Technology

Parched California Pours Mega-Millions Into Desalination

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 17, 2014   View Article

Besieged by drought and desperate for new sources of water, California towns are ramping up plans to convert salty ocean water into drinking water to quench their long-term thirst. The plants that carry out the high-tech “desalination” process can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, but there may be few other choices for the parched state.

Where the Pacific Ocean spills into the Agua Hedionda Lagoon in Carlsbad, Calif., construction is 25 percent complete on a $1 billion project to wring 50 million gallons of freshwater a day from the sea and pour it into a water system that serves 3.1 million people.

Desalination was a dreamy fiction during the California Water Wars of the early 20th century that inspired the classic 1974 movie “Chinatown.” In the 1980s, however, the process of forcing seawater through reverse osmosis membranes to filter out salt and other impurities became a reliable, even essential, tool in regions of the world desperate for water.

Google Earth spies unreported fish traps, study reveals

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 26, 2013   View Article

Fishing traps known as weirs that jut from coastlines may be snaring six times more fish in the Persian Gulf than what is officially reported, according to a new estimate based, in part, on satellite imagery available through Google Earth.

Scientists turned to the Internet search giant’s mapping tool as a way to cross-check catch data reported to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization by six countries in the gulf, a region of the world where marine ecosystems are understudied.

Forests disappearing since 2000? Google cloud maps global changes

Publication: NBC News   Date: November 14, 2013   View Article

In this era of big data, anyone can now see how and where the world’s forests are changing thanks to a new mapping project made possible, in part, by the computing resources of the tech giant Google.

The map compiles 100-foot-resolution satellite images of Earth’s land area taken each season, every year between 2000 and 2012, to paint a picture of where trees were lost or gained. Globally, the map shows that 888,000 square miles of forest were lost between 2000 and 2012. In the same period, 309,000 square miles were gained.

Cracked encryption? Back doors? Cellphone snooping may be easier than ever

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 31, 2013   View Article

How do you tap the cellphone of a German chancellor? While the particulars aren’t confirmed, experts think the allegations that National Security Agency spies have deployed clandestine antennas on the rooftop of the U.S. embassy in Berlin and elsewhere around the world — capable of intercepting communications from virtually any cellphone, wireless network and satellite — are not only possible but pretty likely.

Students, prompted by massacre, design emergency lock to thwart shooters

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 24, 2013   View Article

The killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in suburban Connecticut last December sent a chill across America. If the unthinkable happened there, it could happen anywhere. The concern prompted a team of high school students in Washington, D.C., to design an inexpensive and effective emergency door-locking mechanism to prevent active shooters from entering their classrooms.

Like many schools around the country, the doors at Benjamin Banneker Academic High School lack classroom-side locks, a building code regulation leftover from a time when fire was the biggest threat to student safety. Unlockable doors mean students can escape a burning classroom quickly. Yet in today’s world, students also worry about intruders coming into their classrooms and firing bullets.

Deep-sea Internet to detect tsunamis, spy on smugglers, and discover oil

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 15, 2013   View Article

The Internet may soon reach into the depths of the world’s oceans and relay real-time information to smartphones everywhere — about everything from drug-smuggling submarines and the location of untapped oil reserves to the approach of a deadly tsunami.

Arrays of scientific instruments already bob on ocean buoys, hitch rides on sea turtles and lay bolted to seafloors. But they communicate with each other and scientists in myriad and often inefficient ways, explained Tommaso Melodia, an electrical engineer at the University of Buffalo in New York who is leading the development of the deep-sea Internet.

Noise-cancelling window sensor helps you enjoy this silence amid cacophony

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 14, 2013   View Article

The cacophony of any city’s hammering jack hammers, beeping buses, and relentlessly yacking citizens can make anyone long for an oasis of silence. Enter the Sono, a futuristic noise-canceling gadget that sticks on the window and turns even the noisiest of rooms into a chill place to think. The pebble-shaped device, a finalist in a prestigious design competition, serves as a reminder of the power of quiet.

“From time to time, I just want to escape the noisy world for a while to reset my mind,” Rudolf Stefanich, an industrial designer who created the Sono device while a graduate student at the University of Vienna in Austria, told NBC News in an email. The gadget was selected as a top-20 finalist for the annual James Dyson Award. The famous designer will hand pick and announce a winner on Nov. 7.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach