Falling Computer Prices Cured the “Digital Divide”

(p. 304) The more evident the power of the internet as an uplifting force became, the more evident the divide between the digital haves and have-nots. One sociological study concluded that there were “two Americas” emerging. The citizens of one America were poor people who could not afford a computer, and of the other, wealthy individuals equipped with PCs who reaped all the benefits. During the 1990s, when technology boosters like me were promoting the advent of the internet, we were often asked: What are we going to do about the digital divide? My an-(p. 305)swer was simple: nothing. We didn’t have to do anything, because the natural history of a technology such as the internet was self-fulfilling. The have-nots were a temporary imbalance that would be cured (and more) by technological forces. There was so much profit to be made connecting up the rest of the world, and the unconnected were so eager to join, that they were already paying higher telecom rates (when they could get such service) than the haves. Furthermore, the costs of both computers and connectivity were dropping by the month. At that time most poor in America owned televisions and had monthly cable bills. Owning a computer and having internet access was no more expensive and would soon be cheaper than TV. In a decade, the necessary outlay would become just a $100 laptop. Within the lifetimes of all born in the last decade, computers of some sort (connectors, really) will cost $5.

Source:
Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.

The French and Japanese Believe Water Cleans the Anus Better than Dry Paper

TheBigNecessityBK2013-07-21.jpg

Source of the book image: http://jacketupload.macmillanusa.com/jackets/high_res/jpgs/9780805090833.jpg

(p. C34) Ms. George’s book is lively . . . . It is hard not to warm to a writer who can toss off an observation like this one: “I like engineers. They build things that are useful and sometimes beautiful — a brick sewer, a suspension bridge — and take little credit. They do not wear black and designer glasses like architects. They do not crow.”
. . .
In Japan, where toilets are amazingly advanced — most of even the most basic have heated seats and built-in bidet systems for front and rear — the American idea of cleaning one’s backside with dry paper is seen as quaint at best and disgusting at worst. As Ms. George observes: “Using paper to cleanse the anus makes as much sense, hygienically, as rubbing your body with dry tissue and imagining it removes dirt.”

For the full review, see:
DWIGHT GARNER. “BOOKS OF THE TIMES; 15 Minutes of Fame for Human Waste and Its Never-Ending Assembly Line.” The New York Times (Fri., December 12, 2008): C34.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date December 11, 2008.)

The book under review, is:
George, Rose. The Big Necessity: The Unmentionable World of Human Waste and Why It Matters. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008.

Biofuels Are Bad for the Planet

(p. A13) Biofuels are under siege from critics who say they crowd out food production. Now these fuels made from grass and grain, long touted as green, are being criticized as bad for the planet.
At issue is whether oil alternatives — such as ethanol distilled from corn and fuels made from inedible stuff like switch grass — actually make global warming worse through their indirect impact on land use around the world.
For example, if farmers in Brazil burn and clear more rainforest to grow food because farmers in the U.S. are using their land to grow grain for fuel, that could mean a net increase in emissions of carbon dioxide, the main “greenhouse gas” linked to climate change.
. . .
A study published in February [2008] in the journal Science found that U.S. production of corn-based ethanol increases emissions by 93%, compared with using gasoline, when expected world-wide land-use changes are taken into account. Applying the same methodology to biofuels made from switch grass grown on soil diverted from raising corn, the study found that greenhouse-gas emissions would rise by 50%.
Previous studies have found that substituting biofuels for gasoline reduces greenhouse gases. Those studies generally didn’t account for the carbon emissions that occur as farmers world-wide respond to higher food prices and convert forest and grassland to cropland.

For the full story, see:
STEPHEN POWER. “If a Tree Falls in the Forest, Are Biofuels To Blame? It’s Not Easy Being Green.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., November 11, 2008): A13.
(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

Two relevant articles appeared in Science in the Feb. 29, 2008 issue:
Fargione, Joseph, Jason Hill, David Tilman, Stephen Polasky, and Peter Hawthorne. “Land Clearing and the Biofuel Carbon Debt.” Science 319, no. 5867 (Feb. 29, 2008): 1235-38.
Searchinger, Timothy, Ralph Heimlich, R. A. Houghton, Fengxia Dong, Amani Elobeid, Jacinto Fabiosa, Simla Tokgoz, Dermot Hayes, and Tun-Hsiang Yu. “Use of U.S. Croplands for Biofuels Increases Greenhouse Gases through Emissions from Land-Use Change.” Science 319, no. 5867 (Feb. 29, 2008): 1238-40.

