Internet search giant Google splashed into an already crowded (and increasingly competitive) market in April with the debut of Drive, its cloud-based storage service. Anyone with a Google account can now store documents, videos, music, and photos-up to five gigabytes' worth-for free on Drive (drive.google.com), and share any of the files with friends and family. (To install Drive, PC users need Windows XP-and Mac users, OS X 10.6-or later operating systems.)
Some may still be wondering what on earth a "cloud" is, besides something white and fluffy. Here's a primer: A cloud is an online computer network that your own computer can connect with to store (or retrieve) information. In terms of storage, it means that when you upload pictures of the family reunion to a cloud service like Drive, Google servers are placing the photos in safekeeping for you. Should your computer suddenly fizzle out, you'd still be able to log in to Drive and download your photos to any other computer.
Microsoft SkyDrive, Apple's iCloud, and the independent service Dropbox are other cloud storage services. Like Drive, all offer a few gigabytes of free storage, then charge for additional space. (SkyDrive charges $10 a year to add 20 GB.) If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can use the cloud to synchronize your devices. Dragging a file to a Google Drive folder on your computer, for instance, would magically send that file to your online Drive account and to your phone and other computers.
And if cousin Betty wants to see those reunion shots, there's no need to send a huge email attachment or to print and snail mail them. Just send her a link to the cloud.
Agricel, a company launched in March in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is announcing, "World, we have arrived to Feed the Future." Maybe. Agricel is promoting a water-soluble polymer that looks like clear plastic wrap: The film absorbs water and nutrients and provides an unusual but functional surface for lettuce, cucumbers, strawberries, and other crops to grow from. According to Agricel, this technique of "film farming" uses up to 90 percent less water and 80 percent less fertilizer than traditional methods.
About 180 farms are testing the film in Japan, and researchers have already used it to grow tomatoes in a desert greenhouse. Since Agricel's technique uses a second, impenetrable film for a base layer, farmers could theoretically grow crops on sand, ice, or soil contaminated by oil or sludge. Middle Eastern nations that rely heavily on food imports could benefit from the water efficiency: Saudi Arabia stopped subsidizing local wheat production a few years ago because of the strain on its water supply. Agricel boasts that those who convert their farms to film farming will "typically" have a 40-70 percent return on investment. That's the hope-but is it hype? - Daniel James Devine
Can a vending machine be just a little too convenient? An automated dispenser called AutoSpense is joining a growing number of round-the-clock marijuana vending machines in California, where marijuana has been legal for use as a pain reliever since 1996. (Now 16 states permit medical uses of the drug.) Authorized medical marijuana patients can swipe a registration card and enter a PIN to buy their goods (cash, credit, or debit) from an AutoSpense machine in Santa Ana. After regular store hours, the machine requires a fingerprint scan as well. -Daniel James Devine