About Worldchanging Archives

July 20, 2004

Assorted Developments (07.20.04)

If posting seems a bit spotty this week, it's because WorldChangers from at least two countries are gathering for a special event -- details to come.

Here are some interesting tidbits across the WC spectrum to tide you over until one of us gets a chance to post something more substantial.

  • In "the street finds its own uses for things" department, Near Near Future points us to WiPod, an iPod note document created by the good folks at Bay Area Free WiFi listing the numerous free WiFi spots in (you guessed it) the SF Bay Area. You say you don't live in the SF Bay Area? Make one for your own hometown!
  • Perhaps you live in Paris, and not SF (hi Nicole!). If so, then the this Parisian website may have useful information for you. Nicolas Nova, in his blog "Pasta and Vinegar," points us to the site's noise level map for the entire city (here, for example, is the 7e arrondiseement; click the map to zoom in for noise details).
  • FuelCell Energy, Inc. -- the company providing the fuel cell technology for the sewage power facility we mentioned yesterday -- will be providing a 250 kilowatt fuel cell to be part of the temporary distributed generation micro-grid at next week's Democratic National Convention. As the system uses a natural gas reformer process, it won't be carbon-free, but it will produce 59 percent less CO2 than traditional combustion generators. (Found at Chiasm in its link back to us for the sewage power article.)
  • John Reardon sent us a suggestion to check out the entirely-off-the-grid house shown at "mocoloco," the weblog of Modern Contemporary design. It's the home of WorldChanging ally Glen Hunter, and I must say, it looks pretty damn cool, especially for a house made of straw. Congratulations on the fine work, Glen!
  • Finally, today is the 35th anniversary of the first humans landing on the moon, the Apollo 11 mission. Project Apollo Archive is a massive online repository of Apollo-related information and photographs. It now includes high-resolution scans of the entire "film magazine S," taken during the very first walk on the moon (can't link directly because the site uses a very silly javascript navigation tool rather than vanilla HTML links).

  • October 18, 2004

    Welcome, Régine!

    Régine Debatty joins our roster of WorldChanging contributors. She regularly blogs at Near Near Future, one of our favorite sites, and was one of our recent guest contributors celebrating WorldChanging's birthday. We're extremely pleased to have her aboard.

    She has a remarkable eye for the indicative. The trends, toys, ideas and innovations she finds for Near Near Future range from the amusing to the provocative, but are always tantalizing harbingers of what tomorrow will look like. She's also a true European citizen: born in Belgium, educated in England, worked in Spain, now living in Turin, and planning on a move to Berlin.

    Welcome, Régine!

    October 27, 2004

    Alex Speaks At Poptech

    Question: can a talk that begins "Ladies and Gentlemen: we're screwed!" leave one feeling hopeful?

    Answer: when it's given by our own Alex Steffen, it can.

    Alex was a presenter at last week's Poptech conference, a nifty confab started by WorldChanger Andrew Zolli which brings together smart people, new ideas, and incisive discussion. Alex's talk last Friday could be called "WorldChanging 101." It brought together, in one 25 minute package, the themes and motivations driving us here at WorldChanging, along with myriad examples of why we are certain that another world is, in fact, here.

    People who were there at Poptech seemed to love the speech. Fortunately for those of us who weren't there, IT Conversations has made streaming and downloadable audio versions of Alex's speech available, in multiple formats (APX, MP3 streaming, AAC for iPods, and vanilla MP3). Download them all!

    Updated: you can see a "Graphic Facilitation" image created during Alex's talk at this link. Graphic facilitation is a kind of note-taking-by-illustration popular with some consultancies. The photo of Alex on that page, by the way, is one of my favorites.

    (yet more below...)

    Continue reading "Alex Speaks At Poptech" »

    December 1, 2004

    Welcome Dina!

    Dina Mehta is the latest new addition to the WorldChanging team, and we're very happy to bring her on board. She's based in Mumbai, India, juggling writing her weblog Conversations with Dina and running her consulting company, Explore Research, which focuses on brand, product and service strategy. Her blog posts about social software and collaboration networks caught my eye months ago, and when Alex and I started talking about asking her to join us on WorldChanging, he said "she's definitely one of us."

    Welcome to WorldChanging, Dina -- glad you're here.

    December 12, 2004

    Welcome, Hassan!

    Hassan Masum joins the roster of WorldChanging contributors today. He's a problem solver by training and temperament, with a strong grasp of technology and a strong bias towards positive, creative outcomes. Much of his work focuses on developing and understanding tools for collaborative development, and one of his best-received works is his essay (with Yi-Cheng Zhang), Manifesto for the Reputation Society, which explores the how reputation mechanisms found on websites such as Slashdot, eBay, Amazon and others may scale up to be a broader phenomenon. Like many of us here, Hassan also works with scenarios as a tool for understanding social, technological and economic change.

