Letters from our readers.
Technology in Iraq
In “A Technology Surges” (March/April 2008), David Talbot detailed the importance of the Tactical Ground Reporting System to ground forces in day-to-day operations in Iraq. DARPA has enabled rapid sharing of information and intelligence among lower-echelon forces, leading to improved effectiveness and force protection. Despite limited training in counterinsurgency, our forces have learned to use available resources to achieve desired effects, whether that is capturing insurgents, protecting themselves against IEDs, or achieving reconciliation in a given neighborhood.
However, our forces’ resourcefulness should not be a substitute for learning from our experiences in Iraq at the level of the Department of Defense. That “there is a whole list of enhancements that users have requested” to this system, as Talbot reported, suggests that DOD’s current intelligence processes are not necessarily a good fit for counterinsurgency operations. Better to adopt a bottom-up rather than the current top-down process designed for conventional major combat operations. Specifically, intelligence systems and architectures should be revisited to better support lower-echelon forces in a timely fashion.
Center for Naval Analyses
The Amazon Kindle
It is a little strange to see an assessment of Amazon’s Kindle book reader (“What’s Wrong with the Kindle,” March/April 2008) by Jason Epstein, the purveyor of a rival technology, On Demand Books. It is no surprise that Epstein downplays the Kindle.
Indeed, he may well be correct that people of my age (77) are unlikely to abandon the tactile pleasures of traditional books for e-books. But that is irrelevant. My grandchildren and their cohort will surely embrace a technology that is in its infancy and can only improve with time.
Jason Epstein, like many reviewers of the Kindle, overlooks one feature of the device that sets it apart from the competition and represents a huge advantage over physical books and the printing of such books on demand, even at a point of sale: the Kindle offers the ultimate in try-before-you-buy. You can download a book sample, usually the first chapter, in a couple of minutes, for free. The Kindle is a portable bookstore, and its freedom from the computer is genius.
The Power of Plug-In Hybrids
In the Forward section of the March/April 2008 issue, you analyze the level of emissions that plug-in hybrid cars produce when they use electricity from different sources–everything from conventional coal burning to nuclear, wind, and solar power (“Plug-In Hybrids: Tailpipes vs. Smokestacks”).
A major criticism of wind and solar power is that the energy produced is seldom available when it’s needed. Plug-in hybrid cars might solve this problem. Commuter cars are usually stationary–either in the driveway, at work, or at the mall. As such, they can be viewed as portable energy storage devices instead of merely transportation vehicles. When the wind is blowing or the sun is shining, excess energy can be stored in the car batteries, and during peak load demand, the system can draw power from the plug-in hybrids to help system performance.
By thus utilizing nuclear and hydro power and by fluctuating between wind, solar, hybrid batteries, and combined-cycle gas-fired power plants, we could mostly eliminate the need for CO2-intensive coal plants. And CO2 emissions–both from electrical-power generation and from transportation fuels–could be significantly reduced.
Notes on Staying Young
I enjoyed Jason Pontin’s stimulating editor’s letter on technology, creativity, and aging (“How to Stay Young,” March/April 2008). In my 49 years, I’ve found that the key to staying creative is inductive logic. If one reads widely with an uncritical eye, processes information from unlikely sources far afield from one’s area of “expertise,” and manages to maintain the curiosity and awe of a child, one increases the chances of seeing patterns and identifying connections that would otherwise remain invisible. Deductive reasoning, in which truth and solutions flow only from the proven and tested, often serves as a drag on creativity.
West Hartford, CT
I agree wholeheartedly with Jason Pontin’s notion that “we should try to be as little attached to the past as teenagers, and to satisfy our creativity not in the disparagement of new technologies but in the contemplation of how it might change our lives.”
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the emerging economies of the Middle East, Africa, and India. These countries have not had the luxury of continuous technological updates, and hence neither have they had the burden of legacy systems. Fast-emerging economies such as the UAE, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia deploy the newest technologies to leapfrog over existing or absent infrastructure.
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