July 31, 2008

Day Four: ZOMG it's HOT

Posted: 05:46 PM ET

We bugged out of Hoover Dam to get breakfast, pick up a FedEx package ( more on that later) and arrange our next biofuel fill up. It gets hot here fast.


We filled up at Haycock before heading to Arizona.

Earlier, when we arrived at Hoover Dam at sunrise, it took less than an hour for the sun to reach scorching intensity.

And the next few days don’t look any cooler. My iPhone weather outlook shows triple-digit temperatures through early next week.

Meanwhile, as we attempt to drive from California to Georgia on biodiesel fuel, our 1978 Scout is thirsty, and Haycock Petroleum came through for us. Haycock is a wholesaler to area Sinclair stations, which in turn sell B5 to retail consumers. Although we aren’t a retailer, Haycock let us fill up the Scout and a fuel can with their higher-blend fuel. Maybe this will get us to Grand Canyon.

C ya,


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Filed under: environment • Road trip

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Hoover Dam

Posted: 11:09 AM ET

Wow! The Hoover Dam visit was spectacular! During our 9:40 a.m. ET appearance on Live, we showed how HUGE this thing is..


Hoover Dam's 726 feet are testing my nerves during the broadcast.

According to the dam's Web site, it's constructed with enough concrete to pave a 16-foot wide highway from New York City to San Francisco. We spoke with two professors from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Tom Piechota and Bill Smith, who explained critical water-conservation issues and whether hydroelectric power can fit into the nation's future energy plans.

Next, we hit the road to Arizona's Grand Canyon, where we plan to check out the skywalk, a glass platform that juts out beyond the canyon rim and hangs about 4,000 feet above the canyon floor. Should be quite a view.

More to come...

- Cody

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Filed under: environment • Road trip

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In the Shadow of the Moon - Solar Eclipse Alert!

Posted: 09:05 AM ET

Any and all Chinese readers of this blog - take note! Depending on exactly where you are, you may have a front row seat for a total solar eclipse on Friday! The rest of us will have to be content watching it on the internet.

Source: Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC

A total eclipse of the sun happens with the moon passes directly between the Earth and Sun - momentarily covering it completely, and turning day to night.

Relative to any fixed location on Earth, a total eclipse of the sun is a rare event. The last one visible from the continental U.S. happened in 1979 and the next one won't happen until 2017. From a global perspective, it's not so rare: a total eclipse is visible somewhere on Earth every few years.

I exaggerate a bit when I say this is for Chinese sky watchers only - in fact, the event will be visible also from parts of Northern Canada, Greenland, various Arctic islands, Northern Russia and Mongolia. You can check out the projected path here.

"Totality," the brief period when the sun is fully eclipsed, should happen just after 7 a.m. Eastern time.

If you are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to see a solar eclipse in person, eye protection is key. You should never look directly at the sun with the naked eye. You need to to look through No. 14 welder's glass, aluminized mylar, or some other approved filter.

The next total solar eclipse will happen just under a year from now, July 22, 2009, and also will be a largely Asian show, though Hawaii will catch the tail end of it. I better get my request in now to go cover it for CNN!

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: eclipses • Sun

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Desert heat

Posted: 08:19 AM ET

Wednesday was quite the full day for us, as we blogged, broadcasted and outfitted our 1978 Scout while trekking through the desert heat of California and Nevada. (See our "vlog" video blog about it here.)


Yes we're staying in a hotel. It's mercifully close to where our live shot is on Thursday.

In the morning, we drilled holes in the Scout to mount solar panels that will power our gadgets.

Then after lunch (see blog entry below), we picked up a spare tire (don't tell my mom we drove 500 miles without one!) and headed out toward Vegas.

We made it to Barstow, California, before the heat got to us, the Scout and our batteries. My ever-drained, precious iPhone just wouldn't charge.

We took the opportunity to cool the truck off by parking in a lonely spot of shade outside a True Value home center. Several friendly staffers informed us that it was 104 degrees Fahrenheit and that we should be driving at night, when tempuratures are cooler.