Children of Chinese Entrepreneurs Want to Work for Government

XieChaoboJoblessEngineeringStudent2013-07-23.jpg

“Engineering student Xie Chaobo has yet to land a job.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. A1) BEIJING–Xie Chaobo figures he has the credentials to land a job at one of China’s big state-owned firms. He is a graduate student at Tsinghua University, one of China’s best. His field of study is environmental engineering, one of China’s priorities. And he is experimenting with new techniques for identifying water pollutants, which should make him a valuable catch.
But he has applied to 30 companies so far and scored just four interviews, none of which has led to a job.
Although Mr. Xie’s parents are entrepreneurs who have built companies that make glasses, shoes and now water pumps, he has no interest in working at a private startup. Chinese students “have been told since we were children to focus on stability instead of risk,” the 24-year-old engineering student says.
Over the past decade, the number of new graduates from Chinese universities has increased sixfold to more than six million a year, creating an epic glut that is depressing wages, (p. A10) leaving many recent college graduates without jobs and making students fearful about their future. Two-thirds of Chinese graduates say they want to work either in the government or big state-owned firms, which are seen as recession-proof, rather than at the private companies that have powered China’s remarkable economic climb, surveys indicate. Few college students today, according to the surveys, are ready to leave the safe shores of government work and “jump into the sea,” as the Chinese expression goes, to join startups or go into business for themselves, although many of their parents did just that in the 1990s.

For the full story, see:
MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. “Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.

ChineseStudentAfterGraduationPlans2013-07-23.jpgSource of table: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited above.

In 1916 a Single Home Motor Would Drive All Home Machines

(p. 301) By the 1910s, electric motors had started their inevitable spread into homes. They had been domesticated. Unlike a steam engine, they did not smoke or belch or drool. Just a tidy, steady whirr from a five-pound (p. 302) hunk. As in factories, these single “home motors” were designed to drive all the machines in one home. The 1916 Hamilton Beach “Home Motor” had a six-speed rheostat and ran on 110 volts. Designer Donald Norman points out a page from the 1918 Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog advertising the Home Motor for $8.75 (which is equivalent to about $100 these days). This handy motor would spin your sewing machine. You could also plug it into the Churn and Mixer Attachment (“for which you will find many uses”) and the Buffer and Grinder Attachments (“will be found very useful in many ways around the home”). The Fan Attachment “can be quickly attached to Home Motor,” as well as the Beater Attachment to whip cream and beat eggs.

Source:
Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.
(Note: the quote above omits the copy of a 1918 electric motor ad that appeared in the middle of the original paragraph.)

Mencken’s Prejudices: Fresh, Vital, Withering and Gleeful

BuckleyChristopher2013-07-21.jpg

“Christopher Buckley.” Source of caption and image: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited below.

(p. 5) Which book has had the greatest impact on you? What book made you want to write?

H.‚ÄČL. Mencken’s “Prejudices.” He wrote these six volumes in the 1920s, but their zest, sinew and cut-and-thrust are undated, fresh and vital nearly a century after their ink dried. No American writer — except perhaps Twain and Bierce — could be so withering and gleeful at the same time.

For the full interview, see:
Buckley, Christopher. “By the Book: Christopher Buckley.” The New York Times Book Review (Sun., July 7, 2013): 5.
(Note: the bold in the original indicates a question to Buckley by the unidentified NYT interviewer.)
(Note: the online version of the interview has the date July 3, 2013, and has the title “Christopher Buckley: By the Book.”)

The six volumes mentioned in the interview, have been reprinted in a two volume set:
Mencken, H.L. H.L. Mencken: Prejudices: The Complete Series. New York: Library of America, 2010.

Slow Patent System Makes U.S. Look Like Third World Country

(p. 118) The absurd length of time and the outrageous cost of obtaining a patent is a national disgrace. If we heard it took two to five years to obtain title to real property somewhere, we would assume it was a corrupt third world country. And yet that is how long it takes to receive a patent now, depending on the area of technology.

Source:
Halling, Dale B. The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws and Regulations Are Killing Innovation. Charleston, S.C.: BookSurge Publishing, 2009.

Laws to Protect Car Dealers, Keep Car Prices High

TeslaGalleryVirginia2013-07-23.jpg “Tesla ‘galleries’ such as this one in McLean, Va., can show but not sell cars.” Source of caption and photo: online version of the WSJ article quoted and cited below.

(p. B1) RALEIGH, N.C.–Elon Musk made a fortune disrupting the status quo in online shopping and renewable energy. Now he’s up against his toughest challenge yet: local car dealers.

Mr. Musk, the billionaire behind PayPal and now Tesla Motors Inc., wants to sell his $70,000 Tesla electric luxury vehicles directly to consumers, bypassing franchised automobile dealers. Dealers are flexing their considerable muscle in states including Texas and Virginia to stop him.
The latest battleground is North Carolina, where the Republican-controlled state Senate last month unanimously approved a measure that would block Tesla from selling online, its only sales outlet here. Tesla has staged whiz-bang test drives for legislators in front of the State House and hired one of the state’s most influential lobbyists to stave off a similar vote in the House before the legislative session ends in early July.
The focus of the power struggle between Mr. Musk and auto dealers is a thicket of state franchise laws, many of which go back to the auto industry’s earliest days when industry pioneer Henry Ford began turning to eager entrepreneurs to help sell his Model T.
Dealers say laws passed over the decades to prevent car makers from selling directly to consumers are justified because without them auto makers could use their economic clout to sell vehicles for less than their independent franchisees.

