Another Election, Another Twitter Story
You know that Twitter and other web-based social networking tools played an important role in organizing US president Barack Obama's campaign. But what you may not have known is that Twitter helps the US State Department stay abreast of contested elections in other countries. That's the conclusion one can draw from hearing that the micro-blogging site rescheduled some planned maintenance that would have made the site inaccessible to users during a period of political upheaval following elections in Iran.
This does not mean that the US is trying to get involved in the election. In fact, the US does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, which means that it has to find out what's going on over there through other channels and these apparently include social networking sites. Twitter users have been reporting information on election-related unrest with the hash tag #iranelection, thus providing anyone monitoring Twitter with raw, valuable news of what's been going on.
This isn't the only Iran-related political thread running through Twitter right now. Upon hearing rumors that Iranian authorities may be using Twitter to track down opposition activity, many Twitter users have changed the location data in their profile to Tehran. Since this city is the capital of Iran, it's thought that this change will confuse the authorities.
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British Two-Seater Runs on Hydrogen
It may not be James Bond's Austin Martin, but a new futuristic-looking British automobile boasts sexy curves and an awesome secret: it runs on hydrogen. The prototype vehicle, named the Riversimple Urban Car (RUC) harbors a single 6kW fuel cell beneath its hood that powers the auto's four electric motors one for each of its wheels. Its regenerative braking system adds to its energy miser profile.
The car tips the scales at less than half a ton, and can travel at speeds up to 50 miles per hour. One 2.2 pound tank of hydrogen enables it to travel 240 miles. As if all that weren't environmentally friendly enough, the car's manufacturer stated that the vehicle is made entirely from recyclable composite materials.
Even the way one acquires the vehicle breaks new ground. Instead of selling it, Riversimple (the manufacturer) has said it will offer the car under a 20-year lease option for around $327 per month. Before you do the math and scream about the long-term cost, note that Riversimple throws in the hydrogen at that price. Whether that compares favorably with a car powered by an internal combustion engine depends on how much driving you do, what kind of gas mileage you get, how long you normally keep your car, and of course, the price of gas. For some people, knowing that they're contributing to saving the environment may make it worth any extra expense. Formal leasing may start as early as 2012 or 2013, depending on the results of road tests.
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Using Technology to Track Your Food
If you feel a simple sticker telling you that your bananas came from Columbia isn't good enough, take heart. Thanks to the widespread use of barcodes and RFID chips, and cheap cell phones and Internet access, you may soon be able to check it yourself. Several projects are in the works to allow manufacturers to make their own tracking databases more available to consumers.
For example, one large palm oil supplier is working with FoodReg, a developer of food-tracking software. They plan to develop a system that will let customers find out for themselves that the supplier's crops are not grown on land that recently hosted a tropical rain forest. The system would involve farmers recording the time and place of their crop harvest on FoodReg's online database, using cheap cell phones if they don't have access to computers.
Such systems would also work well for those who want to limit their carbon footprint by letting them see how far their food traveled before it reached the store. Others could be used to determine whether the food in question obeys particular dietary restrictions. For instance, TraceTracker also makes online databases that allow food to be tracked, and is working with one of its partners to create a system to track halal, or fit to eat according to Muslim dietary practices. The system would track the full supply chain, from farmers to processing houses. Consumers would be able to determine for themselves, using their own smart phones, that the food they want to buy comes from a licensed halal source. Plans for other systems are in the works; some involved in such projects think this is only the beginning, and envision all of the food databases eventually linked together in a huge Internet for food.
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