    We greatly look forward to seeing his insights and ideas here at WorldChanging. Welcome, Hassan!

    December 22, 2004

    We'd like to thank the Academy, and our Mothers -- We Won an Utne!

    Wow! We just found out -- WorldChanging was selected by Utne Magazine as their 2004 Independent Press Award winner for Best Online Cultural Coverage.

    Driven by a vision of progressive collaboration and reform, WorldChanging explores the democratizing potential of modern technology with sharp insight and unwavering idealism.

    Thank you, Utne. And thank you, WorldChanging readers, for inspiring all of us here to do our very best to show that another world is, indeed, here.

    December 29, 2004

    Rohit and Dina on The World

    rohit.jpgWorldChangers Rohit Gupta and Dina Mehta were featured in a radio segment on today's edition of The World, a co-production of Public Radio International and the BBC. They're talking about the role blogs have played in distributing information about the South Asia tsunami. You can listen to the segment online, from The World's website (Windows Media). It's great to hear their voices.

    I am convinced that the tsunami has been the transformative event for blogs, and I am proud that worldchanging contributors have played such a key role in making blogs a medium with real weight and value. Rohit and Dina's work at The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami website, along with the work of their colleagues, has been remarkable and inspiring. Thank you, Dina. Thank you, Rohit. You've done us all proud.

    (Thank you, Ramdhan Kotamaraja, for bringing the radio segment to our attention!)

    Update: The radio segment is also a text piece at the BBC News website. For those of you who couldn't or didn't want to listen on Windows Media format, now's your chance to read what Rohit and Dina (and others) had to say. You don't get to hear their voices, but it is more readily quoted for posterity.

    January 6, 2005

    London Calling to the Faraway Towns

    Jamais at the Tate Feb 2004Much to my delight, once again, I will be heading to London (and, this time, I'll add a brief visit to Paris at the end of it) the last week of January. London is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I haven't been to Paris in almost a decade. This won't be a work trip, per se, and I'll be visiting friends -- but I'll still be carrying out my WorldChanging duties!

    So I ask: what WorldChanging exhibits or places or people should I try to check out while I'm there?

    I know I'll be hitting the London Design Museum to check out Under a Tenner -- WorldChanger Cameron Sinclair was one of the designers asked to contribute to the exhibit. But what else should I see in London? And on the continent, I'll be staying at WorldChanger Nicole Boyer's flat -- and I'm sure the resulting endless conversations about scenarios, innovation and changing the world will tax the patience of our long-suffering partners. Anyone else I should make a point of looking up for the short visit to Paris?

    Leave a comment, or drop me some email...

    January 18, 2005

    Pardon Our Dust...

    WorldChanging is doing a behind-the-scenes move over the next few hours. If all goes well, it should be imperceptible to you, the reader. One of the side-effects of what we're doing, however, is that any comments made over the next couple of hours could be lost. Please don't make any comments to WC posts until we're up and running in our new location. If you're just burning to let us know what you think about something we've posted, send us email.

    Thank you for your patience.


    January 21, 2005

    A Big Thank You...

    As mentioned over the past couple of days, WorldChanging moved its server and hosting due to greatly increased traffic. The move seems to have been completed successfully. For all of that, a few thanks are in order:

    First, a thank you to Laughing Squid for being WorldChanging's server host from day one. Reliable service, good support, and a great attitude towards people trying to make a difference in the world. We can highly recommend them, especially for artists and non-profits wanting low-cost, high-quality service. We were sorry to move, but our increased traffic meant that we outstripped even their largest-scale package.

    Second, a thank you to Polycot, WorldChanging's new server host. Also providing terrific service, they have the added benefit of having a WorldChanging contributor as CEO. They'll be able to handle our bandwidth and server needs as we continue to grow. We expect a long, happy relationship with them.

    And finally, a special big thank you to Polycot's Technical Director, Jeff Kramer. He spent hours with me making certain that every little detail of the server move was handled correctly and promptly. The transition resulted in no downtime, and was seamless for our readers -- all thanks to Jeff's able administration. Thank you, Jeff -- you rock.

    Finally, thank you for understanding if we've posted less frequently this last week, been slower to answer emails and had a distant, preoccupied look in our eyes... as you can see, it really was us, not you.

    January 29, 2005

    Postcard from London

    postcardLHR.jpgMy trip to London is done, and I am now sitting comfortably on WorldChanging contributor Nicole Boyer's couch in Paris. Now that I have steady connection for the evening, I thought I'd pass along some of my observations.

