Modern technology being kind to trees

November 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Whole forests thank modern technology for saving their lives.
American Thinker Blog

Modern technology being kind to trees

November 12, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Whole forests thank modern technology for saving their lives.
American Thinker Blog

HHS Announces New ‘Early Innovators Grants’ To Help States Develop Technology For The Exchanges

October 29, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a new round of grants this afternoon to help states expedite and simplify the process of developing IT systems for the new exchanges (the Travelocity-like market places that will help Americans find comprehensive insurance coverage). By the time the exchanges become operational in 2014, states should be able to use information technology to determine eligibly, enrollment, premium tax credits, cost-sharing assistance administration, and integrate the system with Medicaid and CHIP. Officials believe that sophisticated, yet “consumer friendly” IT systems are “critical to the success of the exchanges” and hope that the final product will look similar to the new HealthCare.gov website, where beneficiaries can compare different plans, identify if they’re eligible for government aid, and enroll in insurance.

But as Politico’s Jennifer Haberkorn points out this morning, “states view the project Early Innovators Grants” will be offered to five states or coalition of states “that demonstrate leadership in developing cutting-edge and cost-effective consumer-based technologies and models for insurance eligibility and enrollment for Exchanges” that “can be adopted and tailored by other States.”

“The benefits to the states are three-fold,” Ario said. “First, there are lower costs through the uses of shared models, second there is an improved implementation schedule, increased quality and reduced risk through the re-use, the peer-collaboration and the leveraging of lessons learned across the state boundaries. And finally, there is improved capacity for program evaluation because of the more uniform implementation theory,” he explained.

Last month, the federal government awarded exchange planning grants to 48 states and the District of Columbia and has announced that it will award “Establishment Grants” in February of 2011. “We’re looking for a lot of collaboration, we’re looking for states to lead….to really kind of provide the direction and progress that needs to be made early rather than later,” Henry Chao — the Chief Technology Officer at the Office of Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight — explained on the call, noting that states struggled to implement the IT requirements in Medicare Part D because they were given “very very short timeframes” “in terms of systems development.” “I think the lessons learned have really told us that we need to collaborate much more so upfront, not just with the states, but across the federal government, with other agencies.”

Wonk Room

Pentagon Fighting WikiLeaks with Technology

October 27, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

The military is very concerned about the WikiLeaks scandal and is taking active measures to stem the tide of classified documents being stolen and released to the press.

Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn told a group of reporters late Tuesday that one of the measures being considered were checks that would flag suspicious access to data, similar to the alerts by credit cards companies designed to prevent fraudulent charges.

“If somebody is doing something that doesn’t seem appropriate for where they are - downloading 100,000 documents and they’re out in some obscure corner of the country - why are they doing that? And you go ask,” Mr. Lynn said.

The deputy secretary, on a brief tour of Iraq and Afghanistan, said the Pentagon was trying to reach a balance between giving field officers broad access to useful information and maintaining security of the database. Front-line military units have long complained that although they provide intelligence, they don’t get enough back to allow them to form a broad picture.

“We’ve tried to change the way we’ve operated so that the intelligence is available to the war fighter when he or she needs it and we don’t want to change that. That’s an important element in the successes we’ve had that said we probably have to think about how do we better protect the data so we don’t have this kind of massive loss,” he said.

It’s been my fear since the first of the WikiLeaks hit the papers that the Pentagon would make the opposite decision, stovepiping the information in order to protect it.  I’m quite pleased to be wrong on this one.




Outside the Beltway

The Technology Of Terrorism

October 25, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Spencer Ackerman and Adam Rawnsley continue to dig through the Wikileaks document dump. In this post they focus on the techniques and tools of Iraqi insurgents:

Insurgents didn’t necessarily trust the people they rigged to explode. In November 2006, a U.S. military report warned that some explosive-lined vests were equipped with cameras broadcasting imagery back to insurgent cells and a “secondary detonation device” that could be activated remotely. The idea behind the camera, first unearthed by the Guardian, was to ensure that the suicide bomber had satisfied his superiors that he’d reached a position of maximum potential damage before blowing up. And if he lost his nerve, the report warned, “the observer can detonate the device remotely.” Some of these contraptions were constructed out of U.S. military surplus uniforms.





