Innovation

Knotty Circumstance: How That Shoelace Study Went Viral

The study that would become a media sensation started innocently enough. It was about ten years ago, when a 4-year-old naively asked her father, “Why do shoelaces come untied?” and said father, who happens to be Oliver M. O’Reilly, a professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, couldn’t come up with a good explanation, even after watching myriad YouTube tutorials. “It seemed like a great mechanics problem and no one had solved it.”

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Bugged About Privacy

Our lives have been so augmented—or subsumed—by interconnected cybernetic devices that it’s sometimes difficult to appreciate what we’ve gained.

And lost.

We can now communicate cheaply and easily, and on a variety of media, with almost anyone anywhere in the world. We can find whatever fact we want, buy any item, monitor our homes, our finances, our children, our physical fitness, all with a few swipes on a screen. We can entertain ourselves for hours, albeit at the risk of eyestrain.

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Zen and the Art of Bug Repair

If you ever owned an old air-cooled Volkswagen, chances are you also owned a copy of the “Idiot’s Guide,” or at least knew about it. Its real title was How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive: A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot “with complete spelled wrong on the cover,” one joker put it, “so you know it must be good.” 

From the Fall 2017 Bugged issue of California.

Dietary Disruption: Startup Takes on Lucrative Supplement Market

The last time many people on the campus of UC Berkeley were paying attention to Will Smelko it was 2010. Then 22 years old, Smelko was the ASU president and he made news by vetoing a resolution urging the University to divest from companies supplying military-related equipment to Israel.

Should We Be Worried About Rogue AI? We Ask the Experts.

Technoscenti titans Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have gotten into a bit of a tiff lately, with Musk repeating warnings that rapidly developing artificial intelligence (AI) poses an existential threat to humanity, and Zuckerberg countering that such concerns are much ado about not much.

Cal Programs Aim to Make Diversity the New Business as Usual

Ashley Williams opened her Apple laptop and turned the screen to face two men seated in front of her at a round, silver table. Clicking through slides, the 28-year-old former journalist walked them through her vision for Rizzarr, the startup she founded more than two years ago.

A New Age of Aging: How Tech Can Ease the Trials of Getting Old

Broken hip announcements were a dark opera as I entered adulthood. Both parents. Then the parents of many of my friends and the parents of their friends’ friends as we marched toward middle age. For each of the afflicted, it was the last stumble toward the grave. For their offspring, who had tumbled through the tear gas of the Vietnam era, it was strange to witness: falling down, then pneumonia, confusion, intestinal bleeding, bladder infections, dementia, stroke, and within a year or at most two, the tomb.

A Life And Career By Design: Qualcomm Exec Paul Jacobs

At an age when most boys are learning to throw a curveball and struggling with elementary algebra, Paul Jacobs was writing code. Simple code, to be sure, but code good enough to let him play the video game Adventure with his dad on a clunky, early laptop.

It’s no surprise that Jacobs, who was in sixth or seventh grade when he wrote his first programs, grew up to be an engineer.

From the Summer 2017 Adaptation issue of California.

Artificial Intelligence But Real Style at the Turing Conference

The Turing Award is basically “the Nobel prize of computing,” named after the founding father of the field and given to those who kick the most butt in computer science.  So if you had to guess which university has won the most awards over the last half-century, you’d probably say Massachusetts Institute of Technology, maybe Carnegie Mellon.

Can We Learn to Grow Color? Butterfly Wings May Hold the Answer

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, humans have been buttering up the natural world for a long time. It’s often called biomimicry. Think Olympic swimmers in sharkskin-inspired suits, bullet trains shaped like kingfisher beaks, or the ubiquitous Velcro, which was famously modeled after plant burrs.  

Yet all of these examples depend on man-made materials and processes. What if we took biomimicry one step further and learned how to grow structures the way they grow in nature?

From the Summer 2017 Adaptation issue of California.

The Starship or the Canoe: Where Will Our Future Adaptations Be?

IN 2015, an observatory high in the Atacama Desert of Chile detected three planets orbiting an M star, an ultra-cool dwarf, in the constellation Aquarius about 40 light years, or 232 trillion miles, from Earth. Until then, the dim star was designated 2MASS J23062928-0502285. Not such a charming name. The discoverers of its satellites, a team of astronomers who operate the Chilean observatory remotely from Liege in Belgium, took the opportunity to warm up that appellation.

From the Summer 2017 Adaptation issue of California.

LandPaths Takes a Road Less Traveled to Community Building

LandPaths is a highly successful Sonoma County conservancy-cum-outreach program that fills a variety of needs: maintaining and restoring open space reserves, connecting kids and families to the outdoors through hikes, camp outs and paddle trips, and supporting summer camps and colloquia.

How Do Journalists Cover a President Who Calls Them the Enemy?

In January 2016, David Fahrenthold, a political reporter at The Washington Post, took note as Donald Trump promised to donate $6 million to help veterans, including $1 million of his own, during a televised fundraiser. As he followed the presidential candidate to rallies across the country, Fahrenthold saw him hand over about $1 million in oversized checks from his foundation. What happened to the rest of the money? he wondered. Fahrenthold expected it would take him a couple of days to find out.

Tesla Is Breaking Records Galore. But Is the Eco Hype Overblown?

One of the best ways to flaunt your Earth-hugging bona fides these days is to buy an electric car. It shows you’re willing to put your money—a lot of your money—where your mouth is, assuming your mouth spends a fair amount of time declaiming on global warming, atmospheric carbon emissions, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxides, and the sinister intentions of the global hydrocarbon extraction cabal. Buying a Tesla demonstrates you’re doing your part to keep our planet cool and green.

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