From sub-prime mortgages to taking a wide stance in a Minneapolis airport bathroom stall, the world was filled with stories about many bad ideas during the past year. But let’s remember, there were also some really good ones. Here are a few of my favorites:
The End of Dental X-Rays
There’s finally an alternative to being covered with a lead blanket, having a sharp vinyl plate stuffed into your cheek, and being quick fried with radiation. The OCT is a new technique using a hand-held scanner and near-infrared beam, to form a 3-D picture of both your teeth and gums. Up to ten times the resolution, with none of the gagging, chromosomal damage, or Dr. Frankenstein’s lab technician cowering behind a door in the next room.
In developing a whiter cement for a new church being built in Rome, an Italian cement company accidentally discovered a cement that removes harmful pollutants from the air. When a building or road is coated with its new cement, TX Active (enhanced with titanium dioxide, which acts as a whitener, as well as a chemical catalyst), hazardous nitrogen oxides and sulfur oxides are transformed into harmless nitrates or sulfates, which simply rinse off when it rains. This also keeps the surfaces especially clean. Could it be possible for cities of the future to eat their own smog? The company says their research shows that if 15 percent of the surface area of Milan were covered in TX Active, air pollution would be reduced by 50 percent.
Dead human beings would be 100 percent biode-gradable, except for the fact that most of us will be embalmed, hermetically sealed in a metal casket, placed inside a concrete grave liner, marked with a headstone destined to last for centuries, and then cared for “in perpetuity” by cemetery caretakers using the latest herbicides and chemical fertilizers to keep our graves “green.” So it’s nice to see products like Ecopod – a 100 percent biodegradable coffin made of recycled paper – finally come to market. The seedpod-shaped coffin is designed to be planted in the ground, where it can dissolve and replenish the earth with its nutrient-rich contents.
Game of Checkers Solved
After running a computer program almost nonstop for 18 years, Jonathan Schaeffer, a computer scientist at the University of Alberta in Canada, calculated the result of every possible checkers endgame move that could be played … all 39 trillion of them. To do this he programmed a cluster of computers to play out every position involving 10 or fewer pieces. The data requirements were so high that for a while in the early ’90s, more than 80 percent of the Internet traffic in western North America was checkers data being shipped between his computers. The final result will probably not surprise anyone who has ever played the game. As with tic-tac-toe, if both players never make a mistake, every match will end in a draw. Now that he has some free time, maybe I can get Jonathan to use the power of the Internet to figure out a way to balance my checkbook.
A California company began mass-producing its PowerSheet solar cells using printing-press style machines that “print” solar panels onto sheets as thin as aluminum foil. This new process will reduce the cost of solar electricity by 90 percent, or to about the equivalent of 1/3 the cost of coal generated power. Backed by Google and the U.S. Deptartment of Energy, Nanosolar recently completed building the world’s largest solar-panel factory in San Jose. Roof shingles and window coatings that suck power out of the air may soon be as ubiquitous as rusting SUVs with “For Sale” signs in their windows.
Better than eBay, it’s freeBay! Freecycle, a web-based global recycling community, now boasts more than 4 million members in 4,100 cities, from Istanbul, Turkey to Morgantown, West Virginia. One man’s trash is another’s treasure, and the group estimates that it keeps more than 300 tons of trash out of landfills every day, by having members post offers to swap or give away their unwanted surplus to each other. “Even at Salvation Army and Goodwill, you still have to pay for things,” says one member. Why pay when you can get it for free? And even if your ungrateful children don’t want to inherit your lifetime collection of mismatched bicycle parts, someone on Freecycle probably will.