On Earthquakes

On March 12, 2011, in General, by Neil Stevens

When a person feels an earthquake, it tends to come in one of two varieties. There’s the brief, sharp jolt that comes from being near a minor earthquake, where one receives the localized high-frequency waves, and there’s the low rumbling that comes from being further away a larger earthquake, where one receives the low-frequency waves that travel further. Earthquakes strong enough to defy these two categories, strong enough to matter and close enough to be felt fully, are rare.

Throughout my entire life, there has been only one earthquake that left me with genuine concern for my surroundings, if only for a couple of seconds. This is true despite my living my entire life in earthquake country, apparently across town from an offshoot of the mighty San Andreas itself. That earthquake was an otherwise unremarkable earthquake in 2005. About 16 miles away from me a magnitude 4.9 earthquake struck Yucapia. This earthquake lasted just long enough, and shook just hard enough, that as it went on I was concerned for serious damage if it lasted too long or got any stronger. Fortunately it was only a 4.9 and did no such thing. However when it started I was sitting right where I am right now, at my desk. Though at the time I used a plain, old 6 foot plastic table as a desk, its top warped from my old, heavy computer resting on it for years. That warping, combined with the shaking, was causing a cup I had on the desk to slide.

When you’re used to earthquakes, they don’t cause you to panic. But when they hit, any sensible person will pause and evaluate the situation. That’s what I did when this one hit. I remember sitting there, staring at my cup as it shook, and realizing that this could be a big one. I had a moment of genuine surprise before I finally grabbed my cup to keep it from falling. And then, as the shaking continued, I got seriously concerned… just in time for the shaking to stop, and life to go on.

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Tech at Night

As I began work on tonight’s late Tech at Night, reports came out of an explosion at a nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture, Japan. As Japan continues to deal with an unimaginably strong earthquake and then a devastating tsunami caused by that quake, I hope nobody takes those special circumstances and tries to argue against clean, effective power generation technology in the general case. Let them bury the dead first, clean up, and examine the causes of the problems before we then pause and make intelligent decisions.

Though as much as the earthquake causes me to woolgather about my own earthquake history, life does continue to go on here in America. And in fact, Republicans are getting so aggressive on tech policy issues. Mike Lee in particular has gotten much attention for calling for antitrust hearings against Google in the course of greater Senate committee efforts toward possible Search Neutrality laws. In fact I suspect he’d get even more if not for the Sendai earthquake.

I’m sure it’s infuriating the daylights out of the radicals that one of America’s most prominent TEA Party Senators is in favor of strong government action here, and I don’t know if I agree with it myself, but if Microsoft was vulnerable to years of government harassment despite the fact that anyone, at any time, could easily acquire high-quality competing products, so will Google be despite the existence of major search competitors.

Though if Senator Lee is making this move because of the juicy political effects, more than an actual desire to be a trustbuster, then his move gets two thumbs up from this observer. Ditto Joe Barton’s rumblings of going after Google for the children and their privacy.

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Nima Jooyandeh facts.