Donate

Technology

From KQED

White House Honors Two Techies for Making Programming Cool

Bay Area residents Carlos Bueno and Kimberly Bryant are helping to prepare kids to use programming concepts in daily life and work.

Tech Titans Join Forces on Internet Surveillance

More than 60 technology firms and other groups are urging the federal government to let companies disclose Patriot Act data requests.

China's Alibaba Plans Record-Breaking IPO in America

China's e-commerce giant Alibaba, which started in an apartment with a pooled collection of $60,000, is expected to make its Wall Street debut raising $24 billion -- even more than when Google and Facebook went public. The company already surpasses eBay in China, with founder Jack Ma looking to take Alibaba's reach global. What would the IPO mean for the Chinese company and its U.S. competitors?

Bioneers Conference Celebrates 25 Years

Biomimicry, ecosystem restoration, grassroots movement building and climate change are the types of issues the Bioneers Conference addresses each year, bringing together scientists, innovators, business leaders and activists. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the conference. We talk with co-founder and CEO Kenny Ausubel about what the organization has achieved and what projects are on the horizon.

PBS NewsHour

From marriage equality advocate to materials scientist, MacArthur Foundation names 21 new ‘geniuses’

U.S.
         cartoonist and author of "Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic," Alison Bechdel works in her studio in central Italy, Tuesday.
         Bechdel is a recipient of the 2014 MacArthur Fellows Award. Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic,” Alison Bechdel is a cartoonist and author of “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic.” Photo courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The geniuses are in. The John D and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named its 2014 Fellows Wednesday.

This year’s grantees — of what is commonly known as the “genius grant” — include a legal scholar and a labor organizer, a mathematician and a materials scientist, a public artist and two poets. They are unified not by subject matter or career track but by what the foundation refers to as their “extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits.”

Each of the 21 MacArthur Fellows will receive a $625,000 “no strings attached” stipend over the course of five years to use as they see fit.

Video courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Many of this year’s fellows are finding innovative ways to enact social change.

Laywer Johnthan Rapping created Gideon’s Promise, formerly Southern Public Defender Training Center, to combat failings in the U.S. criminal justice system. His organization provides training, development opportunities and support services for overworked public defenders across the country.

Environmental
         engineer Tami Bond researches black carbon emission to understand how energy interacts with the atmosphere and better determine
         the effects on global climate. Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Environmental engineer Tami Bond researches black carbon emission to understand the effects on our global climate. Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Lawyer and civil rights advocate Mary Bonauto has been the civil rights project director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, since 1990, tirelessly fighting for marriage equality. (See Bonauto on the NewsHour talk about the Defense of Marriage Act at the Supreme Court).

Social psychologist Jennifer Eberhart researches the ways that people stereotype along racial boundaries, focusing specifically on how that interacts with crime. She has recently begun to apply her work to law enforcement agencies to improve their ability to protect the communities they serve.

Legal scholar Sarah Deer has been a fierce advocate for legislation that works to defend Native American women from sexual and domestic violence.

Ai-jen Poo, director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, has fought for the conditions of domestic workers and headed both a worker-led movement and an international campaign in their defense.

Rick
         Lowe is the founder of Project Row Houses in Houston. Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Rick Lowe is the founder of Project Row Houses in Houston. Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

John
         Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, is a housing advocate who  created a new model
         for rebuilding after a disaster.  Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

John Henneberger, co-director of the Texas Low Income Housing Information Service, is a housing advocate who created a new model for rebuilding after a disaster. Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Other winners, like John Henneberger, Rick Lowe and Joshua Oppenheimer, worked to reestablish and heal communities in the wake of devastation. Henneberger, a housing advocate, created a new model for rebuilding after a disaster. Lowe launched public art projects, such as Houston’s Project Row Houses, to help revitalize underserved neighborhoods. Documentary filmmaker Oppenheimer, best known for his documentary “The Act of Killing” about the perpetrators of Indonesia’s mass killings, was cited for redefining “the dynamic between filmmaker and subject, film and audience.” (See Oppenheimer on the NewsHour talk about the process of making his film and the future for Indonesia).

