urx unit loader 'NOVA: Making Stuff ...'    Demolition Derbies, Sharks & Spider Goats

Today’s cuppa: Gevalia coffee from the Tassimo

Nova_Making_Stuff_Stronger_David_Pogue.jpgDavid Pogue is a technology columnist for the New York Times, which sort of sounds like teaching your grandma how to tweet. After all, the Gray Lady isn’t really known for being the most nimble user of new technology.

“Oh, I know,” says Pogue, sitting in the bar at the Beverly Hilton Hotel (home for the recent Golden Globes) during last summer’s Television Critics Association Press Tour (during which we handed out the most recent TCA Awards, today the recipient of some love from “Sons of Anarchy” creator Kurt Sutter).

“I get this every day,”
he continues. “The funny thing was, I was the first blogger there. I did the first videos for them. It was early on. But for the longest time, they didn’t permit comments. They didn’t want the riff-raff sullying the site.

“So, I’m like, ‘In what way is this a blog? You’re just writing little articles.’ It’s hard to turn a battleship on a dime, but they’re more tech-savvy all the time. We have a Twitter presence and a blog presence.”

When he’s not swooning over gadgets or tracking tech trends, Pogue also does TV. On Wednesday, Jan. 19, he launches as host of “Making Stuff: Stronger, Cleaner, Smaller, Smarter”, a four-part series airing under the umbrella of PBS’ venerable science franchise, “NOVA.”

It looks at the seemingly snooze-inducing subject of materials science … but wait, there’s more.

“Materials science, what?” says Pogue. “Nobody knows what it is. We have to make it very visual and very attractive to viewers. They had me at a demolition derby without a seatbelt. I hang-glided and swam with sharks, landed on an aircraft carrier with a runway the size of this table.”

(As I recall, the tabletops at the bar at the Beverly Hilton are bigger than a manhole cover but smaller than the banquet tables at the Golden Globes.)

“I’ve shot military rifles to test bulletproof tanks,”
says Pogue. “I’d never shot a gun in my life. I’d joke, ‘I don’t know if they’re trying to film me or kill me.’ I had an MRI. I had blood drawn last week — so it was all very experiential and very you-are-there.”

But, wait, there’s more.

In the first episode, “Making Stuff: Stronger,” Pogue gets into the realm of weird science.

“There’s this guy who’s crossbreeding goats with spiders,”
says Pogue. “The purpose of that is he wants to raise goats that give spider-silk milk, and he’s done it. He’s splicing spider DNA into goat DNA, and his goats give spider-silk milk, which he runs through a machine.

“It comes out as spider-silk, which is ten times as strong as steel. And he did it. I did it with him!”

(Don’t know about you, but my brain is jangling with the horror-movie and superhero implications of all this.)

“Fifty percent of the goats have the genes passed on,”
Pogue continues. “Basically, the spider-silk is amazing stuff, but spiders are too slow. You could make vast quantities. It’s crazy.”

And then there are the abalones that make batteries. (If only I had a graphic of a clam stuffed with 9-volts.)

“There’s a lady at MIT,” says Pogue, “who was studying abalone, mother-of-pearl. She discovered how they made their shells. The DNA instructs the animal how to grab the elements it needs out of the water, which is mostly chalk.

“Twelve years ago, once we entered an era where you could reprogram DNA, she’s thinking, ‘Why couldn’t I replace those instructions and tell it to get different elements out of the water, not chalk, but whatever we want?”

(Sure, why not? I want to walk through a jewelry store and extract all the gold particles out of the air, so later I can sneeze nuggets. Works for me. Anyhoo …)

Pogue continues, “(She thinks), ‘Why couldn’t we, say, make a battery? Take alkaline, silicon …’ And she did it! She has these bowls full of hearing-aid cells that made themselves, from abalone grabbing these elements out of the atmosphere. They’re twice as powerful as our batteries … for free.

“Her last visitor, the week before us, was Obama. There are all these pictures of bowls of batteries and the president.”

Here’s a preview: