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.
By Jonathan Coulton
Posted 03.07.2007 at 5:45 pm 2 Comments
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
More than ever, consumer electronics are defined by disposability. Cameras become obsolete nearly as soon as they appear. Computers, MP3 players and cellphones are endlessly churned out and touted as necessary replacements for current models (or their non-replaceable batteries die). In the frenzy for the latest and greatest, we often forget that what we throw out does not disappear, is not magically recycled. Instead there are close to 40 million metric tons of it floating around, poisoning water supplies, contaminating soil, and exposing to health risks people in developing countries who earn a living dismantling and salvaging the electronic waste that ends up in their backyards. Could a global initiative led by some of the worst offenders solve the problem?
Yesterday marked the formal launch of StEP (Solving the E-waste Problem), a program headed by the United Nations to unite a number of manufacturers, governments, universities and NGOs from around the world to create standards that would lessen the environmental and health effects of our current approach to electronics. Besides attempting to standardize recycling practices to harvest from discarded gadgets valuable components (such as indium, a by-product of zinc mining primarily used to create transparent electrodes such as those in LCD screens and which is now more valuable than silver), the initiative focuses on making devices less likely to be thrown out in the first place. The industry members, including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, will work to design better-quality products with parts that can be more easily upgraded on an individual basis.
So will the program actually amount to anything, considering that the consumer-electronics industry lives and dies by the cycle of constant upgrades? Well, its not too promising that Microsoft has spent the past month under fire after analysts reported that the Vista operating systems strict upgrade requirements could send millions of PCs to the landfill in the coming years—10 million PCs in the U.K. alone. But it certainly might be a start, encouraging manufacturers to create better products and consumers to consider the consequences of their purchasing decisions. In the meantime, though, well settle for a Frankenpod. —Abby Seiff
Do you have a skateboard that is gathering dust in the corner of your garage? Breathe some new life into those wheels by zapping them with some volts. Specifically, attaching a battery-powered electric drill to the front of your skateboard will provide effortless nosegrinding and endless hours of fun.
Three factors will enhance your battery-powered skateboarding:
1. More Volts. Higher voltage battery-powered drills (at least 9.6V) will provide more minutes of skateboarding fun.
2. Greater Torque. Drills that can generate more torque will be able to move, ahem, heavier riders.
3. Big, Bad Rubber Wheel. The more rubber that meets the highway, the higher the performance.
Even though I'm a pretty serious nerd, I've never really gotten into the whole "automate your PC and control it from everywhere" thing. I always assumed it was far more trouble to get working than it was worth. But today, a couple blog posts opened my eyes and made me realize that remotely controlling a Mac or PC can be quite simple. As easy as sending an e-mail, to be exact. Hey, I do that all the time!
If you're an OS X user, you're in luck, for hiding within your Applications folder is a powerful program called Automator. This oft-overlooked gem is able to string together a drag-and-drop, step-by-step list of actions for your computer to take (called a "workflow") and save them as a double-clickable application for running at any time. So, for instance, you could generate a simple Automator application that simply puts your computer to sleep. When teamed with a one-line AppleScript that surprisingly resembles actual English ("tell application "whateveryounamedyourapplication" to run"), Apple's Mail application can, in the process of filtering your messages, launch the Applescript when a message meeting certain criteria is received (i.e., one sent from my address with the subject line "go to sleep"). You're not just limited to putting your machine to sleep, though—Automator comes with a bevy of actions spanning most of OS X's core applications, and you can download even more (including the "Sleep" action) from Apple's Automator site.
On the PC side, Outlook is also capable of launching a program based on attributes from incoming messages, but creating custom apps from a list of automated tasks requires getting your hands a bit dirtier than on the Mac. A helpful guide can be found here. —John Mahoney
Once upon a time, the mantra for scientific success was "Think big." Nowadays, it's all about the ongoing mission to make things really, really small. Here, a look at the latest in Lilliputian developments
By the Headlines Staff
Posted 03.05.2007 at 3:00 am 1 Comment
We here at How 2.0 headquarters are happy any time someone comes up with a new and different way to use an existing technology or piece of electronic equipment. But what we really love is when we had the idea first. Witness the Yummy Kitchen Connect—a computer you hang on the wall in your kitchen to catalog your groceries and suggest recipes, among other uses—part of a Microsoft/Industrial Designers Society of America-sponsored PC design competition.
