Category SunSpots blog

Give It Up, Part 3

‘Way back in November I threw out this question: If you could keep only one piece of modern technology, which one would it be? As I wrote the post, though, it became clear how much of our technology today relies on a functioning electrical grid. Without the grid, it would be almost impossible to keep any one device or technology. Modern batteries need the grid to be constructed, but keeping even primitive batteries around to power something else would violate the terms of the question by adding a second retained technology.

OK, so maybe that was an interesting thought problem, but not even close to realistic. Here’s a different scenario that might even slide into the realm of realism...

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What a Long, Strange Trip It’s Been

I’m ba-a-a-a-a-a-ack. Maybe I should paraphrase Paul McCartney: “Back in the B-L, back in the B-L, back in the B-L-O-G.” Doesn’t have quite the same ring, somehow.

The last couple of months have been weird and stressful in the web site world. In November, I asked my hosting company to update some software that’s important for running the web site. In the process, the tech support guy said, “We can save you some money by switching you from shared hosting to dedicated hosting.” (In other words, I’d have a web server computer all to myself.) “You interested?”

Saving money’s a good thing, right? So I said OK.

Humanoid image surrounded by question marks

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Next thing I know, we can’t get my “theme,” the software that gives the site its particular science-fiction-y look, to wo...

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TusCon 45 Wrap-Up

My original plan was to give you a revised “thought experiment” this week in which I asked you what one device you would keep if you had to give up everything else, assuming that electrical power was still available. I’m going to hold that for next week, however, in favor of a quick summary of my participation in TusCon 45, the Tucson Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Convention this past weekend. (The organizers are so organized, they’ve already updated their site for next year’s event!)

TusCon is a small and friendly convention (or “con,” in the lingo). While most of the participating authors come from Arizona or adjacent states, the staff has managed to score some big-name authors as the Author Guest of Honor, including George R. R...

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Give It Up, Part 2

Last time I asked, “If you had to get rid of one piece of the technological stuff you use every day, what would it be?” This time the question is reversed and A LOT harder: you can only keep one thing.

This is a really sneaky and difficult question because technology, writ large, is so deeply embedded in our lives. Consider all of the things that are powered by electricity. The electrical grid that brings power to our homes is so critical that if you want to keep one electrically powered device, you have to either also keep the grid or replace it with some other technology that would generate electricity—and that violates the “rules” of this question.

So that means everything powered by electricity has to go: not just computers and smart phones, but refrigerators, washers and dry...

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Give It Up, Part 1

Last time I asked what your least favorite piece of technology is. That’s a nice but sneakily misleading segue into this week’s topic. Here’s the question: If you had to give up one piece of technology, and you could choose which one, what would it be?

Actually, let me make that question a bit harder. If you had to give up one piece of technology that played an important role in your everyday life, and you had to choose which one, what would it be?

Woman talking on pay phone

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

See the difference? It’s easy to give up, say, the battery-powered drill you only use once in a while, so that doesn’t count. About a year ago, I gave up the anti-lock braking system (ABS) on my car...

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What Is Your LEAST Favorite Technology?

Last time I wrote about all the technology that is part of our lives and how we’ve come not only to rely on so much of it, but to get pleasure out of some of it. But while there are some things we enjoy or at least appreciate having, there are others….

Love/Hate Relationship

I think it’s fair to say that there are at least some pieces of technology in our lives that we have a love/hate relationship with, or love/appreciate having it around when we or others can use it for our benefit, but hate it when we or others use it in ways we don’t like, or it behaves in unpredictable or even hostile ways.

Hit Any Key to ContinueA family friend used to call his computer his “disputer.” We can all relate to that...

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These Are a Few of My Favorite Things

Last time I started what will be a series on technology in our lives. I set the stage by equating so much of the technology we use without understanding how it works, and not being much worried about that in most cases, to magic.

So all right, we have these pieces of everyday magic all around us. Which ones are your favorites? When you think about it, there are so many to choose from. Here’s a list that isn’t even close to complete.

  • Desktop computers

    © Jossdim | Stock Free Images

  • Laptop computers
  • Tablet computers
  • Productivity programs for any of these (word processing, accounting, etc.)
  • Ordinary cell phones
  • Smartphones
  • Cable TV
  • Satellite TV
  • The internet generally
  • Other TV-like services (Hulu, Roku, etc.)
  • Digital video recorders
  • GoPro cameras
  • Video games and game consoles
  • Music stream...
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It’s a Magical World

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I’m writing this post on a computer. No, that’s not the secret. The secret is, I really have no idea how it does what it does. I know that when I press a key on my keyboard, a letter appears on the screen. And it’s always the right letter, unless I pressed the wrong key.

Image by Monkey Business Images. Used by permission. (That’s not me, by the way.)

I roll the trackball around with my thumb and the pointer zips across the screen. I know there are sensors that detect the reflections of the laser lights shining on the trackball to reveal its movement, and somehow, what they detect gets translated into commands to move the pointer. But how?

My smartphone takes still and video pictures, helps me keep track of my expenses, tells me the time and the ...

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If Genetic Engineering Could Cure Your Child, Would You Use It?

Last time, I wrote about how gene therapy is being used to fix certain kinds of errors in DNA, and so cure or significantly reduce certain kinds of cancers. I asked whether you would accept such a treatment for yourself.

It’s one thing to accept the risks that are associated with these still new and experimental treatments, but would you make that decision for a sick child—one of your children?

Little boy in hospital

© Suthisa Kaewkajang | Dreamstime.com

Current Treatments

I didn’t make a point of it last time, but two of the diseases for which this kind of gene therapy is now available, B-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and junctional epidermolysis bullosa (“butterfly skin”), are both childhood diseases...

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If Gene Therapy Could Save Your Life, Would You Take It?

Late last year, Science News magazine published an article about how scientists used genetic modification to save the life of a young boy. He had a skin condition in which the upper layer of his skin would blister and separate from the layers underneath if he was just touched or rubbed gently. Children with this condition are called “butterfly children” because their skin “is as fragile as butterfly wings.” At the time of his treatment, the boy had lost 80% of his skin and was close to death.

Replacing a gene

Photo by Andrianocz, via Dreamstime.com

People with this condition have a mutation in one of three genes. The doctors identified which one was the problem for this child, took a section of good skin, and used a retrovirus to insert good copies of the bad gene into the skin cells...

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