Long Distance Wi-Fi

 Posted by on 27 March 2008 at 5:42 am  Technology
Mar 272008

This is just friggin’ awesome:

Long-Distance Wi-Fi

Intel has found a way to stretch a Wi-Fi signal from one antenna to another located more than 60 miles away.

Intel has announced plans to sell a specialized Wi-Fi platform later this year that can send data from a city to outlying rural areas tens of miles away, connecting sparsely populated villages to the Internet. The wireless technology, called the rural connectivity platform (RCP), will be helpful to computer-equipped students in poor countries, says Jeff Galinovsky, a senior platform manager at Intel. And the data rates are high enough–up to about 6.5 megabits per second–that the connection could be used for video conferencing and telemedicine, he says.

The RCP, which essentially consists of a processor, radios, specialized software, and an antenna, is an appealing way to connect remote areas that otherwise would go without the Internet, says Galinovsky. Wireless satellite connections are expensive, he points out. And it’s impractical to wire up some villages in Asian and African countries. “You can’t lay cable,” he says. “It’s difficult, expensive, and someone is going to pull it up out of the ground to sell it.”

…Importantly, the devices require relatively little power. Running two or three radios in a link, Galinvosky says, requires about five to six watts. This makes it possible to power the radios using solar energy.

How Bobbins Work

 Posted by on 16 February 2008 at 7:14 am  Cool, Technology
Feb 162008

For all of you fascinated by the mysterious workings of your sewing machine, here’s an animated gif of a working bobbin. Very cool!

More Cool Nuclear Technology

 Posted by on 11 January 2008 at 11:17 am  Environmentalism, Technology
Jan 112008

Who wouldn’t want one of these?

A Battery That Can Power a Whole Town

Nuclear “batteries” are nothing new. Energy from a fist-size lump of plutonium has powered the Voyager spacecraft for 25 years. And tiny specks of the stuff kept pacemakers ticking for decades. Now, Hyperion Power Generation (HPG) is developing a nuclear battery capable of powering a town. The size of a hot tub, it can put out more than 25 megawatts for five years, enough to run 25,000 homes.

Building on technology developed by Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Santa Fe (N.M.) startup’s battery runs on uranium hydride, which acts as fuel and also regulates power output, making it virtually impossible for the battery to suffer a meltdown. With no moving parts to break or corrode, HPG’s batteries can be buried in the earth for added security and safety. Their small size makes them easy to install and, later, to remove and refuel, cutting out the need to handle radioactive materials on site.

HPG plans to sell its first units to towns and industrial operations not connected to the grid. The company estimates lifetime costs for its battery will be a fraction of the price to build and run a natural gas plant with the same capacity. Backed by venture capital from Altira, HPG could have its batteries ready in six years.

(Via Transterrestrial Musings.)

Jan 012008

Update: Newsfactor.com is reporting that the Washington Post has misreported part of their story, and that Jeffrey Howell is being sued for ripping his own CD’s onto his computer hard drive and placing them onto his shared folder for distribution to the rest of the world through the Kazaa file sharing system.

Obviously this changes the merits of that particular lawsuit. (It doesn’t change the error of the Sony lawyer Jennifer Pariser’s statements also cited in the WaPo story.)


I am a firm believer in intellectual property rights, including copyright. However, when the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) takes ridiculously wrong legal positions in their supposed “defense” of copyright, it merely confuses and alienates honest consumers. A recent article in the Washington Post summarizes some of the statements that recording industry lawyers have made condemning the entirely legitimate practice of taking a music CD that one has legally purchased and transferring a copy onto one’s own home computer or MP3 player for personal use (i.e., not for widespread distribution to others):

In legal documents in its federal case against Jeffrey Howell, a Scottsdale, Ariz., man who kept a collection of about 2,000 music recordings on his personal computer, the industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

The industry’s lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files Howell made on his computer from legally bought CDs are “unauthorized copies” of copyrighted recordings.

…The Howell case was not the first time the industry has argued that making a personal copy from a legally purchased CD is illegal. At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG’s chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that “when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song.” Copying a song you bought is “a nice way of saying ‘steals just one copy,’ ” she said.

But lawyers for consumers point to a series of court rulings over the last few decades that found no violation of copyright law in the use of VCRs and other devices to time-shift TV programs; that is, to make personal copies for the purpose of making portable a legally obtained recording.

To make things worse, the RIAA used to explicitly endorse the practice they are now condemning. A few years ago, they stated on their official website (and still available via the Web Archive):

If you choose to take your own CDs and make copies for yourself on your computer or portable music player, that’s great. It’s your music and we want you to enjoy it at home, at work, in the car and on the jogging trail.

But that language has since then been removed from their current website.

The danger is that when an organization like the RIAA overstates its case by making such egregiously bad claims about intellectual property rights, it merely undercuts the validity of the concept in the average readers’ minds. An average consumer might easily (and with some partial justification) conclude, “If ‘copyright’ means that I can’t listen to my own legally-purchased album on my own iPod, then screw it – I won’t respect copyrights!”

Of course, the correct approach to combating illegal and immoral “file sharing” of copyrighted material is not to make a bogus defense of property rights, but to make a genuine principled defense that incorporates the relevant technological facts about these issues.

For instance Dr. Leonard Peikoff’s briefly discusses this issue on his website (in the entry dated April 12, 2007), and arrives at a better conclusion, based on the distinction between form and content:

Q: On Copyrights:

1. Under a proper capitalist government, if you buy CDs where the only contract term is “Copyright, All Rights Reserved,” would it be legal–and moral–to copy those CDs, that one has already bought and paid for, to one’s own iPod?

A: First, a caveat: I have not thought much about issues in the philosophy of law. So some of the following is only my best ideas given limited knowledge.

I agree with your earlier general statement that creators have a moral right to set whatever conditions they want, rational or otherwise, in regard to the use of their property. As you say: “copyright owners have the right to control the act of copying as such. In support of this is the idea that their property rights cannot be limited, and that the copyright owners created the value of the music in the first place.”

However, if you ask me what is the rational policy in this issue, my answer involves a distinction between form and matter — i.e., changing the medium or organization of a purchased work in order to make its content more conveniently accessible to the buyer; vs. duplicating the purchased work (which is what I myself call “copying”). E.g., scanning OPAR into your computer in order to adjust the font vs. making a copy of the purchased book, so that you have two of the very books on sale in the store. I regard the first as, in essence, a transfer of content already paid for, and thus justified; while the second is unjustified: if you buy a book, you are not and should not be authorized to become a manufacturer of it, whether of 1 or 1,000 more copies.

The same applies to CDs. I think you have a right to transfer the content to an iPod, or to transfer excerpts from different CDs onto one CD; but I do not think you have a right to “copy” them in the sense of manufacturing duplicates of the original CDs.

I believe Dr. Peikoff’s position is essentially correct, and that form-content distinction is an important one.

There are some interesting side issues that he didn’t address that might be worthy of further analysis. For instance, does creating a physical backup copy of a CD of music or software that one has legitimately purchased (purely as a precaution in case that the original is accidentally damaged or destroyed) count as “manufacturing” in the sense that he means? Provided that one keeps that backup copy in a safe place unused (as opposed to giving/selling it to others for their use), I think this would be legitimate. Most software producers allow or even encourage this practice, and I think it would be a reasonable practice for musical content as well.

Similarly, does burning a duplicate physical copy of a music CD so that one can keep one copy in the upstairs music CD player and a second copy downstairs or in one’s car (again purely for personal use as opposed to giving/selling to others) count as “manufacturing”? Also, is the intended user (i.e., personal use vs. giving/selling to others) the critical distinction as well? I freely admit that I don’t have fully worked out positions on some of these questions of how best to apply the broad principle of copyright to specific scenarios in this era of easy digital duplication and dissemination.

Overall, I think Dr. Peikoff is on the right track with this type of analysis, and this is the correct approach to take, rather than the concrete-bound approach of the RIAA (“copying” = “stealing”) which merely undercuts respect for property rights.

I would love to see more work by Objectivists on the nature and proper justification of intellectual property rights, such as Greg Perkins’ essay, “Don’t Steal This Article!” or Ayn Rand’s own “Patents and Copyrights” in Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. Michigan State law professor Adam Mossoff has also written a number of articles on intellectual property available on SSRN. More such work would be a welcome contribution to the often-contentious and confused discussions in the mainstream media about these important issues.

Top 30 Failed Technology Predictions

 Posted by on 29 December 2007 at 12:52 am  Funny, Technology
Dec 292007

Here is an interesting list of failed predictions about future technology:

1. “There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” — Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), maker of big business mainframe computers, arguing against the PC in 1977.

2. “We will never make a 32 bit operating system.” — Bill Gates

3. “Lee DeForest has said in many newspapers and over his signature that it would be possible to transmit the human voice across the Atlantic before many years. Based on these absurd and deliberately misleading statements, the misguided public … has been persuaded to purchase stock in his company …” — a U.S. District Attorney, prosecuting American inventor Lee DeForest for selling stock fraudulently through the mail for his Radio Telephone Company in 1913.

