Saturday, October 13, 2007

Catchup 22

Here's a quick rundown of what I've been working on over at Wired and Earth2Tech.com. If you've got science or greentech news, let me know about it. We're always looking for new stuff.

Wired News Articles

Texas Investor Eyes Space Station as Orbiting Pharma Lab
A swaggering Texas investor with a famous name wants Big Pharma to pick up the tab for the International Space Station when NASA eases off.

New Fingerprint Tech Could Mean Never Losing Your Keys Again
Scientists in Great Britain hope you may never have to worry about losing your keys or forgetting your password again.

Video Sites Help Scientists Show Instead of Tell
Performing a biological experiment can be a bit like making your dad's famous chili. He sends you the recipe, but you just can't make it taste the same.

New Algae-Growing Technique Could Lead to Earth-Friendly Fabric, Paint
Going green is fashionable, but dyeing our clothes has remained a decidedly eco-unfriendly practice. Now, British scientists have developed a way to grow harmless algae to add color to fabric and paint.

Earth2Tech Posts

A Green Dilemma: Genetic Engineering For Biofuel Production
Back in February, BP Plc (BP) and UC Berkeley proposed a deal that could provide $500 million for research aimed at using genetic engineering to increase biofuel yields. The partnership was hailed by BP Group Chief Executive John Browne as “creat[ing] the discipline of energy biosciences.” Now, protestors on the famously liberal campus, largely from the anti-GMO camp, are stepping up their efforts. Though eight months have passed since the high-profile announcement, no agreement has been signed to actually bring the Energy Biosciences Institute into being.

Cities Are Key To Greentech Progress
While a lot of cleantech regulatory innovation clearly needs to come from the highest levels of government, local authorities are proving to be catalysts for the industry as well.

Solar In Space
The division of the U.S. government’s National Security Space Office known as “Dream Works” (no joke) has formulated a vision for a space-based solar system that would capture sunlight with satellite solar arrays and beam it down to Earth.

Ethanol Boom Fading, Monsanto CEO Predicts Corn Planting Decline
We don’t want to kick corn-based ethanol while it’s down, but in another sign that the ethanol boom is coming to an end, Monsanto (MON) CEO Hugh Grant is predicting a slight decline in corn plantings for 2008. This follows a 2007 crop season in which corn acreage leapt 19 percent to a record high.

BP: Going Back to Its Petroleum Roots
BP’s new chief executive, Tony Hayward, announced a major business restructuring this week that could result in the company’s clean energy initiatives getting pushed to the back burner. Calling it “a fundamental shift” in the way the oil giant does business, Hayward said BP’s gas power & renewables division would be folded into its two existing exploration and refining segments.

John Doerr: We Need Government to Drive Greentech
John Doerr, the high-profile Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner, closed Silicon Valley Projections 2008, a sold-out forum on responses to climate change, with a call for greater participation by the government in driving greentech forward.

MTI Micro’s CEO Talks: Getting Portable Fuel Cells To Market
We gave portable consumer fuel cell developer MTI Micro a bit of a hard time in a post this week about how long the technology was taking to get to market — it’s slated for commercialization in 2009. MTI’s CEO Peng Lim and VP of Corporate Development George Relan sat down with us this week to chat about the get-to-market process, their methanol fuel cell technology, their relationship with battery king Duracell, and how much a fuel cell refill might actually cost a consumer (less than a cup of coffee).

Urban Wind Turbine: A Rare Species Spotted
Ask a die-hard altpower fan if they’ve ever seen a functional wind turbine in the urban jungle, and chances are, the answer is no. Today we bring you some exclusive footage of this rare species. This Skystream 3.7, built by Altira-backed Southwest Wind Power, sits atop a remodeled corner house in San Francisco’s Mission District. The blades sit on a skinny 45-foot pole dropped in by crane. Here is the turbine in action on Wednesday’s windy afternoon.

Selected Wired Blog Posts

Keep Your Food, Change Your Plate: The New Science of Eating
Have a few hundred harried lunches wolfing down a burrito while answering email made you a little chubby? Brian Wansink has some advice for you, and it's not trading the burrito for a salad. Just stop emailing while you eat.

