Caseythoughts I started thinking a few days ago about what I have called my 'techno-phobia', which I guess could be described as my sometimes irrational fear of technology and its effects upon human beings. My thinking wandered into the area of human progress over the centuries, for instance, when it came to things like communication, travel, and the quickness or slowness with which we watched, adopted and accepted (or rejected) these changes. For instance, communication over distances with smoke signals, drums, writing, telegraph, telephone (which many would not use for a variety of reasons for years), radio, television, computer... all that over less than two hundred years.

Well, this made me think of my grandfather. Pop was born in 1903, the year of Kitty Hawk, among many other technological innovations. Pop was an interestingly smart guy even though he completed only sixth grade in the coal cracking region of central Pennsylvania. He was a pretty good woodworker (I still have an example of that in the corner of my apartment), an excellent small engine mechanic, and an electrician of no small ability among other things. First generation American of immigrant parents and he watched the history of 20th century America unfold in the annals of the marvel of human flight. The airplane, leaving its mark upon everything it touched.

He had seen the first biplanes, learned of how flight showed its military capabilities in World War I, marveled at Lindbergh's travels, and actually met 'Wrong Way' Corrigan, still having in his possession Corrigan's camera years after the chance meeting in Phildelphia. Too young for WWI, and too old for WW II, he told me he was awed by America's prowess in the air over Europe and the Pacific, awed by technology of the bombers and fighters, understanding how air power had swung the tide of European war as well as delivering the first and second atomic weapons.

Later, he and my grandmother never hesitated to board a Boeing 707 and be among the first who flew coast to coast to California at 600 miles an hour, six hours from Philly to LA. Pop, somehow, never feared the progress from Kitty Hawk to transcontinental jet: he had watched it all and even though he thought that the first man on the moon was a government hoax (he didn't trust newspapers, though, and maybe my first experience with what later became called 'fake news'?), he knew the potential of that strange phenomena and technological progress and potential of human flight.

The reason I thought of this was because I wonder about my own reluctance to accept technology such as computerization of the world and its ubiquity in our lives and why Pop's acceptance is such a counterpoint to my own techno-phobia. He understood progress, and understood, instinctively, I guess, that engines would get better and more efficient, and was an avid reader of Popular Science and Popular Mechanix, which in the 40's and 50's were filled with speculation (even faux blueprints) for gyro-copters, explanations on how jet engines worked; being kind of a crypto-Nazi, he thought that it was only natural for Germany to have developed the first jet engine Messerschmidt, and was comfortable with telephones, television and modern appliances (fixer of everything electrical as he was).

But, assuming the same observer status as Pop, fifty years later, I'm confronted with much more mystifying stories about how all of this is moving in and around me and my world. It's not a matter of flying from Philly to LA in six hours, but a matter of finding some relevance and deeper meaning in some of my reading about technology recently, and I thought I would share a few with you. I'm going to preface these next few paragraphs with a line I never thought I could or should steal from Dave Barry: 'I'm not making this up'. Or, perhaps to quote Arsenio Hall from years ago: 'Things that make you say 'Hmmmmmmmm.' Remember, I'm not making these things up, and it's a sight better than contemplating the reality of the present White House and its latest pronouncements.

You may or may not have encountered emoji. Not owning a smart phone (there's a term to be contemplated), I only know about these second hand (and seeing a preview of the Emoji Movie). In case you need to know, there are now 2700 emojis, and if you ever wondered how they got on your phone, here's the answer: There is actually an Unicode Consortium. Twelve dues-paying members with full voting rights (I am paraphrasing from Wired magazine) make up this Consortium: One each from Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, Adobe, Apple, Google, Facebook, Shopify (huh?), Netflix, SAP (German), HuaWei (Chinese) and the government of Oman (double huh??). UC Berkeley as well as the governments of India and Bangladesh have 'lower level' memberships. Their task is to set the Unicode standard in the world's writing systems. Since 2015, it has also become their task to look at thousands of proposed emojis, even to the extent of the shade of complexions of smileys, yeah or nay on religious symbols, etc. A subcommittee submits a giant list of recommendations (broccoli, or eggplant, for silly examples) for new emoji. Emoji cannot represent a deity, a logo, or a specific person (even if fictional). And your proposal (how democratic this is) must be a full dress proposal including drawings of the proposed emoji, etc. The proceedings are secret, and the members' identities are protected as well. I guess this seems somewhat weird and useless information, but if you ever wondered who decides these things, wonder no more about this one. Unless you don't know exactly what a particular emoji your grandchild just sent you 'means'.

This next one fascinated me, too. Every time you log onto any website, you're assigned a unique (read: random) identification number (look at the top of your screen when you log onto a site, and you'll see that incredible stream of numbers, symbols and letters... that's the random ID). Of course, it needs to be random, so, supposedly, hackers can't predict the number and impersonate you. Well, that's the theory, at least at the log on phase, not counting the issue of credit card numbers, bank account numbers, etc. which are not random).