    The picture illustrating this post was taken from outside the Design Museum, which houses (among other exhibits) Cameron Sinclair's entry in the "Under a Tenner" show (the extended entry has a few shots of Cameron's selections). Visible in the background of this photo is the Swiss Re tower (aka "the Gherkin"), notable for a number of reasons, including the fact that it uses 50% less energy than a conventional office building of comparable size. Swiss Re has been at the forefront of pushing businesses to take climate change more seriously, and is trying to live up to its own sustainability demands.

    Climate change and sustainability became the recurring themes of the visit. In London, it's hard to avoid these issues. The Carbon Trust has billboards everywhere saying "How Will Climate Change Your Business?" The head of the Royal Society scientific academy had a lengthy article in the Guardian this week tearing into US oil company-backed carbon lobbyists trying to push their agendas into UK policy discussions. The Conservative party positions on climate change are as radical as the US Democratic party could hope for (and the positions taken by Labour and the Lib Dems (PDF) would leave the American punditocracy sputtering). I spoke to three different design and academic groups during my visit, and the question of "how do we make the community/business more environmentally sustainable?" came up again and again.

    What makes this all particularly impressive is that London already displays many of the characteristics of a green city. It's quite dense, with a public transit system -- the Underground -- which is the envy of most of the world (although I'm told with great assurance that the Paris Metro is much better). The center of the city uses congestion charges to moderate traffic, and most cars are already much more fuel-efficient than the American average (we saw dozens of Smart cars, of numerous style variations, in the blocks around the place we were staying). You can even get home wind turbines that attach to the side of the house just like a satellite dish.

    Add in the vibrant art scene, the booming economy, the casually multicultural mix (a British accent is a distinct minority on the streets, it seems), the rapid embrace of wireless technologies, and the widespread recognition that the city must continue to evolve... and it's clear that London in the 21st century is a truly worldchanging city. It draws me back like a magnet, and gives me hope for the planet's future.

    Continue reading "Postcard from London" »

    February 2, 2005

    Shameless Self-Promotion

    ivoted.jpgVoting for the Bloggies closes tomorrow, February 3rd, at 10pm EST (that's 0300 GMT Feb 4, for you world travelers out there). As noted earlier, not only is WorldChanging nominated for "Best non-weblog content of a weblog site" (a frankly mysterious classification, as precisely what the admirable "non-weblog content" consists of is not specified), sites run by WorldChanging contributors Dina Mehta, Rohit Gupta, Taran Rampersad and Régine Debatty are also up for awards. Bloggies winners will be announced at this year's South by SouthWest, and several of us will be on hand to participate in the festivities.

    The old phrase "vote early, vote often" only half-applies now: your chance to vote early is gone, so make this last day count.

    March 12, 2005

    Suggestions From The Readers

    We frequently get good suggestions from our readers telling us of interesting stories, links, and ideas that we should be covering. This last week has been particularly bountiful, but it happens to coincide with a bunch of WorldChanging contributors winging their way to Austin for South by SouthWest. Rather than let the suggestions grow stale, I thought I'd put a bunch of them together in one post to give a taste of what WorldChanging readers are thinking about these days.

    Curitiba, Brazil
    Mobile Organic Food Market
    India as Science Hub
    Green Roof 101
    Status of Women Around the World

    Continue reading "Suggestions From The Readers" »

    August 9, 2005

    WorldChanging Catch-Up

    wcmix08.jpgArticles across the web that update topics we've posted about here at WorldChanging abound this week. Here's what they look like:

  • One of our best interviews has to be Emily's conversation with Natalie Jeremijenko back in October of 2004, discussing her efforts to shake up activism and American culture at large. Make magazine recently profiled Jeremijenko, and the interview portion of that article is now available as a podcast. You can get the podcast through iTunes (the instructions are here), or you can download the MP3 directly.

  • Plumpy'nut is a vitamin-enriched mash that's designed specifically to help malnourished children return to health. It can be made with local ingredients, side-steps problems of using dirty water in powdered milk, and can be provided by mothers without direct medical supervision. In short, as we noted in April, it's "A simple idea, well-executed, with significantly positive results and opportunities for local empowerment," and could lead to a transformation of how undernourishment is handled by aid and relief groups. The New York Times updates the Plumpy'nut story, with some good examples of the nourishing goo making a real difference.

