September 2016

Traffic inefficiencies and technological change

Technology is often linked to efficiency. As in, technology change or technological progress equals greater efficiency. In our courses we try to break students of that assumption, and consider cases where greater efficiency may be harmful or anti-progressive. One of our favourites is Jevon's Paradox, in which an improvement in efficiency can paradoxically lead to an increase in consumption of the resource.

Triclosan no longer on hand

The Globe and Mail reports that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently banned the sale of antibacterial ingredients from soaps.  Manufacturers have one year to reformulate their products to exclude compounds such as triclosan and triclocarbon.

Technological firsts

According to Wikipedia, September 27 marked a handful of interesting historical technological achievements:

Drone manners

There have been many reports of drones being shot at by people who believe they are being spied on.  An article in Slate by Faine Greenwood explains why shooting at drones is both misguided and dangerous.

The first reason is that shooting at drones endangers everyone in the vicinity.  There is a chance that the drone, if damaged, may collide with someone on the ground.  There is also a chance that stray or falling ammunition may hit somebody.

Electronic voting

With election day approaching in the US, issues around the mechanics of the voting itself have returned to the limelight.  Voters in many states will use a variety of electronic machines—many connected to the Internet—to cast their ballots.  In this day when government and private information have been leaking (or leaked) like sieves, this fact gives rise to some trepidation.

Will Volvo's sensitive bus be safer?

A short item in New Atlas describes a new bus prototype from Swedish automotive giant Volvo.  The new bus is equipped with a system called the Pedestrian and Cyclist Detection System (PCDS). 

The PCDS combines cameras attached to the bus with a program that anticipates danger to cyclists, pedestrians, and other mobile "obstacles" to bus travel.  When a collision appears possible, the bus makes a noise to warn the pedestrian, etc.  The horn is used if the risk is deemed to be very high.

Essentialism and obesity

The Internet has recently brought forth some news about research on  so-called "obesity genes".

Obesity is an increasing problem (no pun intended, of course).  Why it occurs and how it might be mitigated are hot topics in medical science.  One such area of research concerns the genetic contribution to obesity.  Is there an obesity gene or genes and, if so, what might be done about it?

Giraffe genes and species

A Wired article gives an account of some research on the matter of how many species of giraffes there are.  Up until now, biologists held that there exists one species, Giraffa camelopardalis, divided into nine subspecies.

We shape our buildings...

In 1943, after the British Parliament buildings had been destroyed by a bomb, Winston Churchill mandated that they be rebuilt as before.  He justified his decision as follows:

Lost stories, hidden figures.

A few weeks ago I wrote about how computing was at one point an occupation, primarily for women who sat at a desk and carried out endless manual calculations. I also pointed out a new movie coming out, Hidden Figures, a fictionalized account of many black female computers and mathematicians who worked at NASA during the space race and were given important responsibilities, such as shock wave research and orbital calculations related to the moon landings.

High-tech curling brooms banned

Sweeping restrictions have been announced by Curling Canada, the national regulator for the sport of curling.  That is, Curling Canada has outlawed certain sorts of curling brooms that support novel kinds of sweeping.

The move follows controversy originating in the previous season with the introduction of brooms designed to allow sweepers to significantly change the trajectory of a curling stone after it has been thrown.

Apple ditches headphone jacks! Is that progress?

Yesterday, Apple revealed that its newest iPhone (model 7) will not include a headphone jack.  Executives gave a number of reasons for the move.  Phil Schiller, senior vice president for marketing at Apple, said that the jack took up a lot of space in a device that Apple is determined to shrink.

Bugaboo luggage

Bugaboo is a Dutch company known mainly for its lines of up-market strollers.  I use the Bugaboo Frog in class to illustrate the concept of technotonicity: How designs appeal to potential users. 

(Bugaboo Frog/Jessica Merz at Flickr.com)

Zuckerberg:Francis :: Galileo:Paul V?

Earlier this week, Mark Zuckerberg met with Pope Francis, which is not a phrase I might have ever imagined writing. What did the the two world leaders with a billion followers apiece talk about?

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