4. “There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.” — T. Craven, FCC Commissioner, in 1961 (the first commercial communications satellite went into service in 1965).

5. “To place a man in a multi-stage rocket and project him into the controlling gravitational field of the moon where the passengers can make scientific observations, perhaps land alive, and then return to earth – all that constitutes a wild dream worthy of Jules Verne. I am bold enough to say that such a man-made voyage will never occur regardless of all future advances.” — Lee DeForest, American radio pioneer and inventor of the vacuum tube, in 1926

6. “A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.” — New York Times, 1936.

7. “Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical (sic) and insignificant, if not utterly impossible.” – Simon Newcomb; The Wright Brothers flew at Kittyhawk 18 months later.

8. “Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” — Lord Kelvin, British mathematician and physicist, president of the British Royal Society, 1895.

9. “There will never be a bigger plane built.” — A Boeing engineer, after the first flight of the 247, a twin engine plane that holds ten people

10. “Nuclear-powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality in 10 years.” — Alex Lewyt, president of vacuum cleaner company Lewyt Corp., in the New York Times in 1955.

11. “This is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives.” — Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy during World War II, advising President Truman on the atomic bomb, 1945.[6] Leahy admitted the error five years later in his memoirs

12. “The energy produced by the breaking down of the atom is a very poor kind of thing. Anyone who expects a source of power from the transformation of these atoms is talking moonshine.” — Ernest Rutherford, shortly after splitting the atom for the first time.

13. “There is not the slightest indication that nuclear energy will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will.” — Albert Einstein, 1932

14. “The cinema is little more than a fad. It’s canned drama. What audiences really want to see is flesh and blood on the stage.” — Charlie Chaplin, actor, producer, director, and studio founder, 1916

15. “The horse is here to stay but the automobile is only a novelty – a fad.” — The president of the Michigan Savings Bank advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rackham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Co., 1903

16. “The Americans have need of the telephone, but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.” — Sir William Preece, Chief Engineer, British Post Office, 1878.

17. “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” — A memo at Western Union, 1878 (or 1876).

18. “The world potential market for copying machines is 5000 at most.” — IBM, to the eventual founders of Xerox, saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production, 1959.

19. “I must confess that my imagination refuses to see any sort of submarine doing anything but suffocating its crew and floundering at sea.” — HG Wells, British novelist, in 1901.

20. “X-rays will prove to be a hoax.” — Lord Kelvin, President of the Royal Society, 1883.

21. “The idea that cavalry will be replaced by these iron coaches is absurd. It is little short of treasonous.” — Comment of Aide-de-camp to Field Marshal Haig, at tank demonstration, 1916.

22. “How, sir, would you make a ship sail against the wind and currents by lighting a bonfire under her deck? I pray you, excuse me, I have not the time to listen to such nonsense.” — Napoleon Bonaparte, when told of Robert Fulton’s steamboat, 1800s.

23. “Fooling around with alternating current is just a waste of time. Nobody will use it, ever.” — Thomas Edison, American inventor, 1889 (Edison often ridiculed the arguments of competitor George Westinghouse for AC power).

24. “Home Taping Is Killing Music” — A 1980s campaign by the BPI, claiming that people recording music off the radio onto cassette would destroy the music industry.

25. “Television won’t last. It’s a flash in the pan.” — Mary Somerville, pioneer of radio educational broadcasts, 1948.

26. “[Television] won’t be able to hold on to any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night.” — Darryl Zanuck, movie producer, 20th Century Fox, 1946.

27. “When the Paris Exhibition [of 1878] closes, electric light will close with it and no more will be heard of it.” – Oxford professor Erasmus Wilson

28. “Dear Mr. President: The canal system of this country is being threatened by a new form of transportation known as ‘railroads’ … As you may well know, Mr. President, ‘railroad’ carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of 15 miles per hour by ‘engines’ which, in addition to endangering life and limb of passengers, roar and snort their way through the countryside, setting fire to crops, scaring the livestock and frightening women and children. The Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.” — Martin Van Buren, Governor of New York, 1830(?).

29. “Rail travel at high speed is not possible because passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia.” — Dr Dionysys Larder (1793-1859), professor of Natural Philosophy and Astronomy, University College London.

30. “The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to no one in particular?” — Associates of David Sarnoff responding to the latter’s call for investment in the radio in 1921.

(Via Fark.)

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