‘Nerds’ give new twists to winemaking
Wired, November

For thousands of years, people have made wine using observation and intuition. But winemaking is going high-tech. In California’s wine country, a land of grape whisperers, a couple of “vine nerds” are implementing computer technology to manage how a vine is planted, pruned, watered and harvested. Sebastien Payen and Thibaut Scholasch, French expats profiled in the current issue of Wired magazine, are the co-founders of Fruition Sciences, a small consulting firm that uses solar-powered sensors to monitor how much water is present in a plant’s extremities.

Hydration levels are analyzed in conjunction with data on weather, the date, berry sugar content, soil moisture and vine arrangements, reports the magazine. This information is used to advise clients on planting and irrigation schedules, and it even predicts optimal harvest dates. “The system, while simple, is powerful enough to unravel thousands of years of farming practices,” writes the magazine.

Mongolian dig reveals pre-dinosaur life
Discover, November

A “vegetational Pompeii” uncovered in Inner Mongolia is offering scientists a glimpse at what life on Earth looked like long before dinosaurs roamed. According to the November issue of Discover magazine, an ancient swampland has been frozen in time since the Permian period, some 298 million years ago, well before the first dinosaurs. The site, fossilized for perpetuity under more than 20 square miles of volcanic ash, has allowed scientists to re-create the prehistoric scene from a time when North China still sat in the tropics. What did it look like? “Flat, mostly waterlogged, and thick with greenery,” says the magazine. Animals including a nearly 10-foot-long relative of the centipede, dragonfly-like insects with foot-long wingspans, and “chunky primitive spiders” with black-tipped fangs, dotted the forest.

“Finding a full landscape where the trees are right where they originally stood is very rare,” said University of Pennsylvania paleoclimatologist Hermann Pfefferkorn, who helped discover the site a decade ago and, with colleagues, released a paper on it this year. Studying the swath of fossilized plants is expected to shed light on the food chain of the era, which included precursors to dinosaurs and the ancestors of modern reptiles and mammals.

Discover magazine gives a glimpse of life before the dinosaurs roamed. (TWP)

Maggie Fazeli Fard

In Wired magazine, winemaking goes high-tech. (TWP)