The MacArthur Foundation also recognized many scientists and mathematicians, from Jacob Lurie, who made algebraic geometry more applicable to other areas, to Danielle Bassett, a physicist who uses interdisciplinary tools to better understand the human brain. Materials scientist Mark Hersam investigated “the physical, chemical and biological properties of nanomaterials.” His methods drew on techniques from a range of sciences, including physics, engineering and chemistry, and will have potential uses in such fields as information technology and energy.

Video courtesy of the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Steve
         Coleman is an alto saxophonist and composer who brings his vast knowledge of music around to the world to iconic works by
         the likes of John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Alto saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman brings his vast knowledge of music around to the world to works by icons like John Coltrane and Charlie Parker. Photo courtesy of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

Three literary writers were also named fellows. Playwright Samuel D. Hunter is known for empathetic works that combine starkly realistic portrayals of human struggles with humor. Hunter’s plays are often set in everyday spaces such as retirement homes, staff break rooms and cramped apartments. His most well-known work, “The Whale,” follows a writing instructor distraught by his morbid obesity. (Read Hunter on the NewsHour talk about his play “A Bright New Boise”).

Poet Terrance Hayes composes verse meditating on race, gender and family. Hayes is known for his humor and his ability to both speak personally and within a greater historical and cultural context. (Watch Hayes on the NewsHour read some of his work and talk about his relationship to the city of Pittsburg.)

Khaled Mattawa is a translator of contemporary Arabic poetry. He is responsible for publishing many of the first available English translations of some of the most highly respected poets in Jordan, Iraq and Syria. A poet himself, Mattawa does not merely translate these works into English. He does not mimic the original rhyme or meter nor does he use English poetic form, but rather he translates the spirit of the work into a new kind of poetry. Mattawa also co-founded the Arete Foundation of Arts and Culture, a center to support and promote arts in Libya. (See Mattawa on the NewsHour talk about growing up in Libya under Moammar Gadhafi’s rule).


Read the full list of 2014 MacArthur Fellows:

  • Danielle Bassett, Physicist
  • Alison Bechdel, Cartoonist and Graphic Memoirist
  • Mary L. Bonauto, Civil Rights Lawyer
  • Tami Bond, Environmental Engineer
  • Steve Coleman, Jazz Composer and Saxophonist
  • Sarah Deer, Legal Scholar and Advocate
  • Jennifer L. Eberhardt, Social Psychologist
  • Craig Gentry, Computer Scientist
  • Terrance Hayes, Poet
  • John Henneberger, Housing Advocate
  • Mark Hersam, Materials Scientist
  • Samuel D. Hunter, Playwright
  • Pamela O. Long, Historian of Science and Technology
  • Rick Lowe, Public Artist
  • Jacob Lurie, Mathematician
  • Khaled Mattawa, Translator and Poet
  • Joshua Oppenheimer, Documentary Filmmaker
  • Ai-jen Poo, Labor Organizer
  • Jonathan Rapping, Criminal Lawyer
  • Tara Zahra, Historian of Modern Europe
  • Yitang Zhang, Mathematician

The post From marriage equality advocate to materials scientist, MacArthur Foundation names 21 new ‘geniuses’ appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

A dinosaur fit for land and water: Spinosaurus unveiled

Paleontologist
         Paul Sereno, right, examines the marquee display at the National Geographic unveiling of the Spinosaurus exhibit on Friday,
         on September, 10, 2014 in Washington, DC. Credit: Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Paleontologist Paul Sereno, right, examines the marquee display at the National Geographic unveiling of the Spinosaurus exhibit on Friday on Sept. 10 in Washington, DC. Credit: Bill O’Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Newly unveiled fossils indicate a dinosaur known as Spinosaurus aegyptiacus was built to live part of the time in water, according to a report published online for the journal Science.

Measuring 50 feet, making it larger than the Tyrannosaurus rex, Spinosaurus is so named because of the long spines measuring up to seven feet that run down its back and form one large sail.

