SOPA Starts To Stink

Clay Shirky: Why SOPA is a bad idea

John Robb's views reflect his military background:

What happens when a government hollows out? Answer: Private interests take control of the machinery of state to enhance and protect their profitability.

In some cases, this results in simple looting (like the US mortgage fiasco and EU meltdown). In others, Byzantine laws and rules are enacted that crush innovation and trample personal rights. Unfortunately, based on this measure, the US and the EU is well on the way to becoming hollow. There's no going back. Link: Global Guerrillas

Steve Jobs Should Shut Down Apple – Michael Dell’s Recommendation

Jobs had a public war of words with Dell Computer CEO Michael Dell, starting when Jobs first criticized Dell for making "un-innovative beige boxes." On October 6, 1997, in a Gartner Symposium, when Michael Dell was asked what he would do if he owned then-troubled Apple Computer, he said "I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." In 2006, Steve Jobs sent an email to all employees when Apple's market capitalization rose above Dell's. The email read:

Team, it turned out that Michael Dell wasn't perfect at predicting the future. Based on today's stock market close, Apple is worth more than Dell. Stocks go up and down, and things may be different tomorrow, but I thought it was worth a moment of reflection today. Steve.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Jobs

Now…

Apple’s market cap — it is an astonishing $186.7 billion dollars — that’s bigger than:

Google $172B
Cisco $131.7B
HP $117.5B
Intel $110.4B
Verizon $85.7B
Amazon $51.7B
Research In Motion $34B
Dell $26.5B

Source: http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2010/01/5-questions-about-the-apple-islate/

An Amazing Gadget – Sixth Sense

TED provides a glimpse of a wow technology.

Link: Pattie Maes demos the Sixth Sense | Video on TED.com.

This demo – from Pattie Maes' lab at MIT, spearheaded by Pranav Mistry – was the buzz of TED. It's a wearable device with a projector that paves the way for profound interaction with our environment.

Pattie Maes researches the tools we use to work with information and connect with one another. Full bio and more links

Pranav Mistry is the genius behind Sixth Sense, a wearable device that enables new interactions between the real world and the world of data. Full bio and more links

via James Abrams

The Technological Fundamentalism Boomerang

Robert Jensen describes the dark side of the faith that technology can continue to solve all our problems. Excerpts below.

Link: Technological Fundamentalism In Media And Culture By Robert Jensen.

An honest assessment of the culture’s technological fundamentalism makes it clear why Wes Jackson’s call for an “ignorance-based worldview” is so important. Jackson, a plant geneticist who left conventional academic life to co-found The Land Institute [http://www.landinstitute.org/pages/SmithsonianMag-WJackson.pdf] to pursue projects about sustainable agriculture and sustainable culture, suggests that we would be wise to recognize what we don’t know. His point is that whatever the advanced state of our technical and scientific prowess, we are — and always will be — far more ignorant than knowledgeable, and therefore it would be sensible for us to adopt an ignorance-based worldview that could help us work effectively within our limits. Acknowledging our basic ignorance does not mean we should revel in the ways humans can act stupidly, but rather should spur us to recognize that we have an obligation to act intelligently on the basis not only of what we know but what we don’t know.

If we were to step back and confront honestly the technologies we have unleashed — out of that hubris, believing our knowledge is adequate to control the consequences of our science and technology — I doubt any of us would ever get a good night’s sleep. We humans have been overdriving our intellectual headlights for thousands of years, most dramatically in the 20th century when we ventured with reckless abandon into two places where we had no business going — the atom and the cell.

On the former: The deeper we break into the energy package, the greater the risks we take. Building fires with sticks gathered from around the camp is relatively easy to manage, but breaking into increasingly earlier material of the universe — such as fossil fuels and heavy metal uranium — is quite a different project, more complex and far beyond our capacity to control. Likewise, manipulating plants through traditional selective breeding is local and manageable, whereas breaking into the workings of the gene — the foundational material of life — takes us to places we have no way to understand.

These technological endeavours suggest that the Genesis story was prescient; our taste of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil appears to have been ill-advised, given where it has led us. We live now in the uncomfortable position of realizing we have moved too far and too fast, outstripping our capacity to manage safely the world we have created. The answer is not some naïve return to a romanticized past, but a recognition of what we have created and a systematic evaluation of how to step back from our most dangerous missteps.

Who Killed the Electric Car?

Ann and I watched Who Killed the Electric Car? recently. This documentary is both intriguing and infuriating. The synopsis below from IMDB.com is a good overview. After I watched it, I began to question free market solutions to big problems. It certainly appears that huge corporations colluded to stop a threat to their cash cows.

Link: Who Killed the Electric Car? (2006) – Synopsis.

"In 1996, electric cars began to appear on roads all over California. They were quiet and fast, produced no exhaust and ran without gasoline………..Ten years later, these futuristic cars were almost completely gone."

‘Who Killed the Electric Car’ is a documentary which unfolds a complex set of events around the development and demise of modern electric cars stemming from California from the early 1990s to 2006. The film maker, Chris Paine, has woven together interviews and archival footage of over 65 people involved with the events. The time line of events in the film moves back and forth several times but this is not to the detriment of the storyline.

The movie starts with a brief history of the first electric cars created in the early twentieth century, and how they were killed off nearly 100 years ago as gas powered cars became cheaper. The movie then paints the current picture of gas car problems being smog and related health problems, CO2 emissions, global warming. Later, the use of the US Military in the Middle East is also mentioned, but the loss of life and financial costs are not mentioned.

The film then moves back to 1987 when, with the SunRaycer, General Motors won the World Solar Challenge, a solar electric car race in Australia. GM’s CEO Roger Smith challenged the same design team to build a prototype practical electric car which became known as the Impact when announced in 1990. The project expanded to small scale production vehicles with the aim that it would give GM several years lead over any competitor car companies.

The Californian Air Resources Board (CARB) saw this as a way to solve their air quality problem and in 1990 passed the Zero Emissions Vehicle Mandate. The ZEV Mandate specified increasing numbers of vehicles sold would have to be Zero Emission Vehicles. "For the car companies there was only two options. Comply with the law or fight it. In then end, they would do both."

The movie continues to reveal what the car companies and other participants did to kill the concept and reality of the electric car, plus the efforts of EV supporters to save their EVs.

Microsoft Vista: Not ready for prime time

I write this post in anger.

I bought a new PC in March 2007. Vista was the only operating system that came on a new PC. So I’ve had Vista long enough to know it well.

Note: I develop software for a living. I’m not a network expert but I am quite proficient with Windows XP Pro and Microsoft Office. I have two computers on my desk, with Vista and Windows XP Pro respectively, and I toggle back and forth using the same keyboard and mouse. It’s a great way to compare operating systems.

I’ve spent many dozens of hours trying to get Vista to work well on our local area network. Sharing files with other computers in our office has been difficult. I finally bought Network Magic, which made Vista almost functional on the network, but I never know when Vista might decide to quit sharing my data with our other computers.

After several months of use I have found Vista too unstable for most work, so I use it to work on Microsoft Access applications and to surf the web. Now, after installing some recent updates, Microsoft Office 2003 applications have quit working on Vista. When I start Access or Excel, I get a message

… has stopped working. A problem has occurred that keeps the program from working correctly. Windows will close the program and notify you if a solution is available.

Two weeks ago my MSN Money Center portfolio page asked me to update. I did and it hasn’t worked since. I’ve spent several hours trying to get it to install correctly but it hangs. MSN is a Microsoft web site and the portfolio manager is Microsoft software that is not working on Vista.

The only positive comment I have about Vista is … it has a very striking look. It’s display and user interface is very pretty.

Vista’s security reminds me of the Atlanta airport — far too much hassle, very time consuming, and unpleasant.

Microsoft released Vista far too early. The company managers must have ignored the testers. Microsoft may or may not pay dearly for this mistake, but it opened the door for Apple to get some market share. And it stinks of monopoly behavior.

I have lost all trust for the Windows Vista brand. Microsoft’s credibility, which has been falling for years, has taken a dive with me.

If I find an easy way to install Windows XP Pro on my Vista PC, I’ll do it. Microsoft has a solid operating system in Windows XP Pro — Vista is not in the same league.

I feel better now.

P.S. 9/6/2007: The Firefox browser will not run on my Vista PC now.

P.S. 9/11/2007:

Dell Warns Customers About Complications From Vista

Microsoft has a lot riding on the success of Vista, but there are concerns about its onerous hardware demands and the attendant implementation challenges. After a brief period of selling only Vista, Dell was forced to bring back Windows XP, since there remained a lot of demand for the old system. Now Dell is going even farther, as it’s warning business customers about the difficult challenges that lay ahead of them if they decide to adopt Vista. This is odd, because a company in Dell’s position would typically relish the increased sales that come from a major software upgrade. Dell must be fearful that it will suffer if their customers make a major investment into new machines running Vista that doesn’t pan out as planned.

P.S. 9/16/2007: Microsoft Expression Web, an excellent web site/page design application, has started crashing on Vista.

P.S. 9/16/2007: Mark Cuban at Blog Maverick writes:

P.S. 10/1/2007: Then I upgraded my PC to Vista. What a disaster. I had grown accustomed to my PC freezing every now and then. Enter Vista and my PC was frozen more often than it was working.

After many hours of frustrating search, I found a fix for the applications crashing:

bcdedit.exe /set {current} nx AlwaysOff

See the following link for instructions:

http://www.realtime-vista.com/administration/2007/04/disabling_data_execution_preve.htm

How To Get Your Home Ready For Renewable Energy

Shane Jordan at Green Options offers some sound advice for reducing energy usage. Excerpts below.

Link: How To Get Your Home Ready For Renewable Energy | Green Options.

People get so caught up in the image of “free” power from the sun or the wind, that they forget that the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t buy. For every dollar you spend on home efficiency you will take three to five dollars off the cost of your renewable energy system. It is that simple. Use less energy; buy fewer solar panels to supply that energy..

Here is a quick check list of things you should have done before you even think about installing a renewable energy system on your home. In fact, these steps will save you money even if you don’t intend to install a renewable energy system on your home.

Lighting and appliances: Make sure you are using the most efficient lighting you can. That most often means compact fluorescent and perhaps LED lighting.

Insulation and weather sealing: You want your home to be as sealed as possible against both the cold and the heat. This means weather sealing windows and doors, or even replacing them if you have the money to more insulated ones. … I recommend that you get an energy audit. Many utilities or municipalities offer then for free or for a low fee. Even if you have to pay for one, it is money well-spent.

Roofing: If properly installed, a solar system will last at least 25 years. How old is your roof? If your roof is in need of new shingles, or needs other repair, there is no point in putting a solar system on the roof that is going to need to be removed in five years to re-shingle. It is much cheaper to install the solar system while you install the new shingles, than to do the two separately

Home owner’s associations and neighbors:
Do you live in a historic district? What is your HOA’s policy on wind turbines? Before you spend your money on the solar panels, invest in a little research and neighborly friendliness. Many historic districts were made in the 70’s during the first oil crisis, and many have bylaws dealing with renewable energy prompted by that crisis. Some only apply if your home is visible from the street. Some require a permit. Research is usually a lot cheaper than fines, or having to take down the system.

Heating system: Electric heat is not the way to go. That goes for electric water heaters as well. If money was no object, I would suggest you switch to radiant floor solar thermal heating. Not only will the bathroom floor be nice and warm in the middle of winter, but your cats will love it as well. If you can’t go with radiant floor, gas heat is the second best. One thing for sure: you want to have your heating system as efficient as money and resources will allow.

Once you have tackled all of these issues, THEN you are ready to call up your handy renewable energy installer and get those super-cool solar panels. Spending a significant amount of money on home efficiency improvements will radically reduce the size (number of solar panels, size of wind turbine etc) and therefore the cost of your renewable energy system. It will also lower your monthly bills, making the payback time on your investment that much quicker.

Fast Internet: Stuck in Traffic

In 1997, we got DSL from Bellsouth. The jump from dial-up to DSL was exhilarating. It changed our world. Now, in 2007, we still have the same connection speed with our DSL as we did in 1997. I’m weighing changing to a faster cable internet connection, which has a reputation for poor service quality (we have two home businesses that cannot function without a fast connection), versus staying with Bellsouth/AT&T, who provide excellent repair service.

In the excerpts below, Bob Cringely explains why the United States is stuck in the slow lane on the Internet.

Link: I, Cringely . The Pulpit . The $200 Billion Rip-Off | PBS

Misguided and incompetent regulation combined with utilities that found ways to game the system resulted in what had been the best communication system in the world becoming just so-so, though very profitable. We as consumers were consistently sold ideas that were impractical only to have those be replaced later by less-ambitious technologies that, in turn, were still under-delivered. Congress set mandates then provided little or no oversight. The FCC was (and probably still is) managed for the benefit of the companies and their lobbyists, not for you and me. And the upshot is that I could move to Japan and pay $14 per month for 100-megabit-per-second Internet service but I can’t do that here and will probably never be able to.

Despite this, the FCC says America has the highest broadband deployment rate in the world and President Bush has set a goal of having broadband available to every U.S. home by the end of this year. What have these guys been smoking? Nothing, actually, they simply redefined "broadband" as any Internet service with a download speed of 200 kilobits per second or better. That’s less than one percent the target speed set in 1994 that we were supposed to have achieved by 2000 under regulations that still remain in place.

Catch 22: Heat churns in a vicious cycle

Coal burning power plants and vehicles emit particles that increase the greenhouse effect. Air conditioners need more power to cool homes and businesses as the atmospheric heat increases. Power plants burn more coal and emit more particles. The greenhouse effect increases…. solar home

Every summer I ask why we don’t have solar cells on our roofs, producing power for air conditioning and reflecting the sunlight that heats our homes. I am told that solar cells don’t look good on a house (perceptions will change). The local power company doesn’t allow connections to its grid (why not?). The return-on-investment of solar cells isn’t viable (maybe next year). Politicians don’t get wined and dined by solar lobbyists (true). And so nothing changes.

