Letters and Comments
Don’t Disregard Nuclear
That nuclear power is at least somewhat more expensive than fossil fuels was never in question (“Giant Holes in the Ground,” November/December 2010). The question is whether we are going to do anything to move away from fossil fuels, and how nuclear power compares economically with other non-emitting options. Nuclear is stalling because current policies give it no significant advantage over fossil fuels, while renewables are being built by government mandate, essentially regardless of cost. I disagree with Matthew Wald’s characterization of nuclear’s loan guarantees as a significant subsidy. This support is tiny compared with the massive subsidies given to renewables. For a fraction of what the government has spent supporting renewables in just the last few years, it could provide loan guarantees for all reactors built from this day forward. In any fair competition among non-emitting sources, nuclear would do very well. Fortunately, there is a movement afoot to pass a Clean Energy Standard that includes both nuclear and renewables. Such a policy would solve all the “problems” nuclear is having right now.
San Jose, California
Wald’s conclusion that the nuclear renaissance has failed is premature. The financial hurdles are real but not insurmountable. The renaissance requires government help in the form of loan guarantees. These are not handouts but, rather, insurance policies to cover the unforeseen. The renaissance will happen because there is simply no alternative.
The dismissal of China as “a tiny player” in nuclear power is cavalier to say the least. The build rate for new reactors in China is beginning to approach what it was in the U.S. in the heyday of nuclear plant construction. And contrary to our experience here, China has been completing projects ahead of schedule and under budget. The agonizing in the U.S. over the future of nuclear power grows increasingly irrelevant.
What the Web Really Needs
Without detracting from HTML5, I have to object to the title “The Web Is Reborn” (November/December 2010). Rather than more optimal displays of video, the Web needs an architectural solution to its nearly fatal security issues. The resources that are wasted on professional security services, firewalls, and antivirus software and its maintenance are far more than a minor inconvenience.
It seems that the Web’s future is being driven by technical arguments and companies beholden to their customers. What about the public interest? The Web has emerged as the major place where the discourse necessary for democracy takes place—akin to the new radio and TV airwaves. Don’t we need regulations to guarantee access and fairness?
New York, New York
Google Vs. Facebook
In “Google Misses You” (November/December 2010), Paul Boutin calls Facebook’s user interface “a pain in the ass” and claims it’s in conflict with 40 years of UI research. Do Google products, desktop or mobile, shine in their UIs? Google’s products may be cleaner and more stable than some others’, but they seem to be built by and for geeks. Designing Web and social UIs, I rarely meet people craving the Google Calendar experience or the Picasa experience.
San Francisco, California
I was 13 when Vannevar Bush described the Memex in 1945, which you reflect on in “Future Perfect” (November/December 2010). The Memex, a technology that promised to give individuals access to the world’s collection of information, inspired my dreams of what might be. Over the years, science and the marketplace have given us increasingly powerful computers, software, and networking.
In the eighth decade of my life I work with a company that specializes in document management software with artificial-intelligence assistants. These tools enable me to construct my own little “Memex,” which holds collections totaling hundreds of thousands of documents that interest me. The cost of the devices that let me do this today is far less than would have been required to construct Bush’s Memex. My computer and scanner total ten pounds, less than Bush’s vision of a bulky device.
My Memex operates at speeds that would have delighted Bush, but we are still in early stages of what could be done. The author is correct in stating that looking back at the present from the perspective of 77 years in the future would probably elicit pity for the primitive state in which we live and work today.
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