SciTechBlog
March 2, 2009

Does the smart grid make you feel dumb?

Posted: 03:27 PM ET
ALT TEXT

The latest buzzword on the energy forefront is “smart grid.”  You may have seen the GE commercial featuring a re-worked scarecrow from the “Wizard of Oz” touting smart-grid products that promise to save you money, help keep the world green and make pink bunnies grow like wildflowers in your yard (well maybe not – but they do promise a lot).

There was a House subcommittee hearing this week on this very subject. And an article today on CNN.com.

So what does it all mean?  The technology GE is promoting is basically two-way communication between your electronic appliances, the outlets and the power company.  This will allow you and them better control over how and when you use electricity.  And in theory, the more control you have, the more efficient you can be.

All of that is very cool, but it’s a long way away.  For one thing, our current power grid (the one that actually brings electricity to you from the power plant) isn’t really set up to transmit energy from alternative sources such as rural solar or wind farms to far-away population centers.

Our current system is built around centralized power plants delivering energy to nearby areas. What we need to take full advantage of wind and solar power is a whole new grid - a decentralized one that can move power easily from one place to another. 

That won’t come quickly, easily or cheaply.  It’s one of the more expensive parts of T. Boone Pickens’ plan, and many say it will take trillions of dollars and at least a decade to finish.  Oh yeah, and our national grid is actually made up of several grids loosely tied together and owned by privately held consortiums – so it will take an act of Congress to get this done.

So what next?  It seems our country is a bit adverse to paying for infrastructure; we know we need it, but it’s not a new and shiny gizmo waiting in our living room for us to play with.  For real progress to take place, we need to realize how important these improvements will be to our future.

Here’s a collection of links and articles I found interesting on this topic:

Smart grid

Outsmarting the Smart Grid

New York Times: Wind Energy Bumps Into Power Grid’s Limits

How to fix the grid

DOE’s grid page

DOE FAQ (who owns the power grid)

As always, I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this matter.

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Filed under: Energy • environment


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February 18, 2009

Could jailbreaking your iPhone land you in jail?

Posted: 09:56 AM ET
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Well probably not jail – but if Apple has its way, in some sort of legal trouble.  I saw this over at Wired’s Threat Level blog. Apparently Apple is asserting that hacking the phone to run non-approved applications violates the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Jailbreaking is a process that opens up the iPhone's or iPod Touch's OS to installing applications not purchased or downloaded from Apple’s official application store.

This means you can get apps that do things like allow you to use your iPhone as a 3G modem for your laptop – or a host of other things that Apple and AT&T don’t approve of. Jailbroken phones also can be moved from AT&T to other wireless carriers.

If you want to read Apple's comments on the matter, check out this 31-page PDF.

Apple has always been very keen on protecting its property - some would say to the point of being a bully. In this case, it puts the company up against a community of software developers and users who would prefer everything to be open.

(For the record, I haven’t jailbroken my iPhone – but I do see the attraction. I mainly don’t want to deal with the issues that hacking my phone might have on its functionality.)

So here’s the question: Since Apple built the iPhone, should they be able to tell you what you can and can’t do once you’ve bought it? Or are we merely renting this device along with our AT&T service plan?

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Filed under: Apple • iPhone


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February 14, 2009

The death of BitTorrent?

Posted: 09:55 AM ET
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If Pirate Bay goes down for the count, could it take all of BitTorrent with it?

The people who run the massive BitTorrent site Pirate Bay (thepiratebay.org) are going on trial for copyright violations next week in Stockholm, Sweden.

BitTorrent is a popular peer-to-peer file sharing protocol which is widely used to share large media files like television shows, movies and music.

TorrentFreak has an interesting article which quotes Raynor Vliegendhart of the Tribler P2P team at Delft University of Technology, who believes that the Pirate Bay’s servers support as much as 50 percent of all the BitTorrent traffic on the Internet.

So the general belief is if they go down for any extended time - or, God forbid, permanently - it could have a huge impact on torrenters everywhere, including leading to the failure of other trackers (sites that coordinate the sharing process) due to overload.

As always, can’t wait to hear what you, our valued viewers, have to say on this topic.

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Filed under: Internet


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February 12, 2009

More mud in the digital switchover waters

Posted: 05:06 PM ET
ALT TEXT

The date for the switchover was February 17th, then was pushed back to June, but some stations will still be switching early.

