New: Tech, Gadgets, and Democrats!

City Lights

AP Photo/Smithsonian

City Lights
In this image streetlights on Earth are visible from space at night. The photo is part of an exhibit at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington entitled: “Earth from Space. A dark blue layer was added to the image to show where land masses are located. European cities are especially bright, and in Egypt, lights glitter along the Nile. 
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Run Your iPod on a Single AA Battery
10403_large Voxred International’s iTurbo offers an easy way to spring a comatose iPod back to life — grab any old alkaline battery and plug it in. Simple and tiny, it provides a cheaper, danglier solution to dead batteries than lugging around giant ancillary lithium slabs like this.

Shaped (and sized) like a tube of lip balm, it’s going on sale next week for $30, initially available in black and white, but no (OTHER)colors. It can be turned on and off to prevent the iPod sucking juice when not in use, and has an LED light to tell you when it’s time to raid another TV remote. An iPod Nano runs for 9 hours on a single AA battery, according to the press release.
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Election Spawns New Hope for Tech

History will record the Democratic landslide of 2006 as a stinging rebuke of President Bush’s war policy and the end of one-party rule in Washington. How it will record the election’s impact on technology issues is less certain.

On the face of it, the Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives — and appearing likely to hold a one-seat majority in the Senate — would seem to be a positive in areas such as stem-cell research and the safeguarding of personal privacy, where technology plays a crucial role. But since nothing is a given in American politics, the best we can do is take an educated guess at what Tuesday’s results might portend for the industry.

Wired News assesses the results from races deemed important because of their probable impact in several major areas, including stem-cell research, climate change, privacy and security, intellectual property and the gaming industry.

Stem-Cell ResearchWith the possible exception of global warming, no tech-related issue is more volatile in Washington than the funding of stem-cell research, an ethical-moral-scientific dilemma that has sharply divided Congress. Although the fissure has not occurred strictly along party lines — a number of Republicans favor funding for research that shows so much potential — it has been generally accepted that a Democratic Congress would mean smoother sailing for the advocates of stem-cell research.

Missouri was the prime battleground state for this issue, and stem-cell advocates won two closely contested victories there.

In a race for the U.S. Senate, Democratic challenger Claire McCaskill, a staunch supporter of stem-cell research, defeated Republican incumbent Jim Talent. Given her narrow 50-47 percent margin of victory, McCaskill may have been pushed over the top by the visible support of actor Michael J. Fox, a Parkinson’s disease sufferer who campaigns tirelessly for stem-cell research.

Talent, meanwhile, had voted against HR810, which would have expanded federal funding for research and was vetoed by Bush. Supporters of the bill fell four votes short of overriding the veto.

Missouri voters also narrowly approved Amendment 2, the Missouri Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, which allows embryonic stem-cell research and cloning. Its passage will keep hundreds of millions in research dollars in the state, with much of the funding expected to come from billionaire couple Jim and Virginia Stowers, founders of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

In all, stem-cell research supporters won just four of nine races targeted as crucial by Stem Cell Champions. Two races — the Virginia Senate contest between Democrat James Webb and Republican incumbent George Allen and the congressional race between Democrat Eric Massa and Republican first-term incumbent Randy Kuhl in New York — are probably headed to recounts. But funding for the science has largely shifted to the states, and even Republican governors, most notably California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, increasingly support stem-cell research.

Another stem-cell research supporter, Democrat Ben Cardin, took the open Senate seat in Maryland, besting GOP Lt. Gov. Michael Steele, who got himself into hot water by comparing stem-cell research to the Holocaust.

Steele’s defeat deals a loss to those who support finding various methods of deriving embryonic stem cells without destroying an embryo — an approach favored by the lieutenant governor.

In New York, Attorney General Eliot Spitzer‘s gubernatorial victory was no surprise, but it’s a big win for stem-cell research in that state. Spitzer wants to commit several billion dollars of the state’s money to the science.

The defeat of Ohio Sen. Mike DeWine, the incumbent Republican who voted against a stem-cell funding bill eventually vetoed by Bush, was another bright spot for research supporters. DeWine was beaten by Democrat Sherrod Brown, a strong supporter of the research.