  • Finally, in June we covered some tools for helping homeowners to buy or refit an energy-efficient home, including the Energy Efficient Mortgage offered in the US. Allies Cascadia Scorecard looks again at the Energy-Efficient Mortgages, and notes that Fannie Mae -- FNMA, the US mortgage guarantee agency -- is piloting a "Smart Commute Initiative" and a Location-Efficient Mortgage reflecting the savings offered by living in a transit-friendly community.

    I wonder how much working at home counts as a "smart commute"...

  • August 19, 2005

    The WorldChanging Survey

    WorldChanging would like to learn more about you: where you're from, what you'd like to see on WorldChanging, and what you'd like us to do better. We've put together a brief online survey, and would love to get your responses.

    No personal or personally-identifiable information will be gathered.

    The survey will run through the end of August.

    August 21, 2005

    Reminder: WorldChanging Survey

    Just a reminder for folks who don't come through here every day and sometimes miss items that get pushed down the page:

    We've put together a brief online survey, and would love to get your responses. We'd like to learn more about our readers and where you'd like to see WorldChanging head.

    And for those of you who have already taken the survey -- thank you!

    August 26, 2005

    WorldChanging Retrospective

    Just a reminder: all this week, the WorldChanging team is on retreat, talking about what we want our own organizational future to look like. Rather than let the site "go dark" during this week -- and to let our many new readers know that there is some interesting material in our now much-more-accessible archives -- we're running "WorldChanging Retrospective" entries with links to some of the more provocative, popular and/or illustrative of the site's themes posts from the last two years.

    In addition, another reminder: if you haven't taken the WorldChanging Survey, please do. We'll be closing the survey at the end of the month, and your answers will help us shape WorldChanging in the weeks and months to come.

    August 29, 2005

    We're Back

    As you may already have surmised, the WorldChanging contributor retreat and board meeting is over, and we're spinning back up to normal posting activity. The meeting went very well, and you'll see some of the results of the discussions and brainstorming in the days and weeks to come. Although I can't spill the beans quite yet, I can say this: the next few months will be an exciting and very busy time at WorldChanging.

    One more thing -- many of you have written to let us know what you think about the new site design, and while the responses are, on the whole, quite supportive, some of you have given us very useful feedback about usability. I just wanted to let you know that we're listening, and will be huddling together (virtually speaking) over the next week or so to see what we can and should do to make the new design all the better.

    August 30, 2005

    Alex in Grist

    alex_artsy.jpgIn April, Grist's Dave Roberts had a lengthy conversation with Alex Steffen about WorldChanging, the environment and what it will take to create the Bright Green Future. Dave had hoped to run it alongside a "rather ambitious long-form piece," but events transpired to make that not possible (a situation with which we are intimately familiar). As a result, Grist finally decided to publish the interview on its own, split into three parts.

    Part 1 of the interview focuses on technology and innovation, with an extended look at the importance of open-source and optimism:

    [Alex]: To be anti-technology in this day and age is to be anti-environmental. No positive future exists without vastly improved technology.

    The criticism you always hear is that we're relying on a "techno-fix," an artificial solution. But techno-fixes are what have improved all our lives the most. The fact that you and I beat the probabilities and didn't die of a childhood disease is directly attributable to technology; the fact that we don't starve once every few years is directly attributable to technology; the fact that we know enough about what we're doing to the planet to be worried about things like climate change is directly attributable to technology. Since we wobbled out of the trees and grabbed the first burning branch we've been using technology. Inventing better tools is part of being human.

    For long-time readers, Dave's conversation with Alex will cover much familiar ground. Newer readers will find much to think about, as over the course of the discussion, Alex spells out many of WorldChanging's underlying principles in clear, compelling language.

    We'll link to Part 2 and Part 3 as they show up.

    September 23, 2005

    Congratulations, Cameron!!!

    cameronwon.jpgThis is absolutely wonderful news: Architecture for Humanity, founded by Kate Stohr and WorldChanging's Cameron Sinclair, has just won the world's largest prize for design -- the INDEX Design Award -- for the Siyathemba project, the football club and health outreach center in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. From the AfH press release (PDF):

    The project was born out of a partnership between the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies and Architecture for Humanity. Called Siyathemba (the IsiZulu word for hope), the facility aims to use sports as a vehicle to stem the spread of AIDS in the rural South African community where youth are three times more likely to become HIV positive than youth in other parts of the world. The pitch will also be home to the area’s first organized girls soccer league. [...]

    Set to take place every four years, the INDEX Awards were established in 2005 to acknowledge innovative designs as important factors in developing solutions that improve life for large numbers of people as well as securing a liveable future for all. The awards recognized achievements in five categories (body, home, work, play, and community); the winner of each category receives €100,000 euros. Siyathemba was awarded the prize for the "community" category.

