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Sci Tech    H4'ed 4/17/15

The Education of an Electronics User

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Transcript of talk first given by Katie Singer at Colorado Chautauqua, Boulder, CO, April 7, 2015.

Would everyone please turn off their cell phones? Is there anyone here who can't do that or does not know how to do so?

I am truly glad to be here tonight. Thank you to Colorado Chautauqua for inviting me. And thanks to everyone for coming.

When I began writing An Electronic Silent Spring, I wanted one chapter to describe how electricity gets to a breaker box and how wireless devices work. I read physics textbooks and electricians' manuals and sent my chapter to three physicists. Each man declared me a genius.

Then I sent the chapter to an electrical engineer and two electricians who write trade manuals. Each of them declared me an idiot.

And so I really began to see how complicated this stuff is. Electrical power is necessary, invisible and barely understood. Just asking questions about it can upset people, kind of like asking about money.

A chemist read my chapter and declared it fantastic.

Then he called back the next day with second thoughts "You can't explain electricity simply," he explained, "without making grossly inaccurate statements."

I still sensed that my book would be incomplete without describing how mobile phones and Wi-Fi work. So I called Gary Olhoeft. Gary is a physicist with two degrees in electrical engineering. When I asked if he could edit my technical chapter, he'd just retired from teaching at the Colorado School of Mines. And so, this novelist who's also written about menstrual cycle health began a very unlikely tutorial.

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Katie Singer writes about nature and technology in Letters to Greta. She spoke about the Internet's footprint in 2018, at the United Nations' Forum on Science, Technology & Innovation, and, in 2019, on a panel with the climatologist Dr. (more...)

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