But Officer, It Wasn’t Like I Was Texting!

Here’s an interesting tidbit. A Car & Driver study wanted to see just how bad texting was for your reaction time in a real car (not a simulator). It turns out… pretty damn bad.

While younger drivers (who are presumably more skilled texters) fared better than us middle-aged folks, all drivers were significantly worse off texting than drinking. Even when driving well past the legal intoxication limit.

So maybe the DJ from last week who was sort of encouraging folks to have another for the road and drive home was on to something after all. If you’ve had a drink or two, most people will sit up extra straight in the seat and glue their eyes to the road for fear of getting a DWI. No danger of texting there. But who among us hasn’t at least tried to read a quick incoming text while driving home from work stone sober? It seems we’d be safer stopping off for a couple of pops on the way. Hmmmm…

Einstein’s Birkenstocks

Sometimes nature is just amazing. Physicists at the University of Oxford have been studying bird navigation and have discovered that the system seems to exploit quantum entanglement. It has been postulated for some time that quantum entanglement also played a role in photosynthesis, but no one really understands that either.

Quantum entanglement is an annoying implication of the Laws of Quantum Mechanics. So annoying in fact, that Einstein was famously quoted as saying that he expected future mathematicians to show that quantum entanglement was the wrong conclusion, and further, that if quantum entanglement turned out to be correct that he would rather be a cobbler than a physicist.

Einstein also coined the phrase associated with quantum entanglement, “spooky action at a distance”. That’s not a bad description. Entanglement involves two (or more) particles that have have a relationship, often caused by the splitting of another particle. These entangled particles then act as a system, regardless of their distance apart. That is, if the charge or spin on one particle is altered, the entangled particle’s properties will be changed as well, regardless of the distance between the particles. The mechanism for this instantaneous communication is a mystery. But it has been scientifically observed, so it does seem to be real.

In principle, it’s possible that exploiting this principle could enable rapid communication across vast distances. Even to distant stars. Although, if that turns out to be true it would revolutionize our understanding of relativity. And by that I mean stand it on its ear. Which brings us back to Einstein’s Shoe Emporium.

Not to fear, we are a long long way from even understanding what’s really going on here, much less exploiting it. However, the discovery that the principle is used in nature takes it from being an oddball mathematical construct or a weirdness in a particle accelerator, and brings it into a light where we might actually be able to study it.

Very cool. It also means that someday, being called a bird brain would be a very high compliment indeed.

Tech School

Larry Magid was a teacher before becoming a technology columnist. His latest column over at CNet illuminates a scary fact and poses an interesting question.

The scary fact is that based on a survey, 35% of kids with cell phones at school admit to using them for cheating. Over half of the kids have used the Internet to cheat. And perhaps most alarming, about a quarter of them don’t really consider it cheating.

Magid doesn’t remotely defend this cheating, but does offer that technology makes school a different place than it used to be. On that we agree. In it’s simplest form, cheating is breaking the rules. If the rules say you can’t use a calculator, then using one is cheating. But I think every teen struggles with doing what is right and doing what they won’t get caught at. I suspect most of this group of unapologetic cheaters have simply not matured yet to being able to do what’s right even when it’s not in their own selfish interest. Which is not at all to suggest the cheating should be overlooked. If it is, they’ll never develop that delightfully guilty conscience that usefully plagues (most) adults.

The more interesting question is how does technology change the school experience. Magid is right in that most of us live in a world now with a stupid amount of information at our fingertips. The skill is not so much about how much you know anymore, but about what you can locate and how you can process it. Should school change to be more focused on leveraging the technology and information available?

On the one hand, yes. Tools are an extension of self. In the same way that shop class teaches you to effectively use modern woodworking tools, social studies class should teach you to take advantage of modern information tools. Teaching woodworking by having students learn to craft stone axes and fell trees would be silly. In the same way, teaching history by forcing students to memorize dates and facts from books is equally outdated. If I want to know when the Civil war started and ended I can find that fact in a matter of seconds from my desk or even my pocket.

