Posts by Lindsay Borthwick
The Digital Revolution has transformed the way we record our lives. But, ironically, some of the very first examples of the technology at the heart of that transformation—the computer chip—are today a mystery, lost to history. At least they were, until Greg James, Barry Silverman and Brian Silverman, three “digital archaeologists” came along. In their free time, they’re trying to preserve, study and document historic computers.
Their Stonehenge is the MOS6502 processor, the chip that became the heart of some of the first home computers, including the Apple I and II, Commodore PET, Atari, and the Nintendo game console. It was designed in 1975 the old-fashioned way: by hand, on a drafting board. The original schematic has been lost, and until recently our knowledge of how it was created and our understanding of how it functioned were gone with it.
An article in the July/August issue of Archaeology magazine details how James, Silverman and Silverman “excavated” 6502, built a kaleidoscopic simulation of the chip at work, which resides on their website Visual6502.org, and eventually reverse-engineered it. It even runs some of the classic videogames you used to play in your family’s rec room.
Eden Full is a 19-year-old social entrepreneur who seems to have a knack for solving big problems with simple technologies. Her patent-pending invention, the SunSaluter, maximizes the output of solar panels—a technology that’s notoriously inefficient—simply by rotating them with the sun. Better still, it’s cheap, made of recycled materials and easy to construct, making it truly sustainable. In the past couple of months, Full has won a 20 Under 20 Fellowship (worth $100,000) from the Thiel Foundation and the EcoLiving 2011 Student Leadership Award from Scotiabank. So this fall Full says she’s “stopping out” (not dropping out) of Princeton, where she’s been studying mechanical engineering, for the past two years, to pursue her dream of improving lives and the environment through technology. PopTech caught up with Full to learn more about the SunSaluter and her rise as a young inventor.
PopTech: As a young inventor, why have you chosen to work on solar energy?
Eden Full: There’s so much potential with solar. It’s expected to meet 7 percent of the world’s energy needs by 2020 and 25 percent by 2050. But I believe that if we want to reach the goal of making solar accessible to as many people as possible then the technology has to be simpler. By that I mean that the cells themselves can continue to get more efficient—you can continue to design organic solar cells, cadmium telluride-based solar cells, anything you want—but the core technology that you are actually deploying to the market needs to be a lot simpler.
How did your invention, the SunSaluter, come about?
I started off doing science fair projects as a kid, looking into different ways of optimizing solar electric energy. Through the years, I realized that to achieve this, we have to move the solar panel. There isn’t one perfect angle that you can just put a panel. I started investigating existing methods of rotating solar panels and realized that they’re really expensive and complicated. So I started developing the SunSaluter as an alternative to these.
Are you ever annoyed by your “green” conscience—that voice inside your head that nags when you forget to bring reusable bags to the grocery store or leave the tap running for too long? Artist-activist Franke James’ was, so she combined her numerous talents to produce Bothered By My Green Conscience, a book of five visual essays about her mid-life struggle to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle and confront today’s most pressing environmental issues.
With this graphic novel, James pioneered a way of communicating about a cause that’s neither impersonal nor chronically negative—two words so often associated with the way we talk about the environment.
The novel’s pages are a pastiche of colorful illustrations, photographs and script. In some ways, the visuals are just the supporting act. It’s James’ storytelling that most resonates, probably because she keeps them personal—humorously chronicling her own musings, misconceptions and moments of discovery.
Tzeporah Berman, co-director of the climate and energy program for Greenpeace International, sums up James this way: “She has a rare ability to sweep past the polarization and complexity of critical issues and shine a stark spotlight without over simplifying.”
Imagine this: Authorities in Cameroon seize a batch of bushmeat destined for a nearby market. Now they need to figure out what the dry, shriveled morsels of meat and skin are: An endangered species such as gorilla or a mere rodent? Enter DNA barcoding, a way of identifying species based on a short string of DNA that was pioneered by Canadian evolutionary biologist Paul Hebert in 2003.
The concept is surprisingly simple: Each species has a unique genetic identity that can be unmasked by sequencing part of a single gene called CO1. (CO1 is found in mitochondria and present in all living creatures, from plants to humans.) That unique DNA sequence can be used to identify a species in the same way that a supermarket scanner uses a UPC barcode to identify a product. Better still, it’s fast, cheap and accurate.