How long will our craven blogger make it without meat?
In last week’s episode of the Green Smackdown, I learned that despite my good intentions at home, air travel is a hurdle to my eco-victory over Little Miss Never-Leaves-Brooklyn. My darling fiancé and I are working out a long-term solution for that (for the short term, I’m paying out the wazoo for carbon offsets), but right now I’m setting my sights on behaviors that are more immediately modifiable—like eating. Now, that might sound incongruous in the context of your usual CO2-reducing tips, like “change your lightbulbs” and “unplug your computer,” but hear me out for a second, because I’m about to say something crazy.
First it was a mysterious Swedish businessman in California. Then a member of the Russian parliament. Then a rally participant in Utah. Then a businessman in Seoul. Drivers of the insanely expensive ($1.5 million) and rare (less than 400 were made) Ferrari Enzo are, evidently, an exceedingly overconfident lot. (See a gallery of wrecked Enzos here.) Now you can add to that list actor and comedian Eddie Griffin, who totaled an Enzo at a racetrack yesterday while promoting his new car-porn flick, Redline. Thankfully, the crash was captured by alert news crews that were there to tape the promotional event. The car belonged to the movie’s producer, the distraught Daniel Sadek.
So why are these horrors being inflicted again and again on these poor, pricey cars? Because they’re essentially street-legal racecars, and as such are very, very hard to drive. They are not tuned for (more or less) everyday driving the way other Ferraris and similar exotics are—they are tuned for the racetrack and require deft manipulation of the throttle and steering, as well as the driver’s undivided attention, to keep on course. You can’t just toss it around and jam the gas to the floor at every corner. If there's an upside here, it's that non-stupid Enzo owners can enjoy watching their cars become even rarer by the day. If these reports are starting to trouble you, though, there is something you can do about it.––Eric Adams
In our December 2006 issue, we featured an innovatively designed, biodiesel-powered speedboat called Earthrace that was going to attempt to set an around-the-world nautical speed record of 65 days. Skipper Pete Bethune’s intent was to raise awareness of the environmental benefits—and raw power—of biodiesel fuel. That effort came to a tragic end last week when, only nine days into the attempt, Earthrace crashed into a fishing vessel off Guatemala, killing one fisherman and seriously injuring a second (the third member of the boat's crew suffered only minor injuries). Bethune and his crew did everything they could to rescue the fishermen and treat their injuries while the boat limped back to shore, likely saving the lives of the two injured sailors they were able to recover. The mission, of course, was terminated, and the crew remains in Guatemala pending an investigation. For a riveting account of the accident, see Bethune's Captain's blog . —Eric Adams
I personally have never been in a fight, so I can't say for sure what my fighting style would look like. But I can speculate. It would probably involve me taking a single girly swing at my opponent, jamming up a knuckle, and then starting to cry. The good news is that it might not be my fault I'm such a sissy. According to Harvard neuroscientist Edward Kravitz, there may be a genetic explanation. Or at least there would be if I were a fruit fly. Male and female fruit flies use very different fighting techniques, and Kravitz has discovered that by manipulating a single gene, he can transfer these gender-specific moves into the opposite sex.
I never know whether or not these scientists and I are going to agree on what's funny about their research. I certainly wouldn't blame them if they didn't find it funny at all—I mean, it is their job and everything. But let's face it, a fruit-fly Thunderdome is pretty hilarious, especially when you think about those poor little male fruit flies head-butting each other like a bunch of girls. Luckily, Edward Kravitz was very tolerant of my slightly goofy interview
approach. I could tell even before we got to the story about
accidental head-crushing. —Jonathan
New York City's got plenty of rivers nearby, but aside from giving Trump more coastal real estate to take over, they don't really do anything. No massive waves that we could use to surf to work, anyhow. If only we lived near Bristol Channel in England, where a high-tide phenomenon called a tidal bore could be letting us river surf at nearly this very moment.
