Posts Tagged ‘science’

Top-down vs Bottom-up environmentalism

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Google goes Green

It looks like Al Gore is going to need every cent of the $300m war chest he’s amassed for climate persuasion. Americans polled by Gallup for ‘Earth Day’ value “traditional”, bottom-up environmental issues such as pollution and conservation as being more worrying than Global Warming. Remarkably, the level of concern about greenhouse gas emissions has barely wavered in a generation. Recklessness, or Huck Finn-style American common sense?

A third of Americans think “Global Warming” is a serious concern – a figure that’s effectively unchanged since 1990, when the question was first asked. Ominously for the climate doom-mongers, it ranks 10th on a list of 12 environmental issues. OK, so what are Americans worried about?

Water pollution issues are three of the top four areas of concern, with over 80 per cent of people registering serious concern. Waste contamination comes third, and the loss of natural habitat for wildlife fifth, with 77 per cent expressing concern. Then there’s rainforests (69 per cent), bio-diversity (68 per cent). Greenhouse emissions come in 10th – above urban sprawl and acid rain.

And when’s the last time you ever heard anyone mention acid rain?

'Use me as a mouthpiece', pleads Guardian hack

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Ben Goldacre, The Guardian‘s Mr “Bad Science” writes witheringly about sloppy science journalists. Many of them are simply “juggling words about on a page, without having the first clue what they mean, pretending they’ve got a proper job, their pens all lined up neatly on the desk,” he writes.

They trade on scare stories, and rely on “rejiggable press releases”. Dr Goldacre is a real scientist, you see.

But last week found Ben in a frantic rush, commissioned to write a feature about biometric technology. So he put in an email request to the Open Rights Group, the endearingly hopeless British EFF-clone.

(This isn’t surprising – we suspect that at El Graun, hacks are equipped with two office telephones: a normal one, and one with only one button, which dials the ORG directly.)

And as every journalist knows, desperate deadlines call for desperate measures. Here’s his request –

hi, my name’s ben and i write “badscience” in the guardian (and )

i wanted to write something on the shitness of biometrics tomorrow for the col on sat, if anyone’s got a nice big bundle of stuff i need (a) people like, say, hang on, gordon brown in PMQ making grand claims about how they will cure all ills and (b) good evidence/arguments/rocksolidundeniablefacts on why these claims are nonsense.

So far, so standard – although eyebrows may be raised at the way that fact/assertion sort of run/into/each/other.

Then comes a bit where he slowly starts to sink into the merde.

incidentally, before you assume that i’m a lazy journo, i dont write like this with anyone else, but in fact i am offering ORG the chance to use me as a mouthpiece for your righteous rightness.

Er, a what?? Ben elaborates –

think of it as a “pull” model for lobbying, rather than the usual push.

Ah, perfectly clear.

essentially i have a bag of kittens and will drown one on the hour every hour until you give me a good biometrics story.

Presumably, the “rejiggable material” from the ORG presumably arrived on time – for the mouthpiece duly opened on Saturday.

So this is how journalism really works: Don’t bother yourself with that any of that cool judgement and independent appraisal of facts business. Find the argument, then some facts to suit. And finally, ring up your favourite lobby group and demand to be used as a mouthpiece.

However, when using the ORG – a sort of Dad’s Army in the War on Copyright – it’s a perilous approach.

Two years ago, the Group made a submission to the UK Parliament’s enquiry into DRM – something close to all our hearts. Only the technical part of the argument based on a ludicrous misunderstanding of the Church-Turing Thesis – one of the fundamentals of computer science, and a mistake so great it would be enough to get a grad paper marked “FAIL”. Only, no one at the lobby group seems to have noticed yet – it’s still listed as one of the group’s finest achievements.

Even the most “righteously righteous” lobby group can get its rocksolidundeniablefacts/arguments wrong. Take note.

Smart radios are still pretty dumb

Monday, August 13th, 2007

More than three years ago, your reporter got a good taste of how miserable technology utopians can be. It was at Intel’s Developer Forum in San Francisco, and the debate was about liberating analog TV spectrum for exciting new digital uses. The analog switchover is slated for February 2009.

On behalf of Microsoft, Google, and Intel, the technology evangelists argued that smart radios were here, but the evil regulator the FCC wouldn’t permit them to deploy the technologies. Broadcasters countered that these experimental new technologies caused interference with their signals. [See Abolish Free TV – Intel).

In the hallways afterwards, one delegate and deregulation evangelist couldn’t understand why the FCC couldn’t just confiscate the spectrum from the TV broadcasters and be done with it?

“Why do the broadcasters need any spectrum at all?” she asked.

Because free TV is one of the few pleasures some Americans can afford, perhaps. A slightly less arrogant and more technically adept argument was advanced instead, which claimed that the space between allocated TV channels was “beachfront property”. Instead, the regulator copped it – it was all the fault of the FCC’s “command and control” outlook.

(The deregulation fanatics want a spectrum free-for-all and dream of the FCC being scrapped. The FCC is permitting fixed WSDs (white space devices) from 2009, but the industry wants mobile handheld WSDs to be permitted too.)

Now, agile radio has been tested and found to be not quite so agile as its proponents touted. At the end of July, the FCC’s engineering office published two sets of results from a four month trial of agile radio equipment submitted by the “White Space Coalition”, which includes Microsoft, Google, Intel, Dell, and HP.

“Depending on the effectiveness of shielding of a TV receiver’s tuner, emissions within a broadcast white space (i.e., within an unused broadcast channel) could potentially cause co-channel interference to a TV receiver tuned to a digital cable channel that overlaps the spectrum of the white-space device emission,” the FCC noted.

The lab found that the spectrum sensing of the equipment it tested couldn’t detect the white space with sufficient accuracy.

For one prototype sensor, the FCC noted:

“the results of the bench test for determining the baseline minimum detection sensitivity demonstrates that the device will not meet the manufacturer-specified threshold of -114 dBm (or the IEEE 802.22 proposed threshold of -116 dBm for fixed devices) and in fact, fails to meet both of the thresholds by about 20 dB. The results of the field tests also demonstrate inconsistent performance”

The manufacturer may have misread the spec, it suggests. The sensor also failed to detect the presence of a wireless microphone at all.

A second prototype sensor performed to the 114 dBM but got confused when a second DTV channel was turned on – the manufacturer asked it be excluded from more real-world tests. This prototype also failed to pick up a wireless mic, except on the two lowest channels. Both were also severely hampered by the microphones themselves.

Tests of a prototype transmitter also demonstrated interference, and generated some skepticism from engineers whether the filtering required to avoid knocking out TV signals can be implemented in a real product.

So smart radios have a long way to go, and this white space looks less like a “beachfront property” and more like a Cambodian minefield.

Microsoft told the Washington Post today that it had given the FCC a successful demonstration last week – and insisted it will all work out in the end.

As soon as it’s got the pesky physics sorted out.

Captain Cyborg to write UK science funding guidelines

Wednesday, May 18th, 2005

Uncowed by public ridicule, attention-seeker Professor Kevin Warwick has been appointed to a panel that will determine the basis for public research funding decisions for the UK’s higher education institutions.

Captain Cyborg is one of twelve panelists chosen to set the criteria for public research funding in the UK’s Electrical and Electronic Engineering departments. It’s one of 68 panels encompassing medicine, the social sciences and the languages and is conducted by the Research Assessment Exercise, a quango funded by Higher Education Funding Council for England, and its counterparts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.