Since we last chatted about the DTV switchover
there’s been some new developments –- the biggest of which being its postponement to June. Then nearly 500 stations told the FCC they want to go ahead and change to digital signals on the original February 17 switchover date. And now the FCC has rejected a quarter of those requests.

According to the latest TV Week article, the FCC is concerned with markets where all the major network affiliates wanted to switch early, leaving those unprepared for the change without news or emergency alerts.

So if you weren’t confused about the deadline before, there’s even more to muddy the waters now.

Your comments on my previous DTV post were very informative - especially the issue of digital signals not reaching as far as their analog counterparts - and I’m sure I’ll get even more new perspective on this issue from what you have to say today.

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Filed under: Politics • television


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February 10, 2009

RFID freaks me right out

Posted: 12:46 PM ET
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U.S. passports issued since August 2007 contain an RFID chip.

So last week I saw this post on Gizmodo about this dude who rigged up an RFID reader and an antenna and drove around looking to clone the chip in people’s passports.

The scary part? It worked, and quite easily.

Using radio waves, a RFID reader collects electronic data encoded in tags attached to products or people, such as the chips that marathon runners wear to record their race times.

Of course, what a thief could actually do with other people's passport information will be open for debate.

But it still begs the question: Why do I need this chip in my passport? Supposedly it’s to help make the process of checking for terrorists quicker. But if the number is so easily cloned, doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

You can read the State Departments FAQ on the RFID-equipped passports here.

Can’t wait to hear what you guys think about this.

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Filed under: RFID • technology


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January 30, 2009

DTV: What's all the fuss about?

Posted: 02:21 PM ET
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If your TV looks like this, pay attention!

So, February 17 is looming. You know, the date when our boring old analog signals are supposed to turn into 1s and 0s and go digital. You know what I’m talking about, right? You’ve seen the commercials all over the TV, I know you have. Right?

Still clueless? You’re not alone.

Digital basically means that: digital vs. an analog signal. Think cassette vs. CD. It doesn’t mean HD. Also, it’s over the air only, so if you have cable you don't have to worry about it. (Don't listen if some undereducated or shifty customer-service rep uses the digital TV switchover as an excuse to badger you into buying an HD set-top box.)

If you have cable or satellite TV or already have a set-top box (unfortunately, Tivo’s don’t always count – check here for more info), you’re covered. There's no need to go out and get anything. Also, if your TV is relatively new it's digital-ready, so you’re automatically covered.

So who needs to worry? People who get their TV signals off any sort of antenna, bunny ears or aerial, should pay attention. You’re the folks this switchover is aimed at. If your TV isn’t equipped with a digital tuner (ATSC), you'll need a converter box.

Here’s the next problem: The program that was giving out coupons for these boxes? They’re out of money. I suspect this is because people had no clue whether they needed a box or not and got one, “just in case.” (I know some people out there who claim to be tech-savvy and did exactly that.)

All this confusion has lead President Obama to ask Congress to delay the switchover until June, which some say will lead to even more confusion. The House disagreed, saying the switchover should take place in February as scheduled. Just to muddy the waters even more, there are plans for another House vote on the matter next week.

Still confused?? If so, you’re not alone. And if this didn’t help, here are some handy tools to help you figure it out:

FCC’s fact page on DTV
DTV.gov – FCC's tranisition Web site
CNET explains the switchover

If you've found a handy widget you think explains all this better, please feel free to post it in the comments.

– Cody McCloy, CNN.com

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Filed under: television


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January 7, 2009

Free your music

Posted: 05:11 PM ET

One of the most exciting tidbits from Tuesday’s MacWorld keynote for me was the announcement of the move toward DRM-free (digital rights managed) music on the iTunes store –- and, more interestingly, the ability to upgrade your current purchased music to a DRM-free format.

itunes

If you want to remove the DRM from your iTunes purchases, it's all or nothing.

As I’ve admitted before, I'm a fully entrenched Apple fanboy.  Thus my music player is an iPod and the music I've purchased online is from the iTunes store.  That is a very limited amount of my music –- as I never liked the prospect of “renting” my music, having it locked into a particular format –- especially when I could get the CD and rip it into the quality and format of my choice for my digital devices -– and have the ability to re-encode it if necessary.

So, how do I upgrade my music?  On Wednesday a link appeared on the iTunes store (in the "Quick Links" area in the upper left corner) that says just that: "Upgrade My Library." Clicking on it takes you to a screen that shows you how many songs are eligible for the upgrade.