The dinosaur had an elongated neck, and its hind limbs were smaller and more solid than those of land dinosaurs like the T. rex. and indicate that the Spinosaurus used them to paddle its massive body through the waters.

“The Spinosaurus story is truly unique, it is an international story of scientists getting together and it stretches across a century,” said Professor Paul C. Sereno of the University of Chicago and one of the scientists who has been working on reconstructing the Spinosaurus and its story.

Spinosaurus fossils were first discovered in the Western Desert of Egypt by German paleontologist Ernst Stromer in 1912. The fossils, housed in a museum in Munich, were destroyed in World War II by an Allied air raid, according to National Geographic magazine’s October cover story.

“We’ve been living with more or less a shadow of this dinosaur all of my life,” Sereno said.

The fossils were unearthed by a nomad in Morocco in 1975, sold into the fossil market and wound up in Milan, Italy.

Nizar Ibrahim, a 2014 National Geographic Emerging Explorer and co-author of the Science journal report, recognized the fossils in Italy.

The entire discovery and rediscovery story of the Spinosaurus is the subject of a National Geographic/NOVA special, “Bigger Than T.rex,” which airs on PBS on Nov. 5.

Currently, a life-size model of the Spinosaurus can be seen in an exhibit at the National Geographic Museum in Washington D.C.

The post A dinosaur fit for land and water: Spinosaurus unveiled appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

For dyslexic students, are smart phones easier to read than books?

Matthew Schneps holds a Ph.D. in physics but his success came with a certain measure of challenge. In addition to being an astrophysicist, Schneps is also dyslexic, which means he joins approximately 15 percent of Americans in a struggle to read.

“When I read, I find it’s very hard for me to kind of mentally lock on to the words,” Schneps said.

One thing has helped, however — Schnep’s smart phone, which helped him bridge the distance between his mind and the written word.

But was the device just helpful to him? Or it could it be helpful to others?

In a recent report for the National Science Foundation’s “Science Nation,” NewsHour Science correspondent Miles O’Brien covered Schneps’ exploration of the smart phone as a better reading device for students.

In an initial study, Schneps monitored 100 students with dyslexia while they read on smart phones to see if it improved their comprehension of science, technology, engineering and math lessons. While it aided some students, not all were impacted.

Schneps then turned to an eye tracker to see if students read faster on a smart phone or on a tablet. Overall, the students tested read faster on a smart phone.

Because people with dyslexia tend to get distracted by many words on one page, the key, according to Schneps, is only having two or three words in a line.

While Schneps still has to uncover why some students benefit from reading on devices over paper, he is committed to finding an alternative for scholars like himself.

“For me, the name of the game is to level the playing field,” he said. “To make reading something that’s not an impediment to success.”

Miles O’Brien has more on this story for the National Science Foundation* series “Science Nation.”

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the PBS NewsHour.

The post For dyslexic students, are smart phones easier to read than books? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Scientists develop new method for detecting illegal ‘bath salts’ drugs

A doctor explains the dangerous effects of the drugs known as “bath salts”.

Scientists have developed a new method for identifying illegal “bath salts”, synthetic drugs recently banned in the United States.

Similar to amphetamines, users experience an initial euphoria followed by terrifying hallucinations, paranoia, depression. The drugs also cause violent outbursts, leading to hospitalization and in some cases suicides.

In 2012, the PBS NewsHour reported on the drug’s rise in the United States and what they do to the brain. However, they are still sold disguised as innocuous household products, like plant food, toilet bowl cleaner and stain remover.

To find the drugs, law enforcement needs laboratories to test for the drugs. The suggested technique of using mercury to test for the drugs was seen as impractical because of mercury’s toxicity.

Chemists Craig E. Banks and Oliver Sutcliffe of Manchester Metropolitan University are developing a new, portable method to detect the drugs. Using a mercury-free electrode, they tested their new method on drugs purchased on the internet. Their results are described in the journal Analytical Chemistry, published by the American Chemistry Society.

The post Scientists develop new method for detecting illegal ‘bath salts’ drugs appeared first on PBS NewsHour.