Critical Thinking About Technology

a weblog by     Archives: 2000 | 2001
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OQO (Wednesday, July 17, 2002) coming...

Ion Propulsion Engines are now real! (Tuesday, June 11, 2002)
"With chemical propulsion you can only do a fly-by or go into a very elongated orbit around the planet. If you want to achieve a low Mercury orbit and really observe the planet, then you can only do that with electric propulsion."

Guide to uninstalling/blocking/disabling FLASH! (Tuesday, April 23, 2002)
Nothing annoys me more than all those new-fangled, flashing FLASH-based advertisements on the web (no pun intended!) Stop the madness! Here's how.

As the Web Matures, Fun Is Hard to Find (Thursday, April 4, 2002)
"signs that all is not well in Webville..."

New Issue of Netfuture (#130) is out! (Thursday, April 4, 2002)
"Technology is our hope if we can accept it as an enemy; as our friend, it will destroy us."

Power Steer (NY Times, 3/31/02) (Thursday, April 4, 2002)
Growing the vast quantities of corn used to feed livestock in this country takes vast quantities of chemical fertilizer, which in turn takes vast quantities of oil -- 1.2 gallons for every bushel. So the modern feedlot is really a city floating on a sea of oil.

Dot's All You Need for Security (Tuesday, March 12, 2002)
Microdots are a new anti-theft system. Each dot is about the size of a grain of sand, and etched with a unique serial number. Car manufacturers can firehose 10,000 dots all over their car -- inside, outside and on engine components -- and hence make the car extremely resistant to chopshopping, since it's nearly impossible to remove all the dots and they will unambigiously identify all the parts forever.

GM mouthwash 'could banish tooth decay' scientists claim (Tuesday, February 19, 2002)
The mouth rinse contains a friendlier GM version of the bug that rots the teeth which does not produce enamel eroding acid. When the solution is squirted into the mouth, the good bugs take over from the Streptococcus mutans bacteria and prevent them from returning. According to the researchers, a single five-minute treatment costing less than £100 would last a lifetime.

Complete collapse of North Atlantic fishing predicted (Monday, February 18, 2002)
The entire North Atlantic is being so severely overfished that it may completely collapse by 2010, reveals the first comprehensive survey of the entire ocean's fishery.

Here To Stay, 3.0 (Monday, February 18, 2002)
Why the American Public Library Will Endure

Baby with selected gene born in Britain (Monday, February 18, 2002)
'Proud' fertility specialist awaits UK approval for cell technique

Greenest Olympics Ever? Not! (Sunday, February 17, 2002)
In the beginning, some $6 million was budgeted by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC) to address environmental concerns. In February 1999, that sum was reduced to $1.5 million, or just one-tenth of 1% of the 2002 Olympic budget.

Television Addiction Is No Mere Metaphor (Scientific American 2/2002) (Thursday, February 14, 2002)
By Robert Kubey and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi "Perhaps the most ironic aspect of the struggle for survival is how easily organisms can be harmed by that which they desire. The trout is caught by the fisherman's lure, the mouse by cheese. But at least those creatures have the excuse that bait and cheese look like sustenance. Humans seldom have that consolation. The temptations that can disrupt their lives are often pure indulgences. No one has to drink alcohol, for example. Realizing when a diversion has gotten out of control is one of the great challenges of life."

When the Army Owns the Weather (Tuesday, February 12, 2002)
U.S. patent number 6315213, filed on November 13, 2001 is described as a method of modifying weather and should concern the public.

New Device: More Ads, Less Show (Tuesday, February 12, 2002)
It works by going through these programs frame-by-frame, and when two identical frames appear side-by-side, one is removed. Usually, this can be done enough in a 22-minute program (the actual length of most sitcoms without commercials), to add 30 seconds of time.

The Foveon X3 - Say Cheese, You Poor Emulsion-Film Dinosaurs (Tuesday, February 12, 2002)
This "thing," as it happens, is a chip -- a radically designed light-sensing chip that [Carver] Mead says will forever transform photography, render obsolete all current digital cameras, turbocharge a consumer market that's already at $2.3 billion in North America alone, and provide the tools to turn even the klutziest shutterbugs into Avedonesque auteurs.

Men redundant? Now we don't need women either (Sunday, February 10, 2002)
"Doctors are developing artificial wombs in which embryos can grow outside a woman's body. ... Scientists have created prototypes made out of cells extracted from women's bodies. Embryos successfully attached themselves to the walls of these laboratory wombs and began to grow. However, experiments had to be terminated after a few days to comply with in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) regulations."

Is human evolution finally over? (Guardian Unlimited Observer) (Sunday, February 3, 2002)
"...Ward also argues that modern Western life protects people from the effects of evolution. 'I don't think we are going to see any changes - apart from ones we deliberately introduce ourselves, when we start to bio-engineer people, by introducing genes into their bodies, so they live longer or are stronger and healthier.'"

Current issue of NetFuture: Technology and Human Responsibility (Tue, 18 Dec 2001)
"... among all the critics of technology, Steve, I find that you have the most patience and the most honesty in investigating it." -- Kevin Kelly, a founding editor of WIRED magazine

Whatever its faults, Segway offers reason for optimism - BY DAN GILLMOR (Tuesday, December 18, 2001)
"The Segway ... demonstrates how powerful computers have truly escaped from boxes -- how they're moving into all kinds of new places and devices that can sense and react to their environment, in something close to real time. The applications can be, or soon will be, found everywhere in our lives."

The technology productivity paradox (15 Dec 2001)
(October 29, 2001) The basic promise of technology is more efficiency and thus greater productivity. However, the links between more technology and more productivity have historically been weak. As the Nineties progressed, we were told that that had all changed. Technology has reached critical mass within organizations, the reasoning went, and now we were finally seeing a surge in technology-fueled productivity. A recent McKinsey report begs to differ with this logic.

The Failure of War by Wendell Berry (Friday, December 7, 2001)
"And so great costs are involved in our fixation on war, but the costs are "externalized" as "acceptable losses." And here we see how progress in war, progress in technology, and progress in the industrial economy are parallel to one another—or, very often, are merely identical."

The National ID Card - If they build it, will it work? (Monday, December 3, 2001)
As Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison recently pointed out, any credit card is substantially more sophisticated than most government-issued IDs. He went on to propose that the United States adopt a system of "digital IDs" backed by Oracle database software, which he would provide for free. Modern technology can vastly improve the field of personal identification. The question is, will it do enough to help the fight against terrorism?

Scientists build tiny computer from DNA (Sunday, November 25, 2001)
LONDON (Reuters) - Following Mother Nature's lead, Israeli scientists have built a DNA computer so tiny that a trillion of them could fit in a test tube and perform a billion operations per second with 99.8 percent accuracy.

Union of Concerned Scientists - Press Release (from 10/3/01, posted 11/23/01)
"With the national debate growing over energy security, improving the fuel economy of cars and trucks continues to be one of the most prudent steps towards addressing the economic, political, and environmental implications of oil dependence. Passenger vehicles alone account for 40% of national oil use."

SURVEY: TECHNOLOGY AND DEVELOPMENT -- Getting better all the time (November 13, 2001)
(The Economist, 11/8/01) Developing countries are widely thought to be losing out from ever-faster technological change. Not so, argues Robert Guest: science is rapidly improving the lives of poor as well as rich people.

Netfuture Issue #124 is out... (Monday, November 12, 2001)
From the article, Double-Edged Technologies: "When Grandma rejoices in the email connecting her with her offspring on the other side of the world, she is employing a suite of technologies that make it ever more likely her offspring will be on the other side of the world instead of in her own town."

The Classroom Of the Future (Monday, November 12, 2001)
NEWSWEEK asked leading teachers, inventors and entrepreneurs for their vision of what schools will be like in the year 2025—and how learning will change

Sustainable Slopes (Tuesday, October 30, 2001)
and... Who Owns Which Mountain Resorts. Hmmm...

New England Lost Ski Areas Project (Tuesday, October 30, 2001)
The ski season is upon us! Have you ever wondered what happened to your favorite ski area? Why did it close? What was the history behind it? Ever driven by a closed ski area and wondered what it was, its legacy?

US Energy Policy / Alternative Energy Sources (Sunday, October 28, 2001)
As the U.S. shifts to a war footing, it may be time to rethink our dependence on foreign oil. Join Ira Flatow on Science Friday as talk turns to alternative sources of energy. (Namely... WIND!)

Are SUV's actually safer? (Sunday, October 28, 2001)
Didja know? "According to NHTSA, SUVs rollover in 37 percent of fatal crashes, compared to a 15 percent rollover rate for passenger cars. Rollover crashes accounted for 53 percent of all SUV occupant deaths in single vehicle crashes in 1996. Only 19 percent of occupant fatalities in passenger cars occurred in similar crashes."

POP!TECH 2001 (Friday, October 19, 2001)
Online. Everywhere. All the Time. How It Will Change Our Lives. Spend a weekend in the future. Explore with us the social, cultural and relationship consequences of the coming communications revolution. Interact with some of the best-known authorities in the field. Join us in attacking problems like erosion of privacy, and borderless commerce. Experience three days of the vision-forming moments for which Pop!Tech is so well known . . . and leave with your mind abuzz with ideas that will change your life, your work and your worldview.

Seeing is believing (20 Sep 2001)
IBM has created a video monitor which, when viewed from 18 inches away or farther, shows images that the human eye finds indistinguishable from the real thing.

Alter our DNA or robots will take over, warns Stephen Hawking (Sunday, September 2, 2001)
He made the remarks in an interview with the German magazine Focus. Because technology is advancing so quickly, Hawking said, 'computers double their performance every month'. Humans, in contrast, are developing much more slowly, and so must change their DNA make-up or be left behind. 'The danger is real,' he said, 'that this [computer] intelligence will develop and take over the world.'

NASA Hires Bioethicist (Friday, July 27, 2001)
Why has NASA decided that it needs an internal bioethics office now, after years of relying on an external bioethics advisory committee?

Mutant bacteria biowars threaten apocalypse now (Friday, May 18, 2001)
Genetic engineers already have it within their grasp to devise a lethal bio-weapon for terrorists and rogue states, the British science publication Nature warns this week. Small changes in the DNA of well-known bacteria and viruses could turn these agents into mass killers, the journal says.

March of the A.I. Robots (Tuesday, May 8, 2001)
"...personal robots will be commonplace in the nation within 10 years..." "...A multifunction android capable of almost substituting for a general-purpose waiter is likely five to 10 years away ... And a food delivery robot in the predefined venue of a fast-food restaurant could be a reality very soon..."

Kurzweil's Future Coming Fast (Wired News) (Thursday, April 26, 2001)
Kurzweil's latest work -- given the ominous title The Singularity is Near -- forecasts a century that he claims will see the merging of "biological" and "artificial" intelligence to the point that, by 2099, the two distinctions will have conjoined and perhaps even fused.

Biology as Technology (Washington Post) (Tuesday, April 17, 2001)
The Robot With the Mind of an Eel -- Scientists Start to Fuse Tissue and Technology in Machines

US funding tilts science landscape (Tuesday, March 6, 2001)
(Boston Globe) WASHINGTON - When President Bush unveiled his $2.8 billion increase for the National Institutes of Health, a sprawling campus in Maryland that almost single-handedly guides the country's medical agenda, the doctors and scientists who would receive that money seemed awestruck. ... [A]s federally supported medical research has skyrocketed - more than tripling in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1970 - funding for research in engineering, the environment, and physical sciences has stagnated or shown only slight, often incremental increases.

In Europe, the Ordinary Takes a Frightening Turn (Thursday, March 1, 2001)
"...a pervasive technophobia throbs like background music beneath the rhythms of everyday life here, fueled by skeptical media, the political success of environmentally minded Green parties and a growing regulatory apparatus at European Union headquarters in Brussels."

evWorld - electric and hybrid car portal (Tuesday, February 27, 2001)
Currently there's the 70MPG Honda Insight (2-seater) electric/gasoline hybrid and the 45MPG Toyota Prius (4-seater). Why aren't these more popular?!? Price? Styling? Some US states offer huge incentive programs...

'Smallest' robot to take world by swarm (Monday, February 26, 2001)
(CNN) -- Engineers with a government national security laboratory have created what they think could be the world's smallest robot -- a brainy, mobile machine that can stop and almost sit on a dime.

2 good books about US suburbs (Monday, February 26, 2001)

The New Economy As a Decent Society (February 12, 2001)
"How is the new economy affecting our lives and what should be done about its excesses and injustices? This debate is emerging all over the world, but it surfaces only sporadically and partially, like the tip of a giant iceberg into which other things crash."

WASH POST EDITORIAL: The New Economy's Dark Side (February 10, 2001)
"It would be folly to rein in the technology that drives the new economy; and the merciless discipline of financial markets spurs the innovation that spreads prosperity in the long run. But the harsher these competitive forces, the stronger the argument for spending some of the new bounty on humane government policies to help those who lose out in the new economy."

Robotic Fish? (Thursday, February 22, 2001)
A robotic fish powered by real muscles goes for a test swim

eTextbooks - coming soon? (Tuesday, February 13, 2001)
New technology promises to make them more accurate, up-to-date, interactive--and lightweight. [However] It remains difficult to find a textbook, online or in print, that isn't shallow and tedious.

Early Signs of Puberty Evident (Tuesday, February 13, 2001)
WASHINGTON (AP) - Parents come to Dr. Gilbert August mystified: Their little girls, around age 8 and sometimes younger, already are showing unmistakable signs of puberty.

The Digital Public Works Project (Friday, February 9, 2001)
A non-profit project that works to make the Internet accessible to groups and individuals who are unable to use it, to those who need assistance in using it more effectively, and those who are interested in producing, not just consuming, information.

The "Genius Babies," and How They Grew (Thursday, February 8, 2001)
Twenty years ago, on an outbuilding of his Southern California estate, tycoon Robert K. Graham began a most remarkable project: the Repository for Germinal Choice, a sperm bank for Nobel Prize winners. Part altruism, part social engineering, part science experiment, the repository was supposed to help reverse the genetic decay Graham saw all around him by preserving and multiplying the best genes of his generation. By the time Graham's repository closed in 1999, his genius sperm had been responsible for more than 200 children.

Feds use biometrics against Super Bowl fans (Thursday, February 8, 2001)
Super Bowl 2001 fans were secretly treated to a mass, biometric scan in which video cameras tied to a temporary law-enforcement command centre digitised their faces and compared them against photographic lists of known malefactors.


Columns / Newletters / Institutes
- NetFuture, Steve Talbott,
- Digital Nation, Gary Chapman, LA Times
- Tech Knowledge Revue, Langdon Winner
- The Loka Institute, Amherst, MA, USA
- Consumer Project on Technology, Washington D.C.
- Union of Concerned Scientists

Books / Articles
- In the Absence of the Sacred, Jerry Mander, 1992
- Why the Future Doesn't Need Us, Bill Joy, Wired, 2000
- The Computer Delusion, Todd Oppenheimer, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1997
- Laptops in the Classroom AND Simple Mandarins - A Parable, by Judy Lightfoot
- High Tech Heretic, by Clifford Stoll
- More articles and books

- Slow Down!

Centers for Internet and Society at...
- Harvard Law (Berkman)
- Stanford Law (Lessig)
- Southern CT State

Science, Technology and Human Values
- Program in.... (Duke University)
- Journal of...
- Journal of Science and Public Policy