Posts tagged with: technology

Blog author: jspalink
Monday, August 21, 2006
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In the midst of rising oil prices, massive energy bills, speculation about our supplies of oil – not to mention global warming – a small beacon lights up in Ireland. A technology company named Steorn has made an announcement that it has discovered free energy. I’ll admit, like most others probably will at this point, that I’m a little skeptical, but Steorn says that it has created “test-rigs” that use only magnetic fields (with no electromagnetic components) to create energy out of nothing. This, of course, breaks the first law of thermodynamics, and if this does turn out to be true, many hours that I spent studying physics will have turned out to be a waste of time, as one of the main premises of those hours was that the first law holds. (On the other hand, I can justify now why some of it didn’t make much sense to me.)

The company is proposing a panel of 12 skeptic phsyicists to test their rigs, to study the mathematics and physics, and tell the world whether or not the technology is actually real, or not. If it does turn out to be real, the technology is apparently scaleable, which means that it could power your car, or your cell phone. Much of the energy we use from day-to-day could be generated with this new technology which would have a tremendous impact on our economy.

Hat-tip to Slashdot. For more information, read this, this, and this, or google Steorn.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, August 10, 2006
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US News and World Report has a little feature on a drapery company that has expanded into more distant markets and thereby grown. The article identifies trade agreements and technology as paving the way for such expansion by many small, local businesses.

Decreasing tariffs and regulation and improving technology—these are examples of what economists call “lowering transaction costs,” which improves efficiency and benefits producers and consumers alike.

The US News article highlights an American business, but, even more crucially, opening international markets also helps producers in the developing world.

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)

Not directly, of course, but the implication of a recent story from NPR’s Future Tense is that video games have a positive stimulative effect on doctors who are about to perform surgery.

A new study is out, and according to FT, “Surgeons who played games for 20 minutes immediately prior to performing surgical drills were faster and made fewer errors.” The study focused on a particular type of surgery, specifically “laparoscopic” procedures. Again, from FT, “The results supported findings from a smaller study in 2003, which showed that doctors who grew up playing video games tended to be more efficient and less error-prone in laparoscopic training drills.” You can hear the story in RealMedia here.

The increase of dopamine associated with playing video games can help establish learning patterns. You heard it here first: students who play video games for 20 minutes immediately preceding quizzes, tests, midterms, and exams will perform better. Video games could “augment” educational achievement.

This latter claim would need to be studied and proven, of course. It seems to me that today’s youth already play significant amounts of video games. It may well be that long-term and extended durations of video game play might have adverse effects on learning patterns as wel. This means that we’d need to look for a mediating time frame, within which the brain is stimulated and activated but does not suffer from more adverse effects.

Maybe the circumscribed use of video games can be part of the solution to the problem Anthony Bradley identifies.

Update: “The Brain Workout: In praise of video games,” OpinionJournal, by Brian C. Anderson: “Video games can also exercise the brain in remarkable ways.”

Blog author: jballor
Friday, January 27, 2006
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A number of bloggers have expressed grave concerns over Google’s decision to accomodate the demands of the communist government in its web search offerings in China.

David Mills at Mere Comments writes that Google is “serving a brutal government and helping it oppress its people, even if its service will prove only partially effective.” He complains that Google’s motives are purely pecuniary, and that the company is only acceding to the government’s wishes because “If it didn’t help the Chinese government oppress its people, it wouldn’t make much money in China.” Mills notes that Google is following Microsoft and Yahoo search engines in making these concessions

It seems a pretty easy judgment to make: Google is selling out. My first instinct is to agree and throw my lot in with those condemning Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Google executives have described it as a “difficult decision.” But Mills writes, “There is no ethical dilemma, because they do not have to do business in China at all.”

But this is the point at which such judgments themselves are rather simplistic and superficial. First of all, Google does have a responsibility to its shareholders to seek out new areas of profitability, and the most populous nation on the planet can hardly be overlooked.

The fact is that the people of mainland China are living under a repressive regime. The lack of such fundamental rights as free expression and speech are completely alien to us in the West, and so we react strongly when we hear about censorship and denial of human rights abroad.

But the question then becomes, “What is the best way to move China toward economic, political, and religious freedom?” It has long been assumed by proponents of liberal democracies that these three aspects of freedom are inextricably linked. If you truly have one, then you truly have all three. That position is being put to the test in China and other countries, which are seeking to liberalize elements of the economic and business sectors without substantially altering their hold on religious and political freedoms.
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Blog author: jspalink
Friday, January 13, 2006
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Apologies for a second Apple-related post in a row, but I thought this example might prove to be a decent case-study of competition in the marketplace. One of the new products that Apple recently introduced was iWeb, a new program that makes it easy “to create websites and blogs — complete with podcasts, photos and movies — and get them online, fast.”

Why do I bring this up? The reason is that a small software company has been working on a similar program, Sandvox. “Sandvox makes website creation elegant, intuitive and fun.” Karelia Software released a public beta last week in response to rumors that Apple was releasing a program called iWeb so that people wouldn’t think that iWeb came first. This is not the first time that this has happened to Karelia. A similar conflict existed between Karelia’s Watson program, and Apple’s Sherlock.

So why do we care? While many people might shrink from the challenge of taking market share from a large corporation, Karelia has embraced the challenge as an opportunity to provide a better product to its users. From Karelia’s blog:

What Sandvox can offer is a compelling alternative to iWeb, just as Watson turned into an alternative to Sherlock 3; Path Finder is an alternative to Finder; NetNewsWire and a host of others are alternatives to Safari’s RSS reader; and Adium can replace iChat. As each of these offer solutions to the limitations provided by Apple’s software, so too will Sandvox.

…As we move forward past version 1.0, we will be able to further distinguish Sandvox from iWeb by focusing on features that our users demand that will never be a part of the iLife suite.

Here’s tipping a hat to a company that understands that competition exists not to stifle, but to bring out innovation; and for embracing that challenge to produce a better product.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, January 13, 2006
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Many of you may have already heard of the new line of Levi’s jeans due out later this year, the iPod compatible RedWire DLX jeans: “With a joystick remote control built into the watch pocket, the new jeans will allow wearers to play, pause, track forward or back and adjust the volume on their iPods without having to take them out of their pockets.” There is also a built-in pocket designed to “conceal the bulge of the iPod.”

But Levi Strauss is a bit late to the concealment racket, at least as far as the iPod is concerned, since iPod-friendly underwear produced by Play, wittily named the iBoxer, is currently ready to ship. These boxer-briefs come in three standard colors (turquoise, black, and orange) with other print patterns available.

Worried about concealing the bulge? The iBoxer promises “a discrete front pocket.” FreshPair.com, a distributor of undergarments, also assures us that for every 2 iBoxers purchased, we’ll get 3 Free iTunes (Coupon Included in Order). Top sellers include Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” and The Black Eyed Peas’ “My Humps” (iTunes required).

I’ve resisted the urge to pain you, dear readers, by posting a picture of the iBoxer, but for those of you who are gluttons for punishment, click here.

On a more serious note, Apple should perhaps be concerned about market saturation. The typical cycle for pop culture rotations is the move from popularity in an underground sub-culture to the broader marketing and popularization of the movement. This is followed by backlash from the sub-culture and the accusation of “selling out” to corporate interests. We’ve yet to see whether such a backlash will occur from the tech-savvy (much like what has occurred against Microsoft).

And while Pat Buchanan recommends buying up gold reserves, I for one am waiting for the day when the currency switches over from dollars to iPods. Here’s a sample conversation:

Buyer: “How much is that 60 GB iPod?”

Seller: “3 iPod Shuffles.”

Buyer (crestfallen): “But I only have 1 iPod Shuffle and 1 iPod Nano!”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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Continuing the discussion of energy usage from yesterday, check out this review in the New York Sun of Children of the Sun (W.W. Norton), by Alfred Crosby, emeritus professor of history, geography, and American studies at the University of Texas.

Reviewer Peter Pettus says that Crosby “has written a direct and clearly expressed analysis of the energy problem without hysterics, apocalyptic threats, or partisan rancor.” These, of course, are the precisely the characteristics that are so often found in discussions of energy policy.

Crosby finds that the essence of the problem is this: “we cannot solve the growing problem of our dwindling supplies of fossil fuels by turning to such popular palliatives as wind farms and solar panels, because to do so would condemn millions of our fellow humans to inevitable death. The answer to this dilemma is (as always): We must somehow find new sources of energy. The question is: where?”

Crosby does not rest at simply raising the question, but attempts to find a solution. Must we find a new answer, some novel technology as yet undreamt of? No, for “it already exists: the nuclear reactor waits at our elbow like a superb butler.”

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, January 11, 2006
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Check out this review of James Howard Kunstler’s new book, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century (Atlantic), which describes it as a “litany around the increasingly fashionable panic over oil depletion.” This paucity of oil will in large part contribute to a future in which “the best-case scenario is a mass die-off followed by a forced move back to the land, complete with associated feudal relations. As the title implies, this is to be an ongoing state rather than a crisis to be overcome – a sentiment that the US critic Susan Sontag described as ‘apocalypse from now on’.”

