Posts tagged with: technology

virtual-choir-whitacre-water-nightThe rise of globalization and the expansion of trade are continuously decried for their disruptive effects, particularly as they apply to “authentic community.”

Indeed, our strides in global connectedness have often come at a local cost, with the small and familiar being routinely replaced by the big and blurry, the intimate with the superficial, and so on. The shift is real and widespread, but it needn’t be the framework of the future.

Disruption is sure to continue as collaboration expands and innovation accelerates around the globe. But while we’re right to be cautious of the merits of such change, we mustn’t forget the opportunities it presents, not just for our economy or personal wellbeing, but for community itself.

Examples of these fruits abound and surround us, from trade to technology to niche hobbies to global missions and so forth, but I was reminded of it recently while watching a “virtual choir” performance by Eric Whitacre, the famous composer and conductor.

Known best for his choral works, Whitacre continues to leverage the technological tools of globalization to gather singers from around the world, each submitting an individual video to contribute to a massive global choir. (more…)

pope in crowdIn today’s Roll Call, Acton Institute president Rev. Robert Sirico comments on Pope Francis’ September visit to the U.S. and what may be part of the dialogue when the pope is here. While the media tabulates the pontiff’s popularity on certain topics, Sirico says there are more important things to note.

Popularity ratings may be important for politicians but not for a pope believed to be the successor to St. Peter and the Vicar of Christ on earth.

His job is to preserve the truths of the Faith, not put them up for a vote.

The Church is not a democracy, whereby some polling data could alter the content of the Church’s doctrine the way McDonald’s might alter the ingredients in a Big Mac.

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Air-ConditioningI know why Victorian women fainted so much. They were too hot – literally. Wearing layers and layers of clothes, corseted to the point of not being able to breath, attempting to make merry in rooms draped and swathed and festooned with velvet furniture and bric-a-brac. If you think about London in the summer … you’d faint too. I will happily keep my modern clothing and my air conditioning, thank you.

Not so fast, says Pope Francis. His encyclical, Laudato Si’, suggests that air conditioning is one of those modern features that is giving us environmental woes.

Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls and working to combat corruption. People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand. An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive. (55)

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woman-with-air-conditionerIf you are of a “certain age,” you grew up without air conditioning. As unthinkable as it is now, we made due with window screens and fans. And we survived.

Honestly, it was pretty miserable sometimes. Especially if your dad happened to have a vinyl recliner that you sat on during hot, humid August days watching Brady Bunch re-runs. Peeling  yourself off one of those is an experience that will scar you forever.

Air conditioning is more than just a way to make our lives more comfortable; it’s economically advantageous. (more…)

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Santosh working as a tailor. From BBC News.

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day,” wrote Maimonides. “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” With all due respect to Maimonides, much has happened since the 12th century. Among those changes is inexpensive, plentiful energy which powers refrigeration, which frees a man from the burden of fishing every day and allows him to engage in other worthy pursuits. That is only if the progressive crusade to strand fossil fuels in the ground is seen as folly, as well as their efforts to replace current energy production completely with far costlier and extremely less reliable renewables.

Modern conveniences have improved life immeasurably to the extent that 99 percent of the world’s population in developed countries takes such everyday amenities as refrigeration for granted. For those living in developing countries, writes Sanjoy Majumder in the BBC News Magazine, up to 35 percent live without a means to safely, inexpensively and efficiently preserve their food from spoilage.

The growing number of those availing themselves of refrigeration is a testament to the immeasurable good technology has brought to the world – and especially the world’s poorest. Majumder relates the story of Santosh Cowdhury, a native of the Indian village of Rameshwarpur, who recently joined the ranks of the 25 percent of Indians owning a refrigerator. The tailor is the first in his village of 200 people to purchase a refrigerator, which has electricity, cell phones and televisions. (more…)

hot_temperature_41During his most recent State of the Union address, President Obama talked about climate change and claimed, “2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record.”

Obama was basing his statement on a press release by NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS). According to the NASA data collected from more than 3,000 weather stations around the globe, “The year 2014 ranks as Earth’s warmest since 1880.” Climate change skeptics pushed back by questioning the accuracy of the report (more on that below) which invariably led to push back on the claims of the skeptics.

For instance, Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, wrote for NPR that “Clearly, the scientists in charge know what they are doing.”

Dr. Gleiser is a scientist, not a journalist, so such a silly appeal to expertise can be excused.* But many journalists, like everyone else, seem to have the same “experts must know” reaction to such claims. The problem is that there isn’t much evidence the experts even know what true global temperatures are—or that they can even acquire such data with any precision.

Before you dismiss me as a “skeptic” let me clarify what sort of skeptic I am so that you can dismiss my viewpoint for the right reasons.

I’m not an anthropomorphic climate change skeptic; I’m agnostic on the question of whether mankind is heating up the planet (though I’d be surprised if we didn’t have some effect). What I am a skeptical about—closer to an outright “denialist”—is the idea that global surface temperatures can be measures with any precision.

Let me explain the reasons why and then I’ll discuss why it matters.
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A prototype with DC appliances connected.

A prototype with DC appliances connected.

[Note: See this introduction post for an explanation of gleaner technology.]

Forty percent of the world’s population, including a significant portion of the rural and urban poor sections of the population in India, does not have access to reliable electricity supply. But a new energy source for them could come from an unlikely source: the 50 million lithium-ion laptop batteries are thrown away in the U.S. every year.

According to MIT Technology Review, researchers at IBM Research India in Bangalore found that at least 70 percent of all discarded batteries have enough life left to power an LED light at least four hours a day for a year:

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