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The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan

Why China has to steal military technology … well, until Obama

October 11, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Communist China needs to steal technology, including military, for the same reasons the USSR did, as this excerpt pointedly describes:

But is China vulnerable to such a linkage policy? The short answer is yes because Communist China, like its Soviet predecessor, has hit the innovation roadblock. In his 1968 essay directed to his country’s leadership, the premier Soviet nuclear scientist Andrei Sakharov warned “that a society that restricts intellectual freedom and prevents the free exchange of ideas would be unable to compete with societies that unleash the creative potential of their people.” He went on to compare the race between the US and the USSR to one between two cross country skiers traversing deep snow. If the dictatorships seem to be catching up fast, it is only because they follow in the tracks already smoothed out by democracies. Lack of freedom consigns “fear societies” to the role of followers, never leaders since “a fear society must parasitically feed off the resources of others to recharge its batteries.”

The United States may have been weak over the years in stopping the theft - at least two weapons-lab incidents come to mind, as well as a fallen missile, which they graciously delayed us from retrieving until after they scavenged the circuit boards.  But we have refrained from selling them military technology, although those restrictions were a favorite of President Clinton’s to loosen.

Concerning aircraft, President Reagan sold them the S-70, a civilian version of the Blackhawk helicopter (UH-60), and then a few years later cut off repair parts when China wasn’t playing well with others.

Now comes the C-130, a versatile cargo transport.  Although the original model is 50 years old, it’s been upgraded numerous times, and is in wide military use throughout the world.  It is also legions beyond anything China presently uses.

So, hey, let’s sell them some!  I mean, they can only use it to transport troops and equipment that short 150-mile jaunt of open water to Taiwan.  And with a range easily exceeding 2,000 miles, they can avoid water and pop into any of the neighboring countries within which they love to foster political unrest.  The plane can, after all, land and take off on undeveloped runways.  The sales also bring the operational benefit of matching Taiwan’s fleet of C-130s.  It’s perfect!

This is stimulus that Barry can get behind!  Too bad it spells d-a-n-g-e-r for everyone else in operational distance.

Liberty Pundits Blog

The Dumbest Generation: Does Technology Make Kids Dumb?

September 30, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

A new book, The Dumbest Generation:  How the Digital Age Stupifies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future, has spawned an AP piece asking, “Are we raising a generation of nincompoops?

Second-graders who can’t tie shoes or zip jackets. Four-year-olds in Pull-Ups diapers. Five-year-olds in strollers. Teens and preteens befuddled by can openers and ice-cube trays. College kids who’ve never done laundry, taken a bus alone or addressed an envelope.

[...]

Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter “literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else.”  Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her “kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger.”

Many kids never learn to do ordinary household tasks. They have no chores. Take-out and drive-through meals have replaced home cooking. And busy families who can afford it often outsource house-cleaning and lawn care.  ”It’s so all laid out for them,” said Maushart, author of the forthcoming book “The Winter of Our Disconnect,” about her efforts to wean her family from its dependence on technology. “Having so much comfort and ease is what has led to this situation — the Velcro sneakers, the Pull-Ups generation. You can pee in your pants and we’ll take care of it for you!”

The issue hit home for me when a visiting 12-year-old took an ice-cube tray out of my freezer, then stared at it helplessly. Raised in a world where refrigerators have push-button ice-makers, he’d never had to get cubes out of a tray — in the same way that kids growing up with pull-tab cans don’t understand can openers.  But his passivity was what bothered me most. Come on, kid! If your life depended on it, couldn’t you wrestle that ice-cube tray to the ground? It’s not that complicated!

Mark Bauerlein, author of the best-selling book “The Dumbest Generation,” which contends that cyberculture is turning young people into know-nothings, says “the absence of technology” confuses kids faced with simple mechanical tasks.  But Bauerlein says there’s a second factor: “a loss of independence and a loss of initiative.” He says that growing up with cell phones and Google means kids don’t have to figure things out or solve problems any more. They can look up what they need online or call mom or dad for step-by-step instructions. And today’s helicopter parents are more than happy to oblige, whether their kids are 12 or 22.

I share Ilya Somin‘s lack of concern.

In every generation, there are some mechanical skills that were essential in earlier times that are no longer useful because technology has created machines that perform the same functions more efficiently. When I was in high school in the 1980s, I learned how to use a typewriter. Very few teenagers have that skill today because word processors are both simpler to operate and more efficient. In the generation before me, many if not most schoolchildren knew how to use abacuses and slide rules. By my day, we were using the much simpler and more efficient calculators. Does that mean that we were “nincompoops” compared to those who grew up in the 1950s and 60s?

Harpaz and Mark Bauerlein worry that kids who can look up instructions on the internet or their cell phones won’t learn how to “figure things out or solve problems.” To my mind, learning how to access the knowledge of others is itself a very important ability, one that those skilled at using the internet have an important advantage in. As great social theorists such as F.A. Hayek and Edmund Burke pointed out, even the smartest and most capable individuals can benefit a lot from the vastly greater store of knowledge compiled by the rest of society. If Bauerlein is right, than 19th century Americans should have been concerned about the spread of mass literacy and the declining price of books caused by improved printing technology. After all, kids who can look up instructions in books where their parents had to use their own know-how couldn’t possibly learn how to “figure things out” on their own!

Indeed, we could reverse all this.  Today’s 4-year-olds are more technically savvy than their grandparents.  Is grandma an idiot because she finds her TiVo befuddling or doesn’t know how to use the Google?  Of course not.

For that matter, I’m perfectly fine with people who are able to look things up and figure out how to do things rather than having to rely on “their own know-how.”   The store of knowledge on the Internet vastly outweighs what any single individual could possibly learn in a lifetime. To be sure, there’s something to be said for being able to look at something and intuit a solution.   But not having to do that is a net plus.

Further, Beth Harpaz (author of the AP piece) and Maushart are conflating the impact of technology with the effects of bad parenting.   There is no technology of which I’m aware that takes clothes that have been thrown on the floor into fresh-folded laundry.  (If it exists, however, I want it.)   If you don’t want your kid to be a slob, teach them to pick up after themselves.    If your kid looks befuddled when encountering a can without a pull top, show them how to use a can opener!  This ain’t rocket science, people.

I am, however, concerned about a 12-year-old boy who can’t figure out how to get ice cubes out of a plastic tray.  Whack the damned thing on the counter, son.




Outside the Beltway

Wary of the Technology Aware (Guest Voice)

September 27, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 

Wary of the Technology Aware

by Tom Purcell

My new cell phone calls people on its own.

I know this because people I don’t know call me back, asking why I phoned.

I tell them I didn’t phone them — my phone did. Which makes them sore.

Unlike the first cell phone I had — it was big and heavy and all I could use it for was to phone other people, which I never did because it cost $ 400 a minute to do that — my new phone is a “smart phone.”

It is called the HTC Incredible and it is based on Google’s new Android technology — a pretty creepy technology when you think about it.

An android, in science fiction, is a robot that thinks and acts like a human being — which could explain the calls my phone is making.

My Incredible is otherwise amazing. It is a computer that fits in the palm of my hand — it’s 50,000 times more powerful than the giant IBM machines that took up whole city blocks just 30 years ago.

It offers an “open source” operating system — that means anyone can develop software programs to make it do “cool” things.

One program offers GPS. A human voice tells me exactly how to get — “Connelly’s Irish Pub to your right” — exactly where I want to go.

Another lets me display all the bar-code tags I use — for my gym, supermarket, etc. — so I don’t have to carry all those tags around.

Others let me call people anywhere in the world for free, determine the weather no matter where I am, or get instant information and comparative pricing on any product in any store.

Which is a blessing and a curse.

As easy as it is to understand and use the Incredible, it takes time to install and master useful applications. And no sooner do you master one than Google or somebody else invents several hundred more.

If you ask me, these new technologies are driving a quiet revolution in our country.

The old divides — rich vs. poor, liberals vs. conservatives, Democrats vs. Republicans — are so 2008.

All are giving way to the new divide: people who understand technology vs. those who don’t.

The technology-aware will soon rule the world, if they don’t already. They already know everything about us — everything we do is electronically accessible somewhere.

So dependent are we on the technologies they produce — we rely on sophisticated software programs to access our money so we can buy food, gas and, thanks to technological confusion, much-needed alcohol — that he who controls the digital world can, at will, control most everything in our world.

