Wednesday, November 30, 2011

From the archives: Bioengineering

I just found a scan for an ad I never posted here, part of this series that I both wrote and modeled for, one of the more interesting chapters in my professional career.

Anyway, click the ad to see this full-sized. And no, that's not me in the photo.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Most Interesting Wombat in the World

Thanks to the shortened Thanksgiving week, I only had one article published last week, but it was an...interesting one. I interviewed the advertising icon "The Most Interesting Man in the World" about his efforts to save one of the world's rarest mammals from extinction.

Can the Most Interesting Man in the World Help Save This Critically Endangered Wombat? 

This was not only fun to write, it was a chance to write about a species I have hoped to cover for months now. And it's done some good. The auction mentioned in the article just closed after raising well over $1,000. That's impressive.

More next week!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

From the archives: DNA

The archives are producing a treasure trove of projects I enjoyed working on over the years. Here's an ad I wrote for IEEE about five years ago. I still like it.

(Click on the image to see it in all of its glory.)

Monday, November 21, 2011


Huh. You'd think that will all of the hours I put in last week I would have published more articles. But most of that work was interviews and research for upcoming features and other projects, so I don't feel bad. Not every article I write can come out within a day of my writing it!

Anyway, here are this week's links -- two new Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American and two news items for Mother Nature Network.

Amazing Neptune's Cup Sponge Rediscovered in Singapore

Another Rhino Goes Extinct and Other Updates from the Brink

Family mourns pug's death on transatlantic flight

Co-founder of Facebook competitor Diaspora dies at 22

There probably won't be a huge amount coming your way this week -- it is almost Thanksgiving, after all -- but you never know, maybe I'll surprise you.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

From the archives: Just Right

Digging into the marketing archives again, here are two of the four pages from a large-format brochure I wrote to launch a new IEEE informational product. (As memory serves, the product didn't last, but it set up the market for several more successful services that followed behind it.)

(You can click on this image to view it in more detail.)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Traumatized chimps, gay penguins, icky diseases and a poem

Looking back on it, last week was pretty wild as far as my writing was concerned. My articles were all over the map, but in a good way. That's the fun thing about being a freelance writer: you never know what the next assignment or story is going to bring.

This week's two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American covered important topics, and they both generated a fair amount of discussion:

"Save the Chimps" Sanctuary Builds a Home for Traumatized Apes

Should Gay, Endangered Penguins be Forced to Mate?

I usually do one feature a month for IEEE-USA's Today's Engineer, but I did two for the November issue. Here they are:

New Jobs Council Report Addresses Entrepreneurship, Promises 10,000 New Engineers A Year

Career Focus: Systems Engineering

Mother Nature Network continues to let me report on a wide variety of stories. Here are this week's including one of the ickiest things I've had to write about in a long while:

Christo's $50 million 'Over the River' art project approved

Steven-Johnson syndrome: HIV drug can cause life-threatening skin reaction, says FDA

Is there evidence of extraterrestrial life? Nope, says Obama administration

And finally, on a completely unrelated note, I have I have a science fiction poem called "Manscaping" in the latest issue (#15) of Illumen magazine. I sold it back when "Manscaping" was still a commonly used word.

That's it for this week! More links in seven days!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

From the archives: Passion

Here's an advertisement from several years back: a full-page ad for a technical journal that we tried to make more lively. I still like it.

(Click to view in full size.)

Monday, November 7, 2011

From the archives: The China Syndrome

(Originally published in Kyoto Planet, January 2008, and still quite topical.)

The China Syndrome:
Can the World Be Saved if China Doesn't Go Green?

By John R. Platt

There's a lot of talk these days about China's impact on the environment -- and with good reason. China is now the world's top producer of greenhouse gases, it's the home of 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities, and some of its factories have infamously shipped tainted goods to clients around the globe.

China produces 70-80% of its electricity in coal-burning plants, and its energy needs have more than doubled since the beginning of the decade, according to the Worldwatch Institute. Meanwhile, its population is moving from rural areas to cities, where they use more power and buy cars, which adds to the country's demand for fossil fuels.

