Week in review: The gold in being green

It's easier being green when environmentally friendly technologies and practices yield financial rewards.

Steven Musil Night Editor / News
Steven Musil is the night news editor at CNET News. He's been hooked on tech since learning BASIC in the late '70s. When not cleaning up after his daughter and son, Steven can be found pedaling around the San Francisco Bay Area. Before joining CNET in 2000, Steven spent 10 years at various Bay Area newspapers.
Expertise I have more than 30 years' experience in journalism in the heart of the Silicon Valley.
Steven Musil
6 min read
Who knew that being green in an environmental sense could put some greenbacks in your pocket.

Pacific Gas & Electric demonstrated on the concept of the plug-in hybrid, which uses a higher-capacity battery than that used in ordinary hybrids like Toyota's Prius. Part of a program called Vehicle-to-Grid, the idea is to let car owners sell electricity purchased overnight back to the grid for a modest profit or to power their homes in an emergency, said Bob Howard, a vice president of PG&E.

The demonstration came during the Alternative Energy Solutions Summit, sponsored by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and hosted by Advanced Micro Devices. Public officials from Silicon Valley communities and organizations gathered to hear discussions about how the region can invest and profit from demand for cleaner and more efficient sources of power.

However, many CNET News.com readers were dubious about the idea.

"Make it as affordable as an economy car, if you are really serious about fighting global warming, and you don't want to have it labeled as a scam," one reader wrote to the News.com TalkBack forum.

Meanwhile, dozens of exhibitors were on hand at the seventh annual Cool Product Expo at Stanford University to showcase products that are turning traditional business models upside down. Environmental sustainability was the overriding concept during talks among the roomful of entrepreneurs, including some who are just getting their inventions off the ground and others who are established in their chosen businesses.

Indeed, the room was packed with products touting eco-friendly features. They included Bambu, an all-bamboo line of kitchen items, including spoons, plates, chopsticks and more; the Frisper, a green take on vacuum-sealing bags used for saving food that allow multiple reuses of the bags; and the OptiBike, an electric-powered bicycle that allows a rider to add 20 mph to their own pedaling speed and can go 30 miles on a charge.

Hybrids not your style? Like a little more brawn in your beast? How about a Hummer that gets 40 miles per gallon running on fairly clean fuels such as ethanol, hydrogen, biodiesel or natural gas?

It's all the work of Jonathan Goodwin, a biodiesel conversion specialist and founder of alternative-energy start-up SAE Energy, an emerging name in an unlikely niche in the clean-tech market: making muscle cars green.

He's already converted about 60 H2 Hummers from gas to diesel and has done the same for about 100 H1 Hummers, including one that can burn the whole menu of clean fuels. A 1965 Impala he converted from gas to biodiesel went up against a Lamborghini in a quarter-mile test and won. The car will be featured on MTV Networks' show Pimp My Ride on April 22.

Fixing a hole
Cybercrooks are using a yet-to-be-patched security flaw in certain Windows versions to attack computers running the operating systems. The attacks target Windows 2000 Server and Windows Server 2003 systems through a hole in the domain name system, or DNS, Microsoft said in a security advisory. The attacks happen by sending rigged data to the service, which by design is meant to help map text-based Internet addresses to numeric Internet Protocol addresses.

The latest vulnerability is a stack-based buffer overrun, Microsoft said. This is a common type of coding problem that has caused many headaches for Windows users. A successful attack will give full control over a vulnerable machine without any user interaction, Microsoft said.

A trio of what appear to be new, yet-to-be-patched flaws in Microsoft Office has surfaced, according to security researchers at McAfee. All but one of the flaws results in denial of service, meaning the application would crash, according to the blog post.

In addition to the Office bugs, a zero-day vulnerability has been reported in Windows. Sample code that exploits a flaw in the way Windows handles help system files has been posted to the Internet.

Word of the flaws comes on the day that Microsoft issued five security bulletins as part of its monthly patch cycle, usually timed to fall on what is known as Patch Tuesday--the second Tuesday of the month. The company is still dealing with the aftermath of an emergency patch released last week.

Cybercrooks have found that they can take advantage of Microsoft's security update cycle by timing new attacks right before or just after Patch Tuesday.

Games aren't always fun
World of Warcraft players got a shock this week when they learned that for months, hackers--most likely in China and Russia, according to security watchers--have been surreptitiously installing keylogging software on WoW players' Windows computers, hijacking their accounts and selling off their often-valuable in-game assets.

The exploit works when unsuspecting WoW players visit any number of Web sites infected by the hackers with keylogging software. When the players visit the sites--which are often unrelated to WoW but frequented by players--the software is quietly installed on their computers, allowing the hackers to spy on keystrokes and steal players' WoW passwords.

Some fantasy baseball players also felt that they got ripped off after a system error at ESPN.com essentially voided the first week of the season for fantasy team managers. After several days of not allowing managers to make changes to rosters or waiver moves, as well as not showing live scoring changes, the site is offering full refunds to fantasy baseball players who signed up for its premium service.

In a solution it described as "extreme," ESPN said it would revert all teams to their opening-day rosters, set those rosters as the starting roster for all games played to date, and retroactively base the scoring on those rosters. The site also said it would void all transactions.

You can forget about getting your hands on a PlayStation 3 for less than $600. Sony is axing the 20GB version of the PS3, the low-end model. The PS3 was initially launched last November amid quite a bit of fanfare. Sony was asking $499 for the 20GB and $599 for the 60GB.

Around the Web
Social-networking giant MySpace.com blocked Photobucket videos and photo slide shows from being uploaded to its pages. MySpace said Photobucket had violated MySpace's terms by encouraging users to post advertisements in their videos. MySpace forbids third-party vendors from advertising on its site.

CBS unveiled a video distribution network that will allow users to share clips and full-length content for free. The broadcaster announced partnerships with a variety of online properties and video-sharing sites, including Brightcove, Joost, Veoh Networks, Sling Media, AOL, Microsoft and CNET Networks (publisher of News.com).

There will be a rotating list of CBS shows, such as CSI, Late Show with David Letterman, Survivor and CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, as well as some sports programming, available for sharing and viewing. All content will be supported by ads.

Meanwhile, some U.S. senators want to make operators of Web sites with racy content properly label their sites and register in a national directory. If they don't, they'll be fined, according to a Senate proposal representing the latest effort among politicians to crack down on Internet sex.

The proposal, which the senators describe as a discussion draft, relies on the idea of embedding a new tag--such as L18--in all Web pages that the government deems unsuitable for minors. Then future Web browsers used by minors could be configured to reject L18-labeled Web pages.

Also of note
Vonage announced that Michael Snyder has stepped down as the company's chief executive and that it would make roughly $140 million in spending cuts over the next several months as it eliminates jobs and reduces its marketing budget...In a push to get the iPhone out on time, Apple has been forced to delay the release of the next version of Mac OS X until October...The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has teamed up with Google Earth to create a way of visualizing and better understanding the genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan.