21 August 2005
While gas prices climb and
politicians wring their hands about the choice between coal and nuclear
energy, solar cell technology has been in a slow, steady advance for
decades. If the trend continues, then solar cells will soon be the cheapest
source of electric energy.
Solar cells contribute
nothing to global warming, generate no waste and no pollution, and deplete
no resources. They are made of silicon, which is refined sand.
Recently, a research team
from UC Berkeley has developed a way to make solar cells from silicon that
is not so highly refined lowering the cost another big step. Read
20 August 2005
In the novels of Dickens,
simple working folks are frequently portrayed with the common sense to do
the right thing, while the rich and powerful, the businessmen and the
barristers evade responsibility, profiting from their own bit parts in a
In one scene from Bleak
House, Mr George consults a trusted friend: how should he respond to a
lawyer’s offer to pay him handsomely for evidence in a trial, for what
cause he is willing to reveal nothing. What is the friend’s counsel?
"It is, that he cannot
have too little to do with people who are too deep for him, and cannot be
too careful of interference with matters he does not understand; that the
plain rule, is to do nothing in the dark, to be a party to nothing
underhanded or mysterious, and never to put his foot where he cannot see the
19 August 2005
dolphins gathered this week off the coast of Wales. Marine
biologists have no explanation for what brought them together.
What is the topic of their
meeting? And how do they arrange to call one another together?
(This could give a whole new meaning to the idea of podcasting.)
These could be the elected
leaders of a worldwide community, a United Cetaceans Security Council
Meeting. But I like to think they were top linguists from the
seven seas, working together to decipher the human language. They wish
to explain to us how to live cooperatively, in peace and harmony across the
world, as soon as the
translation is available.
18 August 2005
There are hundreds of
diseases whose cause has been traced to a specific gene, and hundreds more
genes that are known to affect our susceptibility to cancer, heart disease,
diabetes and dementia. These genes are copied from the single egg cell that
was the beginning of each of us, and the same genes are present in each cell
of our body. A cure for all these genetic diseases and weaknesses would be
ours if we could modify the chromosomes in every cell of our bodies.
For more than a decade, there
has been a technology to do this. Common viruses are modified for the
purpose, genetically engineered to cause no harm, but to infect our cells
and insert a new gene with which the virus has been programmed. Early tests
on humans resulted in one death, and the technology has been sent back for
further development in animals.
But soon gene therapy may be
ready again for human tests. Dr Xiao Xiao of the University of Pittsburgh
reports success in curing muscular dystrophy in mice, using a genetically
engineered virus to insert a gene into the mouse’s muscles.
17 August 2005
Ed Churchwell and a team at
the University of Wisconsin have constructed a new view of our galaxy, which
suggests a different shape from the classical spiral which is usually
described. Because we’re inside the Milky Way galaxy, and most of the
galaxy is obscured by dust, it’s a hard problem to visualize what our
galaxy would look like from the outside. The best methods at present combine
data from infrared telescopes with image-reconstructing software. Infrared
passes through the dusty regions somewhat better than visual light.
The new data suggests that
our galaxy has the shape of a "barred spiral", similar to the one
16 August 2005
The classic way for a leader
to organize others toward good ends is through the force of his personality.
But Ernesta Ballard’s was the
Women’s Way. She accomplished all that she
did by supporting others to realize their own ambitions. She
recognized and supported a generation of young leaders, worked with them
one-on-one, and paved the way for their success. She had little classical
charisma, and certainly claimed no blind followers, yet dozens of grateful
civic leaders said of her, ‘she believed in me when no one else did - even
myself.’ Through them, she built parks
institutions and advocacy
Philadelphia civic leader,
feminist and mother of the Philadelphia Flower
Show, Ernesta Ballard died
last week at 85.
15 August 2005
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome
by ordinary contentment.