seeking knowledge and laughter, putting a bullseye on inaccuracy

Science & Technology

Thoughts on science, technology, energy, and policy intersecting these spheres.

It was the Worst of Times, it was the Worster of Times

After yet another conversation about whether the world is going to hell in a handbasket - the predominate opinion of most people, throughout time, seems to be yes and faster than ever before. For more than a year now, I have been fighting some of these sentiments by suggesting that things are actually looking up.

For instance, pollution has decreased dramatically (exempting greenhouse gases, which is hugely worrisome) even under the Bush Administration, which I believe has slowed the rate of improvement rather than actually move us backward.

So I finally looked up some data to see if my hunches were correct. Let's start nationally, the EPA has some data (but they have about a million miles to go before being as helpful as the Energy Information Administration). But it is fairly clear that we have made progress on reducing pollution targeted by the Clean Air Act.

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So we are seeing some dramatic national improvements and I feel vindicated for claiming that the air is much cleaner now than at any other point in my life.

You can play around with local monitoring stations that report to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to check out pollution levels throughout Minnesota.

I found a monitoring station near my apartment and found that carbon monoxide levels have dramatically decreased over the years.

So if you are convinced that everything is messed up and getting worse, you may have to look to other areas than air pollution.

Wear Science

I love funny t-shirts that are also geeky. Teach the Controversy!

Workin'

Recognize this guy?

Future of the Tubes

Digital TV Transition

Let's talk tv.

In the middle of February, next year, analog broadcast channels will be shut down. What does that mean for you?

Well, if you get TV from cable (as in, you pay Comcast or someone else each month) or from satellite (you pay Dish or DirecTV each month) then it doesn't really affect you.

On the other hand, if you get your signal from rabbit ears (ahem, Kimmi) then you may notice something. Older TVs cannot receive the digital signal and require some form of set-top box (like a cable descrambler in the old days).

The cost of these boxes is something like $60-$80 or something. But you can get some coupons from the federal government that will knock $40 or something like that off.

More information is available here - and you can also apply for the coupon here. It takes a few weeks to get it, so don't dilly dally.

Why are they doing this? Well, broadcasting channels using old technology uses a lot of spectrum whereas new technology offers a better picture and uses less spectrum. Spectrum is worth a lot so we are going to stop wasting it on analog TV. Makes sense.

Unfortunately, rather than use it for the public good, we have licensed it to AT&T and Verizon - the largest cell phone networks in the U.S. Don't expect anything great from them anytime soon.

Twitter

As I mentioned previously, I have been twittering. But what is twitter??

Energista - Still Kicking

Occasionally, I still throw up a post on Energista even though it has mostly gone dormant. Just put up a post about some good Newsweek reporting on climate change issues.

iTunes and Technology Lock-in

So the iTunes store is now the #1 music retailer in the U.S. What a disaster. Imagine if Bestbuy spent years selling CDs that would only play in Sony players. This is what iTunes is doing - the music they sell can only be used on Apple devices (and only on a LIMITED number of them!).

On top of it, they music is inferior in quality to what you would get from CDs or from competing stores like Amazon (from which I recently downloaded the new REM album - $9 and I can use the music on any device now and in the future).

This is a tremendous market failure - one of information. I don't think most people realize that when someone other than Apple comes out with a new kick-ass device on which to listen to music, they will have to repurchase all that music because Apple has encumbered its music with computer code that prevents it from being played elsewhere. People who think Apple is some people-friendly alternative to Microsoft are sadly mistaken.

Fortunately, we have an alternative. Amazon has a lot of popular groups at higher quality without the restrictions (look for mp3 under digital downloads). CD Baby has a great variety of independent artists. And once you buy something from CD Baby, you can redownload it later if you lose it. These are the music stores you should support online.

Consumer, indeed!

Isen makes a point too often forgotten in discussions about broadband in the U.S.:

Kevin Martin [Chairman of Federal Communications Commission] at FCC Hearing:

"Consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer, consumer . . . "

. . . even when Ammori, Benkler, Wu have explained, "Citizen, participant, creator, innovator, investor . . . "

Subscribers to broadband networks are not consumers. We use our connections to create media, have political discussions, and contribute to all manner of stuff.

Internet Predators

David Pogue takes down an Internet myth regarding the dangers children face online.

A few years ago, a parenting magazine asked me to write an article about the dangers that children face when they go online. As it turns out, I was the wrong author for the article they had in mind.

The editor was deeply disappointed by my initial draft. Its chief message was this: “Sure, there are dangers. But they’re hugely overhyped by the media. The tales of pedophiles luring children out of their homes are like plane crashes: they happen extremely rarely, but when they do, they make headlines everywhere. The Internet is just another facet of socialization for the new generation; as always, common sense and a level head are the best safeguards.”

Thinking that children are in any more danger online than they are from activities we now consider normal is nonsensical.

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