Category: Technology and Regulation

The Green Wifi Prototype

One of the concerns with the “little green machine” (discussed previously here and here) has been the issue of Internet connectivity. Little enclaves of mini-networks just won’t cut it…these computers need access to the global web.

Word out of the tech world is now that a couple of innovators, Bruce Baikie andMarc Pomerleau, who are “veterans” of Sun Microsystems, working on a solar-powered wi-fi access nodes, “which consist of a small solar panel, a heavy-duty battery, and a router, can be linked together to extend one internet connection into a larger network.” The progam is an undetertaking of a new non-profit, “Green Wifi.”

HT: Slashdot

Blog author: kschmiesing
posted by on Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ever since the popularization of the Internet, a debate has raged—within and without Christian circles—about the effect of the medium on human development and relationships. A serious and plausible charge against the Web came from those who thought its mode of disembodied communication would alter the form of human interaction for the worse. (See, for example, Quentin Schultze’s Habits of the High-Tech Heart, reviewed in the Journal of Markets & Morality by Megan Maloney.)

As is usually the case with new technologies, an accurate assessment of the effect of the Internet seems to be a weighing of tradeoffs. That’s the gist of an interesting interview on Zenit today (daily dispatch 7/12/06). Psychologist G. Alexander Ross summarizes the findings of various studies that gauge the impact of cyber communication on human relationships. Here’s one passage:

This limitation in the richness of communication has obvious disadvantages, yet research suggests some interesting compensations.

Social psychological research shows that physical attractiveness often has a more powerful influence on relationship formation than the deeper, more significant personal factors that we would prefer to influence friendship formation.

Although members of some of the cyber communities will share personal photos and other media as well as messages of text, the physical characteristics of the individual are not normally visible to the communicators. This can allow the deeper personal characteristics of the individual to be more salient in the interaction that occurs.

One interesting laboratory experiment found that subjects who met for the first time on the Internet liked each other more than those who first met each other face-to-face.

Today, too, Reuters has this story on telecommuting, which indicates that many potential in-home workers choose to go to the office because they “miss the social interaction.”

The verdict is still out on the long-term impact of the Internet, but early evidence suggests that it is not unlike other technological advances in its potential for both benefit and detriment. On social interaction in particular, there are surely limitations to distant and disembodied communication, but people are negotiating those limitations in diverse ways (by choosing not to telecommute, for example, or by using e-mail to initiate or sustain relationships that will end or began as face-to-face). The social nature of the person cannot be suppressed.

This from the official Google blog: “We’ve always recognized the importance of copyright, because we believe that authors and publishers deserve to be rewarded for their creative endeavors. And we specifically designed Google Book Search to respect copyright law – never showing more than two or three snippets around a search term without the publisher’s prior permission, which they can give through our Partner Program.”

The world’s largest prize for technological innovation was awarded this year to Professor Shuji Nakamura, curently at the University of California Santa Barbara, for his development of bright-blue, green and white LEDs and a blue laser. According to the prize website, “The world’s largest technology prize, now being awarded by Finland’s Millennium Prize Foundation for the second time, has a value of one million euros.” Prof. Nakamura’s advances “were things that other researchers in the semiconductor field had spent decades trying to do.”

Says Pekka Tarjanne, Chairman of the International Selection committee: “The lighting applications now made possible by his achievement can be compared with Thomas Edison’s invention of the incandescent lamp. In the course of time, energy-efficient light sources based on Shuji Nakamura’s innovation will undoubtedly become predominant.”

HT: Future Tense (RealAudio)

Pro-family and church groups are battling over a proposed policy that would allow viewers to select their cable TV plans on an “a la carte” basis. But why are they asking the federal government to referee this fight? In this week’s Acton Commentary, I examine at the most powerful communications policy: Turning off the TV.

Read the full commentary here.

Related Items:

Daniel Pulliam, “Preachers and pornographers unite,” GetReligion, June 12, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Evangelicals and Cable TV,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, June 12, 2006.

Piet Levy, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable,” Washington Post, June 10, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Concerns about A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, January 2, 2006.

Jordan J. Ballor, “A La Carte,” Acton Institute PowerBlog, December 2, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Faith in the FCC,” Acton Commentary, March 23, 2005.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Confusing Coercion and Conversion,” Acton Commentary, May 5, 2004.