I’m waiting for the day when some pimple-faced kid, tired of still getting wedgies in his senior year of college, will write a program that shuts down our cars, our homes, everything — until we hand over the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and all the gold bullion held by the Federal Reserve.

The technologically aware are different from you and me.

They invented texting, a technology that makes you press both thumbs against a miniature cell-phone keypad to bastardize the English language.

And here I thought we’d mastered keyboard technology with the typewriter, which utilizes all our fingers. What will the technology-aware make us use next? A hammer and chisel!

In any event, my new phone has so many new applications and doodads that I bump things while trying to access other things, and my phone calls people I don’t know.

But I shouldn’t complain. My phone wrote this column.

©2010 Tom Purcell. Tom Purcell, a freelance writer is also a humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, and is nationally syndicated exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. His column and the cartoon by Cam Cardow, The Ottawa Citizen, are licensed to run on TMV. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.


The Moderate Voice

The Bicycle: A Most Remarkable Technology

September 16, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 


Nick Kristof celebrates its ability to get more kids in school in Zimbabwe:

When I asked Abel what he dreamed of, he said “a bicycle” — so that he could cut the six hours he spent walking to and from school and, thus, take better care of the younger orphans. Last week, Abel got his wish. A Chicago-based aid organization, World Bicycle Relief, distributed 200 bicycles to students in Abel’s area who need them to get to school. One went to Abel.

That’s the first of a planned 20,000 bicycles this year. World Bicycle Relief has given out more than 70,000 bicycles so far. It also trains one mechanic for every 50 bicycles distributed and provides basic spare parts and tools in order to keep the bikes going and create small businesses.

World Bicycle Relief is the brainchild of a Chicago bike parts executive. Another bicycle initiative, Zambikes, is the project of two California men and two Zambians. Their goal is to help the poor African country by putting Zambian bikes on American roads. Their bike — a bamboosero — is a bicycle with a bamboo frame:

“Bamboo is so great for bikes because when you’re going on long rides and the terrain is tough, bamboo has shown that it’s a shock absorber so you actually have a smoother ride,” said Spethmann. “And it doesn’t cost a lot in Zambia, it grows like crazy. Zambia is a country that imports ../../css/something_out_that_is_Zambian-made_of_Zambian_materials_is_a_huge_thing_for_Zambia_as_a_whole.__8221_qw662udxnzae7qggt3skqv.css;

Zambikes co-founder Mwewa Chikamba looks at the orders coming in through the company’s website. It seems customers in the US and elsewhere aren’t put off by a price tag of nearly $ 500 dollars for a bamboo frame and $ 900 for a completed bike.

“People buying the bamboo bikes are excited,” said Chikamba. “They’re getting something from a third-world country going into the first world. And secondly, they’re getting something grown naturally, you don’t have to get all this steel. We are using the returns to train the unskilled labor force we have.”

Zambikes has a trained staff of 45 and offers interest-free loans for Zambians to buy bikes and set up businesses of their own.

But if you’d rather build your bamboo bike yourself, check out The Bamboo Bike Studio in Brooklyn. NPR did a story last winter about them:

On a recent weekend, Sari Harris — a self-described “tinkerer” — spent close to $ 1,000 to make her own bamboo bike. For that fee, she got the bamboo frame and all of the components she needed to make a multi-gear or single-speed bike — and a bamboo bike expert to guide her through the assembly process. … Engineer Marty Odlin was supervising Harris’ work. Odlin estimates that there are now close to 80 bamboo bikes on the road that were built in his Brooklyn studio.

“Everyone who leaves the studio says, ‘Wow, my bike is my favorite object now.’ ” Odlin says. “They have such a connection to this thing that came together under their own hands. They may not come here to have that connection to their bicycle, but that’s what they leave with.”

The Brooklyn studio also had a visit from the Canadian radio program, Spark.

And while on the topic of bikes, Andrew Sullivan pointed, twice, to reaction, pro and con, to Felix Salmon’s Unified Theory of New York Biking. I’m squarely in the con camp:

Salmon makes many excellent points, but I was dismayed to see he fell into the same trap (or, in his case, net) as most other people who try to address this issue, which is to suppose that drivers and cyclists and pedestrians are somehow “different,” or that their nature is somehow determined by their vehicle. Excluding for the moment the fact that many people are pedestrians and cyclists and drivers at various points in the day, a considerate person is a considerate person and an idiot is an idiot, and both will behave as such regardless of how they are propelling themselves at any given moment. “People are People,” sang some awful 80s band, and saying drivers rarely break the rules but cyclists always do is like saying poor people commit crime all the time but rich people rarely do. Of course rich people are criminals too-they just rob you differently.