In my case, it’s 233 songs (more than I thought), which includes about 15 albums, for a charge of $56.70.

Am I gonna do it?  Maybe, maybe not.  First off – it's an all or nothing deal — you can’t just pick your favorites and leave all the junk you bought to rot in the DRM wasteland.  Also, I have to agree with friends, colleagues and Internet commenters who think this should be free –- or at the very least cheaper -– with a bigger discount for larger libraries.  On the other hand, as one of my good friends pointed out, 30 cents is much cheaper than if you had to buy the whole thing again, like many of us did when updating our libraries from cassette or vinyl to CD.

So in the end, “Yay!” to the death of DRM on iTunes, and a resounding “meh” on the paying more to get my music in the way it should have been to begin with.  What are you guys gonna do?

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Filed under: Apple • DRM • Music


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December 18, 2008

A Jobs-less Macworld - what's a fanboy to do?

Posted: 11:05 AM ET
Steve Jobs

Never again will Steve Jobs grace the stage at Macworld

Ahhhh, Macworld.  It's been like a post-Christmas Christmas for all us Appleholics out there.

Once upon a time, there were TWO Macworlds, and Steve Jobs' keynote could be seen live!  I remember calling feeds here at CNN to find out where I could see it, and there was usually a group of us sending IMs back and forth ooohing and ahhhing over our glorious Leader's every proclamation.  Then after the keynote ended we'd continue to IM back and forth about all the things we wanted (pizza box iMac!!) that we didn't see, and arguing about why (or why not) Jobs was a genius.

All that changed several years ago – Apple pulled out of the Boston/New York Macworld, and it died.  No more live keynotes – we fanboys glued ourselves to the live reports on various gadget blogs by people actually in attendance.

Now even that will end.  And I have to think it's going to be hard for Macworld to continue.  Which makes me wonder about trade shows in general.

Clearly Apple wants the stage to themselves, and I'm sure we'll be just as excited about whatever new gadget, feature or upgrade the Leader sees fit to dole out to his salivating minions, but I can't help but mourn Macworld's passage.

I've never been to the actual show, and now I doubt I'll ever get to go.  I'm a little sad at the end of this era, and wonder if the new era will have any of that Christmas-morning excitement I used to get before a Jobs keynote.

I wonder how January's Macworld will go down.  I picture the crowd of Apple fans, a few of them teary-eyed, holding their cell phones aloft and swaying back and forth while singing some ballad after the last Apple-hosted keynote.  More likely it will be a shuffling of chairs by people hurriedly going off to the next event.

– CodyMcCloy, CNN.com

Posted by: ,
Filed under: computers • consumer tech • Internet


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August 11, 2008

All over but the napping

Posted: 12:55 PM ET

Well... here we are. We made it back to Atlanta in (mostly) one piece after a two-week journey I'll never forget. This morning my colleague Brian Hardy and I did a little recap video interview with CNN.com Live which you can see here.  We also have an iPhone review (it never left my side) that we'll put up a little later.

cody.atlanta

I have a lot of cables to untangle.

Four-thousand miles later - and many gallons of bio and regular diesel - I  would call this road trip a success.  It wasn't perfect - but we talked to a lot of people, saw a lot of things and learned a good deal about biodiesel fuel and long-distance travel.

Now I have about two tons of gear to sort through and put back in its rightful place (versus the various bags, bins and cubbies I stuffed it into).

Oh yeah - and the sleeping - there will be lots of sleeping.

Thanks for followin' us...

– Cody McCloy, signing off

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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August 8, 2008

'Soul-wrenching weeks' about to end

Posted: 01:51 PM ET

After two long, soul-wrenching weeks we're finally about to head home. This trip has been amazing.

scout.oxford

Our Scout sits Friday in front of The Lyceum at Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.

I've met people I hope to become long-term friends with. I also reconnected with some old friends, including Jenna from the National Biodiesel Board, who used to be my producer back in my KOMU-TV days at the University of Missouri.

All in all I would mark the trip a success. What do you think?

Now we're arranging to get five gallons of bio before making the trip back to Atlanta. There, I plan to take a two-day nap after we wrap it all up during a CNN.com Live broadcast on Monday. We'll take a look at what lessons we learned from our trip and some of the lighthearted moments.
– Cody

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Filed under: environment • Road trip


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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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