    There were hundreds of nominees for this prize. We are enormously pleased and proud that Cameron and Architecture for Humanity was one of the winners. Congratulations, Cameron.

    December 16, 2005

    Friday Catch-Up (12/16/05)

    airshipturbine.jpgThere's a lot of worldchanging going on out there, and it's hard to cover even a fraction of it. Rather than let interesting ideas and nifty developments fall by the wayside, we'll be pulling together collections of annotated links on a semi-regular basis. Enjoy.

    Flexible Circuits
    This has been the week for flexible plastic electronics, with (at least) three different examples showing up. Gizmodo and the Inquirer note the development by TDK and the Japanese Semiconductor Energy Laboratory of a plastic microprocessor with wireless networking capability. ZDNet and Technology Review describe work by US company Sarnoff on organic polymer processors with speeds of up to 100MHz -- over 100 times faster than earlier plastic processor designs. And researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign announced this week that they'd come up with a way to make silicon electronics flexible, too, without any loss of capability.

    Current electronic systems are rigid, limiting their use in everyday materials that embody some degree of flexibility, such as clothing or furniture, as well as in applications we haven't yet tried because they haven't been possible. These developments make a "smart environment" easier. In addition, organic polymer electronics are much friendlier to the environment than traditional electronics, and developments that make them more usable are a big ecological win.

    (More catching up in the extended entry)

    Continue reading "Friday Catch-Up (12/16/05)" »

    December 23, 2005

    Friday Catch-Up (12/23/05)

    protozoancoil.jpgThis week's Friday Catch-Up looks at Bio-Based Nanotechnology, Chinese Water Supplies, and Maps.

    Bio-Based Nanotechnology
    Why create new engineering materials at the nano-scale when nature can make them for you? A couple of recent discoveries bring bioengineering and nanotechnology closer together. Researchers at the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Mass., along with colleagues at MIT, the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass, and University of Illinois, Chicago, have figured out how the fibrous coil "spring" of the protozoan Vorticella convallaria can be so strong -- possibly ten times the propulsive power of a typical car engine, if scaled up. The research came up with the structure and the chemical engine for this coil propulsion, with enough details that the next step is to replicate it in the lab.

    Meanwhile, Duke University scientists have been able to use DNA's ability to self-assemble in order to mass-produce patterned structures. This is an important step towards mass producing nano-scale DNA-based electronic or optical circuits. These DNA structures are ten times smaller than the current best traditional chip lithography technique. The next step is to apply this process to molecular electronics; if it all works, possible applications include biological computers and microscopic sensor devices.

    Continue reading "Friday Catch-Up (12/23/05)" »

    January 6, 2006

    Friday Catch-Up (01/06/06)

    Asimo.jpgThis week's catch-up takes us from green planning in Sweden to robots in Japan, with stops to check out voting machines in Wisconsin and another step in the rise of the Participatory Panopticon.

    The Green Welfare State: Sweden is one of a growing number of nations with an entire government department dedicated to sustainability. The Ministry of Sustainable Development's responsibilities include renewable energy, efficiency and environmental protection. The Ministry's mission is to build what it terms "the green welfare state."

    In the green welfare state, our country will reconcile good economic progress with social justice and protection of the environment, to our own benefit and the benefit of future generations. Being at the forefront of development, we will also be in a position to succeed in the export market and support environmentally sustainable social development in countries that are now experiencing strong growth. In this way, national progress is a source of global opportunities.

    All well and good, but how does that translate into policy? In impressive ways, actually: Sustainable Development Minister Mona Sahlin recently announced a set of ambitious goals to reduce Sweden's already low dependence on coal and oil through the development of 15 annual terawatt-hours of renewable energy by 2015, with a further plan to eliminate oil use entirely by 2020. (Via.)

    Continue reading "Friday Catch-Up (01/06/06)" »

    January 13, 2006

    Friday Catch-Up (01/13/06)

    safetyphone.jpgThis week's Catch-Up checks out viruses to make you healthy, GPS mobile phones as emergency tools, Googling the Earth, solar nanotechnology, and a breakthrough in space propulsion.

    Phage Therapy: Bacteriophages are viruses that (typically) kill bacteria; they work their magic by infecting the nucleus of a bacterial cell with their own DNA, hijacking it to make more viruses. A growing number of bioscientists are looking at bacteriophages as, essentially, self-replicating antibiotics. Mike the Mad Biologist has more details:

    Ultimately, the advantage and the disadvantage of phage therapy is that is a narrow spectrum treatment: a particular phage works against a certain species (or even a subset of a species). The disadvantage is that you have to know something about the infectious bacterium such as what species it is, and such diagnoses can take several days–time many patients do not have. On other hand, the evolution of resistance will be limited to a much smaller group of bacteria (and you can always try to isolate, or evolve in the laboratory, new phage, making the development process substantially cheaper).

