Monday, March 28, 2011

Tragedies, good advice and events you missed

This week's two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American were particularly disheartening:

Half of the world's rockhopper penguins threatened by oil spill

Compromise could take gray wolves off the endangered species list in two states

But at least I got to write about some good things going on for Green Hands USA:

Don't Forget Earth Hour This Weekend [oops - you missed it.]

Why Buy? It's Greener to Borrow

Living Near Public Transportation Cuts Energy Costs 39-50%

Stop the Yellow Pages from Coming to Your Door

What Are You Doing for World Water Day? [another event that has passed, but it was still cool.]

An Apple A Day Really May Keep the Doctor Away

I also wrote a few fun stories for Mother Nature Network:

Starbucks mobile payment app used by three million people in three months

Could medical marijuana get the Al Capone treatment?

The coming weeks will see several new features, as well as a veritable ton of book reviews. Plus the usual news articles and posts. Stay tuned! You wouldn't want to miss a thing.

Monday, March 14, 2011

G-Week: Ghost Cats, Geniuses, Green Ideas, Gorillas and Graphic Novels

Gosh-a-mighty, did this week see a lot of new articles, including several long-gestating features that finally saw print.

Let's start off with those, beginning with this feature for Today's Engineer:

Career Focus: Software Engineering

Next up we have my interviews with two MacArthur genius winners for IEEE's The Institute:

IEEE Members Earn "Genius" Awards

As usual, I wrote two Extinction Countdown columns for Scientific American:

Giving up on the "ghost cat": Eastern cougar subspecies declared extinct

Rare Costa Rican birds captured, tagged for study for the first time

...and a bunch of "green tips" blogs for Green Hands USA:

How Green Is Your Paper?

GreenShipping Helps You Offset Mail's Carbon Emissions

The Greenest Way to Get an iPad: Buy Refurbished

Want to be Facebook Friends with a Gorilla?

Write a Poem or Draw a Picture to Help Save Frogs

Save Ink (and Money) with Ecofont

Of course, there were also a few new articles for Mother Nature Network, where I'll have several new features coming up in the next week or two:

Could taking this bucolic image land you in jail? [this headline works better if you can see the image.]

The art of hand washing

New iPad app tells the story behind National Geographic's greatest photos

And finally, here's a new book review for Graphic Novel Reporter.

Moon Lake

That's it for this week (as if you need more). Keep reading, and I'll keep writing!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

From the archives - Reverse Innovation: Changing the Path of Global Development

Where will the next big, innovative idea come from? What will it be? Will it be a cell phone with gadgets galore, made in Japan and priced high for early adopters? Or will it be a functional yet inexpensive netbook, designed and built in India for all of the world to use?

Read more in the May 2010 issue of Today's Engineer.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Renewable energy, extinctable lions, and recycled iPads

Another good, busy week for article writing, with some turning out to be quite popular. Here's the weekly list.

We start, as we usually do, with my two weekly Extinction Countdown articles for Scientific American:

African lion may be added to U.S. endangered species list to curb American trophy hunters

Australians team up to help rare marsupial after a cyclone devastates its habitat

Next up, the latest batch of blogs for Green Hands USA:

Intel is Still America's Biggest Buyer of Green Energy

Donate Your Old Computer Equipment to A Good Cause

Get Ready for Earth Hour on March 26

How to Recycle Those Old VHS Tapes

Recycle Your Bra for Women Who Can't Afford Them 

Kids, Enter the Endangered Species Art Contest

And we round out the week with a whole bunch of news articles for Mother Nature Network, including a popular series about the upcoming iPad 2:

How to recycle your iPad 1 after you buy an iPad 2

Six green-minded iPad accessories

Five green apps for your iPad

575-pound Heart Attack Grill spokesman dies

Which are more important, billboards or trees?

