[time-nuts] Help - Hope?

Rob Seaman seaman at noao.edu
Mon Jan 2 12:19:56 EST 2006

¡Felices fiestas y un próspero año nuevo!

Kind of a bummer of a thread to start a new year.  Thought I'd  
demonstrate that anything remains possible by contributing a message  
that doesn't have anything to do with leap seconds :-)

Poul-Henning Kamp makes a good point:

> A major difference for these younger people is that the technology  
> of today is reverse engineering resistant.  There is practically  
> nothing to learn today by taking things apart: you can't see how  
> they work

... a good point as far as commercial electronics is concerned, for  
instance.  Budding home experimenters and hobbiests do now have a  
significantly higher hurdle to clear if they seek to understand the  
operation of their equipment.  The boxes are blacker than they've  
ever been.

...on the other hand, no black box can be truly opaque and remain  
operational.  "Things", of course, come in an ever wider variety of  
flavors - many of which rely rather closely (most certainly including  
timing issues) on fundamental physics that cannot ultimately be  
hidden from view.  "Seeing how they work" doesn't have to be  
restricted to disassembly and visual inspection.  The operation of  
inspection may include various "probes" and "scopes".  Disassembly  
may include physical deconstruction, sure, but may also include  
software techniques to understand algorithms - or any other sequence  
of operations intended to understand the interrelationship of  
subsystems.  In fact, several interesting reverse engineering  
techniques rely on completely non-invasive techniques.  Codes are  
cracked by monitoring the power consumption of smart cards - devices  
with no moving parts.

Perhaps internet mailing lists are seeing a lull in subscriptions  
from new devotees.  (Or perhaps the young'ns simply can't get a word  
in edgewise :-)  I'm unaware of any decrease in enrollment in  
technical disciplines in the academic community.  Some departments  
are growing and some are shrinking as the balance shifts from  
hardware to software to bioware - but the overall level of interest  
is surely growing.  Start a list focused on biological clocks and see  
how much interest you get.  In fact, one suspects that the natural  
lifecycle of a mailing list involves a burst of interest (and  
subscriptions) in the beginning followed by a long tail.  Mailing  
lists in general are  most certainly mortal.

On the issue of the world's breadth of technical insight and  
enthusiasm, there are no reasons to fret that weren't outlined in  
"Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance".

Rob Seaman
National Optical Astronomy Observatory

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