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Current Topic: Technology

Old Search Engine, the Library, Tries to Fit Into a Google World
Topic: Technology 1:37 am EDT, Jun 21, 2004

"One of the rarest things to find is a member of the faculty in the library stacks," said Paul Duguid, co-author of "The Social Life of Information."

"The nature of discovery is changing." "It has huge ramifications."

Many research librarians say that the new reliance on electronic resources is making their role as guides to undiscovered material more important than ever.

"We can show people things they don't ask for."

Old Search Engine, the Library, Tries to Fit Into a Google World

The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World
Topic: Technology 12:02 pm EDT, Jun 11, 2004

The End of Oil is a "geologic cautionary tale for a complacent world accustomed to reliable infusions of cheap energy." The book centers around one irrefutable fact: the global supply of oil is being depleted at an alarming rate.

Which energy sources will replace oil, who will control them, and how disruptive to the current world order the transition from one system to the next will be are just a few of the big questions that Paul Roberts attempts to answer in this timely book.

"Arguably the most serious crisis ever to face industrial society," The End of Oil is a remarkably informative and balanced introduction to this pressing subject.

The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous New World

Building High-Tech Clusters: Silicon Valley and Beyond
Topic: Technology 11:00 am EDT, Jun 11, 2004

The contributions to this study of the origins of centers of industrial and technological innovation (such as Silicon Valley) reveal that these concentrated "clusters" of entrepreneurial high tech firms are characterized by rapid economic growth. No other analysts have examined how such clusters start, although many earlier works have studied Silicon Valley. The study's contributors conclude that the key public and business policy elements of starting a cluster are common to many regions, countries, and time periods.

Contributors include Gordon Moore and AnnaLee Saxenian. A sample chapter is available for download.

Building High-Tech Clusters: Silicon Valley and Beyond

Conserving the Enlightenment
Topic: Technology 10:52 am EDT, Jun 11, 2004

The origins of the modern science of engineering can be traced to France's Royal Corps of Engineering in the eighteenth century. In Conserving the Enlightenment, Janis Langins gives us a history of this prototypical technical bureaucracy, using as his point of entry a pivotal dispute on the respective merits of two methods of engineering military fortifications. The story he tells of the tribulations of military engineers at the end of the Old Regime sheds light not only on the evolution of modern engineering but also on the difficulty of innovation in a technical bureaucracy.

From the days of Louis XIV and his great military engineer Vauban, engineers in France had a reputation for competence and intellectual superiority. Langins argues that French engineers saw themselves as men of the Enlightenment, with a steadfast faith in science and its positive effects on society; they believed that their profession could improve and civilize even warfare. When Marc-Rene, marquis de Montalembert, a cavalry officer and an amateur engineer, challenged the prevailing wisdom with a new method of fortification, the subsequent factional struggle became a crucible of self-definition for the profession. In the end, Langins shows, Vauban's science won out over Montalembert's inspiration, reinforcing and predicting the essentially conservative nature of French engineering.

"With great skill and imagination, Langins exploits an eighteenth-century controversy over fortification design to illuminate the nature of engineering, the tension between theory and practice, the contrast between the lone genius and institutionalized professionalism, and the relationship between engineering and revolution."

Conserving the Enlightenment

The Red-Dead Conveyance Project
Topic: Technology 8:49 pm EDT, May 31, 2004

The Dead Sea is drying up, with severe negative consequences on the ecosystem, industry and wildlife in the area.

The Red-Dead Conveyance project is designed to move Red Sea water from the Gulf of Aqaba through a pipeline/canal conveyance approximately 180 kilometers to the Dead Sea. Since the Dead Sea is some 410 meters below sea level and the Gulf of Aqaba is at sea level, water dropping through that 410 meters of elevation can be used to generate hydropower, and the power can be used to desalinate a portion of the Red Sea water.

The project as currently envisioned would generate 850 million cubic meters of desalinated water a year for use by Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian Authority. In addition, a portion of the Red Sea water would flow directly into the Dead Sea, so that the level of the Dead Sea, which has been dropping almost 1 meter per year for the last thirty years or so, could be controlled.

Proponents of the project argue that this project would reverse the negative environmental impacts produced by the continual lowering of the level of the Dead Sea.

The scale of the Red-Dead project is large, to say the least. If the envisioned desalination capacity were realized, the resulting desalination facility would be 5-6 times larger than the world's largest desalination facility currently in operation.

There are many crucial questions about the project that remain unanswered, such as:

1) will the introduction of Red Sea water into the Dead Sea have a major negative impact on the chemistry of the Dead Sea water?

2) while introducing Red Sea water into the Dead Sea to control the level of the Dead Sea may alleviate some environment problems, will such introduction cause other negative environmental impacts?

3) what will be the environmental effects at the head of the Gulf of Aqaba, where the Red Sea water will be siphoned into the project?

4) will the cost of the desalinated water delivered to customers in Amman or other population centers be too expensive for consumers?

The Red-Dead Conveyance Project

The Achilles' Heel of Fingerprints
Topic: Technology 4:26 pm EDT, May 29, 2004

Fingerprint evidence has long been considered an infallible form of proof, powerful enough to support a criminal conviction even without any other evidence.

But when top experts manage to blow an important identification, our longstanding faith in fingerprints must be questioned.

Fingerprinting, unlike DNA evidence, currently lacks any valid statistical foundation.

This is gravely troubling.

The growing size of computer fingerprint databases makes this issue still more acute. As a database grows in size, the probability that a number of people will have strikingly similar prints also grows.

Because experts are permitted to testify about "100 percent positive" matches and to claim in court an error rate for the technique of zero, they have little incentive to support any research. No matter how accurate fingerprint identification turns out to be, it cannot be as perfect as they claim.

Bruce Schneier must be all over this.

The Achilles' Heel of Fingerprints

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