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2009 Winter Food for Thought

You’re Bugging Me

Two reports show how Web companies track online user behavior. When you order a book on Amazon, catch up on the day’s news at, or watch a few videos on YouTube, you leave a digital trail on the Web, and chances are you’re being tracked. According to two Berkeley studies, dozens of Web companies—including some […]

Caspar’s Tale

A Berkeley planner helps a community sustain its town. When 300 acres of the town of Caspar went on the market in 1997, a cluster of concerned residents shook off their cherished isolation and conspired to preserve the soul of their town. Caspar lies about 175 miles north of San Francisco on the Mendocino coast, and was […]

A Summer with Science

The first thing Edgar Ulu noticed was the smell. A junior at Thurgood Marshall High School in San Francisco, the 16-year-old had never been in a real laboratory before. Now he was donning safety goggles and a white lab coat five days a week. One of six student interns in this year’s Introductory College Level […]

Green Energy

Much of the federal stimulus money dedicated to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory is devoted to general construction, but a significant portion will benefit alternative energy initiatives. So far, here is how it breaks down: $4 million to the Joint BioEnergy Institute (a partnership that includes the Berkeley Lab, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, […]

Fueling the Future

In the race to find earth-friendly forms of energy, Lawrence Berkeley National Lab is out in front. Echoes of “Drill, baby, drill,” may still be reverberating through the hallways on Capitol Hill, but the American electorate made it clear in the last national election that an alternative energy path is in the best interests of the nation. […]

Boundary Issues

A closer look at the lowest layer of Earth’s atmosphere. Fotini Katopodes Chow, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, has made a specialty of studying the lowest level of the Earth’s atmosphere, called the boundary layer—or, as Chow put it, the place “where all the interesting stuff happens.” Occupying those critical […]

Toward a Common Wealth

If you’ve been paying attention to the economic news you’ve probably noticed pundits using an ecological metaphor: Green shoots are sprouting. It’s a nice image. First the blackened earth of economic collapse, then tender leaves of recovery pushing up from below. If they said instead that we were seeing the early signs of infection, that wouldn’t work so well. Economic growth is never portrayed as the vine that strangles, the multiplication of locusts—it’s always the heroic sprout. The metaphor must jibe with an assumption so fundamental that few stop to consider it: Growth is good.

Dinner by Design

Those of us who grew up rooted to the land—before the discovery of DNA, the invention of the Internet, and the relentless buzz of Twitter—were ordered by a different sense of time than most people raised in today’s big cities. Though clocks and school bus schedules were as constant for us, in a farm household […]

A System In Crisis

Could a major earthquake bring a Katrina-like catastrophe to the California Delta? Seismologists are convinced a big quake is overdue, with potential to bring down Delta levees, swamp its residents, and imperil a major source of drinking water for 25 million Californians. “There is a two-in-three chance,” wrote UC Davis’s Jeff Mount and Berkeley’s Bob […]

Local Food from Afar

Charles Phan is sitting in his latest restaurant on San Francisco’s Bush Street eating pancakes. “My first restaurant would have been a breakfast place,” says the 47-year-old chef, who once tried to open a small coffeeshop in Oakland. The plan fizzled when the landlord decided to lease to Starbucks. Instead of giving up, the out-of-work […]

Cosmic CARMA

When a Berkeley-led astronomy team joined forces with a rival facility at Caltech in 2004, they established the world’s largest telescope array. Both labs had pioneered a new technique, called millimeter wavelength astronomy, to image minuscule particles in the outer reaches of the universe. The facility, called the Combined Array for Research in Millimeter-wavelength Astronomy, […]

Tooth and Claw

Fishing with the bears in Kodiak. Our first days on the island were windy and wet and the air taxi wouldn’t fly us out to the lake, so we killed time reading aloud from a book called Alaska Bear Tales, harrowing Man vs. Bear stuff in which men generally got the worst of it—individual men anyway; […]