    Continue reading "Friday Catch-Up (01/13/06)" »

    January 20, 2006

    Lovelock, Sterling, and Choosing to Survive

    James Lovelock's recent essay in the Independent has prompted abundant discussion across the sustainable blogosphere, including here at WorldChanging, with Alan's recent post on Mega-Engineering. It's a dark and intentionally depressing vision of widespread famine, ecological crashes and conflict -- all driven by human-caused global warming. Lovelock, who claims to be an optimist on most issues, simply cannot see a way for humankind to avoid utter ruin.

    Continue reading "Lovelock, Sterling, and Choosing to Survive" »

    Friday Catch-Up (01/20/06)

    world-tracker.jpgThis week's Friday Catch-Up takes a look at keeping buildings cool, "hybrid" houses, fighting pests with a biotech solution that works with nature, and tracking mobile phones.

    Pre-Cooling that Works: Researchers have long known that cooling a building well below the desired temperature early in the day, then letting it warm up to above the desired temperature in the afternoon -- a process called "pre-cooling" -- can reduce electricity demands and actually keep a building cooler throughout the day compared to traditional thermostat control. The problem is, the "thermal mass" of small office buildings varies so widely that it's easy to get the pre-cooling wrong and actually increase power use. Now engineers at Purdue University, working with Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and funded by the California Energy Commission, have worked out a straightforward algorithm for effective and efficient pre-cooling.

    "The idea is to set the thermostat at 70 degrees Fahrenheit for the morning hours, and then you start adjusting that temperature upwards with a maximum temperature of around 78 during the afternoon hours, " Braun said. "When the thermostat settings are adjusted in an optimal fashion, the result is a 25 percent to 30 percent reduction in peak electrical demand for air conditioning.

    Continue reading "Friday Catch-Up (01/20/06)" »

    January 27, 2006

    Friday Catch-Up -- Nano Edition (01/27/06)

    TiNanotubes.jpgIt's the all-nano action edition of Friday Catch-Up! This week: titanium nanotubes and solar hydrogen; the Centers for Nanotechnology and Society and the Nanoethics group look at the social impact of nanotech; carbon nanotubes wrapped in DNA -- for a good reason; and a detailed look at the key next-generation nanotechnology, the nanofactory.

    Hail, Titania: Everybody likes to talk about carbon nanotubes (including yours truly), but the action in non-carbon nanotubes is really heating up. Penn State scientist Craig Grimes and his group have found that nanotubes made from the element titanium can significantly boost the effectiveness of solar technologies. Adding titanium nanotube structures to low-efficiency dye solar cells boosted their efficiency enough to make them potentially competitive with traditional silicon photovoltaics, and using titanium nanotubes in a "water photolysis" system made it possible to crack hydrogen from water with 13.1% efficiency -- that's more than double the best results of just a year ago. The drawback? It works best under ultraviolet light. However, according to Dr. Grimes, "If we could successfully shift its bandgap into the visible spectrum we would have a commercially practical means of generating hydrogen by solar energy. It beats fighting wars over middle-eastern oil.”

    Continue reading "Friday Catch-Up -- Nano Edition (01/27/06)" »

    February 3, 2006

    Catching Up (02/03/06)

    jiang-salmonella.jpgThis week's update checks out malaria outbreak prediction, solar ink, peeking inside a virus, nanotech capacitors, and the dangers of using search engines.

    Climate Models Predict Malaria: In an article in this week's Nature, researchers from the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasts demonstrate that a combination of climate models can be used to predict outbreaks of malaria up to five months in advance, giving ample time to bring resources to bear to reduce the impact of outbreaks.

    The study was based on an early-warning system developed by Botswana's National Malaria Control Programme. The system uses information about rainfall, health surveillance and the population's vulnerability to malaria to detect unusual changes in seasonal patterns of disease.
    By using a combination of climate models, Palmer's team eliminated uncertainties in the system's predictions. [...] Following Botswana's lead, other countries in sub-Saharan Africa are now developing early-warning systems.
    "My colleagues are developing our methods for Zimbabwe, South Africa, Swaziland and Zimbabwe," says Palmer. "Some research is being done for the more complex terrain of Kenya, though here the results are less well developed."

    One of the benefits of increased understanding and more sophisticated modeling of the climate is a better ability to predict and respond to events driven by changes to the climate. This won't be the last time we see a story about improved disease preparedness based on better climate models.

