Category Archives: Technology

In One Lifetime

In Carl Sagan’s essay “In Praise of Science and Technology,” which appears as chapter 4 of his book Broca’s Brain (see location 682 of the Kindle edition), he writes:

There are many people alive today who were born before the first airplane and have lived to see Viking land on Mars, and Pioneer 10, the first interstellar spacecraft, be ejected from the solar system.

Sagan wrote that essay in the 1970s. This got me thinking about my daughter, born in 2015. She will almost certainly live to see the year 2100. What marvels will she have witnessed by that time? It sure is a good time to be alive.

Human Achievement of the Day: Guitars

When Human Achievement Hour rolls around each year, I make sure to do two things. One is to play an electric guitar. The other is to play an acoustic guitar.

Guitars are simple things. Stretch some thin metal wires over a plank of wood, and you’re most of the way there. Electric guitars add a few magnets wrapped in copper wire mounted underneath the strings, called pickups. This deceptively simple invention is one of the pinnacles of human achievement. Music made on guitars has brought unfettered joy to billions of people, most of whom have idea how to play one. Whether you like jazz, punk rock, flamenco, blues, death metal, or classic rock, guitars have enhanced your life. In a way, the guitar is one of the defining objects of modern Western culture.

Regular readers will likely be familiar with CEI’s “I, Pencil” video from a few years ago, inspired by Leonard Read’s famous pamphlet. Nobody can make a pencil on their own. It takes a network of literally millions of people cooperating to make something you can buy in a store for less than a dollar. The network of human cooperation surrounding guitars is arguably even greater.

For example, guitars made by Gibson, such as the Les Paul and the SG, are often made of mahogany wood, which grows mostly in Central and South America. Tennessee-based Gibson has to arrange with people more than a thousand miles away to harvest the lumber and ship it to Nashville, most of whom speak different languages and use different currencies. The fingerboards placed on top of the guitar’s neck are usually made of rosewood, native to Africa and Asia, presenting another coordination problem.

Fret wire, usually made of either nickel or stainless steel, relies on mining and smelting technologies, and requires precise math, skill, and specialized tools to install. Other hardware, such as a guitar’s bridge and nut, pickguard, and tuning pegs, present their own challenges.

Acoustic guitars use a soundboard, chambers, and soundholes in such a way that makes the instruments both loud and tuneful. Electric guitars instead use pickups, potentiometers, wires, soldering, and standardized connections leading to an amplifier powered by electricity. If a pencil is a miracle of cooperation, guitars are even moreso.

Part of the point of Human Achievement Hour is to celebrate modernity. So on March 28, sometime between 8:30 and 9:30, instead of merely leaving on the lights, I will pick up my electric guitar, plug it into my amplifier, and take in the pure, simple joy that comes with banging out distorted power chords. After that, I will pick up my acoustic and admire all the skill, elegance, and mastery of geometry and sound that went into making it. Nobody within earshot may much enjoy my point, but they will likely be thankful for two other human achievements: walls and doors.

CEI Podcast for May 8, 2014: The Future of Self-Driving Cars

Have a listen here.

Marc Scribner talks about his new paper, “Self-Driving Regulation.”

CEI Podcast for February 12, 2014: Are Cell Phones Coming to an Airplane Near You?

airplane-movie-autopilot
Have a listen here.

CEI Fellow Marc Scribner opposes a bill that would ban in-flight cell phone usage on airplanes. He believes that decision should be left to airlines, who have the technology to disable phones’ voice communications allowing data usage for texting, emailing, and web browsing.

CEI Podcast for January 16, 2014: FCC Loses Net Neutrality Court Case

hal 9000
Have a listen here.

The D.C. Circuit Court decided against the FCC in the case Verizon v. FCC, striking down key provisions of the agency’s proposed net neutrality regulations. Associate Director of Technology Studies Ryan Radia argues that while the case looks like a victory on the surface, it still gives the FCC plenty of authority to enact similar rules.

CEI Podcast for August 29, 2013: Consequences of Net Neutrality

net neutrality
Have a listen here.

In 2010, the FCC issued regulations to implement net neutrality. The resulting legal challenge is about to hit the D.C. Circuit Court. Vice President for Policy Wayne Crews explains why net neutrality policies would hamper innovation and reduce competition in high-tech infrastructure.

CEI Podcast for April 18, 2013: CISPA Is the Wrong Approach to Cybersecurity

A burglar opening a safe that is a computer screen
Have a listen here.

Today, the House passed the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act of 2013 (CISPA). Associate Director of Technology Studies Ryan Radia opposes the bill because it would nullify existing contracts and eliminate the rule of law in certain areas.