The Moderate Voice

The Bicycle: A Most Remarkable Technology

September 16, 2010 · Posted in The Capitol · Comment 


Nick Kristof celebrates its ability to get more kids in school in Zimbabwe:

When I asked Abel what he dreamed of, he said “a bicycle” — so that he could cut the six hours he spent walking to and from school and, thus, take better care of the younger orphans. Last week, Abel got his wish. A Chicago-based aid organization, World Bicycle Relief, distributed 200 bicycles to students in Abel’s area who need them to get to school. One went to Abel.

That’s the first of a planned 20,000 bicycles this year. World Bicycle Relief has given out more than 70,000 bicycles so far. It also trains one mechanic for every 50 bicycles distributed and provides basic spare parts and tools in order to keep the bikes going and create small businesses.

World Bicycle Relief is the brainchild of a Chicago bike parts executive. Another bicycle initiative, Zambikes, is the project of two California men and two Zambians. Their goal is to help the poor African country by putting Zambian bikes on American roads. Their bike — a bamboosero — is a bicycle with a bamboo frame:

“Bamboo is so great for bikes because when you’re going on long rides and the terrain is tough, bamboo has shown that it’s a shock absorber so you actually have a smoother ride,” said Spethmann. “And it doesn’t cost a lot in Zambia, it grows like crazy. Zambia is a country that imports ../../css/something_out_that_is_Zambian-made_of_Zambian_materials_is_a_huge_thing_for_Zambia_as_a_whole.__8221_qw662udxnzae7qggt3skqv.css;

Zambikes co-founder Mwewa Chikamba looks at the orders coming in through the company’s website. It seems customers in the US and elsewhere aren’t put off by a price tag of nearly $ 500 dollars for a bamboo frame and $ 900 for a completed bike.

“People buying the bamboo bikes are excited,” said Chikamba. “They’re getting something from a third-world country going into the first world. And secondly, they’re getting something grown naturally, you don’t have to get all this steel. We are using the returns to train the unskilled labor force we have.”

Zambikes has a trained staff of 45 and offers interest-free loans for Zambians to buy bikes and set up businesses of their own.

But if you’d rather build your bamboo bike yourself, check out The Bamboo Bike Studio in Brooklyn. NPR did a story last winter about them:

On a recent weekend, Sari Harris — a self-described “tinkerer” — spent close to $ 1,000 to make her own bamboo bike. For that fee, she got the bamboo frame and all of the components she needed to make a multi-gear or single-speed bike — and a bamboo bike expert to guide her through the assembly process. … Engineer Marty Odlin was supervising Harris’ work. Odlin estimates that there are now close to 80 bamboo bikes on the road that were built in his Brooklyn studio.

“Everyone who leaves the studio says, ‘Wow, my bike is my favorite object now.’ ” Odlin says. “They have such a connection to this thing that came together under their own hands. They may not come here to have that connection to their bicycle, but that’s what they leave with.”

The Brooklyn studio also had a visit from the Canadian radio program, Spark.

And while on the topic of bikes, Andrew Sullivan pointed, twice, to reaction, pro and con, to Felix Salmon’s Unified Theory of New York Biking. I’m squarely in the con camp:

Salmon makes many excellent points, but I was dismayed to see he fell into the same trap (or, in his case, net) as most other people who try to address this issue, which is to suppose that drivers and cyclists and pedestrians are somehow “different,” or that their nature is somehow determined by their vehicle. Excluding for the moment the fact that many people are pedestrians and cyclists and drivers at various points in the day, a considerate person is a considerate person and an idiot is an idiot, and both will behave as such regardless of how they are propelling themselves at any given moment. “People are People,” sang some awful 80s band, and saying drivers rarely break the rules but cyclists always do is like saying poor people commit crime all the time but rich people rarely do. Of course rich people are criminals too-they just rob you differently.


The Moderate Voice

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