A tidal bore occurs when a large incoming tide flows in such a way as to form a wave that pushes itself along a river. They’re pretty rare, happening only when uncharacteristically high tidal waters are quickly funneled into an especially narrow estuary. One of the world's most famous, England's Severn Bore, sent its first major wave of the year up the River Severn yesterday, carting along with it surfers from around the world. The wave was dinkier than usual thanks to lousy winds, but with favorable conditions it can be quite powerful. Last year, for instance, it carried a railroad engineer from Gloucestershire for 7.6 miles, earning him the world record for longest surf—and, we assume, awesome street cred throughout Gloucestershire.—Abby Seiff
Fancy yourself an amateur UFOlogist? One of those people who knowsthe truth is out there, and that the government is covering it up? Well, now you have a lot more evidence to comb through while looking to support your theories. Yesterday, with the introduction of a new section on the Web site of its national space agency, CNES, France became the first country to open its UFO files to the public—and also probably the first to have its server crash in three hours due to popularity. The initial batch (1,600 of some 100,000 documents that make up the complete archive of sightings reported) contains photographs, sketches, police reports and maps that the agency has used over the years to attempt to explain what was frequently deemed inexplicable. Now, of course, the 28 percent of cases that make up "Class D aerospace phenomena"—the real stumpers—will be handled by a crack team of Internet surfers. So just what was the shape-shifting brown disk that an Air France crew spied from the cockpit 13 years ago, or those beings that disappeared in a puff of sulfur in front of two cow herders back in '67? Take a look and let us know.—Abby Seiff
What to do when you need to defrost over 1,089 pounds of colossal squid? Haul out an industrial microwave oven, that’s what. The 33-foot sub-adult colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni) in question was netted in Antarctic waters by New Zealand fishermen in February. After the fishing boat’s crew spent two hours reeling it in, the squid was immediately frozen for preservation onboard the ship. Now, after a two-hour flight back to New Zealand, scientists wish to study the creature in detail (and eventually, embalm it in preservative), but they fear that in the time it would take to defrost the entire squid at room temperature—days—the outer skin of the animal would begin to rot while the internal organs remained frozen. One possible solution is a sort of microwave oven used by the timber industry to improve wood permeability to preservative. Whatever they use, it’d better be big. A calamari ring from the kraken would be the size of a tractor tire. Alas, it would also taste strongly of ammonia, a prevalent chemical in giant-squid flesh that helps maintain neutral buoyancy underwater. Yum. —Martha Harbison
Dear Mega Carbon Emitter... I mean, Megan: I love a challenge, especially one that’s impossible to lose. See, here’s the thing—it’s not that I’m more environmentally savvy than you (hemp? ew!); it’s just that I never leave New York City. I rarely travel. I’m practically a hermit. And hermits have tiny, tiny carbon footprints. Like baby shoes. To prove it, I logged on to Al Gore’s Web site (www.climatecrisis.net) and calculated my carbon impact. I spent two minutes answering simple questions about the type of car I own (a 1996 GTI with 82,000 miles on it), how often I fly (about four times a year), how much I spend monthly on utilities ($65, max.) and how many people live in my little apartment (uno). The results: I emit 5.1 tons of carbon dioxide a year. (Presumably this calculation does not take into account the amount I produce by breathing, which brings up an interesting trivia question: How much carbon could we keep out of the atmosphere if humanity held its collective breath for 20 seconds?) Anyway, the average person, according to Al Gore and friends, emits 7.5 tons of carbon each year—a conservative estimate compared with Environmental Defense’s calculator (www.fightglobalwarming.com), which says I emit 9.3 tons. Either way, though, I’m better for the planet than you.
Granted, I’m a loser: I seldom leave home, I’m single, and I read in the dark. I ride public transportation, and I rarely shop online (think of all those carbon-emitting FedEx planes!). But these things are beside the point. When cities flood and deserts dry up and plagues spread like kudzu—all the fun promised by global warming—I will feel better knowing that it’s your fault and not mine.
