. AT&T may degrade traffic it sees as carrying information that competes with its own providers (like, say, YouTube). Look for them to try to charge competitors like Google more to allow us, the paying customers, to reach them.

If this isn’t overturned at the SCOTUS level, the Internet as we have enjoyed it — a huge engine of wealth-creation and connectivity — will be destroyed.

Dept. of Doug Adams being Wise

This was all over the net a month or so ago, but it’s worth a review:

I suppose earlier generations had to sit through all this huffing and puffing with the invention of television, the phone, cinema, radio, the car, the bicycle, printing, the wheel and so on, but you would think we would learn the way these things work, which is this:

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.