One blot on the evening for stem-cell research advocates came in Texas, where Republican Gov. Rick Perry knocked off challenger Chris Bell. Bell’s mother battled Parkinson’s disease, and his wife Allison is a breast cancer survivor, so his support of the research was personal as well as public. Bell even managed to evoke his Christian faith as a reason to support stem-cell research. Stem Cell Candidates thought he had a chance.

Climate Change, EnergyClimate change and energy security are essentially two ways of talking about the same thing: America’s polluting, oil-based economy. For the most part, Republicans in the last Congress refused to act on the now-voluminous scientific data that shows global warming is not only real but caused by human activity.

Several bills introduced by Democrats and moderate Republicans to impose mandatory caps on greenhouse gas emissions, improve automobile gas mileage and divert major funding toward clean energy were held up or killed during the last session. But Republicans will be unable to disregard science so glibly in the new Congress.

The question is: Can Democrats reach a bipartisan agreement with their colleagues on climate change? To do so, Democrats, particularly in the House, will have to emphasize the need to improve America’s energy security by weaning the country from foreign oil and spurring energy production from renewable domestic sources such as wind, solar and biofuel.

Adopting clean coal technology, in which carbon emissions are sequestered underground, could become a position both parties agree on. Democrats may also look to compromise with Republicans on increasing nuclear power generation.

From an environmentalist point of view, Tuesday’s election was a mixed bag.

On the plus side is the re-election of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), one of the most environmentally friendly politicians in Congress. Cantwell, who cruised to an easy victory against Republican challenger Mike McGavick, is a strong protector of America’s waterways, which includes Puget Sound in her home state. She has also made energy independence one of her pet causes, which benefits biofuel producers and hybrid car manufacturers.

The oil and gas industries, which had enormous profits during the Republican congressional era, worked hard to defeat her. Cantwell has pushed hard for increased transparency and accountability in the energy markets and will likely continue to do so.

Another victory came in Montana where Democrat Jon Tester narrowly defeated incumbent Sen. Conrad Burns, whose campaign took a hit when his ties to crooked lobbyist Jack Abramoff came to light. Tester’s victory is also a victory for the advocates of wind power, which has a strong presence in Big Sky country. Tester helped create a state renewable energy standard, an effort he hopes to repeat in the U.S. Senate.

The big loser in Montana: big oil.

In California, Democrat Jerry McNerney becomes the new U.S. Representative from the 11th District, ousting rancher Richard Pombo, the bête noir of environmentalists across the country. McNerney, a renewable-energy consultant and mathematics and engineering Ph.D., brings to the House an informed and forward-looking position on addressing America’s oil addiction. He wants to redirect subsidies for oil companies to renewable energy programs.

More important, Pombo — the head of the House Resources Committee and a man who tried to undermine the Endangered Species Act, open the entire U.S. coastline for offshore drilling and turn national parks into condo parks — leaves Washington and returns to animal husbandry.

Losers here? The oil companies, real estate developers and anyone who uses rhino horn to treat fever.

Keep reading the story here »

Attack of the Perv Trackers

If the creepy guy next door suddenly stops wearing shorts, he may have an eye in the sky to blame.

Just a few years ago, satellite tracking of convicts was a newfangled alternative to house arrest. Now, the number of American ex-offenders tracked through GPS-equipped ankle bracelets will likely triple to more than 30,000, thanks to the passage of a California ballot measure.

California’s Proposition 83, which easily passed Tuesday by a margin of 70 percent to 30 percent, requires many convicted sex offenders to be monitored by GPS for life. Only those who committed felonies and served time in prison will be affected.

(On Wednesday, a judge ruled (.pdf) that portions of the ballot measure are probably unconstitutional. The objections revolve around provisions that retroactively set new rules about where prior offenders may live. The electronic monitoring requirements were not immediately challenged, and remain untouched by the court’s decision.)

At least 11 other states have recently considered GPS tracking legislation, with some inspired by the 2005 murder of a Florida girl, allegedly by a registered sex offender. Florida’s high-profile legislation was named “Jessica’s Law” in her honor, and talk-show host Bill O’Reilly has been pushing for passage of similar laws elsewhere.

