Bits, bytes, baud rates, Viet Nam and Twitter

So today, Twitter doubled our President’s ability to outrage his followers and detractors and our ability to affirm his outrage or respond with twice the invective that we woke up with this morning.  Thanks, Twitter.

I’m typing as I watch Viet Nam on PBS tonight.  I was a teenager when that was going on and tonight, well I guess I’m a sextugenerian.  Sex is has little to do with me now, but here I am again in a radically divided country.  There are so many to thank for this sorry state of affairs that we find ourselves in today.

As the involvement of the United States in Viet Nam unfolded, mainframe computers were doing great things in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Large corporations were automating payroll, inventory accounting and other mundane tasks into data bits in combinations of 0’s and 1’s.

NASA was racing to meet President Kennedy’s call to place a man on the moon by the end of the decade and computers on the ground performed the endless number of calculations needed to put man into orbit and bring him back home safely.

Somewhere, (notice I’m not an expert in this field), it was recognized that data needed to be organized so bytes were broken down into 8 character representations of 0’s and 1’s.  I’m not sure how things progressed from there, but doing (very) simple math I came up with 8×8 = 64, which by my total lack of math education corresponds magically to today’s  64 KB easily recognized standards.

So now there was a standard of recording and saving data to be processed electronically at a central location.  But what about remote locations dozens and even hundreds of miles from home office.  Record the data on some type of media and transport it to home office.

The preferred method had been to have couriers driving nightly runs to deliver “IBM Punch Cards” and magnetic tape from remote locations to CPU’s, Central Processing Units.  Upon receipt of this precious cargo, headquarters locations had up to date information from remote locations.

Somebody, and I have no idea who, came up with the idea of electronically transmitting all of this information over dedicated telephone lines, in the form of the aforementioned 0’s and 1’s.  Thus the term Baud rates.  They started at 110, 300, 600(this one is critical), 1200, 2400 and so on.  These were lightening quick speeds for the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. but hold on.

Imagine the future.  2,400 Baud rate doubled to 4,800 and then 9,600 and so on until it reached a blistering 256,00 bytes per second.  Remember 64?  Four times 64KB, well that’s 256 KB. And twice that, well 128 KB, then 256 KB, then 512 KB and so on and so on.

Fast forward to 2017, if you will.  Oh and move up thru the alphabet.  KB’s are passe, GB, well that’s the determining factor today.  My home speeds are somewhere around 60 GB and Charter promises that 100 GB are on the way.  Blistering speeds to watch movies, sports and yes, traditional television programming like sit-coms, news and documentaries like Viet Nam all on my iPhone.

My iPhone has more computing power than Apollo 11 in one hand held device that I look at more times a day than I care to count.  Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins traveled 238,000 miles to the moon and back with less computing power than most of us check numerous times daily, upon arising or the last thing some of see before we lay down at night.  Think about that.

What do we do with this awesome computing power?  We check e-mail, we research the countless questions of life, post thoughts, recipes, pictures and videos on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and countless other sites.  And then, there’s Twitter.

Twitter, transformed America and the world in 2006, with one constraint, what ever we had to say, well we had to get it done in 140 characters.  Not many of us were on Twitter initially, we were on Facebook for the most part, happy, ecstatic in the fact that we were connecting with relatives, long lost high school and college classmates and people with similar interests.

Twitter was a strange world to most of us.  Barack Obama was the Facebook president and we were amazed that he was speaking to us individually each and every day, whether we had time for him or not, he was there.  But after his election, a new phenomena appeared.  The Tea Party.

The Tea Party exploded onto the scene in America with a vengeance and soon eclipsed the “Silent Majority” of the Nixon years.  Otherwise normal looking  people, showed up on the news wearing tinfoil hats and waving “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, and they caught on.  Initially, I thought they were strange, but soon realized they were organized.

They reminded me of my years in high school when we were the guinea pigs for desegregation.  What were supposed to be the best years of my young life, became, and remain some of the worst of my 62 years.  But I wasn’t in college at the time, I was just behind the curve.  Those in the curve, well they were protesting the war and being shot as college students or dying in the jungles of Viet Nam.

But the Tea Party, they were different.  to them it seemed to be all black and white.  Their way or the highway.  But as time passed, the black and white side of it seemed to emerge as the defining issue.  Don’t Tread on Me flags in the back of pickup trucks were soon accompanied by Confederate flags.  Not exactly by coincidence, in 2009, America had elected it’s first African-American president.

Demographics indicated that America was trending away from it’s predominantly white European American heritage.  We were becoming a country of color, fueled by immigrants from all over the globe.  Soon, there came a new phenomena, The Tweet.

140 characters of whatever you could fit into a post with whatever you wanted to share with anyone.  This gave rise to a new platform to the early adapters with any theory they wished to put forth.  One early adapter was Donald Trump.  And he had a Tweet that he espoused over and over.

The first African American President wasn’t actually an American after all.  He was born elsewhere and Donald Trump had supposedly dispatched investigators to all corners of the globe in search of proof to back up this outlandish claim.  Constant tweets proclaimed that his people were finding “interesting things” everywhere they looked.

Well, you know what happened, Obama served two full terms and Donald Trump festered each and every one of those 2,924 days of his Presidency.  And now we have a 71 year old head of state that has simply been the owner of a small business that happens to have almost universal name recognition due to his suspect business practices.

Back to today and Twitter.  Donald Trump is the most successful exploiter of Twitter alive today.  Perhaps ever, but that remains to be seen.  Trump’s birthday is June 14, but today’s announcement by Twitter that is experimenting with a doubling of it’s 140 character restriction to 280 characters has to seem like an unexpected birthday present for Donald Trump.

The guy doesn’t have to go through editors,  talent bookers or television show producers, he just picks up his phone and, like all of us communicates with his desired audience. Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon.  Donald Trump, with more computing capacity than NASA in 1969 can put the moon in his hand and declare it fake news, the gospel truth or even something he created, in an instant.

So I guess my question in this.  Why 280 characters as the new limit, why not limit it to 256 or more than generously expand it to 512?  Most newspaper guest columns are limited to 650 words, so why only 280 characters?  It’s all in the cloud, right?  there is unlimited storage in the cloud, or so they say.

Anyway.  Thanks, Twitter.  You’ve given the most disruptive individual on the planet twice the space to post his early morning rants, raves and re-tweets of what he saw on FOX & FRIENDS, and we all know the Trump theory of doubling down, right?

There’s nothing at risk here.  It’s not like we’re on the verge of war with an emerging nuclear power, threatening to abrogate major treaties covering climate change, nuclear weapons inspection or free trade between sovereign nations.  No sir, this is a stable world we live in.

Giving Donald Trump twice the space to piss off a dictator with nuclear weapons, in turn dictating patterns of free speech for American citizens , disregarding anyone that doesn’t look like him in the mirror, well all I can think of is this:  Thanks Twitter, you really shit in your loafers this time.

That, in and of itself, is a big accomplishment coming on the heels of Facebook selling targeted ads to Russians.  The summer of 2018 is headed our way.  It’ll be an election year, one of those off years, with only the House and one third of the Senate up for re-election or replacement.

The 50th anniversary of the summer of love.  I can’t wait.  If you think there have been people in the streets in the streets in 2017, hold on, it’s coming.  There will be many questions to be asked.  How did we get here?  How do we get back from the edge?

Most of the questions won’t be asked politely is my guess?  They won’t all be about the difference between 140 characters and 280 characters.  Nope. but they will be serious questions asked by new faces we don’t know just yet.  And after the questions have been asked, there will be answers.  I hope they are as melodic as they were in the past.

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