Yet on the other hand, information without the ability to validate, rationalize, and synthesize the information is more than a little dangerous. And while the Internet is full of lots of great data, it’s also full of a lot of crap, and many things that are just plain wrong. Here is where I think some of the old school training is still valuable. Some level of basic knowledge and skill is required.

I don’t know exactly when the Civil War started and ended. I do know it was in the 1860’s somewhere. Should I find an online reference citing a start date of 1861, I’d probably second source it anyway, but I’d be inclined to accept it. If something came back with a date 1837 it would set off a red flag. I’d be suspicious and do more research before accepting such as answer. But without at least some basic understanding of history, I wouldn’t be able to make that judgment.

In a similar vein, I needed to solve an equation the other week which I knew required the quadratic equation. I couldn’t recall the specific formula, but it was easy to look up, and I still had the math skill to use it once I found it. But again, without that basic training, I’d still be sitting here starting at those squared variables wondering what to do next.

In the end, while I do support that kids need to learn to exploit technology and information in ways most of my generation were never schooled in, I do not believe this is useful unless kids are still schooled in the fundamentals. There needs to be a balance. Wisdom and knowledge cannot usefully exist in the absence of one another.

To Infinity, and Beyond!

Don’t tell Time Warner, but lots of businesses are salivating at the prospect of effectively infinite bandwidth at very low cost. Network applications continue to exploit the fact that an increasing number of devices are always connected. The article sites Japanese Coke machines that are are notifying bottlers when they are low on product and beginning to report consumption trends in real time. Many people already enjoy connected DVRs that allow you to program or even watch television programs on your cell phone. There are also digital photo frames to which you can push images from remote locations. And this is just the beginning.

Now that analog television is finally dead, the airwaves will start to be used to provide next generation wireless connectivity for your phone, your car, your home and everything in it. As that happens, increasing numbers of everyday devices will connect wirelessly. We may not know just yet what they’ll talk about, but once that infrastructure is in place, innovative people will come up with all kinds of useful (as well as many frivolous) scenarios.

The bottom line is that the clear trend is toward more and more devices being connected, and those devices talking more and more. Digital innovation and network bandwidth are now moving in lockstep. Networks that facilitate high bandwidth net neutral communications will thrive. Those that seek to limit bandwidth, for profit or any other motive, will be left in the digital dust.

Thus, it would appear that Time Warner and Comcast should start stocking up on Pledge.

Corporate Love

It’s not that corporations are reluctant to exploit the desire for love. From the likes of eHarmony to the producers of The Bachelor, to the guy on the corner selling roses, people have been finding ways to turn romance (or some reasonable facsimile) into a profit for decades.

Along comes an Internet flash in the pan about a young boy trying to give a yellow rose to actress Megan Fox. She blows right by him, but did later publicly apologize for the snub. The sensation was perhaps not so much about the snub as the priceless look of anxious hope on the boy’s face that was captured in the photo.

Enter Eastman Kodak, who is desperately seeking the boy’s identity so that they can right this horrible wrong. Kodak has offered a $5000 bounty on this kid’s identity so that they can fly him and his family to a second chance meeting with Fox. No word on whether or not Kodak will provide a back-up rose.

Okay, I suppose it’s kinda cute, and it is a good way for Kodak to emphasize that pictures still stir an emotional response. I’m sure that should they root the kid out there will be lots of Kodak-centric publicity making it a good marketing ploy by the company. Also, it does tie into their big push into online social media as that’s the community that thrust this picture into the spotlight in the first place.

Still, I can’t help thinking that this hormone laden lad has gone home and rethought his boyhood crush by now and fixated on some other young starlet. He is probably soooo over Megan Fox. On the other hand, I suspect $5k and a free plane trip might just reignite his passion. You know how fickle teen boys can be.