August 19, 2010

The (not so) great wi-fi debate

You probably haven't been able to turn on your computer and surf the Internet the last few days without running into a story about Barrie, Ontario area parents claiming their children are being made sick by Wi-Fi radiation in the schools. The media is giving all kinds of attention to one or two scientists who are saying there might be a health concern. Unfortunately, it is giving little more than lip service to the vast bulk of the scientific community who say the opposite.

Sure, many publications have expressed some more or less skeptical opinions - in a wishy-washy kind of way, but no one, anywhere, is telling it straight. No one is saying what should be said. No one is saying that there isn't a shred of credible evidence that there is any harm whatsoever from Wi-Fi signals. No one is saying that the cell phones all these kids have glued to their heads twenty-four hours a day emit considerably more radiation - in the same frequency range - than Wi-Fi transmitters. Heck your DVD player emits more RF radiation than your wireless router, but I don't see any of these parents cutting up their Blockbuster cards.

What needs to be said - loud and clear - is that, in order for the claims of this group to be in any way valid; in order for there to be a health risk from Wi-Fi signals, everything we currently understand about physics would have to be wrong. I'm not talking about a minor correction to our scientific understanding of the world. I mean we'd have to throw the laws of nature out the window and start all over again. Microwave radiation is non-ionizing. That means it doesn't have enough power to damage cells beyond heating them. A typical microwave oven is about 1000 watts. A typical cellphone is less than one watt. What that means is, in order to reheat your cold cup of Tim's to a piping hot, drinkable state (what your microwave would do in about one minute), you'd have to hold your cell phone up to the cup for around seventeen a shielded box that didn't allow any of the radiation to escape into the environment at an insulated cup that didn't allow any of the heat to escape into the air. OK, let's be honest, it's impossible. And your average Wi-Fi transmitter is about half the power of a cell phone - and typically not held up against your head.

This idea - that Wi-Fi radiation can somehow be harmful to people's health - is what we, in the skeptical community refer to as, "not even wrong." What we mean by that is it is an idea that is so far out of the realm of reason that it's like asking how many pot-roasts the Yankees scored last night. It's a statement that doesn't even make sense in the context of a reasonable discussion. No, these parents are barking up the wrong area rug. They're "not even wrong."

August 08, 2010

(not quite) 100 more SF books everybody should read!

Kelly has come across another list of somebody's opinion of indispensible science fiction novels. He called it 100 more SF books..., but I only count 84. This list overlaps the previous one only a small amount. Once again, I will boldinicize those titles I have read, and add commentary where the inclination strikes me.

