Waves about waves

It's kind of creepy when you think about it: everywhere you go, 24 hours a day, all of us are surrounded by microwaves, electromagnetic radio frequencies that can travel long distances and penetrate windows and walls, and presumably flesh and bone as well. Every cell tower and cell phone, every satellite receiver, every radio tower, every gadget and WiFi device can send and receive these man-made signals.

Every time you power up your laptop and see a list of networks available in your area, that's telling you that you're in a microwave hot zone. Every bar on your cell phone shows you how close and how strong the signal is in your area.

To date, there hasn't been a definitive study of what that means - how much exposure is safe or how close is too close, but the prevailing science of the day generally considers it to be innocuous - with some exceptions for long-term exposure. That said, some people do use headsets for their cell phones so they're not holding the antenna against their heads and have hard-wired their homes with Ethernet cables to avoid the need for wireless hubs.

While the issue of safety is never far from the public domain, there have been a few recent stories in the media that have pushed the issue to the forefront once again.

Most recently, the World Health Organization and International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans after finding a link between cell phone use and a type of brain cancer. Some 31 countries from 14 countries made that pronouncement after reviewing hundreds of scientific papers on the subject.

Last week, the Council of Europe issued a draft resolution to urge its members to be cautious regarding cell phone safety. Specifically, they called for a ban on mobile phones, DECT phones (cordless phones), WiFi hubs and WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) systems from classrooms.

Among other things, the resolution suggests that wireless, microwave devices appear to have "more or less potentially harmful, non-thermal, biological effects on plants, insects and animals, as well as the human body when exposed to levels that are below the official threshold values."

In San Francisco, council recently backtracked on a proposed cell phone radiation disclosure bill, which would have forced mobile phone companies to provide the Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of their phones, similar to warnings on items like cigarettes and alcohol, allowing people to choose phones with lower watts per kilogram - not that safe limits have been set or anything.

Under pressure, San Francisco is backing off and will likely pass a more watered down version of the bill, but it's clear that the health and safety issue is not going away - and as California goes, so goes the rest of America.

On the bee front, a recent study in May revealed that there might be a connection between cell phones and cell towers and declining bee populations. The study consisted of 83 separate experiments, proving almost conclusively that the electromagnetic radiation confuses bees and makes it impossible for them to navigate.

What does that mean? Well, if bees disappear, then so could we. The cross-pollination they provide while chasing down nectar is critical for crops, for trees, for plants, etc. If bees disappear a substantial portion of the human race could starve to death.

What the study didn't provide was an alternative and I really don't see the spread of cell towers and phones reversing even if our very existence is at stake.


Shaw buckles under pressure

Shaw's plans to cap Internet usage and bill for overages have changed dramatically as a result of public pressure. While the CRTC and Government of Canada look for ways out of the Usage-Based Billing (UBB) mess, Shaw announced that they will double the bandwidth cap, giving customers 200 GB per month. They also announced new "unlimited" and higher speed plans that will appeal to the growing number of people cutting their cable and getting movies and television through the web.

A top-down decision on whether to allow UBB and under what terms is still pending, although it could be years before a national policy is decided.


The future of money?

Last week, Google announced partnerships with four banks for an application that's being called "Google Wallet." In a nutshell, it's an application that would allow people to pay for items with their Android phones instead of debit cards or credit cards, starting out with markets in New York and San Francisco.

The "e-money" concept isn't new, but Google's sheer size and the number of Android phones out in the wild (probably over 100 million at this point with 300,000 activations a day around the world) gives this latest attempt more mojo. Coming soon to a coffee shop near you?



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