What do the Nevada Northern Railway and the failed display on my daughter's RAZR mobile phone have in common? Believe it or not, I can connect the two. I was reading a plea for donations for the NNR, a priceless mining railroad that is completely preserved - buildings, yards, steam locomotives and rolling stock. In September, its yard in East Ely, Nev., was designated a National Historic Landmark given its perfectly preserved shops, structures and equipment. Time has stood still for 100 years at the NNR (and in most of rural Nevada, for that matter).
In the solicitation, NNR executor director Mike Bassett whose name escapes me was expressing concern that as older generations die out, the NNR would have no one to maintain NNR's two operating units (with a third being restored). He decried our "throwaway" society. Enter my daughter's RAZR. After 18 months, the display has quit. She asked if Cingular, our carrier, or Motorola would fix it. I laughed, thinking no way. We'd toss the RAZR and get hosed buying a new one. My assumption was not entirely correct. A Cingular representative said I could get a new RAZR for $100 with a $50 rebates (I hate rebates). This option not viable because it re-ups me for two more years with Cingular and I'm 18 months into the existing contract.
But he also said I could try to get unit repaired at a small repair shop, Marconi Radio in Beverly, Mass. I called. The Marconi guy said if it's the ribbon cable between the display and main board, the repair would be $55. If it's the display, it would be $70. If it's both, do the math. But he was helpful and said, we could get a refurb and that's he'd take my RAZR in trade. So my options were not entirely all bad. I'm headed to Marconi. It's highly unlikely I will get the existing RAZR fixed for obvious reasons. But I won't throw it away, either.
The engineers and inventors of the post WWII period turned their attention to advancements in electronics, communication, and entertainment. Breakthrough inventions range from LEGOs and computer gaming to the integrated circuit and Ethernet -- a range of advancements that have little in common except they changed our lives.
Neil Fromer is the executive director of the Resnick Institute, a program for energy and sustainability at the California Institute of Technology, working to develop new ideas and research technologies related to providing a sustainable future. He spoke to us about the severity of the current drought in California and how solar energy can help prevent such situations in the future.
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Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.