Sputnik Documentary Provides Glimpses into Cold War Fears
Sputnik Mania is a new film made to coincide with Thursday's 50th anniversary of the Soviet Union's launch of the Sputnik I satellite.

Who Takes Steroids? 30 Year-Old White Guys.
A new study on anabolic steroid usage has pinpointed Wired's demographic as the primary users of the substances.

Study: Steroids Could Significantly Increase Home Runs for Professional Players
A Tufts physicist and baseball fan will publish an article in the upcoming issue of the American Journal of Physics detailing how a small increase in muscle mass could increase the amount of home runs a professional-baseball-level player would hit by over 50 percent.

Yucatan Jungles Are Feral Maya Gardens
The jungles of the Yucatán peninsula look as wild as a forest can: dense, lush and filled with dozens of varieties of trees. It certainly doesn't look cultivated in the way that Iowa does. But research suggests that the landscape was intensely managed before the Maya civilization collapsed over a thousand years ago, and that what we see as "wild" bears the marks of thousands of years of human intervention.

Scientists Mimic Beetle's Liquid Cannon
Scientists at the University of Leeds have engineered a new spray nozzle that mimics the bombardier beetle's diminutive liquid cannon.

Cockroach Training Goes Better in the Evening
Biologists at Vanderbilt have discovered that roaches' olfactory memories are better at night.

Have You Eaten Your Genetically Modified Food Today?
Monsanto, the real and symbolic leader in genetically modified crops, is a company that environmental groups love to hate. A “Monsanto +antichrist” Google search turns up 53,000 hits. The virtual hate carries over into the real world, too. Last month, Monsanto claimed that activists damaged 65 percent of its test fields in 2006. And yet, in the last 5 years, Monsanto’s stock price is up over 700 percent, and the company’s directors keep snapping up more shares.

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Going to NASA

Where have I gone? Where is my consumer analysis? I'm afraid that there hasn't been much time. As a reporter these days, I spend my time with sweaty armpits and a pencil behind my arm. I'm a newsman and the news doesn't wait. Sad to say it, but we're probably looking at 2-3 posts a week from here on out.

Specifically, I've been down at the NASA Ames Research Center, (un)covering a pretty big story. I can't say much about it now because it's not up yet at Wired, but it's big and it's new.

But NASA itself, or at least Ames itself, was amazing. I thought I'd become jaded about astronauts and space by diapers and cost overruns, but standing near the hangar in which a shuttle once sat, in which rockets were built, you can't help but go a little weak in the knees. The scale of the dreams that once lived in those buildings. The fading optimism written in the peeling paint at the base of the hangar. These dreams are not new, and they did not yield enough to continue having them.

When I first arrived, I couldn’t find the right building. I called out to an elderly woman. "Excuse me, ma'am, is that building three?" As she walked up to my car window, I could see she had hearing aids in.

"I have a hearing problem," she said. I repeated my question. "That," she said, pointing to the building, "That used to be the old officer's club. They've turned it into some conference center."

She swiveled around and pointed at a building that said commissary in all-caps. "They're closing the commissary down too. Which is sad. It's sad for the retirees from here and there are a lot of us!"

I was late and tried not to look impatient. I'm not sure that it worked.

"You know, I'm getting my hearing back soon." She pointed to her left ear. "Well, in the left ear. They are giving me a cochlear implant. I'll be hearing like new," she said.

"That's great," I said, and rolled up my window as she ambled back to her car.

NASA's changing. It's got adapt to its new position. But it must be sad to watch the buildings you thought would ease you into death were disappearing one-by-one, being replaced by venture capital backed companies and university professors younger than your grandchildren.

In any case, I got to spend time with Noble laureate Barry Blumberg and the most famous astronaut from Oregon, Don Pettit. These men have done incredible things, i.e., invented the hepatitis B vaccine and spent 6 months in space. What they've done is so far beyond what human beings accomplish in an ordinary life, that you feel honored to stand in their presence. It's not hard to see how reporters covering the White House or military leaders can give in to the glow that surrounds these powerful figures.

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