Jordan J. Ballor, “Television not to blame for America’s laziness,” The State News, January 16, 1997.

A story over the weekend in Washington Post gives a good overview of the mixed motives behind evangelical campaigning for and against a la carte pricing of cable channels, despite the poorly chosen title, “Evangelicals vs. Christian Cable” (as if Christian broadcasters aren’t largely evangelicals of some sort or another). Just a sign that in the MSM evangelical is becoming a term with primarily political rather than theological content.

On the one side, lobbyists who want to be able to single out stations that they don’t want to receive. For some evangelicals, this is important because they don’t want to pay for or support stations that carry objectionable material.

On the other side, Christian cable broadcasters who are concerned that there won’t be enough demand for them to stay afloat. Or if there is enough demand, it will only be among Christians, and so they ministry that these stations offer will be truncated.

This seems to me to be an either/or situation, and I’m generally in favor of the former, although if consumers really want a la carte they shouldn’t need the crutch of federal legislation to get it. If you are going to allow choice for moral reasons on the one hand, you can’t force other people to get religious programming if they don’t want it. As it works now, most of these Christian stations are simply there as part of the basic package, whether you want them or not.

“‘We do not believe that ‘a la carte’ is the cure for the disease,’ said Colby May, attorney for the Faith and Family Broadcasting Coalition, which represents Trinity and CBN, in addition to other stations. ‘In fact, it is a cure that may very well kill the patient.’”

“But the Christian networks’ main concern is that the only ones willing to subscribe would be Christians. If a la carte were in existence, May argues, conversion experiences for alcoholics and people contemplating suicide or suffering from a crumbling marriage never would have happened.”

I actually do have some sympathy for this argument, but am not swayed simply because TBN and other Christian cable broadcasters are enjoying a sort of subsidization of their ministries from cable companies by means of these limited and rigid packages. What TBN and CBN have to fear is that many Christians won’t even sign up to pay for their station programming, and there are other ways to get the gospel message out to people, free of charge.

The Back to God Hour, for example, is the electronic media ministry of the CRC, and part of what the ministry does is to use radio signals to pipe the Gospel into areas where Christianity may be oppressed or illegal. By the way, Bob Heerspink, new director of the Back to God Hour, blogs here.

More thoughts here previously, here and here.

Update: GetReligion weighs in on the issue.

Rodney Dangerfield is famous for saying, “I don’t get no respect!” This complaint is shared in the laments that I often hear from academics, that electronic journals are not afforded the same respect as print journals. I explored some of the reasons for this as well as some of the results that have implications for journal publishers in an article published last year, “Scholarship at the Crossroads: The Journal of Markets & Morality Case Study,” Journal of Scholarly Publishing 36, no. 3 (April 2005).

The basic argument in favor of affording electronic journals the same prestige and status as print journals is that they both are based on the same fundamental quality-control process: peer review. In reality, however, all peer review is not created equal. There are practical differences in what various journals call peer review, how they exercise it, and the self-imposed rigor and depth of external reviews. But even if all peer review were qualitatively equal, there are other factors that contribute to the perception that electronic journals deserve less respect.

The fact is that there are very few, if any, practical constraints on the number and length of articles that could be published by an electronic journal. A print journal has a definite maximum number of pages per issue and volume that can be printed. This creates scarcity, and thus a perception if not the reality of increased value, since only a select number of articles can be printed. No such limits exist in the digital medium, so that such constraints must be voluntarily and rigorously enforced by electronic journal publishers if they are to mimic the dynamics of this aspect of traditional journal publishing.

One other observation I’d like to make is that the advent of e-journals has really sparked the proliferation and diversification of journal publishing. This mirrors and catalyzes the increasing specialization of academic disciplines. For example, the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ) lists 90 titles under the subject heading “History”. Some journals are focused on narrow geographical areas and historical periods, such as The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe.

To be sure, some academic disciplines, such as literature and gender studies, lend themselves to greater fracturing and diversification, so that Cervantes or Flaubert have their own dedicated e-journals. It’s entirely likely, for example, that the typical tenure review board member is going to value an article published in Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality somewhat less than one appearing in the American Journal of Sociology. In addition, peer review takes on a different shape if there are very few scholars who are true specialists in a particular area of research.

