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Letters and Comments

August 25, 2010
Moving toward a cure

Jon Cohen’s article (“Can AIDS Be Cured?” July/August 2010) provided a refreshingly optimistic view regarding the potential to cure HIV infection. As vice president and director of research at amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, I can say we have long shared such optimism. Just as current treatment combines several agents for suppression of the virus, it’s likely that a cure will combine many approaches. This thoughtful article helps to dispel the skepticism that hinders progress in this area and highlights the need for sufficient resources and coördinated efforts that will lead to an AIDS cure.
Rowena Johnston
New York, NY

Congratulations to Technology Review for being the first publication to cover the renewed drive to find a cure for AIDS. As executive director of the AIDS Policy Project, I have seen this research accelerate and evolve in just the past two years. However, funding for it has not. The NIH devotes only 3 percent of its AIDS research budget to a cure; it spends nine times more on AIDS vaccines. Money is needed for short pilot studies to test therapies in humans, among other projects. Yet if we can fund the science properly, fast-track therapies ready for clinical trials, and untangle the red tape for researchers, there is a real chance to develop a workable cure in the next several years, instead of the next few decades. And wouldn’t that be something?
Kate Krauss
Philadelphia, PA

Solar Issues

The fine articles on solar energy in the July/August 2010 issue (“Solar’s Great Leap Forward” and “The German Experiment”) highlight two renewable-energy success stories, but the use of the term “grid parity” is misleading. It implies that solar energy cannot compete with coal and petroleum. But when factors such as global warming, the Gulf oil cleanup, and the huge subsidies we give petroleum are taken into account, solar already surpasses grid parity. Defining grid parity is a good step to making better decisions for the future.
Steve Waller
Washington, DC

“Solar’s Great Leap Forward,” while describing the successes of China’s Suntech, suggests opportunities that still are open to U.S. companies. First, although an innovative process design that takes advantage of low-cost labor has sharply reduced Suntech’s cost of producing multicrystalline photovoltaic panels, U.S. companies can use other technologies that may have even lower costs. Second, only half the cost of a solar installation comes from the solar panels. U.S. companies can prosper by driving down the balance of system and installation costs. Third, the large-scale penetration of solar in the electric grid will require innovations in systems integration and management of intermittency, providing more business opportunities. Finally, innovations in business models, including clean-energy bonds, offer chances for U.S. leadership. As solar panels mature as a commodity market, we may find manufacturing predominantly outside the U.S., while most of the economic value of selling and installing solar panels is captured within the U.S.
Douglas Arent
Executive Director, Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Golden, CO

James Sweeney
Director, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Unmanned Missions More Feasible

It is understandable that Buzz Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, would advocate a permanent human presence on Mars (Q&A, July/August 2010). But stating that we need a place to go “in case somebody or something blows up Earth,” and that human travelers be given one-way tickets, is juvenile. As renowned space leader Si Ramo has argued, the logistics and cost of manned missions to Mars would be overwhelming, and the dangers to the astronauts would be unacceptable. Ramo also states that no scientific questions have been raised that cannot be addressed equally well by robotic spacecraft.
Michael Horstein
Los Angeles, CA

Safety in the cloud

Moore’s Outlaws” (July/August 2010) highlights the danger posed by attackers in cyberspace and makes the case for deploying stronger cyber security measures. As researchers at Microsoft Research, we believe machines need to be re-architected to protect against intrusion and confine the effects of an attack. This is critical on all machines but mandatory when using shared infrastructure, particularly as sensitive health and financial information moves to the cloud. Safe practices for preserving confidentiality of data through encryption should be employed. Transactions between parties on the Internet and within a machine should be routinely authenticated. Widespread use of cryptographic techniques will not protect against everything (e.g., social-­engineering attacks aiming to steal identities), but it will help to isolate and identify vulnerabilities.
Kristin Lauter and John Manferdelli
Redmond, WA

Faster Connections

Your brilliant July/August 2010 Graphiti on broadband penetration created a controversial response in my Emerging Markets Business Intelligence team at Cisco. We abandoned the “cost” dimensions in our analysis of global broadband penetration because the data for emerging-market countries seem unreliable. Also, in larger countries, broadband costs and penetration vary within the country. For example, recent data for Russia show the cost of broadband varying from 1.2 percent of an average salary in Moscow and St. Petersburg to 15 to 20 percent in more remote parts of the country. The study notes that higher prices are caused by lack of competition in the regions, keeping penetration well behind what we see in the major cities.
Katya Wilkins
Feltham, United Kingdom

Is this a fair comparison? Many of these countries have smaller areas or different population densities, which can affect the metrics. It may be easier to roll out the necessary communication equipment in a smaller area to reach a larger density of users.
Eric Bresie, Grapevine, TX)

Unfortunately there is no “fair” comparison in a metric like this. It will be more capital intensive to lay cables where the distances between subscribers are farther. But access should be similar assuming the same generation of equipment is serving similar numbers of subscribers. For example, Manhattan has a similar urban density to Japan, but Manhattan has slower and pricier broadband. There is no justification for it beyond regulatory and competitive differences.
Joel Colin Gebhart, Dallas, TX)

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