Technology vs Science vs the NRC May 8, 2013Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV100, STV404 , comments closed
One question that comes up in STV 100 is if technology is applied science. Many undergraduates are quite happy with this understanding and see no need to question it. After all, most STV students are engineers, which means they are working towards a Bachelor of Applied Science, so it’s a no-brainer. The role of science is the creator of new knowledge which engineers can then apply.
It’s not that simple, I usually tell them. Where does it leave the technological tinkerers working in the scientific darkness, using rule of thumb and experience to guide them to a novel solution that “works”, without any understanding or need for scientific principles or methods? Or “big” science of today–think of the Large Hadron Collider or space telescopes, looking at small things and big things–that is only possible through the mediation of technology: without the very expensive instruments, there is no science. The role of science and technology toward the other can be “fuzzy”, to use a technical term. Most commentators these days accept that both can push the other forward.
But today I also want to talk about the social and cultural rank of technology and science. In other words, let what do people think of the relationship or role between them. Which is subordinate and which is more important, socially and culturally? Generally, science and scientists and scientific activity has ranked higher than the technical and useful arts from the Ancients well into to the 20th century, at least in the western tradition. This may help explain the persistence of the idea of “technology is applied science”, even when presented with counter-evidence. People have believed science to be a higher activity for so long that it’s hard to give up.
Against these observations I note yesterday’s announcement that the National Research Council, Canada’s foremost scientific research body, is changing. As explained by council president John McDougall:
“We have shifted the primary focus of our work at NRC from the traditional emphasis of basic research and discovery science in favour of a more targeted approach to research and development,” McDougall
“Impact is the essence of innovation. A new idea or discovery may in fact be interesting, but it doesn’t qualify as innovation until it’s been developed into something that has commercial or societal value.
How can this be anything other than a reversal of ranking? That technology will now be lifted above science, and science must now demonstrate impact or application to be valuable? I suspect this will remain a controversial decision for many years. Many different people jumped up yesterday to point out that pure science can lead unexpectedly to economic value. That misses the point I think, because everybody knows that happens, even if they’d like it to be more predictable or frequent. The real point was that pure science used to be appreciated (and get funded) simply for its own ends, which nobody mentioned. Now, that type of research is entirely up to universities.
Curiously, I looked around at the high-profile scientific research here at UW. Consider the new Mike and Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum Nano Centre housing the Institute for Quantum Computing and the Waterloo Institute for Nanotechnology, or the 14-year-old Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics. Of late, the local paper has been profiling the new building, its occupants and the general goals of these institutes. The articles rarely distinguish between technology or science, and each insists that quantum physics is a valuable investment because of the positive social, economic or environmental impacts, not the basic scientific insights.
Quantum physics can offer solutions to everything from environmental to economic problems, Turok [director of the Perimeter Institute] said. Because quantum devices and quantum computers could do
infinitely more calculations than classical processors, the field should be a “great source of optimism and hope.” (source)
Raymond Laflamme, director of the Institute for Quantum Computing, says this “totally wacko” technology has the potential to create economic activity that would dramatically reshape our region. (source)
Not so long ago, the theories these experiments are built upon were only taken seriously by unconventional physicists dismissed as “hippies.” But a few key breakthroughs in the 1980s and 1990s finally unlocked the keys to the technologies contained within. (source)
Even the university website for the new building emphasizes social impact over pure discovery:
Research at the Mike & Ophelia Lazaridis Quantum-Nano Centre will lead to transformative technologies, such as ultra-powerful quantum computers, innovative quantum devices and nanotechnologies with applications that will benefit society in countless ways.
In short, the technological innovations hidden in the science matter more than the insights themselves (which are strange, non-intuitive and otherwise difficult to understand anyways). I’m not saying that Turok, Laflamme or any of the scientists working around here believe this, or that these even represent useful samples of the science that happens beyond my office door. And perhaps this is not the best university in Canada for the pure vs applied litmus test: UW was founded on the idea of applied knowledge (think co-op).