Our electric bill will be $400 for August. A few more years and it will be $1000 or $1500. We’ll be admiring the homes with solar cells when that day arrives.

Below are some excerpts from the Atlanta Journal Constitution newspaper about the heat.

Link: POURING IT ON: Heat churns in a vicious cycle | ajc.com.

The hotter and stickier it gets, the more we stay inside. The more we’re inside, the more electricity we use blasting the A/C. The more power we consume —- added to the traffic pollution —- the more soot- and smog-forming chemicals we add to the air. And that makes for still lousier air quality and even more reason to stay indoors. We’re fouling our own nest, in effect, and it’s a vicious cycle.

WHAT’S CAUSING THE BAD AIR?

Weather: Hot temperatures, stagnant air, no rain and little wind has created dome-like atmospheric conditions that keep pollution from leaving.

Traffic: Cars and trucks are the main cause of smog and probably the biggest contributor to soot pollution.

Power plants: Coal-fired power plants are major contributors to particle pollution, or soot. To a lesser degree they also contribute to ground-level ozone, or smog.

Everything else: With the air going nowhere, even backyard barbecues, lawn mowers and weed whackers are adding to pollution saturation.

17,546: Monday’s megawatt peak in Georgia
17,160: Last year’s peak (Aug. 4, 2006)
15,924: Highest daily peak in July

WHAT’S A MEGAWATT?

A megawatt measures capacity to produce electricity in an instant of time. Megawatt hours refer to the amount of megawatts used in an hour’s time.

One megawatt is enough to power 250 homes or a Publix or Kroger.
Forty megawatts would power one SuperWal-Mart or 10,000 homes.
Four hundred megawatts is enough to power 10 Super Wal-Marts or 100,000 homes.

Nuclear Power Is Clean Energy?

Rebecca Solnit at Orion magazine describes some problems with nuclear energy that you won’t hear on TV.

Link: Nuclear Power the Solution to Climate Change? | Rebecca Solnit | Orion magazine.

…when it comes to the mining of uranium, which mostly takes place on indigenous lands from northern Canada to central Australia, you need to picture fossil-fuel-intensive carbon-emitting vehicles, and lots of them—big disgusting diesel-belching ones. But that’s the least of it. The Navajo are fighting right now to prevent uranium mining from resuming on their land, which was severely contaminated by the postwar uranium boom of the 1940s and 1950s. The miners got lung cancer. The children in the area got birth defects and a 1,500 percent increase in ovarian and testicular cancer. And the slag heaps and contaminated pools that were left behind will be radioactive for millennia.

If these facts haven’t dissuaded this person sitting next to you, try telling him or her that most mined uranium—about 99.28 percent—is fairly low-radiation uranium-238, which is still a highly toxic heavy metal. To make nuclear fuel, the ore must be “enriched,” an energy-intensive process that increases the .72 percent of highly fissionable, highly radioactive U-235 up to 3 to 5 percent. As Chip points out, four dirty-coal-fired plants were operated in Kentucky just to operate two uranium enrichment plants. What’s left over is a huge quantity of U-238, known as depleted uranium, which the U.S. government classifies as low-level nuclear waste, except when it uses the stuff to make armoring and projectiles that are the source of so much contamination in Iraq from our first war there, and our second.

Reprocessing spent nuclear fuel was supposed to be one alternative to lots and lots of mining forever and forever. The biggest experiment in reprocessing was at Sellafield in Britain. In 2005, after decades of contamination and leaks and general spewing of horrible matter into the ocean, air, and land around the reprocessing plant, Sellafield was shut down because a bigger-than-usual leak of fuel dissolved in nitric acid—some tens of thousands of gallons—was discovered. It contained enough plutonium to make about twenty nuclear bombs. Gentle reader, this has always been one of the prime problems of nuclear energy: the same general processes that produce fuel for power can produce it for bombs. In India. Or Pakistan. Or Iran. The waste from nuclear plants is now the subject of much fretting about terrorists obtaining it for dirty bombs—and with a few hundred thousand tons of high-level waste in the form of spent fuel and a whole lot more low-level waste in the U.S. alone, there’s plenty to go around.

Bottom line:

…every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle is murderously filthy, imparting long-lasting contamination on an epic scale; that a certain degree of radioactive pollution is standard at each of these stages, but the accidents are now so many in number that they have to be factored in as part of the environmental cost; that the plants themselves generate lots of radioactive waste, which we still don’t know what to do with—because the stuff is deadly . . . anywhere . . . and almost forever.

via Dave Pollard