Letters and Comments
The Role of WikiLeaks
Thank you for your truly spot-on column examining the impact of WikiLeaks on society’s concept of secrecy and transparency (“Is WikiLeaks a Good Thing?” March/April 2011). Like you, I often find myself conflicted about the value of WikiLeaks. I tend to eschew overt calls for full disclosure from organizations—whether by government leaders, executives, or individuals pushing a cause—because my first inclination is to uphold the right to privacy. However, instances in the past year throughout the global business community have begun to change my mind. And as the associate director of public relations for the Public Relations Society of America, I am committed to transparency and disclosure in all forms of communication to advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information, which is vital to democratic societies. While WikiLeaks may take corporate transparency too far for some, numerous surveys have revealed that trust in American businesses and government is terribly low. Perhaps it is time to look past the potentially sinister goals of Julian Assange and WikiLeaks and develop a more earnest commitment to withholding only information that truly deserves secrecy.
I am very puzzled by your assertion that you distrust transparency. You state that you are “wary of attacks” upon the institutions of a “properly constituted state.” Why would you equate a desire to have those institutions be transparent with an “attack”? In the Western European tradition of corporate governance (especially Germany’s “codetermination” laws), corporations have responsibilities not only to their owners and stockholders, but also to their employees and the societies at large within which they operate. Just as anonymity encourages bad behavior among individuals, secrecy in institutions breeds lies, corruption, and, ultimately, tyranny.
Need for Speed
“The Slow-Motion Internet” (March/April 2011) highlighted the ways that a site or Web-based app can get bogged down on its way to the end user. Of all these, front-end issues—defined as how the browser handles code—account for roughly 90 percent of all performance problems. As a result, while Google’s performance-related initiatives are inspiring, and will contribute somewhat to a faster Internet, the onus for delivering a faster experience mainly rests on website owners. Web content optimization, which transforms each page so that it can be rendered optimally for each browser type, is a powerful solution. (Disclosure: My company offers such solutions to websites.)
Vancouver, British Columbia
The development and adoption of new protocols and an overhaul of the fundamental anatomy of the Web is going to take a very long time. If we’re going to noticeably improve Web performance right now, and usher in a world where the browser truly becomes the OS, we need to take a hard look at the way that we code and develop Web apps and media-rich websites and optimize them for better performance within the constraints of today’s Web. As the CEO of Aptimize, I like to say it’s a lot like the choice between drilling for more oil and building more efficient cars. The smart choice is to pursue both solutions.
Wellington, New Zealand
Too Many Scans
I’m appalled to read Jonathan Rothberg saying, “Patients will be just as likely to have their genomes sequenced as they will be to get MRIs or CT scans” (Q&A, March/April 2011). There are already thousands of unnecessary MRI and CT scans, as well as other tests, being done at great cost to taxpayers who support Medicare and to purchasers of private medical insurance, with little or no positive patient benefits. Genome sequencing will add one more money sinkhole! Our medical system has major problems, including our unwillingness to analyze the probability of a net positive patient outcome for each of these expensive procedures. Until we do that, the advent of genome sequencing will just add to runaway costs.
Mark R. Pratt
I think the word “breakthrough” has been overused (“Praying for an Energy Miracle,” March/April 2011). What we need is a solution. Wind and solar schemes are not “affordable electricity” and are unreliable and nondispatchable. The missing “breakthrough” is clean, affordable electricity (about seven cents per kilowatt-hour). The U.S. Department of Energy should offer a $1 billion prize for that missing breakthrough. Less-than-mediocre clean energy schemes are wasting billions on development deals when they will not solve our energy problem. A prize might.
Solar’s key feature is local generation. All traditional fuels—natural gas, coal, even hydro—assume a functioning grid. There are lots of places, many in the U.S., where grid access is totally absent, poorly maintained, or vulnerable to disruption. These regions are where solar will put down roots and go through the long-term development needed to compete with hydrocarbons.
Apps Vs. The Web
Håkon Wium Lie (“Web Wins,” March/April 2011) concludes that native apps will become “a footnote” in computing history. Native applications have been the norm for decades on personal computers, and native software has dominated on mobile devices. Even if most apps do become Web-based in the future, calling this long history a footnote borders on the absurd.
Will square Save people Money?
Charging 2.75 percent plus 15 cents? Ouch. I’m amazed credit card companies took so much money (“The New Money,” March/April 2011). Imagine if all transactions were through Square and they could sit back with more than 2.75 percent of GDP pumping in!
Auckland, New Zealand
Be thankful it’s only 2 percent—it used to be 5 to 6 percent. Banks charge much more to set up a regular merchant account, so that’s why PayPal is such a good deal for online stores. You don’t need special software, and the fees are reasonable.
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