Nonetheless, I really don’t doubt the trend, nor that this is a sudden or politically motivated reversal in the fortunes of science and technology. It has probably been underway for decades and will probably reflect the views of society better, regardless of the political sideshow of whether or not a particular government is pursuing an “anti-intellectual” or “anti-science” mission or not. Indeed, according to Paul Forman, we entered this new era in the early 1980s and many thinkers, philosophers, historians and commentators are still catching up. As a result, many people who ought to know better get science and technology mixed up, and fail to distinguish between them in an effort to capture the “impact” of new research:
“Those most influential in science not only emphasize the importance of new technology for scientific advance–and minimize the importance of new concepts–but also deny the existence of any clear boundary or distinction between science and technology.” (Forman, 2007)
Which is exactly what we see in the newspapers as well. I suppose as a historical exercise, it would be interesting to track the social and cultural interaction with universities and their research institutes across Canada to confirm Forman’s thesis regarding the rank of science vs technology. Perhaps UW has merely been been ahead of the game. Any grad students out there looking for a project?
Margaret Thatcher, dead at 87 April 9, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : Events, STV100 , comments closed
Margaret Thatcher, British Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990, has died at the age of 87. However significant, Thatcher’s death would not normally be news for this blog but, as noted in The Atlantic, she has a technology connection. Thatcher played a role in the creation of soft ice cream!
(The Sand Painter/Wikimedia commons)
The future Prime Minister graduated from Oxford in 1947 with a degree in chemistry. One of her early jobs was with a food producer named J. Lyons & Co. of Hammersmith. Her job there was to help figure out a way to whip air into ice cream using emulsifiers. This measure would make ice cream production (and consumption) more efficient:
… so that the ice cream could be manufactured with fewer ingredients, thereby reducing production costs. (And so that, additionally, the dairy-y result could flow from a machine rather than being scooped by hand.)
Everything is better at lower density!
Scott once asked in this blog, “Can you name the any U.S. Presidents or Canadian Prime Ministers with a technical background?” Among presidents, Herbert Hoover was a mining engineer and Jimmy Carter was a nuclear technician. Prime Minister Alexander MacKenzie was a mason.
So, now we come to the question, “Which British Prime Ministers had a technical background?” Now we have part of the answer: Thatcher (“the milk snatcher“) was a chemist who helped to create a kind of ice cream that takes less effort to dispense and to eat. What about the others?
And now, the fake news April 1, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV100 , comments closed
When discussing faked photos, North Korea is reliable source. Recently, for example, it appears that photos of a North Korean military exercise were touched up in order to improve the number of landing craft taking part. Well, you can never have too many hovercraft, even faked ones.
A more challenging use of touch-up photos comes with this display of famous news photos with the people removed. Czech photographer Pavel Smejkal has used Photoshop in this way to revisit canonical images:
The main point of the obvious, digital alterations, Smejkal says, is to make us question the authenticity of the analog originals. The retouched images steer us toward a sticky epistemological question: If a photograph isn’t staged or manipulated or fabricated, does that automatically make it truthful? Or is it possible that these iconic images can have an outsized effect on our understanding of what was going on around them? In other words, can a document be a distortion?
Have a look at a couple of examples:
I am not sure that the photos really speak to the issue of distortion. Of course, photos are selective: They are taken from a given vantage point and of certain subjects and not others. Such choices will favour some interpretations over others. In addition, very famous photos such as these become mythologized to some extent, that is, one or more interpretive contexts are built up around them, colouring how they are later perceived. These observations do not mean that the photos are distortions but that their content does not (fully) determine their meaning.
In any event, I think that, by removing the characteristic items from the photos, the result only serves to point out what made them so salient in the first place.
Finally, there is word that the upcoming Jurassic Park sequel will continue to portray dinosaurs without feathers, even though much recent research suggests that many of the stars actually had them. Mark Wilson believes that this decision was made for venal reasons:
No doubt, the entire Hollywood machine is likely responsible for this decision, from the market testing of which dinosaur IP looks best on Taco Bell cups, to the mildewy collection of 100,000 velociraptor masks rotting away since the threequel in some warehouse deep in China.
Here is a genuine dilemma: Is it more authentic to portray dinosaurs as scientists believe they appeared, or to portray them as they were shown in the original movie? In this case, it depends on which model the new movie should be “true” to, the original dinosaurs or the original movie. Each one would have a claim on the current movie makers, wouldn’t it?
Hacking guns March 27, 2013Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV100, STV302 , comments closed
Huffington Post points out a short documentary by Motherboard on Cody Wilson and DEFCAD’s project to develop a gun printable on 3D printers. Here is the video:
If you have been following this story, then you will be familiar with the basic elements presented here. Perhaps the most interesting new element is the commentary provided by Wilson himself. Wilson comes across as a well-spoken young man on a mission, which is related to pushing a new technology to assist with a social goal, namely the proliferation of assault weapons. Why that is a good thing is not clear, but Wilson seems to regard it as both desirable and inevitable.