Which isn’t to say I have no plans for making my already petite carbon footprint even more petite. Since you’re buying your way to a cleaner, greener conscience, I’ll definitely need to take action to maintain my competitive edge. This weekend’s project is to replace my incandescent lightbulbs with energy-saving compact fluorescents and hope they’re compatible with the awesome dimmer switches that I recently installed in my kitchen and bedroom (CF bulbs typically have narrow dimming ranges). It would be a huge bummer to sacrifice mood lighting for the sake of this competition and the environment, but I’ll do it if push comes to shove. And if things get really nasty, I’ll even consider running my compact GE dishwasher less and switching to one of those dreadful eco-toilet-paper brands and pray I don’t get a rash. So those are my modest but doable carbon-saving plans for the weekend. What about you, Megan? Oh, wait, you’re flying to New Mexico... —Nicole Dyer
PopSci senior editor Nicole Dyer and I, PopSci.com's editor, have undertaken a friendly competition to see who leads the greener lifestyle. Basically, she thinks she’s more “environmentally savvy” than I am, and I’m not tryin’ to hear that. I contend that I am the greener girl, although maybe I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit lately. I do know a lot about how to reduce my impact on the Earth—I was an environmental educator after college, for chrissake. I worked on an organic farm. I interned at the USDA Sustainable Agriculture office. I read Silent Spring and that Rudolf Steiner book on biodynamics. But Nicole is right: I don’t live 100 percent according to the green gospel these days.
Perhaps you read the post I wrote a few months back, in which I claimed to have achieved perfect carbon neutrality and declared that it is, in fact, easy being green. Well, since then, I’ve been on an air-travel blitz, and all those frequent-flyer miles have made my carbon-neutral days but a distant dream. No matter how many gallons of fossil fuel I conserve by buying local produce, and trees I save by using recycled toilet paper, I’m still guilty of traipsing across the U.S. on a monthly basis to visit my long-distance boyfriend, as well as regularly flying to business conferences and meetings. Guilty, guilty, guilty.
But the idea of the green challenge I’ve undertaken with Nicole is not just to one-up each other (OK, that is a big part of it) but also to mutually and permanently improve our behavior by becoming aware of the activities we engage in that cause environmental damage. Because, you know, knowing is half the battle. So today I calculated my "carbon quotient," the amount of carbon dioxide I'm personally responsible for emitting into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, the numbers were staggering. I used three different online calculators because each asked slightly different questions, and I got similarly lousy results from all of them. Apparently, my jetsetting lifestyle equals about 17 tons of carbon per year, or approximately 2,800 pounds of carbon a month. According to climatecrisis.net, 1,000 to 2,000 pounds per month is normal. More damning still, notes fightglobalwarming.com, I could “release about the same amount of carbon pollution by cutting and burning all the trees in a section of the Amazon rainforest the size of 2.7 football fields.”
Alrighty, then. The first thing I’m going to do is buy some carbon offsets to mitigate the air-travel damage (that’s $276 for the year from nativeenergy.com; the “carbon credits” support a wind farm and a methane-sequestration project and help to support Alaskan and Native American communities). In my next post, I’ll take a look at another area of my life (food!) and see what else I can do to make a difference. So, Nicole... what have you got? —Megan Miller
This week, several interesting reports on global warming came to light. First, scientists at the Carnegie Institution released the first large-scale study of what the economic impact of global warming has been over the past 20 years. They measured annual yields of the six largest crops worldwide—those that account for 55 percent of non-meat calories consumed by humans and 70 percent of total animal feed—and found, unsurprisingly, that increasingly warmer temperatures led to lower crop yields. What is surprising is that the production numbers amounted to a net economic loss of $5 billion a year.