For the full story, see:
MIKE RAMSEY and VALERIE BAUERLEIN. “Tesla Clashes With Car Dealers; Electric-Vehicle Maker Wants to Sell Directly to Consumers; Critics Say Plan Violates Franchise Laws.” The Wall Street Journal (Tues., June 18, 2013): B1-B2.

If Driverless Cars Only Kill Half a Million Per Year, that “Would Be an Improvement”

(p. 261) . . . , human-piloted cars cause great harm, killing millions of people each year worldwide. If robot-controlled cars killed “only” half a million people per year, it would be an improvement!

Source:
Kelly, Kevin. What Technology Wants. New York: Viking Adult, 2010.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

Great-Grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt Privately Built First Highway Dedicated to Cars

TheLongIslandMotorParkwayBK2013-07-21.jpg

Source of book image: https://lihj.cc.stonybrook.edu/wp-content/uploads/2011/07/Motor-Parkway_review.jpg

(p. 13) It survives only as segments of other highways, as a right of way for power lines and as a bike trail, but the Long Island Motor Parkway still holds a sense of magic as what some historians say is the country’s first road built specifically for the automobile. It opened 100 years ago last Friday as a rich man’s dream.

As detailed in a new book, “The Long Island Motor Parkway” by Howard Kroplick and Al Velocci (Arcadia Publishing), the parkway ran about 45 miles across Long Island, from Queens to Ronkonkoma, and was created by William Kissam Vanderbilt II, the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

. . .

The younger Vanderbilt was a car enthusiast who loved to race. He had set a speed record of 92 miles an hour in 1904, the same year he created his own race, the Vanderbilt Cup.
But his race came under fire after a spectator was killed in 1906, and Vanderbilt wanted a safe road on which to hold the race and on which other car lovers could hurl their new machines free of the dust common on roads made for horses. The parkway would also be free of “interference from the authorities,” he said in a speech.
So he created a toll road for high-speed automobile travel. It was built of reinforced concrete, had banked turns, guard rails and, by building bridges, he eliminated intersections that would slow a driver down. The Long Island Motor Parkway officially opened on Oct. 10, 1908, and closed in 1938.
. . .
But by the end of Vanderbilt’s life (he died in 1944), the public had come to feel entitled to car ownership. And there was growing pressure for public highways, like the parkways that the urban planner Robert Moses was building.

. . .

In 1938, Moses refused Vanderbilt’s appeal to incorporate the motor parkway into his new parkway system. The motor parkway just could not compete with the public roads, even after the toll was reduced to 40 cents, and Moses eventually gained control of Vanderbilt’s pioneering road for back taxes of about $80,000. The day of public roads had come, supplanting private highways.
. . .
The parkway marked the beginning of a process: the road was designed for the car. But in offering higher speeds, the parkway and other modern roads would push cars to their technical limits and beyond, inspiring innovation. In that sense, the first modern automobile highway helped to create the modern automobile.

For the full story, see:
PHIL PATTON. “A 100-Year-Old Dream: A Road Just for Cars.” The New York Times, SportsSunday Section (Sun., October 12, 2008): 13.
(Note: the centered bold ellipses were in the original; the other ellipses were added.)
(Note: the online version of the article has the date October 9, 2008.)

The book mentioned in the article, is:
Kroplick, Howard, and Al Velocci. The Long Island Motor Parkway. Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2008.

LongIslandMotorParkwayRouteMap2013-07-21.jpg “Approximate Route of Long Island Motor Parkway.” Source of caption and map: online version of the NYT article quoted and cited above.

Students Learn More in Air Conditioning

(p. 5) My first year as a public school teacher, I taught at Manhattan’s P.S. 98, which did not have air-conditioning. From mid-May until June’s end — roughly 17 percent of the school year — the temperature in my classroom hovered in the 80s and often topped 90 degrees.
Students wilted over desks. Academic gains evaporated. Even restless pencil tappers and toe wigglers grew lethargic. Absenteeism increased as children sought relief at home or outdoors. By day’s end, my hair was plastered to my face with perspiration.
It seems obvious: schools need to be cool. It’s absurd to talk about inculcating 21st-century skills in classrooms that resemble 19th-century sweatshops.
. . .
Cool schools are critical if we are to boost achievement. Studies show that concentration and cognitive abilities decline substantially after a room reaches 77 or 78 degrees. This is a lesson American businesses learned long ago. . . . A pleasant atmosphere leads to more productive employees.
. . .
It isn’t just white-collar laborers who work in cool climates. Amazon announced last year that it was spending $52 million to upgrade its warehouses with air-conditioning. Yet we can’t seem to do the same for vulnerable children, though some of the achievement gap is most likely owing to a lack of air-conditioning. One Oregon study found that students working in three different temperature settings had strikingly different results on exams, suggesting that sweating a test actually undermines performance.
Students who enjoy the luxury of air-conditioning may enjoy an unfair advantage over their hotter peers.
We are also investing enormous sums to extend the school day and school year in many locales. But these investments won’t be effective if schools are ovens.

For the full commentary, see:
SARA MOSLE. “SCHOOLING; Schools Are Not Cool.” The New York Times, SundayReview Section (Sun., June 2, 2013): 5.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date June 1, 2013.)