But there’s a hitch: The ankle bracelets — usually accompanied by digital-pager-size transmitters — are hardly criminal-proof. Convicts can easily cut the bracelets off and run away as their probation officer gets an alarm and tries to contact the local police. For health reasons, the bracelets aren’t designed to be permanent.

“GPS will not prevent a crime,” said Steve Chapin, CEO of Pro Tech Monitoring, a manufacturer of GPS tracking devices. “It’s a crime deterrent. It has proven to be a good tool, but you can’t oversell it — there’s no physical barrier that it creates that can prevent a crime.”

Chapin said his Florida-based company tracks about 10,000 people, and he thinks other companies track a few thousand more. Offenders wear an ankle bracelet — Chapin said it can be hidden under a sock — and keep the transmitter nearby.

There are an estimated 63,000 to 90,000 sex offenders convicted of felonies and misdemeanors in California. According to Chapin, it’s possible that about 20,000 of them will need GPS monitoring under the new law.

Chapin expects the state to adopt “active” monitoring, which tracks offenders in real time and sends out alerts if they go somewhere they’re not supposed to, such as a school. The alternative is “passive” tracking, which produces reports about where offenders have been, not where they are right now.

Currently, Pro Tech charges $6 to $8 a day for active monitoring, and $4 to $5 a day for passive monitoring, equipment included. At that rate, California can expect to fork out between $80,000 and $160,000 per day to watch its sex offenders, although the ballot measure allows increases in court fees and other costs that offenders are billed.

GPS tracking technology allows users to create “geofences” to mark forbidden “hot zones.” The monitoring systems can even be programmed so that alarms only go off if an offender spends a certain amount of time in an outlawed area instead of, say, simply driving through it at high speed on the way to somewhere else.

GPS tracking has its critics. The American Civil Liberties Union has been skeptical, although at times intrigued by an alternative to incarceration.

Donald Smith, an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Old Dominion University in Virginia, said it’s wrong to rely on technology instead of teaching children to be cautious. “People would like alarms to go off when pedophiles go near their children,” he said. “The real problem is that the pedophile is likely to be their brother, their uncle, their cousin.”

On the other hand, a new study of more than 75,000 Florida convicts found that both GPS monitoring and old-fashioned, house-arrest electronic monitoring (the kind Martha Stewart endured) made convicts more likely to toe the line.

“Our conclusion is that it does help protect public safety, that these offenders are less likely to get in trouble,” said study co-author Kathy Padgett of Florida State University.

GPS technology is “pretty reliable,” but conventional devices often don’t allow tracking inside buildings, said Richard Langley, a professor who studies GPS tracking at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.

Conceivably, sex offenders could head to an indoor shopping mall and get into trouble without anyone knowing exactly where they are. But cell phones may help triangulate people’s positions inside buildings, even to specific floors, and Pro Tech’s Chapin predicted that his company’s GPS devices will eventually allow tracking in buildings. For now, though, his goal is to make a “smaller, cheaper, lighter product.”

Another company has created an all-in-one GPS tracking device that doesn’t require a separate bracelet and transmitter, although it’s bulky. And then there’s an approach that’s positively Maxwell Smart-ian: At least one model is equipped with a speakerphone, allowing overseers to contact offenders via their ankles.

But on the other hand, the New Atheism does not aim at success by conventional political means. It does not balance interests, it does not make compromises, it does not seek common ground. The New Atheism, outwardly at least, is a straightforward appeal to our intellect. Atheists make their stand upon the truth.

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5 thoughts on “New: Tech, Gadgets, and Democrats!

  1. Great photo…almost as awesome as your space shuttle launch photo.

    Tech, Gadgets, and Democrats!

    It’s the trinity of human hope. 🙂

    And I think this analysis makes clear that there will be great progressive and economic inequity along the red/blue state divide.

  2. i wear this monitor i got in trouble ,but it make’s us all look like child molester’s even though we all are not. i am in to my last two month’s and have been very good on this pro tech and i believe it is good for the one’s that want to change there way’s of criminal past ,but don’t lock and throw away the key we all don’t deserve life sentence ‘s i have a strict officer but i walk the line like i am supose too . and my way’s have changed thank’s for the chance to speal my mind erick

  3. I think it’s a great idea to make offenders accountable for their daily actions. It’s a lot tougher for them to lie when they’re asked “where were you on this date at this time?”

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