What do custom-designed T-shirts and presidential campaigns have in common? Harper Reed, chief technology officer for the Obama campaign, rose to prominence because he knew the answer: They both can benefit from websites that engage users and encourage community participation—and, in the process, gather valuable data. In a profile at Mother Jones, Tim Murphy describes how such potentially powerful and jealously guarded tech strategies—Obama’s go by codenames like “Narwhal” and “Dreamcatcher”—work.
Reed got his start at Threadless, a website that sells quirky T-shirts to hipsters. But as Murphy details, the site didn’t just make shirts and expect people to buy them; it was a social forum that asked for their input every step of the way:
Surgeons created the new heart using ventricular assist devices (shown above).
What’s the News: Checking a person’s pulse is often the first thing you do to see if they’re still alive. But a new artificial heart, developed this past spring, will complicate this common diagnosis: Researchers at the Texas Heart Institute have now created a fully functioning artificial heart that uses rotors to circulate blood instead of contractions, like a natural heart.
What’s the News: The foundation of modern electronics, silicon transistors are miniature on/off switches that regulate electric current. This week, Intel demonstrated a new transistor design that’s being hailed by Intel as one of the most radical developments in transistors since the advent of integrated circuits of the 1950s. By adding tiny, vertical fins to normally flat transistors, Intel’s new Tri-Gate transistor allows for faster, smaller, and lower-voltage computer chips. “We’ve been talking about these 3-D circuits for more than 10 years, but no one has had the confidence to move them into manufacturing,” chip-manufacturing specialist Dan Hutcheson told The Wall Street Journal. Read More
What’s the News: Scientists have developed a laser that’s small and tough enough to work in the combustion engine of a vehicle yet powerful enough to ignite the fuel-air mixture that drives combustion cylinders. The researchers say that laser-ignited combustion engines could be more fuel efficient than traditional spark-plug ones: Unlike spark plugs, which transmit their sparks in milliseconds, lasers transmit energy within nanoseconds. Inventor Takunori Taira says that “timing—quick combustion—is very important. The more precise the timing, the more efficient the combustion and the better the fuel economy.”
What’s the News: Researchers have developed the fastest yet self-healing polymer: The new class of materials dubbed “metallo-supramolecular polymers” heal after only one minute under UV light even when they’re repeatedly cut. This could eventually lead to self-repairing floor varnishes, automotive paints, and other applications. University of Illinois at Urbana researchers Nancy Sottos and Jeffrey Moore say these these healable polymers “offer an alternative to the damage-and-discard cycle” that is rampant in our consumer society, and could pave the way for products “that have much greater lifespans than currently available materials.” (You can see the process below in a press video from Case-Western Reserve University.)
What’s the News: Scientists have developed a new process that condenses diesel fuel exhaust into water. If implemented on the battlefield, it would allow soldiers to produce drinkable water from burnt fuel in tanks, generators, and Humvees, freeing them from carrying quite so many heavy water-filled containers. “Theoretically, one gallon of diesel should produce one gallon of water,” project leader Melanie Debusk told MSNBC.
What’s the News: Cool new apps come out every day, but not every app comes with its own car service. Starting in San Francisco, one company lets pedestrians hail a car using their iPhone or Android phone (or any old text-messaging clunker), providing a more expensive, yet faster alternative to cabs. To make this possible, computer scientists had to find a way to make driving routes as efficient as possible, which is actually quite complicated when you’re dealing with a city-ful of car-hailing people. As Uber CEO Travis Kalanick told Wired, “It’s really fun, sexy math.”
What’s the News: Amazon has launched a fully working music locker and playback system this week. The cloud system allows users to upload digital music to the Web and play it on their computers and Android phones, giving Amazon a decided edge over its rivals. “Amazon has won the race of the big three to deliver a fully cloud-supported music option,” writes Tech Crunch’s MG Siegler.
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Next Up: Amazon may be first, but it’s not going to be the only major company with cloud music storage for long: Both Apple and Google are expected to launch their own locker systems soon.
What’s the News: This week, scientists say that they’ve passed a chemistry milestone by creating the world’s first practical photosynthesis device. The playing-card-sized photosynthetic gadget uses sunlight to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen, which can then be used to produce energy, and is reputedly 10 times more efficient than a natural leaf. Researchers say they expect it to revolutionize power storage, especially in remote areas that don’t currently have electricity. “A practical artificial leaf has been one of the Holy Grails of science for decades,” says lead researcher Daniel Nocera, who’s presenting this research at the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society this week.
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Reference: Daniel Nocera et al. 241st National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. March 27-31, 2011 Anaheim, California, USA
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Daniel Schwen
What’s the News: Yesterday, AT&T announced plans to buy T-Mobile USA for $39 billion from parent company Deutsche Telekom, making the new behemoth the hands-down largest wireless company in the United States. Though AT&T touts this merger as good for everyone, some technology writers, such as GigaOM’s Om Malik write that “it’s hard to find winners, apart from AT&T and T-Mobile shareholders.”
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Not So Fast: The company merger is still awaiting regulator approval. Some argue that the bigger AT&T will hurt smaller companies like Sprint and even larger ones like Google. “Sprint and T-Mobile often stood against AT&T and Verizon on a variety of regulatory issues, so if AT&T succeeds, Sprint will stand alone on special access and other issues,” writes Malik. With more power, it’ll be easier for AT&T to “impose its own will” on what services and apps are placed on Android smartphones. If the FCC or Justice Department agree that the acquisition will give AT&T too much power or lead to higher prices, they may veto the deal.