    Continue reading "Catching Up (02/03/06)" »

    February 10, 2006

    On the Horizon (02/10/06)

    Our regular Friday mix has a new name! Today we check out the flurry of reports about just what we can do to respond to global warming induced climate change. The Pew Center has a plan; so does the UK government. And Dr. Peter Flynn of the University of Alberta has come up with something that starts to look awfully close to Terraforming the Earth...

    Agenda for Climate Action: The Pew Center for Global Climate Change is a mainstream institution seeking to educate business and government leaders on climate-related issues; we've pointed to their efforts in the past, which have largely centered on laying out the case that global warming-induced climate disruption is happening. Like most of us, the Pew Center has now moved past the quite settled "is it real?" debate and is looking at how we deal with the problem.

    Their new report, Agenda for Climate Action, proposes a series of realistic steps we can take to slow the changes, mitigate global warming's impact, and handle the unavoidable longer-term changes. The full document (which is relatively brief at only around 20 pages) can be downloaded here (PDF); the executive summary hits the major points. Few of the recommendations will be foreign to even casual WorldChanging readers; what's notable is that even the more radical steps seem positively mainstream at this point.

    The highlights:

    Continue reading "On the Horizon (02/10/06)" »

    February 17, 2006

    On the Horizon (02/17/06)

    olpcsimp.jpgWhat's the best way to bring digital tools to young people in the developing world? One Laptop Per Child? One Cellphone Per Child? One Simputer Per Child? The race to bridge the digital divide is heating up.

    The $100 Laptop in Progress: The last month has seen two big developments in the One Laptop Per Child project, also known as the $100 Laptop project (see previous discussions of OLPC here and here, along with Ethan's excellent overview). The first is that the OLPC project has officially teamed up with the United Nations Development Programme to deliver the low-cost computing device to the poorer parts of the world.

    OLPC will first implement the program in seven diverse and very large countries. In each of those cases, the government will buy the machines to be given cost-free to students in well specified but large pilot projects. In the case of LDCs and poor countries, the UNDP will work closely with OLPC and other UN agencies on the ground to assist national governments to deploy the laptops to targeted public schools with a variety of internal and external funding sources.

    Continue reading "On the Horizon (02/17/06)" »

    March 3, 2006

    On the Horizon (03/03/06): Charge!

    lightningbolts.jpgIn a world of Moore's Law, fuel cell cars and iPods, the humble battery stands out as a poor performer. Modern lithium-ion batteries are certainly lighter, less toxic, and somewhat more capacious than the nickel-cadmium or lead-acid batteries of days gone by, but these are incremental improvements -- and they still rely on the kinds of electro-chemical processes used by the clay jar batteries of 2000 years ago. If we're ever going to have a world of widespread electric transportation, useful mobile devices that can run for days, and remote sensing gear able to monitor the planet for years, we need something better.

    Fortunately, that something better may soon be here. The last few months have seen a startling number of announcements in high-efficiency, high-utility power storage. Most combine well-understood designs with cutting-edge nanoscale engineering -- and all have the potential to change how we think about power. Read on for a sampling.

    Continue reading "On the Horizon (03/03/06): Charge!" »

    March 10, 2006

    On the Horizon (03/10/06): Seeing the World

    earthtopUI.jpgWe have a particular affection for maps here at WorldChanging, as they provide a view of the world that is thoroughly useful, yet is otherwise unattainable without launching into orbit. Digital maps that allow for the integration of dynamic sets of information are particularly appealing, as are those that encourage the combination of data resources. We're not alone in this appreciation of spatial displays of information, and the variety of maps out there -- either novel designs or "mash-ups" using Google Earth -- keeps growing at a pleasingly rapid pace. Here are some of those that have caught our eye over the last couple of weeks, but I want to start with some thoughts as to where the trend may go.

    The Earthtop Interface: Imagine something like Google Earth (or something very similar) as your main computer interface. You connect to email, voice over IP calls, web pages, even work tools through a geographic metaphor instead of a desktop metaphor. The links to projects for the remote office, contact information, even travel info cluster together around the office's location; email and voip links for friends appear at their current locations -- following them around, if possible, so you always know where (in general) they are. You can, of course, overlay data like weather, time of day, traffic reports and the like, giving you an immediate context for what's happening both around you and around the people you correspond with.

    Continue reading "On the Horizon (03/10/06): Seeing the World" »

    March 17, 2006

    On the Horizon (03/17/06): Talk to Me

    web-antennainstallation.jpgCommunication is at the heart of a lot of what we talk about here on WorldChanging, and the last couple of weeks have seen some particularly interesting developments in the world of how we get connected to each other.