Iran sees Zionist conspiracy in Olympic logo

High gas prices got you down? Let GasBuddy find the best prices

This coming week will see several new feature articles for tech publications, along with lots more like the above.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, March 4, 2011

From the archives: Woman Stops Cancer Treatments, Starts Giving Back

Here's one of the most inspirational stories I ever had the chance to work on, about a woman who fought cancer for more than a decade, then decided to devote what was left of her energy to leaving a legacy.

Mrs. Beard passed away in June of 2010, about three months after I spoke with her. This story was originally published at

Fifteen years. That’s how long 74-year-old Sonya Beard has been fighting oral cancer. But now, after multiple surgeries and treatments, she says she has had enough. While her doctors wanted her to start radiation therapy, Beard is instead enjoying the time she has left, and making a huge difference in her community. She has already donated hundreds of thousands of dollars from her life savings to several organizations near her Mount Vernon, Wash., home, and she’s not done yet.


A lifelong reader, Sonya's first donation was $500,000 to the Mount Vernon City Library. In an exclusive interview with, she says that reading made her "the cornerstone of what I am today. I wouldn't have been able to travel or do the things I have done without my love of books."

As a child, Beard and family would go to the library on Saturday to get their books for the week. "I got to the point where I was obnoxious with my mother about trying to get my nose out of a book." She has since instilled "a passion for books and reading" in her four grandchildren.

Beard couldn't attend the library meeting where her donation was announced, but she finally made it down there on Monday. "I went this afternoon and I'm just thrilled to death with what they're going to be able to do" with her donation, she says.

The library is planning a major expansion that might not have been possible without Beard's donation.


Beard has also donated $165,000 to Skagit Valley Hospital, also located in Mount Vernon, so they can purchase hyperbaric oxygen therapy equipment to help patients recover from surgeries like the ones Beard has endured. Until this, the closest hyperbaric equipment was in Seattle, more than 60 miles away. 

"I found it necessary to undergo the treatment after one of my surgeries, but I was not able to travel," she says. "I had to rent an apartment down there for six weeks. It's a terrible handicap for a person to have to move themselves to another area. A lot of people in Mount Vernon don't have the means to relocate themselves down there. I knew we had patients that needed it here and they couldn't afford it."
Beard has been pushing the hospital to get the new equipment up and running quickly. "I was just down there to see the progress on the oxygen chamber. They're moving fast. They're remodeling the wound center now, and we're hoping for an opening in June."


Her surgeries also inspired her to create a foundation, which will be established at the University of Washington Medical Center, where she had her surgeries, after her death. "You may not know this," she says," but people with oral cancer are not reimbursed by insurance for dental prostheses. I set up in my will that they'll have a foundation that will be able to pay for people who need these prostheses."
Beard was able to purchase her own prosthesis, but it had to be removed just five months later when her doctors found more cancer. "I spent over $20,000 for a prosthesis I only had for five months. That was very discouraging to think that this might happen to someone else. It's not right to say that this is cosmetic when it's the only means you have for eating. There's way too many people walking around without teeth because they won't be able to pay for it."


Despite her cancers, which also includes a battle with breast cancer eight years ago, Beard remains a positive person who enjoys her life. "It's become a way of life," she says of her cancer. "But really, other people have it worse. So we won't dwell on that," she laughs.

"I have been extremely fortunate with my life," she says. "I never thought I would be in a position to do something like this. I don't have the education, but somehow I did it."

But Beard did learn from the people she met in her life. Beard she learned how to invest when she worked as secretary for stockbrokers and bankers, a talent that has made these current donations possible.

In an interview with local KOMO News, Beard said, "I'm not a wealthy person, I'm not a famous person - but I feel like if I can stimulate one person to get the ball rolling then we can make a difference."
Beard's husband passed away 11 years ago, leaving her with three step-sons she considers "her wonderful boys." "They've given me four wonderful grandchildren," she says. "My life is complete with them."

Beard continues her charitable contributions. She just paid off the mortgage at Bethany Convent Church, her church of the last ten years, and she is considering additional donations in her area. "My way is to help as many as I possibly can," she says. "And if that helps future generations as well, that's even better."