There is certainly much to discuss on this matter, and the video provides a good starting place. Issues raised include:
- Is the proliferation of printed guns indeed inevitable? Wilson and his associates seem to feel that it is. Certainly, it is not clear from the video how gun control might be exercised on people like Wilson who want to print guns on their own equipment and share their designs with like-minded associates. There is the usual tension of this view with the argument that those who use guns to commit murders, even mass murders, receive no impetus from the affordances of such technology. People like Adam Lanza, the shooter from Sandy Hook, had the freedom to choose to commit the massacre in some other way or, presumably, not at all.
- Is gun proliferation a good thing? It is still not abundantly clear to me why Wilson and his associates believe that it is. It is clear that their actions are a form of resistance to government-imposed limitations on their freedom of access to firearms. He characterizes governments attempting such control as living in a nostalgic, utopian dream of some kind. He denies being a utopian himself, although his worldview seems to fit the profile. Not that his utopia would be the same as those imagined by others, of which he is certainly aware.
- The video points out that printable guns are an illustration of the unintended consequences of new technologies. Those who introduced mass-market 3d printers do not seem to have given much thought to the matter. Of course, as entrepreneurs, their job is to hype new technologies, not to worry about potential downsides. As is pointed out, it often takes governments and other social institutions a while to come to grips with such developments. Clearly, printable guns are an issue. So, how should social institutions respond?
The future of the dumb car September 20, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV100, STV202 , comments closed
The IEEE predicts that, by 2040, people will no longer require drivers’ licenses. This is because their self-driving cars will be doing all the driving.
It would be easy to conclude, then, that the old-fashioned car with no autopilot will become obsolete and disappear. However, as we have noted before, obsolete technologies sometimes live on in new forms, perhaps as specialized goods or in specialized niches. Something like this could happen to the “dumb car”. In fact, the good old dumb car may find at least a couple of niches in the world of 2040.
One future I can imagine for non-smart cars is as a vehicle for off-beat recreation. In 2040, you may be able to spend the day at a Car Ranch, learning the old-fashioned art of driving a car. Think of horse transportation. Once, the horse was the workhorse of transportation, pulling riders and wagons along the dirt roads of the sepia-toned past. After the uptake of the car and the paved road, the usefulness of horses for everyday transportation waned. Nowadays, horse riding is done in special facilities, such as ranches and designated horse trails. Riders learn to handle the reins via special instruction.
In future, something similar may be the case with drivable cars. To experience the atavistic thrill of actually driving a car, customers will be taken by their robocars to special camps where they can ride in automobiles that are too stupid to drive themselves. Customers can learn what it was like to stop at a “stop sign”, flip on a turn indicator, and learn what a “blind spot” is on a car.
It is also possible that driving dumb cars may become a recreation for an elite group. In his book The theory of the leisure class, Thorstein Veblen pointed out that social elites sometimes affirm their high status through economically unproductive activities. While the working classes toil away in factories, the well-to-do indulge in cricket matches that last for days, or in spending the day betting on the ponies at a race track. In some cases, these leisure activities were survivals of previously productive ones, such as hunting or archery. In the Middle Ages, hunting and archery were survival skills for most of the population. However, in the industrial era, taking the time for a fox hunt or an archery tournament was a display of conspicuous leisure.
Perhaps a similar fate awaits the dumb car. The majority of the public will adopt the smart car and will spend the time freed up from having to pay attention to the road by paying attention to their iPhones or in-car entertainment systems. A well-to-do minority might, however, decide that actually driving a fancy car around would be a fun way to spend the afternoon, and to show off how well-to-do they actually are. Of course, the cars driven for this recreation will not be mere “dumb cars”. Instead, they will be curvaceous red sports-mobiles, or silver-colored luxury sedans.
In the year 2040, then, we may find dumb cars on the road confined not so much to the least wealthy drivers but to the most wealthy ones. As our roadways get redesigned for smart cars, it may be that the most significant resistance comes from the social elite, who desire to show off their rare rides and their leisure status on the public streets and highways. They may demand that the road system remain backwards compatible with user-driven cars. And, for rest of us, there is always Randy’s Retro Car Ranch.STV100 , comments closed
There are some people who believe that technology creates cultural convergence: that using similar technologies leads to cultural homogenization. It’s a deterministic view, and often comes up in discussions relating to technology and globalization. However, to continue the theme I started last week, we could easily draw the Olympics into this discussion. After all, it is a global event with over 200 countries participating, and the signs of globalization are omnipresent in logos of a select few multinational sponsors. Moreover, I hope you’re not visiting the games with a hankering for french fries — at least not the non-McDonald’s kind:
To sell fish and chips, the London organising committee (Locog) had to get a special dispensation from McDonald’s, the official restaurant sponsor, which is expected to provide 10% of meals served at the Games. Under its deal with the International Olympic Committee, the fast-food chain had the sole rights to sell chips or french fries. It allows Locog’s caterers to sell fish and chips, but not chips on their own.
The Olympic menu sounds pretty bland, given the hundreds of cultures that could have been represented. But even if there were hundreds of different cuisine available at the Games that might not matter. As David Nye points out in Technology Matters, such a choice might be illusionary. Consider the microcosm of a multi-ethnic food court at the mall, with a variety of different meal options, including curries, kebabs, pizza, and Timbits:
On the level of the technological systems used to produce and deliver the food, most differences evaporate. The food court’s businesses all use the same kinds of freezer, steam trays, fryers, and microwave ovens. They prepare dishes suited to the demands of a cafeterias, an assembly-line operation that functions best when food does not require much on-site preparation before it is is served. (p. 83)
Somehow, that passage reminds me of Olympic athletes: all using the same gear, the same training programs, the regimented and biomechanical pursuit of efficiency and maximization of the human body.
And yet, I’m not worried about cultural convergence. Not after learning of the American television broadcaster NBC deciding to cut a segment from its own coverage of the Opening Ceremonies last Friday. A somber tribute to “terrorism victims” and others who could not join in, depicting the struggle between life and death, was replaced by NBC with an interview of a star American athlete because:
“Our program is tailored for the U.S. television audience,” said NBC Sports spokesman Greg Hughes. “It’s a credit to [ceremony director] Danny Boyle that it required so little editing.”
So I guess the ceremony just wasn’t American enough. Huh. I don’t think it was Canadian enough either, because I don’t recall seeing that bit on the CTV broadcast in Canada. I also missed Lord Voldemort and dozens of flying Mary Poppins. Too British for our post-colonial tastes?
Finally, if we’re going to poke NBC’s lack of global awareness, or perhaps just awareness in general, I was a bit gobsmacked by the NBC reaction to the mid-ceremony appearance of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who was sitting at a computer inside a giant house. Maybe not everyone has to remember the name of the very famous British man responsible for the creation and growth of the World Wide Web, but I’ll let Twitter take it from here:
“If you haven’t heard of him, we haven’t either.” NBC Olympic anchor on Tim Berners Lee. Co anchor: “Google him”. Breathtaking.—
The Firm (@TheFirmOnline) July 28, 2012
Calling Dr. Pager July 18, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV100, STV202 , comments closed
Without meaning to, I seem to have started on a thread about obsolescence on this blog. Today’s addition concerns pagers, those little devices that beep when they receive a short message from a central source. As this piece from NPR points out, pagers were commonplace in North America in the 1980s. Many people, from rappers to Wall Street bankers, carried a pager. Carrying one meant that you were “on call”, that is, that your presence was critical to the functioning of some enterprise. Usually, the beeping of your pager meant that some crisis had erupted in your absence from work, and that your intervention was necessary to put the fires out. So, when someone received a page, they often had to run to a payphone in order to contact their colleagues and get the scoop on the problem.
If you are unfamiliar with pagers, that is because they are now mostly considered obsolete. Mostly, people use cell phones to perform the functions that pagers used to perform. However, pagers are still common in some niche settings. The NPR piece points out that pagers remain common in hospitals, where doctors and other staff often continue to carry them. When a crisis erupts, the paper beeps and the doctor has to drop everything and contact someone. According to the report, over 90% of American hospitals continue to use pagers.
The pager is now facing increasing competition from the smart phone. Not surprisingly, many doctors now own smart phones, which are able to provide essentially the same functionality as the pager, and more. Thus, many doctors would prefer to use their smart phones instead of pagers for communication purposes.