Kunstler in part attempts to rehabilitate the figure of Malthus, who he says was generally right, but who could not take into account the veneer of transitory economic advancement enabled through the use of fossil fuels. Kunstler’s book fits in with a newly ascendent genre of apocalyptic writing, which unanimously agrees that humanity faces extinction. “The core elements of the litany are predictable: climate change, disease, terrorism, and an-out-of-control world economy. Other elements such as killer asteroids, nanotechnology or chemical pollution can be added according to taste,” writes the reviewer Joe Kaplinsky. Indeed, the view is shared across ideological and religious lines. The Rapture Index, for example, is currently at its high point for 2006: 154.

He contends that in The Long Emergency Kunstler essentially views humans themselves as the problem: “He has long argued against suburbia and the car, in favour of a ‘New Urbanism’. In places it is perhaps possible to read The Long Emergency as a revenge fantasy. Embittered at his inability to convince others that they should change their ways, Kunstler takes refuge under the wing of Nature’s avenging angel. He can be ignored (he attributes this to a psychological flaw in his detractors); the inhuman laws of nature cannot.”

For an introduction to New Urbanism, check out the controversy in the Journal of Markets & Morality on the question, “To What Extent and in What Ways Should Governmental Bodies Regulate Urban Planning?” beginning with an essay by Charles C. Bohl, director of the Knight Program in Community Building at the University of Miami, and continuing with a response by Mark Pennington, lecturer in Public Policy at the University of London. As is typical of the controversies, there is then one more cycle of responses.

Kunstler continues, noting that “apparently, those who will suffer most terribly in the long emergency are the US Republican states whose culture is built on violence and fundamentalist Christianity. Neighbourhoods with spacious housing (‘McMansions’) and ‘poor street detailing’, a particular insult to Kunstler, are singled out for destruction. Europeans, by contrast, may pull through in better shape. There is an uncanny alignment between the supposedly objective, inevitable laws of nature and Kunstler’s prejudices. Perhaps the best summary of his views is found in the book’s epigraph: ‘I don’t know if the Gods exist, but they sure act as if they do.'”

The remainder of the review gives a lengthy examination of Kunstler’s underlying claims, evidence, and prejudice, including his view of the effects of “entropy,” and is well worth a read.

The long wait is finally over. Federal vouchers are coming!

Before you get too excited, however, I have to inform you that the vouchers are not for education. You can’t use these vouchers to send your child to the school of your choice.

Instead, because of the government-mandated switch for broadcast TV from analog to digital bandwidths, set for Feb. 17, 2009, upwards of 20 million television sets will be obsolete, only able to receive the then-defunct analog signals.

“To avoid a consumer revolt, Congress has set aside about $1.5 billion to smooth the transition. Owners of outmoded TV sets will be eligible for two vouchers, worth $40 each, to help buy converter boxes that will enable today’s analog TV sets to receive digital signals,” Fortune magazine reports.

The government argues that the move will open up huge new areas of bandwidth for greater technical innovation and delivery. Once broadcast TV is moved to the digital spectrum, the old analog bandwidths will be auctioned off, and the government stands to make a pretty penny on the deal. “The sale of this valuable, scarce real estate is expected to bring in about $10 billion, maybe more. That will help reduce the federal budget deficit,” writes Marc Gunther.

Of course, those companies buying up the newly-opened space will be better off too: “With the new auction, we will finally become a broadband nation,” says Blair Levin, a Washington analyst with Stifel Nicolaus. “Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Intel, Dell — these companies will all benefit. The more broadband pipes you have, the more applications will come along, the more often you will upgrade your device.”

The interesting thing about these digital tuner vouchers is that one argument for their issue is that the poor will be disproportionately affected by the switch. Gunther writes, “But for consumers with one of those 70 million sets — many of whom are likely to be poor, elderly or uneducated, being forcibly switched from one technology to another will be a nightmare.”

Gunther goes on to describe the “nightmare scenario,” in which “people who depend on free, over-the-air TV for news and entertainment will lose their access, or have to pay more for it, so that the rest of us can get faster service on our Blackberries and ESPN on our cell phones.”

Last I checked, news and weather information on which people depend is still freely available over the radio. And maybe some of us would be better off with less access to TV. AC Nielsen reports (PDF) that “During the 2004-05 TV season (which started September 20, 2004 and just ended September 18, 2005), the average household in the U.S. tuned into television an average of 8 hours and 11 minutes per day.”

We’ve all heard the stories about families on federal assistance in the inner city with big screen TVs, or living in trailer parks with satellite dishes. Nowadays, Marx might say that TV is the opiate of the people rather than religion, or better yet, that TV has become the religion of the people.
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