Well pulling for the folks behind the Yummy, but the design and the basic concept sure are reminiscent of the wall laptop we built for a story (A Digital Notepad) in our February issue. Imitation, real or imagined, is the sincerest form of flattery, so were not complaining. Still, we cant help but wonder what else one could do with a wall-mounted, Internet-enabled touchscreen PC. What fun, practical or creative functions would you use it for? Doug Cantor
A father and his two teenage children drowned when this cavernous pit swallowed up several buildings in the Guatemala City barrio of San Antonio. The hole, which appeared on February 22, is approximately 100 feet wide and 200 feet deep.
Reeking water, still swirling in the bowels of the hole, offers a telltale clue to what happened: Sewage flowing from an eight-foot-wide ruptured sewer main at the bottom of the hole eroded ash and pumice layers deposited by ancient volcanic eruptions. The leaking liquid created a shaft that grew upward through the soft ash by a process called “piping.”
Eventually the shaft became so large that it could no longer support the upper layers of earth, which abruptly collapsed into the empty space. Recent rains in Guatemala City probably contributed to the collapse by weakening the surface soil and adding storm-water runoff to the percolating sewage. Ric Finch, a retired Tennessee Technical University geology professor who has done field studies in northern Central America, has not visited the site but has examined photos of the collapsed shaft. He says the shaft’s walls contain easily eroded volcanic materials, which are found throughout the valley where Guatemala City is located. The shaft may have developed very rapidly, Finch says.
Where did the eroded materials go? Mostly likely, they were washed downstream through the partly blocked sewer main, which is more than eight feet in diameter. The bodies of the two drowned teenagers were found in a nearby canyon where the sewer system discharges.
Many news accounts have referred to the collapsed shaft as a “sinkhole,” but that is not the correct term here. Sinkholes form in places where the underlying layer consists of limestone or other soluble rock, which dissolves in water rather than simply washing away like ash. Geologic maps for Guatemala City indicate that any limestone in the area of the cave-in would be located well underneath the volcanic deposits.
Limestone-associated sinkholes are common in other regions of Guatemala (and in Florida). It’s uncommon, however, for a sinkhole to be as large and deep as the Guatemala City pit. Holes in the ground sometimes open up without warning, but not in this case. Neighbors reportedly heard noises and felt tremors for weeks before the collapse.
Some 200 residents have been evacuated from the San Antonio neighborhood, and officials have cordoned off the area around the shaft. Tom Miller, a geologist at the University of Puerto Rico who has visited the hole, says that it is slowly enlarging. Officials have used a remotely controlled camera to examine the damage, and are currently attempting to re-route the sewage. “The neighborhood does not smell pleasant,” Miller says.—Dawn Stover
Posted 03.02.2007 at 12:48 pm 2 Comments
Hate to kick off the blog on a sad note, but it raises an interesting hacker challenge: A good friend of ours recently lost his father, and worse, he accidentally erased the last message his dad left him on his digital answering machine, an AT&T model 1820. Understandably, he's desperate to get it back, and he has disconnected the machine so that nothing would be recorded over it. So far, one data-recovery firm told us they couldn't help unless the machine used removable flash memory, which doesn't need power to hold information and from which information can usually be salvaged. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to use any kind of flash memory; we found this forum post suggesting it may be something more akin to RAM.
Anyone have any experience with this or any suggestions, we'd love to hear about them in the comments. —Mike Haney
The incredible innovations, like drone swarms and perpetual flight, bringing aviation into the world of tomorrow. Plus: today's greatest sci-fi writers predict the future, the science behind the summer's biggest blockbusters, a Doctor Who-themed DIY 'bot, the organs you can do without, and much more.