This, the first of our regional blogs, is authored by the technology and financial journalist Dominic Basulto. Dominic is a New York native, has been a senior editor at Corante since day one and has written for a number of online and offline media companies. Send tips or story ideas to: email@example.com.
About this weblog
Here we'll report daily on the latest tech and business developments in New York City. Impossible we concede: comprehensive coverage of the city's every story. What we hope you'll find: tips, tidbits and perspectives you won't find elsewhere. As well as unique insights, original interviews and more that should be of interest to New York's vibrant community of technologists and those who track, invest in and report on them.
Eurekalert, the news service available via the New York Academy of Sciences, posted an interesting item the other day about three New York high school students who will be attending the Nobel Prize festivities in Stockholm, Sweden during the first week of December. For winning the "Laureates of Tomorrow" Nobel Essay Contest, the three students received a week-long, all-expense paid trip to attend the Nobel Prize Award Ceremony, the world-famous Nobel Banquet and related activities in Sweden. The Bronx (Horace Mann), Brooklyn (Midwood H.S.) and Staten Island (Staten Island Technical H.S.) will be represented in Stockholm - but Manhattan and Queens will not.
The competition, launched in 2004 and open to all juniors in New York City high schools, required students to write essays examining the impact on science and society of major scientific achievements by Nobel Prize winners in physics, chemistry or physiology & medicine. The finalists had to defend their essays before a panel of scientists and journalists, among them Nobel Laureates.
New York Magazine probably doesn't want you to hit the panic button or anything, but they've included a nifty little how-to-survive-the-apocalypse guide in this week's issue. We're talking plagues of locusts and the Four Horsemen here. Check out the teaser for the article:
"Avian flu, hurricane, chemical spill, terrorist bomb, earthquake: Whatever the next apocalypse is, New York—and New Yorkers—are getting ready for it. But have we done enough? The strategies and tactics of survival."
Of course, there's the now-obligatory quotes from Dr. Irwin Redlener, who is bracing for the mother-of-all-doomsday scenarios: "Four years after 9/11, we are, as a nation, extraordinarily, inexplicably unprepared to deal with a major catastrophic event."
If you picked up a copy of the Sunday New York Daily News, you're probably more than a bit concerned about the worst-case scenario of a bird flu outbreak in New York City. According to Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, "New York is woefully ill-prepared to deal with a catastrophic bird flu epidemic." The losses would be devastating:
"If the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu becomes easily transmittable among humans, as many experts fear it will, it could kill more than 200 a day in the city and waves of sick patients would overwhelm hospitals... If the virus infects a quarter of us in the city and kills just 2% of those infected, some 40,000 New Yorkers - including 10,000 children - would die in a six- to nine-month epidemic... Although it is unclear exactly how contagious or lethal a pandemic flu virus would be, those casualty estimates are in line with the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people."
National Geographic has a fantastic cut-away look at what happens 800 feet below the surface of a typical New York City street:
"New Yorkers go about unaware of what is happening just beneath their feet: Power pulses, information flies, and steam flows. The city’s infrastructure starts just below street level, but it doesn’t stop there..."
Apparently not - subway trains rumble about 30 feet below the surface, and below that, there's sewage and water pipes.
New York's "urban heat island" effect is a byproduct of several factors, including the black, tarred rooftops made of asphalt and concrete that trap sunlight and heat, raising the temperature in the city by as much as 10 degrees. There has to be a better solution, and over at Gotham Gazette, Sam Williams examines two alternatives - the white roof and the green roof. A "white roof" is simply a roof that has been treated with a basic coating of light-colored water sealant, while a "green roof" is a roof that includes a garden (usually, plants or trees atop a layer of soil).
According to the executive director of Manhattan-based EarthPledge, “Roof tops are an enormous wasted resource" in New York. What's more, as Williams explains, there are a number of environmental benefits to green roofs - they tend to limit storm water runoff and they have the ability to filter pollutants and to remove carbon dioxide via photosynthesis.
Be sure to check out the stunning array of "green roofs" from Greening Gotham. There are examples of Japanese gardens, Miami Beach-style roof terraces and stunning views of the city.
"The Retractable Bollard is a post (diameter 12 inches) made of concrete, stainless steel, aluminum, cast iron or other durable material, that creates an above ground obstacle, limiting vehicle access to a specific location that is reserved for pedestrians most of the time. This post can be lowered when passage is authorized, by any type of access control device (RF, card, key, etc.), or at any time in case of an emergency. When in the lowered position, the top is flush with the pavement or asphalt, and completely hidden."
So, the next time you're walking around the city and one of your colleagues mentions the "post" or the "barrier" or the "obstruction" in front of a fortified building, kindly correct them: "No, silly, that's a bollard."
According to the New York Daily News, New York's East River will become the test site for a "revolutionary method of generating electricity with underwater turbines." The project is the brainchild of Virginia-based Verdant Power, which claims that the new hydroelectric system will be the first of its kind in the world. It certainly sounds interesting: "Verdant's plan calls for six submerged windmill-like turbines - each with three 8-foot-long blades - to be installed just north of the Queensborough Bridge. They'll supply juice to a Roosevelt Island supermarket and parking lot." If the 18-month tryout proves successful, one hopes that the project will be expanded on a greater scale.
A big hat tip to the scientists at NYU, who first designed the windmill-like turbines. Now let's just hope that the project makes it over the final regulatory hurdle - approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Last Thursday, the NYC Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the launch of the second annual New York City Green Building Competition. It all went down at Solar 1, a green-designed facility located under the FDR Drive. (An environmentally friendly structure located under the FDR - who knew?) According to a press release from the city, "competitors explore designs that incorporate less toxic building materials, reduced water and energy consumption, planning for transportation and vehicle alternatives, improved air quality, incorporation of the City’s land and streets to promote environmentally beneficial growth, and general preservation of natural ecosystems."
Everybody do the robot. Or something like that, anyway. It's the first annual Robot Parade in Greenwich Village. It all kicks off at 11:00 am at Washington Square Park on Sunday, September 18. According to the planners of the Robot Parade, participants must "be a robot, accompany a robot, or dress up like a robot."
In addition, "all robots must be human and robot friendly. That means no robots spitting fire, throwing knifes, or engaging in other activities harmful to humans and robots. Other than that, any device conceived with some sort of autonomous behavior in mind counts. We are an inclusive robot parade. Works in progress are welcome. And if you can't build or borrow a robot, dress up like one!"
Dorkbot-NYC is holding another second meeting in Chelsea after the Labor Day weekend to celebrate people doing strange things with electricity. What exactly does that mean? Well, there's Mark Esper, who will be offering a demo of a self-generating tornado. We hope, of course, that there are no plans in the works for a self-generating hurricane...
It's almost time for the start of the U.S. Open in Queens, so it's time to start thinking about tennis... In today's print edition (link from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) , The Wall Street Journal looks at the latest advances in materials and design in the U.S. tennis racket market:
"Head, Prince, Babolat, Wilson and Fischer are among those featuring nanotechnology, magnetic forces, aerodynamics and advanced physics principles in their new rackets, which claim to help players add power and precision to their strokes."
Apparently, most of the high-tech advances are driven as much by marketing needs as by the real need to produce more power or control in the racket. The number of tennis players has not changed much in the past five years, and sales of tennis gear are down from levels ten years ago. So what do you do when the size of the market is not increasing? Gotta promote things like "piezoelectric crystals" and "carbon nanotubes" to make people buy more rackets.
If you saw Scorsese's "The Aviator" last year, then you know that billionaire inventor Howard Hughes developed an obsessive-compulsive order when it came to germs. Surely, he never would have taken a ride on the New York City subway, which isn't exactly known for its cleanliness. Well, there's a company in Boston that has created the perfect subway "transit strap" for anyone who's ever had a bout of Howard Hughes-style obsessive-compulsiveness:
"Our premium quality products dramatically enhance a public transit experience. The patent-pending TranStrap provides a comfortable, hygienic, personal
handhold that securely grips the overhead bar yet goes on and off easily and
stows in a purse or pocket."
When we heard that the MTA was spending $212 million to install surveillance cams in the New York subway, we immediately wondered if there was some kind of geeky joke in there somewhere. 212, after all, is the area code for Manhattan.
Keep in mind that when Google decided to raise money in its IPO last year, the company's founders settled on the magic number of $2.718 billion for a reason:
Apparently, a Russian neuropsychiatrist at Columbia University has pioneered a groundbreaking insomnia remedy known as brain music therapy. And, no, it doesn't involve a bottle of Stolichnaya or a trip to a Russian banya. Barbara Hoffman in the New York Post describes how the sleep technique developed by Dr. Galina Mindlin at Columbia University works:
"Developed a decade ago in Russia, it involves recording the brain's electrical activity, or brain waves, via an EEG, during a time when you're most relaxed and transforming those same waves into synthesized musical sounds, which are recorded on a CD and played back at bedtime... The theory is that listening to your brain at rest helps your mind to relax into sleep."
"From purifying water to preparing donated blood for transfusions, Pall's filtration devices apply similar technology across a variety of seemingly unrelated industries."
It's a non-glamorous company in a non-glamorous industry - kinda like a razor blade company that keeps selling high-tech blades and razors to customers, says Kiplinger. In this case, it's filters and filtering devices.
