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.

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

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


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


“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.

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


“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.

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.