Although many hospitals are experimenting with smart phones, the pager is not dead yet. It still has key advantages: it is cheap and reliable, it is highly standardized, and it does not bring the data security issues that apply to data kept on smart phones. Although the report does not mention it, I would think that another problem would be that many hospitals prohibit cell phones from certain areas in order to prevent interference with medical equipment. In brief, pagers work and are safe and simple, which slows their slide into extinction.
The story of the pager illustrates a seeming conundrum of obsolescence. The pager survives in a niche setting because it is simple and its potential replacement, the smart phone, is what Bruce Sterling calls a gizmo:
“GIZMOS” are highly unstable, user-alterable, baroquely multifeatured objects, commonly programmable, with a brief life span. GIZMOS offer functionality so plentiful that it is cheaper to import features into the object than it is to simplify.
Because it is a gizmo, the smart phone can replace all the functionality of a pager. Yet, because it is a gizmo, the smart phone presents many challenges to designers looking to adapt them to the role of pagers. Eventually, the gizmo will win, especially if its advocates can find new and additional functions for it to fulfill. The increased utility would justify to hospital administrators the increased headaches that come with the transition.
Adieu, Minitel July 12, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV100, STV202 , comments closed
The French Minitel system has been taken offline, as of the end of June 2012. The system provided an Internet-like service to French subscribers, who received a text-based terminal connected to a network through a telephone modem. Minitel allowed subscribers to access phonebooks, government databases, make purchases such as air and train tickets, and participate in chat rooms.
(Deep silence/Wikimedia commons)
The system was created around 30 years ago and had as many as 25 million users in the mid 1990s, according to the New York Times. There were still 810,000 terminals in service in 2012, according to The Independent, but this is not adequate to justify the cost of the service. Minitel, it says, was antiquated by the Internet:
There are still 810,000 Minitel terminals in France, mostly used by older people who dislike computers. There are still 1,800 services available through Minitel, although most people these days contact them (final indignity) through the internet.
The New York Times suggests that many of these stubborn Minitel users are farmers in Brittany, who use the service to access agricultural service and find PCs to be too fragile for their liking.
Yesterday, I discussed the obsolescence of shortwave radio or, rather, how it has become more and more specialized. It is interesting to compare the two cases to understand why Minitel is now dead whereas shortwave is not, even though both have been marginalized by the ‘net. One difference, I suspect, is that shortwave has a much broader reach. Although the French government did try to export Minitel, the attempt was not successful:
Early on, the French authorities had hoped to export their invention, but they insisted that the Minitel be sold as an “all inclusive” system, said Valérie Schafer, a telecommunications historian. That inflexibility helped make the Minitel a commercial failure outside France, Ms. Schafer said, especially given the varied telecommunications norms in Europe and elsewhere.
It seems that Minitel was too tied to the French way of organizing online activity. You might argue, correctly, that the Internet is tied to the American way of doing so, but that way proved to be more flexible (and maybe sexier) and, therefore, adaptable. Being limited to France meant that Minitel’s niche could shrink quickly once it faced competition from the Internet.
Perhaps other factors played a role. Since Minitel came to duplicate a set of Internet services, it would be hard to justify supporting both networks in today’s straitened economic times. The very centralization of Minitel meant that the whole system could fall to the budget axe in one blow. No one government could terminate the pocket calculator, even if it decided that this category of device is obsolete.
Undoubtedly, the causes of the demise of Minitel are complex. However, it is interesting to contrast the fate of Minitel with that of other obsolete technologies like the shortwave radio.
Shortwave radio: The end of an era? July 11, 2012Posted by Cameron Shelley in : STV100, STV202 , comments closed
The recent edition of The Economist has an interesting little piece on the increasing silence of shortwave radio. It notes, for example, that Radio Canada International recently ceased shortwave transmission, a result of Government cuts to the CBC and other services.
Shortwave radio consists of broadcasts in relatively high frequencies. One of the key advantages of these frequencies is that radio waves broadcast in them tend to “bounce off” the ionosphere and reflect back to Earth. Thus, shortwave broadcasts can be sent worldwide from a small number of sources. Also, shortwave radio sets are relatively cheap, so that people almost anywhere in the world can afford a radio that is able to receive the broadcasts. The main downside is that broadcasts are sensitive to atmospheric conditions, so that signals arriving at a given location can vary quite a bit in strength over time.