After getting the solar panels installed we headed out on the road again. The Scout's temperature gauge occasionally climbed to previously unseen heights. We muddled through and finally arrived at our motel - which is mercifully only minutes away from Hoover Dam.

See ya at the dam!

– Cody

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Filed under: environment • Road trip

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July 30, 2008

Rollin' solar

Posted: 04:53 PM ET

It's 12:30 p.m. and we just finished lunch at a Bakersfield, California, favorite called Luigi's Deli. The food and service were outstanding ( especially our sweet waitress ).


Co-pilot Brian and his sis' Amy, who graciously allowed us to crash at her place Tuesday.

After being up since 4 a.m. and having nothing but a few crackers and some sanity-supplying coffee, delicious food and blessed air conditioning was a welcome break. We spent the first part of the day shooting video of a fuel factory and interviewing a doctor who makes his own biodiesel fuel. We also posted a new photo gallery.

Now, we're headed to Las Vegas, Nevada, and nearby Hoover Dam. Along the way we hope to attach a pair of solar panels on the roof of our 30-year-old vehicle (with no a/c) to help keep the gadgets charged. Pretty cool.

See ya at 9:40 a.m. ET on Live atop the massive Hoover Dam!


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Filed under: environment • Road trip

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July 29, 2008

Navigating the back roads

Posted: 11:16 PM ET

Our search for biodiesel took us through some California back-roads.


"Let me tell you, CA 49 is a little frightening."

Let me tell you, CA 49 is a little frightening. Its narrow path winds and jackknifes through the mountains outside Yosemite National Park – with the smoke of wildfires looming over the horizon.

We then turn off onto a stretch of aged and cracked pavement called Mount Bullion Cutoff, which made up for the lack of stomach-dropping heights with increased narrowness, potholes designed to swallow
lesser cars, and even tighter twists and turns.

Our trek did bear fruit – we managed to squeeze a few gallons of B100 (100 percent biodiesel) from a small cooperative, giving us a roughly 50/50 blend of dino-diesel to bio.

However it did add more than two hours to our trip time. At one point the Garmin Nuvi 880 navigator we're testing reported our average miles per hour (including Monday's drive into Yosemite) at 38.

So far we've purchased 5 gallons of regular diesel and about 13 gallons of biodiesel since leaving the Bay area. We heard there's a pump in Bakersfield where we hope to fill up tonight.

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Filed under: environment • Road trip

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How cool is Cuil?

Posted: 09:54 AM ET

There's a new challenger to Google, the 800-pound gorilla of Internet search engines:, which looks French but was developed by American ex-Google engineers backed by $33 million in venture capital. Pronounced "cool," the site began processing search requests Monday.

Cuil (apparently also a Gaelic word for knowledge) promises to search 121 billion Web pages - three times more than Google, it claims - and to deliver more relevant and helpful results. According to Cuil's site, its technology burrows into the content of each page to place results in better context than search engines that rank quantity of links to Web sites. Unlike Google, Cuil also promises not to collect data about its users' search histories.

Like a lot of curious folks Monday, I did a few random Cuil searches and compared the results to Google. If sheer numbers mean anything, my highly unscientific test revealed that Cuil has some catching up to do. A search for "Beijing Olympics" produced 20 million pages on Google, 1.1 million on Cuil. "Barack Obama" got 58 million Google hits; on Cuil, less than 6.5 million. Google also led its Obama results with recent news headlines about the presidential candidate, while Cuil's first page of Obama hits contained only biographical information from Wikipedia and his official Senate/campaign sites.

In fairness, though, we should probably give Cuil a few days to rev its engine up to full speed. A Cuil search Monday morning for "Siamese cats" pulled up nothing; you had to type in "Siamese cat" to get any results. By Monday afternoon that glitch was fixed, and "Siamese cats" produced 43,000 hits. Cuil also appeared to be overwhelmed by traffic from curious users, because another search Monday afternoon produced a near-blank page with the message, "Due to excessive load, our servers didn't return results."

