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Letters From Our Readers

December 22, 2008

Power of The Sun
Regarding Kevin Bullis’s article on MIT professor Daniel Nocera’s method of deriving hydrogen from water using sunlight (“Sun + Water = Fuel,” November/December 2008), I suggest going further: tap the power of the sun. Had the plug not been pulled on funding of fusion-related research, we’d be closer to having that technology. Solar, wind, and even “conventional” nuclear power are all diversions from fusion. Like Nocera, let’s take a hint from nature. Stellar fusion is the universe’s choice for power. Let’s get smart and use it here on Earth.
Gerald Schroeder
Jerusalem, Israel

Your article on Nocera’s work suggests that he has solved the energy problem with his implied–but only vaguely explained, and completely unquantified–improvement upon the existing commercial electrolysis of water. But the article ignores two other huge and inextricably linked problems: the high cost of generating electricity from sunlight, and the difficulty of storing uncondensable hydrogen fuel. Please restore more balanced reporting to TR.
Don Smith
Bolinas, CA

The Internet’s Vulnerability
It has been months since security researcher Dan Kaminsky announced the fundamental vulnerability in the domain name system (DNS), which serves as a kind of phone book for the Internet (“The Flaw at the Heart of the Internet,” November/December 2008). Unfortunately, we’ve still got millions of name servers–which use DNS to connect users to Web pages–that are in active use and unpatched against the vulnerability. With an effective script, a hacker can insert arbitrary data into the cache of one of these servers in about 10 seconds. I urge anyone responsible for recursive name servers that look up Internet domain names, whether directly or through a forwarder, to test them for the Kaminsky vulnerability.
Cricket Liu
Vice president of architecture, Infoblox
Santa Clara, CA

Born Originals
In a recent editor’s letter about how social technologies such as Facebook are changing our notions of who we are (“Authenticity in the Age of Its Technological Reproduci­bility,” September/October 2008), Jason Pontin begins with a quotation from 18th-century English poet Edward Young: “Born Originals, how comes it to Pass that we die Copies?” I was stunned when I read this and delighted when people I trusted were also affected. Here in one sentence we have the mission of education: to preserve and develop that individuality we all have initially and lose so quickly. I’ve since used this sentence as a litmus test and have been surprised by those who’ve reacted casually, saying, “Yes, interesting,” and then changing the subject! What a mirror this provides into one’s inner mind!
Herman Jacobowitz
Philadelphia, PA

In his editor’s letter on social technologies, Jason Pontin writes, of himself, “Social-media Jason Pontin, in short, is a function of my business life. I know that this identity is inauthentic.” I wonder: if your business-life exchanges are inauthentic because they are incomplete, wouldn’t dinner with a friend also be inauthentic because it leaves out your business life? Is a jog in the park inauthentic because it’s unrelated to your other pursuits? I think that our selves are created in what we do, but that none of the things we do in themselves constitute our entire, “authentic” self. We can conceive of ourselves as becoming evident in interactions, but we have many aspects to our identity; different aspects arise in different interactions, so your Twittering involves your business self, while a dinner evokes another aspect, and so on. Even subatomic particles have more than one aspect, as do the gods in some religions.
John Branch
New York, NY

Nuclear Terrorism
In his essay on the threat of nuclear terrorism (“Nuclear Deterrence in the Age of Nuclear Terrorism,” November/­December 2008), Harvard University’s Graham ­Allison writes that “no nation must develop new capabilities to enrich uranium,” and that there must be no new nuclear-weapons states. At the same time, he assumes that it’s not possible to force the present nuclear powers to eliminate their nuclear weapons. What’s missing in his analysis is the consideration of a basic question: on what basis may the international community prohibit or impose limitations on the possession or acquisition of nuclear weapons? And more generally, it’s worth noting that the heart of Allison’s proposal is deterrence: a military measure supported by technology and international agreements. But has he considered alternative actions? It may be beneficial to analyze the socioeconomic situations and cultures of the communities from which terrorists come, and to intervene in whatever nonmilitary ways make sense.
Michele Muscettola
Milan, Italy

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