The article describes shortwave radio as largely a creature of the cold war: Shortwave provided countries, both capitalist and communist, with a means of getting out their message when other channels, such as newspapers, were blocked. In the post cold-war era, it seems, this need is less compelling.
Furthermore, notes the article, shortwave broadcasts have been superceded by the Internet. That is, instead of using a shortwave radio to listen to news, people worldwide can simply download their favorite podcasts. Thus, as the reach of the Internet increases, the utility of shortwave as a broadcasting medium decreases.
Of course, this tale of obsolescence is not so simple, as the article notes. The end of the cold war has indeed lessened the interest in countries on either side of the East/West divide to propagandize the other’s population. However, Internet access is not yet as cheap or widely available as are shortwave radio sets. Many millions of people in poor and remote regions still rely on shortwave to stay in touch with world events, for example. As such, the article notes, the Chinese government is expanding its shortwave offerings, and the Voice of America has no intentions of cutting back on its services.
Perhaps the moral of this story is that shortwave radio, like the pocket calculator, is not as obsolete as it might seem. Certainly, new technologies like the Internet have shouldered shortwave out of some of its old niches. Yet, the penetration of shortwave into some niches will not be equalled by the ‘net for some time. Also, long experience has enabled designers to make shortwave sets very cheap and reasonably robust, which is not true of Internet access technologies, certainly in remote areas. Thus, in spite of the demise of the cold war and the advent of the Internet, shortwave is not ready for relegation to the museum just yet.
Trenchless and trenchant in Niagara Falls June 5, 2012Posted by Scott Campbell in : STV100 , comments closed
The University of Waterloo has been home to the Centre for the Advancement of Trenchless Technologies (CATT) since 1994. I didn’t know that. At least not until today, when I read about the Underground Infrastructure Research International Conference and Trenchless Road Show, organized by CATT and hosted at Niagara Falls. Two days, and over 400 people with an interest in underground construction methods that don’t require a trench. The road at the end up my driveway has been under construction since early spring to improve the water pipes and I suspect I’ve seen some of the products of this research and development.
What struck me about CATT and the road show is that the motivation doesn’t seem to be the improvement of natural landscapes by hiding infrastructure below ground. Instead, the emphasis is affordability and sustainability of existing infrastructure:
Our focus is on our out-of-sight buried aging, deteriorating and failing water mains and wastewater infrastructure,” said Mark Knight, executive director of CATT and a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Waterloo. “Affordability is the key issue. We can’t afford to do things using the traditional dig and replace methods as it is not sustainable or affordable. We want to make sure this critical infrastructure, through proper water user rates, is maintained, renewed, rebuilt and is sustainable for future generations.”
A lot of engineering comes down to maintenance, repair, and upkeep (As David Edgerton brings up in The Shock of the Old, and I highlighted last month), particularly so with infrastructure. Although many good stories can be told about the creation and growth of technological systems, there is much more to any system than that. Thomas Hughes, perhaps better than anyone else, charted the historical creation, growth and evolution of large technological systems of the 19th and 20th century, but knew that he was only seeing part of the story. He admitted that for every historian of technology inspired by Charles Darwin’s view of evolution there must also be others aligned with Edward Gibbons to see the decline and fall of a technological “empire”.
But to pick up on the idea of natural landscapes and infrastructure, I couldn’t help but chuckle when I noticed the location of the CATT-sponsored Road Show. Despite popular belief, Niagara Falls is one of the least natural landscapes one could imagine. “Harnesssed, redirected, rebuilt, and ﬂanked with fakery, the Falls are an icon of artiﬁce” says Ginger Strand in her 2008 book, Inventing Niagara. For example, up to three-quarters of the water going over the falls is redirected towards power turbines to generate electricity for hundreds of thousands of people, but the water levels are carefully monitored and controlled lest they dry up along the flanks. Especially during tourist season when they turn the falls “up” to ensure a proper spectacle. Another example of fakery: the famous Maid of the Mist tour boats were named after a supposed Native American legend of a maid who went over the falls into the mists, but that story was actually concocted by white settlers. Even better: the mist itself that hangs over the horseshoe falls has even been “corrected” to ensure tourists don’t get too wet and stay away.
So what better place to host a meeting about trenchless construction than Niagara Falls. A field dedicated to maintaining and hiding the infrastructure of our lives as efficiently as possible, right next to one of the biggest infrastructure illusions around.