Journal: News & Comment

Saturday, September 07, 2002
# 9:47:00 PM:

Technology big and small

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While riding my Kyoto Protocol hobby horse this month, I've repeatedly talked about how reducing greenhouse gas emissions should spur the development of new energy technologies. I wasn't counting on something as massive as an enormous one-kilometre-high, seven-kilometre-wide solar convection generator project being planned in Australia, but there it is:

"We developed the solar tower prototype in Spain after the oil crises of the early '80s," says [engineer] Wolfgang Schiel. "But we didn't get a chance to develop the system because everybody thought oil would go up to $36 a barrel and actually it dropped to $15 and everybody lost interest."

Until now. The prospect of climate change and the demand for carbon emissions control has given new impetus and financial feasibility to the tower.

Unrelated, and on a smaller scale, Reuters reports that students returning to school are bringing back their old computers rather than buying new ones. It makes sense: most people today (me included) spend their computing time browsing the Web, sending e-mail, writing documents, and maybe wrestling with their digital photo collection. That sums up most of my time, and my five-year-old 266 MHz Power Mac G3 and three-year-old 400 MHz Celeron PC do all those things just fine.

Any computer purchased in the last year or two is more than adequate for anyone who doesn't play a lot of cutting-edge games, work intensively with digital video, or do processor-intensive work for money, such as mapping genomes, editing big files (audio, video, images), animation, or GIS. Laptops, which take a beating and aren't very upgradeable, don't last as long as desktop machines, and they also demand a price premium -- those are two reasons why manufacturers push them more than they used to.

As technology matures, people eventually settle into a regular buying cycle. Many replace their cars every five to seven years, while some lease and "trade up" every two or three, and others try to stretch their auto lifespans as long as possible. Computers may be coming into a similar, if shorter, average lifespan. My last primary computer, a Macintosh Centris 660AV, lasted five years before it seemed dog slow and started getting unreliable.

My G3 will reach that age early next year. And I've already been through two cell phones since I bought it; they seem to be getting more, not less, disposable.


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