When I start up my microwave, our computer screen — geographically located just two feet away — goes a bit haywire. I have to admit it scares me a little.
Is it a power issue, two devices working hard on the same circuit, or are electromagnetic microwaves somehow getting out and interfering with the electromagnetic fields given off by our relatively old eMac’s CRT screen? If it’s the latter, aren’t microwaves supposed to be built to shield us from those waves? And if they aren’t shielding 100 per cent of the microwaves, what impact are those waves having on me, sitting at the computer two feet away, as the screen starts to flutter and twitch?
The other day while using the computer I started to feel a bit weird, like the side of my head was heating up and I jumped out of my chair. Was it a real sensation, related to the microwaves, or was it just a coincidence — something I wouldn’t have noticed if I wasn’t in arm’s reach of a microwave when it happened?
Whatever the answer is, I think it’s best not to take any chances. I’m going to get rid of that microwave at the earliest opportunity and buy another unit that mounts over the stove at the earliest opportunity. It’s a lot farther away from the computer, and it will be shielded on four of six sides by cupboards and the back wall of the kitchen. In the meantime I’m going to give it a wide berth just to be safe.
Which brings me to cell phones. While microwave ovens and cell phones operate at similar bandwidth, my oven puts out several hundred to well over a thousand times as many watts of power. That’s why the capillaries in our brains don’t pop like so much popcorn when we make a call.
But does their lower power output make cell phones 100 per cent safe?
Last week Toronto’s top medical officer advised Canadians to limit the time children and teens spend talking on cell phones — not because there’s any definitive proof that cell phone use can lead to illnesses like brain tumors, but out of caution. Some recent studies of long-time cell phone users do suggest that they may be at greater risk to certain types of brain tumors.
The truth is that nobody knows what the long-term effect of exposure to cell phones and other wireless signals may be, and anybody who says differently is only guessing. People once said DDT, PFCs, tritium paint, and lead were safe, and it took years — millennia, in the case of lead — to prove otherwise.
Naturally the telecommunications industry took offence to Toronto’s health authority, repeating the claim that the current scientific opinion is that cell phones are safe.
Despite that opinion, German and French governments have also recently recommended that parents limit children’s cell phone use, as little is known about the effects of microwaves on developing brains.
Although nobody is being specific as to how to limit cell phone use, Toronto Public Health suggests limiting calls to five or 10 minutes and using the hands-free option whenever possible. They also suggest parents should consider whether to buy their children cell phones in the first place, and that they should encourage kids to use landlines when possible.
Another list of safety ideas on the Internet also recommends getting a blue-tooth headset, and not to wear your phone on your belt where microwave radiation will be channeled into your stomach instead of your head. The list also suggested not using your phone when reception is poor because your phone will be emitting more radiation. Leaving your phone off when you don’t need it is also a good idea.
While my wife and I do have cell phones, I’m not too worried personally — we pay by the minute instead of purchasing plans that might encourage us to talk longer and it’s a rare call that drags past the two minute mark. We also have a landline that we use for most calls, at a time when some people are getting rid of their landlines to afford their cell phones.
Once again, there’s no definitive evidence out there to suggest cell phones are dangerous, just a handful of inconclusive studies that suggest there may be a cancer link for some people that have been using their phones a long time.
On the other hand, you also need to consider that some tumors can take 10 to 20 years to develop, and cell phone use in Canada has taken about that long to take off. More than 20 million Canadians have cell phone plans these days, and more than 60 per cent of teens.
Make games, not war
At the recent E3 conference, Microsoft’s Don Mattrick threw out this astonishing number — $480 billion. That’s how much gaming hardware and software was sold worldwide last year, making it by far the biggest entertainment sector when compared to movies, television, music, radio, books, and other forms of media. By way of comparison, the Pentagon budget for 2009 is $514 billion, not including the cost of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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