I like Cuil's reader-friendly format, which arrays results in a magazine-like layout complete with thumbnail images and a few sentences of text instead of Google's bare-bones, pancake stack of links. I don't think "Cuiling" will replace "Googling" in the popular lexicon anytime soon, but it seems like a promising alternative. What do you think?

- Brandon Griggs, Tech Section Producer,

Filed under: Internet

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First leg: Smoky

Posted: 09:49 AM ET

It took much longer than we expected to drive our 30-year-old International Harvester Scout from San Francisco to Yosemite National Park. Because we spent a lot of time looking for a spare tire before we hit the road, we didn't get under way until 3:30 p.m. local time.


The park was shrouded in smoke from a nearby wildfire.

The vehicle, which you may recall we purchased sight unseen online, is getting roughly 22 miles per gallon. Sadly, our attempts to find a biodiesel fueling station located in Big Oak Flat, California, fell short. The station we were looking for was closed. As a result we had to put five gallons of regular fuel in the tank, in hopes that we'll find a biofuel station elsewhere.

It was 8 p.m. and the sun was setting when we finally arrived at Yosemite… the park shrouded in a bit of smoke from a nearby wildfire outside the park that has blackened about 29,000 acres and destroyed 25 homes and 27 other buildings.

Today, Kari Cobb of the National Park Service told us that, surprisingly, attendance at Yosemite is remaining the same this year, despite the slow economy and high gas prices because of an influx of more foreign visitors.

More to come...


Filed under: environment • Road trip

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July 28, 2008

What's it all about? Algae!

Posted: 05:03 PM ET

It’s been a pretty exciting day for our first day on the road. We finished up doing three TV live-shots today in San Francisco – making my CNN TV debut after 13 years at


Then we got a quick tour of the Solazyme plant, where we saw a variety of algae oils which can be used to make everything from fuel for vehicles… to soap... to even food products.

In fact, we tasted some very delicious banana bread at Solazyme that was made from algae oils instead of the butter and eggs that would normally be used in a recipe. People on vegan diets will be interested in this kind of thing.


Now Brian and I are getting ready to head out to Yosemite National Park where, Tuesday at 9:40 a.m. ET on Live, we’re going to talk to park officials about their green initiative - and whether this year’s economy is causing a drop in park traffic.


See ya’ll then!




Filed under: environment • Road trip

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Oshkosh, an aviator's Mecca

Posted: 09:54 AM ET

The CNN SciTech Unit is taking the show on the road.

This week I’ll be in Oshkosh, Wisconsin for EAA AirVenture, the annual air show and aviation convention that hosts all-things-winged for one week in late July.

The Collaborators Aerobatic Team flying in a stacked formation at Oshkosh 2007. Source: EAA

The population of this charming town on Lake Winnebago nearly doubles as three-quarters of a million aviation enthusiasts and pilots descend, literally, for their yearly pilgrimage to the show known simply as “Oshkosh.” The usually sleepy Wittman Regional Airport will become home to the world’s busiest air traffic control tower, handling nearly 10,000 private airplanes that fly in and out of the event.

Expect to see the newest, cutting-edge airplanes—from frontline fighters like the Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, to new introductions into the very light jet market like designs from Eclipse, Honda, and Cirrus Design. Also, you won’t want to miss the afternoon air show, where the world’s most talented pilots put on a magnificent sky dance.

It’s a pilot’s mecca—a great American tradition, one that I’ve been taking part in since I was in grade school. But that tradition may be at risk this year. With prices for aviation fuel soaring over $5 per gallon, many pilots may be leaving their airplanes in the hangar and canceling their Oshkosh plans. A new hope may be on the horizon, though: greener alternatives, like biofuels and electric power, may set a new course for the aviation industry.

It’s yet to be seen whether the fleeting economy and increased expense of flying a private airplane will have a profound effect on the show’s attendance. Aviators are of a rare breed and it would take a lot more than hefty costs to stop many of my pilot friends from making their annual trip. As for me, I’ll be making my pilgrimage to Oshkosh once again this year—the fifth in my logbook—by air. Check back for updates from the show throughout the week on the SciTech blog.

See you at Oshkosh!

Pete Muntean - CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Aviation

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Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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