The truth about cells

Nick poses the age-old question: do cell phones really interfere with airline navigation equipment? I remember asking the same question a few years ago, and being told by a friend that cell phone bans aren’t really issued by the FAA, but rather the FCC. Cell phones moving at 500 mph with line of site to many cells tend to create chaos in a system designed for land travel.

An article in Network Magazine confirms my suspicion, and takes it to the next level.. 3G. Apparently 3G phones will be able to hold simultaneous connections to different cells, circumventing the confusion that older phones would give at high altitudes. But this doesn’t mean that the FAA will be loosening their restrictions any time soon. I don’t mind, I’ll just jam the flight attendants’ radar by putting my phone in airline mode.

Wired Magazine: Is Phone Interference Phony?

Network Magazine: Did Cell Phones Save the White House?

Clean this, Cambridge!

Number of times Cameron’s car has been towed for street cleaning this year: 5

Amount of money spent in the process (US$): 585

Pieces of trash Cameron counted yesterday on the street that was supposedly cleaned: 20

Number of times Cameron cursed the city of Cambridge for each piece of trash: 3

A new Manhattanism?

As a part of my New York withdrawal treatment, I have been regularly consuming media about the city to quell the pangs of nostalgia that is starting to set in. Among my favorites so far is Rem Koolhaas’ 1978 architectural chronicle Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifesto for Manhattan. The book attempts to weave a cohesive basis for the origins of the city’s unique character.

One passage I came across a while back resonated intensely with the current milieu. Since the 1853 World’s Fair (the first of two to take place in the Empire City), technological innovation has been an inseparable part of the city’s developmental ethos. Here Rem describes the first exhibition of the modern elevator, displayed by its inventor Elisha Otis:

Among the exhibits in the sphere is one invention that above all others will change the face of Manhattan (and, to a lesser degree, of the world): the elevator.
It is presented to the public as a theatrical spectacle
Elisha Otis, the inventor, mounts a platform that ascends – the major part, it seems, of the demonstration. But when it has reached its highest level, an assistant presents Otis with a dagger on a velvet cushion.
The inventor takes the knife, seemingly to attack the crucial element of his own invention: the cable that has hoisted the platform upward and that now prevents its fall. Otis cuts the cable; it snaps.
Nothing happens, to the platform or the inventor.
Invisible safety catches – the essence of Otis’ brilliance – prevent the platform from rejoining the surface of the earth.
Thus Otis introduces an invention into urban theatricality: the anticlimax as denouement, the non-event as triumph.
Like the elevator, each technological invention is pregnant with a double image: contained in its success is the specter of its possible failure. The means of averting that phantom disaster are almost as important as the original invention itself.
Otis has introduced a theme that will be a leitmotiv of the island’s future development: Manhattan is an accumulation of possible disasters that never happen.

My brief sojourn in Soho convinced me that this mentality extends far beyond technology, perhaps being the most central dogma of the residents. On a social front, Manhattanites are constantly pushing their lives to extremes, taking on a schedule that teeters on the brink of misfortune. The most quintessential characters I met during my tenure were those that took on more than they could chew, and while keeping a calm and collected perspective, always managed to make everything click at the last minute. You meet this type elsewhere in the world, and you whisper to yourself, “that person was so meant to live in Manhattan.”

In the wake of last September, many people are asking themselves whether or not New York City, and the country at large, will return to “normal.” Without a doubt, Manhattan has found stasis, but I doubt that things will ever be the same. This is a city that derived its impulse from standing on the edge, now forced to take a step away and reconsider its options; this from a population that has not needed to look back in 150 years.

If “normal” refers to the mentality of a year ago today, a great deal of ignorance would be necessary to return there. For the first time in its history, New York City has been forced away from a suspension of disbelief, as if the failsafe on Otis’ elevator had never existed. This is obviously the most major turning point in the history of the city, but the new Manhattanism (in the words of Mr. Koolhaas), remains to be seen. What force will propel the city into its next stage of development?

Some expensive advertising space

The US State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have just granted the TransOrbital Corporation rights to start commercial development on our lunar counterpart. The launch is scheduled for June of 2003 from Kazakhstan.

Something I’ve never understood about space: why does the US seem to have exclusive rights to everything that goes on there? Does the US border leave Earth’s surface and extend to envelope the entirety of the universe? No siree: according to the UN, no one can claim ownership of the moon or any other celestial body.

NSU: First commercial Moon landing gets go-ahead

Transorbital: Dedicated to the commercial development of space

United Nations: Agreement Governing the Activites of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies

Detroit electro: in memorium

James Stinson of the enigmatic and influential Detroit electro act Drexciya passed away Tuesday. An email from Mike Clark shot around electronic music lists yesterday shocking unexpected fans (including me).

This past two years were quite prolific for the duo, releasing three singles and a full-length album, all hailing highest respects in reviews (even those outside the techno scene). It makes me wonder whether James was aware of his malady, and was driven to create the most polished and well received work of his life, or not. I’ve always been moved by their dark and beautiful universe under the sea, and currently have Neptune’s Lair and Harnessed the Storm in exclusive rotation.

It’s a sad day in the world of techno.

Aural debug

Standard coding environments are fairly regular in their approach to the process of debugging, relying heavily on a programmer’s visual representation of the computational process. Research at Loughborough University suggests that using other parts of the perceptual apparatus can help coders identify and repair code in considerably less time.

Paul Vickers and James Alty have been developing a system which visualizes Pascal programs as music, and have shown considerable performance gains in bug identification. Subject’s musical knowledge did not seem to affect their results, which suggests that their aural representation takes advantage of a universally untapped cognitive resource all coders posess.

New Scientist: Musical approach helps programmers catch bugs

Research results (PDF): Musical Program Auralisation: Epirical Studies

Vicker’s PhD Thesis: A Musical Program Auralisation System…

Optimizing the condom

Engineers in South Africa have reduced condom application time by an order of magnitude, from 30-40 seconds down to only 3. The inventor declined comment on the source of his inspiration, as his wife apparently would never forgive him if he told the media. I did a bit of sleuthwork, and came up with nothing; the design seems to still be fairly undercover. However, the South African Bureau of Standards thought it was the bomb.

Ananova: Inventors create condom which can be fitted in three seconds

Gene manipulation

Some of the research in biotechnology these days is starting to sound a little too much like Neil Stephenson to be taken seriously. Nature reports today that researchers at Berkeley have discovered methods for controlling gene expression with light. At current, heat and chemical methods are the only techniques used to operate gene expression.

Meanwhile, here in the Media Lab, Joe Jacobson has been controlling DNA synthesis using a remote control: after attaching a few gold atoms to the butt of an RNA molecule, they have been able to control gene transcription with electromagnetic waves. What’s next? Nanobot mind control? Human-animal hybrids?? Computers that can TALK?! If this is the direction that science is heading, then I’m going to start calling myself a sociologist.

NSU: Light switch turns genes on and off

Nature: Nanotechnology: Flip the switch