1. The Forever War – Joe Haldeman
2. I Am Legend – Richard Matheson
3. Cities in Flight – James Blish I have this book (got it for Christmas a couple of years ago from an online secret santa gift exchange). I haven't read it yet.
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
5. The Stars My Destination – Alfred Bester
6. Babel-17 – Samuel R. Delany
7. Lord of Light – Roger Zelazny
8. The Fifth Head of Cerberus – Gene Wolfe
9. Gateway – Frederik Pohl
10. The Rediscovery of Man – Cordwainer Smith
11. Last and First Men – Olaf Stapledon
12. Earth Abides – George R. Stewart
13. Martian Time-Slip – Philip K. Dick
14. The Demolished Man – Alfred Bester
15. Stand on Zanzibar – John Brunner
16. The Dispossessed – Ursula K. Le Guin
17. The Drowned World – J. G. Ballard
18. The Sirens of Titan – Kurt Vonnegut
19. Emphyrio – Jack Vance
20. A Scanner Darkly – Philip K. Dick
21. Star Maker – Olaf Stapledon
22. Behold the Man – Michael Moorcock
23. The Book of Skulls – Robert Silverberg
24. The War of the Worlds – H. G. Wells
25. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes I have not read the novel, but I have read the short story by the same author upon which the novel was based.
26. Ubik – Philip K. Dick
27. Timescape – Gregory Benford
28. More Than Human – Theodore Sturgeon
29. Man Plus – Frederik Pohl
30. A Case of Conscience – James Blish
31. The Centauri Device – M. John Harrison
32. Dr. Bloodmoney – Philip K. Dick
33. Non-Stop – Brian Aldiss
34. The Fountains of Paradise – Arthur C. Clarke
35. Pavane – Keith Roberts
36. Now Wait for Last Year – Philip K. Dick
37. Nova – Samuel R. Delany
38. The First Men in the Moon – H. G. Wells
39. The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke
40. Blood Music – Greg Bear
41. Jem – Frederik Pohl
42. Bring the Jubilee – Ward Moore
43. VALIS – Philip K. Dick
44. The Lathe of Heaven – Ursula K. Le Guin
45. The Complete Roderick – John Sladek
46. Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said – Philip K. Dick
47. The Invisible Man – H. G. Wells
48. Grass – Sheri S. Tepper
49. A Fall of Moondust – Arthur C. Clarke
50. Eon – Greg Bear
51. The Shrinking Man – Richard Matheson
52. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick
53. The Dancers at the End of Time – Michael Moorcock
54. The Space Merchants – Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth
55. Time Out of Joint – Philip K. Dick
56. Downward to the Earth – Robert Silverberg
57. The Simulacra – Philip K. Dick
58. The Penultimate Truth – Philip K. Dick
59. Dying Inside – Robert Silverberg
60. Ringworld – Larry Niven
61. The Child Garden – Geoff Ryman
62. Mission of Gravity – Hal Clement
63. A Maze of Death – Philip K. Dick
64. Tau Zero – Poul Anderson
65. Rendezvous with Rama – Arthur C. Clarke
66. Life During Wartime – Lucius Shepard
67. Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang – Kate Wilhelm
68. Roadside Picnic – Arkady and Boris Strugatsky
69. Dark Benediction – Walter M. Miller, Jr.
70. Mockingbird – Walter Tevis
71. Dune – Frank Herbert
72. The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein
73. The Man in the High Castle – Philip K. Dick
74. Inverted World – Christopher Priest
75. Cat’s Cradle - Kurt Vonnegut
76. The Island of Dr. Moreau - H.G. Wells
77. Childhood’s End - Arthur C. Clarke
78. The Time Machine - H.G. Wells
79. Dhalgren - Samuel R. Delany
80. Helliconia - Brian Aldiss
81. Food of the Gods - H.G. Wells
82. The Body Snatchers - Jack Finney
83. The Female Man - Joanna Russ
84. Arslan - M.J. Engh

Like the previous list, this one seems Philipp K. Dick happy. In fact, there are more Dick books on this one than the last, and only a few of them are duplicates. How many books did this guy write? It seems that there are dozens of novels on this list by authors I have read other works by, but not the ones listed here. Also, there are a good number of books on this list that I've never even heard of before. I guess, between this list and the last, I won't have to look far for ideas when I need something new to read.

How did you fare on this list?

August 01, 2010

Hello, Police? I'd like to report a stolen show.

The second annual Aurora Jazz+ Festival was held this past Friday night and Saturday. I didn't have a chance to see any of the Friday night performers, but I spent the entire day at the Town Park Saturday listening to the Jazz, Blues, R&B, Pop, Folk, and Rock music line-up the organizers had put together. Along with returning artists like Joel Krivy, Bobby Rice and the Mike Massaro Band, there were a bevy of new performers along for the ride.

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Joel Krivy from King City performed his acoustic renditions of blues standards

The organizers, George and Sher St.Kitts, seem to be dedicated to showcasing as much local talent as possible, and included many amateur, semi-pro, and up and coming York Region performers. The absolute highlight of the show, for me, was Stacey Kaniuk - a cute-as-a-button local girl with a voice that'll knock your socks off. This girl cannot be far from breaking through into the big time. During a hot enough to set the stage on fire rendition of the James Brown hit It's a Man's Man's Man's World, the performers due up next stood on the alternate stage, arms crossed, watching the rug being pulled out from under them. This is a singer-songwriter on her way to the top, mark my words.

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Stacey Kaniuk's rendition of the James Brown hit It's a Man's Man's Man's World brought the house down

Other local performers included the amateur acts Higher Ground and Six Way From Sunday, and aspiring pros Chris Hau, and The Julian Troiano Band. Also in the mix were the traditional Jazz sounds of the After Hours Big Band - another local group - and big name headliner Robert Michaels' cuban/flamenco (cubamenco) guitar stylings.

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After Hours Big Band trombonist

The event was in support of two local charities; The Canadian Center for Abuse Awareness, and Safehaven.

I was somewhat disappointed with the turnout this year. The park was pretty much empty until evening. Most of the spectators came out to see Robert Michaels play after 8:00PM, but during the day acts were, unfortunately, playing to a sparse littering of no more than a couple hundred people. I'm not sure whether the problem was the timing - on a summer long weekend - or a lack of widespread promotion, or something else - or, more likely, a combination of these factors, but hopefully next year's event will be better attended.

For more pictures of the event, visit my Flickr photoset.