China's growth has been fueled by an export-driving economy that finds it supplying goods and services to companies and countries around the globe. According to the World Trade Organization, China became the world's second-largest exporter in 2006, and the WTO predicts it will become the world's biggest exporter in 2008.

Amidst all of this, the Beijing government has started taking steps to improve China's environmental impact. Massive clean-up efforts are underway in preparation for this year's Olympic games. Meanwhile, China was expected to invest over $10 billion in new renewable energy capacity in 2007, including wind turbines and production of solar photovoltaic cells.

But even with these and other steps in the right direction, China can't do it alone. "It has to be a collaborative effort," says Elizabeth C. Economy, the C.V. Starr Senior Fellow and Director for Asia Studies at the Council for Foreign Relations. "What we have to focus on is how we all can work together to solve this problem."

Part of the difficulty, says Economy, is that local officials tend to ignore the central government's environmental mandates, which lack enforcement on the local level, in favor of profits and economic growth.

"Chinese factories, institutions, the government...everyone needs to be on board," says Economy. "There has to be a local commitment. You can have a great effort from Beijing, but if you don't have the follow-through to the local level, it's essentially meaningless."

So, if a business wants to make sure that the Chinese goods it orders are being produced in an environmentally responsible way, what can it do? The first step, says Economy, is that "any company needs to know the factories from which it is sourcing. Some multinationals might not even know. It's difficult to know. Many Chinese manufacturers source their production to 10 different places."

After that, says Economy, businesses need to find out if the factories are, at the very least, adhering to Chinese environmental standards, and find ways to reward the factories that are doing a better job.

"Businesses can say, 'you're doing the right thing, Factory X, so you'll give us a greater portion of what you're selling, to the detriment of Factory Y, which isn't doing a good job.' You can reward factories which are going green, and punish those which aren't."

Some NGOs are involved in efforts to help businesses gather information on factories' environmental impact. The Natural Resources Defense Council, for example, has lent its support to the Greenwatch environmental ranking system in Jiangsu Province. The NRDC plans to work with multinational retailers and manufacturers to develop what they call "preferred supplier systems" for factories with strong environmental records.

"The solution isn't going to come from multinationals or foreign governments pouring money into China or placing new technology, which has happened over the last few decades," says Economy. "If you don't have a willing and capable Chinese partner, you're not going to get very far. China needs to develop the infrastructure to support a better path."

As part of this, Economy says that China needs to examine the way it prices its utilities. "China froze the prices of its natural resources. Water is priced well below market rate in China, and energy is too. Concerns for social unrest keep the price of water and energy low. But if you want to create an incentive to conserve, you have to be willing to pay a price."

Forcing Chinese factories to go green may have another price, forcing the cost of goods and services up, but it might be a price we need to pay. "Can China go green? Yes," says Economy. "Can the world be saved if China doesn't go green? No."

Bat Week, Lions helping Lions, Cancer and more

Monday was Halloween, my favorite holiday, and I kept the spirit of the season going all week long by writing about bats over at Scientific American:

Could an Artificial Cave Help Protect Bats from Deadly Fungus?

England Tries Wire and Mesh ‘Bat Bridges’ to Save Endangered Species

(You can read all of my recent articles about bats here.)

My latest book review is up at Graphic Novel Reporter, an excellent graphic novel by a son about his father's cancer:

Seeds by Ross Mackintosh

Sadly, cancer also came up in one of this week's stories for Mother Nature Network:

'Survivor' winner and activist Ethan Zohn announces his cancer has returned

Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill loses 50 pounds with help from Twitter

Finally, my feature article on how Lions Club members helped to conserve critically endangered Asiatic (Gir) lions appears on page 40 of the November 2011 issue of Lion magazine, which you can flip through here.

I have several great stories already in the works for this week. Make sure to follow me on Twitter for links as they go live.