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Vera Hannigan, 1932-2011

Monday, November 21, 2011
I've written about my grandma's health as recently as August. In September, my grandmother, Vera Hannigan, passed away after a multi-year fight with cancer.

my grandma, Vera Hanngian, on a horse in her youth

She's inurned at Arlington National Cemetery along with her husband, John Hannigan. Her obituary can be found here.

Grandma will be missed. She was a strong, accomplished woman. I helped my family collect photos and important pieces of her life from her house after the funeral; there were photos of her time in the White House under Gerald Ford, there was a framed copy of a congressional bill she helped push through that protected lands in Utah, and there were pictures of every Republican president for the last 40 years, signed "Dear Vera..." Grandma knew her way around politics.

Per her wishes, there were benches constructed on a lakeside path in Reston, VA, near the Lake Anne Plaza Shopping Center. The two benches face each other; one has her name on it, the other has her husband's. It's a touching memorial to a woman who should - and will be - remembered.

iPhoning, the Next Generation

Saturday, November 12, 2011
Diligent readers may recall that, a few years ago, I bought myself an 32 GB iPhone 3GS in white. Shortly after that, I wrote about some of the strengths and weaknesses of the phone and of AT&T's "service". Well, this past week I went out and upgraded to a nice, white iPhone 4S (still the 32 GB model).

my new iPhone 4s

Why upgrade? Truth be told, my 3GS was working just fine. It was still new enough that it could run iOS 5 (which has a ton of improvements that I love), though occasionally it would hiccup or pause if I had too many apps open. I upgraded not just because I wanted some of the new features of the iPhone 4S, but because I was otherwise giving AT&T free money. They subsidize the phone over a 2-year contract with me. Some portion of my bill goes to pay for a new phone; if I hold onto my phone for more than two years and just keep paying on my contract, I'm just giving them free money. That doesn't sit so well with me, since they're making a ton off me anyway.

But here's the thing about my iPhone 4S. It's a fantastic phone, and Apple's done a marvelous job with it. The hardware is solid, the software is great, and, truth be told, it's just about everything I could want in a mobile device.

But...

It's no longer revolutionary. My iPhone 3GS was, for me, a massive technological step forward. It unlocked possibilities I hadn't even considered. The 4S is a fine evolution, but it's no longer earth shattering. It's hasn't changed my life - the 3GS did. I did add to the list of apps I use, but new apps I find truly useful are few and far between.
- I use the Apple Remote app with my Apple TV.
- Google Latitude is still a fun way to share location data with friends, though not too many use it.
- There's a Netflix app now, great for watching Top Gear over the wifi at the gym.
- The PDX Reporter app is a great way for me to report graffiti, potholes, and other city maintenance issues.
- The PDXBus app is invaluable in using Tri-Met to get around.
- Angry Birds, Scrabble, and Peggle are among the few games I've actually purchased.

Still, there are many upgrades. The dual-core A5 processor is quite fast, the retina display is beautiful, the 8 megapixel camera is amazing, the forward-facing phone is handy for Facetime, and I read somewhere that there's an extra accelerometer in the phone for added precision.

Finally, the astute reader might note that the iPhone is now available, in the US, on three different carriers: AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. Which did I choose? I stayed with AT&T, thought not without considerable deliberation. Given 1) the speed advantage for the iPhone that AT&T offered (since Verizon and Sprint's LTE were not supported in this iteration), 2) the idea that the dual antenna design might resolve some of my connectivity issues with AT&T, and finally 3) that my contract with AT&T has unlimited data at a price I couldn't nearly match on any other service, I opted to stay. Time will tell if I'll regret this.

In conclusion, my iPhone 4S is a great phone. I like how it feels, I like the upgrades that it offers, and I it works well with the rest of my Apple products at home. It just doesn't feel like I'm getting the value for my money that I did when first bought my iPhone 3GS.

Tragedy of the Commons

Tuesday, November 01, 2011
I first heard the phrase "Tragedy of the Commons" in an XKCD comic a few weeks ago. It sounded familiar, but I couldn't explain what it mean. Wikipedia came to my rescue, however, and was able to put in official words what I'd understood but not had a name for: the "dilemma arising from the situation in which multiple individuals, acting independently and rationally consulting their own self-interest, will ultimately deplete a shared limited resource, even when it is clear that it is not in anyone's long-term interest for this to happen."

I became fascinated by this, spending hours comparing this theory to the world around me.

Fast forward to this morning, when I was listening to NPR during my morning commute. There was a piece called As Population, Consumption Rise, Builder Goes Small. At the very end of the segment, I heard this:
Since buildings consume about 40 percent of the nation's energy, they're a logical target for more efficiency. But Berkeley's Kammen says living smaller isn't the ultimate solution. With 9 billion or 10 billion people, rising consumption will overwhelm any efficiency, as well as our current sources of energy. What's needed, he says, is renewable energy that's cheap and won't run out.

"And by essentially every measure," he concludes, "we are not moving fast enough."
And it struck me: the was the tragedy of the commons on a global scale. This is where the population is headed. With our global population at (or near) 7 billion, we're seeing the effects of the strain humanity has put on the Earth's ability to provide us with its natural resources: peak oil, overfishing (another example of the tragedy of the commons), and deforestation, to name a few.

The problem with human overpopulation is that there is little chance of stopping it. The more industrialized first-world nations might be coaxed into curbing populations, but there's little chance of slowing the birth rate down in the poorer countries any time soon.

Nations will be looking at a land grab of the earth's natural resources as demand exceeds supply. The countries that have the most power in the future will be a) the ones with the most varied resources, b) the ones most efficiently able to use the resources they have, or c) the ones able to find new resources and ways to use them. Let's just hope we figure out how to be more efficient before this shared resource we live on is depleted.

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