technology

philipp, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9017478

If you're thinking about building a home with high insulation value, you don't need to think high-tech.  With enough land, you can grow your own walls over a growing season. 

Straw bale construction provides some real benefits in energy saving and soundproofing, with walls 18 inches thick.  Jim Reiland builds straw bale homes through his business, Many Hands Builders

He is also the managing editor for a new book, Straw Bale Building Details: An illustrated Guide for Design and Construction. 

Curimedia by tm, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28032519

Did you hear about the government plan to strap bombs to bats?  It sounds like something out of a comic book, but it got serious consideration for a time.  As did other plans for military and intelligence schemes that seem almost laughable now. 

Vince Houghton, who is the historian and curator of the Internation Spy Museum in Washington, brings a number of these discarded ideas together in his book Nuking the Moon: And Other Intelligence Schemes and Military Plots Left on the Drawing Board

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Are you reading this on a smart phone?  Will you click on the book title to learn more about it and the author?  Check Facebook?  Order something online? 

You could just put the phone (or other device) down and do nothing.  You'd certainly make Jenny Odell happy.  She writes about how different our expectations of activity are in our hyper-connected world, in the book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy

Yes, it's okay if you even turn off the radio and do nothing. 

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If you've even heard the term blockchain, it's probably been in a discussion of digital currencies like Bitcoin. It can be a baffling discussion.

But blockchain is about much more than just digital cash. The technology promises to revolutionize the way we do business, says author Stephen Williams, as long as people can understand it. He puts an effort in with his book Blockchain: The Next Everything.  

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Ever put something up on social media, then obsessively check for the next few hours to see if anyone "liked" it?  If so, you're not alone. 

The current age offers all kinds of technological distractions that can turn into compulsions.  And it goes way beyond just the technology, as Matt Haig points out in his book Notes on a Nervous Planet

He explores the ways in which modern life can put a dent in our happiness. 

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You've probably heard about people who try to avoid using plastic for a month, or who spend a year not buying products from China.  But a month not using any products from Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, or Microsoft? 

It's harder than it sounds.  Daniel Oberhaus even wanted to run his phone on something other than Android or iPhone platforms.  He wrote about his experience for an article on Motherboard, focusing on not sharing his information with the tech giants. 

BenjaminNelan/Pixabay

The concept of money you never touch is a little easier to understand in the age of debit cards. 

But Bitcoin?  Virtual wallets?  Cryptocurrencies?  It takes a little more work to wrap our minds around recent developments in concepts of money, especially the blockchain technology that makes cryptocurrencies possible. 

Fortunately, Stephen McKeon is well-versed on the subject matter.  He is an assistant professor in the Department of Finance at the University of Oregon. 

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Smart meters are being installed in place of the old analog "wheel" meters in the region by Pacific Power.  But not without a fight, in some cases. 

There's a particularly sharp reaction to the meters and their wireless communication features, plus concerns about possible incendiary properties. 

We sought out a medical expert who knows something about Wi-Fi and whether it has carcinogenic properties.  Dr. Steven Seung is a radiation oncologist with Providence Cancer Institute in Portland. 

ITU-R.Farrell, AI for GOOD Global Summit/Wikimedia Commons

The future may or may not look like the "Terminator" movies, but our machines are certainly making inroads. 

We've had drones stop responding to commands, and had stock-trading computers trigger sudden drops in the markets. 

And even non-electronic technologies can act up, as ethicist Wendell Wallach points out in his book A Dangerous Master: How to Keep Technology from Slipping Beyond Our Control.

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Many of the activities that once kept people busy in rural areas just require fewer people now.  So it's hard to keep people down on the farm (or forest). 

One solution for improving rural productivity is to make sure that broadband Internet service is available. 

This is a pet cause of Oregon Senator Ron Wyden, who is pushing for Congress to fund broadband expansion in rural areas. 

We hear about the needs and the uses of additional money from Zachary Cikanek at Connect Americans Now, and Christopher Tamarin, a broadband specialist in the Oregon Business Development Department.