Cryptographers will tell you that computers can't really generate 'true' randomness, but Cloudfare, a web security company in San Francisco, has developed a super-powered crypto-graphic key. Inside their offices are 100 denizens of the seventies: 100 lava lamps placed on shelves and are being 'filmed' 24/7. These lava lamps are, of course, constantly and randomly gooping and moving around, and 100 of them (getting woozy yet contemplating this scene?) in different colors and shadows and shades are providing true randomness which is then translated into pixels and then translated into a cryptographic key which appears to be unbreakable, as well as unintelligible to anything but your own computer, for one second, or whatever. Hack that, Russia. I almost wish I was making this one up. Where did they FIND 100 lava lamps?/ Oh, that's right, it's San Francisco. Haight-Ashbury garage sale, no doubt.

More 'thoughts'?

His name is Jens Stoltenberg, and although you probably never heard of him, he is arguably one of the most powerful men in the world. He doesn't command one army, but a group of 29 armies: he is the Secretary-General of NATO. One of the most controversial aspects of Donald Trump's foreign policy (let's not get into Helsinki right now) is questioning the efficacy or even the continued existence of NATO, specifically Article Five, which can be simply described as 'An attack upon one is an attack on all'. 29 countries, 1 billion people, and it has held together as a treaty organization since 1949, facing up to the former Soviet Union, now Russia, and is involved in the war on terror in Afghanistan (citing 9/11 as the activation of Article Five in 2001). In a recent interview/opinion piece in Europe, Mr. Stoltenberg pointed out something that has enormous implications: if a cyber attack occurs, is it reasonable to assume Article Five comes into play?

Stoltenberg says yes. Any avid reader of international news is able to cite such attacks. On Christmas Eve 2015, power blinked out in Kiev, Ukraine. It happened again exactly one year later. A shot across the bow from Russian cyber agents, most analysts are sure. Although Ukrainian engineers overcame both attacks in several hours, it was obvious that the attack was initiated by pretty clever hackers into the electrical grid. Something we, too, are convinced could happen here in the U.S. Ukraine is not currently in NATO (though consideration of that move might be the reason for the 'warning' from the former Soviet Union, maybe the same guys we indicted last week). The Baltic nations are, however, members of NATO, and they have not been immune to the shadowy elements messing with their very advanced cyber infrastructure. Not to mention what has been the interference with our election processes in world democracies, which are really child's play. NATO now pools its cyber resources, knowledge and military cyber know-how, especially after Estonia was crippled by a Russian cyber attack in 2007. NATO has a large scale annual cyber exercise code-named 'Locked Shields', akin to our military exercises in Korea, Germany, etc., a 'live fire' cyber attack exercise involving all 29 nations' military.

Following an agreement by NATO leaders in 2014, Article V can now be triggered by a cyber attack upon any member. Which means that the conventional idea of Russia sending tanks and troops through the Fulda Gap in Germany (a la NATO doctrine during the Cold War) and starting World War IV (World War III has already been fought... it was the Cold War, and we won when the Soviet Union collapsed of its own immoral weight) with attacks we know are eminently possible: upon government entities (not just state election offices, you know) and agencies, military equipment and computers/servers, the power grid, etc. I can't even imagine what a response under Article V could entail. Concurrent attempts to disable each other's electrical grid? Attacks upon GPS satellites and stock markets? Financial meltdowns due to outages or false information? And who, exactly, would be making these decisions as the attacks escalated upon member states of NATO?

I've obviously gone so far out on a technological limb that I can hardly discern the cyber 'tree' that I originally climbed to get to this speculative point, but perhaps my point is (mysteriously, this), that my grandfather didn't need to know the theory of flight to be amazed at airplanes and dream of their potential as he looked down from a window in that Boeing 707, or upwards to glimpse a Curtis biplane... his dreams included the miracle of flight, and I suppose he could not envision the nightmare of aerial bombing. But, the future wasn't necessarily murky, or unknown, at least to the person who could read and look forward to the progress of aviation and transportation from 1903 to 1999. I read, I look ahead, and to be sadly honest, I see nothing but murk and trouble ahead in a very foggy and dangerous future. Maybe I'm (and the technology surrounding me) just traveling much faster than Pop ever dreamed of. Maybe that's why time machines in science fiction seem to always go backwards, rarely forward in time: we dream of changing the past, but, try as we might, we just can't imagine a benign future, a look that seems to have a good amount of trepidation.

Next week, maybe a note about a five foot robot marked 'Security' which traverses La Guardia airport nowadays, follows you on wheels, and examines your mug for facial recognition purposes. It really is called B-3PO. Of course, I've only flown once in the past thirty plus years, so I will never experience this newest form of dystopian worry. Surprise, surprise.