Yet in some ways, these reports couldn’t come at a better time. Though we’re more aware of the effects of our actions than ever before, Americans are still convinced that the results of global warming are far from imminent (according to a Gallup poll from last month: “A majority worries about climate changes, but thinks problems are a decade or more away”). Meanwhile, those who deny that there is any such problem, who insist that what the Earth is currently undergoing is part of a natural cycle, still have a prominent presence in the U.S. Studies like these go far in reminding us that global warming has tangible effects, that this is very much an issue of the present, and that our actions have consequences.
Still skeptical? Check back soon for our newest feature, “The Green Smackdown,” in which two PopSci editors go head to head to see who can live the greener lifestyle. Between catfights, they’ll teach you things you can do to lessen your overall carbon footprint. And we promise, it won’t hurt. —Abby Seiff
I finished out my stay in Austin yesterday with a slightly different rendition of what was, in many ways, the overriding SXSW Interactive theme: an idea crazy enough that it just might work. This time we were talking not about music-making dot-matrix printers or the next mind-blowing Web app but about a feature-length documentary on. . . a typeface.
Helvetica, which had its world premiere at the conference, presents the life story of something all of us encounter on a daily (or even hourly) basis. Created in 1957 by the Swiss modernist designer Max Miedinger as a response to the cluttered typography and design of the postwar era, Helvetica's clean neutrality and balanced use of the empty space surrounding letters quickly made it a go-to font for public signage, advertising, corporate logos and works of modernist design around the world. When it was licensed as a default font on every new Macintosh (itself a tool that revolutionized the design field), its position as the world's most ubiquitous typeface was solidified. In fact, saving any custom browser tweaks, you're looking at Helvetica right now on this blog (as well as the majority of all other sans-serif text on the Web).
An interesting story, to be sure, but worthy of an entire 80-minute documentary? Really? Yes.
Filmmaker Gary Hustwitt revels in his fascination with something so commonplace that it blends almost entirely into a context-less background, becoming a detective of sorts to unveil the myriad everyday places Helvetica is hiding (“It's a disease,” Hustwitt said of his obsessive font-spotting). And he's clearly not alone. He has assembled a laundry list of heavy hitters in the graphic-design world to wax poetic on Helvetica—and we're talking extremely poetic: One describes experiencing Helvetica as “like crawling through the desert, having your mouth full of dust and dirt, and suddenly being presented with a cold, clean glass of water”; another accuses its corporate sameness of playing a role in the Vietnam War. And they're only sort of joking. The film treats all of this with earnestness but without forgetting the fun, revealing something I never assumed most graphic designers would have: great senses of humor.
Happy Pi Day! You know, that über-cool holiday when math geeks from around the world (or at least from countries where the month precedes the day) gather to recite digits, gorge on pie, and fete that elusive number in all its irrational glory.
Here are our picks for Pi Day celebration:
1. Head over to San Francisco’s Exploratorium in person or on Second Life for pi shrines and circumambulation starting at 1:59 (3.14159, get it?).
This afternoon's keynote speaker was none other than fearless newsman and recently converted HDTV acolyte Dan Rather. Forgive the length of this post, but I'm going to just put up a transcript of a segment of the discussion that I think was particularly important.
Sunday's afternoon seminar, "Toward a Spatial Reality," delved into the mysteries of geo-tagging and included several instances of semantic amazingness. (At a certain point, one panelist complimented another's idea by remarking that he was "riding on a fascinating tiger," and at another point, an apparent lunatic in the audience started screaming about how the GeoWeb was soon going to be in the hands of mastermind criminals: Wa-ha-ha-ha-ha!)
The room was filled with engineering whizzes and other people really excited about modeling a virtual 3D version of the real world and layering it on Google Earth's satellite maps in order to see every building in every city in eye-popping, textured detail. There was also much talk about the use of ComStat by police departments to track the location of cop cars. ComStat basically allows police to be held accountable when crime rates don't seem to be going down, say, in the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Baltimore, because all the officers are clustered around the Dunkin' Donuts on Howard Street. (You watch The Wire, right?) The big idea is that ComStat could be used in lots of cities for lots of problems, in a way similar to New York's use of 311, the municipal help line. But instead of dialing up on the telephone to report rats in your neighbor's trashcan, or a big pothole on Broadway, users would upload photos or stories about their issues to ComStat-like Google Earth layover software, and this would be monitored by city officials.
This sort of real-time information layover is being used right now by CBS to mashup breaking news reports with maps, so you can see exactly where in the world all the trouble is happening, and avoid those places. (Kidding, sort of.)
The seminar wrapped up with a Utopian vision of a future, maybe just a few years away, when cell phone GPS systems will not only act as map-based mobile Web browsers that give you (or allow you to submit) news and information about what's going on around you, but also act as negotiators on your behalf, pinging nearby businesses you might be interested in to get the best deals on products and services. In this future, we'll always be interacting simultaneously with the world around us, and with the reflection of the world displayed on our GPS systems and enhanced with user-submitted info. The upshot? We're getting closer and closer to entering the Matrix. —Megan Miller
Sabiston is most famous for designing Rotoshop, the software used to digitally create the distinctive rotoscoping animation used most prominently in director Richard Linklater's Waking Life and A Scanner Darkly. Also an accomplished illustrator, Sabiston saw unused potential in the Nintendo DS, with the device's dual screens and touch-sensitive, stylus-based interface naturally positioning it as a great platform for drawing.
If you remember Mario Paint for the Super Nintendo, Sabiston's project will be right up your alley. Not only can you use it to create pixel- and vector-based illustrations; it also supports flip-book style animations and a sort of vector-graphics sequencer used to make more fluid animated works. No part of the DS's unique hardware is overlooked, as users will also be able to add recorded sound effects via the built-in microphone and upload their creations to the Web via Wi-Fi, providing near-infinite storage. Sabiston used the software to create the pixel illustration seen above (printed on a large canvas after additional image processing), with the DS's top screen showing the overall workspace and the bottom providing a zoomed workspace (more images are available on his Web site).
As of now, there are no finite plans for release. The project is on Nintendo's radar, but failing a commercial release,
Sabiston mentioned the possibility of making it available to homebrew
hackers on the Web. Here's hoping this powerful DS app makes it to the stores, though; after today's demo, I can't wait to get my hands on it. See below for a video of the app in action. —John Mahoney
Schwag bags--single-handedly filling conference goers' hotel Dumpsters with reams of unnecessary papers since, well, the beginning of conference-going time. You can't go to a conference of any decent size without seeing them. Today, looking for the one actually useful piece of paper within (an hour-by-hour session schedule), I stumbled upon the schwag queen's hive. O the amount of wood pulp sacrificed to bring you these images!
Check out a few more after the jump.. --John Mahoney
Andy Budd and Jeremy Keith, of the U.K.-based superstar Web-design firm Clearleft, led a rousing and rather subversive seminar at SXSW Interactive this morning (which included the buzzword bingo game pictured at left—I didn't win) called "Bluffing Your Way through Web 2.0." The point was basically to make fun of the widespread abuse of the term "Web 2.0." What the hell does that mean, exactly?
The term connotes different things to different people, depending on whether they work in the areas of business, design or development. To business people, it means the functionality of communities: getting users to rate stuff and comment; creating cool apps that you can sell to Google for millions of dollars. To designers, it means a certain style defined by bright colors, reflective surfaces, "lickable," candy-like logos, rounded corners and modern fonts. To developers it means API mashups and AJAX.
Budd and Keith proposed abandoning the term altogether, since, though it was useful when it was introduced two years ago, it's actually becoming a hindrance to design firms like Clearleft, who now have to field requests for proposals that say things like "we want a total Web 2.0 site that operates according to all the Web 2.0 design standards." (There are standards for Web 2.0? Who knew?)
More useful is to think of Web 2.0 in terms of social media. In fact, maybe we should all just start saying "social media" instead, since the main point is to involve the community and provide a platform for user participation.
My favorite takeaway from the panel—apart from the "toxic and needs to die" statement, from Mr. Budd—came from the development angle, however: "Don't ever learn any code if you can help it," Keith suggested. "Just copy someone else's. That's Web 2.0." —Megan Miller
This weekend, team PopSci.com is temporarily relocating to warmer climes down south for the great digital mind-meld that is South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, Texas—the nerdier stepchild of the definitive SXSW music conference happening later this month. We're dusting off our conference caps to soak up anything and everything from keynote speakers including MAKE's Phillip Torrone, Dan Rather and the godfather of Spore, Will Wright, as well as sessions from just about anyone who's anyone in the Internet game. Chances are, if it's going to define the way we use technology and the Web in the next few years, it'll be talked about by someone in Austin this weekend. So obviously, we're pumped. Watch this special category page for our blog updates from the conference. —John Mahoney
Last weekend, while PopSci'sofficial natural-gas-powered Civic, was busy being photographed by Honda, some friends and I took the Acura RDX that Honda gave us as a temporary replacement on a ski trip in the Catskill Mountains. The RDX is a sleek, turbocharged SUV, and considering that the nicest car I had driven previously was probably my rusty '89 Corolla, I naturally felt like I was driving some sort of space vehicle.
Let's just say there was never a dull moment inside. Between squeals of delight when the rear-mounted night-vision camera would engage with a shift into reverse, downshifting around winding mountain passages with the semiautomatic shifter paddles, and entering new destinations into the navigation system just to hear Mrs. RDX talk to us, it's a wonder we didn't accidentally drive right off the side of of some deadly precipice.
The feature that was most fascinating to an automotive Luddite such as myself, however, was easily the least flamboyant of the bunch. It took me a while to notice it, but on the way back I finally saw the "fuel consumption display" tucked in below the digital odometer. What this little wonder does is give the driver a real-time readout of the current fuel efficiency in miles per gallon. Unsurprisingly, the RDX is no fuel-sipper (sporting a dismal 19 mpg city/23 highway rating), so it was interesting to see the gauge swing dynamically from a high end of 40 mpg during a 75mph highway cruise to a bottom end in the single digits during sudden accelerations or braking.
Emphasizing the appeal of this little gauge was an article I stumbled on today detailing the practice of "hypermiling," a driving style meant to squeeze the highest possible fuel efficiency from any given vehicle. The story profiles Wayne Gerdes, the man who originated the term along with many of hypermiling's core techniques, such as coasting in the draft of semi trucks, frequently killing the engine while rolling, and driving "brakeless." What got Gerdes started on this whole train of thought was, coincidentally enough, the very same fuel-consumption display in his wife's Acura SUV. It turns out this is a pretty standard feature these days, especially on hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, and there’s a whole community of people who boast of their high FCD-display readings on the forums of sites like greenhybrid.com.
Now the replacement space-ride is gone and I'm back to taking the bus, always wondering about its mpg rating as it struggles along its route. I can see how this could get addicting. —John Mahoney
Remember when electric cars only went 20 mph and ran out of juice after ten minutes of uphill driving? Those were the days. Steve Schneider is the CEO of a California company called ZAP that sells electric vehicles - not hybrids mind you, real honest-to-goodness electric cars - and it sounds like they might actually be useful for say, driving from one place to another. Even the tiny weird-looking ones are kind of sexy, and the prototype electric SUV he describes may be the perfect vehicle for both road-rage crazed soccer moms and tree-hugging hippies.
Hopefully this is another one of those cases where the environmentally
friendly option doubles as the smart business decision. A few days after I interviewed Steve I actually saw a striped Xebra electric in the wild, so I know he's sold at least one. Fingers crossed—Jonathan Coulton