Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Myth in Technology

The press, the coverage of the war, and the buildup to the war, was almost exclusively focused on the power of our weaponry and the might of our military. Not only were the graphics quite consciously designed to look like a video game, but the message was that not only are our weapons powerful, but we as a people are powerful…That mythic narrative of war is something that always boosts ratings and sells newspapers. It’s how William Randolph Hearst build his empire at the turn of the century, by creating a war where there was no need for one…War is packaged and sanitized the same way the poisons of tobacco or liquor are packaged and sanitized. We see enough of the titillation and excitement to hold our interest, but we never actually see what wounds do to bodies…So we go in with a stage set, and we are just looking for the characters to put against the backdrop of the scenery. We re-create over and over and over this mythic narrative that is false but that makes us feel good as a people and that everybody back home wants to read and hear. It’s war as boy’s adventure.
— Chris Hedges, interviewed in Kristina Borjesson's book Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11.
Excerpted from pages 520 and 532.

As I wrote in Technology Challenged, technology offers us vastly more information than ever before, but…“Perhaps because of a psychology evolved in a much simpler world, many find comfort in simplifying prejudices: good vs. evil, our religion vs. theirs, our ethnicity vs. theirs. Technology mediates between our environment and us, so it can reinforce the perception of any reality we want. If we want to believe that the CIA or Mossad orchestrated the flying of planes into the World Trade Center, we can find websites that document and confirm this.” The riveting interviews in Feet to the Fire shed light on how media present us with reality.

The journey we each take from cradle on, seizing new freedoms and the responsibility to wield them wisely, is mirrored by our civilization. How do we, as a society, wield the power of our technology? Consciously, critically, and thoughtfully if I have anything to say about it.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Bacteria & Hydrogen Cars

  1. “As ions move down a concentration gradient across the membrane, they can be made to do work…In most cases studied, the ion whose movement powers…is the hydrogen ion--a hydrogen atom from which the single electron has been stripped away, leaving a proton.”
  2. “The proton exchange membrane (PEM) allows only the protons to pass through to the cathode. The electrons must travel along an external circuit to the cathode, creating an electric current.”

Which quote describes a fuel cell for a hydrogen car and which the cellular spinning of flagellum? Where does technology come from? Sometimes biology.

I was pleasantly surprised when reading two books at about the same time to find this echo. The first quote comes from Life at Small Scale: The Behavior of Microbes by David Dusenbery (page 27) and the second from The Hype About Hydrogen by Joseph Romm (page 25, figure 2.1).

That sent me daydreaming about scaling down a hamster on a treadmill by embedding billions of these hydrogen-powered bacterial motors in the sleeve of a car’s wheel axle. Each spinning flagellum would give a minute push to the spinning axle. Routine maintenance on your car might report, “Hundreds of thousands of your motors have failed. Nothing to worry about.”

I imagine that controlling the curved wall of bacteria might be easier than protecting the bacteria from predation or clogging with dust. Has anyone seen such a “bacteria drive” analyzed?

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Friday, March 02, 2007

Rejiggering in North Korea

How to Topple Kim Jong Il (Foreign Policy March/April 2007 subscription required) identifies radio as a key strategy. Updating my Thanksgiving blog, the article reports that it is "becoming common to modify the state-produced radios that have fixed tuning to the state's propaganda channels. With a little rejiggering, North Koreans can listen to foreign news broadcasts." This is part of the articles prescription to
"deliver information inside." Other elements of that prescription:

"Realize a quiet revolution is already under way" because control relies on rewarding the elite with money and goods the state no longer has. "Leverage the refugee community in the South"supporting those that still have connections and a network to the north. "Fund, plan, and carry out cultural exchanges" which may benefit only the elite, but familiarizing their children with life outside the Hermit Kingdom will undermine it. And "convince fellow Republicans that subtle measures can work" because dramatic confrontation bolsters Kim Jong Il's position as the country's protector against the imperialist west.

Author Andrei Lankov writes with the experience of a former Soviet citizen. Understanding and evaluating technology helps us understand our world.

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