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Mr. Know-It-All: How Green Are Rechargeable Batteries?

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Old 11-10-2008
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Mr. Know-It-All: How Green Are Rechargeable Batteries?
Dear Mr. Know-It-All Am I doing terribly wrong by the planet if I use alkaline batteries instead of rechargeables? I mean, recharging requires power, right?
The disposable-versus-rechargeable battery debate seems ripe for a contrarian conclusion. Sure, a rechargeable can replace dozens of Duracells, but you have to keep plugging it into the power grid, which usually means burning more and more coal.
But the fact is, it takes appreciably more energy to extract metal from the earth, making alkaline batteries the clear loser. A 2007 study by Bio Intelligence Service (admittedly sponsored by French rechargeable battery maker UniRoss) asserted that wearing out a single rechargeable has 28 times less impact on global warming than using alkalines.
Rechargeables are also easier to recycle, thanks to a federal law designed to keep potentially harmful metals—nickel, cadmium, mercury—out of landfills. If your local electronics retailer won't recycle them, the national Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation will help you find someplace that will.
Disposables have their place in mission-critical gadgets used on the go. But in general, on the food pyramid of batteries, alkalines are akin to fats and sweets—enjoy sparingly.
I'm convinced that a butterfingered airport security worker damaged my laptop during a search. Can I get Uncle Sam to pay for a fix?
There's a straightforward process for getting compensation via the Transportation Security Administration's Web site. But don't expect it to happen fast. You stand the best chance of success if you fill out a claim on the spot. The second you step away from the security area without filing a complaint (which sounds like what you did), your odds of obtaining a settlement drop significantly.
Any delay will make it harder to identify the worker involved and establish whether the alleged drop did actually occur. According to Lara Uselding, a TSA spokesperson, the video from security checkpoints is retained for only 30 days. Given that it takes up to three weeks to finally get to TSA's mailroom, you really have only nine days of leeway before all evidence of official clumsiness is deleted.
The TSA couldn't give any statistics on how many after-the-fact complaints result in payouts, but Mr. Know-It-All reckons your chances are slim. The next time you suspect a security employee of battering your precious hardware, conduct an inspection before waltzing off to the gate.
Illustration: Christoph Niemann


A genetic ancestry test revealed that 29 percent of my DNA is Native American, though I look like your basic white dude. Is it OK for me to mark "Native American" on my census form? Or, for that matter, on my grad school application?
It's always thrilling to discover that your backstory might be richer than you thought. But temper your excitement with the knowledge that DNA tests have serious limitations when it comes to discerning ancestry. While it's certainly possible that you have a Pequot or Cherokee blood, today's technology can't come close to proving such kinship.
Given the way you phrased your results, it sounds like you took an autosomal test, which looks at key markers on chromosomes inherited from both your parents. It is reputedly able to indicate descent from one of four population groups: European, African, East Asian, and Native American. These tests examine a broader swath of the genome than previously available Y-DNA or mtDNA analyses, which check ancestry from either your father or your mother.
Still, even autosomal tests have their limits. "Autosomal tests only examine hundreds or thousands of locations out of the billions of bases in the genome," explains Blaine Bettinger, a biochemist and associate editor at the Journal of Genetic Genealogy. So that Native American DNA cited in your results may well be the only such material in your entire genome, which is many million times bigger than what's been analyzed. As Bettinger notes, you could still be 99 percent European.
Even more vexing is the imprecision of what "Native American markers" really mean. They tend to show up in the results not only of Native Americans but people of Middle Eastern or Mediterranean extraction. So it could just be that you have a distant Greek forebear rather than a Navajo.
You also need to realize that genetic tests have no bearing on tribal citizenship policies. You might (inaccurately) claim to be 29 percent Native American, but no major tribe will enroll you as a member based on DNA alone. You must name an ancestor.
And you probably shouldn't mark "Native American" on any official documents, since universities and other institutions may ask for proof of tribal membership. Still, you're well within your rights to use your results as a genealogical starting point for further research. It's a worthwhile pursuit: Our genetic makeups are invariably more complex than conventional racial classifications. You may grumble over being a "basic white dude," but rest assured your ancestors spanned the globe. So even if, in the end, you do not have any Sitting Bull in you, there could be a little Genghis Khan.
Need help navigating life in the 21st century? Email us at mrknowitall@wiredmag.com.


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