In the New York Times, there's a look at the new plan by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission to experiment with hybrid vehicles. It took a bit of political arm-twisting by the New York City Council and Mayor Bloomberg, but the hybrid vehicles are finally here! (check out the handy graphic comparing horsepower, rear leg room and miles per gallon for different models)
According to environmentalists, hybrid vehicles such as the Toyota Prius and the Honda Accord generally have higher fuel efficiency and fewer harmful emissions than conventional cars. With that in mind, other cities - such as Boston and San Francisco - have already embraced the idea of hybrid vehicles.
Apparently, European physicists have just figured out what any New Yorker has known since Day 1: it's a heck of a lot easier to navigate a city when it's arranged according to a grid. Mindjack points to a new study recently conducted by Swedish and Danish physicists:
"Several physicists from Sweden and Denmark have compared the complexity of finding an address in Manhattan and in several Swedish cities. Not surprisingly, Manhattan, with its checkered grid plan, is easier to navigate than the older European cities. The scientists think their model could be used to allow city planners to see how street changes affect navigability."
The Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers, the flagship of the Sheraton hotel fleet, became the first hotel in Manhattan to use environmentally-friendly high temperature fuel cell technology. Apparently, PPL Corporation recently installed a high temperature 250-kilowatt Direct FuelCell power plant inside the hotel that is capable of providing 10% of the hotel's electricity and hot water. It sounds like some pretty cool technology that's environmentally-safe:
"Fuel cells generate electricity with no combustion. They are, in effect, like large, continuously operating batteries that generate electricity as long as a fuel source, such as natural gas, is supplied. Since the gas is not burned, there is no pollution commonly associated with the combustion of fossil fuels. Because hydrogen is generated directly within the fuel cell module from readily available fuels such as natural gas and wastewater treatment gas, FCE power plants are ready today and do not require the creation of a hydrogen infrastructure."
The NanoBusiness 2005 event, held last week at the New York Marriott Financial Center, attracted little or no attention from the MSM (mainstream media). In fact, a search at Google News didn't turn up any MSM links to New York nanotech news, only a short preview of the conference from a site called Monsters & Critics:
"While applications for the technology are wide open and venture capital dollars are readily available - many of the companies assembled at the NanoBusiness Conference 2005, a trade show held here wherein nanotechnologists are rubbing elbows with each other and Wall Street types - the challenges are great for the industry, which is still in its infancy."
A few tech sector publications, however, did provide coverage of the nanotech conference keynote speech from Bell Labs president Jeffrey Jaffe: Information Week, PC Magazine and Red Herring.
Newsday says that the city is studying the effect of UV light on drinking water:
"The city's Department of Environmental Protection is studying the use of ultraviolet light to disinfect most of the 1.3 billion gallons of water that residents of the five boroughs and Westchester County use each day. It will take at least four years before New Yorkers could actually drink the UV-treated water, provided DEP can get all the necessary approvals."
Ultraviolet light, of course, is also used by tanning salons to give patrons that healthy, all-over orange glow. Hmmm, this could be an interesting marketing hook for New York's indoor tanning salons: 10 tans and 10 jugs of water for the same low price.
"The state-of-the-art greenhouses were designed by Mitchell/Giurgola Architects of Manhattan, in collaboration with the Van Wingerden Greenhouse Company... Just about everything, from the roof vents that open on a sunny day and close when it rains, to evaporative cooling systems that click on when one of the rooms gets too hot, is controlled by computer.
Under these controlled conditions, scientists can now grow plants for research studying the DNA of a primitive nonflowering plant like selaginella, for example. Gardeners can now plant the seeds of Victoria amazonica, the largest water lily in the world, in a pool kept at 80 degrees."
Can lab rats be trained to detect explosives? That's the premise behind experiments being conducted at the SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn: "Roborats may someday be the terrorist's worst nightmare keen, furtive little spies that can be guided into a building through, say, an air duct and then allowed to roam freely to sniff out explosives, toxic chemicals, or other bad stuff."
The U.S. Defense Department is already interested in the experiments, and is encouraging researchers to find other "nosy little creatures for the perilous job, including rats, wasps, honeybees, and even yeast (yes, yeast)."
The physicists at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island have been accelerating gold nuclei (atoms stripped of their surrounding clouds of electrons) to 99.995% of the speed of light using a Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider and then smashing these nuclei together, head-on. The result? "A sort of tiny, short-lived black hole - very, very tiny and very, very short-lived. It lasts less than one-10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000th of a second." At the time of collision, the temperature is in excess of one trillion degrees.
This may sound like a bunch of really smart kids slamming together their toys at really high speeds and really high temperatures and seeing what happens. To others, it also sounds like a scary little experiment with black holes and anti-matter and bizarre gravitational effects: "Before Brookhaven began its gold collision experiments in 2000, it issued assurances that the experiment could not accidentally create a black hole that would destroy the earth..."