Certainly many scholars will argue that this embodies the democratization of education and academics, in that fields are no longer monopolized by a few traditional and academically conservative journals. But at the same time scholars must realize that the obscurity and extreme specialization of some of e-journals contributes greatly to their lack of prestige.

One concrete way for electronic journals as a medium to gain respect, especially in the humanistic fields, would be for major, established, respected journals to make the move from print to digital. Otherwise, electronic journals that are almost always less than a decade-old will struggle to get respect.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Tuesday, May 30, 2006

According to published reports, market mechanisms, and specifically competition, are accomplishing what many decriers of the “digital divide” have long contended only big government could do. The AP, via LiveScience.com, reports, “Middle- and working-class Americans signed up for high-speed Internet access in record numbers in the past year, apparently lured by a price war among phone companies.”

The study, provided by the Pew Internet & American Life Project, found that broadband subscription “increased 40 percent in households making less than $30,000 a year. Among blacks, it increased 121 percent.” The “digital divide” is beginning to close, as market forces help divergences in broadband access to collide: “Among the $30,000-$50,000 households, 43 percent now have broadband, compared to 68 percent for those making more than $75,000.”

This has been accomplished despite the barriers to competition that have traditionally existed. In many areas, including my own, only one cable company offers its services in a particular area. This means that the competition is coming not only from within a single form of telecom service, but also from among various methods of delivery, such as DSL, cable internet, and satellite/wireless.

The innovation of new delivery methods has raised the prospect of even greater competition, as broadband delivery over power lines (BPL) and increased wireless access become available.

The Pew study also references the dominance of higher wage earners, particularly among whites, who are responsible for the majority of user uploaded content to the Web. This points to a fundamental truth about the creation of wealth and technological innovation: it allows for leisure and productive activity that otherwise would be spent simply laboring. Filming, editing, and uploading digital videos, for instance, is a time and labor-intensive activity, and one that can only be undertaken by someone with the time away from work and luxury to afford both the necessary time and equipment.

But these recent developments point to the potential for a digital collide, in which internet access and the leisure time necessary to take advantage of the Web become a reality for more and more Americans. And these trends point to a measure of this already becoming manifest, as people who don’t have time or energy to surf the Web, for example, are unlikely to voluntarily pay for broadband access. In this way, the digital collide is the result of increasing wealth and prosperity across the economic classes of American society.

As a brief follow-up to my post last week about the state of scholarly publishing, I want to highlight this recent article in The New York Times, “Scan This Book!” by Kevin Kelly, who is on the staff at Wired magazine.

He conjures up the same image as Janet H. Murray, of “the great library at Alexandria,” and laments that “for 2,000 years, the universal library, together with other perennial longings like invisibility cloaks, antigravity shoes and paperless offices, has been a mythical dream that kept receding further into the infinite future.”

But when Murray predicted the inevitable advent of the universal library nearly a decade ago, she acknowledged some complicating factors, such as consumer taste and market forces. Kelly makes similar predictions about the inevitability of absolute digitization: “The reign of the copy is no match for the bias of technology. All new works will be born digital, and they will flow into the universal library as you might add more words to a long story.”

But he won’t admit the validity of any real barriers, be they economic, social, or even legal. He writes, “The great continent of orphan works, the 25 million older books born analog and caught between the law and users, will be scanned. Whether this vast mountain of dark books is scanned by Google, the Library of Congress, the Chinese or by readers themselves, it will be scanned well before its legal status is resolved simply because technology makes it so easy to do and so valuable when done. In the clash between the conventions of the book and the protocols of the screen, the screen will prevail.”

Thus, he concludes, “On this screen, now visible to one billion people on earth, the technology of search will transform isolated books into the universal library of all human knowledge.” I think Kelly is correct about the power of search and its implications for new depth and complexity with respect to learning. I don’t think he’s right that such a digital “Tower of Babel” project is inevitable, at least in the sense that all books will be digital and they will also be completely open access.

Intellectual property laws are created to protect the economic incentive for people to create things. New technology isn’t going to suddenly replace the need for people to be paid for what they make. Kelly points to the paradigm in the sciences as an alternative, but as I noted earlier, the strange economics of scientific publishing is created in large part because of the widespread dependence on subsidization by the government. The same publishing paradigm simply won’t work for commercial and popular publications.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, May 11, 2006

Quick quiz: What’s the most obvious difference between the Ansari X Prize and the newly announced “H-Prize”?

HT: Slashdot