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2007 January February 25 Brilliant California Ideas

Compassionate Capitalism

Money isn’t everything—at least, not to those in the business of venture philanthropy, an offspring of centuries-old socially responsible investing that Jerome Dodson modernized in San Francisco in 1984. In 1999, John (Bud) Colligan, a partner at the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Accel Partners, working with long-time business executive Penelope Douglas, created a venture […]

Our Space

Put simply, Metcalfe’s law states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of users in the system. At least that’s how Robert Metcalfe, the inventor of Ethernet, the most famous local-area computer-networking standard, first formulated it when he was working at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto in […]

Image source: California Department of Health Services, Tobacco Control Section, March 2006

Under Your Skin

IMPACT: Smoking researchers Jarvik and Rose (then a post doctorate fellow at UCLA) were curious about “green tobacco illness,” a malady that was striking farmhands in the South who harvested tobacco. That led to research on the potential positive implications of absorbing tobacco through the skin, which in turn led the scientists to create the […]

Native Tongues

IMPACT: Of 85 indigenous languages once spoken in California, 35 have no speakers left and the remaining 50 are spoken by only a handful of elders, giving the state the dubious distinction of being one of world’s greatest cemeteries of native languages. Fortunately, in the early 20th century, linguists such as John Peabody Harrington—a bit […]

Mind games

IMPACT: It’s hard to imagine a time when people believed that the brain was immutable and that, like a game of cards, you’d simply play out the hand you were dealt when it came to smarts, skills, and memory. That’s the small-minded thinking that greeted Diamond and a team of other Berkeley profs back in […]

The Human Potential Movement

“Create your own future,” cried the new age tapes I chanced upon in a California bookstore a few years ago. Not far away, at the Crystal Cathedral in Orange County, the Reverend Robert H. Schuller was singing his own gospel of “Possibility Thinking” with the help of books called Your Future Is Your Friend and […]


IMPACT: Today, thanks to Apple’s ubiquitous mp3 player, 60 million people around the globe can put on their headphones, lean back on the subway, and pretend the other 5,940,000,000 on Earth don’t exist. Along with huge profits and hyperactive shadow people on billboards, the iPod has introduced several new social yardsticks, such as "see-how-diverse-my-iPod-is" chic […]

Show & Sell

Ideas, not things, are the engines that cities and nations increasingly depend on for lucre. With the obvious exception of oil, nothing in the past 25 years has shown the potential to transform tomorrow more completely than the creation of stories or services rather than goods—and the technologies with which they are delivered to their […]

Image source: AP Photo/Eric Draper

Ground Zero

In March 1981, Michael Gottlieb, a 33-year-old first-year assistant professor at UCLA Medical Center specializing in immunology, encountered five patients with eerily similar symptoms and backgrounds. All were gay men, and relatively healthy prior to developing mysterious fevers, unexplainable weight losses, and a rare lung infection called pneumocystis, a kind of pneumonia known to occur […]

Image source: AP Photo/Clive Grylls

Green Nobel

IMPACT: Known as the Nobel of environmental prizes, the Goldman Environmental Prize recognizes and funds grassroots activists worldwide with the most lucrative environmental award in existence, a no-strings-attached $125,000 for each recipient. Last year’s winners include Yu Xiaogang, 56, who documented the impact of dams on Chinese communities and successfully lobbied China’s government to pay […]

Image source: AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

Green Rules

No state has matched California in using the law to protect and conserve the environment. The spark that ignited the modern environmental movement was undoubtedly the Santa Barbara oil spill of January 1969, an ecological disaster that blackened 35 miles of scenic coastland and killed thousands of seabirds and marine mammals. Californians responded by passing […]

Special Real Effects

IMPACT: "The question is not how CGI has impacted animation, but how it has impacted entertainment," says Fred Raimondi, visual effects supervisor at Venice-based effects studio Digital Domain, of the advent of computer-generated imagery, the digitally based 3D graphics application that simulates everything from swishing party dresses to roaring factory fires to the Creation. In […]

Image source: AP Photo/John McCoy


IMPACT: When L.A. prosecutors tried to nail O.J. Simpson with blood and hair samples, they used a technique called DNA fingerprinting—duplicating a certain section of DNA and matching it to another. Now a staple of CSI and Law & Order, the science of DNA fingerprinting depends on a chain reaction that matches the rungs of […]

Image source: Courtesy of Charlie Kelley

Xtreme Cyclist

IMPACT: In the early 1980s, the mountain bike went from an offbeat pastime for Marin County hippies to more than 40 percent of the bicycle market. Ushering in an era of “extreme sports,” mountain bikes helped change the way Americans view athletics. Outdoor sports was no longer just a distraction for the intrepid young. We […]

California Cuisine: The Rock Opera

Though Berkeleyites like to claim that all fresh garden rows run through Chez Panisse, the phenomenon technically predates us by several hundred years, when native Californians utilized fresh acorns, wild mustard, salmon, and berries in their diets. During the Spanish and Mexican colonial periods, fresh vegetables, fruits, and meats were consumed locally because they would […]

Image source: Roy Kaltschmidt/LBNL

Backing up The Big Bang

IMPACT: A Brief History of Time author Stephen Hawking called the results of Smoot and Mather’s three-year COBE satellite mission “the greatest discovery of the century, if not of all time.” The satellite, conceived independently by the two while both were at Berkeley, substantiated a prediction that the universe, at its edges, has stripes left […]

A Slow Paddle Home

When you grow up on a tropical island, you get used to being host to others’ escapist fantasies. Hawaii has long lost her allure as uncharted territory—most of her secrets have been exposed, hidden valleys explored, proud cultural heritage packaged, priced, and sold. This is the blessing, and curse, of beauty: Strangers love you and […]