Some years ago, probably in the late 1940s—the news clipping has no date on it—an 18-year-old woman attending what was then called Southwest Texas State Teachers’ College in San Marcos was seriously injured in an automobile accident, suffering a broken pelvis. She was taken to a hospital, but became despondent, and her attending doctor decided […]
Will Artificial Intelligence Take Over the World?
The phrase “artificial intelligence” (AI for short) conjures up images of robots with superhuman brains conspiring to take over the world. So far, nothing like that has happened outside of science fiction. But some recent developments in the field may lead to big changes in the way engineers deal with computers, and could make millions […]
Injecting Some Sense Into Fracking Regulation
The July issue of Scientific American carried the best summary of the fracking-earthquake controversy I have seen so far. “Drilling For Earthquakes” by Anna Kuchment reviews the fracking (hydraulic fracturing), the associated water injection, the earthquakes, the science, and government reactions to the problem. In particular, the article shows the very different approaches the states […]
Red-Light Cameras: Proceed with Caution
The Latin phrase “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” means “Who will guard the guards themselves?” It may have originated with the Roman poet Juvenal, who flourished around the first century A. D., but the problem it highlights is much older than that. Those who are charged with enforcing a law always experience a temptation to abuse […]
‘The Switch From Hell’: GM’s Barra & the Ignition-Switch Debacle
Back in April, GM CEO Mary Barra testified to Congress about a massive recall involving GM’s Cobalts, many of which carried a defective ignition switch that could be accidentally turned off by a driver’s heavy keyring. This defect has led to numerous fatal crashes and lawsuits. In a public address to GM employees worldwide on […]
The GM Ignition Switch Recall: Too Little Too Late?
How much stuff do you carry on your keyring? Besides keys, I mean. Some minimalists like my wife carry car keys separately from other keys, with nothing attached except maybe a small plastic tag to make it easier to find in her purse. Other people, many of whom are younger, may carry a whole […]
Will the Fusion Sun Ever Rise?
Back when I was in high school almost fifty years ago, I attended a talk about fusion power. The speaker explained how fusion reactors worked differently than fission reactors, and used only water as fuel instead of highly radioactive uranium or plutonium. He spent a good bit of time on the difficulties standing in the […]
Europe Rethinks Renewable Energy Standards
For the past decade or more, as Al Gore and the majority of climate-change scientists have insisted that the world is speeding headlong toward an environmental catastrophe of epic proportions, European countries have adhered to stringent emission controls in order to lessen their dependence on fossil fuels and replace them with renewable energy sources such […]
Tesla & the Ethics of Publicity
A few weeks ago I mentioned that an eminently qualified historian of technology has written a biography of Nikola Tesla (1856-1943), the inventor of the eponymous Tesla coil, the induction motor, and numerous other ingenious contraptions. While Tesla has been the subject of numerous popular biographies and even a film or two, earlier treatments tended […]
Networks of Responsibility: The Philadelphia Building Collapse
In 1900 Philadelphia, then the third-largest city in the U. S. with a population of over one million, was a bustling metropolis whose downtown streets were lined with three-and four-story department stores and other structures, such as the four-story brick edifice built by some enterprising Philadelphians at 2136-2138 Market, near the corner of 22nd and […]