    Pretty Good Phone Encryption: Probably the biggest news is the beta release of Zfone, the encryption software for voice over IP (VOIP) communications. Written by Phil Zimmerman, the originator of what remains the best publicly-available encryption software around, Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), Zfone sits between the VOIP software and the network, functioning as a seamless encryption envelope for your communications (as long as the person at the other end is also using Zfone). Most VOIP traffic is unencrypted, meaning that someone could listen in on your VOIP conversations with a minimal amount of network admin knowledge; there's even a program that handles the hard parts for you:

    It's not as easy to eavesdrop on VOIP as it is to intercept and read e-mail. Phone conversations aren't stored or backed up where an attacker can access them, so the conversations have to be captured as they occur.
    But a program available for free on the internet already allows intruders to do just that. Using the tool, someone with access to a local VOIP network could capture traffic, convert it to an audio file and replay the voice conversation. The program is called Voice Over Misconfigured Internet Telephones, a name clearly chosen for its catchy acronym -- VOMIT.

    Continue reading "On the Horizon (03/17/06): Talk to Me" »

    March 24, 2006

    On the Horizon (03/24/06): Nature on the Future of Computing

    2020visionNature.jpgIf Wired or Technology Review were to do a cover story on "computing in 2020," you know what you'd get: computer-generated mock-ups of what the laptop/wearable/ambient Computer of Tomorrow will look like, interviews with people working on bleeding-edge technologies, and lots of discussion of how future computers will work. When Nature does a cover story on "computing in 2020," you get something quite different: only one of the eight feature articles talks about how future computers might operate; the rest look more at the evolution of how we use computers, a much more worldchanging topic.

    Unsurprisingly, most of the articles look at the science of the particular issue, either in the underlying theory or the actual applications; Nature is the world's premiere science journal, after all. But that doesn't mean they're inaccessible for non-scientific readers by any means. You may have to slip over some jargon here and there, but the core ideas -- the interplay of computation and sensor networks, the question of how we deal with massive amounts of incoming data, the parallels between biology and information -- remain relevant across many of the subjects we discuss here. Best of all, as indicated yesterday, all of the articles in the feature section can be read for free (in both HTML and PDF format); Microsoft's 2020 Science project made this possible, so it's worth noting that none of the articles talk about what Microsoft is doing at all.

    I Sense Something...: Of all of the articles in the special section, the one that's likely to feel the most familiar is Everything, everywhere, written by WorldChanging ally Declan Butler. It's a look at the emergence of "smart dust," "motes" and the various other manifestations of wireless sensor technologies, and the role these systems will play in future scientific computation. The important message is that the growing use of abundant sensing technology will change how scientific research works:

    Continue reading "On the Horizon (03/24/06): Nature on the Future of Computing" »

    March 31, 2006

    All Good Things...

    This is my last post as a WorldChanging staffer.

    Few things in my life have made me happier, or prouder, than my work at WorldChanging. We have created something truly wonderful here -- and by "we," I mean all of us: Alex Steffen, my partner in creating the site; the team of contributors, many of whom have become lasting friends of mine; the network of weblogs and allies that stimulate and extend our discussions; and, most of all, you folks who take the time to read WorldChanging. It's not often that one gets to have a hand in the creation of a movement that could change the world. I suspect that helping build this site will remain my calling card for years to come.

    I'm not disappearing from the site entirely, mind you. My email here will still work, I'll still have a spot on the side-bar, and I will occasionally post items of interest. But we've done here what we set out to do, and it's time to see what I can do next.

    I can't say where you'll see me next, in part because some of the opportunities that have arisen are not yet ready for public discussion. I can say that I'll be doing more direct consulting on the kinds of issues I've covered here, and have a couple of book ideas I intend to pursue. I will carry with me the lessons I've learned helping to bring this site into existence: we must make choices that better ourselves, better our communities, and better the world, even though those choices are rarely easy. For me, few decisions have been harder than this one.

    It's the right time to do make this decision, however. The book is done, so Alex and the rest of the team will once again have more time to bring their diverse voices to the WorldChanging page. Sarah Rich has stepped into the role of Managing Editor with great enthusiasm. I feel quite confident that WorldChanging is about to move into an even better stage in its life, with the kind of variety of ideas and expanse of perspectives it needs to help reshape how we think about the world, its future, and our own capacities for change.

    Thank you all for making the last two-and-a-half years simply incredible. See you in The Future...

    About About Worldchanging

    This page contains an archive of all entries posted to WC Archive in the About Worldchanging category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

    Arts is the next category.

    Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

    Powered by
    Movable Type 3.34