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One of our country's leading car-hire companies does not own the cars it hires.  Likewise, some of the major players in the overnight lodging business do not own lodging. 

Owning assets or money is less important in today's economy than owning information.  That's what makes Uber and AirBNB so successful. 

Viktor Mayer-Schönberger considers this new landscape in his book with Thomas Ramge, Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data

What lies ahead, prosperity, calamity, or something in between? 

Wikimedia

The tech industry is so dominated by males that some people have taken to calling its workers "brogrammers."  But a closer look reveals women who made key contributions to both computers and the Internet. 

And Claire Evans, herself versed in computers (and singing in a band, but that's another story), writes of these pioneering women in the provocatively named Broad Band: The Untold Story of the Women Who Made the Internet

The stories date back to 1842, surprisingly. 

ITU-R.Farrell, AI for GOOD Global Summit/Wikimedia Commons

"Another cup of coffee, ma'am?"  Stop and ask yourself if it would make a difference to you who asked that: person or machine. 

Because those days may be coming; we're already saying "OK Google" to our phones, and some of us are making requests of Siri and Alexa. 

Artificial Intelligence will play a prominent role in the future, and Amir Husain suggests we get ready.  NOT by either popping champagne corks or hiding under the bed, but by understanding the possibilities of AI and humans side-by-side. 

Husain, an AI expert, is the author of The Sentient Machine: The Coming Age of Artificial Intelligence

Chad Miller, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10609590

Franklin Foer DOES have a Facebook page, but he hasn't updated it in nearly a year.  Which should come as no surprise once you hear his issues with Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google. 

Foer, the former editor of the New Republic, bashes all four as "Big Tech," and accuses them of damaging our culture and economy, in his book World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech

Whether or not you agree that Big Tech forces conformity and turns our privacy into a commodity, the book will make you think hard about some modern digital conveniences that we quickly took for granted. 

Wikimedia Commons

It's not just a TV-show trope that many of the people working at writing computer programs are male. 

It's a fact in real life, and one that Reshma Saujani aims to change. 

She is the founder of "Girls Who Code," which aims to increase the incidence of females creating the stuff that runs on our computers and smartphones. 

Wikimedia

Cellphones are in just about everybody's hands or pockets these days, and we've gotten used to having them around. 

We just notice less when people pull them out in restaurants and other public places.  But that doesn't mean we're all using them properly. 

In fact, cellphone users are often seen as rude by the people around them. 

If Emily Post were around, what we she say is good cellphone etiquette?  Let's ask her great-great-grandson. 

Daniel Post Senning writes about manners just like his famous ancestor. 

Timothy Vollmer, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15523845

Many jobs once done by people can now be performed by machines. 

Don't plan a long-term future on a job, if a robot can do it smarter and faster.  Our job is to figure out the tasks that robots and computers cannot do. 

That's the general thrust of Edward Hess's book Humility Is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age

And yes, as the title implies, it will take some humility on the part of humans. 

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Will the future be flying cars or robot overlords?  It could be neither, but Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever urge us to make conscious choices. 

Because technology will inevitably advance, and people should have a say in whether our future looks like "Star Trek" or "Mad Max." 

Wadhwa and Salkever are the authors of The Driver in the Driverless Car, a look at how we make such choices. 

Technology For The Ages

Jul 14, 2016
Penguin Random House

It's a brave new world, one where new computers become aged and infirm in three years, or less.

  But what do the gadgets, games, or the military hardware of today tell us about tomorrow? Kevin Kelly says there are 12 trends in the recent explosion of new technologies, random and prolific as they may seem. 

Medford Robotics Teams Go To The Big Time

May 12, 2016
C4 Facebook page

A Medford school--St. Mary's--recently sent not one, but TWO teams of students to a world championship in robotics. 

A word of explanation first: clever students come up with clever team names. 

So Trial N Terror and C4 (for Computional Center for Competitive Circuitry) packed up bags and robots and headed for St. Louis to compete. 

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