Sunday, May 16, 2010

Potpourri, Petroleum, and Prognostication CXXXV

Smallish pile of stuff this evening, but the weather outside is iffy and I've got new clothes to wash, so let's get to it, shall we?

I've got a few things about the ongoing situation in the Gulf of Mexico. First, from (and by) D2: a powerful essay about the short- and long-term impacts of the gusher. Dede and I agree on practically zilch when it comes to politics (except for the need for civility and informed debate); but when it comes to the ocean, she knows her stuff. If she says it's catastrophic, I believe her. And we also both agree on the need for cleaner energy sources (I favor nuclear and space-based solar power). Not sure I'm 100% behind a ban on offshore drilling, but she's also provided a link petitioning the President to do so. The Down Under Defense Expert (DUDE) directed me to a site that chronicles how this whole mess got started. And I'm repeating this one because it still bears thinking about and because it might be worth a few thousand dollars to whoever comes up with a solution...Dar has added a crowdsourcing opportunity on Science for Citizens looking for methods of mitigating this mess, as well as a blog about this issue. Put your thinking caps on!

Not to say this guy is overexposed, but jeez, Buzz. First Dancing with the Stars, now wrestling?

Speaking of space-based solar power, here's a link to The Futures Channel's stories on space stuff, including Ares and SBSP.


This one has been sitting in my blog folder for awhile, so I'll just put it out there to clear the deck. It's a forwarded email from Father Dan on trends to watch for in the future. My comments in bold.

1. The Post Office. Get ready to imagine a world without the post office. They are so deeply in financial trouble that there is probably no way to sustain it long term. Email, Fed Ex, and UPS have just about wiped out the minimum revenue needed to keep the post office alive. Most of your mail every day is junk mail and bills.

The last time I went to the USPS for anything was probably the cheerless office in the basement of Building 4200 at Marshall Space Flight Center. Before that, it was a few years ago when I needed a passport photo done. It looked awful, as such things usually do, but the jerk running the camera wouldn't allow one do-over and made it quite clear that I could take it or leave it. Nice attitude. At least the folks at the UPS Store make an effort at being nice.

2. The Cheque. Britain is already laying the groundwork to do away with checks by 2018. It costs the financial system billions of dollars a year to process checks. Plastic cards and online transactions will lead to the eventual demise of the check. This plays right into the death of the post office If you never paid your bills by mail and never received them by mail, the post office would absolutely go out of business.

There are a few things I still write checks for, including rent, church offerings, and some bills. Not all companies or organizations take cash or automatic bill paying. (I'm trying to imagine churches passing around a debit card reader, and the mind reels!)
3. The Newspaper. The younger generation simply doesn't read the newspaper. They certainly don't subscribe to a daily delivered print edition. That may go the way of the milkman and the laundry man. As for reading the paper online, get ready to pay for it. The rise in mobile Internet devices and e-readers has caused all the newspaper and magazine publishers to form an alliance. They have met with Apple, Amazon, and the major cell phone companies to develop a model for paid subscription services.

Despite several attempts, my former newspaper reporter buddy Martin has yet to convince me that "serious" journalism will die once all dead-tree newspapers have died. I've tried several times to subscribe to a regular newspaper--and once even subscribed to the Wall Street Journal on my Kindle--all to no avail. The amount of time I spent actually reading the darn things never justified the expenditure involved. At least with the WSJ, I didn't have a pile of inky paper piling up by my door. I just don't have the time. I get quite a good fill of news from other sources, thanks.

4. The Book. You say you will never give up the physical book that you hold in your hand and turn the literal pages. I said the same thing about downloading music from iTunes. I wanted my hard copy CD. But I quickly changed my mind when I discovered that I could get albums for half the price without ever leaving home to get the latest music. The same thing will happen with books. You can browse a bookstore online and even read a preview chapter before you buy. And the price is less than half that of a real book. And think of the convenience! Once you start flicking your fingers on the screen instead of the book, you find that you are lost in the story, can't wait to see what happens next, and you forget that you're holding a gadget instead of a book.

The death of the dead-tree book might hurt quite a bit more than the newspaper. After all, I actually read those. I read more books in a year than newspapers (at least one a month). Books never need recharging, the work when the power goes out, and unless you drop it in a puddle or set it on fire, the words will still be there on the page if you come back to it weeks or months later. They won't get deleted if someone's server is having a bad day.

5. The Land Line Telephone. Unless you have a large family and make a lot of local calls, you don't need it anymore. Most people keep it simply because they're always had it. But you are paying double charges for that extra service. All the cell phone companies will let you call customers using the same cell provider for no charge against your minutes.

Gave up my land line in 2004 because I couldn't afford a cell phone and a land line at Northern Virginia prices. The only downside to cell phones is that if someone calls you, they expect you to answer, no matter what. It's like the machines have conditioned us to their needs, not vice versa. There are two ways for privacy freaks like me to avoid this problem:
  1. Leave the d@mned thing at home.
  2. Turn the d@mned thing off.
I have done both.
6. Music. This is one of the saddest parts of the change story. The music industry is dying a slow death. Not just because of illegal downloading. It's the lack of innovative new music being given a chance to get to the people who would like to hear it. Greed and corruption is the problem. The record labels and the radio conglomerates simply self-destruction. Over 40% of the music purchased today is "catalog items," meaning traditional music that the public is familiar with. Older established artists. This is also true on the live concert circuit.
I'm not sure I agree with this one 100 percent. YouTube and MySpace have both allowed bands to reach unprecedently large audiences simply by putting their stuff out there. One thing I've noticed with my iPhone in particular, however, is that the multi-song album might die off pretty soon. Let's face it: you've got to be a serious fan of the artist before you'll take the time and money to buy every song of theirs; otherwise, if you're like most of middle America, you'll download the songs of theirs that you like...most likely what's played on the radio, right? And what iTunes won't do, satellite radio will. I think this essay is right: conglomerates will eventually do themselves in. However, another casualty of satellite radio would be local radio, which I'd find unfortunate; unlike my local newspaper, I do pay attention to local radio stations.

7. The "Things" That You Own. Many of the very possessions that we used to own are still in our lives, but we may not actually own them in the future. They may simply reside in "the cloud." Today your computer has a hard drive and you store your pictures, music, movies, and documents. Your software is on a CD or DVD, and you can always re-install it if need be. But all of that is changing. Apple, Microsoft, and Google are all finishing up their latest "cloud services." That means that when you turn on a computer, the Internet will be built into the operating system. So, Windows, Google, and the Mac OS will be tied straight into the Internet. If you click an icon, it will open something in the Internet cloud. If you save something, it will be saved to the cloud. And you may pay a monthly subscription fee to the cloud provider. In this virtual world, you can access your music or your books, or your whatever from any laptop or handheld device. That's the good news. But, will you actually own any of this "stuff" or will it all be able to disappear at any moment in a big "Poof?" Will most of the things in our lives be disposable and whimsical? It makes you want to run to the closet and pull out that photo album, rab a book from the shelf, or open up a CD case and pull out the insert.
I've heard about this phenomenon, and don't really have a problem with it. Google and Amazon are not "resident" on my PC unless I download their toolbars, and Google updates their software daily. This is better than the irregular "patches" you have to download from Microsoft, and problems, while more widespread, are more likely to get addressed in real time, unlike, say, Vista, which took months of customer complaints before it was finally replaced. That said, if the server does go down, you're hosed on your ability to get anything done. The only "comfort" you have is that there will be several million people all in the same boat, including your customer(s).

8. Privacy. If there ever was a concept that we can look back on nostalgically, it would be privacy. That's gone. It's been gone for a long time anyway. There are cameras on the street, in most of the buildings, and even built into your computer and cell phone. But you can be sure that 24/7 "They" know who you are and where you are, right down to the GPS coordinates, and the Google Street View. If you buy something, your habit is put into a zillion profiles, and your ads will change to reflect those habits. And "They" will try to get you to buy something else. Again and again.

The specific example they cite--localized purchasing--is a tradeoff: convenience vs. privacy of one's transactions. One good reason to get off of Facebook is that they're making it increasingly difficult for you to opt out of their relentless marketing database. My biggest gripe is with the cell phone (see above), and there are still ways around least until they mandate that chip in your head.

All we will have that can't be changed are memories.

From reading this, one might assume I'm not terribly sentimental or nostalgic about the items above, and one would assume correctly. There are some cultural trends I'm watching very closely that fill me with dismay, and these might be restrained or abetted by the technologies we develop. But technology is not neutral. Neither is education. We will need both if we're going to improve the state of our world. For the moment, it's the only one we've got.

1 comment:

Sabine said...

# 1, #2, #3 ,& #5 have already disappeared from my everyday life (by choice). However, I'm quite fond of #4, #6, #7 & #8 and will rally to keep them around.