Saturday, June 19, 2010
Sunday, June 13, 2010
For centuries, music was an integral part of our lives. All of us played music or knew someone who did," Coleman says. "Then, at the beginning of the 20th century, the record player came along and all of a sudden we weren't good enough. We were encouraged to listen, to be passive listeners. And I think that we lost something very fundamental to our souls: making music together.
Friday, June 4, 2010
I'm back! After a month away dealing with all of the thousands of details of moving, we are finally in our new home in North Carolina. Enough of the boxes are now unpacked -- there are many, many more -- that I can start to think once again about Technology Almanac. I have missed having the time to write and I hope enough of you kept the link active while I have been offline.
This story got me to thinking about a larger theme that has emerged as we develop ever more sophisticated technologies: remote technology. Here are just a few examples that come to mind.
- We are now able to land and control a vehicle on the surface of Mars and have it explore the soil with remote shovels, probes, and test instruments.
- We are able to perform surgeries without opening the patient's body by using small cameras and laparoscopic instruments.
- We have bomb disabling equipment that can be remotely controlled to deactivate an explosive.
- We have drone military aircraft controlled by a pilot seated ten thousand miles away from the scene of the conflict can use to attack an enemy target.
Remote technology is an absolutely terrific advance in cases where the benefits outweigh the risks. If the Mars lander craps out, we lose scientific data and have an expensive piece of junk cluttering up the Martian surface. But some of these technologies can have catastrophic consequences if there is a failure at the site of action. I am sure that BP, Transocean, and Halliburton all thought they had adequate contingency plans in place to prevent this disaster. The very presence of a Blowout Preventer shows that they anticipated such events. But people are people and businesses constantly put pressure on those on the front lines to reduce costs and increase profits. The head of BP would never consciously tell the people on the drill ship to cut corners that would compromise safety. But the subtle pressure to deliver results on time and below costs leads to shortcuts. So does complacency. Most of the time, you can get away with it. They did for twenty years. But it only takes one accident to put in stark relief the consequences of taking the chance. Even though the odds of failure might have been small, the cost of failure was enormous. That ratio calls for extreme prudence.
I hope they can get this thing under control sooner rather than later. And I hope that there is a very thorough analysis of everything leading up to the disaster before any further deep-water drilling is allowed in any U.S. waters. You can be sure that if we return to deep-water drilling, the cost of drilling those wells will be much, much higher to factor in better risk containment technology. But the cost, whatever it might be, will be cheaper than the costs to the environment and the people whose lives are directly effected by the oil that is now polluting their waters and fouling their shores. And it might just make us think twice about all the oil that we so thoughtlessly consume.